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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

ANOTHER WOMAN

Gena Rowlands
ANOTHER WOMAN (1988). Writer/director: Woody Allen.

"I accept your condemnation."

Marion (Gena Rowlands) takes an apartment to work on her latest book in peace but discovers she can hear conversations in the next-door psychiatrist's office through a vent. One particular patient stands out in her mind, Hope (Mia Farrow), whom she eventually meets. In the meantime she has encounters of varying kinds with her partially estranged brother, Paul (Harris Yulin); her aged father (John Houseman); an old friend-actress (Sandy Dennis of That Cold Day in the Park), who tells her their long separation was deliberate on her part; and her husband Ken (Ian Holm), who seems strangely disinterested in love-making. There are also flashbacks to her conversations with such as Larry (Gene Hackman), a friend of Ken's who fell in love with her. Another Woman is extremely well-acted, has excellent dialogue, is handsomely photographed by Sven Nykvist, and certainly holds the attention, but it may not deliver the pay-off the viewer is expecting. Perhaps the movie, which is apparently meant to look at the life of a woman who keeps her feelings too much in control, is too subtle to have major impact. Rowlands [The Skeleton Key] gives an outstanding performance, however, which is most of the film's pleasure, and there are also excellent performances by Sandy Dennis (her confrontation with Rowlands in a bar is one of the best scenes in the movie) and a wonderful John Houseman [Murder By Phone]. Betty Buckley has a well-played bit as Ken's ex-wife, who shows up in the middle of a party. and causes an understandable scene. Allen has created real characters, but that doesn't mean his characterization is always incisive, and we really don't get to know any of these people, including Marion, well enough to give a damn about any of them.

Verdict: The acting puts this over and it is certainly absorbing despite its flaws. *** out of 4.

THEATER OF BLOOD

Diana Rigg and Vincent Price
THEATER OF BLOOD (1973). Director: Douglas Hickox.

"A mumbling, incoherent boy who can barely grunt his way through a speech" -- Edward Lionheart.

"It's Lionheart all right. Only he wold have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare." -- Devlin.

Actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) supposedly committed suicide after losing the coveted Critics' Circle Award, but it turns out that he is still alive and killing off those same critics -- with the help of his daughter, Edwina (Diana Rigg) -- in ways related to Shakespeare's plays. Theater of Blood followed Price's Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again and is similarly gruesome and playful -- not to mention revenge-motivated --  although perhaps not as much fun as the other pictures. Price is terrific as Lionheart, ably supported by Diana Rigg as his daughter. even if she isn't given much of a character to play. There are more than its share of over-the-top moments in this: a grotesque beheading sequence (from Cymberline) is an example of the blackest of black comedy; and the death of flamboyantly gay Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley), forced to devour his own "babies" (actually, beloved poodles) until he chokes on dog meat, as in Titus Andronicus, is unbelievably sadistic (not to mention rather homophobic). Speaking of gay stereotypes, the closeted Price has fun playing a campy hairdresser named "Butch" who fatally spit- curls critic Chloe Moon, played by Price's then-wife Coral Browne [The Legend of Lylah Clare], in a salon. Ian Hendry, Jack Hawkins [Land of the Pharaohs], Arthur Lowe, Michael Hordern, Robert Coote and Dennis Price [Your Past Is Showing] are all notable as assorted victims, as is Milo O'Shea as the baffled police inspector on the case, and Joan Hickson as the wife who wakes up with a headless corpse in her bed. One has to wonder: was Lionheart really as mediocre an actor as everyone says, or were the critics out to get him for one reason or another?

Verdict: One of the most diabolical and gruesome of revenge thrillers with many darkly amusing moments. *** out of 4.

CRACK IN THE WORLD

Kieron Moore and Janette Scott
CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965). Director: Andrew Marton.

Dr. Stephen Sorenson (Dana Andrews) and his team have developed a way to bring magma to the surface for a variety of energy needs, but an atomic bomb must be shot down into the core for it to work. Dr. Ted Rampion (Kieron Moore) is opposed to the idea, sure that it will cause massive earthquakes and severe structural damage to the earth. Guess who's right? A fissure is formed in the Mercedo trench which threatens to stretch at 3.5. miles an hour and could literally tear the world apart. Complicating matters is the fact that Rampion used to be the lover of Sorenson's wife, Maggie (Janette Scott), herself a scientist. Crack in the World sets up an exciting premise but has too low a budget to do it justice, relying on stock footage and only really coming alive in the final few moments. The performances are fine, however, with the under-rated Dana Andrews [Where the Sidewalk Ends] giving another good account of himself, and Moore [Satellite in the Sky] and Scott [Paranoiac] on top of things. Alexander Knox is also fine as Sir Charles Eggerston, who heads the committee that determines whether or not the rocket should be fired. Most of the film's excitement comes from the score by John Douglas. The love triangle business isn't especially convincing.

Verdict: An early disaster film that didn't start a trend. **1/2.

THE GIRL FROM 10TH AVENUE

Bette Davis and Ian Hunter
THE GIRL FROM 10TH AVENUE (1935). Director: Alfred E. Green.

Geoff Sherwood (Ian Hunter) has been tossed over by his fiancee Valentine (Katharine Alexander) for a wealthier man, John (Colin Clive of Bride of Frankenstein). On her wedding day Geoff gets good and drunk and encounters the sympathetic Miriam (Bette Davis), who eventually imbibes with him and winds up getting married to him that very night. Miriam agrees that he can end the marriage whenever he wants to, but she sticks to him as the weeks go by. Then Valentine, dissatisfied with her marriage to John, comes a'calling ... The young Bette Davis appeared in many forgettable movies but The Girl from 10th Avenue is actually not a bad picture. Davis is terrific and luminescent as Miriam, and she not only has credible support from Hunter [Call It a Day] and an excellent Colin Clive, but a very good playmate in Alison Skipworth [The Devil is a Woman] as her landlady, Mrs. Martin. The best and funniest scene in the movie has Miriam telling off the rather horse-faced Valentine in the dining room of the Waldorf-Astoria. John Eldredge and Phillip Reed also have small roles as Geoff's friends, and Mary Treen shows up briefly as well.

Verdict: Not bad early Bette. ***.

DESTINATION MURDER

Stanley Clements and Myrna Dell
DESTINATION MURDER (1950). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

Jackie Wales (Stanley Clements) is hired by club owner and mob boss Armitage (Albert Dekker) to murder a man named Mansfield. His daughter Laura (Joyce Mackenzie) witnesses the hit, recognizes the shooter, and tries to get more on him for the police by working at Armitage's club as a cigarette girl. Meanwhile Wales thinks nothing of dating the daughter of the man he murdered in cold blood. Wales and Armitage's girlfriend, Alice (Myrna Dell), who actually has a hankering for the club manager Stretch Norton (Hurd Hatfield), have cooked up a very dangerous blackmail scheme. Destination Murder is a snappy and happily unpredictable B crime thriller that just misses being really special. There are good performances by Clements, Hatfield and Dekker [Middle of the Night]; John Dehner as a suspect and potential victim; James Flavin as the Inspector on the case; and especially Myrna Dell [The Lost Tribe] as the calculating and hard-hearted Alice. Dekker takes a belt to Clements' face at one point, and there are other interesting sequences. Hatfield of The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite effective as a gangster type.

Verdict: Absorbing crime thriller with some good and unexpected twists. *** out of 4.

THE MANSTER

Tetsu Nakamura
THE MANSTER (1959). Directors: George P. Breakstone; Kenneth G. Crane.

Dr. Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura) is a mad scientist who experimented -- with their foolish permission -- on his wife and brother, with hideous results. Now he decides to surreptitiously give a formula to Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley), a foreign correspondent located near Tokyo. The first thing to change is Larry's attitude, as he cruelly blows off his visiting wife, Linda (Jane Hylton), takes up with Suzuki's sexy assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern), and pretty much turns into a highly disagreeable drunk, much to the consternation of his boss, Ian (Norman Van Hawley). What's worse, one of his hands turns gross and hairy, but in the film's most startling scene, Larry sees an eyeball peeking out of his shoulder! Seems there's another creature growing right inside of Larry's body (shades of The Manitou). This is not a dubbed Japanese film despite the setting and many of the cast members, but an American-Japanese co-production spoken in English (at least in this version). The Manster is also an interesting and atmospheric horror flick with some laughable moments to be sure, but also a fair amount of creepiness and suspense. Dyneley amassed 86 credits and Hylton 75. Nakamura appeared in a number of Japanese horror and monster films, including The H Man. This was the only film credit for both Zimmern and Van Hawley.

Verdict: Watch out for that peeping eyeball! *** out of 4.

ANT-MAN

ANT-MAN (2015). Director: Peyton Reed.

In the comics, the original Ant-Man was one Henry Pym (Michael Douglas), a neurotic scientist who would become Giant-Man, Yellowjacket etc. and have more than one nervous breakdown. One day an ex-con named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) stole Pym's shrinking formula and costume so he could save his kidnapped daughter -- Pym let him keep the Ant-Man identity. There have been some modifications to that storyline in this film, in which Pym pretty much picks Lang out to be his, at first, unwilling and terrified replacement. The villain in this is Darren Cross (Corey Stoll of House of Cards), who dons his own Yellowjacket outfit to take on Ant-Man in the climax. [Cross was also the villain in the aforementioned comic book story]. The third major character is Pym's daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) -- she does not exist in the comic books -- who is itching to go into action herself instead of Lang [she gets her chance in the upcoming sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp]. Cross wants to sell Pym's technology to the bad guys, which could definitely cause problems for everyone else. The film is consistently entertaining, has fine special effects work, and is quite well-acted, especially by Douglas, whose solidity holds all the absurdities together. Abby Ryder Fortson makes a cute Cassie, Lang's little daughter; Bobby Cannavale [Blue Jasmine]  is fine as her stepfather, a cop named Paxton; and Anthony Mackie puts in an interesting performance as the Falcon. Read more about Ant-Man in the comics in The Silver Age of Comics.

Verdict: While this is no classic like The Incredible Shrinking Man, it's still a fun movie. *** out of 4.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Producer/director: Frank Capra.

"Youth is wasted on the wrong people."

Facing what he sees as the worst crisis of his life, suicidal George Bailey (James Stewart) attracts the attention of an angel, Clarence (Henry Travers of Dark Victory), who reviews his past history while up above, then descends to earth to show George what life would have been like for everyone if he had never been born. This fantasy comedy-drama is a wonderful if imperfect picture with a terrific performance from Stewart and a marvelous supporting cast. Bailey is certainly a flawed hero, which makes him more interesting -- and perhaps less sympathetic -- as a character. If, to paraphrase, the measure of a man isn't what happens to him him but how he reacts to it, then George certainly fails the test. When $8000.00 disappears and George realizes he and his business can be ruined, and he might even face criminal charges, he takes it out on his wife and children, and even screams at some poor teacher on the other end of the phone when he goes home. In real life people have faced worse situations and still kept their heads, but poor George simply becomes hysterical. Part of this, of course, is because George never wanted to stay in the little town of Bedford Falls and take over his father's business, Bailey Building and Loan, in the first place; and his frustrations have finally caught up with him [it's possible that not quite enough is done with this aspect of the story]. One could also wonder why, if George no longer exists, and no one in town can recognize him, they can still see and talk to him. The business with George's wife, Mary (Donna Reed) turning into a stereotypical old maid (if he was never born) complete with glasses and drab hair is unintentionally comical, and most of the business with Clarence, especially the prologue in heaven, is rather tiresome. Still the movie is well-made, very well-directed by Capra, beautifully photographed [you must see the crisp new digitally remastered version to fully appreciate this], and has several superior performances in addition to Stewart's. Thomas Mitchell is excellent as Uncle Billy, who misplaces the money and is cruelly treated by his nephew. Lionel Barrymore is the cackling personification of hate and greediness as Mr. Potter (who never does get his comeuppance). H. B. Warner [City of Missing Girls] scores in his sad portrait of the druggist, George's employer, who is mourning his son and nearly makes a fatal error. There are also nice moments from Lillian Randolph as the wise Bailey maid, Annie; Robert J. Anderson as young George; and Todd Karns [Andy Hardy's Private Secretary] as George's brother, Harry. The movie is full of interesting touches, such as the menagerie Billy keeps in his office, including that persistent crow, and the squirrel that climbs on his shoulder as if in sympathy.

Verdict: That ending is pure fantasy all right, but if you take it with a grain of salt this is still an entertaining and admirable picture. ***1/2.

VIOLENT ROAD

Dick Foran and Ann Doran
VIOLENT ROAD (1958). Director: Howard W. Koch.

A runaway missile explodes in a small town, causing many deaths, necessitating the move of the local company that fired the missile to another location. Rocket fuel, which is comprised of many dangerous and acidic chemicals which can "burn a man alive," has to be transported over difficult terrain, and six men are chosen to be the drivers. These include George (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) whose family was lost in the blast; Frank (Dick Foran), who has a tragically bitter quarrel with his wife (Ann Doran) before leaving; Manuelo (Perry Lopez of The Steel Jungle), who needs the money from the trip to become an engineer; the world-weary Ben (Arthur Batanides); and Mitch (Brian Keith), a foot-loose adventurer without much of a past.  Ken Farley (Sean Garrison), the sixth driver, replaces his sad, drunken brother (John Dennis) when he's too hungover to drive. Along the way there are harrowing incidents, such as a runaway bus, brake failures, tumbling rocks, and acid spills, as well as flashbacks that tell us more about these individuals. Violent Road is clearly an unacknowledged rip-off of the far superior French film The Wages of Fear -- which was also remade as Sorcerer -- but it has its moments if taken on its own terms. One stand-out sequence is a tender and tragic moment between Frank and his wife, with an outstanding performance from Ann Doran [Meet John Doe]. Dick Foran is also excellent, and Keith also makes his mark, as does John Dennis in the early scenes. Sean Garrison also makes an impression as the handsome and cocky Kenny. If there's any problem with the movie it's that it seems to lack a real climax and ends much too abruptly. Peter Brown has a small but effective role as a marine, and Merry Anders is fine as a woman who picks Mitch up on the road.

Verdict: Not that explosive, and highly unoriginal, but tense and absorbing nonetheless. *** out of 4.

JENNIFER (1953)

Ida Lupino
JENNIFER (1953). Director: Joel Newton.

In this strange suspense film, Agnes Langsley (Ida Lupino) gets a job as caretaker at an abandoned estate because, for some reason, she wants to be alone. In spite of this she meets and keeps company with Jim Hollis (Howard Duff), who owns the general store in the town near the estate. When Agnes learns that the last caretaker, a young woman named Jennifer who was the cousin of the house's current owner, simply vanished one afternoon, she's intrigued enough to investigate, but seems more obsessed than merely curious. There are vague hints of the supernatural or something weird going on, especially in the ending, but nothing much is made of it. One supposes this is why Lupino plays the role like she's compelled for some reason to seek out the truth about Jennifer -- it's a strange performance, frankly, but not a bad one -- and the mystery of who Agnes is and why she's buried herself away is never quite resolved. (There's also the fact that Agnes never actually seems to do anything in her role as caretaker.) One could argue that the mystery over Jennifer isn't, either. Still, this is fairly absorbing, not badly acted, and has some creepy sequences, such as a search for Jennifer's body underground. The movie does get across the impression that there's something just out of sight, and the obtuse conclusion is borderline chilling. Robert Nichols plays Hollis' clerk, Orin, Mary Shipp is Agnes' employer, Lorna, and singer Matt Dennis plays himself in a lounge sequence. He sings and also composed the memorable tune, "Angel Eyes." James Wong Howe was the director of photography and also co-directed The Invisible Avenger. Lupino [The Bigamist] and Duff [Spaceways] got married two years before this film was made, and didn't divorce until 1984.

Verdict: Oddly compelling sort of mystery. **1/2 out of 4.

THE BRIGHTON STRANGLER

John Loder and Michael St. Angel
THE BRIGHTON STRANGLER (1945). Director: Max Nosseck.

Reginald Parker (John Loder of Old Acquaintance) has made a name for himself playing Edward Grey, the notorious Brighton Strangler, on the London stage. When he is hit on the head during the blitz, he loses his memory, is presumed dead, and imagines he really is Edward Grey, with highly unfortunate results. "Grey" takes the train to Brighton where -- between murders -- he is befriended by April (June Duprez of The Thief of Bagdad) and her family. April has a secret husband in Bob Carson (Michael St. Angel), who begins to suspect that there's something wrong with the pleasant Mr. Grey. The Brighton Strangler is a minor thriller, but it does have moments of genuine suspense and several interesting sequences, the best-handled of which is the murder of Inspector Allison (Miles Mander) in his own home. The performers all give competent if second-rate performances. Although Rose Hobart [Conflict] isn't bad as Dorothy, the playwright and Parker's girlfriend, there is one especially tense sequence in which Hobart -- "Dorothy" having learned that Parker is not only alive but may be strangling people -- registers all the emotion of someone ordering dinner in a restaurant. Ian Wolfe plays the ill-fated Brighton mayor. Michael St. Angel also appeared in The Velvet Touch using the name Steven Flagg.

Verdict:  Stay out of Brighton. **1/2.

STOLEN: ONE HUSBAND aka I WANT HIM BACK

Valerie Harper
STOLEN: ONE HUSBAND (aka I Want Him Back/1990 telefilm). Director: Catlin Adams.

"I don't want what's rightfully mine -- I want what's his!"

Martin Slade (Elliott Gould of Ocean's Thirteen), married for over twenty years to wife Katherine (Valerie Harper), enters into an affair with his daughter's mentor, Samantha (Brenda Bakke), who is much younger of course, and eventually asks Katherine for a divorce. Katherine at first seems to blame her daughter, Jennie (Julie Warner) and spends her time stuffing her face with junk food. Then she and her best friend Lisa (Brenda Vaccaro) begin a harassment campaign against Martin and Samantha, but this begins to backfire when she finds herself legally locked out of her house ... Stolen: One Husband is a very entertaining and quite well-acted (especially by the wonderful Harper) made-for-TV dramedy that explores the situation of middle-aged women who have been cast off by their husbands but still love them. The movie does enter the world of pure fantasy when Katherine is told by an attractive and personable cosmetic surgeon, Peter (Bruce Davison of X-Men), that not only does she not need surgery (which she doesn't), but even asks her out to dinner -- sure, that happens to cast-off wives all the time! Valentina Quinn is fun as Imelda, the housekeeper, and Paul Joseph McKenna has a nice bit as the sympathetic and romantically-inclined bartender, Joe. The main problem with the movie is that Martin treats both women in his life so horribly, never considering their feelings, that it's unlikely that Katherine would ever consider taking him back. The ending makes a good point about divorcees realizing that they don't have to make the husband the center of their existence.

Verdict: Watch out for younger bimbos! *** out of 4.

AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE

Al Hill (?) and Chester Morris
AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE (1943). Director: Lew Landers.

"Diamond" Ed Barnaby (Walter Baldwin) gets out a jail and reunites with his grown daughter, Betty (Ann Savage of What a Woman), and tells her he has some diamonds set aside for her future. He tries to leave town for his own protection but is murdered before he can do so. Betty comes to Ed's old friend Boston Blackie (Chester Morris) for help, which he is eager to provide. Boston tries to find the diamonds, discover who murdered Ed, protect his daughter, and stay out of the way of Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) and his associate Mathews (Walter Sande), who still think Boston is some kind of hoodlum despite many evidences to the contrary. Cy Kendall is competent but typically uninteresting as an obese crime lord. Dick Elliott [Up in the Air] and Lloyd Corrigan are also in the cast. A sub-plot has Boston's pal, the Runt (George E. Stone) engaged to a bubble dancer, Dixie Rose Blossom (Jan Buckingham), whose wedding keeps being interrupted.

Verdict: A standard, mildly entertaining BB adventure. **1/2 out of 4.

MEGA PIRANHA

Paul Logan 
MEGA PIRANHA (2010 telefilm). Writer/director: Eric Forsberg.

Down in Venezuela genetics scientist Sarah Monroe (Tiffany), for utterly unaccountable reasons, has helped create a species of "sturdier" piranha fish. Naturally, these fish escape from the lab and begin to wreak havoc along the Amazon. Worse, the fish keep getting bigger and bigger -- at one point they're large enough to take down a battleship! -- and it develops that they can live in fresh water as well, letting them rampage in the ocean and attack Miami. Secretary of State Bob Grady (Barry Williams) assigns Jason Fitch (Paul Logan) to track down and destroy the piranha which, understandably, takes some doing. Although mostly played straight, Mega Piranha is a zany, somewhat amusing monster flick with competent acting, cheesy FX, and a degree of suspense, and you have to see a host of giant piranha literally leaping out of the water to believe it. On the other hand, there's a little too much running around by the principles, mostly consisting of scenes of Monroe and Fitch being chased by angry Venezuelan authorities, and the pace -- which is generally pretty fast -- begins to drag. David Labiosa is fine as Colonel Antonio Diaz, however, and the movie is fun in a limited way. While gruesome at times, it is never as vomitous as its obvious inspiration, Piranha 3D. There is no real attempt at characterization in the movie -- no surprise given the Syfy Channel's usual offerings.

Verdict: You can't keep a good piranha down! **1/2.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

ENCHANTMENT

David Niven and Evelyn Keyes
ENCHANTMENT (1948). Director: Irving Reis.

During the London blitz an elderly man, Rollo (David Niven of The Pink Panther) thinks back on his life after he meets his niece, Grizel (Evelyn Keyes), who is an ambulance driver. Flashbacks tell the story of how Lark (Teresa Wright) came to his house in childhood after her parents were killed in an accident. A grown-up Rollo and Lark fall in love, but there is interference from Rollo's jealous sister, Selina (Jayne Meadows). Rollo tries to convince Grizel not to turn away from love with a soldier, Pax (Farley Granger), just because she was once hurt, sparing her his fate. I wanted to like Enchantment but somehow this romantic movie just doesn't work for me for several reasons. The going back and forth from the past to WW2 becomes tiresome, the characters never seem that dimensional, and Lark's actions and subsequent fate are slightly mystifying. The acting isn't bad, although Jayne Meadows plays her character like an all-too-obvious villainess. Gigi Perreau (introduced in this picture, although she'd appeared in several earlier films) and Peter Miles [Possessed] are excellent as Lark and Rollo as children. Miles was Perreau's brother and was also in The Red Pony and The Betty Hutton Show. Sherlee Collier is also good as Selina as a child; she died at only 35.

Verdict: Star-crossed but unconvincing love story. **.

3000TH POST

Yep, we've reached 3000 posted reviews/articles on GREAT OLD MOVIES. Many thanks for reading, and for your comments and emails.

Coming up soon: a week's worth of dinosaur movies; B movie series; jungle pictures; and more -- plus more reviews of old movies -- great, bad and in-between (everything from Gone With the Wind and Casablanca to those cheapie creepies we hate to love) -- along with book reviews; commentaries on stars and trends; and so forth. And other fun stuff as well!

Everyone have HAPPY HOLIDAYS and a great 2016!  -- Bill Schoell

FOLLOW THE BOYS (1963)

Russ Tamblyn and Paula Prentriss
FOLLOW THE BOYS (1963). Director: Richard Thorpe.

Liz (Janis Paige) and Bonnie (Connie Francis) are "sea gulls" who follow their Naval husbands around from port to port, grabbing what moments of intimacy they can. Bonnie is a newlywed married to Billy (Roger Perry of Count Yorga, Vampire), while Liz's husband is a Lt. Commander (Ron Randell of Most Dangerous Man Alive). who hopes to become admiral. Unfortunately, Liz is more interested in settling down with him and starting a family. In the meantime Toni (Paula Prentiss), a wealthy woman, shows up claiming she is engaged to playboy Lt. Langley (Richard Long); her parents hope to make a strictly business match that will increase everyone's coffers. Finally Michele (Dany Robin) is anxious to meet up with Langley herself, although for unexpected reasons. Assigned to escort Michele, seaman Smitty (Russ Tamblyn) winds up falling for Toni and vice versa. The actors are all professional, with Tamblyn [The War of the Gargantuas] and Prentiss making an appealing couple, and while the movie threatens to become another Connie Francis Movie it never quite gets there, despite a couple of song numbers. Francis is too self-consciously "cute" by far in this, and while it has some good scenes and entertaining moments, Follow the Boys eventually becomes an effort to sit through. The most interesting thing about the movie is Langely's recipe for a Torpedo: one part each of rum, vodka, brandy and creme de menthe, with a maraschino cherry, cucumber slice, lemon peel, a piece of orange, and bitters added for good measure. Having two of these beforehand may definitely make this or any other movie more entertaining!

Verdict: Torpedo this one! **.

HOUSE OF WOMEN

Jason Evers, Margaret Hayes, Andrew  Duggan, Jeanne Cooper
HOUSE OF WOMEN (1962). Director: Walter Doniger.

Obviously having had a very bad lawyer, Erica Hayden (Shirley Knight) winds up in a women's penitentiary even though she was unaware that her boyfriend was going to commit a robbery as she simply waited in the car. Now she's pregnant, and learns that she'll have to give the child up for adoption if she doesn't get paroled in a certain amount of time. Her fellow inmates include Sophie (Constance Ford), who has a little boy -- children are allowed to stay with their mothers in the prison! -- dizzy former stripper Candy (Barbara Nichols); Addie (Jennifer Howard), a stereotypical lesbian; among others, and the staff consists of new warden Frank Cole (Andrew Duggan); tippling Doctor Conrad (Jason Evers); administrator Zoe (Margaret Hayes); and stern guard Helen (Jeanne Cooper). Other characters include Mrs. Hunter (Virginia Gregg), who serves on the parole board; and Mrs. Stevens (Jacqueline Scott), who is a social worker. Complications develop when Cole falls in love with Erica and he cruelly takes revenge upon her, but the real breaking point comes when the stupid Mrs. Stevens takes away Erica's little girl to foster care a day early -- and just before the child's now-canceled birthday party no less! The situations are awfully contrived in this nonetheless entertaining movie that is basically an imitation of Caged. Duggan, Evers [The Brain that Wouldn't Die], Hayes, Gregg, and others are fine, but Knight [The Couch] underplays terribly; Ford is surprisingly perfunctory during some difficult sequences; and Nichols doesn't quite deliver the goods in her big scene when she makes a speech to the parole board. The movie does boast a suspenseful climax when Ford and the others take over the prison! Walter Doniger also directed The Steel Jungle.

Verdict: If nothing else it's fun -- with some good sequences. ***.

COUNTERPLOT

Allison Hayes
COUNTERPLOT (1959). Director: Kurt Neumann.

Brock Miller (Forrest Tucker) is hiding out in San Juan after being accused of murdering a man in New York who owed him money. He has befriended a boy named Manuel (Jackie Wayne), and has a girlfriend, a singer, named Connie (Allison Hayes). Fritz Bergmann (Gerald Milton) a portly lawyer and apparent owner of the club where Connie works, has knowledge that might clear Brock, but there's interference from the victim's business partner, Ben Murdock (Richard Verney). Spargo (Miquel Angel Alvarez) tries to play both men against each other for a price. It all comes together for a final shoot-out. Counterplot has some good acting in it, especially from the dynamic Milton, and Allison Hayes, the 50-foot Woman herself, is warmer and more sympathetic than usual. Jackie Wayne is a talented and appealing child actor who appeared in the original stage production of "Damn Yankees;" Counterplot is his only movie credit. Milton was mostly a television actor who also appeared in Unknown Terror. Forrest Tucker [Fresh from Paris] basically plays the same dull "Forrest Tucker" character. Photographed by Karl Struss [Sunrise], who did many films with director Neumann .

Verdict: A melodrama that holds the attention but never quite catches fire. **1/2.

THE PHANTOM SPEAKS

Richard Arlen and Pierre Watkin
THE PHANTOM SPEAKS (1945). Director: John English.

A nutty doctor named Paul Rudwick (Stanley Ridges) thinks he can bring back the spirits of the dead, and tests his theory on a convicted murderer, Bogardus (Tom Powers of I Love Trouble), after he has just been executed. It never occurs to this fool that the soul of this extremely dangerous murderer can take over the doctor's mind, which is what happens, with the result that Rudwick starts tracking down and murdering all of Bogardus's enemies. Reporter Matt Fraser (Richard Arlen of Island of Lost Souls) is engaged to Joan (Lynne Roberts of Because of You) the doctor's daughter, while Pierre Watkins plays Fraser's boss, Davis. This is a cheap Republic production that somehow manages to hold the viewer's attention despite the fact that it's pretty much by the numbers, unoriginal, and predictable; if only the basic story had been developed more. Ridges is effective as the decidedly dumb doctor who pays a terrible price for his stupidity and irresponsibility. This is practically a remake of Black Friday, the Lugosi-Karloff film in which Ridges also played a decent man taken over by a hoodlum's consciousness.

Verdict: Republic cheapie creepy has its moments. **1/2.

ANTITRUST

ANTITRUST (2001). Director: Peter Howitt.

Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe) is drafted by Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), head of the NURV technology company, to work on a major new project called Synapse, which will somehow link all communications networks together. Milo has decided to go with a big company while his other buddies still work in their garage, but it's clear they are on to something nonetheless when one of them, Teddy (Yee Tee Tso), is murdered. Was Teddy getting too close to solving the problems with Synapse-like technology  and beating Winston to the punch? A paranoid Milo sneaks around NURV trying to get incriminating information as he dodges the security force and breaks into buildings -- but will he stay alive long enough to learn anything? Antitrust is a minor but entertaining flick with two good lead performances, as well as good work from a supporting cast that includes Claire Forlani as Milo's girlfriend, Alice, and Rachel Leigh Cook as Lisa, a fellow employee who decides to help him. Fittingly, considering the movie's title, the script plays around with exactly whom Milo can trust and whom he can't, and there are a couple of surprises in that regard. The movie is undeniably suspenseful, occasionally tense, and has a very satisfying wind-up.

Verdict: Is Big Brother watching you? *** out of 4.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

GOTTA LOVE THAT TARZAN!

Alexander Skarsgard as Tarzan
GOTTA LOVE THAT TARZAN!

It's amazing that Edgar Rice Burroughs' early twentieth century creation is still going strong over one hundred years later. Next summer Alexander Skarsgard is the latest actor to play the Ape Man, and in a blockbuster summer movie, no less. Let's face it, Tarzan is a product of a simpler time, a thoroughly racist and absurd concoction in a highly fictional "Africa" that nevertheless captured the imaginations of millions of readers -- and filmgoers. More recent films have done away with the condescension towards black natives, added black characters, and done their best to counteract the tone of the early movies, although in the novels Tarzan was never that disrespectful of native Africans.

This week we look at Burroughs' first Tarzan novel, as well as selected films in which Tarzan is portrayed by various actors, beginning with Johnny Weissmuller and going on to Lex Barker, Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney, and Mike Henry.

EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS' TARZAN OF THE APES

TARZAN OF THE APES. Edgar Rice Burroughs. First published in All-Story in 1912, then in book form in 1914.

This is Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel about the famous Tarzan of the Apes. After a mutiny on the ship they are voyaging on, Lord and Lady Greystoke are forced ashore in Africa, where they build a cabin. The couple die, and the infant Greystoke is left alone, whereupon he is taken by the ape Kala, whose own baby has just died. Tarzan educates himself by reading the books left behind in the cabin, and grows up believing that Kala is his natural mother. Using his human intelligence, he is able to survive conflicts with the other gorillas (a fictional breed) but ultimately leaves the group after Kala is killed. Professor Porter, his daughter Jane, her black maid, Esmeralda, Tarzan's cousin William Clayton (the true heir), and others are also forced ashore (conveniently near the cabin) where Tarzan rescues them time and again from danger. Jane and Tarzan virtually fall in love at first sight, although the former later wonders if she wasn't carried away by the romance and sensuality of the moment even as Tarzan carried the frightened but aroused woman off in his arms. Thinking Tarzan is dead or has forgotten her, Jane returns to Baltimore, but with the help of French officer Paul D'Arnot (who teaches Tarzan the language -- yes Tarzan speaks French!), whom the ape man has rescued, Tarzan manages to get to America where Jane is about to marry someone else. The ending is a bit of surprise, with Tarzan and Jane recognizing that they don't make the best match. Tarzan knows the truth about his ancestry, but at this time doesn't reveal it.

Burroughs may never have been a literary stylist, but he could tell a good story, created a very memorable (if rather absurd) character, and his writing pulls one along from episode to episode in compelling fashion. It is odd, however, that the author never describes the strange sensations Tarzan must have been feeling when he enters civilization -- Paris, then the U.S. -- for the very first time and even takes a ride in a motor car. The ape man's impressions are left entirely to the imagination, a strange lapse, but perhaps Burroughs was simply racing to the conclusion of the story. [Burroughs could not have known that the original novel would become so successful that it would engender about twenty-five sequels, not to mention all the movies, comic books, television programs, and even a stage play.] The most harrowing sections of the book have to do with the horrible treatment of white prisoners at the hands and teeth of a tribe of black cannibals; the prisoners are set upon by every one of the natives, including the children, torn apart, and devoured. Tarzan kills one native (admittedly a cannibal) just to get his garments, but later tells D'Arnot "one might as well judge all blacks by the fellow who ran amuck last week, or decide that all whites are cowards because one has met a cowardly white." On a lighter note, Jane's father, Professor Porter, says "tut, tut" about a dozen times too often.

Burroughs' Tarzan was not the grunting, monosyllabic person that was featured in most of the movies. However, he had been raised as a savage beast -- a noble savage, perhaps -- and he had no qualms about taking on any and all comers. Future books in the stories would explore his character in greater detail. NOTE: Burroughs describes Tarzan as being extremely handsome on more than one occasion, but the cover of the 2011 Fall River Press edition [see above] makes him look kind of ugly, if properly bestial.

Verdict: A classic introduction to an iconic character. ***.

TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932)

Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller
TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932). Director: W. S. Van Dyke.

James Parker (C. Aubrey Smith), his daughter Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan), and Parker's associate Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) are in Africa trying to find the mystical elephants' graveyard where valuable ivory can be appropriated. They find a treacherous way past a certain escarpment, encountering a horde of hippos and hungry gators, then eventually come afoul of a group of mean dwarfs. Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) doesn't put in an appearance until 23 minutes into the running time, and naturally helps save the day when Jane and the others are lowered by rope into a pit with a huge and violent ape. While he could never be considered a great actor, Weissmuller's pantomiming in this is highly effective, getting across both his primitive aspects as well as a charming shyness towards Jane. The movie reveals absolutely nothing of Tarzan's background, and doesn't follow the plot of Burroughs' first novel except for the business with Tarzan swinging away with a frightened but mesmerized Jane in his arms. The film reveals its incredible racism in at least one scene, when a native porter falls to his death from a horrifying cliff and Holt wonders first what was in the man's packs, and then says "poor devil." Tarzan never actually says "Me Tarzan, You Jane" but keeps repeating "Tarzan, Jane" as he taps her on the shoulder over and over again, revealing his sense of humor. O'Sullivan [Payment Deferred] gives a good performance, although she does get so whiny at times you wish Tarzan would throw her out of a tree. Smith [Little Lord Fauntleroy] and Hamilton are okay -- the only time I ever really liked Hamilton was when he played Commissioner Gordon on Batman -- and Cheetah, of course, is absolutely wonderful. At one point Tarzan murders a poor native guide as retaliation for Hamilton shooting one of the ape man's pets! A bit slow-paced at times. This was not the first movie to feature Tarzan, but it led into a long series with Weissmuller [Jungle Jim] and then other actors. Tarzan of the Apes must have been pretty strong stuff in 1932, although it was probably eclipsed the following year by King Kong.

Verdict: Compelling if uneven fantasy. ***.

TARZAN'S SAVAGE FURY

Lex Barker and Tommy Carlton
TARZAN'S SAVAGE FURY (1952). Director: Cy Endfield.

Tarzan (Lex Barker) gets a son when he and Jane (Dorothy Hart) find a little orphaned boy named Joey (Tommy Carlton), although the couple don't seem all that sympathetic to his plight in the beginning. Trouble develops when Jane's alleged cousin, actually an impostor named Edwards (Patric Knowles) shows up along with a Russian spy named Rokov (Charles Korvin). The two importune Tarzan and the others to lead them to some diamonds (in one ridiculous scene Tarzan says he doesn't know what a diamond is!), unaware that their purposes are not at all benign. The group encounter cannibals, and one exciting scene takes place on a river when a raft is overturned by a hippo and hungry gators move in for the attack [possibly stock footage]. In this film Tarzan seems to have known his father years ago, although in Burroughs' novel Tarzan's father died in the boy's infancy. Lex Barker [The Girl in Black Stockings] inherited the role from Johnny Weissmuller, who went on to the Jungle Jim series, and speaks in the same dumb monosyllables, but is otherwise okay and looks good. Dorothy Hart, playing Jane with teased hair and lipstick, isn't bad, and little Tommy Carlton is excellent as Joey; this was his only film. The best performance is from Korvin [The Killer That Stalked New York] as the agent and magician, whose tricks awe the natives and others; Knowles [The Wolf Man] is also good. Photographed by Karl Struss and with a nice score by Paul Sawtell. The main problem with the movie is that we never really see any of Tarzan's "savage fury" and in fact the film is relatively tame.

Verdict: Okay Tarzan entry. **1/2.

TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE

Anthony Quayle and Sean Connery 
TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959). Director: John Guillermin.

Tarzan (Gordon Scott) pursues enemy Slade (Anthony Quayle) and his party even as Slade hunts for a hidden diamond mine and its riches. Tarzan is saddled with a somewhat callous woman named Angie (Sara Shane of Three Bad Sisters) who has survived a plane crash and develops more courage and warmth as the movie proceeds. Slade's associates include old Kruger (Niall MacGinnis); pretty Toni (Scilla Gabel); wily Dino (Al Mulock); and strutting, charismatic O'Bannion (Sean Connery). Tarzan's Greatest Adventure seems more intense than the Weissmuller Tarzan films, has an excellent script with well-realized characters, and boasts excellent acting from the entire cast. Quayle [The Wrong Man] underplays beautifully, which only makes him seem more menacing, and more of  a contrast to the swaggering Connery, who demonstrates the star presence he had even before he became James Bond. Scott makes an appealing and attractive Tarzan. The movie is fast-paced and has an exciting cliff-side climax. There's an interesting scene involving Dino and O'Bannion, a locket that Dino refuses to show him, and some deadly quicksand. Cheetah appears, but isn't given much to do, for shame, but the tone of this film is never comic. Guillermin also directed The Whole Truth and co-directed The Towering Inferno.

Verdict: Maybe not his greatest, but this is a brisk and entertaining Tarzan adventure. ***

TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES

Jock Mahoney
Woody Strode as Khan
TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES (1963). Director: Robert Day.

When a new spiritual leader of an Asian nation is chosen after the death of the old one, Tarzan (Jock Mahoney) is summoned from Africa to be bodyguard to the little boy, Kashi (Ricky Der), who is the successor. The boy's uncle, Khan (Woody Strode), is desirous of the throne himself, although he claims he really wants it for his young son, Nari (Robert Hu), who is wiser and more compassionate than his father. To prove he is an able bodyguard, Tarzan must pass three challenges, and then is chosen to be Kashi's champion when Khan challenges him to a duel to the death. The movie has an exciting sword fight and an even better sabre duel, a horrific forest fire which seems to endanger the entire cast, and an exciting climactic battle above nets and pots of boiling oil. Mahoney [The Land Unknown], a former stunt man, does some excellent "extreme sports" stunts in this, and offers a professional acting performance; he just doesn't come off like Tarzan. Woody Strode* is sensational as Khan, giving a riveting and dynamic performance and exuding such charisma that you almost feel sorry for this essentially evil -- but somehow noble -- man. Strode also plays his own dying brother in early sequences. The two child actors are excellent.Well-photographed by Edward Scaife, the picture, filmed entirely in Thailand, boasts some impressive locations. And there's also a cute baby elephant named Hungry. Intelligent and literate for the most part, this is a very memorable Tarzan adventure. * For his part as Kahn, Strode was dubbed by George Pastell; the dubbing job is not apparent to the causal viewer.

Verdict: Exciting scenes and a strong performance from Strode. *** out of 4.

TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD

Mike Henry as Tarzan
TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD (1966). Director: Robert Day.

"A couple of animals and a half-naked wild man against Vinero?"

This widescreen, technicolor Tarzan adventure starts out like a Eurospy movie with Tarzan (Mike Henry) in suit and tie attacked by a sniper in an empty stadium -- it's actually an excellent sequence. Tarzan then strips down to his loincloth -- giving even Gordon Scott a run for his money in the body department -- to take on the evil Augustus Vinero (David Opatoshu), who hopes to loot a hidden city of its treasure of gold. Vinero is a thoroughly nasty character who affixes a medallion with a bomb on it to his ex-girlfriend (Nancy Kovack of Diary of a Madman) and tells her if she moves just an inch she'll explode! Tarzan goes to the city with his pals, a chimp named Dinky, a trained lion named Major, and a little boy from this "lost" city named Ramel (Manuel Padilla Jr.). The villain gets a very ironic and satisfying comeuppance. Arguably the sexiest of all the Tarzans, Henry plays the strong, silent type and is perfectly okay in that mode. This appears to take place in South America and not in Africa, as the later Tarzan films often placed the ape man in other countries. Val Alexander's jazzy musical theme is completely inappropriate, as this really isn't a Eurospy film. Aside from the lead players, the film is dubbed, primarily by the busy Paul Frees [The War of the Worlds]. Robert Day also directed She with Ursula Andress.

Verdict: Entertaining sixties Tarzan adventure. ***.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

LYDIA

Merle Oberon
LYDIA (1941). Director: Julien Duvivier.

"If I can't have all there is I don't want less."

An unmarried elderly woman named Lydia (Merle Oberon) invites a few old male friends to a gathering where she reviews her life and loves over the past few decades. Bob (George Reeves) runs off with Lydia after her grandmother Sarah's (Edna May Oliver) disapproval, but they never make it to the altar. Frank Andre (Hans Jaray) is a blind pianist whose love for Lydia remains unrequited. Michael (Joseph Cotten) is all set to marry Lydia but she doesn't feel the passion for him that she feels for Richard (Alan Marshal of House on Haunted Hill), a handsome sailor who tells her he must go off to settle some past romantic affairs and to wait for her. Well, it'll be a long wait ... Lydia is an unusual and unpredictable movie in that it defies romantic Hollywood conventions and doesn't offer up a traditional happy ending, meaning some viewers will find it unsatisfying, but it's just that difference that makes the movie interesting. The performances are excellent throughout, with a luminescent Oberon; George Reeves [The Adventures of Sir Galahad] proving that he was more than just Superman (whom he would essay a few years later); Joseph Cotten as good as ever; Alan Marshal charming as the mountebank; and Edna May Oliver nearly snatching away the movie from everyone else with her peppery portrayal of the hypochondriac grandmother. Sara Allgood is also on target, as usual, as the mother of a blind boy (Billy Ray) that Lydia befriends and Gertrude Hoffman is fine in a very small role. This has a nice score by Miklos Rozsa as well. The film is in some ways similar to Letter from an Unknown Woman, particularly in its conclusion.

Verdict: Romantic yet uncompromising. ***.

BETRAYED WOMEN

Esther Dale and Beverly Michaels
BETRAYED WOMEN (1955). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

"He'd whack me and I'd belt 'im back. I ain't complainin' -- he was the only guy I ever loved."

Honey Blake (Beverly Michaels) is arrested after her gangster boyfriend, the unseen "Baby Face," is shot down by cops. Honey winds up in a woman's prison which the producers of this film admit is more like Devil's Island than reality. Head Matron Ballard (Esther Dale) is a tough cookie for an old dame, but the real sadist in the bunch is the head guard, Darcy, played by -- of all people -- Sara Haden, or Andy Hardy's sweet old aunt Milly. Other inmates include Nora Collins (Peggy Knudsen) whose boyfriend, Jeff Darrell (Tom Drake), was also her lawyer, only he wouldn't commit perjury to get her off; and Kate Morrison (Carole Mathews), who hid $50,000 for her boyfriend only to learn that he's gone and married another woman. Kate is determined to break out of jail with Honey and grab the loot, but Honey has also sets her sights on all that moolah. There's a prison break, hostages, a run for the swamps, betrayal, and lots of shooting. Betrayed Women is a snappy "B" movie that moves swiftly, isn't completely predictable, and is quite well-acted by the entire cast. Dale is terrific, Drake [The Cyclops] appealing and sympathetic, Haden makes her mark as the nasty Darcy, Knudsen [Hilda Crane]  and Mathews [The Man with My Face] are more than competent, and Beverly Michaels, always vivid and watchable, is especially outstanding in this. This gal should have had a much bigger career, but she left behind some vital and entertaining portrayals. Part of her problem was that she was generally taller than her leading men.

Verdict: Nifty and suspenseful B with some excellent performances. ***.

GOBS AND GALS

Robert Hutton and Florence Marly
GOBS AND GALS (1952). Director: R. G. Springsteen.

At an isolated military base Sparks (George Bernard) and Salty (Bert Bernard) have cooked up a scheme in which they use their captain's picture to get women to send him what today we would call "care packages." Captain Smith (Robert Hutton of The Vulture) has no idea of this, nor of the fact that the two buddies have opened a store at camp to sell all of the goodies the ladies think they're sending Smith. When the men all return to the U.S., Smith finds himself mobbed at the dock by dozens of lustful ladies who plaster him with hugs and kisses as his fiancee, Betty (Cathy Downs of The Dark Corner), watches in dismay. Now while Smith is nice-looking, he is not a famous singer or matinee idol, so you'd think that Cathy would understand that something strange is going on, maybe a practical joke, but instead she instantly cancels their engagement. Smith pursues Cathy to a train upon which she and her father, a senator (Emory Parnell), are travelling and tries to mend fences with her even as Sparks and Salty, the men responsible for all of his troubles, are supposed to guard a trunk of papers that are also on board. During the ride they encounter a beautiful Russian spy, Sonya (Florence Marly of Queen of Blood); a cute little kid and trouble maker named Bertram (Tommy Rettig); a termagant (Minerva Urecal) who thinks CPO Donovan (Gordon Jones) keeps stealing her purse; not to mention the peppery and dithery conductor (Olin Howlin). Gobs and Gals is a silly but often amusing movie with some good performances and a highly interesting cast. Brothers George Bernard and Bert Bernard were an American comedy team who never rose to any particular prominence -- they appeared in only four films --  and while they aren't bad, the movie could have used the presence of Bud and Lou or Lewis and Martin. Jean Willes, Donald MacBride, and Marie Blake are also in the movie in smaller roles. Marly is rather reminiscent of "Natasha" of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show which debuted several years later.

Verdict: Amiable train farce. **1/2.

THE H-MAN

Kenji Sahara and Yumi Shirakawa
THE H-MAN (1958). Director: Ishiro Honda.

When a mob boss disappears with only his clothing left behind, Inspector Tominaga (Akihito Hirata) and Sergeant Mayashita (Eitaro Ozawa) pay a call on the man's unknowing girlfriend, nightclub singer Chikako (Yumi Shirakawa). In the meantime, sailors come across a ghost ship with a greenish glow from which pours a green ooze that completely dissolves the men who board the ship. Professor Masada (Kenji Sahara) tells the police of his theories about exposure to hydrogen bomb tests creating this liquid life form that devours flesh and bone and leaves only clothing behind. (After awhile the shots of collapsing suits and uniforms become unintentionally comical.) Unlike The Blob, which came out the same year, this mass never grows to giant size, for shame. This may have been influenced more by The Creeping Unknown than The Blob in any case. It's a minor but reasonably entertaining Japanese monster flick. Honda directed the original Gojira (Godzilla) and many other creature features from Japan.

Verdict: Empty clothing is never a good sign. **1/2.


THE ABSOLUTELY APPALLING OPERA MURDERS

THE ABSOLUTELY APPALLING OPERA MURDERS. Enrico Arriverderci. Comic Opera; 2015.

This just in: That hot new writer Enrico Arriverderci has come out with his first book, a "cozy" (a light-hearted mystery novel you can cozy up with) featuring the operatic star Walter Tinner. Enrico swears this is "soon to be a major motion picture!" Well .. we'll see. Anyway, here's info on the book, which is available in a kindle edition only on amazon.

Walter Tinner, who considers himself the world's greatest tenor (even if no one else does) comes to visit his cousin, Amber, and discovers to his horror that she wants him to throw in his two cents regarding the amateur opera society's production of Mascagni's "L'amico Fritz." Not only does Walter have to argue with the rather strange members of the society -- all of whom have "operatic" names and some of whom impugn his singing ability -- but it's the last straw when one of them turns up murdered. And then another .. and another. Will Walter be able to solve these ghastly killings before somebody else bites the dust -- even Walter himself? With the help of detective Wilma Banky, Tinner gets his man -- or woman! 

Author Enrico Arrivederci once sang on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House – when he was not supposed to – and was nearly banned for life. Little Enrico was one of the crowd of urchins in Giordano’s "Andrea Chenier", and was never supposed to sing, but the cute little fellow decided to join in during the climax anyway. Renata Tebaldi gave him a good spanking, and Mario Del Monaco chased him around backstage hoping to give him a thrashing for ruining that beautiful climactic duet. On the other hand, Placido Domingo once gave Enrico a pat on the head, while Luciano Pavarotti pinched his cheeks – which was strange as this was years later and Enrico was in his forties at the time.


Verdict: Read it -- you'll enjoy it!

HAWAIIAN EYE

HAWAIIAN EYE (1959 - 1964).

This popular private detective show set in the Hawaiian islands lasted for four seasons. The agency did security for the Honolulu Village Hotel, among many other cases, and the partners were Tom Lopaka (Robert Conrad), who was half Hawaiian, and Tracy Steele (Anthony Eisley). Later on they had another operative, Greg Mackenzie (Grant Williams), and Troy Donahue joined the cast as the hotel's social director, Philip Barton. The hotel's lounge -- featuring the "exotic sounds of Arthur Lyman" and his rather talented trio --  employed cutesy singer Cricket Blake (Connie Stevens), and a cab driver named Kim (Poncie Ponce) sometimes figured in the action. Hawaiian Eye also had a handsome security man, Moke (Douglas Mossman), and the gang frequently worked with Lt. Danny Quon (Mel Prestidge), who was actually a real-life police officer. Tina Cole appeared in a few episodes as "Sunny." filling in for Cricket.

Among the more memorable episodes: "Two for the Money" guest-stars Mary Tyler Moore in a story about a once-missing daughter who may be an impostor. "Payoff" investigates the possibility that a prosecutor may be on the take. "Echo of Honor" features an excellent Philip Reed in a story of murder and jewel thefts at the hotel. In "Pretty Pigeon" a pretty gal (Diane McBain) goes undercover to help Tom catch a murderer. In "Two Too Many" a man gets a love letter from a woman he claims he has never met. "Passport," features an outstanding performance from Randy Stuart [who co-starred with Williams in The Incredible Shrinking Man] in a story about a hunt for an embezzler (Gerald Mohr) with an estranged wife and daughter; Stuart and Mohr have an especially well-acted scene together. Andrew Duggan guest-stars in "Maybe Menehunes," in which a movie star (Mala Powers) fears her life is in danger. In "Pursuit of a Lady" Greg proposes to a woman (Diane McBain again) who is promptly murdered. "Concert in Hawaii" stars Faith Domergue as the teacher of a young prodigy who is subjected to murder attempts. Finally "V for Victim" features Nancy Kulp in a "Ten Little Indians" type story where tourists are beset by a murderer on an isolated island during -- you guessed it -- a storm that cuts off phones, power, and access to the mainland.

The acting was generally quite good. Eisley [The Mighty Gorga] could come off like an obnoxious bully at times, with Williams heading in that direction, but Conrad was generally pleasant, as was Donahue. Stevens was not bad as either singer or actress but she could be a trifle cloying at times, as could the self-consciously cute Ponce. Other guest-stars included George Takei (wonderful as an operative in Formosa), Jack Nicholson, Tom Drake, Richard Crane, Jeanne Cooper, Chad Everett, Grace Lee Whitney, Dyan Cannon, Biff Elliott, Fay Wray, and Joan Marshall, among others. This was also produced by William Orr, who did Surfside 6, Bourbon Street Beat, and 77 Sunset Strip.

Verdict: Maybe not a really great show, but a good and entertaining one. ***.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015). Director: Guy Ritchie.

Back during the days of the Cold War, CIA agent Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo) crosses figurative swords with Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) when the two are on opposite sides of a mission in which the former is helping a woman named Gaby (Alicia Vikander) get out from behind the iron curtain. Gaby is the daughter of a former Nazi scientist, Dr. Teller, who has been working on a nuclear device for an organization run by the sinister Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki). Solo, Illya and Gaby's new mission is to infiltrate Victoria's operation and find the bomb, even as the two male agents are told their respective countries must win the arms race and get their hands on a certain disc, over each other's dead bodies if necessary. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a refashioning of an old television series that many of today's moviegoers have never heard of or even seen. There are so many changes that you wonder why they even made the movie under this title or who the audience for the picture was supposed to be. As in several old Eurospy movies and more recent TV shows, Solo is turned into a black market criminal who is blackmailed into working for the CIA. Hugh Grant [Love Actually] plays Waverly, but the name "U.N.C.L.E." is only referred to as a codename in the final moments of the picture. Victoria's organization isn't given a name, and THRUSH, the main adversary of the heroes in the TV series, is never mentioned. There are no cameos by the stars of the series, Robert Vaughn or David McCallum. Speaking of which, Henry Cavill's [Immortals] performance as an arch, super-cool, stylish super-spy isn't bad for what it is, but the man has absolutely no charm, at least in this. Hammer is more on the mark as a different kind of Illya, but the movie is stolen by Debicki as the villainess, who makes Gervaise Ravel of the old show seem like a piker in comparison. Director Ritchie tries to make the film different and whimsical, but this approach often backfires, such as when what could have been an exciting scene on a river is muffed by the "cute" stylistics. Some of the other action sequences are okay, however. Arguably the best and most darkly comical scene in the movie involves Solo being tortured by Gaby's sadistic Uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth), whose ultimate fate is pleasantly ironical, as is Victoria's in the film's entertaining (if rather abrupt) climax. John Mathieson's cinematography is outstanding, guaranteeing that the film looks great, but the score, a hodge podge of generally inappropriate musical cues, is terrible, with a fairly hideous theme song wailed by a female singer. If Jerry Goldsmith's terrific theme for the TV show is in there somewhere, I missed it. The women in the film are attractive, but not especially glamorous a la James Bond; in fact one could argue that most of the sexual tension in this is between the two men, (although it must be said that being a stylish clothes horse with good taste doesn't always add up to being gay, or vice versa). The script for this is somewhere between one of the really bad overly campy episodes of the old series and the much better ones of the first and fourth seasons.

Verdict: This isn't totally terrible and there are enjoyable moments and performances. Fans of the show will probably be disappointed, however. **1/2.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

HAPPY THANKSGIVING
EVERYONE!

Great Old Movies is taking off over the holidays but we'll be back shortly with more reviews of classic and not-so-classic motion pictures. Thanks for reading! -- Bill

Thursday, November 19, 2015

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940)

John Justin and June Duprez
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940). Directors: Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and others.

In this first remake of the silent film with Douglas Fairbanks, King Ahmad (John Justin) is dethroned and imprisoned by the evil usurper Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Ahmad meets a young beggar-thief named Abu (Sabu) in jail, but the two affect an escape. The Sultan (Miles Malleson, who also wrote the screenplay), trades his daughter, the princess (June Duprez of None But the Lonely Heart) for a mechanical horse that flies. This exchange is engineered by Jaffar, who has designs on the princess, who, unfortunately for her, is in love with Ahmad. Confronted by Ahmad and Abu, Jaffur blinds the former and turns the latter into a dog. Human again, Abu encounters a gargantuan genie (Rex Ingram) who helps him steal a fabulous ruby eye from a statue guarded by an enormous and hideous spider. Ahmad gets his sight back, but only in time to face the headsman's sword. Will Abu be able to get back to Bagdad on a flying carpet in time and save the day? The Thief of Bagdad is an excellent fantasy film that boasts amazingly beautiful Technicolor, some wonderful effects work (despite some fuzzy process shots), a very creepy and almost beautiful mechanical spider, and top-notch performances from the appealing Justin and Duprez, and especially Conrad Veight. Sabu is charming as the young thief, and Rex Ingram, although he doesn't exactly sound like something out of the Arabian nights, is terrific as the frightening if personable genie/djinn. While this movie really must have been quite eye-popping in its day, it is still a very memorable and entertaining picture 75 years later. Malleson appeared in the 1959 remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles. This was the first film for John Justin, who played Dorothy Dandridge's lover in Island in the Sun, made quite a few other movies, and often appeared on the stage, including productions of Shakespeare. The Thief of Bagdad was remade again in 1961.

Verdict: Watch out for that giant Djinn! ***1/2.

THE CRUEL TOWER

THE CRUEL TOWER (1956). Director: Lew Landers.

"I've seen guys with two left feet before, but not on the same leg."

Hungry and needing a job, Tom Kittridge (John Ericson of Rhapsody) goes to work for "Stretch" Clay (Charles McGraw) who is building a kind of water tower in a small town. Stretch has a girl named Mary (Mari Blanchard) even though he already has a wife who's dallying with Stretch's associate, Casey (Steve Brodie). Then there's chubby Joss (Peter Whitney), who is brain-damaged and loyal to Stretch. Unfortunately jealousies and rivalries break out, which isn't so good when men are working high up in the air ... The Cruel Tower might have had more impact had the fellows been working on a skyscraper (as has been erroneously reported elsewhere), but there's still some suspense and excitement, and the tower is plenty high enough for me. Alan Hale Jr. [The Killer is Loose] plays a man who comes afoul of Stretch. The acting is more than okay, with Blanchard [No Place to Land] perhaps making the best impression.

Verdict: Entertaining, with a taut climax, but it just misses being special. **1/2.