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

Thursday, July 29, 2010


GREAT OLD MOVIES is taking a brief vacation, as well as taking some time to work out some technical blogger issues.

We'll be back in one week with brand new reviews!

Stay cool!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I'LL CRY TOMORROW (1955). Director: Daniel Mann.

The more or less true story of singer Lillian Roth (Susan Hayward) and her battle with alcoholism. Although Hayward has a couple of self-conscious moments, basically she gives a very strong performance as this tormented woman who lost the first man (Ray Danton) she loved to illness and an early death, married a heavy-drinking gigolo and party boy (Don Taylor), then -- worst of all-- got hitched to a wife-beating thug played by Richard Conte [pictured]. Virginia Gregg and Veda Ann Borg show up in much smaller roles. Carole Ann Campbell is excellent as Roth as a young girl, but the movie is basically stolen by Jo Van Fleet, who is simply superb as Lillian's mother. Nice score by Alex North. Hayward sings her own numbers, and isn't bad, although one can't imagine she would have been as successful a singer as she was an actress. Reviews of the film have noted that the atmosphere is more of the fifties when it was made than the period during which most of the story takes place.

Verdict: Watch Susan Suffer! ***.


CRIME IN THE STREETS (1956). Director: Don Siegel. 

Frankie Dane (John Cassavetes) is a troubled, aimless youth full of rage that has nowhere to go. Annoyed by an older man (Malcolm Atterbury) who snitched on one of his pals, Dane importunes two buddies to help him fulfill a plot to murder the guy. These friends include young Angelo (Sal Mineo, fine as usual) and Lou (Mark Rydell, who plays the character somewhat stereotypically gay). James Whitmore is fine as a social worker who tries to help Dane and the other boys, and Virginia Gregg gives the performance of her career as Frankie's mother, who just doesn't know how to deal with him. Will Kuluva is also notable as Angelo's troubled father, Mr. Gioia. Cassevetes, in his film debut, offers a knock-out portrayal, and Peter Votrian as his sensitive little brother, Richie, is also memorable. Reginald Rose's script is full of interesting characters and heart-felt moments, although the film may seem dated in its seeming belief that there are no sociopaths but just "misunderstood" boys. [A lot of viewers may feel that what nasty Frankie needs is not understanding but a good swift kick in the derriere.] Still, this is an interesting film with many good moments, an excellent Cassevetes, and an absolutely outstanding Gregg. NOTE: This has just been released on DVD as part of Warner Brothers Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5

Verdict: Raw emotion served up with relish -- and possibly Gregg's finest hour. ***.


MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 VOLUME 6. Gunslinger (1956). Director: Roger Corman.

I confess I was never a fan of Mystery Science Theater, in which a nerdy guy and two silly robots sit in front of a screen [cutting off the bottom third of the movie] and make sophomoric comments about the "bad" B movies they're watching. True, some of the movies were pretty bad, but not every old low-budget black and white movie is automatically a stinker. Another problem is that the people behind MST weren't especially talented, and the comments they make during the movie aren't much funnier than what you'd hear from someone if you watch one of these movies with a group of friends. [In fact, most of the jokes are pretty predictable.] There's also the fact that comments during movies (when not completely annoying) are funnier when they're made by people you know about people you know. Still, MST was a success of sorts with intellectually-challenged high schoolers and college "kids" of all ages. [We won't even talk about the lame "sketches," enacted by dufus amateurs, that are interspersed with the movies.]

This volume features Attack of the Giant Leeches [no world-beater, but fun enough on its own without added comments, especially when you can come up with better ones on your own], the genuinely abysmal Teenagers from Outer Space, and Roger Corman's Gunslinger with John Ireland, Beverly Garland and everybody's favorite 50 Foot Woman, Allison Hayes. Gunslinger, on its own terms, is a perfectly entertaining little B western with generally good performances from its cast, and would have been a lot more fun without the MST crew piping in with their annoying and mostly unfunny comments. Garland becomes sheriff after her husband is killed, and gets into a war with saloon and dance hall owner Hayes -- the two have a pretty zesty "cat-fight" at one point -- then falls for a gunslinger (Ireland) that Hayes hired to kill Garland. Bruno Ve Sota of Leeches and Jonathan Haze of Little Shop of Horrors are also in the cast.

Verdict: Gunslinger: **1/2.
Mystery Science Theater 0 stars.


GHOULS, GIMMICKS, AND GOLD: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953 - 1968. Kevin Heffernan. Duke University Press; 2004.

During the 1950's film studios were afraid all of their business would be lost to television, so they tried all sorts of gimmicks from expanding the screen [CinemaScope] to 3-D to new sound and color systems while inventive producers like William Castle came up with other gimmicks [such as wiring certain chairs during showings of The Tingler] in an effort to bring patrons into the movie theater. During this era [and afterward] it was realized that the audience consisted mostly of young people, teenagers, and many films – such as horror and sci fi items – were geared to their tastes and mentalities. In this atmosphere it’s no wonder that so many films in these genres were released. [Nowadays sci-fi/fantasy/horror items are no longer necessarily considered “kiddie fodder.”] With engaging prose that rarely descends into dull ‘academic-speak,’ Heffernan traces the changes in the film industry, especially as it pertains to genre/exploitation films, encompassing everything from 3-D and “hypnovision” to the emergence of Hammer Horror films (and their new bloodier take on Universal’s monsters) and the horror stardom of the florid, often hammy Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s “Poe” pictures and others. There are also chapters on Italian horror films, other foreign films dubbed into English that made great profits for American producers, British horror, Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead.

Verdict: Quite entertaining and informative. ***.


X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009). Director: Gavin Hood.

Following the trilogy of X-Men films, this movie focuses on perhaps the group's most popular member: James Logan, AKA Wolverine. The story actually begins back in the 19th century [Logan's mutant healing factor has also given him a very long life] where Logan (Hugh Jackman), discovering his nature and his claws [see photo] as a young teen, kills the man who murdered his mother -- only to learn that he's his true father, and his cousin Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber of the Scream films] is actually his brother. The two men become warriors, fighting down through the years in everything from the Civil War to Vietnam. The story proper begins in modern times, when Colonel William Stryker (Danny Huston), offers the two mutant men a chance to use their powers as mercenaries. But Logan is sickened by the things they do on their missions, and quits, earning the "abandoned" Victor's eternal enmity [in the comics I believe this character was later known as Sabretooth]. When Logan's girlfriend (Lynn Collins) is murdered by Creed, Logan seeks revenge, and Stryker turns him into "Weapon X" by filling his skeleton with the hardest known element, adamantium. But Logan learns that Stryker is not to be trusted and breaks out on his own. Through another mutant named Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), Logan eventually discovers where Stryker is holding kidnapped young mutants, hoping to make another super-mutant weapon. He has to battle not only his hated brother, but also this new super-being in the exciting climax.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is well-acted, directed, and edited, with beautiful photography by Donald McAlpine. Some of the action scenes, stunt work, and effects are spectacular, though I imagine that people who haven't seen the previous films nor are familiar with the X-Men will follow much of what's going on. Cyclops appears [as a younger man], Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier has a cameo at the end, and there's even an appearance by Fred J. Dukes AKA the Blob (Kevin Durand) in the film's most amusing sequence.

Verdict: A lot of high-powered, noisy, intense comic book fun. ***.


THE OMEGA MAN (1971). Director: Boris Sagal. 

This is the second of three films to be based on Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend [following The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price]. However The Omega Man doesn't have much to do with Matheson's novel, in which a plague kills off most of the world's population and brings them back as vampires. In this version people who survive [aside from those with immunity, such as the protagonist] germ warfare turn into pasty-faced, white-eyed ghouls who want to tear down all remainders of human society, which is represented by Robert Neville (Charlton Heston, pictured), but they don't drink blood. Instead of vampires we're given a kind of cult of deranged people who call themselves the Family and are led by a former newscaster named Matthias (Anthony Zerbe). As in The Last Man on Earth Neville is again turned into a scientist, although he now lives in an elaborate townhouse with all of the modern conveniences and then some [being a scientist must pay pretty well!] Rosalind Cash, who appeared in a number of "blaxploitation" pictures during this period, is cast as Heston's love interest, and the two aren't quite as unlikely a couple as you might imagine. Heston swaggers his way through the film with his customary charisma [although a friend of mine who saw the film and hated it said all he got out of it was that it was "a big ego trip for Heston"] but the attempts to make him a kind of Christ-figure are ludicrous. Eric Laneuville is memorable as young Richie, who is undone by his own misplaced compassion. The film boasts the excellent cinematography of Russell Metty and an attractive score by Ron Grainer [whose music is often in counterpoint to the action] that is on occasion rather inappropriate, however. [In general it underlines the fact that The Omega Man is more of an action-drama than a horror film.] After awhile, The Omega Man -- despite good moments and acting -- sinks under the weight of its own ambitions and pretensions. 

Verdict: Taken on its own terms, it has some value, but I am Legend it is not. **1/2.


PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007). Director: Orin Peli.

This movie is another illustration of H. L. Mencken's maxim [which I paraphrase] "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence and taste of the American public."

Katie (Katie Featherston) and boyfriend Micah [Micah Sloat, pictured] have problems with a ghost or poltergeist who has been following Katie around since childhood, and now seems to have taken up residence in the attic of their home. The "stunt" of this very cheap [if not necessarily cheap-looking] movie is that the footage consists solely [for the most part] of everything that Micah shot with his new video camera. To be absolutely fair, some of the movie is a little bit creepy, but by and large it's rather dull, amateurishly if earnestly acted, and it all might have been far more compelling if shot in a more traditional fashion. Obviously, this was an attempt -- which succeeded -- to recreate the success of such other stunt movies as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, of which the latter was the most ambitious and successful. Another problem with the movie is the script, which doesn't proceed in a logical course. Apparently some young people believed that Katie and Micah [the actors' real names are used, confusing the issue] really had ghost problems and that this footage is real. [The "alternate" ending on the DVD should have cleared up that misconception, but who knows?] Sloat and Featherston may find themselves in the same career boat as the casts of Blair Witch and Cloverfield, although a sequel is in the works. This movie betrays not a bit of cinematic no-how or artistry.

Verdict: Play with a ouija board instead. **.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


MONSTERS: A Celebration of the Classics from Universal Studios. Text by Roy Milano. Del Rey Books; 2006.

This is an over-sized coffee table book celebrating all the great old Universal monsters and the films they appeared in: Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy. The film has a great many black and white photographs from the films, as well as many essays by people somehow associated with the genre. Of particular interest are the entries from the children of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi., not to mention Gloria Stuart’s memories of working with Claude Rains on The Invisible Man. [The essays by newer filmmakers such as John Landis and Stephen Sommers are less interesting.] There’s no real critical meat to the volume, but the book is attractive, well put together, and of definite interest to fans of these films.

Verdict: For fans of Franky and the rest. ***.


THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964). Director: Sidney Salkan [Ubaldo Ragona]. 

This Italian production is the first film adaptation of Richard Matheson's excellent novel I Am Legend. Vincent Price stars as Robert Morgan, who seems to be the last human left alive in a world over-run with blood-drinking vampires. The movie is fairly faithful to the novel, and at least takes place in the United States. [Of course in the book the man's last name was Neville, and he wasn't a scientist; the movie also simplifies the business with "living" vampires vs. dead vampires.]. Franca Bettoia gives a vivid portrait of a woman, Ruth, that Morgan encounters late in the picture. Perhaps the best scene has Morgan's wife coming back from her grave. The Last Man on Earth is moody and atmospheric, Price isn't at all bad, but the picture isn't very well directed and isn't nearly intense enough to be fully effective. Comes close, though. 

Verdict: Just misses. **1/2.



Warner Brothers has just issued a new collection of classic film noir: 8 movies on four DVDs.

Cornered (1945)stars Dick Powell as a man who travels to Buenos Aires to try to uncover the mysterious man who is said to be behind the murder of his wife and many others in the French underground.

Desperate (1947) stars Steve Brodie as a man involved in a botched heist. Raymond Burr co-stars.

The Phenix [sic] City Story (1955) looks into corruption in an Alabama city and is directed by Phil Karlson. Widescreen.

Dial 1119 (1950) deals with a deranged escapee who holds hostages at a dive bar. William Conrad and Marshall Thompson star.

Armored Car Robbery (1950) features a battle of wits between a gun moll (Adele Jergens), a gangster, and a hard-boiled cop.

Crime in the Streets (1956) has a gang leader deciding that they must kill someone who blabbed a little too much. John Cassevetes stars. Widescreen.

Deadline at Dawn (1946) has a dancer helping a sailor prove that he didn't murder a gangster's sister. Bill Williams and Susan Hayward are the stars. This fine movie is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich and has a screenplay by Clifford Odets.

Backfire (1950) has a veteran and his nurse-girlfriend encountering all kinds of characters as they try to prove that his buddy didn't commit murder. Gordon MacRae, Virginia Mayo, and Edmond O'Brien star and MacRae's future wife Sheila has a strong supporting role as well.

The movies are crisp, digitally re-mastered, and none have ever been on DVD before.

Check out the official Warner Brothers site.

Verdict: Entertaining and varied collection of hard-boiled movies. ***.


CORNERED (1945). Director: Edward Dmytryk. 

Laurence Gerard (Dick Powell), a Canadian shot down over France and helped by the underground, learns that the resistance fighter he married and hardly knew was murdered along with many others under the orders of a collaborationist named Jarnac -- who is supposedly dead. Gerard travels to Buenos Aires to find Jarnac, even though he doesn't know what he looks like or what name he might be using. Helping and hindering along the way are Jarnac's widow (Micheline Cheirel), the hostess Mrs. Camargo (Nina Vale), her mousy husband (Steven Geray), a shady tourist guide (Walter Slezak of Lifeboat), and the sinister Dr. Satana (Morris Carnovsky). Even Edgar Barrier and Nestor Paiva get into the act as, respectively, an insurance agent and a police official. Powell and Slezak give terrific performances, with a sharp assist from Luthor Adler and the rest of the supporting cast. The movie is unpredictable and basically absorbing, though it has no great Hitchcock-like set-pieces and is rather talky at times. Still, it is undeniably intriguing and has an exciting climax. NOTE: Cornered is one of the eight films on Warner brothers' Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5

Verdict: Powell proves again that he's not just a song and dance man. ***.


THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956). Director: John Sherwood. 

Following Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature, the third and final Creature film goes in an entirely different direction. The gill man is captured yet again, and brought to a laboratory where for unspecified and inexplicable reasons, it is decided to operate on his face and body to make him more human. Apparently the gill man [he is never referred to as such, if I remember correctly] already has lungs as well as gills, but the gills are removed and he can no longer breath under water. His build somehow becomes more massive and muscular, and his face sort of resembles a fishy Rondo Hatton. When I first saw this movie I thought it had an interesting idea, but now it just seems to strip the character of everything that made him unique. Jeff Morrow as a wealthy, jealous doctor and Rex Reason as a geneticist give quite good performances, as does Gregg Palmer as the sleazy Grant. Leigh Snowden as Morrow's wife is decorative but not much else; she only chalked up 20 credits. Frank Chase, who was the deputy in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, shows up briefly as a cabin boy/steward. 

Verdict: The gill man deserves better. **1/2.


BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS (2006 telefilm). Director: Peter Medak. Shown on Mystery on PBS.

"It wasn't your poor child?"

Presented as part of the "Miss Marple" series, this is actually based on Agatha Christie's novel of the same name -- in which Miss Marple does not appear. Pricking was actually a mystery in which the protagonists, included in the telefilm along with the old gal, were Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who had previously appeared in other Christie works. The pair visit a grouchy aunt in a nursing home when another woman asks Tuppence about a "child" and intimates that one was murdered long ago. When this woman disappears, Tuppence becomes concerned about her and asks Miss Marple for her help in tracking her down. From then on the story only bears a passing resemblance to the far superior one in Christie's clever novel, although screenwriter Stewart Harcourt retains some elements and has added some depth to the characterizations [he's also made Tuppence a closet drinker]. The story has been pushed back to war time, making it a period piece, which the novel definitely wasn't. However, this is an entertaining alternate version that is reasonably satisfying as a mystery. Anthony Edwards plays Tommy, but he appears very little. Geraldine McEwan is quite good as Marple, as is Greta Scacchi as a middle-aged Tuppence. Charles Dance nearly walks off with the movie as the minister Septimus Bligh. I didn't even realize that was Claire Bloom playing Aunt Ada until I saw the cast list.

Verdict: Not genuine Christie, but entertaining on its own terms. ***.



While it may be more fun to see a well-put-together musical than a turkey, it’s almost as much fun to read the details behind the disasters of Broadway’s musical mega-bombs. Suskin has collected essays, reviews, excerpts from books and memoirs, all of which deal with musical shows that were either critical or commercial bombs, or both, or that closed out of town [or opened and closed on the same night]. Some of these shows made it to Broadway for brief engagements, or lost money no matter how long they played. Along the way we get insiders’ views of star egos, bad concepts, bad judgment, and broken hearts as actors, composers, songs and entire concepts are replaced. Shows covered include The Act, Illya Darling, Mack & Mabel, Tenderloin, Skyscraper and Pickwick, among many others. Suskin has divided the book into sections where similar problems – such as difficult stars – caused a particular series of productions to implode. Some of the shows were inspired by successful movies: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Golden Boy, I Remember Mama, The Red Shoes, Nick and Nora [the “Thin Man” movie series].

Verdict: Almost as entertaining as a first-class musical. ***.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


BACKFIRE (1950). Director: Vincent Sherman. 

Bob Corey (Gordon MacRae) is recovering from serious injuries in the hospital with the help of pretty nurse Julie Benson (Virginia Mayo), when he realizes that his good friend Steve (Edmond O'Brian), with whom he'd planned to go into business, has disappeared. A mysterious woman sneaks into his room and tells Bob that Steve has also been seriously injured and needs his help. Bob and Julie then begin an increasingly dangerous search for the missing Steve, encountering a variety of suspicious types along the way, then learn that Steve is suspected of murder. Ed Begley plays the cop on the case, Dane Clark is another friend, Viveca Lindfors is a pretty singer being kept by a dangerous gangster, and Shela Stephens [who later became Shelia MacRae and turned up as Alice Kramden on the color Honeymooners] is Bonnie, a snappy nightclub employee who tries to help Bob. The featured cast members all turn in good performances and there are a whole host of flavorful character actors in supporting roles and bit parts as well. There are confusing flashbacks, it's all rather convoluted, but the picture has some suspense and will hold your attention. NOTE: This is one of eight films on Warner Brothers' new Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5

Verdict; Very good acting puts this over. ***.


KING OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED (1940). 12-chapter Republic serial. Directors: John English and William Witney. 

"I didn't expect a tea party when I joined the mounties." 

Sergeant Dave King (Allan Lane) of the Royal Canadian Mounties speeds into action when both his father (Herbert Rawlinson) and his girlfriend's father, Tom Merrritt, are murdered by bad guys. Merritt (Stanley Andrews) had hoped to use the new compound X to help cure infantile paralysis, but some foreign spies have more sinister purposes in mind. Lita Conway and Robert Kellard are Merritt's daughter and son, respectively, the latter of whom is a colleague of Dave King's. Richard Travis of The Man Who Came to Dinner and Missile to the Moon is another Mountie. Although the serial is at times quite rousing with plenty of fisticuffs, a major deficit is the lack of a great, intriguing villain. Memorable cliffhangers include an elaborate forest fire in chapter one; the lumber camp buzz saw in chapter three; and the train wreck in chapter five; among others. 

Verdict: Not special, but entertaining in spite of it. **1/2.


DONNIE DARKO (2001). Writer/Director: Richard Kelly.

"You're weird."

An already somewhat disturbed teenage boy, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), becomes even stranger after an airplane engine mysteriously crashes into his bedroom. He sees an imaginary friend named Frank (James Duval), who dresses in a big furry outfit and encourages Donnie to commit acts of vandalism and arson. Interesting supporting cast: Drew Barrymore [ who was executive producer] is a quirky teacher at the school; Mary McDonnell is Donnie's mother; Patrick Swayze is an author and motivational speaker; Noah Wyle is a science professor who discusses time travel [which somehow figures in the "plot"]; and Katharine Ross is Donnie's psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman. The movie is very much the product of a 25-year-old mind [which writer/director Kelley was at the time]. Although it's full of some interesting ideas, characters, and images, they are all under-developed, and the picture is rambling and eventually quite dull, despite the odd goings-on. The kind of movie that a teen would probably find "profound." Gyllenhaal, whose performance is very good [as is the case with most of the cast] later starred in the much more interesting Brokeback Mountain. The director's cut runs half an hour longer! More torture?

Verdict: Face it -- there's less here than meets the eye. **.


REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955). Director: Jack Arnold.

In this sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Gill Man is captured at his lagoon in the Amazon and brought to an Oceanarium in Florida where he becomes a star attraction. Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) is a scientist who takes a leave of absence from his school just so he can study the creature, while Joe Hayes, (John Bromfield) is one of the men who captured the monster. Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson) is a pretty student who's along for the ride, and gets more than she bargained for when the creature runs off with her. Frankly, Revenge is not nearly as good as the original, although it holds the attention. Nestor Paiva, Neil the adorable chimp, and a young Clint Eastwood all make brief appearances. Taken out of his native habitat, the creature is truly a fish out of water, although the latter half of the film has him undewater for a couple of sequences. The acting is okay for the most part but Lori Nelson seems devoid of any genuine talent. Bromfield also appeared in Three Bad Sisters.

Verdict: Not quite a revenge on the audience. **.


THE X FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (2008). Director/Co-writer: Chris Carter.

Even fans of the TV show may shake their heads in disbelief at this crappy theatrical feature, the second big-screen X Files movie and one that apparently came and went with little fanfare -- and no wonder. Neither Mulder (David Duchovny) nor Scully (Gillian Anderson) are with the FBI, but they ask the latter -- who works as a doctor in a Catholic hospital -- for her help in tracking down Mulder, whose particular services they require. An FBI agent has been kidnapped, and a convicted pedophile priest, Father Crissman (Billy Connolly), who claims to be psychic, is leading them to body parts -- although they don't belong to the kidnapped agent. Then another woman is kidnapped, and Mulder has to figure out what they have in common and why they're being taken. I Want to Believe is like one of the lesser X Files episodes, stretched out to theatrical length. The sinister plot, which involves severed heads and mis-matched [to put it mildly!] bodies, is of such monumental silliness as to boggle the imagination -- it not only comes off like a shaggy dog story but a big, tasteless "fag" joke. Along the way there's some good acting, a modicum of suspense, the usual atmospherics, and Mulder and Scully even hit the sheets -- but the plot is so stupid you won't especially care. Co-author Frank Spotnitz apologized on his blog for what seemed like a homophobic slant to the plot [but he doesn't seem to know the difference between homosexuality and transsexuality]. In any case, even without those elements, the movie is a stinker.

Verdict: The last gasp of The X Files for certain. *1/2.


I AM LEGEND. Richard Matheson. 1954.

Richard Matheson's famous fifties horror novel I Am Legend has been made into a movie three times: The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price; The Omega Man with Charlton Heston; and I Am Legend with Will Smith. 56 years after its publication the novel still has power and fascination in its story of a man, Robert Neville, who seems to be the last human alive on Earth after a plague of vampirism has turned everyone else into blood-drinkers. Some of these creatures, who gather outside Neville's house/stronghold at night, are still human, but infected, while others have crossed all the way over. Matheson offers a scientific explanation for vampirism instead of a supernatural one, and explains how garlic and crosses affect vampires [the latter due to their own superstitions/religiosity]. While things do get a bit confusing as to the differences between infected humans and true vampires, I Am Legend is extremely well-written and you do get caught up in Neville's struggle against loneliness and for survival. He can't really search for other humans because he always has to return to his stronghold at night. There are many exciting and chilling scenes, as well as ironic developments. In addition to the three movies made from the novel, it also influenced many other films, books, and comics, and certainly had a hand in inspiring Night of the Living Dead, not to mention the much more recent Daybreakers.

Verdict: Excellent classic horror tale. ***1/2


It has beeen announced that Scream 4 --- also known as Scre4m -- is in production for a 2011 release. Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 3 all came out a decade ago.

Wes Craven, who directed the original trilogy, has been signed as director, with Kevin Williamson, who scripted the first two films, as writer.

Ten years have passed and Sidney Prescott, again played by Neve Campbell (pictured), has found catharthis over the terrible events in the Scream movies through her writing. But there's a new killer, called Ghostface, on the loose.

Other returning cast members include David Arquette and Courteney Cox. Just as the two got married in real life, their characters will be married in this Scream installment.

With other horror franchises such as the Saw films coming out on a regular basis, it's a question if this new Scream will get the attention and business that the three original films did, but chances are that good word of mouth will make it a sure money-maker.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). Director: Jack Arnold.

Deep in the Amazon an expedition searches for a fossil but discovers a living gill man who can do without their intrusion into his territory. In short order the bad-tempered creature nearly wipes out the entire party, and blocks off their exit from the lagoon as well. The "B" variety actors are more or less solid, the creature design is quite good, and the film has a certain degree of suspense and tension. Of the cast Richard Denning and Whit Bissell come off best, although Julie/Julia Adams, Richard Carlson, the ever-reliable Nestor Paiva, and Antonio Moreno as the man who found another gill man's fossilized claw are more than acceptable. The creature's underground lair is well-designed, and the brassy, jangling score [used in many other Universal films including the sequels to Creature] is effective. The erotic underwater "ballet" between the creature and Adams is a stand-out sequence. Although the creature is generally seen as a victim of sorts, hunted by interlopers, an early scene shows him slaughtering two innocent natives even before the expedition arrives. Followed by Revenge of the Creature

Verdict: Memorable monster movie -- and monster. ***


NOTE: This report comes from Ann Dandridge, cousin of the late, great Dorothy Dandridge, whose star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is pictured at the left.

Hollywood Walk of Fame Celebrates 50th Anniversary

"The Walk of Fame celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2010 and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is planning numerous events to mark this important anniversary. As of now, plans are being formulated for the following major projects:

July 2010 – The Chamber is planning for a street festival to allow the community to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Walk of Fame. Events will hopefully be scheduled to celebrate each of the five categories which the Walk of Fame honors.


HOLLYWOOD – Spend a day in Hollywood this summer and join in the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The “Festival of the Stars” on Sunday, July 25th will offer fun and free activities for the whole family from 11am – 6pm throughout Hollywood. The Festival is honoring the Walk of Fame with entertainment, tours and events at four key locations – Hollywood & Highland Center, Egyptian Theatre, Capitol Records and the Ricardo Montalb├ín Theatre – showcasing the five categories of stars: live theatre, motion picture, television, recording, and radio, and the more than 2,400 stars immortalized on the walk. This day long festival is Hollywood’s “open house” with tours of iconic Hollywood theaters and studios, as well as live music, entertainment and activities for children. Come walk “the Walk” and relive the glory of the stars that transformed this sidewalk into a historic, international cultural icon.

WHAT: “Festival of the Stars” Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Live entertainment, tours, and 50th Anniversary themed activities
- Details, map and program of events will be posted soon

WHEN: Sunday, July 25th, 11am - 6pm

WHERE: Hollywood Walk of Fame – Hollywood Boulevard, Vine Street and beyond
- Hollywood & Highland Center Including the TV Guide Studio
- Egyptian Theatre
- Ricardo Montalbán Theatre
- Capitol Records"



PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO 12 chapter Republic serial. (1955). Director: Franklin Adreon.

Jean Evans (Phyllis Coates), known as the Panther Girl because she once killed a deadly panther, and hunter Larry Sanders (Myron Healey) discover that the natives fear a giant "Devil Beast," or claw monster, that's roaming the district. Dr. Morgan (Arthur Space), a sinister chemist, is growing craw fish (similar to a lobster if a bit smaller) to giant size in an attempt to scare away the natives and leave him and his associates free to plunder a diamond mine. For 12 chapters full of rugged fisticuffs, our heroes try to take pictures of the claw monsters to convince the authorities of their existence, only to have the bad guys steal the film, set fire to the lab, and so on and so on. Larry is nearly run over by a speeding jeep, and nearly is impaled on spikes below a balcony where he's having another battle, while Jean is grabbed more than once by a monster's giant pincer. The big craw fish looks like a preening, majestic god as it rises up on its tail and waves its claws in the air. There are angry natives on the rampage as well. Coates, Healey and Space are all fine, and the fast-moving serial is a lot of fun. Great theme music, too.

Verdict: Love that lobster! ***.


SCREAM 3 (2000). Director: Wes Craven.

The third and final installment of the original Scream trilogy -- following Scream and Scream 2 -- takes place in Hollywood where they're making another sequel to Stab, the movie-within-a-movie featured in Scream 2. Someone has a copy of the script and is killing off the actors in the order of their demise in the "movie." Sidney (Neve Campbell) who is in hiding after the events of the first two films -- and who can blame her? -- comes to Hollywood when it is determined that these new murders have something to do with her late mother [whose murder precipitated the whole series], who was an actress in Grade Z horror movies. Courteney Cox and David Arquette reprise their roles, Scott Foley plays Stab 3's director, and Patrick Dempsey is the cop assigned to the case. There's some good misdirection and the picture keeps you guessing as to whom ultimately is responsible for the body count. Roger Corman and Carrie Fisher have interesting cameos. Much more of a burlesque than the first two films in the series, but undeniably entertaining.

Verdict: One last Scream for good measure. **1/2.


FALCON CREST CBS Television series 1981 - 1990. Created by Earl Hamner Jr. NOTE: Out of several writers, Hamner wrote the most episodes.

The complete first season of Falcon Crest is available on DVD, and the show is quite entertaining. Airline pilot Chase Gioberti (Robert Foxworth) learns that his father, Jason, has passed away in an accident, and flies to California with his wife, Maggie (Susan Sullivan), to attend the funeral. There he learns that he has inherited a small 50 acre portion of the huge Falcon Crest vineyard, 500 acres of which belong to his aunt Angela Channing (Jane Wyman). Chase doesn't realize that his father didn't really die in a drunk driving accident, and that Angela has covered up the facts of his death because she would have to turn over far more of Falcon Crest to her nephew. Chase regrets that he never got to know his father very well, and decides to stay in California and try to make a go of his 50 acres, although the members of his family are very conflicted as to his decision. This includes his daughter Vicki (Jamie Rose) and son Cole (Billy R. Moses).

But the Channing family is in worse shape than the Gioberti's. Angela's daughter Emma (Margaret Ladd), never too stable to begin with, is positively bonkers since her Uncle Jason's death. Her sister, Julia (Abby Dalton), is a virtual slave to her mother's whims, and sees the same thing happening to her more resistant son, Lance (Lorenzo Lamas). Other characters include -- as the season progresses -- Angela's ex-husband (Stephen Elliot); Chase's mother (Lana Turner); Melissa Agretti (Ana Alicia), who comes between Cole and Lance; Julia's ex-husband Tony (John Saxon); Chase's right-hand man Gus (Nick Ramos); and his son, Mario (Mario Marcelino), who becomes Vicki's boyfriend.

Angela, superbly played by Wyman, is a ruthless person who cares more for the land of Falcon Crest than she does for members of her family, although she always believes she's doing the right thing. She prevents Emma from getting the psychiatric treatment she clearly needs because she's afraid Emma will inadvertently reveal the truth about Jason's death. [Although very well played by Margaret Ladd, who is an excellent actress, Emma's nutso act does become a bit of a bore.] As the first season progresses, Chase and Maggie are eventually clued in to Angela's duplicity, although why they continue to talk to her and attend her parties after her perfidy has been revealed is a big question.

The other cast members, especially Foxworth, Sullivan and Dalton, acquit themselves quite nicely. John Saxon and Lana Turner score in one episode apiece, although they returned for more appearances in later seasons. Marcelino is memorable as the appealing Mario, as is Mel Ferrer as Angela's very sly lawyer.

Falcon Crest lasted for nine seasons, and these episodes indicate why the drama -- which became more firmly ensconced in the soap opera category as it developed -- was such a guilty pleasure. Cast members in future seasons would include Rod Taylor, Mariska Hargitay, Robert Stack, Gina Lollobrigida, Ron Rifkin, Appolonia Kotero, Morgan Fairchild [in a very nice turn as a victim of incest] and many others.

Bill Conti's excellent theme music is a decided plus.

Verdict: Perfect to watch with a glass of wine! ***.


JULIE AND JULIA (2009). Writer/Director: Nora Ephron. 

Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is dissatisfied with her job sitting in a cubicle helping people deal with the after-effects of 9/11, so what earth-shaking, socially relevant idea does she come up with? She decides to cook all the recipes in Julia Child's cook book and write a blog about it. You would think someone -- anyone -- connected with this film would see the sheer bad taste in beginning such a fluff movie with references to 9/11 -- and how superficial the nitwit lead character is -- but instead we get a nearly two hour movie that strains for relevance [Child's husband appears before the House UnAmerican committee in the 50's] and comes up short. The film keeps going back and forth between Julia Child's early life and Julie Powell's modern-day blogging "adventure" and is based on Child's memoir and a book the real-life Powell put together about her blog. Frankly, episodes of Child's French Chef TV program were more entertaining than this very low-concept movie, to put it mildly. Amy Adams is quite irritating as the simpering Powell. Streep does a fairly good impression of Julia Child, but the actress should definitely pick her film projects more carefully. It's almost as if Streep simply won't turn down any script. The real Julia Child apparently didn't think much of Powell's blog and wouldn't have approved of this rip-off movie. Julie and Julia might make you hungry -- get a copy of Child's book instead of sitting through this dull time-waster. 

Verdict: You probably shouldn't make movies out of blogs. *.


THIS TIME TOGETHER: Laughter and Reflection. Carol Burnett. Harmony Books; 2010.

A very entertaining memoir by the gifted Burnett in the form of short anecdotal chapters and recollections of times good and bad, close friends, performers she loved to work with such as Lucille Ball, Julie Andrews, and Beverly "Bubbles" Sills, the joy of her family, and the tragic death of one of her daughters, Carrie Hamilton, to cancer at 38. [Burnett and Hamilton turned an earlier memoir by Burnett about her parents into a stage play, which received one of caustic critic John Simon's rare rave reviews.] Burnett reveals the sheer chutzpah that seems to be needed to succeed and survive in show business, and tells many amusing stories about encounters with fans and stars alike, including a funny -- and for once, non-nasty -- anecdote about Joan Crawford. She's not above pointing out her mistakes, such as playing -- badly -- a prostitute [!] in Billy Wilder's The Front Page. Burnett also explains why her career might have played very differently, if at all, in the current times, when TV shows are canceled before they even have a chance to find an audience, and the bottom line would never put up with the cost of the kind of variety show she specialized in. [She makes absolutely no mention of her short-lived second comedy series or the cast.] While the book could have used, perhaps, a little more bluntness and depth, it's still an engaging read.

Verdict: Funny, essentially warm, and worthwhile memoir. ***.