Thursday, April 1, 2021
|John Archer and Warner Anderson|
|pulling away from earth's gravity|
|Robert Reed and E. G. Marshall|
|Marshall with Jack Klugman|
|Reed with Salome Jens|
|"The Attack:" Marchand, Barbara Barrie, Kiley|
Hercules (Steve Reeves of Athena) has been summoned by King Pelias (Ivo Garrani) to tutor his insufferable son, Iphitus (Mimmo Palmara), but instead Iphitus winds up being slaughtered by a lion when he rushes ahead of the hero to try to show him up. Pelias is furious at Hercules and orders him to kill the Cretan bull, after which the demi-god encounters his old tutor Chironi (Afro Poli). Chironi tells him that his ward, Jason (Fabrizio Mioni of Girl Happy), Pelias' long-lost nephew, is the true heir to the throne, and legend has it that Jason will destroy his uncle. To prove his identity Jason sets sail with Argo, Ulysses, and of course Hercules, to find the golden fleece, which had been spirited away years before. Meanwhile Hercules and Iole (Sylva Koscina of Deadlier Than the Male), Pelias' daughter, have a love-hate thing going on.
Hercules, which was a big hit in the U.S. thanks to an expensive ad campaign engineered by producer Joseph E. Levine, brought into being the whole Italian sword and sorcery/mythological epic genre that employed not only Hercules but also Samson and other characters as protagonists, giving work to a lot of handsome guys with great big muscles. Hercules, in widescreen and Cinecolor, is no better or worse than most of them, and is at least watchable, with a strikingly charismatic Reeves filling the bill quite nicely. Oddly, when the gang get to an island of Amazons, it is Jason who romances the queen, Antea (beautiful Gianna Maria Canale), while hunky Hercules sits it out. It is even Jason who tackles the rather pitiful dragon that is guarding the fleece and is quickly dispatched. (The story of the search for the fleece was told much better in the far superior Jason and the Argonauts.) There are also a pack of crazed beast-men to briefly bedevil the argonauts.
Canale and Mioni
|Koscina and Reeves|
Verdict: A very attractive cast almost offsets one pretty ugly dragon. **1/2.
On opening night at Earl Carroll's Broadway revue, the Vanities, a dead body is found far up above the stage dripping blood on chorus girls. Lt. Murdock (Victor McLaglen) investigates while producer Jack Oakie throws a panic. Kitty Carlisle is the star of the show, Ann Ware, who's engaged to the European import -- and her co-star -- Eric Lander (Carl Brisson). Jessie Ralph is the wardrobe mistress-with-a-secret, and Gertrude Michael is the supremely bitchy performer, Rita Ross (she does a lively number on "Marijuana!") Even Charles Middleton -- Ming the Merciless of the Flash Gordon serials -- shows up as another member of the cast. At one point his orchestra playing Liszt is hijacked by a swing/jazz band and he gets even by firing a (prop) machine gun at everyone on stage. Dorothy Stickney, who years later would play the Queen in the Julie Andrews version of Cinderella, steals the show as Norma, Rita's long-suffering maid and punching bag. Danish Brisson was a former boxer who should have stayed with that profession -- his singing voice is grating on the ears (especially in duet with Carlisle's beautiful tones) and he only made a half dozen or so movies. He had a pleasant enough personality and some little acting ability, but major star material he was not.
Verdict: Not exactly murder to sit through but no world-beater, either. **.
Thursday, March 18, 2021
|Hepburn and Tracy|
|Did she or didn't she? Ann Todd as Madeleine|
Madeleine Smith (Ann Todd of So Evil My Love) of Glascow is being courted by one William Minnoch (Norman Wooland), a perfectly pleasant if unexciting man whom her father (Leslie Banks) heartily approves of. Mr. Smith can't understand why his oldest daughter keeps putting Minnoch off, but he doesn't know that she has been keeping secret rendezvous with a sexy French shipping clerk named Emile (Ivan Desny), something that would cause a scandal in the Victorian era. Madeleine can't bring herself to tell her father the truth, so she decides to run away with Emile, but he is dismayed at the thought that they would have to live on his comparatively meagre income. When Madeleine gets engaged to Minnoch, Emile threatens to tell her father, ruining her chances for a successful union with the other man. But has Madeleine cooked up a scheme to make absolutely certain that Emile cannot interfere?
Madeleine is based on the famous Madeleine Smith murder case. Todd, who was married to David Lean at the time, had played the role on the stage and importuned her husband to direct her in a film also based on the case (but not on the play). She is quite good in the film, matched by Ivan Desney of Lola Montes and Anastasia -- who never quite reveals if Emile is a complete mountebank or just a man who genuinely loves Madeleine but also simply wishes a better life. In fact, the one major problem with the film is that the characters are not as dimensional as one might like. Wooland and Banks [The Most Dangerous Game] prove good support for Todd, and Andre Morrell offers his customary sharp performance as her lawyer. The same case also inspired the Joan Crawford film Letty Lynton.
Ivan Desny as Emile
Verdict: Absorbing true crime story with some fine performances. ***.
|Edward G. Robinson|
|Olsen and Johnson|
Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, playing themselves, are told that in the film version of their (real life) Broadway hit "Olsen and Johnson's Hellzapoppin'" they have to add a little romance to the mix. The screenwriter (Elisha Cook Jr.) concocts a triangle in which aspiring producer Jeff Hunter (Robert Paige) wants to star Kitty (Jane Frazee), the women he loves, in a musical -- only his best friend, Woody (Lewis Howard), is in love with her too. Then there are complications in the form of man-hungry but homely Betty (Martha Raye) and a possible prince named Pepi (Mischa Auer). For reasons not worth recounting Olsen and Johnson want the show to fail and try to sabotage it a la Night at the Opera (a much, much better movie) to somewhat comical results in the last twenty minutes of the film. Meanwhile Olsen and Johnson have a running dialogue with the film's projectionist (Shemp Howard) who keeps screwing things up.
Hellzapoppin' has its share of laughs (and quite a few groaners) but despite its amiable nature it never quite bursts into full-blown hilarity. Olsen and Johnson are such a comparatively dull comedy team that for much of the film's length I confused one of them with the much more distinctive Hugh Herbert, who plays the giggling Quimby. As the lovers, Paige and Frazee are appealing, and get to sing two lovely numbers entitled "Heaven for Two" and "And You Were There." Martha Raye is wonderful as Betty whether she's running after an aghast Pepi with lust in her heart or warbling the snappy "Watch the Birdie" in a production number. Auer is her match in every way.
Mismatch: Martha Raye and Mischa Auer
Hellzapoppin' breaks through the fourth wall numerous times throughout the movie (this was done in many films afterwards including Gremlins 2) and has a lot of sight gags, some of which succeed (the "coat of arms") and some of which land with a thud. A highlight of the film is a performance by the sensational Harlem Congeroo Dancers and an all-black band that is equally spectacular. Olsen and John had teamed for at least one movie before this one, All Over Town, then got together again for Crazy House and Ghost Catchers, pretty much doing the same shtick that they do in Hellzapoppin'. A little of them goes a long way! To compare them in any way to the Marx Brothers is utterly ludicrous.
Robert Paige and Jane Frazee
Verdict: Silly, frequently stupid, but it earns some genuine chuckles as well. **3/4.
|Stan Laurel, Jean Harlow, Oliver Hardy|
Thursday, March 4, 2021
|Sister and brother: Domergue and Benson|
Jim Bankley (Lee Patterson) hopes to get a start in the fight game, but is willing to take anything. His friend, Buddy (Robert Arden), arranges for Jim to meet his boss, Rico Francesi (Martin Benson), but he particularly ignites the interest of Rico's sexy sister, Bella (Faith Domergue of Where Danger Lives). One of Rico's flunkies, McLeod (Bernard Fox), is told to pay a relatively benign call on a boxer, Bill (Peter Hammond), who refused to take a dive, but violence ensues, and Bill is killed. Jim is also involved with Bill's sister, Betty (Rona Anderson), who is appalled that he is now working for Rico. Things begin spiraling downward from there, with Jim regretting that he ever got involved with this mob, and Bella determined to hold on to him -- at any cost.
Spin a Dark Web is the kind of British thriller I would normally review on my brother blog B Movie Nightmare, but this picture is a little bit different. The main difference is a highly interesting cast. Lee Patterson was a Canadian actor who had quite a list of credits in British "B"s before landing a gig in the American private eye show Surfside Six and doing US TV work and soap operas thereafter. He gives a solid performance in this as a man a bit on the shady side who still has some principles. Faith Domergue [Dah-mure], a Howard Hughes discovery (and more) in her teens, became a cult figure due to appearances in such films as It Came from Beneath the Sea and This Island Earth. She gives a good performance in this although one might have wished she came on a lot stronger in certain sequences, but Joan Crawford she wasn't. Martin Benson was in everything from The Cosmic Monsters to Gorgo to Goldfinger and always fit the bill. Robert Arden was the leading man in Orson Welle's Mr Arkadin/Confidential Agent, and he scores in this supporting part as well. Pleasant and pretty, Rona Anderson appeared in numerous UK movies.
Lee Patterson and Rona Anderson
Spin a Dark Web has a good (if familiar) story and is generally well-paced, although with better and tighter editing and more use of close-ups the climax could have been a real nail-biter. Domergue and Patterson play well together.
Verdict: Domergue is not so "dah mure" in this! ***.
|an evil gremlin on the loose!|
Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates) from Gremlins are engaged and living in New York City. Both of them work in real estate developer Daniel Clamp's (John Glover) Trade Centre, which is a fully-automated "smart building." Billy discovers that little Gizmo from the first film has been put in a genetics lab in the building after the death of his Chinese owner, Wing (Keye Luke). Billy frees Gizmo from the lab, but the cute little fellow gets wet and before you know it the Trade Centre is over-run with ferocious if fun-loving evil gremlins! Billy comes up with a brilliant if risky plan to get rid of them.
|Galligan, Cates and Glover with Gizmo in a box|
|Gizmo does a dance for the twins and Lee|
Two other items I must mention. I enjoyed the stop-motion work in the film, which includes a flying bat-gremlin that attacks Dick Miller and turns into a gargoyle -- this was done by the Doug Beswick studios. And then there are the guest appearances by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, especially the latter. Watch the closing credits to watch lovable Daffy's reaction to how damn long the credits to movies are these days!
Verdict: One could easily denounce this as stupid and note that the pacing is often off, but the darn thing can be inventive and amusing in equal measure. ***.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
"Don't you know what happens to you means more to me than anything?"
Verdict: Another in the category of 'They don't make 'em like this anymore.' ****.
|Timothy Carey, Peter Graves and Lita Milan|
New York architect Martin Davis (Peter Graves of Stalag 17) comes down to the bayou hoping to get assigned to a building project, but he's told by the man who called for him (Douglas Fowley) that he has to fight for the job. Martin is an intelligent man who refuses to sink down to other people's levels whether it comes to scrabbling with competitors or in actual fist fights. Martin, however, learns that he may have to fight for Marie Hebert (Lita Milan of I Mobster), a pretty Cajun woman who has innocently ignited the lust of shop owner Ulysses (Timothy Carey of Paths of Glory) and with whom Martin falls in love.
|Lita Milan and Peter Graves|
|"an orgiastic, self-flagellating dance"|
Ed Nelson has a small role, but although Jonathan Haze of Little Shop of Horrors is also in the film I didn't spot him. There is some atmospheric photography and a vaguely evocative score by Gerald Fried. One of the film's most disturbing scenes is actually a party scene celebrating the marriage of an elderly man to a very young girl who looks like she'd like to run away from the oldster as fast as her feet could take her.
Verdict: A trashy curiosity indeed. **.
|Robert Ryan and Mala Powers|
|Robert Ryan with Anthony Quinn|
|Can the excitement never end?|
Thursday, February 4, 2021
THE GAY SISTERS (1942). Director: Irving Rapper.
The Gaylord Sisters have been waiting 27 years for their father's will to be probated, but a stubborn businessman named Charles Barclay (George Brent) refuses to accept their settlement offer. Seems the man has a personal grudge against one of the sisters, Fiona (Barbara Stanwyck), the reason for which comes out as this highly entertaining movie progresses. The other sisters, Evelyn (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Susie (Nancy Coleman), don't like each other very much, with a true-to-form Evelyn doing her best to steal Susie's beau, "Gig Young" (played by Gig Young, who took his screen name from this picture). Then there's that little charmer Austin, who's sort of been adopted by Fiona. But whose little boy is he really? There are very interesting twists to this very well-acted and directed drama that transcends soap opera due to Lenore Coffee's excellent script and its sheer quality. Stanwyck is excellent, as are Fitzgerald and Coleman, and a large supporting cast including Donald Woods, Donald Crisp, Anne Revere, and Grant Mitchell. Young and Brent aren't slouches, either. Certain to stimulate debate is a scene between Stanwyck and Brent that could be taken as consensual (if cynical) sex or as rape! Irving Rapper, who is in full command of the picture, also directed Deception, The Corn is Green, Now, Voyager, and many others.
Verdict: Really the kind of movie they don't make anymore. ***1/2.
|Chaney, Jackson, Cooper, DeBorba|
In this Little Rascals short produced by Hal Roach, the children are worried at the idea that their pretty teacher, Miss Crabtree (Dorothy DeBorba), might get married and leave the school. Therefore when a man that they assume is her beau shows up at the classroom, they tell him all sorts of awful things about Miss Crabtree, and then steal his clothing when he goes to take a swim in the watering hole nearby! This is a cute time capsule of a movie, rather unreal even when it was made, but the little actors are adorable and adept. Allen "Farina" Hoskins has as much to do as Jackie Cooper, and is very funny and likable. It would be all too easy to harp on the dated, stereotypical aspects of the film and others in the series, but it all seems good-natured for the time, and the young black actors in this are quite talented, especially Farina.
Verdict: Amiable nonsense with a spirited cast of very young players. ***.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
|Charles Laughton as Captain Kidd|
|Laughton with John Carradine|
|Charles Laughton as Captain Kidd|
|Laughton and Lou Costello mug|
|Anthony Dexter and Eva Gabor|
|Alan Hale Jr. with Dexter|