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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

LGBT ROUND-UP

Far From Heaven
Here's our annual round-up of gay/LGBT films in honor of the Gay Pride celebration in New York City. Its a really mixed bag this year, with everything from the William Wyler classic The Children's Hour to a silly documentary about two self-hating gay men who live with a woman, Three of Hearts. Then we've got Tom Hanks in his Oscar-winning turn in Philadelphia; Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, and Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven; and a couple of ersatz "gay" movies such as the telefilm Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn, Coffee Date, and the highly interesting -- and somewhat ambiguous -- Family Way.

Over the decades gay portrayals and how society sees homosexuality has greatly changed, although sometimes it may seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In any case, positive portraits of LGBT individuals are always welcome, but that doesn't always add up to a successful movie.

Anyway, here are a few films to ponder.

THE CHILDREN'S HOUR

Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR (1961). Producer/director: William Wyler. Note: some plot points are revealed in this review.

William Wyler had already directed These Three, a sanitized film version of Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour, when he decided it was time to tackle the play and its sub-theme head on. Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) co-own a young girls' boarding school in a small but wealthy community. Karen has held off her marriage to Joe Cardin (James Garner of They Only Kill Their Masters) because she wants to make sure the school is a success before she leaves. With the unwitting aid of Karen's miserable Aunt Lily (Miriam Hopkins), a hateful child named Mary (Karen Balkin) tells a malicious lie about the two women. Her grandmother, Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter), believes the lie and spreads it around that Karen and Martha are lovers, with the result that all of the parents take their daughters out of school. Does Martha have deeper feelings for Karen than she wants to admit? Hellman's play was certainly ahead of its time, and some of the dialogue that may have seemed "politically correct" in the sixties was actually already in the play, produced about thirty years earlier. Martha goes on about people "who believe in it, who want it, who've chosen it for themselves," but this is something she just can't do. (Of course today it's more accurate to say gay people choose to accept themselves.) The dated, but not unrealistic for the period, line is Martha saying "I feel so sick and dirty I just can't stand it anymore," which is roughly equivalent to "Show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse" from The Boys in the Band. However, I've never felt Children's Hour was as offensive as Boys, because the latter is a mostly negative depiction of acknowledged gay characters while the former not only looks at the devastating results of gossip and innuendo but functions, whether intended or not, as a trenchant study of both external and internalized homophobia. These women's lives are ruined simply because people think they're lesbians, a revelation which Martha only acknowledges at the very end. The suicide in the film may strike modern-viewers as horribly dated but it's also quite moving, as is the conflicted character of Martha. John Michael Hayes' [Rear Window] script is excellent, William Wyler's direction is sensitive and splendid, and the acting from virtually the entire cast is simply incredible. Hepburn and MacLaine are perfection, Bainter and Hopkins come close to stealing the show, James Garner (whom I've never much cared for) gives probably the best performance of his career, and the little girls, including Veronica Cartwright as Rosalie, are so good it's almost scary. Add a lovely score by Alex North, fine cinematography by Franz Planer (who also shot Wyler's The Big Country), and expert editing from Robert Swink and you've got a near-masterpiece.

Verdict: Whatever its flaws, this picture plays. ***1/2.

PHILADELPHIA

Tom Hanks
PHILADELPHIA (1993). Director: Jonathan Demme.

"Everyone in this room is your friend, more than your friend -- family." -- Wheeler to Beckett.

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is a young lawyer in Philadelphia who is going places -- until he gets AIDS. Although he tries to hide it from the partners, he is fired (just as much for being gay as for his illness) on a trumped up charge of incompetence. Turned down by most lawyers for a wrongful dismissal lawsuit, he is finally represented by ambulance chaser and part-time homophobe Joe Miller (Denzel Washington). Although Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards), the head of the firm, is importuned to settle with Beckett, the crusty old lawyer is not about to give in ... Philadelphia, the first major American movie to deal with AIDS and homophobia, is an admirable if flawed motion picture. It doesn't shy away from stark realities such as depicting the illness and its effect on other people; the way that gay partners are not considered "family" in the hospital; invisible gays and closet cases; and difficult questions about so-called "risky" behavior. On the other hand, with so many points to be made on such an issue, the characters sort of get lost, and the viewer probably gets to know Joe Miller better than it does Andrew Beckett. Andrew's partner Miguel (Antonio Banderas) is only given a couple of scenes, remains a distant figure, and worse, the two men seem more like friends than partners -- it's almost as if Banderas was afraid to ruin his "macho" image by kissing Hanks. Hanks [Road to Perdition] won a Best Actor Oscar, and is quite good, even if he's perhaps a bit too "fluttery" on certain occasions [the film seems to show the diversity of the gay male community, and even indulges in some stereotype-busting at times]. Washington [American Gangster], Robards [You Can't Take It With You], and Mary Steenburgen as opposing counsel are excellent, and there's an effective cameo by director Roger Corman as one of Beckett's former clients. As for the music (the main score is by Howard Shore), the soundtrack makes effective use of Maria Callas singing "La mamma morta" from Giordano's Andrea Chenier, although one wonders if either Bruce Springsteen (Oscar winner for the title tune) and Neil Young (composer of the haunting end-title piece "City of Brotherly Love") knew the subject matter before they wrote the songs.

Verdict: Whatever its imperfections this is an often powerful and very affecting picture. ***1/2.

FAR FROM HEAVEN

Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore
FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002). Writer/director: Todd Haynes.

"I've fallen in love with someone who wants to be with me."

Todd Haynes, who has obviously seen the Douglas Sirk-directed All That Heaven Allows (produced by Ross Hunter) more than once, came up with this new take 43 years after the original. In Heaven Allows Jane Wyman causes a scandal in a small town because she starts seeing a younger man, Rock Hudson. In Far From Heaven, the scandal occurs when Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) develops a romantic friendship with her black gardener, Raymond (Dennis Haysbert) in 1950s Connecticut. If that didn't create enough problems for her, she brings supper to her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid) in the office one night and catches him kissing another man. Can husband and wife each find happiness -- with someone else? Far From Heaven deliberately has the style of prime Ross Hunter, as well as a lush romantic score by Elmer Bernstein, and it is quite well-acted by the leads. Haynes avoids the trap of making all of these people too nice -- Frank is initially tormented by his sexuality, but one senses he's not the most pleasant person in the world to begin with and certainly not much of a father. One can quibble with a lot of things about the movie -- there are times when it approaches parody, the characters aren't as dimensional as they might have been, and Cathy seems a little unreal at first -- but it eventually becomes quite compelling and moving. Among the supporting cast, Patricia Clarkson scores as Cathy's friend, as does the authoritative Viola Davis (of Doubt and later star of that absurd but entertaining show How to Get Away With Murder) as Cathy's maid Cynthia. Some viewers thought Raymond was just a token character, which sort of misses the point. Haynes recognizes that a movie set in the fifties can't be too politically correct as it might seem unrealistic.  While Far From Heaven is like a Ross Hunter movie with added depth and dimension, the screenplay still seems like something from the fifties and the picture may be too glossy for its own good. Still, it's a lovely movie. Haynes also wrote and directed the 2011 cable remake of Mildred Pierce. Both Moore and Clarkson played batty mothers in two remakes of Carrie, Moore in 2013 and Clarkson in 2002.

Verdict: Viewers who go with the flow may find this quite rewarding. ***1/2.

THREE OF HEARTS: A POSTMODERN FAMILY

Sisters: Sam Cagnina, Samantha Singh, Steven Margolin
THREE OF HEARTS: A POSTMODERN FAMILY (2004). Director: Susan Kaplan.

In this documentary two delusional homosexual men, Sam Cagnina and Steven Margolin, have been in a relationship seven years when the former importunes the latter to bring a woman, Samantha Singh, into the mix. Sam, the "queenier" of the two, admits years later that he was ashamed of his sexuality, and wanted to have a "normal" life and be "part of society" -- the typical reason most closeted gay men get married to women. [In an interview he also said he wanted children, which is also, of course, a way for men to "prove their manhood."] Most women would certainly shy away from being in a relationship with two gay men in a committed relationship, but because they sleep with her she apparently sees them as legitimately bisexual, which turns out not to be the case. The trouble with this trio is that we have three very immature (both chronologically and emotionally) people who decide to "play house" and make babies, indulging in the kind of polygamy that may work great in college during an experimental stage, but hardly flies in the long run. "I stayed with my experimentation and made it my life," says Samantha. Some people see this as a study of unconventional people trying to be themselves, but it comes off more as a loving gay couple being destroyed by bad decisions and the insertion of an unnecessary third party. The guys' desire to be in some kind of ersatz hetero relationship hardly makes them "unconventional" in any case. Steven says late in the film that "I was never very comfortable with my homosexuality" and it is probably his increased awareness in that regard, dealing with his internalized homophobia, that leads him to finally ditch the other two and make his own life with a male partner. [The two Sams stay together and raise two children but no longer have sex.] Samantha says of Steven, "you never expressed that you were gay," which makes her seem so clueless as to be laughable; she's the ultimate "fag hag." One senses that Steven is furious at the other two for getting him involved in a situation he probably never really wanted to be a part of, but he still has to bear some of the responsibility. Three of Hearts is not without its interesting aspects or entertainment value, but the outcome of this silly "experiment" is obvious from the first. The filmmakers never ask the tough questions, such as what other motives Samantha might have had for hooking up with these guys (that all three participants are exhibitionists goes without saying) and so much else goes completely unexplored. Ultimately, the whole movie, while well-produced, seems like a bad LOGO flick or a really lousy idea for a sitcom. One critic even suggested that the picture was contrived and phony from the get-go.

Verdict: Thank goodness gay couples can now adopt! **.

COFFEE DATE

COFFEE DATE (2006). Writer/director: Stuart Wade. Note: This review reveals certain plot points.

Todd (Jonathan Bray) is anxiously awaiting a date at a coffee shop where he runs into Kelly (Wilson Cruz), who is also awaiting a date. It turns out that they are each waiting for the other, which is awkward because Kelly is a man and Todd is straight. Apparently Todd's brother, Barry (Jonathan Silverman), has played a mean trick on him, but Todd gets even with him by bringing Kelly home and taking him into his bedroom as a joke. Barry spreads the word to their mother, Mrs. Muller (Sally Kirkland), and before long everyone seems to know that Todd is gay, even though he keeps protesting that he isn't. As they continue to go out together as friends, Kelly begins to fall for Todd even as Todd wonders if he might be gay after all, leading to rather ridiculous developments. Coffee Date is one of those mediocre independent "gay" movies that was LGBT cable channel LOGO's bread and butter in the early days (and maybe still is). It actually starts out well, with likable characters and attractive actors, but it becomes increasingly stupid as it proceeds. Todd can't figure out if he's gay or not unless he goes to bed with Kelly -- what, at 35 he can't just tell if he's attracted to men or not?! -- but decides that he's really straight after all. Todd's flamingly gay associate Clayton (Jason Stuart) suggests that a "stiff dick knows no conscience," especially when there's alcohol involved, and it doesn't mean anything, but Todd suggests that he and Kelly get it on when he's sober, and he doesn't just lie there to be serviced -- it's a full-on bedroom sex scene (even if it's played mostly in the dark). What seems especially weird in these modern days of alleged "sexual fluidity" is that no one ever suggests that Todd might be bisexual, which would explain his (supposed) interest in women and his attraction to Kelly, and certainly makes more sense than his being "straight." [For another thing, maybe Kelly just isn't Todd's type.] For a movie that possibly was supposed to smash stereotyping on both sides, it does just the opposite, and virtually every gay character with a speaking role is swishy; even Kelly is a self-described queen and some of his lines suggest a degree of self-hatred. Like The Boys in the Band decades before, it's almost as if Coffee Date is assuring conflicted men in the audience that only campy guys are gay and everyone else is safe. What makes it more confusing is that Todd, without being a raging queen, pretty much comes off as gay from his first appearance. Both of the lead actors are good, although one suspects they may have played gay a bit too much; Sally Kirkland, even if her character is stupid, nearly steals the movie as Todd's mother. Jonathan Silverman is given a thankless role and can do very little with it. Even a silly comedy shouldn't have this many gay cliches. In fact with its narrow view of gay life, gay men, and LGBT realities, Coffee Date almost comes off as homophobic. 

Verdict: Some amusing moments of one man's dilemma, but it goes in all the wrong directions. **.


THE FAMILY WAY

Wife and son comfort Ezra
THE FAMILY WAY (1966). Producer/Directors: John and Roy Boulting. Note: This review reveals plot elements.

"I can cry if I want, can't I? It's life, lad, life. It might make you laugh at your age, but one day it'll make you bloody cry." -- Ezra Fitton

Arthur Fitton (Hywel Bennett) has married his sweetheart Jenny (Hayley Mills), but the two are ripped off by a travel agency and can't afford a honeymoon. Worse, Arthur and Jenny must stay in his father's house and the lack of privacy and the resulting tension leads to the marriage not being consummated. When father Ezra (John Mills, playing his daughter's father-in-law) says that he thinks there's something "queer" about it, his wife, Lucy (Marjorie Rhodes), reminds him that Ezra actually took his beloved buddy Billy with them on their honeymoon! Situations aren't always what they seem -- or are they? The Family Way is a charming, beautifully-acted movie that has sparked a debate about its true sub-text, not only because of the honeymoon business but because of the ending, when Ezra breaks down in front of his wife and his other son. People either believe that Ezra was in love with Billy, who vanished, or that Billy is actually Arthur's father, but the solution may be even more complex than that.

The Family Way was based on a 1964 play entitled "All in Good Time" by Bill Naughton, who also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation. I went back to the original source for some clues to the true meaning of the movie and while probably only the late Irish playwright knows for sure, one can make some surmises. Some reviewers have argued that men can form very close friendships without being gay (in truth, there are heterosexual men who much more enjoy the company of other heterosexual men than their own wives), but the whole business with the honeymoon, plus the rhapsodic expression on Ezra's face whenever he talks about the vanished Billy, says volumes. As for Arthur being Billy's son, there are certain unconfirmed hints at this, although this aspect doesn't really come across in the actors' performances. Then there's the question, would both Ezra and Lucy have been unaware of the boy's parentage for all these years when, let's face it, children tend to look like their parents long before they hit twenty-five? Still, "All in Good Time" is called "a comedy," and that alone can make the absurd seem -- no pun intended -- conceivable (including the honeymoon business). Still there's no getting around a certain romantic despair in Ezra at the end and Naughton writes that "he is a more complex person than he would have anyone know."

So what's the answer? There's a good chance it's both. Imagine how Ezra would feel if the boy he raised was actually the son of the man he'd been in love with (although it's unlikely this relationship was ever consummated). Hence the tears at the end. Some have argued that the whole Ezra-Billy business was dragged in just to make a point -- that just because Arthur is impotent with his wife doesn't make him -- nor Ezra or Billy -- gay (and the film doesn't suggest Arthur is), which Lucy basically says at one point -- but it's dwelt upon quite a bit. One bit of lovely dialogue has Lucy saying "It's a father's duty to help an' protect a lad like that -- not turn on him like the mob would, an' tear his self-respect to ribbons, all over somethin' he had no say in." The play has dialogue in which Lucy explains that having a child took Ezra's mind off of Billy, which could be taken as a man (unsuccessfully) shedding his homosexual past and making the best of a married, heterosexual future. In any case, John Mills [The Wrong Box] gives one of the best performances of his career, Marjorie Rhodes [Hands of the Ripper] is sheer perfection, Bennett and Hayley Mills are wonderful, and there's nice work from Murray Head, who later appeared in Sunday, Bloody, Sunday, as Arthur's younger brother, and Barry Foster [Frenzy] as a co-worker who rides Arthur a bit too much.

The Family Way is more of a comedy-drama than an out and out comedy, and that's probably due to the strong performances, as much as the not-always comical situations. Hywell Benett and Hayley Mills also appeared together in Boulting's Twisted Nerve. NOTE: Naughton's play was filmed in 2012 under the original title. Like Family Way, it is an English film but with an East Indian cast, and appears to be an out and out comedy or farce.

Verdict: The vagaries and heartbreak of love indeed. ***.

ALEXANDER: THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN

Leigh McCloskey
ALEXANDER: THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN (1977 telefilm). Director: John Erman.

Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway, a telefilm aired in 1976, was a ratings success, so it was decided to come out with a sequel. Alexander Duncan (Leigh McCloskey), who was introduced in the first film as young prostitute Dawn's (Eve Plumb) boyfriend, is thrown out by his family (who can't afford to feed him) and winds up in L.A., where he, too, sells his body. Then he meets a closeted football player, Chuck Selby (Alan Feinstein), and begins to bond with him. But are they only just using one another? ... Alexander is a dishonest, superficial, ersatz "gay" movie where the lead character has sex with men but is supposedly straight. The scenes with him getting into cars with men, and his exact relationship with Chuck, are glossed over, and the "happy" ending doesn't seem to resolve Alexander's conflicts over his sexuality. Made for television in the seventies, it would have been a surprise that so much of the gay content made it to broadcast were it not for the fact that the far superior and much gayer That Certain Summer aired five years earlier. In this Alexander attends a rap session in a gay center, and goes to gay bars with Chuck (ever dreaming of sweet if drippy Dawn). Eric Holliman portrays a sympathetic gay counselor, and there are nice vignettes from Larry Rosenberg and Jonathan Banks [Wiseguy], among others, as young men at the center. Holliman's character says that he believes in people making their own choices, although nowadays it is not being gay that is considered a choice, but accepting oneself. McCloskey was actually twenty-two when he played this seventeen-year-old character, and while at times he seems a little too sophisticated, he gives a good performance. Holliman [The Power] is fine, as is Feinstein, although Chuck's dallying with a seventeen-year-old and getting him to go off and buy drugs for him, is problematic. Jean Hagen [No Questions Asked] scores as a landlady who's seen better days and has a picture of herself as "Miss Newcomer" of the Year on her wall, and Asher Brauner is also notable as a friend of Alexander's who gets him into hustling wealthy women, such as  Juliet Mills (these scenes have little veracity, frankly). Lonnie Chapman and Diana Douglas are effective as Alexander's parents. Miss Frances Faye plays herself and is apparently female, although in the film she comes off like a drag queen.

Verdict: The sequel, "Alexander Moves to New York and Comes Out," never materialized. **.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

THE EGYPTIAN

Edmund Purdom
THE EGYPTIAN (1954). Director: Michael Curtiz.

"You are mad, sire, but your madness is more beautiful than the visions of other men."

Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom) is a doctor to the poor who gets an appointment as royal physician when he saves the life of Pharaoh Akhnaton (Michael Wilding), whose mother Taia (Judith Evelyn) knows much more about the orphaned doctor's true history than she's letting on. Sinuhe comes under the spell of the Babylonian bitch Nefer (Bella Darvi), who essentially steals everything away from Sinuhe, including his adoptive parents' home and burial tomb [for this Sinuhe bears as much responsibility as Nefer, if not more]. Apparently not learning his lesson, Sinuhe becomes a physician only for the rich, but eventually comes into conflict with his old friend, Horemheb (Victor Mature), when the Hittites threaten an attack. Pharaoh is against violence, but doesn't understand that Egypt still must be defended. When both Horemheb and Akhnaton's cold sister, Baketemon (Gene Tierney) importune Sinuhe to poison Pharaoh, will he comply, especially after he learns the truth about his heritage ...? The Egyptian tells a good story, and mostly tells it well, even if the drawn-out ending, and Sinuhe himself, become oppressively and tediously pious. In the lead role, Edmund Purdom [The Strange Intruder] has a commanding presence, and is not a bad actor, even if there are times you wished he showed just a little more passion. Jean Simmons [Angel Face] is excellent as the woman who loves him throughout good times and bad, and Bella Darvi offers a sophisticated and mesmerizing portrait of a woman who could easily be called the "whore of Babylon." Wilding and Tierney are fine as the brother and sister, as are Victor Mature [Kiss of Death]; Peter Ustinov as the slave Kaptah; little Tommy Rettig as Sinuhe's son; and Judith Evelyn, who nearly walks off with the movie in her one scene with Purdom. The picture has impressive sets and also boasts a wonderful score composed by both Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann (and yes, you can tell who composed which section).

Verdict: Flawed but highly interesting look at ancient Egyptian culture -- with a little Hollywood soap opera thrown in. ***.

GIRLS' TOWN

June Storey and Kenneth Howell
GIRLS' TOWN (1942). Director: Victor Halperin.

Myra Norman (June Storey) wins the "Miss Ohio Valley" beauty contest and is sent to Hollywood with her plainer sister, Sue (Edith Fellows) as her chaperon. The girls live in a boarding house run by wheel-chair bound Mother Lorraine (Anna Q. Nilsson). Myra is an opportunist who latches onto Kenny Lane (Kenneth Howell), an agent for animal acts who wants to try his luck with humans for a change. But when director Lionel Fontaine (Paul Dubov) sees Sue act, he thinks she may have a lot more on the ball than her haughty sister. Which sister will become the movie star? Kenny, who's been dumped as hooker-hard Myra's agent, assures Sue that double-crossers don't get far in Hollywood -- who's he kidding? Hollywood is made up of double-crossers! In any case, Girls Town is a typical low budget PRC production with little to recommend it, although the acting isn't bad and Kenneth Howell, looking especially good in a mustache, is as charming as he was in all those Jones Family Movies such as Back to Nature for Twentieth Century-Fox. Edith Fellows was also in the 1934 version of Jane Eyre. One gal who makes an impression in this picture is Peggy Ryan [Chip Off the Old Block], who does a very good imitation of Bette Davis in Dark Victory. Talented and tragic Howell made his last film in 1951 and committed suicide 15 years later.

Verdict: "Jack Jones" to the rescue. **.

WHIPLASH (2014)

Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons
WHIPLASH (2014). Written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Note: This review reveals certain key plot points

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a young student at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music. His teacher, Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), is a monster who deliberately humiliates his students, subjecting them to both verbal and physical abuse. It's unlikely that such an instructor, who acts more like a drill sergeant at boot camp than anything else, would last very long at the conservatory, but that's only the first of the unrealistic things that happen in this contrived movie. The acting is good, and an interesting aspect to the picture is that Andrew is in his own way also an arrogant prick; therefore we have two unlikable lead characters. Whiplash not only suggests that one must ignore everything else if one is to achieve greatness -- which may well be true -- but it also suggests that the only way a teacher can bring out the best in his students is to subject them to every possible kind of emotional abuse. Fletcher would have it that this molds great artists, but he really comes off as an emotionally stunted sadist. The trouble with Whiplash is that the two main characters are more types than real people; Fletcher is especially one-dimensional, as we learn absolutely nothing about his private life. Worse is that the movie throws out all logic for what might be termed a feel-good conclusion. Blaming Andrew for getting him fired, Fletcher hires him for his band but deliberately neglects to give him the sheet music for a song that he's completely unfamiliar with. Why on earth would the egotistical Fletcher risk ruining the band's performance and making himself look bad? Fletcher may be an asshole, but he isn't that stupid, and could easily have gotten revenge in another manner. Andrew manages to deliver an outstanding drum solo in spite of everything, and the movie audience, ignoring all the problems with Whiplash, cheers both onscreen and off; now these two pricks have bonded. Simmons, who appeared on Law and Order but has mostly done voice-over work for cartoons, won a Best Supporting Oscar for Whiplash, but one could argue that Fletcher is just another cartoon character. On the plus side the movie is never boring, moves fast, and is well-edited, but the nasty instructor who debases his charges is pretty much a tired old stereotype. Because there are no dinosaurs or car chases some people overpraised the movie as a masterpiece, which it definitely isn't. I also have to say, all of this agony for a drummer -- you'd think he was Enrico Caruso!

Verdict: Disappointing study of obsessed and unpleasant people. **1/2.

THE THIRD GIRL FROM THE LEFT

Kim Novak
THE THIRD GIRL FROM THE LEFT (1973 telefilm). Director: Peter Medak.

"If he cried for anyone, it was himself" -- Gloria

"Of course. Who else does anyone cry for?" -- Zimmy.

Gloria (Kim Novak) at 36 is known as the last of the New York City showgirls (Novak was actually forty). For thirteen years she has been involved with a frankly terrible but popular singer named Joey Jordan (Tony Curtis). Their marriage keeps being "postponed" for one reason or another. Even though Gloria is easily the most beautiful of the "girls," for the first time in her career she is told to stand in the back row instead of in front. She has an affair with a 24-year-old delivery boy named David (Michael Brandon of Four Flies on Grey Velvet), then Joey comes back from Las Vegas where he's been poking Melanie (Barbi Benton) ... The material was there for a decent picture, but The Third Girl from the Left doesn't quite work. Novak isn't terrible, but she's miscast in this, and while Curtis is more appropriate as a Las Vegas reptile, his character is also a cliche. Dory Previn, who wrote the script, was responsible for a number of sensitive songs with excellent music and lyrics on her albums -- although the theme song for this picture is not memorable --  but aside from some good dialogue now and then, this never really goes below the surface. The relationship between Gloria and David is never believable, with the latter coming off like some creepy witless stalker. The best impression is made by George Furth as Joey's manager, Zimmy. When Zimmy learns that the not-quite-bright Gloria was trying to commit suicide, he says "With an electric stove?" That old vulgarian Hugh Hefner was the executive producer of this, which is probably how his squeeze Barbi Benton wound up in the movie -- she's actually not bad although Kate Hepburn had nothing to worry about. Dory Previn was dumped by her husband Andre for the undernourished Mia Farrow, and wrote several songs about it. Judging from her lyrics, one would have hoped for a much better picture. Peter Medak also directed The Ruling Class and By the Pricking of My Thumbs.

Verdict: A nice idea that goes nowhere. **.

DOOMED TO DIE

Henry Brandon, Catherine Craig, William Stelling
DOOMED TO DIE (1940). Director: William Nigh.

Cyrus Wentworth (Melvin Lang) is bitterly opposed to his daughter Cynthia's (Catherine Craig) marriage to Dick Fleming (William Stelling) because he is the son of his shipping rival, Paul Fleming (Guy Usher). Paul is hoping to consolidate both firms, especially after there's an accident at sea which claims many lives. Naturally the Flemings are the top suspects when Cyrus is murdered, but Cynthia sticks by her fiance. Of course Captain Street (Grant Withers) is convinced Dick is guilty, but reporter "Bobbi" Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) gets James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) on the case. Other characters embroiled in the mystery include Matthews (Wilbur Mack), who works for Wentworth; attorney Victor Martin (Henry Brandon); and insurance adjuster Baldwin (Tristram Coffin). Doomed to Die is not awful and moves fast, but it's just blah; it's a series that ran out of gas early on. One of the problems is that the blustery character of Captain Street and his prickly relationship with Bobbi wore thin. The considerable talents of Henry Brandon [Captain Sindbad] are completely wasted in this movie. This was the penultimate Mr. Wong movie, and the last to star Boris Karloff. Keye Luke replaced him for Phantom of Chinatown. Catherine Craig is much better in this than she was in Spy Train.

Verdict: One last gasp for Karloff's Mr. Wong. **.

BOURBON STREET BEAT

BOURBON STREET BEAT (1959). ABC television series. 38 episodes.

Producer William Orr [77 Sunset Strip] hoped lightning would strike twice with this private detective series set in New Orleans, but it only lasted one season. Rex Randolph (Richard Long) is a PI who meets police lieutenant Cal Calhoun (Andrew Duggan) during the premiere episode. The two decide to form a partnership and Cal takes a leave of absence from the police. Rex is a gourmet cook who delights in making spectacular meals, and Cal is a lover of old movies who can do dead-on impressions of Charles Boyer and the like. The two men are assisted by Kenny Madison (Van Williams), a law student, and secretary Melody Lee Mercer (Arlene Howell). Just as the offices at 77 Sunset Strip were located next to a real dining/drinking establishment in LA (Dino's Lodge, owned by Dean Martin), the offices for Randolph and Calhoun were in a courtyard right next to the historic Old Absinthe House (which unlike Dino's still exists today). Each episode had at least one scene that took place inside the Absinthe House, although these were undoubtedly filmed on a sound stage in Hollywood. The outside of the building was used in exterior shots and apparently a facsimile was built for scenes that take place in the courtyard. Melody went off to Europe halfway through the series, and Howell never returned. Another disappearance was of the Baron (Eddie Cole), a black musician who worked in the Absinthe House and often commented on the cases or imparted info. Character of strip tease artiste Lusti Weather (Nita Talbot) appeared in four episodes, but thankfully never became a regular as she was kind of irritating. When Bourbon Street Beat was canceled, Rex Randolph, still played by Long [House on Haunted Hill], joined the firm of Bailey and Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip, while Kenny Madison, still played by Williams, signed up with a trio of private eyes on Surfside 6 in Miami Beach. Duggan [Seven Days in May] wound up on the sitcom Room for One More and did a lot of television and movie work.

Among the more memorable episodes of the series: the suspenseful "Woman in the River," in which a young man claims his wife is missing, and which features fine performances from Ray Stricklyn, Henry Brandon, Mary Tyler Moore, and especially Jeanette Nolan. "Portrait of Lenore" features a famous painting that is ransomed by a mysterious masked woman and boasts excellent work from Andrea King and Madlyn Rhue. Marie Windsor, Tristram Coffin and Harry Jackson star in "The 10% Blues," an absorbing tale of a corrupt talent agency that uses strong-arm tactics to gain clients. "Six Hours to Midnight," perhaps the best episode, features that old plot of a man on death row with only hours to live, but is well-written and well-acted by George Wallace, Victor Buono, and Duggan in top form. In "Suitable for Framing" with Barbara Lord, Rita Moreno, and Craig Hill, Rex is accused of murdering a wealthy woman's husband. Most of the episodes of this entertaining series were solid "b"s or better.

Verdict: Good old private detective show with an interesting setting should have lasted longer. ***

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014). Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo.

The spy organization SHIELD is compromised, and the chief, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), attacked. Captain America (Chris Evans) discovers that the evil group HYDRA has been hidden inside SHIELD all the time. With the assistance of the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Cap takes on HYDRA, the Swiss scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), and a character from his past known only as the Winter Soldier, (Sebastian Stan) who is actually Cap's old partner, Bucky Barnes, now turned assassin. Evans [Fantastic Four] and Johansson [Marvel's The Avengers] give good performances, and there's a nice, well-played part for Robert Redford [Lions for Lambs] as the corrupt Alexander Pierce. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is busy, has some good action scenes and stunt work, but overall is second rate. It is a slight improvement over Captain America: The First Avenger however.

Verdict: Maybe the next one will get it right. **1/2.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

LOOKING FOR LOVE

Connie Francis sings and swings!
LOOKING FOR LOVE (1964). Director: Don Weis.

Libby Caruso (Connie Francis) isn't making it as a singer, so she decides she'll become a housewife instead -- all she needs is the right man. She sets her cap for a standoffish fellow named Paul (Jim Hutton), but he's more interested in her invention, a "lady valet." This somehow gets Libby on the Tonight show where she wows everyone with her singing and winds up with a spectacular career. On the verge of going off on a grand tour, Libby has one last chance to get Paul to marry her ... Looking for Love is utterly ridiculous but quite entertaining, bolstered by a fine lead performance by the highly charismatic Francis. Francis proves to be an outstanding singer as well, doing jazz numbers, ballads, and even "Be My Love" with equal aplomb. In spite of this, Francis only did four real movies. Joby Baker plays a friend who is carrying a torch for Libby, and Susan Oliver really scores as her roommate, Jan. The most intriguing cameo is by Joan Marshall (Jean Arliss of Homicidal) who looks gorgeous and is a lot of fun as one of the women interviewed for a spokeswoman job for the Lady Valet. Jay C. Flippen [Carnival Story] is fine as the manufacturer of Libby's invention -- Flippen's wife wrote the screenplay for this --  and there are guest appearances by Danny Thomas and Johnny Carson. Barbara Nichols [The George Raft Story] has a nice bit as another potential spokesperson until she learns that Libby is taking over her spot on the Thomas show. The snappy songs help a lot and Francis is delightful.

Verdict: Amiable nonsense with some great singing. **1/2.

LAND OF THE PHARAOHS

The imposing pyramid-tomb
LAND OF THE PHARAOHS (1955). Producer/director: Howard Hawks.

"Strange religion to deny a future to those who failed in the past."

Pharaoh Khufu (Jack Hawkins) has one main goal, and that is to see that his tomb will be completely safe from violation so he can enjoy his treasures in the after-life. Learning that many other tombs have been broken into, Khufu has the slave and architect Vashtar (James Robertson Justice) design and build an impregnable -- and clever -- burying place for him. In the meantime foreign Princess Nellifer (Joan Collins), herself turned into a slave, manages to make herself one of Khufu's wives, and is determined to become Queen of All Egypt no matter whom she has to kill; obviously power has gone to her head. But will she achieve her goal, or succumb to a much more ironic fate ... ? Land of the Pharaohs is a very entertaining movie, with a splendid lead performance from the authoritative and commanding Jack Hawkins [Ben-Hur]. Joan Collins is also very effective, especially in her early confrontations with Hawkins -- as are Sydney Chaplin as Nellifer's lover, Treneh, the captain of the guard, and Alexis Minotis as Hamar, the Pharaoh's good right hand. There's some odd casting in this, however, with Justice (who usually plays blustery characters in such films as Doctor in Love) adequate as Vashtar and Dewey Martin [The Thing from Another World] handsome and acceptable as Vashtar's grown son, Senta. (Hawks used Martin in other movies as well.) At times the brassy musical score [Dimitri Tiomkin] reminds one of a Broadway musical, and Hawks' direction is not as assured or inspired as it might have been, although the settings are always colorful and the movie has an elaborate production. There's a scene when some who have displeased Pharaoh are thrown to the gators. Believe it or not, William Faulkner was one of the screenwriters! Great ending! Oddly, the movie was a commercial failure.

Verdict: Perhaps not as fictional as one might imagine, although this is still Hollywood. ***.


FOR HEAVEN 'S SAKE

Edmund Gwenn and Clifton Webb
FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE (1950). Director: George Seaton.

"Successful angels do not use sarcasm."

Charles (Clifton Webb) and Arthur (Edmund Gwenn) are angels sent down from heaven to oversee the birth of two little angels (Gigi Perreau; Tommy Rettig) whose parents seem reluctant to bring children into the world. Charles sees actress Lydia Bolton (Joan Bennett) and her husband, Jeff (Bob Cummings) as selfish, irresponsible people when they are simply talented artists who quite sensibly don't want to have children. But snippy Charles, to the horror of prissy Arthur, decides to help things along by becoming human for a time and interfering with the lives of the Boltons. Inspired by a Gary Cooper movie, Charles takes on the persona of wealthy rancher "Slim" Charles, but will the allures of earthly passions prevent him from completing his assignment ..? For Heaven's Sake is bolstered by a good cast, with Webb and Cummings especially helping to put this weird material over. Jack La Rue [The Story of Temple Drake] also makes his mark as a tough guy actor who is not as hard as he thinks, and the dour Charles Lane [The Invisible Woman] is well-cast as an IRS man who wonders why "Slim" doesn't pay any taxes. Perreau and Rettig are suitably adorable. Harry von Zell [The Saxon Charm] and Joan Blondell make shorter appearances. Bennett was very effective in both slinky and maternal roles; in this she's sort of caught in the middle. It's interesting that the little girl is determined to be born to such wealthy parents, although nothing is ever made of this.

Verdict: Charming in spite of itself. **1/2.

THE DEVIL'S MASK

Jim Bannon and Anita Louise
THE DEVIL'S MASK (1946). Director: Henry Levin. Based on a I Love a Mystery radio script.

A plane crashes on its way to South America, and among its cargo is a shrunken head. Meanwhile Janet Mitchell (Anita Louise of The Firebird) is convinced that her father was murdered on a trip into the jungle, and goes to her Uncle Leon (Paul E. Burns) for succor. Her chief suspects are her stepmother Louise (Mona Barrie) and Professor Logan (Frank Wilcox), who are supposedly having an affair. Private eyes Jack Packard (Jim Bannon of Unknown World) and Doc Long (Barton Yarborough) are hired by Louise, who is suspicious of Rex Kennedy (Michael Duane), an alleged gadabout who is keeping company with Janet. Then someone is killed with a Jivaro blow gun ... The Devil's Mask is minor in all departments but it has its intriguing aspects and the acting is okay, with insouciant Duane [The Return of the Whistler] the stand-out. There's some interesting business with the shrunken head as well.

Verdict: Okay, but a better movie with shrunken heads is The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake. **1/2.


STARK FEAR

Beverly Garland and Skip Homeier
STARK FEAR (1962). Director: Ned Hockman.

Gerald Winslow (Skip Homeier) is convinced that his wife, Ellen (Beverly Garland of Swamp Women), is carrying on with her boss, Cliff Kane (Kenneth Tobey of Angel Face). At first Ellen can't understand his outraged accusations until she discovers that there has always been bad blood between Gerald and Cliff, and suspects Cliff hired her just to rub Gerald's face in it. Who should she believe? The fact that Gerald calmly stands by and smokes a cigarette while Ellen is raped by a cretin in a cemetery should give you a clue. Stark Fear is more of a twisted marital drama and character study than a thriller, but the script has intriguing aspects and the actors are game. Garland, as usual, gives an especially effective performance even without the usual monsters and demons to play against [It Conquered the World; Not of This Earth]. Homeier and Toby are also good, and there are some vivid performances from a mostly unknown supporting cast. Hannah Stone gives an excellent performance as Ellen's lonely friend, Ruth, who figures in the touching conclusion.While Ellen does seem numb and disturbed after her sexual assault, today more would have been made of the repercussions of such a violent act. The film seems to have been directed by a talented amateur, but whether that was credited director Hockman or star Skip Homeier (as reported by Garland) is open to question.

Verdict: One of Garland's best performances in a movie she apparently hated. ***.

THE FATAL HOUR

Hands up! Grant Withers and Boris Karloff
THE FATAL HOUR (1940). Director: William Nigh.

Police captain Bill Street (Grant Withers) is disheartened to learn that old friend and fellow cop Dan O'Grady has been murdered and his body dumped in the river. Criminologist James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) thinks there's little he can do as the case seemingly has no connection with the Chinese-American community, until Street reminds him that many Chinese objects have been smuggled; O'Grady himself was investigating a smuggling racket. The people the two men investigate include dealer Frank Belden (Hooper Atchley); his son (Craig Reynolds of Romance on the Run), who is in love with adventuress Tanya (Lita Chevret); radio actor Griswold (Jason Robards Sr.); financier Forbes (Charles Trowbridge of Mysterious Dr. Satan); and crooked club owner "Hardway" Lockett (Frank Puglia of The Boogie Man Will Get You), who owns the Club Neptune. Street has a love-hate thing going with reporter Roberta Logan (Marjorie Reynolds). The actors, especially Karloff, are swell, and Tristram Coffin has a small role as a desk clerk in a hotel. The Fatal Hour has a fairly clever murder scheme but the movie is not very memorable. One of the characters is inexplicably murdered in police headquarters right outside Street's office.

Verdict: Pleasant time-passer but little else. **.

JURASSIC PARK III

JURASSIC PARK III (2001). Director: Joe Johnston.

In this third installment of the Jurassic Park series -- the fourth, Jurassic World, is just about to open -- paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) is importuned to travel with his associate Billy (Alessandro Nivola) to an alternate dinosaur-riddled island due to the manipulations of an estranged couple, the Kirbys (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni). The Kirbys don't tell Grant that they are searching for their young son, who was lost on the island when he and his mother's boyfriend unaccountably went paragliding near the island. After their plane is destroyed by a dinosaur, Grant has to wonder if anyone can survive let alone if they can find the boy, assuming he's alive after all this time. Jurassic Park III is an entertaining film with outstanding special effects, and if you ignore its stupid moments and uneven characterization you can concentrate instead on that wonderful and scary spinosaurus who keeps popping up for a snack when you least expect it. As usual in movies of this nature, the pilot and another man are quickly eaten and then forgotten about, but even stranger, even the boy and his mother seem to have zero feelings about her boyfriend, whose half-eaten corpse she comes across. As for the acting, Macy and Leoni are so busy being "cute" that they never quite get across that a.) their son may be dead or b.) they may never get off the island even if they find him. Neill and Nivola strike a more realistic note. Along with that marvelous spinosaurus, there are also the usual complement of nasty, intelligent raptors, big apatosauri, and of course flying pterodactyals, who carry off more than one member of the cast. The climax on the river is a bit disappointing, but basically this has more than enough thrills to keep fans of the genre satisfied and it has less ugly scenes than the first two pictures.

Verdict: Give that spinosaurus his own movie! ***.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

ANDY! ANDY! ANDY!

Studly? Rutherford, Rooney, Garland, Turner
ANDY! ANDY! ANDY!

One might as well say "Mickey! Mickey! Mickey! as actor and role were pretty much inseparable. There were other girl-crazy teens in old time movie series -- Jimmy Lydon in the Henry Aldrich series and  Kenneth Howell in the Jones Family series [both of whom were quite talented] -- but nobody was quite like Andy Hardy. Andy was sort of in-between the very silly if lovable Henry and the more serious and stable Jack Jones, although all three could lose their heads over the ladies.

Below is a round up of the last entries in the Andy Hardy series beginning with Life Begins for Andy Hardy and ending with Andy Hardy Comes Home, although one could claim that the last true Hardy film was Love Laughs at Andy Hardy 12 years earlier. Andy Hardy Comes Home was to be the first of a new series, but its mediocrity and other problems put paid to that idea.

The Hardy movies varied in quality, ranging from the excellence of Andy Hardy's Double Life to the comparative miserableness of Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble, with others stuck in the middle. But none of the Hardy films were completely awful, if for no other reason than the excellent performances of Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, and especially the irrepressible Mickey Rooney.

LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY

LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY (1941). Director: George B. Seitz.

"A child? Listen Andy Hardy, my mother just bought me an evening gown that has no visible means of support!" -- Betsy

"What is the world coming to?" -- Andy

"Somebody's dead -- it doesn't seem right unless somebody cries."

Although 18-year-old Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) has been offered a college scholarship, he decides to wait a month and see what living and working alone in the big city, Manhattan, will be like -- "today I am a man," he declares as he drives away from Carvel with ever-hopeful Betsy Booth (Judy Garland). Although previously he had run from a sophisticated city woman as if she had the plague, in this outing he has better luck with a vivacious if slightly shady secretary named Jennitt (Patricia Dane). A genuinely nice young man, Andy offers to share his room with a young aspiring dancer, Jimmy (Ray McDonald), who has become homeless. Meanwhile Betsy does her best to help a proud Andy while he struggles to find work, finally settling at Consolidated Stocks and Bonds, run by the gruff Mr. Maddox (Lester Matthews). And then an unexpected tragedy occurs ... Life Begins for Andy Hardy is one of the best Hardy films, with an excellent script by Agnes Christine Johnson that provides plenty of very funny moments along with more sobering sequences. Rooney and Garland are both simply superb, with the latter looking especially pretty in this entry. Dane [Rio Rita], McDonald [Presenting Lily Mars] and Matthews [The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu] give top-notch performances as well. The picture continues directly after Andy Hardy's Private Secretary, and almost  immediately Andy and Polly (Ann Rutherford) decide to split up amicably. Marion is not seen, and Beezy (George Breakston), now a milkman, and Aunt Millie (Sara Haden) appear only briefly. As usual, Fay Holden is wonderful as Mrs. Hardy. There's an interesting scene when Andy implies that one is washed up at around age thirty, and the Judge (Lewis Stone) all too clearly is thinking of his own age and his lost youth.  Life Begins for Andy Hardy is occasionally on the sappy side -- those evil big city women and so on! -- but it's very entertaining. Mercifully scenes involving a priest and rabbi, undoubtedly concerning a certain character's death, were left on the cutting room floor.

Verdict: The best of the Hardys? ***1/2.

THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY

Mickey Rooney and "droopy" Donna Reed
THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY (1942). Director: George B. Seitz.

"Andrew! I do not go back to the American Revolution!" -- Judge Hardy

While Andy (Mickey Rooney) is having problems operating his car towing service, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) intervenes in the case of a divorcing couple (Freida Inescort; Harvey Stephens) whose daughter, Melodie (Donna Reed) is being adversely affected by their behavior. The judge asks Andy to take Melodie to a dance, and he agrees, even though he thinks she's kind of "droopy." However, he gets to like the girl when he actually get to know her,  although he's worried when she develops a crush on him -- this in spite of the fact that Melodie eventually turns herself into quite a dish. And what about the returning Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford)? In the meantime, Marian (Cecelia Parker) meets a brash young man named Jefferson (William Lundigan), and Mother Hardy (Fay Holden) has to deal with dishonest bill collectors. There seemed to be a decision with this film to focus a little more on the other members of the Hardy family, although Andy still gets the lion's share of the footage. The Courtship of Andy Hardy features the usual fine performances, but while it's quite pleasant in spots, it's not one of the more memorable entries. Todd Karnes reappears as Harry Land [Andy Hardy's Private Secretary], who falls for Melodie even before her makeover.

Verdict: One of the weaker Hardy pictures. **1/2.

ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE

William Lundigan, Mantan Moreland, Mickey Rooney
ANDY HARDY'S DOUBLE LIFE (1942). Director: George B. Seitz.

"You're really the stuff, dad!"

Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) is leaving for Wainwright college in just a few days, and he finds himself with two dilemmas. First, his father, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone), wants to accompany Andy to Wainwright, his old alma mater, where he will introduce him around, and stay for two weeks, a prospect which leaves Andy feeling like a little kid going to kindergarten. Then Andy finds himself supposedly engaged to two women, Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), and her friend, Sheila (Esther Williams), a psych major. As for the judge, he's dealing with a little boy (Bobby Blake) hit by a truck, while an ever-touchy Marian (Cecilia Parker) has high hopes for her blossoming romance with Jeff Willis (William Lundigan) from The Courtship of Andy Hardy. Both Rooney and Parker were getting older -- Rooney was 22 playing 18 and Parker was 28, starting to look a bit chubby and matronly  --  but the series still had a lot of life in it judging by this superior installment. Lewis Stone and Fay Holden as his wife really have a chance to shine with their expert performances -- Stone is particularly affecting -- and more cannot possibly be said about the simply wonderful Rooney. Parker, Sara Haden as Aunt Millie, and Lundigan are also fine, and there's a funny bit with that excellent comic character Mantan Moreland as Prentiss, the butler for the Benedict family. Addison Richards [The Royal Mounted Rides Again] also makes his mark as Polly's father, as does Robert Pittard as Andy's friend (?), Botsy. There are also brief appearances by Arthur Space as a lawyer, and Junior Coghlan as another of Andy's so-called buddies. Esther Williams [Raw Wind in Eden] was "introduced" in this movie -- it really was her first picture -- and she's quite good in fact, playing the role in just the right note. Andy Hardy's Double Life has an excellent, often touching script with equal parts humor and drama, and despite some silly moments, all of it works.

Verdict: One of the very best of the Hardy pictures. ***1/2.

ANDY HARDY'S BLONDE TROUBLE

Herbert Marshall and Mickey Rooney
ANDY HARDY'S BLONDE
TROUBLE (1944). Director: George B. Seitz.

"We always think the lady smiles at us. It's only our masculine conceit that makes us think so. I'm afraid this time you were not irresistible." -- the dean to Andy.

At the end of Andy Hardy's Double Life our Andy (Mickey Rooney) is traveling by train to Wainwright College when he encounters a pretty gal who tells him that the school is now co-ed -- oh boy! At the opening of Blonde Trouble this gal, originally played by Susan Peters, has been replaced by Bonita Granville and her name has switched from Sue to Kay -- ah, the magic of movies in the days before DVDs. [I could also swear that Andy handed the conductor his ticket at the end of Double Life but it turns out Dad forgot to give it to him in the sequel.] That really isn't a problem, however, although this movie has plenty of others. Andy finds himself a rival for Kay, who digs older men, and in a highly contrived bit of business one of those older men turns out to be the dean (Herbert Marshall)! Because of this, Andy, for a well-raised young man, more than once speaks way too bluntly and rudely to the man who runs the college. Worse, there's a ridiculous sub-plot involving two twins (Lee and Lyn Wilde) who can't stand the notion of being separated and pretend to be one person, giving Andy conniption fits. There are admittedly some amusing sequences and Rooney, always outstanding, seems to be getting even better as he gets older, but, especially compared to Double Life, this picture comes dangerously close to being poorly-scripted schlock. This is a shame because there is some good dialogue, as well as some dramatic potential, but it's dissipated by a surplus of silliness. Bonita Granville [Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase] is lovely and gives a very good performance, but looks too old and sophisticated for the role even though she was a year younger than Rooney. Lewis Stone and the others -- only Marian is missing -- are excellent, and Herbert Marshall [The Letter] excels, as usual, in his oddly-written role. His scenes with Granville have such a certain sensuality to them (the dean admits to Judge Hardy that there is a definite, two-sided attraction) that you're presented with a middle-aged college dean basically making time with a freshman co-ed; she even kisses him. Keye Luke as the new Carvel doctor, and Connie Gilchrist [Two on a Guillotine] as a house mother are both notable. It's interesting that Andy reads a magazine called Horror on the train, and even more interesting is a rare editing gaffe in a major movie: in a scene with the twins one of them is reaching towards her sister when there is an abrupt and awkward cut. and in the next shot she is repeating the motion. Rooney appears more youthful in this than he did in the previous picture.

Verdict: Not one of Andy's best, but Rooney is magnificent! **.

LOVE LAUGHS AT ANDY HARDY

Dorothy Ford and Mickey Rooney
LOVE LAUGHS AT ANDY HARDY (1946). Director: Willis Goldbeck.

"I'm an innocent victim of circumstance." -- Andy Hardy

Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) is back from a two-year stint in the Army and anxious to get back to Wainwright college -- and Kay (Bonita Granville), his college sweetheart from Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble. The easily-agitated Mrs. Hardy (Fay Holden) is convinced her "baby" is going to get married -- and not to someone worthy of him. In these assertions Mother Hardy may well be correct. Andy's parents at first confuse his girlfriend with Coffy Smith (Dorothy Ford), an extremely tall young woman with whom Andy attends a dance (in a lively and amusing sequence) and who is too fond of calling people "uncle." ("She's a very pretty girl," says Mrs. Hardy "but do you think she'll stop growing?") In the meantime, Kay proves to be a little insensitive and rather stupid considering what she asks of Andy just as he's trying to propose to her. Love Laughs at Andy Hardy is a big improvement over Blonde Trouble, with Rooney, Lewis Stone and Fay Holden giving their usual excellent performances. Six foot two Dorothy Ford is very appealing as Coffy, and Lina Romay scores as the sexy Isobel, who does her best to get Andy out of his funk. Sara Haden appears as Aunt Millie, but Cecelia Parker is missing as Marian. There's a very funny sequence when Andy is locked out of the house in what looks like his mother's bathrobe. While Mrs. Hardy had always been portrayed as a woman who was a little naive and unsophisticated, in this they make her seem like a dope when she often offered sage advice to her husband and son. This was the last Hardy film for twelve years.

Verdict: A return to form for the Hardys. ***.

ANDY HARDY COMES HOME

Mickey Rooney and Fay Holden
ANDY HARDY COMES HOME (1958). Director: Howard W. Koch.

"Wouldn't it be nice some time to take a trip around the world?' -- Aunt Millie

"Oh, I don't know. I'd rather go somewhere else." -- Mrs. Hardy

Twelve years have gone by since the last Hardy film and Andy is now happily married to Jane (Patricia Breslin of Homicidal) and living in Los Angeles with their two children. Andy now works for the legal department of the Gordon Aircraft company and thinks it might be a good idea to open a plant in his home town of Carvel. Unfortunately, a couple of people with grudges against Andy conspire to turn the whole town against him, insisting the factory will lead to slums, criminals, and who knows what else. Old pal "Beezy" (now played by Joey Forman) shows up and tries to help Andy but is stymied by his fearful wife, Sally (Jeanne Baird). Will Andy have to turn his back on Carvel the way they've seemed to turn their backs on him? Andy Hardy Comes Home is an amiable, if minor, picture that in its day served chiefly as a way for the audience to catch up with the Hardy family after many years. Lewis Stone had passed on, but Fay Holden (in her warm if slightly ditsy turn as Mother Hardy), Sara Haden as Millie, and Cecelia Parker (returning as Marian) are all good, as is Rooney. The film introduced Pat Cawley, who plays Sally, the woman who helps Andy in his search for property, although it is highly unlikely that her handsome boyfriend (William Leslie of Mutiny in Outer Space) would actually be jealous of Andy. Also introduced in this picture were little Teddy Rooney, who is okay as Andy Hardy Jr., and Johnny Weissmuller Jr. , who plays Andy's very tall nephew, Jim. Jerry Colonna shows up as Doc, who runs the soda shoppe. There are flashback scenes with Judy Garland, Lana Turner, and Esther Williams in clips from the older Hardy films. At the end of Andy Hardy Comes Home it says TO BE CONTINUED in big letters, but it was not to be. Andy was too old, and his son too young, to capture the teen-aged girl-crazy humor of the earlier installments, and the script for the film was no world-beater, making a mild attempt at recreating the humor and sentiment of the original series. The very pretty and competent Cawley only did two other movies.

Verdict: A middle-aged and mostly mediocre Andy Hardy. **1/2.