Monday, September 29, 2008
Howard Malloy (Franchot Tone) investigates a secret organization that appeals to people's racism in order to sell uniforms and other materials for profit. Charles Riggs (Myron McCormick) is a crusading reporter who detests racism and is out to expose the group no matter what. Angelo aka "The Angel" Agostini (Marc Lawrence) is a hood who gets sexy model Barbara Whitfield (Jean Wallace) to romance Malloy. Grace Hartley (Winnifred Lenihan) is a political widow and one of Malloy's mentors. There are interesting elements to the movie, but it never quite jells, and the most notable thing about the production is seeing famous guest stars doing cameos -- Marlene Dietrich walks out of a nightclub called The Blue Angel where Henry Fonda is a waiter! Seeing these two in such a cheapie production as this is a little bit surreal. Another plus: the ending is quite unexpected. The actors are at least professional.
Verdict: Okay but no cigar. **.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Government agents (played by Richard Denning and John Ireland) discover that parts of atom bombs are being smuggled into the country by using racing teenagers and others as out-of-the-loop couriers. Ireland travels to Marseilles, where he thinks the enemy spy ring has originated, and discovers that it has links all the way back to Washington, D.C. Suzanne Delbert plays a sexy member of the Marseilles group, and Peter Marshall (who later hosted Hollywood Squares) plays enemy agent Leo Wayne. There's a reasonably taut finish as the men race to stop a bomb from wiping out a major city. No, this isn't exactly 24 (although it does have a cheap TV feel to it) but it does hold the attention and is briskly directed by Fred F. Sears.
Verdict: Okay timepasser. **1/2.
When fear of atomic warfare reaches an hysterical level, a group of scientists led by Dr. Morley (an uncredited, blacklisted Victor Kilian) decide to search for a place underground where nuclear survivors can rebuild civilization. Newspaper man and spoiled heir Wright Thompson (Bruce Kellogg) finances the expedition but insists on coming along. Using a boring machine known as a "cyclotram," the group descend down to the Earth's core, ultimately discovering a huge cavern with its own sea and artificial light source. Obviously inspired by Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (which was filmed nine years later), Unknown World is cheap but absorbing, with more than serviceable effects. Filmed in Bronson and Carlsbad Caverns (as was Journey), the movie is atmospheric and never over-lit. Ernest Gold's moody music is a definite asset. Some of the actors, such as Jim Bannon as navigator Andy and Marilyn Nash as the only woman in the party, give decent enough performances, but Kellogg is pretty terrible as Wright. Otto Waldis was also in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
Verdict: Not bad trip out of the daylight. ***.
This show had a really terrific premise. Amos Burke (Gene Barry) was a very wealthy, sophisticated and cultured man who happened to be a police captain in Los Angeles. He drove to crime scenes in a Rolls Royce chauffeured by Henry (Leon Lontoc). His partners were young, likable turk Tim Tilson (Gary Conway) and older veteran Les Hart (Regis Toomey). Naturally the show had a lighter approach than other cop shows, and sometimes was an out and out (and rather silly) comedy. Still, many episodes were intriguing, well-acted, and suspenseful. The show's other gimmick was to cast well-known former movie stars (or hasbeens), as well as familiar character actors, in supporting roles. Carolyn Jones scored as triplets in one episode, and Lizabeth Scott had a couple of notable guest shots as well. One episode cast Basil Rathbone as a flamboyant director and Edward Everett Horton as a Shakespearean actor. Gene Barry played the playboy detective with just the right note of insouciance and sardonicism, and the other regulars were top-notch as well. For the third season the supporting cast was let go and the show's title was changed to Amos Burke, Secret Agent due to the then-popular spy craze on TV (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; I Spy etc.). This, too, was an entertaining program but it only lasted one season. About thirty years after the show premiered, it was revived, again with Barry in the lead, but there were only 27 episodes.
Verdict: Fun whodunit. ***.
Monday, September 22, 2008
"It is not wise to leave a beautiful young woman alone in Paris too long."
Friday, September 19, 2008
FROM BROADWAY TO CHEYENNE (aka Broadway to Cheyenne/1932). Director: Larry L. Fraser.
Jimmy Kildare (Rex Bell) is a New York City detective who goes out west for a vacation and discovers some familiar crooks are operating a protection racket in town. Oddball mix of western and crime drama is fairly forgettable but it does have some good fisticuffs and a fast enough pace. Bell is a likable, cheery hero -- his nickname is "Breezy" -- and Gwen Lee and George (Gabby) Hayes are also in the cast. From Monogram pictures and it looks it.
Verdict: You can miss it. **.
A motley group of individuals take off for China in a sea plane and wind up crash landing near an island deserted but for Dr. Jim Taylor (John Boles) and his manservant (Willie Fung). The passengers include a nurse, Anne (Madge Evans); an heiress, Iris (Marion Martin); a mobster, Robert (Bruce Cabot), who's running from hit men; a blithering senator (Gene Lockhart); and others. The doctor has a secret and refuses to let the stranded passengers use his boat to get to the mainland; he eventually relents but there's only room on the boat for six people and the bickering turns into fighting and murder. Alas, the movie is not as good as it sounds; with all that's going on it's still a colossal bore. Some of the performances aren't bad, however. Other cast members include Milburn Stone, Morgan Conway, and Don "Red" Barry.
Verdict: One of James Whale's least interesting pictures. **.
Monday, September 15, 2008
"There was an old maid in Nantucket ... " limerick told by young lady at restaurant party.
Peggy Stone (Kay Francis), a chorus girl torn between two suitors in 1905, marries Monte Van Tyle (Gene Raymond) and moves into the house he built especially for them on 56th street in Manhattan. After a grotesque series of events that pretty much destroy Peggy's happy life, she winds up back in the house under unusual circumstances. Once you get past the film's undeniable contrivances, this is an interesting, somewhat poignant drama/soap opera.
STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM.
The moral ambiguity of the film, which is quite irritating on first viewing, might be one of the film's most interesting elements. Peggy, who is completely innocent, is convicted of murdering an old flame who's shot in a suicide attempt as Peggy tries to wrestle the gun away from him (and she must have had the worst lawyer in New York, as the dead man's doctor knew he had only months to live). Later on there's a good scene when Peggy, now a croupier in the house on 56th street -- her honeymoon home turned into a speakeasy and gambling den -- plays cards with her own daughter Eleanor (Margaret Lindsay), who thinks her mother is dead. Incurring debts of $15,000, Eleanor begs Peggy's partner Bill (Ricardo Cortez) not to go to her husband for the money, and when he refuses, shoots him. At the end Peggy sends Eleanor off to sail to Europe with hubby, and tells her boss she killed Bill herself (in self-defense, more or less.) The boss agrees to cover up the crime.
The trouble with this, of course, is that Eleanor, who was not forced into gambling by anyone, committed a cold-blooded murder and her mother did not. Still, this can hardly be called a happy ending. One senses that Eleanor, who is not tightly wrapped (and well-played by Lindsay), will be haunted by her crime for the rest of her life (even if Peggy lied and told her Bill wasn't dead). And Peggy will spend the rest of her life as an employee in a house that was supposed to be a lifetime home for her and her family (husband Monte died overseas in WW1 when Peggy was in jail.)
Kay Francis' performance is not exactly Oscar-worthy, but she does a nice job essaying a woman in various, very different times of her life. Raymond and Cortez are professional, and, as noted, Lindsay is quite good as the daughter. Director Florey doesn't always make the most of the dramatic possibilities of some sequences, such as when Peggy gets the telegram regarding her husband's death while in jail.
Verdict: A house is not a home, all right. ***.
"I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion."
Jim Warlock (Ronald Colman) is happily married to Clemency (Kay Francis, pictured), who is out of town traveling with her sister, when he meets a pretty young woman, Doris (Phyllis Barry), in a cafe. The two drift into an affair, which eventually results in scandal and tragedy. While this is a slight film, it boasts good performances, especially from Barry and Colman and the always-wonderful Henry Stephenson as Jim's friend, John. Normally the unfaithful spouse is not too sympathetic, but Colman actually manages to be quite moving, and the ending is effective. What the film needs is another half hour of running time and deeper characterizations.
According to Lawrence J. Quirk in The Films of Ronald Colman, Colman was nervous about playing an adulterer, and while the film got good reviews, Colman's fans did not care for him in such a part. Quirk also writes that "it was a novel idea in 1932 that occasional infidelity in a marriage could be countenanced and forgiven if all other aspects of the union were favorable."
Verdict: Minor but definitely has its moments. **1/2.
PASSION FLOWER (1930). Director: Uncredited.
"Men are kind of handy in the day time and sort of entertaining in the evening. But as far as I'm concerned, I'd just as soon have a good radio." -- Zazu Pitts.
Katherine (Kay Johnson) infuriates her father by marrying the family chauffeur Dan (Charles Bickford). Her cousin Dulce (Kay Francis) is married to a wealthy, much older man, Tony (Lewis Stone). Proud and stubborn, Dan refuses Dulce's help until circumstances force him to give in. Unfortunately the two proceed to fall in love, causing the expected painful complications. As the selfish Dulce, Francis isn't bad, but her part is too one-dimensional for us to feel much sympathy for her and at times her acting is artificial and stilted. Johnson is quite lovely and affecting as the heart-broken Katherine. The gruff Bickford is an unlikely lover boy but a good actor nevertheless; his scenes with his two little boys are touching (Dickie Moore is adorable as Tommy) but his character is also a bit of a stinker. Zazu Pitts plays Katharine and Dan's pessimistic landlady who somehow winds up moving to a farm with them as housekeeper.
Verdict: Entertaining, but maybe not enough passion. **1/2.
Friday, September 12, 2008
NOTE: Occasionally Great Old Movies will review more recent films and TV productions that tie in with classic older movies.
DRACULA (2006). Director: Bill Eagles. Presented on Masterpiece Theatre.
Although this adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel takes a great many liberties, it is still a very well-done and entertaining version of the classic story. In this a Lord Holmwood (Dan Stevens) is engaged to Lucy Westenra (Sophia Myles) when he discovers that he was born with syphilis due to his infected parents. His far-fetched, if intriguing (and never really fully explained) solution is to bring Dracula to England from Transylvania because he believes the evil being can somehow cure his infected blood. Dracula, of course, has other ideas. In this generally fast-moving, somewhat sexed-up version of the story (see photo), Marc Warren makes an interesting alternative Dracula (very different from both Lugosi and Christopher Lee, and younger than either), while Dan Stevens and Stephanie Leonidas (as Mina Murray) play with great passion and conviction. Rafe Spall and Tom Burke also score as, respectively, Jonathan Harker (it is he who embarks on the journey to Dracula's castle) and Dr. John Seward, a friend of Holmwood's and Lucy's. David Suchet, who brilliantly played Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, offers another of his incisive characterizations as Abraham Van Helsing. While the definitive version of Stoker's novel has never been made, this is -- as heretical as it sounds -- much more entertaining that the Lugosi version.
Verdict: Very creditable. ***.
This 1934 version of the famous story, while certainly not awful, can't compare to the later version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. In this version Virginia Bruce is Jane and Colin Clive of Frankenstein fame is Rochester -- both of them are more than adequate although Clive doesn't summon up the haunted quality of Orson Welles in the remake. Beryl Mercer is fine as Mrs. Fairfax, but while young Edith Fellows is cute as little Adele, she's not an especially talented child performer (she was acting up until 1995, however!) and Adele comes off a bit as a cloying klutz. Aileen Pringle isn't given much to do as Blanche Ingram, who nearly marries Rochester. Claire Du Brey appears briefly as the mad Mrs. Rochester, and an unrecognizable Ethel Griffies has the small role of Grace Poole. Some lovely music plays over the opening credits, but otherwise this film has no score and needs one. Bernard Herrmann's score for the remake is another reason why it is vastly superior.
Verdict: A little on the dull side. **.
Verdict: Web-swingin' fun. ***1/2.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
TIME LIMIT (1957). Director: Karl Malden.
Colonel Bill Edwards (Richard Widmark, pictured, who also co-produced) leads an investigation into the charges that Major Cargill (Richard Basehart) collaborated with the enemy while a POW during the Korean War. Edwards wants to give the man a fair hearing, but he isn't helped by the fact that Cargill not only won't defend himself but seems to be hiding something. This is an excellent adaptation of a very strong play that is both intelligent, uncompromising, and compassionate, and poses a poignant moral dilemma to boot. Widmark has never been better, Basehart is wonderful, and the entire cast is top-notch: Martin Balsam as Edwards' assistant, Sgt. Baker; Dolores Michaels as his secretary, Corporal Evans; Rip Torn as Lt. Miller, one of the men who served under Cargill; June Lockhart as Cargill's wife; and especially Carl Benton Reid as General Connors, whose son died in the same POW camp where Cargill was imprisoned. This was the only film Karl Malden, who does not appear in the film, ever directed, and he does a fine job. Powerful, moving material with a peerless cast.
Verdict: Strong stuff. ***1/2.
This is a profile of the great director and his films; there isn't much about his personal life, which might have enriched an already fascinating program. However, this is still a solid look at the man behind the helm of such films as The Crowd, The Big Parade, The Champ (with its moving performance by Jackie Cooper); Our Daily Bread, which Vidor financed himself when MGM found the subject matter too unglamourous; Show People (with Marion Davies); The Citadel; all the sepia sequences in The Wizard of Oz; Solomon and Sheba with its great "mirror" battle scene; and The Fountainhead with Cooper and Neal. Vidor discusses the tragic life of James Murray who starred in The Crowd, and even talks a bit about the much-maligned Beyond the Forest, which doesn't deserve the scorn heaped upon it if for no other reason than Vidor directed it and his direction is as vivid as ever. He even talks about working with David Selznick on Duel in the Sun (Vidor was co-director) which started out as a small, unusual western and ballooned into an epic that Selznick hoped would rival Gone With the Wind.
Diane Carter (Kay Francis), an adventuress who has married and divorced four wealthy men, returns to her home town and discovers that her ex-beau Bob Phillips (Bruce Cabot) is happily married and has two adorable little boys. Diane and Bob go into business together, and it turns out that Diane is better at helping him realize his ambitions than his pretty wife Martha (Helen Mack) is. Martha soon realizes that she is right to be suspicious of their relationship.... This was one of three films Francis did for Monogram studios, the last of her career, and it's not very memorable. She gives a good performance but plays a character so unlikable that she practically sneers in Martha's face when Bob tells her he's in love with her, Diane. This is the kind of movie that wants us to believe it's a happy ending if the husband goes back to the wife, even though Bob not only shows bad taste in choosing Diane over Martha, but neglects his two little boys and proves all around a stinker. Cabot is fine as the heel of a husband, and Helen Mack is lovely as Martha. Despite some good dialogue, the script is superficial and the characters one-dimensional.
Verdict: Watchable for Kay but no great shakes. **.
Monday, September 8, 2008
TCM recently held a Laurel and Hardy all-day festival in which they showed Pardon Us, Swiss Miss (still with several minutes cut) and quite a few classic shorts. Some of the more memorable ones include: Tit for Tat, in which the boys have a hilarious war with the owner of the grocery that's next to their electrical appliance store; Hog Wild, in which they try to put up a radio antennae and nearly wreck the house to Mrs. Hardy's furor; Our Wife, in which Ollie elopes with a large, economy-sized bride whose wealthy father disapproves of the union; and Be Big!, in which the boys try to sneak off to a party when their wives want them to accompany them to Atlantic City (one sequence has Stan hysterically trying to get Ollie's boot off of his fat foot). In Night Owls, a cop blackmails the boys into robbing his sergeant's house, so he can capture them and impress the boss, and in Their First Mistake they adopt a child to save Ollie's marriage, only to learn that his wife is not only suing him for divorce, but suing Laurel for alienation of affection! "Now that you've gone and gotten me into this trouble, you want to walk out and leave me flat!" Oliver whines to Stan.
Verdict: Some very, very funny stuff. ***.
Before she became a super-star with I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball was
an honest-to-goodness movie star who appeared in dozens of films, beginning as a chorus girl and extra, moving on to supporting player, and finally emerging as a star in her own right of such films as The Big Street, in which she was teamed above the title with Henry Fonda. Ball displayed her comic gifts – although she was more than "just" a fine comedienne – in film after film, bolstering mediocre efforts and complimenting good ones such as Street, in which she gives an affecting, memorable portrait of a spoiled, frightened singer who is scared she'll never walk again and takes it out on everyone around her, especially the man who is devoted to her. This book looks at every film that Ball appeared in before, during, and after Lucy, everything from The Affairs of Annabelle to Mame. You'll even read about the film she once made with Boris Karloff! de la Hoz supplies synopses, sample reviews, her own background notes and critique, and loads and loads of photos. This is a huge, heavy, coffee table book on thick paperstock. NOTE: Available for sale at ioffer.com. See ad elsewhere on this page.
Verdict: Lucy fans should pounce! ***1/2.
English professor Dexter Cornell (Dennis Quaid) is in the middle of a divorce, as well as a severe career slump as a writer, when one of his students apparently commits suicide. Later on Cornell discovers that somehow he ingested poison and has only a couple of days to live. He and a student (Meg Ryan) set out to investigate, and uncover some sleazy goings-on involving the dead student, which may or may not relate to his desperate situation. This remake of D.O.A.(1950) starring Edmund O'Brien is not in the same league. It holds the attention, there are some acceptable action sequences, and the new storyline has its clever aspects, but the movie isn't as fast, moving, or memorable by half. Beginning with the scene when Quaid literally joins himself to a reluctant Ryan by gluing their hands together, the picture takes on a cutesy tone that is completely inappropriate for the situations. Ryan is too perky by far, Quaid gives a perfectly okay second-rate performance, and Daniel Stern walks off with the acting honors as his associate and buddy. Charlotte Rampling offers another one of her patented "cold fish" performances as the patron of the dead student – she wears one expression throughout this movie (and probably all the others she was in).
Verdict: Stick with the original. **1/2.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Verdict: Good show! ***1/2.
"Love just gives you one room, two chins, and three kids!"
A simple-minded busboy named Little Pinks (Henry Fonda) develops an infatuation for a gold-digging singer named Gloria (Lucille Ball) and basically becomes her dog and slave after she loses the ability to walk. At one point he agrees to push her by wheelchair from Manhattan to Florida (although they manage to hitch a lot of rides in the back of trucks)! This absorbing (if at times draggy) comedy-drama is certainly not for all tastes, and some may find that the mix of Damon Runyan characters such as Nicely Nicely (who later turned up in Guys and Dolls) with a study of unrequited love doesn't always jell, and in truth the Runyanisms often come close to crowding out the main story. Still for those who are game The Big Street is often very funny and just as often quite touching. Although he's hardly perfect casting, Fonda manages to do a nice job as Pinks, and Lucy gives one of her best performances – a really lovely job – as Gloria, managing to be both bitchy and sympathetic at one and the same time. A lot of great character actors shore up the proceedings, especially Agnes Moorehead as a neighbor and friend of Little Pinks. Louise Beavers and Ray Collins are also especially memorable. For those who simply find the movie to be too far-fetched, think of it as a Damon Runyan fable, sort of his lighter take on Of Human Bondage. The movie is not just a study of pathetic devotion and love, but of friendship, as we see how all of Little Pink's pals – even if they think he's crazy and masochistic to do so much for the ungrateful Gloria – pull together for him because they love him and realize how much he loves Gloria. A very unusual movie, and a real tearjerker as well.
Verdict: Grab those hankies and love Lucy!***1/2.
BAD FOR EACH OTHER (1953). Director: Irving Rapper.
A young medical man is torn between helping the poor miners in his home town or joining a practice in which most of his patients would be bored, wealthy women. No, it's not The Citadel, it's a modern-day rip-off called Bad for Each Other. Charlton Heston is actually a military man with a medical degree who comes home to Pittsburgh after his brother's death. Lizabeth Scott is the rich gal he falls for, and Mildred Dunnock is his mother (both are very good). Arthur Franz is fine as an ex-serviceman who asks Heston for a job and Marjorie Rambeau scores as Scott's aunt. Heston saunters through the movie with his usual star charisma and gives a good performance, but this mediocre soaper with its one-dimensional characters and familiar plot is no substitute for the real thing.
Verdict: Watch The Citadel instead. **.
Monday, September 1, 2008
No, I'm not going to review my own book, but I would like to point out that this beautiful, hardcover, illustrated book is now available at the publisher's web site and at amazon.com.
Creature Features covers dinosaur, dragon and mythological monster movies, big bug features such as Tarantula, the films of Ray Harryhausen, nature-runs-amok movies featuring killer animals of normal size, a whole chapter on giant-sized beasties, and a section on blobs and other oddities. Fun, informative, and entertaining, if I say so myself! For adult readers, but young people will get a bang out of it as well!
Verdict: Hope you like it!