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

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Rod Steiger: lover boy?
THREE INTO TWO WON'T GO (1969). Director: Peter Hall.

43-year-old serial cheater Steve Howard (Rod Steiger) works in sales and goes off on frequent business trips. On one of these he picks up 19-year-old Ella (Judy Geeson of Berserk), a free-living, promiscuous, borderline hooker, installs her in a nearby hotel, and sleeps with her. Steve wants to keep seeing Ella -- no wonder! -- but then she shows up at his house when he's away and becomes friends with his wife, Frances (Claire Bloom). Frances buys Ella's story, takes pity on her, and invites her to stay in the guestroom. Then Ella announces to all that she is pregnant -- with Steve's child! Three Into Two Won't Go is halfway between a trashy exploitation picture and a serious marital drama and doesn't quite work as either, although the acting by all three leads helps put it over. Bloom [The Chapman Report] and Steiger [The Sergeant] were a real-life married couple at the time of filming although they were divorced this very year (after ten years), which may be why they don't quite come off as a realistic match in the picture. Or maybe it was Steiger's unappealing semi-nude scenes! Peggy Ashcroft certainly scores as France's mother, Belle, whom Frances brings home from a retirement village. One gets the feeling that the more interesting parts of the story happened after the end of the picture, and a lot is left unsaid.

Verdict: Several excellent performances help create a fairly interesting and not bad picture. ***.


Frieda Inescort and Mary Field have a heated confrontation
SHADOWS ON THE STAIRS (1941). Director: D. Ross Lederman.

In a boarding house run by a retired actress, Stella Armitage (Frieda Inescort) and her husband, Tom (Miles Mander), odd things are going on which seem to concern the Indian student Ram Singh (Turban Bey) and import-exporter Joseph Reynolds (Paul Cavanagh). Joseph is beloved by Stella, even as he is fooling around with the maid, Lucy (Phyllis Barry of Cynara). When a dead body turns up, the suspects are numerous, including all of the above-named, as well as spinster Miss Snell (Mary Field of Sea Raiders), writer Hugh Bromilow (Bruce Lester), and Stella's daughter, Sylvia (Heather Angel), who is involved with Hugh. Then a second dead body is discovered in a closet, and things really get heated, with accusations flying ... This is a suspenseful and intriguing mystery, although the "twist" at the end may either seem clever to viewers or make them groan. In any case, it's a good, well-acted mystery, with Inescort [Foxfire] really turning in an excellent performance as an understandably emotional woman. Another cast stand-out is Lumsden Hare as the inspector on the case, but everyone is really quite good.

Verdict: Short and snappy little "B" mystery. ***.


Robert Lloyd and Elizabeth Laurence 
DUKE BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE (1988). Director: Leslie Megahey.

The Bluebeard theme has been used in dozens of books, plays, and movies [Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons, for instance] but it also was the subject of an opera by Bela Bartok, the 20th century masterpiece Duke Bluebeard's Castle. In this film adaptation, Judith (Elizabeth Laurence) comes to Bluebeard's (Robert Lloyd) castle and wants to learn all of his and the castle's secrets. Although Bluebeard warns her not to, Judith goes poking about (like a heroine in a Roger Corman Poe film) opening doors, and discovers things she's rather not have seen until the ultimate secret, and her final fate, are revealed. This film not only offers wonderful music and singing, but is quite visually impressive: white tiles dripping blood; a pool and glittering jewels, the floor of the castle opening to dramatically reveal Bluebeard's whole kingdom beneath Judith's feet; and the bodies of Bluebeard's former wives on display like silent statues in a hidden chamber. This is a very striking, well-sung, and effective film version of Bartok's opera.

Verdict: Very arresting. ***.


Richard Crenna
THE EVIL (1978 aka House of Evil). Director: Gus Trikonis.

C. J. Arnold (Richard Crenna) and his doctor wife, Carolyn (Joanna Pettet of Casino Royale), decide to renovate a brooding, half-dilapidated old mansion with the help of some friends and colleagues. These include teacher Raymond Guy (Andrew Prine), his student-girlfriend, Laurie (Mary Louise Weller), young Pete (George O. Hanlon Jr.), who plays dumb practical jokes, Felicia (Lynn Moody), and Mary (Cassie Yates), who brings her German shepherd along. Unfortunately, there's some sort of presence in the house that C. J. inadvertently lets loose when he opens up a pit in the basement. It isn't long before the group finds itself trapped in the mansion, with the doors and windows literally sealed by some force that won't let them break through no matter what. Needless to say, the members of the group die in various awful ways, often related to electrocution. The Evil is not a terrible picture -- it has some atmosphere and suspense as well as some creepy situations -- but in making its evil Satanic force so literal at the end it's almost comical. Some of the actors are on occasion defeated by the melodramatic sequences they find themselves in, although Victor Buono [The Strangler] proves effective (despite the absurdity of his role) in the film's finale. Somewhat reminiscent of The Legend of Hell House, which came out five years earlier.

Verdict: Not much subtlety to this! **1/2.


DEAD MAN'S EYES (1944). Director: Reginald Le Borg.

This "Inner Sanctum" mystery stars, as usual, Lon Chaney Jr., as artist David Stuart. David has a girlfriend named Heather (Jean Parker of Beyond Tomorrow), whose father, Stanley (Edward Fielding) is a good friend of his. David is working on a painting of his model, Tanya (Acquanetta), when she accidentally switches a bottle of eye wash with acid, resulting in David's blindness. Tanya, who is in love with David, wants to take care of him, out of guilt, while David's buddy, Alan (Paul Kelly of The File on Thelma Jordan) wants to take care of Tanya. Stanley arranges for David to get a corneal transplant when the time comes, and ironically winds up the donor when he is murdered. Suspects include everyone from David to Tanya to Nick (George Meeker), who is hoping to marry Heather. With a very suspenseful story and some adept playing, this is one of the best in the short-lived Inner Sanctum series. Acquanetta [Captive Wild Woman] is especially effective as Tanya.

Verdict: Credible and absorbing minor mystery. ***.


Vince Edwards
HIT AND RUN (1957). Producer/ director/writer: Hugo Haas.

Gus Hilmer (Hugo Haas) owns a gas station and employs his younger friend Frankie (Vince Edwards) as his helper. One night they meet a vaudeville dancer named Julie (Cleo Moore), who is determined to find a job or a life where she won't always be on the road. Before long, Gus and Julie are married while Frankie, hot for Julie, simmers on the sidelines. Frankie is sure that Julie loves him instead of Gus, and cooks up a devious scheme ... Hit and Run is a highly-entertaining bit of film noir with some very good performances. Haas is outstanding, and Edwards swaggers around in a way that is both sexy and effective. Moore is also vivid in her portrayal, although Beverly Michaels, who also worked with Haas, might have been even better. Haas and Moore, who were not married in real life, made several films together, and this is one of the best. While it could be, and probably was, dismissed as a low-rent Postman Always Rings Twice (as was Haas' Pickup, which has several similarities to this picture), Hit and Run has its own interest, and the actual "hit and run" murder sequence is very well handled. Edwards [City of Fear], who became famous as TV's Ben Casey, was always at his best playing bad boys like this.

Verdict: Entertaining minor film noir with two sexy lovers in search of a victim. ***.


A demon from We Are Still Here
WE ARE STILL HERE (2015). Writer/director: Ted Geoghegan.

Anne Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton) and her husband Paul (Andrew Sensenig) lost their college-age son two months ago due to a car crash. The Sacchettis have bought a house in the small town of Aylesburg, where Anne can feel the young man's presence despite the fact he neither lived nor died in the house. Anne importunes her supposedly psychic friends, Jacob and May Lewis (Larry Fessenden; Lisa Marie) to come to the house and see if they can contact the deceased son. Unfortunately, May is convinced that there is something else, something evil, inside the place. In the meantime old Dave McCabe (Monte Markham) tells the Sacchettis about the weird history of the house and its owner, Dagmar. Then the killings start ... We Are Still Here is a fairly inept, highly unoriginal (and overly-familiar) combination of ghost-demon story with the "old-town-with-a-dread-secret" genre, and doesn't work as either. A large part of the trouble is that Ted Geoghegan is even worse as a director than he is as a writer, showing no panache at all and utterly failing to give the film its required atmosphere. The script has no internal logic and seems to plod from scene to scene with (often unaccountable) spurts of violence just to keep the audience awake. It all ends with a gory bloodbath (at least these gruesome effects are well done, for what it's worth), but there's something almost comical in how a very bloody head-gooshing scene is followed by a sappy and unconvincing mock-sentimental conclusion. The movie is a figurative and literal mess. Neither Crampton [You're Next] nor Sensenig manage to get across (except for some of Crampton's early scenes) that these are people who lost their son only two months ago. The only actor who comes across unscathed is Monte Markham [The New Perry Mason] as the elderly neighbor who is not as benign as he seems. Vaguely reminiscent in some regards of the vastly superior Burnt Offerings, but this picture borrows liberally from dozens of better movies.

One has to ask: why did this bad movie get so many positively rave reviews? Perhaps these particular critics are very young people who haven't seen enough horror movies, or haven't the critical facilities to recognize schlock when they see it. Apparently audiences weren't quite as enamored of the film as some critics were.

Verdict: A badly-directed home movie. *1/2.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


James Mason and Robert Preston
CHILD'S PLAY (1972). Director: Sydney Lumet. Based on the stage play by Robert Marasco.

Odd things, including outbreaks of violence and secretive behavior, have been happening at a Catholic boys school. While Frank the headmaster (Ron Weyand) tries to figure out what's going on, a conflict arises between stern, old-style professor Malley (James Mason) and the younger, more beloved coach, Dobbs (Robert Preston of The Lady Gambles). There are rumors going around about Malley, and certain magazines have been sent to his home, along with other harassment; Malley is convinced that Dobbs is behind it all. But whatever Malley's peculiarities, is Dobbs quite the good guy that he pretends to be, and who is actually behind the sinister events at the school which threaten to close it down? Child's Play is very suspenseful and boasts an absolutely superb performance by James Mason. A particularly good scene has him reacting to news of his mother's death. Robert Preston is also good, although a cut below Mason. Beau Bridges is not bad as a student who has returned to the school as a teacher, although he is occasionally on the amateurish side. There are some sharp performances by the younger actors who play the besieged students. Threatening to turn into Children of the Damned at times, Child's Play is a bit far-fetched and theatrical, even maddening, but it is also quite absorbing, suspenseful and fascinating. And that Mason! Robert Marasco, who wrote the stage play upon which this is based, also wrote the novel, Burnt Offerings, the film version of which starred Bette Davis. Sidney Lumet directed a number of stage to screen adaptations, of which The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots was undoubtedly the worst.

Verdict: Much, much better than that "Child's Play" about the killer doll. ***.


DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (1965). Director: Norman Taurog.

Dr. Goldfoot (Vincent Price) uses robot versions of beautiful women to seduce and marry wealthy men so that the not-so-good doctor can enrich his coffers. His best robot, no. 11 or Diane (Susan Hart), mistakenly pursues agent 001/4 Craig Gamble (Frankie Avalon) of SIC (Secret Intelligence Committee, or something like that), until she realizes she's really after the rich Todd Armstrong (Dwayne Hickman). Craig has trouble convincing his boss and uncle, D. J. (Fred Clark of Hollywood Story), about the despicable plot even as Diane gets Todd to sign over virtually all of his assets. This spy spoof is bolstered by a fine and amusing performance by Vincent Price, as well as a smart and sexy one by Susan Hart [War-Gods of the Deep] -- Fred Clark is also good and Avalon and Hickman aren't bad, either. However, despite a few good laughs -- a funny bit involving a piece of ice and a woman's panties in a restaurant; a cameo by Annette Funicello -- the movie is way too silly and has a lengthy and tedious chase sequence at the end. Shots and sets from Price's Pit and the Pendulum are used for a sequence in which Goldfoot tries to kill Todd. The Supremes (!) sing a snappy title tune, but it's unlikely it ever turned up on a "best of" CD.

Verdict: Five laugh-out-loud moments but that's not nearly enough. **.


Michal Dlouhy and Dana Moravkova
A VILLAGE ROMEO AND JULIET (1992). Director: Petr Weigl.

In this filmed adaptation of Frederick Delius' opera of the same name, Sali (Michal Dlouhy) and Vreli (Dana Moravkova) are childhood sweethearts whose fathers become bitter enemies over a lawsuit over property. Later on Sali accidentally kills Vreli's father, Marti (Pavel Mikulik), and he and the woman he loves go off together despite her mixed emotions. There they wind up with a group of bohemians and outlaws among which the couple do not really feel comfortable. The two make a sad decision ... A Village Romeo and Juliet is beautifully filmed, well-acted, and marvelously sung. Dlouhy and Moravkova, both very attractive actors, do expert pantomiming while Arthur Davies and Helen Field do the outstanding vocalizing. Star baritone Thomas Hampson both sings and acts the role of the "Dark Fiddler" and is excellent on both counts. Delius' music is intensely romantic and there are moments of real beauty in the score.

Verdict: Good things to look at and beautiful music to hear. ***1/2.


PILLOW OF DEATH (1945). Director: Wallace Fox.

Donna Kincaid (Brenda Joyce of Tarzan and the Amazons) lives with her mostly stern and unpleasant relatives in a creeky old house. Her Aunt Belle (Clara Blandick) heartily disapproves of Donna's relationship with her boss, Wayne Fletcher (Lon Chaney, Jr.), because he already has a wife. This becomes moot when Mrs. Fletcher is found murdered in her bed. Things get complicated when the murders continue, with the victims always found suffocated (hence the "pillow"). In addition to the already named, the suspects include the medium, Julian (J. Edward Bromberg of The Mark of Zorro); the poor relation and servant Amelia (Rosalind Ivan of The Corn is Green); old Uncle Sam (George Cleveland); and creepy next-door neighbor Bruce (Bernard Thomas), who has a thing for Donna and is always puttering surreptitiously around the estate. Pillow of Death is decidedly one of the better "Inner Sanctum" mysteries, with an entertaining story, interesting characters, and a lot of plot twists, not to mention its quota of stupid moments along with a generous amount of suspense. The acting in general is quite good as well, with the character actors being somewhat more effective than the leads.

Verdict: Good "Inner Sanctum" mystery. ***.


Jean Parker and Peter Cookson
DETECTIVE KITTY O'DAY (1944). Director: William Beaudine.

Kitty O' Day (Jean Parker) works for Oliver Wentworth (Oliver Earle), who has also hired her boyfriend, Johnny Jones (Peter Cookson), to deliver some important papers. Wentworth is murdered and the papers are missing, and Kitty determines to find out what's what and clear both her and Johnny's names. Suspects include Veda Ann Borg as Wentworth's much-younger widow; Douglas Fowley as her possible love interest; Herbert Heyes as another attorney; and Olaf Hytten [Shanghai Chest] as the butler, Charles. Blowsy Kitty keeps tripping over bodies as she investigates, and winds up balancing on a ledge with Johnny in a scary-funny sequence set in an apartment building. Parker [Flying Deuces] isn't bad, Cookson is as good (and wasted) as ever, Tim Ryan (who co-wrote the screenplay) is fine as typically harried Inspector Clancy, and Edward Gargan scores as Clancy's befuddled and put-upon assistant, Mike. Followed by a sequel.

Verdict: A monogram picture that actually has a few real laughs in it to go with some good acting. **1/2.


Allison Hayes
PIER 5 HAVANA (1959). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

Steve Daggett (Cameron Mitchell) comes to Havana -- right after Castro has taken over -- to look for his missing friend, Hank Miller (Logan Field). Hank is married to an ex-girlfriend of Steve's named Monica (Allison Hayes), who is now keeping company with a character named Fernando Ricardo (Eduardo Noriega of The Beast of Hollow Mountain). Steve's trail leads to Schluss (Otti Waldis of Unknown World), whose warehouse is inexplicably stocking guns. Steve contacts Lt. Garcia (Michael Granger of Creature with the Atom Brain), but he has nothing to pin on Schluss. Then Garcia tells Steve they have found Hank Miller's body -- or have they? Steve discovers that there's a plot afoot to put Batista back in power, and to bomb Havana. The performances are all solid in this cheap melodrama, which is more like an expanded television episode than a movie. Vincent Padula, Rick Vallin, and Ken Terrell all have small roles.

Verdict: It's always fun to see the 50 Foot Woman herself, Allison Hayes. **.


Writer, director and star: Joel Edgerton
THE GIFT (2015). Writer/director: Joel Edgerton.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), have just moved into a new home when they encounter Simon's old high school acquaintance, Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed the picture). Gordo, who gives the couple gifts, seems pleasant enough, but he makes Simon nervous, especially when some of his actions seem a little odd. Apparently something happened in the past between Simon and Gordo, and Robyn is determined to find out what it was ... The main strength of The Gift, after the excellent performances of the three leads, is the film's undeniable suspense as it switches your allegiance back and forth from Simon to Gordo and you try to figure out which man is the true villain. The movie also explores how much accountability a person should be held to due to cruel pranks in youth; how some people can never move beyond a certain significant moment in their lives; and if revenge is ever warranted, especially if it victimizes innocents as well. Bateman [This is Where I Leave You], always glib and smug, is perfect as Simon; Hall [Iron Man 3]is simply wonderful and very appealing as Robyn; and Edgerton maintains an air of what one might call sympathetic mystery around Gordo until the very end. On the other hand, I'm not certain that the film really stands up to close scrutiny, nor that it has the kind of impact that it could have had. Some viewers may be frustrated because Edgerton doesn't spell out everything -- this also means you may feel at a distance from the characters -- although most of it can be figured out.

Verdict: Flawed but highly intriguing suspense film with on-the-money performances. ***.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper
LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957). Director: Billy Wilder.

Ariane (Audrey Hepburn), the daughter of a private detective, Chavasse (Maurice Chevalier), saves a playboy, Frank Flannagan (Gary Cooper), that her father has been tracking, from a jealous husband (John McGiver). Ariane and Frank eventually begin seeing each other, and she tries to make him jealous by reciting all of the mythical men she has been with before (even though she's hardly old enough to have had so many affairs). Wanting to know the truth about Ariane, and not knowing her true identity, he hires her own father to find out more about her. Said to be Wilder's tribute to Ernst Lubitsch, this lacks the "Lubitsch Touch" and is rather slow at times. If it was meant to be a screwball comedy it doesn't work on that level, and the characters are too one-dimensional to make them really interesting. The whole bit with the aging playboy who finally finds the right girl is as old as "The Affairs of Anatol" and then some, and the whole movie has a distinctly old-fashioned quality even for the fifties. A big problem is that Hepburn [The Children's Hour] was 28 but looks ten years younger, and Cooper was 56 but (due to illness) looks ten years older -- Cooper is given only two closeups and they are not good --  so it looks as if Ariane is in love with a man old enough to be her grandfather. Exploring the sexuality of senior citizens is a perfectly worthwhile project, but Flannagan is not supposed to be as old as he looks, and he would come off much better with a more age-appropriate female on his arm. A bigger problem is not the age difference, but that Flannagan is a bit of a pig, even a vulgarian, making the allegedly "happy" ending more tragic than anything else. He is also an uncultured nincompoop (a la Donald Trump) who acts like an eight-year-old during the gorgeous overture of Tristan and Isolde in the opera house, another example of someone who has lots of money but absolutely no taste. The film never explores the reality that Flannagan's millions and ostentatious lifestyle would certainly influence Ariane's feelings toward the man. Hepburn may be bony, but she's wonderful in the movie, as are Chevalier and McGiver. Cooper does his familiar "cutesy" act but it's especially off-putting by this time; he basically just walks through the movie. Wilder directed some great movies, such as Double Indemnity and Witness for the Prosecution, but this picture hasn't aged at all well.

Verdict: Given the talent involved, this is a major disappointment. **.


Robert Ivers and Georgann Johnson
SHORT CUT TO HELL (1957). Director: James Cagney.

This is the only film ever directed by James Cagney. Kyle Niles (Robert Ivers) is a hit man hired to kill a builder and his secretary. His contact, Bahrwell (Jacques Aubuchon of Twenty Plus Two), makes the mistake of giving Niles marked money in the hopes he'll be arrested. As Ivers makes his way to Bahrwell and his employer, a man known only as A.T. (Richard Hale), he encounters Glory Hamilton (Georgann Johnson), whose boyfriend, Stan, is a cop (William Bishop of Harriet Craig). Glory winds up as Niles' not necessarily unwilling hostage, although her supposed motives are to save Stan's life. The acting is solid in this picture, which is distinguished only in the fact that Cagney directed it -- it is not an auspicious directorial debut. Both Ivers and Johnson were trumpeted as bright new stars in Cagney's introduction to the film, although both, especially Johnson, had several previous credits. They were talented actors but neither became a star. Johnson's rather pudgy face lacked true beauty, but she wound up a well-recognized character actress with many credits. Ivers did mostly television work; he looked like a cross between Jack Kelly and Richard Widmark. The character of Bahrwell is obviously meant to be homosexual, with snide references throughout the film. Hale offers his usual portrait of an absolutely hateful old man; he had a great many credits. Yvette Vickers [What's the Matter with Helen?] offers her typically vivid portrayal of the landlord's daughter in Niles' apartment house. The script has some stupid and psychologically dubious moments given what we know about sociopaths, and Glory's behavior is often ridiculous.

Verdict: Cagney wisely stuck to acting after this. **1/2.


Bette Davis and George Brent
THE GOLDEN ARROW (1936). Director: Alfred E. Green.

When reporter Johnny Jones (George Brent) shows up on a yacht belonging to wealthy heiress Daisy Appleby (Bette Davis) hoping for a story, she mistakes him for a member of Society and begins to fall for him. But it turns out that Johnny isn't the only one who's playing a role. Daisy wants to keep unwanted suitors and fortune hunters away from her, so she importunes Johnny to wed her for a marriage of sheerest convenience. But when he learns that truth about Daisy, will everything blow up in her face? The Golden Arrow begins with possibilities but never recovers from its contrivances or the fact that it is never very funny. Davis and Brent give very good performances, as expected, and there is wonderful support from Catherine Doucet [These Three] as Miss Pommesby, who looks after Daisy, and Eugene Pallette [First Love] as Mr. Meyers. Dick Foran and Carol Hughes are also in the cast and are fine.

Verdict: One of those lousy movies Davis was always railing against early in her career. **.



In part memoir and in part excoriation of the horrible cult of scientology, Remini (with Rebecca Paley) has put together a gripping account of her trials and tribulations with the Cult of Cruise. Rimini, star for many seasons of The King of Queens (formerly she played Carla's daughter on Cheers), was indoctrinated into the cult at an early age, and grew up thinking it was normal to be washing toilets in a motel for $15 a week at the age of fourteen. Living conditions for the lesser scientologists are quite different from the way the "stars" live, and anyone who speaks out about those conditions is branded a "Suppressive Person" and winds up censured or, as real religions would put it, excommunicated. Members of the cult are strongly encouraged to tell on anyone who transgresses, or they will be considered transgressors themselves. Once a sane person decides to leave the "church," they must be cut off from people who remain in the "church," including members of their own family. Rimini makes it clear that the power of the cult has been greatly overestimated both in its numbers and -- despite the success of its most famous members -- in Hollywood (for every Tom Cruise there's an Anne Archer or Kirstie Alley, who is now better known for diet commercials than anything else). Like most cults, the rules for most members don't apply to leaders such as Tom Cruise or his buddy Tom Miscavige,whose wife Shelley has not been seen in public for many years. Rimini filed a Missing Persons report but got nowhere with the police. Perhaps out of embarrassment, Remini sort of downplays the fact that this "religion," founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, revolves around the influence of some outer space alien (yes!) This is not the first nor last expose on scientology, but Remini's comparatively high profile may finally make everyone see what a crock of shit it is.

Verdict: Good read which exposes some appalling situations. ***.


Peter Cookson
THE GIRL WHO DARED (1944). Director: Howard Bretherton.

Ann Carroll (Lorna Gray) and her brother Josh (Kirk Alyn of Superman) are given a lift by the mysterious Rufus Blair (Peter Cookson) to a sort of haunted house party on an island that lies past a causeway. However, the owners of the house, Beau and Chattie Richmond (John Hamilton and Vivien Oakland), never sent out any invitations. While the group is pondering who might have invited people to a non-party, one of a pair of twins (Veda Ann Borg) is found murdered. The phone lines are cut and the causeway is cut off due to a storm. Everything seems to be tied into a theft of radium which someone is killing for. The suspense is quite bearable in this otherwise entertaining if distinctly minor Monogram mystery. The cast is game enough, with Willie Best [My Little Margie] making the best impression (despite the old-fashioned nature of his acting) as the funny and likable manservant Woodrow, along with Peter Cookson [Shadow of Suspicion], who proves once again that he was a criminally underutilized leading man. Roy Barcroft and Grant Withers are also in the cast. Howard Bretherton directed a number of serials, Charlie Chan movies, and Frankie Darro features.

Verdict: The girl who dared what? **1/2 out of 4.


Dorothy Malone and Jim Davis
THE DAY TIME ENDED (1979. Director: John "Bud" Cardos.

When a triple super-nova occurs 200 light years away, it finally has an effect on earth, particularly a family living in an isolated home in the desert. Strange space ships fly through the air, there's a weird little stop-motion Gumby in the little girl's bedroom, and two giant pudgy behemoths have it out outside the living room. It occurs to Grant (Jim Davis of Monster from Green Hell and Dallas) that the property is in the middle of a time-space warp or vortex, which is why so many bizarre things are happening. It all leads into the family traveling to a new world or dimension -- as well as to a rather stupid ending. There is some decent stop-motion animation (Randy Cook; David Allen; Paul W. Gentry), uninteresting monsters of mediocre design, and assorted light shows over the desert. One too many scenes are illogically staged (who just stands there when you think the family car is being stolen?). The best scene has Grant stepping outside and discovering dozens of missing aircraft of all kinds in the front yard, but even this is sort of borrowed from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. One might wonder how Dorothy Malone [Written on the Wind] wound up in this 99 cent production, but she gives a solid performance, and the others, including Christopher Mitchum as her son-in-law, are okay. To say this is far, far below the level of a Ray Harryhausen production is a major understatement. Cardos also directed The Dark the same year.

Verdict: Some good things and a bit of suspense in this. **1/2.


Rebecca Ferguson and Sean Harris
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -- ROGUE NATION (2015). Writer/director: Christopher McQuarrie.

"Join the IMF. See the world. On a monitor. In a closet." -- Benjy

The Secretary of State (Alec Baldwin) disbands the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) because he feels that the success of its missions is mostly due to luck. In the meantime IMF leader Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is made aware of a sinister organization called the Syndicate that seems comprised of supposedly dead agents from around the world. [In an interesting touch the message Hunt gets that gives him his assignment is actually from the Syndicate and blows up!] Ethan repeatedly encounters a woman named Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) who seems to be working for the Syndicate but saves Ethan's life on more than one occasion. An excellent scene occurs at the Vienna State Opera when a hit is planned on the Austrian chancellor during a performance of "Turandot" (Puccini's music is more effective as a backdrop for this than one might imagine). Later Ethan and his gang, including Benjy (Simon Pegg of Star Trek into Darkness) and Luther (Ving Rhames), invade a stronghold to acquire a ledger with important information -- in an underwater, underground vault where Hunt is rapidly running out of air -- and later must kidnap the prime minister of England to prevent disaster! The performances in this are good, although there's some overacting from Cruise and others at times, and it's interesting to note that the star seems to surround himself with better but less prepossessing actors. Ferguson, Pegg and Sean Harris as the evil Lane are all quite good. MI -- Rogue Nation has some outstanding and exciting sequences, but oddly, no real climax. As usual the movie respects the original TV series by more or less remaining true to its origins, which is more than you can say about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and others.

Verdict: Memorable action thriller. ***.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


Michael O'Shea and Sonja Henie
IT'S A PLEASURE (1945). Director: William A. Seiter.

Figure skater Chris Linden (Sonja Henie) has a hopeless crush on hockey player Don Martin (Michael O'Shea). When Martin gets fired off the team due to bad behavior, he is importuned by Chris and boss "Buzz" Fletcher (Bill Johnson) to join their ice show. Chris and Don get married but his drinking -- and Buzz' predatory wife, Gale (Marie McDonald of Guest in the House) -- cause problems for their marriage. Poor Henie [Thin Ice] can't really act to save her life, but the other cast members are swell. After a painful break-up, Henie displays all the emotion of someone who's been told by a waiter that they're all out of roast beef. Bill Johnson was really a stage actor and singer who made few film appearances, and played Doc in the original Broadway cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Pipe Dream" -- he had a wonderful voice and died much too soon. Johnson has a particularly good moment in this when he pantomimes his sad reaction to the realization that his wife is not in love with him. It's a Pleasure is the kind of movie in which characters make supposed sacrifices for love that only leave the one they love worse off than they were before. Iris Adrian adds a little spice as the oldest figure skater in the world. This was associate-produced by Don Loper, the fashion designer who appeared on I Love Lucy. O'Shea and Adrian also appeared in Lady of Burlesque.

Verdict: This actually isn't much of a pleasure. **.


James Olson and Stefanie Powers
CRESCENDO (1970). Director: Alan Gibson.

Susan Roberts (Stefanie Powers) is writing her thesis for a masters degree in music and her subject is a deceased modern composer. She arrives at his estate to do research for several weeks where she is greeted by his widow, Danielle (Margaretta Scott), and her crippled son, Georges (James Olson). There's also a French maid named Lillianne (Jane Lapotaire), who provides special services for Georges, and a brusque handyman named Carter (Joss Ackland). Although Georges is in a wheelchair, Susan is sure there is someone else walking about the estate and playing music at night. Just when you're wondering if this is a thriller or not, someone finally gets stabbed in the pool ... Crescendo holds the attention and keeps the viewer in suspense throughout, but the solution is mind-bogglingly far-fetched, another weird Hammer Films concoction co-scripted by the prolific Jimmy Sangster. The acting is quite good, with Olson [The Andromeda Strain] proving a major talent, and Lapotaire especially vivid as the calculating maid, but the others are also effective. Powers also had a big part in Die, Die, My Darling, another Hammer thriller. Olson had a very busy career, and Alan Gibson also directed a few horror films and the PBS TV series The Charmer

Verdict: Generally unpredictable, if a little too odd for its own good. **1/2 out of 4.


Is she or isn't she? Sondra Locke
A REFLECTION OF FEAR (1972). Director: William A. Fraker.

Marguerite (Sonda Locke) is a strange young woman who lives a cloistered life with her mother, Katherine (Mary Ure) and grandmother, Julia (Signe Hasso of The House on 92nd Street). Her only real "companion" is a big doll she calls Aaron. Katherine's estranged husband, Michael (Robert Shaw) comes to see her because he has fallen in love with Anne (Sally Kellerman of Slither) and wants a divorce. This leads into three brutal murders and an attack on Anne -- none of this is handled with any great panache. It's strange that there seems to be some attempt to create mystery over the identity of the perpetrator, when the assailant seems obvious from the first. The film does have a sick final twist that may simply be too far-fetched for most viewers to swallow. The performances are all on target, although some might find Locke a bit too weird and ethereal. This is another in a long line of Psycho-inspired psycho-shockers, but not one of the more memorable ones. Shaw [From Russia with Love] and Mary Ure were married at the time (until her death just four years later).

Verdict: Oddball thriller with some very good acting. **1/2.


A troglodyte goes on the hunt
SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER ( 1977). Director: Sam Wanamaker.

When Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) returns from his latest voyage, his lady love Farah (Jane Seymour) tells him that her wicked stepmother Zenobia (Margaret Whiting) has turned her brother, Prince Kassim (Damien Thomas), into a baboon to keep him off the throne. They all set off to a far-off island to locate a seer named Melanthius (Patrick Troughton), who tells him Kassim can only be made human again if they voyage through ice to the lost city of Hyborea. Joined by Melanthius and his daughter, Dione (Taryn Power), Sinbad is pursued by Zenobia and her son, Rafi (Kurt Christian). Ray Harryhausen, the special effects wizard, stop-motion expert, and associate producer, set such a high standard with his great films The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts that many fans were disappointed by his follow-ups, but while Eye of the Tiger may not be quite on the same level, it is still a good and entertaining movie with some wonderful sequences. There's a trio of skeletal if leathery antagonists with big bug eyes; a giant walrus that crushes one of Sinbad's men and nearly drowns another; a big bee that bedevils Melanthius; and a sabretooth tiger possessed by Zenobia that gets it on with a friendly 12-foot-tall troglodyte. There's also a robotic "Minoton" who does all of Zenobia's heavy lifting. Another good scene has Zenobia shrinking in size to spy on Sinbad and remaining a serious threat despite her reduced stature. Patrick Wayne [McLintock!] is not bad as Sinbad, although he doesn't quite have that certain flair and solidity of Kerwin Mathews. The daughter of Tyrone Power and Linda Christian, Taryn Power is adept and appealing as Dione -- she had only a few credits -- and Seymour [Live and Let Die] is not just adept as Farah but positively stunning. Margaret Whiting comes close to being campy as Zenobia, but is otherwise the most interesting character in the movie. [This is not the same Margaret Whiting who was an American singer and who married Jack Wrangler, the gay porn star. Don't ask.] Nadim Sawalha, Salami Coker, and Kurt Christian give flavorful performances as two of Sinbad's crew and the evil Rafi. Meanwhile Harryhausen's stop-motion baboon emerges as a character in his own right. While Ray Budd is no Bernard Herrman, his score is effective. Director Sam Wanamaker, who does a good job, was better known as an actor with numerous credits; he was blacklisted and went to England.

Verdict: Fine fantasy film with wonderful FX. ***.


POISON CANDY: The Murderous Madam: Inside Dalia Dippolito's Plot to Kill. Elizabeth Parker and Mark Eber. Benbella Books. Dallas; 2014.

The subject of this book, Dalia Dippolito, tried to hire a hitman to kill her husband, didn't realize she was actually speaking to an undercover cop, who had the whole scene videotaped, and then claimed she was just auditioning for a reality show without a shred of evidence to prove this was true. Poison Candy was written by the prosecutor on the case (with Mark Eber, who generally keeps the book somewhat readable) and there are a few inside details, but nothing that would make this must-reading, and I'm not sure it would make a particularly good TV movie; the story was covered by Dateline. Because "beautiful" women somehow add an element of eroticism and mysticism to a (would-be) murder case, Dipploti is constantly described as beautiful when she's actually rather homely; she's "sexy" if sexy means "available." The basic trouble with Poison Candy is that there's no real mystery or suspense to the story; the "characters" -- a rather dumb sociopath, alleged femme fatale and her even dumber ex-con husband -- are uninteresting. The case was fine for a Dateline episode, but this should have been an article, say, in Vanity Fair (except it would have been too down-market for them), not a whole book.

Verdict: Some prosecutors should just prosecute and let it be. **.


Marjorie Weaver and Peter Cookson
SHADOW OF SUSPICION (1944). Director: William Beaudine.

Jewelry store manager Frank Randall (Pierre Watkin) receives a visitor named Northrup, who claims to be working out of the firms' security office. Meanwhile the real Northrup (Tim Ryan) shows up and Randall suggests he work closely with the fake Northrup to see what he's up to. Surely it has something to do with the arrival of the fabulous Stonehaven diamond necklace? The fake Northrup is actually Jimmy Dale (Peter Cookson), who romances Randall's secretary Claire (Marjorie Weaver of Fashion Model) while spying on everyone else. Just who is the real bad guy in this? And does anyone give a damn? Shadow of Suspicion is a true Monogram stinker, so poor that you have to wonder why they even bothered releasing it. The acting is professional enough, although Ryan wears out his welcome early on and isn't the least bit funny; Weaver demonstrates little appeal of any kind, including sex appeal; and Watkin is as professionally bland as ever. [The prolific Watkin is not one of those beloved character actors whose presence always graces a film like, say, Eve Arden, nor was he quirky enough to have the "appeal" of a Percy Helton.] The only cast stand-outs are Peter Cookson, who has the looks, charm and suaveness to have a major career which never materialized, and Clara Blandick [Shopworn], as "Mother," the elderly leader of a gang of jewel thieves. For an alleged comedy, this has no laughs.

Verdict: Why Monogram has a bad reputation. *1/2.


Amber Jaeger and Kieron Elliott
SOLITARY (2009). Director: Greg Derochie.

Sara (Amber Jaeger) is having a lousy day, to put it mildly. She begins to suffer from panic attacks and can't leave her house, a victim of agoraphobia. Then her husband Mark (Kieron Elliott) disappears, but the police tell her he hasn't been to work for six months. Then she thinks things keep appearing and disappearing each time she turns her back; discovers she might be an heir to two million dollars; and sees Mark surreptitiously dodging around the back yard at night and even inside the house. She doesn't trust her shrink, and suspects her sister is sleeping with Mark, and becomes completely paranoid. What the hell is going on here? Some viewers might find the ending incredibly moving -- Andrew Keresztes' music certainly helps in that regard -- but others might find it irritating, a below-Twilight Zone level cop-out (and also a mite science-fictiony). In the lead role Amber Jaeger is competent enough, but she's not always up to the demands of the part. Elliott as her husband, Kristine Sullivan as her sister Gena, and Andrew Johnson as Dr. Reznik, Sara's psychiatrist, make a somewhat better impression. Brian Spangler and B. Anthony Cohen are fine as the cops on the case, and Dalton Leeb makes for a quirky repairman.

SPOILER ALERT: Dr. Reznik and Gina talk about the choices Sara has as she lays in a coma. In other words, should she wake up and face the pain of a tragic death in the family, or opt to simply pass away and avoid the anguish? Since Sara seems to be at best in her early thirties or even younger, the choice she -- and the film -- make is rather irresponsible.

Verdict: A quasi-religious suspense film that is reminiscent of Jacob's Ladder. **1/2.