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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

LES MISERABLES (1935)

March and Laughton in a tense confrontation
















LES MISERABLES (1935). Director: Richard Boleslawski.

Jean Valjean (Fredric March) goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, whereupon he makes an impression on Inspector Javert (Charles Laughton) when he uses steely shoulder muscles to lift a fallen beam off of a fellow inmate. Years later, when Valjean has become the respected citizen Mssr. Madeleine, Javert witnesses him lifting a cart off of a man and gets suspicious, leading to a lengthy and convoluted pursuit. Victor Hugo's novel has been compressed a bit, certain characters [such as the innkeeper and his wife] become less important, but the basic plot is all there. This is a well-mounted and elaborate production with fine cinematography from Gregg Toland and an expert editing job by Barbara McLean; a montage depicting Valjean fleeing from Javert by coach is especially breathless and exciting. Although he has his moments, this is not one of March's better performances; in fact he's surprisingly perfunctory in the opening scenes when he explains why he stole the bread for his starving family. Ironically, some of his best moments come not when he's playing Valjean, but Champmathieu, a man who looks like Valjean and is arrested in his place! Laughton gives a stunning performance, however, and Rochelle Hudson scores as the grown-up Cosette, who falls for the protesting student, Marius (well-played by John Beal). Cedric Hardwicke, Florence Eldridge [as Fantine, mother of Cosette], and Frances Drake are also notable.

Verdict: If you prefer your Hugo without the pop music. ***.

DIAL M FOR MURDER

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly  
DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) is married to former tennis bum Tony (Ray Milland), but after she senses a certain change in her husband she falls in love with the American writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). The viewer learns early on that Tony basically married Margot for her money, and has no intention of losing it if she divorces him in favor of Halliday. What to do? What to do? He runs into an old acquaintance of his (Anthony Dawson) who has seen better days and offers him a proposition. But the best laid plans ... Based on a play by Frederic Knott (who also wrote the screenplay), Dial M for Murder can be talky and a bit stage bound at times --- there is even an intermission [as if between acts] even though the film is under two hours long -- but it has its cinematic moments as well, although the pivotal sequence isn't handled with as much Hitchcockian inspiration as one might have hoped for. The second half drags a bit, with characters talking too much about things we and they already know. A trial sequence is filmed so cheaply that it's almost comical. However, the movie is very well acted by Kelly, Milland, and Dawson; Cummings is more than adequate; and John Williams nearly steals the picture as Chief Inspector Hubbard. As British mysteries go it's no Witness for the Prosecution, but it is quite entertaining (if a bit improbable at times), and it's fun to see how the villains will be ultimately out-witted. I believe this was Hitchcock's one and only experiment with 3-D.

Verdict: Smooth if unspectacular Hitchcock. ***.


JUNGLE JIM (1936)

LEFT TO RIGHT: Rhodes, Brandon, Hatton and Withers















JUNGLE JIM (/12 chapter Universal serial/1937). Directors: Ford Beebe; Clifford Smith.

"I could send you to the whipping post, too." -- The Cobra.

"That's a mistake you would make only once!" -- Shanghai Lil. 

Jungle Jim (Grant Withers), who arrives on the scene warbling a tune (with dubbed voice), is importuned to go into the African jungle to find a missing heiress, one Joan Redmond (Betty Jane Rhodes). There are two things Jim doesn't know: Joan was raised by an evil brother and sister duo known as the Cobra (Henry Brandon) and Shanghai Lil (Evelyn Brent), and is herself known as the Lion Goddess to the natives; and one of her relatives, Bruce Redmond (Bryant Washburn) is also trying to find her so he can kill her off and acquire her inheritance. The Cobra operates out of a castle in the jungle, and aside from manipulating the natives via Joan, his motives and plans seem rather shadowy, but there's not much love lost between him and his sister. Joan's parents were killed during a ship wreck which is depicted in the first chapter, and features the startling sight of a tiger in the state room. [The serial is full of lively shots of beautiful lions, tigers and leopards, and the stock footage is generally well-integrated.] There's a nifty bit with a rope "bridge" -- actually just a cord of rope over a high chasm -- as well as a rock slide following a volcanic eruption, and neat footage of a tiger battling a gator. The acting from the leads is serviceable, but the serial seems full of missed opportunities. Brandon and Brent make an interesting pair of villains, but they really aren't given that much to do, and while this is fairly entertaining at times, it's not really one of the better Columbia chapterplays. Not to be confused with the full-length feature Jungle Jim, with Johnny Weissmuller playing the same role. Based on the Alex Raymond comic strip. Brent made more of an impression in Holt of the Secret Service four years later.

Verdict: If you've seen one jungle ... **1/2.

TO PLAY THE KING

Urquhart betrays his low opinion of the king
















TO PLAY THE KING (4 part BBC mini-series/1993). Director: Paul Seed.

Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) of House of Cards is back and now he's prime minister! Urquhart is hoping that the new king (Michael Kitchen) will just stay out of his way and support his policies, but the king has a mind of his own and is much more liberal than Urquhart. Before long there's a not-so-cold war going on between the two. In the meantime, Urquhart has a new young lady under his thrall, Sarah (Kitty Aldridge), who falls for Urquhart -- the seduction of power? -- even though she already has a husband. On the king's staff, David (Nicholas Farrell) is coming out of the closet after finding true love with Ken (Jack Fortune) after his marriage falls apart. And is something going on between the king and Chloe (Rowena King) who helps fire up his compassion for the downtrodden, all of whom Urquhart only sees as bums? Then there's the former member of the Royal Family who is dictating her scandalous memoirs to a sleazy publisher. Urquhart is even more ruthless in this exploration of what would happen if a politician with old-fashioned sensibilities applied the murderous tactics of Merrie Olde England to modern-day London. [One senses Urquhart would have people beheaded if he could.] Richardson is as marvelous as ever, and Colin Jeavons makes an impression as his loyal (?) assistant, Tim Stamper, who has secrets of his own. We see more of Urquhart's Lady Macbeth-type wife, Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher), although she still remains a bit shadowy. The other cast members are all on the money. Although you sometimes get the sense that a lot had to be left on the cutting room floor, this is still very absorbing. Followed by The Final Cut.

Verdict: Even more intriguing than House of Cards. ***1/2.

THE STRANGLER

THE STRANGLER (1964). Director: Burt Topper.

 "Even as a little boy nobody liked you, and as a man nobody loves you except me." -- Mrs. Kroll.

 Corpulent Leo Kroll (Victor Buono) has the misfortune of having a smothering, whining and tactless mother (Ellen Corby) who drives him to such distraction that he takes it out on innocent women by strangling them, especially saving his ire for the nurse who saved his mother's life when she had an "attack." Lt. Frank Benson (David McLean) seems to take forever to put the pieces together in his pursuit of the maniac responsible for several deaths of young women. The Strangler is fairly absorbing and well-acted; Buono never goes over the top and almost manages to evoke some sympathy for his character (especially in regards to his mother), and Corby etches a believable portrait of the long-suffering and utterly self-centered monster mother. McLean, who was the Marlboro Man in many ads, is solid as the cop, and there are notable performances from Diane Sayer, Jeanne Bates, and Davey Davison as victims and near-victims of Kroll. This is probably the only time that the talented Buono's name was above the title. Davison was "introduced" in this picture, but she had a long list of TV credits both before and after appearing in The Strangler. Two years later The Psychopath also had a killer who left dolls at the scene of his crimes but did a little more with the concept.

Verdict: Unfortunately this doesn't sustain tension despite a compelling lead performance. **1/2.

ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY Season 3

Mickey Rooney as a mob boss with a problem
NIGHT GALLERY Season 3.1972.

The best thing one can say about the third and final season of Rod Serling's Night Gallery is that each episode was now only half an hour long and there weren't that many of them. Rod Serling returned as host, of course, and, unfortunately, along with him came producer and sometime writer Jack Laird, who had absolutely no feel for the dark fantasy genre and whose contributions to the series, generally those awful black-outs, were abysmal.

First, let's take a look at one of the show's many lesser episodes, "Spectre in Tap Shoes" [although Laird did not write the script, he wrote the story for the episode and generated the "idea"]. Sandra Dee plays a woman whose sister, who was a tap dancer, commits suicide. She is haunted by visions and the sound of tapping and is visited by Dane Clark, who wants to buy her house. I doubt that I am giving anything away to reveal that it turns out that Clark is behind the ghostly sounds and visions, and that at the end it is still suggested that something supernatural has nonetheless happened. Sheesh -- the old business of someone creating a ghost to get someone out of their house probably pre-dates Nancy Drew's The Hidden Staircase and by 1972 had become the hoariest of cliches. And there were other, equally unoriginal plot lines, most of which had flat endings that made the viewer groan in quite the wrong way.

There were a couple of passable moments in the third season and two reasonably memorable episodes. Largely because of the acting, "Die Now, Pay Later" is notable, as Will Geer and Slim Pickens enact a story of an undertaker who's offering a sale on coffins and the like, and a sheriff who notes that there have been many more deaths since the sale began ... The bizarre thing about this episode is that it was never aired and can only be seen on the DVD. "Other Way Out" features Ross Martin and Burl Ives in a suspense story of a murderer confronting a blackmailer way out in the desert and the trap he finds himself in; fairly standard stuff, perhaps, but better than most of the episodes, and again, well-acted. Although "Rare Objects" is not that memorable, it does boast a fine performance from Mickey Rooney as a mob boss who desperately wants to find a way out of his predicament, when the various attempts on his life become more numerous and deadly. "You Can Come Up Now," about a dizzy scientist who experiments on his own wife (starring Ozzie and Harriet!) is ironic, a little bit sad, but, again, very predictable. Other notable guest stars this season include Vincent Price, Joanna Pettet [who appeared frequently on the show and was always very good], Geraldine Page, and Agnes Moorehead in an un-aired black-out about witches.

Verdict: Distinctly third-rate horror-fantasy anthology. **.

TOTAL RECALL (2012)

Jessica Biel and Colin Farrell
TOTAL RECALL (2012). Director: Len Wiseman.

In this remake of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, the future is a depressing place, the earth ravaged by chemical warfare, with only two inhabitable sections left: The United Federation of Britain, and a place called the Colony (the situation is similar to apartheid in South Africa). As in most visions of the future these days, the cities are built in towering levels. Instead of using airliners, workers get from the colony to UFB by descending through the earth inside a humongous elevator called the "Fall." Trying to escape the aridity of his existence, factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) visits a memory-altering place called "Total Recall" for an adventure, but discovers that his entire identity is a complete lie -- he's another person entirely. And his "wife" (Kate Beckinsale of Van Helsing) is out to kill him. Together with new/old girlfriend Melina (Jessica Biel) he struggles to not only stay alive but complete his mission and save thousands of lives. Total Recall is fast-paced and has impressive FX and scenic design, but the characters are paper-thin, and it turns into a fairly standard, un-involving mindless action flick long before it's over. Farrel, Biel and Beckinsale all register the proper attitude and butchness, however.

Verdict: Okay if you have low expectations. **1/2.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

MIRACLE IN THE RAIN

MIRACLE IN THE RAIN (1956). Director: Rudolph Mate.

Ruth Wood (Jane Wyman) lives with her mother (Josephine Hutchinson), and hasn't seen her father (William Gargan), who walked out on the family for another woman, in many years. One day she meets a soldier, Arthur (Van Johnson) on leave, and the two begin dating, but Ruth's mother is wary of all men since her divorce and is afraid her daughter will be hurt. Instead Ruth and Art fall in love, even as Ruth's father, who works in a restaurant the couple dine at, tries to build up his courage to get in touch with the daughter he hasn't spoken to in years. Then Art is called back to service ... While the extreme religiosity of the picture may be a turn-off to many, Miracle in the Rain works quite well as a romance, and boasts excellent performances, especially from a wonderful Wyman. Although the story line has some silly digressions, the movie has interesting elements, including the sub-plot with the father, and the New York City locations are well-served by Russell Metty's crisp cinematography. Franz Waxman turned in a superlative score as well. Barbara Nichols and Alan King play honeymooners in the park; Eileen Heckart scores as Ruth's co-worker and friend; and Fred Clark and Peggie Castle (Beginning of the End) are fine as Ruth's boss and an employee he is having an affair with. Arte Johnson is nice as another sympathetic co-worker of Ruth's. The church sequences go on a bit too long and the ending seems a mite dragged out. Whether you buy the "miracle" of the storyline or not, the picture is poignant and you can't help but pity poor Ruth.

Verdict: Well-mounted romance with a superior cast. ***.


THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

James Bond versus Jaws











THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). Director: Lewis Gilbert.

James Bond/agent 007 (Roger Moore) is on assignment to stop megalomaniac Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), who is stealing submarines and nuclear warheads, and operating from his impressive underwater headquarters. Since the Russians have also lost one of their nuclear subs, Bond joins forces with red agent Triple X/Major Amasova (Barbara Bach), unaware that he killed her lover during a mission and she plans to murder him when their dual assignment is over. [How Amasova's lover could be in two places at the same time is never explained, as she is seen in bed with a man even as he and Bond are fighting many miles away -- unless the good major was unfaithful.] The Spy Who Loved Me introduced Richard Kiel as Jaws, a metal-toothed adversary who seems modeled on the old comic book villain Iron Jaws. Bach is attractive and competent enough as Triple X, but when luscious Caroline Munro briefly appears as a hit woman for Stromberg, she pretty much blows Bach right out of the water. Moore plays this comic book stuff in the right mode, even if he's a far cry from Ian Fleming's original creation. Jurgens is excellent. The suggestive "Nobody Does It Better," composed by Marvin Hamlisch and sung by Carly Simon, is one of the better James Bond theme songs.

Verdict: Good to look at and lots of fun. ***.

THE COUCH

Shirley Knight and Grant Williams
THE COUCH (1962). Director: Owen Crump.

Charles Campbell (Grant Williams), psychiatric patient and ex-con, phones a police lieutenant (Simon Scott) and tells him he is going to kill someone exactly at 7 PM that evening -- and he does, more than once. Is there method to his madness? Campbell is dating Terry (Shirley Knight) -- the niece of his doctor (Onslow Stevens of House of Dracula) -- who also works as the shrink's receptionist, and boards in the home of the upbeat Mrs. Quimby (Hope Summers) and her nubile daughter Jean (Anne Helm). Robert Bloch scripted this post-Psycho "thriller" from an idea by Blake Edwards and director Crump but the results are unimpressive. Even though we know who the culprit is and what he'll do from the first [although there are still some minor surprises on that score], there are still plenty of opportunities for suspense, absolutely none of which are exploited by Crump, whose direction is generally uninspired to say the least. Frank Perkins' score is often quirky and interesting, but it does little to help the picture. On the plus side is an eerie old estate visited by the main couple on a date, and the performances, with an especially notable Williams (The Incredible Shrinking Man) making a favorable impression, as does Knight. The amusing post script is left to Hope Summers, who also scores as the sunny landlady who gets quite a shock at the finale. This is another movie that was in someway influenced by Agatha Christie's classic "The A.B.C. Murders." Crump mostly directed documentaries and TV shows; this was his only American theatrical film. 

Verdict: Not a total waste but hardly that memorable. **1/2.

"IT'S A GOOD LIFE" Jerome Bixby

Little Anthony (Billy Mumy) sends someone to the corn field
















IT'S A GOOD LIFE.
Short story by Jerome Bixby 1953.
Twilight Zone episode. 1961. Director: James Sheldon.
Segment in Twilight Zone --The Movie. 1983. Director: Joe Dante.
"It's Still a Good Life" Twilight Zone. 2003. Director: Allan Kroeker. 

In 1953 author Jerome Bixby came out with a short horror story that was to become a classic. "It's a Good Life" presented a small town with a terrible secret, and a few dozen terrified, hopeless inhabitants all desperately afraid of one person: a frightful mutant little three-year-old boy with God-like powers named Anthony Freemont Anthony has isolated the town of Peaksville from the rest of the world, or destroyed the rest of the world -- nobody is certain which. As he can read minds, everyone is terrified of having any negative thoughts about the boy or the "good" life in Peaksville, as Anthony can hear them and wreak a terrible vengeance, turning people he doesn't like into hideous creatures and mentally dispatching them to instant burial in the cornfield. Anthony is too young to understand adult feelings or even know the difference between right and wrong, and can turn on anyone on a dime. The story is a masterpiece of despair.

"It's a Good Life" was adapted for both television and film, and a sequel was also presented years later. None of the adaptations address the fact that Bixby's story sort of implies that Anthony does not exactly look like a normal human child, as his doctor tries to kill him the moment he comes out of the womb. They also make Anthony several years older than he is in the story. The older Anthony is not just cruel in the way of many little boys, but rather sadistic and possibly sociopathic. One senses he won't develop compassion as he gets older, if for no other reason than his parents are afraid to discipline him.

"It's a Good Life" was first adapted for the third season of The Twilight Zone in 1961. 7-year-old adorable Billy Mumy was cast as Anthony, and did a very good job as the child-monster, with excellent support from such estimable performers as Cloris Leachman and John Larch as his parents, and Don Keefer as one of his victims [with Jeanne Bates as Keefer's nearly apoplectic wife]. Rod Serling's script, in addition to making Anthony four years older, made two notable contributions to the story, both revolving around Keefer's character, Dan Hollis. As a drunken Hollis prepares to face the wrath of Anthony, he screams at the others to take advantage of the child's distraction and bash his brains in ["Won't anybody end this?!], but -- horribly -- no one can quite do it [although one woman comes close.] Let down by his fellow travelers-in-nightmare, Hollis is transformed into a jack-in-the-box with a human head [Bixby doesn't say what he's been turned into in the story, only something dreadful]. "It's a Good Life" is one of the most memorable Twilight Zone episodes ever produced.

A new version of the story appeared as one of four segments of Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983. Joe Dante directed a kind of black comedy version of the story. Peaksville is no longer isolated, and the segment introduces the new character of a teacher, Helen (Kathleen Quinlan), who has just arrived in town. When we're first introduced to Anthony (Jeremy Licht), he seems like a normal little boy who doesn't even use his power against a grown-up bully in a restaurant. Helen runs into Anthony's bike and drives him home, where she meets his nutty family, and Helen slowly realizes the truth. Although this version of the story is definitely the least memorable, it does have some interesting aspects. This Anthony, who lives in a different era, probably would be addicted to cartoons and the like and make his family inhabit a cartoon-like world, which would, in all probability, drive them crazy. The excellent special effects include a monster rabbit that Anthony's uncle unwittingly pulls out of his hat, and the sequence when Anthony puts his sister, Ethel (Nancy Cartwright), into a cartoon playing on television. Patricia Barry, William Schallert and Kevin McCarthy and the others all give good performances for this manic, silly version of Bixby's classic, which is almost unrecognizable.

In 2003 on a new Twilight Zone series there was a sequel to the story entitled "It's Still a Good Life." In this forty years have passed and Anthony [still played by Bill Mumy in a casting coup] is a full-grown psychopath still holding the isolated town of Peaksville in his thrall, and still sadistically killing anyone who displeases him. He has sent both his father and his wife to the cornfield, and has a little girl, Audrey (played by Mumy's own daughter, Liliana.) His mother [again Cloris Leachman in an outstanding performance] discovers that Audrey has powers of her own, and hopes to enlist her in consigning her father to oblivion in the corn field. "If only I'd been strong enough, brave enough, to bash his head in years ago," she says. Unfortunately, things don't work out the way she hopes, and "It's Still a Good Life," scripted by Ira Steven Behr, becomes, if anything, even more chilling and hopeless than the original.

Verdicts: Original story: ****. Twilight Zone 1961. ***1/2. Twilight Zone 2003: ***1/2. Twilight Zone: The Movie: **1/2. 

UNDER THE RAINBOW: AN INTIMATE MEMOIR OF JUDY GARLAND, ROCK HUDSON AND MY LIFE IN OLD HOLLYWOOD John Carlyle

UNDER THE RAINBOW: AN INTIMATE MEMOIR OF JUDY GARLAND, ROCK HUDSON AND MY LIFE IN OLD HOLLYWOOD. John Carlyle. Carroll and Graf; 2006. Foreword by Robert Osborne.

Watching an episode of the old TV show Mike Hammer, I was struck by the performance of a young actor I'd never heard of: John Carlyle. He was good-looking, but better than that, he was talented. I looked him up and discovered that he had written a posthumously-published -- Carlyle died in 2003 at age 72 -- book about his life and his relationship with Judy Garland. Actors who don't quite make it big in Hollywood, rarely write memoirs [or at least have them published] unless they are somehow linked to a famous name, so we have to take all the Judy Garland business with a grain of salt. That Carlyle was a fan of the singer and that he became one of her late-in-life friends (or hangers-on) is not in doubt, but his "affair" with Garland is a little more problematic as Carlyle is openly gay. The "romance" comes off more like Garland and a gay fan fooling around and playing house, talking of marriage the way two little kids would. [Although Carlyle never applies the term to himself, his attempts to come off as bisexual are unconvincing, almost a throwback to the skittishness of the homophobic period he grew up in.] There is much, much less in the book about Rock Hudson, but some interesting observations about agent Henry Willson. Carlyle writes quite well, even if he can't quite shed that air of affectedness that he did not betray in his performance on Mike Hammer. Carlyle's failure to become a big name or even well-known could be attributed to many factors -- his sexual orientation, his distractions with drugs and alcohol, the vagaries of fate and Hollywood, the lack of big breaks or the ability to seize upon them when they arrived -- but, if nothing else, he did have talent. Like many actors, Carlyle often comes off as superficial and self-absorbed, and frankly it's kind of pathetic that he never found his soul mate in another man but in  -- Judy Garland!? -- making the poor guy an incredibly dated gay stereotype! [He refers to the man he lived with in his later years more as a companion than partner or lover.] His passages on foreign travel are facile if glib.

Verdict: A fairly interesting and well-written look at a Hollywood insider and also-ran, but not essential reading. **1/2.


THE WILD, WILD WEST Season 3

Ross Martin and Robert Conrad
THE WILD, WILD WEST Season 3.1967.

Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemis Gordon (Ross Martin) are back for a third season in this still viable action-adventure-spy series. One change in the series is that, in general, the stories seem a little more "reasonable" than they often were in the past -- in other words, West never gets shrunk to doll-size [as he did in the second season] nor anything along those lines. Among the more memorable episodes are: "Bubbling Death," which involves the stolen Constitution and an acid bath; "The Hangman," in which the boys race to prove the innocence of a man about to be hanged; "Montezuma's Hordes,"  regarding a dangerous treasure hunt in Mexico; "The Cut-Throats," in which a bitter man wants to simply erase an entire town, with some good twists and fine performances from Bradford Dillman and Beverly Garland; "The Legion of Death," featuring an outstanding performance by Anthony Zerbe as the boys take on a territorial governor (Kent Smith); "Iron Fist," in  which Jim tries to bring in a Russian with an iron hand for extradition; "Vipers," in which a hooded gang raids towns and robs banks; and "Underground Terror," about a group of tortured men who seek vengeance against their tormentor, with Nehemiah Persoff. Arguably the two best episodes are: "Death Masks," in which an old foe toys with Jim in a deserted town and Patty McCormack plays the villain's daughter, sort of The Bad Seed grown up; and the suspenseful "Running Death" [with Jason Evers and an excellent T. C. Jones] in which the fellows trail a notorious assassin via wagon train. Some viewers may be amused/turned on by the leather britches Conrad wears over his pants and which cover everything but his waist, crotch and backside.

Verdict: Basically maintains the quality of the first two seasons. ***.

WRATH OF THE TITANS

Sam Worthington as Perseus

















WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012). Director: Jonathan Liebesman.

Some years after the events of Clash of the Titans, demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington) learns that his father, Zeus (Liam Neeson), has been abducted to the underworld as part of a war with the older gods, the Titans. The gods are losing their power because humans have stopped praying to them. Other players in this mythological drama include Hades (Ralph Fiennes), Ares (Edgar Ramirez), Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Perseus' cousin, Agenor (Toby Kebbell). If you're looking for an entertaining, Ray Harryhausen-type mythological spectacle, look elsewhere, for Wrath of the Titans is fairly tedious and un-involving for most of its length. To be fair, there are some good moments, especially a scene in a deep forest filled with giant cyclopes, a battle with two-headed chimeras, the giant fiery Kronos, and the scenes of Perseus flying around on winged horse Pegasus. There's also a clever sequence in which Perseus and company enter the underworld Tartarus and discover that parts of it move around swiftly as if it were a well-oiled Rube Goldberg machine. There is some impressive scenic design and good FX work, although the photography is cluttered and poorly composed, and the musical score adds up to nothing. The actors do the best they can under the circumstances. Worthington looked a lot better with close-cropped hair than he does with the curly mop he affects in this.

Verdict: I'd say this was a big disappointment, but based on the first film I wasn't expecting much ... **1/2. 


Thursday, March 14, 2013

INVITATION (1952)

INVITATION (1952). Director: Gottfried Reinhardt.

"I'm going to be a spinster, father, all of my life -- but there's an awful lot to be said for it."

Ellen Pierce (Dorothy McGuire) is happy in her marriage to Dan (Van Johnson), but she's disturbed by bitchy comments made by Dan's old girlfriend, Maud (Ruth Roman), as well as a medical condition that often saps her energy. Dan and Ellen's father (Louis Calhern), as well as her doctor (Ray Collins), share a secret that would devastate Ellen if she knew, and which Maud is apparently determined she find out. Although like most movies of this nature you have to take Invitation with a grain of salt, it does present an interesting situation and is well-acted. All of the principal actors underplay effectively (although at times they may underplay too much), which may be attributed to director Reinhardt. This makes Maud seem like less of a caricature, although Roman's good performance might have been more fun if she played it in venomous mode, spitting out her lines; McGuire and Johnson are both fine, and Calhern is as excellent as ever. A difficult scene when Ellen's father makes a certain proposition to Dan is extremely well-played by both actors. Bronislau Kaper's overly brassy score is a disappointment and somewhat weakens the picture.

Verdict: Intriguing soap opera/drama. ***.

CRY WOLF (1947)

CRY WOLF (1947). Director: Peter Godfrey.

"I am not a placid girl."

James Demarest (Richard Basehart) has just been buried by his uncle, Mark Caldwell (Errol Flynn), when who should show up at the sprawling estate but a woman, Sandra (Barbara Stanwyck), claiming to be his widow. Sandra insists James married her to satisfy certain clauses in a will, and that there's a signed and proper copy of it somewhere. While the search for it goes on Sandra befriends Jim's sister, Julie (Geraldine Brooks), as the two hear strange cries in the night, wonder what's going on in the closed-off wing where Caldwell has his laboratory, and even imagine that Jim is still alive. Cry Wolf works up considerable suspense, even if the ending is a bit predictable and terribly creaky even by 1947 standards.

The movie is based on an old Gothic novel, and while Stanwyck is as good as ever, it's not the type of material that uses the actress to best advantage. For much of the movie Stanwyck is sneaking around like a grown-up Nancy Drew, climbing over trellises, ascending to secret rooms in dumb-waiters, and dropping through sky lights on to convenient cots. While she and the much less talented Flynn play well together, they don't really have much chemistry as a romantic couple. One can't imagine that either one of them was  especially pleased with this assignment. In her film debut, Geraldine Brooks makes a very positive impression, and Richard Basehart and Jerome Cowan are also notable in smaller roles. A very young Patricia Barry [Patricia White] is fine as Angela, the maid. Franz Waxman contributed an interesting theme.

Spoiler alert. The ending to the film is unintentionally hilarious. Flynn and Stanwyck never have a clinch, but instead turn their backs to the camera and walk rapidly away as if they were glad the last scene was over and they could get the hell off the set of this terrible picture!

Verdict: Absorbing, smooth, and intriguing for much of its length but the ending disappoints. **1/2.


THE CHOSEN aka RAIN OF FIRE
















THE CHOSEN (aka Holocaust 2000 aka Rain of Fire/1977). Director/co-writer: Alberto De Martino.

Released in theaters in 1977, this Italian film has had its name changed more than once, and resurfaced on DVD as Rain of Fire [not to be confused with Reign of Fire, which was about dragons decimating the world of the future]. It would seem for all the world like a direct imitation of Damian: Omen 2 -- there's an anti-Christ, sinister deaths and "accidents," and even a doctor cut in half -- were it not for the fact that it came out one year earlier. In any case, The Chosen was clearly influenced by The Omen (1976) and is in some ways a very loose "sequel" to that film. Robert Caine (Kirk Douglas) wants to build a thermonuclear power plant in the mid-east but there's a great deal of opposition to it, including objections from his own wife (Virginia McKenna), who is an early victim of an assassin's blade supposedly meant for Caine. In short order others who oppose the plant are killed off, even as Caine is told that the unborn child he is having with journalist Sara Golan (Agostina Belli) may be the anti-Christ. Then there's Caine's pleasant son, Angel (Simon Ward), who may be anything but. An interesting aspect of the picture is the notion that this plant may be a modern-day embodiment of a seven-headed demon with ten crowns that "will rise from the sea and destroy the world." Adolfo Celi of Thunderball, Alexander Knox [The Sleeping Tiger], and Anthony Quayle [A Study in Terror] are also in the cast. The movie is dull, poorly made and indifferently directed, although the actors, including Douglas (who appears buck naked in a dream sequence to show off what good shape he was in at 61), do the best they can with mediocre and mostly unoriginal material. A gruesome scene involves a politician and the spinning blades of a helicopter, and an unintentionally comical one has a Catholic priest attempting to mastermind an unwilling abortion! The music tries to imitate the score of The Omen without being one tenth as effective.

Verdict: Watch Damian: Omen 2 instead. *1/2.

HOUSE OF CARDS (1990)

Ian Richardson













HOUSE OF CARDS (4 episode BBC mini-series/1990). Director:Paul Seed.

"You might well think that. I couldn't possibly comment." --- Francis Urquhart

The series of the same title with Kevin Spacey that Netflix is streaming for its customers is based on this 23-year-old BBC mini-series that was quite acclaimed in its day. Francis Urquhart [pronounced "Irkit"] is the "chief whip" of the conservative party and feels, as many do, that the new prime minister [after Thatcher] isn't up to the job. He begins a series of maneuverings and manipulations behind the scenes that become increasingly criminal and odious, including blackmail and even murder. Those in his circuit include Roger O'Neill (Miles Anderson), a coke-addicted publicity man; O'Neill's girlfriend, Penny (Alphonsia Emmanuel), a lovely, intelligent black woman who is treated like a whore; and Mattie Storen (Susannah Harker), a reporter who comes to idolize Urquhart. [It must be said that their affair is never convincing, perhaps because Richardson is not exactly a handsome lover boy.] Richardson, frequently addressing the viewer as he gives his acidic opinions of assorted colleagues, is excellent, but the whole show is nearly stolen by Anderson in his brilliant, moving turn as the tragic and pathetic O'Neill. The other actors are all on target. The repeated shots of a rat creeping around London are a little overdone -- one would have made the point. Urquhart/Richardson was up to more deviltry in the sequels To Play the King and The Final Cut.

Verdict: Intriguing and absorbing mini-series. ***.

NIGHT GALLERY Season 2 [POST # 2000!]

Laurence Harvey has a painful problem with an earwig
NIGHT GALLERY Season 2 (1971). Hosted by Rod Serling.

"I have read thousands -- tens of thousands -- of books, and never have I read about a spider the size of a dog -- not even in Kafka."

This second full season of Night Gallery continued the format of presenting at least two or more segments per episode, with Rod Serling introducing most segments using paintings mounted in a "night" gallery. Out of nearly fifty segments [in twenty-two episodes] only seven are memorable, with many not only on a "C" level but even descending to "D" or "F." In other words, most of the stories are pretty bad. Earlier episodes include quick gags or black humor black-outs, most of which are mercilessly unfunny. Among the more notable stories are: "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes," in which a small child is exploited for his psychic ability; "The Devil is Not Mocked" in which Count Dracula (an excellent Francis Lederer) takes on the Nazis; an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's "Cool Air," in which the addition of a romantic element doesn't hurt at all [Lovecraft's "Pickman"s Model," which also adds romantic-love aspects, doesn't work as well]; and the genuinely original "Sins of the Fathers" with Richard Thomas as a starving young man who must "eat" the sins [represented by food surrounding a corpse] of Barbara Steele's late husband. Arguably the two best episodes are "The Dark Boy" [from August Derleth], a poignant mood piece in which the ghost of a dead boy unites his lonely father with an equally lonely school teacher (Elizabeth Hartman) and "The Caterpillar," in which Laurence Harvey gets a fatal surprise when he tries to kill off a rival by employing an insect, the earwig, that enters through the ear and eats its way through the brain; probably the only really classic episode of the season, and the one most people remember [with excellent performances as well]. Some of the less memorable episodes have their entertaining moments, such as slatternly Zsa Zsa Gabor running from a dinosaur that wants to eat her in the amusing "Painted Mirror." Unfortunately, far too many episodes are flat, poorly conceived and developed, and have little real entertainment value. Among the more memorable guest stars are Vincent Price, Gale Sondergaard, Joanna Pettet, Virginia Mayo, and Louise Sorel. Producer Jack Laird also wrote and directed several episodes, but the generally mediocre quality of the show can't be laid only at his feet, as Serling himself contributed many execrable episodes.

Verdict: At least the earwig sticks in your mind [literally]. **1/2.

SPECIAL NOTE: This is the 2000th post of Great Old Movies, still going strong!

SECRET AGENT X-9

SECRET AGENT X-9 (12 chapter Columbia serial/1937). Directors: Ford Beebe; Cliff Smith.

This is the first of two serials based on the Secret Agent X-9 comic strip, the latter being released in 1945. This earlier version is much, much better. Agent X-9, also known as Agent Dexter (Scott Kolk), is assigned when the Belgravian crown jewels are stolen and the agent guarding them murdered by a sinister villain known only as "Brenda." Brenda gives orders to his top aide, Blackstone (Henry Brandon), and X-9 can't quite figure whether a pretty woman involved in the case, Shara (Jean Rogers), is on the side of the angels or not. Monte Blue is Belgravia's Baron Karsten, and Lon Chaney Jr. is a hood that works for Brenda. David Oliver is Pidge, a pal of Dexter's who is not an agent but always seems to be around, managing to be both helpful and comical at times. As each chapter begins, the events of the previous installment are presented in comic strip panels. This is an exciting, well-made serial with fairly standard but adept cliffhangers [Dexter's boat nearly smashes into a large obstruction at high speed at the end of chapter one], more than adequate performances, very good chase sequences, and some lively fisticuffs. Kolk makes an appealing, boyish leading man, and the incredibly versatile Brandon (who played everyone from Fu Manchu to Barnaby in Babes in Toyland) nearly steals the show as Blackstone. Jean Rogers was Dale Arden in the Flash Gordon serials and closed out her career in The Second Woman.

Verdict: Far superior to the 1945 version with Lloyd Bridges. ***.

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005)

Ryan Reynolds about to go bonkers











THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005).  Director: Andrew Douglas.

Probably because of the huge grosses of the 1979 The Amityville Horror, someone decided it would be a good idea to do a remake. Not necessarily. They're still saying that this is "based on a true story" even though only the terminally stupid would ever imagine any of the events had actually happened. The Lutzes (Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George) move into the house where [real-life] Ronald DeFeo murdered his family and are beset with ghosts, weird hallucinations, odd lights in the cellar, and George Lutz going slowly bonkers and finally taking an ax to the poor family dog, then going after his family as they desperately climb over a roof to get away from him. Admittedly, this version is better than the original, with more adroit direction and better acting, but it's also sometimes too slick for its own good. The house is bigger and there are some welcome touches of humor; the climax is fairly exciting even if it reminds one of The Shining more than anything that happened -- or probably didn't happen -- in Amityville. But when all is said and done, the book and the two film versions thereof are only exploiting a terrible tragedy in which even children died horribly. Taking dead children's ghosts and making them characters in a movie is beyond tacky. Enough is enough. The Rod Steiger character of the first film has been replaced by another priest who has very little to do. Reynolds played super-hero Green Lantern in a much better movie.

Verdict: Better than the original but that's not saying much. **.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

THE GLASS WALL

THE GLASS WALL (1953). Director/co-writer: Maxwell Shane.

The explosion in the home video/DVD market has vomited a lot of should-be-forgotten crap onto the unsuspecting viewer, but now and then it has helped film buffs to re-discover a fine film that got lost in the shuffle, such as The Glass Wall. The film was the first American movie for Italian star Vittorio Gassman, and it was hoped that it would lead to a major starring career for the actor in American films. That didn't quite pan out, although Gassman appeared to advantage in other American movies, such as Rhapsody with Elizabeth Taylor and, years later, did an amusing turn in The Nude Bomb with Don Adams as Maxwell Smart. He continued to make many films in Italy and elsewhere.

In The Glass Wall, Gassman plays Peter Kaban, a "DP" [or "displaced person"] who stowaways on a ship heading toward New York after harrowing experiences in concentration camps and the like. Unfortunately, he's denied entry into the U.S. because he has no proof of who he is, and is to be sent back the next day by a tight-assed clerical type. Kaban knows that there is an American soldier, Tom (Jerry Paris), whom he aided overseas, who can identity him, and jumps ship so he can find him. Along the way Peter encounters hungry Maggie (Gloria Grahame), who tries to steal a coat [from Kathleen Freeman] and hides Peter out as they fall in love. [Grahame has a great, beautifully-delivered speech about how deadening her job was putting tips on shoe laces all day long.] Other complications include Tom's selfish fiancee (Ann Robinson of The War of the Worlds) who wishes Tom would stay out of the whole affair despite how much it means to a desperate Peter. It all leads to a dramatic climax on top of the U.N. building. The two leads are terrific, and there's excellent support from Robin Raymond [Girls in Chains] as a dancer who also befriends Peter, as well as Joe Turkel [Tormented] as her brother and Else Neft as her mother, among others. Joseph Biroc's photography is a definite plus. Shane also directed the mediocre Nightmare (1956).

Verdict: A lost film to remember, as they say. ***1/2.



MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN

Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper
MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936). Director: Frank Capra. NOTE: This review reveals some plot points in the movie.

A wealthy man dies in an accident and leaves twenty million dollars to a content, small-town fellow named Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper). Brought to New York by lawyer John Cedar (Douglass Dumbrille), Deeds turns out to be not as dumb as he seems, although he falls for the hunger act put on by newspaper reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), who at first only sees him as a story and mocks him in the paper. The two fall in love, but when Deeds discovers that Babe was the one behind the articles ... The film ends with a lengthy courtroom scene in which Deeds' sanity is brought into question. Frankly, Mr. Deeds is contrived and phony from the get-go. Deeds is seen as a fine, amiable fellow [who settles arguments with his fists!] but it doesn't occur to him to use the money to help other people until a starving farmer storms his mansion with a gun. When Cedar argues that Deeds isn't really responsible enough to handle twenty million dollars [because he wants to give it all away], the fact remains that Cedar is probably right -- in that Deeds doesn't know the right way to go about establishing a charitable fund. Robert Riskin's screenplay presents the quaint and preposterous notion that all big city dwellers are nasty "slickers" and small-town people are the salt of the earth [sure!]; caricatures wealthy opera fans [as if only the rich are cultured!]; and features a lead character, like John Doe, who never seems entirely real. To say all this becomes quite tiresome is an understatement. Deeds isn't so wonderfully noble -- he doesn't care about the money because he already seems to be well-off, owning more than one home and employing a live-in housekeeper. The only really amusing moments come in the climactic courtroom scene, especially with the little old ladies who think Deeds -- and virtually everyone else -- is "pixillated." Cooper is okay, Dumbrille is excellent, and Arthur as vital and wonderful as ever, the movie's saving grace. But this is far, far below the level of Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. A further minus is the irritating presence of Lionel Stander.

Verdict: Pure Capra-corn. **.

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)

James Brolin and Margot Kidder














THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). Director: Stuart Rosenberg.

After a real-life multiple murder case in a house in Amityville, Long Island, the new owners, George and Kathleen Lutz, claimed that the place was haunted, that they had horrendous experiences, and had to flee to a motel in the middle of the night, never to return. Writer Jay Anson cobbled together a book telling of their "true" experiences, and enough gullible people bought it to make it of interest to Hollywood. Even American-International was surprised when Amityville turned into a monster hit; it's spawned two theatrical sequels, a remake, and a host of direct-to-video movies. In the meantime, only the intellectually challenged believe this is anything other than fiction. Even the stars of the movie thought the Lutzes' story was, well, not quite believable. The lawyer for the real-life murderer later sued the Lutzes for a cut and claimed they all dreamed the whole thing up while drinking wine.

In the film, the Lutzes move into the house although they know of its bloody history. A priest (Rod Steiger) who comes to bless the house is assailed by flies and nearly gets in a car accident, then becomes blinded by an accident in his church [apparently the "evil" in the house has a long reach]. Other odd things happen, such as the doors of the house being blasted off in the night, and they discover a walled-up chamber in the basement which is supposed to lead to Hell. [No one can say the Lutzes weren't ambitious in their fantasizing!] The implication is that the house's evil force is taking over the mind of George Lutz (James Brolin)  as it supposedly did the man who murdered all those people in the house [apparently his defense lawyer didn't bring that up at trial.] Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) looks up a photo of the murderer and he resembles her husband, even though George is approaching middle-age and the killer (Ronald Defeo) was only 23 at the time of the murders. It all meanders along not very suspensefully until a conclusion that has a couple of minor harrowing moments. The Amityville Horror is basically an inept bit of horror fiction with passable performances and a score by Lalo Schifrin that rips off Psycho at key "shock" moments. It's also quite tedious. The best scene of the movie has a bunch of priests being bitchy with each other when Steiger talks about the evil in the house and his superior (Murray Hamilton) basically tells him he's nuts.

Verdict: A stinker for the sub-literate. *.

WHEN JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME

WHEN JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME (1942). Director: Charles Lamont.

War hero Johnny Kovacs (Alan Jones) is feted when he comes home on leave, but most of his musician buddies only know him as Johnny O'Rourke. Therefore when police come searching for him so he can fulfill some obligations, his pals assume he's a deserter from the army. Two women fall instantly in love with Johnny -- Joyce (Jane Frazee) and Marilyn (Gloria Jean) -- while Dusty (Peggy Ryan) can't even score with Frankie (Donald O'Connor). This has virtually no plot to speak of, but there are some well-delivered songs, such as the duets "This is It," "Romance," and "You and the Night and the Music." Jones has a very nice voice, but even in his day his style was a little too precious, and nowadays he seems just a bit hokey. Olin Howlin has a larger role than usual as a liaison, and a black dance group called the Four Step Brothers are full of verve. O'Connor is as good and as likable as ever, although his numbers with the frankly unfunny Ryan are nothing to sing about. Ryan made a better impression in Chip Off the Old Block, which starred O'Connor. Frazee was in Buck Privates and Gloria Jean in Copacabana.

Verdict: By the numbers -- but at least the numbers are good. **1/2.

MIKE HAMMER Season 2 (1959)

Hammer comes across an interesting leg in his hotel room
MIKE HAMMER Season 2. 1959.

Darren McGavin was back as Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer for a second entertaining season in 1959. Hammer had always been a brash, no-nonsense tough guy, but in this season he was sometimes an outright bully and frequently obnoxious, picking on older and smaller men, and acting too much like a goon [not that this is necessarily inconsistent with the character]. He especially delights in tormenting and brutalizing a sniveling, un-threatening small-time operator and candy store proprietor (played quite well by Vito Scotti), but when this same person sells an illegal gun to a man who uses it to kill a woman Hammer is in love with, Hammer pretty much lets him get away with it and doesn't even report him to the police! Go figure. Cliffhanger serial director William Witney directed many of the second season episodes, which move briskly.

There were quite a few good episodes this season. In "I Ain't Talkin" a young man (Robert Fuller) won't name a man he saw committing a robbery and murder because that man is his brother-in-law (DeForest Kelly)."Baubles, Bangles and Blood" features murder at a carnival run by an ex-con. "Husbands are Bad Luck" starred Ann Robinson [The War of the Worlds] and Jean Willes in a tale of matrimony and blackmail. "Coney Island Baby" concerned murder in a wax museum at the amusement park with a notable Lloyd Corrigan as a lovesick older man. "Save me in San Salvador" was an amusing, change-of-pace episode in which Hammer looks for an embezzling professor in South America and discovers a spirited Nita Talbot. "Swing Low, Sweet Harriet" has Lorne Greene blackmailed by a paramour played by Merry Anders [Hypnotic Eye]. "Another Man's Poisson [sic]" has Hammer investigating if a blind man's long-lost brother is the real deal. "See No Evil," about a man falsely accused of robbery and murder, boasts a fine performance from Gene Saks [better-known as a director] and outstanding work from Walter Burke as a tormented organ grinder. Virginia Gregg [Crime in the Streets] steals the show as a nasty dilettante who takes over a small theater company in "Curtains for an Angel." "M is for Mother" stars Coleen Gray [The Vampire] as a woman whose daughter is afraid that her suitor is a little bit shady. In "Now Die in It" Barbara Turner's sister is murdered and Hammer comes to uncomfortable conclusions about who did it and why. "I Remember Sally" features Doris Dowling in another vivid performance as a woman being sought by old friend Malcolm Atterbury [High School Big Shot]. An ex-con he put away is out to get Hammer in "Merchant of Menace." A wealthy woman tries to buy off her brother's girlfriend in "Bride and Doom." The final episode, "Goodbye, Al," which illustrates Hammer's good side, and his compassionate sense of justice, deals with a lowlife gambler who is arrested for supposedly killing a waitress.

But even those, good as they were, weren't the best episodes, which include: "Groomed to Kill," in which a young man (Ray Daley) about to be married is blackmailed by a woman who smooches him at his bachelor party; "A Haze on the Lake" concerned everything from fraternity hazing to a murder plot to a troubled father and son relationship, and featured fine performances from Lorne Greene, Ray Stricklyn, and John Carlyle; and (perhaps the very best episode) "Park the Body" in which a parking garage scam leads to murder, with Robert Fuller and Helena Nash in top form.NOTE: To read about the first season and the pilot with Brian Keith as Hammer, click here.

Verdict: Great episode titles, some fine scripts, and McGavin add up to a darn good private eye series. ***.

DAMIEN: OMEN 2

Elizabeth Shepherd and a malevolent raven
DAMIEN: OMEN 2 (1978). Director: Don Taylor.

In the first sequel to The Omen, the devilish little boy is now 13 and living with his "father's" brother Richard Thorn (William Holden), Thorn's second wife, Ann (Lee Grant), and his son by a first marriage, Marc (Lucas Donat), in the suburbs of Chicago. Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is surrounded by Satanists who are anxious to reveal to him his identity and his destiny. At first Damien is rather horrified by these revelations, but he seems to grow into the role with relative ease. The movie doesn't tackle any of this on an intellectual level [which might be impossible in any case] but functions primarily as a slick thriller with some exciting and gruesome set pieces as the devil, represented by a black crow or raven, disposes of anyone who might be a threat to Damien [although it seems like definite overkill if not paranoia in certain cases.] A snoopy reporter (Elizabeth Shepherd) is attacked by the raven and blinded, then hit by a semi in one well-handled if brutal sequence. A doctor (Meshach Taylor) is cut in two during a horrific elevator "accident." But possibly the most disturbing and effective death scene has Thorn's colleague Bill Atheron (Lew Ayres) disappearing under the ice during a hocky game on the Thorn's frozen lake; this is a particularly powerful sequence. The performances from the entire cast are on the money, which certainly helps the audience to suspend disbelief in the absurd goings-on, and it all moves fast so there's no time to wonder what these Satanists expect to get when Damien, the trickster, takes over. Scott-Taylor is excellent as Damien; Lucas Donat, great-nephew of Robert Donat, is quite good but apparently only made this one movie. Other well-known names in the cast include Robert Foxworth (Falcon Crest) as one of Thorn's ambitious employees and Lance Henriksen [Alien vs. Predator] as an instructor at Damian's military academy. Nicholas Pryor makes an impression as the terrified curator Charles, as does Sylvia Sidney as Thorn's disapproving [of Damien] sister, Marion. The movie benefits greatly from a terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith, who recognized that while The Omen was a chiller, the sequel is a thriller, and scored it appropriately. Followed by The Final Conflict. Director Taylor was originally an actor in such films as The Girls of Pleasure Island and I'll Cry Tomorrow. Most of his directorial assignments were for television.

Verdict: Well-produced, entertaining, and energetic hokum. ***.

STOLEN FACE

Lizabeth Scott and Paul Henreid
STOLEN FACE (1952). Director: Terence Fisher.

While on vacation Dr. Philip Ritter (Paul Henreid). a renowned plastic surgeon,  meets and falls in love with concert pianist Alice Brent (Lizabeth Scott), but discovers that she is already betrothed to another. When Ritter is enlisted to give a disfigured female criminal, Lily (Mary Mackenzie) a new lease on life by giving her a new face, he uses Alice's countenance, and tries to turn her into Alice [sow's ear, silk purse, and all that]! Further complicating matters is Alice's decision to return to Philip, meaning the two women in his life now have the exact same face. This is certainly an intriguing idea [with some echoes of A Woman's Face, not to mention Vertigo, both of which are vastly superior]] but it is astonishing that no one ever calls Ritter out on his completely unethical and highly unprofessional behavior, making this a movie that seems to operate in its own weird little dimension. [The movie seems to find Ritter's bizarre obsessive actions to be reasonable!] On the other hand, Stolen Face is well-acted by the leads and Andre Morrell, has a nice score by Malcolm Arnold, and is completely absorbing.

Verdict: One of the best of the Hammer studio melodramas released in the U.S. by Lippert. ***.