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

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Emma (Jones) wants a more exciting life and husband (Heflin)
MADAME BOVARY (1949). Director: Vincente Minelli.

"A man can change his life if he wants to ..."

Published in France in 1857, Gustave Flaubert's brilliant novel "Madame Bovary" was  accused of being an "outrage against public morals" and the author put on trial (and acquitted). This film version of the book begins with James Mason as Flaubert in the courtroom, explaining his creation, and then proceeding to [unnecessarily] narrate the early sequences of the movie. Farm girl Emma (Jennifer Jones) meets and falls in love -- or so she thinks -- with a simple, unambitious country doctor named Bovary (Van Heflin). But her day to day life is tedious and lacks color, and she realizes she is living with the wrong man, kind but dull. Her need for passion and excitement is even more energized when the couple are invited to a ball at the home of the Marquis D'Andervilliers (Paul Cavanagh) and she sees how wealthy people live and realizes how many men find her attractive. Guilt-wracked and initially resistant, she is drawn into affairs with Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan), who shatters her, and later a young lawyer named Leon (Christopher Kent, who later became the director, Alf Kjellin). Meanwhile her taste for the finer things in life means that her debts are adding up alarmingly, but it may be her husband who has to pay the piper. Emma isn't evil, but her dissatisfaction with her life with Bovary makes her susceptible to, shall we say, outside stimuli. Madame Bovary is pretty faithful to the novel, despite a couple of changes. In the book Dr. Bovary is pressured to operate on the clubfooted Hippolyte (Harry Morgan, herein known as Henry) with almost tragic results, while in the film he wisely realizes that he hasn't the skill of a surgeon, making him somewhat more sympathetic. The more licentious scenes of the novel, such as Emma and Leon driving all around town in a carriage obviously having sex in the back behind lowered blinds, have been jettisoned. Although Madame Bovary could have been better cast -- Heflin never comes off as that dull or unattractive and Jones isn't the perfect Emma, although Jourdan is fine -- the actors are still quite good, including those of the large supporting cast, which includes George Zucco as Leon's boss; Gladys Cooper as his mother; Ellen Corby as the maid, Felicite; Mason as Flaubert; and especially Frank Allenby as the slimy salesman, Lhereux. The film is well directed by Minelli and has a nice score by Miklos Rozsa. Kjellin/Kent later appeared in Ice Station Zebra and directed the telefilm Deadly Dream.

Verdict: Certainly not the masterpiece that the novel is, but on it's own terms vivid and entertaining, with Jones in very good form. ***.


HIGH SOCIETY: THE LIFE OF GRACE KELLY. Donald Spoto. Three Rivers Press/Crown; 2009.

This is an entertaining and absorbing look at the life and career of Grace Kelly, the actress who worked with Hitchcock and others and dropped out of Hollywood to become the princess of Monaco. Kelly was the niece of the playwright, George Kelly, who wrote "Craig's Wife" and other plays so she did have a special "in," although her looks, bearing and talent may have helped her in any case. Kelly appeared on many live television dramas such as "The Rockingham Tea Set" on Studio One, as well as on the stage, where she hoped to make a name for herself. But Hollywood called, and after a couple of minor (Fourteen Hours) and major (Mogambo) roles  she wound up in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder  and two others for the Master, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Kelly won an Oscar for her work in The Country Girl and was set to become one of Hollywood's most important mega-stars when she fell in love with the prince of Monaco and sailed off for what wasn't quite a fairy tale ending. Spoto makes it clear that Kelly itched to act [she did one short film much later which has been suppressed by the royal family] and was rather bored with her duties as a princess and her allegedly storybook life in the castle. Hitchock nearly got her out of retirement by offering her the lead in Marnie, but as much as Kelly wanted to do the film, it didn't work out. While High Society may not be the last word or is as rigorously in-depth as it could have been, it is a solid, readable account of Kelly's life and career.

Verdict: Interesting look at a Hollywood legend. ***.


Jeff Chandler gives one of his best performances
BECAUSE OF YOU (1952). Director: Joseph Pevney.

Flashy Christine Carroll (Loretta Young) is given a package by her fiance, Mike (Alex Nicol), and suddenly finds herself arrested and in jail despite her truthful protestations of innocence. She trains to be a nurse in prison and winds up ministering to a handsome vet named Steve Kimberly (Jeff Chandler), with whom she falls in love and vice versa. Her parole officer (Helen Wallace) warns her that Steve must be informed of her prison record before they can marry, so an apprehensive Christine manages to get around this, and a child soon follows. Then Mike comes back into her life and everything starts unraveling ... Because of You is an entertaining soap opera that soon becomes a study of frustrated mother love, with good performances from Young (in a Joan Crawford-type role) and Chandler, who is at his best in this. Notable supporting players include Alexander Scourby as a doctor at the veteran's hospital; Frances Dee as Steve's lovely sister, Susan; Lynne Roberts as his friend, Rosemary; Gayle Reed as little Kim; and Arthur Space as a judge. Pevny also directed Chandler in Female on the Beach and Foxfire.

Verdict: Pleasant enough if unremarkable soaper with two solid lead performances. **1/2. 


Really bad acting: Uh, I saw somebody butchered-- yawn.

THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED (aka Scream ... and Die!/1974). Director: Joseph Larraz (Jose Ramon Larraz).

Valerie (Andrea Allan), a model, is driving home with her boyfriend Terry (Alex Leppard) when he stops at a house and says he'll be right back. Valerie goes in search of him, and discovers that he apparently plans to rob the place. Worse, while trying to leave the house they witness a man in the shadows stab another woman to death in a savage attack. The next day Valerie sees that Alex' car, which was left behind along with him when she fled, is parked in front of her apartment house with her book of modeling photos on the front seat. Alex is still missing. So, let's see -- the killer knows what she looks like and where she lives. But does dear little Valerie go to the police? Does she even report Alex missing? No, instead she relates her tale to some friends who tell her not to bother going to the cops, and then has a date with a shy artist named Paul (Karl Lanchbury) who later has sex with his aggressive, middle-aged Aunt Susannah (Maggie Walker). Then there's the new downstairs neighbor who keeps pigeons in his apartment. Aside from a trip to a junkyard that might be near the mysterious house, neither Valerie nor anyone else makes any attempt to find out who the victim or killer is, or even what happened to Terry, who has a young son. Allan walks through the movie as if she were bored, summoning up all the urgency and emotion of, say, a person shopping at the supermarket. Some of the other actors, such as Lanchbury and Walker, are more on the mark, although few of them had too many credits. The shame of it is that The House That Vanished actually has a good plot and premise, but it's undone by too much illogic, a stupid heroine played by a minimally talented actress -- and the identity of the killer is pretty much telegraphed as well. From the United Kingdom.

Verdict: A film that will vanish if it hasn't already. **.


Lou Costello and Mary Wickes
DANCE WITH ME, HENRY (1956). Director: Charles Barton.

The last film for the Abbott and Costello team -- and the very last film for Bud Abbott -- is a depressing and dull experience, more resembling a sitcom than anything else. Lou Henry (Lou Costello) is foster father to Shelley (Gigi Perreau) and Duffer (Rusty Hamer), and owns an amusement park with his partner, Bud Flick (Bud Abbott). Bud has gambling debts, which means that unsavory characters are coming to Lou's home hoping to find him and get money, a situation that doesn't sit well with social worker, Miss Bayberry (Mary Wickes), who threatens to take the children away. Later on Lou is accused of murdering the district attorney (Robert Shayne) when he's shot dead in the amusement park. There's also an unctuous priest (Frank Wilcox), a friendly cop (Robert Bice), and a rockster named Ernie (Ron Hargrave). Bud and Lou do their best with a third-rate script, but Wickes, strangely, seems defeated by the material or just couldn't get into playing a harridan. The children are talented and Hamer later wound up on Make Room for Daddy. Lou Costello followed this up solo with The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, which was even worse.

Verdict: The last -- and possibly the least -- of A & C's feature films. *1/2.


The Black Falcon goes into action!
FLYING G-MEN (15 chapter Columbia serial/1939). Directors: James W. Horne; Ray Taylor.

Four famous sky hawks have now become G-Men, working for the Air Division of the FBI/Department of Justice. Their assignment is to track down the members of a deadly espionage ring and discover who its leader is. When their friend Ed McKay (William Lalley), who's invented a remote control pilot-less bomber, is killed, they vow to track down his murderer with the aid of his young son, Billy (Sammy McKim), and grown sister, Babs (Lorna Gray). The sky hawks decide that one of them should take on the costumed identity of the Black Falcon, so that he can sort of operate outside the law and really get the goods on the bad guys. One of the foursome is killed off in the first chapter, leaving Hal (Robert Paige), Bart (Richard Fiske), and John (James Craig) to become the Falcon. [Hiding the identity of the hero as opposed to the villain had been done the year before in The Lone Ranger, and later in The Masked Marvel.] It is hard not to notice the resemblance between the Black Falcon and comic books' Blackhawk, but the latter character did not actually appear until 1941 [Republic did a serial version of Blackhawk in 1952], meaning the Black Falcon came first. Although the individual cliffhangers tend to be nothing special, Flying G-Men is still a very fast-paced and highly entertaining serial, with lots of lively fist-fights and some exciting aerial action as well. Paige makes an appealing protagonist, and Fiske and Craig are stalwart enough as his colleagues. Lorna Gray would have to wait three years until Perils of Nyoka to make an impression as the evil Vultura; in this she isn't given enough to do. An uncredited Tom Steele has some dialogue passages early in the serial as a bad guy, and Nestor Paiva turns up as one of the saboteurs. Sidney Cutner's rousing music complements the action beautifully. Paige was in Blonde Ice and Son of Dracula; Fiske did The Spider's Web and Perils of the Royal Mounted; and James Craig was in everything from Winners of the West to The Cyclops. Young McKim was also in Dick Tracy's G-Men.

Verdict: Punch-fests and action galore! ***.


London gets obliterated by Cobra Commander

G. I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013). Director: Jon M. Chu.

In this follow-up to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the president of the United States has been replaced by a double, the evil Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), a lieutenant in the Cobra organization. While the Cobra operatives who were captured and imprisoned in the last film manage to break out, an operation to wipe out the "Joes" -- a crack fighting unit whose main opponents are Cobra Commander and his gang of terrorists -- nearly succeeds in obliterating the entire team; Duke (Channing Tatum) is one of the casualties. Fortunately, the survivors -- Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D. J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) -- join forces with grizzled General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) -- to take down the "president" before he and the Cobra Commander can cause havoc and mayhem throughout the world. Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) is a Cobra agent who decides to help the Joes when he realizes how much he's been manipulated by Zartan. Unless you're a G. I. Joe fanatic, Retaliation can be confusing, but there are some genuinely impressive stunts and FX work, especially the chilling destruction of London by the Cobra Commander's special missiles. [This obliteration of a world capitol seems pretty much forgotten by the movies' end -- huh?] The acting is serviceable for this kind of stuff, nothing more, although Jonathan Pryce does manage to impress as the president and his duplicate. Like the previous film, this is sometimes too frenetic for its own good. A bit with some weird mechanical bugs is notable.

Verdict: For Joe fans mostly. **1/2.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


The lives of this family are about to be shattered
THE WRONG MAN (1956). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is an unassuming family man who plays bass fiddle in a band at New York's tony Stork Club. When he goes to an insurance company to find out how much he can borrow on his wife's policy -- they need several hundred dollars to fix her painful dental problems -- the clerks there react with fear and disbelief. Apparently Manny looks just like the man who has robbed the office on two occasions, as well as other places. Manny is arrested, identified by other people as the robber, and hires a lawyer (Anthony Quayle) he can't afford. Meanwhile his wife, Rose (Vera Miles) is so beset with fear and tension that she has to be institutionalized, leaving Manny to face this ordeal alone except for his devoted mother (Esther Minciotti). Based on a true story, The Wrong Man is a Hitchcock film in a low-key mode in all departments and this approach is very effective. Fonda, playing 38 at 51, is quite good, and although Miles is a little off in some scenes, she also gives a very nice performance. Doreen Lang, who later was the hysterical woman in the restaurant in The Birds, is excellent as one of the women in the insurance office; all of the witnesses are very well cast and quite good. William Hudson, Nehemiah Persoff, and Bonnie Franklin all have small roles. The film is expertly photographed by Robert Burks, and has a snappy if sinister theme by Bernard Herrmann. Beautifully done, The Wrong Man is, in its own way, quite disturbing and chilling, and builds up to a very moving finale. It's sad to realize that in real life there was no happy ending.

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


Dumbrille, Lind and Vickers set a scheme in motion
ALIMONY (1949). Alfred Zeisler.

Composer Dan Barker (John Beal) relates the story of a woman he was once in love with, Kitty Travers (Martha Vickers), to her estranged father (James Guilfoyle), who hasn't seen her in years. Show biz aspirant Kitty stayed in the same boarding house with Barker, who was affianced to pretty Linda (Hillary Brooke). But Kitty works her wiles on Dan, who is just about to sign to do a Broadway show, and before long the man has dumped poor Linda in favor of Kitty. Unfortunately for Dan, the Broadway deal comes a cropper and Linda is soon off looking for greener pastures. But even when Dan and Linda are finally married, Kitty comes back into their lives because she was the inspiration for a song Dan composed that becomes a big hit [and isn't that memorable]. Again Dan acts like a complete jerk, Kitty a total skank, and as for dopey Linda ... let's just say that Alimony is the kind of irritating melodrama where a perfectly nice and attractive woman is treated abysmally by her man but still seems to think only the other woman is to blame. Neal, Vickers and Brooke give good performances, as do Douglass Dumbrille as an oily lawyer who works with Kitty and her friend Helen (a snappy Laurie Lind, who was introduced in this picture and never made another movie) and Marie Blake (AKA Blossom Rock of Hilda Crane) who plays the landlady of the boarding house. The title refers to the fact that Helen and Kitty marry or try to marry wealthy older men so that they can divorce them and collect you-guessed-it.

Verdict: Nice actors and premise but this is forgettable. **.


Chris Lee and cohorts seek safety inside circle
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968). Director: Terence Fisher. Screenplay by Richard Matheson, from a novel by Dennis Wheatley.

"I'd rather see you dead than meddling in black magic."

When Duc De Richleau (Christopher Lee) discovers that his young friend Simon (Patrick Mower) and a woman named Tanith (Nike Arrighi) are going to be baptized into a cult that worships the Devil, he takes action. Along with his friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene), Richleau spirits the young couple away where he attempts to keep them out of the grasp and influence of Mocata (Charles Gray), the leader of the Satanic cult. But Mocata has no intention of losing these two souls, and Richleau and his group have to contend with sinister materializations of everything from a little girl to a giant spider, not to mention a devil with the head of a goat. One of the best sequences has Richleau gathering everyone together into a circle of protection in the vast room of a manor house. Lee, Gray, Arrighi, as well as Paul Eddington as Eaton, give very good performances, but while the movie is entertaining, it's not completely satisfying either as thriller or horror. From Hammer studios.

Verdict: Lee is always interesting. **1/2.


DEEPLY SUPERFICIAL: NOEL COWARD, MARLENE DIETRICH, AND ME. Michael Menzies. Magnus/Riverdale Avenue; 2012.

Michael Menzies, born in New Zealand, wanted a more fabulous life and convinced himself that he was the [highly unlikely] figurative and literal love child of two celebrities he admired, Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich. Coming out and moving to London, then New York and Hollywood, he recognized he had no performing talent [although he has had some success as a writer] and took jobs on the fringes of show biz, such as working for film's DeLaurentiis family. Menzies did manage to meet Coward in the early days, but never did catch up with Dietrich, although he tried to model himself on their style and behavior. Frankly, Deeply Superficial, while a quick and basically well-written read, has a somewhat dated quality, as in these days of gay bears and increased knowledge of the diversity of the large gay male community, self-described "queens" who model themselves on divas are just a little passe, however amusing and likable. Most of the biographical notes on the two legends seem cobbled together from many, many bios on Coward and Dietrich, and Menzies admits that if the facts are dull he just elaborates a bit, therefore you have to take what he says about these celebrities with a grain of salt. The best chapter has to do with Menzies' friend who loves the same music as he does and dies of AIDS -- the book is temporarily transformed from a, yes, superficial tome to a trenchant and moving one -- but alas that is only one chapter. Still the book can be read in under an hour and has its fair share of entertaining moments, and his notes on his real parents can be poignant. This is similar to other books that link unknown show biz types to the much more famous, such as Under the Rainbow by John Carlyle.

Verdict: Superficial look at two major stars by an appealing supporting player. **1/2.



THE UNDEAD (1957). Producer/Director: Roger Corman.

 "Keep thy place, malignancy!"

Diana Love (Pamela Duncan of Attack of the Crab Monsters) is a prostitute who is regressed to a past life via hypnotism. Suddenly she finds that she is a witch named Helene living in medieval times and dealing with stuff she never had to deal with in the 20th century -- such as the fact that if she doesn't  die in the past she will have no future lives at all, and presumably this means her current life as Diana -- as well as such folk as Pendragon (Richard Garland, who was also in Crab Monsters), another witch named Livia (Allison Hayes), Smolkin the gravedigger [there's a nifty scene with Helene inside a coffin with a corpse essayed by Paul Blaisdell], and others. Richard Devon as Satan is a little hokey in the prologue, but gets better as the film proceeds. Dick Miller [A Bucket of Blood] is a leper, Billy Barty [The Day of the Locust] is an imp, and Bruno Vesota [The Wasp Woman] is an innkeeper, while Val Dufour plays Quintus Ratcliff and Dorothy Neumann is the elderly witch, Meg Maud. Duncan gives a good performance, and Hayes is as vivid as ever. This is an interesting picture with an unusual plot; it should have been made into a full-fledged fantasy film with FX, monsters, color and the works. As it is, it's entertaining and special fun for Corman fans.

Verdict: It's certainly different! ***.


Frankie Darro and Mantan Moreland
ON THE SPOT (1940). Director: Howard Bretherton.

Frankie Kelly (Frankie Darro), a soda jerk in a drug store with an eye on becoming a doctor, and his buddy Jefferson (Mantan Moreland) are in the store when a dying gangster with a bullet in him comes in and tries to impart information before expiring. Everyone -- townspeople, cops and crooks alike -- thinks the fellows were told where the dead man stashed some loot, but they actually know nuthin'. When another mobster is shot in the drug store, Frankie makes up his mind to find out who the killer is. John St. Polis is the "doc" who owns the drug store, and Mary Kornman is his daughter, Ruth. Maxine Leslie plays a lady investigator who gets a room in Frankie's house, making Ruth slightly jealous. I could swear that's Tristram Coffin in the role of her boss, but he is neither credited nor listed on In any case, Darrro and Moreland are as likable and professional as ever, but this very minor poverty row movie is pretty much a waste of time. The two actors did a whole series of similar films for Monogram studios.

Verdict: Darro and Moreland always make a good team, but ... **.


David Bruce, Richard Crane and John Crawford as Kidd
THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN KIDD (15 chapter Columbia serial/1953). Directors: Derwin Abbe [Abrahams]; Charles S. Gould.

"Kidd was sacrificed on the altar of greed and politics."

The amazing thing about this cliffhanger serial is that it manages to get the basic facts straight about Captain William Kidd, supposedly a notorious pirate. In the 17th century Kidd was assigned to track down pirates but legend has it that he became a pirate himself; he was hung for piracy and for murder [he did kill a member of his crew, but this may have been involuntary manslaughter or perhaps even self-defense]. Biographers have suggested that Kidd was railroaded, important evidence suppressed, and this serial supports that view [but perhaps tries too hard to make him out some kind of saint].

In 1697 when the U.S. was still under English rule, Captain Richard Dale (Richard Crane) is assigned to investigate the allegations of piracy regarding William Kidd (John Crawford), and he does so with the aid of his colleague, Alan Duncan (David Bruce). Along the way they are shanghaied, become fugitives, wind up on more than one pirate ship, and finally become part of Kidd's crew, although they are confused by the fact that he doesn't act at all like a pirate. If Dale didn't have enough problems, his superior, Robert Langdon (Nelson Leigh), is willing to betray him at the drop of a hat for his own ends, and in general a great conspiracy regarding Kidd seems to be in place. There are a few exciting cliffhangers, angry Mohawks, storms at sea, and more than one mutiny to keep things humming. Our heroes are thrown in a hay cart which is then thrown over a cliff, tossed into a fiery store room, and tied up directly in front of cannons that are just about to be lighted. In perhaps the most startling cliffhanger, Duncan throws a knife in his friend Dale's back.

Crane [The Mysterious Island serial; The Alligator People] gives one of his best performances in this, and both Bruce and Crawford are fine as Duncan and Captain Kidd. [Dale isn't the brightest fellow. Told to keep his assignment secret, he discusses it with Duncan in the middle of a crowded tavern!] Others in the cast include Marshall Reed [Pirates of the High Seas], effective as the pirate Robert Culliford, George Wallace [Radar Men from the Moon], who is quite vivid as the conspiratorial Buller, Gene Roth as a prisoner, Lyle Talbot, who shows up briefly as a Boston jailer, Michael Fox as a scurvy fellow, and even Eduardo Cansino, Jr,. the brother of Rita Hayworth, as a native; he had only a few credits. One assumes that choreographer Willetta Smith must have been a friend of the producers, as she doesn't make a particularly fetching princess in a couple of chapters. Crawford was in a number of serials, as well as Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl  [not as Kidd, However]. Bruce was Deanna Durbin's leading man in Lady on a Train and was also in Singapore Woman.

The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd has more of a story than most movie serials, fairly good production values and performances, and is entertaining on top of it.

Verdict: If you like lots of sword fights ... ***.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Percy Helton flirts with Lou in drag as a maid


Running out of monsters to exploit, Abbott and Costello simply decided to star in a comical murder mystery with Boris Karloff chief among the supporting cast. House dick Casey (Bud Abbott) and fired bellboy Freddie (Lou Costello) are up to their necks in intrigue when one of the guests at the hotel where they're employed is murdered. While Inspector Wellman (James Flavin) suspects Freddie because the dead man got him sacked, there are others who may have done the deed, including possible husband-poisoner, Angela (Lenore Aubert), Mike Relia (Vincent Renno), T. Henley Brooks (Roland Winters), desk clerk Jeff (Gar Moore), his sweetie Betty (Donna Martell), her father Crandell (Harry Hayden), and the sinister pseudo-swami, Talpur (Boris Karloff), who is fairly murderous but may not be the main killer of the story. Melton, the hotel manager (Alan Mowbray) is appalled by the whole business: "We don't permit murders at this hotel," he insists. Unfortunately, more dead bodies begin turning up in Freddie's bath tub and closet, and worse, they keep disappearing as well. There's an exciting climax in vast caverns with a bottomless pit, with impressive scenic design and special effects, but the second most memorable sequence has Great Old Movies favorite Percy Helton flirting with Freddie when he's in disguise as a maid! The boys are in fine form, as are Karloff, Helton, Mowbray and Flavin, and the rest of the cast seems to be having fun as well. This is a delightful black comedy and one of the team's best movies. Gar Moore later turned up in Curse of the Faceless Man and Lenore Aubert was in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein which was also directed by Charles Barton.

Verdict: Quite entertaining and often very funny. ***.


Truck with nitro on rickety -- to say the least -- bridge
SORCERER (1977). Director: William Friedkin.

Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider) participates in the robbery of a parish during which a priest is shot, and the priest turns out to be the brother of a mafia bigwig. In France banker Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer) learns that he is probably going to prison and the only man who can help him commits suicide. These two men and others wind up working in South America under fairly miserable conditions, and are desperate for money to go somewhere else. An opportunity arises when the oil concern needs volunteers to drive two trucks full of nitroglycerin for many miles over dangerous terrain to deliver to the oil well, with a big pay-off for those who survive. Sorcerer is a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, and is generally well-done, if not exceptional. The movie pulls you in even though its characters are hardly sympathetic, and the gritty and atmospheric details help make the trip compelling. The film's main strength lies in excellent, harrowing [if somewhat improbable] sequences in which the trucks have to somehow maneuver their way over shaky bridges on the verge of falling apart and spanning rushing waters. [Oddly, one scene in which a deadly explosion occurs is sort of thrown away.] There is some forgettable music from Tangerine Dream when Sorcerer cries out for a rousing, dramatic score, which probably would have made it a much more successful picture on every level. [Even Hitchcock knew the value of a good musical score, and Friedkin is no Hitchcock.] The actors give it their all, and the photography is top-notch, although there are times the somewhat documentary-style approach results in some disjointed editing and an occasional slapdash look. Friedkin wrote about his travails making the picture in his book The Friedkin Connection.

Verdict: Not entirely satisfying, but often quite gripping. ***.


Jane Russell, Dan Duryea and Jeff Chandler
FOXFIRE (1955). Director: Joseph Pevney.

A wealthy young woman named Amanda (Jane Russell) gets a lift from a handsome half-Apache mining engineer [who seems to have mixed emotions about his heritage], Jonathan "Dart" Dartland (Jeff Chandler), and the two rapidly fall in love and get married. Amanda must deal with the culture shock of moving out of luxury to a comparative shack in a mining town, and Dart has to deal with jealousy and a certain void in his emotions, as well as some self-esteem issues. The movie doesn't bang you on the head with the characters' problems, which is all the better, and the leads give good performances. Chandler has a limited bag of tricks but he makes them work within the role, and Jane gives a vital, warm and appealingly feminine performance instead of playing it hooker-hard as she often does in other movies. She and Chandler work up a lot of chemistry, which the latter didn't have with all of his leading ladies [such as the unfortunate June Allyson]. Frieda Inescort [The Alligator People] is fine as Russell's high society mother, but Austrian Celia Lovksy is ludicrously miscast as Dart's Native American mother, especially with that thick Viennese accent! Dan Duryea scores as the alcoholic doctor in the mining camp as does Mara Corday as his nurse, Maria, even if it makes no sense that the doc is smitten with Amanda but can't see the even more gorgeous and buxom Maria for dust. "Foxfire" refers to an abandoned Indian mine that Dart suspects has hidden gold in it, and wants to work. When all is said and done, however, Foxfire can't quite rise above its minor melodrama-romance status, despite some unusual and interesting elements. Whether Foxfire is accurate as regards to Native American affairs and attitudes in the fifties is debatable. NOTE: Jeff Chander wrote the lyrics for the title tune (with music by Henry Mancini) and also did the vocal, quite creditably. Nice score by Frank Skinner.

Verdict: Nice technicolor and a solid cast never hurt. **1/2. 


Evelyn Keyes and John Payne
99 RIVER STREET (1953). Director: Phil Karlson.

Ernie Driscoll (John Payne) is a bitter prize-fighter and current cab driver whose career ended when he received a serious injury to his eye. Driscoll also discovers that his unsatisfied wife, Pauline (Peggie Castle), is having an affair with a diamond thief named Victor (Brad Dexter). Then an aspiring actress he knows, Linda (Evelyn Keyes), tells him that she's in trouble, leading to the movie's best scene, which is, unfortunately, only midway through the movie. One clever if unlikely sequence isn't enough to save this standard potboiler, where Driscoll has to settle accounts with Victor while dodging police because of an incident with Linda -- and worse. Payne and Keyes are okay, as is Frank Faylen as Driscoll's buddy, but Castle [Beginning of the End] makes a better impression and Dexter is terrific as a smiling homicidal reptile, matched by Jay Adler as the man who engineered the diamond heist but now won't pay off. Michael Ross, the space giant and bartender in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, appears as a cabbie and Glenn Langan [The Amazing Colossal Man] is a theatrical producer. Keyes made a better impression in The Killer that Stalked New York but Dexter is much more vital in this than he was in Macao.

Verdict: Unimpressive film noir despite some decent moments and one surprise. **.


Barbara Steele in satanic mode

BLACK SUNDAY (aka The Mask of Satan/La maschera del demonio/1960.) Director: Mario Bava.

This is the first film for which Bava was credited as director. The witch Asa (Barbara Steele) has a spiked mask hammered into her face and is entombed, but many years later some blood drips onto the mask and the witch is revived to get revenge on the descendants of those who destroyed her. Asa would also love to possess the mind and body of her lookalike, Katia (Steele, of course). Katia's brother Constantine (Enrico Olivieri) and doctor (John Richardson) do their best to foil the plans of the hateful and vampiric Asa. Although Black Sunday is a famous and influential movie it's still pretty mediocre, but is bolstered by the appearance of Steele with her distinctive, expressive and sensual face [but, who, sadly, is dubbed throughout] and by Bava's excellent cinematography. Like most of Bava's movies, Black Sunday is rich in atmosphere and has excellent settings, especially the castle where most of the action takes place, but it lacks tension and impact. Bava also directed The Whip and the Body/What three years later, but his best film is arguably Blood and Black Lace

Verdict: Everything Barbara Steele is in is interesting. **1/2.


Lynch (Marshall Reed) takes orders from the unknown Leader.
GUNFIGHTERS OF THE NORTHWEST (15 chapter Columbia serial/1954). Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet; Charles S. Gould.

A Canadian mountie, Sgt. Joe Ward (Jock Mahoney), and Constable Bram Nevin (Clayton Moore) team up to take on the minions of the mysterious Leader of the White Horse Rebels, a black-cloaked man on horseback who wants to take over the entire Northwest Territory and turn it into a lawless Republic. Lynch (Marshall Reed) is chief of the Leader's lieutenants, and Rita (Phyllis Coates) is a gal with secrets who seems to be playing both sides against each other. There's a lost mine from whence comes the gold that the Leader uses to finance his Rebels. Other characters include Inspector Wheeler (Lyle Talbot), to whom the heroes report; Indian Agent Stone (Joseph Allen); Walt Anders (Zon Murray), who tries to forge an alliance with the territory's unfriendly Indians; and Otis Green (Don Harvey), any one of which could be the Leader, although the serial doesn't work up much suspense as to his true identity. Two of the more interesting cliffhangers have Ward unconscious in a boat that is slowly sinking beneath the water, and Ward and Nevin tied to horses that the Indians hope will gallop away and tear them apart. Marshall is again an appealing villain, making the most of his great voice, and the other actors are all at the very least professional. This was not only one of the very last Columbia serials, but one of the very last serials period. The serial benefits from a rousing musical score and some well-chosen locations. Moore, of course, was TV's Lone Ranger and appeared in many serials, while Mahoney starred in The Land Unknown and Three Blondes in His Life.

Verdict: Standard but entertaining western cliffhanger. **1/2.


Eboard vs Barry: Reverse-Flash tries to kill the Flash
JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX (2013 video animated feature). Director: Jay Oliva.

Based on a DC Comics mini-series entitled Flashpoint, this shows what unexpectedly happens when super-speedster the Flash (Barry Allen) goes back in time to prevent his mother's murder at the hands of his nemesis from the future, the Reverse-Flash (Eboard Thane). He has many more years with his mother, but the rippling effect creates a new reality in which Atlantis [ruled by Aquaman] is at war with the Amazons headed by Wonder Woman, with the whole world being slowly decimated by the violent conflict. In this new reality, Bruce Wayne was killed as a boy and it is his father, Thomas Wayne, who is a grizzled, ruthless and middle-aged Batman. And there are other changes as well.  Frankly this adaptation gets a little confusing even if you've read the comics [apparently Aquaman and WW simply have an affair in this version while in the comics they nearly get married], but it has enough exciting moments to hold your attention. Some of the faces look a little too much like what you'd see in anime, and Cary Elwes is perhaps not the best choice to do the voice for Aquaman. C. Thomas Howell is fine as Reverse-Flash, however, as is Justin Chambers as Barry Allen and Kevin McKidd as Batman. One of the most magical moments has the Flash happily traveling at high speed, flying really, across the city at the end.

Verdict: For comics, super-hero and animation fans. ***.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Rosa and the saw mill: "If I don't get out of here I'll die."
BEYOND THE FOREST (1949). Director: King Vidor.

"There's only one person in this town who does anyone a real favor. That's the undertaker -- carries them out." -- Rosa Moline.

"No more dead cat for me! Mink!" -- ditto.

NOTE: Some plot points are given away in this review. Based on a novel by Stuart Engstrand, this vivid melodrama, a kind of poor man's Madame Bovary, has always polarized Davis fans and general movie-goers alike. Davis plays Rosa Moline, a self-absorbed, aging woman in the small town of Loyalton, Wisconsin, which has one industry -- a sawmill constantly issuing smoke and stench -- and one doctor, Rosa's gentle husband, Louis (Joseph Cotten). Bored Rosa, who wants much more out of life than Louis can give her, is having an affair with wealthy businessman Neil Latimer (David Brian of The Damned Don't Cry). Things run hot and cold with Rosa and Latimer for some time, but just when things look perfect Rosa is confronted by Latimer's caretaker, Moose (Minor Watson), who threatens to divulge information to his boss that will utterly ruin things for Rosa. Before she knows it, Rosa is put on trial for murder ...

Hardly anybody, including me, likes Beyond the Forest the first time they see it, perhaps because Davis and the movie seem overblown and slightly grotesque, but the damn thing grows on you and actually has quite a bit going for it. First there's Vidor's direction, which makes the most of Rosa's claustrophobia and frustration, and pulls the viewer along from the very first moment until the highly dramatic climax. Davis has been criticized for supposedly playing a teenager when she was in her forties, but nowhere is it said in the film that Rosa is that young, and one can't assume she is just because the character was younger in the novel. [The characters in the novel "The Postman Always Rings Twice" may have been teenagers or at least very young, but no one has suggested that Turner and Garfield were playing teens in the movie.] Davis comes off like the middle-aged woman whose opportunities are running out just as time is, and who does her best to look and act much younger, and her performance, despite some odd moments perhaps, is vital and effective. Robert Burks' photography makes the most of the bucolic locations and grim situations. Max Steiner's snappy and attractive score was nominated for an Oscar.

Rosa's dilemma is that she fancies herself a non-conformist, different from and superior to the other townspeople, but she hasn't the gifts that would enable her to get away without latching on to some man. The odd thing about Beyond the Forest is that while it's hard to like Rosa, you can't help but find yourself sympathizing with this somewhat sociopathic female who just has to get to Chicago or die [and this has much to do with Davis' performance]. The ending, in which a feverish, dying Rosa literally drags herself inch by inch and step by step to the train station, is not only operatic, but extremely well-handled by Vidor, superbly acted by Davis, and whatever else you think of the film, is just plain good movie-making. The stylized scene when Rosa gets lost in the big city and encounters weird characters is a bit problematic, but sort of works anyway.

Joseph Cotten (Shadow of a Doubt) perhaps makes Louis even more placid than he needs to be. [Some people writing about this movie don't seem to get that it doesn't matter if Louis is "nice" and "pleasant" and forgiving and so on. To Rosa his placidity is deadly.] Dona Drake (Valentino) is excellent as the Native American maid who is so mistreated by Rosa but gives as good as she gets. Minor Watson, a fine actor, played a very different role from Moose, a studio executive, in his next film with Davis, The Star, and is equally convincing in both pictures. Ruth Roman (Invitation) is lovely as Moose's daughter; Davis has a fine moment putting on Roman's mink and looking at herself in the mirror. David Brian is probably the weakest of the cast members, but he's perfectly competent as the rugged Latimer, who's used to getting what he wants, including Rosa. The ubiquitous Ann Doran is one of Loyalton's disapproving [of Rosa] housewives.

Verdict: Love it or hate it, it plays. ***.


Simone Signoret

GAMES (1967). Director: Curtis Harrington.

"I'm afraid I'm accustomed to infinitely more exciting -- and dangerous -- games."

Jennifer Montgomery (Katharine Ross) is a wealthy gal with an artist husband, Paul (James Caan), and a beautiful Manhattan townhouse. Alas, Jennifer isn't too bright. When a cosmetics saleslady named Lisa Schindler (Simone Signoret) shows up at her doorstep and faints from hunger or something, Jennifer invites this total stranger to stay and the woman simply moves in. If you can buy that utterly improbable scenario [I mean, give her a meal and send her on her way] you might buy the rest of this admittedly entertaining but often stupid movie that borrows a plot device or two from Signoret's better known film Diabolique. Paul has a game room full of macabre pinball machines and the like but Lisa tells him his games are tame as, say, compared to Russian roulette, and before long the members of this strange household are playing increasingly violent practical jokes on one another, with delivery man Don Stroud eventually becoming an unintended victim. But there's even more intrigue afoot after that ... Signoret gives a very good, enigmatic performance and Stroud is fine, while Ross and Caan will probably not consider this one of the better showcases for their talents -- they both "underplay" so much after someone is shot in their house that it's almost unintentionally comical. The movie itself cries out for more atmosphere and more inventive direction. Florence Marly of Harrington's Queen of Blood plays a baroness and party guest in one sequence; Kent Smith is the family retainer; Estelle Winwood is a neighbor with cats; and Ian Wolfe is a doctor -- all are on the money. Signoret won a well-deserved Oscar for her work in Room at the Top, which this in no way resembles.

Verdict: These games are a little too familiar. **1/2.


Allyson and Chandler at the sideshow

A STRANGER IN MY ARMS (1959). Director: Helmut Kautner.

Korean war widow Christina Beasley (June Allyson) and her mother-in-law Virgilnie (Mary Astor) are both mourning the death of son and husband, Donald (Peter Graves). The women, especially Virgilnie, are hoping that Major Pike Yarnell (Jeff Chander) will use his influence to get Donald a posthumous Medal of Honor, even though it's given in only the most extreme of circumstances. At first Pike doesn't even want to come to a ceremony for the man who was his navigator, but his attraction to widow Christina gets the better of him. As Pike and Chris find themselves increasingly drawn to one another, Chris must face the reality of her marriage, and Virgilnie must confront the even more difficult reality of her relationship with her son, as well as what happened on the life raft that Pike and Donald shared in the days before Donald's death (shown in flashback). A Stranger in My Arms certainly sets up an intriguing situation, but it's still rather dull, and as a romance it misfires because the leads have no chemistry. Not only is the sexless Allyson a mismatch for the virile Chandler, but she's so short next to him that there are times you get the strange sensation that Pike is pitching woo to a circus midget [not that there's anything wrong with that]! Allyson and Chandler offer competent performances, but nothing more than that, leaving the acting honors to Mary Astor, who has an especially good scene reacting to a note left for her by her son. As Donald's bimbo sister, Sandra Dee seems like a moron. Charles Coburn plays Donald's wealthy grandfather, who thinks he can buy anything, even a medal; he's fine but appears too briefly. Conrad Nagel is suitably low-key as Astor's put-upon husband and Graves is adequate but unimpressive in the flashbacks on the life raft. Kautner did a few American films and then went back to Germany.

Verdict: Intriguing situations of which the most is not made. **1/2.


Space amazons give boys a brain drain

INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (1962). Director: Bruno VeSota. 

Jonathan Haze, who appeared in several Roger Corman features such as the starring role in The Little Shop of Horrors, wrote the screenplay for this atrocity and was supposed to play the lead with Dick Miller as his co-star. Wisely they passed up the opportunity and the utterly talentless Robert Ball and Frankie Ray were instead cast as two fucked-up soldiers who are sent to investigate a cave and discover strange vegetable-like aliens [who resemble something out of a grade school play] and two amply-endowed Amazon-like extraterrestrial "professors" (Gloria Victor and Delores Reed). The film was directed by Bruno VeSota, who'd appeared as an actor in such films as Attack of the Giant Leeches but had the good sense not to give himself a part in this 99 cents production [one assumes Roger Corman passed on this as well]. Ball and Ray, who make Martin and Lewis knock-offs Sammy Petrillo and Duke Mitchell [Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla] seem like Lawrence Olivier and Charles Laughton in comparison, are just terrible, but even talented comics would have a problem putting over this awful material. The busty outer space visitors want to take over Earth, but when they try to drain the brains of Ball and Ray they find nothing there -- no surprise. The gals are put into blissful shock by kisses from the fellows, making you wonder if the whole point of this production was for two creepy guys to have an opportunity to smooch two women who are so out of their league it isn't funny! Ball managed to rack up over sixty credits, while Ray had only one more credit after this. Reed and Victor are more talented than the boys, but Victor, like Ray, had only one more credit after Star Creatures and Reed never worked in pictures again [another big surprise]. Just dreadful and tedious with nary a real laugh. Mark Ferris, who plays the Colonel, is so completely inept as an actor that it's no wonder this was the only film he ever appeared in.

Verdict: Not even Roger Corman could have saved this hopeless production.  0 stars.


Mari Blanchard and Lou Costello
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS (1953). Director: Charles Lamont.

"He looks worse standing up than he does lying down" -- Allura, referring to Lou

Orville (Lou Costello), a handyman at an orphanage, winds up at a missile base and is mistaken for a professor of aeronautical science, although janitor Lester (Bud Abbott) isn't fooled. The bumbling pair look around Dr. Wilson's (Robert Paige) rocket ship and accidentally take off, landing near New Orleans during Mardi Gras where they think the celebrants are Martians. Two ex-cons rob a bank and stowaway on the ship, hoping Orville and Lester, whom they think are Martians, will take them back to their planet and away from the law. This time the rocket ship winds up on Venus, where the man-hating Queen Allura (Mari Blanchard of Twice-Told Tales) makes Orville her king to please her man-hungry subjects. There's a giant dog, but otherwise a dearth of special effects, except for when the rocket is flying through the Lincoln Tunnel and making the Statue of Liberty dodge and duck. One Venusian vehicle seems to have been borrowed from Forbidden Planet but that movie was made three years later! After the queen puts a curse on Lou, who dares to be attracted to other women, his kiss turns one young lovely into a wrinkled old crone! Martha Hyer is Dr. Wilson's secretary and girlfriend, Jean Willes is one of the queen's entourage, and while Anita Ekberg of Screaming Mimi should certainly stand out even in a crowd of moonlighting beauty queens, her presence in the picture as a guard isn't immediately evident. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars may come off like a spoof of such space-babe movies as Queen of Outer Space, which also takes place on Venus, but it actually pre-dates all of them [the first, Cat-Women of the Moon, was released the same year]. Were A & C starting a trend instead of following one, as they did with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein? Whatever the case, this is not in the league of that movie, but it does have its amusing moments and the cast has fun. There's too much of those ex-cons, however, and the boys never do wind up on Mars.

Verdict: Amiable nonsense. **1/2.


Rentschler, Hughes, and Withers
RADIO PATROL (12 chapter Universal serial/1937). Directors: Ford Beebe; Clifford Smith.

"He acts like he knows something." -- Policeman Pat, referring to the dog

Scientist John Adams (Harry Davenport of Pardon My Past) has invented a formula for flexible steel which could make planes impervious to bullets and have other amazing uses. When Adams is murdered, the chase is on to not only find out who killed him, but keep the formula out of the hands of the bad guys. Cops Pat O'Hara (Grant Withers) and his partner Sam Maloney (Adrian Morris) join up with Adams' young son, Pinky (Mickey Rentschler); Molly Selkirk (Kay or Catherine Hughes), whose brother is at first accused of the Adams' murder; and Pinky's smart-as-a whip and spirited doggie, Irish (Silver Wolf). Bad guys include the sinister Egyptian, Tahata (Frank Lankteen), and slimy entrepreneur W. H. Harrison (Gordon Hart). Early on in the serial there are a couple of good cliffhangers -- Pat nearly winds up in a smelter furnace; and is almost smashed by a crushing door on a hydraulic hinge --  but other than that there's not much to recommend in this comparatively dull cliffhanger. Withers was in The Secret of Treasure Island, Jungle Jim, and other serials. Adrian Morris, sort of a Charles Laughton-lookalike, was the brother of Chester Morris. Beautiful Silver Wolf had only three film appearances. This serial was based on the comic strip of the same name; "Pinky," a youthful protagonist, came from "Pinkerton, Jr.," the original name of the strip. [In the the opening sequence a crime wave occurs and it is noted that the cops need radios in their cars to keep up with the bad guys; otherwise there is no real "radio patrol" in the storyline.] Withers and Morris also appeared together in the terrible serial Fighting Marines.

Verdict: When the dog is the most interesting character -- and actor -- and it isn't a Rin Tin Tin movie, you know you're in trouble. **.


DOC SAVAGE: SKULL ISLAND. Will Murray. Altus Press; 2013.

In a brand-new Doc Savage adventure, King Kong has already attacked New York and fallen from the Empire State building when the novel begins. The 1930's pulp magazine hero tells his comrades about how he met Kong some years before in 1920, when he accompanied his stern father on a search of the Indian Ocean for Doc's grandfather, sailor Stormalong Savage. Grandpappy has been marooned on Skull Mountain Island and been the pet of the big ape-like creature for many years. In addition to staying out of the way of Kong and dodging all manner of hungry dinosaurs, Doc and his family members have to deal with murderous attacks by a band of head-hunting dyaks with poisonous blowguns. Skull Island has some exciting and intriguing moments, but it's not as memorable as the classic Doc- Savage-meets-Dinosaurs novel The Land of Terror. The attempts to sort of humanize a completely unreal character, Doc, are admirable but don't really work, Doc's father comes off like a major asshole, and there's far too much of those annoying Dayaks, until the book simply runs out of steam. An unintentionally hilarious moment occurs when Savage Sr. tells Clark that he was hoping to "cleanse" him of war (the book takes place post-WW1) when Doc is hacking and hewing at and disemboweling and beheading dyaks right and left! This is one of a new series of "wild" adventures of Doc published by Altus Press. NOTE: There was one film based on Doc Savage made back in 1975 and a new one is now in pre-production.

Verdict: For Kong and Doc Savage completists. **1/2. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013


FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955). Director: Joseph Pevney.

Drummer: "How do you like your coffee?"

Lynn: "Alone!"

Wealthy widow Lynn Markham (Joan Crawford) moves into a beautiful beach house her husband owned that had formerly been leased to another wealthy widow, Eloise Crandell (Judith Evelyn). Eloise took a header off the deck onto the rocks below, and homicide is suspected, and the chief suspect is a handsome hustler named Drummer (Jeff Chandler), who has now set his sights on Lynn. Drummer has two sleazy associates who pretend to be his aunt and uncle, Osbert (Cecil Kellaway) and Queenie (Natalie Schafer), but Lynn gives the both of them a good dressing down. Unfortunately, Drummer has something the other two don't have, and that's sex appeal, so Lynn finds herself falling for the guy despite her better instincts. But has she stepped out of the frying pan into the fire? Female on the Beach has a workable premise and some good dialogue, but something's missing, and that's veracity and in-depth characterization. As essayed by Crawford, Lynn seems too smart not to walk away from Drummer when he says things like "I don't hate woman -- I just hate the way they are." True, it takes him some time to wear away her resistance, with her telling him initially "You're about as friendly as a suction pump!" The two leads aren't bad, although in some of their scenes talking of the past they seem like college students in an acting class. Kellaway [The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms] and Schafer [Repeat Performance] are fine, as is Jan Sterling [Johnny Belinda] as a real estate lady and former flame of Drummer's. Evelyn [Rear Window] makes an impression despite her limited screen time -- the opening and a couple of flashbacks. Charles Drake shows up now and then as a cop investigating Eloise's suspicious death [one has to wonder how such a tiny, frail thing as Evelyn could cause such damage to a wooden railing even if she were jet-propelled through it?] Female on the Beach is somewhat entertaining, but it's cheap, tawdry, and often unbelievable. Pevney also directed Man of a Thousand Faces with James Cagney. As an actor he appeared in such films as Body and Soul.

Verdict: Flaccid suspenser. **1/2.


Virginia Maskell and Ian McShane
YOUNG AND WILLING aka The Wild and the Willing/1962). Director: Ralph Thomas.

"Damn it woman! Lloyds doesn't underwrite everything in life!"

Harry Brown (Ian McShane in his film debut) is a charismatic ladies man at an English college who has a steady girl, Josie (Samantha Eggar of Curtains), but has an affair with the wife, Virginia (Virginia Maskell), of one of his professors, the rather stern Chown (Paul Rogers). Harry is kind to his somewhat geeky roommate, Phil (John Hurt of Alien), and friendly with what appears to be the sole black student on campus, Reggie (Johnny Sekka). Other characters include Sarah (Katherine Woodwille), for whom Phil is carrying a torch, and somewhat snooty Andrew (Jeremy Brett), who was also involved with Virginia. It all leads up to a protracted finale in which Harry gets Phil to help him climb a tower and plant a flag as a prank, an act that leads to tragedy. Young and Willing has its moments, but a lot of it is very predictable. However, the actors are quite good, especially McShane and Maskell, here playing a role very different from hers in Doctor in Love, which was also directed by Ralph Thomas.

Verdict: Some compelling moments and performances. **1/2.


Troubled professor and inquiring cop: Alex Cord and Enzo Tarascio

THE DEAD ARE ALIVE (aka L'etrusco uccide ancora/1972). Director: Armando Crispino.

Professor Jason Porter (Alex Cord) is an archaeologist exploring Etruscan tombs in Italy. His ex-girlfriend, Myra (Samantha Eggar), is now married to temperamental maestro Nikos Samarakis (John Marley), who hates Jason and vice versa. Jason tries to rekindle things with Myra, and accuses her of having a thing for her stepson, Igor (Carlo De Mejo). Igor's mother, Leni (Nadja Tiller), claims she and Nikos were never divorced. However, the big problem is that some maniac, who plays loud chorale music on a small tape player, is running around bashing and killing people, especially romantic couples, in the ruins; the weapon is a metal tubular probe used in underground photography. Suspects include all of the aforementioned, as well as a blackmailing guard named Otello (Vladan Holec), Nikos' mousy secretary, Irene (Daniela Surina), and Stephen (Horst Frank), the choreographer for the latest production that Nikos is conducting [why some of these people are wandering around the ruins in the first place is a question]. Jason realizes at one point that the murders seem to mirror scenes in ancient Etruscan paintings, but wonders how anyone could have entered the tomb to see them before the official opening. Inspector Giuranna (Enzo Tarascio) tries to discover the truth, but the real truth is that The Dead Are Alive can't make up its mind if it's a mystery, a horror film, or a twisted family melodrama, and doesn't quite work on any level. The movie is much too long and convoluted and I defy anyone to figure out the motives of the killer when he or she is finally unmasked. The mixed-bag international actors are okay, but unable to do much with the material.

Verdict: Initially intriguing but it goes on and on and on ... **.


MacMurray gets lost in the sewers of Paris!

BON VOYAGE! (1962). Director: James Neilson.

Indiana native Harry Willard (Fred MacMurray), his wife, Katie (Jane Wyman), his teenage son, Elliott (Tommy Kirk), and daughter, Amy (Deborah Walley), plus youngest son, Skipper (Kevin Corcoran), travel by boat to Paris and the Riviera and have a series of misadventures. It's a question why the Disney studio often took light fare for the whole family and made such films over two hours long [at least In Search of the Castaways, which was loaded with incident, was under two hours]. In any case the movie does have some surprises even though much of it is predictable: Harry and Elliott both encounter the same French hooker [in a sixties Disney movie!], and Harry gets good and drunk at a party. Amy has an on-again/off-again romance with a wealthy young man named Nick (Michael Callan of Mysterious Island) but it's a question what such a sophisticated fellow with gorgeous French girlfriends would see in a sweet but virginal "drip" like her. When Katie tells hubby that "it's important Amy find out she's a vital, warm-blooded young woman" due to her hormonal reaction to Nick, it's almost as if she were afraid her daughter was gay. Many of the sequences go on for too long, and some discussions about the children are repeated too often, but at least there are some genuinely funny moments, especially a sequence at a casino. Katie is pursued by a middle-aged Lothario; Elliott pursues various young females [the mother of one of whom wants to extort money from Harry]; and Harry gets lost in the sewers of Paris during a tour [during which young Skipper has to take a pee -- at least an appropriate place!]. MacMurray and Wyman are old pros who know just now to handle this material, and the others, particularly Callan, are all on the mark. One admirable thing about the movie is that it doesn't knock Europe or make traveling to other countries out to be some terrible, dull thing; the Willards appreciate the art, culture, and beauty of Paris.

Verdict: Amiable if distinctly minor comedy with some funny sequences. **1/2.


The cast of Inseminoid discuss firing their agents
INSEMINOID (aka Horror Planet/1981). Director: Norman J. Warren.

An archaeological expedition is sent to a planet where has been discovered a "vast, tomb-like complex," the exploration of which they hope will give them insight into the past inhabitants and what might have wiped them out. But before you can say Alien, Sandy (Judy Geeson) is attacked and impregnated by an alien creature that apparently takes over her mind and makes her go psycho. Inseminoid turns into a space-slasher film as Sandy stalks the other crew members, probably in an attempt to protect her baby. Besides Geeson, the only "name" actor is Stephanie Beacham [And Now the Screaming Starts] as another crew member. Inseminoid is slow, confusing and tedious, with nary a single thing to recommend it. This is the type of terrible movie that does no one's career any good, although most of the actors are all perfectly competent, although for some reason you can't quite take Jennifer Ashley seriously as the leader of the expedition. Geeson was also in Berserk with Joan Crawford. A dreadful musical score only makes the whole experience even more awful.You can probably miss the scene when a trapped lady astronaut uses a saw on her foot.

Verdict: Atrocious. 1/2 *.


Bad Gals: Carol Hughes and Veda Ann Borg

JUNGLE RAIDERS (15 chapter Columbia serial/1945). Director: Lesley Selander.

Jake Rayne (Charles King) runs a trading post on the outskirts of the jungle, and is keeping Dr. Reed (Budd Buster) prisoner in his basement because he thinks he knows the location of some treasure. Cora Bell (Veda Ann Borg) a hard-as-nails associate of Rayne's, brings Reed's daughter, Ann (Janet Shaw) to Rayne in order to use her to force her father to comply, but Ann is fortunate to meet up with Bob Moore (Kane Richmond) and his buddy, Joe (Eddie Quillan). Bob's father, Dr. Moore (John Elliot) is a colleague of Dr. Reed who hopes to find a certain fungus in the jungle that may prove as much a boon to mankind as penicillin. In addition to Rayne's team of bad guys, the heroes and Ann have to contend with the evil witch doctor (Ted Adams) of the Arzec tribe, who know the secret of both the fungus and the treasure, and their High Priestess, Zara (Carol Hughes), who is always calling for sacrifices. When they aren't slapping each other around, Cora and Zara are uneasy allies and both come to a fitting end in the final chapter. The natives of Jungle Raiders seem more like Indians than Africans, and one chieftain sounds as if he just got off the bus from Brooklyn! There isn't much "jungle" to be seen in Jungle Raiders, and the serial is overlong and meandering, but there are a couple of good cliffhangers, such as when Bob and his father are hung over a pit with sharp stakes at the bottom of it, and also when old Dr. Moore is nearly drowned and eaten by gators at the same time, and has his head placed under a big boulder by bitchy Zara. Whatever its flaws, the serial is reasonably entertaining, and Borg offers a vivid portrait of a heartless tough gal only out for herself. Kane Richmond is stalwart, as usual, and Quillan offers the same vaguely comical character as ever.

Verdict: Hard-boiled Veda vs. Zara. **1/2.


Samantha Eggar

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1973 telefilm). Director: Jack Smight.

In one of television's more pointless exercises, this TV movie is a remake of the Billy Wilder 1944 classic. The story, based on James Cain's novel, remains the same. Insurance salesman Walter Neff (Richard Crenna) and Phyllis Dietrichson (Samantha Eggar) conspire to do away with her husband (Arch Johnson), hoping to invoke a double indemnity clause in his insurance by making it look like an unusual accident. If you've never seen the original movie, or even if you have, this version will still prove entertaining because of the suspenseful storyline, but compared to the Wilder version with Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson, this is like a high school production. The actors aren't bad, with Eggar making a suitably sociopathic Phyllis and Lee J. Cobb as good as ever in the Robinson role [if not as good as Robinson, whom he apes to some degree]. As for Richard Crenna? He rushes through the opening and closing scenes like a complete amateur [possibly he was directed that way as this telefilm is only 75 minutes long!] but for the rest of the movie he's okay, and was probably cast for the same reason MacMurray [who was much better] was, that likability factor that makes the unpleasant character more palatable. Jack Smight's direction is strictly by the numbers, completely devoid of style, and he does nothing to increase the tension. The murder scene itself might as well be  a trip to the supermarket. It also has to be said that this kind of noirish material plays better in the right time period, the forties, than updated to the seventies.

Verdict: Stick to the original. **1/2.