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

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Well, the blogger issues seem to have been resolved, but now the phone company took several days to repair a non-functioning DSL line. You can't win! (And a bad cold didn't help.) Plus, no matter what they say, wireless keyboards and mice aren't always so great. So we've got another truncated list this week, but I guess it's better than nothing.

Next week -- back to our regular schedule! [I hope!]

And as always -- thanks for reading!


Jack Palance and Joan Crawford
SUDDEN FEAR (1952). Director: David Miller. 

Playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) thinks that Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is a fine actor, but he just isn't "romantic-looking" enough for the lead in her new play. But it turns out that the actor is romantic-looking enough for Myra, as she meets him on a train and has a whirlwind romance with him. Myra is convinced that Lester honestly loves her, but she doesn't know about Irene (Gloria Grahame), the woman in his past ... It isn't long before Myra has to use all her skills at plotting to figure out a way to ... well, that would be telling. In the novel by Edna Sherry upon which this excellent suspense film is based, Lester actually looked like a Greek God, and was fired because he'd take attention away from the leading lady. Lester and Myra meet Irene at the same time, when the latter saves her from drowning. The novel has a kind of Eve Harrington/Margo Channing sub-plot which the film eschews, and Crawford's Myra is more likable and attractive than the woman in the book. As for the movie, which is well-directed by Miller, Crawford gives one of her best performances and illustrates the adept pantomiming she learned back in the silent period, and Palance and Graham are also top-notch. While the ending has been significantly changed, softened, from the novel, it's still satisfying, although the original ending might have given the film more bite and controversy. Mike Connors and Bruce Bennett (of Mildred Pierce) have smaller roles but are effective.

Verdict: Watch out Jack -- Joan's in command! ***1/2.


Harryhausen's "rhedosaurus" attacks Manhattan

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953). Director: Eugene Lourie. 

Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian, aka Swiss film star Paul Hubschmind) thinks he's spotted a monster during a blizzard after atomic testing in the Arctic. Of course, he has or there would be no movie. Improbably, Nesbitt is able to convince foremost paleontologist Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway) -- as well as Elson's pretty assistant, Lee (Paula Raymond) -- of the "paleolithic survival's" existence and the hunt for the beast is on. This monster movie, with  stop-motion special effects by Ray Harryhausen, made a ton of money for Warner Brothers, spawned the Japanese imitation Godzilla, and ushered in the dinosaur/bug/creature cycle of the 1950's for better or worse. Despite it's low-budget, it is still a well-made and very entertaining picture. The beast's stomping trek through the streets of downtown Manhattan is impressive, and enough cannot be said regarding the extra impact given the film by David Buttolph's dramatic scoring. Christian, Raymond and especially Kellaway turn in adept performances and Kenneth Tobey and Lee Van Cleef in smaller roles are also solid. Lourie followed this up with The Giant Behemoth and Gorgo. NOTE: For more info on this film and many others like it, read Creature Features: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies.

Verdict: Maybe not a sexy beast but certainly a lively one! ***.


THE YANKS ARE COMING (1942). Director: Alexis Thurn-Taxis.

Popular crooner and actor Bob Reynolds (William Roberts) decides to enlist and garners praise from most of the band members except one guy who openly derides him until he, too, develops some patriotic fervor. This distinctly minor wartime musical boasts a couple of pleasant numbers  -- "Don't Fool with My Heart" and "Priority on Your Love" -- but not much else. "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom plays Butch, a fellow soldier, and Little Jackie Heller is energetic as the diminutive Sammy Winkle. Roberts hasn't got a bad voice, but in most of his 18 film appearances he received no credit. Movies like this one probably didn't help.

Verdict: Probably well-intentioned but forgettable. **


INVADERS FROM MARS (1953). Director: William Cameron Menzies.

"The little man has had a big day."

A young boy, David (Jimmy Hunt), sees a spaceship land in the desert outside his house and soon discovers that aliens are taking over the minds of his parents and other townspeople. Dr. Kelston (Arthur Franz) and Dr. Blake (Helena Carter) believe the boy even though others think it's just his imagination. Although this was made before Invasion of the Body Snatchers -- which is a much better movie -- it shares some similarities with the later picture (which improved upon these ideas). There are many people who have very fond feelings for Invaders from Mars, but to me it's far from being a classic. Menzies' stylish sets, especially the path to the desert or moors, are good, and the viewer can get caught up in David's emotional concern for the welfare of his parents, but the movie is unintentionally comical and the dragged-out climax makes it seem like it's three hours long. Little Hunt is good, as is Hillary Brooke as his mother, and Morris Ankrum offers another stalwart portrait as the general in charge.The martians, unfortunately, look like duck-footed dorks in scratchy woolens, and I've never known what to make of that ugly head in the jar that leads them. [Although this "martian intelligence" is supposed to be male, it's played by diminutive actress Luce Potter.] The version of the film released in the U.K. has a better ending than the hokey one used for American prints.

Verdict: Watch It Conquered the World instead. **. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Due to an unfortunate Blogger "event" posts that I've written  and which were scheduled to be published have completely disappeared while others are being automatically published out of order or re-sent to subscribers who have already received them. Hopefully this problem will be resolved shortly and GREAT OLD MOVIES will be back on schedule.

For Blogger's explanation of what went wrong, click here.

GREAT OLD MOVIES will resume its weekly schedule as soon as posts are restored and/or all the blogger issues have been completely resolved. Thank you.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


INCEPTION (2010). Writer/director: Christopher Nolan.

In this monumentally silly movie, wherein director and writer Christopher Nolan channels his inner Doctor Strange, some people -- chief among them Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) -- have the ability to enter other people's minds and create dream worlds that seem completely lifelike. In exchange for ridding him of a false murder charge, Cobb agrees to assemble a team to help a client wipe out the competition by planting the idea to break up the company in the mind of a dying man's son (Cillian Murphy), who will inherit the business. [One imagines this illegal and utterly immoral enterprise is supposed to be made more palatable because said son will be able to find his own path or some such bullhickey.] Things become especially confusing -- and quite tedious -- because there are several different dream levels, meaning some of the sequences occur in dreams within dreams, and after awhile you don't know which is which and couldn't care less. Attempts to create pathos via a love story between Cobb and his dead wife -- whom he sort of keeps alive in the dream world -- fall flat because the characterizations are paper thin. The unlikable characters never question the morality of what they're doing to a completely innocent young man. Worse, whatever its pretensions for the dumb and gullible, this is essentially a comic book super-hero movie that isn't any fun at all. The acting is okay, but the best contributions come from composer Hans Zimmer and Guy Hendrix Dyas' striking production designs. The scenes of  Joseph Gordon-Levitt [who should pick his film projects more carefully] bouncing around the ceiling in a hallway like Spider-Man are unintentionally comical. Some good ideas wasted in a pretty bad movie. For a science fiction film with a zany premise that works, see the far-superior Fantastic Voyage.

Verdict: Could have been called Insomnia except Nolan already used that title. *1/2.


CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955). Director Edward L. Cahn.

With the aid of Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (Gregory Gaye), bitter gangster Frank Buchanan (Michael Granger) revivifies corpses, attaches mind-control circuits to their heads, and sends them out to kill off everyone he wants to have revenge upon. Irradiated with radioactivity, the "creatures" have super-strength and can shrug off bullets. Police doctor Chet Walker (Richard Denning) heads the investigation, which also embroils the D.A. (Tristram Coffin of King of the Rocket Men and The Night the World Exploded), the mayor (Pierre Watkin of a zillion items) and Walker's colleague, Captain Harris (S. John Launer). Scripted by  Curt Siodmak, Creature with the Atom Brian boasts an interesting and creepy premise, fast, adroit direction from Cahn, and players who are at the very least professional.

Verdict: Fun movie with a nifty idea. ***. 


DOCTOR STRANGE (2007). Directors Patrick Archibald, Jay Oliva.

This animated feature based on the Marvel Comics character details how a callous, vain, money-grubbing surgeon named Stephen Strange hits rock bottom after losing the use of his arms in an accident, and struggles to find his way back at a monastery presided over by the wizened "Ancient One," who teaches him the art of sorcery so he and other disciples can take on challenges from the nether planes. These include giant, invisible man-eating monsters and "neat" flying teeth that rapidly nibble away like piranhas at human flesh. The movie gives Strange a younger sister who died, as well as a host of uninteresting associates also under the tutelage of the somewhat tiresome -- as well as tired -- Ancient One. Strange's long-time foe Dormammu is the bad guy behind the scenes. The good doctor seems to get his powers and his command of them overnight despite the long scenes of his mental and spiritual preparation. Doctor Strange is well animated and looks good, but even fans of the character may find it disappointing and surprisingly tedious. A live-action Doctor Strange movie is due out next year. One can only hope it's better than this. To read about the origins and early days of the comics' Dr. Strange, see The Silver Age of Comics.

Verdict: Wait for the big-screen version in 2011. **.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


 LOST, LONELY AND VICIOUS (1958). Director: Frank Myers.

Johnnie Dennis (Ken Clayton) is an actor who's just gotten his first big break -- a big screen starring role. But this weird, disaffected, disinterested (and frankly, not terribly interesting) character doesn't even attend the premiere of his movie to bask in the glory -- just one scene in so many scenes that simply don't ring true. The death-obsessed Dennis has a sometime girlfriend, his acting coach Tanya (Lilyan Chauvin), but he seems more interested in the younger Helen (Barbara Wilson). The craggily-handsome Clayton has undeniably striking looks and charisma, and isn't a bad actor, although the two aforementioned ladies make the best impression. Richard Gilden isn't bad as Walt, another jealous actor, but many of the other performers are amateurish. Neither believable nor well-written, Lost, Lonely and Vicious has a great title but little else besides nice theme music to recommend it.

Verdict: For the curious only. **.


THE ADMIRAL WAS A LADY (1950). Director: Albert S. Rogell.

Four Army buddies live together in an old barracks collecting benefits while avoiding real jobs at any cost. Into their lives comes a former wave named Jean (Wanda Hendrix), whom they affectionately refer to as the "admiral." Jean tries to inspire the boys -- Edmond O'Brian, Johnny Sands, Richard Erdman and Steve Brodie -- to summon up some ambition but they seem more interested in attempting to romance her. Hilary Brooke appears briefly as does Rudy Vallee. This alleged comedy hasn't got a single decent laugh,and it becomes even worse when it starts to get sentimental. It's the kind of dopey picture in which jokes about sacroiliacs are repeated ad nauseam.Still, even this piece of merde has its admirers. Edmond O'Brian [D.O.A..; The Bigamist] was a fine dramatic actor but a great comedian he wasn't. 

Verdict: You'll forget it even while it's on. *. 


DICK TRACY VS CRIME INC. 15 chapter Republic serial (1941). Directors: John English and William Witney.

In this terrific serial, Tracy's sinister opponent, the unknown "Ghost," almost inundates Manhattan -- and that's only the first chapter. The Ghost is the brother of an executed criminal, but that doesn't mean that Tracy (Ralph Byrd) or anyone else knows his true identity. All he and we know is that he's one of the members of the anti-crime "Council of Eight" [which actually seems to have only five members, but who's counting?] The Ghost can also turn invisible [these FX are well done] whenever he wants to. Sure, there's some recycled footage in this, but that doesn't stop Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. from being one of the liveliest serials ever made. Cliffhangers include a trapdoor with a long fall; a coast guard cutter inadvertently blitzing Tracy and his own boat with bullets; Tracy unconscious on a treadmill and heading straight for a fiery furnace, and others just as good. Like the best serials, this also has great stuff in the middle of a chapter, such as a lively battle between Tracy and the Ghost and Tracy rescuing colleague Bill Carr (Michael Owen) from oblivion in a smelter. The climax, with Tracy trying to trap the Ghost via use of an infra-red light bulb, is also smashing. Byrd is great as Tracy; Jack Mulhall, Jan Wiley, Ralph Morgan, and John Davidson are also in the cast.

Verdict: The action never flags! ***1/2.


HENRY ALDRICH FOR PRESIDENT (1941), Director: Hugh Bennett.

 Following What a Life and Life with Henry, this introduces Jimmy Lydon as a much nerdier Henry than that essayed by Jackie Cooper in the first two films. However, Lydon is such a good actor that he can take a caricature and make him almost three-dimensional and sympathetic. "Dizzy" Stevens, originally played by Eddie Bracken, is now played by Charles Smith, who is somehow less geeky, and uses a normal voice to play the role. Henry's father, now played by John Litel, is completely changed from before, no longer the distant grump of the second film but more of a "pal" to his boy. As Henry's mother, Hedda Hopper has been replaced by the less-cosmopolitan Dorothy Peterson. The gals in Henry's life include Phyllis (Mary Anderson), who has a crush on him, and Geraldine (June Preisser), a pretty blonde who is enlisted to ensnare Henry in a high school plot. Irwin (Kenneth Howell), the boy running against Phyllis for class president, wants Henry to run as well so that those two will divide the votes and make him the winner. Instead, Phyllis drops out and against his father's advice -- Aldrich Sr. thinks his son is just being used -- Henry mounts a serious campaign with the help of Dizzy, causing expected and amusing complications.

Verdict: More fun with Henry. ***. 


CITY OF MISSING GIRLS (1941). Director: Elmer Clifton.

"It's not the disappearance. It's what happens to them after they disappear that's the tragedy."

A series of young women either disappear or are found murdered, and they are all somehow tied to the Crescent School of Fine Arts. ["If that's dramatic acting, I'll take fish," says one wag.]  Philip Van Zandt is snappy as King Peterson, a racketeer who owns the school: "These girls only interest me from the standpoint of profit, understand me?" he snaps. Peterson is apparently more interested in grooming prostitutes than actresses. H. B. Warner is the police captain who's heading up the investigation, and Boyd Irwin is Thompson, Peterson's silent partner, whose daughter, Nora (Astrid Allwyn), is a reporter who is unaware of her father's involvement with the "school." Gale Storm of My Little Margie has a small role as a friend of one of the victims. Kathryn Crawford plays the sarcastic Helen. This film has some good dialogue, including the lines "Do you mind if I smoke?" / "I don't care if you burn" which later wound up on The Honeymooners. When all is said and done, however, City of Missing Girls is a mediocre mystery with some okay performances.

Verdict: Miss it if you can. **




"You know what we go through downtown before we indict someone -- we've got the guilty party!" -- the always-wrong D.A. Hamilton Burger. 

This memorable program was still going strong in its third season. Notable cases include "The Spurious Sister," "The Watery Witness" [with Kathryn Card, Lucy's mother on I Love Lucy, Malcolm Atterbury, and Fay Wray of King Kong]; "The Singing Skirt" with Allison Hayes; "The Madcap Modiste" [John Conte, Marie Windsor, Leslie Parrish and Les Tremayne], which has one of the most clever murder devices I've ever seen; the super-suspenseful "Flighty Father," in which two men show up to claim they are an heiress' long-lost daddy; "Paul Drake's Dilemma" ["only the weakest of people have strong stomachs"], in which Perry's private eye pal actually becomes the defendant; and "The Artful Dodger," with William Campbell [Dementia 13], Jerome Cowan, and Patricia Donahue [Michael Shayne], all of whom are excellent. The rest of the episodes rarely descend below a B+ level.

Verdict: Can't beat that Perry! ***1/2.


G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (2009). Director: Stephen Sommers.

"G. I. Joe" actually began life as a Hasbro toy -- pardon me, action figure -- for boys back in the sixties. Eventually "G.I. Joe" became the name of an international special ops division instead of an individual, fighting a sinister group known as Cobra [Read: THRUSH], and Hasbro brought out more character dolls of both good guys -- and gals -- and bad. There was more than one cartoon show based on the toys, several comic book series [one from Marvel amassed 155 issues and was revived last year], a whole slew of animated feature films, and at least one live-action movie. Most of the major characters are represented in this film, which explains the origins of Cobra and its main members Destro and Cobra Commander, while having our heroes running around trying to stop their dastardly plot -- using missiles to wipe out cities. These missiles are more than mere explosives, however; they contain "nanomites" which can eat through metal and in the film's most exciting scene, do just that to the Eiffel Tower [and assorted cars etc.] in Paris! A sub-plot has "Duke's" former fiancee, Ana, now working for Cobra, which employs conscienceless mind-slaves to do much of its dirty work. There's some great high-tech stuff and FX in the movie, which is often simply too frenetic for its own good. Fans of the cartoons and comics will probably have a better time than the rest of us, but the picture does have its exciting moments. The acting is more than adequate for this kind of stuff, although there are no real cast-stand-outs. Some might find Channing Tatum a bit stiff as Duke, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt a bit wasted as Rex/Cobra Commander. Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols are okay as the ladies on opposite sides.

Verdict: Noisy, busy, and not half-bad. **1/2.