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

Thursday, September 28, 2023


THE CARETAKERS (1963). Produced and directed by Hall Bartlett.

Lorna Melford (Polly Bergen) has been deteriorating mentally ever since the death of her little boy, and her husband, Jim (Robert Vaughn), has no choice but to put her in the Canterbury state mental hospital. There she is enrolled in a controversial new program called "Borderline," where several patients are isolated from the others and may even have a chance at being outpatients in the future. This program is run by Dr. MacLeod (Robert Stack), and he is violently opposed by head nurse Lucretia Terry (Joan Crawford), who has been with the institute for a long time and thinks his methods are impractical and ridiculous. Frankly, although the film clearly takes the side of McLeod -- I mean, "Lucretia?" --  considering some of the goings-on in the hospital you can certainly see Terry's objections. Lorna actually tries to stab one (admittedly unpleasant) nurse, Bracken (Constance Ford) in the back, and runs off only to wind up in a ward with psychotic males who try to have their way with her (what actually happens is left to the imagination). Still MacLeod and his staff -- Nurse Clark (Susan Oliver), Dr. Denning (Van Williams), and Nurse Horne (Diane McBain) -- are convinced that Lorna and the others can someday lead normal and productive lives. Well ... maybe. 

Butting heads: Stack and Crawford with McBain in back
The Caretakers
 tries to come off as a compassionate and sincere look at the struggles of the mentally ill, and almost succeeds, although it can't quite resist succumbing to the lurid on more than one occasion. Director Bartlett keeps things moving and the film has several cinematic, briskly-edited sequences, such as when Lorna gets shock treatment. Bergen gives a good performance although she almost goes over the top on more than one occasion. Robert Stack comes off like the grim Elliott Ness in the opening sequences -- who would want him for a doctor? -- but he warms up a bit as the movie proceeds and has an excellent sequence when he talks about his own father's mental illness. Joan Crawford plays with her customary authority and gives a very good latter-day performance, classing up the picture to a certain degree, as does Herbert Marshall in his sympathetic portrayal of Dr. Harrington, the hospital's superintendent. 

Joan oversees her nurses learning judo
Inmates are portrayed by such as Janis Paige  [Please Don't Eat the Daisies], who nearly steals the picture as the prostitute Marion, who covers up her insecurities with cutting remarks. Ellen Corby is the grandmotherly type who tries to be kind to all of the others. Barbara Barrie is Edna, who hasn't spoken for seven years, and nearly sets fire to the ward before miraculously uttering her first word. (This is one person who should definitely not be an outpatient! She and Lorna obviously need a lot more help before they can go home, and Nurse Terry would undoubtedly agree!) Robert Vaughn, that ultra-cool Man from UNCLE, gives a strong performance as a man who is simply unable to cope with his wife's severe mental and emotional problems. Susan Oliver and Van Williams are given a well-played scene together as the former wonders if she's really cut out for her job. Constance Ford ["The Creeper"] is effective as the rather cold Nurse Bracken, who backs up Lucretia Terry in every way she can. 

Constance Ford tussles with Polly Bergen
Crawford and Marshall, those old pros, play extremely well together. At one point Nurse Terry says "Sometimes I look back and I see myself years ago," the line given added poignancy by the fact that both, long-time stars, are playing supporting roles in a picture that may not be worthy of their talents. Elmer Bernstein's score has its attractive aspects, but it is also inappropriately jazzy and "sensational" at times. Cinematographer Lucien Ballard gives the film a crisp look, and there is one sobering moment when the camera pulls way, way back to show exactly how large the ward is and how many poor people are, in a sense, trapped there. 

Verdict: For all its obvious flaws, the picture is absorbing, ***. 


Partners in Crime: Robert Kieth; Eli Wallach
THE LINEUP (1958). Director: Don Siegel. Colorized

San Francisco cops Lt. Ben Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and his partner Al Quine (Emile Meyer of Shield for Murder) investigate a dope-smuggling racket when a solid citizen, Philip Dressler (Raymond Bailey), has his luggage nearly stolen by thugs pretending to be a bellboy and a cab driver. The cops discover $100,000 worth of heroin inside a statue that was sold to Dressler when he was in the Orient. As Guthrie and Quine track down the members of the gang, two men named Julian (Robert Keith) and Dancer (Eli Wallach of Plot of Fear) -- plus their new driver, Sandy (Richard Jaeckel of Come Back, Little Sheba) -- who report to someone known only as "the man," are driving around the city catching up with unsuspecting tourists who have no idea what their luggage contains. Things start to go haywire when Julian and Dancer try to find the drugs inside a doll owned by a little girl (Cheryl Callaway of Cry Vengeance) with an anxious and frightened mother (Mary LaRoche). 

Emile Meyer and Warner Anderson
The Lineup began life as a radio show and then was turned into a popular, long-running TV series in 1954. (Yes, even back in the day they made theatrical films from TV shows.) Warner Anderson played the same role in this movie as he did on TV, as did Marshall Reed as Inspector Asher. The actors playing cops are professional and solid but the movie is stolen by Keith and especially Wallach as the psychopathic Dancer. Then there 

Vaughn Taylor
is a notable confrontation between Dancer and "The Man" (Vaughn Taylor) at an ice rink that ends in a bravura moment of violence. The Lineup, well-photographed by Hal Mohr, is briskly edited and sharply directed by Don Siegel. Stirling Silliphant's excellent screenplay presents many characters who are fleshed out a bit more than in the typical thriller. The protracted chase sequence that occurs at the climax will have you on the edge of your seat. 

Verdict: Exciting and suspenseful crime thriller. The ice rink scene is amazing! ***1/2. 


The colorization controversy began quite a few years ago, with sounds of outrage heard from certain quarters, and others overjoyed to find that some of their favorite films would now be in color. Then there were middle-of-the-roaders. It was one thing to colorize the Christmas-y It's a Wonderful Life, but another to colorize film noir -- that wasn't fair, people felt, to the original cinematographers who carefully arranged compositions of light and shadow (of course this would not necessarily be lost with the colorizing process).

Over the years there have been many colorized films on DVD. There are more than one channel on youtube that specialize in colorized versions of old movies. The best is probably Colorized Cinema, which also has its own website. You can sign up to get email alerts for new colorized films, many of which you can watch for free on youtube, while others you can buy on their website. 

The other channels on youtube are catch as catch can. Sometimes the colorizing is extremely well-done while at other times it looks like it was done in somebody's garage. There are cliffhanger serials that look great in color and others that simply have mediocre coloring jobs impressed on prints that were already fuzzy. (It's better to watch a clear black and white print than a colorized print that causes eyestrain).

You will notice that I have been reviewing a number of colorized films on both this blog and my brother blog B Movie Nightmare. Others are free to disagree but I happen to think that some monster movies and cliffhanger serials look great in color and increase my enjoyment of them. 

One has to remember that even if a film is colorized, you don't have to watch that version. The original black and white versions are still available. The DVDs of most movies that have been colorized give you the option of watching in color or black and white anyway. It reminds me of what (I believe) Raymond Chandler said when someone remarked that the movies were ruining his books. He pointed to his bookshelf and replied that the books were still there, unchanged, regardless of how good or bad the film versions were. 

Ditto for colorization. You can enjoy it -- or ignore it. 


Gene Tierney and Vincent Price
DRAGONWYCK (1946). Written for the screen and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Colorized

In the mid-19th century Miranda Wells (Gene Tierney) is sent for by her sort-of cousin, Nicholas Van Ryn (Vincent Price), who invites her to live at his Catskills estate Dragonwyck with his wife, Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) and daughter, Katrine (Connie Marshall of Wake Up and Dream). Katrin's parents hardly pay attention to the lonely child, but there's an attractive doctor named Jeff Turner (Glenn Langan) who is kind to both the girl and her companion, Miranda. Unfortunately Miranda falls not for the doctor but for Nicholas, and it isn't too long before Mrs. Van Ryn falls ill ...  Miranda discovers it is all too true to "be careful what you wish for." 

Vincent Price and Glenn Langan
Based on an old-fashioned gothic novel by Anya Seton, Dragonwyck is an earnest if sometimes silly melodrama that is bolstered by some very good acting and, especially, an outstanding score by Alfred Newman that richly embellishes every sequence (although some may fell the film is over-scored). As the haughty patroon who lords it over the resentful tenant farmers (including Harry Morgan in a good turn) Price gives a good if theatrical performance that is full of dramatic flavor but isn't always convincing. Tierney is excellent throughout, and Glenn Langan make his mark as the good doctor. Langan was talented enough that he shouldn't have wound up in The Amazing Colossal Man (although it mut be said that he gave a strong performance in that). Walter Huston and Anne Revere score as Miranda's simple Connecticut parents, and Spring Byington has an unusual role as a somewhat sinister and gossipy maid named Magda. Jessica Tandy [A Woman's Vengeance] is fine as Miranda's crippled maid, Peggy, who comes in for Nicholas' cruel scorn. The picture is beautifully colorized. 

Verdict: Well-acted, entertaining, and with a great score. ***.


THE FLASH (2023). Director: Andy Muschietti.

Justice League member the Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) wants to go back in time to save his mother's life after she was murdered and her husband, Barry's father (Ron Livingstone), unfairly arrested for the crime. (I believe this development is taken from the long-running Flash TV series). Although Batman (Ben Affleck) warns Barry not to mess with the timestream, he does it anyway, but finds that he's now in a parallel universe where Batman (Michael Keaton) is a lot older and there are no other super-heroes. Barry also encounters a younger version of himself, but when his younger self gets his powers, Barry loses them and may not be able to return home. Worse, the entire planet is threatened by an invasion of General Zod (Michael Shannon of Man of Steel) of Krypton. The two Flashes, plus the Senior Batman, team up to find Kal-El, who has not yet emerged as Superman, but find an imprisoned Kara (Sasha Calle) -- or Supergirl -- instead, Can their combined forces save the world and get Barry back where he belongs? 

Ezra Miller as the Flash
Oy vey! The character of the Flash has a rich history that was exploited by the TV show, but this movie pretty much ignores all that and comes up with a plotline simply borrowed from the comic book mini-series (and the resultant animated film) Flashpoint. There are so many ideas, villains, and plots that could have made for an enthralling movie, but while The Flash has its entertaining and exciting moments (such as our hero saving a bunch of infants that are thrown out of a maternity ward window high in a skyscraper) and is often visually striking, it is way too long and often too silly -- as well as featuring too many fairly dull battle sequences -- for this to be a contender. I think Ezra Miller [We Need to Talk About Kevin] is a fine, sensitive actor and he gives a very good performance, and Keaton certainly makes his mark in his first appearance as Batman in decades -- he comes off better than he did in the first Batman. Calle, Shannon, and others make little impression, however.  

Michael Keaton as Senior Batman
In this movie The Flash is an amalgam of Barry Allen and his nephew Wally West, who took over the role of Flash after Barry's (temporary) death. (It is Wally who has to keep eating to keep his energy up, not Barry.) A weird touch has quick CGI images of all of the actors who have played Superman -- George Reeves, Christopher Reeves, and even Nicolas Cage, who wanted to play Superman but never did -- flying across the time stream (??) -- and a really stupid post-end credit sequence has Barry encountering Aquaman who is on a drunken bender. (Presenting the dignified Aquaman as a drunk, which makes no sense at all, is similar to the way Marvel movies have turned the equally dignified Thor into a Las Vegas lounge act!) Ultimately The Flash seems pointless because -- SPOILER ALERT -- he not only doesn't save his mother but the alternate earth he winds up on is obliterated by Zod! (In the final moments of the film the Flash doesn't seem particularly disturbed by the deaths of billions -- WTF?) Then Batman shows up again only this time he's played by George Clooney! Wonder Woman also gets a brief cameo. 

Verdict: Some may think the movie is fun, but it's also a badly-plotted mess. **1/4. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023


"And this you won't believe:" Albert Dekker and Liz Taylor 
SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1959). Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Screenplay by Gore Vidal from the play by Tennessee Williams. NOTE: This review includes important plot details. 

Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) is utterly appalled at the tale being told about her son Sebastian's demise by her niece Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor) and "wants that hideous story cut out of her brain." To that end she has called in a neurosurgeon, Dr. Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift of Lonelyhearts), and promises financial aid to a possible clinic named after her son if the doctor performs a lobotomy on Catherine. Dr. Cukrowicz meets with the distraught woman -- the two are attracted to each other -- and he can clearly see that she is not the kind of hopeless case who would need a lobotomy. Instead he brings Catherine to her aunt's house -- accompanied by her mother (Mercedes McCambridge of All the King's Men) and brother (Gary Raymond of Jason and the Argonauts), who hunger for Sebastian's money -- and administers a truth serum. Catherine then tells the horrifying truth about what happened to Sebastian in the village of Cabeza del Lobo in Spain.

Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift
The problem with Suddenly Last Summer is the same as it is with all plays and films written and produced before Stonewall. The viciously negative stereotypes about homosexuals abound, and it makes no difference that Williams and Gore Vidal were contributors to the picture. Although we never meet or see Sebastian, he hits all the stereotype buttons: vein, superficial, pretentiously "artistic," a bitchy momma's boy, and worst of all, a sexual predator. (One senses that when Taylor refers to boys in relation to her cousin she doesn't mean boys as in "boys and girls," but underage boys.) The production code had a lot of problems with Suddenly Last Summer but ultimately the film was released because, after all, homosexual Sebastian does die, which just proves the "negativity" of the gay lifestyle. (Of course gay men have always had a problem with being cannibalized, LOL!) While a modern interpretation might suggest that Sebastian is gay-bashed, it is much worse than that.  

a tormented Liz Taylor
The laughable notion of the play and movie is that Sebastian, who is supposedly shy, uses good-looking women like his mother (until her stroke) and then cousin to attract men and then presumably pounces on them be these men gay or straight (or offers them money -- or food). Most gay men really don't need this subterfuge to meet other men, even back in the thirties when this takes place -- and the idea of gay men using women to attract hopefully gay men is ludicrous -- although it's also stated that his mother has social connections so I guess Sebastian can meet the "best," well, meat. Of course, there have been self-hating homos who insist only on having sex with "straight" men -- you can see the problem there -- or who buy hustlers who may or may not be gay but are probably at least bi. 

McCambridge, Taylor and Raymond
In any case, playwright Williams was not necessarily being literal when Catherine tells of her snobbish cousin being chased by starving homeless boys who use their musical instruments, made mostly of tin cans, to cut away and eat pieces of their victim after they chase and surround him. The movie however, intimates that this is what actually happened. Could Williams, who had become quite a success by this time, have been thinking about the handsome young actors who wanted to use him so they could get cast in one of his plays? Were they figuratively "devouring" him? Or did he have some guilt over his own behavior? Williams at this time was not exactly what today we would call "out and proud." This was also true of Montgomery Clift, so one can only imagine what the hell he thought of the picture! 

Angry Liz 
Playing in "dragon lady" mode, Katharine Hepburn gives a strong, if imperfect, but very showy performance. Mankiewicz clearly worked with Taylor to help her give as strong a performance as she does. The role is basically beyond the actress' limited range, but she gives excellent line readings, and really delivers during her horrifying climactic speech, giving her readings a frightening urgency and intensity. Clift is basically fine in a not-terribly-interesting part, and McCambridge and Raymond are just about perfect. Albert Dekker, okay as an associate of the doctor's. plays a role that was not in the play. The romantic sub-plot, if that's what you can call it, is expanded, and there are added scenes showing Catherine in a nun's retreat and the state asylum. (A continuity flaw shows a crazy old lady in a rocker in both the nunnery and the asylum.) The film has zero period atmosphere and just comes off as if it takes place in the fifties when it was made. 

Verdict: Yes, this has fascinating aspects but it's terribly dated, quite homophobic, and emerges more as a sick and dirty joke than anything else. **1/2. 


AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' (1955). Director: Edward Buzzell. 

Millionaire businessman Kenneth Post (Rory Calhoun) is smitten with a showgirl, Sarah (Piper Laurie of Carrie), that he sees on TV and goes to a nightclub to see her, accompanied by his disapproving good right hand, Hal North (Jack Carson of The Bottom of the Bottle ). Sarah proves to be a  rapacious and unrepentant gold-digger to the point of being obnoxious. In spite of this Ken proposes and she accepts, insisting that she has truly fallen in love with him despite her original intentions. The trouble isn't with her spending, but the fact that she decides to better herself, and spends too much time in the company of Ken's distant relation, Anatole Piermont (Reginald Gardiner of Black Widow), a cultured man with an eye for the ladies. Meanwhile, Ken is caught at a baseball game sitting next to the predatory Pat (Barbara Britton). Can this marriage be saved?

Rory Calhoun surrounded by ladies
This has one of the worst scripts of any fifties musical, without any solid laughs and two main characters who are stupid and unlikable for most of the running time. The songs are instantly forgettable, and the production numbers intermittently lively but mediocre. Piper Laurie is spritely and appealing in spite of her character and Calhoun proves more adept at this kind of light stuff than you would imagine -- both are eye candy -- but neither of them can do much to overcome that screenplay. Barbara Britton is saucy as Pat and Mamie Van Doren has a couple of sexy moments as a pal of Laurie's; Dani Crayne plays another dancer. Jack Carson could do this sort of thing in his sleep and Reginald Gardiner provides most of the limited fun with his portrayal of the often tipsy Anatole. Madge Blake has a bit as does Frank Chase, the sheriff in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, this time playing a sailor. 

Verdict: The lead characters are assholes. *1/2. 


Maggie Smith as Mrs. Venable
SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1993  telefilm). Aired on Performance in the UK and Great Performances in the U.S. Director: Richard Eyre. The original text of the one-act play by Tennessee Williams. 

Violet Venable (Maggie Smith), a very wealthy New Orleans widow, asks to see a well-known neurosurgeon named Dr. Cukrowicz (Rob Lowe) or Dr. Sugar (the translation) in regards to her niece by marriage, Catherine Holly (Natasha Richardson). In exchange for a large grant, Violet hopes that Dr. Sugar will perform a lobotomy on whom she feels is the thoroughly crazy Catherine, who has been telling equally crazy stories about the death of her dear son, Sebastian in the Spanish village of Cabeza del Lobo (wolf's head). These stories also sully the moral character of the dear departed. Meanwhile Catherine's mother (Moira Redmond of Doctor in Love) and brother, George (Richard E. Grant of Can You Ever Forgive Me?) fear that Catherine's story will prevent them from getting $50,000 each in Sebastian's will. 

Mrs. Venable confronts her relatives
With no credited screenwriter I believe this simply uses Tennessee Williams' original text, and has the same combination of grotesqueness and poetry in its story of a highly dysfunctional family, to say the least. As I've already discussed the homoerotic aspects in my review of the 1959 film version, I will concentrate on the acting in this telefilm. Maggie Smith, a better actress than Katharine Hepburn, manages to get across the pain of her son's death and other vulnerable aspects of her character underneath the harsh and desperate exterior, something Hepburn fails to do. Rob Loew offers a professional and sensitive portrait of the doctor. Natasha Richardson is clearly a more gifted actress than Elizabeth Taylor, although she plays the role quite differently, without Taylor's almost hysterical urgency but with a more shattered resignation. The other cast members all acquit themselves quite nicely, but one has to wonder if this production was worth the time and effort when one considers the play itself. Smith, however, is alone worth the price of admission. 

Verdict: Decent, very well-acted version of a dated and half-baked play with some fascinating aspects. **1/2. 


Luciana Paluzzi and John Gavin
OSS 117: DOUBLE AGENT (aka Niente rose per OSS 117/aka OSS 117: Murder for Sale/1969). Director: Andre Hunebelle.  

Agent 117 -- who is now a man named Jonath Roberts (John Gavin) -- has had cosmetic surgery to make him look more like Chandler, a notorious criminal and expensive hit man. "He's much better-looking now," says a female associate. Roberts goes through elaborate strategies to be taken into the fold of an assassination-for-hire organization run by Il Maggiore (Curd Jurgens), who is convinced he's really Chandler. "Chandler" is hired to carry out a hit on a United Nations delegate named Van Dyke (Piero Lulli) who has the temerity to want peace. Roberts has to convince the bad guys he's gone through with this deadly scheme because he's been injected with poison and must be given the antidote every 24 hours, but this may be more difficult than it sounds ... 

Gavin gives the eye to someone creeping up on him
There are some interesting elements to this last sixties installment in the OSS 117 series, although it's generally a standard Eurospy feature. In the version I saw, which is partially dubbed in English but otherwise is in French with English sub-titles, the hero is never referred to as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath at all as in the previous films. Our hero deals with two doctors who work with the evil organization: one is played by Luciana Paluzzi of Thunderball, and the other by Robert Hossein of OSS 117: Panic in Bangkok; neither are utilized as well as they might have been. Curd Jurgens made a better impression as the villain in the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me

George Eastman and Curd Jurgens
Margaret Lee [Slaughter Hotel] is cast as Aicha, the daughter of a man, Melik (Guido Alberti), who also works for the organization. George Eastman is quite vivid as Karas, Jurgen's good right hand and a formidable fighting machine. There is some suspense when 117 almost passes the deadline for the antidote, but considering the circumstances this could have been handled in a much more nerve-wracking fashion. Still, the movie does have its share of exciting sequences, although nothing that jumps out at you and knocks your socks off.

Robert Hossein with Gavin
And then there's John Gavin, who plays this super-spy stuff in the obligatory fashion -- cocky, ruthless, sardonic and sexy, with one eye always on the ladies -- as well as anyone and better than some. He impressed the producers of the James Bond movies enough for them to sign Gavin to a contract to star in Diamonds are Forever, but at the last moment they decided instead to accede to Sean Connery's demands and paid Gavin off. That sucks! Gavin later said that while it might have led to super-stardom for him, it also could have prevented him from becoming Ambassador to Mexico, which was a long-time dream of his. (Gavin was of Mexican, Chilean, and Spanish descent, and spoke fluid Spanish.) 

Verdict: So many elements in place, a perfectly good leading man, but somehow this just never jells like it should. **1/4. 


Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner
THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954). Written, produced, and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. 

Spanish dancer Maria Vargas is turned into a movie star by spoiled wealthy producer Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens of The Price of Fear), famous director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), who has been on the wagon for several months, and ass-licking public relations man Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O'Brien). The beautiful Maria is desired by a great many men, including the South American millionaire Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring), and Italian Count Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi), but she has other dalliances with men not quite as rich. One of these dalliances will lead to tragedy ... 

The Barefoot Contessa opens with Maria's funeral, so you know her fate from the first, and the movie's flashbacks show how she got there. There isn't much about the picture-making process, and Maria -- although she stars in three films in a row -- is never shown on a set, nor do we see Dawes working his magic on his star. One of the most interesting sequences purports to show Maria dancing in a nightclub, although we never actually see Maria, only the varying reactions from the people in the audience, an audacious touch. (Later on Maria is shown dancing with a gypsy in the forest.) A lot about Maria's character is given away in drips and drabs. Gardner is really required only to be beautiful and sensual and a bit enigmatic, and she carries this off quite well, although it could not be called great acting. On the other hand, Bogart gives one of his best performances in this. O'Brien won an Oscar for his supporting performance, although it's well within his rather wide range. Stevens and especially Goring are both fine as dueling millionaires, and their sallies at one another at a party makes for one of the most arresting sequences in the movie. Edwards seems to derive no joy from his money, while Bravano enjoys life to the fullest. Rossano Brazzi is certainly a very handsome fellow, but in this film his performance lacks passion, although one could argue that he is playing a highly depressed character who probably has trouble getting excited about anything, except perhaps Maria, from whom he keeps a terrible secret.

Warren Stevens and Ava Gardner
There are some solid supporting performances in the picture: Mari Aldon as Myrna, who is badly mistreated by Edwards; Diana Decker [Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?] as a drunken blonde at a party who gets into it with Maria; Elizabeth Sellars [The Chalk Garden] as Jerry, a script girl who is Dawes' girlfriend; Valentina Cortese as Brazzi's sister; young Enzo Staiola [The Bicycle Thief] as a busboy with an eye for the ladies; Franco Interlenghi as Maria's brother, Pedro; Carlo Dale in a sexy, insinuating silent performance as Brazzi's chauffeur and Maria's lover; and former silent star Bessie Love as a patron at what is probably meant to be the casino at Monte Carlo. 

The Barefoot Contessa is an entertaining and absorbing picture, but there may be less here than meets the eye. Mankiewicz' targets are pretty familiar: wealthy movie producers who never worked a day in their lives and have no real taste; glamorous movie stars who seem to have no appreciation of their careers and what it's given them: oily publicists; the idle rich and the European jet set; and so on. Still, there are some amusing and trenchant observations scattered throughout the picture, along with some great dialogue. The situation with Maria and the count is a pathetic and intriguing one as well. The ending, in which Bogart is saddened by Maria's death but displays no anger at her killer is odd, but may be indicative of the production code's edict that adulterers must be punished. It's a major weakness in the movie. Marlon Brando was originally sought for the part played by Bogart, but I can't imagine Brando in the role. 

Verdict: Colorful picture that is not exactly about the picture business. ***.

Thursday, August 31, 2023


Jane Russell and Scott Brady in Paris
GENTLEMEN MARRY BRUNETTES (1955). Director: Richard Sale.

Connie Jones (Jeanne Crain) is annoyed that her sister Bonnie (Jane Russell) can't stop herself from accepting one proposal after another from smitten gentlemen. The two flee from New York to Paris where they somehow become the toast of the town due to the efforts of Rudy Vallee (playing a kind of slimy variation of himself) and wannabee managers David (Scott Brady) and Charlie (Alan Young). The ladies are booked into several high-tone establishments but are always fired when they refuse to wear the highly immodest outfits that the managements propose. Ensconced in a hotel room and wondering how they'll pay the bill, they suddenly find they have a unknown benefactor who is plying them with gifts -- everything from gowns, diamonds and poodles to a luxury car complete with chauffeur. Wondering what their mysterious benefactor will expect when he finally introduces himself, they accept an invitation to perform in Monte Carlo in Monaco, where the truth will finally come out.

Jane Russell and Jeanne Crain
Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a sort of sequel to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, exists in a separate universe of its own that has absolutely no relation to reality. It is never explained how or why David even knows of the existence of the sisters, or why Charlie, who turns out to be very wealthy, shares a garret with David and has to resort to stealing newspapers and food. (Yes, there's something about his father's edict that he can't spend money on himself, but food?) For that matter, why is Rudy Vallee, who can't really sing a note if we're being honest, playing himself

Ain't Misbehavin': Alan Young in a gorilla suit!
Then there are the song numbers. The original songs are pretty awful and the versions of classic songs such as Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" are poorly done. The absolute nadir of this film -- and possibly of virtually every musical that ever came out of Hollywood -- is Alan Young croaking "Ain't Misbehavin'" while wearing a gorilla suit. (This is during a so-called African number that is performed in Monte Carlo.) The performances are pretty much what you would expect, perfectly adept and professional, with Crain in an unusual role for her. Jane does her own singing, Brady and Crain are dubbed aside from one number, and I'm not sure about Young except that he or whoever dubbed him sings flat

Scott Brady and Jeanne Crain
Despite all of this Gentlemen Marry Brunettes moves along swiftly and is never especially offensive. Jane Russell is in her usual butch-femme mode throughout, and Young is more femme than butch. The film is greatly bolstered by obvious location filming in both Paris and Monte Carlo, although there is back lot work as well. My favorite line is quoted by Young as spoken by his rather horrible father: "Every time you enter a room it's like somebody left."

Verdict: At least there are great views of Paris and Monaco in CinemaScope and Technicolor! **1/2. 


Freddie Bartholomew and W. C. Fields
(aka The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger/1935). Director: George Cukor.

"They seem rather obstinate oysters!" -- Aunt Betsey.

After his beloved mother's death, little David Copperfield (a wonderful Freddie Bartholomew) finds himself at the mercy of his hated stepfather, Murdstone (Basil Rathbone) and his equally loathsome sister (Violet Kemble Cooper), then sent off to work in a factory where he is befriended by the benevolent Micawber (W. C. Fields, pictured). Then the poor boy has to make his way on foot, penniless, to the home of his peppery Aunt Betsey (Edna May Oliver). The problem is that when David grows to manhood and is played by the relatively colorless Frank Lawton, he becomes a supporting character in his own story, which on the whole is full of too many characters that you just don't care about. For the most part, the acting is excellent, however, with Oliver and Rathbone as good as ever -- not to mention Jessie Ralph as nurse Peggotty -- and Roland Young making a striking Uriah Heep. Lewis Stone, Elsa Lanchester, Lionel Barrymore, Una O'Conner and others are lost in the episodic and sometimes dull picture, but Fields and Bartholomew make an engaging pair. Even at 130 minutes' running time there's simply too much plot crammed into the movie, and the second half is not nearly as good as the first. I generally like honest sentiment, but in David Copperfield the sentiment is often treacly, the characters' affection for one another bordering on the cloying. Everyone is just too "cutesy." However, the movie certainly has its admirers.

Verdict: Has its moments, but it's no Tale of Two Cities. **1/2.


Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd
AT LONG LAST LOVE (1975). Written and directed by Peter Bogdanovich. 

Brooke Carter (Cybill Shepherd) and her maid, Liz (Eileen Brennan of Jeepers Creepers), are wondering when mother will send the check to pay the hotel bill. She meets a handy millionaire named Michael (Burt Reynolds), but he becomes smitten with Broadway star Kitty O'Kelly (Madeline Kahn), who turns out to be an old high school pal of Brooke's. But Brooke has a consolation prize in handsome Italian Johnny (Duilio Del Prete) who, unfortunately, is a gambler with no money. Meanwhile Liz develops a yen for Michael's good right hand, Rodney (John Hillerman). As the entire cast sing nothing but Cole Porter songs -- Friendship, Did You Evah, I Get a Kick, DeLovely, You"re the Top, Just One of Those Things and more -- the affections among the foursome transfer and confuse until you don't really know (even at the end) who will wind up with whom. 

Madeline Kahn and Duilio Del Prete
At Long Last Love was Peter Bogdanovich's second stab at an old-fashioned kind of screwball comedy and it is much less successful than his first, What's Up Doc? The movie may not be as awful as many have suggested, but it does have some serious problems. The biggest is the direction and editing. The actors perform their numbers live before the camera, no dubbing, but that should not have precluded there being cuts in these numbers so that they have a cinematic panache. Even the kitschiest old Hollywood musical has more of a sweep and flow to the production numbers -- it's as if they were simply shot on a theater stage with the camera nailed to the ground. (The camera moves at times but there are very few actual cuts and no mix of close ups and medium and long shots.) 

John Hillerman, Eileen Brennan and cast
Then there are the performances. I can certainly think of two leads who would be more appropriate for a homage to Cole Porter than Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd. Both are perfectly pleasant and even reasonably adept, but no more. Shepherd reveals a nice voice and uses it well, while Reynolds can carry a tune without disgracing himself but little else. Eileen Brennan is, of course, as terrific as ever and also can sing quite well, while Kahn also shows off her considerable talents. Del Prete has a lot of ability and a great deal of charm -- he is quite appealing in the picture. (By the way when he sings the title tune he does not say "luff" instead of "love" as some critics suggested back in the day.) 

And the music. One is reminded of all the glorious melodies and amusing sophisticated lyrics written by the great Cole Porter. Some of the numbers are pretty much muffed, but others survive the production back drops and the singers. Cary Grant played Cole Porter in the fictional biopic Night and Day

Verdict: Those long, long takes nearly sink this from the first, but it's also stylish and pretty good to look at. **1/2. 


Father and son: Paul Dano and Gabriel LaBelle
THE FABLEMANS (2022). Director: Steven Spielberg. 

In 1952 young Sammy Fableman (Mateo Zoryan) lives in Arizona with his sisters, mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams of Shutter Island) and father Burt (Paul Dano of The Batman). Practically living with them is "Uncle" Bennie (Seth Rogan), who is Burt's best friend. As Sammy becomes a teen (Gabriel LaBelle), he makes amateur films with his boy scout troop that impress and excite his family and the townspeople. Footage of a camping trip that his father asks him to put together also reveals a disturbing secret. Apparently Mitzi and Bennie are in love. Sammy has to deal with this, his emerging hormones, anti-Semitism at school after he moves, and his first love affair with a girl named Monica (Chloe East). 

Mitzi sees the footage shot of her and "Uncle" Bennie
The Fablemans
is based on Spielberg's own childhood, and while his parents did divorce, I don't know how much of the triangle situation with "Uncle" Bennie is fact or faction. Frankly, it's the only halfway dramatic development in this film that I confess I found rather boring at times. I also confess that despite some good movies and box office successes (along with a few bombs), I was never that carried away with the semi-literate Spielberg or thought he was really in the front rank of filmmakers. (Two of his films that I think are especially good, however, are The War of the Worlds and Duel.)  

Little Sammy (Mateo Zoryan) and his train set
The Fablemans
 is perhaps supposed to be some kind of love valentine to the movies, but in that case I wish Spielberg had made a masterpiece, which this isn't. The acting is excellent -- Judd Hirsch enlivens the movie for the few minutes he's on-screen --  which is why you probably keep watching even when things get slow. Without a word of dialogue Michelle Williams is wonderful as she watches the footage of her and Bennie that Sammy excised from his video about the camping trip and explains why he has been so angry with her. It's a wonderful sequence, but there aren't enough of them in this movie. (All the high school business of bullying and young love has been seen a thousand times before and been done better besides.) As in most modern films, The Fablemans is so scared of being a soap opera that it minimizes the drama -- I mean this whole triangle situation, while it may be a trifle cliched, is rather explosive, but this only simmers without ever coming to a boil.

In the screenplay co-writers Spielberg and the equally over-rated Tony Kushner try to come up with powerful scenes, but they seem much too contrived, such as when a high school bully (a talented fellow named Sam Rechner) who appears in Sammy's movie breaks down and cries. Subtlety is all well and good -- if that is even what it is -- but the movie fails to really confront issues, it just meanders along until a silly conclusion when Sammy meets director John Ford. Then it's over. Ho hum. 

Verdict: We'll have to wait for an unlikely sequel -- this was not a box office hit -- to see the more interesting moments in Spielberg's career. **1/2. 


Brendan Fraser
THE WHALE (2022). Director: Darren Aronofsky. Brendan Fraser stars as Charlie, a gay man who has been slowly killing himself through food since the suicide of his partner. He has a teenage daughter from his earlier marriage and tries to bond with her before it's too late. Along the way he interacts with his late partner's sister, his ex-wife, and a young religious man who wants to "save" him. Based on a stage play, this goes behind the scenes of a morbidly obese person and answers the question of how and why they got that way. This is a fairly interesting if imperfect film, with the daughter being nearly too obnoxious to take, and Fraser's Oscar-winning performance, while good, perhaps too dependent on a fat suit and prosthetics. Rob Simonsen's musical score seems to be doing most of the work. **1/2.  

Tai Gabrielle
UNCHARTED (2022). Director: Ruben Fleischer. Another movie inspired by a video game, this teams Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg trying to find a treasure collected by Magellan even as Antonio Banderas tries to stop them. Tai Gabrielle makes an impression as a ruthless assassin working for Banderas. The players are game, there are some exciting scenes and stunt work, but the whole project is just so overfamiliar and ultimately forgettable. **1/2. 

Dennis Quaid and Bradley Cooper
THE WORDS (2012), Written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal. Bradley Cooper appropriates an old man's manuscript as his own and becomes rich and famous, but what happens when the truth comes out? Besides being very well-acted -- the cast also includes Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons, Ron Rifkin and others -- the film boasts cinematography by Antonio Calvache and a score by Marcelo Zarvos. Despite all this, The Words is not entirely satisfying and many viewers were not that happy with the ending. **3/4. 

Lady Gaga
A STAR IS BORN (2018), Directed by Bradley Cooper. This is not so much a remake of the Janet Gaynor or Judy Garland versions of the venerable story, but of the Barbra Streisand version with the characters being singers instead of actors. Bradley Cooper as the older addict whose career is going to pieces, and Lady Gaga as the younger wannabee who accepts his help and achieves stardom, are both good but not spectacular. Rafi Gavron scores as a reptilian manager and there are good turns from Sam Elliott as Cooper's brother and Andrew Dice Clay as Gaga's father. 

Bradley Cooper
In addition to "Shallow" there are some good tunes in the movie, well-performed by the leads, especially Gaga. Just as Garland is transformed in her version of the story, Gaga is turned from a more original performer into a tiresome, sexed-up clone of Madonna, but not enough is done with this aspect of the story. A scene when Gaga wins a Grammy doesn't have a drunken Cooper accidentally hitting her but rather peeing in his pants! Ultimately, this version, although slickly done in some ways, lacks any emotional resonance, and you really don't care about any of the characters. Two former co-stars of Cooper's, all of whom appeared on the TV show Alias, are in the film: Greg Grunberg as a driver and Ron Rifkin as a counselor. Missing is Michael Vartan, another Alias alumnus, who I always thought was much more compelling and attractive than the somewhat over-rated and average-looking Cooper. **1/2. 

Thursday, August 17, 2023


Ill-fated lovers: Karin Dor and Frederick Stafford
ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S TOPAZ (aka Topaz/1969). Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the novel by Leon Uris. UNCUT version. 

On the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a haughty defecting Russian Intelligence officer, Colonel Boris Kusenov (Per-Axle Arosenius), escapes from Denmark with the help of the Americans, including Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe) of the state department. Nordstorm is good friends with a French agent living in Washington named Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), and asks him for his help. First he has to get certain papers from a Cuban officer, Rico Parra (John Vernon of Point Blank), who absolutely loathes Americans. Then Devereaux travels to Cuba, as he does frequently, to see if he can find out exactly what the Russians are up to there. Finally he learns of an organization, code named "Topaz," which consists of highly-placed treasonous French officials who are secretly working with Moscow. Devereaux can't tell his bosses what he has learned about activities in Cuba until he finds and excises this traitorous element. 

Frederick Stafford as Devereaux
If Topaz had been directed by anyone besides Alfred Hitchcock, it would be an acclaimed film. But because the direction is not "showy" as in some Hitchcock films, and there are no outstanding cinematic sequences one can point to -- although there are several good scenes -- Topaz has been unfairly dismissed as a Hitch stinker. Actually it has a very interesting plot and good characters, although you might wish some of them were better-developed. One which is better developed is Andre Devereaux, who seems to have a happy marriage with one-time resistance fighter Nicole (Dany Robin of Follow the Boys) but also has a mistress, Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor), in Cuba. Widow of a revolutionary hero, her appeal to Devereaux is obvious -- she is still a "resistance fighter," secretly working against communist influences in Cuba at great risk to herself and her associates. 

Roscoe Lee Browne and John Vernon
 has several acts. The first suspenseful section deals with the defector and his family getting away in Denmark and nearly paying the final price when Russian agents with guns pursue them. The second act takes place in New York, especially in a Harlem hotel, where Devereaux's associate Philippe (Roscoe Lee Browne) makes a deal with Rico Parra's secretary, Luis Uribe (Donald Randolph of The Mad Magician), for some papers that detail Russian missile activities in Cuba -- a lot of suspense is worked up over getting those papers out of a certain briefcase and the street chase that follows (which ultimately leads to problems for Devereaux and far worse problems for Juanita). The third act occurs in Cuba. The final section takes place in France, when Devereaux must somehow explains things to his superiors without indirectly giving important information away to the communists. Although Hitchcock filmed three endings, all of which can be seen on the DVD, he went with a quiet if satisfying conclusion at an airport. Perhaps he should have chosen the ending in which Devereaux and his friend, a man known as "Columbine" who runs Topaz, have a duel. (Apparently this was the original ending but preview audiences hated it.) 

Carlos Rivas and John Vernon
 features some interesting casting. John Forsythe is solid as Nordstorm, although we never get to learn that much about him. Czech actor Frederick Stafford played a secret agent in a couple of French films previously and seemed perfect for Devereaux, which he is. German actress Karin Dor -- whose best-known film was You Only Live Twice as a Bond villainess who goes to the piranhas -- is given one of her best roles as Juanita, and you wish there was more of her. Phillipe Noirot manages to make his unsympathetic character of Henri Jarre strangely appealing and Per-Axle Arosenius is terrific as the rather obnoxious Russian defector who may be figuratively bloodied but is definitely unbowed. John Vernon had a long career, mostly on TV, but his performance as Rico Parra is only adequate. As his bodyguard Hernandez, Carlos Rivas [The Black Scorpion] makes a striking figure with a thatch of red hair and a beard to match. Ann Doran [It, the Terror from Beyond Space] appears briefly as a woman who ministers to the defector and his family when they first arrive at the safe house. There are also good turns from Michel Subor as Devereaux' son-in-law Francois, and John Roper, Lewis Charles and Anna Navarro as ill-fated associates of Juanita's, among others. Roscoe Lee Browne and Donald Randolph make the most of their scenes in the hotel and elsewhere. 

John Forsythe
 is well-shot by Jack Hildyard [Summertime] but Maurice Jarre's score is problematic. I love the exciting opening theme, but just wish the rest of the score had been as dynamic. There are some good moments, but the music mostly lacks the dramatic intensity that might have turned Topaz into a whole new picture; I truly believe it's one of the reasons the film wasn't a critical success. Hitchcock's longest  film, it also could have used some trimming and tightening, especially in the final section. (Apparently this was done for the original theatrical version.) The screenplay is by Samuel Taylor, who wrote Vertigo

Verdict: The Master of Suspense tells the story more simply, perhaps, but still manages to do a better job than most contemporary directors. Some terrific scenes in this! ***.