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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! 

Welcome to Great Old Movies' annual round-up of horror movies. This year it's a mixed bag of old and new, with everything from Vincent Price and Barbara Steele to those lovable maniacs Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees and other mad slashers, as well as "horrible" books, and blood-curdling TV shows.

Curl up with a nice slice of pumpkin pie (with real whipped cream) and have some Halloween horror!

NIGHTMARE CASTLE

NIGHTMARE CASTLE (aka Amanti d'oltremtomba/1965). Director: Mario Calano.

When Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) discovers that his wife, Muriel (Barbara Steele), is having an affair with hired man David (Rik Battaglia), he imprisons, tortures and murders both of them. Somehow Muriel is declared dead even without a body, and her twin, Jenny, winds up married to the doctor, after inheriting everything, and living back in creepy Hampton Castle. Arrowsmith is a certified nut job, but Jenny herself seems to be going crazy -- or is dead Muriel trying to take over her twin's mind? Dr. Derek Joyce (Marino Mase) tries to help her, but will their attraction to one another lead to another disaster...? There are ghosts, murder plots, horrified servants, fiery conflagrations, and more, not to mention lots of atmosphere. Unfortunately, despite all that the movie is still just mediocre. Steel's great voice has been dubbed, minimizing her impact, but the acting from all seems more than adequate.

Verdict: Zesty if disappointing Italian horror flick. **1/2.

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN

"Hackett isn't saying anything!"
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972). Director: Robert Fuest.

In this sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the not-so-good doctor (Vincent Price) is after certain Egyptian scrolls that he hopes will bring his beloved Victoria (Caroline Munro) back to life, but first he has to get rid of anyone who might get to the scrolls first. Phibes' chief adversary is archaeologist Darrus Biederbeck (Robert Quarry of A Kiss Before Dying and Count Yorga, Vampire), but Phibes has absolutely no problem ridding himself of everyone in Biederbeck's party by various inventive, diabolical -- and often quite funny-- means. There's a fog that melts away flesh; a phone device that snaps a spike through the caller's ear; a body- crushing device; an attack by falcon; crawling scorpions; and the like, all served up with ghoulish and amusing relish. Peter Cushing, Beryl Reid, Fiona Lewis, Hugh Griffith, and Terry-Thomas have smaller roles, while Price himself seems to be having a ball.

Verdict: Gruesome and funny in equal measure, this is a sequel that's as good as the original. ***.

HALLOWEEN (1978)

Michael Myers on the rampage
HALLOWEEN (1978). Director: John Carpenter.

In the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois in 1963, a little boy named Michael Myers stabs his teenage sister to death. Fifteen years later, Myers, who has been institutionalized ever since, escapes from an asylum and makes his way back to Haddonfield. Myers has been in the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) -- named after a character in the vastly-superior Psycho -- and pursues him to Haddonfield, where his former patient begins a killing spree of babysitters and the like. Loomis has come to see Myers as being the embodiment of evil, although his reasons for this are never explained, as until the very end the man just seems like your typical, normal maniac-on-the-loose. Halloween benefits from Dean Cundey's excellent Panavision photography, which gives it a look that almost fools you into thinking it's not borderline schlock, which it is. Still, the movie does have some suspense and atmosphere, and the acting is professional. Jamie Lee Curtis basically owes her career to the fact that her mother was the star of Psycho, but she's quite good in Halloween, and Nancy Loomis/Kyes and P. J. Soles are effective enough as Curtis' friends. Brian Andrews and [Ms.] Kyle Richards are charming as the babysitters' little charges. Donald Pleasence eschews chewing the scenery and is excellent as the restrained but nearly hysterical Dr. Loomis. Halloween is deliberately paced and while the theme music is good, the rest of the repetitious "score" is mediocre and could have used different music. The non-gory Halloween lacks the visceral energy and shocks of Friday the 13th, which came out two years later and also engendered a mess of sequels. Halloween is not a bad movie for what it is, but it was very over-rated upon its release and its designation as a "classic" is a major over-statement. Aside from a couple of things, I've never thought that much of director Carpenter [The Thing], either.

Verdict: Has the glimmer of a really good horror film but doesn't quite hit the mark. **1/2

HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)

Jaime Lee Curtis is having a bad night
HALLOWEEN 2 (1981). Director: Rick Rosenthal.

"I shot him six times! He's not human!"

This sequel immediately follows Halloween, in which we learn of a hitherto unknown relationship between Laurie Stode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the maniac Michael Myers. Myers has proved more or less unkillable, and goes on a rampage in a strangely deserted hospital, piling up bodies and making his way to Laurie, who has been admitted to the facility due to her injuries and shock. The worst is yet to come as Laurie must do her best to stay out of her older brother's clutches, and the chase is on. Halloween 2 is somewhat of an improvement over the original in that it has more action and at least seems to have a slightly faster pace. The many victims include Ana Alicia, who wound up on Falcon Crest, and Lance Guest, a nice paramedic who seems to care for Laurie. There's also a supporting player with the great (?) name of Hunter von Leer. Donald Pleasence is back as Dr. Loomis and is fine. Dean Cundey's photography is still a plus. There's at least one good scare in the picture.

Verdict: Fairly entertaining slasher flick. **1/2.

SPLATTER UNIVERSITY

Forbes Riley
SPLATTER UNIVERSITY (1984). Director: Richard W. Haines.

When new professor Julie Parker (Forbes Riley) arrives at St. Trinian's, a college run by priests, she is told by Father Janson (Dick Biel) that the woman she's replacing was murdered in her classroom the previous semester. As new murders, primarily of students, begin to occur, Julie begins to fear that fellow faculty member Mark (Ric Randig) may be responsible. But is Julie on the right path, or is she simply heading straight toward the real killer's knife? While the scenes of teens frolicking on campus are tiresome, this movie doesn't have a bad plot and actually manages to work up some suspense. While most of the actors are complete amateurs, Riley gives a decent enough performance, and Biel and Randig are okay as well. The ending isn't too much of a surprise. Despite the title and a couple of bloody sequences, this is fairly restrained for a slasher movie. Riley, who originally used the name "Francine Forbes," has racked up quite a number of credits since making this film, her second, and is still acting professionally today.

Verdict: Acceptable slasher film with some minor entertainment value. **1/2.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING

"Jason" goes on the rampage
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985). Director: Danny Steinmann.

Tommy Jarvis, the boy (Corey Feldman) who killed Jason Voorhees at the end of Final Chapter, is now a handsome teen (John Shepherd) who is still traumatized by the events of the past. Tommy is placed in the Pinehurst Youth Development Center, with other troubled teens. One of these teens, unfortunately, takes an ax to one of the other boys, killing him. This is only the start of a massacre in which anyone and everyone in town seems like a potential victim. This is the only Friday film in which the actual killer is not Jason Vorhees, but there's a host of suspects as the body count rises and rises. The acting isn't bad, although "Junior" and his mother are a little over the top. The film is gruesome enough but not that graphic; in fact it's strange that after one man takes an ax to the head in his car, there isn't a drop of blood to be seen. For most of its length, the movie completely lacks pacing and suspense, but as usual, the climax is fairly exciting and effective. Although many Friday fans were outraged that Jason doesn't actually appear in the film except in flashbacks, I think the movie gets points for trying to vary the formula. Miguel A., Nunez Jr,. offers a flavorful performance as "Demon," and Shavar Ross is appealing as his younger brother, Reggie. Corey Parker is also in the cast as an early victim.

Verdict: Not exactly a new beginning, but there were more to come. **1/2.

HALLOWEEN (2007)

HALLOWEEN (2007). Director: Rod Zombie.

"You haven't said a word for fifteen years, Michael. That's twice as long as my first marriage." -- Dr. Loomis.

In this remake of the 1981 Halloween, babysitters and others are terrorized by a maniac who has escaped from an asylum. This version is half an hour longer than the original, with much more time devoted to Michael Myer's dysfunctional home life as a boy, as well as his initial killing spree, which includes more victims than in the original. We also see more scenes of young and old Michael in the institution, and his murderous escape is more detailed. The good news is that this means there are less scenes with the self-absorbed teenagers, although the sequences when they're sliced and diced remain intact. This Halloween is bloodier than the first, but is never all that graphic despite the violence. Although -- as usual in these films -- the climax has some suspense and excitement, the movie's direction is unimaginative, and the reuse of John Carpenter's music (which has never been well-orchestrated) is not a good touch. Malcolm McDowell plays the Donald Pleasence part of Dr. Loomis; Dee Wallace is Laurie's mother; Brad Dourif [Seed of Chucky] is the sheriff; and the oddly-named Scout Taylor-Compton is satisfactory as Laurie. Other interesting cast members include Richard Lynch, Clint Howard, Udo Kier, and William Forsythe. Daeg Faerch -- that's not a misprint -- is effective as Michael at age ten. Tyler Mane makes a somewhat sexier adult Michael than usual. Followed by a remake of Halloween 2!

Verdict: Some might see this as a vulgarization of the original. but the original was not that great, either. **1/2.

PENNY DREADFUL SEASON 1

PENNY DREADFUL Season One. 2014.

"No one in this room is kind -- that's why you're here." -- Sir Malcolm Murray.

This Showtime series takes place in 19th century London and throws together some classic characters from horror fiction -- Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway of The Disappeared), Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), Professor Van Helsing (David Warner), etc. -- and combines them into a new storyline. The protagonist -- if you can call him that -- is an American cowboy-entertainer named Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett of The Black Dahlia). He is hired by Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and family friend Vanessa Ives (Eva Green of Casino Royale) to retrieve Murray's daughter, Mina (Oliva Llewellyn), who has been kidnapped by vampires. Frankenstein's monster (Rory Kinnear), the first of two "unliving" beings that Victor has cobbled together, hates his creator and, as in Mary Shelly's great novel, wants Victor  to make him a mate. A series of gruesome mutilation murders are occurring all over London but the killer doesn't seem to be Jack the Ripper. All we need is Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and we're ready to go ...  Penny Dreadful for the most part is a literate, handsomely produced, well-written, and very well-acted Gothic soap opera that mercifully eschews camp (American Horror Story for instance), but the series goes completely awry when it suddenly turns into The Exorcist with its very contemporary-type scenes of demonic possession -- complete with spitting, cursing, useless priests, and so on -- that smack more of the 1970's than the 19th century. The show also throws in a fairly unexpected homoerotic sequence in the episode Demimonde, that is hot but hardly ever mentioned again, and has more to do with "shock" value and snaring some gay fans than with good story-telling -- although the scene certainly plays. [Internet trolls railed that the series turned into gay porn, which is hilarious as the two men are never actually seen in bed together, and the frequent male-female couplings in the show are much, much more explicit.] There's a final twist at the end of the first season that I should have seen coming but didn't, for shame. Let's just say that it summons up images of the tormented Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man. The show has just begun its third season but I have mixed emotions about watching season two -- will it retain the classy aura it exhibited in the earlier episodes or just descend into silliness? Eva Green is especially superb in this and Billie Piper also scores as Ethan's tubercular girlfriend, Brona, but everyone in this, down to the smallest role (including Alex Price as Proteus), is wonderful. Abel Korzeniowski composed the rather lush score and excellent theme music.

Verdict: Interesting, with many fascinating and clever facets, but ... **1/2.

UNFRIENDED

UNFRIENDED (2014). Director: Levan Gabriadze.

On the anniversary of the suicide of Laura Davies (Heather Sossaman), several of her friends receive dire threats from an unknown party who is stalking them one by one, resulting in more than one grisly demise. What's unique about Unfriended is that the viewer never sees anything but the computer screen on which the friends (and enemy) are emailing and visually communicating with one another. At first you can't imagine watching a whole movie this way, but once you get into the concept it works -- at least this once. The trouble with this stunt movie isn't the format so much as the fact that it should be scary, but aside from a couple of creepy moments, it isn't. Just when things are getting taut and suspenseful, there's a revelation of one character cheating on another that dissipates the tension for too long. Unfriended is a melange of computer hacking, Facebook, cyber stalking, bullying, and posting nasty videos on youtube, but the method chosen to deal with all this is fairly shallow, The actors, especially Shelley Hennig as Blair, are not bad, however, although this is not the type of movie to build a career on. Apparently we'll have to wait until Unfriended 2 to find out who the crazed maniac really is.

Verdict: Gets a couple of points for an interesting idea. **1/2.

THE HORROR OF IT ALL

THE HORROR OF IT ALL: One Moviegoer's Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead. Adam Rockoff. Scribner; 2015.

As a horror enthusiast and author in the field (fiction and non-fiction) I was intrigued by The Horror of It All. [Rockoff also wrote Going to Pieces, on slasher films.] I admit that I'm not quite certain what to make of this tome, as instead of a survey of All Things Horror it functions more as one man's memoir while discussing horror/slasher movies [mostly if not exclusively splatter films] and ruminating on everything from teachers he hated to political issues such as the death penalty to what he thinks of French people. I thought Rockoff was quite a good writer when he did Going to Pieces, and I appreciate the often tongue-in-cheek tone of Horror as he destroys some sacred cows, discusses the shortcomings (to put it mildly) of horror fandom, and dissects some movies he feels are over-rated. [I can't understand what he sees in the mostly dull Paranormal Activity, which could have used an ax murder or two.] Of course, there's a difference between a horror enthusiast and a horror geek and I don't mean it unkindly when I say that Rockoff appears to be the latter. Sometimes there is an adolescent approach to the material, with him settling old scores from years ago, and reminding the reader how he is heterosexual at least once in every chapter. But Rockoff does have some interesting things to say about horror films (if he likes horror fiction, such as Poe, Lovecraft or even King he never says so) and the book, despite some plodding sections, is a breezy read.

Verdict: For geeks, gore-hounds, and fringe horror fans who didn't get laid in high school. **1/2.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

REMEMBER THE DAY

John Payne and Claudette Colbert
REMEMBER THE DAY (1941). Director: Henry King.

"Remember when Dan and I took the train together. I was so proud of him in his uniform." -- Dewey

"The House of Representatives will never pass an income tax plan." -- the Dean

Teacher Nora Trinell (Claudette Colbert) waits at a Washington reception to renew her acquaintanceship with an old pupil, Dewey Roberts (Sheppard Strudwick), who is now a Presidential nominee. She thinks back to when Dewey was a boy (Douglas Croft) and developed a big crush on her, even as she became secretly married to another teacher, Dan (John Payne), who goes off to war. One might wonder why this woman would want to go see a man that she hasn't been in contact with since he was a boy -- presidential nominee or no -- but it is made clear in a scene between Nora, Dewey and his wife, (Frieda Inescort) at the very end of the picture. Remember the Day is a lovely and touching film with excellent performances from Colbert, Payne [The Crooked Way] and especially young Douglas Croft [George Washington Slept Here], the screen's first Robin (of Batman and Robin), who nearly walks off with the movie. (Tragically, Croft died at only 37 years of age, which adds another poignant element to the picture.) There are other fine performances from Anne Revere as another teacher; Jane Seymour and Harry Hayden as Dewey's parents; Steve O'Brien as a bellboy; and William Henderson and Ann E. Todd as students; Marie Blake and Chick Chandler are also in the cast.

Verdict: Sentimental in the right way. ***1/2.

A TALENT FOR TROUBLE: WILLIAM WYLER

A TALENT FOR TROUBLE: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director, WILLIAM WYLER. Jan Herman. Putnam's; 1995.

This memorable biography of the great director looks at his private life; his work during the war making documentaries which often put him into dangerous situations; and the wonderful movies he made, including The Heiress, The Letter, The Good Fairy, Ben-Hur, The Big Country, The Children's Hour, These Three, Carrie, Dodsworth, Jezebel, Detective Story, and many, many others, most of which are certified masterpieces. Herman not only examines the director's private life, but shows what made him great by examining his movies (although Herman is not enamored of everything). Wyler got his start directing quickie silent westerns, but it was clear that there were much greater things in store for him. He directed Dead End, a stand-alone picture that became the first of many Eastside Kids films; directed Bette Davis in some of her best roles (and had an affair with her); survived the communist scare of the fifties and stood up for blacklisted individuals; introduced Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday; and remained married to actress Margaret Tallichet for many years. The book goes behind the scenes of virtually all of the movies, with comments from his fellow actors and others, as well as from his wife. Wyler was a superb director, my favorite after the perhaps showier and more publicity-driven Hitchcock, and it's very good that he's been given his due in this fine biography.

Verdict: Excellent biography of a gifted artist. ***1/2.

LOVE TAKES FLIGHT

LOVE TAKES FLIGHT (1937). Director: Conrad Nagel.

"Colossalific -- that's what it is!"

During a flight across the country, stewardess Joan Lawson (Beatrice Roberts) catches the attention of movie producer Dave Miller (Edwin Maxwell), who wants to make her a star to replace the difficult Diane Audre (Astrid Allwyn). Joan turns down the offer, but it is accepted by the pilot, Brad Bradshaw (Bruce Cabot), who goes to Hollywood in her stead. Brad begins hanging around with Diane, which causes consternation for Joan, who is in love with Brad. She gains much attention herself by taking well-publicized solo flights, but will Brad interfere ...? Bruce Cabot [Fallen Angel] is good as Brad, Allwyn isn't bad as the bitchy movie star, and Roberts is appealing enough as Joan but not special. Grady Sutton [Hot Saturday] plays a poor sap who keeps asking Diane for a date and getting turned down, and Bill Elliott is a man who dates Joan while she hopes to forget Brad. The movie has a somewhat feminist perspective due to Joan's independent stance, but of course the movie has to cop out at the end with the patronizing Brad taking over her flight. Otherwise, this is not a bad comedy-drama. This was the only film directed by actor Conrad Nagel [All That Heaven Allows], who amassed dozens of credits from the silent era until the late sixties. This was one of Roberts' few leading roles, as in most of her films she had very small parts.

Verdict: Pleasant trifle with some good acting. **1/2.

FANFARE FOR A DEATH SCENE

Richard Egan and Al Hirt with his trumpet
FANFARE FOR A DEATH SCENE (1964). Director: Leslie Stevens.

"An intelligent enemy is better than a foolish friend." -- Lord Kahn

This telefilm certainly has an intriguing title, but it's actually just the unsold pilot for a series called Stryker. Richard Egan [Wicked Woman] plays an agent in an ersatz spy movie (somewhat reminiscent of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) who is up against a mysterious evil figure named Lord Kahn (Telly Savalas). The opening scene is a macabre one in which dozens of poisoned corpses are found in a sanitarium after a harried Professor Bannermann (Burgess Meredith) has made his escape. Both the good guys and the bad guys want Bannermann's formula. The interesting cast includes trumpeter Al Hirt (playing a trumpeter); a pre- Mary Tyler Moore show Ed Asner; Tina Louise from Gilligan's Island; J. D. Cannon [An American Dream]; Joseph Ruskin: and Viveca Lindfors [Silent Madness], who nearly walks off with the whole movie as a kind of femme fatale, along with Savalas.

Verdict: It's just as well this didn't become a series. **.

OPERATION BULLSHINE

OPERATION BULLSHINE (1959). Director: Gilbert Gunn.

On a remote English Army base during WW2, there is a full complement of female soldiers as well as men. Lt. Gordon Brown (Donald Sinden) is secretly married -- against orders -- to one of the lady soldiers, Betty (Barbara Murray), which causes complications when she arrives at the base. The chief complication is private Marge White (Carole Lesley), a vivacious blonde who has set her sights on Gordon. When the two ladies both wind up in a hotel room with Gordon, his commanding officer, Major Pym (Naunton Wayne of The Hidden Room/Obsession) is appalled. Can everything be straightened out? Operation Bullshine is not as smarmy as you might imagine, although it can't avoid the usual condescension towards women of this era. The three leads are all attractive and capable, although the movie never actually erupts into hilarity. Except for one brief sequence, you would never know there's a war going on. This is really a drawing room/mistaken identity picture disguised as a military comedy. Pretty Lesley could have been considered England's answer to Marilyn Monroe, whom she resembles, only she doesn't quite have Monroe's mystique or panache; tragically she committed suicide at 38. John Cairney, who was in Jason and the Argonauts, plays Gunner Willie Ross, who sings with a dubbed voice more than once. Gilbert Gunn also directed The Cosmic Monsters/Strange World of Planet X.

Verdict: Appealing cast puts this over. **1/2.

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT

Helene Thimig
STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944). Director: Anthony Mann.

Sgt. Johnny Meadows (William Terry) has exchanged letters with a young lady named Rosemary, and is on his way to Marteflores to finally meet her in the flesh. But he encounters another young woman, a doctor named Leslie (Virginia Grey), on a train and the two are immediately attracted to one another. Leslie turns out to be the new doctor in Marteflores, and pays a call on Rosemary's family, as does Johnny. There to greet them are Rosemary's mother. Hilda (Helene Thimig), and Hilda's companion, Ivy (Edith Barrett of I Walked with a Zombie). But where the hell is Rosemary? Most viewers will figure out what's going on, but there's still a twist or two. The leads are fine, but the picture is stolen by a wonderful Barrett, and Thimig is outstanding in her portrait of a seriously disturbed and lonely woman -- she is beautifully dramatic without chewing the scenery. Anne O'Neal is also notable as Leslie's nurse. This is a compelling little "B" movie, less than an hour long, that is bolstered by the acting. The appealing Terry also starred in Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Anthony Mann turned out lower-budgeted movies like this for Republic before going on to bigger and better items like The Furies and many others.

Verdict: Loneliness kills. ***.

HOLLYWOOD SCREEN TESTS

HOLLYWOOD SCREEN TESTS: Take One (1999 TV special). Director: Edith Becker.

Narrated by Robert Culp, AMC presented this first of two specials showing and commenting on various Hollywood screen tests. The tests are interesting, even if some of them go on a little too long. We see tests for Candice Bergen, Ann-Margret, Mitzi Gaynor, Barbara Eden and Andy Williams doing a scene for State Fair, and Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls, among others. (How anyone could have given the role in the movie to Duke after seeing how horrible she was in the screen test is beyond me!) Singer Marni Nixon, who dubbed Audrey Hepburn and many others, is tested for the lead in The Sound of Music, but wound up playing Sister Sophia. Dustin Hoffman does a "personality" test and obviously passes it, and there's also Raquel Welch, Marlon Brando, and several big names doing tests after they were already established stars.

Verdict: Fun. ***.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

LONELYHEARTS

LONELYHEARTS (1958). Director: Vincent J. Donehue.

Adam White (Montgomery Clift) importunes publisher William Shrike (Robert Ryan) to give him a job on the paper, but all he winds up with is doing the "Miss Lonelyhearts" column. Shrike verbally abuses his wife Florence (Myrna Loy) because of an indiscretion in her past, despite the fact that Shrike has had numerous infidelities of his own. Adam is engaged to Justy (Delores Hart) -- short for Justine, one supposes -- but he has an indiscretion of his own when unhappy wife Fay (Maureen Stapleton) discovers that he's "Miss Lonelyhearts" and asks if she can come see him at his apartment to talk about her troubles ... The best thing about Lonelyhearts is the acting, with Clift giving a superb performance, and Loy, Stapleton, Ryan and Hart providing excellent support. Ryan's character is in some ways incomprehensible, and while his performance may lack the spontaneity of Clift's, it is still quite effective. One can't quite understand why Florence stays with Shrike, however. The whole business with Stapleton seems contrived, and the story, despite some minor incidents, never seems to go anywhere. This is a shame because the characters are compelling and the acting memorable. There are interesting parallels in the picture, however: Adam's father (a very effective Onslow Stevens) is in jail because he murdered his adulterous wife and her lover; Florence cheated on her husband and Fay wants to do the same. Stapleton had done mostly television and stage work before being "introduced" in this film. Despite its flaws, this is better than The Day of the Locust, another movie taken from a Nathaniel West novel.

Verdict: A mesmerizing Clift easily outshines his material. **1/2.

STREET OF SINNERS

STREET OF SINNERS (1957). Director: William Berke.

"Oh, Johnny, I don't want to die. I want to be loved."

John Dean (George Montgomery) is a rookie cop who has just been assigned patrol duty in one of the worst neighborhoods in town. Tavern owner Leon (Nehemiah Persoff), who seems to be a benign, helpful presence in the area, is actually the man who turns the wheels and owns everybody he knows. John encounters a tough little bitch named Nancy (Marilee Earle), as well as budding hood Rickey (Stephen Joyce). A sad figure on the street is Terry (Geraldine Brooks), who is fond of undressing in public and is as lonely as Hell. An alcoholic, Terry has John for dinner and serves him a charcoal pork chop. When a tragedy occurs, John is temporarily suspended, but he continues to investigate the disappearance of a young lady who had the goods on Leon. It all builds up to an exciting climax and the final confrontation between John and Leon. Street of Sinners is a snappy little number that is distinguished by some fine work by Persoff, and especially Brooks [Cry Wolf], who is touching and absolutely superb. Montgomery [The Cowboy and the Blonde] is competent but nothing more. The jazzy musical score doesn't really work with the movie, however, and some of the character reversals are a little too abrupt. William Berke also directed The Lost Missile and many Jungle Jim movies.

Verdict: Taut, brisk, and altogether admirable "B" picture. ***.

WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL

WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL. William Wellman Jr. Pantheon; 2015.

One always has to approach biographies written by the subject's family members -- in this case the author is the son of director William Wellman -- with caution, as there can be a tendency to gloss over anything negative and indulge in hero-worship. In spite of that, this is a fairly solid biography of the director of such well-known films as the classic Wings, A Star is Born, The Public Enemy, The Light that Failed, The Ox-Bow Incident, The High and the Mighty, and others not as well-known nor as memorable. Wellman was a hero during WW 1, but reading between the lines it often comes off that he was sometimes an asshole who constantly needed to live up to his "Wild," macho reputation, threatening and screaming at people and punching them out even when it wasn't warranted. The first half of the book seems rather dependent on Wellman's published and unpublished memoirs, taken at face value, while the second half of the book is an improvement. Wellman Jr. delves into his father's many marriages, relationships with actors and the studio bosses, as well as producers he hated, and he gives him his due as an important and influential filmmaker, although perhaps he will never be seen as "great" as, say, Hitchcock or William Wyler. One big problem with the book is its length; the author includes mini-bios of virtually any figure who knew or worked with Wellman even if the average reader would be instantly familiar with them. Wild Bill Wellman doesn't seem to have been edited, so it is no surprise that Wellman Jr.'s editor turns out to be Victoria Wilson, who wrote the ridiculously over-lengthy and padded bio of Barbara Stanwyck -- apparently she can't edit the work of other authors any more than she can edit her own. Some recommended Wellman movies include Lily Turner, Stingaree, Night Nurse and especially The Great Man's Lady with Stanwyck. 

Verdict: A decent book is almost lost somewhere in here and some things have to be taken with a grain of salt, but this isn't bad as an appreciation of Wellman. ***

THE MASKED MARVEL

THE MASKED MARVEL (12 chapter Republic serial/1943). Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet.

This serial borrows a notion from The Lone Ranger in that it isn't the villain whose identity is a secret, but the hero. The Masked Marvel (who never appeared in comics or on the radio) is one of four government special agents who are tracking down the Japanese master spy and saboteur, Sakima (Johnny Arthur), and his traitorous American henchmen, including Martin Crane (William Forrest). Crane is a friend of reporter Alice Hamilton (Louise Currie), but she has no idea of his duplicity. Crane uses a special elevator-chair behind his desk to descend to Sakima's secret headquarters. Part of the sinister schemes include obtaining special industrial diamonds as well as an explosive product called "Nitrolene." The serial has some memorable cliffhangers: MM falling off a water tower into a burning truck that explodes in chapter one; and a train speeding toward a work car full of explosives in the breathless climax of chapter ten. The serial is full of rousing fisticuffs, especially in chapter eight, and some of the beautifully-choreographed fight scenes are almost balletic. While the Masked Marvel is eventually unmasked at the end, he is played [only when masked] not by one of the four actors playing the agents, but by stuntman Tom Steele[Flying G-Men], who is also cast as a hit man in chapter eight! Once you get used to him Arthur is effective as Sakima; Anthony Warde makes an impression as Sakima's henchman, "Killer" Mace; and of the four agents, David Bacon [Gals, Incorporated] is appealing as Robert Barton. [David Bacon was stabbed to death that same year in a homicide that remains unsolved. Rod Bacon, who may or may not have been related to David, and who played another of the agents, was also murdered five years later.] Louise Currie [Three on a Ticket] is acceptable as the female lead; she managed to amass quite a few credits.

Verdict: Scintillating and exciting classic action-serial. ***.

FRIDAY THE 13TH [PART FOUR]: THE FINAL CHAPTER

FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984). Director: Joseph Zito.

In the third sequel to Friday the 13th, Jason Voorhees, apparently killed off at the end of Friday the 13th Part 3, comes back to life in the morgue and begins killing everyone in sight. Potential victims include a group of young people with hang-ups who take a cabin for the weekend, as well as the family who lives next door, including Trish (Kimberly Beck), her brother Tommy, (Corey Feldman), and their mother. Two of the victims are quickly dispatched after very happily losing their virginity, but whether this is supposed to be significant, or an attempt at pathos, is debatable. Other victims include soap star Peter Barton and slightly bizarre Crispin Glover. Beck is effective as the heroine, as is Barbara Howard as the shy and lovely -- and of course, doomed -- Sara, and Alan/Clyde Hayes as a man who is tracking down Jason; the other actors are all professional and the film is well-produced. Like most of the Friday movies, this one has a fair share of scary and suspenseful moments, although it is by no means a classic. The Final Chapter was followed by A New Beginning. Glover later starred in the memorable remake of Willard, and several of the other actors had solid careers after their appearance in this.

Verdict: Acceptable mad slasher fare has its moments. **1/2.

THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH

THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH (1965). Director: William Witney.

"I saw them on Ed Sullivan. Lovely boys -- but they could certainly use a haircut."

It turns out that the treasury of the Alpha Beta sorority is depleted, and a big mortgage payment is due. How can the girls raise the money to save their house? Some of the young women enter a cooking contest; Patricia (Lori Saunders) enters a beauty/talent competition; Arlene ((Anna Capri) gets nerdy, bright Stu (Peter Brooks) to help her with puzzles that pay; and Selma (Noreen Corcoran) and her pals get completely hoodwinked by three horny guys who promise them that they personally know the Beatles; the fab four will raise the money they need by singing at a show. Yeah, right. The Beatles, of course, never appear in this movie, but we do get the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore, who sings "It's Gotta Be You" and "Loser in Love" in the movie's most memorable sequences. Martin West plays Duke, the leader of the trio who "know" the Beatles, and Aron Kincaid and Steven Rogers are his pals; the funniest scene has them trying to duck out of the sorority house by dressing in drag. Sheila Bromley plays Mrs. Winters, the house mother who's given away all of their money; Arnold Lessing is Patricia's disapproving, hypocritical boyfriend, Frank; and there are cameos by Bruno VeSota [The Cat Burglar] and the ever-lovable Dick Miller [A Bucket of Blood] . Lana Wood appears as Bonnie. The gals try to imitate the Beatles with dismal results. William Witney directed a lot of lively cliffhanger serials such as The Crimson Ghost.

Verdict: Utterly amiable junk. **1/2.

INTO THE WOODS

INTO THE WOODS (2014). Director: Rob Marshall.

This adaptation of the Broadway musical by James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim and Jonathan Tunick takes several fairy tale characters -- Jack (and the Beanstalk); Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and the Prince (Chris Pine); Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy); and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford); etc -- and has them interacting in the same story. The thrust of the first half is the appearance of a witch (Meryl Streep), who tells a childless couple, the Baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), that the wife will be able to conceive if she and her husband can get the witch certain items by midnight. All seems to end "happily ever after" until the second half, when little Jack (Daniel Huddlestone) and everyone else are threatened by the monstrous appearance of a lady giant (Frances de la Tour), who wants vengeance because Jack caused the death of her husband. As with the play, the first half may seem a little off-putting to viewers what with its various storylines eventually converging, but the second half is more effective. Sondheim's score has a little too much of his repetitive patter-type songs, but there are such fine numbers as "Agony" (beautifully "staged" and well-acted by Pine of Star Trek and Billy Magnussen); the title tune; "No One is Alone:" etc. although I confess I wish they hadn't cut that dirge to Jack's cow, "Farewell Old Friend." All of the performances are excellent, with Streep really delivering on her "Last Midnight" number, and young Huddlestone certainly scoring as Jack. Some supporting roles are filled quite nicely by Tracey Ullman as Jack's mother, and Christine Baranski [Bowfinger] as the wicked stepmother. Johnny Depp isn't bad as the wolf as he sings and dances to "Hello, Little Girl" (but you have to wonder if perhaps the movie eroticses children). Visually arresting throughout. The quasi-religious overtones are a bit sappy at times. Rob Marshall also directed the musical adaptation of Nine.

Verdict: Not for all tastes for sure, but effective, well-acted, and intriguing. ***

Thursday, October 8, 2015

NEVER LOVE A STRANGER

NEVER LOVE A STRANGER (1958). Director: Robert Stevens.

Now where have you heard this before? In the 1920's two friends grow up on the wrong side of the tracks, with one becoming a criminal and the other a prosecutor, until their paths cross violently once again. This story was old when co-producer Harold Robbins wrote his bestseller, "Never Love a Stranger" in the fifties, and there's nothing new or original in the film version. Frankie Kane (John Drew Barrymore) is an orphan raised by Catholics who doesn't realize he's actually Jewish, like his buddy Martin (Steve McQueen). Frank becomes "gray and bitter before his time," as the tiresome narrator tells us, but we're not shown what makes him so. In any case, he becomes a career criminal and Martin an assistant D.A. Whatever its flaws, Never Love a Stranger is watchable for no other reason than the cast. Barrymore [High School Confidential] proves that talent runs in his famous family with an excellent performance as the protagonist, and Steve McQueen [The Towering Inferno] is also admirable as his old buddy turned nemesis. Lita Milan and Robert Bray are also notable as Frankie's girlfriend and a mob boss whom he eventually supplants. John Drew Barrymore [aka John Barrymore, Jr.] was the son of John Barrymore, and the father of Drew Barrymore and John Blyth Barrymore, both actors. John Drew Barrymore's erratic behavior prevented him from building on his early promise, as he had the looks and talent to have a more than satisfactory career. Another adaptation of a Harold Robbins potboiler was The Carpetbaggers.

Verdict: Passable melodrama with some very good performances. **1/2.

MONSTER WORLD

MONSTER WORLD. William Schoell.

Another shameless plug: After several years I have published another horror novel entitled MONSTER WORLD. Yes, it is about dinosaurs. Yes, it has been done before -- but not by me. In this the lovable beasties are brought from the prehistoric era to the present day via time machine. Unfortunately, there are problems, and the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs winds up in our era as well and is rapidly heading toward Earth. The scientists in their complex in the Yucatan desperately try to avert world-wide disaster even as they're dodging attacks from carnivorous animals with eggheads on the menu. Adding to their woes is the fact that some poor people wind up taking a one-way trip into the prehistoric past via miniature wormholes that appear suddenly and out of nowhere. Meanwhile, the hungry dinosaurs keep coming -- flying, swimming, tramping, and slithering their way across the Yucatan peninsula. [Maybe you should take your vacation there next year?] Not hard science fiction, this, but a fun horror/monster book. Available exclusively as an ebook for the ridiculously low price of $4.99. You can find it on Amazon.

Obviously I've always been fascinated by dinosaurs. These animals populated the earth for literally hundreds of millions of years, whereas the human race and their humanoid ancestors have been around for a mere blink of an eye in comparison. In a couple of weeks I'll be posting a round-up of interesting dinosaur flicks. There were many, many movies -- and books -- about prehistoric monsters on the loose long before "Jurassic Park."

DOMINIQUE

DOMINIQUE (1979). Director: Michael Anderson.

Dominique Ballard (Jean Simmons) is convinced that her husband, David (Cliff Robertson), is trying to drive her out of her mind. She importunes the chauffeur, Tony (Simon Ward), to help her, but he knows upon which side his bread is buttered. Dominique then apparently commits suicide -- but who is that that David sees walking around both outside his office and inside their estate? There are no big surprises in this ersatz ghost story which doesn't have a bad plot, although it's not very original. Simmons and Ward come off best, with good performances from Jenny Agutter as David's half-sister, Flora Robson as the housekeeper, Ron Moody as the family doctor, and David Tomlinson as the family lawyer. Robertson [Obsession] tries to act "British" but he's not exactly Herbert Marshall. Dominique is professional enough on all levels, but it still comes off like a forgettable made-for-TV movie. Anderson also directed The Wreck of the Mary Deare and many others. A much, much better thriller starring Jean Simmons is Angel Face.

Verdict: Simpering ersatz horror. **1/2.

HEAR ME GOOD

HEAR ME GOOD (1957). Writer/producer/director: Don McGuire.

"I've always wanted to be a Very Important Freak, Mr. Holland."

A hustler named Marty Holland (Hal March) is down on his luck and hopes to make money off of a beauty contest. Unfortunately, his chosen contestant, Rita (Jean Willes), is on the outs with Marty, as is her boyfriend, an unseen gangster. Marty then hits on the idea of entering would-be stewardess Ruth (Merry Anders) in the contest, and surprises her with an outfit that literally falls apart in front of the cameras. Can Marty and Ruth find true love even though he's a heel?  Don McGuire was an actor who appeared in such films as The Fuller Brush Man before he turned to writing and directing; he was a pal of Frank Sinatra's, but it's unfortunate The Voice couldn't importune Dean Martin to star in the film instead of Hal March, whom I have to assume was also a friend of McGuire's. March was the host of The $64,000 Question quiz show, but is probably best known as the dress-selling cad who tries to make a date with Lucy on an episode of I Love Lucy, but in this movie at least he lacks real comedic flair and is distinctly mediocre. Joe E. Ross of Car 54, Where Are You? does his usual shtick, but Jean Willes [Desire Under the Elms] makes an impression as sexy Rita. The production is almost completely stage-bound, as if it were a filmed play, and is neither well-directed nor well-edited. There are a couple of chuckles but the script is poor; McGuire did better work elsewhere. Don McGuire also starred in the title role in the serial Congo Bill.

Verdict: Fuggetaboutit. *1/2.

BILLIE

Patty Duke pulls ahead of the boys
BILLIE (1965). Director: Don Weis.

15-year-old Billie (a 19-year-old Patty Duke) is a real tomboy who excels in sports, especially track. Before long the coach (Charles Lane) is making her his star player, but she's afraid this won't make her seem feminine enough. Will her new boyfriend, Mike (Warren Berlinger), accept her as an equal, or will she have to change herself to keep him? Billie, which was based on the play "Time Out for Ginger," has a surprisingly feminist perspective, until it completely cops out at the very end. [An entire book, which I have not read, has been written about this movie and its implications.] The elephant in the room, which is never mentioned outright, is that her family deep down probably fears that the boyish, athletic Billie may be a lesbian [or transgender]. She's given a whole song in which she rhapsodizes about discovering she's attracted to boys. The dated aspect of the movie is that even in the sixties there were female athletes, and they weren't all gay. [Not to mention the innumerable movies about tomboys who discover they're "women."] Duke [Curse of the Black Widow] is okay, although there are too many close-ups of her running, her scrunched-up face being positively thrust out at the viewer. A production number of chorus boy/athletes has them acting as if Duke were the sexiest teenager in the world, when actually Jane Greer [Run for the Sun], playing Duke's mother, is a lot more attractive (although Duke looks okay at the end when she's dolled up). Greer is excellent, Jim Backus is quite good as Billie's father, and there's nice work from Susan Seaforth as Billie's sister who, unbeknowst to her family, is married and pregnant. Others in the cast include Billy De Wolfe as Backus' political opponent -- who is not given enough to do -- and Ted Bessell as Seaforth's husband. Don Weis also directed Looking for Love with Connie Francis.

Verdict: Doesn't seem to understand that a woman can be an athlete and a "girl" at the same time. **1/2.

REDHEAD (1941)

REDHEAD (1941). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

"Somebody must have been fond of children to let you grow up."

T. H. Brown (Frank Jaquet of Meeting at Midnight) wants his son Ted (Johnny Downs) to make his own way in the world, which not only doesn't agree with him but angers a woman he only married in hopes they could get daddy's loot. Instead of getting paid off by her stepfather, however, bride Dale (June Lang) finds herself living with Ted in a hovel, and struggling to make a living as a short order cook while he heads off to a factory. Servant Digby (Eric Blore) went off with the two on their alleged honeymoon and sticks around. Downs [So Red the Rose] is a likable lead, Lang has a lovely moment when she tells Ted she loves him, and Blore and an adorable St. Bernard almost steal the picture. Overall Redhead just doesn't amount to much, though. The very prolific Cahn is probably best known for It, the Terror from Beyond Space. June Lang played oldest daughter Bonnie in what is considered the first Jones Family film, Every Saturday Night. NOTE: This is a remake of a 1934 film of the same title that is believed to be lost.

Verdict: If you like big dogs ... **.

STAGE FRIGHT (2014)

STAGE FRIGHT (2014). Writer/director/composer: Jerome Sable.

Camilla Swanson (Allie MacDonald) and her brother, Buddy (Douglas Smith), are cooks at a musical theater summer camp. Ten years ago their mother, Kylie (Minnie Driver), was butchered in her dressing room after her triumph in the starring role of the Broadway show "The Haunting of the Opera." When Camilla learns that the camp is reviving the show, she decides to try out even though she's not a student at the camp. Producer Roger McCall (Meat Loaf), who's like a father to her and Buddy, lets her audition and she becomes one of the two actresses alternating in the lead. But a maniac who despises show tunes is stalking the camp, slaughtering anyone connected to the production. If Stage Fright was meant to be a movie with thrills and laughs a la Scream and its sequels, it doesn't come off, and doesn't quite cut it as a parody either -- instead, it's of all things, a kind of slasher musical that never delivers on the fun it promises, although it does have a couple of grisly moments. Everything in the picture is predictable, from the identity of the killer, to the simpering ersatz show music, to the creepy red herring handyman, to the "big queen" stage manager who embodies a gay stereotype, as well as the good-looking guy who insists he's not gay until, improbably, he realizes he's attracted to the "big queen." The biggest trouble with the movie is that it lacks energy and suspense. MacDonald makes an effective heroine, Smith is compelling as her brother, and Kent Nolan is appealing as Joel, who has an unrealized crush on Camilla. The other actors aren't bad at all, but this movie isn't memorable.

Verdict: More Can't Stop the Music than Scream 2. **.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

MY SON, MY SON

MY SON, MY SON (1940). Director: Charles Vidor.

"They say be good and you'll be happy, but I say be happy and you'll be good."

William Essex (Brian Aherne) was born poor but has become an established and successful author and playwright. His wife, Nellie (Josephine Hutchinson), is overly pious, while William is overly apologetic for the actions of his young son, Oliver (Scotty Beckett), who lies with abandon. One afternoon Essex is doing research for a play about miners, and is mistaken for one by an artist named Livia (Madeleine Carroll), who sketches him before realizing her mistake. The two are instantly attracted, but there's nothing to be done about it -- until later. Oliver grows up to become a spoiled, somewhat callous young man (Louis Hayward), whose actions greatly distress his father. But when Oliver is called to the trenches during WW 1, will the two men be able to reconcile their differences? My Son, My Son is a powerful, absorbing and very well-acted drama that culminates in a touching finale. Aherne is given a strong role and runs with it, on top of every scene. His love scene with Carroll [Don't Trust Your Husband] is beautifully played, and she gives a fine performance throughout. Hayward is excellent, and Beckett as the young Oliver is simply amazing. There are also very good performances from Henry Hull as William's old friend, Dermot; Laraine Day as Dermot's daughter, Maeve, who falls in love with William; and Hutchinson as William's first wife. A nice score by Edward Ward helps make this a compelling and classy picture. Hayward also played a bad boy in Vidor's Ladies in Retirement while Aherne and Day both appeared in The Locket.

Verdict: The kind of movie they truly don't make anymore. ****.

CAUGHT

Robert Ryan, Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason
CAUGHT (1949). Director: Max Ophuls. 

The wealthy industrialist Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan) meets and dates model Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes) and is on the verge of dumping her, when instead he asks her to marry him simply because he's annoyed with his psychiatrist. Ohlrig has no love for Leonora, and treats her as just another possession. When she can't take his neglect and nasty attitude any longer, she tries to make her own way in the world by becoming a receptionist to Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason), with whom she falls in love and vice versa. But dealing with her neurotic husband may not be easy. Caught sounds like an interesting story, but the movie borders on the dull, and despite a couple of well-handled scenes -- Mason's confrontation with Ryan, for instance -- this never really comes alive. Talented Bel Geddes [The Long Night] doesn't quite have the presence in this to handle the lead role, Mason is fine, and while Ryan could be accused of underplaying too much at times, he's good as well, but greatly under-utilized -- of the two men, Mason [East Side, West Side] gets the lion's share of the footage. Too many scenes are glossed over -- the courtship and wedding, for instance -- and the whole effect of the movie is just blah. Natalie Schafer all too briefly plays a teacher in a charm school which she would also do a few years later in a classic I Love Lucy episode. Ohlrig's assistant Franzi Kartos (Curt Bois) calls everybody "darling," even Ryan. Director Ophuls had little luck with dark melodramas -- The Reckless Moment, also with Mason, is even worse -- but his Letter from an Unknown Woman is a real gem. 

Verdict: Less here than meets the eye. **1/2. 

CAXAMBU!

CAXAMBU! (1967). Director: W. Lee Wilder.

"Back, Peggy!"

Vince Neff (John Ireland) and his cronies have stolen a bunch of diamonds but need Emil Garrett (Keith Larsen), a diamond cutter from Antwerp, to make them salable. The honest Garrett is appalled by their criminal intentions and tries to take over the plane they're on with the help of his wife, a trained nurse named Peggy (Carol Ohmart). Unfortunately, the result is that they all crash-land in the jungle in an area near Caxambu where headhunters prowl, and where it soon becomes obvious that there is little honor among thieves. The first thing you notice about Caxambu! is that it has a very low budget even for a W. Lee Wilder film. The "sky" in which the plane flies is just a back drop, and when the aircraft crashes it is not a miniature but a literal toy. There are several other unintentionally comical scenes, such as when Peggy gets hysterical when she sees a crocodile that is just minding its own business and Emil needs to club it to death as if it were just about to clamp its jaws on his wife, who is many feet away. But the shame of Caxambu! is that it has a good script, interesting situations, and with a little more effort and directorial finesse this might have really amounted to something. Ireland [Queen Bee] and Larsen are okay, Ohmart [House on Haunted Hill] is excellent (in a role much less sensual than what she usually plays), and Gordon Blackman is rather effective as nasty Simon, who is willing to sacrifice virtually anyone for the diamonds -- the actor never appeared in another film, however. Wilder directed movies of variable entertainment value, but he really socked one out of the ballpark with his excellent Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons.

Verdict: After a bad start this develops into a fairly entertaining movie with a good story. **1/2.

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

Vincent Price
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971). Director: Robert Fuest.

Many years ago the wife of Dr. Anton Phibes died on the operating table,and he himself was incinerated in an auto crash. Or was he? Now the members of the medical staff who attended Mrs. Phibes are being murdered one by one, in manners that relate to the ten biblical curses of the Pharaohs. One poor man is attacked by blood-thirsty bats, while another is given a toad mask to wear that eventually crushes his head. Terry-Thomas has all of the blood removed from his body, quart by quart. The head surgeon, Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten) is warned by Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) that his first-born son (Sean Bury) may be in deadly danger... The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a zesty, well-acted black comedy that is as gruesome as it as comical. Price [Tower of London], Cotten [Half Angel] and Jeffrey are all excellent. Phibes' lovely assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) has no dialogue, and neither does Caroline Munro, who stands in for the late Victoria Phibes. Followed by Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Fuest also directed the terrible Devil's Rain.

Verdict: As delightful as it is appalling, and definitely not abominable. ***.

FLIGHT TO TANGIER

FLIGHT TO TANGIER (1953). Director: Charles Marquis Warren.

Susan Lane (Joan Fontaine), a reporter, arrives at the airport in Tangier only to see a small plane crash in flames. The pilot was supposed to be her boyfriend, Hank (John Picard), but there are no bodies on board the aircraft. Adventurer and war hero Gil Walker (Jack Palance) helps Susan find Hank and stay out of the clutches of sinister Danzer (Robert Douglas), whose girlfriend Nicki (Corinne Calvet) has a hankering for Gil and a few secrets of her own. Accused of murdering a policeman, Gil goes on the run with the two ladies as they all try to find Hank and whatever booty it is that Danzer is after. The first thing you have to wonder about Flight to Tangier is how on earth a classy actress like Fontaine wound up in this Grade C movie that pretty much utterly wastes her talents. Palance [Torture Garden] is fine, as weird as ever, Calvet [So This is Paris] is beautiful and not bad, although she's not quite up to her tougher scenes, and clean-shaven Douglas makes a fairly bland villain unlike his mustachioed bad guy of This Side of the Law. At least half the movie seems to consist of Fontaine and Palance -- an unlikely pairing -- running and running around occasionally scenic views of "Tangier." Murray Matheson has a small but pivotal role as a passenger on the plane who has something important to deliver. Warren also directed Unknown Terror, which is a lot more fun. If this was actually released in 3-D as the poster suggests, the movie apparently does little with the process.

Verdict: A couple of good scenes but this never amounts to much. **.

ISLAND OF THE LOST

ISLAND OF THE LOST (1967). Director: John Florea.

Anthropologist Josh MacRae (Richard Greene of The Hound of the Baskervilles) sets sail with his daughters, Sharon (Sheila Welles) and Lizzie (Robin Mattson), son Stu (Luke Halpin), the Polynesian Judy (Irene Tsu), and a young adventurer named Gabe (Mart Hulswit) -- not to mention a cute, friendly seal named Drip. Unfortunately MacRae gets all of them lost on a strange island in the south seas. There's a tribe of unfriendly natives who are out to get them (all except a friendly native named Tupuna [Jose De Vega]), and worse, a whole horde of carnivorous ostrich-lizards -- yes, ostrich-lizards -- with sharp teeth. However, this is not a horror film but a family-friendly adventure story from Ivan Tors, who had a cottage industry going with Flipper and other watery adventures. The best scenes in the movie have to do with sharks who prove excellent performers as they swim around and dangerously near to some of the actors/stunt men in some amazing footage. The acting is professional, especially Greene, and some of the scenery is lovely. Florea also directed The Astral Factor.

Verdict: Not totally terrible, but not that memorable, either. **1/2.

CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC

CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC (1980). Director: Nancy Walker.

"We are going to make milk more glamorous than champagne."

Aspiring composer Jack Morrell (Steve Guttenberg) figures it would be great if there was a new group to perform his music, and enlists the aid of his pal and former model, Samantha (Valerie Perrine). "Sam" goes to ex-boyfriend and record producer Steve (Paul Sand), and importunes him to sign the group even as they audition singers and put it all together. One by one the right fellows show up and Voila! -- it's the Village People! Will the members blend into a new sound and will everybody be happy? Can't Stop the Music, which pretends to be a "bio" of the once-popular group, now considered a "camp classic" by some people, tried to be all things to all people and made the mistake of alienating many gay fans -- the group courted the gay community by utilizing gay arch-types (or stereotypes) -- by trying to "straighten" the gay out the group. Even the openly gay members (such as "cowboy" Randy Jones, but there were others) are put into semi-romantic situations with women, and the production numbers feature lots of leggy female models draping themselves on and around the fellows. Unless I missed something, the word "gay" is never uttered, even in the "Liberation" number, although there's a brief moment when it is questioned if the milk commercial the group appears in conforms to "America's family image." All that being said, what's left is a kind of boring musical with the occasional bright spot, such as the aforementioned production number for "Milkshake." Jacques Morali's songs -- YMCA, the title tune -- are catchy enough, and the members of the Village People, while uncertain actors, seem pleasant enough. "Leatherman" Glenn Hughes does a nice rendition of "Danny Boy" and lead vocalist Ray Simpson (the "policeman") has a very good voice. June Havoc plays Guttenberg's mother; Bruce [now Caitlyn] Jenner plays Perrine's romantic interest; Jenner's mother is played by Barbara Rush; and Tammy Grimes appears as an agent and gives the picture it's only fleeting laugh. Altovise Davis and Marilyn Sokol are also in the cast. In her brief turn Rush [Bigger Than Life] comes off the best, Grimes is fun, Guttenberg is his usual likable self, Perrine is okay, and Paul Sand is Paul Sand. Allan Carr was one of the producers.

Verdict: "Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before" claimed Movieline. That's for sure. **1/2.