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Welcome to William Schoell's GREAT OLD MOVIES blog. Feel free to leave a comment regardless of the date the review was posted -- I read 'em all. Or if you prefer -- and especially if you have any questions directly for me -- email me at tawses67424@mypacks.net and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Click on a label link (labels can be found at the bottom of each post) to find other movies from that year, the star, that director or genre and so on. Or enter a title, director, genre, star or supporting player in the small Blogger "search blog" box at the far left up above and click search blog. [NOTE: While this blog mostly reviews films -- and TV shows -- that are at least twenty-five years old, we do cover films up until the present day.] HAVE FUN AND THANKS FOR DROPPING BY. William.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

THE BLUE VEIL

Laughton, Wyman and Vance with little Freddy 
THE BLUE VEIL (1951). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

In the maternity ward widow Louise Mason (Jane Wyman) asks to see her newborn but the doctor has to tell her that the child has passed away. Seeking employment, Louise is told [somewhat tactlessly] that she might enjoy being a nanny, a situation she at first rejects. However she becomes a nanny to the little boy of a widower named Fred Begley (Charles Laughton); this is only the first of many positions she has in this episodic film. As the years go by, Louise passes up her own happiness, such as with suitor Gerald Kean (Richard Carlson), when she feels the children she looks after need her more. There is an eventual custody battle over a child virtually abandoned by its mother, and a very moving wind-up. Wyman is excellent, as usual, and she has a stellar supporting cast, including a wonderful Laughton, a solid Carlson, Vivian Vance as Laughton's secretary, Agnes Moorehead and Joan Blondell as subsequent employers, little Natalie Wood as a needy child, and Don Taylor as one of her grown-up charges. This same year Vance became as famous as Wyman and Laughton when she took on the role of Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy; this movie proves there was more to her than Ethel [wonderful as she was]. A priceless bit in Blue Veil has a now-senior Louise being told that she's too old to look after children but she could always get a job as a maid -- such easy work!

Verdict: Tearjerker supreme. ***1/2.

FRENZY

The rape scene in Frenzy puts paid to the dumb theory that women enjoy it













FRENZY (1972 )  Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer.

Early in this movie of a rape-murderer on the loose in London, and an innocent man accused of the crimes, there is a scene in a bar when a middle-aged bar maid, somewhat anxiously and hopefully, asks a policeman if the killer rapes his victims before he strangles them.  "Every cloud has its silver lining, eh, Maisie," responds the police officer. Intentional or not, this ugly bit of business is contrasted later on with a very graphic and disturbing rape-strangulation scene in which it is quite clear that the terrified victim is in no way, shape or form enjoying the experience, and there is also absolutely nothing even remotely erotic about it -- it is pure sadistic woman-hatred and nothing more. [The sequence always makes me burst into tears, frankly.] That the victim, Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), is basically a kind and lovely person [not that this would be okay if she weren't] and that Leigh-Hunt's performance is so intense and skillful, makes it all the more horrible. Some feminists and others were outraged by the sequence, yet I think the scene is necessary to get past the tasteless jokes and show, for once, how awful a crime rape really is. Barry Foster also does a marvelously loathsome job as the murderer.

That being said, Frenzy is an excellent thriller with darkly comic moments. The protagonist, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), ex-husband of the ill-fated Brenda, is not very sympathetic --  deliberately so, I believe --  and always seems much more concerned about himself than the women he supposedly cares for and who are dying all around him. Of course, as in most Hitchcock movies, the murderer has a lot more charm. Finch is perfectly okay in the part, but the best impressions are made by Foster, Leigh-Hunt, Anna Massey as a bar maid and girlfriend of Blaney's, and Bernard Cribbins as her dyspeptic boss. Also notable are Alec McCowen as the inspector assigned to the case, Vivian Merchant as his wife, who foists dreadful "gourmet" meals on him, and Elsie Randolph as a smirking hotel clerk. Billie Whitelaw and Clive Swift (of Keeping Up Appearances) play a couple who have differing opinions as to the guilt or innocence of Blaney, and Jean Marsh is a bottled-up receptionist [a rather tiresome stereotype].

Henry Mancini wrote an evocative theme for this, but Hitchcock wanted something different, which he got from Ron Goodwin, who delivered a stately opening theme redolent of England, and attractively sinister music for key sequences.Foster and Whitelaw were both in Twisted Nerve four years before.

Verdict: Flawed but compelling shocker from The Master. ***1/2.


QUEEN OF BLOOD

The very odd Florence Marley as a sinister queen
















QUEEN OF BLOOD (aka Planet of Blood/1966 ) Writer/director: Curtis Harrington.

 Using footage from a foreign space epic or two for FX shots, Curtis Harrington [What's the Matter with Helen?] fashioned this quaint horror-sci-fi tale using some American actors and Czech-born Florence Marley. Astronauts Alan Brenner (John Saxon), Laura James (Judi Meredith) and Paul  Grant (Dennis Hopper), among others, fly to pick up an alien visitor who has landed on the wrong moon. The visitor is a silent, spooky, weird alien queen [perfectly cast Marley] with green skin, an acorn hairdo, and a certain strict diet that Dracula could empathize with. Before long the crew find themselves fighting off her unwelcome advances. Queen of Blood is disjointed, but eventually it becomes modestly entertaining. Basil Rathbone plays a doctor who is more fascinated by Marley's appetite than appalled. The actors do the best they can, considering what they have to work with. Meredith was the princess in Jack the Giant Killer. Now and then you'll hear some of Ronald Stein's music from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Verdict: Okay, but no It, the Terror from Beyond Space. **1/2.

THE BOUNTY

Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins














THE BOUNTY (1984). Director: Roger Donaldson.

Although it is based on the same real-life events as the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty, this version is in some ways a very different animal. The picture begins with Bligh's trial and then flashes back to the story of the mutiny. Unlike Charles Laughton's portrayal in the original film, this film's Bligh, as played by Anthony Hopkins, has a great deal of charm, and hardly comes off like the utterly cruel martinet essayed by Laughton-- in fact, we see no particular "cruelties" at all until the second half when they seem more like the rough justice of the period. On the trip to Tahiti, Bligh risks the ship and its crew in his bid to circumnavigate the globe and go through the stormy seas of Cape Horn. His decision to try again on the trip back is one of the things that leads to the mutiny [although this is not supposed to be historically accurate]. The book this is based on, Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian, posits the completely unsubstantiated if fascinating theory that Bligh and Christian had been lovers, and the former objected to the latter's impregnating and marrying a Tahitian lass, but while a few scenes barely hint at this it goes unexplored [probably to the disappointment --or relief -- of the homophobic Gibson]. Hopkins is quite good, but he can't compare to the more ferocious and mesmerizing Laughton. Gibson is okay, although one could argue that he displays sullen looks that pass for acting; he has his moments, though. Edward Fox, Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, and especially Liam Neeson are notable in the supporting cast. The film is beautifully photographed by Arthur Ibbetson; Vangelis' plastic musical background is occasionally pleasant but far from a score by Steiner, Korngold or the like.

Verdict: Good to look at and reasonably entertaining. ***.

IT THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE

Peekaboo! The Martian monster on the loose
IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958). Director: Edward L. Cahn. Screenplay by Jerome Bixby.

An expedition to Mars picks up the sole survivor, Lt. Carruthers (Marshall Thompson), of the first team to reach the planet. Carruthers is suspected of murdering his team mates so the food would last longer, but he insists they were actually decimated by a ferocious monster [but what about that bullet hole in a skull? everyone wonders]. Said monster becomes a stowaway on  the voyage back to Earth, and pretty soon this new crew discovers Carruthers was telling the truth. The creature absorbs all of the bodily fluids from his victims via osmosis, and is amazingly strong as well. It, an obvious forerunner of Alien, is a taut, adroit little B movie that builds up suspense as the surviving crew members do everything they can think of to stay alive and destroy the monster. Bixby wrote the classic horror story "It's a Good Life" that was adapted by The Twilight Zone. The competent cast members [who sometimes seem to be holding back laughter]  include Shawn Smith [The Land Unknown], Ann Doran, Kim Spalding as the captain, and Dabbs Greer [The Vampire] as a science officer. Thompson appeared in First Man Into Space and many other films of various genres. Cahn directed 125 movies; Bixby wrote a lot for television but did only a few full-length screenplays.

Verdict: Lively, low-budget sci fi horror. ***.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Robert Urquhart and Peter Cushing

















THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). Director: Terence Fisher.

In Hammer studio's reinvention of the Frankenstein legend, Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is not a conscience-stricken man but a veritable sociopath, this being the second 1957 film to present a totally evil Dr. Frankenstein [the first being I Was a Teenage Frankenstein]. Victor is not only amoral, but he's quite the lover boy, making out with the saucy maid, Justine (Valerie Gaunt) but getting rid of her when she proves a complication. Victor is assisted by his boyhood tutor, Paul (Robert Urquhart), and has a fiancee named Elizabeth (Hazel Court); the creature is played by no less than Christopher Lee. The Curse of Frankenstein has absolutely nothing to do with Mary Shelly's novel, but it borrows an idea from the Universal picture with Karloff in that the monster is given a damaged brain. The acting from all is very good, including Melvyn Hayes as Victor as a boy. Except for the end credits, the musical score sounds practically generic. Followed by The Revenge of Frankenstein.

Verdict: All told minor but influential and quite entertaining. ***.

PROMETHEUS

Michael Fassbender as David  the robot
PROMETHEUS (2012). Producer/director: Ridley Scott.

In 2093 an exploratory ship called Prometheus carries scientists and others toward a world in which they hope to find life, based on some cave paintings they discovered in Ireland. Unfortunately, the world they land on turns out to be the same one as in Alien -- yes, this is a prequel -- and they discover more than one especially nasty life form. There's friction among the men and women on the ship, as well as a slightly sinister robot named David (Michael Fassbender), and a bitchy gal named Meredith (Charlize Theron) who thinks she's running the show and is full of attitude. With Prometheus Scott is clearly attempting to recreate the success of one of his most famous movies, and although there are stupid and illogical moments [and the ending of this film doesn't quite match up with the beginning of Alien, which it easily could have], some spectacular action sequences and truly horrific tableau smooth over the rough spots. A scary and suspenseful operating room sequence is meant to out-do the chest-burster scene in the original movie, and it comes pretty close to doing so. But for a futuristic movie, the screenplay has its old-fashioned moments. It's great that the captain (Idris Elba) is African-American, but does he have to be a dumb [if ultimately heroic] Black Dude Stereotype who tells two guys left temporarily isolated on the planet not to "bugger each other?" The business with the elderly man [an unrecognizable Guy Pearce] who financed the expedition is obscure and rather nonsensical, like something out of a bad comic book. The performances are good, however, especially Noomi Rapace as Dr. Shaw, Fassbender as David, and big-lipped Logan Marshall-Green as Dr. Holloway and Shaw's lover. Prometheus attempts to answer some of the unanswered questions posed by Alien  -- especially regarding those giant humanoid aliens who were forgotten by the sequels -- but it leaves some lingering questions of its own. Still it's a fun ride.

Verdict: Imperfect but exhilarating for action-horror Alien fans. ***1/2.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY

Clark Gable and Charles Laughton
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935). Director: Frank Lloyd.

"Mr. Christian, clear the decks of the rabble."

In 1787 press gangs led by Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) pull men out of taverns and conscript them into the Queen's Navy whether they want to go or not, but Christian proves benign compared to the hideous (in every sense of the word) Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) of the ship Bounty. While sailing to Tahiti to get a cargo of breadfruit, Bligh displays such cruelty to his men -- he orders a corpse flogged and keelhauls a man who only wanted water for his bloody knees -- that Christian speaks up, earning him the captain's eternal enmity. On the voyage back, Christian can stand it no longer and commands a [somewhat self-serving] mutiny, casting Bligh and those loyal to him out in a lifeboat. This famous true story is compelling, and the film boasts some fine acting, especially from the hateful, outstanding Laughton as Bligh. Donald Crisp also makes his mark as Burkitt, an ex-con turned sailor, and Eddie Quillan and Franchot Tone are also notable. The problem with the film is the matter-of-fact direction, which has no dramatic flair, and one senses things have also been a bit white-washed and sanitized. Still, this holds the attention and has its rousing moments. Gable gives a solid star performance.

Verdict: Story and acting make this worthwhile. ***.


ALIEN [2003] "DIRECTOR'S CUT"

The crew of the Nostromo make an amazing discovery -- but things get worse.









ALIEN (1979). Director: Ridley Scott.

"This place gives me the creeps."

When Twentieth-Century Fox re-released Alien, they asked director Ridley Scott to prepare a new version incorporating footage that had been excised when the film was first released. Scott complied, but had always liked the original cut, and found the new cut to be too long and lumbering. So he did a final edit and came out with an alternate version that was a minute shorter than the original. But any way, you slice it, this is Alien, and it's good.

The crew of the Nostromo are awakened early by what they assume is a distress signal and land on a foreboding, stormy planet wherein they discover a derelict spaceship with a dead economy-sized navigator [see photo]. In the bowels of the derelict ship they find a mass of strange eggs, one of which unleashes a creature that attaches itself to the faceplate of crewman Kane (John Hurt). Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is concerned about admitting Kane to the ship due to possible contamination -- it turns out she's right to be concerned -- but compassion overrides directives and Kane is taken to the medical center. From then on it's a mounting spiral of horror as the alien creature proves to be deadly and nearly unkillable. Alien admirably sustains tension throughout and works up a beautifully creepy atmosphere. The acting is good, with the ladies Weaver and Veronica Cartwright (who was in The Birds as a child) taking top honors. H. R. Giger's biomechanical alien design is intriguing and the film has superior art direction and scenic design. Dramatic license allows for the sounds of explosions and so on in space even if the ads claimed "In space no one can hear you scream." Jerry Goldsmith's musical score is a plus.

New scenes include one in which Cartwright gives Weaver a smack in the face and calls her a bitch. And one late in the movie when Ripley comes across cocoons containing some of the crew members, and toasts Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) when he begs her to kill him.

Alien was an influential movie, even as it was itself influenced [in script, incident, and design] by such B movies as It, the Terror from Beyond Space! and Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires. It was followed by Aliens. In 2012 Ridley Scott made a prequel entitled Prometheus.

Verdict: Very well-dressed and absorbing popcorn movie. ***1/2.

TORCH SINGER

TORCH SINGER (1933). Director: Alexander Hall [with George Somnes].

"Why couldn't you have been a boy? The world's such a tough place for a girl to come to."

Sally Trent (Claudette Colbert), who had to give up her illegitimate baby girl for adoption, is a notorious torch singer who causes one scandal after another, but she is also known as "Aunt Jenny" [under the name Mimi Benton], the much-beloved singing hostess of a radio show for kiddies! Sally hopes to use the program to somehow reconnect with her little girl. Ricardo Cortez is Sally's producer and David Manners is the father of her baby. Baby Leroy [The Old-Fashioned Way] is in the cast [and gets high billing] as the baby of Sally's friend early in the picture, but the adorable little tyke hardly gets any scenes -- for shame! Colbert, obviously having a lot of fun, is swell in this picture; she can't sing to save her life but puts over her song numbers in spite of it. Mildred Washington is a delight as Carrie, Sally's sassy maid, and there's a nice bit from a little black child actress -- whom Sally hopes is her daughter until she sees her and realizes it isn't --  who is uncredited. It would have been nice to see the reaction of the sponsors when they finally discover who "Aunt Sally" really is, but we never do. 

Verdict: Completely contrived but very entertaining with Colbert in fine fettle. ***.


REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Triangle: Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward, Virginia Field
















REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947). Director: Alfred Werker.

"They're not real people, actresses. Audiences don't like them."

Broadway leading actress Sheila Page (Joan Leslie) has a problem or two: She is still in love with her stinker of a husband, the drunk, philandering Barney (Louis Hayward), and grateful to him for writing the role that made her a star years ago. But Barney hasn't written another play since, and he enters into an affair with Paula Costello (Virginia Field), the author of Sheila's new hit. What is basically a triangle melodrama has a unique twist -- Sheila shoots Barney at the very beginning of the film on New Year's Eve, and so fervently wishes she could live the past year all over again and avoid the grim result that she literally winds up a year in the past. Sheila does her best to change things so they won't lead to the same outcome, and the fun of the movie is in seeing whether or not things will work out the way she hopes. But even when some things change will the ending be inevitable? Leslie gives a more than competent if unexciting performance -- one can imagine say, Stanwyck in this part -- but Hayward and Field are quite flavorful [even if the former chews the scenery at times]. Richard Basehart and Natalie Schafer are fine as a young poet and the wealthy man-hungry woman who becomes his patron. Tom Conway is Sheila's producer. Wrongly considered a remake of Turn Back the Clock of 1933 [which had a time travel slant but an entirely different storyline], this was remade under that title as a made-for-TV movie with Connie Selleca in the lead [Leslie appeared as a party guest] in 1989.

Verdict: Worth living through at least once. ***.

THE NIGHT STRANGLER

Darren McGavin and Simon Oakland
















THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973). Producer/director: Dan Curtis. Written by Richard Matheson.

Reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) from The Night Stalker is back, this time working with old boss and nemesis Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) on a paper in Seattle. More women are being murdered, and Kolchak discovers these type of killings have been occurring every twenty years since the 19th century. There's a hideous, sinister figure who lives in the ruins of Old Seattle underneath the city proper. The best scenes take place in this very eerie under-earth atmosphere. McGavin and Oakland are perfect, and they get fine support from the likes of Jo Ann Pflug [one of the worst names in show business] as a dancer; Wally Cox as a researcher; Margaret Hamilton as a professor of the arcane; Scott Brady as a cop; Al Lewis as a derelict in the underground; and John Carradine as a publisher. Nina Wayne is fun as a dopey stripper whose lover is a butch lesbian stereotype apparently added for dumb comic relief. Richard Anderson is also good in an unusual and pivotal role. This is basically a variation of The Man in Half Moon Street and The Man Who Could Cheat Death. Superior to The Night Stalker, this telefilm was successful enough to get Kolchak his own series.

Verdict: Love that Old Seattle! ***.

DO YOU KNOW THIS MOVIE? # 3

A reader in the UK is trying to find the name of a movie he saw years ago. The plot certainly sounds familiar to me but I just can't remember the title. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Here's what my correspondent had to say:

"Back in the late fifties / sixties there was an old B&W film that was broadcast several times on UK TV. I was was very young at the time but I still get flashbacks to the film and have been trying to track details, so that I can watch it and exorcise this ghost. I can't remember the title or any of the actors; all I can remember was the plot and the atmospheric scenes - to my young mind it was an amazing movie and I yearn, more and more each year, to find it and watch it...

The movie was about a man who regularly travelled via a train and he found a strange old news-seller selling papers by the entrance to the train station - it was very foggy at the time - they had a discussion and he bought a paper. When he looked at the paper later he found it was showing tomorrows news - at first he thought they must have the wrong date and he read about a terrible disaster. The next day the incident happened just as it was written in the paper. He tried to find the news-seller again but it wasn't foggy and he couldn't find him. Then a few days later it was foggy again and he found the news-seller - he bought another paper and again it predicted the future, this went on a few times and he tried to prevent things from happening - I think this resulted in the news-seller telling the man that he couldn't change the future - it was already written. After that discussion the news-seller didn't appear again. I don't think the news-seller was visible to other commuters and he was only available to the traveller when this strange, very dense, fog appeared. I wish I could remember more, but I'm hoping that you'll be able to help me track this movie after all these years."

Does this ring a bell with anyone? My thanks in advance. 
 
UPDATE: Two readers have identified the film as It Happened Tomorrow; at least we're all pretty sure that is the correct film. Thank you! Amazingly, I had already reviewed this film on the blog, just couldn't remember the details or the name of it, LOL!

MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS

THE AVENGERS (aka Marvel's The Avengers/2012). Writer/Director: Joss Whedon.

The super-heroes featured in the movies Thor, Captain America, the First Avenger, Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk band together to form a team called the Avengers [which first appeared in comic books in the early 1960's] when evil Loki of Asgard comes to Earth and enlists the aid of extra-dimensional robotic warriors and giant metallic worm-dragons that threaten to tear apart Manhattan. There's no real story or fully dimensional characters in this so the movie offers some good special effects and a few exciting sequences that save the movie from the scrapheap. The whole thing is an overlong live-action cartoon and often resembles a high-class video game. It's hard to imagine what audience members who aren't familiar with the comic books will think of this, as it's even confusing to long-time readers. [These Avengers seem modeled more on the heroes of the "Ultimate" universe than the regular Marvel universe.] Alan Silvestri's music helps a bit, but Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is generally mediocre. Samuel L. Jackson scores as SHIELD director Nick Fury, and Tom Hiddleston pretty much walks off with the movie as Loki. The other actors offer the right amount of attitude. [In some comic book -- and Star Trek -- movies the actors often emote as if they think they're doing Shakespeare!] In the comic books Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is known as the Black Widow, and Clint Barton (Jeremey Renner) is known as Hawkeye, although I don't believe those names are used in this movie. NOTE: To read more about the early origins of all of these characters see The Silver Age of Comics

Verdict: Well ... it's somewhat better than Marvel's other summer movies with the exception of X-Men: First Class [which easily out-classes The Avengers] but it has its moments and is often entertaining. ***.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

MIRAGE

















MIRAGE (1965). Director:Edward Dmytryk.

"If we can lie, cheat, steal and kill in broad daylight, but have to wait until it's dark to make love ... what does that have to say about us as a society!"

"If you're not committed to anything, you're just taking up space."

In 1951 Howard Fast published the novel "Fallen Angel" [which was reissued years later in paperback under the title "Mirage"] under the pen name Walter Ericson. The book was well-written, but typical of post-WW2 fiction, in that it was grim and fatalistic and occasionally pretentious. "Fallen Angel" was the basis of two films, Mirage and Jigsaw. Mirage is by far the better of the two.

Although there are some changes made, Mirage is pretty faithful to the novel. David Stillwell (Gregory Peck) discovers that he has amnesia on the same day that a man plummets to his death in the same office building in which Stillwell works. Or so he thinks. The office has disappeared; a pretty young woman  named Shela (Diane Baker) claims to know him although to him she's a complete stranger; and worse, people are trying to kill him and demanding he turn over something -- but he has no idea what it is or what they're talking about. Stillwell hires a first-time private eye named Ted Caselle (Walter Matthau) to help him, but the man uncovers more questions than answers.

Mirage is a first-rate suspense film [although it can be argued that it succeeds due to the acting and plot more than to Dmytryck's standard if more-than-competent direction]. Peck gives a very good performance, and although Baker isn't quite the femme fatale type the attractive actress nevertheless acquits herself nicely. Matthau, in his pretty much comic turn as the private eye, doesn't really seem to fit into the movie. Of the supporting cast, Robert H. Harris makes the best impression as Dr. Broden, but there are also notable turns by Jack Weston, George Kennedy, Walter Abel, Leif Ericson, Kevin McCarthy, and Anne Seymour. There's an excellent use of New York City locations, and an exciting chase sequence in Central Park. Ann Doran has a bit part as the neighbor of a murdered man who wants to keep her nose clean. Peter Stone's screenplay intelligently adapts the novel, makes things a little clearer than they are in the sometimes murky book, and has some excellent dialogue as well [see above].

Verdict: Classy suspense film with a convoluted but fascinating storyline and very good performances. ***1/2.

JIGSAW

JIGSAW (1968). Director: James Goldstone.

Only three years after the film Mirage came out, a remake was made for television. Like Mirage, Jigsaw was based on Howard Fast's novel "Fallen Angel" as well as Peter Stone's screenplay for Mirage. However, screenwriter Ranald MacDougall [Queen Bee] fashioned a story that contained some elements from the earlier book and movie but was basically an entirely different story. NBC found the telefilm too violent -- or mediocre -- and decided not to run it, so Universal studios released it in theaters. Although the stars were Bradford Dillman and Harry Guardino, they were basically ignored [and they both gave excellent performances, too] in the advertising in favor of freakish Michael J, Pollard, who had only a bit part really [and two short scenes] but had been nominated for an Academy Award for his turn in Bonnie and Clyde. Such is show business! The poster also made it seem as if the movie were some sort of expose of the sixties Timothy Leary-type drug scene a la The Trip, which it definitely was not.

In Jigsaw Jonathan Fields (Dillman) temporarily loses his memory after ingesting sugar cubes laced with acid [LSD]. He remembers seeing the dead body of a woman in the bathtub of somebody's apartment, and this body later turns up in his own place. He goes to private investigator Arthur Belding (Guardino), who has his girlfriend Sarah (Diana Hyland) aid them in their investigation. Fields also has a girlfriend of sorts played by Hope Lange. The private detective is really the lead character in this and there's no death plunge until the very end. Unlike Mirage, Jigsaw gives away its secrets much too early and has a much more conventional murder/cover-up plot despite the psychedelic facade. The acting is fine, however, both by the aforementioned actors as well as by Pat Hingle as an associate of Fields' and Victor Jory [The Shadow serial] as his boss. 

Verdict: Not bad, holds the attention, but nothing special either despite solid performances. **1/2.

FOURTEEN HOURS

Richard Basehart and Robert Keith
FOURTEEN HOURS (1951). Director: Henry Hathaway.

A troubled and emotionally disturbed man, Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart), climbs out on a ledge of a New York City hotel and refuses to leave. No one -- not his ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes), mother (Agnes Moorehead), father (Robert Keith), or a traffic cop named Dunnigan (Paul Douglas) -- can coax him to come inside as others try to figure out who he is and what's upsetting him. Fourteen Hours is well-photographed and well-acted -- Douglas is especially outstanding -- but neither its characters nor psychological undertones are developed in any compelling fashion, and as a thriller it only works sporadically. The big climax is disappointing as well. Still, it holds the attention and has some exciting moments even though it fails to sustain the tension of the situation. [Part of the trouble is that you sense Cosick's problems aren't all that severe. Some feel that he is a gay man struggling with his sexuality in a less-enlightened time period, and while that might certainly fit, the film itself doesn't really explore or confirm this.] Grace Kelly plays a woman in a divorce lawyer's office in a building across the way, while Jeffrey Hunter makes time with another woman (Debra Paget?) down in the crowd -- these unnecessary side stories are not well-integrated into the plot. [The lady Hunter is interested in seems to have concern for Cosick, but whey would she actually want to be there to see it if he jumped?] Howard Da Silva plays a testy police chief.

Verdict: Okay suspense film with some good performances. **1/2.

JOHNNY BELINDA

Lew Ayres and Jane Wyman
JOHNNY BELINDA (1948). Director: Jean Negulesco.

A new doctor in a small village on an island in Nova Scotia, Robert Richardson (Lew Ayres), who hasn't quite been accepted by the locals, befriends and helps a deaf-mute woman [whom even her loved ones call the "dummy"], Belinda (Jane Wyman), and helps her to lip-read and make her thoughts and feelings known. When Belinda is raped by local tough guy Locky, (Stephen McNally), it leads to ugly rumors about Belinda and the doctor, not to mention a custody battle over the child, the titular Johnny, and even a murder trial! Wyman is excellent, with solid support from Ayres; Charles Bickford as Belinda's father; Agnes Moorehead as her aunt; McNally as Johnny's father; and Jan Sterling as Locky's confused but compassionate wife. The film is beautifully photographed by Ted D. McCord, and has a fine score by Max Steiner. Not quite a masterpiece, but lovely and interesting. Mabel Paige, who played the owner of Hanson's dress shop on I Love Lucy, plays an unsympathetic role as one of the village's gossiping old biddies. 

Verdict: A nice picture with a fine cast. ***.

EATING RAOUL

Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, and their trusty frying pan
EATING RAOUL (1982). Director: Paul Bartel. Written by Bartel and Richard Blackburn.

"Horrible, sex-crazed maniacs that no one would miss!"

"Do you think you can buy another frying pan? I'm just a little queasy about cooking in the one we use to kill people."

Conservative wine seller Paul Bland (Paul Bartel) and his nurse-wife Mary (Mary Woronov) are aghast at their huge rent increase, as well as the antics of the won't-take-no-for-an-answer swingers who live and/or party in their Hollywood building. Having already killed off a man who was trying to have his way with Mary, the couple hit upon the idea of advertising for swingers and murdering them for their money, batting every "pervert" on the head with a frying pan. But a shady locksmith  named Raoul (Robert Beltran) figures out what the Blands are doing and wants his cut -- only he's less interested in the money than he is in the bodies! This very dark comedy is completely absorbing and sick, and also highly amusing, if not for every -- pardon me -- taste. Neither of the two leads are exactly highly-skilled comic actors [although Woronov had a funny bit on the TV show Wings years later], but other than that they are well-cast. Woronov is at least professional, but Bartel really isn't much of an actor. Buck Henry certainly scores as the lecherous Mr. Leech, from whom Mary tries to get a loan; Susan Saiger is terrific as a friendly dominatrix; Edie McClurg makes the most of a bit as a bisexual swinger; and Ed Begley Jr. shows up as another wannabee client of the Blands. Beltran, who later had a significant role on Star Trek: Voyager, is excellent as Raoul. At the core Eating Raoul is a study of ultimate hypocrisy, as the Blands' activities are much, much worse than that of the swingers' they abhor.

Verdict: Certainly a different bill of fare. ***.

FIVE

Susan Douglas and William Phipps
FIVE (1951). Writer/Producer/Director: Arch Oboler.

After an atomic holocaust, five strangers who survived for various reasons, find themselves sharing a cliff house [actually designed by Frank Lloyd Wright] in an isolated area. Roseanne (Susan Douglas) is pregnant and still hoping that her husband, Steven, is alive. Michael (William Phipps) is developing romantic feelings for Roseanne. Oliver Barnstaple (Earl Lee) and Charles (Charles Lampkin), worked together at a bank, while late arrival Eric (James Anderson), who climbed Mount Everest to find civilization gone, is a racist who can't deal with the presence of Charles. Eric wants to explore the city for its bounty, while Michael feels they are better off and safer where they are. The best scenes have Roseanne and Eric exploring the city, full of skeletons, and finding out what happened to Steven. [The city is deserted when it should be in utter ruin.] This is by no means a bad movie -- the music and especially the photography are excellent -- but it becomes melodramatic and at its heart has a conventional sensibility. There is a heavy-handed religiosity at times, as well. The actors are good: Phipps had a long, long list of credits; Douglas did a lot of TV work. James Anderson, who seems to be doing a bad imitation of Charles Boyer in this, also appeared in many films and TV shows. Five was Lampkin's first credit and he appeared on any TV shows later on. The opening moments of Five, showing a deadly mist covering everything, are quite effective, but the movie itself just misses.

Verdict: An admirable attempt but there's something lacking. **1/2.

THE THREE INVESTIGATORS AND THE SECRET OF SKELETON ISLAND

The Three Investigators on the job














THE THREE INVESTIGATORS AND THE SECRET OF SKELETON ISLAND (2007). Director: Florian Baxmeyer. Based on the book by Robert Arthur.

In the sixties there was a series of juvenile mysteries called "Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators". Three young boys would report to the famous film director, and take off on assignments to solve puzzling mysteries. One of the books was entitled "The Secret of Skeleton Island."  [NOTE: There was an even better young adult mystery with the same title published as the first novel in the Ken Holt Mystery series by Bruce Campbell.] This German-South African production basically throws out the story of the novel and substitutes a tale of a mythical monster, a search for treasure, and a sub-theme of the evils of racism set on an island near Capetown. [The only relation to the book is that one of the boys' father's is hired to work on an amusement park, but it is never seen or referred to again in the movie.] The film has an excellent prologue wherein the boys are nearly crushed under a descending elevator, and a good scene late in the film when they're trapped in an underground chamber [this may be taken for a substitute for the books' best sequence, in which they are caught in an underwater cavern]. There's also an exciting scene when the boys go paragliding, although none have much experience at it. The young actors in this -- Chancellor Miller, Nick Price and Cameron Monaghan as the investigators, and Naima Sebe as a girl they befriend and help during the adventure -- are excellent, and the production is certainly slick. A sequel, The Three Investigators and the Castle of Terror is only available in Australia. Alfred Hitchcock, alas, is nowhere to be seen.

Verdict: Fun for children. **1/2.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI

Welles and Hayworth in the famous funhouse finale















THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947). Director: Orson Welles.

"Is this what you people do in the evenings? Sit around toasting marshmallows and calling each other names?"

Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles) is hired by Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and her husband Arthur (Everett Sloane) to help run their boat, but he winds up smack dab in the middle of a convoluted murder plot -- but who's trying to kill whom? It would be criminal to give away any of the twists and turns for those who may never have seen the film; suffice it to say this is a smooth suspense thriller with flavorful characters and fine performances from a stellar cast; arguably Hayworth as the femme fatale has never been better or better-cast.Glenn Anders is also notable as Bannister's weird business partner and Ted de Corsia scores as the sinister Broome. The fascinating picture leads up to a highly memorable sequence in an amusement park with the exciting climax taking place in a mirror maze. One could argue that Welles isn't quite on Hitchcock's level and some scenes -- such as a courtroom scene -- are perhaps a little too busy, but Lady from Shanghai is nonetheless audacious and compelling. Welles, directing himself, is outstanding in the lead role. You can't look at the plot -- or some of the events -- with close scrutiny [O'Hara not being recognized by a policeman at one point!] -- the movie has its absurd moments -- but it all moves too fast for you to care. Beautifully photographed by Charles Lawton Jr. and some uncredited associates. William Castle was one of the producers of this classic.

Verdict: Film Noir par excellance! ***1/2.

THE NIGHT STALKER

Darren McGavin as Kolchak
THE NIGHT STALKER (1972 telefilm). Drector: John Llewellyn Moxey. Written by Richard Matheson.

Reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), hoping to get back to the big time of New York from Las Vegas, latches onto a story about women being found dead drained of every drop of blood, and runs with it, discovering that an actual vampire (Barry Atwater) is on the loose, leading to a tense climax in the bloodsucker's lair. This high-rated telefilm [a "Movie of the Week"] introduced Kolchak, who returned in a second telefilm, The Night Strangler, before getting his own series, which lasted one season. McGavin is fine, bolstered by performances from Carol Lynley as his girlfriend, Claude Akins as a cop, Kent Smith as the D.A., and Simon Oakland as Kolchak's belligerent boss, Vincenzo. Elisha Cook Jr. and Charles McGraw are also in the cast and are notable. An unlikely aspect of the plot is that Vincenzo wants to suppress the story, which makes no sense as he's in the business of selling newspapers, and a story of vampire killings would certainly garner a hell of a lot of attention!

Verdict: Entertaining time passer with a nifty premise. ***.

SEARCH FOR BEAUTY

Ida Lupino and "Buster" Crabbe
SEARCH FOR BEAUTY  (1934). Director: Erle C. Kenton.

"Baby, come to Mama!"

Larry Williams (Robert Armstrong) and Dan Healy (James Gleason), with the help of Jean Strange (Gertrude Michael), try a new con by putting out a "health" magazine and hiring above-board Olympic winners (Ida Lupino and "Buster" Crabbe) as editors to make it all look legitimate. Before long the editors are clashing with the publishers, who confuse a fitness mag with something a little bit racier. There's a search for perfect male and female physical specimens to work at a health farm, where Williams and company find they must adhere to the strict regimen along with all of the other guests even though they'd rather drink and watch pretty gals dancing on tables. The film is ful of risque dialogue and attractive performers -- and the lead actors are all swell -- but this pre-code movie ultimately doesn't amount to much.

Verdict: If only there were more solid laughs and a better story. **.




SUSPICION VOLUME 1

SUSPICION Volume 1.1957 TV series.

15 of the filmed episodes [apparently half of the show's episodes were taped live] of the mystery/suspense series Suspicion have been collected on three discs in an initial volume. The show was produced by Alfred Hitchcock's TV unit, and the Master directed the first episode, "Four O'Clock," himself. Taken from a Cornell Woolrich story it concerns a jealous husband (E. G. Marshall) who plants a time bomb in his basement to kill his wife and her alleged lover. [Frankly, Hitch seems a little disinterested with the material until the nail-biting final minutes; still this is a good episode.] Other memorable shows include: "Heartbeat," a sad tale in which David Wayne gets a misdiagnosis from a heart specialist and doesn't realize how much he is in danger if he exerts himself [also in this episode is that very weird actress Barbara Turner]; "Protege," an All About Eve variation with an excellent [as always] Agnes Moorehead  as an alcoholic actress on the comeback trail bedeviled by a viper-like, ambitious assistant (Phyllis Love); and "Death Watch" in which witness Janice Rule and protector-cop Edmond O'Brien learn that the former is to be targeted by a dirty cop whose identity is unknown. [The only trouble with this suspenseful episode is the highly illogical wind-up]. The best episodes in this collection are "The Way Up to Heaven," a Roald Dahl concoction in which a wife (the wonderful Marion Lorne), who desperately wants to fly to Paris to see her grandchildren, is continuously stymied by the selfish manipulations of her husband (Sebastian Cabot) until he gets his amusing comeuppance; and especially "Doomsday," which features a knock-out performance by Dan Duryea as a notorious criminal planning a major bank heist -- with major complications. Other guest-stars on the show include Donna Reed, Audie Murphy, Michael Rennie, Rafael Campos, Rod Steiger [excellent in "The Bull Skinner"], John Beal. Joseph Cotten, William Shatner, and Bette Davis in the fairy awful "Fraction of a Second," in which she gives another of her pretty terrible latter-day performances.

Verdict: Good old show with more hits than misses. ***.

DON WINSLOW OF THE COAST GUARD













DON WINSLOW OF THE COAST GUARD (/13 chapter Filmcraft serial/1943). Directors: Lewis D. Collins, Ray Taylor.

 "The Japs would give their eyeteeth to get this information."

"You mean their buck teeth, sir." [Oy!]

In this superior sequel to Don Winslow of the Navy, Winslow (Don Terry) is assigned to the Coast Guard and continues to battle the machinations of the Scorpion (Nestor Paiva) and his female lieutenant, Tasmia (June Duprez). Elyse Knox is cast as the plucky nurse, Mercedes, and talented Philip Ahn is rather wasted in the role of bad guy Hirota. Highlights include a fire in an oil derrick, a plane that smashes into a boat, another boat that is blown to bits, and a neat bit with a car that rolls down a hill backward and winds up in the drink. The Scorpion has an interesting headquarters located in a cliff behind a waterfall. An interesting aspect of the serial is that the story is conversationally recapped/reported at the beginning of the chapter by one of the supporting characters. Terry is more than adequate as the action-hero, and Paiva, in a rare villainous role, is adequate if a little bland. Full of WW2 lingo and stock sea battle footage.

Verdict: Much better than Don Winslow of the Navy. ***.

THE VULTURE

















THE VULTURE (1967). Writer/producer/director: Lawrence Huntington.

A woman (Annette Carrell) sees a grave opening from below and then a huge bird-like monster with a human head and hands emerges. Everyone thinks she must be crazy except for Dr. Eric Lutens (Robert Hutton) of the Atomic Energy Commission. Lutens, who is married to the niece, Trudy (Diane Clare), of two men named Stroud who live in the area (Broderick Crawford, Gordon Sterne), is immediately convinced -- without a shred of evidence -- not only that the creature is real but that it is the product of "nuclear transmutation." In other words an unknown person, seeking treasure, used energy to change places with the skeleton in the grave, but was unaware there was a vulture buried in there as well, so the result is a half-man/half-bird mutation [a la The Fly]. Surely there would have been easier ways to get treasure out of a grave! Anyway, this monster sets out to destroy its enemies one by one. Okay, the plot is patently absurd even for a low-budget British horror movie, but the movie is still fun and works up some suspense and creepiness. Crawford, as gruff as ever, is fine, Hutton is okay, but the picture is stolen by wily old Akim Tamiroff as Professor Koniglich. This was the last film  for Huntington, who died the following year. Hutton was also in The Man Without a Body.

Verdict: Utterly illogical but amusing. ***.

4D MAN

4D MAN (1959). Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.,

Scientist brothers Scott (Robert Lansing) and Tony (James Congdon) Nelson are in the middle of an awkward triangle situation involving Scott's alleged fiancee, Linda (Lee Meriwether). All of this romantic stuff seems negligible, however, when through experimentation Scott develops the ability to walk through walls. If he touches anyone, he absorbs that person's life energy and they wither and die. Lansing is typically blase and unemotional at first but gets better as his predicament gets worse. Lee Meriwether and James Congdon are both quite attractive and memorable. [Patty Duke is supposed to be in the cast, but either her scenes were edited out of the print I saw -- or her scenes were dropped altogether -- or she's on so quickly that you blink and miss her. As she's a fairly distinctive actress I suspect it's the former.] The picture is reasonably absorbing but it isn't well-served by the terrible and inappropriate jazz scoring. The best scene is an early one in which Scott tries to push his hand into a block of stone and it gets caught ... Congdon appeared with Bette Davis in the interesting ":Out There -- Darkness" episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Yeaworth is best-known as the director of The Blob (1959).

Verdict: Good idea with mediocre execution. **1/2.

GREAT OLD MUSICAL: FIORELLO

FIORELLO!. Book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott. Music by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. NYU [New York University] Skirball Center. Sunday September 30th, 2012. 3 PM.

Fiorello! is the story of one of New York City's most famous majors, Fiorello La Guardia, actually covering his life and career just up until the time he decides to run for mayor. But there's no lack of drama in his earlier life as he runs for Congress, argues in favor of the draft and enlists in the Army during WW 1 to bolster his argument, marries a woman who was accused of prostitution when she was only picketing for better working conditions at a factory, takes on corruption and racketeers, and so on. The book by Weidman and Abbott intelligently and expertly covers a lot of territory and presents both the good and bad points in La Guardia's character. None of this would matter if there weren't plenty of good songs, and Fiorello! has a tuneful and witty score thanks to composer Jerry Bock [She Loves Me!] and lyricist Sheldon Harnick.

Fiorello! was a hit on Broadway in the sixties, and it was a hit again judging from the reaction of the very mixed-ages audience at NYU's Skirball center on Sunday September 30th, 2012. I mean, this was a Broadway-quality production on every level. From the direction [William Wesbrooks] to the conducting [Michael Ricciardone] to choreography [MK Lawson] and so on, this knocked it out of the ball park in every single instance -- the staging, dancing, settings were impeccable. There was also a highly professional cast, leading with Kenny Francoeur adeptly portraying a much older man; Joanne Shea touching and appealing as the woman who has been secretly in love with Fiorello for many years; and Jessica Fishenfeld as Wife Number One singing the pants off the show's very beautiful show stopper, "When Did I Fall in Love?" Akira Fukui [playing the Jewish Morris!]; Zack Robert Wagner as Neil; Eli Rose as cop Floyd; Stephanie Marantz as his lady love Dora; Jake Kinney as Ben; and Bethany Fagan, who displays plus-sized sex appeal in her turn as Jimmy Walker fan Mitzi, also deserve kudos.

The show is remarkably faithful to the true facts of La Guardia's life, although I've no doubt there was a little dramatic license here and there. I liked the very bouncy orchestrations, and such melodious numbers as "Politics and Poker," "The Very Next Man;" "Home Again," and the lilting waltz number, "Till Tomorrow." Incredibly, the seats for this show were only twenty dollars! It's a shame that after all the hard work, there were only two performances of this splendid entertainment.

Lincoln Center's Encores series is also doing Fiorello! early next year. NYU's wonderful production is going to be a very tough act to follow.

Verdict: Superb on every level. ****.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

GREAT OLD MOVIES -- EXTRA # 3: GODZILLA AND COMPANY

Godzilla vents!















GODZILLA AND COMPANY.

Whether you're a fan of the Big Green Galoot, or think a love of Godzilla movies indicates the intellectual capacity of a flea [I'm somewhere in between], the fact remains that the beloved icon is here to stay: a new American remake of the original fifties film is due in 2014. Let us not forget the 1998 American version with Matthew Broderick [although many would like to forget it] and the many sequels of the original Japanese feature. There has even a scholarly book on the Big Green Giant. Below you'll find reviews of the original Japanese Gojira and other items of interest. Enjoy!

GOJIRA

GOJIRA (1954). Director: Ishiro Honda.

In this original version of Godzilla, the Japanese face nuclear terror all over again when a 50 meter tall animal, an intermediate between dinosaur and mammal, who absorbed the energy from nuclear explosions that removed it from its normal environment, emerges from the ocean.to savage their nation. Of course there's the stupid scientist, Yamane (Takashi Shimura)  who wants to "study" a gigantic monster ravaging Tokyo, but another scientist, Serizawa (Akihito Harata), comes up with a weapon to destroy the creature. Yamane has a daughter, Emiko (Momoko Kochi), who is sort of bethrothed to Serizawa but in love with Hideto (Akira Takarada), who is more of a matinee idol. Some of the more sobering scenes in this fairly "serious" monster movie were cut out of the American version: a child being tested for radiation; a widow huddling with her three children as Gojira approaches and telling them "we'll be seeing your father." Brought to life by "suitmation" -- yes, a man in a monster outfit -- Gojira still manages at times to come off like the embodiment of a nightmare. The miniatures in the film are good and there are some effective process shots of Godzilla smashing through train yards and the like. The film is well-directed and well-acted, although it could be argued that a celebrated actor like Takashi Shimura is pretty much wasted in stuff like this. Inspired by the American sleeper hit The Beast from 20,000 Fathom, Gojira itself influenced such later films as The Giant Behemoth and especially Gorgo.

Verdict: Probably the only time the big guy starred in a movie that's played straight. ***.

GOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU

Godzilla and Anguirus battle it out over top billing
















GOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU (aka Godzilla Raids Again/1955). Director: Motoyoshi Oda.

While claims can be made that the original Gojira was a better and more serious film than the dubbed American version, retitled Godzilla, no one can make that claim of its sequel. A dubbed version with some added stock footage and narration entitled Gigantis, the Fire Monster was released in the U.S. years ago; it's now known as Godzilla Raids Again. In any language and with any name, it's still a terrible picture. As a new member of the Godzilla species is discovered on an island in battle with another monster called an Anklylosaurus or Anguirus -- a battle which is continued in Osaka -- Hidemi (Setsuko Yakawama) and handsome pilot Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) draw closer. Their friend Kabayahsi (Minoru Chiaki) is also a pilot, under the command of Tajima (Yoshio Tsuchiya). Takashi Shimura appears as Dr. Yamane. The FX work is mediocre and the whole undertaking is completely childish, which was not true of Gojira. The actors are fine, however, probably giving the whole thing more intensity than it's worth.

Verdict: Even Reptilicus was better than this. *


GODZILLA (1998)

The big guy stomps through Manhattan
GODZILLA (1998). Director: Roland Emmerich.

Supposedly Godzilla purists really hate this American version of the Big Green Galoot, but who cares? For all of its flaws -- and there are many -- this Godzilla is still much better and much more entertaining, and certainly better to look at, than most of the Japanese Godzilla films put together [admittedly I have not seen all of the modern-day Godzilla films, but the ones I have seen are not terribly good. Also I must qualify that the original Gojira is much better than the many sequels]. This Godzilla is a new species, a mutated hybrid created by atomic fall out. It still roars like the original Godzilla, more or less, but has a new sleek look instead of the dopey one generally used in the Japanese films. Godzilla has a terrific and dramatic opening theme by David Arnold, and one could argue that the rest of the movie doesn't measure up to it. However ...

The movie is done somewhat tongue-in-cheek, an approach that sort of makes all the dramatic build-up and top-notch special effects work seem a bit overdone, were the effects not so splendidly eye-popping at times. One very irritating element to the movie is that the stupid characters in the film worry about minor issues when there's a gargantuan monster on the loose. When Audrey (Maria Pitillo) and old boyfriend Niko (Matthew Broderick) run into each other, they hardly mention the monster even though it would be the uppermost thought of every person on Manhattan Island! In keeping with the unfortunate "lightness" of the tone, the deaths that had to be caused by the monster are underplayed to a ridiculous degree.

But Godzilla certainly has its moments. There's the great scene in Madison Square Garden when the big guy's eggs hatch (Godzilla reproduces asexually; no wonder he's ticked off!) and Broderick and company have to escape from dozens of mini-Godzillas before a bomb goes off! Then there's the climax with the furious Godzilla chasing the protagonists down the streets of Manhattan and onto a bridge where they nearly become his lunch. Nothing like these sequences has ever appeared in any other Godzilla films that I've seen. The monster's rampage through Manhattan when he first arrives is also memorable. Up against the monster, the actors in this, while mostly competent or better, haven't really got a chance.

Verdict: If thirty minutes or so had been left on the editing room floor, and some of the sillier scenes excised as well, this would have been a real contender. As it is, quite entertaining. ***.

GODZILLA 2000

GODZILLA 2000 (1999). Director: Takao Okiwara.

"Godzilla is inside each one of us." [-- well....maybe.]

In this film the world already seems to know of the big lizard's existence, and there is absolutely no suspenseful build-up to his first appearance. Shinado (Takehiro Murada) is a scientist who wants to study the creature, and has formed a group called the Godzilla Prediction Network, which can figure out whenever the big guy is going to appear. Shinado's slightly obnoxious little daughter, Io (Maya Suzuki), is the group's bookkeeper and follows her father into danger. Yuki (Naomi Yushida) is a photographer who's desperate to get a close up photograph of Godzilla. A gigantic spaceship, which first appears as a big flying rock, comes to Japan and eventually transforms into another monster called Oga that Godzilla battles ... Is anyone still awake? With its surplus of silly humor and characters, this Japanese movie seems to take its cue in large part from Hollywood's Godzilla film made the previous year, which despite its many flaws, was a lot more entertaining. Godzilla has been somewhat redesigned and looks a little better, but is still kind of silly and he's still played by a man in a suit: "suitmation." While the special effects in Godzilla 2000 are better than in the older movies in this series, they are still second-rate for the most part. All in all, this was hardly a new approach to the great Japanese monster.

Verdict: For pathetic Godzilla geeks only. *1/2.

GODZILLA ON MY MIND: FIFTY YEARS OF THE KING OF MONSTERS

GODZILLA ON MY MIND: FIFTY YEARS OF THE KING OF MONSTERS. William  Tsutsui. Palgrave Macmillan; 2004.

Full disclosure: Although I am a big giant monster movie fan  and even wrote a book on the subject, I confess I have never been that carried away with Godzilla and its many sequels, although I do check them out from time to time. Tsutsui is right that the original Japanese version, entitled Gojira, is essentially a "serious" film with sombre undertones, and by no means a bad movie. But while it may not have those undertones, I much prefer the American film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the success of which inspired Japanese filmmakers to make Gojira in the first place. [I even prefer The Giant Behemoth and Gorgo, which was sort of an imitation of Godzilla, over Gojira.] That being said, I approached an entire volume devoted to Godzilla with some trepidation. An entire book on Godzilla? Still, Tsutsui almost manages to pull it off, despite the fact that eventually he makes the same points over and over and the book at times seems understandably padded. [A good way to increase the page count would have been to include a filmography, but inexplicably this book doesn't have one, a serious oversight.] Still, Tsutsui writes well and intelligently and his enthusiasm for his subject is a large part of the book's appeal. True, Tsutsui sometimes tries too hard to convince us of Godzilla's influence and significance -- I mean just because something is "influential" doesn't make it especially significant -- and he doesn't seem to acknowledge that there are any other decent giant monster movies out there. His argument that the American-made Godzilla with Matthew Broderick [a disappointing film in many ways] trashed the legend seems to ignore the fact that Japanese filmmakers did a pretty good job of turning Godzilla into a camp parody long before director Roland Emmerich came along. But at least the author acknowledges that many of the Japanese Godzilla movies are quite dreadful, which stirred up the wrath of major demented Godzilla geekazoids in their reviews on Amazon.com. [Get a life! It's also kind of depressing that there are actually people who will go to a Godzilla convention but have never attended the ballet, opera, a classical music concert, or serious theater. Monster movies are fun, but they're not the be-all and end-all!] But when all is said and done, this is an entertaining book and not as stupid as you might expect.

Verdict: Recommended for the more intelligent Godzilla fans, all two or three of them, LOL. ***.