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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

LOVE HAPPY

"Some men are following me:" Groucho and Marilyn
LOVE HAPPY (1949). Director: David Miller.

The Marx Brothers get embroiled with a penniless theatrical company when the evil Madame Egelichi (Ilona Massey of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman) learns that a stolen necklace she covets is in  a can of sardines lifted by Harpo, who brings food to the actors. Groucho is a private detective who narrates the story and in one brief sequence dallies with Marilyn Monroe in a cameo that was not her first film appearance. [She had a big part in Ladies of the Chorus with Adele Jergens the previous year, for one thing.] Chico is a wannabe performer who adopts the theater company, or vice versa. Love Happy is not a comedy classic like A Night at the Opera; in fact, it's not a very good movie and wastes the talents of its stars. As the femme fatale of the piece, Ilona Massey certainly has a voluptuous figure -- in one outfit her nipples look like loaded weapons -- but hasn't the face to match, giving her all the sex appeal of Margaret Hamilton. At first chubby-cheeked ingenue Vera-Ellen (Three Little Words) seems so squeaky clean she makes Doris Day look like a dominatrix, but she also has a good figure -- and is a very good dancer -- and is not as bad as Sadie Thompson (in a production number) as one might think. Paul Valentine makes little impression as the director/producer of the show-within-the-show. The songs by Ann Ronell are best described as forgettable, especially the lousy title tune and a truly dreadful number called "Who Stole the Jam?" which is performed by Marion Hutton (In Society), Betty's less successful sister, as Bunny. Raymond Burr plays -- and plays well-- one of Massey's thug cohorts, resulting in a bizarre moment when Harpo slaps Perry Mason in the face! There are some funny moments, especially relating to Harpo's coat from which voluminous items are pulled in one great gag, but Love Happy is mostly a sad comedown for the clowns and kind of tedious to boot. Director Miller also helmed Sudden Fear with Joan Crawford and many others.

Verdict: Not such a happy affair. **.

MR. SOFT TOUCH

Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes
MR. SOFT TOUCH (1949). Directors: Gordon Douglas; Henry Levin.

A man with the unlikely moniker of Joe Miracle (Glenn Ford) returns from service and discovers that hoods have taken over his nightclub and murdered his partner. We never actually see Miracle learning about this -- we're introduced to him after he steals money (his money rightfully, he feels) from the nightclub safe and is on the run from the police. He eventually winds up befriended by a do-gooder named Jenny Jones (Evelyn Keyes), who works for a settlement house where there are numerous cute youngsters and the comparatively stern but warm-hearted Mrs. Hangale (Beulah Bondi), not to mention a handyman played by Percy Kilbride (The Egg and I). John Ireland (Raw Deal) is cast against type as a bespectacled reporter who wants to get info from Miracle. The trouble with Mr. Soft Touch is that it tries for equal amounts of sentiment, comedy, and action, but these elements simply never jell. Ford's character is so unlikable for the most part that the actor gives one of his few charmless performances. Keyes and Bondi come off better, but the movie just doesn't work, and you find yourself not only not caring for anyone but even for what happens. It seems to take forever to just end.

Verdict: A misfire on virtually all levels, deservedly forgotten. **.

BERSERK

Judy Geeson, Ty Hardin, La Crawford and Diana Dors
















BERSERK (1967). Director: Jim O'Connolly.

"It's a good thing you're inhuman."

The chief reaction of cold-blooded Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford), owner of the Great Rivers Circus, to the "accidental" strangling death of her high-wire star -- in a rousing opening sequence -- is that it will bring in more people who are hoping to see somebody else die. Unsentimental Rivers only cares about her circus, but dapper Detective-Superintendent Brooks (Robert Hardy) is more concerned with preventing future murders, especially after Monica's business partner (Michael Gough) gets a steel rivet hammered into his head. Monica also has her hands full with Matilda (Diana Dors), who gets sawed in half nightly, and who thinks Monica is behind all of the killings. Then there's Frank (Ty Hardin), the new high-wire star, who moves in on Monica as if she were a 25-year-old beauty, and Monica's daughter, Angela (Judy Geeson), who has come home from school with the stern headmistress who's expelled her. Which is the killer, and who will be fricasseed next? The odd thing about Berserk is how entertaining and amusing it is, with more than one well-handled murder sequence, and good performances from most of the cast. Dors has zesty fun as the belligerent Matilda, including a lively cat-fight with another gal who makes fun of her. Some of the sideshow "freaks" sing a zippy tune called "It Might Be You," and John Scott's jangling score is effective. As for Crawford, this will never go down as one of her more memorable performances, but she struts through the picture with her customary authority and exhibits smashing legs when in her ringmaster's outfit. Geeson was also in Inseminoid, and O'Connolly also helmed and wrote Tower of Evil/Horror on Snape Island

Verdict: No masterpiece, but suspenseful and engaging on its own terms. ***.

MUNSTER, GO HOME!

Al Lewis camps it up with John Carradine
MUNSTER, GO HOME! (1966). Director: Earl Bellamy.

"See what sandpaper skin and a touch of malnutrition can do for the complexion?"

The Munsters TV series, NBC's answer to ABC's The Addams Family, but more watchable, aired for two seasons from 1964 - 66. Its swan song was this theatrical feature which was released in 1966. In the movie, Herman Munster (Fred Gwynnne) learns that an uncle has died, making him the new Lord Munster, and heir to a British estate. Herman's English relatives, who reside in the estate, aren't too thrilled with this development. In fact, Freddie Munster (Terry-Thomas) tries to kill them off while they're still sailing across the ocean. Freddie's fellow conspirators include his mother, Lady Effigie (Hermione Gingold), and sister, Grace (Jeanne Arnold), the butler, Cruikshank (John Carradine), and a mysterious figure known only as the Griffin. Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo as his wife, and Al Lewis as Grandpa are excellent in their roles, and they get good support from classy veterans Gingold, Terry-Thomas, Arnold, and Carradine. Butch Patrick and Debbie Watson are also notable as the Munster children, Eddie and Marilyn, with Robert Pine effective as an affected fellow who falls for Marilyn but whose family strenuously objects to the Munsters from any coast. It all leads to Herman becoming a contestant in a race that is frenetic but not especially funny. There are a few amusing moments throughout the movie, and kids may find more chuckles than the rest of us, but this basically proves that when it comes to TV sitcoms, no matter how cute and charming, less is definitely more.

Verdict: For Munster fanatics. **1/2.

THE SKULL

Cushing and Lee at cross-purposes











THE SKULL (1965). Director: Freddie Francis.

Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) is a collector of macabre esoterica who is brought a certain skull by Marco (Patrick Wymark); Marco insists it is the skull of the Marquis De Sade. Exposure to the skull brings doom and death to certain parties, and begins to control the mind of Dr. Maitland. Another collector, Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee), from whom the skull was stolen, warns Maitland about the skull, to no avail. Amicus studios tried to go Hammer one better by hiring away their stars and directors, and using similarly handsome settings, but producer (and Amicus bigwig) Milton Subotsky's script for this pretty much does it in. Just about everything that happens is completely predictable, and at one point the skull even goes flying through the air like a bat in a silly bit of business. Based on a story by Robert Bloch, it presents a foolish stereotype of De Sade as well. Cushing is marvelous, as usual, with fine support from Lee and Jill Bennett (For Your Eyes Only) as his wife. George Coulouris is an early victim of the skull and Michael Gough is an auctioneer. The whole thing becomes surprisingly boring pretty quickly. Asylum was a much better Amicus picture.

Verdict: More of a numbskull than a skull. **.

10 RILLINGTON PLACE

Richard Attenborough as Reg Christie












10 RILLINGTON PLACE (1971). Director: Richard Fleischer.

Timothy Evans (John Hurt), his wife, Beryl (Judy Geeson), and their baby take an apartment in a building owned by Reggie Christie (Richard Attenborough). The Evanses don't know that Christie is in the habit of gassing and strangling women when his wife is out of town. Timothy goes into a panic when he learns that Beryl is expecting a second child they can't afford, but she assures him that she'll "take care" of it. Christie, who claims to have certain medical knowledge from his service in the Army,  offers to help ... and that's when the lives of the couple spiral downward into a nightmare of horror and despair. Based on a true story and filmed on the dreary location of the events, 10 Rillington Place expertly examines a terrible miscarriage of justice, as well as the life of a conscienceless sociopath and those whose lives he touches. Attenborough offers a first-rate performance as Christie, and Hurt, if not quite in the same league, has some very, very good moments. Geeson and Pat Heywood as Christie's wife are also notable. Hurt later became famous for the chest-burster scene in Alien. Attenborough appeared in Jurassic Park and directed Gandhi, among others. He gave another superb performance in The Flight of the Phoenix. Fleischer's most famous movie is probably Fantastic Voyage.

Verdict: Completely absorbing true crime drama. ***1/2.

MAN OF STEEL

Superman carries Lois Lane to safety, naturally
MAN OF STEEL (2013). Director: Zack Snyder.

Shot to Earth as an infant from dying Krypton by his father, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe), Kal-El (Henry Cavill) is adopted by the Kents and faces his greatest challenge before he's even begun his career as Superman proper: General Zod (Michael Shannon), an evil Krptonian despot, has escaped from the Phantom Zone and wants the codex that can make Krypton live again. Unfortunately, this will result in Earth and its inhabitants being destroyed. Superman sets out to stop him with the aid of the military, but it's an uphill battle. There's the germ of a good idea in Man of Steel, but its execution is highly disappointing. The story isn't told in a linear fashion but is interrupted with frequent annoying flashbacks, giving the whole project a disjointed continuity that pulls you out of the story instead of pulling you in. There are also some pretty stupid moments, such as when Johnathan Kent (Kevin Costner) simply allows himself to die so that Superman won't reveal himself too soon [even though Superman can move super-fast, and the awful effect Kent's death will  have on his wife]! The prologue on Krypton is overlong and relatively uninteresting, and dead Jor-El (or rather his "consciousness") seems to pop up all the time more to make use of Crowe than for any other logical reason. The movie has a kind of Marvel X-Men flavor to it, especially in Superman's uneasy relationship with the authorities. Handsome Cavill strikes the right note as a Superman at the very start of his career, but the rest of the casting is problematic. A lady reporter doesn't always have to be aggressive and perky to a fault, but Amy Adams is a bit too drab as Lois Lane. Laurence Fishburne as an African-Amerrican Perry White is adequate, but he wasn't that great as a leading man, let alone a character actor. Crowe, Costner, and Diane Lane as Martha Kent are okay, but Christopher Meloni quit Law and Order: Special Victims Unit for only a small role as an Army man? You don't really see enough of Ayelet Zurer to judge her performance as the evil Krptonian Lara Lor-Van. As Zod, Shannon isn't bad, but he's somewhat lacking in dramatic flair but for a couple of sequences [after all, this is a comic book movie, not a drama, and a little overplaying is allowable]. The best thing in the movie -- and virtually the only time it really comes alive -- is when Zod and Superman take to the skies and have a lively, protracted fight to the death. Otherwise, this Man of Steel rarely flies. The original Christopher Reeve version may have had its flaws, but it was better than this. Man of Steel is about on the level of the equally disappointing Superman Returns. As I predicted Man of Steel is much less entertaining than the excellent animated feature, Superman vs. the Elite.  Cavill will reprise the role of Superman in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman, and will also play Napoleon Solo in the big-screen version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; he was also in the crappy Immortals.

Verdict: The really great Superman movie has yet to be made. **1/2.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

CONFLICT

Bogart contemplates his actions
CONFLICT (1945). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

Richard Mason (Humphrey Bogart) has a bit of a problem. He's married to the somewhat demanding Kathryn (Rose Hobart of Mr. and Mrs. North), but hopelessly in love with her beautiful younger sister, Evelyn (Alexis Smith). What to do? What to do?The audience learns early on that Mason intends to murder his wife, but the fun is waiting to see how he does it, if he succeeds, and how and if he'll get caught. Bogart had no problem playing [somewhat sympathetic] villainous roles, as he also did in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (also with Alexis Smith), which his homely mug might have forced him to do in some alternate universe anyway. Bogart is fine, but he has formidable [in every sense of the word] competition from Sydney Greenstreet, as Dr. Hamilton, a friend of the Masons; Hobart and Smith are also good. The twists in the picture lead to a predictable but satisfying conclusion. Charles Drake plays a young professor who's in love with Evelyn, and you may not believe whom she prefers. Conflict is a smooth, well-played, and well-paced time-passer, thanks to director Bernhardt, and while not in the league of a Hitchcock classic, the picture  holds the attention and has some suspense. Supposedly Jack Warner offered this script to Joan Crawford for her first Warner Brothers assignment and wanted her to play the role of Kathryn, which is really just a supporting part -- she wisely took Mildred Pierce instead. It would have been interesting to see Bogart and Crawford together, however.

Verdict: Bogie is a bad boy. **1/2.

LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY

Ida Lupino and Monty Woolley
LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY (1942). Director: Irving Pichel.

"On the stage you're still a god. Off, you're still a hairy monster." 

Kathy Thomas is a lame young lady who lives and cares for her actor father, Madden Thomas (Monty Woolley), an irascible chap who is rather too fond of his liquor. Madden figures that he's all washed up in the theater, but he's offered a job by a neighbor, composer Robert Carter (Cornel Wilde), and then has a chance to star in a new production of "King Lear." But will he muff his chances for success with his usual self-destructiveness, and will his selfless daughter wind up an unloved spinster caring for her father for the rest of his life? Life Begins at Eight-Thirty doesn't dodge the tough questions about being a caregiver, especially for someone you love but find exasperating, and also ponders how much of a person's life they should give up for another's. [Of course, Madden is not exactly ready for a nursing home.]  The worst dialogue is given to Wilde, who's quite stiff as Robert and offers one of the least romantic proposals ever seen on film. Lupino and Woolley are excellent, but the picture is nearly stolen by Sara Allgood, perennial supporting player, who has one of her best and longest roles as Robert's wealthy aunt, who has been carrying a torch for Madden for many years.

Verdict: Entertaining comedy-drama with equal parts cliche and insight. ***.

THE LETTER (1929)

Jeanne Eagels is obsessed with Herbert Marshall
THE LETTER (1929). Director: Jean de Limur. Screenplay by Somerset Maugham, from his story.

"Your whole life is wrapped up in rubber!"

In this early sound film, the famous Jeanne Eagels plays the role later essayed by Bette Davis, the bored wife on the rubber plantation who shoots her lover again and again when he tries to leave her. Although not as good as William Wyler's remake, this is a creditable and interesting picture, with good performances. Eagels perhaps underplays too much in her courtroom scene, but she gets better, and certainly works herself up into an impressive lather when she finally tells her husband (Reginald Owen) what she really thinks of him. Herbert Marshall played the husband in the remake, but in this he's the lover, who has a good scene at the opening [which is not recreated in the Wyler version]. Lady Tsen Mei plays Li Ti, the role essayed by Gale Sondergaard in the remake, and O. P. Heggie is the lawyer. The production code not being in place in 1929, this picture has a less, shall we say, conclusive ending. The whole story is a twisted anti-romance. Kim Novak played the actress in the biopic Jeanne Eagels.

Verdict: A great opportunity to see the famous Eagels on film. ***.

DAY-TIME WIFE

Ty Power and Linda Darnell
DAY-TIME WIFE (1939). Director: Gregory Ratoff.

"That's marriage -- if you're happy there's nothing better; if you're unhappy there's nothing worse."

Jane Norton (Linda Darnell) fears she's losing her husband, Ken (Tyrone Power), when he spends too many late nights at the office with his attractive secretary, Kitty (Wendy Barrie). This somehow gives Jane the unlikely notion of becoming a secretary herself so she can ferret out the secret of their appeal to men. So she goes to work for horny old devil Bernard Dexter (Warren William), who is also married but has quite an eye for the ladies. Jane at first refuses Dexters' invitation to dinner, but when Ken cancels plans to take Jane out for the evening, she decides to go with Dexter -- and who shows up in the supper club as their dining companions but Ken and his secretary! Oops -- what a situation. Day-Time Wife may never go down in history as one of the cinema's most brilliant comedies, but it is an awfully cute picture, with both Darnell and Power in top form [and both very charming], and is consistently amusing to boot. Barrie, William, Binnie Barnes as Jane's best friend, Blanche, and Joan Davis as Miss Applegate, who also works for Dexter but isn't pursued by him, lend expert support, as does Mildred Gover as the maid Melbourne. Amazing that this was only Darnell's second picture.

Verdict: An insubstantial but very amusing confection with wonderful leads. ***.

ISLAND OF TERROR

Dangerous tentacle of silicate
ISLAND OF TERROR (1966). Director: Terence Fisher.

When the body of a man is discovered with all of his insides somehow sucked out on an isolated island, Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and Dr. David West (Edward Judd of First Men in the Moon) are called in for consultation by the local constable, John Harris (Sam Kydd). There the two men discover more dessicated corpses, and learn that researchers attempting to create living matter to counteract cancer cells only succeeded in creating silicon-based tentacled creatures ["silicates"] that feed on humans and animals by leeching away bone via osmosis. While the monsters themselves aren't the most frightening things in the world, Island of Terror is still quite creepy, has good performances from the leads, Kydd, and Carole Gray [Curse of the Fly] as West's plucky date, and offers some fairly unusual beasties in the bargain. There are a couple of illogical moments, such as when one character takes an axe to another's arm instead of chopping at the tentacle that ensnared it, and the idea of herding everyone on the island into one place so the monsters can congregate and feed on them is also a boner, especially when they've already herded some animals together for that purpose. Cushing is as marvelous as ever.

Verdict: Fun monster movie despite some dumb moments. ***.

THE LODGER

Simon Baker as mysterious Malcolm
















THE LODGER (2009). Writer/director: David Ondaatje. Loosely based on the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes.

In West Hollywood Ellen Bunting (Hope Davis) and her husband (Donal Logue) rent a room to a handsome writer named Malcolm (Simon Baker), whom Ellen is strongly drawn to. Meanwhile Detective Chandler Manning (Alfred Molina of Spider-Man 2) and rookie detective Street Wilkinson (Shane West) investigate grisly slayings of prostitutes which first remind them of the work of a convicted and executed killer who may have been innocent, and then seem to be copycat killings of Jack the Ripper. Oddly, the same year this was released British television came out with the superior Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns which also had a copycat Jack the Ripper. Another similarity is that both of these stories pair a grizzled veteran with a new, much younger cop, whom the veteran assumes is gay but turns out (supposedly) not to be [Wilkinson lets Manning's dumb homophobic remarks just slide]. Since there are gay cops it might have been more refreshing if Wilkinson had really been gay, and it makes little sense that he allows the obnoxious Manning to think he is without correcting him. What The Lodger has going for it is that it delivers a couple of unexpected and clever twists at the end, but unfortunately it never really delivers the much-needed tension or suspense due to directorial slackness, and the characters aren't that well developed; Manning is unsympathetic as well. The performances are good, however. Tasmanian actor Baker has starred as The Mentalist on CBS for several years.

Verdict: Worth a look for the ending if nothing else. **1/2.

THE WILD, WILD WEST Season Four

Jo Van Fleet and Robert Conrad in the final episode
















THE WILD, WILD WEST Season Four. 1968. CBS.

While there were less outstanding episodes in The Wild, Wild West's last season than in previous years, it remained an entertaining, generally well-made and well-acted program until the end. During Ross Martin's illness, Charles Aidman filled in for Artemis Gordon as "Jeremy Pike" in several episodes. [William Schallert filled in as "Frank Harper" in one two-part episode.] There was a suspenseful scene in a vault in the first episode, "Night of the Big Blackmail," with Harvey Korman; a mechanical squid and an underwater HQ in "Kraken;" a giant tuning fork sonics weapon in "Avaricious Actuary;" a certain song that holds the key to which secret service agent might be a traitor in "the Janus;" an obnoxious opera singer (Patrice Munsel) in the unusual episode "Night of the Diva;" a tank used to tear homesteaders' dwellings apart in "Juggernaut;" a vial of deadly plague in "Gruesome Games;" and a deadly new explosive in "Doomsday Formula" with Kevin McCarthy. Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) plays dummy to a robot ventriloquist and kidnaps several people in ways related to a nursery rhyme in "Miquelito's Revenge;" and "Bleak Island," concerning skulduggery in a spooky old house on a cliff, features fine performances from John Williams, Beverly Garland and, especially, Robert H. Herron. The two best episodes were "The Sedgwick Curse," in which people disappear without a trace from a sinister hotel; and the very last episode of the series, the slightly sexist "Night of the Tycoons," in which Jo Van Fleet expertly plays the sole female member of a board of directors who are being killed off one by one. Robert Conrad and Ross Martin still seem to be having fun, and Aidman and Schallert make admirable and likable fill-ins.

Verdict: Nice wind-up to an unusual and entertaining TV series. ***.

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS -- PART ONE/ PART TWO

Senior Batman vs eternally young Superman













BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS Part One/Part Two (/Video/2012 - 2013). Director: Jay Oliva.

Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, this two-part animated feature looks at the dark side and older years of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Batman has not appeared in Gotham city for a decade, but the threat of a homicidal gang that calls itself the Mutants, and whose activities are becoming more and more violent, bring him out of retirement. Eventually this brings him into conflict with the Gotham police department, which gets a new female commissioner in part two, and then with Superman in the final sequences. Taking care of the Mutants with blunt brutality, something the police were not able to do, makes the now-senior Batman a hero in the eyes of some Gothamites, and a fascist in others, such as the Joker's nutty psychiatrist, who thinks Batman is the real sociopath and is responsible for villains like the Joker. This is all played out before a backdrop of social and political commentary. A new, very young female Robin named Carrie at first seems like a frivolous character, as she comes out of nowhere and seems to have had absolutely no training, but she grows on you after awhile. There's more than one suggestion that the Joker in this might be gay -- his final confrontation with Batman is in a Tunnel of Love! -- as well as other sexually ambiguous characters, but whether this is to give them added color or is mere LGBT exploitation is debatable. [One villainess has a butch haircut and swastikas painted on her naked, substantial breasts!] Peter Weller makes a fine Batman, with David Selby also notable as Commissioner Gordon, and other voice roles are well cast.The animation is fluid and Oliva's direction is fast-paced and cinematic. This is not your father's Batman.

Verdict: Sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes childish, but it holds the attention. ***.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN

Original title: Thelma Jordan."
THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN (1950). Director: Robert Siodmak.

"Maybe I am just a dame and didn't know it. Maybe I like being picked up by a guy on a binge."

Concerned with possible burglars at her elderly aunt's estate, Thelma Jordan (Barbara Stanwyck) goes to see an assistant district attorney named Miles Scott (Paul Kelly) but winds up with another ADA, Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey) who happens to be rather bored with his wife (Joan Tetzel) and children and their vacations and falls hard for Thelma while on a bender. The plot has various intriguing twists and turns as the two carry on a heated affair while Mrs. Marshall and the kids wait at the beach. Then, wouldn't you know it, someone gets murdered ... Stanwyck gives another fine performance in Thelma Jordan, and Corey is quite good as well; this is an actor who has hidden facets as well as versatility. Stanwyck plays one of her most unsympathetic characters but you're with her right from the start. Tetzel and Kelly are also fine, and Gertrude Hoffman is just right in her brief appearance as Thelma's aunt. No, this is no Double Indemnity, but it's absorbing and has a few tricks up its sleeve. To accept some of the more absurd plot turns takes a definite "suspension of disbelief," however. Some of Corey's best performances were in No Sad Songs for Me, The Big Knife, and his debut film Desert Fury, and he also somehow wound up in Women of the Prehistoric Planet.

Verdict: Stanwyck smoulders in grand style. ***.

THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY

Shirley MacLaine as a troubled sister












THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972). Director: Waris Hussein.

Upper east side divorcee Norah Benson (Shirley MacLaine) has increasingly clung to her brother Joel (Perry King) since her husband left, but lately the free-spirited Joel has been acting strange and threatening. [Of course, Norah brushes his hair as if he were an eight-year-old.] Joel becomes a suspect in a horrible murder, the latest in a series of decapitations of women supposedly committed by Joel's friend, Tonio Perez. The trouble is, Tonio is dead. Is Joel the killer, or is he literally or figuratively possessed by Tonio? And will Norah learn the truth before Joel can turn on her and her family? The Possession of Joel Delaney has an intriguing storyline, but while there are a few creepy scenes, it's all handled much too matter-of-factly and there's only real suspense near the climax, which actually consists of utterly repellant scenes of Norah's two young children being terrorized. MacLaine gives a good performance for the most part, but she doesn't seem sure how to handle the grislier "horror" portions of the script involving assorted severed heads. Perry King, who was "introduced" in this movie although he'd had small roles in previous films, is quite good, as are the children. Although Norah reacts to the denizens of Spanish Harlem just as a wealthy snob like her would, the picture does present somewhat stereotypical portraits of Puerto Ricans.The ending leaves room for a sequel which fortunately never materialized.

Verdict: Not awful but misses the mark. **.


BEAUTY FOR SALE

Sherwood (Otto Kruger) is in love with Letty (Madge Evans)
















BEAUTY FOR SALE (1933). Director: Richard Boleslawski.

 "If he gives you a hat in only an hour imagine what he can do in three weeks."

Letty (Madge Evans) takes a room with the Merrick family, which consists of the mother (May Robson), her daughter Carol (Una Merkel), and son Bill (Eddie Nugent), who's stuck on Letty. Carol helps Letty get a job at the beauty parlor where she works, which is lorded over by the dragon-like Sonia (Hedda Hopper). Unlucky in love, Carol is keeping company with a wealthy, much older man named Freddy (Charley Grapewin). Their fellow employee, Jane (Florine McKinney), is having a secret relationship with Sonia's son, Burt (Phillips Holmes). Letty falls in love with a Mr. Sherwood (Otto Kruger), who happens to be married to one of the beauty spa's customers, the flighty and affected Henrietta (Alice Brady). Will any of these women find happiness? Well, maybe ... Beauty for Sale is a highly engaging comedy-drama with a very appealing lead performance by the luminescent Evans and excellent supporting performances from Merkel, McKinney, Brady and Kruger; the others, such as Hopper, are also well-cast. The movie blends its laughs [all the funny gossiping that goes on at the beauty parlor] and tragic moments expertly, and is well-directed by Boleslawski, who often favors extreme close-ups at tilted angles. There's a nice bit when a bathroom door slowly closes on the huddled figure of Jane after she gets some shattering news. Isabel Jewell [The Seventh Victim] is very sharp and saucy as the receptionist, Hortense, and Nugent scores as the likable but sadly immature Bill, who nearly drives Letty crazy [his mistreatment at her hands is sort of glossed over]. Boleslawski also directed the interesting Storm at Daybreak and Les Miserables.

Verdict: Minor classic is well worth the watching. ***.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF FLIGHT 412

Robert F. Lyons and David Soul may have seen UFO
















THE DISAPPEARANCE OF FLIGHT 412 (1974 telefilm). Director: Jud Taylor.

"Officers aren't supposed to act on instinct, they act on orders, and yours are to lay off!"

Two air force men are doing a test flight [412] to check for electrical problems when they see two blips appear and disappear on their radar screen, followed by the complete disappearance of two jet fighters. They are quickly taken off to be debriefed by SID officers, much to the consternation of their commanding officer, Colonel Pete Moore (Glenn Ford), who first wonders where the hell they are and then why they were taken in the first place. While the Flight 412 pilots (David Soul; Robert F. Lyons) are held and questioned along with others, Moore demands answers from General Enright (Kent Smith of Nora Prentiss) even as Major Dunning (Bradford Dillman of Jigsaw) urges him to forget the whole business. What's going on here? Well, sadly, not a hell of a lot, as this cheap production was cobbled together to take advantage of the UFO rage of the seventies but lacks a strong plot, suspense, or any pay-off. A lot of perfectly good actors are just wasted. The blaring, brassy musical score does its best to create some excitement, but can't disguise the fact that nothing much is going on here. There are a hell of a lot of good-looking men in the cast, for those who are interested.

Verdict: Not nearly as much fun as The Invaders. *.

CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER

John Merivale and Didi Sullivan














CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (aka Caltiki, Il mostro immortale/1959). Director: Robert Hampton [Riccardo Freda]. NOTE: Cinematographer Mario Bava is said to have finished directing the film.

In Mexico Dr. John Fielding (John Merivale) and Max Gunter (Gerard Herter) are investigating ancient Mayan ruins with associates, when they come across an underground temple with a pool and a strange flesh-eating mass inside of it. This mass eats away Max's arm and drives him insane (although he was already slightly crazy), and breaks out of containment in a laboratory. This "immortal" menace -- an ageless, legendary and uni-cellular being -- reacts to radiation from a passing comet, and threatens to grow to tremendous size. Caltiki is a fairly entertaining picture even if the monster resembles a writhing, glistening carpet, and it has an exciting climax. Undoubtedly influenced by such earlier films as The Creeping Unknown, Enemy from Space/Quatermass 2 and The Blob, Caltiki was influential in its own right. It's hard to judge the performances due to the dubbing, but the actor who does the voice for Max makes him sound like a sneering Snidley Whiplash even before he loses his mind! Didi Sullivan is Fielding's wife, and Daniela Rocca is Linda, who is madly in love with Max, who continually mistreats her. Max's death scene is a grisly stand-out and the opening scenes in the ruins are rather creepy.

Verdict: As Blob movies go this one isn't bad. **1/2.

COLD PREY

COLD PREY (aka Fritt Vilt/2006). Director: Roar Uthaug.

Five young people in Norway go off on a ski weekend, but the trouble begins when one of them, Morten (Rolf Kristian Larsen), breaks his leg. The group seeks shelter in what turns out to be an abandoned ski resort, which happens to have one unfortunate, and homicidal, occupant in the basement. It isn't long [actually it's rather long] before the skiers are fighting for their lives against this menacing stranger. The main problem with Cold Prey  -- which might be considered Norway's answer to the Friday the 13th/ mad slasher franchise  -- is that the first half is staggeringly tedious, showing us these standard horny teens in much too much detail. On the other hand, all that detail does let us distinguish one from the other, which helps you care a bit about [or at least know] who's being fricasseed when the slaughter begins. What saves the movie is a fairly solid second half, which is exciting and well-directed and greatly abetted by the performances of the talented cast, with Larsen and Ingrid Borsal Berdal (as Jannicke) taking top honors. There's a striking and suspenseful climax near a crevasse as well. The movie does feature some by-now very familiar elements, including a lone female survivor taking care of the killer a la all those American slasher films. Gore-geeks will be disappointed as the film doesn't rely too much on sickening graphic details. The movie has had two sequels so far.

Verdict: You've seen it all before, but once it gets going it's quite well done. ***.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

THE BIG SHAKEDOWN

Charles Farrell and Bette Davis




















THE BIG SHAKEDOWN (1934). Director: John Francis Dillon.

Jimmy Morrell (Charles Farrell) owns a neighborhood drug store and employs his sweetheart Norma (Bette Davis) behind the counter. Along comes smooth operator and racketeer Dutch Barnes (Ricardo Cortez), who discovers that Jimmy can make toothpaste just the same and just as good as the best-selling brand. Jimmy agrees to go to work making duplicate toothpaste and other stuff for Barnes, but he assumes they'll be marketed under a new brand name. Instead Barnes simply puts the bogus stuff into tubes with the label of the original brand on them and distributes them as the real thing. Jimmy is nervous about this development, but he keeps making fake toiletries and cosmetics for Barnes to distribute, until one day Barnes decides to duplicate a famous antiseptic -- only without the specific ingredient that makes it antiseptic -- and there are worse things to come. The Big Shakedown has a good premise and there are some dramatic developments, but the picture doesn't present them with any flair or intensity. Farrell is fine, but while Cortez plays the very suave and polished villain with his usual aplomb, it's also a distinctly superficial portrait. This was one of the thankless roles that Bette Davis -- top-billed with Farrell although she hasn't much to do -- was handed in the early days. She looks cute and is quite adept; Glenda Farrell has a somewhat larger role as a girlfriend of Barnes' who gets into a zesty hair-pulling match with Renee Whitney as her rival Mae LaRue. Perhaps the best thing in the picture is Barnes' flamboyant death scene, even if it doesn't make too much sense. Many years later Charles Farrell was Gale Storm's father on My Little Margie; he was not related to Glenda Farrell.

Verdict: This had possibilities but it's nearly a snooze. *1/2.

MEXICAN SPITFIRE'S BLESSED EVENT

Leon Errol, Lupe Velez, and Walter Reed















MEXICAN SPITFIRE'S BLESSED EVENT (1943). Director: Leslie Goodwins.

"First let me have some other particulars and then we'll discuss sex."

This is the eighth and final entry in the "Mexican Spitfire" films and Dennis (Walter Reed) is still  trying to get Lord Epping (Leon Errol) to sign that contract! It's amazing that while Blessed Event doesn't depart in many ways from the usual formula -- you know that at one point Uncle Matt (Leon Errol  again) will dress up like Lord Epping and confusion will run riot -- it still manages to be pretty hilarious in spite of it. In this installment Dennis and company get the mistaken notion that his wife, Carmelita (Lupe Velez), has somehow given birth to a baby -- without, so far as anybody knows, being pregnant --  but the "blessed event" she refers to is actually her cat having kittens. Since Lord Epping will not sign that ever-demanding contract until he sees the baby, this presents quite a problem for the Lindsays, including the always reliable Uncle Matt. Then there's Dennis' business rival, George Sharp (Hugh Beaumont), who does his level best to prove Carmelita is putting on a diabolical baby act. Velez and Errol are in their usual top form, as are Elisabeth Risdon as Dennis' formidable aunt; Lydia Bilbrook as the deadpan Lady Epping; and Reed as the charming if discombobulated "father," Dennis. Hugh Beaumont is also excellent as the conniving Sharp and has a great scene with Errol in the bar (where else?). There's some inventive business in this, a few risque lines, and amusingly bizarre situations, and the laughs keep coming at a rapid pace.These are fine comic actors at the top of their game.

Verdict: Arguably the best and funniest of the Mexican Spitfire films. ***.

ONE HEAVENLY NIGHT

Evelyn lays a big egg in "One Heavenly Night"













ONE HEAVENLY NIGHT (1931). Director: George Fitzmaurice.

Flower girl/usherette Lilli (the amusingly named Evelyn Laye) aspires to be just like the notorious man-hungry chanteuse Fritzi (Lilyan Tashman), and she gets her chance when Fritzi asks Lilli to impersonate her on a trip to the tiny kingdom of Zuppa. There Lilli meets the handsome Count Tibor (John Boles), and the two fall in love after an initial unpleasant encounter. One Heavenly Night is, alas, not an example of one of your more memorable operettas, having an uninteresting story, tedious comic relief, and songs that are only vaguely pleasant at best. Playing a young ladies man, Boles is sexier than in such dramas as Back Street and Stella Dallas, in which he was convincingly middle-aged only a year later. Neither Laye nor Tashman are terribly attractive by Hollywood standards; although Laye isn't a bad actress, she lacks distinction. One problem with Laye in this movie is that she's rather affected even before she begins her impersonation of the haughty Fritzi. Leon Errol is on hand as Lilli's vocal coach and loving buddy, but even the great comedian isn't able to do anything to save the picture. Laye made a few more films in the thirties, and then wasn't seen again for twenty years. That same year Fitzmaurice directed Greta Garbo in Mata Hari and he guided Barbara Stanwyck in her second film and first sound picture, The Locked Door.

Verdict: A not-so-heavenly hour and a half. *1/2.

THE HONEYMOONERS SPECIALS

Ralph and Ed Norton do drag!




















 THE HONEYMOONERS SPECIALS

"Just what I always suspected! I'm calling Anita Bryant in the morning!" -- Alice's mother after seeing Ralph rubbing Ed's back. 

"The Honeymooners: Second Honeymoon" (1976). Director: Jackie Gleason.
"The Honeymooners Christmas Special" (1978). Director: Jackie Gleason.
"The Honeymooners Valentine Special" (1978). Director: Jackie Gleason. 

Jackie Gleason brought back most of the cast of the original Honeymooners  -- Jane Kean of the Color Honeymooners replaced Joyce Randolph -- for four reunion specials in the late seventies, three of which are available on DVD. In "Second Honeymoon" Ralph (Jackie Gleason) and Alice (Audrey Meadows) are going to renew their vows at the raccoon lodge when Ralph gets the mistaken impression that Alice is pregnant. In the Christmas special, Ralph gets another hare-brained idea and uses his savings, his mother-in-law's social security check, and Norton's Xmas bonus to buy hundreds of lottery tickets. In the Valentine special, the funniest of the three, Ralph is convinced that Alice is plotting to murder him due to a gigolo she's met, and he and Ed (Art Carney) dress in drag to trap this other man. Some of the routines in these are over-familiar, the apartment looks especially stark on a large stage and in color, and Ralph and Alice still don't have a phone or most modern conveniences, but the cast's timing is still impeccable and there are a lot of laughs. Eileen Heckart [The Bad Seed; Miracle in the Rain] plays Ralph's mother-in-law in the Valentine special, and while she's a fine actress, she's not really suitable for the role. Templeton Fox is a little more on the mark, but neither of them can compare to Ethel Owen, who really nailed the role in the original series in the fifties. The fourth special had Ralph putting on "A Christmas Carol" for the Raccoon lodge, but this has not yet been released on DVD. Jane Kean was in the right time and place when these reunions were announced and got the part of Trixie again, but in all fairness it should have gone to Joyce Randolph, the original Trixie, as these were "reunions."

Verdict: Everyone's a little grayer, but the magic is still there. ***.

PRIVATE HELL 36

Steve Cochran and Ida Lupino have plans
PRIVATE HELL 36 (1954), Director: Don Siegel.

Detectives Cal Bruner (Steve Cochran) and Jack Farnham (Howard Duff) are trying to find some stolen loot and the guys who snatched it. When a marked $50 bill is given to chanteuse Lilli Marlowe (Ida Lupino) as a tip, they interview her to find out what she remembers about the generous club patron; Cal and Lilli are drawn to one another. Things take a dark turn when one of the two cops decides to pocket some of the aforementioned stolen loot ... Private Hell 36 is a minor crime drama with some good acting from all of the principals; Lupino is especially appealing as the slightly hard-bitten but likable saloon singer. Dean Jagger scores as the wise older boss of the two detectives, and Dorothy Malone is fine in the brief, thankless role of Farnham's wife [although Lupino and Duff were married at the time they are not paired with each other]. The script is credited to Lupino and her ex-husband, Collier Young. Borderline film noir. Director Siegel's best-known film is arguably Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Verdict: Interesting idea that's not developed all that well. **.

MOTIVE FOR REVENGE

Irene Hervey and Donald Cook on the run
MOTIVE FOR REVENGE (1935). Director: Burt P. Lynwood.

Muriel (Irene Hervey) is a wealthy woman married to a comparably poor bank teller named Barry (Donald Cook) who apparently prefers that they live on his salary. Muriel's mother (Doris Lloyd) resents the hell out of this and nags him to make something more out of himself and for Muriel to get rid of him. The weak, stupid Barry robs a bank and is captured after a high-speed chase with police. Although Muriel promises to wait for him until he gets out of jail, she quite sensibly divorces him at the urging of her mother and marries the odious and insanely jealous older man, Bill (Edwin Maxwell). And then things get even more melodramatic when Barry gets out of jail ... There's a murder, a robbery plot, a chase on the river, all of it told in mostly unexceptional fashion, but the weird thing is that seven years in jail seems to have made Barry suave. The acting isn't bad, and the movie isn't terrible, just not very memorable. Although Muriel's mother is unpleasant and snobbish, some of her attitudes toward Barry are completely justified. Irene Hervey was in Manhandled in a very different sort of role years later, and appeared sporadically as Aunt Meg on Honey West. Cook was in Frisco Jenny and Lloyd was in the 1931 Waterloo Bridge.

Verdict: Women who love not wisely but well. **.

IDENTITY THIEF

"A repulsive and obnoxious fat woman"









IDENTITY THIEF (2012). Director: Seth Gordon.

A businessman named Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) doesn't realize that his identity has been stolen by a repulsive and obnoxious fat woman (Melissa McCarthy) who supposedly has the same name but is actually Diana or something else. When his new boss threatens to fire him, Sandy decides to track down Diana, who's been running riot with his credit cards, so he can keep his job and bring her to justice. This alleged "comedy " is scripted by the supremely untalented Craig Mazin. I mean, I didn't expect Bringing Up Baby but I thought the film might have a chuckle or two. The first problem is that anyone who's ever had their identity stolen, or is afraid it might happen to them, is not going to find much amusement in the premise, nor in the fact that Patterson bonds and becomes friends with the woman who screwed up his life, who, of course, blames it all on a difficult childhood. The movie tries too hard and unconvincingly to create sympathy for someone who, until the unreal and sentimental conclusion, has no sympathy for anyone but herself. In one amazingly moronic moment, an imprisoned Diana talks about "dykes" trying to get at her "sweet stuff" in front of the hero's wife and children, both of whom seem more bothered by her vulgarity than her homophobia [the character also seems racist, although she never utters the "n" word that, at least, still being more or less verboten]. Sitcom star Bateman is okay but has little big-screen charisma, while McCarthy's character is so utterly repellent that it's hard to judge her acting skill. Adding insult to injury, the movie is more boring than anything else and is nearly two hours long! Two hours with one of the most odious and unattractive characters in the movies. The best scene has the chunky anti-heroine hit by a car, but, unfortunately, she survives.

Verdict: Why fast forward buttons were invented. Dreadful. 0 stars.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

COMMUNION

Linda Miller and Paula Sheppard
COMMUNION (aka Alice, Sweet Alice and Holy Terror/1976). Director: Alfred Sole.

On the day of her first communion, little Karen Spages (Brook Shields) is murdered and her body set on fire in the back of the Catholic church. The main suspect is her jealous older sister, Alice (Paula Sheppard), who is identified as the assailant when her aunt Annie (Jame Lowry) is attacked on the staircase with a butcher knife -- a very good scene -- even though the perpetrator wears a mask. Her mother, Catherine (Linda Miller) and father, Dom (Niles McMaster), who is divorced from Catherine, can't believe their daughter could be capable of such acts despite her troubles, and they may be right. But who is the maniac in the mask and yellow slicker who is turning all of their lives into a nightmare? Communion is a tasty little thriller that triumphs over some amateurish moments and one weak key performance and emerges as one of the most entertaining and unusual psycho-shockers of the period or after. Although none of the principal actors seem able to quite get across the shock and numbness their characters would be feeling after Karen's horrible murder, on other levels they are more than capable, with Sheppard quite good as the feisty, disturbed Alice, Miller effective as her mother, and Mildred Clinton positively walking off with the movie in the significant role of Mrs. Tredoni, the housekeeper for the rectory. Rudolph Willrich is also good as Father Tom, the parish priest, and a very young Brooke Shields scores as the tragic Karen; Niles McMaster is barely adequate as Karen's father, however. The worst performance, though, comes from Jane Lowry, who overacts as the Aunt as if she thought she were cast in a black comedy, badly throwing off the tone of certain sequences. An unusual cast member, even if she only appears for a minute or so, is former songstress Lillian Roth, whose life was chronicled in I'll Cry Tomorrow with Susan Hayward. Then there's the amazing Alphonso DeNoble, who plays the morbidly obese, pedophile landlord with a pee stain on his gigantic trousers. Of all the actors Willrich amassed the most credits. Filmed in dreary Paterson, New Jersey, where the story takes place, Communion has decided atmosphere, and undertones of the perverse pathology of Catholicism are pervasive. Stephen Lawrence contributed the haunting theme. Unfortunately, Alfred Sole never followed up on his promise as director, having only a couple of other directorial credits; most of his work since has been in production design. The movie was also released in theaters as Alice, Sweet Alice and re-released as Holy Terror after Brooke Shields became famous.

Verdict: Imperfect, perhaps, but fascinating and memorable. ***.

SCANDAL SHEET

Broderick Crawford
















SCANDAL SHEET (1952). Director: Phil Karlson.

"You're a neurotic screwball!"

The stockholders of the New York Express are up in arms because new editor-in-chief Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) has decided to increase profits and circulation by turning the paper into a vulgar tabloid. Chapman has been promised a significant bonus if he can really turn the paper around, and he's determined to publish hard-hitting stories no matter who he upsets. His protege, Steve (John Derek), wants to be just like Chapman, while Steve's girlfriend, Julie (Donna Reed), wishes he'd emulate just about anybody else. Things become complicated when a woman at a lonely hearts gathering sponsored by the Express recognizes Chapman as the husband who deserted her twenty years before, only now he has a different name ... Before long Steve is tracking down a story that Chapman wishes he could bury twenty miles deep. Scandal Sheet has an interesting premise and characters, is quite well-acted by the entire cast, but somehow it just misses the boat, perhaps because you're always one step ahead of most of the characters -- it just lacks sizzle and tension. Crawford is fine, and Henry O'Neill makes a notable impression as the alcoholic ex-reporter, Charlie, as does Rosemary DeCamp [Nora Prentiss] as Chapman's wife. Others in the cast include Kathryn Card and Ida Moore [The Egg and I], both of whom appeared on I Love Lucy. This was based on a novel by Samuel Fuller.

Verdict: Comes so close but misses. **1/2.  

SHOPWORN

Barbara Stanwyck and Regis Toomey
SHOPWORN (1932). Director: Nicholas Grinde.

Kitty Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, winds up as a waitress in a literally greasy spoon where she meets David Livingstone (Regis Toomey). David wants to marry Kitty, but his termagant, selfish mother (Clara Blandick) refuses to countenance the idea of her son, who's studying to be a doctor, marrying a common waitress, and trumps up charges against her with the aid of an odious judge friend [it's quite satisfying watching Toomey give this creep a knock-out punch]. Years later Kitty has become a famous Broadway star, of course, and David comes calling ... can this love be rekindled and will mama allow it to happen? Stanwyck is fine in a Joan Crawford rags-to-riches role, and Toomey is very adept and appealing. The developments are unlikely, the script mediocre, but the stars manage to put it over if nothing else. Zazu Pitts plays yet another dithery friend of the heroine's. Blandick is fine as the mother from Hell. Toomey later did such TV shows as Shannon and Grinde directed a great many movies, including a few Boris Karloff thrillers such as The Man They Could Not Hang.

Verdict: Stanwyck is almost always watchable in anything and she's made worse. **.

JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE

William Terry, Simone Simon and James Ellison














JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944). Director: Joe May.

In this very weird movie a young lady named Kathie (Simone Simon of Girls' Dormitory) takes a train to Washington D.C. and becomes the victim of a tiny bad luck gremlin named Rumplestilzken (voiced by Bugs Bunny's Mel Blanc). She winds up taking the apartment of a departing marine named Johnny (William Terry), but learns too late that he has given out keys to friends, soldiers, lady friends, and other apartment dwellers who need to use the bathroom. [Kathie makes all sorts of repairs to the apartment, but it never occurs to her to have the lock changed!] A sailor named Mike (James Ellison of Next Time I Marry) is one of the interlopers, along with his pal Jack (Chick Chandler of Lost Continent), and he finds himself vying with a returning Johnny, on leave, for Kathie's affections. The first thing you think while watching the beginning of this movie is that it could be either cute or stupid, and unfortunately it's much more of the latter than the former. The cast is appealing, especially a winsome Simon and sensitive Terry, and there are a couple of chuckles, but mostly it's more irritating than amusing. The ending is interesting, however, as you wait to find out which man Kathie is going to agree to marry and there's a surprise or two. Poor Rondo Hatton [House of Horrors] has a bit where he plays an undertaker who frightens Kathie. Grady Sutton and Robert Mitchum have smaller roles and are swell.

Verdict:  Seems different at first but is really the same old silly stuff. **.

SO EVIL MY LOVE

Ray Milland as rotter Mark
















SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948). Director: Lewis Allen.

A missionary's widow named Olivia (Ann Todd of The Seventh Veil) nurses a sick man named Mark (Ray Milland of A Life of Her Own) on a voyage returning to 19th century London and he later comes to board in her house. Mark is a thorough rotter and criminal with a cheap girlfriend, but he brings out Olivia's hidden desires and passions and she falls hard for him. Eventually the two work out a scheme for money that involves Olivia's old school chum, Susan (Geraldine Fitzgerald of Nobody Lives Forever), and her tiresome, tight-assed husband, Henry (Raymond Huntley). Much later an untenable situation develops that casts Susan into a nightmare and Olivia into a pit of torment and confusion. As for Mark, he is developing certain feelings that surprise even him. The best thing about this fascinating study of obsession is that it's completely unpredictable, throwing twists and turns at the viewer from start to finish. Although Milland may not be the best casting, he gives a good performance, Fitzgerald is fine, and Ann Todd is perfect and wonderful as the decent woman given in to love, lust and immorality. It all builds to a terrific and ironic conclusion. The score is by William Alwyn and Victor Young. Leo G. Carroll is the most notable of the supporting cast. Lewis Allen also directed Desert Fury and many others. Supposedly inspired by a true story.

Verdict: Absorbing romantic suspense film. ***1/2.

PACIFIC RIM

Indistinct baby monster pursues scientist
PACIFIC RIM (2013). Director: Guillermo del Toro.

In the future a breach in the floor of the Pacific Ocean lets loose gargantuan monsters, called Kaiju [Japanese for monster],  that begin to decimate civilization. To combat them huge robots called Jeagers are built, which require two pilots, whose minds meld with each other and with the robot, as they go after the Kaiju. One pilot, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) lost his brother during a battle, and now is teamed with pretty young Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Then there's the father/son team of Herc (Max Martini) and his obnoxious son, Chuck (Robert Kazinsky). Overseeing them all -- including two nerdy scientists named Newt (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) -- is Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). The scientists attempt a mind-meld with one of the Kaiju's brains so they can pick up important information, but this nearly backfires on them. Of course the mostly one-dimensional human characters hardly matter in this kind of FX movie, although the overly weird-looking monsters are never as impressive as even the lesser efforts of Ray Harryhausen, and many sequences simply look cluttered, messy, and indistinct. Meant as a homage to Japanese movies about monsters and giant robots, Pacific Rim is a macho militaristic monster movie along the lines of Starship Troopers but without the extreme gore of that picture. There are a couple of somewhat memorable scenes: one of the monsters breaks into an underground shelter after the terrified people hear it thumping just above them; and a dead but pregnant Kaiju unleashes a smaller but still hungry baby monster. Otherwise the movie sort of holds the attention without ever really knocking you out on any level. The acting in this isn't bad, with a charismatic Elba [Prometheus] and intense Martini taking top honors; Martini, in particular, has some very good moments. Ron Perlman also gives a flavorful performance as a man who makes money selling various parts of deceased kaiju. Most of the sentimental scenes in the movie fall flat because the movie has no depth at all. Chiefly for nerds who grew up adoring Godzilla movies. I mean, I normally love creature features but I could hardly wait for this rather long movie to finally end. For my money there's nothing in this as eye-popping as, say,  the tentacles of the huge octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea jutting out of San Francisco Bay and wiggling over the docks and freeway. Director del Toro's big bug movie Mimic is a much, much better, scarier, and more entertaining picture. He also directed Hellboy. Giant robots with human pilots inside were also the stars of Robot Jox [aka Robojox] in 1989.

Verdict: It Came from Beneath the Sea is more fun, has better effects, and is only half as long. **.

THE SEA FIEND/ DEVIL MONSTER

Barry Norton as Robert
















THE SEA FIEND/ DEVIL MONSTER (1936/1946). Director: S. Edwin Graham.

For inexplicable reasons, somebody decided it might be a good idea to take an unmemorable film entitled The Sea Fiend and ten years later fiddle with it a bit, overdub all the dialogue with new actors -- retaining the same basic plot -- and re-release it as Devil Monster. No matter what you call it, it's hard to sit through despite some interesting aspects. Jose (Jack Del Rio) and his crew went missing while sailing the south seas, and Jose's mother (Mary Carr) importunes Robert (Barry Norton) to go look for him, as does Jose's gal, Louise (Blanche Mehaffey). Robert is no sailor, but he goes along on his father's tuna boat so he can convince his old man to search for Jose. Along the way there are seals, a fight between a moray eel and an octopus, and native girls with naked breasts making dinner, not to mention a chubby ship's cook named Tiny. The heavy musical score does all the work, doing its darnedest to make the movie seem exciting even though it rarely is. Late the in the film a "devil fish" or manta ray shows up -- a real manta inter-cut with a prop -- but it seems ridiculous that this thing could have scuttled a ship and killed an entire crew. There's a lot of narration and stock footage. Some of the acting is decent. Barry Norton, who was born in Argentina as Alfredo Biraben, played the David Manners role of Jonathan [Juan] Harker in the Spanish-language version of Dracula. He had many credits, but was mostly in bit parts.

Verdict: Don't watch it and say that you did. *.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS

Bogart and Stanwyck in their only film together
















THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (1947). Director: Peter Godfrey.

"Would you like something, officers? A glass of milk perhaps?

Sally (Barbara Stanwyck) meets and falls in love with troubled artist Geoffrey Carroll (Humphrey Bogart), then learns he has a wife. Said wife conveniently dies, and Sally and Geoff are married, the two of them residing in Sally's palatial estate along with Geoff's very self-assured little girl, Beatrice (Ann Carter). Then along comes super-sexy Cecily Latham (Alexis Smith), who wants Geoff to paint her portrait and won't take no for an answer. Before long Sally is getting suspicious, especially when she learns that Geoff's first wife wasn't an invalid as he claimed, and that she's developing similar symptoms to what the first Mrs. Carroll had before she died ... Based on a stage play, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is a poor man's Suspicion, which was released six years earlier. There's even some business with a glass of milk. At least this is somewhat superior to the next thriller Stanwyck did with director Peter Godfrey, Cry Wolf with Errol Flynn, and the acting is quite good. Stanwyck is better at getting across the vulnerability and terror of the heroine than you might expect [although she does seem to summon up her bravery at the climax rather suddenly], Bogart is fine in all but his most challenging scenes, little Ann Carter proves a superlative child actress in her portrayal of the highly interesting and mature Beatrice, and gorgeous Smith has wicked fun as the slinky and self-absorbed Cecily, with Isobel Elsom scoring as her mother and Nigel Bruce as -- what else? -- a doctor. Anita Bolster is a riot as the saturnine housekeeper, Christine. Crackling good dialogue from Thomas Job [from Martin Vale's play] and a fine Franz Waxman score help a great deal. The last line provides a little wink at the audience. Bogart and Stanwyck play quite well together.

Verdict: No Suspicion, but fun nevertheless. **1/2.

MACABRE

MACABRE (1958). Director: William Castle.

The whole town seems mad at Dr. Rod Barrett (William Prince) because there was nothing he could do to save the life of blind Nancy Tyloe (Christine White), who was married to the Police Chief (Jim Backus) and was the second daughter of Jode Wetherby (Philip Tonge). Barrett had been married to Wetherby's other daughter, Alice (Dorothy Morris), who died in childbirth, but he is now engaged to Sylvia (Susan Morrow). One afternoon Barrett's nurse, Polly (Jacqueline Scott), receives a phone call: an unknown person tells her that Barrett's daughter, Marge (Linda Guderman) has been kidnapped and buried alive -- and is running out of air. This sets Barrett and Polly on a frantic search to find the girl while others around them offer assistance or interference. Macabre is a neat little thriller, generally well-directed by Castle [although there's at least one directorial gaffe at a funeral scene], and well-played by the cast, although some of them seem just a little, shall we say, overwrought. The movie has some good twists along the way as well. Ellen Corby plays Barrett's housekeeper, and she -- like virtually everyone else in the movie -- seems kindly but suspicious. Robb White [Homicidal] did the script from Anthony Boucher's novel "The Marble Forest." Castle manages to sustain a creepy atmosphere throughout.

Verdict: Another treat from William Castle. ***.

CHICAGO CALLING

Dan Duryea on the phone while Gordon Gebert listens
















CHICAGO CALLING (1951). Director: John Reinhardt.

In this undeservedly forgotten and unusual drama, Dan Duryea [Too Late for Tears] plays Bill Cannon, an unemployed husband and father in L.A. who at times drinks a little too much. His wife takes their little girl and leaves for Chicago, after which he gets a telegram saying that the child was injured in a car accident, and that his wife, Mary (Mary Anderson) will call with news the next day. There are two problems, however: a man (Ross Elliott) has come from the phone company to remove the phone due to an overdue bill; and Cannon has no idea which hospital his daughter is in or how to reach his wife. What follows are his attempts to get money to pay the phone company, eventually putting him in contact with a fatherless boy, Bobby (Gordon Gebert), who hits Cannon's dog with his bicycle and wants to give him his savings to pay the phone company. [Cannon's interactions with the boy would raise eyebrows today, but in this film it's all very innocent, although some might argue that even in 1951 Cannon's hanging around with Bobby, entering his bedroom at night, and so on would be questionable behavior.] Things spiral down inexorably to a very moving conclusion. Director Reinhardt isn't able to sustain the tension all the way through, however, and while Duryea's performance is quite good, at times he seems a little too calm considering the feelings his character is going through; he is wonderful in the final quarter, though, when he has to pull out all the stops. Gebert is one of the most talented child actors I've ever seen, and Anderson [Lifeboat], Elliott [Tarantula], and the rest of the supporting cast are all notable. Gritty location filming adds to the film's impact as well.

Verdict: It this had been made in Italy it would probably be considered a classic. ***.