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. ***.