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

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Powerhouse combo: Welles and Robinson
THE STRANGER (1946). Director: Orson Welles.

Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), who works for an Allied commission that brings war criminals to justice, is after the notorious Franz Kindler, who is hiding out in the small town of Harper as a teacher named Charles Rankin (Orson Welles). Rankin is just about to get married to judge's daughter Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), when another Nazi from Kindler's past shows up, leading Wilson to his door. First Wilson must confirm his suspicions (the audience is clued in pretty early) and keep Kindler from removing any other obstacles in his path, including people  -- and even his wife. Considering the talent involved and the story line, one would think The Stranger would be a much stronger picture, but it certainly isn't bad. Of the three leads, Robinson comes off best, although Welles is a close second and Young has her moments. The excellent supporting cast includes Martha Wentworth as a housekeeper, and Billy House as a drug store owner. Philip Merivale doesn't seem to summon up the proper concern as Mary's father (the script doesn't help here), and Richard Long is a bit perfunctory as her brother, Noah; Red the Irish Setter, is on top of things, however. One of the best scenes has Wilson interrogating Mary even as he shows her footage (mostly unseen) of concentration camp atrocities. The movie has gaps in logic and Welles seems only sporadically interested in the material; the movie picks up as it goes along and has a fairly exciting climax in a clock tower.

Verdict: Some very good moments but lacks greatness. ***. 


NIGHT NURSE (1931). Director: William A. Wellman.

"For a beginner, you're not doin' so bad."

Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) wants to be a nurse more than anything, but after initial discouragement is accepted as a probationer in a hospital. Upon graduation, she is assigned to be a nurse to two little girls with serious health issues, as well as a seriously alcoholic and uncaring mother (Charlotte Merriam) -- "I'm a dipsomaniac and I'm proud of it!" she screams. Worse still is the sinister doctor in charge (Ralf Harolde), who seems to be conspiring with, of all people, the chauffeur, Nick (Clark Gable in a small but vital role). A strong, forthright and entirely admirable person, Lora goes to the head of the hospital, Dr. Bell (Charles Winninger), but discovers that "ethics" prevent him from interfering despite the danger to the children. Stanwyck gives another impressive performance as Lora, and has some terrific scenes when, concerned about the little girls, confronts both doctors and especially the deplorable mother, going so far as to knock the woman to the ground! Joan Blondell is her customary good self as another saucy nurse, Gable is swell, and there are good supporting performances from Winninger, Merriam, Harolde, Blanche Frederici as a housekeeper, Vera Lewis as the mostly grim superintendent of nurses, and Ben Lyon as the bootlegger and romantic interest, Mortie. [One can't help but wonder why Lora doesn't just pack up those kids and take them to the nearest emergency room instead of giving one of them a milk bath!]

Verdict: A little absurd but entertaining. ***.


IDA LUPINO: A BIOGRAPHY. William Donati. 1996; University Press of Kentucky.

Coming from a famous theatrical family, Ida Lupino had show biz in her blood, but according to this excellent biography, she got more fulfillment from directing than acting. This is not really a tell-all book -- Donati does look at Lupino's three marriages [to actor Louis Hayward, producer Collier Young, with whom she continued a working relationship even after their divorce, and finally the difficult Howard Duff], although there isn't that much on her estrangement from her only daughter. Donati doesn't go in for much in-depth analysis of Lupino's films [aside from the ones she directed] or acting technique, but he does deliver the basic facts in compelling fashion -- the book is a very good read. There is an examination of Lupino's often contradictory nature, her attitudes toward stardom, the Hollywood studio system and her pioneering efforts as director [she did not in any way she herself as a feminist], and her final days in which she wandered about in a disheveled house and grumbled at any one who came near her. Lupino had quite a life, and quite a career, and this book does justice to it, even if you wish at times there were a bit more about her major acting vehicles. Lupino was a star, but not quite of the front rank, never quite attaining the immortality of a Davis, Crawford or Stanwyck, although she was very talented. Of her directorial efforts they run the gamut from the poor [Outrage] to the decidedly memorable [The Bigamist]. Lupino also very ably directed one of the best ever episodes of the TV show Thriller, "Guillotine."

Verdict: Absorbing biography. ***1/2.


People often email me about great and not-so-great movies that they saw years ago, want to see again, but whose titles and stars they just can't remember. Sometimes I can help them, but on other occasions I draw a blank. So here it is. Anybody out there remember this movie?:

The synopsis: It is New Year's Eve and a young and wealthy woman realizes that she has lost everything and everyone that is dear to her, including the man in her life, who has just walked out. She wishes she could go back and correct the mistakes of the past year, and lo and behold when the clock strikes midnight she discovers she is indeed one year in the past. Unfortunately, although she tries to rectify things and avoid bad decisions, eventually she can't overcome her essential greed and self-centeredness and sure enough she winds up losing everything again.

Other details: The movie was possibly made in the late thirties and was probably in black and white [or was a faded color TV print]. My correspondent is pretty certain it was a "B" movie and did not star someone of the magnitude of, say, Barbara Stanwyck. He is also certain it was a theatrical film and not a television program.

Now, does this sound familiar to anyone? It sounds like something I'd like to see myself, so I would appreciate any and all leads. Thank you!


THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960). Director: Terence Fisher.

A young French woman, Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), on her way to a girls school to join the teaching staff, spends the night in the castle of a lonely old woman, Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), who tells her that her son, the baron (David Peel), lives by himself in another part of the castle. Marianne finds him and is shocked to see that he is in leg irons. Freeing him, she unleashes a wave of vampirism that engulfs the girl's school and brings in that legendary vampire hunter, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). This sequel to Horror of Dracula  has its moments but suffers from the fact that there is no actual Dracula -- or Christopher Lee, who played the count in the first film -- in the story. Nonetheless Peel makes an impression as this substitute bloodsucker, and Freda Jackson scores as the housekeeper, Greta, who looked to the baron's needs for years and goes literally mad when he finally escapes; Hunt is also good as his mother. Cushing, of course, is excellent. Nothing terribly provocative happens at the girls school, but director Fisher still handles it with his usual dramatic flair.

Verdict: Entertaining if minor Hammer horror flick. **1/2.


ROCK HUDSON, FRIEND OF MINE. Tom Clark, with Dick Kleiner. Pharos books; 1989.

Tom Clark was professionally involved with actor Rock Hudson, eventually becoming vice president of Hudson's production company, Mammoth films, among other duties, but he also clearly had a personal relationship with Hudson. The two men traveled together, lived together, shopped together, picked out homes and apartments together -- in other words, they were essentially a couple. Bios of Hudson state that Clark was Hudson's lover. In this schizoid, oddly coy book Clark never "outs" himself, addresses the truth of his relationship with Hudson, or even admits being gay [that word, like in Phyllis Gates' book, is never used] -- which is quite sad.Clark denies that there was a "split" because Marc Christian [who eventually sued Hudson's estate] entered Hudson's life, but it's easy to read between the lines. There is some small insight into Hudson's character, career, and life, but the main function of the book is to unsuccessfully portray the two as mere buddies, with Hudson's homosexual encounters downplayed or ignored. Clark follows Gates in trying to make her marriage to Hudson a serious one, but this is also unconvincing. Like Gates' book, Rock Hudson, Friend of Mine has the dated quality of a cover-up book published in more regressive times when homosexuality was a dirty secret. Kleiner gives the book a professional polish, but there isn't much here.

Verdict: More of a cover up than anything else. **.


MAN BAIT (aka The Last Page/1952). Director: Terence Fisher.

The British film The Last Page was given the zestier title Man Bait  -- with the figure of Diana Dors highlighted in the ads -- when it was released in the U.S. John Harman (George Brent, in one of his last theatrical films) runs a book store in London and cares for his invalid wife (Isabel Dean). He has a loyal assistant named Stella (Marguerite Chapman) and a sexy clerk, Ruby (Diana Dors), who is saucy and always coming in late. A minor incident between the two -- Ruby impulsively kisses John when they're working late in his office -- snowballs into tragedy when Ruby's new friend, the sinister Jeffrey (Peter Reynolds), importunes Ruby to make more of the business and even blackmail her boss. Before long, John is being accused of murder. It seems bizarre that John was planning to take his wife on a holiday, when she proves to be so fatally frail later in the movie. Man Bait holds the attention, but is distinctly minor, although Dors is quite good, as is Reynolds, and Brent and Chapman are more than competent. Eleanor Summerfield also makes an impression as Vi, a woman who is crazy about Jeffrey and jealous of Ruby. This was a Hammer film released and distributed by Lippert in the United States.

Verdict: Competent, if unexciting little programmer. **1/2. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012


FROM THE TERRACE (1960). Director: Mark Robson.

"I guess he hated me so much he couldn't even stand to be alive on the day I got married."

Alfred Eaton (Paul Newman) has always been in the shadow of his older brother who died, and has a terrible relationship with his father, Samuel (Leon Ames), who berates his neglected wife, Martha (Myrna Loy) for her drinking and her adulterous affair. Eaton's bad luck continues when he marries Mary (Joanne Woodward), who still has a big thing for old boyfriend Jim (Patrick O'Neal), but things look up when he meets Natalie Benzinger (Ina Balin). The trouble is that Eaton's boss thinks infidelity is worse than a divorce, Mary has no desire to stop being Mrs. Eaton, and Alfred has to choose between true love and his career. Newman saunters through the movie with aplomb and has several good moments, Woodward is sexy and interesting, Balin is lovely [if perhaps too understated at times], and Loy almost walks off with the picture as Alfred's lonely and alcoholic mother. Ames plays against type and is quite effective. This entertaining study and dissection of the American dream was based--probably loosely -- on a novel by John O'Hara. Nice score by Elmer Bernstein.

Verdict: Reasonably absorbing slice of Americana with some good performances. ***.


Walter Woolf King and Eric Blore
SWISS MISS (1938). Director: John G. Blystone.

"A swiss miss went scheeing down a mountain side.
One day she went "he-ing" and became my bride.
So now she sits at St. Moritz and waits for me but I can't get over the Alps!" 

Stan and Ollie (Laurel and Hardy) are trying to sell mouse traps in the Swiss Alps, but not having very much luck at it. Given worthless currency to buy out their business, they order everything they can eat at an inn but have to go to work in the place to pay the bill. Also at the inn is composer Victor Albert (Walter Woolf King), who wants peace and quiet to compose his operetta. Instead his soprano wife, Anna (Della Lind) shows up and proves a distraction. In the meantime there are amusing scenes with Stan and a lovable St. Bernard, not to mention  a classic sequence in which the fellows try to transport a piano across a shaky rope bridge scanning a deep chasm. In the full 72 minute version of the film [not the abridged 66 minute version that has been shown by Turner Classic Movies] we also get to see Walter Woolf King and assistant Eric Blore camping it up as they sing the catchy number "I Can't Get Over the Alps." This is a funny, charming movie with the comedy team in top form, ably assisted by an enthusiastic supporting cast.

Verdict: The piano scene alone is worth the price of admission and "Alps" is an added bonus. ***.


NIGHTMARE (1964). Director: Freddie Francis. Produced and written by Jimmy Sangster.

"You may have been all kinds of a gay boy before, but now you're married to me!"

Janet (Jennie Linden) is a screwed up teenager who saw her deranged mother stab her father to death. She has always been afraid that her mother's psychosis is hereditary, and she may be right. Returning home from school to the family manor, she is welcomed by her guardian, Henry Baxter (David Knight), and her companion, Grace Maddox (Moira Redmond of Doctor in Love). Janet has intense and realistic dreams in which she is tormented by a weird, scarred woman who is utterly silent and menacing. Then one afternoon she sees this same woman while awake ... The main twist of the film occurs halfway through the movie and isn't that much of a surprise [and probably wasn't meant to be], but the second half still sustains a modicum of suspense. This is another of the British thrillers made in the wake of Psycho [both post-Psycho and sub-Psycho], and it's reasonably entertaining if ultimately forgettable. There are couple of somewhat energetic stabbing sequences [neither in the shower, thank goodness]. The performances from all are quite good, with Redmond chewing the scenery in dramatic fashion [only over-acting on occasion] and Knight a bit more suave and restrained. There's an awful lot of hysterical screeching throughout. From Hammer studios.

Verdict: Like a lengthy Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode. **1/2.


DAMON AND PYTHIAS (aka Il tiranno di Siracusa/1962). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

Pythias (Don Burnett) leaves his angry pregnant wife in Athens and travels to Syracuse on a political mission. There he encounters the thief Damon (Guy Williams of Captain Sindbad), but after some unpleasant moments the two become allies against the tyrannical King Dionysius (Arnoldo Foa), leading to Pythias being condemned to death. Impressed with Pythias' noble nature, Damon makes an amazing offer and sacrifice. This is an entertaining if unspectacular and pretty faithful rendition of the legendary platonic friendship with good performances from the two leads. Ilaria Occhini is zesty as Pythias' fiery and passionate wife, and Liana Orfei is fine as Damon's girlfriend. It's a surprise that veteran director Bernhardt (Possessed; My Reputation) helmed this foreign entry; this was his next to last film. Burnett is an appealing, attractive actor but he only made a few movies. NOTE: Available from Warner Archives Collection in a new remastered and widescreen edition.

Verdict: The ending almost brings a lump to your throat. ***. 


Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck
THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956). Director: Douglas Sirk. Produced by Ross Hunter.

Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) is a toymaker with a wife (Joan Bennett) and children, but he also has a nagging sense of a lack of fulfillment. He runs into an old employee, Norma (Barbara Stanwyck) and the old feelings they used to have for one another begin to rekindle. Clifford's son Vinnie (William Reynolds) is convinced his dad is up to no good, while his girlfriend, Ann (Pat Crowley) reminds him that men and women can be friends and have innocent encounters. But are Clifford's feelings for Norma quite so innocent ... ? There have been lots of movies about [supposedly] "neglected" wives, but few about neglected husbands. Clifford seems a little unfair and unrealistic in getting jealous of his wife's understandable and necessary attention to the children. Still, MacMurray etches a poignant portrait of a man suffering a mid-life crisis and crying out for passion and romance. In the meantime, Norma gives a rather simplistic speech to the concerned children. The three leads all give fine performances, and Reynolds, Crowley and Gigi Perreau as the young daughter are all notable as well. The ending is not exactly a happy one although audiences were probably expected to be pleased with the resolution.

Verdict: Not exactly Brief Encounter, but not without merit. ***.


RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK (1966). Director: Don Sharp.

"This is only a house -- and she has all of Russia!"

Rasputin (Christopher Lee) -- whom everyone calls RasPOOtin -- may be a monk but he refuses to live like one, being given to love of drink and women -- and power. With his almost mesmeric command over women, he gets a a smitten Sonia (Barbara Shelley), lady-in-waiting to the Tsarina (Renee Asherson), to arrange for him to curry the latter's favor by ministering to her injured little boy. The Tsarina rewards him with a house, and entry into her charmed royal circle. But some of Rasputin's actions alarm Boris (Richard Pasco) even after Rasputin has arranged for him to take over as the royal family's doctor. Others are jealous of Rasputin's influence, and Sonia's brother (Dinsdale Landen) is furious at the monk's treatment of his sister. This all culminates in a lively final battle where Rasputin proves quite difficult to kill. While it's debatable how historically accurate this is, it's entertaining and fast-paced, with Lee giving a vivid performance, albeit one with a few hammy moments. The other cast members are good; few of them attempt a Russian accent. This has a few lurid Hammer studio touches: a hand lopped off; acid thrown in a man's face, but is not really a horror film.

Verdict: Rasputin through the Hammer lens. ***.


DROPPED NAMES: FAMOUS MEN AND WOMEN AS I KNEW THEM. Frank Langella. HarperCollins; 2012.

In this unconventional memoir, actor Frank Langella (Diary of a Mad Housewife; Dracula; Frost/Nixon) spares the reader the need to look up famous names in the index. Langella is smart enough to know that most people read autobiogs by second and third tier celebrities [well-known, but not superstars or household names] to see what they have to say about the mega-stars they worked with, so the book is divided into many chapters bearing the names of the famous and pretty famous. [Of course, it is also true that in a "memoir" of this nature you can avoid answering the hard questions about yourself.] In concise, well-written sections we read Langella's impressions of everyone from Bunny Mellon to Jackie Onassis to Paul Newman to Marilyn Monroe. Some of these chapters are especially well-done, such as the section on the lonely middle-aged Elizabeth Taylor [although Langella never really makes it clear why he didn't want to go on seeing her except that she "would eat him alive," which sounds like a cop out. If he no longer found her attractive, why not just say so?] You sometimes get the impression Langella only exists when he's in the company of celebrities [the wealthier, the better]; that the rest of the time he's folded up, maybe in one of those vinyl bags you put clothes in and hang in closets, in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the next party or the next invitation to the Mellon estate. While, as I've stated, this is an unconventional memoir, it's still a bit startling that Langella says virtually nothing of substance about his wife [wives? who can tell?] and children, and reading between the lines you also sense he's possibly being coy about his own sexuality [giving a supposedly "sophisticated" book a somewhat dated quality]. In the meantime, he "outs"  late author Dominick Dunne, among others. So while the book has its entertaining stretches and drops many, many names, it has the usual limitations of a work by a tiresomely self-absorbed "celebrity." Langella gives the last word, more or less, to super-rich Bunny Mellon: "Don't think so much about famous people," she told him. "They already think too much about themselves."

Verdict: Readable and generally well-written, but hardly essential. **1/2.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960). Director: Daniel Mann.

"Let's face it -- I was the slut of all time!"

Gloria (Elizabeth Taylor) is a beautiful "model" who is chased by men and considered a complete slut by the prudish. Her best friend is Steve (Eddie Fisher), whose girlfriend Norma (Susan Oliver), is jealous of Gloria. Gloria's latest conquest -- or is it the other way around? -- is Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), who is married to the very wise Emily (Dina Merrill). Things threaten to come to a boil when Emily finds her mink coat missing, unaware that hubby loaned it to Gloria ... Mildred Dunnock is Gloria's concerned mother and Betty Field the mother's friend, Fanny. Kay Medford is an ex-vaudevillian motel owner who sadly remembers the glory days and Carmen Mathews has a good turn as Emily's mother. Harvey is excellent, Taylor is quite good [although perhaps not quite deserving of the Oscar she won], and Fisher -- who was then married to Taylor -- does a nice job as well, although he always tends to get knocked by critics and biographers. Taylor has an especially good scene telling Fisher about her childhood sexual abuse. The movie has the odd distinction of being somewhat "modern" and yet dated at one and the same time. The impression one gets is that the film is trying to paint Gloria as an emotionally wounded "sexaholic" yet there's also that old double-standard that men who sleep around are studs but women who do the same are whores -- and that ending!

Verdict: At least you've got Liz sauntering sexily. ***.


Hudson and Day
PILLOW TALK (1959). Director: Michael Gordon.

"It's like being around a pot belly stove on a frosty morning."

Interior decorator Jan Morrow (Doris Day) shares a party line with playboy and composer Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) and has conniptions trying to get him off the line -- he's usually giving the same old palaver to one woman or another -- when she needs to use the phone. Brad finally meets Jan and likes what he sees, but pretends to be a shy Texan so she won't know who he really is, leading to amusing complications. The two leads are very good and have fine support from the likes of Tony Randall (a friend of Brad's who loves Jan) and Thelma Ritter (Pam's tippling maid). Hayden Rourke, Nick Adams, Lee Patrick and Allen Jenkins also have smaller roles. At one point Brad, in his own identity, suggests that the out-of-town Texan Jan is dating [himself, of course] is a "mama's boy" [read gay], which must have made Hudson a little uncomfortable [besides being decidedly dated]. Generally, however, this is a good-natured, funny movie and the first of several films made by the odd but effective pairing of Day and Hudson. Produced by Ross Hunter, who first brought Hudson to the big time in Magnificent Obsession, this is full of suggestive scenes and lines that must have made it seem daring in its day.

Verdict: You wouldn't think this would work, but it does. ***.


THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET (1945). Director: Ralph Murphy.

Dr. Julian Karell (Nils Asther), doctor and painter, has fallen in love with Eve Brandon (Helen Walker), but he has a big secret. He may look like a man in his thirties, but with the help of colleague Dr. van Bruecken (Reinhold Schunzel) and via the transplanting of glands, he has managed to extend his life for decades and is actually quite elderly. Eve's father (Edmund Breon) and his associate Dr. Latimer (Paul Cavanagh) distrust Karell, and prompt Scotland Yard into doing an investigation. Could Karell be the same man who committed murder decades in the past? Morton Lowry is a medical student that Karell tries to use in his experiments. The Man in Half Moon Street has an intriguing premise, but it's a bit slow, only picking up in the final quarter, but leaving the audience with more questions than answers. Asther and Walker are excellent and the climactic scenes are well done. This was remade as the superior The Man Who Could Cheat Death. Walker was also in Nightmare Alley and Impact.

Verdict: Fairly interesting lost horror. **1/2.


Anton Diffring gets a little pop-eyed and who can blame him?
THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959). Director: Terence Fisher.

Dr. Georges Bonner (Anton Diffring) a doctor and sculptor, is anxiously awaiting the arrival of an old friend and colleague, Dr. Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marle). No wonder -- Bonner looks to be in his thirties but is actually over a century old, and only Weiss can give him the operation he needs to keep himself looking young. This is of particular importance now as Bonner has fallen in love with Janine Du Bois (Hazel Court) and hopes to spend his life with her. In the meantime Bonner takes a certain fluid and resorts to murder to get at especially needed glands and hormones. This lively and absorbing remake of The Man in Half Moon Street is a rare case of a do-over being superior to the original, in large part to Diffring's vivid performance, equal parts charm and desperation, and the adroit direction of Terence Fisher. Court and Christopher Lee (as a surgeon and rival for Janine) are also notable, as is Marle as the elderly Weiss. The movie is handled with a great deal of dramatic intensity and Diffring plays it to the hilt.

Verdict: Very effective Hammer horror film. ***.


ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN AFRICA 15 chapter Columbia serial (aka Adventures of Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger/1955). Director: Spencer G. Bennet.

In a small African nation the Caliph has been replaced by a lookalike. With the aid of the mysterious Captain Africa (John Hart), who shows up conveniently from time to time, Ted Arnold (Rick Vallin) and animal handler Nat Coleman (Bud Osborne) try to help the Arab Omar (Ben Welden) put the rightful ruler back on the throne. In the meantime Princess Rhoda (June Howard) frequently finds herself in danger. If Captain Africa seems to resemble the Phantom, it's because this was supposed to be a sequel to The Phantom cliffhanger, only Columbia let the rights to the character expire. There is lots of stock footage and some of the cliffhangers are recycled from the original Phantom serial. In spite of this the serial still has some lively moments, such as a huge tiger that climbs in through a window, an alligator-and-quicksand trap, fires, avalanches, and coaches that go flying over cliffs. Still, it's no better than mediocre, but The Phantom serial wasn't that great, either. Captain Africa has a secret identity but it is never employed in the serial and the audience is never told his name; he never appears in his real I.D. throughout the serial. Hart and the others give acceptable performances. The cute but not terribly glamorous Howard only had one other credit; she is not a bad actress. Ben Welden had a great many credits and played the thief in "The Fur Coat" episode of I Love Lucy.

Verdict: Not one of your more memorable cliffhangers. **1/2.


HAMMER, HOUSE OF HORROR: Behind the Screams. Howard Maxford. Overlook Press; 1996.

This over-sized coffee table book loaded with photographs looks at the output from Hammer studios, beginning with the days when Enrique Carreras and William Hinds (and their respective sons, James and Anthony) formed the company that would be known as Hammer and which eventually concentrated on  handsomely produced color horror films. Like the studio, the book also concentrates on its horror output, although it does list and have notes on every film made by the studio, including TV spin-offs, comedies, dramas, crime films and the like.The book not only discusses in depth the more famous movies -- such as the ones featuring Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and Dracula (Christopher Lee) -- but also notable directors like Freddie Francis and Terence Fisher, and less notable ones such as Michael Carreras. An annotated appendix lists everyone who was anyone as far as Hammer was concerned, as well as every single production with a rating.

Verdict: Very informative and highly readable. ***1/2. 


RE-ANIMATOR (1985). Director: Stuart Gordon.

H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West, Reanimator," which appeared in several installments during the writer's lifetime, was a zesty and fascinating story about a mad doctor's experiments with reviving the dead, experiments which always led to incredibly horrific and grotesque consequences. The story spanned several decades, and had West operating in different locales, finally winding up in a basement near the Cobb's Hill cemetery in the south end of Boston. West not only "reanimates" bodies, but pieces of bodies. Lurid and pulp-ish in a good sense, it was atypical but highly entertaining.

This film version uses the main character and premise and certain elements from the stories, but is updated and handled like a black comedy to the point where it pretty much turns into a burlesque. Stuart Gordon's direction is uneven, and Richard Band's music is a homage to/rip-off of Herrmann's Psycho theme, but there is some decent acting, especially from Jeffrey Combs as the mad doctor and Barbara Crampton as the dean's daughter. The liveliest scenes have to do with West keeping alive the head of Dr. Hill (David Gale), who is able to control his body even after being beheaded. Some "serious" newspaper critics at the time of the film's release were taken with its combination of yuks and some inventive gore, but one still wishes for a more faithful adaptation of the fascinating and truly horrific source material.

Verdict: Some grisly laughs and energy. **1/2.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


SECONDS (1966). Director: John Frankenheimer.

"We lived our lives in a polite, celibate truce."

Middle-aged Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) seems to be living the American dream: he has a good job and is in line to be the next president of the bank, lives in a beautiful home in the suburbs, has a kind and presentable wife. But Arthur suffers from a mid-life crisis, he and his wife feel no passion for one another and are going through the motions, and he is tired of the commute and rat race. So when an old friend who is supposedly deceased calls him from out of the blue and suggests he go to a certain address and can start his life afresh, get a second chance, he decides to go -- although not without trepidation. Hamilton is practically blackmailed into accepting the services of the people he connects with, and before he knows it he has said good-bye to his old life, made financial arrangements to look after his wife, and undergoes physical therapy and cosmetic surgery -- and wakes up looking just like Rock Hudson! With the new name of Tony Wilson, Hamilton (now played by Hudson), a "reborn," is ensconced in a seaside community in California as a minor artist. The problem is that Hamilton is a nice but essentially dull man and he finds that he can't get away from himself. It all leads up to a grim but inevitable finale. Randolph and Hudson are both excellent as the two sides of Hamilton -- Hudson probably gives his best performance, in fact -- and they get fine support from Frances Reid as Arthur's wife, Salome Jens as a woman who befriends "Tony," Jeff Corey as the head of the Reborn organization, Wesley Addy as Tony's valet, Murray Hamilton as Arthur's old friend, and others. [This is based on an excellent novel by David Ely that probably filled in some of the loose ends you might find in the movie if you examine it too closely.]

Verdict: Creepy and absorbing, with some excellent performances. ***1/2.


Paul Newman as Lew Harper
THE DROWNING POOL (1975). Director: Stuart Rosenberg.

Private detective Lew Harper (Paul Newman) is contacted by a woman, Iris (Joanne Woodward), with whom he'd once had a fling, to come to her estate and help her with some problem. Iris' husband is interested elsewhere, her teenage daughter Schuyler (Melanie Griffith) is running around doing whatever she wants, and then her harridan mother-in-law (Coral Browne) is murdered. Has it something to do with Kilbourne (Murray Hamilton), who wanted the dead woman's property for its oil, or the recently discharged chauffeur (Andrew Robinson), who was diddling around with Schuyler? While investigating, fending off Schuyler's advances, and being kidnapped and beaten, Harper tries to get at the unsavory truth. The cast, including a laid-back Newman, is good, but you never really connect with any of the characters. Tony Franciosa and Richard Jaeckel are cops with secrets of their own. Hamilton and Gail Strickland as his wife are notable. The revelations of the story may have had more impact when Ross Macdonald's novel, upon which this was based, was first published. Newman essayed Lew Harper [originally Lew Archer] once before in Harper nine years earlier. The climax in a water-logged hydrotherapy room is fairly exciting.

Verdict: No more than acceptable private eye fare. **1/2.


Stanwyck, Henderson [above] and Carlson
ALL I DESIRE (1953). Director: Douglas Sirk. Produced by Ross Hunter.

Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck) left her husband and family years ago --there was dissatisfaction in her life, and a budding scandal involving another man -- and took to the stage. The ones she left behind, including her youngest daughter, Lily (Lori Nelson), who invites her mother to see her star in the high school play, think Noami is the toast of two continents but she's actually a lower case vaudeville performer. But when Naomi arrives in Riverdale, Wisconsin, she discovers that the household is divided over her presence. Lily and her young son Ted (Billy Gray) are delighted to see Naomi, as is the housekeeper Lena (Lotte Stein), but her oldest daughter Joyce (Marcia Henderson) wants nothing to do with her, and her husband, Henry (Richard Carlson), isn't entirely sure how he feels. This is an interesting drama and period piece [taking place in the early years of the 20th century] with another top-notch Stanwyck performance and an excellent supporting cast. Maureen O'Sullivan is a teacher and romantic interest for Henry; Lyle Bettger is an old fling of Naomi's, and Richard Long is Joyce's boyfriend. Dale Robertson, Brett Halsey, and Stuart Whitman turn up in small roles as members of the high school drama club. Although I've rarely been impressed with Lori Nelson in other films, in this she is quite good and charming as the daughter with theatrical aspirations.[It's almost as if she got worse with each role instead of better!] I guess playing with a talent like Stanwyck never hurts!

Verdict: Another absorbing Stanwyck picture and performance. ***


HOW TO BE A MOVIE STAR: ELIZABETH TAYLOR IN HOLLYWOOD. William J. Mann. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2009.

Mann has decided not to write a straight-forward bio of Taylor but focus on certain highlights of her life, the result being that the book actually has as much depth and knowledge of the woman as bios that cover every facet of her life and career. [To all intents and purposes this is  a full biography.] You can read about Taylor's early career and aggressive mother, who'd been an actress herself; her affairs with, and marriages to, Eddie Fisher and Richard Burton; the making of the mammoth Cleopatra; the death of husband Mike Todd in a plane crash; her feud with Hedda Hopper, who was sued for claiming another Liz-husband, Michael Wilding, was gay; the filming of career highlights such as Giant and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which Liz was supposed to look slatternly; and so on. Of course, some things get lost -- Rhapsody, in which Taylor is terrific, is again glossed over [as it was in Taraborrelli's book] and there's no mention of Toscanini [I would have loved to have gone behind-the-scenes with Taylor and co-star C. Thomas Howell!], but you can't have everything. Naturally, when a star has been written about as often as Taylor, lots of stuff gets rehashed, but Mann is a good enough writer to make it all very interesting and readable nevertheless. Taylor's trials and tribulations may no longer be terribly important in the great scheme of things, if they ever were, but they do make good reading and Mann adroitly explores how Liz's romantic carryings-on and choice in movies helped open liberal sexual doors in Hollywood for better or worse. Mann is also the author of Behind the Screen, Kate, and Edge of Midnight on director John Schlesinger; all are recommended.

Verdict: Very readable and entertaining book that is as much about Hollywood as it is about Taylor. ***1/2.


HERCULES, SAMSON AND ULYSSES (aka Ercole sfida Sansone/1963). Writer/director: Pietro Francisci. 

Handsome Hunk Hercules (Kirk Morris) and his comparatively scrawny pal Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico), set sail from Ithaca with buddies to track down a sea monster [nothing more than a big walrus!], but the real story begins when they arrive at a new land, and the King of the Philistines (Aldo Giuffre) mistakes Hercules for his hated enemy Samson (Richard Lloyd aka Iloosh Khoshabe). Capturing Ulysses and the other sailors, the king makes a deal with Hercules that he'll free the men and build them a ship [the original being destroyed by the "monster"] if he hunts down Samson for him, leading the two muscled strong men into a major conflict. In the meantime the king's pal, the dancer Delilah (Liana Orfei), plays both ends against the middle. This surprisingly entertaining Italian sword-and-sandal movie has beautiful settings, an excellent dubbing job, and splendid props which especially come into play in the lengthy battle scene between Herc and Samson as they throw giant blocks of stone at one another. Another good scene has the Philistine army pillaging and burning a small village because nobody knows where Samson is. The climax has the two men taking on the whole Philistine Army and toppling a castle with their backs! Available from the Warner Archives Collection in a beautifully remastered, widescreen edition.

Verdict: Lively and colorful muscle man action. ***.



This book looks at the great Hitchcock's television career, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Suspicion, many of whose episodes were directed by the Master and produced by his television company, Shamley. In addition to photos, the book lists every episode of Hitchcock's series, as well as the Suspicion episodes directed by Hitch, offering notes on some of the episodes. The opening chapter goes behind-the-scenes, relating how Hitch got into TV in the first place, the reactions of the sponsors [who Hitch regularly ripped during his introductions], the making of the black and white Psycho with a television crew etc.. Interesting and amusing foreword by Robert Bloch, who not only wrote the novel Psycho was based on, but many of the adapted stories and scripts for the TV show. This may not have as much info as The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion but it's definitely been proofread.

Verdict: An excellent reference source on a very popular and memorable show. ***.


Burton and Taylor get the bird [atop Taylor's head]

THE SANDPIPER (1965). Director: Vincente Minelli.

"I won't seduce him. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of blaming me afterwards."

Free-spirited artist Laura Reynolds (Elizabeth Taylor), who has a young son Danny (Morgan Mason) -- who is always getting into trouble -- but no husband, is angered when Judge Thompson (Torin Thatcher) tells her the boy either goes to the Episcopal San Simeon school run by Dr. Edward Hewitt (Richard Burton) or reform school. Hewitt is married to Claire (Eve Marie Saint), but that doesn't stop him from succumbing to his sexual and romantic feelings for Laura, and she makes little effort to stop him. On one hand The Sandpiper flirts with modern ideas and liberal attitudes -- Laura's atheism, her no-guilt approach to the affair -- but the screenplay is muddled, morally confusing, and talky, talky, talky. Taylor is miscast, but she and Burton were put into the film only to capitalize on the headlines they were garnering from their well-publicized affair at the time. Patrons expecting something steamy must have been disappointed, because [despite their off-screen relationship] these two generate little real passion and the movie isn't terribly erotic. There's much talk about Hewitt's hypocrisy, but none about Laura's, who easily gets indignant yet allowed a married man to pay her way through art school -- what, this "independent" woman couldn't get a job? An unintentionally hilarious scene has Taylor referring to the isolation of one trysting spot and saying "I feel as alone as Robinson Caruso." [And yet there's no opera in the background, only the pop tune introduced in the film, "The Shadow of Your Smile."] An injured bird that Laura mends hops around on her head during one love scene [see photo], probably as bored with the pretentious dialogue and alleged symbolism as the audience. Burton has his moments, and Eva Marie Saint and young Mason are excellent; Taylor comes off like an older version of her character in Rhapsody, still petulant, now living in luxurious poverty on the coast of Big Sur. The movie is beautiful to look at, however, with sweeping scenic views throughout. Robert Webber is fine in a thankless role as a cast-off lover of Laura's, and Thatcher offers a little bit of class as the judge. Tom Drake is also good in the very small role of a teacher at the school. Young Mason was later executive producer on Sex, Lifes and Videotape.

Verdict: For real romance and a better Taylor performance, watch Rhapsody instead. **.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


EAST OF EDEN (1955). Director: Elia Kazan.

"You kept on forgiving us, but you never really loved us."

"It's awful not to be loved. It's the worst thing in the world."

In  1917 Monterey, Adam Trask (Raymond Massey), with his sons Caleb (James Dean) and Aron (Richard Davalos), try to make a killing with lettuce kept fresh with ice, but they have bigger problems than hoping this new business will succeed. Aron has always planned to marry Abra (Julie Harris), but there is a growing attraction between her and Cal, who never feels he had his father's love. In the meantime Cal discovers that his supposedly dead mother, Kate (Jo Van Fleet) is actually running a brothel not too far away, something his brother is unaware of. Then there are tensions created by the advent of WW1, and Aron's initial decision to stay out of the fighting. First of all, anyone expecting a literal transcription of John Steinbeck's novelistic take on Cain and Abel must look elsewhere, because this movie only concerns a portion of a very long book, and it makes changes to the plot and characterizations. Taken on it's own terms, however, East of Eden is still a masterpiece, with a wonderful, committed cast, fine direction from Kazan, high-grade cinematography from Ted McCord, and an interesting score by Leonard Rosenman. Whatever impression Dean may have made off-screen, the camera certainly loves him, and this movie probably showcases his mystique the best of his three movies; he is excellent. Although Dean got the lion's share of the attention, Davalos is also compelling as his brother, and there is also some fine work from Van Fleet, Harris and Massey. Burl Ives and Albert Dekker have significant roles and are also good, as is Barbara Baxley as an unpleasant nurse who shows up late in the picture. Yes, there are scenes that are too stagy, dialogue that is too obvious [Dekker unnecessarily bringing up Cain and Abel, as if the audience is too stupid to get it], but the picture is totally absorbing and has a deeply moving wind-up.

Verdict: Hollywood at its best. ****.


THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946). Director: Irving Pichel.

The marriage of Sally Warren (Barbara Stanwyck) to her writer husband Jeff (Bob Cummings), has already been tested by his disdain for the horses Sally loves, as well as the continual, irritating presence of would-be boyfriend Lance (Patric Knowles), but now there's a new threat in the form of pretty and perky Mary Lou (Diana Lynn), who has a crush on Jeff and wants to be his secretary -- and more. Naturally the couple break up, come together, and break up again, with all sorts of amusing complications. Willie Best (of My Little Margie and many movies) works for the Warrens, and little Natalie Wood is one of their adorable children. Stanwyck has always been as adept at comedy as she is at drama, and proves it once again, where she's right up there with skilled comedian Cummings. Peggy Wood and Robert Benchley are fun as, respectively, Sally's mother and uncle, and Lynn and Knowles are also effective. Gertrude Hoffman, also of My Little Margie, has a small role as a club woman. The picture is fast-paced and cute and very well acted.

Verdict: A trifle, but nice. ***.


ON THE GOOD SHIP HOLLYWOOD. John Agar, as told to L. C. Van Savage. BearManor Media; 2007.

There are actors who never quite attain the top rank of Hollywood stars yet become familiar due to the many roles they play over the years or the fact that they appear in certain beloved, or at least, popular movies or cult films. The late John Agar certainly fits into that category, because of the westerns he appeared in (for some movie fans) or the science fiction/monster movies he starred in (for others). To B movie lovers Agar is probably best-known for Tarantula, The Revenge of the Creature, and the zesty Brain from Planet Arous, in which he delivered a lively performance, among others. Agar also had featured roles in "A" productions directed by the likes of John Ford and Raoul Walsh (Along the Great Divide). Agar basically fell into acting (his family had been in the meat-packing business) because of people he met when he was married to Shirley Temple. (He was 22 when he started dating her at 15!) Agar was apparently never able to have any kind of relationship with the daughter that resulted from this union, which ended in divorce, but he did adopt two sons with his second wife, Loretta. (His great-aunt Edna was the lead character in Greer Garson's Blossoms in the Dust, and the foundation she began helped with these adoptions.) Agar developed a serious drinking problem and his occasional falls off the wagon got him fired from jobs both in and out of show business. Agar made out better than most supporting players/"B" movie stars in that he did develop a fan following that existed up until his old age instead of being forgotten. This is hardly an in-depth autobiography, but it does touch all the major bases and makes a good read.

Verdict: From planet Earth, not Arous. ***.


STRANGE BEDFELLOWS (1965). Director: Melvin Frank.

"No more gay, married bachelor!"

Inter-Allied Petroleum executive Carter Harrison (Rock Hudson) literally bumps into artist Antonia "Toni" Vincente (Gina Lollobrigida) in London, and the two get married practically the same day, only to discover that Toni is a free spirit and Carter much more conservative. After seven years of separation Toni finally files for divorce so she can marry old boyfriend and boss, Harry (Edward Judd of First Men in the Moon), only a willing Carter discovers that he's up for a huge promotion, and his boss prefers happily-married employees. Can Carter win Toni over once again; can he put up with her "antics" and she with his stuffiness; and is he really in love or just play-acting for his job? In the climax, Toni (un)dresses up as Lady Godiva to protest the moral outrage over a piece of artwork. Strange Bedfellows is not a classic comedy, but it does have some solid laughs and an enthusiastic cast. The two leads are effective, and they get fine support from, Judd, Terry-Thomas (in a small, funny role of an undertaker), Gig Young (as Carter's co-worker, a thankless part he makes the most of), and Nancy Kulp as a friend of Toni's who winds up in bed with Carter (who also winds up in bed with Harry!) A highlight is a cab ride with some funny exchanges between the principles and the driver, and the low light is this business of dragging in civil unrest and massacre in Africa as part of Carter's plot to foil Toni's Godiva plans. The film has less to do with Toni's cause of Freedom of Artistic Expression as it does with titillating double entendres.

Verdict: Fair-to-middling mid-sixties sex comedy. **1/2.



Those who remember this series as a kind of campy monster-of-the-week show might be surprised by the black and white episodes of the first season, most of which are reasonable and serious. Based on his movie of the same title, producer Irwin Allen put together this program with Richard Basehart in the Walter Pidgeon role of Admiral Harriman Nelson [inventor of the nuclear sub Seaview] and David Hedison cast as Captain Lee Crane, the part originally played by Robert Sterling. Both are perfect for their roles.

First season highlights include "The Fear Merchants," in which a fear gas is secretly tested on the crew of the Seaview; "Submarine Sunk Here," a harrowing episode wherein the sub is downed by old floating mines; "Mutiny," in which Nelson and Crane have tense disagreements while dealing with a huge collective jellyfish; "Doomsday," in which the Seaview is put on standby alert for a possible WW3; "The Exile," wherein Nelson is stranded on a life raft with a miserable "People's Republic" ex-premier [Ed Asner]; "The Condemned," in which an egotistical admiral (J. D. Cannon) and his put-upon assistant (Arthur Franz) take the Seaview down to crush depth by using a special atmosphere; and "The Invaders," in which Robert Duvall plays an ancient life form found in a capsule at the sea bottom. Two especially excellent episodes were "The Ghost of Moby Dick," in which a scientist seeks revenge against the most humongous whale that ever existed; and "Hail to the Chief," in which the president is taken aboard Seaview for brain surgery and the crew has to deal with more than one assassin. There were several other fine episodes as well. Notable guest stars included Hurd Hatfield, Mike Kellin, Viveca Lindfors, Carroll O'Connor Richard Carlson, Donald Harron, Torin Thatcher, Leslie Neilsen,  and even George Sanders! In addition to Basehart and Hedison, cast regulars included Del Monroe as Kowalski, Robert Dowdell is Chip Morton, and Henry Kulky as Chief "Curley" Jones; all are fine.

As noted, the show was entirely reasonable [if "fantastic" at times], even when it dealt with monsters, with one notable exception. The episode "Turn Back the Clock" consists almost entirely of footage from Allen's production of The Lost World, which starred David Hedison, and has the crew of the Seaview arriving at a prehistoric world in the Arctic a la The Land Unknown.  After this episode aired it was hard to take Nelson and Crane seriously when they seem incredulous about some weird creature or another when they'd already encountered living dinosaurs! This cost-cutting maneuver of Allen's was probably not advisable in the long run, but he was to use stock footage from The Lost World again in the future. "The Village of Guilt," which features a giant octopus, uses a couple of quick clips from Harryhausen's It Came from Beneath the Sea.

The episodes have all been beautifully remastered for the DVD set and look quite splendid. In High definition it's like you can reach out and touch the water. Not having seen this show in many years, I was very delighted with its quality. Paul Sawtell's majestic theme music, [first used in the motion picture] sets the right mood week after week. NOTE: The Volume 1 Season 1 DVD set also includes the pilot episode in color  on the last disc.

Verdict: A very entertaining and well-done series. ***1/2.


THE GREAT MAN'S LADY (1942). Director: William A. Wellman.

On the day of the dedication of a statue of the late and great man and pioneer-turned-millionaire Ethan Hoyt (Joel McCrea), reporters try to get a story about him from a woman, Hannah Sempler (Barbara Stanwyck), who claims she was once married to him, even though there's no proof of a union and it might even make Hoyt a bigamist. The movie is a flashback to 1848 that explains this contradiction, and shows how Hannah did indeed marry Ethan, and why he remarried even though they were never divorced, and it's a sad and fascinating story.  Brian Donlevy is a third character, Steely Edwards, who falls unrequitedly in love with Hannah and has much to do with her life and marriage. There are interesting twists and turns to the plot, and the movie is bolstered by another excellent performance from the indomitable Stanwyck; McCrea and Donlevy are also very good. As the film proceeds we can see how much of his success Hoyt owes to the smarter Hannah. Stanwyck's old age make up as she plays a centenarian at the beginning and end is very well done.

Verdict: Flavorful film with fine performances and an unusual storyline. ***.


Ariel Gade and Jennifer Connelly
DARK WATER (2005). Director: Walter Salles.

Embroiled in a nasty custody battle with her ex-husband Kyle (Dougray Scott), Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) moves to Roosevelt Island with her adorable little daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade). It isn't long before weird things begin happening, such as putrid water dripping down from the flooded and deserted apartment one floor above. Dahlia also learns from a teacher (Camryn Manheim) that Ceci has developed a troubling imaginary pal named Natasha. But is she imaginary? Everything is explained by the film's end, but while the movie has some atmosphere and isn't terrible, it's just not that unique or compelling. Jennifer Connelly has certainly developed as an actress since her debut in Dario Argento's Phenomena twenty years earlier. John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, and Pete Postlethwaite give flavorful supporting performances as, respectively, a rental agent, lawyer, and super, and little Gade is quite good, too. Based on a Japanese film, this is one of those movies that turns children into demonic monsters, not a genre I especially care for. NOTE: This is the "unrated" version. The film has no real gore or sexy sequences so I'm not certain what was cut out in the first place.

Verdict: This would have made a nice half hour episode of some supernatural TV series. **1/2.