Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Psychiatrist Dr. Bartholomew Snow (Rock Hudson) is drafted by General Prat (Jack Warden) to treat an old patient of his, a scientist named Vincenti (Alejandro Rey). Snow is blindfolded and flown to a secret location where the paranoid Vincenti is being held. But is General Prat really who he says he is, and is stuttering patient Fitzpatrick (Guy Stockwell) somehow involved as well? When Snow realizes something's rotten in Denmark, he and Vincenti's sister Vicky (Claudia Cardinale) have to try and retrace Snow's steps while blindfolded and find her brother. Based on a novel by Lucille Fletcher, Blindfold has a good story, but at times the [admittedly often funny] comedy relief simply overwhelms the suspense and dissipates the tension, with the result that the movie wears out its welcome long before it's over. Climactic scenes with alligators, explosions and bullets flying everywhere are busy but handled without any directorial aplomb. Hitchcock probably could have done a lot with this, but Dunne? Cardinale is cute and perky; Hudson more than acceptable in the lead although no Cary Grant. As Snow's secretary Anne Seymour doesn't have enough oomph [a la Eve Arden]. Seymour appeared on The Honeymooners more than once and had a long, long list of credits. Guy Stockwell was the older brother of Dean Stockwell. Jack Warden comes off best as Prat.Dunne also directed The View from Pompey's Head and wrote the screenplay for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
Verdict: Okay, if you're not expecting another North By Northwest. **1/2.
After teasing the faculty in a theatrical sketch, Donald Corrigan (Donald O'Connor) is asked to take a brief vacation from Sperling Naval Academy. During this sabbatical he meets Glory (Ann Blyth), the latest in a line of show biz females from the same family, and tries to discourage the attentions of the adoring Peggy (Peggy Ryan). In the meantime, Glory's mother (Helen Vinson) and grandmother (Helen Broderick), both of whom were burned by, respectively, Donald's father (Patric Knowles) and grandfather, try to break up the budding romance between him and the adorable Glory. This is a trifle, but a cute one, with some nice songs ["It's Mighty Nice to Have Met You;" "Mother, Mother, Mother"] and swell performances. O'Connor is charming, Blyth is as cute as a button, Ryan is perky and talented, and Broderick nearly steals the show as the grandmother. Irving Bacon [Ethel's father on I Love Lucy] and Arthur Treacher are also in the cast, as are the 7-year-old whiz kid Joel Kupperman and (briefly) Mantan Moreland as a porter. Years later Peggy Ryan was Jack Lord's secretary on Hawaii 5-0. Blyth's most famous role, of course, was as Veda in Mildred Pierce.
Verdict: For fans of old musicals, O'Connor, and Blyth. **1/2.
Based on Cornell Woolrich's novel "I Married a Dead Man" this stars Barbara Stanwyck as Helen Ferguson, who is pregnant and abandoned by her faithless lover Steve (Lyle Bettger). She meets a lovely young newlywed couple (Richard Denning and Phyllis Thaxter) on a train, but after a train crash finds herself a victim -- or lucky recipient -- of mistaken identity. Taken in by a family who thinks she's someone else, she wonders how long she can pull off the deception. She falls for Bill Harkness (John Lund) and then the scummy Steve shows up ... This is not the great suspense film it might have been had Hitchcock been at the helm, but it is quite entertaining and full of interesting twists courtesy of Woolrich. Stanwyck gives yet another terrific performance, and there is a solid supporting cast, including Jane Cowl as Bill's mother. Leisen doesn't do that much with the more tense sequences in the film and Lund is only adequate, but Stanwyck's performance puts this over if nothing else. The novel was adapted on other occasions, being the basis for a French version and the much lighter Mrs. Winterbourne with Ricki Lake. I believe there was also another American version under a different title.
Verdict: Another example of Stanwyck's superb thespian ability. ***.
Federal agent Ted O'Hara (Clayton Moore) pretends to be a hood and Sgt. Frances Blake (Ramsay Ames) a gun moll so they can infiltrate the gang of Vic Murkland, although both are unaware that after having plastic surgery Burkland has now replaced the police commissioner and is trying to trap them at every turn! Cliffhangers include water rushing after O'Hara on a motorcycle after a tunnel collapses [recycled from an earlier serial], and a deadly crane collapse in chapter 4. Tom Steele and Ken Terrell also get in on the action. This is an acceptable, entertaining Republic serial done in its usual slick and fast-paced style. Moore was also in Black Dragons with Bela Lugosi as well as such serials as The Perils of Nyoka, in which he was a good guy, and The Crimson Ghost and Radar Men from the Moon, in which he was a villain. Ramsay Ames was also in The Vigilante and Barcroft appeared in a number of serials including Manhunt of Mystery Island.
Verdict: Not quite unforgettable but okay. **1/2.
|Robert Hutton and Julia Arnall with the head of Nostradamus|
When wealthy businessman Karl Brussard (George Coulouris) discovers he has a brain tumor he somehow gets the idea that if he can have the brain of Nostradamus transplanted into his head, he will take over the famous man's mind with sheer will power -- or something like that. Robert Hutton is the doctor, Merrick, who gets involved in this ridiculous experiment, Michael Golden is Nostradamus, Nadja Regin is Brussard's sexy girlfriend Odette, and Sheldon Lawrence [Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons] is the equally sexy Dr. Lew Waldenhouse, who has a fling with Odette. Julia Arnall plays Jean, Merrick's assistant. Kim Parker from Fiend Without a Face has a small role as a maid. This is watchable but absurd, and not nearly as much fun as it sounds. Coulouris appeared in everything from Citizen Kane to Womeneater, not to mention the aforementioned Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons, The Verdict (1946), and many others. This movie is not to be confused with other living head films such as The Thing that Couldn't Die or The Brain that Wouldn't Die.Wilder also directed Phantom from Space, Killers from Space and Manfish with Lon Chaney Jr. Far and away his best film was Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons.
Verdict: Anyone with half a brain will probably not want to see this. **.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS 1985.
In 1985 there was a new color edition of Alfred Hitchcock Presents which used Hitchcock's original introductions -- colorized -- for remakes of some classic episodes, although not always the episode they were originally used for. Later on the program featured some all-new material. The most memorable episodes were do-overs of "An Unlocked Window" [with Annette O'Toole and an excellent Bruce Davison]; "Final Escape" [starring Season Hubley in a lead role sex-switch]; Cornell Woolrich's "4 O'clock"; "Man on the Ledge" with Mark Hammill; and "Pen Pal" with a fine Jean Simmons in the role originally played by Katherine Squire. Many of the new episodes were pretty bad, but there were a few exceptions: "Twist," which had a lot of them in a tale of adultery and murder; "Kadinsky's Vault" with Eli Wallach as a book store owner with a secret; and the diabolical "Final Twist" with Martin Landau as the nasty boss of a fed-up special effects crew. I'm not certain if "The Impatient Patient" [with E. G. Marshall as a dying patient in a war with an overbearing hospital employee]; "Murder Party" [with David McCallum] or "Tragedy Tonight" [a woman's sister has acting exercises that lead to tragedy] were remakes or new material, but all of them were interesting. Some of the remakes were vastly inferior to the originals, such as "The Creeper;" and the all-time worst new episode featured a hapless Patrick Wayne in a dreadful spoof of North by Northwest.
Verdict: Too many unmemorable episodes to make this a classic, but not without interest. **1/2.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
|Anne Shirley and Barbara Stanwyck|
Stella is a young woman in a family of mill hands who wants a better life for herself and gets it when she contrives to meet an executive at the mill, Stephen Dallas (John Boles). But although she lands the guy, Stella is a vulgar and unsympathetic person in many ways, and the two soon separate. However, Stella is redeemed by the sincere love she feels for her daughter, Laurel (Anne Shirley). But as the girl grows and bonds with her father and the new lady in his life, the widow Helen Morrison (Barbara O'Neil), Stella comes to realize that her rather declasse status may do her daughter more harm than good. Some aspects of Stella Dallas have to be taken with a grain of salt. It's one of those movies where people are terrible to other people that they love because they think they need "to be cruel to be kind" [along the lines of the guy who discovers he's going to be permanently crippled telling the woman who adores him that he hates her so she can be "free."] Once you accept that somewhat dated convention, it is easy to focus on the film's major strengths, which include Stanwyck's utterly superb performance [one of her finest in a career of excellent performances], as well as sterling work by Shirley, John Boles, boisterous Alan Hale as a friend of Stella's, O'Neill, Ann Shoemaker, Marjorie Main, and others. [Even Olin Howlin/Howland from The Blob --years in his future -- shows up!] One of the best scenes is a very moving encounter between Stella and Helen, and the ending -- if slightly contrived and "dramatic" -- is lovely and poignant. Hattie McDaniel, Jimmy Butler, and Tim Holt also have small roles. All this and an excellent score by Alfred Newman as well.
Verdict: Stanwyck and a general air of classiness lift this out of the soap opera level, but it's definitely a classic tearjerker. ****.
|The Band on the cover of their 2nd album|
"People ask me about The Last Waltz all the time. Rick Danko dying at fifty-six is what I think of The Last Waltz. It was the biggest fuckin' rip-off that ever happened to The Band -- without a doubt." -- Levon Helm, one of the five original members of The Band in "This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band" by Helm with Stephen Davis.
According to Levon Helm's account, fellow Band member Robbie Robertson wanted to stop touring, go Hollywood and essentially break up the group whether the other fellows wanted to or not. [Helm admits that he was heroin-addled much of the time, which may have colored his account or explain why Robertson was able to "get away" with what he did.] In any case, Robertson brought filmmaker Martin Scorsese in to film a big Farewell [to touring] concert with many special guest stars. When some numbers didn't turn out quite the way the two wanted, it was decided to re-film them on a special set after the fact, and the soundtrack was apparently fiddled with afterward a great bit as well.
Strictly as a concert film, The Last Waltz is not bad at all, especially if you like the music of The Band and such guest-stars as Doctor John [Such a Night], Bob Dylan [Forever Young], Neil Young [Helpless], Neil Diamond [Dry Your Eyes], Joni Mitchell [Coyote], Van Morrison [Caravan], Emmylou Harris [Evangeline], Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, and others. But if you're expecting to get to know the individual members of the Band to any degree, forget it, as Scorsese, who conducted very minor interviews with the boys, is a pretty lousy interviewer [even given the fact that some of the members did not especially wish to cooperate]. As a documentary, this is superficial beyond belief.
As for the Band ... well, it would be all too easy to dismiss them as a kind of corn pone, even phoney "hillbilly" [or "rockabilly"] band -- only one of the four members, Helm, was Southern; the rest were Canadians! -- were it not for the fact that some of their songs are pure rock poetry. I mean, nobody [especially up north] can relate to its civil war setting and rebel viewpoint, yet "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down" has an irresistible melody, some splendid harmonizing, and certainly illustrates the group's fine musicianship. [I've always loved the song, "Unfaithful Servant" -- for the same reasons -- but who the hell knows what the damn thing is about?]
The Last Waltz is a good-looking picture with some great music and performances. But it's only a small part of the story of The Band.
Verdict: Just sit back and listen. ***.
The delightful Lupe Velez from the Mexican Spitfire series plays dual roles in this fairly amusing musical: Rita, whose boat is sunk as she reaches New York; and her identical cousin Maria, who is now known as Broadway star Elaine Manners. Maria has hid her marriage and pregnancy from the boss because he doesn't hire married women, so lookalike Rita's arrival is a godsend -- she can take Maria's place in the musical while the latter goes off to have her baby. Complications include a lover boy (Gerald Mohr from Angry Red Planet) who wants to marry Elaine, and a saxophonist named Jimmy (Michael Duane), who was on the same boat as Rita. [This whole business with the boat torpedoed, sunk, or whatever is sort of glossed over.] Velez is excellent in two roles, making them reasonably distinct, and shines in her snappy production numbers which feature some lively songs. In his second film Michael Duane is good-looking but betrays little real acting ability; still he amassed a few more credits up until 1948. Lewis Wilson, the first actor to play Batman, is cast as Elaine's husband. Shirley Patterson,/Shawn Smith --who was also in the Batman serial with Wilson -- is a switchboard operator. This was released by Columbia on the Port Pictures label.
Verdict: If you enjoy Velez, you may get a kick out of this. **1/2.
Rod Stanton (Russell Hayden), an agent for the United Peace Foundation, is after a sinister figure, Sir Eric Hazarius (Lionel Atwill), who faked his own death and is calling himself "Jeffrey London." In Zalabar, the capital of Pendrang in the Himalayas, Dr. Elmore (John Eldredge) is working with London, unaware of his true identity. His daughter Marjorie (Jane Adams) has come to Zalabar to find her father. Nothing goes on in town without the say so of Indira (Helen Bennett), who at first seeks an alliance with London/Azarius, and seems to switch sides throughout the serial. Rounding out the cast of characters is agent Tal Shan (Keye Luke); Doc Harris (Ted Hecht), the casino owner; and a British gambler named "System" (Arthur Space, who was the villain in Panther Girl of the Kongo). There's a lot of talk of a Supersonic Wave Device made from "the most powerful radioactive element in the world," as well as treasure in a lost city with a statue of the Golden Goddess in the Cave of Eternal Sun. In other words, Lost City of the Jungle has practically everything in it but the proverbial kitchen sink. There are some effective cliffhangers involving earthquakes, fire pits, a gas-in-a-tomb death trap; and a guillotine held up by a rope that's rapidly burning. Good use of dramatic stock footage and an interesting score, as well. Hayden appeared mostly in westerns before and after this serial. Adams was Vicki Vale in the serial Batman and Robin; as an actress she had little oomph. Bennett had only a few credits to her name.
Verdict: Definitely one of the more entertaining Universal serials. ***.
CRAIG KENNEDY, CRIMINOLOGIST 1952 half hour television series.
Craig Kennedy, Criminologist lasted one season and 26 episodes. Donald Woods [13 Ghosts] is excellent in the title role, solving mysteries with the aid of reporter Walter Jameson (Lewis Wilson) and police inspector J. J. Burke (Sydney Mason). At first all three seem like good friends, but as the series progresses the last two characters have more of an adversarial relationship somewhat similar to the later Spock/Bones friendly enemy business on Star Trek. Some of the more memorable episodes of the series include "Formula for Murder," in which a dead scientist turns out to have two fiancees; and "The Trap," featuring skullduggery in a show business household and a very exciting climactic fight scene. In "The Case of Fleming Lewis," Jack Mulhall plays an aged millionaire with a sexy young wife -- guess who gets murdered? Gloria Talbot [The Cyclops] guest-starred in the less interesting "Kid Brother." The show used the same actors over and over again in different supporting parts. Other guest-stars included Mara Corday [Girls on the Loose] and Phyllis Coates [Panther Girl of the Kongo and Incredible Petrified World], both of whom are quite good.
Verdict: Unexceptional but entertaining, with some snappy stories. **1/2.
In a small town someone in a suit and tie [a well-dressed psychopath, apparently] and black mask is creeping around killing and stalking people. Ken (Rod Lauren), who has fear issues due to his childhood, suspects that the man in the mask might be a crazy guy named Joey (Robert Towers), who conveniently just escaped his confinement. Ken's friend, the waitress Marge (Tracy Olsen), and her boss, talk -- and talk -- about Ken, Joey, the masked man, and other matters. There's a climax between Ken and the suit and tie guy in a ghost town not too far from the restaurant, and ultimately in the nearby graveyard. The movie doesn't help itself by throwing characters at us and keeping us in the dark about them, their inter-relationships, and what's going on for way too long. By the time the movie gets started, it's almost over. Veteran director Lew Landers was at the helm, but very few directors could do much with this script and a very tiny budget. Lauren made more of an impression the following year in Black Zoo. Years later he was involved in a real-life murder mystery when authorities claimed he hired someone to slaughter his wife; he evaded a trial but eventually took his own life.
Verdict: Even if you think you like old slasher movies .. *1/2.
This installment in the X-Men series takes us back to 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis and shows us how the group of mutant super-heroes was formed. But first there's a prologue in 1944 in which Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), apparently posing as a Nazi named Schmidt, induces young Eric Lensherr to unleash his magnetic powers by murdering his mother in front of his eyes. [It makes no sense that the boy would then kill the guards but leave Shaw alive aside from the fact that the plot seems to require this.] Years later Eric (Michael Fassbender), soon to be known as mutant terrorist Magneto, is an ally of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), both of whom are working against Shaw and his sinister aides Emma Frost (the unfortunately named January Jones), and Azazel (Jason Flemying). Other X-characters include a pre-furry Hank McCoy AKA the Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique AKA Raven (Beth Goddard), mutant researcher Moria MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), and a female Angel (Zoe Kravitz), whose being a former lap dancer seems to ensure that she'll go over to the dark side (yawn). Aside from some slips, X-Men First Class intelligently transfers and slightly transforms the mutant universe from comic book page to theater screen, and it does so with great dramatic flair and some excellent acting. Sensitive McAvoy and an intense Fassbinder are as splendid as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen playing their older counterparts in the earlier films, Bacon is superb, and Jones displays just the right amount of confidence and attitude as Frost; other cast members are also on the money. Some very exciting and adroitly directed action sequences as well. Let's hope we see more X-action on the screen. Previous films were X-Men, X 2, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Excellent score by Henry Jackman.
Verdict: First class indeed! ***1/2.