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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

MY DEAR SECRETARY

Mowbray and Douglas confer in interesting restaurant















MY DEAR SECRETARY (1948). Writer/director: Charles Martin.

Just before giving a lecture, author Owen Waterbury (Kirk Douglas) bumps into aspiring writer Stephanie Gaylord (Laraine Day). She applies for the job of his secretary after his old one, Elsie (Helen Walker), quits in a huff. Initially delighted to be hired, Stephanie realizes that what she hoped would be an interesting and intellectual position actually just calls for her to be playmate for her infantile employer, whom she nevertheless develops romantic feelings for. Throughout the movie the two make up and break up several times, but never convincingly. My Dear Secretary probably looked good on paper, and it has many amusing lines and a few genuinely funny sequences, but not enough to make it memorable. Douglas and Day are fine, but not as good as the supporting cast, which includes Wallker, Keenan Wynn as Owen's agent, Irene Ryan [of The Beverly Hillbillies] as his feisty housekeeper, Alan Mowbray as a private detective, Grady Sutton as another writer, and especially Florence Bates as the delightful landlady. While not quite on their level Rudy Vallee is also good as Stephanie's original boss and suitor. Virginia Hewitt makes an impression as the sexy Felicia, who dates Owen for a time. When asked which famous actress the slinky and beautiful Felicia resembles, Wynn says "Zazu Pitts!" The movie is basically good-natured, but there are some mean-spirited bits and Douglas' character seems to be too stupid to be capable of producing a novel, however bad. [He is definitely a "movie" writer and not a real one.] A highlight of the film is when the characters convene in a restaurant [see photo] in which some of the booths are surrounded by "frames," making them resemble paintings. In his sixth film, Douglas doesn't grit his teeth quite so much, but then this is not exactly intense material.

Verdict: There are quite a few laughs but the film doesn't quite cut it.**1/2.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932). Director: Erle C. Kenton.

"They are restless tonight."

After begin rescued from a shipwreck, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) winds up marooned on an island whereupon  the corpulent Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) is experimenting on animals and turning them into semi-humans. [These "strange-looking" natives are so grotesque that next to them Laughton almost appears handsome.] Although it's been a while since I've read the source novel, H. G. Wells' excellent "The Island of Dr. Moreau," much of this film seems quite faithful to the book, with the exception of the foolish business with Parker's fiancee, Ruth (Leila Hyams), suddenly showing up on the island. Bela Lugosi is the "Sayer of the Law" and Kathleen Burke plays Lota, the Panther Woman. The performances are good for the most part, and the film is entertaining. There's some borderline bestialism when it comes to that slinky panther woman.

Verdict: Good show! ***

THE FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS

Marlene Dietrich and Theresa Harris
THE FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS (1941). Director: Rene Clair.

In old New Orleans lady of leisure Countess Claire (Marlene Dietrich) has set her cap for the wealthy older banker Charles Giraud (Roland Young). But Claire has left behind quite a reputation in St. Petersburg, and to deflect Giraud's suspicion she also pretends to be another notorious woman from Russia, Claire's lookalike and [kind of] cousin, Lily. Complicating matters is a lusty sailor named Robert Latour (Bruce Cabot), who has an eye for Claire (and Lili)  and vice versa. One could say that Flame of New Orleans is Dietrich's Two-Faced Woman [in which Greta Garbo pretended to be two different women] not just because of the plot but because Flame is similarly mediocre. However, the actors, especially a surprising Cabot, all do a good job, and they are backed by such stalwarts as Franklin Pangborn, Mischa Auer, Anne Revere, Laura Hope Crews, Andy Devine, and a host of talented black actors, including Theresa Harris [Baby Face] as Clarie's saucy, sexy maid Clementine. However, the film is predictable and not as much fun as it sounds. Clair also directed It Happened Tomorrow.

Verdict: Pleasant in many ways but minor. **1/2.  

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) faces down "Max" (Redgrave)













MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996). Director: Brian De Palma.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on a special "impossible" mission for the IMF [Impossible Missions Force] in Prague when everything goes south and his teammates are slaughtered all around him.  He is told by Kittridge (Henry Czerny, who plays Conrad Grayson on TV's Revenge) that the whole operation was merely a ruse to flush out a mole in the organization. Since Ethan appears to be the only one of the group who's still alive, he becomes the chief suspect and goes on the run. Trying to track down whoever murdered his comrades, he enters into a phony alliance with an arms dealer known only as "Max" (Vanessa Redgrave) and in the film's most suspenseful sequence must steal a list of important names from a nearly impregnable vault while hanging just inches from the ceiling; there is also a thrilling climax involving a helicopter and a high-speed train. While purists may quibble over the identity of the mastermind behind the dire plot, Mission: Impossible is an excellent update of and tribute to the very popular and long-running TV show, equally absurd at times but always fun. Cruise is well suited to this kind of material and does it well, while Jon Voight is fine as IMF head Jim Phelps. Jean Reno, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ving Rhames, and Emmanuelle Beart also have important roles. For some reason Emilio Estevez is uncredited as Jack, an early casualty of the IMF in Prague, although his performance is solid. Vanessa Redgrave is just splendid in her unusual turn as Max. The movie wisely uses Lalo Schifrin's theme music from the television program. Followed by three sequels.

Verdict: One of the classier television adaptations to hit theaters. ***1/2.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981). Director: J. Lee Thompson.

Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) belongs to a school clique called "The Top Ten" at the Crawford Academy. But as her 18th birthday approaches, someone starts wiping out her friends one by one in gruesome, startling ways [one poor guy is sort of shish ka bobbed to death]. In the way of Italian giallo director Dario Argento, the movie works up considerable suspense as to the identity of the killer and his or her motives, although director Thompson's style is nothing like Argento's. Glenn Ford is the biggest name in the cast and is fine as Virginia's psychiatrist, and there are good performances as well from Anderson, Tracy Bregman as one of her friends, and Lawrence Dane and Sharon Acker as her parents, among others. You may groan at certain aspects of the denouement but at least it's suitably macabre. 

Verdict: One of the better mad slasher-type movies that proliferated in the 80's. ***. 

KOLCHAK, THE NIGHT STALKER

KOLCHAK, THE NIGHT STALKER (1974 television series).

After the high ratings of the two movies featuring Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, intrepid reporter who uncovers the unusual in The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, Kolchak was given his own series, which lasted one season, and took place in Chicago where he worked for International News Service (INS). Clad always in his rumpled white suit and straw hat, Kolchak would probably not be very likable were he not played by the always-likable McGavin, who is excellent in the show, along with Simon Oakland [Psycho] as his testy, rotund boss, Jack Grinnage as snooty Ron Updyke and the delightful Ruth McDevitt [The Birds] as senior reporter "Miss Emily" [these last two also worked at the paper and were semi-regulars]. The publisher's daughter Monique (Carol Ann Susi, who's now on The Big Bang Theory) also appeared in a couple of episodes before being called back to New York. Often closer to black comedy than out and out horror,  Kolchak could be pretty cheesy and silly, and was only modestly entertaining. Most of the episodes were not memorable, although at least four were better than average: "Chopper" guest stars spirited Sharon Farrell in the tale of a ghostly biker who comes back and beheads the old buddies who were responsible for his accidental death; "Firefall" deals with cases of spontaneous combustion; "The Trevi Collection" (with Nina Foch of The Return of the Vampire, an excellent Lara Parker from Dark Shadows, and Henry Brandon of The Land Unknown) deals with a woman who uses witchcraft to take control of a fashion house; and "The Devil's Platform" features Tom Skerritt of Alien as a politician whose campaign trail is dogged by "accidental" deaths and murders -- this is probably the best episode of the series.

Verdict: Fun, minor, easy to take, if hardly all that it could have been. **1/2.

FALCON CREST SEASON 2

The cast of Falcon Crest
FALCON CREST Season Two. 

Jane Wyman is back as the ruthless matriarch and vineyard owner Angela Channing in the second season of the night-time serial Falcon Crest. This season introduces Richard Channing (David Selby), who is the illegitimate son of Angela's late husband, and who comes to the valley to pretty much get even with everyone, and take over a newspaper. Meanwhile there's some question as to the paternity of the child being carried by Melissa (Ana Alicia), who is married to Angela's grandson, Lance (Lorenzo Lamas), but who slept with Angela's nephew, Cole (Billy Moses). Cole's parents, Chase (Robert Foxworth) and Maggie (Susan Sullivan), develop problems after Cole is accused of murder and Maggie works on a screenplay with a Lothario producer played by Bradford Dillman. Lana Turner makes a few appearances as Chase's continental mother and old foe of Angela's, whose two daughters -- Julie (Abby Dalton) and Emma  (Margaret Ladd ) -- have serious issues of their own, while Chase's daughter, Vicki (Jamie Rose), gets involved with a married man played by Roy Thinnes [The Invaders]. Frankly, the first half of the season isn't as entertaining as season one, but it picks up in the second half when the gang seems to be stalked by a ruthless killer who wants to get rid of anyone who might uncover his or her identity [which does indeed turn out to be a shocking surprise]. Some of the revelations and character reversals during the season finale are kind of suspect and silly, but the cliffhanger is a classic of its kind. Wyman is marvelous, never descending into chewing the scenery [a la Joan Collins on Dynasty, albeit she did it entertainingly], and most of the other cast members are swell. Guest stars include E. G. Marshall in a fine turn as Richard's adopted father, Joanna Cassidy as an older woman who falls for Cole, and Anne Jeffreys as a married girlfriend of Angela's lawyer, Phillip (Mel Ferrer). During their arguments Chase often throws Maggie's turn as a screenwriter in her face -- you wish just once she'd remind him of how the entire family was uprooted so he could pursue his dream of owning a winery, so what's the problem if she wants to pursue her own dream of writing a screenplay? It's amusing the way Richard imagines he'll be accepted by Angela when he's her husband's bastard. Choa Li Chi (who plays the similarly named servant Choa Li-Chi) is given more to do this season.

Verdict: Occasionally ridiculous, but a well-mounted and generally absorbing soaper. ***

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

Peter Parker practices his spider powers



THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012). Director: Marc Webb.

The 4th Spider-Man movie goes back to the beginning with a new actor and retells the origin of the arachnid hero. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) acquires spider-based powers, tries to use them for good, and comes afoul of his girlfriend's father, police captain Stacey (Denis Leary). Worse is that a one-armed scientist named Curt Connors (a scenery-chewing Rhys Ifans), who knew Peter's late father, has transformed into a hulking lizard-man monster that is threatening the city. If there had been no other Spider-Man movies, Amazing Spider-Man would have been fine, but it's all been done before, and done better [Spider-Man 2]. The Lizard was a popular villain in the comic books, but he's been transformed into a rampaging FX creature like the Hulk, somehow making him less interesting. There are some good action scenes -- and excellent photography -- but nothing as eye-popping as the climax of Spider-Man 2. Garfield is on target as the hero, and he gets fine support from Sally Field and Martin Sheen as his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. [The comic book origin has been fiddled with a bit so that Parker isn't quite indirectly responsible for his uncle's death.] Leary is adequate as Stacey, and Emma Stone has some good moments as his daughter, Gwen. Spider-Man's antagonist, newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, doesn't appear in the movie at all. Co-creator Stan Lee has a funny cameo, and C. Thomas Howell [Young Toscanini] has a couple of good sequences as the father of a little boy saved by our amazin' hero. Despite its flaws [or over-familiarity], Amazing Spider-Man is by no means a bad picture and fans should still get a kick out of it. Garfield was also in the Robert Redford film Lions for Lambs.

Verdict: Slick if somewhat empty razzle dazzle. ***.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN












THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN (1935). Director (and photography): Josef von Sternberg.

Anyone who's interested in examining the famous Dietrich mystique need look no further than this 1935 classic directed by her great admirer [and lover] von Sternberg. At the turn of the century during a carnival in Spain, Don Pasqual (Lionel Atwill) tells his friend Antonio (Cesar Romero) about his long-time love for the beautiful if cold-hearted Concha (Dietrich) in an attempt to warn him away from her -- or does he have another objective? This interesting and amusing study of unrequited love and love-finally-won is beautifully acted by all three principals, not to mention Alison Skipworth as Concha's mother and Edward Everett Horton as the fluttery governor, who's also smitten with Concha. The movie is unpredictable and highly sophisticated. One could argue that the ending is wish fulfillment on von Sternberg's part [he was only seven years older than Dietrich, but less attractive than Atwill], but it works beautifully. Atwill, who toiled in many B movies and horror items and always delivered fine performances, is given one of his most memorable roles in this picture. Dietrich sings the delightful "Three Sweethearts." This is miles ahead of von Sternberg junk like Macao.

Verdict: Dietrich and a fine cast in top form. ***1/2.

EYES OF LAURA MARS

Laura Mars (foreground) captures bizarre fashion shoot
EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978). Director: Irvin Kershner. Co-written by John Carpenter.


Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is a wealthy, famous photographer who lately has been turning to the morbid and macabre for inspiration. Her fashion shoots feature automobile crashes and models getting into inexplicable cat fights. It develops that some of her photos are nearly exact copies of actual police crime scenes. What's worse, Laura has seemingly developed the psychic ability to see friends and associates of hers as they are being murdered, stabbed in the eyes with an ice pick, by an unseen maniac. Eyes of Laura Mars comes off like a Hollywood attempt to imitate the Italian giallo psycho-shocker type of thriller made famous by such as Dario Argento [Trauma], but Irvin Kershner has none of that director's style [nor Brian De Palma's, if we're speaking of an American equivalent]. The movie has fascinating elements to it and an excellent premise, but it's undone not just by the lack of panache but by many other factors. Dunaway offers a typically affected performance, which may be appropriate for the airy character she's playing, but only makes Laura that much more unbearable; she also looks horrible throughout the movie, as if she's playing a woman exposed to radiation who is slowly mutating into a frog. Tommy Lee Jones [Captain America: The First Avenger] is miscast as a NYPD detective assigned to the case, and his romance with Laura is not only unbelievable but also kind of gross as the actors have no chemistry whatsoever. The scene when the two realize they are hot for each other is just embarrassing. The supporting cast, such as Brad Dourif [the aforementioned Trauma and Exorcist III] as a driver and red herring, and the ever-reliable Rene Auberjonois as Laura's presumably gay best friend, come off much better. Kershner also directed the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again.

Verdict: Great idea but this one misses the boat. **1/2.


LADY OF BURLESQUE

Stanwyck struts her stuff
















LADY OF BURLESQUE (1943). Director: William A. Wellman.

"Grand opera bring crowds like this into the place? Goils! That's what the public wants!"

Stripper Gypsy Rose Lee's novel "The G-String Murders" was the basis for this movie that takes place in a faded opera house that's been turned into a venue for burlesque performers. Dixie (Barbara Stanwyck) is new but has already become a popular draw  [Stanwyck isn't much of a singer but she still sounds better than Dietrich]. She keeps dodging passes by the persistent Biff (Michael O'Shea) because she's had bad experiences with comics. But both of them have other things on their minds when the snooty Lolita La Verne (Victoria Faust) is found murdered in the dressing room. Charles Dingle plays the police detective who comes to the theater to investigate; Iris Adrian, even more vulgar than usual, is Gee Gee; Stephanie Bachelor is the heavily [and phonily] accented "Princess;" and Gloria Dickson is the heart-broken Dolly, whose secret husband, Russell (Frank Fenton), is one of the worst singers I've ever heard. Pinky Lee and Marion Martin are also in the cast as an unlikely couple. Stanwyck is as good as ever, the other actors are all competent and game, but this trifle isn't particularly compelling as a mystery, hasn't very many laughs, and becomes tiresome long before the conclusion. O'Shea later did the TV series It's a Great Life.

Verdict: Stanwyck is always interesting, but this isn't one of her better vehicles. **.

SAFETY IN NUMBERS

The cast of Safety in Numbers
















SAFETY IN NUMBERS  (1930). Director: Victor Schertzinger.

"My uncle says you're well-acquainted with the 400."

"We are. We know all of the husbands and none of the wives."

 20-year-old Bill Reynolds (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) will inherit millions on his next birthday, so his uncle inexplicably sends him to New York to supposedly sow his wild oats, yet hires three chorus girls to look after him and keep him out of trouble and away from predatory females. You would think with a plot like this the movie would at least be some fun, but it's so badly written and paced that it's a real snooze-inducer. The three chorus girls are so amateurish that it's a shock to realize that one of them is actually Carol Lombard, who would of course develop into a talented comedienne and major Hollywood figure -- but you'd never know it from this movie. Geneva Mitchell is slightly saucier in her brief turn as Cleo Carew, who has a hankering for Reynolds. Rogers had some charm and aplomb, but the movie is dull and the songs not very memorable. Louse Beavers, playing a maid as usual, sings a number -- but you can miss it. The movie has a total of one laugh and only one interesting sequence, when we see a bunch of chorus girls in silhouette before a screen showing scenes of New York. Reynolds unaccountably  falls in love with Jacqueline (Kathryn Crawford), the plainest of the trio. Josephine Dunn rounds out the threesome and Virginia Bruce has so small a role that if you blink you miss her.

Verdict: Almost unbearably bad. 1/2 *. 


VAMPIRE CIRCUS

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972). Director: Robert Young.

Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), who has been putting the bite on children in a small European village, vows to destroy everyone after the townspeople finally catch up with him and dispatch him. No one is allowed to leave the village because of a quarantine due to the "plague" of vampirism, but years later a gypsy circus troupe makes its way into Stettel, its entertainers putting the bite on everyone to not only avenge the count but bring him back to life. It's hard to get absorbed in this movie because out of its one-dimensional characters it has no real protagonist, the closest being Dr. Kersh (Richard Owens) who believes vampirism is no more than a disease and gets past the guards to go out and find a cure -- but he isn't seen for most of the movie. Similarly his son Anton (John Moulder-Brown of The Boys of Paul Street) only appears sporadically. A bigger problem is that for all the sex and bloodshed Vampire Circus is kind of tedious and uninvolving.Worse, there's a highly unpleasant emphasis on the erotic seduction of children. With some exceptions, the cast seems strangely unattractive as well.

Verdict: Manages the bizarre feat of making a circus of vampires seem as boring as it is repellent. **.

PERRY MASON SEASON 8

Raymond Burr
PERRY MASON Season 8. 1965.

Perry (Raymond Burr) and the gang are back for another season of this highly popular courtroom drama -- one of the best seasons in the series' long history. Phyllis Hill and Robert Brown give outstanding performances in "The Case of the Sleepy Slayer," a clever story in which a woman must live with her hated uncle. "Wooden Nickles" with Will Kuluva features skulduggery over a valuable confederate coin. "Ruinous Road" examines the hoopla over tearing a house down to build a needed thoroughfare. Joyce Meadows [Brain from Planet Arous] and Gary Crosby appear in "Frustrated Folksinger," about a show biz dilettante accused of murdering an exploitative agent. "Thermal Thief," in which a woman tries to honor her late husband despite complications, features fine performances from Joyce Van Patten and Barry Sullivan [Queen Bee]. Jeanne Bal scores as a viciously scheming woman in "Tell Tale Tap." Minerva Urecal [Who's Guilty?] shows up in "Lover's Gamble" about a doctor with romantic issues. "Murderous Mermaid" has an Esther Williams-type dealing with a show biz hopeful and a strange publicity plot. In "Careless Kitten," in which there is no trial or even a courtroom sequence, Perry investigates whether or not a man missing for ten years is still alive, and confronts suspects in a living room; Percy Helton and an excellent Louise Latham [Marnie] are in the cast. In the season's most bizarre moment, Perry faces down a big ape in "Grinning Gorilla" with Victor Buono [Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte] and Lurene Tuttle [The Manitou]. And there were many other memorable episodes.

Verdict: Still one of the most enjoyable and well-acted programs ever made. ***1/2.

CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON

















CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON (1956). Writer/director: Curt Siodmak.

"Like Nothing Your Eyes Have Ever Seen Before!" -- poster copy.

"She can't get a man so she gets a career!" -- dumb Rock

Egotistical adventurer Rock Dean (John Bromfield) and Dr. Andrea Romar (Beverly Garland), a cancer researcher,  travel down the Amazon, he to investigate reports of a legendary monster scaring the natives, and she to find a drug that natives use to shrink heads in the hopes it can shrink tumors as well. Packaged as a monster movie, Curucu is bound to disappoint fans of creature features, as it's really a romantic adventure film, shot in Brazil, with colorful looks at the waters of the Amazon, filled with crocs and piranha, and surrounding areas. The secret behind Curucu is revealed fifty or so minutes into the film, leaving our protagonists, falling in love, to deal with other dangers, but there's a great final surprise. Bromfield is competent, Garland as zesty as ever, and Tom Payne is fine as the native guide Tupanico. Some great scenery, and a flavorful score by Raoul Kraushaar. The film has its dopey moments, and it's accuracy as to the natives and wild life of Brazil during the fifties is debatable, but it's fun. One native guy feels up Garland to make sure that she's female!  [There are two versions of the film, one in color and one in black and white; this review is for the color version.]

Verdict: The movie isn't as good as its poster but it certainly has its good points. ***.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

THE SAXON CHARM

THE SAXON CHARM (1948). Writer/director: Claude Binyon.

"Yes, my flatulent Florence Nightingale, and close the door on your way out!" -- Charming Matt Saxon to nurse.

Janet (Susan Hayward), the wife of a successful novelist-turned-playwright, Eric Busch (John Payne), is warned by the unfortunately-named  entertainer Alma Wragg (Audrey Totter) that she may well regret it if her husband allows producer Matt Saxon (Robert Montgomery), Alma's boyfriend, to produce his play. For Saxon doesn't seem to know or especially care that other people have personal lives and may not want to be at his constant beck and call like a bunch of babies. Saxon even tries to order for everyone in a restaurant and throws a fit when things are not to his liking. However, Saxon not only has charm, but he isn't stupid: "Nothing that's good and has a purpose is old-fashioned," he says. Still he's almost responsible for wrecking the Busch marriage and his need for control goes a little too far when it comes to Alma and her career. While The Saxon Charm hasn't quite got the bite and strong plot of the later backstage drama All About Eve, and the marital difficulties of the Busch's seem a bit contrived, it is nevertheless well-acted by all of the principles and quite entertaining as well. A nice score by Walter Scharf  is a bonus. Harry Morgan, Harry Von Zell, Heather Angel, Chill Wills and Kathleen Freeman all score in smaller roles. Binyon also directed Dreamboat with Clifton Webb and many other movies.

Verdict: It's worth spending some time with this "charm boy," who is all too typical of many theatrical types and others. ***.

GUEST IN THE HOUSE

Ruth Warrick and Anne Baxter
GUEST IN THE HOUSE (1944). Director: John Brahm.

Dr. Dan Butler (Scott McKay) brings his girlfriend and patient Evelyn (Anne Baxter) to his family home for a rest cure, and she manages to bring simmering tensions to the surface. Others in the household include Dan's artist brother Douglas (Ralph Bellamy), his wife Ann (Ruth Warrick), their Aunt Martha (Aline McMahon), their little girl Lee (Connie Laird), the peppery maid Hilda (Margaret Hamilton) and her husband John (Percy Kilbride), as well as Miriam (Marie McDonald), who is Douglas' model and who some suspect is carrying on with the painter. Evelyn sets her cap on Douglas but although she's blamed for the events that transpire they seem precipitated more by the others' suspicions than by her manipulations. The cast makes the movie more interesting than it might have been otherwise, but Leave Her to Heaven the following year made much more of the theme of an emotionally disturbed, selfish woman causing havoc in a household. Baxter gives a typically vivid and appropriate performance, while the others are all on target as well, and there's a pleasant score by Werner Janssen, but this is a half-baked melodrama and little else. Well-directed by Brahm, who also directed The Undying Monster, The Mad Magician, Hangover Square, The Locket, and many episodes of such shows as Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Verdict: At least it isn't predictable. **1/2.

MARK OF THE DEVIL

MARK OF THE DEVIL (aka Hexen bis aufs Blut gequäl/
1970). Director: Michael Armstrong.

"The most attractive things in the movie were my close-ups." -- actor Udo Kier.

Promoted as "the most horrifying movie ever made" -- patrons were given a "stomach distress" [vomit] bag along with their ticket -- Mark of the Devil certainly has its disgusting moments, but the fact is that once you get past the unpleasantness it's not a bad movie. Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom), a famous witch hunter, arrives at a village with his young assistant, Christian (Udo Kier), and upsets the local witch hunter Albino (Reggie Nalder), who brands women who rebuff his slimy advances as witches. The latest victim is the busty tavern wench Vanessa (Olivera Vuco), who has caught the eye of Christian and vice versa. Cumberland proves little better than Albino, as he threatens a baron (Michael Maien) with torture unless he turns over his inheritance to the "Church," has thumbscrews and the rack applied to a young woman who insists she was raped by a bishop [in the movie's most notorious scene, this poor gal's tongue is extracted], and rapes the beautiful wife (Ingeborg Schoner) of a puppeteer. [The puppeteer is played by Adrian Hoven, who took over the direction of the film from Armstrong according to Kier.] Another hard-to-take scene has the bare-assed baron sat forcibly down on a bed of needles. Sadly, the torture sequences are probably accurate, and the movie makes it clear that there were often political, financial or sexual motives behind the witch hunters' accusations. The villains in this are utterly loathsome, and the ironic ending has the elements, oddly enough, of operatic or Greek tragedy. While the story holds the attention,  the actors are all good, and the pace is fast, Mark of the Devil hasn't got much style. It's too bad the film makers were more determined to make a horror film than a drama with horrifying sequences. Armstrong only directed one more movie 16 years later. This was a West German production, not very well dubbed, but at least we hear Herbert Lom's actual voice.

Verdict: Intense, gruesome, and absorbing. ***.

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964). Director: Freddie Francis.

"He has a brain and eyes. I can't tell you where I got them but they are excellent."

While this film follows The Revenge of Frankenstein, it does not seem to be a proper sequel and flashbacks to the baron's early career do not seem to come from the first film in the series, The Curse of Frankenstein. That being said, in this installment the baron (Peter Cushing) and Hans (a carryover from the previous film but now played by Sandor Eles) return to the former's castle and discover that the original Frankenstein monster (now played by Kiwi Kingston instead of Christopher Lee) was frozen in the ice below and can be revived. To control the creature they enlist the aid of a sinister mesmerist named Professor Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe), but he makes the monster answerable only to himself. What to do? The baron isn't about to take that lying down. There is also a mute homeless woman (Katy Wild) who is befriended, for better or worse, by the ghoulish duo. Don Banks' musical score has to work too hard to drum up some excitement in the indifferently directed movie. John Hinds' [Anthony Elder] screenplay is mediocre, and the picture is not nearly as much fun as the old Universal Frankie movies. Cushing is as marvelous as ever, however, and the other actors are fine as well. Followed by Frankenstein Created Woman.

Verdict: A cut below the Universal sequels. **.

LOST HONEYMOON

Franchot Tone and twins














LOST HONEYMOON (1947). Director: Leigh Jason.

British gal Amy Atkins (Ann Richards) learns that her friend Tillie Gray, who married an American serviceman who returned home, has died, leaving behind two adorable children. Amy decides to take the children to the U.S. and pretend to be Tillie, so that she can get their father, John Gray (Franchot Tone) to acknowledge and care for them. Unfortunately, John married Tillie during a spell of amnesia, doesn't remember her or the kids, and worse, is about to marry his bosses daughter, Lois (Frances Rafferty), who isn't crazy that a "wife" has shown up. Lost Honeymoon has the potential to be both moving and amusing, but it has a third-rate "B movie" script and quality, and never rises above its contrivances. Tone and the other actors, including Clarence Kolb as his boss,Tom Conway as his best friend, and Una O'Connor as a friend of Tillie's, are all fine [although Ann Richards is a bit on the bland side] and deserve a better picture. The twins are two of the cutest movie youngsters you'll ever see, and aren't bad actors, either. The best thing about the movie is the admittedly funny closing line. Too bad, as this one had a promising idea. Richards was also in Sorry, Wrong Number, where she made a better impression.

Verdict: Even cute moppets can't save this one. **.

TARGET EARTH

TARGET EARTH (1954). Director: Sherman A. Rose.

A young lady. Nora (Kathleen Crowley), who was in deep sleep wakes up to discover that there is no one in her apartment building, and indeed the streets of the unnamed city she resides in are completely deserted -- until she encounters businessman Frank (Richard Denning) and they meet up with Vicki (Virginia Grey) and her boyfriend Jim (Richard Reeves) swilling champagne in a bar. Seems this motley group was left behind for one reason or another when the city was evacuated due to the invasion of steel electromagnetic robots from Venus. With a plot like that it sounds as if Target Earth would at least be entertaining, but while the opening scenes showing Nora exploring the city are quite striking and good at getting across her sense of isolation, the picture doesn't develop in a particularly interesting fashion. Even introducing a killer with a gun (Richard Roark), doesn't help much, nor does the fact that there is some decent attempts at characterization. The ladies in the cast are much, much better than the men, with the exception of Roark. Denning is as blandly amiable as ever, and Reeves is similarly lightweight. Arthur Space (Panther Girl of the Kongo) and Whit Bissell (Creature from the Black Lagoon) play Army men trying to deal with the outer space menace in separate sequences. The best thing you can say about the movie, aside from the opening sequences and some of the performances and a couple of interesting directorial touches, is that it's moderately better than the decade-later The Earth Dies Screaming, which had a very similar plot line. Rose only directed three movies and mostly did television work.

Verdict: Throughout the movie you only see one robot. **.

GET SMART SEASON 3

GET SMART Season 3. 1967.

Don Adams and the gang are back as Maxwell Smart and associates in the third season of this popular spy comedy. Bob Kareveles as the dopey Larrabee is given a little more to do, but there seem to be too many episodes when Barbara Feldon as agent 99 shouts to Max "Do Something! Do Something!" and seems completely helpless. Taking a cue from Batman, the show started featuring celebrities in cameos [Joey Bishop, Milton Berle, Robert Kulp, Bill Dana, Danny Thomas, Buddy Hackett etc.]. Ellen Westin appeared irregularly as CONTROL chemist Dr. Steele, whose cover is as a stripper! A little old lady who appears in bit parts or as an extra in many episodes turns out to be Rose Michtom, the aunt of producer Leonard Stern [she's weird but adorable]! Ed Platt is back for another wonderful turn as the Chief.


Memorable episodes of this season include "The Spirit is Willing" with Ina Balin as the "ghost" of a woman killed by KAOS; "That Old Gang of Mine" with Max in London posing as "the Scar" to join a group of robbers and featuring the umbrella of silence [instead of the cone]; "The King Lives" with Max posing as lookalike royalty and with Michael Forest [Adonis on Star Trek] quite effective and striking in a supporting role; and "99 Loses Control," with 99 quitting the spy group to get married to KAOS agent Jacques Bergerac [The Hypnotic Eye]. The best episodes of the season were, arguably: "Classification: Dead" in which a poisoned Max has one day to live [shades of D.O.A.]; "Don't Look Back" with Max framed for murder and on the run from the police; and "The Reluctant Redhead" in which Max trains a non-agent (the excellent Julie Sommars) to impersonate the wife of KAOS man Cesar Romero.

The third season may have had fewer "A" episodes than seasons one and two, but the series was still entertaining and amusing and the writers did their best to come up with some intriguing plot lines, although there was a little too much repeating of certain jokes and gags that weren't that funny the first time around. [With all the "story editors" and "associate producers" on TV shows you would think this could be avoided!]

Verdict: Hardly for every taste but there's still some life in the misadventures of Maxwell Smart. **1/2. 


Thursday, November 8, 2012

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS

Heflin, Scott and Stanwyck















THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946). Director: Lewis Milestone. Screenplay by Robert Rossen. 

"You still look like a scared little kid to me." -- Sam to Walter.

Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), Walter (Kirk Douglas) and Sam (Van Heflin) are childhood friends caught up in melodrama when -- early in the film -- Martha clubs her nasty aunt (Judith Anderson) and kills her right after said Aunt batters Martha's cat with her walking stick. Given Martha's age at the time, and her aunt's actions, probably nothing much would have happened to Martha, but in this movie she marries the witness, Walter, who grows up to become an alcoholic district attorney, and tries to pay off Sam [whom she thinks also witnessed the aunt's death] when he shows up back in town on a trip and chooses a very odd moment to kiss her. The trouble is, Martha and Walter framed an innocent man for the crime and he got the chair. Stanwyck and Heflin are excellent, and in his debut film, Douglas almost steals the film with his intense portrayal of Walter. His odd, clenched-teeth way of speaking takes a little getting used to, but it obviously didn't prevent him from becoming a major star. Lizabeth Scott, who plays an overaged urchin who's been told to get out of town but is befriended by Sam, gives a very odd performance, perhaps because she was trying to play younger than she really was [although she was hardly old at 24]. This was Scott's second film, but she was seen to better advantage in such films as Desert Fury and especially Too Late for Tears/Killer Bait. Well-directed by Milestone and with a nice score by Miklos Rozsa. Familiar faces include Olin Howlin and Ann Doran.

Verdict: Fascinating meller with intense performances from Heflin and Stanwyck and a star turn from Douglas. ***. 

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

Christoph Waltz, the real star of Basterds
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009). Writer/director: Quentin Tarantino. "Nation's Pride" segment directed by Eli Roth.

Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) is the sole survivor when her Jewish family -- hiding under the floorboards in a farm in Nazi-occupied France -- are wiped out under the orders of SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Years later she and Landa meet when she (under an assumed name) is the owner of a movie theater in Paris and the boyish German war hero Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) takes a liking to her. Like a German Audie Murphy, Zoller has starred in a film about his exploits entitled "Nation's Pride" and wants it to be premiered at Shosanna's theater with top Nazi leaders, including Hitler, in attendance. Shosanna and her lover Marcel  (Jacky Ido) love the idea of wiping out all of the Germans in one fell swoop but have no idea that others have the same notion, such as a group of Nazi-scalpers known as the "Inglourious Basterds" headed by a good ole Southern boy named Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). I've never been a fan of Quentin Tarantino's -- and even this film hasn't quite convinced me of his alleged genius -- but at least he's come up with a genuinely intriguing storyline instead of childish drek like Kill Bill. The trouble is that some of Tarantino's "touches" get in the way and the film is at least thirty minutes too long. For instance the taut opening scene at the farmhouse is so lengthy that the tension almost dissipates. Robert Richardson's photography is top of the line, and there are a lot of fine actors in the movie -- and Brad Pitt. Pitt is given top billing but the real star, if it's anyone, is the superb Christoph Waltz as the slimiest Nazi to come down the pike in a long time. [The scene when he ingests and thoroughly enjoys a French pastry with whipped cream on it had my mouth-watering, but I digress.] When he and Pitt appear in the same scene it's like they're not in the same movie. Laurent is also excellent, as is Bruhl, Michael Fassbender as a British Lieutenant, Diane Kruger as a German actress who's secretly fighting against the Nazi's, Alexander Fehling as Sgt. Wilhelm who figures in an important scene in a cafe, and Denis Menochet as the farmer in the opening scene and others. Mike Myers has a cameo as a British general and an unrecognizable Rod Taylor plays Winston Churchill! With some audacious, unpredictable developments at the end, the movie sort of goes off into fantasy land but remains entertaining. You get the feeling it would have been a lot better had someone else written and helmed besides Tarantino, who seems more interested in effect than human emotion.

Verdict: No Judgment at Nuremberg [if you're talking about films dealing with the evils of Nazi Germany] but absorbing, beautifully acted by most of the cast, and with several striking and tense sequences. ***.


THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Peter Cushing
















THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958). Director: Terence Fisher.

In this sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein, the dear baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), about to be executed for his crimes in the first film, manages to have a priest beheaded instead of himself [so he's obviously not all bad!] Using the name of "Victor Stein" -- now that's a sensible pseudonym -- he becomes a doctor in a clinic for the indigent in Germany and distinguishes himself with his complete lack of a bedside manner. A promising young doctor, Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews), assists the baron in his new-old experiments, and affects a brain transplant involving Karl (Michael Gwynn) and a patient in the clinic played by Richard Wordsworth of The Quatermass Xperiment/Creeping Unknown, with predictably unpleasant results. Lionel Jeffries almost steals the picture with his gritty portrayal of a grave robber. As nurse Margaret, Eunice Gayson is very pretty but makes little impression otherwise. Followed by The Evil of Frankenstein.

Verdict: That baron never learns! ***

JOHN GARFIELD PETITION

I received the following email from a correspondent who -- like most of us -- is a big JOHN GARFIELD fan.

I am a huge John Garfield fan, and since your blog relates to "old movies" I am hoping you are a fan of his as well. I wrote an online petition to his films into a box set format. If you support this petition and believe it is about time that a box-set of John Garfield's films become available then please add your name to my petition. I need a lot of names to make this petition successful so please feel free to spread the word about this petition. If you prefer that your name not be displayed there is a function on the petition site that will allow you to do this, and all that will appear is “Name Not Displayed” and the state or country where you live.  Also, comments are very important in making any petition successful so please, if you feel comfortable about adding a comment I encourage you to do so. I hope you will add your name to my petition.

Thank you very much.
Lori
Here is the link to my petition.

 
Those of you who like Garfield are urged to click on the link and sign the petition. Thank you! 
 

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. SEASON ONE

Robert Vaughn
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. SEASON ONE 1964.

With the spy craze at its height, and bolstered with the name of a leading character provided by no less than James Bond-creator Ian Fleming, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was primed to succeed and it did, although it took a while to gather steam. There was always a light, playful element to the series, although eventually it was practically -- and unfortunately -- turned into a comedy. The first season black and white episodes are often considered the best in the program's [almost] four year run, although later seasons also had their highlights. Especially memorable episodes include: "The Double Affair" in which Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) is replaced with a double; "The Giuoco Piano Affair" in which villainess Gervaise Ravel (an excellent Anne Francis of Honey West and Forbidden Planet fame) hides out and causes mischief in the Andes; "The Deadly Decoy Affair" in which a top Thrush agent (Ralph Taeger) is transferred by UNCLE agents besieged at every turn; "The Yellow Scarf Affair" which involves airline crashes and Indian Thuggees; "The Brain Killer Affair" with Dr. Dabree (Elsa Lanchester) hoping to operate on Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll); "The Bow Wow Affair" in which very dangerous dogs play a key role;'The Secret Sceptre Affair" with an unusual turn from old-time star Gene Raymond; "The Gazebo in the Maze Affair" with George Sanders and Jeanette Nolan as a weird old husband and wife; and "The Odd Man Affair" with Martin Balsam as a long-retired UNCLE agent helping out on a case and overstepping his bounds. Two episodes featured the evil mistress of disguise, Dr. Egret : "The Girls of Nazarone Affair" featured pumped-up female Thrush agents, and -- possibly the best first season episode -- "The Mad,  Mad Tea Party Affair" had the quirky Zohra Lampert giving a fine performance as an innocent and baffled woman embroiled in bizarre and dangerous events inside UNCLE headquarters. Egret, who was played by Lee Meriwether and Marian Moses, was never seen on the series again; neither was Dr. Dabree [even though she vowed vengeance] or Angelique (Janine Gray), a sexy THRUSH assassin who appeared only once in "The Deadly Games Affair." Even the lesser episodes of the show were of interest, and Vaugh, Carroll and David McCallum as Ilya were perfectly cast. True, the show was on occasion stupider and sillier than it needed to be -- it got worse in later seasons -- but it was slick, well-made for the most part, and quite entertaining.

Verdict: Can't beat these boys! ***1/2.

MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE

Ron Randell on the rampage
















MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961). Director: Allan Dwan.

Eddie Candell (Ron Randell of The Girl in Black Stockings) is framed for murder by an associate, Andy Damon (Anthony Caruso), but he has worse problems. After escaping prison, Candell wanders into a bomb testing area and is exposed to cobalt element X, meaning that his flesh gets infused with the surrounding steel of the bunker. This may make him strong and impregnable, but it doesn't do much for his life expectancy. Most Dangerous Man Alive doesn't do much with its premise [such as The Amazing Colossal Man or even Marvel's Hulk character] and becomes fairly tedious, but it does boast some better-than-average acting from its mostly "B movie" cast, including Randell and Deborah Paget (The River's Edge) and Elaine Stewart (The Tattered Dress) as the women in Candell's life; Morris Ankrum is fine as a cop. Dwan directs without a trace of style or panache.

Verdict: Not much to this TV-type cheapie but the actors are game. **.

THE SEA HOUND

Buster Crabbe as Captain Silver



















THE SEA HOUND: Daredevil Adventures of Captain Silver (15 chapter Columbia serial/1947). Directed by Walter B. Eason and Mack Wright.

Captain Silver (Buster Crabbe), who appeared both on the radio and in comic books, sails into adventure on his boat the Sea Hound, along with his pals Tex (Jimmy Lloyd) and Jerry (Ralph Hodges). Ann Whitney (Pamela Blake) is searching for her father (Milton Kibbee), who disappeared while searching for Spanish galleon treasure. Silver and his cronies not only have to contend with the "dreaded killers of the jungle," the Ryack tribe, who use lassos to strangle people, but assorted bad guys [including Rick Vallin] who would like the gold for themselves. Highlights include the "man-eating vine" in chapter five; the boulder that rolls off a cliff in chapter seven; our hero nearly being boiled alive in hot springs in chapter eight; and being tied to water wheels in chapter nine. Sea Hound has its exciting moments to be sure, but it's still on the tame and mediocre side.

Verdict: Anything with a man-eating vine in it can't be all bad. **1/2.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

HURRICANE SANDY BLACKOUT

Hope everyone affected gets their power back on soon! Of necessity subscribers will get a brief email addition of GOM this week or just this message.

See you next week!

MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE

MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE (1965). Director : Hugo Grimaldi.

While exploring [unseen] ice caverns on the moon, Captain Webber (Carl Crow) picks up a fungus that eventually desiccates his entire body and threatens everyone on orbiting Space Station  X-7, not to mention the earth. Instead of proceeding with a highly necessary quarantine, a space-happy Colonel Cromwell (Richard Garland) decides to cover up Webber's death and not report the dangerous fungus. Dr. Stoddard (Gabriel Curtis), his assistant Faith (Delores Faith) , and Delores' boyfriend Major Towers (William Leslie) have no choice but to initiate a mutiny. even as the fungus keeps growing ... This is a workable premise for a sci fi horror film, but the execution is dismal; the low-tech FX aren't the problem so much as the complete absence of directorial flair or even interest, and there is none of the compelling tension of such films as It, The Terror from Beyond Space or Killer Shrews, which despite their flaws are fast-paced and adroitly put together. Mutiny in Outer Space becomes more boring when it should be at its most exciting. Although made in the mid-sixties, the production quality is on the level of an early fifties TV program. For a short while it looks as if a triangle situation might develop between Towers, Delores and the blond Lt. Connie Engstrom (Pamela Curran) -- which at least might have been entertaining -- but no such luck. Garland was in Attack of the Crab Monsters and Glenn Langan of The Amazing Colossal Man fame plays a general overseeing the action from Earth. Curran appeared on such TV shows as Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and some particularly lively episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Delores Faith also appeared on U.N.C.L.E. and was in The Phantom Planet. William Leslie was in The Night the World Exploded and Queen Bee with Joan Crawford.

Verdict: At least the fungus squeals as it dies. *1/2.

DARK INTRUDER

DARK INTRUDER (1965). Director: Harvey Hart.

In the mid-1960's Leslie Nielsen was tapped for the lead for a show in which he would play occult investigator Brett Kingsford, who works surreptitiously with the police on bizarre bases calling for his expertise. A pilot was made, but when the show [which would have been a kind of forerunner to Kolchak, Night Stalker in every sense of the word as it takes place in the 19th century] called The Black Cloak, wasn't picked up by a network, it was released by Universal as a theatrical feature despite its short [59 min.] running time. In old San Francisco there have been a series of murders in which victims are clawed to death at the same time as the Ripper killings in London. Robert Vandenberg (Mark Richman), a friend of Kingsford's, is especially disturbed because he knows several of the victims, and his dizzy, annoyingly yapping fiancee Evelyn (Judi Meredith of Queen of Blood), has noticed a change come over him in recent weeks. Kingsford wonders if the murders are somehow connected to a deformed boy Vandenberg knew years ago who was brought to America from Bagdad to further his education but who suddenly disappeared. Other suspects include a weird professor of the occult (Werner Klemperer); a doctor who remarks upon the wounds left by the mysterious assailant (Vaughn Taylor); and Kingsford's diminutive man-servant Nikola (Charles Bolender). Dark Intruder is creepy, suspenseful and well-produced with a very good plot and cast and a satisfying wind-up. Nielsen is fine except for when he tries to affect a British accent and wouldn't convince a nine-year-old that he's from England.The screenplay is by Barre Lyndon, who also wrote the original stage play The Man in Half Moon Street, upon which that film was based. Hart also directed The Pyx, Bus Riley's Back in Town, and other theatrical films, and also did a great deal of work for television. He is not to be confused with Herk Harvey, who directed Carnival of Souls.

Verdict: Worthy supernatural mystery with interesting players. ***.

NINE

Daniel Day-Lewis as Fellini-Contini
NINE (2009). Director: Rob Marshall.

"My body's nearing fifty and my mind is nearing ten."

Famous Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), whose last couple of films have been flops, is trying to come up with a script for his new one -- his ninth -- while juggling a wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard), a mistress named Carla (Penelope Cruz), who is also married, and other women as well. This is  based on the Broadway show of the same title, which in turn was inspired by Federico Fellini's semi-autobiographical film 8 1/2 [which has never been one of my favorite Fellini films]. The trouble with the script, which tries to deal with the conflict artists have with a repressive church and friction between their personal and professional lives among similar matters, is that it has nothing new to say on those subjects. Contini is the stereotypical neurotic ladies man with a big ego and a few moments of sensitivity, and while he's very well played by Day-Lewis, he ultimately isn't very interesting on his own. What we're left with is an entertaining adaptation of something that probably played better on the stage. Maury Yeston's songs are tuneful enough without being spectacular, and there are some well-done and sexy production numbers, such as the hookers singing "Be Italian." Cruz and especially the very lovely Cotillard are excellent, and there is good support from Nicole Kidman as a movie star, Judy Dench as a costumer-assistant to Contini, and Sophia Loren as Contini's mother! Not to put it crudely, but many see this film [and 8 1/2 as well] as less a celebration of womanhood than a paean to the arrogant male ego and his obsession with "pussy."

Verdict: Flawed and minor in most ways, but also colorful and well-produced with a fine lead performance. ***.