HAPPY THANKSGIVING 2022.
Jump for joy as you eat some turkey, pie, stuffing, potatoes -- stay off the bathroom scale for at least three days -- and watch some damn good GREAT OLD MOVIES.
Circus owner Hank Whirling (Victor Mature) has just split off from his former partner and is determined to make a go of it on his own. Randy Sherman (Red Buttons) is assigned by the bank that loaned him money to keep him on the financial straight and narrow and also hired a public relations woman named Helen (Rhonda Fleming). For reasons that are never quite explained, Hank objects to having a woman doing publicity for him, and the two come to figurative blows almost immediately. A bigger problem is that an unknown person working with Hank's former partner is committing dangerous acts of sabotage. A variety of problems seem to be working against the circus' success as the bank keeps threatening to foreclose ...
|Red Buttons and Victor Mature|
|The Batman in a contemplative mood|
|Pattinson as Bruce Wayne|
|Pattinson with Zoe Kravitz|
Bitter former acrobat Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) is working as a rigger for a Paris circus after falling and injuring himself while attempting a "triple" flip while performing high in the air. Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) is an aspiring performer who talks Mike into teaming up with him for an act, hoping he can teach him to do the triple. Then there's the highly ambitious and beautiful Lola (Gina Lollobrigida of Woman of Straw) who manages to secure a position in their act while bouncing back and forth between both men.
|Lancaster, Lollobrigida and Curtis|
Verdict: Stick with The Big Circus. **1/2.
|Unraveling: Terry O'Quinn|
|Jill Schoelen and Terry O'Quinn|
Author John Verney (Richard Widmark), who frequently writes on the occult, is importuned by a frightened man named Beddows (Denholm Elliott) to look after his daughter, Catherine (Nastassja Kinski), after she arrives in London. Catherine is a nun who belongs to the Church of the Children of the Lord, a sect that worships Astaroth. The leader of the church, Father Michael (Christopher Lee), is anxious to get his hands on Catherine because of certain bloody rites that must be performed. Initially sweet and compliant, Sister Catherine eventually becomes a danger to Verney's friends, including his literary agent Anna (Honor Blackman) and her boyfriend David (Anthony Valentine). Catherine makes her way to Father Michael as her own father writhes in terror and Verney learns what he can do to fight against the god -- or devil -- Astaroth's entry into earth via Catherine (or something like that).
To the Devil a Daughter is a co-release of Hammer Studios but don't expect a Hammer classic with this atrocious movie. Most of the actors give it their all (one suspects Widmark wishes he had stayed in America) but they're fighting a losing battle with a hopelessly erratic script and sequences that are so bad they have to be seen to be believed. The last quarter of the film is hilarious, especially a sequence when a character is embroiled in fire and reduced to ashes so quickly that it is more comical than frightening. A bit of business in which a woman commits suicide by draining all of her blood into those special plastic bags turns hysterical when Chris Lee intones with consummate understatement: "she gave her life's blood." An orgy sequence is equally laughable. It's hard to imagine how anything could have been made out of this awful movie, which even Chris Lee can't save.
Verdict: One of the worst Hammer movies ever made. *1/2.
35 years ago Count Regula (Christopher Lee) murdered 12 virgins in an attempt to gain immortality. For his trouble, he was drawn and quartered as his two chief accusers stood watching. Now the descendants of these people, Roger Mont Elise (Lex Barker) and Baroness Lillian (Karin Dor), have received an invitation to the crumbling old Castle Regula, both unaware of what transpired in the past. Accompanying them by coach are Lillian's maid Babette (Christiane Rucker) and the rather shady Father Fabian (Vladimir Medar).
The first half of the film is a protracted journey through a creepy forest in which trees have limbs growing out of them and skeletons are hanging from nooses. At the castle the group run into the long-dead Anatol (Carl Lange), the count's major domo, who plans to bring the count back to life. Wanting his revenge, the revived count places Roger under a slowly descending pendulum even as Lillian is nearly thrown into a pit full of writhing snakes. Yes, this is a very loose adaptation of Poe's classic The Pit and the Pendulum.
|Pitiful victim of "Dr. Sadism"|
Verdict: Fun horror film from West Germany that has some of the qualities of Italian horror features. ***.
Diane Sullivan (Roz Kelley) is a famous Los-Angeles based DJ known as "Blaze." During a New Year's Eve celebration at a hotel, she gets a phone call from a man with a disguised voice who tells her that he will kill one person each time it strikes midnight in a different time zone (he himself stays in Los Angeles). Blaze isn't certain whether or not to take the call seriously but calls in the police, who tell her that a dead body was discovered just where the killer said it would be. As cops try to track down the maniac and guard Blaze, the killer proceeds to put on one disguise after another as he dispatches women and the occasional man who gets in his way.
New Year's Evil is a fairly zesty slasher that relies on some suspense and interesting developments instead of extreme gore. There's a clever bit involving a dumpster, an amusing protracted sequence when the murderer has to run from a gang of motorcycling morons, and a good twist as to the identity of the mad slasher. A decided weakness is the lackluster performance of Roz Kelly, who isn't even convincing when she is supposedly dangling from the bottom of an ascending elevator car. She is best known as Fonzie's girlfriend Pinky Toscadero on Happy Days, although she only appeared in three episodes. After this film, she had only five more credits. Kip Niven and Grant Cramer [Killer Klowns from Outer Space] are better as Blaze's neglected husband and son.
Verdict: Minor but entertaining psycho-thriller with some exciting sequences. **3/4.
Charles Kessler (Bela Lugosi) lives in his creepy mansion with his daughter, Virginia (Polly Ann Young), and a household staff which includes the black butler Evans (Clarence Muse). Kessler's wife (Betty Compson of Escort Girl) ran off with a lover who was killed in an accident even as Mrs. K's body disappeared. She is presumed dead, but actually the gardener (!), Jules (Ernie Adams), has somehow managed to hide the woman in a chamber below the garage. Periodically she escapes confinement, and when her husband spots her poking in the window or prowling the grounds, he has a psychotic episode, throws his cloak over his victim, and suffocates or strangles them. (This is revealed very early on in the film.) As the movie opens there have already been a number of murders and the latest is of the maid, Cecile (Alice Dahl). Virginia's very handsome fiance, Ralph (John McGuire, who also plays Ralph's twin brother), becomes a suspect when it is discovered that he argued with Cecile, a former girlfriend, shortly before her death. There are tragic consequences to this but the murders continue.
|Lugosi in a contemplative mood|
Verdict: Lugosi gives this a professional gloss but the script is hopeless. *1/2.
|On the moors with Holmes and Watson|
|Bill Carter and Catherine |McLeod|
|Dorn and McLeod at Carnegie Hall|
Verdict: Beautiful concert sequences tied to a rather contrived and foolish plot. **1/2.
|Jun Haver and John Payne|
Jeff Cairn (John Payne) lives with his little sister, Nella (Connie Marshall), on a farm during WW2. Although he could get a deferment, he enlists in the Navy and says good-bye to his sort of sweetheart, waitress Jenny (June Haver). Then a notice comes saying that Jeff is Missing in Action. Nella and Jenny, in convoluted fashion that never quite makes sense, wind up on a drydocked boat built by the old curmudgeon, Henry Pecket (Clem Bevans). With the aid of Howard Williams (John Ireland), Peckett is able to set sail (sans permit or any special plan) and Jenny, Nella and Howard go with him. Nella is hoping they will sail to some beautiful island where she will be reunited with her brother, but instead they wind up literally stuck in the mud.
|Haver with John Ireland|
Verdict: 20th Century-Fox was no MGM when it came to (semi) musicals. **1/2.
|Jon Hall as Ali|
Prince Ali (Scotty Becket) of Baghdad is the son of the king and has a little girlfriend in Amara (Yvette Duguay), with whom he makes a blood pact. When the King is betrayed by Amara's father, Cassim (Frank Puglia of 20 Million Miles to Earth), Ali manages to escape. Cassim is working with Hulagu Kahn (Kurt Katch of The Mask of Dimitrios), leader of the Mongul hordes and the new king of Baghdad. Ali stumbles upon the cave where the forty thieves keep their booty, and is adopted by them, especially old Baba (Fortunio Bonanova) and the grumpy Abdullah (Andy Devine of Never Say Die), who resents being a "nurse maid" to the boy. The years go by and young Ali Baba, as he is now known, has managed to turn the thieves into freedom fighters (!) who strike swiftly at the Mongolians. Cassin's beautiful daughter, now grown (and played by Maria Montez), is betrothed to Kahn, but falls for the handsome thief, Ali Baba. Eventually they will realize who the other one really is, but in the meantime Kahn is determined to kill one and marry the other ...
Verdict: Colorful fantasy flick -- open sesame! ***.
Born in the Dominican Republic to a well-heeled family, Maria Montez married a much-older man whom she up and left flat after seven years to pursue her dreams of a career as an actress -- this despite having no discernable talent. Montez lived off a wealthy man's yacht for months, then during her stay in Manhattan managed to secure Bob Hope's agent "Doc" Schnurr. based solely on her looks. She was attractive but had to be carefully photographed, as her features could come off as heavy and unflattering. In general she looks much better in her technicolor movies than she does in still photographs.
Montez made up so many stories about herself that no one believed her when she claimed to be engaged to a fighter pilot in the British air force -- people assumed he was a fictional entity -- but the man actually existed and did have a relationship with Montez, although they may or may not have been engaged.
One critic wrote that Montez had "the regality of an
usherette." Once she began actually starring in movies (for a big but still second-string studio, Universal) Montez wanted to be "taken seriously." Her chief attribute when it came to thesping was radiating a haughty superiority, but she was no Hepburn. Refusing to appear in a western that she thought was too similar to her other films, Montez went on suspension even as Yvonne De Carlo replaced her and was groomed, in fact, to be her replacement at the studio. Universal eventually offered her a bone, the lead role in Tangier, but the picture was considered a stinker and those certain qualities that Montez exhibited in her earlier films were missing -- as Zimmerman puts it, she was merely "ordinary." She parted company with Universal and moved to France with her new husband Jean-Pierre Aumont and the two appeared in the terrible Siren of Atlantis. Zimmerman suggests that Montez showed some genuine acting ability in her later independent films, but she was still trading in on her trademark haughtiness. Montez died in her bathtub at age 39.
Verdict: For obsessive Maria Montez fans primarily, but also an interesting slice of Hollywood life. ***.
Hipsters (Stilyagi/2008) is a Russian musical set in Moscow in 1955. Mels (Anton Shagin) belongs to the Communist Youth League, which tracks down young people -- or "hipsters" -- who love the traitorous Western ideology, including American fashion and music. Mels falls for a hipster named Polina or Polly (Oksana Akinshina) and becomes a hipster himself (although his hairstyle looks more modern-day rockabilly -- almost like Eraserhead -- than 1950's greaser). The colorful settings and cinematography, enthusiastic cast. snappy songs (most original, although we also hear "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess), and lively dancing don't quite disguise the fact that this love story is cliched and superficial. However, the picture is good to look at and at times quite entertaining, if definitely overlong. **1/2.
|Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz|
Five Golden Dragons (1967), produced by Harry Alan Towers, concerns an American (Bob Cummings) in Hong Kong who gets involved with the titular criminal cult. In his last film, Cummings -- still playing the aging epicene bumbling playboy like he did in Love That Bob! -- is completely out of place in a kind of dull euro-thriller that fails to hold the attention. The "dragons" are played by Chris Lee, George Raft, Dan Duryea, and Brian Dunlevy in unnecessary cameos that at least netted them a trip to Hong Kong. Terrible!
Leaving Las Vegas (1995). I had wanted to see this for years, but after about half an hour I was already bored with the lives of these pathetic losers. I don't like spending time with people like this in real life, so why should I spend over two hours with them in a movie? Yes, I know the film is acclaimed and Nicolas Cage won an Oscar, and I'm certainly not saying that it's bad, but with so many other choices to watch this just didn't grip my attention.
Perry Mason: The Case of the Jealous Jokester (1995 telefilm). After Raymond Burr's death, the producers of the TV movies decided to continue the franchise with Hal Holbrook playing not Perry Mason, but a lawyer known as Wild Bill McKenzie who was a friend of Mason's. This is the second and last of two films featuring Holbrook. Burr's absence makes the entire enterprise seem pointless but while I did try to get into this, I found it tedious.
Antlers (2021) starts out promisingly and has a classy look, but this story of odd doings in a mine and a strange creature that haunts a young boy is so slow-paced and has such little energy that after awhile I skipped to the finale and found it to be just more of the same in monster flick terms. Very disappointing, although there is some decent acting and slick cinematography.
Death on the Nile (2022). Although I enjoyed Kenneth Branagh's remake of Murder on the Orient Express, I was less impressed with this rather plodding remake of Death on the Nile. Part of the problem, for me at least, is my familiarity with the storyline and the various twists created by Agatha Christie. But while the cinematography is first-rate I found this production to be somewhat listless. Once the main murder occurred, I knew what was coming and I wasn't sufficiently energized to see how Branagh would handle the very same events. Maybe there were differences in this version, I don't know and I just didn't care. For some reason the whole thing reminded me of a 1930's musical. The prologue relating how and why Poirot grew his famous mustache is unnecessary, to say the least.
|Jon Hall and Maria Montez|
Sentenced to a slow death for trying to usurp the throne from his brother, Kamar (Leif Erickson) escapes and holds court in the palace while the true king, Haroun (Jon Hall of The Invisible Man's Revenge), goes on the run until he can regain his rightful position. Kamar is in love with the dancer Sherazade (Maria Montez) -- a different version of the Sheherazade of legend -- but before he can find her she is sold into slavery. As Sherazade and Haroun fall in love, they escape from slave traders and other nefarious characters until Kamar at last reclaims his chosen bride. But will true love win out in the end or is Haroun doomed to die? Young Ali (Sabu) will certainly do all he can to unite the lovers.
|Hall gets some wise counsel from Sabu|
|The Montez gives a smoldering look|
|A striking sequence from Arabian Nights|
Verdict: A Maria Montez movie that is actually good! ***.
|Is this really a star? Ruby Keeler|
Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter), who has already had one nervous breakdown, is directing his new show, "Pretty Lady." His leading lady, Dorothy (Bebe Daniels), is carrying on with her former dance partner Pat (George Brent) behind the back of her supposed swain and chief angel, the ugly Abner, (Guy Kibbee). Peggy (Ruby Keeler), a show biz hopeful, is taken under the wing of both Pat, and hoofer Billy (Dick Powell). Tormented by her love for Pat, Dorothy drinks too much and has an accident -- but will Peggy be able to carry the whole show on her shoulders?
|George Brent and Debe Daniels|
The production numbers were put together by Busby Berkeley, and of these the most inventive is the title tune. Some of the songs have become standards: "You're Getting to Be a Habit" and "Shuffle Off to Buffalo;" in particular. "Young and Healthy" makes use of a Berkeley invention: creating a kaleidoscope effect of the dancers shot from high overhead. Ginger Rogers has a small role in this and is not photographed flatteringly. It's easy to see why Keeler never really became a major star.
Verdict: Some great tunes, generally pleasant, but not really a classic. **1/2.
|Wedded bliss? Fred Allen and Ginger Rogers|
"I'll say one thing about our marriage. If there's such a thing as an unjackpot, I've hit it!" -- Ramona
Five couples who were married by a dithering Justice of the Peace (Victor Moore) discover that the man's license only went into affect after the new year, so that their marriages are invalid. Those affected include radio show hosts Ramona and Steven Gladwyn (Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen), who hate each other and only speak during the show; Katie and Hector Woodruff (Eve Arden and Paul Douglas), who have gotten into a rut; Annabel and Jeff Norris (Marilyn Monroe and David Wayne), who have an adorable baby boy; Patsy and Wilson Fisher (Mitzi Gaynor and Eddie Bracken), who are expecting a child; and Eve and Fred Melrose (Zsa Zsa Gabor and Louis Calhern), who are facing an expensive divorce -- for Fred.
|Gabor, Louis Calhern, Paul Stewart|
Verdict: A lot of good actors with generally disappointing material. **1/2.
|George Brent and Jane Powell|
|Brent with Frances Gifford|