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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

SUSPENSE

Barry Sullivan and Belita in Suspense
SUSPENSE (1946). Director: Frank Tuttle.

A down-and-out drifter named Joe (Barry Sullivan) gets a job hawking peanuts at an ice show. The star attraction is a blonde named Roberta (Belita), who is married to the owner of the show, Frank Leonard (Albert Dekker of Dr. Cyclops). Roberta fights her attraction to Joe until certain circumstances develop that lead the pair into some vaguely macabre situations ... Suspense does have some suspense of a minor kind -- and its main strength is that it's unpredictable -- but its chief flaw among many is that the central plot twist is so utterly implausible that it throws everything else out of whack. Joe is such a confusing and underwritten character that Sullivan, who has given some very good performances elsewhere, can do little but say his lines as written and try to deal with the contradictions [which might have been interesting in another movie] as best he can. Belita was basically a figure skater -- and a very good one -- and not a bad actress, either. She was similar in looks and deportment to Marsha Hunt. Unfortunately she got her start basically playing herself in movies from Monogram studios, so her career in films was a short one. Suspense is also a Monogram production -- and Belita's first thriller --  albeit it appears that the studio spent more money than usual on the picture. Dekker and Eugene Pallette [First Love] as a manager give their usual adept performances. A grown-up Bonita Granville [Nancy Drew -- Detective] plays one of Joe's former flames and is more than satisfactory. At least one of the big production numbers sort of stops the movie dead. Tuttle's direction is okay, but even Hitchcock might have had problems bringing this script to life. There is some mildly inventive business involving Roberta skating her way through a gauntlet of sharp swords, but not enough is done with it.

Verdict: Half-baked Alaska. **1/2.

THE SECOND FACE

Phyllis (Ella Raines) before her makeover.
THE SECOND FACE (1950). Director: Jack Bernhard.

Phyllis (Ella Raines) is a plain but lovely woman who works for a bitter man, Paul (Bruce Bennett), whose pretty wife ran out on him. He sends Phyllis to Los Angeles to stay with a friend, Claire (Rita Johnson of Sleep, My Love), who tries to get her a job with a fashion house as a designer, but since she's required to do some selling on the floor first, she isn't hired due to her appearance. She goes to work for Claire's fiance, Allan (Roy Roberts of The Gale Storm Show), who is fooling around with a client's pretty daughter, and is "romanced" by the slimy Jerry (John Sutton of The Invisible Man Returns), who only wants to use her designs for himself. Phyllis is racing to prevent a possible murder when her car smashes into a truck -- now there's a chance that surgery can make her as attractive as she's always dreamed ... Most of the male characters in The Second Face are pretty loathsome. One guy breaks off with his fiancee by sending a telegram to another person, expecting her to relay the bad news to the rejected woman. An aging businessman (Pierre Watkin) is unspeakably blunt and cruel to Phyllis just to make a point about advertising. Meanwhile no one makes the point that Phyllis' sweet demeanor and feminine, charming aura would certainly make her appealing to some men, and none of her lady friends suggest make up or a new hairdo. In any case, Raines' performance is excellent, and the supporting players are adept enough. Eugene Vale's screenplay is often psychologically astute. Raines also made a good impression in The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry but was less effective in Impact. Kathleen Freeman has a nice bit at the end as a homely-but-happy married lady whose husband likes her just the way she is.

Verdict: An appealing Raines helps put this over. ***.

ONLY YESTERDAY

















ONLY YESTERDAY (1933). Director: John M. Stahl.

"This sort of thing is no longer a tragedy. It isn't even a melodrama. It's just ... something that happened."

A man receives a letter from a woman that he has completely forgotten, but who tells him that she has given him a son he has never known. No, it's not Letter from an Unknown Woman, but a variation that takes place in New York at the time of the stock market crash. Mary Lane (Margaret Sullavan) had shared a night of passion with Jim Emerson (John Boles) some years before, but when she goes to see him when he returns from WW1 he doesn't even remember her. She is determined to raise their son and stick it out until he does remember her, but instead Emerson marries another woman. Years go by, and Mary resists romantic overtures from others [reminding one of Back Street, which both Sullavan and Boles appeared in, albeit in different versions]. This was Sullavan's first movie and she delivers, and Boles is also fine as the object of her affections. Jimmy Butler scores as their young son, as does Billie Burke as Mary's sympathetic and up-to-date Aunt Julia, who sings "Tiptoe through the Tulips." Bramwell Fletcher and Reginald Denny are also in the cast. It all builds to an undeniably moving conclusion. Stahl also directed the Boles-Irene Dunne version of Back Street, as well as Leave Her to Heaven.

Verdict: Good acting helps put this over. ***.

CRAIG'S WIFE

John Boles and Rosalind Russell
CRAIG'S WIFE (1936). Director: Dorothy Arzner.

"If a wife is the right kind of woman, her destiny should be in her own hands, not her husband's."

In the second film version of George Kelly's Pulitzer prize-winning play (after the silent), Rosalind Russell stars as Harriet Craig, whose home and its furnishings are the most important things in her life, much more important than people. Harriet likes things just so, and isn't above running other people's lives when she feels the need to. When a friend of Walter, her husband's (John Boles), murders his wife and commits suicide, Harriet fears their involvement may cause an unwanted wrinkle in their pristine universe. In the meantime, Walter's beloved Aunt Ellen (Alma Kruger of Saboteur) objects to the way her niece-by-marriage keeps everyone out of her home, and is slowly but surely distancing Walter from all of his friends, and has it out with her. "It isn't an opinion I have of you, Harriet," she tells the younger woman. "It's you I have." Harriet's sister is sick, so she has her own niece, Ethel (Dorothy Wilson), stay with her and tries to run her life as well. Craig's Wife is pretty faithful to the play [unlike the remake with Joan Crawford] but the problem is that Kelly's play is rather dated, and by no means can be seen as having a truly feminist perspective despite some of Harriet's cold if sensible attitudes. The performances are all very good, including Billie Burke as the widowed neighbor, Mrs. Frasier, and Jane Darwell as the housekeeper, Mrs. Harold. Arzner also directed Merrily We Go to Hell.

Verdict: Intriguing at times despite its age, and well-acted by all. ***.

EUNICE

Carol Burnett as Eunice
EUNICE (1982 telefilm/TV special).

"I told you if you married Ed Higgins you'd get freaks for kids, and that's just what you got." -- Mama referring to Eunice's boys.

The highlights of The Carol Burnett Show were "The Family" sketches which focused on the highly-dysfunctional Harper family, especially on the love-hate relationship between Eunice (Carol Burnett) and her mother (Vicki Lawrence). This 1982 special was the longest Family "sketch" of all, taped before a live audience, and consisting of four parts in different time periods: 1955, when Eunice is courted by future husband Ed (Harvey Korman), and brother Phil (Ken Berry) leaves for New York to become a writer; 1963, in which Phil has achieved some success and Eunice wants to go to New York with him to become an actress; 1973, in which Phil wins a Pulitzer but still has to deal with the jealousies, resentments and pressures of his weird family back home; and 1978, when Mama dies and old squabbles resurface between Eunice and her sister Ellen (Betty White of Advise and Consent), but the former finally plans to make her escape from her dismal small-town existence -- but will she? Sharply written by Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair, in its own comic [often only slightly exaggerated] way Eunice unveils the way in which family members can lacerate one another due to their own insecurities and frustrations; played differently it could have been a drama. While Burnett and her Eunice border on caricature, the comedienne manages the difficult feat of making the shrill, unlikable Eunice sympathetic, while Lawrence -- who received an Emmy nomination -- is just splendid as the grumpy if coldly realistic Mama, who has no patience with her daughter's fantastic plans and dreams. Korman, Berry, and White also score in their important supporting roles. This excellent (and highly-rated) telefilm unfortunately led into the sitcom Mama's Family, in which Burnett did not participate (but for a couple of guest appearances), stripping the whole project of its most important and funniest relationship.

Verdict: Funny and rather horrifying in equal measure. ***1/2.

EDUCATING FATHER

Granny Jones reads her horror stories
EDUCATING FATHER (1936). Director: James Tinling.

The first sequel to Every Saturday Night, in which the Evers Family became the Jones Family, was rushed out the same year, becoming a sort of theatrical hour-long sitcom for fifteen more installments. In this entry Mr. Jones (Jed Prouty) wants his son, Jack (Kenneth Howell) to follow him into the pharmacy business, but Jack is more interested in the field of aviation and has been taking flying lessons on the sly. There's a hair-raising bit when a silly gal named Millicent (Dixie Dunbar) climbs into the back seat of a plane without his knowledge and nearly causes a crack-up. In another sub-plot Mr. Jones goes fishing in a place miles away from anywhere just when his lease is coming up on his pharmacy, and Jack has to fly into the wilderness to get him back to town in time or he'll lose his store. Granny Jones (Florence Roberts) reads horror stories, and Mrs. Jones (Spring Byington) wrings her hands and offers sage advice. In this entry oldest daughter Bonnie is played by Shirley Deane.

Verdict: Passable comedy with likable players. **.

JACK REACHER

Tom Cruise and Rosamund Pike










JACK REACHER (2012). Writer/director: Christopher McQuarrie.

When a military man is arrested for shooting five civilians, he insists that his lawyer, Helen (Rosamund Pike of Wrath of the Titans) -- the daughter of the district attorney -- get in touch with an investigator named Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). Reacher is at first convinced of the man's guilt but the more he digs -- and once he is warned off the case and even attacked -- the more he realizes that there's more to the story than meets the eye. Five people were murdered but was just one of them the true target? And will Reacher survive to find out the truth? Jack Reacher is a credible suspense film, although the motivations of some of the characters and the reasons for their conspiracy are never fully explained. Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall, Alexia Fast, among others, offer good supporting performances, and Cruise [Mission: Impossible] gives his customary satisfactory "action star" turn. Although he has hardly any dialogue, the very intense Jai Courtney as a sinister bad guy almost manages to steal the movie away from Cruise with little effort. McQuarrie keeps things moving at a brisk pace and the film is very well photographed by Caleb Deschamel.

Verdict: Absorbing if imperfect thriller. ***.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT

Jack (Kenneth Howell) gets advice from his granny (Florence Roberts)
















EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT (1936). Director: James Tinling.

When 20th Century-Fox came out with this adaptation of the stage play about a warm and loving family with their share of minor disagreements, they probably had no idea it would make enough money to engender no less than sixteen sequels! That means that there was one more entry in [what became] the Jones Family series than in MGM's Andy Hardy/Hardy Family series (even when you count the much-later Andy Hardy Comes Home and don't count a couple of Andy Hardy shorts), which began with A Family Affair (also from a play) the year after Every Saturday Night debuted. Ironically, the Jones Family series is pretty much completely forgotten, while everyone has heard of Andy Hardy, probably thanks to the irrepressible Mickey Rooney. In Every Saturday Night the name of the family is actually Evers, but it was changed for subsequent entries, although when the film was re-released as a "Jones Family" feature the "Evers" name wasn't over-dubbed. Evers/Jones (Jed Prouty) is a small-town pharmacist who, as his mother (Florence Roberts) tells him, raises his children as if it were twenty years earlier, and forgets the trouble he got into himself when he was a boy. His oldest daughter, Bonnie (June Lang) is dating a guy named Clark (Thomas Beck) who drives drunk and nearly kills a girl. The younger daughter, Lucy (June Carlson) wants to be an actress and is always imitating Hepburn, Garbo or someone else. Oldest son Jack (Ken Howell) gets in hot water when he takes Dad's car without permission, and borrows money from his serious younger brother Roger (George Ernest) at high interest. Then there's a near-crisis when little Bobby (Billy Mahan) gets a serious cut. Mrs. Evers (Spring Byington) is wise enough to know when to intercede and when to keep quiet. Every Saturday Night is certainly not a masterpiece, but it is surprisingly touching at times in its warmth and honest sentiment, and the obvious love these characters feel for one another is almost palpable, thanks to very adept performances by the entire cast.

Verdict: A lost bit of Hollywood history. **1/2.

JEANNE EAGELS

JEANNE EAGELS (1957). Director: George Sidney.

This lamentable biopic purports to be the life story of famous stage and screen actress Jeanne Eagels, but it comes off more like a travesty, almost a parody, of movie star biographies. Part of the problem is the casting and atrocious performance of Kim Novak, who has been seen to much better advantage in such movies as Vertigo and Middle of the Night. Apparently given no help at all in shaping her role by director George Sidney, Novak -- who does have a (very) few good moments -- portrays Eagels by lowering her voice an octave and developing an imperious manner and never seeming remotely human -- in fact at times she's more grotesque than anything else. She confuses over-acting with "Great Acting" and even has trouble with simple line readings. Although there was certainly enough drama in the real  Eagels's life, with two marriages, a drug problem, and death at 39, Jeanne Eagels needs to make up even more slanderous stuff [her family filed a law suit, but you can't libel the dead in the U.S.]. In the movie an invented alcoholic actress named Elsie Desmond (a creditable Virginia Grey) brings Eagels the script for the play "Rain," hoping the latter will interest a producer in mounting the play as a comeback for her. Instead, Eagels steals the play away from Desmond, who then commits suicide. Eagels is seen as being similarly ruthless in other sequences as well. The two men in her life, one of whom she briefly marries, are portrayed by Jeff Chandler [who basically gives a good accounting of himself] and Charles Drake, who is okay as her husband. As Eagels' stern if loving acting coach, Agnes Moorehead gives a competent performance but at times seems affected by the movie's sheer badness. Murray Hamilton does his typical sleazy, oily, repulsive shtick as a vaudeville performer who tries to rape Jeanne. The movie mixes facts with fantasy, such as when Eagels is suspended from the stage for several months by Actors Equity [true] and has her running to vaudeville when she actually went to Hollywood to make (mostly silent) movies [one of which is inexplicably shown at the end of Jeanne Eagels, only it's a musical!]. In actuality, Eagels had a triumph in the first sound version of The Letter, and was posthumously nominated for an Oscar, but this, incredibly, is never mentioned, even though it would have added up to an effective and bittersweet conclusion. Drake and Grey played a married couple in All That Heaven Allows and George Sidney also directed Bye Bye Birdie, for which he was more suited.

Verdict: Eagels certainly deserved better than this miserable schlock. *1/2.

THE SHANGHAI GESTURE

Ona Munson and Gene Tierney
















THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (1941). Director: Josef von Sternberg.

In this very odd movie, a young lady looking for thrills in Shanghai, who calls herself Poppy (Gene Tierney), enters the establishment of one "Mother Gin Sling" (Ona Munson), becomes smitten with the shady character, Omar (Victor Mature), and develops too much of a taste for gambling. Mother invites several people to celebrate Chinese New Year's with her, including Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston), whom she knew years ago under another name and wishes vengeance upon; she is unaware of any connection Poppy may have to Charteris. There's the basis of a good story in Shanghai Gesture, but the movie isn't well written or well put together, with most of the imagination going into some elaborate settings. The performances are good for the most part, although Ona Munson lacks the vigor and fire that an actress like, say, Barbara Stanwyck or Anna May Wong (who should have been cast) could have brought to the role. Eric Blore, Mike Mazurki (as a rickshaw!), and Maria Ouspenskaya all have supporting parts, although Ouspenskaya has no dialogue. Phyllis Brooks makes an impression as the stranded chorus girl, Dixie, but her part in all this is never clearly defined. The whole production is inherently racist and badly dated. Josef von Sternberg also directed The Devil is a Woman, which is vastly superior to this.

Verdict: Too weird for its own good. **.

A LIFE OF BARBARA STANWYCK: STEEL-TRUE 1907 - 1940 Victoria Wilson

A LIFE OF BARBARA STANWYCK: STEEL-TRUE 1907 - 1940. Victoria Wilson. Simon and Schuster; 2013.

Wilson's twenty-years-in-the-making 1000 pp biography of Stanwyck covers the first half of her life and career in great detail. Wilson covers her first marriage to Frank Fay with more thoroughness than previous biographers, and works hard to give the readers a sense of the various time periods and their cultural and political influences throughout the decades covered. Wilson is clearly a fan of Stanwyck's, but she doesn't admire every film or performance, and often offers astute analysis of her pictures and acting techniques. There are no great revelations in the book, however, and anecdotes are often lifted from other books [some of which are mentioned in the notes but, oddly, not in the bibliography]. Unlike some Out biographers like William Mann, Wilson is fairly coy when it comes to sexuality [with more insinuations in the captions than in the text]. Still, the book is well-written and pulls the reader along, even if some of the copious detail -- particularly when it doesn't necessarily pertain to Stanwyck -- can become wearisome at times. The five pound book is just too long.

Wilson has been an editor at Knopf for years, but apparently resisted any and all attempts at editing her own book. For instance, she gives us a mini-bio of Bette Davis for a couple of pages simply because she appeared with Stanwyck in So Big, but neglects to inform us if the two women even got along or not. Why give us a history of all of the Marx Brothers simply because Zeppo becomes her friend and manager? She continues to follow the life and career of Barbara's old friend Mae Clarke [without discussing her performance in Waterloo Bridge] long after the two women have stopped being part of one another's lives. It makes sense to give background info on some of the other people in the Stanwyck life, but not virtually everyone she encountered. Some of this is excusable for the ardent film buff, among which I'm sure Wilson can be counted. Wilson is correct in discussing the original silent Stella Dallas at the point where Stanwyck does the remake, but throughout the book one gets the sense that there was a battle between author and editor and the author won every time. [Wilson makes the mistake many beginners do -- she puts all of her research into the book.] There is also a certain choppiness to some sections as well, with paragraphs that inexplicably run only one sentence when they could easily have been added to the paragraph above, and the like. Steel-True badly needs a stronger editorial hand. It is also disappointing that some material, such as the fate of Stanwyck's adopted son Dion, will have to wait for a second volume when most of us will have forgotten what was in the first!

Verdict: Strictly for die-hard Stanwyck fans who will enjoy it; others beware. ***.

OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS

Andy (Mickey Rooney) on a dispirited burro
OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS (1938). Director: George B. Seitz.

An old flame calls Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) for help when she and her husband fear they'll lose their ranch over water rights. The judge takes the entire family with him to the west, and they sort of just move into this couple's ranch, make themselves at home, and raid the refrigerator as if they own the place. Marian Hardy (Cecelia Parker) falls for a rugged cowboy and widower named Ray (Gordon Jones of The Green Hornet), while his young daughter, "Jake" (Virginia Weidler), develops a crush on Andy (Mickey Rooney). Weidler and Rooney give the most memorable performances, but the others in the cast are swell, as Andy would put it. Fay Holden as Mrs. Hardy can't quite disguise her veddy proper British roots. Ralph Morgan [The Monster and the Ape] and Nana Bryant [Possessed] are the ranchers, and Tom Neal has a small role as a traffic violator in Judge Hardy's courtroom. An unusual aspect of this Hardy feature is that there are no beautiful starlets for Andy to play around and neck with.

Verdict: Pleasant time-waster: **1/2.

THE LOST PLANET

Michael Fox vs. Judd Holdren in Lost Planet
















THE LOST PLANET (15 chapter Columbia serial/1953). Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet.

"What has he to offer a great scientist like me?"

Reporter Rex Barrow (Judd Holdren) and his photographer friend, Tim (Ted Thorpe), stumble into the mountain hide-out of the megalomaniac Dr. Grood (Michael Fox of Riders to the Stars), who is forcing Professor Dorn (Forrest Taylor of The Iron Claw) to enslave the inhabitants of another planet, Ergro, in order to take over Earth. Grood is assisted by the groveling Jarva (Jack George), who is like something out of the Three Stooges, on earth, and by portly Reckov (Gene Roth), on the alien world, while Dorn's daughter, Ella (Vivian Mason), travels to Ergro with the others. Grood is able to mind-control anyone he chooses, and has other weapons as well, and employs spaceships that take everyone from Earth to Ergro in a very fast and highly unscientific manner. There's also a cosmo jet, and a cartoon flying saucer. Late in the serial some earth men of rather ill repute try to take over Grood's operation, briefly join with him, and then switch sides again. Holdren is perfectly bland and adequate, and Fox is rather good as Grood, yet somehow he doesn't make the kind of memorable serial villain that, say, Charles Middleton does as Ming in Flash Gordon. Holdren and Roth were also in Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere and the former starred in Zombies of the Stratosphere as well.

Verdict: Acceptable, silly sci fi serial. **.

THE CHASE (1946)

Peter Lorre, Steve Cochran, and Bob Cummings as chauffeur
THE CHASE (1946). Director: Arthur D. Ripley.

Ex-serviceman Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) finds a wallet on the sidewalk and returns it to its owner, the quite unsavory hoodlum Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran). Roman, who has an associate named Gino (Peter Lorre) and a wife named Lorna (Michele Morgan), hires Chuck as his chauffeur. A peculiar feature of the limo is that Roman can take over the controls from the back seat whenever he wants. Roman dispatches a business rival by trapping him in his wine cellar with a vicious dog, so it's fairly likely that he won't have a good reaction when a desperate Lorna begs Chuck to help her escape to Havana ... The Chase begins well, with Cochran offering a chilling portrait of a glib sociopath, but it gets too tricky and an actual "chase" never really develops. Instead of a decent plot and some interesting developments, The Chase substitutes a lengthy dream sequence that serves little purpose besides confusing the viewer. Cummings is always miscast in film noir, but otherwise does okay, and Lorre simply isn't given enough to do. Michele Morgan is pretty and seems efficient enough, but she's also under-utilized. This movie goes nowhere slowly. Loosely based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich that just had to be much, much better.

Verdict: Cochran's picture -- and he can have it. **.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

TURN BACK THE CLOCK

Impossibly young Three Stooges in a party scene
TURN BACK THE CLOCK (1933). Director: Edgar Selwyn.

Joe Gimlet (Lee Tracy of Dinner at Eight) owns a drug store with his wife, Mary (Mae Clarke of Waterloo Bridge), and the two are getting by, but Joe reviews his status in life when he meets up with old friend, Ted (Otto Kruger), who married wealthy Elvina (Peggy Shannon). Ted wants to invest the Gimlets' life savings for them, but Mary is understandably wary. Getting drunk, Joe wanders off, gets hit by a car, and wakes up twenty years in the past. Now he can do his life over and marry Elvina instead of Mary, giving him all of Ted's wealth and power. Nice guy, huh? The fact that Joe is a jerk (although he does do some nice things) is one of the movie's main problems, as is the fact that Joe is played by borderline shrill Lee Tracy, who gives a good performance but is also as slick and somehow irritating as ever. Turn Back the Clock has a great idea but it becomes increasingly ridiculous, with a predictable wind-up. The Three Stooges appear as wedding singers in one scene and almost look like children. Clarke, Shannon and Kruger give very good performances, and the film is fast-paced and has a few directorial flourishes as well. Because of a similar time travel element, Repeat Performance has always been seen as a remake of this picture, but the plots are so different that that really isn't the case. Oddly, when Turn Back the Clock was remade as a telefilm with Connie Selleca, it used the plot of Repeat Performance instead.

Verdict: Nice idea; mediocre execution. **1/2.


TOO MUCH, TOO SOON: DIANA BARRYMORE [BOOK]

Diana Barrymore
TOO MUCH, TOO SOON. Diana Barrymore and Gerold Frank. Henry Holt; 1957.

This very frank memoir written by the daughter of John Barrymore was published in 1957 but reads like one of the "warts and all" embarrassingly frank Hollywood autobiogs of today. Barrymore seems to leave nothing out -- her three marriages, her promiscuity, her nearly hopeless alcoholism -- but one still gets the sense that this self-destructive individual didn't want to take full responsibility for her actions. True, her famous father [who was on a serious down-slide when Diana began her career] and mother, who wrote under the pen name "Michael Strange," were rather self-absorbed people and not the best of parents, but it's not as if Diana, on a trust fund, was raised in the ghetto -- although in later years when the money ran out she certainly got a stark taste of poverty and harsh reality. Thanks to co-author Frank, "Too Much, Too Soon" is compelling and often powerful in its delineation of the depths to which Ms. Barrymore would sink. She managed to throw away many opportunities others would have killed for, such as when she showed up for the first live telecast of "The Diana Barrymore Show" dead drunk and immediately lost the show and the lucrative contract. The anguish of her third marriage to washed-up actor and fellow drunk Robert Wilcox is sharply etched [her first husband was older actor Bramwell Fletcher of The Undying Monster, whom she was wretched to]. She can be capable of some raw assessments of herself, such as when she chastises herself for being outraged by her father's wanting her to phone a call girl service for him [which was a little tacky] when she later realizes she should have shown compassion for his being "sick and broken and lonely and old and unhappy." Whatever you think of Diana -- pathetic, out-of-control alcoholic, or simply a major fuck-up --  the book is a fascinating expose of the dark side of Hollywood that pulls you along from the first page. Diana managed to make about half a dozen films, but she died of an overdose only three years after this book was published. The film version of the book starred Dorothy Malone as Diana and Errol Flynn as her father. John Barrymore and future son-in-law Fletcher appeared together in Svengali.

Verdict: Pride goeth before a fall. ***1/2.

TOO MUCH, TOO SOON [MOVIE]

John (Ray Danton) gives Diana (Dottie Malone) a back rub
TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (1958). Director: Art Napoleon.

"I don't want to write a book about my life. Living it was bad enough." -- Diana Barrymore.

"I am fifty-nine years old. And not as drunk as you think. Why don't you take what I offer and not make me jump through hoops?' --John Barrymore.

In this somewhat sanitized version of Diana Barrymore's memoir of the same name, Diana (Dorothy Malone) wishes she could get to know her father, John Barrymore (Errol Flynn) better, but her mother, Blanche (Neva Patterson) isn't too thrilled with the notion. Diana decides to follow in her great family's footsteps and become an actress, discovering that her famous name opens doors but won't necessarily deliver decent scripts. As he was still alive at the time of filming, her first husband, Bramwell Fletcher, is represented by the made-up character of "Vincent Bryant" (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who comes home to find Diana diddling in their bedroom with sleazy tennis bum, John Howard (Ray Danton), a real-life man who becomes her second husband. Diana's third husband, actor Robert Wilcox, is portrayed by Ed Kemmer [Earth vs the Spider];  she and Wilcox become mired in a maze of booze, poverty and blown opportunities. Writer Gerald Frank, who helped craft the memoir, is portrayed by Robert Ellenstein. Too Much, Too Soon is psychologically simplistic, but well-acted, with Malone doing a swell job as Diana, with fine support from Patterson and the others. Errol Flynn is the big surprise, turning in a fine performance as the dissipated Barrymore [ironic, considering what lay in Flynn's future]. Smaller roles are performed by Kathleen Freeman and Martin Milner, and there's a nice score by Ernest Gold.

Verdict: Lurid but quite entertaining and reasonably well-made. ***. 


BETWEEN US GIRLS

Diana Barrymore and Kay Francis as mother and daughter
BETWEEN US GIRLS (1942). Director: Henry Koster.

In this very oddball comedy, the actress Carrie Bishop (Diana Barrymore) learns that her mother, Chris (Kay Francis), is engaged to a man, Steven (John Boles), who thinks her daughter is just a little girl. Afraid that he will jilt her mother when he learns that the "little girl" is actually twenty-years-old, she decides to pretend to be a girl of about 12. Things get especially complicated when Steven's associate, Jimmy (Robert Cummings), accuses the "real" Carrie of child abuse after she supposedly hits the child, and then literally socks her, Carrie, in the jaw. Still Carrie stupidly continues the deception ... Francis and Cummings are fine, as is Andy Devine in a lively, likable performance as Carrie's manager, and the picture is nearly stolen by Ethel Griffies as the stony Irish housekeeper, Gallagher. [The scene when Gallagher threatens to quit and packs her bags to the consternation of mother and daughter is the best in the movie]. As for Barrymore, she reveals a real talent in this, but unfortunately is forced to play an idiotic part and perform in several embarrassing sequences. On the other hand she has a splendid moment performing with talented little Scotty Beckett when Carrie plays Queen Victoria in a play. (Her attempts at Sadie Thompson are less successful perhaps because she's deliberately playing too broadly, and her Joan of Arc at the end is only adequate.) Another scene stealer is Lillian Yarbo as the funny, ever-complaining black maid, Phoebe, who claims it was more fun when she was working in a funeral parlor. Francis' hairdo in this is especially grotesque. Between Us Girls has a couple of amusing moments, but it's too strange, poorly scripted, and has a fairly moronic premise as well, from which it never quite recovers.

Verdict: A bizarre curiosity but hardly a good movie. **.

YOUNG FUGITIVES

Wilcox, Davenport and Kent at the parade
















YOUNG FUGITIVES (1938). Director: John  Rawlins.

"You got enough money there to get so educated you won't have a brain in your head."

After the death of his old buddy, Tom (Tom Ricketts), Joel Bentham (Harry Davenport of Son of Fury) is the last surviving Civil War veteran in his southern town. He is given a check for $50,000 and moves into Tom's farm with his buddy, Benjie (Clem Bevans of Gold Raiders).  The two men sort of adopt a young female "bum" named Meg (Dorothea Kent), and then Tom's grandson Ray (Robert Wilcox) comes along and also moves in. But Meg, who is attracted to him, wonders if he really wants the simple life, or is he chiefly interested in old Joel's $50,000? The performances are good -- the always reliable Davenport has a good scene when he thinks of the war, the past, and all the dead young men -- but the movie is contrived and a bit on the dull side. Wilcox and Kent make an appealing couple. Mira McKinney scores as the landlady, Letty, as does Mary Treen as Joel's friend, Kathy. John Rawlins directed everything from cliffhanger serials to Sherlock Holmes movies to Dick Tracy features such as Dick Tracy's Dilemma.

Verdict: Some nice moments, but nothing special here. **.

FIRED WIFE

Abel, Allbritton, Paige and Barrymore all cut up
















FIRED WIFE (1943). Director: Charles Lamont.

"You're so wonderfully repetitious."

In this largely forgettable and desperately frenetic farce, Hank Dunne (Robert Paige) has married career woman Tahitha (Louise Allbritton), who is keeping the marriage secret from her boss, Chris (Walter Abel). Besides the fact that Tahitha has to work on her honeymoon, and that Hank wants her to quit her job, another complication is Hank's friend and associate, radio hostess Eve (Diana Barrymore), who is carrying a torch for him. Hardly any cliche is left unturned in the mediocre screenplay, although the performers are certainly game; Allbritton and Paige are fine, Barrymore adds some zest in her lively portrayal of difficult Eve, and although Walter Abel gives a very good performance, as usual, his character is too loathsome to be funny -- the film's best moment comes when he finally gets his comeuppance. Walter Catlett [It Started with Eve] gives perhaps the funniest performance as Judge Allen, the bemused Justice of the Peace, and Rex Ingram [Anna Lucasta] is also notable as Hank's major domo, Charles. There are a few sporadic chuckles in the movie so it's not a complete waste of time. Paige also starred in Flying G-Men.

Verdict: With pictures like these no wonder Barrymore got disillusioned with Hollywood. **1/2.

MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN

Both in disguise, Copperhead (Wilcox) faces Dr. Satan (Ciannelli)
MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN (15 chapter Republic serial/1940). Directors: John English; William Witney.

Just before the older man's death, Bob Wayne (Robert Wilcox) is told by Governor Bronson (Charles Trowbridge), the man who raised him, that his real father was once known as the original Copperhead, who fought for justice but was wrongly labeled a crook. Bob decides to don a mask and become the new Copperhead, so that he can fight the minions of the mysterious Dr. Satan (Eduardo Ciannelli). "Mysterious" is right, because we never learn why he calls himself Dr. Satan nor what his true identity is. (Similarly, the Copperhead disguise seems fairly unnecessary.) Satan is after a remote control device invented by Professor Scott (C. Montague Shaw), whose daughter, Lois (Ella Neal), is trapped in a diving bell with Bob when it springs a leak thanks to the diabolical manipulations of Dr. Satan. The nefarious Satan forces his men and others to wear explosive chest devices that keep them from getting out of line or escaping, and on several occasions employs a large killer robot to do his dirty work. Ciannelli [Johnny Staccato; Monster from Green Hell] is quite good as Dr. Satan, sneering his contempt without ever overacting or chewing the scenery. Wilcox, who was Diana Barrymore's third husband and companion-in-nightmare, was certainly good-looking and was not a bad actor, but he's not a good choice for a serial action hero as his performance lacks dynamism and is rather listless [even if one gives him the benefit of the doubt and imagines that he was trying to differentiate between Wayne and the Copperhead]. Ella Neal is adept and attractive, but the other woman in the cast, Dorothy Herbert, has little opportunity to do more than look interested or perky as reporter Alice Brent. Jack Mulhall [The She-Creature] and Ken Terrell [Indestructible Man] are also in the cast. One of the best cliffhangers has to do with a cell whose far wall begins closing in on our hero as Dr. Satan chuckles. This was originally conceived as a Superman serial, but the rights for that character went to Columbia studios instead; that studio took eight years to finally come out with a serial about the Man of Steel.

Verdict: Entertaining, but not in the class of the best Republic serials. **1/2.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

Cornel Wilde pitches the woo to Betty Hutton



















THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952). Producer/director: Cecil B. DeMille.

Late in The Greatest Show in Earth, star Betty Hutton (also star of the "craptastic" Betty Hutton Show), playing trapeze artist Holly, is shown doing acrobatics on a cross bar in a parade down Main Street. Or rather Hutton is superimposed over the parade, and you can actually see through her in an embarrassingly cheap process shot. That pretty much encapsulates this whole cheesy movie, which purports to be about circus life. What it actually is -- against a backdrop of Barnum and Bailey/Ringling Brothers circus -- is a tiresome soap opera wherein Holly is in love with manager Brad (Charlton Heston), rival trapeze artist Sebastian (Cornel Wilde) is in love with Holly, and Jimmy Stewart wears clown make up throughout because he's hiding a secret. Dorothy Lamour of Donovan's Reef sings a number or two and is sardonic, while Gloria Grahame, also carrying a torch for Heston, has a good scene trading minor barbs with Hutton. The acting in this isn't bad -- even Hutton is more palatable than usual -- but you may find the elephants far more impressive. Wilde swaggers around with an okay Italian accent and is effective. [Although Wilde is billed over Heston, the latter is featured on the DVD cover due to the vagaries of Hollywood fame.] There's a not-bad train crash at the climax. DeMille only directed one more movie, The Ten Commandments, four years later.

Verdict: Okay, but Berserk is more fun. **1/2.

ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST

Ann Blythe, Edmund O'Brien and Fredric March
ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST (1948). Director: Michael Gordon. From the stage play by Lillian Hellman,.

"I don't like you, Ben. I don't like any of my children. I just feel sorry for you." -- Lavinia Hubbard.

In this prequel to The Little Foxes set in the post-Civil War period, war profiteer Marcus Hubbard (Fredric March) is father of young Regina (Ann Blyth), who has set her cap for John Bagtry (John Dall); Oscar (Dan Duryea), who is basically a screw-up; and Ben (Edmond O'Brien), who is of the same diabolical mind-set as his father. The story begins on Confederate Day, when the town remembers the slaughter of many rebel soldiers because an unknown person sold them out [it seems hard to believe that the entire town wouldn't know right away who the traitor was]. Oscar has fallen for Laurette (Dona Drake of Beyond the Forest), a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, and things are quite unpleasant when she meets his father at a party at the Hubbards. Birdie Bagtry (Betsy Blair of The Snake Pit) hopes to get a very important loan from Marcus, a situation that Ben hopes to take distinct advantage of. In the meantime, the tired matriarch, Lavinia Hubbard (Florence Eldridge), reminds her husband that she still remembers where the bodies are buried ... William Wyler could have probably made this a more powerful and memorable movie, but as it is it features some fine acting, especially from Duryea, Eldridge, Blair and Drake. March is good but seems to lose his footing toward the end; it's not one of his best performances in any case. Some great dialogue throughout. Eldridge, who was married to March in real life, also played his wife in Inherit the Wind and other movies.

Verdict: Portrait of a fairly appalling family. ***.

THE JONES FAMILY IN HOLLYWOOD

George Ernest tries to console June Carlson
















THE JONES FAMILY IN HOLLYWOOD (1939). Director: Malcolm St. Clair.

The long-running Jones Family series [a total of 17 movies!] actually started with Every Saturday Night in 1936 when the family was named "Evers." (Presumably somebody with the same name objected because they became the more generic Jones Family with the next installment and thereafter.) This movie is about at the halfway mark for the series, and has the family traveling to Hollywood when Father Jones (a dithery and unappealing Jed Prouty) attends an American Legion convention, and everyone else, including the peppery Granny Jones (Florence Roberts), insists on going along. Lucy (June Carlson) thinks she's going to become a movie star thanks to the manipulations of sleazy actor Danny Regan (William Tracy of Terry and the Pirates), while girl-crazy Jack (Kenneth Howell) thinks he's fallen for an actress who only wants to use the handsome lug for research. The more studious brother, Roger, is played by the aptly-named George Ernest. At one point Roger, who is making a home movie, stands in for Lucy and shows her how to make love to her boyfriend, Tommy (Marvin Stephens), making it seem as if he has a crush on him. The actors are all adept, but the script is thin and silly and the laughs merely sporadic when they come at all.The only "name" in the cast is Spring Byington (Walk Softly Stranger), who is her usual self as Mrs. Louise Jones. Howell was also in Henry Aldrich for President and Junior G-Men. St. Clair also directed Jitterbugs with Laurel and Hardy.

Verdict: If nothing else a quaint curiosity of a long-forgotten series. **.

SERGEANT RYKER

Lee Marvin lashes out as Sergeant Ryker
SERGEANT RYKER (1968). Director: Buzz Kulik.

The theatrical release Sergeant Ryker was actually the first two episodes of [Kraft] Suspense Theatre from 1963 -- "The Case Against Paul Ryker" -- joined together and released as a movie five years later by Universal; it was not remade. Sergeant Ryker (Lee Marvin) has been convicted of treason because no one will believe his story of carrying out a secret mission for a military official who is now dead and can't back up what Ryker says. The prosecutor, Captain David Young (Bradford Dillman), wonders if Ryker had a fair trial, and also begins to question his guilt after he meets Ryker's wife, Ann (Vera Miles), who thoroughly supports him even if she's no longer in love with him. Young makes such a pest of himself trying to dig up evidence that will confirm Ryker's story that an outraged General Bailey (Lloyd Nolan) orders his court-martial, but not before Young, the man who convicted Stryker, defends him in his new trial. Complicating matters is the fact that Young and Ann Stryker are falling in love ... Sergeant Ryker is suspenseful, has some intriguing twists and turns, and is well-acted, with Miles and Nolan making the best impression. Dillman is vivid and striking, even if he does overact in some scenes, and Marvin, while not perfect casting, has some very strong moments as well. Murray Hamilton of Jaws gives a typically slimy and obvious performance as another captain and an associate of Young's.

Verdict: Fairly strong television drama turned into a pretty good movie. ***.

KISS AND TELL

Shirley Temple and Jerome Courtland
KISS AND TELL (1945). Director: Richard Wallace. Screenplay by F. Hugh Herbert from his play.

"I think it's all very dumb."

Teenager Corliss Archer (Shirley Temple of Miss Annie Rooney) is a fickle, rather spoiled young lady, but she knows how to keep her mouth shut -- at the wrong time. This is one of those movies when a whole lot of complications could be avoided simply by having the characters reveal the truth, which would certainly make things less of a mess than lying. Corliss' older brother, Lenny (Scott Elliot), has married her best friend, Mildred (Virginia Welles) but are keeping it secret, with the convoluted result that Corliss' parents think she is pregnant [not that that word is ever used!] by her sometime boyfriend, Dexter (Jerome Courtland of Sunny Side of the Street). Of course Corliss doesn't reveal the truth, even though the fact that Mildred is expecting would certainly jettison any plans her parents might have for having the marriage annulled, something that never occurs to the none-too-bright Corliss. if the movie has anything going for it it's the performances, which are swell, with a spirited Temple in the lead, and good back-up from Courtland, Welles, and young Darryl Hickman as Mildred's brother, Raymond, who thinks everything is "very dumb" (and is right in most cases). Walter Abel also scores as Corliss' often apoplectic father. The maid Louise is played by Kathryn Card, Lucy's mother on I Love Lucy. Followed by A Kiss for Corliss in which Hickman took over the role of Dexter. Wallace also directed The Fallen Sparrow and many others.

Verdict: If you can put up with people behaving like nitwits ... **1/2.

GHOST OF ZORRO

Zorro's grandson goes into action!
















GHOST OF ZORRO (12 chapter Republic serial/1949). Director: Fred C. Brannon.

An engineer and "eastern dude" named Ken Mason (Clayton Moore) comes to a small western town to help put in a telegraph line, but certain parties, such as George Crane (Gene Roth) and Hank Kilgore (Roy Barcroft), are opposed to the idea -- it might bring the law to the nest of fugitives who pay Crane protection money. Ken is assisted by Rita White (Pamela Blake) and Moccasin (George J. Lewis of Federal Operator 99). It develops that Ken is the grandson of the original Zorro, and he dresses up and goes into action when Crane's tactics against him and his friends become quite lethal. Rita, for instance, is caught in both a runaway wagon and runaway stagecoach in separate chapters. Ghost of Zorro no doubt employs a lot of stock footage, but it's fast and reasonably entertaining, and the frequent fistfights are certainly well-staged. Tom Steele and Marshall Reed are also in the cast. Pamela Blake was also in The Sea Hound and Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Verdict: Minor-league but acceptable Republic serial. **1/2. 

THE CHALLENGER DISASTER

Professor Feynman (William Hurt) confronts a general















THE CHALLENGER DISASTER (2013 telefilm). Director: James Hawes.

If you're expecting to learn anything about the people who died when the Challenger exploded in 1986, be forewarned that most of their names aren't even mentioned. Instead this TV movie relates how Professor Richard Feynman (William Hurt of The Village), a physicist, was called in to sit on a panel investigating possible reasons for the disaster. Things are complicated by bureaucracy, the missile's "crazy engineering," as Feynman puts it, and the fact that NASA seems to be in conflict with the Air Force. Is it possible the former was warned not to launch the challenger missile in temperatures below 53 degrees, and did so anyway? A man named Macdonald (Robert Hobbs) comes forward to offer compelling and damaging evidence, and then disappears. Feynman, who is dealing with serious cancer issues of his own, cuts through the red tape and cover-up at a televised press conference (some of which is shown at the very end of the movie). Hurt's portrayal of the professor is perhaps overly rumpled and fussy in an attempt to add a little flavoring, but he basically gives a solid performance. Brian Dennehy [The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone] is fine as the head of the commission, as is Hobbs as Macdonald, and Bruce Greenwood [Nowhere Man] as General Kutyna.

Verdict: Small-scale but effective. ***.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

STRANGE IMPERSONATION

STRANGE IMPERSONATION (1946). Director: Anthony Mann.

Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) has developed a new anesthesia (although if it only lasts for an hour it can hardly be used in most operations), and wants to test it on herself. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize that her assistant Arline (Hillary Brooke) has much more sinister plans. Like something out of an EC horror story from the fifties, Nora is a good person whose life becomes embroiled in tragedy due to the nasty actions of another person. [Unfortunately, this film doesn't have a clever or exacting EC payoff; in fact the ending may make you groan.] Marshall, who was married to William Holden for thirty years, gives a good performance, as does Brooke in one of her most unsympathetic roles. William Gargan is fine in an unusual turn as a doctor who's in love with Nora, and Ruth Ford [Lady Gangster] is vivid as a drunk woman who walks into Nora's car and later becomes a nuisance and worse. Strange Impersonation has an interesting plot and some good twists, but it's distinctly minor and not well developed. Mary Treen appears as an overly cheerful nurse and Lyle Talbot is a homicide detective. Mann later directed The Furies with Barbara Stanwyck and many others. Marshall starred as Singapore Woman five years earlier.

Verdict: Fraught with possibilities but too cheap and minor-league. **.

THE STRANGE DOOR

Laughton vs Karloff in a fight to the finish!
THE STRANGE DOOR (1951). Director: Joseph Pevney.

"Don't think badly of me. Family affection was never my strong point."

"I'm sorry I can't invite you to the wedding, but I fear a man who's been dead for twenty years might cast a gloom over the company."

"The Sire De Maletroit's Door" is not one of Robert Louis Stevenson's more memorable short stories, but it was expanded into this interesting film which teams Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff and turns them into adversaries. Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley/Wyler) is on the run from a murder charge when he happens upon an entrance to De Maletroit's manor house that locks firmly behind him. De Maletroit, sitting calmly in his parlor, informs Denis that he is his nephew -- by marriage -- and a sort of shotgun wedding is in the offer. Seems De Maletroit has a pretty niece, Blanche, (Sally Forrest), who is in love with a man who vanished, but whom her uncle wants married to a mountebank so as to make her life miserable. His motives become clearer as the film progresses, climaxing with a wild scene in a dungeon with a cell whose walls slowly and inexorably come closing together. Laughton is as wonderful as ever, Karloff is fine as a manservant who is loyal to another, and Stapley is okay, although Sally Forrest is more decorative than anything else. The Strange Door is not a great movie, and one might have wished for more interaction between its two famous stars, but Laughton is given some great dialogue and delivers it with his customary aplomb.

Verdict: Anything with these two ... ***.

WE'RE IN THE MONEY

Blondell and Farrell
WE'RE IN THE MONEY (1935). Director: Ray Enright.

Ginger (Joan Blondell) and Dixie (Glenda Farrell) are process servers for dithery lawyer Homer Bronson (Hugh Herbert). Their latest assignment is to serve papers on a host of men who are being sued for breach of promise by the same Frenchwoman, Claire LeClaire (Anita Kerry), who was actually born in Brooklyn. Using various tricks and clever maneuvers, the gals are able to pass on the subpoenas, but there's an awkward snag when it turns out that the "chauffeur" Ginger is dating, and is in love with, is actually wealthy Richard Courtney (Ross Alexander), one of the litigants! We're in the Money is an amusing, well-played comedy with the ladies in top form, and good support from Kerry, Herbert [The Black Cat] and Alexander, as well as Lionel Stander and Phil Regan as two more of LeClaire's victims. One of the best scenes has Ginger serving Regan as he entertains in a nightclub. Enright also directed River's End.

Verdict: Cute and snappy. ***.

VICKI

Crain, Reid, Peters and Showalter in a tense moment
VICKI (1953). Director: Harry Horner.

From the start we learn that a model-actress named Vicki Lynn (Jean Peters) has been murdered, while the rest of the movie explores who might have done the deed and provides flashbacks (supposedly) illuminating the woman and her friends and acquaintances. Among them are her sister, Jill (Jeanne Crain), manager Steve (Elliott Reid), boyfriend Larry (Max Showalter/Casey Adams), ham actor Robin (Alexander D'Arcy), and even a grizzled, homely and obsessed cop named Ed Cornell (Richard Boone) who is relentless in his pursuit of one particular suspect. A nerdy room manager named Harry is a bit overacted by Aaron Spelling, who found much greater success as a television producer years later. This lower case rip-off of Laura features a low-rent cast, superficial characterizations, and an utterly mediocre performance from Boone. The other actors are okay, with Peters, who has been better elsewhere, un-riveting in the central role; four years later she married Howard Hughes and made no more theatrical films. Crain and Peters were also together in Take Care of My Little Girl. Horner also directed The Wild Party.

Verdict: Probably not even Clifton Webb could have saved this from the scrapheap. **.

FALCON CREST Season 3



















FALCON CREST Season 3. 1983. CBS-TV.

This nighttime soap opera continued to be very entertaining for its third season, and netted star Jane Wyman a well-deserved Emmy for her role of ruthless, if somewhat human, Angela Channing. This season introduced two new major characters, only one of whom would prove long-lasting: Cliff Robertson was brought in to play Chase Gioberti's cousin, Michael, and Laura Johnson was cast as Maggie Gioberti's younger trouble-making sister and ex-call girl, Terry. Many scenes were devoted to the [literal] trials and tribulations of Angela's daughter, Julia (Abby Dalton), both in and out of prison, and a battle over a race track that Richard Channing (David Selby) wants to build. The sinister secret organization, the Cartel, rears its ugly head and makes trouble for Richard and his new personal assistant, Pamela (Sarah Douglas), and there's an ugly custody battle for little Joseph, the son of Cole (Billy Moses) and Melissa (Ana Alicia). Although more "moral" than his half-brother Richard, Chase (Robert Foxworth) proves to be a bit priggish  and hypocritical, and at times almost as "it's my way or the highway" in his attitude as his Aunt Angela, while both he and Maggie (Susan Sullivan) develop serious health issues [all of which are dispensed with rather quickly]. Terry and Angela's likable if odd daughter Emma (Margaret Ladd) struggle for Michael's love, but it's really no contest. In other developments Angela's lawyer Philip (Mel Ferrer) has quite a few tricks up his sleeve, and handsome sheriff Dan Robbins (Joe Lambie) gets more to do than in previous seasons, as does Chao Li-Chi as Angela's very helpful manservant. There's skulduggery regarding the late Jacqueline Perrault's (Lana Turner) will and rather hateful background, and more intrigue surrounding Chase's doctor, played by Ron Rifkin of Alias. Other guest-stars include Pat Crowley as an anesthesiologist, Ken Tobey as a family court judge, Geoffrey Lewis as a boyfriend of Julia's, and Whit Bissell as a businessman who is threatened by the loathsome Lance (Lorenzo Lamas) during the custody hearing. The most hilarious scene has the nutty Julia going to confession [talk about the blind leading the blind!] and the most tiresome storyline has to do with a kidnapping late in the season. The performances are all pretty solid, with Robertson doing a good job as Michael, but Wyman as Angela definitely rules the roost. Dalton is okay delineating the twists and turns of her weird character, but ultimately she's just not that impressive.

Verdict: This soaper continues to be much fun. ***.

BRIDELESS GROOM

Voice Professor Shemp Howard councils Ms. Dinklemeyer
BRIDELESS GROOM (1947). Director: Edward Bernds.

Before the Three Stooges got their television program, they made many short comedies that were shown in theaters. These were often funny and inventive and constitute the stooges' golden age. In Brideless Groom, Professor Shemp Howard is a voice coach with an impossibly shrill and awful pupil named Miss Dinkelmeyer (Dee Green), who is in love with him. He suggets that she "gargle with razor blades." It develops that Shemp will inherit half a million bucks if he gets married by six o'clock, but he ignores the nuptially-anxious Dinkelmeyer in favor of more attractive ladies who have no desire to tie the knot with him -- until they learn about the loot! Larry Fine and Moe Howard try to assist in the search for a willing bride, and there's a frenetic climax when money-hungry dames converge on the groom just before the ceremony and almost turn into literal battle-axes! The boys are in top form in this very funny 17 minute short.

Verdict: Zany antics with the stooges.

THE WOLVERINE

Logan struggles to stay on bullet train










THE WOLVERINE (2013). Director: James Mangold.

Logan, the mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) from the X-Men, is determined to give up his violent ways after being forced to kill Jean Gray in X-Men: Last Stand. But this is a vow he has trouble keeping when he's summoned to Japan to say goodbye to a now-aged Japanese man, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) whose life he saved in Nagasaki during WW2. [Wolverine's healing factor keeps him forever young.] Yashida has studied mutants, and Wolverine in particular, and wants to steal away his immortality if he can. Wolverine is aided by a young lady with psychic powers named Yukio (Rita Fukushima) and tries to protect Yashida's grand-daughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), from attacks by the criminal organization, Yakuza, and a nasty lady mutant called Viper who has a literally poisonous tongue and can suck away men's life forces with a kiss. Late in the movie what appears at first to be a robot Silver Samurai shows up to engage Wolverine in battle. The Wolverine is a fairly standard action/super-hero movie with little new in it, and is not as good as the character's first solo feature nor such films as X-Men: First Class. It has one near-thrilling sequence when Logan has a battle with an assassin atop a speeding bullet train and the two engage in some nifty acrobatics while trying to kill one another, but the rest of the movie isn't on that level. There's a post-credit sequence wherein Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) make an appearance [presumably leading into X-Men: Last Stand]. Jackman has nailed the character perfectly and turns in a very good performance, and the supporting cast, especially Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, are generally arresting.

Verdict: If you've seen one Wolverine, you've seen them all. **1/2.