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

Thursday, January 28, 2010


THE HATCHET MAN (1932). Director: William Wellman. Wong (Edward G. Robinson) is a "hatchet man" or enforcer [or hit man] for his local Chinese Tong in Chinatown. He is at first horrified to discover that his next assignment is to kill a man who is his best and oldest friend, Sun [a superb J. Carroll Naish, who is nearly unrecognizable under his excellent make up]. Wong inherits Sun's wealth, business -- and daughter Toya (Loretta Young), who years later becomes his wife. Unfortunately, Toya develops a yen for her bodyguard. Robinson basically eschews Oriental make up, while Young does look somewhat Chinese. "Ming the Merciless" Charles Middleton has a part in this film, but I confess I didn't spot him. This film is interesting and different, has a clever ending, but it's very morally ambiguous and we never learn how Toya would react if she learned exactly what happened when she was a child. Verdict: Well-acted but not exactly a Chinese Godfather. **.


CROONER (1932). Director: Lloyd Bacon.

"I wonder how you can posssibly stretch the subject of yourself over two more days."

"Radio: Marconi's gift to the morons!"

Band leader Teddy Taylor (David Manners, pictured) fills in for his sick vocalist and sings in such a low voice that a drunk patron (Guy Kibbee) tells him to use a megaphone. Taylor does so -- and discovers that now the ladies think his voice is just swell. The manager (J. Carroll Naish) notices that the women are practically swooning over Teddy and offers him a contract. He becomes known as the S.A. [sex appeal] singer. But Teddy's girlfriend Judy (Ann Dvorak) importunes an agent friend who loves her, Peter (Ken Murray), to take Teddy on as a client. Before long Teddy is speaking in an affected voice, acting like he thinks he's the greatest thing since Caruso [in actuality he's not a very good singer] and believing his own publicity. The funniest scene has the ass trying to sing opera! But anyone who gets this swell-headed is bound to take a fall ... This is a fast-paced, amusing comedy with excellent performances from everyone in the cast; Dvorak is as lovely as ever. You're left with the feeling, however, that she winds up with the wrong guy at the end. Probably inspired by the career of Rudy Vallee, at least as far as the megaphone goes.

Verdict: There's no accounting for taste. **1/2.


SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON (1943). Director: Roy William Neill.
The third of Universal's "modern-dress" Holmes films presents the absurdity of United States intelligence officers calling in the British Holmes when certain documents on microfilm go missing. (Despite Holmes' genius, surely there are smart and swift U.S. agents to do the job?) Holmes and Watson take their first trip to the United States, where they cross swords with both Henry Daniell and George Zucco. Zucco had been a famous British spy and is now head of an international spy ring. Marjorie Lord is the doll, and Thurston Hall plays the lovable Senator Babcock. This is not without entertainment value -- and as usual Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are marvelous -- but this just doesn't have that certain Holmesian atmosphere. While not exactly a fish out of water, Holmes really isn't in his element in this, either.
Verdict: Better the moors than Washington. **1/2


THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT (1956). Director: Frank Tashlin.

"Fats" Murdock (Edmond O'Brien) hires washed-up press agent Tom Miller (Tom Ewell) to turn his sort of girlfriend Jerri Jordan (Jayne Mansfield of the massive mammaries) into a famous singer -- unfortunately the girl can't sing. This basically borrows the plot of Born Yesterday and adds a rock music background [there are song numbers performed by guest artists]. In a rather weird subplot development, Miller is obsessed with the real-life singer Julie London, who broke his heart [and who is heard singing "Cry Me a River."] Henry Jones and Barry Gordon have small roles. Mansfield exhibits an appealing personality if no great acting ability, but she isn't terrible. O'Brien and Ewell seem to be having fun, and the former even sings! Amusing final twist.

Verdict: Good-natured, if minor-league comedy. **1/2.


LA BOHEME (2008). Director: Robert Dornhelm.

This is another film version of Puccini's wonderful opera, employing real opera singers. Anna Netrebko is the doomed Mimi and tenor Rolando Villazon is her lover Rudolpho, who tries to end their relationship and encourage her to see a wealthier man because he can't afford to take care of her and he's afraid she'll die. La boheme starts out with the friskiness of youth, dealing heroically with their poverty and disappointment, but then certainly shows the sobering dark side of the bohemian life and its bitter struggles. The music is, in a word, magnificent, even more beautiful than Puccini's Tosca. The singers, unfortunately, emote as if they're on the opera stage, with overly broad gestures. Both Netrebko and Villazon are in fine voice, however. Nicole Cabell is Musetta, who sings the famous waltz. Villazon seems to have an appealing personality, but he seems, oddly, a bit raccoon-like in this picture. Frankly, this filmization is nothing special, but it's carried along, as usual, by the music and the singing, and a very affecting story.

Verdict: With Puccini you can never go entirely wrong. ***.


SON OF FLUBBER (1963). Director: Robert Stevenson. 

Fred MacMurray's career was revitalized by his assignments with the Disney studios, such as this sequel to The Absent-Minded Professor, and indeed many baby boomers who grew up with the comical, slightly dithering MacMurray incarnation were surprised to learn he was once a romantic leading man in such excellent films as Double Indemnity. Son of Flubber is a far cry from that movie. Ned (MacMurray) gives his formula to the government and learns he'll have to wait many a moon to receive any remuneration, so he tries to invent something else that may make money for him. MacMurray is fine, as are Ed Wynn and Leon Ames, and we've also got Charlie Ruggles, Paul Lynde, Tommy Kirk and William Demarest [who would eventually appear with MacMurray on My Three Sons] in the cast. There are dumb developments with Ned's wife (Nancy Olson) becoming jealous of an old girlfriend. The climactic football game is more tedious than funny. Joan Davis's daughter Beverly Wills appears as a woman in a commercial. 

Verdict: Good-natured but stupid. **.


THE PERFECT NEIGHBOR (2005). Director: Douglas Jackson.

Donna (Barbara Niven) has moved in with her Aunt Grace (Linda Darlow) right after murdering the married man who refused to leave his wife. Now she's set her sights on her aunt's neighbor, handsome TV exec William Costigan (Perry King), who's married to Jeannie (Susan Blakely). Donna is a psycho-bitch if ever there were one, and she's very well played by Niven, an attractive actress whose face turns ugly and bestial whenever she's angry -- which in this movie is often. While not as good as director Jackson's similar telefilm The Perfect Assistant (2008), this still holds the attention.

Verdict: Not somebody you'd want for a neighbor. **1/2.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


PEYTON PLACE (1957). Director: Mark Robson.

Surprisingly entertaining film version of Grace Metalious' once-notorious novel with a screenplay by John Michael Hayes. Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner), who has a secret and a "past," is afraid that her daughter Allison (Diane Varsi) will follow in her footsteps and become like the town "bad girl" Betty (Terry Moore). "Roddy liked flashy girls so that's what I became," Betty says. Alison's friend Selena (Hope Lange) is raped by her step-father and the town seems to blame her. Norman (Russ Tamblyn) has a domineering mother and may have been intended to be a stereotypical gay character. School teacher Elsie Thornton (Mildred Natwick) is passed over in her hoped-for promotion to principal when the town hires much younger Michael Rossi (Lee Philips) instead. [This sub-plot, unfortunately, isn't developed.] Along with Natwick, Varsi, Lange, and Moore come off best, with nice turns by Arthur Kennedy, Lloyd Nolan, little Scotty Morrow as Joseph, and Lorne Greene as a prosecutor. Contrived at times; admirably frank at others. Beautifully photographed by William Mellor, and Franz Waxman's theme music is a classic. The only problem with the movie is that it's supposed to take place pre-WW 2, but it hardly has any late 30's period atmosphere at all.

Verdict: Sex and suffering cloaked in classy sounds and images. ***.


SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (1943). Director: Roy William Neill. 

"The needle to the last, eh, Holmes?" 

This is the second of the "modern-day" Universal Sherlock Holmes films [and the fourth film in which Basil Rathbone played Holmes], following Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. It is very, very loosely based on Doyle's story The Adventure of the Dancing Men, which refers to a code (which is used in the film). Frankly, Holmes really didn't fit into the WW2 milieu, and the only "modern" SH films which work are ones that more or less ignore the war and don't feature references to Nazis. The basic plot has to do with a scientist, Dr. Tobel (William Post Jr.) whose new weapon is coveted by the Germans. Frankly, the film doesn't really get interesting until we learn that the dreaded Professor Moriarty (Lionel Atwill) is involved in the plot. Rathbone is, as usual, excellent (although the odd comb-over he sports is a bit disconcerting) and his sparring with the equally great Atwill provides the film's highlights. The quoted line above comes about when Holmes suggests that an imaginative means of death would be to drain every drop of blood from a person's body. 

Verdict: If only there had been more of Moriarty and less of Dr. Tobel. **1/2.


THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939). Director: William Dieterle.

Charles Laughton [in outstanding make up] gives another superb portrayal as Quasimodo in this fine filmization of Victor Hugo's classic story. Sir Cedric Hardwicke is also excellent as Frollo, the jealous villain of the piece, who lusts for Esmeralda (an equally fine Maureen O'Hara) with an unholy passion. A very young Edmond O'Brien plays the nominal hero, Gringoire, and he's fine in a role that one might not have thought him suitable for. Thomas Mitchell and George Zucco also give notable performances. Fine score and photography by Alfred Newman and Joseph August. Great whipping scene! If there's any problem with the movie is that the pace does tend to drag at times.

Verdict: Another memorable film from 1939. ***.


DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK? (aka Ti piace Hitchcock?/2005 Italian telefilm). Director: Dario Argento.

Dario Argento was once a very popular director of stylish and gory Italian thrillers such as Deep Red, Suspiria, Phenomena and Trauma, and he may still have a large following in Italy [in the U.S. he's more of a cult favorite]. But this lame telefilm, even if Argento were hampered by TV's restrictions, is a real come-down, just another in a long line of bad films that invoke Hitchcock without displaying one fraction of the Master's genius -- or ability to entertain. When film student Giulio (Elio Germano, pictured) learns that the mother of a pretty young woman named Sasha (Elisabetta Rocchetti) has been brutally murdered, he becomes inexplicably convinced that she "traded" murders with another woman a la Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. In scenes that remind one more of De Palma's Dressed to Kill than anything in Hitchcock, Giulio follows around this other woman apparently in the hopes of discovering which of her acquaintances is supposed to be murdered by Sasha. There's a prologue involving witches' rites in the woods when Giulio was a boy that seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The only "style" to the film is that Argento seems obsessed in delivering extreme close-ups of tumblers turning inside locks. At one point Giulio breaks his leg like Stewart in Rear Window -- that's the only similarity, really, to the work of Hitchcock. There is a tense rooftop climax, but --- and Hitchcock could have told Argento this after the former's experience with Saboteur -- it's the wrong person dangling from the roof! Neither Argento nor composer Pino Donaggio [who did some fine scores for thrillers by Brian de Palma] seem very inspired by their material this time. This becomes positively tedious after awhile.

Verdict: Even Four Flies on Grey Velvet was better than this. *1/2.


THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947). Director: Henry Koster.

A little ballet student named Meg (Margaret O'Brian) idolizes an up and comer named Ariane Bouchet (Cyd Charisse, pictured) and goes so far as to cause a horrible accident to a visiting ballerina, Darina (Karin Booth), whom she thinks is a rival to Bouchet. In his film debut Danny Thomas is Meg's "uncle" and friend, and he sings a couple of songs. Young Elinor Donahue is Meg's friend, Josie. This is a remarkably naive movie in which Meg's actions aren't even seen as being indicative of a serious emotional disturbance. The movie tries hard to be moving and "significant" and all the rest, but instead it's merely borderline cloying (as is Thomas) and kind of dumb. O'Brien is perfectly cast as the strange little girl. The best scene shows the most adorable little girl in the world, practically an infant, auditioning and charming the pants off of everyone. Film composer Herbert Stothart uses Camille Saint-Saens' "The Swan" for his theme music. In real life Charisse joined the Ballet Russe at age 13.

Verdict: Very earnest movie tries hard but it's just no go. **.



An entertaining overview of the dinosaur movie is divided into sections dealing with the silent era (The Lost World) up to the 90's (Jurassic Park), with mini-reviews and write-ups on dozens and dozens of movies. Jones also includes movies with other giant creatures such as big bugs and mentions virtually every movie -- even erotic films -- that have dinosaurs, cavemen, or take place in a prehistoric setting sans monsters. Certainly a good starting off point for those interested in the dinosaur movie, and it's packed with a great many photographs as well. There is an introduction by FX wizard Ray Harryhausen and special sections on King Kong and other significant films and people associated with the genre. Jones includes Japanese monster movies and notes how increasingly juvenile and awful they became after the original Godzilla.

Verdict: Maybe not in-depth but fun reading nonetheless. ***.


NOT OUR SON (1995 telefilm). Director: Michael Ray Rhodes.

The story of Paul Kenneth Keller [Neil Patrick Harris, pictured] of Seattle, the worst arsonist in U.S. history, as seen from the eyes of his family [unfortunately sort of giving his victims short shrift]. Keller's actions resulted in millions of dollars of property damage, widespread unemployment, loss of homes, displacement of the elderly, and the deaths of three senior women at a retirement home. Although the movie suggests he had neurological problems due to an incident when he was an infant, this didn't prevent Keller from getting one of the stiffest sentences handed down, probably because everyone else rightly saw him as a sociopath. Gerald McRaney and Cindy Pickett play Keller's parents, and Ari Meyers is his sister. Although absorbing, and not badly acted -- and meant primarily to show the affects of Keller's actions and arrest on his family -- it is a bit on the superficial side.

Verdict: Arson Lite. **1/2.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


THE UNHOLY WIFE (1957). Director: John Farrow. 

Paul (Rod Steiger) is a vintner who marries a woman, Phyllis (Diana Dors), who admits from the first that she's not very good. It's not just that she has no maternal instinct, she doesn't even have any particular love for her little boy, Mike (Gary Hunley), and as he's a charmer that puts her in an especially bad light. We learn from the first that Phyllis has fallen for hunky rodeo man San Sanders (Tom Tryon, who later became a novelist), and wants to murder Paul. But will she succeed in her plans? There are ironic and compelling aspects to this sultry melodrama, which features an interesting cast and good performances. Steiger is excellent, as usual, and Dors is pretty good, although one could say that she plays it a little too cool and unemotional for the most part. [Even sociopaths can at least act emotional when they have to.] Tom Tryon, little Gary Hunley, and Arthur Franz as Paul's priest brother are notable, as is Beulah Bondi as Paul's mother. [It's hard to imagine Diana Dors and Beulah Bondi in the same movie, but there they are, sometimes in the same frame.] Marie Windsor is her usual sardonic self in a brief bit as an associate of Phyllis' in a nightclub. Dors appears very deglamorized in certain sequences. 

Verdict: May not seem promising at first but stick with it. ***.


SHE WOULDN'T SAY YES (1945). Director: Alexander Hall.

Dr. Susan Lane (Rosalind Russell) is a psychiatrist who has no time for love or marriage. Her father, the other Dr. Lane (Charles Winninger) has his own reasons for wanting her to marry. Michael Kent (Lee Bowman), a cartoonist, becomes one of Susan's patients, but he's more interested in romancing her. And Allura (Adele Jergens), whose lovers all die, is more interested in romancing Michael. Who cares? This presents an outrageous situation in which a man somehow marries a woman without her even knowing she got married! Percy Kilbride, Sara Haden, and Mary Treen all try to liven things up, but this is pretty much a dated dog. Carl "Alfafa" Switzer is a delivery boy. Mantan Moreland is supposed to be in this, too, but I didn't spot him. The lead performances are more than adequate. At one point Haden thinks that Bowman and Winninger are going to marry each other, with the expected reaction. [Did I say this was dated?]

Verdict: Rosalind doesn't need a man but gets one anyway. **.


TOSCA by Giacomo Puccini on Great Performances at the Met/PBS, December 2009. Live telecast.

The first great opera of the 20th century as presented by the Met in New York and telecast live on Great Performances. This is the story of a great artist Cavaradossi (Marcelo Alvarez), and his lover, the jealous and tempestuous opera singer Floria Tosca (Karita Mattila), and how they come afoul of the venal Scarpia (George Gagnidze), who promises to set his captive Cavaradossi free if Tosca will only make love to him. Well ... the best laid plans ... This was conducted by Joseph Colaneri and directed by Gary Halvorson. One could quibble about certain aspects of the production, but basically this is first-rate, with great singing [and acting] from the three principles. Puccini's music combines beauty and drama for an often very powerful effect. One of the great operatic tragedies. NOTE: To read more about Tosca and other 20th century operas click here.

Verdict: The three singers certainly hit the high note! ***1/2.


THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES Volume 2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Introduction and Notes by Kyle Freeman.

Many of us old movie fans love to watch Basil Rathbone zeroing in on his quarry in the classic Sherlock Holmes films such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles or Terror by Night, but it's also great to go back to the original stories and see how terrific most of them are. Don't be put off by the time period in which they were written; the style is completely accessible and most of the tales are grand entertainment. This wonderful volume includes the novel "The Valley of Fear," in which Holmes solves a startling murder in a house with a moat, then discovers the brutal history that led up to the murder. For many chapters Holmes doesn't appear as Doyle takes us on a flashback to America and a town held in thrall by a corrupt group modeled on the Molly Maguires. Absorbing and suspenseful stuff indeed. "The Adventure of the Empty House" describes how Holmes managed to escape death after his alleged fall off a cliff while struggling with Moriarty. "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" has Holmes solving several mysterious, almost supernatural-like deaths, and "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" is both fascinating and affecting. Okay, one or two of the stories are comparatively lame, but most are intriguing and well-done, with satisfying conclusions. Kyle Freeman's notes and introduction are excellent as well.

Verdict: Good show, Watson! ****.


THE THREE STOOGES featurettes.
Most baby boomers remember the Three Stooges from their TV show when they were older [and different] men and had done the same old routines about ten thousand times. Years before, in the forties, when they were comprised of Moe and Jerry/Curly Howard (Shemp Howard came later) and Larry Fine, the Stooges had done much more interesting short features that were shown in movie theaters. AMC showed quite a number of these on New Year's Day, and while it must be said that the Stooges should only be taken in short doses, some of their old shorts are quite funny. In Hoi Polloi the boys try to turn into society types; the best scene has them imitating their pretty dance instructress who goes into all sorts of physical conniptions when a bee goes down her dress! They masquerade as psychiatrists at a society party in Three Sappy People and discover that a kindly widow has oil on her property in Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise. The boys manage to fix up a hotel but come afoul of mice and other things on opening night in Loco Boy Makes Good, and are ice men turned disastrous chefs in An Ache in Every Steak. As professorial impostors at a girls school, they have the lasses singing a dopey "Alphabet Song" in Violent is the Word for Curly. Curly becomes a wrestler in Grips, Grunts and Groans. In Woman Haters, Larry joins a misogynous club only to discover he has to get married. [The entire story is told in verse and song, but despite this clever aspect it all becomes quite tiresome after awhile.]

Three of the best Stooges shorts are: If a Body Meets a Body in which Curly Q. Link thinks he's inherited money from an uncle and winds up in a haunted mansion with assorted dead bodies; A-Plumbing We Will Go, in which the boys completely demolish a mansion when they try to fix a simple leak in the pipes; and especially Micro-Phonies in which Curly in a wig is mistaken for a grand opera singer and must perform with his buddies in front of a crowd. You have to see the Three Stooges lip-syncing to the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor to believe it! Hilarious! Fine and the Howard boys were all gifted comic actors. The Stooges' full-length movies include Rockin' in the Rockies, the dreadful Gold Raiders, The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze, and the amusing Have Rocket, Will Travel.

Verdict: They're not the Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy but they can be inventive and funny. ***.


IF CHINS COULD KILL: CONFESSIONS OF A B MOVIE ACTOR. Bruce Campbell. St Martin's Press; 2001.

A combo autobiography/Hollywood insider book by the likable star of The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, etc., a typical working actor who gets big roles in "B" [or less prestigious] productions and small roles in "A's -- one chapter is titled "The Higher the Budget, the Lower the Part." The early pages about his childhood are kind of tedious, but the book gets more interesting when Campbell starts making movies, and later stars in a television series. While much of his inside stuff about Hollywood is familiar, young actors who haven't been this way before may get a certain value from Campbell's experiences. Campbell had leading man charisma and talent, but it's a shame that the very movies that put him on the map -- the Evil Dead series -- also insured that he perhaps wasn't taken seriously enough by Hollywood. But weep not for him for he's had a continuing career, unlike many another actor who winds up waiting tables or in real estate. [He is now a regular on Burn Notice.]

Verdict: Not essential reading, but informative and of value to young people interested in a career in acting. **1/2.


DEADLY WEB (1993 telefilm). Director: Jorge Montesi.

Terri Lawrence (Gigi Rice) is a divorced woman with a young son who comes to work at a hospital. She becomes the latest victim of an Internet nut case who calls himself "Cyber-God." He maxes out her credit cards, closes her bank accounts, sends her frightening messages -- and may even be someone she works with everyday. Raphael Sbarge and John Welsey Shipp [The Flash] are among the suspects; Ed Morinaro is an ex-cop whose partner was killed by Cyber-God and is now after him on his own. Ted McGinley is Terri's ex-husband and Andrew Lawrence plays her son. Reasonably suspenseful TV movie isn't badly acted even if it holds few surprises.

Verdict: Okay mystery. **1/2.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE (1950). Director: Gordon Douglas.

Ralph Cotter (James Cagney) escapes from prison with the help of Holiday Carleton (Barbara Payton), the sister of another inmate, who dies during the break out. With the help of a shifty lawyer named Mandon (Luther Adler), Cotter blackmails a corrupt police inspector named Weber (Ward Bond) into using his resources into committing crimes. All goes smoothly until Cotter falls for Margaret Dobson (Helena Carter), the wealthy daughter of a powerful man... This is a rather fascinating suspense/crime film, bolstered by excellent performances from the entire cast. Cagney is as mesmerizing as ever, and the tragic Payton, whose private life often overshadowed her acting achievements, proves that she had genuine talent. The scene when she clings to Cagney and intones "I'm so alone, I'm so alone" is quite affecting. Helena Carter is also quite good in a less showy role. The force of the ending is a bit blunted by the production code, but this is still a very entertaining movie. Kenneth Tobey from It Came from Beneath the Sea, John Litel and Barton MacLane are also in the cast, and William Frawley from I Love Lucy scores as a nasty if good-humored prison guard.

Verdict: Nifty crime drama with outstanding lead performance and highly creditable supporting cast. ***.


THREE ON A MATCH (1932). Director: Mervyn LeRoy.

Three schoolmates run into each other a few years later and their lives intersect. Joan Blondell is Mary; Bette Davis is Ruth; and Ann Dvorak is Vivian. Although Vivian has a cute little boy and a loving, wealthy husband, she's bored and goes off on a vacation where she meets a new man -- and begins a downward spiral to ruin. Lyle Talbot, Warren William, and Humphrey Bogart are also in the cast; young Sidney Miller is fine as Willie Goldberg. Three on a Match is not without its interesting moments, but the material is essentially second-rate. Dvorak proved what an excellent actress she was in such films as Housewife, Girls of the Road, The Long Night, and especially A Life of Her Own.

Verdict: How the rich suffer when money isn't enough! **.


HOLLYWOOD PARTY (1934). Director: Roy Rowland.

The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy in the same movie! Along with Jimmy Durante, Lupe Velez (the Mexican Spitfire), Polly Moran, Arthur Treacher, and Mickey Mouse. Including an animated bit called the "Hot Chocolate Soldier." Durante plays the great "Scharzan," whose jungle movies have taken a dip at the box office. His rival, "Liondora" (George Givot), isn't doing so great either, and both of them hope to get a prize pride of lions to appear in their films with them. Somehow this all leads to a great big Hollywood party with chorus girls singing the snappy title tune [the darn thing sticks in your memory whether you want it to or not!]. Best bits are scenes between Lupe Velez and Laurel and Hardy, and the interplay between Durante and Polly Moran as a wealthy patroness of the arts. Some of the gags are real groaners. The Three Stooges are autograph hunters and Laurel and Hardy think they own the aforementioned lions.

Verdict: Fun, but if only the material were as good as the cast! **1/2.


THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939). Director: Alfred L. Werker. 

"There's death in every note of it.

Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) matches wits with Professor Moriarty (George Zucco) when the latter -- who has just managed to get off on a murder charge -- boasts that he will commit a spectacular crime right in front of the former's nose. Ida Lupino is a woman who fears for her brother's life -- does this tie in with the professor's plans? Despite the fact that the movie sort of clues us in early on as to what's going on, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is still suspenseful and exciting, with some eerie scenes relating to a club-footed killer. The haunting flute dirge that figures in the story is quite creepy. Little Terry Kilburn makes an impression as Billy, the page boy who appeared in some of the stories. Based on a play by William Gillette. Rathbone is excellent,as is Zucco as his nemesis. At one point Rathbone/Holmes masquerades as a music hall singer! This follows The Hound of the Baskervilles and was the second of two 20th Century-Fox films with Rathbone as Holmes. Followed by Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, the first of 12 Universal "modern-day" Holmes adventures with Rathbone. 

Verdict: There are some loose ends, but overall this is a pip! ***1/2.


ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992). Director: Sam Raimi.

A sequel to Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 has hero Ash (the charismatic Bruce Campbell) falling through a time warp and winding up in the middle ages. There he learns that the only way he can get home is to find the Necronomicon (a mystical book that was actually invented by H. P. Lovecraft). Along the way he encounters more demons, tiny, giggling duplicates of himself, an evil doppelganger, witches, flying creatures, and living skeletons. The movie is busy but by no means should it be confused with a decent fantasy, sword and sorcery, or horror film; it's a travesty in every sense of the word -- and an effort to sit through for the most part due to its monumental silliness (as opposed to genuine humor). There's no real story and no real characters. Director Raimi, who co-scripted with his brother, seems to have been trying to turn star Campbell into some kind of slapstick comedian. Campbell can handle everything the script throws at him with aplomb, but he deserves better. And so do horror-fantasy fans. There's some acceptable stop-motion work, but none of it is of Ray Harryhausen quality, and there's nothing in this that compares to the climax of Jason and the Argonauts. Some effective, amusing moments, but much of this is just clumsy and foolish. Pretty much a moron movie.

Verdict: Full of sound and fury ... *1/2.


FALLEN ANGELS: The Lives and Untimely Deaths of 14 Hollywood Beauties. Kirk Crivello. Citadel Press; 1988.

In this very interesting book, Crivello examines the often tragic lives of several different actresses, then has a round-up of dozens more at the end, amply illustrating the dark side of Hollywood fame -- and infamy. Along with such famous women as Monroe, Mansfield, Natalie Wood, and Sharon Tate, Crivello covers the careers, trials and tribulations of Barbara Payton, Gail Russell, Barbara Bates and several others. Some of these stories are so heart-breaking that they really hit you in the gut. It's a shock to read about actress Suzan [sic] Ball, her struggles with disease, and then learn that after all she'd been through she was only 22 when she died. These women had fame, beauty, talent and promise, but they all came to sad ends -- some due to accidents, some to suicide -- and many were just abandoned by Hollywood and couldn't deal with it.

Verdict: A sad, absorbing read. ***.


BEST FRIENDS (2005 telefilm). Director: Michael Scott.

Beth (Megan Gallagher), a recovering alcoholic with a husband and young son, is gratified to have such a good friend as Claudia (Claudette Mink, pictured), who takes charge when things become overwhelming for Beth. Unfortunately, Claudia is a functioning sociopath, and friendship means little to her when she wants something and you're standing in her way. Neither husband, best friend, nor even children mean anything to her. This is an absorbing, well-acted "psycho-bitch" movie with an especially heartless villainess. Not bad "cat-fight" at the climax. Nels Lennarson certainly makes an impression as the sexy "bad boy" who gets involved with Claudia, to his regret.

Verdict: Entertaining teletrash. ***.