Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Showing posts with label Natalie Schafer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Natalie Schafer. Show all posts

Friday, September 20, 2013

SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR ...

Barbara O'Neil, Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave
SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR ... (1947). Director: Fritz Lang.

Celia (Joan Bennett) meets an attractive stranger, architect Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave), on a vacation, blows off her fiance, marries Mark, and goes home to his mansion where his friendly sister, Caroline (Anne Revere), strange son David (Mark Dennis) and even stranger secretary, Miss Robey (Barbara O'Neil), are waiting. Wouldn't you know that Mark is haunted by something, perhaps the death of his first wife, and has a rather odd hobby. In his house he has recreated rooms where infamous murders took place, and there is one room which is absolutely verboten for anybody to enter. Naturally Celia can't wait to see what's inside. As Mark puts it "under certain conditions a room can influence or even create the actions of the people within it." Well ... maybe. This oddball Gothic movie sounds good, but is tedious and full of pseudo-psychological hogwash, although the bit with the murder rooms is interesting, and the performances are reasonably good for this type of claptrap. Natalie Schafer [Female on the Beach] adds some zest, as she usually does, as a flamboyant friend of Celia's. Redgrave does the best he can with the material but seems uncomfortable throughout. Young Dennis makes an interesting David. The ending is unintentionally hilarious. Not one of Lang's more memorable movies. O'Neil was seen in better advantage in Stella Dallas and All This and Heaven, Too.

Verdict: Too tricky and silly by far. *1/2.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

THE SNAKE PIT

Olivia De Havilland as the troubled Virginia
THE SNAKE PIT (1948). Director: Anatole Litvak.

Virginia (Olivia de Havilland) is a troubled woman who has been committed to a psychiatric institution. Dr. Kik (Leo Genn) interviews her confused but loving husband, Robert (Mark Stevens), and tries to figure out what is responsible for Virginia's fragile mental state. Flashbacks show her life with Robert, as well as the earlier years before she met him. It's all rather psychologically dubious, but the film is generally well-acted and entertaining. Fellow patients in the institution, some of whom are crazier than others, include Beulah Bondi as a haughty old lady with delusions, Betsy Blair as the delicate Hester, as well as Lee Patrick, Celia Lovsky, Barbara Pepper, Minerva Urecal, Marie Blake (Blossom Rock), and others, most of whom just have bits. Mary Treen, Glenn Langan, and Ann Doran are on the staff; Helen Craig gives a terribly unsubtle performance as the evil Nurse Davis. Natalie Schafer is cast as Virginia's mother and Lora Lee Michel plays her as a child; both are quite good. While The Snake Pit is an uncertain mixture of sentiment and silly moments, and is a bit on the exploitative side, it does have some undeniably effective scenes, such as the poignant climax when Laura (Jan Clayton, who was Julie Jordan in the original Broadway production of Carousel) sings "Going Home" at the dance. Alfred Newman's score and Leo Tover's cinematography are also assets. Arthur Laurents, among others, worked on the screenplay and disavowed this in his memoirs. Seven years later, The Shrike was a somewhat grittier look at life inside a mental ward. Litvak also directed This Above All and many others.

Verdict: Hardly the final word on the subject but not without its merits. ***.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

FEMALE ON THE BEACH

FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955). Director: Joseph Pevney.

Drummer: "How do you like your coffee?"

Lynn: "Alone!"

Wealthy widow Lynn Markham (Joan Crawford) moves into a beautiful beach house her husband owned that had formerly been leased to another wealthy widow, Eloise Crandell (Judith Evelyn). Eloise took a header off the deck onto the rocks below, and homicide is suspected, and the chief suspect is a handsome hustler named Drummer (Jeff Chandler), who has now set his sights on Lynn. Drummer has two sleazy associates who pretend to be his aunt and uncle, Osbert (Cecil Kellaway) and Queenie (Natalie Schafer), but Lynn gives the both of them a good dressing down. Unfortunately, Drummer has something the other two don't have, and that's sex appeal, so Lynn finds herself falling for the guy despite her better instincts. But has she stepped out of the frying pan into the fire? Female on the Beach has a workable premise and some good dialogue, but something's missing, and that's veracity and in-depth characterization. As essayed by Crawford, Lynn seems too smart not to walk away from Drummer when he says things like "I don't hate woman -- I just hate the way they are." True, it takes him some time to wear away her resistance, with her telling him initially "You're about as friendly as a suction pump!" The two leads aren't bad, although in some of their scenes talking of the past they seem like college students in an acting class. Kellaway [The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms] and Schafer [Repeat Performance] are fine, as is Jan Sterling [Johnny Belinda] as a real estate lady and former flame of Drummer's. Evelyn [Rear Window] makes an impression despite her limited screen time -- the opening and a couple of flashbacks. Charles Drake shows up now and then as a cop investigating Eloise's suspicious death [one has to wonder how such a tiny, frail thing as Evelyn could cause such damage to a wooden railing even if she were jet-propelled through it?] Female on the Beach is somewhat entertaining, but it's cheap, tawdry, and often unbelievable. Pevney also directed Man of a Thousand Faces with James Cagney. As an actor he appeared in such films as Body and Soul.

Verdict: Flaccid suspenser. **1/2.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

THE DAY OF THE LOCUST

The movie premiere that climaxes Locust













THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (1975). Director: John Schlesinger.

"I could only let a fabulously rich man love me. I could only love a man criminally handsome. Please try to understand."

In Hollywood of the 1930's, artist Tod Hackett (William Atherton) lives in the same complex with aspiring star Faye Greener (Karen Black) and her father, an old-time performer named Harry (Burgess Meredith). Although Tod is very drawn to Faye, she wants a man with money, and winds up sexlessly cohabiting with the somewhat strange but wealthy Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland). There is a nasty-minded midget (Billy Barty) and a bratty Shirley Temple clone (actually played by the male Jackie Earle Haley), as well as two guys who run cockfights out of Homer's garage. After two hours of meandering, the film arrives at a climax at a movie premiere that seems intended to wake the benumbed audience out of their lethargy but is too little, too late. When The Day of the Locust was released, it was overpraised in some quarters because of the admittedly vivid climactic riot and a "daring" scene of a child being stomped to death, which fooled people into thinking this piece of treacle was more adult and "meaningful" than it really was. Time has, unfortunately, not made the movie any better. Karen Black probably gives her all-time worst performance, so irritating is she that she almost sinks the movie right from the first, and Burgess Meredith isn't that much better. Atherton isn't bad at all, but Sutherland gives the best performance as Homer. Barty can do nothing to make his character less of a caricature, but Haley in drag is certainly vivid and memorable. Still, the movie presents unpleasant, and worse, uninteresting characters that you simply don't care about. Natalie Schafer, Nita Talbot, and William Castle [as a director] have small roles, as does Geraldine Page as an evangelist. A scene when a set collapses is well done from a technical standpoint. This was based on a novel by Nathaniel West; I don't know how faithful Waldo Salt's screenplay is to the source material, but it's pretty bad. The absolutely most disgusting scene shows poor Billy Barty kissing a rooster on its bloody beak. Dick Powell Jr., plays his father at the premiere-within-the-movie, which explains why he looks so much like the actor. Although Schlesinger was considered a "serious" director as, say, compared to Robert Aldrich, this movie is in reality little better than Aldrich's atrocious Legend of Lylah Clare! This is almost as bad as Schlesinger's Darling.

Verdict: Just a mess -- and boring to boot! **.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Triangle: Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward, Virginia Field
















REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947). Director: Alfred Werker.

"They're not real people, actresses. Audiences don't like them."

Broadway leading actress Sheila Page (Joan Leslie) has a problem or two: She is still in love with her stinker of a husband, the drunk, philandering Barney (Louis Hayward), and grateful to him for writing the role that made her a star years ago. But Barney hasn't written another play since, and he enters into an affair with Paula Costello (Virginia Field), the author of Sheila's new hit. What is basically a triangle melodrama has a unique twist -- Sheila shoots Barney at the very beginning of the film on New Year's Eve, and so fervently wishes she could live the past year all over again and avoid the grim result that she literally winds up a year in the past. Sheila does her best to change things so they won't lead to the same outcome, and the fun of the movie is in seeing whether or not things will work out the way she hopes. But even when some things change will the ending be inevitable? Leslie gives a more than competent if unexciting performance -- one can imagine say, Stanwyck in this part -- but Hayward and Field are quite flavorful [even if the former chews the scenery at times]. Richard Basehart and Natalie Schafer are fine as a young poet and the wealthy man-hungry woman who becomes his patron. Tom Conway is Sheila's producer. Wrongly considered a remake of Turn Back the Clock of 1933 [which had a time travel slant but an entirely different storyline], this was remade under that title as a made-for-TV movie with Connie Selleca in the lead [Leslie appeared as a party guest] in 1989.

Verdict: Worth living through at least once. ***.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

BACK STREET (1961)

BACK STREET (1961). Director: David Miller.

"There isn't a marriage in the world where one doesn't love more than the other."

NOTE: This review contains spoilers. The third film version of Fannie Hurst's novel [earlier versions appeared in 1932 and 1941] makes just about every mistake conceivable in adapting the material. Rae Smith (Susan Hayward) falls in love with soldier Paul Saxon (John Gavin) without realizing that he's already married. She is going to fly to New York with him to start a new life, but misses the plane. They meet up years later and resume their affair while Paul's conveniently drunken and nasty wife (Vera Miles) insists she'll never give him a divorce. The first problem with the picture is that mistresses, while still capable of raising eyebrows, were not quite as scandalous in the sixties as they were in the thirties, forties and earlier. Another problem is that the life-long affair of the novel and other two film versions only occupies a few years in this version. The wife, mostly unseen in earlier versions, was never supposed to be a shrew but a perfectly nice person, one of the reasons the married man never divorces her. The earlier film versions concentrated on the loneliness endured by women in back street affairs, but Hayward has a successful career and lots of friends. Worst of all, in this version the married man's son is just a child, incapable of eventually reaching an understanding as regards to his father and the other woman he loved, (making the ending all the more inexplicable). In the first two film versions, Walter/Paul was only engaged and decided to marry Ray/Rae, but in this version he wants her to run off to New York with him without first telling her he's got a wife! At the end, after his and his wife's death in an accident, his very young children suddenly show up at his mistress' door and want to be friends with her -- which makes absolutely no sense at all [their being orphans notwithstanding]! At the time of filming Hayward was 44 and Gavin was 30 and the difference in their ages quite apparent, but the script unwisely ignores it. Hayward, who seems justifiably bored with the material, just goes through the motions for the most part. Gavin makes an effort and is acceptable. Miles comes off the best, with good support from Virginia Grey, Charles Drake, Natalie Schafer, Reginald Gardiner, and Robert Eyer as the son.The liveliest scene has Miles invading a charity auction to make snide remarks about Hayward and carry on in supremely bitchy fashion.

Verdict: A completely unnecessary remake that shows some promise at first but gets more tedious with every passing minute. **.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

THE LAW AND THE LADY


THE LAW AND THE LADY (1951). Director: Edwin H. Knopf.

"At my age a good cook is more important than a husband." --Marjorie Main

Another version of The Last of Mrs. Cheney -- Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford did the others -- with Greer Garson and Michael Wilding as a lovable team of jewel thieves and rogues at the turn of the century. Jane Hoskins (Garson), with the help of Wilding, the brother of her former employer, reinvents herself as "Lady Jane Loverly" and becomes welcomed in American society, especially the home of wealthy old Julia Wortin (Marjorie Main), who has a fabulously valuable necklace. Fernando Lamas, Margalo Gillmore, Hayden Rorke, and Natalie Schafer all add to the fun as various guests and suitors. The movie gets kind of silly and unreal toward the end, to say the least, but it never quite loses its sense of humor. Speaking of which, it's definitely fun to see Marjorie Main as a lady in society! Soledad Jimenez scores as Lamas' peppery grandmother. This is arguably the best screen version of Frederick Lonsdale's play.

Verdict: Light and snappy for the most part. ***.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

SUSAN SLADE


SUSAN SLADE (1961). Director: Delmer Daves.

This slick soap opera with a nice, if minor, score by the great Max Steiner presents the saga of young Susan Slade (Connie Stevens), a somewhat sheltered gal who has a shipboard romance (with Grant Incredible Shrinking Man Williams), discovers she's pregnant, and then learns that the father has been killed overseas in the war. But weep not for Susan, because waiting in the wings is handsome wannabee writer Hoyt Brecker, played by Troy Donahue. (It's likely that the women who saw this in the theaters in 1961 probably wondered why the hell Susan spends so much time resisting the guy, who's not only a handsome hunk but nice.) Susan's wise, warm, and womanly mother (Dorothy McGuire), decides that they will all pretend that Susan's baby boy is actually her brother, and the whole family takes off for faraway parts to aid in the deception. But Susan finds it difficult not being able to be a mother to her own child, and it all leads to a rather nice wind-up where she makes a brave and inevitable decision.

Stevens gives a nice performance in this, and Dorothy McGuire is excellent; Lloyd Nolan also has a nice turn as Susan's father, and Burt Convy, Natalie Schafer, Brian Aherne, and Kent Smith also add to the film's appeal, as does the striking cinematography of Lucien Ballard.

And then there's Troy Donahue. Well .... let's just say he's a good-lookin' fellow and leave it at that. He doesn't stink up the picture and he allows the character's sensitivity to sort of come through. Not too awful but not great. Ditto for Grant Williams, another pretty boy with a decidedly limited range.

Verdict: Somehow the stupid thing works. ***.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

PAYMENT ON DEMAND


PAYMENT ON DEMAND (1951). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

"When a woman starts getting old, time can be an avalanche, and loneliness a disaster."

Released after All About Eve, but made just before that film was shot, Payment on Demand has long been considered the "lost" Bette Davis film, although it has been shown on TCM (albeit not recently). Joyce Ramsey (Bette Davis) thinks she runs the perfect household for her husband David (Barry Sullivan) and two daughters, but one day David tells her they've been out of love for years and he wants a divorce. Flashbacks then show how they met, courted, fell in love, and the gradual reasons for their marital disintegration. When the film first begins, Davis' acting is so broad and affected, her line readings so bizarre, that initially you think this is going to be another of her terrible latter-day performances, but there's method to her madness. Davis is fine in the flashbacks when she's playing a much younger woman. Her affected acting in the modern scenes is to give the audience a clue as to why David fell out of love with her. She's become something he can't stand, a callous snob, and her weird delivery of lines in the opening scene makes it clear that she's also so self-absorbed that she really isn't listening to anything anyone says to her -- hence her listless, if arch, replies. One of the best scenes has the now-divorced Joyce encountering an old friend Emily (Jane Cowl), who's taken up with a much-younger gigolo and delivers the line highlighted above. At one point David says "Loneliness is a general feeling of not being part of everything that exists." One of the problems with the marriage is that Joyce feels absolutely no real guilt for sort of stabbing David's business partner Robert (Kent Taylor, whom I didn't recognize without his mustache) in the back. Since this hasn't changed by the end of the film, one can't realistically imagine that she's changed enough for David to want to take her back. Natalie Schafer, Otto Kruger, Peggie Castle, Frances Dee, Richard Anderson and Betty Lynn are also in the cast.

Verdict: A bit dated but often quite arresting. ***.

Friday, October 10, 2008

TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL


TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951). Director: Jean Negulesco.
Jeanne Crain plays Elizabeth, a young woman who goes off to her mother's alma mater and hopes to join her mother's sorority. But she discovers that many of the young ladies are rather heartless when it comes to accepting those who aren't the right type. Jeffrey Hunter plays the archetypal drunken frat boy who wants an easy ride through life; and Dale Robertson is pleasant but mediocre as the older veteran whom Liz prefers. Mitzi Gaynor is fun in a small role as a co-ed who disdains sororities; ditto for Carol Brannon as a misfit member of Liz's sorority who has a sarcastic attitude toward their silly rules and regulations. Jean Peters makes a definite impression as Dallas, the chic, sexy head of the sorority, but Natalie Schafer hasn't enough to do as a den mother. Lenka Peterson is effective as shy Ruth, the "hopeless" girl that gets blackballed. One could easily argue that this presents a very stereotypical view of sororities and fraternities, but that misses the point: this is a surprisingly nice movie that makes a point about accepting those who don't fit in, and rejecting those who reject them. Warning: if you're looking for obligatory hair-pulling cat fights, drunken scenes of rape and debasement and the like, look elsewhere. This is not an exploitation film (although it would probably have been more fun if it were. )
Verdict: Pleasant timepasser. ***.