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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

THE ANNIVERSARY


THE ANNIVERSARY (1968). Directed by Roy Ward Baker.

"We've all got our little idiosyncracies."

In this fascinating and grotesque black comedy that seems to have improved with time, Bette Davis has a ball spoofing herself and playing the monstrous widow-with-an-eye-patch, Mrs. Taggart. Each year the family -- owners of a shoddy construction business -- must get together to celebrate -- if that's the word -- the death of Mrs. Taggart's late husband, and each year Mrs. T spars with her children and in-laws, especially the female members. Henry (James Cossins) is an unapologetic transvestite and fancier of women's undergarments while brother Terry (Jack Hedley) lets his mother control his life. The youngest son, Tom (Christian Roberts), has a bit more gumption, and each year brings along a fiancee that Mrs. T insists he has no intention of marrying. This year the young lady is Shirley (Elaine Taylor), who is nearly as domineering as the feisty widow and gives as good as she gets. The Anniversary is bolstered by some excellent dialogue and a series of well-developed if pathetic characters crying out beneath the humor. Mrs. T is so horrible at times -- she tells Terry and his wife that their children have been in an accident when no such accident occurred -- that she often seems more of a unnatural force for the others to play against than a real human being, but that only adds to the film's undeniable impact. Fine acting helps put the whole thing over, with Davis in good form and Taylor and Sheila Hancock (as Terry's furious, near-desperate wife) almost stealing the picture from Davis -- but everyone is wonderful.

Verdict: If nothing else, it's certainly different! ***1/2.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME (1967). Director: David L. Hewitt.

A warp in the space-time continuum sends an entire laboratory working on time travel first 5000 years into the future -- where Earth has been decimated by aliens -- and then into the prehistoric past where they try to dodge a supposedly big lizard-dinosaur. Scott Brady plays Stanton, who is skeptical of the whole project until he, too, is hurtled into the future along with former child actress Gigi Perreau as Karen and Anthony Eisley as Dr. Mark Manning. The amusingly named actress Poupee Gamin plays a future-alien -- she had only two more TV/film credits -- and Abraham Sofaer is Dr. Gordon. Lyle Waggoner of the Carol Burnett Show plays another alien, his name misspelled "Waggner." This is the kind of movie that doesn't do much for anyone's career but turn it backwards. The actors give their all, the premise is entirely workable, but this is a tacky production that holds the attention but little else. This was probably influenced by the series Time Tunnel, which debuted the previous year. So similar to The Time Travelers (1964) that some consider this to be a remake!

Verdict: Interesting storyline defeated by low budget and insufficient imagination. **. 

DARK FOREST

One of GOM's readers, independent filmmaker Neil Russell, who has left very interesting comments on various posts, entered a short horror film he made -- Dark Forest -- in the Statesboro Film festival and won the grand prize! Congratulations, Neil. The film is very well made and entertaining. You can watch it on youtube [it is 7 minutes long] at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8fOIasUyNY 2D

Or if you have a pair of 3D glasses you can watch this version:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m55Z-_pPUyw "depth-o-vision" 3 D.

Enjoy!

LIFE WITH HENRY



LIFE WITH HENRY (1941). Producer/director: Jay Theodore Reed.

"Ever since I was a kid everybody discouraged everything I wanted to do."

Jackie Cooper returns as high school student Henry Aldrich in this sequel to What a Life. At the end of the previous film Henry was planning to go to art school, and his girlfriend was Barbara, but the art school business has been dropped and Barbara is nowhere to be seen. Instead Henry has special feelings for Kathleen (Leila Ernst) and now has both a sister, Mary (Kay Stewart), an Aunt Harriet (possibly Mary Akin?), a best pal Dizzy (Eddie Bracken), and for the first time we see his father, played by Fred Niblo. [Hedda Hopper is back as his mother.] Rod Cameron is cast as an older man who befriends Henry and gives him advice, and Pierre Watkin is the aforementioned Kathleen's disapproving father. The storyline has Henry desiring to go on a trip to Alaska that is being put together by a wealthy businessman, Sattherwaite (Moroni Olsen) looking for boys with initiative who can raise a hundred dollars. Mr. Aldrich fears the whole thing is a scam, but Henry cooks up a scheme to raise the cash by selling a soap that's so toxic it destroys most of the buyers' clothing! While the opening title presents the film as an "Aldrich Family" adventure, Henry is still very much the star. Life with Henry is well-acted and amusing, and is in some ways a paean to an independent spirit and unconventionality. Edith Evanson, who plays the Aldrich maid, also appeared in Journey to the Center of the Earth as an inkeeper, was another maid in Woman of the Year, and Joan Crawford's mother in The Damned Don't Cry.

Verdict: More fun with Henry. ***

BLONDE FOR A DAY


BLONDE FOR A DAY (1946). Director: Sam Newfield.

The third in a series of Michael Shayne films starring Hugh Beaumont, following Murder is My Business and Larceny in Her Heart. In this Shayne's pal, reporter Tim Rourke (Paul Bryar), is in the hospital after a beating while investigating a series of murders committed by a blonde [most of which occur before the movie even begins]. Others involved in the intrigue include wealthy Dillingham Smith (Richard Fraser), fat inspector Pete Rafferty (Cy Kendall), Rourke's editor Walter Bronson (Frank Ferguson), his wife Muriel (Sonia Sorel), Bronson's secretary Minerva (Claire Rochelle), and the attractive Helen Porter (Marjorie Hoshelle), who may know more than she's telling. Mike's secretary Phyllis (now played by Kathryn Adams), flattens someone with one punch in the zestiest sequence. The picture has a sense of humor but little style.

Verdict: Strictly for Mike Shayne enthusiasts. **1/2.

CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND



CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND (1939). Director: Norman Foster.

Writer Paul Essex (Louis Jean Heydt) is found dead on a flight to California upon which Charlie Chan is also aboard. Did Paul commit suicide or was it murder? He could be the latest victim in a rash of suicides instigated by a mysterious blackmailer known as Zodiac. Could this be the new sensation in magical circles, Dr. Zodiac, whom some people think is a big fake? Chief among these is his competitor, Rhadini (Cesar Romero), who goes with Chan to confront and question the man. Strangely, Chan enlists the aid of a psychic, Eve Cairo (Pauline Moore), whose esp abilities he seems to believe in. Douglas Fowley (Scared to Death; Desire in the Dust) plays a reporter and Trevor Bardette is a Turkish servant. As usual, Sidney Toler makes a terrific Chan, and Victor Sen Young is fine as his son, Jimmy; Romero is also notable. This one is a lot of fun and has a clever wind-up as well. [The events are loosely tied to the world's fair that was occurring in California on the title island during this time.] Director Norman Foster started out in Hollywood as an actor in 1929.

Verdict: One of the best and most suspenseful of the Chan films. ***.

BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD


BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD  (2010). Director: Brandon Vietti.

Years ago, after the original Robin, Dick Grayson, became an adult and changed his name to Nightwing, DC Comics decided to give Batman/Bruce Wayne a new boy partner in the person of one Jason Todd, who became the new Robin. Only a year or two after introducing the character, the powers-that-be at DC completely changed his origin, in effect creating an entirely different character who never caught on with fans. These same fans also preferred the darker version of Batman, who worked best alone, so Jason Todd was killed off in an effective story arc called "A Death in the Family." Decades later Batman discovered that Jason was alive, but he had become a grim crusader -- Red Hood -- who had no problem murdering his opponents, and even tried to kill Batman. The whole story is told in this entertaining animated feature which features excellent voice performances from Bruce Greenwood as Batman and John Di Maggio as the Joker. Neil Patrick Harris, Jensen Ackles, and Jason Isaacs are also swell as, respectively, Nightwing, Jason Todd, and Bat-opponent Ra's Al Ghul. With fluid animation and a surprisingly moving wind-up, this is actually better than the live-action Batman movies, including Tim Burton's Batman and The Dark Night.

Verdict: One of the most interesting Batman stories ever. ***1/2.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

ATLANTIS THE LOST CONTINENT



ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT (1961). Director: George Pal.

Although this film certainly has its detractors, I confess it has remained quite enjoyable to me over the years. Demetrios (Anthony Hall aka Sal Ponti) and his father are out fishing when they come upon a young woman, Antillia (Joyce Taylor) afloat in the sea, who insists that she is not only a princess but that she comes from a great land beyond the pillars of Hercules, where the known world ends. Demetrios winds up taking her home with the understanding that if they don't come upon this mystical land in a number of days, they will return to Greece and Antillia must marry him. Instead they wind up on the fabled continent of Atlantis, where Antillia's father, the king, wears a hollow crown and the evil Zaren (John Dall) is the true ruler. Atlantis enslaves every foreigner who lands on its shores, even Demetrios, and is planning to attack other nations with deadly weapons. Although the oh-so-pious character of Azor (Ed Platt) is a bit of a killjoy, Atlantis is still a lot of fun, especially the Ordeal of Fire and Water in which Demetrios wins his freedom, Platt and Dall having a battle, the bull-men in their cells lorded over by Surgeon (Berry Kroeger -- yes it's Berry not Barry), and the whole climax with the effective sinking of Atlantis and the running-wild "beta disintegrator" or whatzis that Zaren tries to vaporize half the city with. Wild! Hall is fine; Taylor, who could give some bad performances, is quite good as the haughty princess; and Dall of Rope fame is sneering perfection. [Dall offered a more sympathetic portrayal and was excellent in The Corn is Green.) To my astonishment I only realized on this viewing that the character of Xandros, the Greek slave befriended by Demetrios, is played by Great Old Movies' old friend, the wonderful Jay Novello, another example of how this fine actor could lose himself in a characterization. Ed Platt, of course, appeared to great advantage on the show Get Smart.

Verdict: No, it's not Pal's The War of the Worlds, but it's fun! ***.

MR. RECKLESS


MR. RECKLESS (1948). Director: Frank McDonald.

Jeff Lundy (William Eythe) discovers that when it comes to his alleged girlfriend Betty (Barbara Britton), he's been away for far too long -- years in fact. Now he discovers that Betty is engaged to his pal, restaurant owner Gus (Nestor Paiva, pictured). The three go off to an oil town where Gus opens a new eatery while he and Betty prepare for their wedding, and Jeff goes to work for the oil company. This is basically a poor man's They Knew What They Wanted [musicalized as The Most Happy Fella] with a pretty young women engaged to a much older and less attractive fellow; there's even a scene when Betty wants to marry Gus, whom she doesn't really love, right after he has an accident. Eythe, Britton, and Lloyd Corrigan as Betty's father -- who gets locked in an oil tank at one point -- are all good, and character actor Paiva is given one of his biggest roles; he's okay but he's not exactly Edward G. Robinson. Four years later Britton co-starred in the TV show Mr. and Mrs. North. The title of this film has led people to believe it's about a man engaging in reckless stunts to win his girl back, but that really doesn't happen.

Verdict: One you can miss. **.

WHAT A LIFE


WHAT A LIFE (1939). Producer/director: Jay Theodore Reed.

Based on a play by Clifford Goldsmith, this film introduced the character of Henry Aldrich -- in this played by Jackie Cooper -- who appeared in several more films in the forties. High school student Henry has trouble living up to the standards set by his [unseen] father, a Princeton graduate, as he isn't doing so well academically and gets into even worse hot water when his cheating leads him to being accused of the theft of musical instruments. In the meantime fellow student Barbara (Betty Field), who has a big crush on Henry, finally gets her braces removed and after a makeover at the beauty parlor has Henry eating out of her hand -- as well as his handsome nemesis, nasty George Bigelow (James Corner). [George gets competition in nastiness from a couple of 1939-style "mean girls" who make fun of Barbara's braces.] Cooper and the others are fine, and Hedda Hopper scores as Henry's mother, as does Vaughan Glaser as the principal Mr. Bradley. Dorothy Stickney, Janice Logan and John Howard also give notable performances as some sympathetic teachers. The screenplay for this was by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett!

Verdict: Amiable and essentially warm-hearted. ***.

LARCENY IN HER HEART


LARCENY IN HER HEART (1946). Director: Sam Newfield.

Burton Stallings (Gordon Richards) comes to Michael Shayne (Hugh Beaumont) to ask the P.I. to find his missing step-daughter, Helen (Marie Hannon). Not much later the very same gal shows up at Mike's office dead drunk -- and then just dead, when she's strangled by an unknown intruder. [Talk about hard-boiled -- even Phyllis, Mike's secretary, doesn't express any remorse for the dead girl.] Shayne then asks his friend, reporter Tim Rourke (Paul Bryar) to help him remove the body from the crime scene [old private eye books and movies rarely dealt with such matters as trace evidence]! Shayne eventually winds up impersonating a dipsomaniac so he can be admitted to a private sanitarium where he suspects shady goings-on connected to the case. Larceny in Her Heart not only captures the edgy Shayne character fairly well, but also the flavor of Brett Halliday's novels. The problem with the movie is that Newfield's direction completely lacks style and panache, making the whole project unfortunately third-rate. The script also employs that old cliche of people hiring private detectives even when they've got a lot to hide and in all likelihood would not want anyone prying into their affairs. There are interesting aspects to the plot, however. This is the second film featuring Hugh Beaumont as Shayne, following Murder is My Business.

Verdict: Mostly for Shayne fans. **1/2.

GREAT WHITE (1981)



GREAT WHITE (aka The Last Shark and L'ultimo squalo/1981). Director: Enzo G. Castellari.


When a surfer disappears in the waters off a small coastal town, authorities fear a great white shark may be dining in the area. Naturally -- as this is another rip-off of Jaws -- Mayor Wells (Joshua Sinclair) doesn't want to cancel the big regatta that's coming up, so supposedly shark-proof netting is placed in the water to protect swimmers and others. Unfortunately -- or else there would be no movie -- the 35-foot-long shark is easily able to munch his way into the enclosure. James Franciscus stars as Peter Benton, who is determined to wipe out the fish after it chops off his teenage daughter's leg. Vic Morrow is cast as a shark hunter who proves no match for the great white. The best scene has the big shark squaring off with a helicopter and easily winning. The shark is given its own catchy rock theme, and there's some effectively sinister music at other times, as well as some attractive wide-screen photography. Gruesome in spots.


Verdict: Another fair-to-middling fish story. **1/2.

THE PANTHER'S CLAW


THE PANTHER'S CLAW (1942). Director: William Beaudine.

A mysterious figure known as the Black Panther sends letters demanding money to various members of an opera company, including a little wigmaker named Everett P. Digberry (Byron Foulger). Sidney Blackmer of Rosemary's Baby is the police commissioner, and Rick Vallin in his assistant, while Gerta Rozan and Thornton Edwards play a soprano and a fired baritone respectively. The trouble with this creaky old movie is that the intriguing premise it starts out with -- the business with the "Black Panther" -- is summarily dropped in favor of a much more prosaic mystery which has far too few suspects to be interesting -- or entertaining. The picture does give the likable, talented Foulger a big role, Blackmer is his usual fine self, and Billy Mitchell is [stereotypical] fun as porter Nicodemus J. Brown. Fougler also appeared in the serial The Master Key, the late Charlie Chan film The Chinese Ring, and indeed had a long list of credits.

Verdict: Watch Perry Mason instead. **

LUISA FERNANDA


LUISA FERNANDA Music by Federico Moreno Torroba. 2006. Opus Arte. Directed and designed by Emilio Sagi. Conducted by Jesus Lopez Cobos. Luisa Fernanda (Nancy Herrera); Duchess Carolina (Mariola Cantarero); Javier Moreno (Jose Bros); Vidal Hernando (Placido Domingo); Anibal (Javier Ferrer); Rosita (Sabina Puertolas).

Staged at the Teatro Real in Madrid, this is a production of the early 20th century zarzuela by Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba. [A Spanish zarzuela is a combination of opera and musical theater with spoken dialogue sections.] Luisa is supposedly engaged to the man-about-town Javier, but she has another suitor in the middle-aged Vidal, who hopes to acquire her for himself. Meanwhile the Duchess Carolina uses her wiles to try to win both men to her cause, but they wind up on opposite sides of a struggle between patriots and revolutionaries -- or something along those lines. Cut from three acts to two with cuts in dialogue, this stream-lined production with its stylized sets is sometimes hard to follow. Luisa Fernanda is very popular and famous in Spain, although it's never made major inroads in the U.S. While Herrera and Cantarero are fine in the major female roles, the two tenors Bros and Domingo [Domingo actually singing a baritone role] are simply superb. Torroba's music is lilting and pleasant including such highlights as Javier's act one aria, the duet between Luisa and Vidal, and Vidal's aria of love to Luisa in the final act. Fans of this work may find much to quibble about in the stark modern approach which eschews colorful sets and literal interpretations in favor of admittedly sometimes striking black and white light shows. Still the music and singing put this over.

Verdict: Domingo still has the spark! ***.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

TROCADERO


TROCADERO (1944). Director: William Nigh.

This musical purports to tell the true post-prohibition story behind the famous Trocadero nightclub, making the owner of a humble restaurant a man named Tony Rocadero (Charles Calvert), who has adopted a girl, Judy (Rosemary Lane) and a boy named Johnny (Johnny Downs) before he promptly expires after getting hit by a car. Johnny goes off to war while Judy, with the help of manager Sam Wallace (Ralph Morgan), runs the restaurant, which is eventually changed from "Tony Rocadero's" to the snazzier "Trocadero." Both siblings have romantic problems: Judy is pursued with equal fervor by agent Mickey Jones (Sheldon Leonard) and swing bandleader Spike Nelson (Dick Purcell), while Johnny is engaged to a very snooty gal named Marge (Marjorie Manners), who is embarrassed by what he does for a living. The actors are all very pleasant and professional but what puts this movie over is the music and dancing. Highlights include Downs demonstrating his awesome tap-dancing ability to a crowd of Marge's relatives, and Lane's lovely rendition of the fine ballad, "Trying to Forget." There are other bouncy numbers and the whole production is cheerfully entertaining if borderline dumb.

Verdict: If you dig the music of the era ... ***.

POSSESSED (1947)


POSSESSED (1947). Director: Curtis Bernhart.

"We're all on the outside of other people's lives looking in."

Louise Howell (Joan Crawford) is a nurse for a sick, jealous woman (Nana Bryant) who thinks she's carrying on with her husband, Dean Graham (Raymond Massey). In truth, Louise is obsessed with an engineer named David Sutton (Van Heflin), who simply doesn't feel the same way about her. "I seldom hit a woman but if you don't leave me alone I'll wind up kicking babies," Sutton tells her. Louise marries Graham after his wife's death, but goes over the edge when the playing-with-fire Sutton starts dating her step-daughter, Carol (Geraldine Brooks). Watch out, David! Possessed can't seem to make up its mind if it's a psychological study, a thriller of a woman scorned, a story of unrequited love -- it almost turns into a ghost story at one point -- and doesn't quite succeed at any of them. Crawford's occasional over-acting could be blamed on the fact that she's playing a lady with a screw loose, but despite claims by other characters that Louise isn't legally responsible for her actions, she seems to know exactly what she's doing all right. Brooks is fine in her second film, Heflin is excellent as usual, and Raymond Massey is Raymond Massey. Many fans greatly admire Crawford's performance in this but she was, frankly, better in many other films. A big problem with Possessed is that while it holds the attention, it isn't a whole lot of fun.

Verdict: half-baked, semi-hysterical, and all over the lot. **1/2.

BEN-HUR REMASTERED BLU-RAY DVD COMING SOON


BEN-HUR 50TH ANNIVERSARY [plus a couple of years]


From Warner Brothers video [Jeff Baker and Ronnee Sass]:

"To celebrate the film's 50th anniversary, Warner Home Video is planning the Blu-ray and DVD release as a limited and numbered Ultimate Collector's Edition [UCE] scheduled for fall 2011, in time for holiday promotions and gifting opportunities."

This new release will be restored and remastered in high definition, "looking the best it ever has in a half-century... Everything will look more stunning in Blu-ray." Ben-Hur was originally released in 1959, but the celebration is better late than never.

There will be a plethora of extras, a huge beautiful case, and a reproduction of the personal diary star Charlton Heston kept during the film's production.

More on release date and other information when we have it at Great Old Movies.

MURDER IS MY BUSINESS


MURDER IS MY BUSINESS (1946). Director: Sam Newfield.

After Lloyd Nolan did a series of Michael Shayne movies for Fox, Hugh Beaumont -- best known as Ward Cleaver, the dad of Leave it to Beaver -- took over the role for five films for low-budget studio PRC, of which Murder is My Business is the first. Beaumont may hardly be the best choice to play Shayne, but he really isn't bad in the role, somewhere between the rough-hewn character of the novels and the urbane pretty boy of the later TV series. In this story Shayne is hired by Eleanor Ramsey (Helene Heigh), whose two grown step-children are a couple of selfish brats. Her husband (Pierre Watkin) wants Shayne to help him commit insurance fraud, and Eleanor is receiving threatening letters demanding cash. Later there's a murder and one of Shayne's friends is suspected even though he, too, is dead. At one point Shayne's secretary Phyllis (Cheryl Walker) gets into a fairly zesty cat fight with the aforementioned step-daughter, Dorothy (Julia McMillan). It's quite unbelievable that pudgy Lyle Talbot, cast as Eleanor's unpleasant brother, knocks out Michael Shayne with one punch not once but twice! George Meeker is cast as the gigolo Carl, and Carol Andrews makes an impression as his sexy confederate, Mona. Murder is My Business is pretty minor-league P.I. fare, however; although the story is not without interest, the direction lacks panache. Still Michael Shayne fans may find it somewhat absorbing.

Verdict: Possibly for Shayne addicts only. **.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS SEASON 6

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS SEASON 6.

This season of AHP might as well been rechristened "The Henry Slesar" show, as the writer's work was seemingly featured in half of the episodes or more. Fortunately, some of Slesar's scripts were quite good. Among the more memorable episodes [contributed by various writers] were: the very amusing "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" starring Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners; "Pen Pal," with Katherine Squire and Clu Culager in a twisted love story; the sad "Man with Two Faces" in which Spring Byington plays a concerned mother-in-law; "Baby Blue Expression," in which a woman and her lover plot to kill her husband with comically disastrous results; "Incident in a Small Jail" [directed by actor and associate producer Norman Lloyd] with John Fielder mistaken for a deranged murderer; and "Coming, Mama" with Eileen Heckart superb in a study of a woman with a supposedly sick and definitely demanding mother. The three best episodes came late in the season: George Nader gives a superb performance [proving beyond a doubt that he was no mere "pretty boy"] in the intriguing "Self-defense," in which he squares off with the excellent Audrey Totter as the mother of a boy he shot; "Final Arrangements" with Martin Balsam stellar as a hen-pecked man who plans a funeral down to the smallest detail (Vivian Nathan is equally good as his wife) ; and "Coming Home," a fascinating psychological study about a man returning to his wife at age 50 after years in prison, with superb performances from Jeanette Nolan and Crahan Denton. Other outstanding performances in lesser episodes came from Claire Trevor, Phyllis Thaxter, Robert Loggia, Will Kuluva, Les Tremayne and Peter Falk. Despite a couple of clunker episodes and a few with good ideas but flat endings, this remains a notable series. NOTE: You can also read reviews of season one, season two, season three, season four, and season five, as well as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour season one, season two, and season three.

Verdict: Still a fine program. ***.

HOUSE OF MYSTERY


HOUSE OF MYSTERY (1934). Director: William Nigh.
"Horatio, are you going to allow this vulgarian to browbeat me?"
A man named Prendegast (Clay Clement), who now calls himself John Pren and appears to be crippled, lives alone in a creaky old house with his nurse Ella (Verna Hillie) and an ageless Hindu gal named Chanda (Joyzelle Joyner), as well as a big stuffed gorilla. Into the house come a group of people who were investors in an expedition to India twenty years earlier. Prendagast made off with a treasure -- with a curse on it -- as well as Chanda (who doesn't appear a day older), and now the investors want their share of the fortune. In the old house tom-toms begin to sound whenever a murder -- of one of the shareholders, natch -- occurs, and the big ape comes to life and strangles its victims. Harry Bradley and Mary Foy are fun as the hen-pecked Professor Horatio Potter and his termagant wife, Hyacinth. Ed Lowry is the nominal hero of the piece, an extroverted insurance salesman who takes a shine to Ella. Irving Bacon, who plays the inspector investigating the murders, played Ethel's father on I Love Lucy. House of Mystery is no world-beater, but it is fun of a minor kind.

Verdict: For addicts of old house movies primarily. **1/2.

THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN

THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN (2007). Directed by Patrick Archibald and Jay Oliva.

This full-length animated movie was released direct-to-video before the theatrical films Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Trouble begins when Anthony Stark (Marc Worden) initiates a project to raise an ancient Chinese city, along with the temple of an ancient warlord known as the Mandarin [actually Iron Man's arch-enemy in the comics]. In a revised origin story, Stark creates the Iron Man armor as a reaction not only to his heart being damaged in an explosion but to the threat caused by 4 "elementals" seeking rings of power that will help resuscitate the Mandarin. [Although it turns out that he had already developed numerous Iron Man suits in private.] A sub-plot deals with Stark's problems with his father Howard (John McCook) and the board of Stark Industries. There is also a pretty young lady, Lei Me (Gwendolyn Meo), who doesn't seem to know which side she's on. Although the animation and voice characterizations are acceptable [if not necessarily first-rate] The Invincible Iron Man suffers from a mediocre storyline. The elementals are uninteresting antagonists, and the Mandarin [now a battle with him might have been something] doesn't even show up until the movie's almost over, although there is a lively fight with a good-looking dragon. Stark's secretary Pepper Potts is given a British accent for some reason. Stark's status as a lover boy is given emphasis in Greg Johnson's screenplay with him cavorting in a hot tub with a gal and showing up late for an appointment sporting a lipstick kiss. For more on the comic book adventures of Iron Man see The Silver Age of Comics. For Iron Man paperback fiction click here.

Verdict: Big, noisy, and still a bit on the dull side. **.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

HIGH SCHOOL BIG SHOT


HIGH SCHOOL BIG SHOT (1959). Writer/director: Joel Rapp.

"What's love got to do with it?"

Marvin (Tom Pittman), an intense, intelligent high school student, becomes smitten with a pretty gal, Betty (Virginia Aldridge), and completely loses his focus. He doesn't realize that she's only using him and when he understands that she can only fall for a man with money, decides to organize a heist of drug money that is to be collected from the warehouse where he works. In the meantime, his father (Malcolm Atterbury) is depressed over losing his job and his girl. Pittman gives an excellent performance and makes the hero much more sympathetic than he might have been had he been portrayed by some less talented pretty boy. The supporting performances are generally on the money as well. The film is suspenseful and builds to a doubly tragic climax. A bigger tragedy is that the talented Pittman, who may have amounted to something in Hollywood despite starring in a low-budget picture, died at 26 before the film was even released. Stanley Adams and Louis Quinn score as Pittman's colleagues in crime; Atterbury isn't quite as good although he has his moments. Derivative perhaps, but also absorbing and entertaining.
Verdict: Surprisingly worthwhile crime drama. ***.

THREE HUSBANDS


THREE HUSBANDS (1951). Director: Irving Reis.

"Women are better wives if they are not dependent on the peccadilloes, insecurities, and whims and pretensions of their husbands."

Three men are given letters written by a deceased playboy, Max (Emlyn Williams), in which he tells each man that he and the fellow's wife were in love. What follows are a series of flashbacks in which each husband reviews his and his wife's relationship with the deceased, trying to determine if the letter could possibly be true. Arthur (Shepperd Strudwick) is married to Jane (Ruth Warrick) but is involved with a woman named Matilda (Louise Erickson). Ken (Robert Karnes) is married to Max's nurse, Mary (Vanessa Brown), and has an interfering mother (Billie Burke) who lives upstairs. Dan (Howard Da Silva) is married to Lucille (Eve Arden), and constantly nags her to act more upper crust than she is to help him gain entry to a higher social scale. While this light comedy-drama has its moments and good performances -- especially from Brown, Da Silva, and Arden -- any resemblance to the superior A Letter to Three Wives, which it tries to emulate, is strictly coincidental. Burke plays a more serious part, as she did in In This Our Life, but is given little to do. Strudwick made a fine impression in The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe in the title role, and also appeared in Psychomania/Violent Midnight. Whatever its inefficiencies, the picture does have a very cute ending.

Verdict: As usual, Eve Arden adds some snap. **.

PLEASE MURDER ME


PLEASE MURDER ME (1956). Director: Peter Godfrey.

Attorney Craig Carlson (Raymond Burr) and Myra Leeds (Angela Lansbury), the wife of his best friend Joe (Dick Foran), who saved his life during the war, have fallen in love. When Joe finds out about it Myra claims that he attacked her in a rage and she had to shoot him in self-defense. In a highly unlikely if not ludicrous [albeit intriguing] scenario, her lover Carlson defends her against a murder charge in court, leading to a number of interesting complications. Despite its improbable aspects, Please Murder Me is absorbing and features two terrific lead performances from Burr and Lansbury. Foran is solid as ever as the husband, and Lamont Johnson is appealing as a likable struggling painter. [As an actor, Johnson appeared mostly in TV shows; he later became a successful director.] John Dehner does his usual fine job as the D.A. prosecuting the case. Please Murder Me could he seen as Burr's feature-length audition for Perry Mason as he was cast in his most famous role the following year.

Verdict: Minor perhaps but with some sterling performances and vivid moments. ***.

THE MAD ROOM


THE MAD ROOM (1969). Director: Bernard Girard.

This is loosely based on a creaky stage play that was filmed once before under its original title, Ladies in Retirement, which starred Ida Lupino and Isabel Elsom. In this very updated version Stella Stevens as Ellen Hardy replaces Lupino as assistant to the wealthy and slightly eccentric Mrs. Armstrong (Shelley Winters in the Elsom role). Ellen is engaged to marry her employer's stepson Sam (Skip Ward), but she's keeping a lot of secrets. Major among them is that her younger brother George (Michael Burns) and sister Mandy (Barbara Sammeth), who have come to live in Mrs. Armstrong's sprawling house, have just been released from a mental institution where they've been living since one or both supposedly butchered their parents with a knife twelve years before. [We're asked to believe that a four-year-old girl and six-year-old boy would be capable, or even suspected, of such an act!] The title refers to a "mad room" or quiet, private place where the two siblings can go to work out tensions and think over their problems. It isn't too long before a bloody body turns up [although the film is so awkwardly put together at times that it isn't exactly clear who the victim is for quite a while], and somebody or other starts going nutso. The Mad Room begins very well with a suspenseful pace, intriguing story line and interesting, fairly well-developed characters, but once the hacking starts it simply falls apart. Although director Girard handles some sequences well, he isn't up to the Hitchcockian challenge of wringing tension out of scenes and bits of business that desperately cry out for it. The film is generally well-acted even if Stevens -- looking odd in her doll-like hairdo and dresses -- chews the scenery a bit towards the end. Great Old Movies' favorite Beverly Garland plays the wife of a supposedly philandering masseur who attends to Mrs. Armstrong; Garland has a great scene where she has a meltdown telling off a crowd of ladies attending a charity auction at the Armstrong mansion [although it has little to do with the rest of the movie]: "Don't raise your hands, ladies, raise your legs!" Although some may consider this the bowdlerization of a classic, the original Ladies in Retirement wasn't as distinctive as all that. The Mad Room could have been a memorable film with more care and better direction. Dave Grusin's musical score is no help at all. That same year Michael Burns appeared with Sandy Dennis in another kind of psycho-thriller, Robert Altman's That Cold Day in the Park.

Verdict: Comes very close -- but misses. **1/2.

THREE BLONDES IN HIS LIFE


THREE BLONDES IN HIS LIFE (1961). Director: Leon Chooluck.

"You don't have to listen to a word I say. I just want to know what you're going to have for your last meal."

Insurance investigator Duke Wallace (Jock Mahoney) looks for a missing colleague, Bill Collins, and discovers that the man's disappearance may not only be tied into a case dealing with a valuable stolen necklace, but to another case where a married man died after drunkenly driving off an embankment. Wallace has his hands full not only determining if the two cases add up to insurance fraud and murder, but finding out which of the three women associated with these cases may be involved -- and possibly responsible for Collins' homicide. Jock Mahoney plays Wallace in just the right note; in fact he's so perfect as a hard-boiled private eye that it's a wonder a TV series was never built around him -- he would have made an excellent Michael Shayne [in fact this whole movie is highly reminiscent of a Mike Shayne novel]. Jesse White is fine as another associate of Wallace's, but blond and bosomy Gretta Thyssen probably makes the biggest impression as the wife of the man who died in the car accident. [Thyssen also appeared in Terror is a Man. Elaine Edwards, who plays Collins' wife, Lois, was also in Curse of the Faceless Man. Anthony Dexter, who plays bad boy Charlie, starred as Valentino and in Fire Maidens of Outer Space.] While Three Blondes in His Life may not be a great picture and has its improbable moments, it does have suspense, good performances, and a certain tough and sexy atmosphere that puts it a notch above similar items.

Verdict: Entertaining if cheap and TV-like. ***.

THE TOWN WENT WILD


THE TOWN WENT WILD (1944). Director: Ralph Murphy.

David Conway (Freddie Bartholomew) wants to marry his next-door sweetheart, Carol (Jill Browning), whom he calls "Poo," but there are complications. Their two fathers (Edward Everett Horton and Tom Tully) have been feuding for years, and worse, it apparently turns out that David and Carol's brother Bob (Jimmy Lydon) were switched at birth and David is really Carol's brother! The yuckier aspects of this situation are thankfully unexplored as the two dads' attempts to destroy an application for a marriage license for the two alleged siblings before scandal can result causes more complications, arrests, and zany courtroom scenes. Charles Halton of Dr. Cyclops is the testy town clerk, Tweedle, who advises everyone of the mix-up; Jimmy Conlon is the Justice of the Peace; and Maude Eberne, who was comedy relief in The Vampire Bat and a zillion others, is Judge Dingle. Even Charles Middleton shows up as a district attorney and has an amusing moment with Eberne. The lead actors are all swell -- Bartholomew's talent didn't vanish with adulthood -- and the film has its amusing moments, even if it's ultimately on the mediocre side.

Verdict: Anything with this cast can't be all bad. **1/2.

THE UNINVITED (2008)


THE UNINVITED (2008). Written and directed by Bob Badway.

A young woman, Lee (Marguerite Moreau), has overcome a kind of agoraphobia where she cannot have too much space around her (even indoors) and married a much older man (Colin Hay, a musician who should probably stick to music). The two have moved into an historical house (which hardly looks old enough to be "historical") when Lee starts having bad dreams. A friend tells her that several dead bodies were found in the house years ago, along with a "half-eaten baby." Then a young woman shows up with a gun demanding that Lee and her husband return her baby to her. And so on. Although there are interesting elements in the movie, they never jell, not only because the script isn't very good but because Badway's directorial style -- like his writing style -- is obtuse instead of linear. A good movie might have been made of this, but aside from a couple of creepy scenes this film has little to recommend it. The main trouble is that there's no real story here -- and it's boring to boot. Watch the 1944 The Uninvited instead.

Verdict: How not to make a horror film. *.

Friday, April 1, 2011

CATCH THAT BLONDE!


CATCH THAT BLONDE! (1961). Director: Arthur Lubin.

One of the rarest, least-seen movies ever made, Catch That Blonde! presents the teaming of Marilyn Monroe with the Three Stooges. Initially Monroe was only supposed to do a walk-on, but she had such fun with the stooges that her part was quickly expanded and she agreed to do three more day's work. The Stooges play private eyes who are hired by a jealous husband to find his wandering wife. Originally Marie Windsor had been hired to play the part in a blond wig but when La Monroe decided to stick around Windsor was quickly paid off and dismissed, although she returned to the set a week or so later to play a supporting role and film a zesty cat fight with Monroe. Catch That Blonde! was quickly pulled out of release after Monroe's untimely death, and has never been re-released or put on DVD or VHS. There have been private screenings of the film and grainy bootlegs have circulated for decades. It's too bad more people haven't seen it as both Monroe and the Stooges are in top, funny form and the picture is mostly a scream.

Verdict: Strange bedfellows and all that. ***.

SHE-SERPENTS VS THE FORCES OF THE DRAGON WITCH


SHE-SERPENTS VS THE FORCES OF THE DRAGON WITCH 12 chapter Mascot serial. (1938). Director: Bebe Ford. It is not widely known that during her early career Bette Davis actually starred in a serial for Mascot studios. She plays Mona Flare, the leader of an all-girl gang of crime-fighters who are out to stop the violent antics of a mysterious woman known only as the Dragon Witch. Mona and her "she-serpents" wear slinky outfits that make them resemble slithering snakes. The nominal hero of the film is Bob Steele, who plays a detective, Guinan, who wishes the ladies would lay off and let him handle the Dragon Witch and her sinister forces. Of course Guinan has to be rescued by the women in virtually every chapter. Davis seems to be having a lot of fun, and there are clever stunts and some exciting sequences. The final chapter has a major fight between Mona and the Dragon Witch in which even the walls come tumbling down. Miriam Hopkins also appears as an aggressive reporter who may or may not know more about the Dragon Queen than she's saying. Verdict: Bette rules the roost! **1/2.

LOVE MAKES YOU CRAZY


LOVE MAKES YOU CRAZY (1952). Director: Hector Linyard.

In this unreleased comedy Bob Cummings plays a nuclear physicist who can turn animals into people -- and vice versa -- with one touch of his hand after being irradiated during an accident. Julie Newmar -- who later co-stared with Cummings on the TV show My Living Doll -- is a she-tiger who is transformed into a beautiful woman. Paul Lynde is a transformed lynx, Oscar Levant is an alligator, and Gypsy Rose Lee becomes a lady octopus. Later Cummings can transform vegetables into people (and vice versa) as well and turns guest star John Wayne into a turnip. Zazu Pitts plays an artichoke whom Cummings transforms into a human. While the premise is certainly intriguing, Love Makes You Crazy hasn't got a single laugh.

Verdict: Don't touch that turnip! *1/2.

HIDDEN WORLD


HIDDEN WORLD (1958). Director: Bert I. Gordon.

This lost, unreleased film is sort of an unofficial sequel to "Mr. B.I.G." s [Bert I. Gordon] 1957 monsterpiece The Cyclops. Marie Windsor, Henny Youngman (surprisingly good in a dramatic part), Richard Crane, Lynn Bari, and Noah Beery Jr. play members of an expedition who take a copter into the unmapped Mexican jungle to search for a lost treasure. At one point references are made to a "lost flier named Bruce who grew into a giant in this valley," stories which are discounted by most of the characters. Once the copter lands, Hidden World turns into a mini-Journey to the Center of the Earth as the expedition enters a tunnel that leads deep down into an enormous cavern filled with out-sized man-eating frogs and forty-foot giant men [who try to roast Henny on a spit at one point.] Henny tries to joke his way out of his predicament by saying to one of the giants "Take my wife -- please!" Whiny Katherine Squire plays a normal-sized tribeswoman who is constantly screeching at the giants to "destroy the invaders." The best scene has Squire picked up by a disgruntled big guy who bites her head off. The sequence with the expedition members surrounded by hungry, roaring toads with long, snapping tongues is also amazing. The film was unfinished but an upcoming DVD release uses stills to fill in for the missing footage.

Verdict: If you loved The Cyclops ... ***.

PUKEY REPEATS

PUKEY REPEATS (1946). Director: Federico Fellini. Although the studio deemed the June Allyson comedy Pukey to be unreleasable, famed Italian director Federico Fellini caught a special screening of it during a trip to Hollywood and was -- bizarrely enough -- totally enchanted. He contacted Allyson and arranged to make another Pukey film which can be considered a sequel or a remake or both. In this the cookie-tossing singer Pukey (Allyson) decides to take up opera, with completely unamusing results. Although she can't even sing normally, she somehow manages to acquire a contract with La scala in Milan, where much of this was filmed. Keefe Braselle, who appeared in the first film, absolutely refused to be associated with the second, so he was replaced by Broderick Crawford, who makes a highly unlikely love interest for Allyson. You have to hear Allyson attempting to croak out "Nessum Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot to believe it! Fellini filled the film with his usual interesting and exotic faces, but the script -- based, believe it or not, on a play by Italian artist and WW 1 hero Gabrielle D'Annunzio -- is just abysmal. Verdict: Dreadful! *.

PHYLLIS VS GODZILLA


PHYLLIS VS GODZILLA (1967). Director: Ishiro Honda-Edsel.

Comedienne Phyllis Diller made a deal with Toho studios to star in several comedic monster movies featuring Godzilla and other Japanese monsters but Phylis Vs. Godzilla is the only one that ever materialized. The Japanese title is Opoopi nagada Phyllis borama Gojira. Diller plays herself, on a tour of Japan where she is bombing out every night due to the language barrier. She hires an interpreter (Jack Soo) to join her on stage but discovers that her very American humor doesn't translate very effectively. Soo and she are barraged with bananas! Godzilla then attacks Tokyo but actually comes to Diller's assistance, because the big flame-breathing lizard finds her jokes and appearance so hilarious that he stops burning up and stomping on the city and becomes mesmerized by the tiny performer. The army comes in and captures Godzilla, who escapes and carries off Diller, who has fallen in love with the monster and vice versa.

Verdict: You've never seen anything like it! *.