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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

JOY HOUSE

Fonda and Delon share a moment in Joy House













JOY HOUSE (aka Les felins/1964). Director: Rene Clement.

Marc (Alain Delon) is a handsome gigolo who is on the run from hit men hired by the husband of his latest conquest. On the riviera he winds up becoming chauffeur for a strange household consisting of a wealthy widow, Barbara (Lola Albright), and her cousin, Melinda (Jane Fonda). In the meantime, a strange figure is watching the goings-on from hidden rooms behind the walls. This may sound intriguing, but frankly with that premise and this cast Joy House should have been a lot sexier and much more entertaining. This was taken from a Charles Williams novel or screenplay which was probably more on the mark. Delon plays his part in just the right note; the women are good but less effective. The movie is at times more confusing and irritating than genuinely suspenseful.

Verdict: A bit dull despite everything. **.

PATHETIC CHRISTINA CRAWFORD NEVER GIVES UP

Christina and Joan Crawford
CHRISTINA CRAWFORD'S LATEST DESPERATE ATTEMPT TO BECOME MORE FAMOUS THAN HER MOTHER

Poor Christina Crawford never gives up. Although most sensible people -- including two of her siblings -- have dismissed Mommie Dearest as (as her sister put it) "fake and fictional," she still keeps trying to trade off the book's success -- and the fact that famous movie star Joan Crawford was her adoptive mother.

First Christina tried intimating that Joan murdered her fourth husband Alfred Steele, a fact-less, fruitless ploy that didn't work. Now she claims to have suddenly discovered her mother's blue movies and "naked home videos" in which she allegedly is having sex with a man. Even if it's true, who cares? Joan certainly had a right to an active sex life and if she wanted to photograph it that's her business.

So now Christina is readying a stage show -- starring herself -- called "Surviving Mommie Dearest" in which, presumably, these videos will play a part.

Christina is beating a dead horse.

One can't help but think of what Myrna Loy wrote in her autobiography [written with the help of James Kotsilibas-Davis]: "[Christina] wanted to be Joan Crawford. I think that's the basis of the book she wrote afterward, and everything else. I saw what her mind created, the fantasy world she lived in ... She envied her mother, grew to hate her, and wanted to destroy her."

Apparently the publication of Mommie Dearest brought no closure to Christina Crawford. Or at least not enough lasting fame or money to suit her.

Because here she is again, still battening off her mother, and still beating her up far worse than she contends her mother ever beat her.

Pathetic, really.

This is a lady who needs to get a life.






MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT

MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT (2000). Director: Claude Chabrol.

If you were the passenger in a car, and the driver, looking sick, said "I'm beginning to feel numb all over," wouldn't you tell them to pull over to the side of the road? Well, this passenger doesn't in one of the dumb, illogical moments in this film made by French filmmaker Chabrol from an old Charlotte Armstrong mystery novel. The plot has to do with "Mika" Muller (Isabelle Huppert), heir to a Swiss chocolate concern, who is fond of serving her own special hot chocolate to her husband, concert pianist Andre Polonski (Jacques Dutronc), and her stepson Gillaume (Rodolphe Pauly), as well as any guests she may have. Into this little household comes aspiring musician Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis), who thinks that Andre might possibly be her biological father. She also suspects one of the members of the household of being a poisoner. Merci Pour le Chocolat is absorbing and suspenseful for much of its length, but ultimately it heads in a predictable direction and has absolutely no surprises. Worse, Chabrol completely fails to bring out the dramatic potentialities of the storyline and character inter-relationships. The film is so low-key that its characters act like zombies when they should be more than a little upset. This isn't subtlety -- this is just mediocre filmmaking. Those who wrongly compare Chabrol with Hitchcock won't want to use this movie as a case in point. Hitch would never make the fatal mistake of leaving the audience without a punch line and way too many unanswered questions to boot. Chabrol and Huppert also teamed for the slightly better Story of Women in 1988.

Verdict: Have mercy and don't make criminally disappointing movies like this. **.

GLENN FORD: A LIFE

GLENN FORD: A LIFE. Peter Ford. University of Wisconsin Press; 2011.

This is an excellent bio of the late actor written by his son, who had a problematic relationship with his father, eventually deciding to think of himself  primarily as a "fan." The book provides a detailed look at Ford's life and work, with recollections from friends and other performers who worked with him. Peter Ford doesn't sugarcoat his father but neither does he excoriate him, so while we don't know Glenn's side in their conflicts the book still comes off as fair and balanced. Peter looks bluntly at Glenn's marriage to his first wife, Peter's mother, singer-dancer Eleanor Powell, and also examines from a personal perspective the other marriages that didn't last nearly as long. The book is not just a catalog of Glenn's infidelities but a solid look at his film performances and acting style. Although Peter writes about his own life and achievements -- declaring at one point that he's a "red-blooded heterosexual" [a dated expression if ever there were one] -- he never forgets whom this bio is really about. Like the best biographies of movie stars, Glenn Ford: A Life makes you want to revisit many of the actor's famous and not-so-famous movies. Like other tomes penned by famous people's offspring, this book makes it clear that it isn't easy being the child of a celebrity, but it nonetheless does bring its perks. There are some unintentionally eyebrow-raising passages in the book, such as when Peter lists guests at his father's artistic soirees and all of them are well-known gay men, making it seem as if Glenn hosted all gay-parties [until some women are mentioned in subsequent paragraphs]. Glenn Ford is another case of a presumably straight actor benefiting greatly from the early career ministrations of a devoted gay man. [Also recommended: Gary Crosby's book about his father, Going My Own Way.]

Verdict: A substantial, very entertaining, and long-overdue major bio of an important star. ***1/2.

PERRY MASON SEASON 6

Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale
PERRY MASON SEASON 6.

The main change to this venerable series in its sixth season was the addition of actor Wesley Lau to the supporting cast. Lau played Lt. Andy Anderson, an assistant to Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins), who was still on the show but whose appearances became sporadic. Most of this seasons episodes were at least "B+" and quite a few were solid "A's."

For instance: An embezzler and his wife are caught up in surprising developments in "Double-Entry Mind" with Virginia Christine and an outstanding performance from Stuart Erwin. Lt. Anderson's cop cousin is implicated in a crime in "Hateful Hero," which features a superb turn by Jeannette Nolan. Liam Sullivan scores in "Inappropriate Uncle," in which a broke, irresponsible man inexplicably makes out a will but turns out to be wealthy after all. "The Stand-in Sister" is an excellent story of gangsters and switched babies with lots of good twists. In the excellent and unusual "Lurid Letter" -- there is no actual defendant in this episode, as such -- a school teacher is accused of making passes at her male students in an unsigned letter. "The Polka Dot Pony" answers the question of which girl is a woman's long-lost grand-daughter. Perry takes on the scandal sheet Spicy Bits as well as a lying client in "Velvet Claws" with Patricia Barry and Virginia Gregg. An excellent Robert Middleton plays an esteemed judge accused of murder in "Witless Witness."

Perhaps the single best episode of the season -- and one of the best in the entire series -- is "Weary Watchdog," in which John Dall plays a blackmailing art dealer. Perry reveals the killer -- which comes as an utter surprise -- in another courtroom  even as the jury in his own trial is still deliberating. This audacious episode may not stand up to close scrutiny but it certainly is a corker!

Raymond Burr became ill during the sixth season and in several episodes he was replaced by other stars playing defense lawyers of his acquaintance. These included Bette Davis ["Constant Doyle"], who faces Hamilton Burger in court and whose expression as she reveals the guilty party is priceless [she says to a hospitalized Perry on the phone: "I'll make a deal with you -- if you don't give me legal advice I won't take your temperature"]; Michael Rennie ["Libelous Locket"], a law professor who defends a woman accused of killing her blackmailer; and Walter Pidgeon ["Surplus Suitor"], who defends a woman with two beaus who is accused of murder. However, the best of these "substitute" episodes was "The Two-Faced Turn-A-Bout," in which Hugh O'Brian, a colleague of Perry's, not only has to defend a murder suspect but deal with the machinations of his own double.

Verdict: Perry's still going strong! ***1/2.

THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS

THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957). Director: Nathan Juran [as Nathan Hertz].

"A very exciting female -- she appeals to me."

Scientist Steve March (John Agar) goes with associate Dan Murphy (Robert Fuller) to Mystery Mountain for some experiments and discovers a hitherto unknown tunnel -- and exploring it encounters the evil Gor from planet Arous. Gor is an intergalactic criminal as well as a ghostly disembodied brain of substantial size who takes over March's mind and then tries to take over the world. Although Gor terrorizes the military and several representatives of world governments by frying enemies and bringing down airliners, there are some compensations: March's girlfriend , Sally (Joyce Meadows), notices that Steve has become a much more passionate kisser. The Brain from Planet Arous is like a fifties horror/sci fi comic book story and just as silly. But it's also extremely entertaining and features a whopping good lead performance from John Agar, who really seems to be having a ball threatening everyone with his evil eyes beams. There are also solid performances from the supporting cast, including Meadows and Fuller, as well as old stand-bys Thomas Browne Henry and Ken Terrell. Meadows was primarily a television actor, as was Fuller, although he also appeared in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice with Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon in 1969. 

Verdict: As evil brain movies go, this one is a winner. ***.

THE SPIRIT [telefilm]

Nana Visitor and Sam J. Jones
THE SPIRIT (1987 telefilm). Director: Michael Shultz.

"I think she's got the hots for you -- too bad you're dead."

Years before the terrible theatrical film, also called The Spirit, made in 2008, Will Eisner's comic book/newspaper hero Denny Colt was featured in this made-for-TV movie. After his good friend, a writer who was investigating some kind of art crime, is murdered, Officer Colt comes to LA [or a representation thereof] seeking his killer. Instead he winds up being shot and left for dead. Colt decides to let his enemies think he's deceased, and operating from an HQ in Wildwood cemetery, goes out to fight crime as the masked Spirit. Sam J. Jones is not bad at all as Colt/Spirit, and Nana Visitor is zesty as Ellen Dolan, the police commissioner's (Garry Walberg) daughter. Laura Robinson is acceptable as P'Gell Roxton, the bad girl of the piece, although perhaps not the best casting choice. The stereotypical black character of Ebony, the Spirit's pal and assistant, has been updated to a "streetwise" youth named Eubie (Bumper Robinson) -- another stereotype? The Spirit is amiable enough, but one can see why it never became a series.

Verdict: Okay time waster but little else. **1/2.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A SUMMER STORY

A SUMMER STORY (1988). Director: Piers Haggard.

Just before the war two young men are hiking in the area of Devon and Somerset (where A Summer Story was filmed), when the nicer of the two, Frank Ashton (James Wilby), badly sprains his ankle. The two men find a farm that lets rooms, but when his friend gets bored and leaves, Frank stays on and on and on all summer -- drifting into an intense love affair with orphaned Megan (Imogene Stubbs) and promising her his undying devotion and indeed the world. Unfortunately, things don't quite work out that way in this deeply affecting, beautifully done picture that delineates the tragic aspects of romance. A Summer Story also shows in unflinching terms that even supposedly "nice" people can be unspeakably weak and cruel. This is based on the story "The Apple Tree" by John Galsworthy and has been very well dramatized by Penelope Mortimer. Georges Delerue has crafted a memorable score and the countryside is expertly photographed by Kenneth McMillan. Wilby, Stubbs, Jerome Flynn as Joe (who also loves Megan), Susannah York, and the rest of the cast are excellent. Director Haggard, who has done mostly television work, also directed the wretched Blood on Satan's Claw, but is clearly much more inspired by the material this time around. A Summer Story is a decided tearjerker but by no means is it a soap opera. Beautifully done on all levels.

Verdict: This has been known to make grown men blubber. ****.

THE GAZEBO

THE GAZEBO (1959). Director: George Marshall.

"Can't you call Hitchcock again?"

"The guest room? You know how long it's been since I cleaned in there!" -- the heroine, upon learning a corpse is to be placed in a guest room.

TV writer Elliot Nash (Glenn Ford) decides to take the law into his own hands and take care of a blackmailer who threatens to send sexy old photos of his wife, Nell (Debbie Reynolds) -- just starting an important Broadway career -- to the scandal sheets. A new gazebo that the wife has just bought might come in handy as the blackmailer's resting place. Unfortunately, things don't go exactly as Elliot plans. [At one point he asks an unseen Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he's working on a script, for help! If only ..! ] Actually. this is a pleasant and reasonably entertaining black comedy with a few minor twists that only goes awry and becomes a bit labored in the final quarter. Ford is fine; Reynolds is perky and competent; Carl Reiner is okay as their friend, Harlow -- but Reiner's on-screen personality in his younger days was never exactly likable. Doro Merande is hilarious as the maid Matilda, who shouts at everyone. Martin Landau shows up late in the game as a hood. Ford and Reynolds appeared together the same year in the pretty awful It Started with a Kiss.

Verdict: Undeniably amusing but somehow unsatisfying. **1/2.

CITIZEN KANE BLU-RAY 2011 ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION

video

CITIZEN KANE BLU-RAY 2011 ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION. 

Here it is! Beautifully restored and remastered in a special edition 70th anniversary blu-ray collection.

"Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ tour de force which the American Film Institute (AFI) chose as the #1 film of all time[i], celebrates its 70th Anniversary with an all new 1080p hi-definition restoration from original nitrate elements in stunning 4K resolution and revitalized digital audio. Warner Home Video will bring the iconic masterwork to a new generation with their new Blu-ray™ 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition, complete with more than three hours of bonus content and an array of rare and collectible premiums including a 48-page collector’s book filled with photos and behind-the-scene details, 20-page reproduction of the original 1941 souvenir program, lobby cards, and reproductions of rare production memos." 


 In this collector's edition you get:


"Disc 1
·         Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich
·         Commentary by Roger Ebert
  • Opening: World Premier of Citizen Kane Vintage Featurettes
  • Interview with Ruth Warrick
  • Interview with Robert Wise
  • Storyboards
  • Call Sheets
  • Still Photography with Commentary by Roger Ebert
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Ad Campaign
  • Press Book
  • Opening Night
  • Theatrical Trailer

Disc 2
·         The Battle over Citizen Kane Documentary
Disc 3
·         RKO 281 (HBO Feature)"

"Here are links to the Official Facebook page as well as trailers and clips:

         Official Facebook:
·         Trailer:
·         Film Clip:
·         Images:

 Click here to read my review of the masterpiece Citizen Kane

Verdict: This is one collector's edition to own. ****. 

BLACK WIDOW (1954)

BLACK WIDOW (1954). Writer/director: Nunnally Johnson.

Broadway producer Peter Denver (Van Heflin), who is married to actress Iris Denver (Gene Tierney), befriends a struggling young writer named Nanny (Peggy Ann Garner) and eventually wishes he hadn't. Ginger Rogers (Dreamboat) plays his star Carlotta Marin and Reginald Gardiner is her husband, Brian. Possibly attempting to approximate the success of All About Eve, Nunnally Johnson took a story by mystery writer Patrick Quentin (actually Hugh Wheeler) with a Broadway background and concocted another story of an aging affected actress and opportunistic young'n. There the resemblance to All About Eve ends as, to be fair, Black Widow goes in its own direction [after an unpredictable first quarter, however, you can practically write this yourself]. Also, Black Widow is vastly inferior to All About Eve and Ginger Rogers is pretty inadequate doing a lower case Bette Davis. Heflin is as good as ever, but the material is far beneath him, and Gardiner, usually at his best in comedies, is comically miscast in this. Gene Tierney is also good, but she, too, is pretty much wasted. Virginia Leith, Otto Kruger and an unrecognizable Cathleen Nesbitt are excellent in supporting parts. George Raft is simply an embarrassment as a police detective, but Peggy Ann Garner scores as Nanny. The main trouble with Johnson's script is that he hasn't created characters, only trotted out an assortment of types.

Verdict: Watch out for movies in which Reginald Gardiner plays a romantic figure. **.

PASSPORT TO PIMLICO

The wonderful Margaret Rutherford
PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (1949). Director: Henry Cornelius.

After discovering a cache of treasure hidden under the streets, the residents of the district of Pimlico in Post-WW2 London discover documents that [in a convoluted way] actually make them residents of Burgundy. Then a handsome Duke of Burgundy (Paul Dupuis) shows up and begins romancing one of the local women.At first the residents playfully refuse to follow certain British rules -- such as shutting the pubs down at a certain hour -- because, after all, they aren't Londoners but Burgundians.  Unfortunately, this excites and dismays the British parliament and before long the residents of Pimlico find themselves mired in red tape and having to cross customs just to leave or enter their own district. In true British fashion, they decide to fight back and display their English tenaciousness. Okay. This is a cute idea and it does have some amusing sequences, but it gets bogged down way before its over, and its attempt to create characters you actually care about don't quite hit the mark. Most of the cast is unknown on American shores with the exception of Hermione Baddeley, Stanley Holloway, and the wonderful Margaret Rutherford, who plays a historian with her customary panache and enlivens every scene she's in. If only there were more of them!

Verdict: One of those quaint British movies that you can either take or leave. **1/2.


HENRY ALDRICH, BOY SCOUT

HENRY ALDRICH, BOY SCOUT (1944). Director: Hugh Bennett.

Henry Aldrich (Jimmy Lydon) has become a troop leader in the boy scouts and is hoping to get a promotion by leading his team to victory in some games. Endangering this scheme is young Peter Kent (Darryl Hickman), the obnoxious son of an old classmate (Minor Watson) of Henry's father, Sam (John Litel) -- Henry has been put in charge of the boy. Meanwhile Henry is also hoping to impress his girl, Elise (Joan Mortimer), who is playing hard to get. This is an okay enough entry in the long-running movie series, although the sentimental aspects do become a bit cloying at times. Peter only gets in line after he gets beaten up, a suspect development to be sure. However, the cast --- including Charles Smith as Dizzy and Olive Blakeney as Mrs. Aldrich --  are as proficient as ever, the picture is often amusing, and there's a suspenseful and funny bit when Henry and Peter are caught on a crumbling cliff as Dizzy tries to haul them up on a shredding rope. Yikes! Darryl Hickman's brother Dwayne played Dobie Gillis on TV.

Verdict: Another pleasant saga in the life of the irrepressible Henry Aldrich. **1/2.

THE FIGHTING DEVIL DOGS

THE FIGHTING DEVIL DOGS 12 chapter Republic serial/1938. Directed by John English and William Witney.

When virtually all the men under his command are killed in a bizarre electronic assault, Lt. Tom Grayson (Lee Powell) becomes subject of a hearing. But it isn't long before he, his buddy Lt. Corby (Herman Brix/Bruce Bennett), and the entire United States Marine Corps learn that the true culprit is a masked fiend who calls himself the Lightning. He uses an "electrical Thunderbolt" to wipe out hundreds on ships so he can loot them, and carries a portable version of the device to obliterate his personal enemies. The cliffhangers in this otherwise exciting serial are fairly routine -- cars over cliffs, conflagrations, falling beams and even sharks -- and one or two are borrowed from earlier serials. There's a minimum of suspense over the true identity of the Lightning, which comes as somewhat of a surprise. Lee Powell did mostly westerns and died only six years after this serial was released at age thirty-six. He had an appealing sensitivity, although he could do the action stuff with reasonable aplomb as well. 

Verdict: Entertaining if unspectacular cliffhanger. **1/2.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A WOMAN'S FACE

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A WOMAN'S FACE (1941). Director: George Cukor.


"What the well-dressed gargoyle will wear."

Anna Holm (Joan Crawford) is a bitter, disfigured woman who heads a gang of petty criminals and blackmailers. But in her future are fateful encounters with an oily sociopath, Torsten Barring (Conrad Veidt), whom she loves, and a blackmailing victim's husband, Gustav (Melvyn Douglas)  -- who just happens to be a plastic surgeon. Will Anna find love, happiness, and a pretty face -- or will she become inveigled in Barring's plot to kill off his lovable nephew, Lars, for dollars? The plot may sound pretty silly but A Woman's Face is a winner all the way, with a strong performance from Crawford [who, ironically, looks strikingly beautiful in some shots], and a superb supporting cast, including Douglas and Veidt, as well as Connie Gilchrist and Donald Meek as members of Anna's gang; Marjorie Main as a feisty housekeeper; Henry Daniell and George Zucco as officers of the court; and little Richard Nichols as the little boy, Lars. And we mustn't forget Osa Massen as Gustav's wife, who was given the most memorable role of her career in this picture. Dickering with Anna over the price of some indiscreet love letters, she makes the mistake of exposing the latter's scars and insecurity and gets slapped around for her trouble in the picture's liveliest scene [see video]. However, there are other highlights, such as a suspenseful sequence in a cable car and the sleigh ride climax. While Cukor may never have been a Hitchcock, he handles these sequences quite well. Despite the grimness of the subject matter, Donald Ogden Stewart's screenplay doesn't eschew humor any more than it does pathos.

Verdict: Absorbing and first-class all the way. ***1/2.

THE SLEEPING TIGER

Dirk Bogarde and Alexis Smith
THE SLEEPING TIGER (1954) Producer/Director: Victor Hanbury [Joseph Losey].

"A cheap hoodlum -- flipping me away like a cigarette!"

Dr. Clive Esmond (Alexander Knox) is held up at gunpoint by a thug, Frank (Dirk Bogarde), whom he later invites into his home for treatment instead of sending to jail. Knox is an incredible bleeding heart -- he blames all of Bogarde's actions [which might seem tame by today's standards] on his childhood, and can't see what's happening under his nose: an attraction between Frank and Esmond's beautiful wife, Glenda (Alexis Smith), which eventually blossoms into an affair -- and leads to a lot of melodramatic complications. Bogarde is, as usual, quite good, but he seems a little too old and intelligent to be this dysfunctional youth, although if he had played it like a complete lowlife it would have been hard to see Glenda as having romantic feelings for him as well as sexual ones. Knox is fine as the clueless cold fish who can't see this sexy younger guy as a threat to his marriage [there doesn't seem to be any real indication that he himself is attracted to Frank -- aside from his covering up and excusing his criminal actions -- although a modern-day remake might explore this a bit more]. Smith is sexy and not bad as Glenda, although she isn't quite up to the demands of the more challenging sections of the script, although one could argue that this film is not exactly a serious drama and melodramatic emoting was the order of the day. Whatever its flaws -- including an especially pretentious ending and dubious character reversals --  The Sleeping Tiger holds the attention and is entertaining.

Verdict: A good picture that could have been a great one. ***.

FEDERAL AGENTS VS UNDERWORLD INC.


FEDERAL AGENTS VS UNDERWORLD INC. (12 chapter Republic serial/1949). Director: Fred C. Brannon.

Professor Clayton (James Craven) is kidnapped because he has knowledge of something called the Golden Hand of Abisthan treasure, which is coveted by a villainess named Nila (Carol Forman). Nila wants to organize the entire underworld of the country into a massive group like the F.B.I [not nearly enough is done with this great idea]. Out to stop her nefarious plans and find the professor are Inspector David Worth (Kirk Alyn of Superman fame) and Laura Keith (Rosemary La Planche from Strangler of the Swamp). While there are a couple of borrowed cliffhangers in this serial, it also boasts a suspenseful bit involving a box with a bomb in it in chapter 5; Dave nearly running Laura over with his car in chapter 8; a stone-hearted Nila shooting David in 9; a collision between planes in mid-air in 10; and a collapsing bridge in 11. Roy Barcroft, Tristram Coffin and Tom Steele are also in the cast.

Verdict: Fast-paced and generally lively. ***

ROCKY JONES SPACE RANGER

Richard Crane
ROCKY JONES SPACE RANGER 1954. Director: Hollingsworth Morse.

This half hour science fiction show lasted for 39 episodes in 1954. Richard Crane [The Alligator People] starred as Rocky, with Sally Mansfield as Vena Ray, Scotty Beckett as Winky, and Robert Lyden as ten-year-old Bobby. Some of the stories were divided into two or three episodes, and two of these arcs have been collected on DVD. "Crash of the Moons" has Jones and company trying to stop a collision between two planetary bodies and having his efforts thwarted by the suspicions of alien races. In "Menace from Outer Space," Rocky flies to Fornax to investigate after a weapon from that world hits the earth. With his tight pants and sensual lower lip Crane makes an attractive enough hero, and the other cast members are game. The series is charmingly low-tech to say the least.

Verdict: Earnestly dull but not really awful. **.



CHARLIE CHAN'S SECRET

CHARLIE CHAN'S SECRET (1936). Director: Gordon Wiles.

"Chinese people interested in all things psychic."

A very wealthy man who has been presumed dead suddenly turns up alive -- and is promptly murdered. And there are several people who would benefit from his demise. Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) investigates and encounters elderly Mrs. Lowell (Rosina Lawrence) and her family, all of whom are suspects. Inside the Lowell mansion Chan looks for the killer amidst seances, corpses that turn up and vanish, and similar tricks played by both him and the killer. None of the Chan sons appear in this picture -- which alone makes it unusual -- but the comic foil is Baxter the butler played by Herbert Mundin.

Verdict: A very satisfying Charlie Chan mystery. ***.


BEASTS AND BEHEMOTHS PREHISTORIC CREATURES IN THE MOVIES

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms goes on the rampage!
BEASTS AND BEHEMOTHS: Prehistoric Creatures in the Movies. Roy Kinnard. Scarecrow Press; 1988.

This is one of the earlier books that looked at movies featuring dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. Kinnard shows knowledge of and enthusiasm for his subject. If there's any problem with the book is that it was written before or just at the start of the VCR era, and you get the impression on occasion that Kinnard is writing from memory instead of a fresh perspective. Each film gets a chapter but some of the chapters are only a couple of paragraphs long. Still, the book does have some longer, entertaining and informative essays, and boasts some behind-the-scenes interviews as well as many black and white photographs. All in all, it's a fun book for the devotee. Films covered include The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth, of course. NOTE: For a more recent book on monster movies of this type and others see Creature Features: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies

Verdict: Love those behemoths! ***. 


LEGION


LEGION (2009). Director: Scott Charles Stewart.

When an old lady named Gladys (Jeanette Miller) goes nutso in the isolated Paradise Falls diner, it signals the beginning of a battle between mankind and angels, supposedly sent by an angry God to wipe out humanity. Okay -- at least the Devil didn't do it. The archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) tries to help humankind as a furious battle with demonic/angelic creatures ensues. Despite all the alleged horror trappings, this is really just a mediocre action flick with decent special effects, fine photography, and good acting from a cast, including Dennis Quaid and Charles Dutton, that deserves a much better script. Laughably bad for most of its length, the film plays like a burlesque and is simply too stupid to be enjoyable.

Verdict: Watch out for movies with characters named "Jeep." *.