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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

THE OUTRAGE


THE OUTRAGE (1964). Director: Martin Ritt.

Did outlaw Juan Carasco (Paul Newman) murder a man (Laurence Harvey) and rape his wife (Claire Bloom), or is the story more complicated than that? In this serio-comic American version of Roshomon, different characters tell their stories while the law tries to arrive at the truth. Although Newman received mostly criticism for his performance, he's actually quite lively and effective. Bloom, Howard Da Silva (as a prospector) and William Shatner (as a preacher) also give good performances, and Edward G. Robinson is a stand-out -- as usual -- as a con man. Superior black and white cinematography by James Wong Howe and a fine score by Alex North.

Verdict: Uneven but not without moments of interest. **1/2.

THE MOMENT OF PSYCHO


THE MOMENT OF PSYCHO: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder. David Thomson. Basic Books; 2009.

In a long essay Thomson looks at Psycho scene by scene, examining the doors it opened in regards to censorship and sexuality and violence in film, and looks at how influential it has been on films in general, not just horror movies or thrillers. The book is padded a bit with brief looks at these other films and even a section on American highways. Frankly, although the book is well-written and has a few interesting things to say, much of it is already known and obvious; another problem is that Thomson drops in a somewhat intriguing observation or intimation and then drops it altogether half a page later. Why be coy in this day and age? Many ideas are simply not developed. This should have appeared as an article in a film magazine or maybeVanity Fair. Will even major Psycho fans want to spend nearly $23.00 on such a slender volume?

Verdict: At least it's a fast read. **1/2.

CRAZY LOVE


CRAZY LOVE (2007). Directors: Dan Klores; Fisher Stevens.

"He sees what he did to her every day -- I don't know if it's a joy or a punishment."

This documentary is the very strange love-hate story of Linda Riss and mob lawyer Burt Pagach, who hired someone to throw acid in Linda's face -- disfiguring and blinding her -- when she tried to break away from him. But the story only gets stranger after that, illustrating what some people will do for financial security and to combat loneliness. Frankly, the behavior of most of the people in this movie is shocking, including that of a policewoman-guard who stupidly does her best to reunite the victim and her abuser. Pagach, a supposed victim of child abuse and a pathological liar, comes off as a complete sociopath, which only makes Riss' later actions even more surprising. If ever a movie illustrated the psychological complexities of human beings, Crazy Love is it. The film starts off slow, but stick with it for some amazing -- indeed sickening -- revelations.

Verdict: Horrifying. ***.

PREMATURE BURIAL


PREMATURE BURIAL (1962). Director: Roger Corman.

"I never enjoy myself. I just enjoy greater or lesser degrees of tedium." -- Dr. Gault [Alan Napier].

Guy Carrell (Ray Milland) is convinced that his father was buried alive and that he, too, suffers from narcolepsy. He builds an elaborate vault with all manner of safety devices that will enable him to escape from his crypt when he awakens entombed. His wife Emily (Hazel Court) is horrified by Guy's morbidness and unhealthy obsession and convinces him to take drastic action. Then ... This is a very handsome production with some very capable -- if Hollywood style once-removed -- acting. Edgar Allan Poe's short story has been transformed by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell [Mr. Sardonicus, Incubus] into a grim, suspenseful thriller with twists a la Robert Bloch. On that level it works beautifully. Ronald Stein's rich score takes off on the basic theme of "Molly Malone" and goes from there. Richard Ney is Carrell's doctor-friend, and Alan Napier is his waspy father-in-law.

Verdict: Just misses being really great. ***.

MELROSE PLACE (2009)


MELROSE PLACE (2009/Fox TV show).

This new version of the 1992 night-time soap opera managed to last one season but probably won't be back in the fall. The main characters include Ella (Katie Cassidy, who was on Harper's Island), a go-getting publicist; Jonah (Michael Rady), a rising filmmaker; Riley (Jessica Lucas), his on-again/off-again girlfriend; David (Shaun Sipos), a handsome "bad boy" who is the son of Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro) from the original show; Lauren (Stephanie Jacobsen), who becomes a hooker so that she can pay her way through medical school; and others. The starting-off point was the murder of bad girl Sidney (Laura Leighton) with numerous suspects. Cast members of the old show, including the two already mentioned, appeared, and Heather Locklear was brought in late in the game to reprise her role as bitchy no-nonsense Amanda. While the sparring between her and Ella was amusing, and the show was not without entertainment value and had some decent acting, it never quite got the edge of the original series. Ella was supposed to be a bisexual character, but aside from some make-out scenes with other women in early episodes, she was "straightened" out pretty quickly.

Verdict: If you missed it, don't cry. **1/2.

COMIC BOOK CULTURE


COMIC BOOK CULTURE: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY. Ron Goulart. Collectors Press; 2000. NOTE: As comics are also a visual medium like film, Great Old Movies will occasionally review comics and books about comics.

This is a huge, heavily illustrated coffee table book giving a fascinating history of the American comic book industry from the very early days up into the end of the golden age. Unlike Steranko’s History of Comics, which covered roughly the same period, you won’t find much criticism in this book but it is a well-written and entertaining overview, with chapters on early comic books that recycled newspaper funnies, Old Masters such as Bill Everett and Lou Fine, the Invasion of the Super-Heroes, “laff” comics, super-patriots such as the Shield, and a Brief History of “Good Girl Art.” Many, many comic book covers have been beautifully reproduced and this is packed with solid information about the early days of the comic book industry.

Verdict: Lavish tribute to this peculiarly American art form. ***

STAY ALIVE


STAY ALIVE (2006). Director: William Blake Bell.

A group of young people playing a video game called Stay Alive, discover that if you die in the game, you will die the same way in real life. Somehow the spirit of countess Elizabeth Bathory (who was the subject of the film Countess Dracula), who murdered dozens of women because she believed she could stay young by bathing in the blood of virgins, has taken over the game which her activities inspired and its players are dying one by one. There are some interesting ideas in this fair-to-middling horror flick, but they don't always jell, and it all has the look of a TV show. It's one of those movies where the filmmakers feel that if they're throwing a bloodied corpse at you every twenty minutes or so it doesn't matter if the darn thing makes sense or not. The movie is well-acted, however, by a capable young cast who will hopefully go on to better things. The old countess is given a creepy and credible make up job.

Verdict: Watch Countess Dracula instead. **1/2.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG MAN


ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG MAN (aka Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man/1962). Director: Martin Ritt.

"A man can't get along that don't sleep."

A "coming of age" story, based on the early life of Ernest Hemingway [or at least his fictionalization of it], has Nick Adams (Richard Beymer) leaving home to find himself and reach manhood as he encounters various individuals until he enlists in the Italian army during WW 1 as an ambulance driver -- and the film basically turns into A Farewell to Arms, with Adams romancing a pretty nurse, Rosanna (Susan Strasberg). Paul Newman has an earnest turn as a punch-drunk boxer [pictured]; Eli Wallach is notable as another ambulance driver named John; and Ricardo Montalban scores as the Maggiore, or Major Padula. Jessica Tandy is also a stand-out as Adams' mother. Excellent score by Franz Waxman. The episodic picture holds the attention and is not without interesting moments, but it lacks a dynamic lead and in general seems second-rate.

Verdict: Mis-Adventures. **1/2.

THE LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR


THE LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR. CBS-TV 1957 - 1960.

"I wouldn't lower myself to try to get even with a wacky character like you." -- Tallulah Bankhead, playing herself.

The last three seasons of I Love Lucy were done as special hour episodes that aired periodically but had all the same wonderful actors playing the same lovable characters.

First, the bad: "Lucy Goes to Sun Valley" with Fernando Lamas was the worst of these episodes, tedious and unfunny, although the song "Melancholy Baby" was well-delivered by Fred (William Frawley). "Summer Vacation" with Ida Lupino and Howard Duff had no real solid laughs, and the bit with Lucy and Ida desperately plugging the holes in the rowboat with chewing gum might have looked good on paper but doesn't quite work. But the biggest drawback is there isn't enough of Fred and Ethel, who spend most of the episode far away in Atlantic City.

The mediocre: These episodes had some solid laughs and great sequences, but weren't quite on the "A" level. "Lucy Goes to Alaska" with Red Skelton begins very well with a very funny sequence in a hotel room involving a hammock, but Lucy's pantomine with Red seems endless and the rest is just blah. "Lucy Wins a Race Horse" with Betty Grable and Harry James has a great bit with the gang trying to push a horse up the stairs, and Fred and Betty make an amusing team, but the horse race itself is disappointing. "Lucy Goes to Mexico" with Maurice Chevalier is an elaborate episode -- like a mini-movie -- with bullfights and the like, and Little Ricky gets his biggest break yet as he sings, dances and plays the drums in a production number; it's just not that special in spite of it.

Somewhat better than these are the episodes with Milton Berle, which has a great bit with a swinging construction car and a funny western PTA show, and "Lucy Goes to Havana," with Ann Sothern, Cesar Romero, and Rudy Vallee. This tells the story of how Lucy and Ricky first met.

The best: These episodes are pure gold. "Lucy Hunts Uranium" with Fred MacMurray features a wild chase through the desert, and old pro MacMurray and Lucy make a good team. Even better is the episode with Danny Thomas playing his Make Room for Daddy character, which has a great climactic courtroom sequence. Then it's a toss up as to which of the two remaining episodes are the best of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour: "Lucy Wants a Career" or "The Celebrity Next Door." The celebrity, of course, is the great Tallulah Bankhead, and in the other episode Lucy goes to work on a morning TV show with Paul Douglas -- who is excellent -- playing himself. Both episodes are very, very funny with top performances from all involved.

Here's more on I Love Lucy.

Verdict: A great clown with great support. ***1/2.

THE ANGRY RED PLANET


THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959). Director: Ib Melchior.

A space flight to Mars returns with half the crew dead or missing, and one with a weird parasitic infection. Only the female member of the group, biologist Iris Ryan (Nora Hayden), is able to answer questions, and she barely remembers anything. Most of the movie is a flashback to the spaceship landing on Mars, encountering its weird life forms -- including man-eating plants and a marvelous rat-bat-spider (pictured) which stands very tall on crab-like tree trunk legs. Gerald Mohr as Colonel O'Bannion comes off as a hokey make-out artist -- or used car salesman -- while Hayden seems more like a Las Vegas show girl than a scientist. Les Tremayne is more on the mark as Professor Gettell. Effectively weird score by Paul Dunlap, whose closing credit music is fun. Second best scene [after the bat-rat-spider]: Chief warrant officer Sam (Jack Kruschen) gets digested by a giant amoeba. Director Melchior wrote the screenplay for Reptilicus.

Verdict: Fun -- and in cinemagic, too! ***.

THE AUDITION


THE AUDITION. Director: Susan Froemke. Shown on Great Performances at the Met/PBS.

This documentary looks at the 2007 semi-finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions. The film is very good at getting across the intensity and sometimes the desperation of the singers who are all too well aware of how important it is to become one of the finalists. The sopranos almost all seem to fit the stereotype of the very hefty -- okay, obese -- opera singer while the gentlemen are more of a mixed bag and in better physical shape. Talented tenor Michael Fabiano [pictured] has such a raw emotional need to make it that the film's most dramatic moment comes at the end when he stands figuratively naked on the stage waiting to hear whose name will be called for the last slot [I won't give it away but I will say that Fabiano has since sung at La scala]. Another winner, Ryan Smith, is an amiable African-American who died of cancer shortly after this film was made; it may have given his poor mother some comfort to know that he got to sing at the Met -- the high point of every opera singer's career-- before he died, and that he spent his last days pursuing his dreams. Alek Shrader is another talented tenor who gets a lot of screen time in the film.

Verdict: Compelling behind-the-scenes look at ambition, talent, and heartbreak. ***.

COMIC BOOK NATION


COMIC BOOK NATION: THE TRANSFORMATION OF YOUTH CULTURE IN AMERICA. Bradford W. Wright. John Hopkins University Press. 2001. NOTE: This is the original version.

NOTE: As it has been noted that comics are a visual/script medium that closely resemble films, Great Old Movies will on occasion review comics and books about comics.

Wright writes intelligently [and without that awful, deadly, pretentious “academic” tone that ruins so many books from university presses] about the comic book industry, from the birth of the comic book to how they developed in WW 2, the controversy over gruesome crime comics such as Crime Does Not Pay, the comic book during the cold war, the re-ascendancy of super-heroes in the late fifties, the changes in the industry in the sixties and seventies, up to the emergence of comic book shops and direct sales to the fan since 1980. The book is both informative and entertaining, and Wright makes interesting observations, such as the way DC Comics would run brotherhood-type ads decrying prejudice in the 40's and 50's but all of the characters in their stories remained lily-white.

Verdict: Absorbing and a good read for fans and others. ***1/2.

THE THING (1982)


THE THING (aka John Carpenter's The Thing/1982). Director: John Carpenter.

The second film version of John W. Campbell's creepy science fiction/horror story "Who Goes There?" In a science base in Antarctica, a thawed out creature from outer space disguises itself as a dog and then as various humans while the paranoid men try to figure out which of them is human and which is the monster. The acting is good for the most part -- although Disney star turned action hero Kurt Russell sometimes acts as if he'd rather go take a nap than anything else -- and the effects are often outstanding, but the characters in Bill Lancaster's screenplay are not likable people you feel like rooting for. None of them express the slightest sympathy for the victims of the creature, or even seem to have any feelings of friendship for one another. Carpenter misses all opportunities for humanism as well. A bigger problem is that the film at times seems like a silly burlesque, and the humor works against the tension of the piece. The bit with the defibrillator and the spider-head is marvelous stuff, however. Rob Bottin's make up effects are very effective. Ennio Morricone's dull electronic throbbing isn't much of a score, however, hardly worthy of a paycheck. Wilfred Brimley makes an impression as Doctor Blair, who realizes how serious the situation is, and Donald Moffat [who has the bushiest, whitest, and most untrimmed eyebrows in Hollywood] and Richard Dysart are as reliable as ever. There are other good supporting performances as well.

Verdict: Essentially mindless schlock but often effective for what it is. **1/2.

THE UNINVITED


THE UNINVITED (1944). Director: Lewis Allen.

In 1937 England, brother and sister Roderick (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey) come across a lovely deserted manor by the sea and fall in love with it. A young lady, Stella (Gail Russell), grew up in the house and her mother died in it (or near it). Even as Roderick and Stella find themselves increasingly attracted to each other, a sinister presence makes itself felt inside the house. Is it the ghost of Stella's mother, Mary, another woman named Carmel, or someone else? The performances from the stars and supporting cast -- Alan Napier, Donald Crisp, Barbara Everest, Dorothy Stickney, Cornelia Otis Skinner -- are uniformly excellent. This isn't for all tastes, but those who go for it will find it suspenseful and very entertaining. The movie hints at some things that might never have gotten past the production code. Elizabeth Russell of The Seventh Victim and Weird Woman, among others, was the model for the portrait of dead Mary. Composer Victor Young wrote the lovely "Stella by Starlight" for this film. Gail Russell died tragically young at 36. Her bio on imdb.com states that her role in this film was "insignificant," which is hardly the case.

Verdict: Fascinating -- or much ado about nothing. Your call. ***.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS


THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960). Director: Roger Corman.

"What do you call that salad?"
"Cesarean."

Seymour Krelboin (Jonathan Haze) finds an unusual plant and brings it to his employer, Gravis Mushnick (Mel Welles), who owns a flower shop in Skid Row. The plant attracts many new customers, but when it begins to wilt Seymour discovers that the only thing that will keep it alive and healthy is human blood. Guess what happens ... Written by Charles B. Griffith of Attack of the Crab Monsters fame, this is inventive, amusing, and grotesque in equal measure. Haze and Welles are wonderful, as are the quirky Jackie Joseph as co-worker Audrey [for whom the plant is named], Myrtle Vail as Seymour's mother, Leola Wendoff as Mrs. Shiva, who loses relatives with alarming frequency, and Dick Miller as a customer who eats flowers for his health. In smaller roles are Jack Nicholson as masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force, John Shaner as the dentist, and Lynn Storey as Mrs. Hortense Feuchtwanger of the flower society, all of whom are marvelous. A great cast, a funny [if tasteless] script, speedy direction, and those human heads inside the flower buds -- what more could you ask for?

Verdict: A classic of bad taste. ***.

THE HEARTBREAK KID (2007)


THE HEARTBREAK KID (2007). Directors: Bobby and Peter Farrelly.

In this remake of the far superior 1972 film, Eddie (Ben Stiller) meets a woman, Lila (Makin Akerman) who seems perfect for him and marries her too hastily. On their honeymoon he sees nothing but her flaws, and meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), who is vacationing with her family, and keeps the fact that he's married a secret. This is the kind of movie that repeats the bit with the boring mariachi band following around the characters even though it wasn't very funny or original the first time. There's some mild humor in the picture but unlike the original it wears out its welcome pretty quickly. Unlikely movie "star" Stiller is okay; the ladies are a bit better. Polly Holliday and Jerry Stiller are fun enough in supporting roles. This movie-- written by Scot Armstrong and Leslie Dixon -- is so square that it even has "fag" jokes disguised as hip humor.

Verdict: A honeymoon you don't need to go on. **.

THE MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR


THE MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR (1954). Director: Wyatt Ordung.

Julie Blair (Ann Kimbell) is vacationing in Mexico where a monster is snatching cows and people from the shore. She meets a marine biologist named Steve Dunning (Stuart Wade) and his associate Dr. Baldwin (Dick Pinner). Dunning rides around in a cute one-man sub, and there are some nice underwater sequences. The director plays Pablo, who tries to kill Julie more than once because the villagers think she may somehow be the cause of their creature problem. Jonathan Haze of The Little Shop of Horrors is another villager named Joe. The movie is slow but atmospheric, and makes good use of its locations. Like a home movie at times, but strangely compelling. Anne Kimbell comes off like a 1930's style actress who entered pictures twenty years too late. She amassed about thirty film and TV credits from 1948 - 1958 and sometimes spelled her last name with an "a." Wade, uncredited, played a trooper in The Thing That Couldn't Die and had a few other credits. This was the first film solely produced by Roger Corman. The monster itself is nothing much to speak of.

Verdict: Not exactly Attack of the Crab Monsters, but what is? **1/2.

VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN


VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1968). Director: Derek Thomas. American sequences directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who also narrates and is the voice of Andre.

Having already made one new movie out of a Russian space epic -- Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet -- AIP used most of the same footage from the foreign film, added new scenes with Mamie Van Doren and other starlets, and came up with this awful mess. This could be considered a sequel were it not for the fact that Prehistoric Planet takes place in 2020 and this in 1998! "Marsha" -- who was Faith Domergue in the first film [she and Basil Rathbone do not appear in this] -- has now become the name used for Earth Control, probably to explain why the dubbed astronauts exploring Venus keep asking for "Marsha." This reuses all of the monster and robot sequences in Prehistoric Planet, but adds scenes of Mamie and her flock worshiping a pternadon God. When this flying reptile is destroyed by the astronauts, Mamie vows their destruction -- but she and the astronauts never actually meet. They wind up worshiping the remains of the robot instead. Pretty bad. Even the women aren't that sexy.

Verdict: Bottom of the barrel. *.

BETTE DAVIS: LARGER THAN LIFE


BETTE DAVIS: LARGER THAN LIFE. Richard Schickel and George Perry. Running Press; 2009.

A huge, beautiful, photo-packed biography-study of Bette Davis, her films, and continuing appeal. The book is actually written by George Perry; Schickel just wrote the introduction. This is by no means essential for any but the Davis fanatic, but it is generally a good read, although there isn't that much new to say about Davis, especially after such solid bios as Fasten Your Seat Belts: The Passionate Life of Bette Davis by Lawrence J. Quirk. [Oddly the book isn't listed in the bibliography, even though it was one of the major bios on the star, and some of the info in that book seems to have made its way into this one.] There are some amusing things in Larger Than Life, the foremost being how Schickel and Perry disagree on the notorious Beyond the Forest [the former loves it; the latter hates it]. My own opinion of the picture is that -- while I understand why some people can't stand it -- it's a pip! There's an unintentionally funny sentence in the book when Perry writes about how Davis gives "an excellent impersonation of the Crawford tones when she poses as her on the telephone" in Baby Jane when it's actually pretty obvious that Crawford dubbed those lines for Davis. In another funny bit concerning The Anniversary Perry writes that one character is "a closet gay who steals women's underwear from clothes lines." The character is actually a closet transvestite [most gay men have absolutely no desire to dress up as women]. Throughout the book there are "sidebars" on important co-stars and directors and the like.

Verdict: Not the best about Bette but certainly not bad. Beautiful production job. **1/2.

THE GIANT GILA MONSTER


THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (1959). Director: Ray Kellogg.

While Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) works as a mechanic, brushes up on his singing skills, romances his French girlfriend Lisa (Lisa Simone) and looks after his cute crippled sister, Missy (Janice Stone), a big, ugly monster of unknown origin roams the countryside munching on teenagers, luckless traveling salesmen, and the survivors of a train crash. Adroit editing makes good use of the lizard's "expressions" as it watches its next meal go about his or her business, and the miniature gullies and other by-ways are more than acceptable, even if you never see the monster and his victims in the same frame. Jack Marshall's musical score is hokey, but that's its charm, and star Don Sullivan -- who also appeared in The Monster of Piedras Blancas -- has charm to spare as well. For more on this and similar films see Creature Features.

Verdict: More entertaining than it ought to be. ***.

DRACULA 2000


DRACULA 2000 (aka Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000/2000). Director: Patrick Lussier.

"Do you think you can teach me anything about betrayal?"

Crooks looking for valuable loot invade a vault and inadvertently unleash the undead Dracula (Gerard Butler) upon the world. He winds up in New Orleans where he goes after the daughter of his old foe Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer), who has stayed alive all these years by using his supernatural foe's blood. There are interesting elements in this movie to be certain -- including the true identity of Dracula, which is a neat twist -- but despite the good points and a few exciting, well-handled scenes, it just doesn't jell. Jonny Lee Miller is appealing as the hero, Simon, Van Helsing's surrogate son, and it's always a pleasure to see Jeri Ryan of Star Trek: Voyager who plays a reporter and victim. While not handsome in the conventional sense, some might feel Gerard Butler makes a strangely sexy vampire. The typical "black comedy" approach of many sequences works against the eeriness of the storyline.

Verdict: Not without merit, but nothing you can really sink your teeth into. **1/2.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

THE LION IN WINTER


THE LION IN WINTER (1968). Director: Anthony Harvey.

"To be a prisoner -- to be bricked in -- when you've known the world!"

Film version of the play by James Goldman, who also did the screenplay. At Christmas in 1183 A.D. King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) bemoans the fact that his three sons would prefer him dead and to rule in his stead, and lets his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), out of imprisonment for the holidays. There follows a lot of plotting to force the King to choose one son over another as his successor. Although there are interesting moments in the movie, it basically reduces history to soap opera, with these famous characters acting in a very contemporary fashion and just being bitchy to one another. Some of the dialogue is quite bad. Hepburn won an Oscar, but she's miscast -- this stuff is just not her cup of java. Of the other cast members, Timothy Dalton comes off best as King Philip of France, who had an early dalliance with Henry's son Richard (Anthony Hopkins). One suspects that this consists more of moments of "dramatic license" than anything else.

Verdict: A supposedly historical Dynasty minus Joan Collins. **.

HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM


HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959). Director: Arthur Crabtree.

London is horrified by a series of gruesome murders of young women, while misogynous crime reporter Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough) both interviews and taunts the police for their inability to solve the murders. Bancroft and his young assistant, Rick (Graham Curnow), maintain their own chamber of horrors that rivals Scotland Yard's "black museum" with its exhibits. This gleefully gruesome and very entertaining shocker features binoculars that have needles in them, and a guillotine placed over the head of a buxom beauty in bed. This was one of three lurid British horror films Gough starred in in the sixties -- the others were Konga and Black Zoo -- and he's just as wild and intense and florid as ever. It may or may not be "great" acting, but it's certainly vivid -- it's as if Gough were daring you to take your eyes off of him! There are other good performances in the film, including vital June Cunningham as the buxom, beheaded Joan, and Shirley Ann Field as Rick's girlfriend, Angela. Graham Curnow certainly scores as the conflicted Rick, and Beatrice Varley is terrific as the blackmailing shop owner, Aggie. Crabtree also directed the zesty monster flick Fiend Without a Face.

Verdict: Highly enjoyable shocker served up with relish. ***

HOW I MADE A HUNDRED MOVIES IN HOLLYWOOD AND NEVER LOST A DIME


HOW I MADE A HUNDRED MOVIES IN HOLLLYWOOD AND NEVER LOST A DIME. Roger Corman with Jim Jerome. Random House; 1990.

In this very entertaining memoir, producer-director Roger Corman talks about getting his start as an independent filmmaker, his problems with the major studios, his philosophy in regards to making movies, and how he sees himself as an "auteur." Corman comes off as a savvy businessman who knew how to stretch a dollar, and balanced what might be called his exploitation of actors and others with the simple fact that he gave many of them, including superstar Jack Nicholson, their first start in the industry. Corman isn't modest about his achievements and shouldn't be, as he proved an adept director with such minor gems as Attack of the Crab Monsters and Not of This Earth, as well as bigger-budgeted movies such as Masque of the Red Death. The book is bolstered with frank, mostly admiring [but not always] comments from actors and others whom he worked with, including Nicholson, Shelley Winters, Beverly Garland etc. Corman now mostly produces schlocky monster movies for the Syfy Channel, few of which can compare to the best of his own output. His last directorial credit was Frankenstein Unbound in 1990.

Verdict: Good read especially interesting for those interested in low-budget independent production -- although things have changed since publication. ***.

SORORITY GIRL


SORORITY GIRL (1957). Director: Roger Corman.

"You were a brat the day you were born. It was in your eyes."

Co-ed Sabra Tanner (Susan Cabot) is a poor, misunderstood rich girl, essentially ignored by her mother (Fay Baker), who acts out in evil ways because she doesn't know what else to do. Her manipulations nearly lead to tragedy. This is a surprisingly entertaining low-budget"bad girl" movie that works not just because of a workable, if minor-league script, but good acting and Corman's brisk and adept direction. Although thirty years old at the time, Susan Cabot is excellent in the lead. She has a great scene with her mother [Fay Baker is as good in this as she was playing Bette Davis' parasitic sister in The Star; she was actually only ten years older than Cabot]. Learning that her mother is cutting off her allowance, Cabot pauses and gives a consummate, barely controlled, ever-so-patient rendering of "I Hate You!" There's also a lively scene when Sabra takes a paddle to the fanny of her moping dog and slave, Ellie (Barbara Crane), who seems to have a crush on her, not to mention the brief if zesty cat fight between Sabra and the much bigger Rita (Barboura Morris). June Kenney of Earth vs. the Spider has a role as a pregnant waitress that Sabra importunes to blackmail bar owner Mort (Dick Miller), who is not the father. Miller is as good as ever. Ronald Stein's score has a rich sound to it. Cabot was a fine actress who deserved a bigger career. Sadly her last film was The Wasp Woman; ten years later she had one TV credit. Corman may have given a lot of actors their start in show business, but appearing in his films didn't do most of them much good, Jack Nicholson notwithstanding. Barbara Crane had only one other credit.

Verdict: Swell melodrama. ***.

THE POWER


THE POWER (1968). Director: Byron Haskin.

Professor Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) is part of a scientific committee that is studying pain thresholds in human beings to help determine just what astronauts and others can endure in difficult situations. It turns out that someone either on or associated with this committee is an advanced kind of "super-human" with incredible mind-control and telekinetic type powers. This person, once known as "Adam Hart", tries to kill Tanner and the other members to safeguard his identity and keep them from interfering with his plans. Tanner discovers that his past has been wiped out; he is fired from the university and goes on the run, trying to uncover which of his associates is Hart before his secret, unseen antagonist can kill him. While nowhere near as good as Frank M. Robinson's chilling novel of the same name, The Power has many good, suspenseful scenes and is quite entertaining. Although generally they are good actors, neither Hamilton nor Suzanne Pleshette as his girlfriend really get across the fear, paranoia and desperation they should be feeling in this situation. Yvonne De Carlo is fine in a supporting role, as are Earl Holliman, Arthur O'Connell, Richard Carlson and Nehemiah Persoff as fellow committee members. Barbara Nichols has a nice bit as a lonely waitress in an isolated gas station coffee shop, and Aldo Ray scores as her sinister husband. The very pretty Miiko Taka has a brief scene as Carlson's wife, and Michael Rennie is more than competent as a general who is a liaison to the committee. Miss Beverly Hills is at least vivid as "Sylvia," a swinger at a party attended by the principals. This was produced by George Pal. John Gay's script does not improve upon the novel.

Verdict: Certainly not all it could have been, but creditable. ***. `

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR


SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR (1942). Director: John Rawlins.

Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) is called in when war-torn England is demoralized by a Nazi broadcaster -- the "voice of terror" -- who predicts and chortles over horrendous acts of sabotage. This was the first of Universal's "modern-dress" Holmes films, and while it can't compare with certain other entries in the series, on its own terms it's quite entertaining. Holmes works with the members of a council, one of whom may be a traitor. Evelyn Ankers plays an obvious prostitute, Kitty, who helps bring down the leader of the Nazi forces in England. Nigel Bruce (Watson), Thomas Gomez, Reginald Denny, and Henry Daniell all offer flavorful supporting performances. Hillary Brooke, who had a much bigger role in The Woman in Green -- in which Daniell played Moriarty -- has virtually a bit part as an Army driver in this. An unseen Edgar Barrier of The Giant Claw and many others does the "voice" for the broadcasts. This is supposedly based on an original Doyle story entitled "His Last Bow," but that was actually a collection of stories. It's safe to say Holmes never battled the Nazi's in Doyle's 19th century tales.

Verdict: Despite the obvious problems, this is not bad at all. ***.

THE FACE OF MARBLE


THE FACE OF MARBLE (1946). Director: William Beaudine.

In an isolated country manor two doctors experiment with bringing the dead back to life. Dr. Randolph's (John Carradine) wife Elaine (Claudia Drake) is falling for his assistant David (Robert Shayne), even though he has a fiancee, Linda (Maris Wrixon), who comes for a visit at Randolph's request. Then there's Elaine's overly faithful old family retainer Maria (Rosa Rey), who practices voodoo and wants Linda out of the way, causing disaster. The title comes from the fact that when the doctors try to bring a drowned sailor back to life he has a stark white face, a "face of marble." When Randolph experiments with Elaine's pet dog, Brutus, the animal comes back to life with the highly illogical ability to walk through walls and a craving for blood. The problem with this oddly compelling horror film is that its many disparate elements don't quite jell. Willie Best is the butler, Shadrach, and Thomas E. Jackson is Inspector Norton. The funniest scene has Elaine giving a lingering birthday kiss on the mouth to David right in front of her husband. The acting is competent but little else. Neither Drake nor the oddly-named Maris Wrixon had many subsequent credits, although Wrixon had amassed quite a few previously.

Verdict: Stupid but interesting. **1/2.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

PUKEY


PUKEY (1946). Director: Rouben Mamoulian.

It's no wonder that this June Allyson (pictured) "comedy" was never released! Allyson plays an aspiring singer whose nickname is -- believe it or not -- Pukey. Therefore it shouldn't come as a surprise that every time she has to audition for someone, she gets so nervous that she has to run off and -- well, you know. Yes, Allyson spends most of the movie tossing her cookies [mostly off-screen, mercifully]. Keefe Braselle plays the love interest, an assistant producer who unaccountably thinks that Allyson has talent. The movie doesn't have a single laugh, and when the overly perky Allyson finally gets to sing, you'll wish you were anywhere else. A total dog. The movie, that is! Avoid this DVD at all costs!

Verdict: Could engender mass projectile vomiting amongst audiences! 1/2*.

DEAD RINGER


DEAD RINGER (1964). Director: Paul Henreid.

Edith Phillips (Bette Davis), a middle-aged bar owner in Los Angeles, attends the funeral of her sister Margaret DeLorca's (also Bette Davis) husband, the man that both women loved but whom Margaret managed to snatch away from her sister. When Edith learns that Margaret had completely made up that she was pregnant, she hatches a plot to take her place in the DeLorca mansion. But boy are there complications. It's great fun watching Davis, with her great flaring eyes, battling with herself (see photo), although in the early sequences it's obvious that it's not Davis under Margaret's black veil. Dead Ringer is entertaining and has lots of good twists. Karl Malden is a cop who loves Edith and Peter Lawford is Margaret's lover. Jean Hagen, Estelle Winwood, George Macready and Cyril Delevanti are also in the cast, and all are fine; Davis is in pretty good form as well. Andre Previn's theme music and romantic scoring are excellent. Not badly directed by Paul Henreid, Davis' leading man in Now,Voyager and Deception. The maid, Janet, is played by Monika Henreid, Paul's daughter. She was also in her father's Girls on the Loose and had about a dozen credits. Wonderfully ironic conclusion.

Verdict: One of Davis' better latter-day movies. ***.

THE THREE STOOGES MEET GODZILLA


THE THREE STOOGES MEET GODZILLA (AKA Ye mokioki cono Didoshi/1967). Director: Myoski Shishuki.

Yes, in this movie the Three Stooges do indeed meet the famous movie monster Godzilla -- all 200 feet of him -- but these stooges are not the American brand but a Japanese variation. Toko Danaka, Myopi Sofoolyi, and Ernst Yakahama play the stooges and it must be said that their "humor" -- even with dubbed voices -- doesn't translate too well.The film has these three bumbling nitwits, made up to resemble our stooges, inheriting a shipping line that includes both freighters and luxury cruise ships. When there are reports of their boats being menaced by Godzilla, they set sail to find the monster, along with a curvaceous lady scientist. After much silliness in the staterooms consisting of all three "stooges" trying to romance the scientist, they arrive at an island where Godzilla somehow manages to sneak up on them. The film ends with a friendly Godzilla lifting up the stooges and carrying them off in his paw. Maybe a snack? In any case, this is simply awful.

Verdict: Neither for stooges or Godzilla fans. 1/2 *.

DRESSED TO KILL (1946)


DRESSED TO KILL (1946). Director: Roy William Neill.

This was the last of 12 "modern-day" Sherlock Holmes films done by Universal, and the 14th and final film in which Basil Rathbone starred as the great sleuth. It's an entertaining mystery in which Holmes matches wits with another female foe, Hilda Courtney (Patricia Morison). The plot has to do with a tune played on music boxes made by the inmates of a prison, and the secret held by the boxes and the tune. Morison isn't bad, although she can't compare to Gale Sondergaard in The Spider Woman. Edmond Breon is great as Dr. Watson's old friend Julian "Stinky" Emery -- what a likable performer! Ian Wolfe, who plays the Commissioner of Scotland Yard, later was the old blind man Burton White in the 1960 Lost World.

Verdict: His Last Bow. Fast-paced and quite entertaining. ***.

WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS' DORMITORY aka LYCANTHROPUS


WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS' DORMITORY (aka Lycanthropus/1961). Director: Richard Benson [Paolo Heusch.]

A new teacher, Julian Olcott (Carl Schell), arrives at a girls' school/reformatory with lots of secrets and shenanigans and is immediately embroiled in the mystery of who is stalking and killing some of the students. It turns out that a werewolf is responsible, but the question is which of the male staff might be the lycanthrope. Suspects include the handsome director Swift (Curt Lowens), the middle-aged married lech Sir Alfred (Maurice Marsac), a demented handyman, and others. The movie is atmospheric and generally well-acted, and the werewolf has a scary make up job. Maureen O'Connor is spooky as staffer Lenor MacDonald. This is an Italian horror film with a great new American title, which got it a lot of attention and interest when it was released. On its own terms, it's not a bad little picture.

Verdict: A sexier wolfman than usual. ***.

LIBERACE VS. LEATHERFACE


LIBERACE VS. LEATHERFACE (1981). Director: Toby Hooperman.

Fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are probably unaware that this incredible film, never released, was actually the first sequel to the famous horror film. Liberace did the film as a lark, and good-naturedly spoofs his flamboyant, very stereotypically gay image. In the movie Leatherface and his family are driving to Atlantic City to meet relatives -- killing and eating people along the way -- when their car breaks down. They wind up at an old mansion wherein they find Liberace, greeting them at the door in all his finery and holding the all-important candelabra. Leatherface and his pals have no idea what to make of the star, while Liberace seems completely unfazed by the weird assortment of cannibals he finds on his door. He even attempts a makeover on Leatherface, and calls in Phyllis Diller to do everyone's hair. It all ends in a riotous free-for-all between police and the freaks, with Liberace wondering why the cops should be so brutal to "such nice friendly people."

Verdict: Well, it's certainly different. **1/2.

THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS


THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1959). Director: Irwin Berwick.

A lighthouse keeper (John Harmon) has befriended a weird, lonely sea creature that breaks out of its cavern, beheads people, and drains their blood. He understandably fears for the safety of his daughter, Lucy (Jeanne Carmen), who is dating hunky Fred (Don Sullivan, who was also in The Giant Gila Monster.) Despite the gruesome aspects and scenes -- the monster comes out of a meat locker carrying a head at one point -- the approach is too matter-of-fact to make this as suspenseful and scary as it could have been. Still it's not badly acted and is absorbing, with a notable monster. Les Tremayne is the doctor and Wayne Berwick plays little Jimmy and does a nice job.

Verdict: Stay off of white rocks. ***.