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

Thursday, December 25, 2014


Percy Helton gives Kaye and Der Bingle a hard time
WHITE CHRISTMAS (aka Irving Berlin's White Christmas/1954). Director: Michael Curtiz.

Grateful that he saved his life in WW2, singer Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) teams up with his buddy, Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) when they return to civilian life. The two become a rich and successful team, and are called upon to advise the singing sister duo of an old Army buddy. Bob falls for Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Phil has special feelings for Judy (Vera-Ellen). However, there are complications, and the two men follow the gals to their engagement at an inn in Vermont, which turns out to be owned by their former commanding officer, General Waverly (Dean Jagger). Can they do something to win the girls' hearts and save the inn and the general from bankruptcy? The first picture presented in VistaVision, White Christmas is amiable enough, but aside from some standard tunes by Irving Berlin, it's minor, and the plot is a dog. Der Bingle and Kaye play well together, as do the two gals, with Clooney giving a truly warm and sympathetic performance. Vera-Ellen is a terrific dancer primarily, and she struts her stuff in one number with a male partner, and yet another set to the tune of "Mandy" (which I'd always believed was composed by Victor Herbert but is actually a bonafide Berlin tune). One interesting thing about the movie is that while it's basically fluff, it begins with a rather somber sequence overseas near the end of the war -- while the two men sing the wonderful "White Christmas" there are shots of the homesick soldiers, near tears, thinking about their families back home. However, the attempt to create another lump in the throat with a climactic tribute to the general doesn't quite work -- surely a simple reunion would have made more sense, but this is Hollywood and you need a big finish! The performances from the leads and Jagger are all good, Mary Wickes shows up as a housekeeper at the inn (but her scenes are limited, unfortunately), and we even get the ubiquitous Percy Helton as a train conductor interacting with Bing and Danny! The gals' big number, "Sisters," has pretty much become high-camp and the quartet"s "Snow" is Berlin at his worst.

Verdict:  Nice songs and dancing but once is enough. **1/2.


Robert Ryan and Shirley Booth
ABOUT MRS. LESLIE (1954). Director: Daniel Mann.

Vivian Leslie (Shirley Booth) operates a boarding house out of her suburban home and tries not to get too involved in the lives of her tenants. After Pixie (Eilene Janssen), the spoiled teenage girl next door, tells her she should mind her business because she's never been married or had children, Vivian thinks back to her relationship with a man named George Leslie (Robert Ryan), who is a Civil War aficionado. Was he her husband, or wasn't he? .. Since the movie is unpredictable I won't say any more about the plot, but the picture holds the attention. After winning both a Tony and an Oscar for her role in the stage and screen versions of Come Back, Little Sheba, Shirley Booth co-starred in this interesting soap opera although her performance is a trifle uneven. She and Ryan play well-together even if you can't quite see them as a couple. Interspersed with the flashbacks is the secondary love story of dancer Lan McKay (Alex Nicol) and aspiring actress Nadine (Marjie Millar). Although About Mrs. Leslie is in many ways a nice picture, the fact remains that much of it is superficial and doesn't ring true -- some scenes haven't the required impact -- and Ryan's character is not altogether commendable. Great Old Movies' favorite Percy Helton figures in a funny scene wherein he plays a restaurant owner. Alex Nicol [Because of You] gives a good performance, but Marjie Millar, who had a tragic life and early death, can't act, sadly. Nicol later directed The Screaming Skull.

Verdict: Unsatisfying but intriguing soaper. **1/2.


Blink and you'll miss her: Vivian Vance
THE GREAT RACE (1965). Director: Blake Edwards.

Near the turn of the century, rival daredevils Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) and the Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), among others, embark on a race from New York to Paris (they go way up north and head for Siberia to make their way into Europe). They are joined by Maggie Dubois (Natalie Wood), a suffragette and wannabee reporter. Along the way -- the very longgg way -- they have assorted misadventures ... Frankly, I only put on The Great Race because I heard Vivian Vance [The Blue Veil] was in it. Unfortunately, "Ethel" -- now playing the wife of newspaper editor Arthur O'Connell -- is a mere "guest star" and is on screen for at best a minute and a half. Boo hiss! Worse, the movie is nearly three hours long. No, it's not awful and there are enough entertaining moments and good acting to keep you watching, but there's no need for this picture to be so long. (The movie is, rather presumptuously, dedicated to Laurel and Hardy, who certainly never needed three hours to make a funny movie!) Probably inspired by the success of such mammoth productions as Around the World in 80 Days and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Great Race is bloated and episodic, with way too many digressions. There is a long and unnecessary detour involving a foppish (or stereotypically gay?) prince who happens to be a lookalike of Fate's, a sequence which could and should have been excised from the final cut, despite some good performances from Lemmon as the prince and George Macready as a conniving member of his court. A sequence for some reason situated in the old west has Dorothy Provine [Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die] -- looking sort of like a monkey with a bouffant hairpiece that threatens to topple off of her head any minute -- belting out a terrible number, but at least it leads into a fairly rousing bar fight. On the other hand, a pie fight that caps the prince sequence goes on too long (keeping in with the "theme" of the movie) and hasn't a single laugh. Oddly, the best scene in the movie is a well-cut and choreographed sword and saber fight between Curtis and Ross Martin that isn't played for laughs but plays. Jack Lemmon is in manic mode (as he was in Luv) throughout the movie but is effective on that sometimes irritating level. Curtis and Wood are Curtis and Wood, although they are well-coached in their line readings. Keenan Wynn, Larry Storch, Macready and Martin make a better impression.

Verdict: Not quite "Blake's Folly" -- but not for lack of trying. **1/2.


Pete Murray and Noel Thevarthen
ESCORT FOR HIRE (1960). Director: Godfrey Grayson.

Two unemployed actors named Steve Walker (Noel Trevarthen) and Buzz Jenkins (Pete Murray) go to work for a male escort service run by Miss Terry Kennedy (June Thorburn of Tom Thumb). Buzz has his hands full with a glasses-wearing barracuda named Nadia (Jill Melford) while Steve is assigned to sexy Elizabeth Quinn (Jan Holden of The Stranglers of Bombay). Jealous Terry isn't pleased with reports that Steve is coming out of Elizabeth's flat smeared with lipstick, but a worse problem is what Steve finds in that woman's bedroom ... Escort for Hire wastes a provocative premise with a light mystery that plays like a slow, dull TV show, isn't very funny, and has characters saying and doing things that only badly-written characters would say and do. Handsome Trevarthen actually doesn't make much of an impression in this but he had a long list of credits. Godfrey Grayson also directed The Fake.

Verdict: Don't hire these escorts. *1/2.


Pirate Christopher Lee confronts John Cairney
THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964). Director: Don Sharp.

"That sort of talk's for priests and women."

In the late 16th century Britain and Spain are engaged in war. Diablo, a licensed "privateer" ship whose men are led by Captain Robeles (Christopher Lee), has officially become part of the Spanish armada. When the ship is badly damaged in a sea battle consisting of stock footage, Robeles pulls into a small English port to make repairs. There Robeles tells the apprehensive villagers that Spain has won the war, and they are all now under his command. However, one of the pirates' female captives tries to break free so she can tell everyone the truth, although suspicions are already forming ... The Devil-Ship Pirates, co-released by Columbia and Hammer studios, has the latter's usual production gloss, but is a bit on the tepid side. Christopher Lee is more exciting as a pirate leader than he was in The Pirates of Blood River, and Andrew Kier and Michael Ripper are also in the cast. John Cairney [Spaceflight IC-1]plays the young hero, Harry. Don Sharp also directed the zestier Rasputin, the Mad Monk, also with Lee.

Verdict: Nothing special in this non-horror Hammer. **.

WISEGUY Dead Dog Records Arc

Tim Curry as the diabolical Winston Newquay
WISEGUY. The "Dead Dog Records" arc. 1989.

Because the cost of acquiring the music rights would have been too prohibitive, the "Dead Dog Records" arc from season two of Wiseguy was not included in the official DVD release, more's the pity. In this story undercover agent Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl) is assigned to investigate corruption in the recording industry by using federal money to buy the dying Dead Dog Records, which does not sit well with certain government officials who get no thrill out of being record moguls like Vinnie does. Deborah Harry plays a washed-up singer, Diana, who is working in a cocktail lounge when Vinnie decides to engineer her comeback, but he has to reckon with the schemes of near-psychotic music bigwig Winston Newquay (Tim Curry), the former Sam Fishbine, who is also Diana's former lover, a fact that does not sit well with his wife, Claudia (Deidre Hall). Vinnie gets assistance from the enthusiastic Bobby Travis (Glenn Frey), as well as from husband-and-wife record company owners Amber (Patti D'Arbanville) and Isaac Twine (Paul Winfield). Vinnie's producer is a coke-snorting "genius" named Johnny Medley (Paul McCrane), who is difficult to work with, to say the least, and has a sixteen-year-old wife (Pamela Segall Adlon) who is more mature than he is. [This last business is kind of creepy, frankly, but fits into the weird tone of the episodes.] With more humor and craziness than most episodes of this show, the Dead Dog arc was atypical Wiseguy -- for one thing, Vinnie seems more interested in having a hit record than in putting anyone in jail -- but it is marvelously entertaining, and the scripts by David J. Burke and Stephen Kronish, among others, probably influenced the more outrageous serial dramas of today. Highlights include a dress-tearing catfight at a fancy party, a couple making passionate love who wind up crashing through a skylight, and a certain someone who's pissed off Winston being thrown off a rooftop by thugs. The acting from the entire cast is excellent, with McCrane, Frey and Winfield taking top honors, but even they take a back seat to Tim Curry, who gives an absolutely mesmerizing and ferocious portrayal of the devilish, always sleek and sophisticated, Winston Newquay, a fascinating character -- but not one you'd want to know personally. Jonathan Banks and Jim Byrnes also appear and are as good as ever. The song Harry sings, "Brite Side" was recorded by her, but only in a version that has none of the impact of the original.

Verdict: Deliriously entertaining and sharply acted. ***1/2.


Marcus DeAnda and Bill Heck
PIT STOP (2013). Director: Yen Tan.

In a small town in Texas, Gabe (Bill Heck), who is still close to his ex-wife (Heather Kafka) and children, has discovered that his male lover, still married, wants nothing more to do with him. Meanwhile, Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) is waiting for his boyfriend, Luis (Alfredo Maduro), to finally move out even as he visits the nursing home where another ex-lover (who left him for another man) lies in a coma. Linda is clearly still in love with her husband, and goes on a date with a chubby but appealing fellow at work, Winston (John Merriman), to whom Gabe is a little cruel. Les (Corby Sullivan) is a gay teacher who goes on a date with Gabe, but is still pining for the married man who dumped him. Will Gabe and Ernesto get past their personal problems and ties and ever get together? Pit Stop, a study of pain, loss and loneliness, is low-key, well-written, and beautifully acted by the entire cast. Bill Heck has a beautifully-delivered speech in his car when he tells Les about the man he had been hoping to spend the rest of his life with and how it all went wrong. Some people see this as having a happy ending, but to me it was rather open-ended. In any case, it could have used another thirty minutes running time, the rare occasion when you think a movie is actually too short. The film is full of interesting and telling little details. Pit Stop may move a lot of people to tears -- either because they have no lover, or because they wish their lover looked like DeAnda or Heck!

Verdict: Notable independent feature with several excellent performances. ***.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Roland Young
THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES (aka H. G. Wells' The Man Who Could Work Miracles/1936). Director: Lothar Mendes.

"I must have a whiskey. If I don't have a whiskey my mind will give way." -- Colonel Winstanley, upon discovering that all of his whiskey has turned to water

British clerk George Fotheringay (Roland Young) suddenly finds himself with the ability to make whatever he wants come true, and everyone around him tells him what they would do if they were him. Should he make himself master of the world, or recreate the world for the greater good? The vicar Maydig (Ernest Thesiger) has some definite ideas on that score, but George won't allow himself to be overly influenced, unless it's by Ada (Joan Gardner), upon whom he has a crush. H. G. Wells adapted his own short story, adding many new characters as well as a framing sequence which shows that George's power was a gift from the gods [apparently the filmmakers felt that the audience would want to know exactly how Fotheringay got his powers, even if the answer isn't a terribly satisfying one]. Wells somewhat destroys a modern audience's sympathy for George when he has him trying to use his power to make Joan fall in love with him instead of the man she prefers, which is equivalent to using a date rape drug. Still, even if you've read the story, the film is unpredictable, has some fine effects work, and is very well-acted  by all. Topping even Roland Young [Topper Takes a Trip] is Ralph Richardson [The Heiress] in his excellent portrayal of the rather buffoonish Colonel Winstanley. Thesiger is also fine as the vicar, and there are notable appearances by George Zucco as the colonel's butler, Ivan Brandt as the Power Giver, and an impossibly young George Sanders and Torin Thatcher as his heavenly and cynical associates. Wells gives George a memorable speech at the climax, and the story is in its own way as influential as other works in the brilliant Wells' canon. Lothar Mendes also directed Payment Deferred.

Verdict: Intriguing and amusing. ***.


THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER (1959). Director: Henry Levin.

"Morality is a matter of geography."

The progressive Horace Pennypacker (Clifton Webb) has one wife and many children in one town in Pennsylvania, and a whole different family in another town in the state -- sooner or later each family will learn of the other's existence and then what? Mr. Pennypacker answers that question and manages to milk much humor out of a decidedly serious situation. It also manages to be surprisingly frank at times, if a trifle unreal. Webb is, as ever, excellent, and there are fine performances from Dorothy McGuire [Invitation] as unwitting wife, Emily; Dorothy Stickney [Murder at the Vanities] as Aunt Jane; Doro Merande [The Gazebo] as the secretary, Miss Haskins; and Charles Coburn as Grandfather Pennypacker; and there's nice support from Jill St. John as Kate. Ray Stricklyn and David Nelson are two other children, and Ron Ely is a young minister who's fallen for Kate. However entertaining the film may be, there is no denying that Horace's reasons for entering into a second bigamous marriage are rather spurious and self-centered. Still, it's hard not to like the movie on its own terms, and it even has some suspense.

Verdict: Another winning Webb performance. ***.


PRESENTING LILY MARS (1943). Director: Norman Taurog.

"Peter Pan! Macbeth! The Follies!"

Lily Mars (Judy Garland) is a talented singer, but for some reason she decides to audition for Broadway producer John Thornway (Van Heflin) -- who comes from the same small town and whose father delivered her -- by doing a scene from Shakespeare, in which she stinks. Lily follows Thornway to New York, where he's staging a new show starring Isobel Rekay (Marta or Martha Eggerth). Is Lily a desperate and naive amateur or a coldly calculating, rather pushy worldling who knows full well what she's doing? In this simplistic movie in which the key to Broadway stardom is to become an annoying pest and vamp the producer, we're supposed to believe the former, but I'm not so sure. In any case, things don't work out so smoothly for Lily until the Hollywood happy ending. Presenting Lily Mars was originally a novel by that fine American writer Booth Tarkington, whose books Alice Adams and The Magnificent Ambersons, among others, were turned into pretty good movies. While I've read the first two excellent novels, I've not read Presenting Lily Mars, but it had to be better than this treacle, which is simply a standard Judy Garland Movie when it could have been a whole lot more. That being said, Lily Mars is by no means a bad movie, with Garland in her reasonably effective cutesy mode between child and adult, and Van Heflin, as good as ever, managing to play quite well with her.

The movie has many charming elements. The brother (Douglas Croft of the Batman serial) who steals and collects doorbells. The younger sisters who sob along with Judy/Lily whenever she's upset [they are a cute bunch]. In an early development Judy does a scene outside Thornway's home which causes some of his associates to think he knocked her up and abandoned her, and there's the eyebrow-raising scene when Thornway has playwright Owen Vail (Richard Carlson) stand in for Isobel in a love scene. When Owen keeps it up after the scene is over Thornway tells him to stop kidding around. "Who's kidding?" says Owen, in a scene meant as a joke but which probably caused some fluttering among nervous censors. [Lily watches all this wide-eyed and confused.] Connie Gilchrist [A Woman's Face] makes her mark as an ex-actress who does a number with Judy, who also nails "Tom the Piper" and "When I Look at You." My favorite scene has Isobel giving her black maid, Rosa (Lillian Yarbo of Between Us Girls), a hat that she no longer wants because Lily wears a copy of it. When Isobel sees the maid wearing it, she commands her to throw it out. Later both of them see a chimp wearing the hat, which infuriates Isobel even as the maid, having the last laugh, smiles behind her back.

Spring Byington is wonderful as Lily's mother, as is Ray McDonald as her boyfriend, whom she discards early on. Fay Bainter is also notable if a bit wasted as Thornway's mom. Bob Crosby and Tommy Dorsey also make appearances. Despite a fairly nice if unspectacular voice, Eggerth doesn't make much of an impression, which may be why she was hired -- this, after all, is a Judy Garland Movie and nobody better get more attention than her.

Verdict: Silly but enthusiastic twaddle with a dignified Heflin and energetic Garland. **1/2.


Earl Cameron and Bonar Colleano
POOL OF LONDON (1951). Director: Basil Dearden.

Several sailors have misadventures and find romantic interests when they disembark in London. The film focuses on two of them, Dan Macdonald (Bonar Colleano) who participates in a robbery in which a watchman is killed; and his Jamaican friend, Johnny (Earl Cameron), who develops a warm relationship with a pretty white girl named Pat (Susan Shaw). Leslie Phillips is another sailor named Harry, and the women include Sally (Renee Asherson), Maisie (Moira Lister),  and her sister Pamela (Joan Dowling); two of them have a zesty "cat-fight" at one point. The most interesting aspect of the film is the dilemma of Johnny, a black man on the outside looking in, and his doomed romance with the sympathetic Pat. Earl Cameron gives a wonderful performance, as does Colleano [Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?], who has personality and presence if not conventional good looks. There are great shots of London locations (Gordon Dines did the photography), a fine musical score by John Addison [Dead Man's Folly], and Dearden's direction is solid.

Verdict: A nice picture that just misses being a classic. ***.


THE DEVIL'S PARTNER (1961). Director: Charles R. Rondeau.

Nick Richards (Ed Nelson) arrives in a small isolated town looking for his uncle, Pete Jensen, who turns out to be dead of unspecified causes. Jensen may have been dabbling with devil worship and come afoul of some demon. Or does his "nephew" know more than he's telling, not only relating to Pete's death but to animal attacks on various townspeople? David Simpson (Richard Crane), whose girlfriend Nick covets,  is horribly mauled by a once-friendly dog. David's facial injuries have him contemplating suicide and insisting that the girlfriend, Nell (Jean Allison), find another guy -- will Nell turn to Nick for consolation? And who will die next at claws or cloven hooves? The average viewer won't give a damn because The Devil's Partner is slow-paced and has no suspense. The acting isn't bad, however, with Crane [The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd] and Allison -- along with ever-reliable Byron Foulger -- giving the most memorable performances. Edgar Buchanan plays the old Doc, Nell's father, the same way he plays every other character. Rondeau also directed The Girl in Lovers Lane. Allison appeared on such TV shows as The Sheriff of Cochise.

Verdict: A complete mediocrity. **.


Molly Malone and "Fatty" Arbuckle
BACKSTAGE (1919 silent). Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.

In this silent comedy short "Fatty" Arbuckle plays a stagehand at a theater and is assisted by Buster Keaton (whom in real life Arbuckle discovered). They come afoul of a strong man (Charles A. Post) who treats his female assistant (Molly Malone) so terribly that Arbuckle, Keaton and others team up to get even with him. The strong man and the other players go on strike, so Arbuckle, Molly and Keaton have to take their places on stage. Then the strong man sits in the front row of the balcony with plans of his own ... Backstage is a cute picture which shows Arbuckle's appeal as a funnyman. Jack Coogan Sr. plays a multi-dexterous specialty dancer that the boys try to imitate with expected results, and Al St. John is another stagehand.

Verdict: Funny and fast-paced with some good clowning and stunt work. ***.


Jessica Lange as one weird sister

"Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for sins." -- Sister Jude.

In this at times very suspenseful and superior second season of the hit horror show, most of the action takes place in an asylum, Briarcliff Manor, run by nuns. The lead characters include Sister Jude Martin (Jessica Lange), who is in charge of the place, although that opinion isn't shared by the psychotic Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), who conducts sick experiments on the inmates. One of these inmates, and the heroine of the show, is Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), a lesbian who has supposedly been incarcerated for inversion therapy [the main storyline takes place in the sixties] but who actually had been threatening to dig too much into how the miserable institution was run. A present-day framing story has to do with the reappearance of a maniac, Bloodyface, who once had something to do with the Manor, and whose first victim is that annoying mouse, Adam Levine. Other characters include the "nympho," Shelley (Chloe Sevigny); Monsignor Timothy (Joseph Fiennes); sympathetic Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto of Star Trek into Darkness); Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who undergoes a startling change in personality; and deceptively calm serial killer Leigh Emerson (Ian McShane of Young and Willing). Along with a compelling storyline which pits Lana vs. Sister Jude (until everything gets switched around), there are alien abductions, weird monsters in the forests surrounding the asylum, a winged angel of death who makes periodic appearances, and even a self-indulgent but fun rock video with the sisters and patients dancing to "The Name Game." In other words, almost everything but the kitchen sink, but mostly it works. While the show occasionally comes close to veering into "torture porn" territory, it is very well-acted by all mentioned, with a truly marvelous Lange making a much better impression than she did in season one. One could say this season of American Horror Story has the spirit of E.C. Comics.

Verdict: Very entertaining, creepy, and with some excellent performances. ***.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Alice Faye and Dana Andrews
FALLEN ANGEL (1945). Producer/director: Otto Preminger.

" ... and love alone can make the fallen angel rise,  for only two together can enter paradise."

In a small coastal town not far from San Francisco, ex-publicity man Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) has set his sights on the wealthy June Mills (Alice Faye), whose sister, Clara (Anne Revere), may be a tougher nut to crack. Then there's sexy waitress, Stella (Linda Darnell), who may throw a monkey wrench into Eric's schemes if he's not careful. A murder investigation ensues, which brings in tough detective Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), and a suspect named Dave Atkins (Bruce Cabot). Fallen Angel can be looked upon as a mystery, film noir, or whatever you want to call it, but it's full of such good performances and nice moments that it emerges as a strong (if flawed) and compelling drama. In a different role for her, Faye [On The Avenue] is excellent as a woman who loves someone unconditionally -- she has a particularly good moment telling Eric how she feels about him  --  Darnell [Day-Time Wife] is vivid and vital as the saucy waitress, and Andrews [Boomerang] gives another sharp and solid performance, playing a man who is more complex than he first appears. Revere, Cabot, Bickford, as well as John Carradine as a professor and Percy Kilbride as a cafe owner with feelings for Stella, are all on the mark. The story is, perhaps, wrapped up a bit too neatly, but this is an engrossing and interesting movie.

Verdict: One of Preminger's better efforts. ***.


TOMORROW AT SEVEN (1933). Director: Ray Enright.

A masked murderer who calls himself the Black Ace is stalking people in an old mansion. Neil Broderick (Chester Morris of The She-Creature) investigates, alternately helped and hindered by two cops played by Allan Jenkins and Frank McHugh. Vivienne Osborn is the heroine [a scene on a train when she tells a man she doesn't like the work of a certain author, unaware that he's the writer in question, was repeated in Leave Her to Heaven]. The suspects include Grant Mitchell and Charles Middleton [Daredevils of the Red Circle]. Tomorrow at Seven is unexceptional, but it does boast good performances from Morris, Jenkins, McHugh and Middleton, as well as from Virginia Howell as the housekeeper, and Henry Stephenson as Thornton Drake. As Old Dark House movies go, this one is no better nor worse than most of them, although it could be argued that this one just doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense.

Verdict: Creaky but engaging. **1/2.


Luana Patten and Ron Foster
THE MUSIC BOX KID (1960). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

"The crumbs are the easiest kind of guys to knock off."

In 1920s Bronx, Larry Shaw (Ron Foster) is so ambitious for the good life and money that he goes to work as an enforcer for mob boss Chesty Miller (Grant Richards of The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake). His wife, Margaret (Luana Patten), and priest (Dayton Lummis), are dismayed by the kinds of people who pay a call at their home, but Larry is so determined to "make good" that he becomes the head of Miller's murder-for-hire squad. Shaw then hits on the idea of kidnapping Miller and other hoodlums for ransom, making him the target of all the bad guys in the Bronx. The Music Box Kid, said to be inspired by the life of "Dutch" Schultz, would be a fairly standard crime drama were it not uplifted by a terrific lead performance from the talented Foster [Cage of Evil]. Handsome, gifted, and charismatic, Foster had some very good roles but in the wrong, minor movies; he also did a lot of TV work. The "music box" of the title is a tommy gun.

Verdict: Foster is the whole show. **1/2.


THE MINOTAUR, THE WILD BEAST OF CRETE (aka Teseo contro il minotauro/1960). Director: Silvio Amadio.

Theseus (Bob Mathias) saves the life of a banished princess, Ariadne (Rosanna Schiaffino), whose own wicked sister, Princess Fedra (also Schiaffino), wants to kill her, seeing her as a rival and a threat to her power. Fedra is aided in her evil by the nasty Chirone (Alberto Lupo), who tries to manipulate her father, King Minosse (Carlo Tamberlani). Theseus has Demetrios (Rick Battaglia) on his side, as well as others who are secretly working against bitchy Fedra. When Ariadne is sacrificed along with a batch of virgins to the monstrous minotaur in its cavern, Theseus makes his way into the rocky maze to deal once and for all with the horrible creature. While deliberately-paced, The Minotaur is not a bad Italian fantasy film, and the shaggy, fanged minotaur itself is not too shabby. If you're expecting something along the lines of a Ray Harryhausen fantasy film, however, look elsewhere. California-born Mathias won medals in the Olympics, was a former marine, and after his brief acting career wound up became director of Selective Service and a congressman. His performance is okay, and Schiaffino is similarly vivid.

Verdict: Entertaining muscle man-monster movie. ***.


SCHIZO (1976). Director: Pete Walker.

Samantha (Lynne Frederick of No Blade of Grass) is engaged to be married to Alan Falconer (John Leyton), but she can't shake a feeling of doom or the fear that she is being stalked by her crazy "stepfather," Haskin (Jack Watson of Tower of Evil). Sam seeks advice and comfort from her friend Beth (Stephanie Beacham of Inseminoid) and another friend, Leonard (John Fraser) who happens to be a handy psychiatrist. There's also a young psychic lady named Joy (Trisha Mortimer) who tries to give Samantha a desperate warning. Then bodies start dropping all around Sam ... Schizo is, if nothing else, suspenseful as it drops in its red herrings and clues as to the true identity of the maniac, but it's not especially memorable. Walker also directed The Comeback and House of Whipcord. His movies always just seem to miss.

Verdict: Half entertaining. **1/2.

WISEGUY Season One

Ken Wahl as Vinnie Terranova
 WISEGUY Season One. 1987.

Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl) gets out of prison after several months and is the shame of his mother, whose other son is a priest. What Ma doesn't know -- and his brother does -- is that Vinnie only went to jail to cement his cover as an agent for the OCB (Organized Crime Bureau). His first assignment is to go to work for mob boss Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey), with whom he truly becomes friends. Wiseguy looks at the conflicted feelings of agents who have to get close to bad guys as part of their job, but who get to know them on a personal level and ultimately feel as if they are betraying them. In the first season's second story arc, Vinnie gets involved with hit man Roger LoCocco (William Russ) and his bosses, the nutty brother and sister team of Mel (Kevin Spacey, in his first major role) and Susan Profitt (Joan Severance). Wahl is perfect as Terranova, embodying the toughness he would need as an undercover hoodlum as well as the sensitivity to care not only for victims but on occasion for the bad guys as well (this gets a little sticky at times); his Brooklyn accent gets thicker as the season progresses. The other players already mentioned are also on the money, and there's fine work as well from Dennis Lipscomb as mob accountant Sidney; David Steinberg as a rogue government agent; Elsa Raven as Vinnie's mother; David Marciano as the psychotic Lorenzo; and others. Jim Byrnes is fine as "Lifeguard," an agent who answers all of Vinnie's questions and gives him information, and Jonathan Banks, a superb actor, is simply outstanding as Frank McPike, Vinnie's hard-headed but complex liaison in the agency. Joe Dallesandro is certainly interesting casting as rival mob boss, Patrice. While some of the developments in the series are not credible -- Vinnie proposing to a perfectly psychotic woman at one point -- and Vinnie is sometimes too sympathetic to the criminals (the second story arc in particular has a head-scratching wind-up) Wiseguy is entertaining and well-acted.

Verdict: Not quite a classic show but not bad and often suspenseful. ***.


Hanno Koffler (top) and Max Riemelt
FREE FALL (aka Freier Fall/2013). Director: Stephant Lacant.

Marc Borgmann (Hanno Koffler), a German in the police academy, has a pregnant girlfriend (Katharine Schuttler) but finds himself attracted to the more open Kay (Max Riemelt), a very handsome fellow male cop. Marc tries to resist his attraction, but the affair has repercussions both on the job and within his family. Free Fall seems somewhat dated for the 21st century -- its story of a closeted, guilt-wracked man, although such men certainly still exist, smacks more of the 1970's. The characters are not developed enough, which is particularly true for Kay, who seems to exist only to be sexy and "torment" Marc. [You might also be left with the sense that Kay is a bit out of Marc's league.] In other words, it's all been done before and done better. Even That Certain Summer, made forty years (!) earlier for American television, was more progressive. The acting is quite good, however. This got much more enthusiastic reactions than it deserved. If taken as a parable that shows how old-fashioned shame screws up a gay person's life it might have some resonance, but that may be giving it too much credit.

Verdict: Downbeat, rather regressive (however unintended), and a little pointless. **.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


As I had an edition of Great Old Movies posted for Thanksgiving, I am taking off this week. More news and reviews will be posted next week. As always, thanks for reading!