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

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Zachary Scott and Ann Sheridan
THE UNFAITHFUL (1947). Director: Vincent Sherman.

While her husband is out of town, Chris Hunter (Ann Sheridan) returns from a party and is attacked in her home, ultimately killing her assailant. Chris tells her husband, Bob (Zachary Scott), as well as the police, that she never met the man, a sculptor named Tanner. But if that's the case, why did Tanner do a bust of a woman who looks exactly like Chris Hunter, and why are some people offering it to her husband for sale ..? This is an excellent Americanized variation on, and post-WW2 updating of, The Letter, but it takes awhile for the viewer to realize it as it has so many interesting elements of its own. Sheridan [Nora Prentiss] gives one of her best performances, and has an especially good moment when she has a heart to heart talk with her husband about things she did when he was overseas and why she did them. Zachary Scott [Ruthless] is also excellent, as is Lew Ayres [Damian: Omen 2] as the friend and lawyer who comes to the couple's assistance. Eve Arden certainly scores in the somewhat edgier-than-usual role of Bob's cousin, Paula, and the dialogue [by David Goodis and James Gunn] as she tries to explain Chris' wartime actions to Bob is trenchant and memorable. Marta Mitrovich is quietly effective as the angry widow, Mrs. Tanner; Steven Geray suitably oily as a kind of blackmailer and art dealer; Jerome Cowan appropriately wily as a prosecutor; and John Hoyt ever-grim as a suspicious police detective. This is probably director Vincent Sherman's [The Damned Don't Cry] finest hour and a half. A first-rate score by Max Steiner and fine Ernest Haller photography complete the ensemble.

Verdict: A snappy, sophisticated picture that on its own terms is nearly as good as the original ***1/2.


Eric Portman and Ann Todd
DAYBREAK (1948). Director: Compton Bennett.

"That's what I feel like with you. Like a river that's stopped winding and found the sea."

Eddie (Eric Portman) works in a barber shop with his friend, Ron (Bill Owen), when he discovers he's got a small inheritance, including a barge on the river. Adding to his contentment is a lovely young lady named "Frankie" (Ann Todd), who agrees to become his wife and live with him on the barge. Eddie makes extra money in an unusual occupation that he keeps from his wife, and while he's away she grows closer to an unconventionally attractive hired worker named Olaf (Maxwell Reed), which leads to a major misunderstanding and a highly dramatic resolution that ties in with Eddie's secret occupation. The movie is told as a flashback leading up to these dramatic events. Todd [So Evil, My Love], Portman and Reed give wonderful performances, the film is moody and absorbing, and there's an evocative and memorable score by Benjamin Frankel [The End of the Affair]. Bill Owen [The Comeback] is also notable as Ron.

Verdict: Unusual, compelling, and beautifully acted. ***.


Marcia Henderson and Craig Hill
DEADLY DUO (1962). Director: Reginald Le Borg.

A down and out lawyer, Preston Morgan (Craig Hill), is hired by wealthy Lenora Spence (Irene Tedrow) to make an offer to her daughter-in-law, Sabena (Marcia Henderson of All I Desire): half a million bucks if she gives up all rights to her son, Billy (Peter Oliphant). Sabena has no intention of giving up her child, but her evil twin sister Dara (also Marcia Henderson) and her slimy husband, Jay (Robert Lowery of Batman and Robin) cook up a murderous scheme against the background of a studio lot "Acapulco." Tedrow is terrific as the no-nonsense Lenora, Lowery is suitably reptilian, and the others are competent enough if unexciting, and the picture holds the attention in the way of a cheap TV thriller. An interesting aspect of the film is that at first you get the impression that there are two different actresses playing the twins as the "double" business is handled quite well for such an inexpensive production. Marco Lopez makes an impression as the bellboy, Luis, who wants to show Preston the town. Henderson was also in The Hypnotic Eye and Le Borg also directed Bad Blonde, Voodoo Island, Weird Woman and many others. His surname was alternately spelled "Le Borg" or "LeBorg." Although this looks like a Bel-Air production it was actually made by United Artists.

Verdict: You can't go wrong with evil twins. **.


SCARLET O HARA'S YOUNGER SISTER: My Lively Life In and Out of Hollywood. Evelyn Keyes. Lyle Stuart; 1977.

Evelyn Keyes was one of those innumerable Hollywood starlets who managed to have a few major roles in minor pictures, and small parts in big movies such as Gone With the Wind. When these "also-rans" write their memoirs they fill the pages with notes on the important people they knew and worked with, and do what they can to convince everyone that their life was fabulous even though Hollywood rejected them [or they rejected Hollywood, which sounds better]. Generally these books are about settling scores and perhaps there's a little of that in Scarlet O'Hara's Younger Sister, but what sets the book apart is that Keyes can write. This is not an "as told to" book where everything is interpreted by somebody else, but Keyes' story in her own generally well-chosen and witty words; it reads like a good novel where you're anxious to see what happens to our heroine next. The book is frank -- Keyes makes no bones that she slept with and married powerful men in the industry [directors Charles Vidor and John  Huston, among others] -- although she claims it was a daddy fixation. The book, full of amusing anecdotes, explores the sleazy underbelly of Hollywood and the crappy way that women, instantly disposable, were treated by most males in the industry. The most interesting passages deal with Keyes' several-years affair with Mike Todd, which almost led to the altar [except he met Liz Taylor], and her marriage to nutty chauvinist bandleader Artie Shaw, whose punctilious behavior would have driven anyone crazy. [Keyes was still technically married to Shaw when this book was published. When he died several years after their 1985 divorce, Keyes successfully sued for half of his estate, but she herself was gone only a couple of years later.] If you're looking for behind-the-scenes stories of the movies Keyes appeared in, look elsewhere; she doesn't even have that much to say about The Killer that Stalked New York, in which she gave an excellent performance. Keyes also gave notable performances in The Face Behind the Mask and Ladies in Retirement.

Verdict: Absorbing life of a Hollywood insider. ***1/2.


Robert Young meets Robert Young
HONOLULU (1939). Director: Edward Buzzell.

Movie star Brooks Mason (Robert Young) is constantly besieged by admiring fans who are so aggressive they put him in the hospital. One day, however, it is not Brooks but his double, George Smith (also Young) who is "assaulted" and winds up admitted to emergency. From there he is taken to the home of Brooks Mason, whose butler (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) thinks he's seeing double. Brooks comes up with a plan. He will return to Honolulu, where George hails from, to take up his quieter life for a spell, while George takes over for him temporarily in New York and Hollywood. The complications are that Brooks -- pretending to be George -- falls for a dancer, Dorothy (Eleanor Powell) on shipboard -- but George already has a fiancee, Cecelia (Rita Johnson of The Naughty Nineties), in Hawaii. While the leads are okay, Gracie Allen [We're Not Dressing] provides the most fun as one of Dorothy's friends [George Burns has much less to do]. Clarence Kolb of My Little Margie plays Cecelia's disapproving [of George] father. Featherweight but harmless.

Verdict: Amiable stuff and nonsense. **1/2.


Jeri Lynn Frazer and Joey Dee
TWO TICKETS TO PARIS (1962). Director: Greg Garrison.

"I'll take two containers of Troy Donahue and a six pack of Rock Hudson." -- Aggie

Joey (Joey Dee, playing himself) is engaged to Piper (Jeri Lynn Frazer) but the wedding has to be postponed because he gets a gig on a cruise ship sailing for Paris. Piper's mother insist they take a chaperon along, her Aunt Aggie (Kay Medford). But things get complicated when a French dancer named Coco (Lisa James), makes a play for Joey to make her philandering boyfriend, Tony (Richard Dickens), jealous. Jeri decides to get even by coming on to singer Gary (Gary Crosby, not playing himself), who sings "Lady Want to Do That Twist." Medford is terrible as she croaks out "Instant Men," although Frazer makes a better impression delivering "Teenage Vamp" and "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home." Thick-lipped and somewhat odd-looking, Dee is okay and wiggles a couple of numbers. Frazer, a cute little monkey-face, grows on you. Medford [Butterfield 8] has the same rather off-putting personality as ever and the ever-irritating Charles Nelson Reilly embarrasses himself playing a "flaming" wedding planner. Dee appeared in only one other movie. Frazer was introduced in this picture but had faded out by 1968 with only a few credits -- she would have been perfect for a sitcom.

Verdict: Strange picture with strange leads. **.


Superman and Lois Lane have a moment
ALL STAR SUPERMAN (2011/direct to video). Director: Sam Liu.

This is a feature length animated film based on the comic book mini-series of the same name. Rescuing some people in space, Superman is told that he absorbed radiation that is slowly killing him, something that was, of course, engineered by arch enemy Lex Luthor. Like the series, this is episodic, but eliminates some of the stupider sequences of the comic, such as the protracted business with the Bizarro duplicates, although the silly sequence with macho meathead time travelers "Atlas" and "Samson" remains. The sequence with the Parasite -- who is especially monstrous looking in this -- in jail has been expanded and is exciting. There are also two Kryptonian astronauts who were lost in space but now represent a danger to earth, an energy creature named Solaris, and Luthor's nasty niece Nasthalthia. James Denton, Christina Hendricks and Anthony LaPaglia all give good voice performances as, respectively, Superman, Lois Lane, and Luthor.

Verdict: Okay, but watch the excellent Superman vs. the Elite instead. **1/2.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


CAROLINA BLUES (1944). Director: Leigh Jason.

"Is he dying of something serious?"

The irrepressible band leader Kay Kyser, playing himself, is back in another musical comedy and he's got Ish Kabibble and Ann Miller to play around with! The plot, such as it is, has Kay promising his band and singers a vacation but always discovering that there's another wartime commitment. Finally he resorts to pretending he's dying [a somewhat tasteless sub-plot] so that the gang will come back and perform. Another complication has it that Kay's favorite singer, the real Georgia Carroll, is going off to get married, and he's resistant to the idea of hiring Julie (Ann Miller), the daughter of supposedly wealthy Phineas Carver (Victor Moore), to replace her. [In real life Carroll married Kay Kyser!] Victor Moore not only plays Phineas but also all of his relatives, male and female, and there's a funny bit when we meet Ish Kabibble's family and all of them, including the dog, have the same bowl-over-the-head haircut. Kyser is likable and adept enough, Miller is enthusiastic and perky, the assorted singers and dancers are swell, the tunes are bouncy, and Moore [It Happened on Fifth Avenue] and Kabibble provide some laughs. What more could you ask for? Well ... Kyser and Kabibble were also in Around the World. Jason also directed Three Girls About Town and others.

Verdict: Amiable nonsense with music and a pleasant cast. ***.


Douglas Dick and Loretta Young
THE ACCUSED (1949). Director: William Dieterle.

"What do you think suicides are? Some little person thinks their little problems are all that matter in the world." -- Dr. Tuttle

College psychology professor Dr. Wilma Tuttle (Loretta Young) is concerned with a brilliant but brash and difficult student named Bill Perry (Douglas Dick). When Bill forces a smooch on her at an isolated spot, she reacts by hitting him repeatedly and killing him. Instead of coming clean, she covers up and hopes his death will be attributed to a bad dive off of a cliff into the water below; he was wearing swimming trunks. Perry's lawyer, Warren Ford (Robert Cummings), who didn't really know Perry that well nor especially like him, comes to town and begins a romance with Wilma even as homicide detective Lt. Ted Dorgan (Wendell Corey) begins to get suspicious ... The Accused features a good lead performance from Young [Because of You], fine support from an especially notable Douglas Dick and the wry, sardonic Corey [The Big Knife], but Bob Cummings is horribly miscast [as he always was in movies like this] and is terrible. Another  problem with the movie is that while Perry does kiss Wilma forcibly and without permission, it doesn't necessarily mean he would have sexually assaulted her, and her viciously hitting him over and over again seems like literal overkill. Sara Allgood and Ann Doran are also in the cast, and Sam Jaffe offers a flavorful performance as Dr. Romley, whom Wilma finds ghoulish. Victor Young's score is a plus, and Ketti Frings' screenplay has some interesting dialogue. Unfortunately The Accused runs out of gas long before it's over. Dieterle directed Dark City and many, many others.

Verdict: Physician, heal thyself. **.


MARY WICKES: I KNOW I'VE SEEN THAT FACE BEFORE. Steve Taravella. University Press of Mississippi; 2013.

 "Your posture is atrocious!" -- Wickes as the ballet instructor on I Love Lucy.

Now that most of the major figures in Hollywood have had their lives exhaustively catalogued,  it's time for authors to turn their sights to less stellar but often beloved character actors, such as Mary Wickes. You might think there might not be a whole book in Wickes' life and career, but guess again -- this is a scrupulously researched tome bolstered by many interviews with those who knew Mary best -- such as Lucie Arnaz, whose mother was Mary's best friend  [but who paid her much less for her appearances on Here's Lucy than she did other guest stars] -- and with penetrating analysis of Wickes' approach to comedy and her roles, as well as her not always charming personality quirks. Basically this is an admiring, respectful bio but it presents Wickes in all of her aspects, a full-realized human being with admirable traits as well as flaws. Wickes, of course, will always be famous for The Man Who Came to Dinner, where she brilliantly traded barbs with Monty Woolley, but she also did a lot of theater and television work, appearing on Father Dowling Mysteries and in Oklahoma in the last years of her life, when she could hardly see and had numerous ailments. She lived for her work, which sustained her nearly until the very end. While there may be a bit too much of the sad, lonely spinster  -- with so many friends and such a busy schedule you have to wonder how lonely she really was -- and for some people this might be Way Too Much of Mary, but if you're a Wickes fan, this is an absorbing read, extremely well done and highly recommended.

Verdict: Exhaustive look at the life and work of Wickes. ***1/2.


TWC spokesman
New Time-Warner Cable of NY commercial.

In a new commercial for Time-Warner Cable of New York, which offers a "bundle" offer of phone, TV and Internet, we see a wife dreamily starring out the window at a good-looking guy washing his car. Her husband -- who is whiny and nerdy and much less attractive -- is doing a crossword or something along those lines. "Do you think you settled?" the husband says, startling the wife, who is thinking just that as she watches the good-looking guy. But the husband is talking about cable service. Suddenly the TWC spokesman magically appears in their living room, and tells them about the new TWC bundle. The husband is ecstatic. "We don't have to settle!" The wife is pleased, but you can tell she's still thinking about the guy washing his car. I don't know -- I recognize that when it comes to couples many people do feel that they've settled, but is dissatisfaction in marriage, as well as sexual frustration, something that should be used to sell cable service? The spot is meant to be amusing, but there's something creepy and pathetic about it.  You're not certain if you're supposed to feel sorry for the frustrated, disappointed wife or the clueless husband. In any case, the "creators" of the ad seem to understand that in some marriages there is more satisfaction in watching television than there is in the bedroom or anywhere else. Sad.

Verdict: Kind of gross all told. **.


Claudette Colbert
THE SECRET HEART (1946). Director: Robert Z. Leonard.

On shipboard, Lee (Claudette Colbert) is romanced by Chris (Walter Pidgeon), who urges her to marry him instead of his "friend," Larry Addams (Richard Derr), to whom she is engaged. But Lee does marry Larry and finds herself trapped in a relationship with a neurotic, paranoid composer -- basically an asshole -- who takes a long time to finally dispose of himself. Chris comes back into Lee's life, but she resists him out of guilt. Another complication is that her step-daughter, Penny (June Allyson), thinks she's fallen in love with the much older Chris -- when she learns the truth of whom he really loves will she go the way of her father? The Secret Heart is an absorbing enough romantic melodrama, bolstered by some very good performances, especially from Colbert, Derr [Terror is a Man], Robert Sterling [Bunco Squad] as Lee's stepson and Patricia Medina as his fiancee. Lionel Barrymore is in Wise Old Owl mode as Penny's shrink, and Marshall Thompson is charming as a young man who is attracted to a dismissive Penny. June Allyson is not bad as Penny, although, as usual, she's a trifle cloying, and Pidgeon manages to hold his own with Colbert without being on her level. Elizabeth Patterson and Dwayne Hickman are also in the cast. Leonard also directed the far superior In the Good Old Summertime.

Verdict: Some people you can live without. **1/2.


Barney (Greg Morris)  and Willy (Peter Lupus) with a suspect

In the sixth season of the popular show the villains were usually members of the syndicate as the IMF said good-bye to accented dictators in exotic mythical locations around the world, although they were still called in when "conventional law enforcement" supposedly couldn't handle matters. The original theme music arrangement was back, but the scripts were often sloppy, with the characters not doing enough research to perfect their impersonations. Peter Graves as Phelps gives his best performance pretending to be a blind alcoholic agent in the first episode, "Blind."  Among the better episodes were "Tram," with more syndicate bosses on the loose; "Encounter," with guest-star Elizabeth Ashley offering an excellent performance as an alcoholic wife; "Mindbend," in which the group takes on the trainers of brainwashed assassins; "Nerves," with Christopher George and Tyne Daly involved in the theft of nerve gas; "Casino," which features Jack Cassidy and an amazing machine that sucks cash out of a vault; and "Double Dead," in which Willy (Peter Lupus) is captured during an attempt to get money back from loan sharks. "Connection," The Bride" and "Stone Pillow" were also good, while the best episode, arguably, was "Bag Woman," in which the mission is to learn the identity of a syndicate bigwig and Barney's (Greg Morris) mask is pulled off at an inopportune moment.

Verdict: Showing its age, but still entertaining. ***.


Channing Tatum and Ray Liotta
THE SON OF NO ONE (2011). Written and directed by Dito Montiel.

Young cop Jonathan White (Channing Tatum) was "involved" in two murders in the projects when he was a boy, and now his past has come back to haunt him. A newspaper reporter (Juliette Binoche) is getting notes from someone claiming that these two deaths were covered up and a cop is going to be in trouble. White tries to find out who is sending these letters, but his childhood buddy Vinnie (Tracy Morgan), who knows the truth, assures him that he's told no one. Then the reporter is murdered not long after White goes to talk to her ... This could have made an interesting thriller, but Montiel's meandering approach and mediocre script -- not to mention all the switching back and forth from 1986 to 2002 -- only add up to tedium. Ray Liotta and Al Pacino are wasted in the smaller roles of cops, while Tatum's performance, even when you consider his character is suppressing emotion, is at times borderline zombie; he seems clueless as to how to play the character. Even the most humble "B" movie from the forties is put together with more smooth finesse than this. Tatum was also in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Pacino had a supporting role as himself in Jack and Jill the same year.

Verdict: A poor excuse for a suspense film. *1/2.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Laraine Day and Jean Muir
AND ONE WAS BEAUTIFUL (1940). Director: Robert B. Sinclair.

"If ever I want to make anyone wretched, I'll call on you for advice."

Kate (Laraine Day of The Locket) is the shy, younger sister of Helen Lattimer (Jean Muir of Dr. Monica), who has strong feelings for "good catch" Ridley Crane (Robert Cummings).  When Kate goes to a party in place of Helen, she meets Ridley, who is charming to her, and becomes smitten with him as well. The sisters' feelings for Ridley and for each other become all entangled when Ridley gets drunk at a club, Helen briefly takes the wheel of his car, runs over and kills a man, and flees. She allows Ridley, who's already been in trouble for drunk driving, take the blame, but her sister suspects the truth ... And One Was Beautiful is a minor drama, but it holds the attention due to its interesting situation and some good acting, with Day and Muir in fine form. Billie Burke plays the mother and Esther Dale the dyspeptic maid in their usual professional style. Bob Cummings is perfectly okay for the lighter scenes, but less convincing when he has to get all dramatic. A curious aspect of the movie is that the family of the man who is killed seem much happier and better off after his death due to Ridley's giving them lots of cash (even without his being sued). With some good dialogue, this "B" movie is at times more knowing of human emotions than one might think. One assumes the title has to do with inner beauty because both sisters are physically attractive. Sinclair also directed Mr. and Mrs. North.

Verdict: Feuding sisters are always fun. ***.


Merle Oberon
DARK WATERS (1944). Director: Andre De Toth.

Leslie Calvin (Merle Oberon of These Three) is the only survivor of the shelling of a ship, and spent many miserable days in a life boat. With no family left, she goes to live with her Aunt Emily (Fay Bainter) and Uncle Norbert (John Qualen of Girls Dormitory), who live on an old sugar plantation near the bayou, and whom she has never met. Leslie is befriended by Dr. Grover (Franchot Tone), the maid Florella (Nina Mae McKinney), and another fired servant, Pearson (Rex Ingram), who has been warned to stay away from the estate. Among her relatives' associates are their lawyer, Mr. Sydney (Thomas Mitchell), and handyman Cleeve (Elisha Cook, Jr.). It isn't long before Leslie, now a wealthy heiress, suspects that there's something not quite right going on in the bayou, and that it embroils her aunt and uncle and perhaps others. Dark Waters is a modest, obvious and predictable suspense item with some good performances from Tone and Bainter, and especially Ingram [Fired Wife], Mitchell and Cook. Oberon has a strong scene in the hospital at the beginning, but her performance is uneven. It's all swathed in a nice score by Miklos Rozsa.

Verdict: Watchable but not much else. **1/2.


GRAYSON HALL: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW. R. J. Jamison. iUniverse [self-publishing company]; 2006.

This is an interesting biography of stage, screen and television actress Grayson Hall, who was nominated for a supporting Oscar for The Night of the Iguana, but who will always be best-known for playing Dr. Julia Hoffman on the afternoon Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. The book looks into her early days before she reinvented herself as "Grayson Hall," her two marriages, her complicated relationship with her father, and the many people she knew and worked with in New York City. Jamison looks at the film that Hall denied she ever made, wherein she played a madame, Satan in High Heels, as well as the low-budget End of the Road, not to mention the two theatrical features based on Dark Shadows. Her stage work was eclectic and controversial: La Ronde, Genet's The Balcony, and even a couple of musicals. She was doing previews of The Madwoman of Chaillot when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. I remember watching Dark Shadows and wondering in how many different ways Hall could intone the phrase "I don't know" which she seemed required to say many times in every episode. Never conventionally attractive -- one might even say she possessed sublime ugliness --  Hall nevertheless proves quite glamorous in some youthful shots in the photo section. Jamison does a good job exploring the life and work of Hall, and suggests that back in the day she was almost some kind of gay icon.

Verdict: For Dark Shadows fans and theater enthusiasts. ***.


Ann Francis and adorable tyke
SO YOUNG, SO BAD (1950). Director: Bernard Vorhaus.

Dr. John Jason (Paul Henreid of Between Two Worlds) is the new psychiatrist at a reformatory for girls that is run with complete disregard for these young ladies' welfare by Mr. Riggs (Cecil Clovelly) and stone-faced nurse Mrs. Beuhler (Grace Coppin). Jason tries to get support from the rather beautiful assistant superintendent Ruth Levering (Catherine McLeod), but she's too afraid of losing her job. When Jason tries to get the girls to talk about abuses to board members, they clam up, having been threatened by Riggs or Beuhler. Jason is particularly concerned with four of the young women: Loretta (Anne Francis) who tries to use sex as a weapon; Jackie (Anne Jackson), who is sullen and may have a crush on Loretta; Delores (Rita Moreno), who is pretty and shy; and Jane (Enid Pulver), who is withdrawn and needs help. Loretta wants to give up her baby boy for adoption but while she pretends to have no feelings is more emotionally involved than she lets on. So Young, So Bad was released the same year as the more famous Caged, and the two movies have many similarities [although the latter film takes place in a bonafide prison with older inmates]. SYSB is a fairly absorbing film with real attempts at characterization, and is greatly bolstered by the performances of the cast, especially Francis [Forbidden Planet], Jackson, and Moreno, all of whom would go on to have highly successful careers [Pulver did a little TV work after she completed this film]. Instead of a kitten as in Caged, the girls have a pet rabbit that gets stomped on by the abusive Beuhler. The four adult leads are all quite credible. An interesting scene has Jackie utterly collapsing into anguished tears after she sees Loretta bonding with her baby, as if she feels left out or is suffering from lesbian heartbreak. Vorhaus also directed The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine. Henreid later directed movies somewhat similar to this one.

Verdict: Some very good acting helps put this over. ***.


NO TURN UNSTONED: THE WORST EVER THEATRICAL REVIEWS. Compiled by Diana Rigg. Silman-James Press (reissue). Originally published by Doubleday in 1983.

"... And Mr. John Mills wanders about the stage at the St. James theatre looking like a bewildered carrot."

Actress Diana Rigg (best-known for TV's The Avengers] wrote to her fellow thespians in the UK and US, asking for them to send her their worst notices -- brave lady! Some didn't comply, some sent notices that were really backhanded compliments, and some sent truly terrible reviews [although in some cases Rigg ferreted out even worse ones, which probably didn't endear her to her colleagues]. The book doesn't just cover 20th century actors but goes back to the days of Sarah Bernhardt and even Shakespeare (as well as later productions of his plays), and it reveals that even the bard had his detractors, such as George Bernard Shaw, who himself had people who were not overly fond of his work. Reviews not only focus on performances, but on playwrights, productions, scenery, new trends, and the like. No Turn Unstoned may not be a laugh-out-loud type of book but it is revealing of how people viewed the theater during different periods of history, and enlightens us as to the critics' [often maladjusted] thinking as well. Although Rigg concentrates on the theater world, she does include reviews from movies if they were sent in by one of her colleagues. In addition to much theater work -- she includes a couple of her own bad reviews -- Rigg also starred in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Verdict: Erudite and stylish like the author herself. ***.


Grayson Hall and Thayer David
HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970). Director: Dan Curtis.

In this first theatrical feature based on the popular Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, the storyline that introduced vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) is retold, although it ultimately goes off in its own direction separate from the series. Looking for treasure, Willie Loomis (John Karlen) stumbles across a coffin containing the centuries-old Barnabas and inadvertently releases him. Barnabas introduces himself as a cousin to the American branch of the Collins family, and is struck by the resemblance of Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) to his lost love, Josette. While Barnabas feeds upon young ladies in the vicinity, and even turns Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett) into one of the undead, two people figure out his secret: Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) and Professor Stokes (Thayer David). Julia discovers that there's a cell in Barnabas' blood that may be responsible for his condition and begins to cure him, falling in love with him as well. But when she discovers that the person he's committed to is not her but Maggie ..uh oh!  Like the series, House of Dark Shadows benefits from some good acting, with Karlen, David and Scott being especially notable; Don Briscoe as Carolyn's boyfriend and Grayson Hall as Julia are also effective, as is Louis Edmonds as Roger Collins. Joan Bennett shows up now and then as Elizabeth Collins, wringing her hands and looking worried. Roger Davis is fine as Maggie's boyfriend, Jeff, and Dennis Patrick (Dear Dead Delilah) appears as a sheriff. While Dan Curtis [Curse of the Black Widow] could never be considered a great stylist, he keeps things moving and manages to build up some tension toward the end. Certain sequences are especially atmospheric and there is some good art direction, most memorably in a climactic sequence in Barnabas' misty basement. The tune that Josette's music box plays is evocative and the old age make up used on Frid is quite convincing. There are some unintentionally comical moments, and this hasn't the visceral impact of the best of the Hammer horrors, but it really isn't at all bad. Followed by Night of Dark Shadows.

Verdict: About a hundred times better than the Tim Burton version. ***.


Judi Dench and Steve Coogan
PHILOMENA (2013). Director: Stephen Frears.

Martin Sixsmith authored a book entitled "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee," which was basically a biography of that child, a gay Republican (who was questioning some of his notions) who died of AIDS named Michael Hess. Hess becomes almost a mere footnote in the film version of the book, in which the main characters become his mother, Philomena (Judi Dench) and Sixsmith himself (Steve Coogan), who has just lost his job with the BBC and needs a new story immediately so he can get back in the game. He encounters an old woman named Philomena, who gave up her child to nuns many years ago and wonders what became of him and if he is still alive. In the mostly fictionalized movie, Sixsmith accompanies Philomena to the United States (a trip she actually never took) to find out what they can about her son so Sixsmith can write about it for the magazine footing the bill. Philomena has old-fashioned notions about gay men, supposedly knowing the very young boy was gay simply because he was "sensitive" and saying "maybe he played the harp -- he was gay, y'know." The movie certainly lets the Catholic Church off the hook when it comes to their antediluvian attitudes toward homosexuality. Frankly a story about Hess and the conflicts he endured would have made a much more interesting movie, and it's almost insulting that his story takes a back seat to the travails of his mother. Oddly, the producers apparently thought a movie about an 80-year-old woman would be more box office than one about a young gay man! That being said, the movie is absorbing enough for most of its length, but becomes less so when she learns about her son. Dench and Coogan give very good performances.

Verdict: Not what it could have been, and rather annoying at times. **1/2.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Olivia de Havilland has a crush on Walter Woolf King
CALL IT A DAY (1937). Director: Archie Mayo.

"For utter indecency, give me the high-minded!"

Spring is in the air and romantic thoughts are surrounding the members of the veddy British Hilton family. Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is thoroughly and painfully infatuated with a married painter named Paul (Walter Woolf King of Swiss Miss). Her brother Martin (Peter Willes) is smitten with the pretty next-door neighbor, Joan (Anita Louise). His father, Roger (Ian Hunter), finds himself pondering the possibility of an illicit relationship with a flirtatious client, while his wife Dorothy (Freida Inescort of Juke Box Rhythm) is pursued by Frank (Roland Young), who thinks she is the prospective bride his sister has picked out for him. You really want to like this movie with its memorable cast but it just sort of sputters along without reaching any great comedic or dramatic highlights and generally the characters are more types than real people. Yet de Havilland is wonderful, limning young unrequited love with unbridled passion, and King expertly portrays the man who is sorely attracted to her but also respectful of his wife, Ethel (a notable Peggy Wood of The Bride Wore Boots). Inescort, Hunter and Young also give excellent performances, and there's fine support from Bonita Granville and Una O'Connor. Archie Mayo also directed the superior Give Me Your Heart.

Verdict: Great cast and some good scenes but it's just nothing special. **.


Now in [trade] paperback!

Shameless plug:

McFarland has just issued an inexpensive trade paperback edition of my book Creature Features: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies. It can be ordered on their website and from amazon

The hardcover edition of Creature Features got some interesting reviews. One gal apparently thought the book was too cerebral, while another fellow thought it wasn't cerebral enough. These were two diametrically-opposed critiques, with one basically saying that there's no point in subjecting these kinds of movies to serious analysis, and the other going on pretentiously about the lack of "sub-texts." [I see nothing wrong in looking at the performances in say, giant bug movies, but nothing will get me to say that The Giant Behemoth is actually a study of post-Freudian separation anxiety or something like that.] What can you do with reviewers like those but laugh?

On the other hand, Monster Memories magazine called it "A must read ... Schoell knows his stuff ... Schoell has done a superb job in offering a fresh slant on a genre we thought we knew everything about." American Reference Books Annual listed it as a "critical, informative review."

While published by a scholarly press, Creature Features is written in an accessible, popular and not stereotypically "academic" style.

In other words, it's informative but fun.

End of shameless plug.


GREGORY PECK: A CHARMED LIFE. Lynn Haney. Carroll and Graf; 2004.

In this excellent biography of the late actor, author Lynn Haney wisely does not try to make a case that Peck was some kind of acting genius, only that he was a talented, handsome movie star who gave some memorable and effective performances over the years. Haney is also psychologically penetrating at times, such as when she writes of his Catholic upbringing: "The pressure to be a 'good Catholic boy' ... proved to be a liability in some of the roles he played as an actor. It encouraged a self-imposed constipation, a rigidity of posture that translated into conventional heroics rather than the go-for-broke intensity we see in actors like Marlon Brando and James Cagney that really strikes a nerve." Despite this his solidity served him well in certain roles such as in The Omen. Peck's career actually benefited because he was classified 4F at a time when there was a shortage of male actors, and he resisted signing contracts that would have turned him into an indentured servant for the studios. Like a great many actors, Peck jettisoned the first wife who stood by him during the early days for a younger model, although, to be fair, there may have been other problems in his marriage. Haney covers his childhood, early years in the theater, his marriages and possible affairs, the tragic suicide of his son, and all of his movies. Peck tried challenging parts he wasn't always suited for, such as in Moby Dick and The Boys from Brazil [where he was actually quite arresting], and had the guts to risk falling on his face, even while he garnered more Oscar nominations than you might realize, winning for To Kill a Mockingbird. Peck was miscast in Hitchcock's interesting The Paradine Case but struck just the right note in Mirage. Despite his upbringing, he was not one of Hollywood's conservatives, but supported causes such as Gay Rights. Behind his classically refined features was a more complex man than one might imagine.

Verdict: Probably the last word on Peck. ***1/2.


Neil Hamilton confers with Robert Mitchum
WHEN STRANGERS MARRY (aka Betrayal/1944), Director: William Castle.

Mildred Baxter (Kim Hunter) marries in haste and then has reason to worry. Her new husband, Paul (Dean Jagger) is [unnecessarily] secretive and she comes to suspect that he may be the notorious silk tie strangler. Fred Grahm (Robert Mitchum), who has always loved Millie, tries to be supportive and also has meetings with Lieutenant Blake (Neil Hamilton), who suggests he knows more than he's saying. When Strangers Marry is a pretty dull alleged suspense film whose twist comes as little surprise. The only lively scene takes place in a black jazz club, supposedly in Harlem. Hunter [The Seventh Victim] is good, Mitchum is very good, Jagger [The Brotherhood of the Bell] is hamstrung by his role, and Hamilton is Hamilton. When Millie moves into her new apartment there's a photo of director William Castle [Macabre] on the mantle.

Verdict: A Monogram cheapie and it shows. *1/2.


"Touch" Connors and Troy Donahue
LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG (1958). Director: Paul Henreid.

After his days as a romantic lead were over, Paul Henreid became a director of mostly television and often bad B movies such as this. Live Fast, Die Young concerns two sisters (Mary Murphy and Norma Eberhardt) who have a series of misadventures after striking out on their own, with one, Jill, meeting the wrong men and eventually becoming embroiled in criminal activities. Murphy managed to amass 67 credits, including The Mad Magician, while Eberhardt did mostly TV work after this. More interesting cast members include Joan Marshall, who starred in Homicidal as "Jean Arless," Troy Donahue, and Michael [formerly "Touch"] Connors as a couple of bad guys. Gordon Jones [The Green Hornet] plays the girls' unpleasant father. The movie is too tedious to have much entertainment value. Among Henreid's better directorial efforts are the zesty Girls on the Loose with Mara Corday and Dead Ringer with Bette Davis.

Verdict: Moves slow, dies fast. *.


Thurston Hall, Lynn Merrick and Robert Stanton/Haymes
BLONDE FROM BROOKLYN (1945). Director: Del Lord.

Fresh out of the Army, Dixon Harper (Robert Stanton), who loves everything Southern although he was born a Yankee, runs into a jukebox gal and wannabe singer named Susan (Lynn Merrick of I Love Trouble). For reasons that make little sense, the two decide to pretend to be from the deep South with the aid of lovable con man Colonel Hubert Fransworth (Thurston Hall of Theodora Goes Wild). Changing her name to Susanna Bellwithers, Susan learns that she is now considered the heir to a fortune that isn't rightfully hers, but if she confesses the truth she and Bob may lose a radio contract with their sponsors... Blonde from Brooklyn has amiable players, with Hall the most professional of the bunch and Merrick and Stanton being comely and in good voice. Mary Treen [Let's Do It Again] is also in the cast as Susan's disapproving roommate. The songs are pleasantly forgettable although "Lost a Wonderful Girl" is a rather nice number. Hugh Beaumont has a small role as an Army man, and Byron Foulger registers as the lawyer who brings news of the inheritance. Stanton, who was good-looking and capable if no great actor, and was also the younger brother of Dick Haymes, later became a busy emcee under his real name, Bob Haymes. [Imdb. com claims he appeared in 1998's The Wedding Singer even though he died nine years earlier!; stock footage maybe?]

Verdict: Pleasant but you forget it even while you're watching it. **.


Dennis Quaid, Eduardo Noriega and Richard T. Jones
VANTAGE POINT (2008). Director: Pete Travis.

During a summit on terrorism with western and Arab leaders, the president of the United States (William Hurt of Mr. Brooks) is apparently shot when he addresses the crowd in the square. Moments later there's an explosion. The film then repeatedly goes back in time to show what happened just before, during and after the crisis from the viewpoint of several different characters: secret service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid of Legion); tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker); a mother and her little girl; and others. Eventually the details of the plot are revealed, as well as its architect and the traitor who is helping the conspirators. Richard T. Jones and Matthew Fox are other agents; Eduardo Noriega is a man caught up in the conspiracy; and Sigourney Weaver [Death and the Maiden] is a news director. Vantage Point holds the attention and is an interesting idea, but it doesn't have any real resonance.

Verdict: Okay thriller with some suspense. **1/2.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Ray Milland and Joan Fontaine
SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR (1952). Director/producer: George Stevens.

Alan Miller (Ray Milland) is a recovering alcoholic with a wife, Edna (Teresa Wright), and son. An elevator boy (Harry Bellaver) he knows calls him in to council a drunken hotel guest whom Alan assumes is male, but turns out to be a woman; Alan nevertheless decides to speak to her. Jenny (Joan Fontaine) is an actress who is letting alcohol strip her of her career and her dignity. Almost against their own wishes the two discover a mutual attraction, but there is the problem of Alan's marriage -- and his torment over his conflicted feelings ... Some contemporary critics saw Something to Live For as pure schmaltz, but for the more romantic-minded, it's an interesting picture with very good [if not necessarily great] performances from the leads. Teresa Wright with her expressive face offers a sensitive portrait of the wife who knows more than Alan realizes, and there's nice work from Richard Derr [When Worlds Collide] as an obnoxious, self-centered director with whom Jenny was once involved. Paul Valentine and Douglas Dick are also in the cast in smaller roles. One could argue about which classical composer influenced Victor Young the most, but his lovely score for the film is a decided asset. The ending may seem a little abrupt and simplistic, but it works beautifully. Stevens also directed Giant and many, many other notable films.

Verdict: While this is certainly not on the level of Brief Encounter, which it resembles in some ways, it is a worthwhile romantic picture. ***.


Rudy Vallee and Claudette Colbert
THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942). Written and directed by Preston Sturges.

"Men don't get smarter as they get older, they just lose their hair."

Geri (Geraldine) Jeffers is married to an engineer, Tom (Joel McCrea), who can't seem to get a break. Geri figures that they would be better off if they divorced, and if she married someone wealthy she could get him the $100,000 he needs for his dream project, a "suspended" [!] airport. Although broke, she manages to make her way to Florida via the zany members of the "ale and quail club" and meets a man named J. D. Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee), who is fabulously rich. Tom flies down to stop Geri from getting a divorce and winds up in the clutches of J. D.'s man-hungry sister, the Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor), who thinks he's Geri's brother... The Palm Beach Story is a delightful comedy with fine performances and some hilarious dialogue. Colbert and Astor come off best, and McCrea and Vallee are quite good although they are not especially gifted comic actors. Robert Dudley almost steals the show as a sweet old man who wants to rent the Jeffers' apartment and winds up giving Geri money for the back rent. There's a riotous scene when the Ale and Quail Club shoot up the club car with Fred "Snowflake" Toones [Seventeen] comical as the nervous and then horrified bartender. Other notables in the cast include William Demarest, Mantan Moreland (dining club waiter); Franklin Pangborn [The Bank Dick] as an apartment manager; and Sig Arno as Toto, the princess' latest, unintelligible boyfriend. This is a charming and very funny movie. You may be confused by the frenetic credit sequence, in which there seems to be two Claudette Colberts, but all is explained (more or less) at the conclusion.  Sturges also wrote and directed Unfaithfully Yours, which is vastly inferior to this.

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


Jane (Evelyn Keyes) gives Miss Ralston (Lynn Merrick) a wolf whistle
DANGEROUS BLONDES (1943). Director: Leigh Jason.

Former actress Jane Craig (Evelyn Keyes) is married to popular mystery writer Barry Craig (Allyn Joslyn). Jane's friend Julie (Anita Louise) comes to her with a tale of someone trying to chloroform her in a dark room at the studio where she works, and news of a murder plot during the filming of a commercial later in the evening. Before long Jane and Barry are embroiled in two mysterious killings, which Inspector Clinton (Frank Craven) thinks he has the solution for. Of course it remains for Barry to really explain who the killer is ... Dangerous Blondes is snappy and amusing, if minor, and didn't result in a series about the Craigs, although Keyes and Joslyn are fine in the parts. Others in the cast include Edmund Lowe [Hot Pepper] as an advertising man, William Demarest as a cop, and Ann Savage as Erika McCormick. John Abbott [Deception] makes an impression as the nervous secretary Roland X. Smith, as does Hobart Cavanaugh as Philpot, the elevator attendant. Minerva Urecal appears as a housekeeper and is, as they say, swell. Craven is typically excellent. An interesting scene has Jane giving pretty model Miss Ralston (Lynn Merrick) a wolf whistle.  Leigh Jason also directed Lost Honeymoon.

Verdict: Nothing special but easy to take with quite a few funny moments. **1/2.


Marsha Hunt and Richard Carlson
THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942). Director: Jules Dassin.

The town of Rock Bay, Long Island is in an uproar when a columnist publishes an item about how one of the maids is going to publish a memoir about the family she works for. The ladies of the town hold one meeting, while all of the maids hold another. Meanwhile Martha (Marsha Hunt), who works for the Sommerfields and is secretly married to son Jeff (Richard Carlson), has to deal with romantic overtures from her publisher, Joel (Allyn Joslyn), as well as a young lad named Danny (Barry Nelson), when she then discovers that Jeff has come home with a fiancee (Frances Drake). While Martha has some similarities to the earlier Theodora Goes Wild, it has much less on its mind, although a spirited cast makes certain that the picture is generally fun. In addition to the already named there are good performances from Marjorie Main [The Law and the Lady] as the Sommerfield cook, Spring Byington as Mrs. Sommerfield, and Virginia Weilder as her precocious daughter, Miranda. Sara Haden, Margaret Hamilton and Grady Sutton all have smaller roles. Jules Dassin also directed Thieves' Highway.

Verdict: Cute if minor comedy. **1/2.


Robert Sella, Arnie Burton, Robert Sella, Arnie Burton
THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP. Written by Charles Ludlam. Directed by Everett Quinton. At the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street; New York City. April - May 2014. Presented by Red Bull Theater.

This is the 30th anniversary of the late Charles Ludlam's "camp classic" The Mystery of Irma Vep, which starts off as a spoof of Rebecca, set at "Mandercrest," throws in a little of The Wolfman and Dracula as well as Jane Eyre and many other Gothic stories, and almost turns into Psycho before it's over  -- half the fun is getting the references. All of the parts are played by two wonderful actors, who perform (more than) half the time in drag and the rest out of drag. The maid at Mandercrest, Jane (Robert Sella), thinks that the new Lady, a former actress named Enid (Arnie Burton), is a vulgarian who can't hold a candle to the late Lady Irma, whose picture and aura hang over everything and everybody. The one-legged Nicodemus observes as his Lord Hillcrest snares the werewolf that's been devouring their sheep -- but is it the right wolf? Then there's the question of the Egyptian mummy who looks so much like Lady Enid which the Lord discovers in a surprisingly un-dusty tomb ... Admittedly Irma Vep can be pretty silly and it isn't everyone's cup of java, but if you're in the right mood and appreciate extremely talented farceurs, it will have you steadily laughing. Quinton's direction is inventive and the actors seem to be having as much fun as the audience, and there's a hilarious bit when Jane tries to explain to Lady Enid why Nicodemus can't join them in the room [it's the same actor, of course]. Amazingly, there is a plot and everything is explained at the end.

I first saw this in the late nineties with that genius Everett Quinton playing one of the leads. If memory serves me well there was perhaps more "quick change" artistry in that production, with an actor, say, walking around a column and literally becoming a new character in new dress in what seemed like seconds; I just remember being astonished. There's none of that in the production at the Lucille Lortel but don't be too disappointed -- Robert Sella and Arnie Burton are still amazing and spirited as they good-naturedly spoof cinematic types and conventions and occasionally indulge in some old-style silent movie type flamboyance. Fans of classic movies will perhaps enjoy the show best of all -- it runs until May 11th, 2014.

Verdict: Inspired lunacy with very talented performers. ***1/2.


Hattie: "Woman, you better run for your life cause I'm rowed!"
EVERYBODY'S BABY (1939). Director: Malcolm St. Clair.

Jones Family daughter Bonnie (Shirley Deane) has a baby girl and makes the mistake of ascribing to the dopey child-rearing theories of one Dr. Pilcoff (Reginald Denny of Strange Justice), who believes the baby should have little contact with the parents for the first year. This doesn't sit well with Bonnie's husband, Herbert (Russell Gleason), nor with any  member of the Jones family, especially Granny (Florence Roberts). Pilcoff hires a hatchet-faced nurse (Claire Du Brey of Jane Eyre) who comes into conflict with the family, and especially with Bonnie's wise old housekeeper, Hattie (Hattie McDaniel of The Great Lie), in the movie's best and funniest scene. In this installment of the popular Twentieth Century-Fox series, Bonnie is pretty much an idiot, at one point suggesting that Hattie, who has eight children (including the adorable Triola), "doesn't know anything about children." She also objects strenuously and in almost racist fashion when she finds Triola in her daughter's crib. On the other hand, there's a great scene when the gang finds Bonnie's "missing" baby at a meeting of black families where Triola wins a prize and the Jones baby sits happily with the other infants. Granny is again revealed as the smartest member of the Jones family, cooking up a clever scheme to get rid of Pilcoff and his notions once and for all. The rest of the family is in tow, all giving fine performances, and McDaniel is as terrific as ever. Fun!

Verdict: One of the cutest entries in the series. ***.


Leonardo DiCaprio
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013). Director: Martin Scorsese.

"Their money was better off with me. I could spend it better."

The "true" story of crook Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who ripped off numerous clients with his firm Stratton-Oakman, then had the gall to write a book about his exploits after he was imprisoned. The movie shows how he began it all, how he justified his actions, and the sex-and-drug lifestyle he became addicted to. While Wolf is admittedly fast-moving and sometimes funny, it's still basically three hours of looking at the life of a bigoted, self-important loser who barely deserves five minutes of our time. The movie doesn't necessarily condone his actions -- it just lets Belfort via DiCaprio [Inception] damn himself with his words and deeds -- but one could easily argue that Scorsese has offered Belfort a self-serving platform, covering up for him, and is just offering up another portrait of lowlives as he did with his mafia movies. Belfort acts as if his schemes are so brilliant, but a really smart person could have achieved his goals honestly. DiCaprio is okay and there are some good supporting performances from Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, and Matthew McConaughey [Killer Joe] and others, but surely Scorsese [Shutter Island] can come up with better subjects than this?
Verdict: Vastly overlong study of a complete loser but generally well-acted and well-made with perhaps more entertainment value than it deserves. **1/2.