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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

THOSE BLOODY ITALIANS

This week Great Old Movies takes a look at Italian horror films, specifically those bloody "giallo" movies or gialli (the plural).

"Giallo" simply means yellow in Italian. (You would think it would denote the color red for blood, but the term derives from Italian pulp-type fiction with yellow covers.) But giallo has come to mean a certain type of mystery film or thriller. It has a broader usage in Italy itself, but elsewhere it denotes a specific type of shocker. There is usually an unknown maniac (or at least someone who acts like a maniac but may be quite sane and cunning) on the loose killing several victims in often flamboyant and vicious ways. There is a gruesome emphasis on the deaths. And a convoluted plot that may lead decades back into the past to explain motives or bring the killer to light.

Gialli were influential in some ways on the American slasher films that followed, although these tended to have much more simplistic plot lines.

Probably the first great giallo director was Mario Bava, whose Blood and Black Lace was very influential on later films, including those by the second great giallo director, Dario Argento. (Argento should certainly have been represented in this week's films, but when I put in my DVD of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage it proved to be defective. However, type in his name in the search bar above and many of his films will come up.) Argento helmed such gems as Deep Red and Dario Argento's Trauma, both of which are masterpieces of the genre. 

BLADE OF THE RIPPER/ NEXT!

George Hilton
BLADE OF THE RIPPER (aka Next!/aka Next Victim!/aka The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh/aka Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh/1971). Director: Sergio Martino.

Running away from a strange and abusive lover named Jean (Ivan Rassimov of Spasmo), Julie (Edwige Fenech) marries a pleasant and balanced man named Neil Wardjh (Alberto de Mendoza of One On Top of the Other) in Vienna. Unfortunately, Neil is not that exciting, so Julie takes up with an aggressive stranger named George (George Hilton) and they begin a passionate affair. While this is going on, a mad slasher is on the loose in the city, and one of Julie's friends, Carol (Conchita Airoldi), becomes the latest victim. Then Julie finds herself being stalked by an unknown figure. Which of the three men in Julie's life is the maniac, or is it someone else? Blade of the Ripper is an interesting giallo film with a more involved plot than usual, but its main distinction is its brilliant twist at the end. Edwige Fenech [The Sins of Madame Bovary] takes her clothing off at the drop of a hat, and there are other undraped females throughout, at times giving the pic the tone of soft core porn. The movie doesn't compare to the best of Dario Argento, but it does boast a suspenseful sequence in the parking basement of Julie's apartment house and a tense scene on the stairs, as well as one creepy murder sequence. The acting is more than adequate. Don't expect beautiful views of Vienna, although one murder scene does take place near the palace outside the city. Sergio Martino also directed Torso.

Verdict: Suspenseful if un-stylish giallo thriller. ***.

THE FIFTH CORD

Franco Nero and Pamela Tiffin
THE FIFTH CORD (aka Giornata nera per l'ariete/aka Evil Fingers/1971). Director: Luigi Bazzoni.

After a New Year's Eve party, a young man named John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is attacked in a tunnel by an unknown person and nearly killed. Investigating the case is reporter Andrea Bild (Franco Nero of Killer Mermaid), who has an ex-wife, Helene (Silvia Monti), a little boy, Tonio, and a girlfriend named Lu (Pamela Tiffin of The Pleasure Seekers), and who drinks way too much for his own good. Then there is a series of murders, with a doctor's wife being the first victim (in a well-handled sequence), as we hear an unidentified person on the soundtrack talking about how much he likes to kill people. The Fifth Cord is a non-bloody giallo film that has a nice look (thanks to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro) but which doesn't compare to the best of Dario Argento. The story is completely confusing (Nero's thick accent doesn't help), and the motivations of the killer seem ridiculous (and homoerotic in a strictly old-fashioned sense). There is one very creepy and suspenseful scene when the little boy winds up alone in a house with the lights out and is stalked by the killer. Wolfgang Preiss plays the inspector on the case and Edmund Purdom is a minor character. Nero began a long relationship with Vanessa Redgrave when they worked on Camelot; they married in 2006.

Verdict|: Second-rate giallo with some interesting aspects. **1/2.

BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA

Giancarlo Gianinni
BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (aka La tarantola dal ventre nero/1971). Director: Paolo Cavara.

Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Gianinni) investigates a series of murders in which people are paralyzed with a drug and then are stabbed in the belly, in much the way a wasp kills a tarantula (to explain the title and little else). Black Belly of the Tarantula is a very confusing picture with an awful score by Ennio Morricone, who was clearly not much inspired by the material. Stefania Sandrelli plays Anna, Tellini's wife, who figures in the moderately tense finale, and also in the cast are Barbara Bach, Barbara Bouchet, and Claudine Auger [Twitch of the Death Nerve] as women connected to s spa and modeling agency. Gianinni, who went on to much, much better things in a long career, gives an okay if somewhat disinterested performance as a cop who wants to get out of the business (even as the actor probably wanted to get out of the movie). Black Belly is not an especially intriguing nor admirable example of the Italian giallo film. In fact, one could rightly state that the best thing about the movie is its title. A much, much better horror flick for Giannini was Mimic

Verdict: Blah dubbed thriller which wastes everyone's talents. **.  

THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES

Barbara Bouchet
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (aka La dama rossa uccide sette volte/1972). Director: Emilio Miraglia.

The inhabitants of Wildenbrook Castle are supposedly under a legendary curse where every hundred years a bad sister murders the good sister and several others. Speculation about this curse was started by a very old painting depicting a "red queen" murdering another queen dressed in black. When their grandfather dies, it precipitates a series of vicious murders centering around three sisters: Kitty (Barbara Bouchet of Casino Royale), Franziska (Marina Malfatti), and Evelyn, who has supposedly gone to America. We learn early on that Evelyn is dead, but who is that who is dressing up like the Red Queen and killing people she encounters, especially those associated with a fashion house where Kitty works? A police inspector (Marino Mase) works the case and his suspects include Martin (Ugo Paglial), who takes over when the original managing director is stabbed to death; model Lulu (Sybil Danning); Martin's crazy wife, Elizabeth (Carla Mancini); and others. A couple of the murders are fairly inventive, but the picture has no style whatsoever, although it does have some suspense and holds the attention if you're in the mood for a second-rate giallo. An Italian-West German co-production. Miraglia also directed The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, which was better.

Verdict: Beware those cackling queens! **1/2.

THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS

Franco Agostini and Giampiero Albertino
THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS (aka Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?/1972). Director: Giuliano Carnimeo (Anthony Ascott).

A performer named Mizar (Carla Brait) finds a woman's body in the elevator of her building. Not much later Mizar herself is forcibly drowned by an unseen killer in her apartment's bathtub. In spite of this Jennifer (Edwige Fenech) and her friend, Marilyn (Paola Quattrini), move into the murdered woman's flat. One of the chief suspects for the murders is Andrea Barto (George Hilton), who is manager for this and other apartment houses. Jennifer is befriended by a neighbor named Sheila (Annabella Incontrera), who lives with her elderly father, a violinist (George Riguad). (It is made clear that Sheila is a lesbian who is attracted to Jennifer, but she is not exactly "predatory" as she has been described in write-ups of the film.) The masked killer breaks into Jennifer and Marilyn's apartment, but doesn't manage to kill them just yet. Most sensible people would move out of the apartment as fast as possible, but Jennifer needs to stay there so that the rest of the plot can be played out. The Case of the Bloody Iris holds the attention, but the murders will not be gruesome enough for some viewers. Fenech [The Sins of Madame Bovary] has a mostly European following, and seems competent enough as Jennifer, although Gampiero Albertino and Franco Agostini perhaps offer more flavorful performances as Police Commissioner Enci and his assistant, Redi.

Verdict: Acceptable giallo film, **1/2.


THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT

Shirley Corrigan and Anthony Steffen
THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT (aka Sette scialli di seta gialla/1972). Director: Sergio Pastore.

Blind musician Peter Oliver (Anthony Steffen of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave) overhears what appears to be a murder plot while in a restaurant. A drug-addicted woman, Susan (Giovanna Lenzi), is being forced to participate in several murders that are very cleverly achieved. With the help of his major domo, Burton (Umberto Raho of That Man in Istanbul) and lady friend, Margo (Shirley Corrigan), Peter tries to trace Susan's trail and uncover who is behind the murders. Other characters include Francoise (Sylva Koscina of Deadlier Than the Male), who runs a modeling agency; her lover, Victor (Giacomo Rossi Stuart); the blackmailing Helga (Annabella Incontrera); and her lover, Wendy (Liliana Pavlo). There is a harrowing sequence when Peter is lured onto a roof with gaping holes in it, and a rather disgusting, overly gross lady-gets-slashed-in-the-shower sequence that is out of sync with the rest of the movie. The Crimes of the Black Cat holds the attention and has interesting aspects, but it hasn't much style. Anthony Steffen appears to have been dubbed by Edmund Purdom.

Verdict: Reasonably absorbing giallo film. **1/2.

SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS

SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS (aka Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso/1972). Director: Umberto Lenzi.

Someone is murdering women in grisly ways and leaving behind half-moon shaped medallions. When Giulia (Uschi Glas) nearly becomes the next victim on her honeymoon, the police decide to let everyone but her new husband, Mario (Antonio Sabato), think she's dead. Assuming she will be safe enough, Mario embarks on his own investigation after Guilia tells him she first saw the half-moon medallion with an American man at a hotel she then owned. The killings continue as Mario tracks down a heroin addict named Barrett (Bruno Corazzari) who thinks he can identify the American. But every lead only seems to cause frustration. Inspector Vismara (Pier Paolo Capponi) thinks he's found the killer, but the true murderer is only revealed at the climax. Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is quite entertaining, with some gruesome if not too repulsive murder sequences, one involving a power drill that reminds one more of the American slasher films that would follow. Umberto Lenzi also directed the very weird Spasmo. If you're hoping to see something stylish like a Dario Argento film, you'll be disappointed, but at least the movie doesn't bore.

Verdict: Enjoyable minor giallo. **1/2.

THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW

Craig Hill and Lino Capolicchio
THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW (aka Solamente nero/1978). Director: Antonio Bido.

Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) comes to Venice to visit his brother, the priest Don Paolo (Craig Hill), who lives in a small town on an island near the city. Haunted by an incident where a young woman was murdered years ago, Stefamo's memories are awakened by a series of new murders. Stefano begins an relationship with Sandra (Stefania Casini of Suspiria), whose own stepmother (Laura Nucci) becomes one of the victims of a fiendish killer. The Bloodstained Shadow is a reasonably intriguing Italian thriller/giallo film whose murders are not quite as gory as in similar films, but we do have the sequence when a woman's head is thrust into a fireplace and is engulfed in flames. Other characters, suspects, and victims include a midwife, Signora Nardi (Juliette Maynial); Count Pedrazzi (Massimo Serato), a music teacher whom Don Paolo accuses of fiddling with his young male students (a sequence which given recent events in the Catholic church may raise some eyebrows); and  Dr. Aloisi (Sergio Mioni), among others. After a few red herrings and twists, a satisfying conclusion unmasks the killer and also provides a mostly believable motivation. The film's production is greatly enhanced by location filming and the brooding shots of mysterious Venice and environs. Craig Hill [Detective Story] was a B movie leading man and TV performer in the fifties and sixties who later did much work in Italy. Juliette Maynial was most famous for Eyes Without a Face

Verdict: Has its flaws, and it's not especially stylish, but it's one of the better giallo films. ***. 

A BLADE IN THE DARK

Anny Papa and Andrea Occhipinti
A BLADE IN THE DARK aka La casa con la scala nel buoi/1983). Director: Lamberto Bava.

Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti) is working on a score for a horror film directed by Sandra (Anny Papa). His friend, Tony (Michele Soavi), lets him stay in a large and beautiful villa that he manages, and Bruno quickly encounters two women, Katia (Valeria Cavalli) and Angela (Fabiola Toledo), both of whom are horribly murdered on the estate. Bruno also has a girlfriend named Julia (Lara Lamberti), about whom he becomes suspicious. Investigating, Bruno discovers that their deaths may have something to do with the picture that Sandra is working on. A Blade in the Dark boasts a highly tense and suspenseful approach, although most viewers will see the ending a mile away. The murder sequences are sadistic and gruesome. The music by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis is very reminiscent-- in fact, downright imitative --  of the scores by Goblin for such Dario Argento films as Deep Red. A Blade in the Dark imitates Argento's films with its half giggling-half crying maniac and the convoluted plotline, but it's not in the same league as that director's films. Nevertheless, Bava, the son of Mario Bava, manages to hold the viewers attention and keep him riveted during key sequences. In this picture, at least, Bava is cleared influenced by his father, Argento, and even Brian De Palma. Actor Michele Soavi also directed horror films such as Stagefright (1987).

Verdict: Real creepy movie with several very bloody sequences. ***.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

THE YOUNG DOCTORS

Ben Gazzara and Fredric March
THE YOUNG DOCTORS (1961). Director: Phil Karlson.

Dr. Joseph Pearson (Fredric March) is an experienced pathologist who finds himself with a new, younger colleague, Dr. David Coleman (Ben Gazzara). David sees a lot that's wrong with the operation in the hospital, but Pearson tells him that he has tried to do the things he suggests but is always told it costs too much money. Experienced, but hopelessly set in his ways, Joseph scoffs at the thought of a certain blood test for a pregnant woman that David feels is crucial, and he prevents the test from being made. Even as this is going on, David discovers that a nurse he is falling for, Cathy (Ina Balin) may face the loss of a leg due to bone cancer. While some of the medical information in The Young Doctors has to be taken with a grain of salt due to advances in medicine over the past fifty years, the picture works on an emotional and dramatic level and is not just a schlocky soap opera like many of the subsequent doctor movies that were made afterward. March is excellent, although he perhaps makes some odd choices in how he plays some of the final sequences. Gazzara [A Rage to Live] is also quite good, although he's never what you could call a charm boy in his romantic scenes, but Ina Balin [The Patsy] is as lovely and efficient as ever as nurse Cathy. Another fine performance is from Eddie Albert, doing some of the best work of his career as another doctor, particularly in a tense, beautifully-done sequence when he  operates on a baby that nearly dies. There's also surprisingly good work from Dick Clark as yet another doctor who is the father of said baby, and Aline MacMahon [Babbitt] scores as Dr. Lucy Grainger, who ministers to Cathy. Elmer Bernstein has contributed a nice score as well. Based on "The Final Diagnosis" by Arthur Hailey. The same year that this popular film was released came the debut of two famous TV medical dramas, Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey.

Verdict: Very absorbing drama with several expert performances and decided emotional impact. ***1/2.

LOOKER

Albert Finney and Susan Dey
LOOKER (1981). Written and directed by Michael Crichton.

Cosmetic surgeon Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) does work on several beautiful women who obsess over certain "imperfections." You would think that he would wonder where these women got the exact-to-the-centimeter measurements of their alleged flaws, but Roberts only worries about it after they start being murdered. The murders are traced back to a sinister TV test group, Digital Matrix -- although it is never really explained why the women are murdered -- who plan to use computer-generated images to replace real people not just in commercials but in political ads -- or something like that. They have also invented a gun that freezes people in their tracks so to them it appears as if time has passed by without their being aware of it. While the technological stuff is not without interest  -- although by now it's rather dated -- Looker is still an astonishingly dull movie despite all the running around. There's one decent, fairly suspenseful scene in which Larry and his surviving patient, Cindy (Susan Dey), break into a lab, but the chase sequences which make up most of the movie aren't that exciting and Finney [Shoot the Moon] looks ridiculous playing action hero, especially when he dresses up like a cop  -- he's wasted in the movie anyway. Dey is appealing enough, and James Coburn and Leigh Taylor-Long are appropriately reptilian as the couple who run Digital Matrix, but -- typical for Crichton -- they aren't given actual characters to play. Darryl Hickman [The Tingler] plays Larry's associate, Jim, and looks good with a beard. Michael Crichton's attempt to have himself another hit like Westworld didn't work this time. Some of the pretty women who play Larry's patients can't act to save their lives -- literally.

Verdict: Not worth a "look." *1/2.

MARCELLO MASTROIANNI: HIS LIFE AND ART

MARCELLO MASTROIANNI: HIS LIFE AND ART. Donald Dewey. Birch Lane/Carol; 1993.

In this absorbing and well-written bio and career study of the actor, there are few first-person interviews, but Dewey makes up for this with an intensive look at Mastroianni's work and its context in the changing political and sexual landscape of Italy. Like many actors, it comes across that there wasn't much to Mastroianni beyond being an actor, but considering his talent and achievements that's more than enough. Mastroianni's often conflicting opinions on movies, the thespian profession, women, co-stars, politics and religion are prodigiously quoted (often too much so), but it is made clear that the actor had little use for the religious dogma of, say, Italian censors. Mastroianni was married to the same woman for many years but had numerous affairs, most famously with Catherine Deneuve. The book also goes into his work and relationships with such famous directors as Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, and Vittorio de Sica, Mastroianni hated being seen as the Latin Lover, but he happened to be quite good-looking and that was that. It's interesting that the actor became internationally famous despite the fact that he only appeared in one full-fledged American production, and -- frustratingly -- most of his films are unseen and unavailable in the U.S. However, his fine work in such films as La dolce vita and Le Notti bianchi are evidenced on DVD. It's strange that the photos of the actor used for the front and back covers are not flattering. Mastroianni died at 72 three years after this book was published.

Verdict: Exhaustive look at a fine Italian actor. ***1/2.

THE HAT BOX MYSTERY

Allen Jenkins, Virginia Sale, Pamela Blake, Tom Neal
THE HAT BOX MYSTERY (1947). Director: Lambert Hillyer.

Russ Ashton (Tom Neal of Detour) isn't doing too well as a private investigator, but he has an assistant-fiancee named Susan (Pamela Blake of Highway 13) and another associate named 'Harvard" (Allen Jenkins). The three of them are kept in hamburgers by Harvard's restaurant-owning girlfriend, Veronica (Virginia Sale of Those We Love), who also loans Russ money to go to Washington on a case. Meanwhile Susan takes an assignment herself, to photograph a straying wife as she exits a building for her husband (Leonard Penn) to use in a divorce case. The husband supposedly conceals a camera in a hat box for Susan to use, but she winds up shooting the woman for real -- as it's actually a gun that is hidden in the hat box! Susan finds herself in pretty hot water with the police, while the "husband" disappears ... The Hat Box Mystery is mediocre filler with a mystery that poses no threat to Agatha Christie but it does benefit from the enthusiastic playing of the main quartet of actors -- Sale is especially appealing in this.

Verdict: At least it's only 44 minutes long! **.

DOUBLE DEAL

Richard Denning and Marie Windsor
DOUBLE DEAL (1950). Director: Abby Berlin.

Buzz Doyle (Richard Denning), a new arrival in town, almost immediately winds up embroiled with two warring women. Terry (Marie Windsor) wants Buzz to work with her and her friend Reno (Carleton Young) on an oil well that she hopes will turn into a gusher. Meanwhile, Reno's sister, Lily (Fay Baker), who hates her brother because she feels he was responsible for her lover's death, tries to lure Buzz over to her side and work against the others. Then there's a murder or two, and the surprise unveiling of the killer. Double Deal is distinctly minor, but it features some likable players, and there's especially zesty work from Baker [The Star], Taylor Holmes [Caged] as the drunken if helpful, "Corpus" and James Griffith [The Amazing Transparent Man] as the slimy Walter Karnes, Lily's plaything. Thomas Browne Henry plays the cop on the case.

Verdict: Ho hum meller that doesn't even have a decent "cat fight" between the ladies. **.

SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS

Barbara Bach and Jean Sorel
SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS (aka La corta notte delle bambole di vetro/1971). Director: Aldo Lado.

In Prague  journalist Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel) discovers that his fiancee, Mira (Barbara Bach of The Spy Who Loved Me), has gone missing. He enlists the aid of his boss, Jessica (Ingrid Thulin), who also has a yen for the handsome reporter. The police seem to think Mira has simply gone off on her own despite the fact that her clothing and possessions are still in her apartment. Most of the story is told in flashback from the bizarre pov of Moore, who is supposedly found dead and put in a morgue, where we can hear his thoughts but he is unable to communicate that he is still alive. (This is reminiscent of a famous Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode with Joseph Cotten.) That is really the only interesting element of this dull and confusing movie that features an inexplicable scene when Moore's friends come to witness his ... well, that would be telling. Sorel [Sandra] and Thulin [Cries and Whispers] both deserved much better assignments than crap like this. Ennio Morricone's eerie musical score is much better than the picture deserves. You have to see the orgy of elderly nudists to believe it! This could have used some gruesome murder scenes. An Italian-West German-Yugoslavian co-production, which tells you something.

Verdict: A real stink bomb. *1/2.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Lawyer and client: Brooke Shields and Scott Glenn
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN (2005 telefilm/mini-series). Director: Armand Mastroianni.

Defense attorney Betsy Tannenbaum (Brooke Shields of Communion) receives a large retainer from wealthy developer Martin Darius (Scott Glenn), who tells her he may at sometime be needing her services. He sure does -- when he's arrested for the serial murders of several women. Prosecutor Alan Page (Lou Diamond Phillips) is contacted by a lady cop named Nancy Gordon (Marilu Henner) who tells him that Darius, under another name,  managed to get away with several murders in another town ten years earlier -- his own wife and child were among the victims. Apparently there was a cover up in the other case, and Betsy must not only learn what happened a decade earlier, but figure out if her client is guilty of these new murders as well as the older ones. Based on an absorbing bestseller by Phillip Margolin, Gone But Not Forgotten is a suspenseful and entertaining telefilm, and the satisfying ending actually improves upon the novel. Shields makes a more than capable leading lady. Glenn underplays a bit too much to come off like the dynamic figure of the book, but the other performances are good, especially Robin Riker in the supporting role of a reporter doing a story on Betsy. Mastroianni also directed Grave Misconduct.

Verdict: Creepy cable movie with interesting, if far-fetched, twists. ***.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

WILD AND WOOLLY WOODY ALLEN

Two faces of Woody Allen


WILD AND WOOLLY WOODY ALLEN.

Woody Allen turns eighty-one on December 1st, 2017.

Love 'im or hate 'im, he has been an influential filmmaker for many years, and has come out with a great many movies, some wonderful, some awful, some in-between. He has had an interesting, some would say scandalous, personal life, mostly centered around his relationship with significant other Mia Farrow (who he was not married to), and her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn.

Whatever one's thoughts about that bizarre triangle, this week Great Old Movies looks at a slew of Woody Allen movies, from near-masterpieces like Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo to stink bombs like Stardust Memories to the merely mediocre like Bullets Over Broadway and Zelig. We also look at a recent biography of the man.

Whatever his flaws as a man and a filmmaker, Woody Allan was rarely if ever boring.

You can read posts of Allen's films that have been reviewed on this blog in previous months by using the search bar above.

STARDUST MEMORIES

Woody Allen realizes what a lousy picture he's made
STARDUST MEMORIES (1980). Written and directed by Woody Allen.

Filmmaker Sandy Bates (Woody Allen), a Woody Allen-clone, goes to a retrospective of his work at the Stardust Hotel and encounters manic fans while he contemplates his past and several of the women he has loved or wants to love. These include actress Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling of 45 Years); French Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault of Swann in Love), who wants to marry him; and Daisy (Jessica Harper of Suspiria), a violinist with issues. Stardust Memories is Allen working in a Fellini-esque mode (with a bit of Bergman thrown in) and coming up so short that it's laughable. Not only is Allen no Fellini, but Stardust Memories is a rarity among Allen films -- it's criminally boring. There's no real plot to the movie -- and while there are the usual stand-up quips and interesting observations -- the dream sequences are tiresome and the real-life sequences aren't much better. There's limited fun in picking out which actor is playing which real-life person in Allen's life. If Allen thinks that peopling his movie with interesting faces will turn him into Fellini, he's sadly mistaken. Not only is this possibly the worst of Allen's films, it's one of the worst movies ever made. A self-indulgent mess.

Verdict: A tedious embarrassment for all concerned. *.

ZELIG

Zelig is examined by doctors
ZELIG (1983). Written and directed by Woody Allen.

"[Freud] and I broke up over penis envy. He thought it should be limited to women. -- Zelig.

This fake documentary looks at the life of weird Leonard Zelig, who takes on not only the personality of whoever he's with but even the physical appearance, becoming fat if he's with an obese person, and turning into a "Negro" if he's with a black man, and so on. Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow) becomes his chief doctor and eventually begins a relationship with him, but just when he seems cured, it turns out that he's been rather busy while he was in other personalities, and the public affection for him begins to disappear ... Zelig is too long even at just 80 minutes, as we're asked to enjoy this stunt movie long after the basic premise has been sufficiently explored. The film mixes actual file footage with recreated 1920's scenes or cleverly inserts Allen into real-life newsreels. As usual, there are some funny lines and good performances, and there are those who will claim this is a masterpiece, but to me the movie is distinctly minor.

Verdict: Woody Allen's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. **1/2.

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE

Woody Allen as Danny Rose
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984). Written and directed by Woody Allen.

A group of well-known comics sit around and talk about the past, and one of them (Sandy Baron) tells a long story about the theatrical agent, Danny Rose (Woody Allen), which comprises most of the film. Danny is a struggling agent who is now pinning his hopes on one client, Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), who had one hit record in the fifties and has been trying to make a comeback ever since. Things are finally going Lou's way, thanks to Danny, but there are complications. The very much married Lou has fallen in love with his mistress, Tina (Mia Farrow), and Tina is coveted by another man whose gangster brothers mistake Danny for her boyfriend. But there's an even worse betrayal in store for Danny. Broadway Danny Rose is one of Allen's best films, in which he portrays one of his most sympathetic characters, a decent man who cares perhaps more about his clients than he should and has a good heart. Mia Farrow and Forte are also right on the money in their portrayals of a hard-boiled woman who develops a conscience, and a vain man who gets a second chance and to Hell with everyone else. Allen's use of gangsters in his movies can be, as I've noted, tiresome, but that doesn't seem to be a problem in this picture. There are numerous fine supporting performances in the movie, but I especially liked Herb Reynolds as Barney Dunn, one of the world's worst ventriloquists. This was Forte's first and only film (he also had two television appearances, playing himself on Billions) and he's quite good -- he was basically a lounge singer and piano player when he was discovered by Allen; like Lou, he had one recording yeas in the past.

Verdict: A lovely movie. ***1/2.

THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO

Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow
THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985). Writer/director: Woody Allen.

"In New Jersey, anything can happen."

In a dreary small town in 1935, Cecelia (Mia Farrow) has an unhappy marriage with the often out-of-work Monk (Danny Aiello of City Hall). Cecelia seeks refuge in the movies, where she especially loves a film called The Purple Rose of Cairo, and the lead character, Tom Baxter, played by actor Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels). In an astonishing turn of events, "Tom Baxter" walks right off the screen and into the real world, leaving the other actors/characters in the movie standing around wringing their hands. "How many times is a man so taken with a woman that he leaves the movie just to meet her," muses Tom. Just as Cecelia, who begins a romance with the charming Tom, is trying to make sense of all this, the real Gil Shepherd, who has heard what's happened, shows up in town ... This movie and its look at how influential movies can be on real life and the necessary escape they offer may not work for everyone, but I found it charming, absorbing, and ultimately moving. The actors offer sensitive and dead-on portrayals. Van Johnson, Edward Herrmann, Zoe Cladwell, and Milo O'Shea, among others, appear in the film-within-a-film.

Verdict: Not perfect perhaps, but it remains one of Allen's most likable movies. ***.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS

Farrow, Hershey, and Weist
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986). Written and directed by Woody Allen.

"I particularly love the mother, just a boozy old flirt with a filthy mouth." --Hannah's mother basically talking about herself.

Hannah (Mia Farrow) has a happy life with her husband, Elliot (Michael Caine). but she's unaware that he has fallen in love with her free-spirited sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey of Black Swan). As Lee and Elliot begin a guilt-wracked affair, Hannah's other sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest), a struggling actress, starts a catering business with her friend, April (Carrie Fisher), and the two both fall for married architect, David (Sam Waterston). Hannah's ex-husband, Mickey (Woody Allen) is drawn to Holly years after they had a disastrous first date. Like most of Allen'\s films, Hannah and Her Sisters is quite entertaining, with some fine acting from virtually the entire cast, but Allen himself -- who comes off like a stand-up comic sprouting lines, many of which are admittedly amusing -- doesn't really fit that neatly into the picture. I\m not sufficiently interested in exploring Allen's psyche to delve into any so-called deep meanings in his movies, but Hannah is engaging enough but no real masterpiece, despite its popularity. The business with Mickey thinking he may have a brain tumor is tasteless. As usual, many of the characters, admirably cultured, do what's expedient, not necessarily what's right. Max von Sydow shows up briefly as an older man that Lee discards once things heat up with Elliot, and Maureen O'Sullivan [Tarzan Escapes], Mia Farrow's mother in real life, plays Hannah's mother, with Lloyd Nolan [Portrait in Black] as her husband. Julie Kavner, who has a small role as a co-worker of Mickey's, does the same tiresome shtick she's been doing since she played Rhoda's sister on TV.

Verdict: Interesting and fun, but also kind of minor all told. **1/2.


BULLETS OVER BROADWAY

Dianne Weist and the ensemble 
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994). Director/co-writer: Woody Allen.

"I just pity any poor folk who have to pay to see this play."

In order to get his play mounted on Broadway, David Shayne (John Cusack of City Hall) allows in an inappropriate cast member, Olive (Jennifer Tilly of Seed of Chucky), because her mobster boyfriend, Nick (Joe Viterelli), decides to back the show. Nick assigns a bodyguard to Olive, a hit man named Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), who starts making impromptu critiques of the play .. only his criticisms are valid. Before long it's a question of who is the true artist behind the show. But what can one do about the screeching and awful Olive? Woody Allen does not appear in Bullets Over Broadway -- which is a plus or minus depending on how you look at it -- and it's another of Allen's pastiche films inspired by superior forties movies with a "modern"-type sensibility. It's another in a long line of movies that present sympathetic hit men, for one thing, while also showing him committing several murders. The movie takes place during the roaring twenties but it doesn't have much period atmosphere. Dianne Wiest won a supporting actress Oscar for her role of the diva Helen Sinclair, but while she is good, it's hard not to notice that she's simply trading off of decades of previous actresses who have played affected, breathless theater and movie stars; nothing new here. John Cusack is fine, although this is an actor who through no fault of his own is just hopelessly bland no matter what he's in. Tracey Ullman [Into the Woods] has a nice turn as an ever-laughing cast member who always carries her little dog with her, and Jack Warden is good as David's agent, but no one else is especially impressive, except perhaps Annie Joe Edwards, who is snappy as Olive's maid, Venus, but whom Allen doesn't allow to become a character in her own right. The movie is fairly entertaining and has some good twists and humor, but it's also kind of stupid, with the whole notion of a sensitive, artistic hit man being a little too precious for this critic to swallow. Allen may have been thinking of himself when he has Rob Reiner say "An artist creates his own moral universe." For those who hate Jennifer Tilly's voice and think she's a freak of nature, you'll especially enjoy one scene that comes late in the movie. To be fair, Tilly's performance is good even if she herself is a little flesh-crawling.

Verdict: The actors seem to be having more fun than the audience. **1/2.

CAFE SOCIETY

Jesse Eisenberg
CAFE SOCIETY (2016). Writer/director: Woody Allen.

"First a murderer, then a Christian -- what did I do to deserve this?" -- Rose.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) moves from Brooklyn to try his luck in 1930's Los Angeles, where his uncle Phil (Steve Carell) is an agent. Bobby becomes friends with Phil's secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), unaware that she is his uncle's mistress. Later Bobby opens up a New York nightclub with his gangster brother, Ben (Corey Stoll of Dark Places). But can Bobby outrun his heart and Ben the law? Cafe Society is a pleasant Woody Allen movie without Allen in the cast. Wisely recognizing that he could no longer play the naive young man starting out in life, Allen cast appealing Jesse Eisenberg as his surrogate, and it was a smart choice. You can just hear Allen saying the dialogue in his inimitable way as we watch Eisenberg play his part, and play it well, although the better-looking man plays the real, shrewd Allen more than his usual nebbish on-screen persona -- another wise choice. The gangster stuff is as tiresome as it generally is in Allen's movies, but there are some fine performances, especially from Jeanne Berlin {The Heartbreak Kid] as Mother Rose and Ken Stott as her husband. The picture is handsomely produced, with Vittorio Storaro's cinematography especially breath-taking. Cafe Society is a nice enough picture, but it's still a minor effort with a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion and a protagonist who can be annoying at times. The cast-off spouse of one character is completely forgotten, which is pretty typical of Allen since his split from Mia Farrow and even before. Eisenberg is certainly better in this than he was in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Storaro\s exquisite work was also seen in such films as Exorcist: The Beginning.

Verdict: Great to look at, with a highly pleasant lead actor, but no great shakes when all is said and done. **1/2.

WOODY THE BIOGRAPHY

WOODY: THE BIOGRAPHY. David Evanier. St. Martin's; 2015.

This "biography" of filmmaker, comic and actor Woody Allen is much more of a rumination on the man than a full bio, although Evanier does his best to hit all the important bases. The author doesn't really start to get into his subject's life story until a quarter of the way into the book, and focuses on certain key films while virtually ignoring many others. In more or less chronological order he also looks at Allen's relationships with wives, girlfriends, and children -- Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, and others --  and ends up the book with a long dissection of the sordid Woody-Mia Farrow mess. clearly coming down on Allen's side. Evanier doesn't necessarily gloss over Allen's failings as both filmmaker and man (he deservedly hates Stardust Memories, for instance, as well as Interiors, and isn't blind to Allen's character flaws) but the book does function primarily as a defense of some of Allen's actions and especially of Mia Farrow's charges of child molestation. (We must remember that his lover Soon-Yi, was an adult at the time their affair began, but still one has to wonder at the inappropriateness, vulgar audacity, and staggering lack of sensitivity that led to Allen having a relationship with his girlfriend's daughter, who was also the sister of his own children. Soon-Yi's motivations for taking up with a comparatively homely middle-aged but famous and wealthy man I'll leave to others to ponder). Woody: The Biography has some interviews with people who know and worked with Allen, and an interview with Dick Cavett is reproduced in its entirety but functions more as padding than anything else. Although Allen did not cooperate with the book as such, he did agree to answer some of Evanier's questions via email, but these don't seem to have provided that much enlightenment.

Verdict: Interesting read, but only an average bio. ***.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TELEFILMS AND MIGHTY JOE YOUNG

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

This week Great Old Movies takes a look at some of the memorable and not-so-memorable made-for-TV movies of the 1970's. It was in the late sixties that the networks started producing films directly for the television market (some of these were released as theatrical features overseas) and eventually they began showing them on a regular basis, such as on ABC's "Movie of the Week." These films tended to be in the thriller-mystery-suspense genre, with occasional horror and supernatural stories as well, but there were exceptions. They featured up and coming players, TV stars who were between gigs on their own series, and older actors who found employment on TV and not for the movie studios.

Some of these flicks were pretty bad, like The Cat Creature (although it did feature Gale Sondergaard!), and others, such as A Cold Night's Death, were quite memorable. One gets the impression that every other TV flick starred Kate Jackson or was directed by Curtis Harrington although this is probably not the case!.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG EXHIBITION:

I also want to call your attention to an exhibition on the wonderful classic fantasy film Mighty Joe Young put together by my friend Harry Heuser. You can read about the exhibition here. And below is the poster for the event. If you happen to be in Wales from now until February 2nd 2018, check it out!


HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN

Anthony Perkins
HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN (1970 telefilm). Director: Curtis Harrington. Executive producer: Aaron Spelling.

Legally blind, if only psychosomatically, Allan (Anthony Perkins) is released from an institution and comes back to the house where he lived with his sister, Katherine (Julie Harris). Allan was unable to save his father when fire broke out in their home, and Katherine was disfigured during a rescue attempt. Needing money, Katherine takes in a mysterious boarder who rarely speaks and whom Allan can hardly see. He is convinced that there is something sinister about this stranger, and that he is trying to kill him. Allan's former fiancee and neighbor, Olive (Joan Hackett of Dead of Night), does her best to convince him that his worries are all in his head. But Olive may have no idea what Allan is really dealing with. How Awful About Allan certainly has an intriguing premise (taken from a novel by Henry Farrell, who also did the teleplay), and the cast is very interesting, but the developments, besides being psychologically dubious, are not as compelling as one might have hoped for. Giving an unremarkable, even disinterested, performance, Perkins [Pretty Poison] makes Allan completely unsympathetic, and the best work comes from Harris and Hackett -- the former, however, being too true to her character, does little to keep the audience from figuring out the final revelation. Producer Spelling and author Farrell also teamed up for The House That Would Not Die with Barbara Stanwyck the same year.

Verdict: It's understandable why this flick is pretty much forgotten. **.

WHEN MICHAEL CALLS

Elizabeth Ashely gets a call
WHEN MICHAEL CALLS (1972 telefilm). Director: Philip Leacock. An ABC Movie of the Week.

Helen Connelly (Elizabeth Ashley of The Carpetbaggers) begins getting phone calls from a boy who claims he is her nephew, Michael -- unfortunately Michael died in a blizzard fifteen years before. Helen tries to dismiss the phone calla and what they may signify from her mind, but then some of her friends and acquaintances wind up dying in mysterious ways. Did Michael somehow survive and is he out for revenge, or is someone else carrying out a grudge plot against the townspeople? Based on a novel by John Farris, When Michael Calls is minor but suspenseful and well acted, with good performances from Ashley, Ben Gazzara [Bloodline] as her concerned ex-husband, and especially Michael Douglas [The China Syndrome] as Michael's older brother. John Farris turned to directing the same year for Dear Dead Delilah with Agnes Moorehead.

Verdict: Holds the attention. **1/2.

A COLD NIGHT'S DEATH

Robert Culp and Eli Wallach
A COLD NIGHT'S DEATH (1973 telefilm). Director: Jerrold Freedman.

A man named Vogel is conducting high altitude tests on primates for the space program at the Tower Mountain research station. When he begins sending messages that appear to be gibberish, Frank Enari (Eli Wallach) and Robert Jones (Robert Culp) -- accompanied by another test chimp -- are sent to investigate. They find Vogel frozen to death with a look of horror on his face, but they can't understand how he wound up in this condition when he could have easily gotten out of the frigid room. Other strange things begin to happen, creating an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia among the two arguing men. Jones seems to have figured out what may be going on, but Enari can't accept it, and it's a question of just who is experimenting on whom. A Cold Night's Death is a very memorable telefilm with two excellent performances by Wallach [The Hoax] and Culp [Calendar Girl Murders] and a decided feeling of claustrophobia and creepiness. Christopher Knopf, who co-wrote the screenplay for 20 Million Miles to Earth, has fashioned a unique story that is both suspenseful and harrowing, and it also has a very clever and darkly amusing wind-up. Freedman, whose directorial assignments were mostly for television, does a good job building tension. Michael C. Gwynne has a small part as a helicopter pilot at the beginning and is effective.

Verdict: Monkey see, monkey do. ***1/2.

THE CAT CREATURE

Gale Sondergaard and Meredith Baxter
THE CAT CREATURE (1973 telefilm). Director: Curtis Harrington.

Joe Sung (Keye Luke) steals a cat-medallion from a recently opened Egyptian casket, and begins a chain of deaths from a clawed creature that counts him among its victims. The trail leads to Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard), a shady lady who runs an occult shop. Lt March (Stuart Whitman of Eaten Alive), aided by egyptologist Roger Edmonds (David Hedison of The Lost World), investigates the case, which also embroils Hester's new assistant, Rena Carter (Meredith Baxter). While it's fun at first seeing such veteran actors as Kent Smith [Cat People], John Carradine, Luke, Milton Parsons (as a coroner, naturally), and especially an excellent and criminally wasted Sondergaard [The Letter], The Cat Creature is pretty bad, with one of Robert Bloch's least inspired scripts. Tabbie cats are not exactly fearsome animals, for one thing. Peter Lorre Jr. has a small role as a murdered pawnbroker. Baxter is given a pretty embarrassing role to play.

Verdict: Great to see Sondergaard still in top form, but the movie is terrible. *1/2. 

SCREAM PRETTY PEGGY

Bette Davis
SCREAM PRETTY PEGGY (1973 telefilm). Director: Gordon Hessler. An ABC Movie of the Week.

Peggy Johns (Sian Barbara Allen) is a college student who takes a part-time job as a housekeeper for the aged, tippling Mrs. Elliott (Bette Davis) and her sculptor son, Jeffrey (Ted Bessell). Jeffrey tells the very curious -- indeed nosy and rather pushy -- Peggy that his sister, Jennifer, is insane and living in an apartment above the garage. A barely-seen female sneaks out at night to puncture people with a knife. George Thornton (Charles Drake of The Pretender) comes looking for his missing daughter and also encounters "Jennifer." Very aggressive Peggy makes up her mind to find out what's going on even though she hasn't got a clue. Scream Pretty Peggy, co-written by Jimmy Sangster, has some interesting, if unoriginal, macabre elements to it, but the ending is painfully obvious almost from the start, and Bessell [Billie] is given the most embarrassing role of his career, although his performance is better than you might expect. Allen is overly perky, but competent, and Davis phones in her performance aside from her well-delivered final speech. A far cry from Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte indeed. Hessler's direction provides little help although the pic is entertaining enough.

Verdict: Fun to see Davis but this is a bit of a "drag." **1/2.

THE GIRL MOST LIKELY TO ...

Ugly Duckling: Stockard Channing
THE GIRL MOST LIKELY TO ... (1973 telefilm). Director: Lee Philips. Co-written by Joan Rivers.

Miriam Knight (Stockard Channing) is a bright, energetic young woman with a great sense of humor who has, unfortunately, committed the crime of being unattractive. She is cruelly taunted by men and women alike, but when a twist of fate offers her an opportunity to become good-looking, she uses her new appearance to take revenge on her tormentors. The Girl Most Likely To ... is a black comedy that greatly benefits from the performance of an excellent Channing [The Truth About Jane], who continued to show off her acting chops in role after role on screen and on stage later on. As the movie is played for laughs and is often quite funny, one can ignore the fact that Miriam becomes slightly sociopathic and doesn't seem to care about any innocents who may become embroiled in her schemes, but it's fun, frankly, to see her abusers get their just desserts and then some. Ed Asner [Gunn] is also terrific as a cop investigating the murders, and Susanne Zenor makes an impression as Miriam's roommate, who has a horrendous voice to go along with her bosomy blondness. Warren Berlinger, Fred Grandy, Ruth McDevitt, Larry Wilcox, and Joe Flynn, among others, also have nice turns in the pic. The film scores points for making trenchant observations about the dark side of human nature in a humorous fashion that never quite disguises the understandable bitterness underneath,. Director Lee Philips was also an actor [Peyton Place]; most of his acting and directorial assignments were for television.

Verdict: The worm turns ... ***.

KILLER BEES (1974)

Gloria Swanson and her little darlings
KILLER BEES (1974). Director: Curtis Harrington.

Semi-estranged from his family, who own vineyards as well as a town, Edward van Bohlen (Edward Albert) brings his pregnant fiancee, Victoria (Kate Jackson), home to meet the family. This consists of his father, Rudolf (Craig Stevens), brother Helmut (Roger Davis of House of Dark Shadows), and Uncle Matthias (Don McGovern), not to mention his grandmother-matriarch Mrs. van Bohlen (Gloria Swanson). Victoria has a hard time being accepted by the van Bohlens, and matters are made worse by attacks from bees swarming all over the vineyards. Seems the van Bohlens have a strange connection to the bees that came with the family decades ago from Africa. Given bizarre roles to play, both Jackson [Night of Dark Shadows] and Swanson [Beyond the Rocks] manage to acquit themselves nicely, with the latter clearly enjoying herself as she puts on a rather hammy show at times. The movie could easily have been called Queen Bee if it hadn't already been used for a Joan Crawford movie. The bees themselves never actually seem to "attack" anyone but there is a macabre climax in the mansion's attic. Curtis Harrington also directed Queen of Blood.

Verdict: If you take the absurd developments with a grain of salt, this is one of Harrington's better latter-day movies. ***.

DEATH CRUISE

Kate Jackson and Edward Albert
DEATH CRUISE (1974 telefilm). Director: Ralph Senensky.

Three couples have won an all-expenses-paid, three week cruise on an ocean liner. Sylvia Carter (Polly Bergen) is distressed by her husband Jerry's (Richard Long) philandering. Elizabeth Mason (Celeste Holm) is concerned that her children are grown and may not need her, and then learns that her husband (Tom Bosley) wonders if there's any point in their even staying married. Mary (Kate Jackson of Making Love) is bitterly disappointed when her husband James (Edward Albert) insists that he doesn't want children. Then one by one all of them begin dying. The ship's doctor (Michael Constantine) discovers that the company which paid for the three couple's cruises doesn't even exist. Screenwriter Jack B. Sowards channels his inner Agatha Christie to come up with a suspenseful, twisting, and diabolical plot, and all of the actors do their best to bring their characters to life as well as to conceal who may or may not be behind it all. Everyone is good, but Holm [All About Eve] and Long [Follow the Boys] make the best impression. Albert and Jackson also played a couple in the previous year's Killer Bees.

Verdict: Absorbing TV puzzler well worth the watching for mystery fans. ***.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

LA STRADA

Giulietta Masina and Anthony Quinn
LA STRADA (aka The Road/1954). Director: Federico Fellini.

After her older sister, Rose, passes away, Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina, wife of Fellini) is sold by her mother to the strong man Zampano (Anthony Quinn) for 10,000 lira. The odd couple travel around the countryside while Gelsomina aids him in his act, which simply consists of his breaking a chain across his chest. Zampano is brutish and insensitive, while Gelsomina is a fragile, child-like (although not necessarily simple-minded) creature  -- in some ways self-absorbed as only a child can be -- who only wants to be loved. The twosome arrive at a circus where they encounter "the fool" (Richard Basehart), an ever-laughing, sarcastic man who does a top-drawer high wire act and in his own way can be just as insensitive to Gelsomina as Zampano is. The conflict between the two men leads to tragedy, and traumatizes Gelsomina. Her half hysterical half-numb state gets on Zampano's nerves and only adds to his guilt so he makes a perhaps unwise decision ... La strada is early Fellini from the director's truly great period (which includes Nights of Cabiria and I vitelloni), before he became FEDERICO FELLINI and every picture had to be a grotesque, overblown spectacle (such as Fellini Satyricon) in which the human drama got lost. In La strada Fellini never forgets that he is doing a character study of two disparate individuals and the film is all the better for it. Quinn offers another magnificent portrayal in the movie, and he is matched by Masina, who may seem at first like a distaff Harpo Marx but who finally etches a very affecting and convincing portrait. Basehart [Tension] is given a less defined role but is fine. With excellent photography from Otello Martelli [Stromboli] and a poignant and lovely score by Nino Rota, La strada is a very moving experience. One could quibble about certain aspects (what exactly happened to Rose, for instance?), but this is still a remarkable motion picture. Some people feel sorry for Zampano at the end, but considering his behavior I ultimately find him much more pathetic than sympathetic.

Verdict: Fellini at his best. ***1/2.

THE SCARLET HOUR

Thomas Tryon and Carol Ohmart
THE SCARLET HOUR (1956). Produced and directed by Michael Curtiz.

"If I were dead, you don't take me to the morgue."

E. V. "Marsh" Marshall (Thomas Tryon) works for real estate developer Ralph Nevins (James Gregory) and is having an affair with Nevins' sexy wife, Pauline (Carol Ohmart). The lovers overhear a plot to rob a mansion while the owners are out of town, and Pauline cooks up a scheme to steal the booty from the robbers so she and Marsh can run away together. After an initial wariness, Marsh consents to the plan, but there are all sorts of complications and developments the night this double-cross is to take place, and someone winds up dying ... The Scarlet Hour is by no means on the level of such superior Curtiz films as, say, Mildred Pierce, but it is a snappy and absorbing crime drama whose interesting twists and turns keep you watching even as you wish there was some more character development and a better script. This was the first movie for both Tryon and Ohmart, who were "introduced" in this picture, and they deliver, especially Ohmart. Ohmart [Caxambu!] was quite talented and distinctive with her sexy, breathy voice but she never quite ascended from B movie cult status. Tryon {The Unholy Wife] later became a very successful author [Crowned Heads]. Gregory is fine as the husband, and there's good work from Elaine Stritch [Monster-in-Law] as Pauline's pal; Phyllis; Jody Lawrence as Kathy, Nevins' secretary, who has a crush on Marsh; and especially David Lewis as the owner of the robbed mansion, who turns out to be one of the most interesting characters in the movie. A sequence involving some incriminating evidence on an audio tape could have been handled with much more suspense. A strangely amusing scene has Marsh encountering a cop played by E. G.Marshall, and telling the cop "I am E. V. Marshall." Nat King Cole sings "Never Let Me Go" in a nightclub sequence. This cries out for a much better score than the one offered by Leith Stevens. Marsh's sanctimonious tone towards Pauline is hypocritical to say the least, but movies like this tend to let the man off the hook and put most of the blame on the woman.

Verdict: "A" director Curtiz helms a "B" movie but it mostly works. ***.

RIFIFI

Jean Servais, Robert Manuel, Carl Mohner 
RIFIFI (aka Du Rififi chez les hommes/1955). Director: Jules Dassin.

Three Parisians -- Tony (Jean Servias), Jo (Carl Mohner) and Mario (Robert Manuel) -- all of whom have been in prison, decide to knock off a jewelry store. They bring in a fourth player, a "macaroni," (an Italian) named Cesar (Jules Dassin), who is a noted safe cracker. Tony lost his girlfriend, Mado (Marie Sabouret), to a crooked club owner named Pierre (Marcel Lupovici) and now wants her back, but Pierre will deal with Tony in his own fashion. Jo has a wife, Louise (Janine Darcey), and little boy, Tonio (Dominique Maurin), a connection which Pierre will take cruel advantage of. Rafifi is well-known as one of the more notable "caper" films. although there's probably more suspense in a scary, climactic car ride involving the little boy than there is in the robbery itself. The picture's greatest strength is the acting by the entire cast, including director Dassin; Robert Hossein as Pierre's drug-addicted brother, Remi; and Claude Sylvain as Ida, who sings the "Rififfi" tune in Pierre's nightclub. I might argue that Rififi is not quite a  masterpiece, but it is a good and absorbing picture with some interesting developments. Dassin also directed The Affairs of Martha and another famous caper film, Topkapi. Dassin was born in Connecticut; after being blacklisted in Hollywood, he went to France to find work. Carl Mohner was an Austrian actor.

Verdict: French burglars on the loose! ***. 

THE YELLOW CANARY

Patty Boone and Barbara Eden
THE YELLOW CANARY (1963). Director: Buzz Kulik. Screenplay by Rod Serling.

Now here's a strange one. Pat Boone plays a popular singer and neglectful husband, Andy Paxton, who has difficult relationships with his wife, Lissa (Barbara Eden), and associates, Hub (Steve Forrest), his bodyguard, and "Bake" (Steve Harris) his pal and right-hand man. Things get even more complicated when Paxton's baby boy is kidnapped right out of their mansion. While at first it may make sense that the terrified couple are scared that police intervention could kill their child, when days go by it seems utterly absurd for them not to let the authorities handle things. Believability goes completely out the window when the Paxtons set off to rescue the child themselves from dangerous people who have nothing to lose. The picture has unusual casting with Boone going against his pleasant milk-fed image just as Eden [Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea] is contrary to her usual perky demeanor. They offer generally good performances although  at times the script may make too many demands on them. Steve Forrest [Mommie Dearest] is the cast stand-out as Hub, and there is also good work from Harris as the jealous, heavy-drinking buddy and Jeff Corey as a bartender. Jack Klugman [I Could Go On Singing] is pretty awful as the cop assigned to the kidnapping, a performance which isn't helped by the fact that he is often given ridiculous things to say to the parents. Boone does several numbers and has a nice voice. but the poor quality of the film probably jettisoned his chances of establishing himself as a serious dramatic actor after the previous year's appearance in The Main Attraction. Rod Serling's screenplay is one of his least memorable concoctions. Steve Harris was primarily a television actor.

Verdict: This canary just doesn't sing. **.