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

Saturday, June 29, 2013


Forbidden kiss between two men in The Sergeant

GREAT OLD MOVIES EXTRA: Gay-themed movies.

In honor of the 2013 Gay Pride March in New York this Sunday June 30th, here is a group of gay-themed movies in  review. Gay men and lesbians were generally invisible in movies for decades aside from the occasion "nance" or caricature. Then there was a new wave of liberalism, if that's what you want to call it, in the sixties, and a new cinematic frankness in regard to sexual themes. Unfortunately, the gay community did not benefit from this as much as you might expect, as there were less enlightened, realistic portraits of gay people then there were more caricatures, evil "fags" and nasty "dykes," all manner of homo-villains, and a plethora of suicides among gays who hated themselves even more than society did. Even the supposedly sympathetic The Boys in the Band presented mostly negative, pre-Stonewall [modern day Gay Liberation] attitudes. For better or worse, here are some gay-themed movies that run the gamut [full reviews below or click on a link]: Advise and Consent, where one character's closeted homosexuality is a major plot point; the unrequited love story of The Leather Boys; the lesbian burlesque of The Killing of Sister George; the tortured sturm und drang of The Sergeant; and the more modern sitcom-like Straight-Jacket.

Other gay-themed movies [or films that at least have gay characters or sub-plots] that have been reviewed on this blog include Streamers; Prayers for Bobby; Scream of the Butterfly; Reflections in a Golden Eye; Walk on the Wild Side; The Legend of Lylah Clare; Fellini Satyricon; Something for Everyone; and even The X Files: I Want to Believe; among others.


Anderson (Murray) walks out on Ray (Granger)
ADVISE AND CONSENT (1962). Director/producer: Otto Preminger.

"Us old buzzards can spot a dying mouse from 10,000 feet up. Us old buzzards have the sharpest eyes in creation. Right now I'm studying the terrain ..." -- Senator Seabright Cooley

The President (Franchot Tone) has selected Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) to be the new Secretary of State, but first the senate has to "advise and consent" to his nomination in a special hearing. The person primarily opposed to Leffingwell is a senior southern senator named Seab Cooley (Charles Laughton), who is concerned about Leffingwell's possible communist ties, and also has a personal dislike of the man after he once showed him up in public. Presiding over the hearing is young Senator Brigham Anderson (Don Murray), who is very concerned when he discovers that Leffingwell lied under oath about his personal ties to his chief witness against him, Herbert Gelman (Burgess Meredith). But then Senator Van Ackerman (George Grizzard), who wants Leffingwell to get in, institutes a blackmail plot against Anderson, having to do with the Senator's relationship with a Ray Shaff (John Granger) while stationed in Hawaii, leading to tragedy. This business is a major plot point of Advise and Consent, with a scene in a gay bar [full mostly of gay caricatures] when the self-loathing, closeted Anderson goes to confront Shaff, who told of their former relationship because he was desperate for money. Advise and Consent is an interesting, if talky political film, with the "villains" coming from both sides of the political spectrum. Fonda is fine in what really amounts to a supporting role, but Charles Laughton, who is superb in his final movie, would have walked off with the picture were it not for Murray's strong [if imperfect] portrayal of Brigham Anderson. Inga Swenson is also quite good as Anderson's wife and Edward Andrews is excellent as Senator Orrin Knox. Gene Tierny has a small role as a wealthy Washington hostess who is the secret lover of the Senate Majority Leader (Walter Pidgeon, who gives one of his better performances). Grizzard, Lew Ayres as the vice president, and Tone, are all notable, as is Betty White in a brief turn as the only female in the senate. Peter Lawford is okay as another senator but he is a little lightweight in this company. John Granger, who played Ray, did not appear in another film for 19 years! Allan Drury, who wrote the novel that this film was based upon, apparently based the Anderson business on a real-life incident. One wonders what Frank Sinatra thought of one of his records playing in the background in the gay bar. Sam Leavitt's black and white photography is outstanding, with one beautifully-composed widescreen shot after another. One of Preminger's better directorial efforts.

Verdict: It's the acting and the look of the film that puts it over. ***.


Reggie (Colin Campbell) walks away from Pete (Dudley Suttton)
THE LEATHER BOYS (1964). Director:  Sidney J. Furie.

"We saw more of each other before we were married!"

The Leather Boys starts out as an examination of a marriage between two young people, Reggie (Colin Campbell) and Dot (Rita Tushingham). At first Reggie always seems to have one thing on his mind, but that begins to change. A major turning point in the marriage occurs when Reggie's grandfather dies and while most of the thoughtless family want to put the grandmother (Gladys Henson), who still has all her faculties, into a nursing home or retirement village, he supports her when she insists she wants to stay in her home, even going so far as to suggest that he and Dot move in with her. Dot is horrified at this proposition, and while you can understand  her point of view, she expresses it most insensitively. The couple separate and Reggie asks a motorbiking buddy of his, Pete (Dudley Sutton), to share the spare bedroom [and the bed] in the grandmother's house. This all seems quite innocent at first, but Dot says the two of them "look like a couple of queers," upsetting Reggie and making Pete all defensive. It leads up to a climactic scene when Reggie fully understands the truth about Pete and his feelings and can't quite deal with it. Is Reggie simply a nice straight guy who can't be what Pete wants him to be, or is he a closet gay who isn't ready to come out? -- the film lets the viewer provide his own answers. In a Hollywood film the ending would probably have been quite nasty and homophobic -- and some will see Pete only as a predator after a good-looking guy he wants to "indoctrinate" -- but somehow the picture comes off more as a sympathetic unrequited love story. The entire cast is excellent [some might say Sutton is a little unsubtle at times, giving away the game), and Gerald Gibb's black and white cinematography makes the most of often dreary settings -- parks, housing projects, the dockside, and the like. The later film Best Friends is similar in some ways, but has a nastier, and less frank, tone to it. Sutton later appeared in The Pink Panther Strikes Again and many other films. Gillian Freeman based his screenplay on his novel, which he published under the pen name Eliot George; the plot is different in many ways and much gayer. He also did the screenplay for That Cold Day in the Park.

Verdict: Interesting British slice of life with a gay twist. ***.


THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1968). Director: Robert Aldrich.

"You don't remotely believe you're any young girl's dream of bliss?!" -- Mercy

Alice: "Not all girls are bloody raging lesbians.

June: "That's a misfortune I'm very well aware of."

In 1964 Frank Marcus' play "The Killing of Sister George" reportedly presented three main characters who people presumed were lesbians, even if it wasn't made explicit. Robert Aldrich's film version of the play makes it very explicit, especially in a once-censored sex scene between two of the principals. June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) plays a nurse character named "Sister George" on a very popular TV soap opera entitled "Applehurst." June has lived for several years with a younger woman named Alice (Susannah York), and the two have a loving, affectionate, if not very passionate, relationship. June is very jealous of Alice, who is much more attractive, and imagines her having mythical affairs with men. There is a touch of sadomasochism in the relationship as well [delineated in one ill-advised sequence in which an angry June insists that Alice eat her cigar butt, which the latter turns into a sensual experience to annoy June]. When June discovers the possibility that her beloved character on the show might be killed off, she is frightened and furious and, as usual, takes it out on Alice. Then along comes an initially kindly TV producer named Mercy (Coral Browne), who is appalled at the way June treats Alice but also finds the younger woman quite attractive ... To take this black comedy as any kind of serious look at the lives of lesbians would be a big mistake -- apparently the play was never intended to be seen that way -- but on its own terms it's quite entertaining, has highly interesting characters, and is often very funny. The three leads are all splendid, with Reid giving an especially terrific performance as the fascinating, touchy, oddly likable June, although -- rightly or wrongly -- she resists making her overly sympathetic. One mistake Lukas Heller made in adapting the play [considering that the movie makes their sexual orientation more obvious] is that we never learn how these three women feel about being homosexual in the more oppressive sixties. It is also barely suggested that June could probably get the sack merely for being gay. On the other hand, there is no "Boys in the Band"-type angst about their sexuality, either, which is a definite plus. A bit with a drunken June accidentally getting into a cab with two nuns and supposedly "molesting" them [or at least trying to see what they've got under their robes] is funny but problematic. Another problem area is the aforementioned, protracted sex scene between Alice and Mercy, which begins with the latter coming on to the former while horror movie-type music plays in the background [as if composer Gerald Fried thought what the two women were doing was somehow "evil"]. The music stops once the sex starts, and things get comparatively graphic for the period. The supporting cast includes Cyril Delevanti as an elderly colleague of June's on the show, and Patricia Medina [The Beast of Hollow Mountain] as a prostitute next door; both are fine.

There are times when you may not quite know what to make of Sister George, and it often seems like several different movies in one. Still, as personified by Reid, June Buckridge is a very memorable, three-dimensional [if somewhat exaggerated] character with humanity and imperfections intact. Sadly, the film was probably seen as just a freak show by some [especially given the sexuality of the characters] and one wonders if that was why Aldrich was tapped to direct, because of his work on other "freak" shows such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? [Bette Davis herself was considered for the role of June, but thank goodness Reid, who played the role on the stage, got the part.] The ad campaign's tag line was "The story of three consenting adults in the privacy of their own home," which seems a little disingenuous considering the movie doesn't really delve into the true lives of gay women.

Verdict: Certainly arresting if nothing else, but take with a grain of salt. ***.


John Phillip Law and Rod Steiger
THE SERGEANT (1968). Director: John Flynn. Screenplay by Dennis Murphy from his novel.

"Rod Steiger Stuns as The Sergeant" -- poster tag line.

Although he's virtually unknown today [he passed away in 2005] Dennis Murphy garnered a lot of praise for his first and only novel, "The Sergeant," published in 1958. He wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation ten years later, and only did two other screenplays -- not exactly prolific. Murphy was married three times and was, presumably, straight. I have not read the novel, but from reviews it sounds like it might have been a triumph of style over content, with little in-depth characterization. And today would be considered hopelessly dated [like the movie]. In the film the two main characters are perhaps brought to life more by the actors than by Murphy's dialogue.

Master Sergeant Albert Callan (Rod Steiger), winner of the distinguished service cross, is assigned to a dreary maintenance outfit in post-war France. He is attracted by a young soldier, pfc Tom Swanson (John Phillip Law), who at first resists working as Callan's assistant when he offers him the job. But Swanson relents, and a kind of friendship develops between him and the lonely, rather unlikable Callan. Swanson is in the midst of a romance with a young lady named Solange (Lydmila Mikael), which Callan gets impatient with. He basically acts like a bastard with Swanson, until one day he can no longer control his passion ...

The Sergeant today comes off like a anti-gay diatribe against "queers" in the military. One review of the novel hinted that the Swanson character may have been a bit sexually ambiguous and conflicted, but there is no trace of that in the movie, which might have made it more interesting. While Steiger and Law both give excellent performances, and the film is professionally done, it is quite slow-paced and has no point to make aside from the obvious one: self-loathing closet queens in "macho" environments are doomed to miserable lives and suicide. There's no real attempt made to understand the sergeant and few attempts made to humanize him. A suggestion that Swanson might remind Callan of a young man he killed during the war is too ambiguous to make any impression. It's hard to understand why the film was even made, accept it may have been seen as a prestigious adaptation of a well-received literary novel. Old-fashioned "gay" movies like this can at least sometimes be entertaining, but The Sergeant isn't much fun at all.

Verdict: Steiger is fine but he's in the wrong movie. **.


STRAIGHT-JACKET (2004).Writer/director: Richard Day (based on his stage play).

"The main trait that separates my people from yours is that we mean you no harm."

Guy Stone (Matt Lescher) is a major movie star who is gay and in the closet. His agent, Jerry (Veronica Cartwright) and a producer convince Guy to play straight and get married to an adoring secretary, Sally (Carrie Preston). [Rock Hudson and Phyllis Gates, anyone?] But while Guy tries to maintain his usual lifestyle with an inquisitive and horny wife, he meets Rick (Adam Greer), the handsome and angry author whose book is being turned into Stone's latest movie, and the two fall in love. Then a scandal breaks, and Guy has to choose whether he wants the man or his career. This probably was cute enough as a play, where one could relate to the actors right on stage in front of you, but its "queeny" gay humor is a little passe [jokes about Judy Garland and transvestism!] and the only thing that makes you realize this is supposed to take place during the McCarthy era is the occasional hairstyle -- there is absolutely no period atmosphere whatsoever, and the characters talk more as if it were the 21st century than the 1950's -- Day should have done a little research, for Pete's sake. The picture goes completely awry at the end when Guy is questioned as to whether or not he is a "homosexual communist." There are disturbing pot shots at lesbians, one of whom is actually played by a man in drag! While she is miscast, Veronica Cartwright [of Alien] as Guy's agent at least resists playing her character like a butch stereotype. The other actors are all well-cast and on target, however, with Lescher doing a wonderful balancing act between serious and farce, and Greer and Preston equally good. The movie has some amusing bits and some good lines but it's a shame that such an interesting premise had to be turned into what is basically a 90 minute sitcom like the awful Will and Grace. I mean, even today there are plenty of movie stars in the closet.

Verdict: Nice idea; so-so execution, but most of the actors are solid. **1/2.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Hitch makes his cameo appearance as McCrea races by
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

 "Politicians aren't generally called upon to do away with their guests, are they?"

As there are gathering storm clouds in Europe, reporter John Jones (Joel McCrea) is rechristened "Huntley Haverstock" by his publisher and sent off overseas to find out what he can. Among those he interviews are an important peace proponent, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), and Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), head of the Universal Peace Party, whose group is trying to avert a war. Jones initially comes into conflict with Fisher's daughter, Carol (Loraine Day) but then the two realize a growing affection and more. In the meantime there's an assassination [with a surprisingly bloody close-up], and Van Meer is kidnapped because he knows something about a "secret clause 27" in a treaty [a Hitchcock "McGuffin"]. Foreign Correspondent begins deceptively, almost like a romantic comedy, but it certainly becomes a consistently intriguing and well-directed thrill ride once the action begins. A sequence set in a windmill whose blades are turning in the wrong direction presents almost a textbook case of how to shoot and edit a tense suspense sequence, and is very well photographed by Rudolph Mate. A sequence where Jones has to deal with a hired killer at the top of Westminster Cathedral is also notable [although perhaps Hitch doesn't milk it for as much suspense as he could have]. The scenes with Van Meer being tortured and the reactions of the less bloodthirsty of the bad guys are memorable, and there's a superb climax on a plane that is shot down by a German ship -- this sequence is as thrilling and well-done [better-done] than anything you can see in the cinema today. McCrea and Day are fine; Marshall gives another excellent portrayal of a conflicted man; and there are notable turns by Edmund Gwenn (Them), Marlin Kosleck (The Flesh Eaters), Eduardo Ciannelli, Ian Wolfe, and the ever-wonderful George Sanders. [Gertrude Hoffman is in the plane crash sequence as well.] The picture gets a bit jingoistic -- understandable given the period -- and Alfred Newman's disappointing score only has one longing for Bernard Herrmann. Otherwise, this is a gem.

Verdict: Another Hitchcock masterpiece. ****.

THE FLY (1958)

THE FLY (1958). Director: Kurt Neumann.

George Langelaan's novelette "The Fly," originally published in Playboy in 1957, is one of the all-time great terror stories, presenting a fascinating scientific notion and elaborating it by piling horror upon horror. The film version, with a screenplay by James Clavell, is very faithful to the story in most respects. Andre Delambre (David Hedison, billed as Al) has invented a matter transmitter [years before Star Trek's teleportation device] that can send things and people from one chamber to the next, and theoretically will be able to ship supplies and individuals to other countries and even planets. Unfortunately, Delambre is careless and allows a common house fly to get into the chamber just as he is about to teleport himself into the next room, resulting in a man with a horrible fly's head [but human brain -- at first] and a fly with a tiny human head and leg [apparently matter transmission can redistribute atoms and change sizes, but no bother]. The film, like the story, unfolds as a mystery, as Delambre's wife Helene (Patricia Owens) tries to explain to her brother-in-law Francois (Vincent Price) and Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) why she lowered a crushing mechanical press down onto the body of her husband, nearly obliterating his form. [The shot of the lower half of Delambre sticking out from under the press, a puddle of blood surrounding it, especially gruesome in color, was undoubtedly cut out of television prints.] Hedison is fine as Delambre, although most of the time he has to wear a not-very-convincing mask. Although she gets an A for effort and has a few good moments, Patricia Owens is generally out of her depth as the wife who is nearly driven mad by the grotesque developments of the story. Vincent Price pretty much walks through the movie, seemingly disinterested in the material, but Herbert Marshall is solid and professional, as ever, as the police inspector. The climactic scene with the fly caught in the spider's web still packs a horrifying wallop. Although there are unfortunate elements to the movie that border on burlesque, it works as a mostly effective tragic horror flick. Kurt Neumann's [Carnival Story, Kronos] direction is only standard, however, and the film is not as good as the novella. Paul Sawtell's score, including a generic love theme, is likewise mediocre. Photographed by Karl Struss, who often worked with Neumann. Kathleen Freeman has a small role as a maid who tries to find "the fly with a white head."

Verdict: Imaginative and in some ways rather disgusting. ***.


Autry with the evil queen

THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935) Directors: B. Reeves Eason; Otto Brower.

Gene Autry (radio singer Gene Autry) is host of a radio show with songs and dramatic serials called Radio Ranch, because it is, well, broadcast from a ranch. A group of "archaeologists" headed by Professor Beetson (Frank Glendon) suspect that there's radium on the property adjacent to the ranch, as well as the remains of a lost civilization, and want to get rid of Autry and his gang so they can proceed with their investigations; to this end they frame Autry for the murder of his partner. Frankie (Frankie Darro) and his sister Betsy (Betsy King Ross ), the children of the murdered man, are members of a teen group they call "Junior Thunder Riders" after some mysterious horsemen they encountered only once [who do indeed make a thunderous clamor when they ride]; wouldn't you know these horsemen are actually called Thunder Riders in the underground world they come from, Murania, which is enclosed in a vast cavern 25,000 miles below the earth -- that can be reached by a elevator tube! Murania is ruled by a horrible queen Tika (Dorothy Christy), who seems to think her society is so much nicer and more advanced than the surface world, but is constantly ordering her slave-like soldiers put to death and even tries to kill Frankie and Betsy, two children, with a missile! [Better she should kill off the Thunder Riders, who apparently ride through the surface desert periodically and could easily lead people to the hidden entrance to Murania.] In the meantime, Murania's Lord Argo (Wheeler Oakman), who is supposed to kill off those who displease the queen in a lightning chamber, actually saves them so they can join his revolution, although he isn't much nicer than the queen.

The feature-length version of Phantom Empire was frequently shown on television when I was a boy and I have to say I didn't like it much even then. One can say it has a loopy charm, but whatever its assets it simply isn't very good. Autry isn't an especially dynamic leading man for an adventure sci-fi serial -- hard to believe that once upon a time he was a tremendous star --  although Christy, who was excellent as Stan Laurel's wife in Sons of the Desert, is at least somewhat forceful as the evil queen. Frankie Darro was always okay in this stuff, but while Betsy is cute, she was really a specialty horse rider and not an actress. The two morons Oscar (Smiley Burnette) and Pete (William Moore) are tiresome. The serial doesn't do much with the whole idea of what should be a fascinating underground city, and a sequence in which a disintegration weapon goes wild isn't very memorable [certainly not like a similar scene in Atlantis, the Lost Continent.] Watching Murania kind of melt is a mild sort of fun, however. Mascot made much, much better serials than this.

Verdict: Everyone should see this once and then completely forget it. **.


The astronauts confront the unfathomable
DEATH SHIP. The Twilight Zone. 1963. Directed by Don Medford.

When I first saw this disturbing episode of The Twilight Zone -- the sixth episode of the fourth season -- it stayed in my mind for literally decades until I saw it again and found that it had the exact same effect on me as it did when I was a boy. (Suffice it to say that the story takes place in 1997 -- it was long before that that this episode was aired, and long after that that I finally saw it again.)  Based on an excellent short story of the same title by Richard Matheson (he also wrote the script and expanded the tale a bit), Death Ship deals with three astronauts who land on an alien planet and see a crashed spaceship outside a porthole. Does this mean they've finally encountered intelligent extraterrestrial life, or could the crashed ship have possibly come from Earth? They go outside to investigate and discover something that nearly drives them insane on the spot. Are they witnessing illusions created by malevolent alien forces? Are they sharing the same nightmare? Could they have gone through a time warp and past their own deaths? Is there any way to get out of this grotesque and hellish predicament? The astronauts are played by Jack Klugman (as the captain), Ross Martin (of The Wild, Wild West fame); and Fred Beir, all of whom give fine performances; Martin is especially outstanding in a very moving and sensitive turn. Sad, creepy and horrifying in equal measure, Death Ship is probably the best of the hour-long episodes of the show. Don Medford was a very busy television director who did everything from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  to Dynasty. NOTE: Richard Matheson recently passed away at 87, leaving behind a legacy of influential and entertaining stories, novels and screenplays.

Verdict: A classic. ***1/2.


Halloween Resurrection: one of the all-time worst?
The web site "Do You Remember?" has compiled a list of "The Top Ten Worst Movies of All Time" by Dalton Wignall. His choices include such films as Gigli, Battlefield Earth, Troll 2, as well as some I've never heard of, like The Hottie and the Nottie and Birdemic: Shock and Terror, which at first I thought was a new name for Beaks: The Movie, but sadly is not. The only two movies I actually saw that were on his list were Jaws: The Revenge, which as I recall was terrible, and Batman and Robin, which I found silly and mediocre, but hardly one of the "worst" movies ever made [although Wignall is right that it's more fun the first time you see it than years later].

Anyway, it's an interesting article, and might get you to start thinking about your own candidates for Most Terrible Movie Ever.

Certainly my own list of Top Ten Worst Movies would have to include Piranha of 2010, possibly the only movie on this blog that I have given zero stars, although there may be others. Other stinkers include The World's Greatest Sinner, Death Kappa and Supergator. Unfortunately, there have been many more.

Although the golden age produced its share of bad movies, few of them were totally hopeless as they sometimes tend to be in more recent years. Even those cheapie Monogram movies with classic B movie casts have something to recommend them [those casts!]. But the low-budget movies of today and of more recent vintage generally can't even boast interesting actors, more's the pity.


Frankie Darro and Mantan Moreland
THE GANG'S ALL HERE (1941). Director: Jean Yarbrough.

"A buck an hour -- and all we gotta do is sit!"

Frankie O'Malley (Frankie Darro) and Jefferson Smith (Mantan Moreland) take a job at a trucking company unaware that the owner, Pop Wallace (Robert Homans) has been conspiring with a bad dude, Norton (Ed Cassidy) to commit insurance fraud, with the result that trucks are being run off the road and drivers killed. Pop has a slightly bitchy daughter named Patsy (Marcia May Jones) who is always nagging her boyfriend -- and Pop's employee -- Chick (Jackie Moran) to better himself, and even goes so far as to flirt with Frankie to make him jealous. As usual, Darro and Moreland, who made a number of movies together for Monogram studios, play well together, even if it can be a little disturbing to watch Darro boss the black man around [although Jeff often gets the last laugh]. It's interesting to note that Chinese-American actor Keye Luke is allowed a little dignity in his role, and even turns out to have a position of authority, but the black character remains a lazy buffoon, however lovable. Another black actor, Laurence Criner, plays Ham Shanks, who works for Norton. Anyway, despite the title the Monogram gang isn't all here -- there's no Gale Storm or Rick Vallens. 

Verdict: Mostly likable actors and little else. **.


Diamond (David Janssen) takes a call on his car phone


In its fourth and final season, Richard Diamond had only ten episodes. The show remained watchable, bolstered by David Janssen's smooth playing and some decent scripts. Among the more notable: Diamond is hired to find a missing woman even though everyone he talks to denies her very existence in "Double Trouble." Diamond investigates whether or not "The Lovely Fraud" is genuinely crippled or faking it for the money. And Rick is hired to find a poodle whose pretty owner has been murdered in "Accent on Murder." Guest-stars on the brief fourth season include Rita Moreno, James Coburn, Lyle Talbot and Joanna Barnes. Although a few episodes can be found on DVD or on youtube, or in private editions collected from broadcast, Richard Diamond is essentially a forgotten series but for TV detective buffs. The show was by no means a failure, however, but Janssen would have to wait for the super-hit The Fugitive to become a household name.

Verdict: For hardcore private eye fans. **1/2. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I LOVE TROUBLE (1948). Director: S. Sylvan Simon.

Private eye Stuart Bailey (Franchot Tone) is hired by a man named Johnston (Tom Powers, the victim in Double Indemnity) to investigate his wife, who has been getting a series of letters threatening to expose her "past," and eventually disappears. Bailey discovers that Mrs. Johnston (Lynn Merrick) was once an entertainer known as Janie Joy, so he pursues that angle via some of her old associates, then gets warned off by a thug, Martin (Donald Curtis) in the employ of John Caprillo (Eduardo Ciannelli). Bailey encounters a young lady, Norma (Janet Blair), who claims that the woman he's after is her sister, even though she doesn't recognize a photograph of her. Then there's sexy "Boots" (Adele Jergens) who sometimes drinks too much; Reno (John Ireland), who runs a nightclub; and his boss, Keller (Steven Geray), all of whom may know more about the missing woman than they're saying. There are a couple of twists, a couple of murders, and a final confrontation in Bailey's apartment. I Love Trouble may not get high marks as a mystery nor film noir, but it's smooth and entertaining, and Tone is excellent, and has a highly adept supporting cast. Raymond Burr and Arthur Space have small roles (as muscle and cop, respectively), and an unrecognizable (perhaps slightly more subdued and older) Glenda Farrell is snappy as Bailey's very efficient secretary. Janis Carter [Night Editor] also is vivid in a pivotal role whose exact nature I won't reveal here. Simon also directed The Fuller Brush Man (which also had Blair and Jergens) and many others.

Verdict: Pleasant time-passer with some good scenes and a modicum of suspense. ***.


The beauty of Venice as photographed by Jack Hildyard
SUMMERTIME (1955). Director: David Lean.

Middle-aged secretary Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) comes to Venice in the hopes of finding a "magical, mystical miracle," some adventure and romance, and meets a handsome shopkeeper named Renato (Rossano Brazzi), but the true star of this movie is the city of Venice where it was filmed in its entirety. Arthur Laurents' play "The Time of the Cuckoo" has been refashioned for Hepburn, with the result that much of the play has been thrown out and the other characters get little screen time -- it's all Hepburn and Venice, with a little Brazzi thrown in for good measure. The romance between Jane and Renato is completely unconvincing because the two actors have zero chemistry together; Hepburn seems less a repressed spinster than a self-hating lesbian trying to fool herself with a good-looking man! You might catch a glimpse of Darren McGavin [Kolchak, the Night Stalker and Mike Hammer] as one of the fellow guests in the pensione where Jane is staying, but his affair with the woman (Isa Miranda) who runs the place is so downplayed it hardly exists; Mari Aldon plays McGavin's wife. Gaetano Autiero is charming as the little boy, Mauro, who takes Jane sightseeing and is always trying to sell her things -- he seems to get more screen time than some of the adults. Some of the beautiful music is from La gazza ladra by Rossini; other music is by Alessando Cicognini. This was later turned into the Broadway musical Do I Hear a Waltz? with a book by Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and music by Richard Rodgers. By then the lead character's name was changed from Jane Hudson to Leona as we'd already had one [Baby] Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Verdict: Enjoyable for its stunning shots of Venice, but don't expect too much of a story. **1/2.


CLASSIC CLIFFHANGERS VOLUME ONE 1914 - 1940. Hank Davis. Midnight Marquee; 2007.

This is a slender but entertaining series of essays on about fifty or so sound serials [and a couple of notable silents] written by someone who is both appreciative and knowledgeable of his subject. The newcomer to serials and even a few veterans can get some help from Davis in deciding which of the serials he covers are ones they want to invest some time and money in. He begins by scrutinizing the original silent and highly influential Perils of Pauline [covering the sound remake later in the book] then looks at The Master Mystery starring the legendary Houdini. Sound serials that he examines include such notable works as Dick Tracy, Daredevils of the Red Circle, The Spider's Web and King of the Royal Mounted as well as a few [in my opinion] stinkers such as The Galloping Ghost, The Return of Chandu, and Hawk of the Wilderness. Davis uncovers some interesting information about the serials that may be new to many readers, although his accusing one actor of being a pedophile based solely on some scenes in The Vanishing Legion is a little bizarre. Davis employs a conversational tone in the book that can be fun [and the book is often amusing] but some readers might find it a little trivializing and off-putting. Still, the book is very readable and pulls you along. Lots of illustrations, too. Volume 2, which I have not read, covers sound serials beginning with 1941 and onward. Introduction by Adrian Booth, better known as Lorna Gray of The Perils of Nyoka.

Verdict: Not essential reading maybe, but quite entertaining for serial buffs. ***.


Franz (Boehm) and Sissi (Schneider) at La scala 
SISSI: THE FATEFUL YEARS OF AN EMPRESS (aka Sissi - Schicksalsjahre einer Kaiserin/1957). Director: Ernest Marischka. 

The third and final installment in the Sissi trilogy continues the story of the beautiful young Austrian empress (Romy Schneider) and her husband, the Emperor Franz Josef (Karl Boehm). Sissi develops a serious lung infection  which has her doctor predicting that she will die unless she goes to a warmer climate, and that even then the outcome is not certain. The film turns into a type of travelogue as Sissi travels to other lands such as Portugal and Greece with her mother (Magda Schneider) and Major Bockl (Joseph Meinrad), whose romantic adventures with different women are briefly explored. The travelogue continues as the empress accompanies the emperor on a goodwill tour to Naples and Venice, where the Italian citizenry, still smarting over past unpleasantries and Austria's occupation, do their best to snub and ignore them. An interesting scene has everyone at the La scala opera house singing one of Verdi's patriotic choruses from Nabucco as the royal Austrians take their seat in their box. There are some attempts at drama when Sissi tries to make friends with one Hungarian, Count Batthyani (Peter Neusser)  who is not thrilled with Austria, and is told by handsome Hungarian Count Andrassy (Walter Meyer), whom she charmed in the last picture, that he is in love with her. Anton Profes' musical score is richly romantic and memorable, as is Bruno Mondi's photography, especially his exquisite shots of Venice. The opening credits feature a flock of birds actually spelling out the name "Sissi" before taking to flight -- marvelous. The leads and supporting players are fine and Vilma Degischer continues her wonderful portrait of the stern, if loving, mother-in-law Sophie. 

Verdict: Entertaining and nice to look at if you take it with a grain of salt. ***.  


Frankie and Tad have both gotten the kiss-off from their girlfriends

LET'S GO COLLEGIATE (1941). Director: Jean Yarbrough.

Gale Storm! Mantan Moreland! Frankie Darro! What a stellar "B" movie cast this picture has. Frankie (Frankie Darro) and Tad (Jackie Moran), members of the Kappa Psi Delta fraternity of Raleigh U, have promised to deliver a sports hero named Bob Terry in order to give the school a champion rowing team. Then they discover that Terry can't come because he's just been drafted. Now none of this is their fault, but instead of simply telling the truth -- which no reasonable person could blame them for -- they decide to pass off an uneducated burly and surly truck driver named "Herc" Bevans (Frank Sully) as Terry. [Of course, if the boys acted sensibly there would be no movie.] Herc appalls the professors with his stupidity, has a hatred of water which makes rowing problematic, and worst of all steals away the fellows' girlfriends, Midge (Gale Storm) and Bess (Marcia Mae Jones). This idea could have been turned into a very cute picture but the laughs are very sporadic in the movie, and most of them are provided for by Mantan Moreland as an apparent chauffeur named Jeff.  Marguerite Whitten appears as Jeff's girlfriend Malvina, and Tristram Coffin shows up as an alumni and police officer. Keye Luke appears as another student named Buck Wing and he's surprisingly serious, probably trying to hold on to his dignity. The performances in this are good, with Sully effective as the impersonator.  There's even a nice number entitled "Let's Do a Little Dreaming," but this is more of a time-waster than anything else. This is one of several pictures Darro did with Moreland for Monogram. Moran was "Buddy" in the Buck Rogers serial, and Marcia May Jones had a significant role in These Three.

Verdict: Interesting cast given too little of note to do. **.


Distinctive bad guys:Joe Haworth and Danny Morton
THE ROYAL MOUNTED RIDES AGAIN (13 chapter Universal serial/1945). Directors:Lewis D. Collins; Ray Taylor.

Northwestern Canada at the turn of the century. Mine owner Tom Bailey is murdered by Brad Taggart (Milburn Stone), but his employer Jackson Decker (Addison Richards) becomes the chief suspect. Bailey's daughter, June (Daun Kennedy) comes to town to investigate her father's murder, as do mounties Frenchy Moselle (George Dolenz) and Corporal Wayne Decker (Bill Kennedy) the son of Jackson Decker. Jackson wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and work for his copper mine and other businesses, but Wayne didn't like his father's unethical business practices. Now he's hoping to prove that his father was not mixed up in this murder. Other characters include Madame Misterioso, a fortune teller whose real name is Dillie Clark (Helen Bennett), who is an ally of June's; and colorful codger "Latitude" Bucket (Paul E. Burns) '' -- he's been "everywhere" -- who has a rather surprising secret. The bad buys in this movie are not the usual generic gunsels but have a bit more flavor to them, especially Bunker (Joseph Haworth) with his ingratiatingly insolent manner, and "Dancer" (Danny Morton), with his shiny hair and casual, non-subservient attitude. Milburn Stone is typical of the rather bland actor who makes more of an impression as a villain than as a hero [which he played in The Great Alaskan Mystery and other serials], although he's hardly a Charles Middleton. Robert Armstrong, who also appeared in a number of serials such as The Adventures of the Flying Cadets, plays shady Price, who owns the Yukon Gold tavern, where several scenes take place. Rondo Hatton does nothing for chapter after chapter except sit watching the proceedings and drawing his gun now and then; he has no dialogue. Royal Mounted Rides Again has a fairly good story and a few noteworthy cliffhangers, such as when a huge log is shoved down a chute toward a prone Corporal Decker; a mine car that hurtles down a deep shaft towards the same man; and a bit with a dangling suspension bridge in a rainstorm that has explosives attached to it. Paul Birch (Not of This Earth) appears very briefly as a highwayman. While this is not as slick or snappy as Republic's "Mounted" serials such as King of the Mounties, it is nevertheless entertaining. Apparently stars Bill and Daun Kennedy were neither related nor married to one another. Bill was a busy television actor while Daun had only a few credits to her name. Helen Bennett was also in Lost City of the Jungle.

Verdict: Interesting serial with several flavorful performances and good scenes. ***.


Lloyd Bridges
DEADLY DREAM (1971 telefilm). Director: Alf Kjellin.

Dr. Jim Hanley (Lloyd Bridges) is working on certain revolutionary DNA experiments that have the powers-that-be at his university nervous. He begins to have recurring dreams in which he is chased by menacing members of a group calling themselves the Tribunal. The spooky thing is that when he wakes up he has the minor injuries that he received running from the group in his nightmares. Then he starts seeing some of these men in his waking hours, also bearing scars from the dreams. A colleague (Carl Betz) tries to help him in one of his nightmares, but he is later killed in real life. Before long, Hanley is totally paranoid, suspecting anyone and everyone of plotting against him, including his own wife (Janet Leigh). He begins to wonder if his "real" life is just a dream, and the world of his nightmare is his true reality. Deadly Dream, an intriguing ABC "Movie of the Week," was probably inspired by the success of the previous year's Brotherhood of the Bell, which it resembles to a certain extent, although it goes off in its own direction and is not as good. The notion of unraveling DNA was ahead of its time, but not much is done with it. The movie is quite suspenseful and very well-acted by Bridges, Leigh and the rest of the cast, but some might groan a bit at the ending. Bridges really gives one of his best performances in this.

Verdict: Bizarre little telefilm with fine performances. ***.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Two Olivia De Havillands for the price of one
THE DARK MIRROR (1946). Director: Robert Siodmak.

Lt. Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) is called in when a man is murdered and a woman named Terry Collins (Olivia de Havilland) has been identified by more than one witness as being at the victim's apartment that night. But she has an unshakable alibi -- and also an identical twin sister named Ruth. Stevenson realizes that the ladies have him over a barrel -- one probably committed murder and the other is an accessory, but which one do you put on trial for homicide? The cop enlists the aid of Dr. Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres) to find out what's up with the twins, but things get even more complicated when Elliott begins to fall for one of the women --- but which sister is it? This is an interesting cat and mouse game with good performances that is undermined a bit by some absurd dime-store psychology and Siodmak's rather routine direction. De Havilland is a bit Hollywoodish, but she has some very good moments as well. Ayres seems a trifle defeated by his role and the mumbo jumbo he has to utter. The special effects work is excellent and generally seamless. Siodmak also directed Son of Dracula and many others. Nice theme by Dimitri Tiomkin. Richard Long has a small role as Rusty. Bette Davis played twins the same year in A Stolen Life.

Verdict: Entertaining minor mystery. **1/2.


A bizarre image from "Good Life"
TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983). Multiple directors. Narrated by Burgess Meredith.

This big-screen adaptation of the famous TV show does not begin auspiciously with a dragged-out, unfunny framing sequence with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks as ambulance men who sing theme songs from old television shows to pass the time; this builds up to a gag that is neither scary nor amusing.

The first segment of the movie is a new story entitled "Time Out," in which an embittered man (an excellent Vic Morrow) takes out his dissatisfaction with life on minorities such as Jews and Blacks, but then winds up back in Nazi Germany [as a Jew] and in the South [as a black], and so on. The tragic deaths that occurred during filming this segment and the repercussions were chronicled in the superb book Outrageous Conduct. "Time Out" is well-directed and edited, but it basically marked the end of director John Landis' big-screen career.

The original "Kick the Can" on The Twilight Zone [season 3], set in the Sunnyvale nursing home in which some of the inhabitants magically turn into children, has a good idea but is poorly developed, although it has a touching opening scene when one resident packs to go home with his son only to be told he has to stay in Sunnyvale. [The old people in the episode all seem too lively and lucid to be in a nursing home, which is also true in the movie.] The movie's adaptation is an improvement -- instead of just letting the "children" run off to go who knows where, it deals with the possible consequences of their transformation -- where would the kids go and do they really want to live life all over again? Murray Matheson and Scatman Crothers give good performances along with the rest of the cast. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

The adaptation of "It's a Good Life" is discussed in the post on Jerome Bixby's short story and the different film and TV versions of it. 

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" [season 5] starred a notable William Shatner as a man who'd already had one nervous breakdown on a plane, and has the misfortune of being on another plane when a gremlin or alien creature decides to poke about on the wing outside his window. This was a good episode, even if the monster looked like a hairy Harpo Marx. The creature's appearance is improved in the movie. and the sequence -- while played like a black comedy as is "It's a Good Life" -- is often intense and exciting. John Lithgow is okay as a more nervous and hysterical passenger than Shatner played. Directed by George Miller. 

Verdict: Overall, this is really just so-so. **1/2.


ORIGINAL STORY BY: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood. Arthur Laurents. Knopf; 2000.

Arthur Laurents may never have become a household name a la Tennessee Williams or Eugene O'Neill, but he did have quite a successful career with such plays as "The Time of the Cuckoo" to his credit, as well as writing and/or directing such famous musicals as West Side Story, Gypsy, La Cage aux Folles and Do I Hear a Waltz?, which was taken from "Cuckoo." He also wrote a number of screenplays for such films as The Snake Pit, Caught and Hitchcock's Rope. Laurents writes bluntly and intelligently of his experiences, good and bad, working on all of these productions, detailing the often infuriating compromises one must make in Hollywood and the inevitable clash of egos that happens on Broadway. His book is also a look at early gay life before modern Gay Liberation, where he dealt with his own self-hatred, while enjoying numerous affairs and a relationship with actor Farley Granger, and he also discusses the days of the blacklist as well. He doesn't pull any punches about such people as Jerome Robbins and others. One problem with the book, with is rich in detail and in anecdote, is that Laurents often bounces around time wise, which sometimes makes sense but also makes the book a confusing read at other times; just when you think you're done with one period or individual, you're suddenly back with them again for a few pages. There's also too much on his relationship or whatever you want to call it with dancer Nora Kaye. Laurents could be called a name-dropper were it not for the fact that he did legitimately work with and otherwise interact with many famous people, not all of whom are portrayed in a flattering light. Laurents ends the book by writing of his long-time partner, Tom Hatcher, "as long as he lives, I will." Sadly, Hatcher died six years later, and Laurents survived him by five years.

Verdict: Entertaining and absorbing for most of its length and a fine evocation of its period. ***1/2.


ESCORT GIRL (1941). Director: Edward E. Kaye.

"He's going to try to find out if the escort business is, well, flexible."

Ruth Ashley (Betty Compson) is co-owner with Gregory Stone (Wheeler Oakman) of a clip joint named the Club Martinique and a highly successful "escort" business. Ruth is horrified at the thought that her daughter, June (Margaret Marquis), coming home from school with a fiance, might find out where her mother's considerable assets are coming from. To make matters worse, June's fiance, Drake Hamilton (Robert Kellard of King of the Royal Mounted), works for the district attorney's office. His latest assignment -- wouldn't you know? -- is to find out who the true head is of the same escort service that his future mother-in-law owns. Obviously, things don't go well for this family, with Drake eventually coming to believe that June herself is an "escort." This is a fairly frank 1940's exploitation item in which the word "prostitution" is never used. but little secret is made of what's going on with these sexy escort girls. In one scene a woman practically attacks her client on a bed, and in another eyebrow-raising moment a woman does a provocative dance number. Drake Hamilton acts like no assistant district attorney would ever act, going out and doing his own investigation and roughing up people he talks to. The acting in this is not bad; Rick Vallin [Nearly Eighteen] plays a gigolo who also works for the escort service. One thing the movie does not go into is men hiring men. This was Kaye's only directorial credit.

Verdict: Effective exploitation but nothing to miss I Love Lucy for. **1/2.


JUNGLE QUEEN (13 chapter Universal serial/1945). Directors: Lewis D. Collins; Ray Taylor.

"They're walking into their graves and don't know it."

In 1939 on the eve of WW II, the Nazis have sent agents to the "dark continent" believing it is a necessary strategy to take over Africa, and are using "Tambosa" as their base of operations. One of the German agents is Dr. Elise Bork (Tala Birell) who runs an experimental farm, and works with another Nazi named Lang (Douglass Dumbrille). On the side of the angels are Bob Eliot (Edward Norris) and his buddy Chuck (Eddie Quillan), who go on a mission to Africa and share a plane with Pamela Courtney (Lois Collier), whom they suspect of being an imposter until they all wind up lost in the jungle after the plane crashes. The Nazis are trying to force control upon the natives, but they are less successful with a weird white queen named Lothel (Ruth Roman), who shows up unannounced  to make pronouncements, give advice to the natives, and rescue the boys and Pamela; Lothel is also impervious to bullets [where the hell she came from is never explained]. Then there's the "Sword of Tangu," which has a supposed secret, and is coveted by some of the characters. This is a fairly ridiculous serial but it's often entertaining, the leads are all competent, and it has everyone from Cyril Delevanti to Cy Kendall [the untalented Charles Laughton] in the supporting cast. Pamela is nearly eaten by hungry gators and mauled by a lion, there's a volcanic eruption that sends buildings and statues toppling, and Bob is pursued by dozens of salivating crocs in a river, nearly falls into a pit of lions, and is subjected with the others to a deadly gas attack. Birell had a notable role in The Monster Maker and Collier was in Flying Disc Man from Mars and many other movies.

 Verdict: For all of its flaws, it's one of the better Universal chapterplays. ***.


Barbara Bain and Torin Thatcher
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Season Three. 1968.

The Impossible Missions Force is back with the usual suspects for a third season of highly illegal action, intrigue and phoney accents [one size fits all]. This was a solid season with more than its share of above average and a few excellent episodes. Among the most memorable: "The Cardinal," in which the team has to switch a real cardinal for a communist impersonator; "The Elixir," in which a despotic woman (Ruth Roman) is undone by her own vanity; "The Diplomat," with Lee Grant and Fernando Lamas in a suspenseful tale of stolen missile plans and deadly poison; the very clever "The Cage," in which a political prisoner must be freed from a top security prison; "The System," with a casino dealer manipulated into squealing on his boss with violent results; and "Doomsday," in which the team must stop the sale of a hydrogen bomb to the bad guys. The cast is good, with Martin Landau taking top honors. Barbara Bain remains glacial, but Cinnamon does show some emotion in another excellent episode, "The Exchange," in  which she's actually caught during a mission and winds up in an iron curtain prison. There seem to be less episodes in which the bad guys instantly fall in love or lust with Cinnamon [surely some of them would prefer a less classy, overtly sexy 19-year-old?], and Bain continues to do fair-to-middling "character" impersonations, such as her "Anastasia" turn in "The Heir Apparent" with guest-star Torin Thatcher. Bain does an amusing imitation of Marlene Dietrich, bad singing and all, in "The Illusion." Robert Conrad of The Wild, Wild West shows up briefly in "The Contender."

Verdict: When this show cooks, it cooks. ***.


Haworth, Walter and Parker camp it up

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1972 telefilm). Director: John Llewellyn Moxey.

Okay, get this. An old man lives alone in a mansion with his second wife, who was once accused of poisoning her first husband. Now the old man is convinced his wife is trying to poison him, and he's asked his four daughters to come home for Christmas to help him. However, he has been estranged from his daughters for years because most of them think he is responsible for their mother's suicide due to his affair with wife # 2. Then the murders begin ... Now add to that great premise the fact that the old man is Walter Brennan, his second wife is Julie Harris, and the daughters are played by Eleanor Parker (old faithful), Sally Field (li'l adorable), Jill Haworth (sharp-tongued sophisticate) and Jessica Walter (pill-popping dipsomaniac) -- and that the script is by Joseph Stefano, who wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's Psycho -- and you've got an ABC "Movie of the Week" to reckon with! Frankly, with all that talent one would have hoped that Home for the Holidays would have been a lot more memorable, but it is an engaging and well-acted [by all] bit of grotesquerie that holds the attention and has a certain degree of atmosphere [of the "it was a dark and stormy night" variety]. George Tipton contributed an interesting score. One of the actors, however talented, sort of gives the game away with an overly, shall we say,  dynamic performance, but the ending will still be a surprise to some. John Fink plays the cute doctor who lives in town and knows all the women.

Verdict: And you think your family holidays are bad ...! **1/2.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Tracy confronts Hepburn
KEEPER OF THE FLAME (1942). Director: George Cukor.

A wooden bridge collapses in a rain storm and famous philanthropist, beloved war hero,  and would-be politician Robert Forrest is killed when his car crashes into the ravine. Journalist Stephen O'Malley (Spencer Tracy) wants to write an admiring biography of the man, but he senses that people in Forrest's inner circle are strangely alarmed by his interest and doing their best to keep secrets from him. He finally gets to meet Forrest's widow, Christine (Katharine Hepburn, who doesn't appear until 25 minutes into the running time), and she at first wants no part of him or of his project. But she relents. But the more O'Malley digs, the more he suspects something strange is going on, and the more he is drawn to the attractive young widow ... Keeper of the Flame is one of the most compelling films to feature the duo of Tracy and Hepburn, and, as usual, they play very well together. Tracy is excellent throughout, and while Hepburn is a touch stagey at times, she also gives a very good, underplayed performance. Also notable are Margaret Wycherly as Forrest's senile and desperate mother; Richard Whorf [later a director] as Kerndon, Forrest's associate; Audrey Christie as Jane, a fellow reporter who's carrying a torch for O'Malley; and Forrest Tucker as Christine's over-protective cousin, Geoffrey. Donald Meek, Frank Craven and Stephen McNally are also first-rate in smaller roles, as is Darryl Hickman as a young boy greatly affected by Forrest's death and befriended by O'Malley. Keeper of the Flame not only works as a first-rate and unusual suspense item but illustrates the dangers of blind hero-worship, and is still interesting enough to have transcended whatever its original political motivations may have been. William Daniels' cinematography is an added bonus. This was Christie's first credit. She was also in Carousel but mostly did work in television.

Verdict: A top triumvirate of Tracy, Hepburn and Cukor. ***.


Millie (Hopkins) and Kit (Davis) have a disagreement

OLD ACQUAINTANCE (1943). Director: Vincent Sherman.

"There's a certain ecstasy in wanting things you know you can't get." -- Kit

"It's late -- and I'm very tired of youth and love and self-sacrifice." -- Kit

"I'm sure if she was a man she wouldn't have shaved!" -- Millie

Katherine "Kit" Marlowe (Bette Davis), who has a written a well-received if slack-selling literary novel, comes to visit her very dear old friend Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins), who not only tells her that she and her husband Preston (John  Loder) are expecting a baby, but that she, too, has written a novel, a romantic potboiler that she is sure will become a bestseller. She's right, and several years and many books later. the Drakes are visiting New York even as Kit is awaiting the opening night of her first play. Millie does little to deal with the fact that her husband is in her shadow, and she doesn't even notice that he's fallen in love with Kit -- and vice versa. But Kit decides that sometimes a sacrifice has to be made in the name of friendship, but will Millie ever appreciate what she has done? Old Acquaintance is well-acted, entertaining, and often very funny in its tale of the self-absorbed if likable Millie and her more sensitive and understanding best friend, and it has some fine dialogue. John Loder could often be dismissed as a cinematic lightweight, but he's perfectly cast in this and has some very decent moments. Gig Young makes an impression in one of his earliest roles as one of Kit's beaus, and Delores Moran is quite pretty and competent as Millie's grown up daughter, Deirdre. Anne Revere and Esther Dale are notable in interesting supporting parts as, respectively, a reporter who speaks too freely, and a maid who knows her own mind and isn't afraid to speak it. A very amusing scene has the two friends having a confrontation, with Kit finally giving in and shaking the life out of her irritating buddy. Old Acquaintance is by no means perfect -- it's probably more soap opera than [comedy-]drama -- but for most of its length, it works. The two lead actresses are both excellent, although the ever-affected Davis sometimes comes off like a drag queen doing a Davis impersonation! This was remade years later as Rich and Famous, which, if I recall correctly, was pretty terrible.

Verdict: This is no Old Maid -- which also starred Davis and Hopkins-- but it is fun and fast-paced. ***


The forgettable "Hillbilly Heart"
THE GIRL RUSH (1955). Director: Robert Pirosh.

Kim Halliday (Rosalind Russell) works at the Providence Historical Society wherein she learns that she co-owns a Las Vegas hotel with an old friend of her father's, Ferguson (James Gleason). Unfortunately, she mistakes the glamorous Flamingo casino, owned by Victor Monte (Fernando Lamas), for the dilapidated, closed place next door that she actually owns. Then she learns that Ferguson gambled the place away to Monte, who will claim it unless they come up with the money Ferguson owes him. A possible savior comes along in the form of hotel man Elliott Atterbury (Eddie Albert), whose father is looking for a property in Vegas. Kim balances both men romantically while her Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne) tries to jitterbug or something with Ferguson. Well ... The Girl Rush is one of those silly old musicals with mostly lousy music and a lead actress whose singing voice sounds like an out-of-tune foghorn; her dancing is slightly better but she can't compare to the chorus boys, who include Don Crichton. Albert and Lamas can sing in tune, however, and both are in fine fettle, especially the latter, whose amiable personality helps the movie no end. When she's not butchering a song, Russell is swell, but hardly anyone could save this third-rate material, which goes for the songs by Martin and Blane, although "Out of Doors" and "Alone" at least have respectable melodies. The film's nadir is the terrible production number "Hillbilly Heart," which even the chorus boys can't save. Gloria DeHaven and Robert Fortier are perky and talented as a dancing brother and sister act. Marion Lorne's "Aunt Clara" is exactly like the Aunt Clara she played years later on Bewitched [without the magic] so one might imagine that her performance in this movie won her that role. Pirosh also directed Valley of the Kings.

Verdict: Makes So This is Paris seem like West Side Story. **.


The "rats" go on the rampage
DEADLY EYES (aka The Rats/1982). Director: Robert Clouse.

This entertaining horror flick is very loosely based on British writer James Herbert's novel "The Rats," with the action being transplanted to Toronto from England. Deep in the sewers and subway lines rats the size of dogs [and played by dogs as well as puppet heads for close-ups] are breeding after ingesting some chemical or other, and getting hungrier by the minute. The main characters are teacher Paul Harris (Sam Groom), and his latest lady friend, a health inspector named Kelly Leonard (Sara Botsford). One of Kelly's employees (Scatman Crothers) tells her he's seen a really big rat, and later becomes one of their victims, along with teens, elderly people, and one unfortunate baby who's dragged out of her highchair. A stupid sub-plot has to do with a female student who develops a crush on Harris; she and her friends are boring, but most of the movie has to do with the busy rats, who stage attacks in bowling alleys, a movie theater, and finally on a train load of politicos and others accompanying the obnoxious mayor on the first ride on a new subway expansion line. While the movie is low-budget and even schlocky at times, it does work up some suspense, the actors are good, the "dogs" are effective stand-ins for big rats, and the sounds the beasties make are a little unnerving. Clouse also directed "The Pack," about killer dogs, five years earlier, and Botsford also appeared in Murder By Phone. Fans of the Herbert novel will undoubtedly be disappointed, but this is hardly as terrible as some have suggested.

Verdict: Actually pretty creepy if you're in the right mood. ***.


Sebastian Cabot with Bismark, the true star of the show
CHECKMATE Season Two. 1961.

The second season of the show about an agency whose aim is to prevent crimes before they happen is not as good as the first, but it does have some memorable episodes. Jed Sills (Doug McClure) is as amiable as ever, while Don Corey (Anthony George) sometimes comes off like a pious schmuck, and Dr. Hyatt (Sebastian Cabot) is so huge that he seems to be having a positive love affair with high-calorie food. His adorable little dachshund, Bismark, appears in only one episode. A new character named Chris Devlin (Jack Betts) helps out the boys and appears in a few episodes. The show still boasted some high-powered guest stars such as Eleanor Parker, Claire Bloom, Patricia Neal, Jack Benny, and Mary Astor, among others. Among the more memorable stories: "Juan Moreno's Body" has Jed investigating a murder supposedly committed by a migrant worker and features a knock-out performance by Diana Lynn. In "Death Beyond Recall" Walter Pidgeon plays a lawyer facing disbarment who arranges to have himself murdered. "The Sound of Nervous Laughter" is about an aging actor, his loving wife, and a series of death threats, and boasts outstanding performances from George Sanders, John Emery, and Margaret Phillips. Dana Andrews gives one of his best performances as a judge who is being targeted by one of the students in his legal course in "Trial By Midnight;" Carolyn Craig of House on Haunted Hill is also notable. Don Taylor is very impressive in "The Someday Man," about a former athlete with deadly gambling debts and other problems; Julie Adams is fine as his wife. If there was any problem with this second and final season of Checkmate, it was that some excellent episodes were interspersed with some pretty awful stories, the worst of which was "An Assassin Arrives, Andante," an intriguing idea ruined by muddle-headed writing and a weak lead performance from Richard Conte.

Verdict: Some great writing and acting but perhaps too many pretentious and tedious clunkers in the bunch. **1/2.


Watch out for a pissed-off Man of Steel!
SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE (2012 direct-to-video). Director: Michael Chang.

Superman stops the Atomic Skull after he's already incinerated several people, then has to battle some genetically engineered monster insects. In the latter battle he gets help from some super-powered beings who come to call themselves "The Elite." At first Superman is happy that there are new heroes, but disturbed that their take-no-prisoners attitude and violent methods, as opposed to his more responsible within-the-law approach, have people cheering. The situation gets worse when the Skull escapes and kills more people and the Elite want to finish him off once and for all. [For which we can hardly blame them.] But the big boy scout insists on law and order, even for the Skull, and the battle is on, especially when the members of the Elite murder all the heads of state of two countries to prevent a war. It seems that an outraged Superman is going to give in to his dark side and handle the Elite the same way they would handle him -- bloodily -- but  the Man of Steel just may have a trick or two up his sleeve. Joe Kelly's screenplay is not only full of thrills and action but is also thought-provoking, with good characterizations. [Although why was it necessary to make the villainess a big "tramp,"as if equating sexuality with evil?] The character voices are very well done by George Newbern (Superman/Clark), Pauley Perrette (Lois Lane), and Robin Atkin Downes (Manchester Black, the leader of the Elite), among others. Michael Chang's direction is fast-paced and continuously exciting, and the animation is fluid and striking. Want to bet that this will probably be better than the upcoming big-screen Man of Steel? We'll see.

Verdict: Excellent animated super-hero movie. ***1/2.


Lynda Day George hides from Telly Savalas
SHE CRIED MURDER (1973 telefilm). Director: Herschel Daugherty.

Sarah Cornell (Lynda Day George) is riding the subway one night when she sees a man pushing a woman in front of the train. When she calls the police, one of the inspectors who shows up, Brody (Telly Savalas of Horror Express), turns out to be the very man she saw in the subway. She keeps her mouth shut, but a paranoid Brody kidnaps Sarah's young son, and tells her if she just says nothing to anybody the boy will be okay ... The excellent premise of this ABC "Movie of the Week" is Hitchcockian, but the movie quickly degenerates into a mere woman-in-jeopardy chase film when it could have been so much more. Day is fine, Savalas is reasonably compelling in a bad guy role, and Kate Reid and Mike Farrell are okay in supporting parts, but this needs much more development and tension. Some of the heroine's actions are incredibly stupid as well.

Verdict: Time-filler that wastes a great idea. **.