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

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

NEW PROJECTS

 Polishing up some exciting new projects. GREAT OLD MOVIES will return in July, if not sooner! 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

EDGE OF ETERNITY

Victoria Shaw and Cornel Wilde
EDGE OF ETERNITY      (1959). Director: Don Siegel. 

Near the Grand Canyon, Deputy Les Martin (Cornel Wilde of The Naked Prey) pursues a pretty if reckless driver, Janice (Victoria Shaw), distracting him from preventing the horrible murder of an unknown man marked for death. As Les and Janice begin a romance, there are other murders as well, and the County Attorney expects action. Sheriff Edwards (Edgar Buchanan of Lust for Gold) may be forced to ask Les to turn in his badge if he doesn't come up with something. Then Janice innocently gives Les a clue to the first dead man's identity, meaning that her family might even be involved ... 

Dashing Wilde
Edge of Eternity has Wilde adeptly playing a less dynamic, more laid-back kind of individual who nevertheless will eventually get his man -- and woman. His co-star, Victoria Shaw [The Eddy Duchin Story], is also quite adept and thoroughly winning. Also notable is Rian Garrick, who plays Janice's half-drunken brother, Bob; this handsome actor had only a few credits. Mickey Shaughnessy, Dabbs Greer, Jack Elam, and Edgar Buchanan, among others, are old reliables who give solid performances. 

Edge of Eternity also benefits from a score by (Mr.) Daniele Amfitheatrof and Burnett Guffey's CinemaScope photography of those sweeping grand canyon vistas. When a cable car that travels high over the canyon is first introduced, you know that it will figure in the thrilling climax, which it does, although the deputy's actions are a bit too foolhardy to be believed -- still it makes for a rousing sequence. The stunt work at the end -- the long shots reveal no nets and no FX work -- is not only amazing but almost horrifying! This is probably the only movie ever made in which the producers offer thanks to the U. S. Guano Corporation! Australian-born Victoria Shaw was married for a few years to Roger Smith before his marriage to Ann-Margret; Shaw and Smith had three children. 

Verdict: This movie is no guano! ***.

PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED

Kathleen Turner and Nicolas Cage
PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED  (1986). 
Director: Francis (Ford) Coppola. 

Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) is separated from her husband, high school sweetheart Charlie (Nicolas Cage of Ghost Rider), due to his adultery. She has mixed emotions about going to her 25-year high school reunion, but her daughter, Beth (Helen Hunt), importunes her to attend. After being crowned queen, Peggy Sue passes out and wakes up a quarter century in the past. She has an adult mind in a teenager's body! Trying to figure out if she's dead or simply going crazy, she has to determine if she wants to make the same mistakes -- such as marrying Charlie -- that she made before. 

Nicolas Cage
The basic premise of Peggy Sue, while not especially original, is compelling. Unfortunately, what the screenwriters have come up with doesn't do nearly enough with the material. Peggy Sue boasts some fine acting -- Turner and Cage are especially good if imperfect -- Jordan Cronenweth's photography is first-rate, and whenever the film seems emotionally moving it's undoubtedly due to John Barry's evocative scoring. The movie is a typical Hollywood "concept" picture which does as little with the concept as it possibly can. What could have been an especially affecting sequence when Peggy Sue goes to see her long-dead grandparents is turned into a weird bit of nonsense involving the old man's lodge brothers. (We never learn if her parents were still alive 25 years later.) It's as if the movie was merely a sequence of bits thrown together in the hopes it will turn into a cohesive whole. By the ending, nothing is really resolved. Peggy Sue is right back where she started. The whole time travel business is handled too prosaically anyway. 

Barbara Harris
A disturbing aspect of the picture is that more than once Peggy Sue mentions how much she loves and misses her two children (we only see one). This begs the question: how can she not marry Charlie when it means her beloved children (at least one of them) will no  longer exist -- but this never seems to occur to her. The superficial script doesn't wrestle with metaphysical issues in any case. So we're left with some interesting casting: Barbara Harris [Family Plot] as Peggy Sue's mother; Leon Ames and Maureen O'Sullivan as her grandparents; Barry Miller as the high school geek who makes good; John Carradine as a lodge member; and Kevin J. O'Connor [Deep Rising] as the romantic, mysterious school poet. While Barry's score adds a lot to the movie, it is not as good as his work on Somewhere in Time or Out of Africa

Verdict: Well-acted and reasonably entertaining, this is still a perfect example of how Hollywood can screw up fantasy-type movies. **1/4. 

AGE OF CAGE

AGE OF CAGE: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career
. Keith Phipps. Henry Holt; 2022. 

Author Phipps makes it clear right from the beginning that this is not a biography of actor Nicolas Cage. Certainly there is plenty of material in both the man's career and occasionally chaotic private life to turn out a full bio, but instead Phipps has chosen to do a career study, describing the changes in Hollywood and the film industry over the years that impacted on Cage's career, and when he went with the flow or bucked the trends. Whatever you think of Cage -- nowadays many people see him as a name to avoid when it's listed in the cast -- he had some major successes, an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, made some odd but forthright choices (such as the voice he affected in Peggy Sue Got Married), and is generally considered an intense and talented thespian who has given some very interesting performances. Cage's marriages, divorces, and tax and financial troubles are briefly mentioned, but not covered in detail, as the book focuses exclusively on the work. Phipps examines all of Cage's output, from major films to direct-to-video releases, and discusses which ones are worth your attention. Cage is the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, but he changed his name when charges of nepotism got too frenzied (the name change hardly worked). Cage is a big comic book fan who wanted to play Superman, but for multiple reasons it never happened. 

Verdict: Whether you're a fan of Cage or not, this is a breezy, entertaining and well-written look at the ups and downs of an interesting Hollywood career. ***. 

CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA

Dick Haymes and Vera-Ellen
CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA (1947). Director: Gregory Ratoff. 

Luisa Molina (Vera-Ellen), daughter of Costa Rican Rico (J. Carrol Naish) and American Elsa (Anne Revere), is told that she is to have an arranged marriage to Pepe Castro (Cesar Romero). For his part Pepe is already in love with the brash Celeste (Celeste Holm), and pretends to Luisa and her parents that he is too sickly to dance, sightsee or do much else that she might enjoy, hoping they will cancel the engagement. While Luisa is contemplating this possible union with a low-energy, half-dead spouse, she meets Jeff Stephens (Dick Haymes), who practically sweeps her off her feet during Carnival. Neither Luisa's or Pepe's parents have a clue to what is going on as everyone tries to do the right thing -- but what is it?

Celeste Holm and Cesar Romero
Carnival in Costa Rica is, as the title implies, very colorful and full of music, including a few fairly insipid if inoffensive songs by Levanna and Ruby. There isn't much plot beyond what is described in the paragraph above, so the movie sinks or swims on its musical numbers, which are at least energetic if not terribly inspired, and its performances. Everyone in the cast is more than adequate, but I especially enjoyed Anne Revere, sophisticated and stylish as the mother; Romero, who is as charming as ever; and of course the ever-delightful Fritz Feld as a hotel manager who has an amusing scene with the two fathers in question. Dick Haymes' is fine as an actor, and when he opens his mouth out comes one of the smoothest and most attractive voices in popular music. He knows how to put over a song, too (if only the songs had been a bit better). Little red-headed Tommy Ivo plays Luisa's sister even if he doesn't look much like a Costa Rican. Vera-Ellen's dancing is swell, but this could have used an Astaire or Kelly. 

Verdict: A pleasant and perfectly forgettable musical comedy without enough comedy. **1/4.

BLOODLINE

Audrey Hepburn
BLOODLINE
(1979). Director: Terence Young. 

"People who don't pay up end with their knees nailed to the floor." 

When her father, the head of an international pharmaceutical firm, is murdered, Elizabeth Roffe (Audrey Hepburn of The Unforgiven) takes over the company with the help of Rhys Williams (Ben Gazzara of The Young Doctors), whom she marries. But virtually all of the board members, all of whom are Elizabeth's relatives, are desperate for money, and appalled that she refuses to make the firm public, whereupon they could get ready cash. Before long, there are several attempts on Elizabeth's life, including an elevator crash that kills her secretary (Beatrice Straight). Who is the culprit: Ivo (Omar Sharif), whose mistress is demanding money; Helene (Romy Schneider), a ruthless race car driver; Sir Alec (James Mason), whose wife (Michelle Phillips) has run up huge gambling debts; or someone else? And who is responsible for the murders of several young women in snuff films? 

Ben Gazzara and Audrey Hepburn
Certainly an entertaining movie could have been made from Sidney Sheldon's absorbing page-turner, but this is a by-the-numbers effort with some unfortunate casting, slack direction, and an obnoxious musical score by Ennio Morricone, who simply layers the same treacly tune over every scene whether it is appropriate or not.  Director Young seems to have forgotten all he knew about directing, and despite an okay climax, Bloodline has virtually no suspense. The aforementioned elevator crash sequence is so brief and inept that it's positively comical. The best passages in the book, which concern Elizabeth's grandfather's ordeals in a Polish ghetto and the origins of Roffe Industries, get only a little screen time. This was sort of the second "comeback" picture for Hepburn, who gives a competent performance and looks good, if a little scary-skinny with, as one viewer put it, "ribs up to her neck." Gert Frobe from Goldfinger plays an inspector who tries to track down the culprit, but James Mason positively walks off with the picture, which is no surprise. 

Verdict: So much happening and still so dull. **.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

MY COUSIN RACHEL

Olivia De Havilland and Richard Burton
MY COUSIN RACHEL(1952). Directed by Henry Koster. 

Philip Ashley (Richard Burton of Becket) has been raised by a man whom he has always considered a brother, a father, and best friend, Ambrose Ashley (John Sutton of The Second Face). Now Ambrose has gone off on a vacation from which he never returns. While in Italy, Ambrose met and married an Italian woman with a possibly shady history. Now Ambrose -- who sent strange letters to his cousin, Philip -- is dead, and his widow is coming to visit the estate Philip will inherit. Rachel Ashley (Olivia De Havilland) seems charming, and Philip becomes smitten with her, but he can't shake the feeling that she may not be quite as sympathetic as she seems. That perhaps she was in some way responsible for his beloved cousin's death ... 

Richard Burton
My Cousin Rachel is based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, but it is no Rebecca or The Birds, because while Henry Koster is a workmanlike professional he is no Hitchcock. However, if taken more as a romantic drama and not necessarily a suspense film, Rachel is effective and absorbing and has excellent performances. The casting of de Havilland and Burton may seem strange, as they are both representatives of a very different kind of "Hollywood," with Olivia a product of the studio system and Burton an Angry Young Man of the theater. Still, they work together beautifully, and this is certainly a star-making performance for Burton. 

Audrey Dalton with Burton
Olivia de Havilland may not be perfect casting -- she doesn't even attempt an Italian accent -- but her strength is that she never lets the viewer know what she is thinking. No one watching the film can definitely make up their mind about Rachel's guilt or innocence. Audrey Dalton, whose performances can be variable, is lovely as Louise Kendall, someone who has known Philip since childhood and has always expected to marry him, but this is not a certainty once Philip meets Rachel. There's also nice work from Tudor Owen as major domo Seecombe; Ronald Squire as Nicholas Kendall; George Dolenz (father of Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees) as Guido, who may or may not be Rachel's lover. Hamilton Camp [Evilspeak], who plays Philip at age 15, later became a singer. 

Verdict: Not entirely satisfying, perhaps, but entertaining and well-acted. ***.

AGNES OF GOD

Meg Tilly and Jane Fonda
AGNES OF GOD (1985). Director: Norman Jewison. 

A young nun, Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly), is arrested for manslaughter when her strangled baby is found in a waste basket at the convent. Dr. Martha Livingstone (Jane Fonda), a psychiatrist, is brought in to assess the nun's mental condition. She has some problems in this due to the nun's reticence in talking about or even acknowledging her pregnancy, and the Mother Superior, Miriam (Anne Bancroft). has objections as well. Martha is a lapsed Catholic and Miriam accuses her of hating the Church. Martha decides to do some investigating and find out who the father of the baby is, and if somebody else strangled the infant. She discovers there's a secret exit from -- and entrance into -- the convent.

Anne Bancroft and Jane Fonda
The film version of Agnes of God, which was based on a stage play by John Pielmeier (who also wrote the screenplay) was packaged in movie houses as a murder mystery. If viewers, especially non-Catholic and non-religious viewers, knew it was actually a kind of dopey exploration of faith and the immaculate conception, there probably would have been even less of them in the theater. The film has a visual gloss to it due to Sven Nykvist's cinematography, some nice music by Georges Delarue, and the acting from the three leads can not be faulted, yet ... Most sensible viewers will feel that Sister Agnes definitely needs a psychiatrist! This is a study of severe mental illness masquerading as an examination of faith.

Verdict: Beatific looks can't help put this one over. **.  

OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: LADY TRIUMPHANT

OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: LADY TRIUMPHANT. Victoria Amador. University Press of Kentucky; 2020.

The author of this bio, a life-long De Havilland fan, tracked the actress down in Paris, begged to meet and interview her, and even showed up at de Havilland's doorstep without an invitation (eventually she was invited). Normally I'm very wary of bios written by obsessive fans, questioning their objectivity, but to be fair to Ms. Amador, her portrait of the reclusive Miss De. Havilland seems fair and balanced for the most part. The book looks at the actor's youth, her rather quick ascent in Hollywood, her most famous roles (such as Miss Melanie, of course) and movies, and insightfully examines her acting style and approach to different parts -- when De Havilland was less than special she's not afraid to say so. The book also recounts her ultimately successful legal battles with the studio. her famous "feud" with her sister, Joan Fontaine (which actually gets its own chapter), and her marriages and affairs (according to the diva herself, she did not sleep with Errol Flynn although she certainly wanted to). 

The portrait that emerges of De Havilland is not without warts, as the lady has often come off as quite affected and too oh-so-proper to be believed.  However this book will give the interested reader the basic facts and then some behind the career and life of the actress whose most interesting aspect was her appearances on film in such movies as Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Heiress, Lady in a Cage, The Dark Mirror, and many, many others. Inexplicably Amador supports De Havillamd's foolish, ill-advised and ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against the producers of Feud: Bette and Joan. Admittedly she was portrayed, briefly, by an actress who was nothing like her and she would never have made comments about her sister in public, but that is hardly suit-worthy, and trying to change the laws about public figures would have been opening a can of worms that would have had terrible repercussions for journalists -- and biographers. Amador has added a new chapter after her subject's death that goes on and on and on perhaps a bit too much.

Verdict: Very good read for De Havilland fans and Hollywood observers in general. ***1/2. 

ENDLESS NIGHT

Hywel Bennett and Hayley Mills
ENDLESS NIGHT (1972). Director: Sidney Gilliat. 

Michael Rogers (Hywel Bennett) drives wealthy people across Europe but wants a better life for himself. He greatly admires a piece of property called Gypsy's Acre in a small English village, and dreams of having his dying architect friend, Santonix (Per Oscarsson), design a house for him there. Dreams do come true after Michael meets and falls for Ellie Thomson (Hayley Mills), a lovely young woman who turns out to be an American heiress. Michael is disturbed by the discrepancy in their incomes, but Ellie is determined to marry him, despite her family's and advisors' objections. She is helped in her goal by her friend, Greta (Britt Ekland), who becomes an unwelcome presence in the couple's lives after they tie the knot. Santonix does design a magnificent house for them on the desired property, but events occur which make them feel ill at ease. Then there's a death ... 

Bennett with George Sanders
Endless Night is based on the novel by Agatha Christie, one of the author's personal favorites, and it is a suspenseful and especially well-written book which is told, as in the film version, from the point of view of Michael. Endless Night is quite well-acted by all the participants -- George Sanders adds a touch of class as a deceptively friendly lawyer -- the house is something to see (particularly the inside of it), and the viewer may or may not catch on to the twist that occurs at the finale. 

Britt Ekland with Mills
The trouble is that Endless Night is just blah. There's only one possible twist, not a lot of serious suspects, and the whole production just comes off as second-rate. Even Bernard Herrmann's score seems to consist of snatches from other and better movies. Bennett and Mills first worked together in The Family Way, then reunited for Twisted Nerve and then this film. Hayley Mills married Roy Boulting, who was 33 years older than her, and it is said that his choices for her all but ruined her career. Mills is still acting although her profile is comparatively low today. Bennett passed away in 2017. Britt Ekland's [The Wicker Man] last credit was in 2006. 

Verdict: Read the novel instead. **1/2.

OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL

Mark Stevens and June Haver
OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL (1949). Director: John M. Stahl. 

Around the turn of the (last) century, song promoter Larry Kelly (Mark Stevens of Time Table) runs into classical composer Alfred Breitenbach ("Cuddles" Sakall) and uses the latter's arias from his unproduced opera to turn them into tin pan alley hits. This he does with the cooperation and encouragement of Breitenbach's daughter, Doris (June Haver), who has a big crush on Larry. While Alfred enjoys the money he makes as "Fred Fisher" -- the name he takes as composer of popular hits -- he is afraid he is bowdlerizing his art and will never be taken seriously as an operatic composer. So he just takes off to rework the opera while Larry, Doris, and his wife, Anna (Charlotte Greenwood) frantically search for him. But famous conductor Gottfried Steiner (Eduard Franz of The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake) has an idea to get the man back ... 

Charlotte Greenwood and Cuddles Sakall
Mark Stevens had already teamed with June Haver two years earlier in I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now in which he played composer Joe Howard, although in this his character is fictional. There really was a Fred Fisher, born Alfred Breitenbach, and he did have a daughter named Doris, but just about everything else is made up, including his being a classical composer. Cuddles Sakall gives his customary good and lively performance in this, and Mark Stevens gives a fine account of himself as well. Playing another good and proper gal as she generally did, the only thing June Haver lacks is a little frosting. Gale Robbins [Double Jeopardy] is a little spicier as actress Marie Carle, but she isn't given much to do. Charlotte Greenwood is swell as Cuddle's wife, but she not only doesn't deliver any of her famous high kicks, she doesn't sing and dance at all. 

The big finale
A strange thing about the picture is that both Haver and Stevens were singers, but both of them are dubbed in this movie. Bill Shirley, who has a splendid voice, did the singing for Stevens; he appeared as himself in a few movies as well. As for the songs, aside from the title tune (not composed by Fisher), and Fisher's best-known compositions "Peg O' My Heart" and "Chicago," and maybe one or two others, they are forgettable. The finale has Gottfried Steiner conducting a concert version of Fisher's hits, when it probably would have been more appropriate to play the original operatic versions (which never actually existed). In beautiful technicolor. 

Verdict: Pleasant, with a more interesting plot than usual, even if it's completely fabricated. ***.  

Thursday, April 28, 2022

BONNIE AND CLYDE

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway
BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967). Director: Arthur Penn. 

Bonnie and Clyde go on a crime spree robbing banks in the 1930's and become folk heroes to part of the population, but their days are numbered. This film was quite polarizing when it first came out, with some finding it slick and cinematic; others repellent and empty -- both viewpoints have validity. Warren Beatty [Splendor in the Grass] isn't bad as Clyde Barrow, the leader of a group of depression-era bank robbers, but he's never quite believable, either. The same could be said of Faye Dunaway [Mommie Dearest]  as Bonnie Parker, although she certainly demonstrates star-making vitality. The trouble with both of the leads is that they never seem quite as stupid as the people they're playing. Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard as relatives and fellow gang members are perhaps more on the mark. 

Estelle Parsons and Gene Hackman
Today Bonnie and Clyde seems almost benign next to Goodfellas and similar movies. The picture doesn't really glorify these murdering robbers so much as it shows how pathetic and desperate they and their self-absorbed lives really are. But the movie can't really be considered a serious examination of these people because the characters lack dimension and the film can't seem to make up its mind whether or not to take them -- or itself, in fact -- seriously. In any case, the picture is generally entertaining and well-done, but it goes on about half an hour too long and is very Hollywood-ized to say the least. One could make a strong case that William Witney's The Bonnie Parker Story, made ten years earlier, is the better picture. 

Verdict: Okay, but maybe watch Little Caesar instead. **1/2.

ANNE BANCROFT: A LIFE

ANNE BANCROFT: A LIFE. Douglass K. Daniel. University Press of Kentucky; 2017. 

Anne Bancroft was typical of a lot of what we might call "second tier celebrities." Bancroft was accomplished and celebrated, an Oscar-winner, and had a highly successful career, yet for most of her life she was not really "bankable." Her husband, Mel Brooks, may have even become the bigger "name" at one time. In spite of this, Bancroft managed to amass many credits on TV, on the stage, and in films, with her most famous movies being The Miracle Worker (recreating her stage role) and The Graduate. This excellent biography covers her entire life and career from girlhood to death, and does so with intelligence and sensitivity. Author Daniel also analyzes Bancroft's technique in different roles, and doesn't shy away from recording times when she was off her game, at least according to certain critics. Bancroft toiled in B movies like Gorilla at Large and The Girl in Black Stockings, before entering a new phase and new admiration on Broadway and elsewhere. On the stage Bancroft tackled challenging roles in works such as The Devils and Mother Courage. The book is bolstered with many comments from people who knew and worked with the woman. Bancroft's first movie was Don't Bother to Knock, where she was upstaged by Marilyn Monroe but gave the better performance. She wisely turned down such projects as Myra Breckinridge and Mommie Dearest

Verdict: Excellent on every level and a good read as well. ****. 

TREASURE OF THE GOLDEN CONDOR

Cornel Wilde and Anne Bancroft
TREASURE OF THE GOLDEN CONDOR (1953). Director: Delmer Daves. 

In 18th century France Jean Paul (Cornel Wilde) becomes the bonded servant of his hateful uncle the Marquis de St. Malo (George Macready). Jean also falls in love -- and vice versa -- with his cousin Marie (Anne Bancroft). Jean is the rightful heir to the estate and money but there is no proof that his parents, who died at sea, were ever married. Jean figures only money can get him out of his predicament, especially after he is arrested for assaulting his uncle and trying to flee, so he takes off on a treasure hunt in Guatemala with a man named MacDougal (Finlay Currie). 

Wilde with Finlay Currie
In Guatemala the two men set off with MacDougal's daughter Clara (Constance Smith) and look for a stone serpent to guide them to the treasure. Despite the fact that the movie made much of the fact that some of it was filmed in Guatemala, it doesn't especially add to the film's veracity, especially when the treasure seems to be found in a matter of minutes. There's a snake, a cave-in, and minimal excitement in the treasure scene. Then Jean returns to France, is put on trial, and has a rousing and satisfying final battle with his awful uncle, the best and most memorable sequence in the movie. Wilde gives a charismatic lead performance, with good support from a slimy Macready and a passionate if duplicitous Bancroft in one of her earliest roles. (When she eyes Wilde with his shirt off you can imagine she'd rather cozy up to him than Dustin Hoffman!) Irish actress Smith had about thirty credits but never hit the heights. Fay Wray has a supporting part as Macready's wife, and Leo G. Carroll is also in the cast, but I didn't recognize Robert Blake as a nasty stable boy.  The rich score by Sol Kaplan is beautifully orchestrated by Edward Powell. The main problem with this movie is that the viewer will expect it to be about a treasure hunt but that only takes up a small portion of the picture.

Verdict: Good cast can only do so much with comparatively weak and derivative material. **1/2.

GOOD NEW MOVIE -- HOUSE OF GUCCI:

The cast of House of Gucci
HOUSE OF GUCCI (2021). Director: Ridley Scott.

Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) is smitten with the outgoing and ambitious Patrizia (Lady Gaga), and soon afterward they are married. Maurizio's father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) isn't entirely taken with the union, but his brother, Aldo (Al Pacino) welcomes Patrizia and his nephew to New York. Then there's Aldo's son, Paolo (Jared Leto of Urban Legend), who is treated like a moron by his father, and who wants to design his own line. There are behind-the-scenes battles for control of the Gucci company, and then Maurizio has the temerity to have an affair and ask for a divorce. Patrizia is not going to take this lying down ... 

Lady Gaga was a determined Patrizia
House of Gucci
 is an entertaining and well-acted biopic and suspense story (even if you know the outcome) that holds the attention throughout its length. Lady Gaga is good, but I suspect there are other actresses who could have made more of the part. Driver and Leto (although he's initially over the top) are also quite good, but the pic is nearly stolen by a wonderful Pacino and especially Jeremy Irons as the father. If you're hoping to see some courtroom dynamics, be warned that the film ends rather abruptly with the arrest of certain parties -- you'll have to watch details of the murder trial on Dateline, which covered the story more than once.  

Verdict: Well, you may not rush out to buy a Gucci bag, but all the skullduggery in this is fascinating. ***1/4.  

TALES OF MANHATTAN

TALES OF MANHATTAN (1942). Director: Julien Duvuvier. 

This very entertaining film is a series of tales connected by a tailcoat that proves lucky or disastrous for whoever wears it, including an actor (Charles Boyer) who is in love with a married woman (Rita Hayworth); a man (Cesar Romero) who is about to get married and who has a jealous fiancee (Ginger Rogers) and a friend (Henry Fonda) who tries to help him; a musician (Charles Laughton) whose wife (Elsa Lanchester) gets him the tailcoat to wear on the night he conducts his symphony, to disastrous (and somewhat unlikely) results; and a down-on-his luck lawyer (Edward G. Robinson) who wears the coat to a reunion of his ivy league college buddies who have no idea of how far he's fallen. The final sequence stars Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, and Eddie Anderson in a charming tale of poor folk (who are not exactly in Manhattan) who have to decide how to spend the money that falls out of the tailcoat. A brief but amusing sequence with W. C. Fields (appearing with Margaret Dumont!) lecturing society folk was cut out for the initial theatrical release, but has been wisely reinstated. The entire cast is good, with special honors going to Boyer, Robinson, and Fields. 

Verdict: Who knew a movie about a coat could be such fun? ***.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

GREAT OLD MOVIES

Special projects have caught up with me temporarily.  GREAT OLD MOVIES will return in May 2022, if not before. 

For those who subscribe by email the posts come with the wrong, outdated email attached at the very bottom. I'm working to correct this. In the meantime you can contact me anytime at wmschoell@gmail.com. 

Thanks!

William Schoell

Thursday, March 31, 2022

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1966). Director: Richard Lester. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 

The slave Pseudolus (Zero Mostel) is hoping to acquire his freedom and comes up with a plan. His master's son, Hero (Michael Crawford), has fallen for a virginal courtesan, Philia (Annette Andre), just installed in Marcus Lycus' (Phil Silvers) brothel next door, and Hero will free Pseudolus if he arranges a relationship between the two. The problem is that Philia has already been bought by the egomaniacal Captain Milos Gloriosus (Leon Greene), who is on his way from Rome that very afternoon to claim his bride. Pseudolus schemes to get Philia away from Gloriosus even as his master Senex (Michael Hordern of Theater of Blood) schemes to get away from his termagant of a wife, Domina (Patricia Jessel).  


The first half hour or so of this adaptation of the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is delightful -- although it takes too long for someone to finally sing a song -- with Mostel fully in charge of his material along with Silvers, Jack Gilford as Hysterium, Hordern and Jessel, and especially Greene as the captain. But after awhile this farce just becomes a bit labored, and the film completely falls apart with a tasteless scene in the arena and especially a drawn-out slapstick sequence that falls completely flat. Others have noted that the film has a typically sixties attitude towards women: they are either young beauties lusted after by ugly old men or old hags unworthy of consideration. One could also argue that anything having to do with roman slavery is not exactly a great subject for the comedic treatment to begin with. I think the main problem is that this is the type of material that works much, much better on the stage. However, the producers wisely kept on Mostel and Gilford from the Broadway production. Unwisely, because they thought big movie musicals were on their way out, they cut most of Stephen Sondheim's tuneful score. What remains is the lovely "Lovely," sung by Philia; the captain's song as he comes into town and the dirge he sings later on; the spritely "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid;" and the infectious opening number "Comedy Tonight."

Leon Greene and Zero Mostel
As the young lovers Michael Crawford (who would find fame on Broadway as The Phantom of the Opera) and Annette Andre fail to make much of an impression. British actor Leon Greene, however, makes quite an impression and went on to have many more credits, mostly in the UK. Buster Keaton [Backstage], in his last role as a man looking for his kidnapped children, is, unfortunately, not good at all. 

Verdict: Some fun to be sure, but it just becomes too silly. **1/2. 

A WOMAN SCORNED: THE BETTY BRODERICK STORY

Meredith Baxter
A WOMAN SCORNED: THE BETTY BRODERICK STORY (1992 telefilm). Director: Dick Lowry. 

Betty Broderick (Meredith Baxter of The Cat Creature) has been nagging her successful husband, Dan (Stephen Collins) about a divorce for years, but when he finally gives up, moves out, and files papers, she is absolutely livid. Betty mounts a campaign of terror against the man that spares no one, including her own children. She goes so far as to call her little boy a "little traitor" because he wants her to stop carrying on the way she does, which includes driving her car into her now ex-husband's house when her children are inside! Later claiming that she was "driven to it," Betty goes to his home (supposedly wanting to "talk" late in the evening), climbs the stairs to the bedroom, and shoots both him and his new wife (Michelle Johnson) dead.

Kelli Williams and Stephen Collins
A Woman Scorned
 makes very clear that -- although some stupid people made Broderick a cause celdebre, seeing her as a symbol of middle-aged women dumped by husbands for younger models, an over-simplification to say the least -- Broderick was, as one psychologist calls her, an extreme "narcissist" who had no problem using her own children as pawns in a war with her ex. Ignoring restraining orders, acting like a loon, alienating friends and family -- even though she could have started over again with her new boyfriend -- she was her own worst enemy. In an Emmy-nominated performance, Meredith Baxter brings the woman vividly to life, never chewing the scenery, always making it clear what makes this woman tick. Baxter is excellent casting, showing the dark side of the sitcom mom she had previously played. Stephen Collins and Kelli Williams are also perfection as Dan Broderick and his oldest daughter, one of four children caught in the middle of this mess, and there are a host of solid supporting performances as well. Followed by Her Final Fury. Dick Lowry also directed The Jayne Mansfield Story and many others. 

NOTE: In 2014 Stephen Collins admitted to People magazine that he had "inappropriate sexual contact with three female minors." The statute of limitations prevented him from being arrested. 

Verdict: Well played and suspenseful, this is one high-class telefilm. ***. 

HER FINAL FURY: BETTY BRODERICK, THE LAST CHAPTER

Betty on trial: Meredith Baxter
HER FINAL FURY: BETTY BRODERICK, THE LAST CHAPTER (1992 telefilm). Director: Dick Lowry. 

After shooting her ex-husband and his new wife dead in their own bedroom, Betty Broderick (Meredith Baxter) goes on trial for double homicide. Betty has gotten a surprising amount of support, primarily because she paints herself as the stereotypical "discarded" wife, and her ex-husband as an abuser, even though the prosecution finds no evidence of this. DA Kerry Wells (Judith Ivey) is reluctant to put Betty's little boys on the stand, although they have important information to relate, because she fears further traumatizing them, but her eldest daughter, Kate (Kelli Williams of The Practice), willingly becomes a prosecution witness, incurring her mother's eternal enmity. 

Judith Ivey versus Meredith Baxter in court
Her Final Fury
 boasts another fine performance from Meredith Baxter as the narcissistic sociopath Betty Broderick. Judith Ivey also offers her customary excellent work, as does Kelli Williams as the conflicted daughter, who loved her father. Watching the proceedings, it is clear Broderick hated her husband less because of the divorce, than because he walked out on her, before she could do the same, and because she didn't get enough money despite his more than generous alimony payments. While we generally think it's men who shout "no one walks out on me!" and "If I can't have you, no one can!" women are perfectly capable of having the same mind set. The first trial ended in a hung jury (because of two dumb hold outs), but Betty was convicted in the second trial. 

Betty Broderick was denied parole in 2010 and on subsequent occasions because she showed no remorse and refused to admit she did anything wrong. (Let's make no mistake -- even if her husband had been the monster she portrayed him as, murder is never an option, and it only made things worse for everyone, especially her children.) Her next parole hearing isn't until 2032 when she will be 84. Interestingly enough, her two older children think she should stay in prison, while the two younger children want her to get out.

Verdict: Well-acted and absorbing follow up to A Woman Scorned. ***. 

POSTHUMOUS

POSTHUMOUS

My latest thriller, for people who love movies, celebrities, psychos, and suspense fiction, is entitled POSTHUMOUS. Below is a description. It's available in hardcover, trade paperback, and inexpensive kindle editions on amazon.

"Anna Corrigan, the daughter of the late movie star and entertainer Mavis Edwards, has spent years trying to deal with the emotional fall out from the decades she spent with her often difficult and neurotic mother. Anna attends her sister Estelle's singing showcase at a tiny supper club uptown, where she encounters some of her mother's "friends" from the past. These include a crooked business manager named Louie Mayhew; her old co-star Jerry Giddings, who has fallen on hard times; her bitchy rival Marjorie Easterbrook; choreographer “Busy” Borroway, an unrepentant child molester who numbered Mavis Edwards among his victims; and George Kelker, a director who refused to hire Mavis Edwards for an important production many years before. George is only the first of these individuals to be horribly murdered by a crazed female intruder who, Kelker's wife insists, looks just like Mavis Edwards! There had always been nutty stories in the tabloids about Mavis Edwards being alive and hidden in a sanitarium and with all these reports of a crazy lady who resembles her beginning to surface, Anna wonders if it could possibly be true. But as the murders continue and Anna finds her life unraveling, she learns that the truth is far more terrible than she could ever even imagine."

"POSTHUMOUS is a movie lover's thriller, dissecting one impossible star's neurotic behavior and the effect it has even years later on her children."

Is "Mavis Edwards" meant to be Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, or someone else? Read the book to find out!  

CHINA MOON

Madeleine Stowe and Ed Harris 
CHINA MOON (1994). Director: John Bailey. 

Kyle Bodine (Ed Harris of National Treasure: Book of Secrets) is a detective working with a younger partner, Lamar (Benicio Del Toro of The Wolfman), and sort of showing him the ropes. Kyle meets an attractive woman named Rachel (Madeleine Stowe of Blink) and is at first unaware that she's married to an abusive and controlling husband, Rupert (Charles Dance of Alien 3). Kyle and Rachel begin a relationship, but there's a serious speedbump when Rupert winds up dead. Kyle risks his career by going to bat for Rachel without disclosing the affair to his superiors, but he doesn't realize that he is being seriously played by someone close to him.

Harris, Charles Dance, Del Toro
It's a wonder that China Moon ever got made. Its plot is over-familiar and whatever surprises it contains are not that jolting. The characters are one-dimensional, and the dialogue is flat. Although Charles Dance and Benicio Del Toro give effective and committed performances, I'm not certain what to make of the leads. I can be polite and say that Harris underplays, or was simply uninspired by the script -- no wonder -- but he's mediocre, as is Stowe. I'm not surprised that Stowe never had a major theatrical career as her presence is strictly small-scale, and works much better on television (in the TV series Revenge, for instance). If you're going to play a femme fatale, then play it for all it's worth, but Stowe never pulls out the stops. Her too-deep, unfeminine voice is no asset, either, although some people might have found it sexy. 

Verdict: Some films should never get beyond script stage. *1/2.  

Thursday, March 17, 2022

IN NAME ONLY

Grant, Lombard and Francis
IN NAME ONLY
(1939). Director: John Cromwell. 

Alec Walker (Cary Grant) is trapped in a loveless marriage with his wife Maida (Kay Francis), who freely admits she was in love with another man at the time of their wedding and only married Alec for his money. Alec meets a free-spirited widow, Julie Eden (Carole Lombard) with a small girl, and he and Julie, instantly smitten, fall in love. But will Maida graciously step aside -- or cause them all manner of trouble? What do you think? The stars are all in top form in this -- it's one of Francis' best performances -- and the picture is warm, humorous, dramatic, and absorbing, the only deficit a climactic bout with pneumonia that's a bit of a bore. Otherwise, this is very entertaining. Supporting players include Helen Vinson as the bitchy, man-hungry Suzanne, supposedly Maida's best friend; Katharine Alexander as Laura, Julie's bitter sister; and Charles Coburn as Grant's father, who doesn't have nearly enough to do. Grant and Lombard are really terrific in this. A lost film from that great year for movies, 1939. 
 
Verdict: Kay, Carole and Cary make this a winner! ***1/2.

JUST A GIGOLO

William Haines and Irene Purcell
JUST A GIGOLO (1931). Director: Jack Conway. 

Lord Robert Brummel (William Haines) finds lots of female companionship with married women who have no problem cheating on their husbands. His Uncle George (C. Aubrey Smith) thinks his nephew is an overspending mountebank who doesn't know the value of a dollar. For some reason George thinks a match between Bob and equally upper-crust Roxana Hartley (Irene Purcell) would make the perfect union. But before he consents, Robert wants to make sure that Roxana isn't like (to his eye) most other women, and tests her by pretending to be a paid dancer and gigolo. 

C. Aubrey Smith and Haines
Just a Gigolo is a mildly amusing comedy that boasts a winning performance by the likable Haines, and an especially notable turn from the equally charming C. Aubrey Smith. Although a trifle off-putting at first, Irene Purcell proves an attractive and capable leading lady. This was her first full-length film and she only appeared in five more. (Ironically, Haines only had five more films to go before his movie career was over.) An interesting aspect of the film is the fury felt by Roxana when she learns of Bob's deception, his gall at testing her morals when he himself is hardly above reproach. The movie gets across the unjustness of the double standard without hitting you over the head with it. Although released in 1931, Just a Gigolo isn't creaky and moves at a fairly fast pace. Charlotte Granville is fun as Roxana's mother, and although Ray Milland is listed in the cast, if you blink you will certainly miss him. 

Verdict: A good chance to see Haines, once a top box office attraction, in a sound film. **1/2.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ORSON WELLES? Joseph McBride

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ORSON WELLES? A Portrait of an Independent Career. Joseph McBride. University Press of Kentucky. 

What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? is not a biography of the famous actor and director, but rather a study of his career and an attempt to correct misconceptions about the man that have proliferated both before and after his death. McBride is often successful at this, and sometimes not, and the book -- while well-written and well-researched -- occasionally has a petulant "fan-boy" tone to it. Film buff McBride became acquainted with Welles and was even cast in The Other Side of the Wind as a nerdy film geek (a talented writer, the less said about his acting the better), and spoke and dealt with him on and off over the years. McBride argues against some of the assertions made against Welles, but at other times makes clear that these assertions are often true. Welles clearly was a narcissist, and clearly expected those under his spell to do what he wanted, come hell or highwater. However, McBride argues that Welles was not some corpulent figure of fun but an artist who not only made some successful and brilliant films, but, like a true artist, kept on working right up to the very last minute of his life. McBride dissects many of Welles's lesser-known film projects, and does make it clear that Welles's career did not begin and end with Citizen Kane. One suspects he's just too close to The Other Side of the Wind to see how really bad it is. To his credit, McBride doesn't shy away from examining Welles's flaws, and even goes into the man's ambivalent feelings about his sexuality. 

Verdict: Whatever you think of Welles, this is an interesting and thought-provoking read. ***. 

OBSESSION

Bujold and Robertson
OBSESSION
(1976). Director: Brian De Palma. 

Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) loses his wife (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter when a kidnapping/ransom goes awry and they apparently die in a burning vehicle. Many years later Courtland meets a young woman, Sandra (also played by Bujold) in Europe who is the spitting image of his wife and falls in love with her, bringing her back to the states. But who is Sandra really? While this is nowhere in the league of its obvious model, Hitchcock's Vertigo, on its own terms it's a credible thriller. Paul Schrader's screenplay is weak on characterization, however. Also, the fact that Courtland has no suspicions concerning Sandra minimizes the film's suspense and its mystery factor. The best performances come from Bujold and John Lithgow as an associate of Courtland's; Robertson is comparatively somnambulistic and passionless. The movie is handsomely produced with outstanding cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond. Great score by Bernard Herrmann, even if it's a little "too much" at times. Very well directed by De Palma. 

Verdict: No Vertigo, but not without interest. ***.

THE BLACK ROOM

THE BLACK ROOM
(1935). Director: Roy William Neill.

A dire prophecy hangs over a feudal kingdom: the younger brother will murder the older in the infamous "black room" of the castle. To prevent this from occurring, the black room is sealed up, but the evil twin Gregor finds another way in. When the good twin Anton - both are played by Boris Karloff -- returns to the kingdom he learns that Gregor is suspected of doing away with several women who have completely disappeared. Although the movie doesn't make nearly enough of its horrific sequences, this is a very interesting macabre thriller with Karloff in top form -- both of him! Marian Marsh is lovely as the pretty Thea, who ignites romantic interest in the twins and others, but Robert Allen is pretty bad as her heroic lover, Lt. Lussan. Thor the dog gets high marks for his spirited performance as a hound who harasses Gregor.

Verdict: 2 Karloffs for the price of one! ***.