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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

HAPPY HALLOWEEN HORRORS!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN HORRORS!

We've got a new crop of horror movies of all types and from different decades on tap this week on GREAT OLD MOVIES. Creepy old house thrillers, stalker movies, human-animal transformations, Satanism and paganism, human sacrifices, man-eating hogs, and terror on ebook.

Enjoy!

NIGHT MONSTER

"It is extremely bad form to gossip about your employers!"
NIGHT MONSTER (1942). Director: Ford Beebe.

Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan) is a crippled recluse on an old estate with a sister, Margaret (Fay Helm of Captive Wild Woman), who thinks she's crazy; a housekeeper, Sarah (Doris Lloyd) who acts like she owns the place; a house guest named Agor Singh (Nils Asther of Storm at Daybreak), who can supposedly teleport old bones from graves into the living room; and a leering chauffeur, Laurie (Leif Erickson), who makes a pass at any pretty woman who walks by. Two household staff members include maid Milly (Janet Shaw), who comes to a bad end; and the butler Rolf (Bela Lugosi), who observes and smirks with equal finesse. Into this hot bed come the three doctors who were unable to prevent Ingston's paralysis -- King (Lionel Atwill), Timmons (Frank Reicher), and Phipps (Francis Pierlot) -- as well as the lady psychiatrist Lynn Harper (Irene Hervey) who has come in response to Margaret's call for help. Then the murders begin ... Night Monster is absurd and has some ridiculous moments, but while it has some humor, it can't be accused of the awful "comedy relief" that cheapens all too many of these old horror films. Although he is top-billed, Lugosi has only a supporting part, but manages to tower over everyone in spite of it. Don Porter plays a family friend who teams up with Lynn to find out who is responsible for the series of deaths. There are clever aspects to the story, and a rather creepy finale. All of the actors are on top of things. Ford Beebe was famous for directing cliffhanger serials, but he also does a good job with this moody suspense flick. Hervey and Lloyd were both in Motive for Revenge.

Verdict: At times the film threatens to fall apart, but it has suspense, good performances, and several interesting sequences. ***.

THE CAT GIRL

Barbara Shelley
THE CAT GIRL (aka Cat Girl/1957). Director: Alfred Shaughnessy.

Leonora Johnson (Barbara Shelley) is married to the unfaithful Richard (Jack May), but is secretly in love with former paramour, Dr. Brian Marlow (Robert Ayres of Battle Beneath the Earth), who is now married to Dorothy (Kay Callard of The Flying Scot). If that weren't enough of a mess, Leonora's crazy uncle (Ernest Milton), who keeps a leopard in the house, has convinced his niece that she is under a family curse and can turn into a leopard, or that she has a bond with it that can cause it -- or her -- to kill. Who the hell knows? In any case, when Brian tries to convince Leonora that she isn't really crazy and isn't growing claws, she decides it would be best to rid the world of her rival, Dorothy. This confusing mish mosh is a blatant rip off of Cat People, and while it's all overwrought and entertaining in a modest fashion, its chief strength is an excellent, intense performance by Barbara Shelley [The Gorgon] as the highly unlikable Leonora. Lily Kann is also effective as the uncle's housekeeper, Anna, and the various supporting performances are adept. But the movie is not really worth much in the long run.

Verdict: A monster movie with a most disappointing "monster." **.

EYE OF THE DEVIL

Deborah Kerr
EYE OF THE DEVIL (1966). Director: J. Lee Thompson.

Phillipe de Montfaucon (David Niven) lives in Paris with his wife, Catherine (Deborah Kerr), and their two beautiful children, Jacques (Robert Duncan) and Toni (Suky Appeby). Learning that there is a possibility that his vineyards back in his ancestral home of Bellenac may be failing, Phillipe returns there and tells Catherine to stay in Paris with the children. But Catherine misses her husband and brings the children to his side, where she discovers strange things are going on around the Castle Bellenac. Men in black robes gather in underground rooms and in the forest, and also hovering about are a strange brother and sister team, Christian (David Hemmings). who shoots doves with his bow and arrow, and Odile (Sharon Tate), who seems to have magical powers. Catherine eventually figures out exactly why her husband came back to Bellenac, but she may be too late to save him ... Eye of the Devil predates both The Wicker Man and Thomas Tryon's novel Harvest Home, both of which also deal with pagan sacrifice, but there's something a little off in this movie. Niven and Kerr, along with Edward Mulhare, Flora Robson, Donald Pleasence and little Robert Duncan all give good performances, but there doesn't seem to be much of an attempt to create real tension or a sense of encroaching dread until the admittedly effective climax. Two sequences when Jacques and then his mother nearly fall to their deaths from the castle roof are also taut. Sharon Tate [Valley of the Dolls] had appeared in one film and several TV shows before she was "introduced" in this movie, and she is perfectly cast and adept (if possibly dubbed) as the very strange and rather sinister Odile. Hemmings [Deep Red] has less to do but maintains the proper spooky attitude.

Verdict: Not entirely successful and slightly supernatural thriller. **1/2.

SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CATS EYE

Jane Birkin and Hiram Keller
SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CATS EYE (aka La morte negli occhi del gatto/aka Seven Dead in the Cat's Eye/1973). Director: Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti).

Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia) is afraid that she may lose her beloved ancestral Scottish castle, Dragonstone, but her sister, Mary (Francoise Christophe), refuses to help her financially -- better to sell the rat-infested estate, she thinks. Alicia's niece, Corringa (Jane Birkin), comes for a visit and finally meets her kissing cousin, James (Hiram Keller), who at least has the reputation of being a little crazy -- he keeps a killer ape that escaped from the zoo as a pet! After Lady Mary is murdered, Corringa fears that her mother will rise from her grave as a vampire because the family cat followed her into the tomb. Meanwhile there are more murders, with anyone and everyone being a suspect, including the cat, who dispassionately watches everything as she slithers about the castle. Seven Deaths is a half-baked dubbed Italian horror film which has some atmosphere, but very little style, and the various murders are treated routinely. Hiram Keller [Fellini Satyricon] has presence as the not-so-mad James, and the other performances are more or less adept. References to Sigmund Freud being alive indicate that this takes place in the 19th century, but you would never know it. At least the identity of the killer is a bit of a surprise. It's a pleasure to see Anton Diffring [The Man Who Could Cheat Death] in the cast as a doctor and Lady Alicia's lover, although he spends more time in the bed of French tutor, Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann).

Verdict: Paging Mario Bava or Dario Argento, either of whom could have probably made a much better movie. **.

SHOCK WAVES

Brooke Adams and Luke Halpin
SHOCK WAVES (1977). Director: Ken Wiederhorn.

A group of people out on a short chartered boat tour might not wind up on Gilligan's Island, but they probably wish they had. Instead they wind up on an island that is home to an elderly Nazi scientist (Peter Cushing) who tells them how they created unkillable super-soldiers who were meant to be the ultimate weapons. Dead already, these soldiers can stay underwater for hours and stalk the enemy with ultra-extreme stealth. The tourists, including Rose (Brooke Adams), Norman (Jack Davidson) and Beverly (D. J. Sidney),  team up with crew members Keith (Luke Halpin) and Dobbs (Don Stout) and try to get off the island before the zombie Nazis can slay them. Shock Waves has a damned good premise but its execution is below mediocre, with too many slack stretches, no real suspense or surprises, and not nearly enough exciting sequences. Of the major younger cast members, Adams makes the best impression and was the only one to have a fairly big career. Of the veterans, Peter Cushing has one of his least interesting roles, and John Carradine, as the captain of the tour boat, is killed off early on. Halpin [Island of the Lost] was most famous for the TV show Flipper.

Verdict: Pretty much a waste of a good idea. **.

RITUALS

Hal Holbrook struggles to survive
RITUALS (aka The Creeper/1977). Director: Peter Carter.

"I'm 38 years old. It won't make one bag of bug dung if I ever pick up a scalpel again. I'm an addictive alcoholic whose last serious boyfriend is a borderline psycho teaching fascism in the mountains." -- Martin.

Five doctors -- Harry (Hal Holbrook of Girls Nite Out), Mitzi (Lawrence Dane of Happy Birthday to Me), Martin (Robin Gammell), Abel (Ken James) and D. J. (Gary Reineke) -- go on a camping trip that quickly goes south. First all of their boots are stolen, and D. J. heads by himself for a dam some miles away where he hopes to find help. Instead the group seems to be attacked by an unseen party who causes one disaster after another. Is D. J. responsible, or some other individual who may have a grudge against one of the doctors? Rituals is not a typical stalk and slash film of the period in that there are no teens, masked killers, or bad actors, but rather a talented cast of adults playing reasonably well-defined characters. The movie has a great deal of suspense to go with a fast pace, as well as a effective score (Hagood Hardy) and cinematography (Rene Verzier), and a taut script by Ian Sutherland that features some very trenchant and interesting dialogue. The film has some problems, however, such as a protracted climax, a couple of truly inexplicable scenes, and a motive for the killer that never seems to be satisfactorily explained. But this is still quite watchable for the acting and the harrowing details. An interesting aspect is that one of the doctors is gay, something that's just dropped in quietly in the dialogue.

Verdict: Easily one of the best "maniac-on-the-loose" movies of the seventies. ***.

EVILSPEAK

Clint Howard
EVILSPEAK (1981). Director: Eric Weston.

Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) is an orphan who has been sent to the West Andover Military Academy, where most of the students and staff are equally loathsome. Stanley discovers an ancient mystical tome in a dank cellar, and begins to type spells into his computer; he is soon allied with the spirit of an excommunicated monk from the past. A secretary (Lynn Hancock) also discovers the book and somehow manages to agitate a group of already excitable pigs who later devour her. Tormented by one too many bullies, one of whom even slaughters his puppy, Stanley uses the forces of evil to strike back with a vengeance -- you have to see hungry hogs on the rampage to believe it. Anyone expecting another Carrie will be disappointed, as Evilspeak is too disjointed, slow and incoherent to make much impact, although the gore FX at the climax aren't badly done. Clint Howard, the brother of Ron Howard, makes an effective "hero" and there are decent performances from Hamilton Camp as an instructor; R. G. Armstrong as a drunken janitor; Don Stark as nasty cadet Bubba; Charles Tyner as the highly unsympathetic Colonel Kincaid; and Joe Cortese as the school's reverend, all of whom die horribly. There's some catharsis in watching the bad guys get their just desserts, but the movie is still a major disappointment. It's interesting that the only person who is kind to Stanley is a black cadet who is too sensitive and intelligent to judge the boy by his athletic ability or lack of same.

Verdict: Good idea thrown together too haphazardly. **.

VICIOUS

VICIOUS. William Schoell. 2017; Cemetery Dance.

Jimmy and Dorothy are a young couple who share a love of film, except that Jimmy's tastes run to the grotesque and horrific. Dorothy has trouble with such films as slasher movies because her own parents were assaulted and murdered by a maniac -- she gets no enjoyment out of films that bring that living nightmare back home to her. One of the earliest "slasher" films is the infamous Vicious from the sixties, and now they're making a sequel. As they film the movie, with Jimmy and Dorothy both covering it from different angles for their respective publications, people associated with the film begin to get murdered -- horribly murdered. Mix in a demon, a killer with a clawed hand, a railway car full of ghosts, a gay psychic, and some very strange nuns in a convent hovering near a girls school -- where the students are also being murdered -- and you have one heady brew of shock and suspense.

Vicious was originally published in paperback under the generic title Bride of Satan, a title which the publisher insisted upon. Now the prestigious Cemetery Dance Publishers has brought it out in a spanking new epub edition with a great cover by Kealen Patrick Burke and his Elderlemon Design. Available on kindle, nook, and other platforms, and can also be read on your computer. This is an enjoyable read for both horror fans and film buffs, but be warned that it gets a little gross at times.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

ROAD HOUSE

Wilde, Lupino and Widmark in a tense moment
ROAD HOUSE (1948). Director: Jean Negulesco.

"Jefty" Robbins (Richard Widmark of Garden of Evil) runs a road house complete with nightclub and bowling alley in a small town with his buddy Pete (Cornel Wilde) as a top employee. Jefty also hires Lily (Ida Lupino of Private Hell 36), upon whom he is struck, as a singer in the club. Jefty seems to think of Lily as his girlfriend even though they've apparently never even kissed, a problem she does not have with Pete, who succumbs to her charms, and vice versa, to the strains of Wagnerian opera on the radio. Clueless Jefty plans to marry Lily, and doesn't take it well when he discovers where her true feelings lie. Before long, he comes up with a plan for revenge ... Road House is one of those twisted melodramas that might have amounted to more than an entertaining time passer with a little more care and a much better script, but it never plumbs below the surface. One very amusing aspect of the film is Lily's "singing." Lupino's voice is not dubbed, and is absolutely awful, although she's a good enough actress to put over a number like "The Right Kind of Lovin'." In real life, the soused patrons of the club would have been tearing the gal to figurative shreds, but only in Hollywood can there be a rapt audience for someone with no talent. As waitress Suzie (Celeste Holm) says of Lily: "She does more without a voice than anybody I've ever heard." The real howler comes when Wagner plays on the radio and Lily tells Pete -- not without a trace of irony -- that her father told her that someday she'd sing at the Met! Lupino is swell, Wilde [The Naked Prey] is suitably manly and handsome and generally good, Holm has little to do (although she is billed above the title with her three more important co-stars) and adds little nuance to her role, and the picture is stolen by a splendid Widmark as the spoiled little boy in a man's body. Those viewers looking for possible homoeroticism in the relationship between Jefty and Pete should look elsewhere -- it's easy to imagine but it really isn't there, in my opinion.

Verdict: Once you get past Ida's singing, this is fun if distinctly minor. **1/2.

WHEN THE BOYS MEET THE GIRLS

Harve Preesnell surveys the scene
WHEN THE BOYS MEET THE GIRLS (1965). Director: Alvin Ganzer.

Playboy Danny Churchill (Harve Presnell) is sent by his lawyer to an obscure college so he can avoid the clutches of a gold-digging dame, Tess (Sue Ane Langdon), threatening a breach of promise lawsuit. Danny and his buddy, Sam (Joby Baker of Girl Happy), run into Ginger (Connie Francis), whose property is falling into disrepair because her father (Frank Faylen of The Mystery of the 13th Guest), is a gambleholic. But somebody gets the bright idea of converting their property into a ranch-resort near Reno where ladies who want divorces and others can congregate. But will Danny's passion for Ginger hit a snag when Tess shows up in town? The trouble with the picture is that "when the boys meet the girls" not much happens that hasn't been seen -- and seen and seen -- many times before. You may not recognize this as a remake of the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland starrer Girl Crazy, although some of the Gershwin tunes have been happily preserved. Both Francis and Presnell do creditable versions of "Embraceable You" as well as "I've Got Rhythm," a bouncy classic that it's hard to ruin. Presnell has an appealing personality and a very nice voice, and Francis -- playing the leading lady for the second and last time (after Looking for Love) -- is fine, but Presnell is so pleasant and mild in his role that her aggressive anger towards him makes her seem like a real bitch at times, and it's hard to see what he sees in her. Langdon does her usual fair-to middling sexpot bit, and we have guest appearances by Herman (Peter Noone)  and the Hermits (singing "Listen People"), Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and Liberace (!) doing his 'Liberace Aruba" mambo. An unfunny bit with a moronic boxer named Canvasback Davis (mercifully uncredited) goes on forever and nearly kills the picture.

Verdict: Nice Gershwin tunes and good performances save this from total schlock. **.

JAWS 3-D

Watch out for that 3-D shark!
JAWS 3-D (/aka Jaws 3/1983). Director: Joe Alves.

Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid of Far From Heaven), the son of the sheriff of the original Jaws, has designed a Sea World that includes an underwater theme park. Mike's brother, Sean (John Putch), who still has a fear of the water, arrives for the special preview week and meets Mike's girlfriend, a scientist named Kay (Bess Armstrong), and a Sea World employee named Kelly (Lea Thompson of Howard the Duck). A Great White shark is another, unwelcome visitor, but it is captured and put on exhibit -- but then its much larger, thirty-five-foot long mother comes a'callin'. Jaws 3-D has some good moments and a bit of suspense, but it's a little too routine and the special effects -- and 3-D work -- are variable. The shark looks convincing in some shots and is D.O.A. in others. Louis Gossett Jr. plays the owner of the park, and Simon MacCorkindale is a photographer who winds up as dinner. The acting is efficient enough. P. H. Morairty has some good moments as MacCorindale's assistant. Not as bad as many people believe, but not all that it could have been -- it shows definite signs of being rushed out to meet a release date. The "big" scene when the shark rushes towards the control room window and smashes through the glass is creepy but suffers from sloppy process work.

Verdict: The mother-child monster combo was more fun in Gorgo. **1/2.

THE KILLER NUN

Joe Dallesandro and Anita Ekberg
THE KILLER NUN (aka Suor Omicidi/1979). Director: Giulio Berruti.

Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg) is the head nurse in a hospital that also seems to function as a convalescent home. Gertrude is convinced that she is dying, even though there is no medical evidence to suggest this, and she seems to be unraveling in other ways. She causes the head doctor, Poirret (Massimo Serato) to lose his job, and Dr. Roland (Joe Dallesandro) takes his place. Periodically Gertrude ditches her habit, goes into town, and picks up a man for hot sex, but of more concern is that she seems to be murdering the patients at the hospital. Is she losing her mind, or is someone else responsible for the deaths? The Killer Nun has a good idea but its execution is poor, as the film is saddled with weak direction, slovenly editing, a poor musical score, and a lack of basic coherency. As for the cast, any film that boasts both Anita Ekberg [Back from Eternity] and Joe Dallesandro [Wiseguy] in the same picture has to have its interesting moments, and it does. And the Mother Superior, whom Gertrude calls a bitch at one point, is played by no less than Alida Valli of Hitchcock's The Paradine Case! The Killer Nun might have been a superior horror picture but it has absolutely no style, and the murder sequences have no suspense or panache. Ekberg is okay, and still looks great, if a little more zoftig, at 48; she did a few more films after this one. The film introduced Paola Morra, who plays Sister Mathieu, a nun who is in love with Gertrude but has sex with Dr. Roland when he discovers she's stolen some morphine. Gertrude tells Mathieu that she prefers men, but will sleep with women if they wear silk stockings! If Dario Argento had directed this picture, it might have amounted to something.

Verdict: Anita Ekberg as a nun! Not since Frank Sinatra as a priest in Miracle of the Bells (which also starred Alida Valli) has their been such delightfully absurd casting. If only the movie were better! **.

ELLERY QUEEN AND THE MURDER RING

Blanche Yurka and Ralph Bellamy
ELLERY QUEEN AND THE MURDER RING (1941). Director: James P. Hogan.

Augusta Stack (Blanche Yurka) is a nasty old lady who runs a hospital, senses chicanery everywhere, and treats her own children like crap. We learn early on that son John (Leon Ames) is plotting murder with the help of two bumbling confederates. But when the termagant kicks off, are the conspirators actually responsible for her death? Then there are more murders. Writer/amateur sleuth Ellery Queen (Ralph Bellamy) investigates with the help of his cop father, Inspector Queen (Charlie Grapewin), and Ellery's secretary, Nikki (Margaret Lindsay). Ellery has a very condescending attitude toward Nikki, who also seems to be his girlfriend, but she also seems a lot smarter than he is. Notable cast members include George Zucco [The Mad Monster] as a doctor suspected of assorted bad things; James Burke as a cop; Olin Howland (Howlin) as another, rather merry doctor; and especially Mona Barrie [King of Burlesque] in a vivid turn as nurse Marian Tracy, who is involved with John. Dennis Moore has a small role as another doctor, and wouldn't you know Pierre Watkin shows up as lawyer Crothers and is as bland and minor as ever. The basic plot is workable, but there is too much unfunny "comedy" relief surrounding the hit men, and the movie becomes fairly tedious before too long. Characterization is minimal; there's no attempt to explain why Mrs. Stack has such a bad relationship with her children, for instance. The Spanish Cape Mystery, with Donald Cook playing Ellery Queen, was better than this. This was Bellamy's last appearance as Queen.

Verdict: Some people like this picture; they're welcome to it. *1/2.

NAKED YOUTH

John Goddard and Carol Ohmart
NAKED YOUTH (aka Wild Youth/1960). Director: John Schreyer.

Frankie (Robert Arthur of September Affair) and "Switch" (Steve Rowland) run off from the State Boys Honor Farm and hook up with Frankie's girlfriend, Donna (Jan Brooks). On the road they run into a couple who have rapidly exited Mexico with thousands of dollars worth of heroin secreted in a doll. Rivas (John Goddard) is a drug dealer and causal murderer and Madge (Carol Ohmart) is his junkie girlfriend, who undoubtedly got hooked on the stuff by the not-so-loving Rivas. In the meantime, a Treasury agent named Maddo (Robert Hutton) is trailing after Rivas. Eventually everyone intersects in an isolated warehouse where the final battle ensues. Naked Youth is not really a study of juvenile delinquency; "Switch" may be a creep, but the other kids are pretty decent, as is the pathetic Madge. The picture is a standard crime drama with a few minor suspenseful moments, and it manages to hold the attention without being riveting. Ohmart  [House on Haunted Hill] gives her usual adept performance, and the other actors are more than satisfactory. Goddard was "introduced" in this film even though it was his 39th credit, and he had many more roles afterward. Hutton [Hollywood Canteen] is top-billed with Omhart but he has little to do in the film. Steve Rowland makes a pretty good impression as the resident junior bad boy. The musical score is an odd hodge podge that even rips off Vertigo at certain points.

Verdict: An effective Ohmart and some other good performances help a bit. **.

SHERLOCK HOLMES TV SHOW

Ronald Howard as a handsome Sherlock Holmes
SHERLOCK HOLMES (1954 British television series.)

Sherlock Holmes is a credible British TV series that lasted for one interesting season. The well-cast star playing the famous sleuth was Ronald Howard [Black Orchid], the son of Leslie Howard, who made a much handsomer Holmes than usual. Howard Marion-Crawford [The Face of Fu Manchuwas Watson, and Archie Duncan was Inspector Lestrade. Some of the earlier episodes were a bit sitcom-like at times, with way too much humor, but the performances were always good. Rarely did the characters ever show much compassion for the assorted victims. Among the better episodes: "Blind Man's Bluff," which presents a series of revenge murders with a powerful motive; "Split Ticket," in which three people sharing one sweepstakes ticket leads to trouble; "Laughing Mummy," in which odd developments surround a mummy case from which issues giggling; "The Perfect Husband," in which a man, perfectly played by Michael Gough, boldly tells his wife that he intends to murder her as he did the seven wives before her (with a suitably macabre denouement). Other interesting episodes include "Mother Hubbard," "The Red-Headed League" (from a classic Doyle story); and "Shoeless Engineer." The all-time worst episode was probably the silly "Texas Cowgirl," in which the extremely irritating title character finds a dead man in her hotel room. Guest-stars on the series include Natalie Schafer, Dawn Addams, and Tony Wright. Steve Previn directed most of the episodes, and the show has an excellent theme by composer Paul Durand.

Verdict: Entertaining, well-acted, if not essential viewing. **1/2.

Friday, October 13, 2017

HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN

Davis, Leslie, Garfield and Hutton
HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN (1944). Director: Delmer Daves.

Corporal Slim Green (Robert Hutton) and his buddy Sergeant Nowland (Dane Clark) are on leave in LA when they drop by the Hollywood Canteen. The canteen was started by Bette Davis and John Garfield, and both stars play a prominent role in the film, which is basically built around Slim wanting to meet actress Joan Leslie, playing herself, and the romance that ensues. During this, a number of stars either appear or do numbers. Among the highlights: Dennis Morgan and Joe E. Brown sing "You Can Always Tell a Yank;" The Andrews Sisters perform "We're Getting Corns for Our Country;" Jack Benny and Joseph Szigeti have a comical duel of violins; Joan McCracken does a jazz ballet production number; a Spanish dance number from Rosario and Antonio; and Kitty Carlisle singing "Sweet Dreams, Sweetheart." Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet have an amusing cameo, and there are lots of guest appearances by a host of stars, some of whom you may miss if you blink (Eleanor Parker, for instance). Davis and Garfield are wonderful playing themselves; Dane Clark has an affecting moment when his character realizes that he no longer needs to use his cane; and Robert Hutton is excellent as the shy, sensitive small-town fellow who develops quite a crush on Leslie, who gives a winning performance as well. Zachary Scott and Barbara Stanwyck have notable cameos, and Janis Paige makes a decided impression as a studio messenger who pretends to be an actress. Corporal Green addresses his fellow fighting men and allies at one point, and mentions "our own colored boys" as it flashes to a shot of several black soldiers. Good. Although Hutton never became a major star (this was his fourth picture) he did amass 90 credits in his long career. However, the one single actor who has the most sheer presence in the two hour film is the formidable Joan Crawford.

Verdict: Entertaining, and ultimately quite moving. ***.

DUET FOR BUGS

Bugs Bunny and the Fabulous Elmer Fudd
STAGE DOOR CARTOON (1944). Director: Friz Freleng.
HERR MEETS HARE (1945). Director: Friz Freleng.

The DVD for Hollywood Canteen features two vintage wartime Bugs Bunny cartoons. In the first, Stage Door Cartoon, the "wascally wabbitt" is chased by Elmer Fudd into a theater, where the luckless hunter is forced to perform on stage for an audience, including a bit where he does a frightfully high dive into a very, very small glass of water. In Herr Meets Hare, Bugs takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque and winds up in Germany, where he encounters a Nazi hunter and even Adolf Hitler. At one point Bugs pretends to be a diva in a Wagnerian opera (recalling the classic What's Opera, Doc?). As usual, Mel Blanc does his brilliant voice characterizations.

The strange thing is that the latter cartoon features a disclaimer from TCM (which released the DVD) about ethnic and racial stereotyping, but the only stereotypes in the cartoon are of Nazis. Have we become so ridiculously politically correct that we have to worry about offending Nazis? Oy vey!

Verdict: Amusing, fluid, and well-done cartoons. ***.

MILLION DOLLAR LEGS

Jack Oakie and W. C. Fields
MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (1932). Director: Edward F. Cline.

Traveling salesman Migg Tweeney (Jack Oakie of Thieves Highway) comes to the small, impoverished nation of Klopstokia -- where the men are all named George and the women are all named Angela -- and promptly falls in love with the President's (W. C. Fields) daughter, Angela (Susan Fleming) and vice versa. But the President will not allow Angela to marry Migg unless he can come up with a way of raising needed capital to keep the man in office as his advisers plot to oust him any way they can. Noticing how athletic the people are, Migg comes up with the idea of Klopstokia entering the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. But will Angela's countrymen be able to keep up their morale once Mata Machree (Lyda Roberti) pulls a vamp on all of them and sets one against another? Million Dollar Legs is a very silly movie, and some of the gags in the script co-written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz are creaky groaners (although still funny) but the movie is amiable and amusing enough to work, with many clever sight gags. The wonderful Fields [The Bank Dick] is simply not given enough to do, and one can only imagine how much better the movie would have been if Bob Hope had been cast in the Oakie part. (Oakie gets equal billing with Fields, a situation that would not last much longer.) Susan Fleming is an appealing heroine, but the real scene-stealer in this is Lyda Roberti. Although Mata Machree is billed as "the woman no man can resist" there's a comic absurdity in the fact that Roberti, while cute, is not exactly a raving beauty, but she certainly can dance in a mighty sexy manner, slithering sensually in a way that borders on camp. Ben Turpin and little Dickie Moore [Blonde Venus] are also in the cast and add their own brand of humor.

Verdict: More of Fields would have helped, but this is a cute picture with lots of laughs. ***.


THE THREE STOOGES

THE THREE STOOGES: From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons. Michael Fleming. Foreword by Mel Gibson. Official and Authorized. Doubleday; 1999.

This illustrated coffee table book takes an exhaustive look at the careers and lives of the Three Stooges, which actually consisted of several men over the years. Originally they were three brothers, but Larry Fine was not related, and took over for Shemp Howard (who later came back into the fold). The trio started out as stooges for comic Ted Healy and there are chapters detailing Healy's career both before and after his association with the Stooges, who outgrew him. The Stooges originally made comedy shorts that played in theaters, many of which were quite funny (while others were stinkers). When these played on television, there was a literal and figurative Stooge revival -- the fellows wound up being put in big-screen movies such as Snow White and the Three Stooges and Have Rocket, Will Travel, with mixed results. In any case they had a whole new audience of kids of all ages. The author argues that the Stooges are almost exclusively a male phenomenon, that women just don't dig the Stooges, but I think that's a generalization that might not hold water (no matter what Mel Gibson, who wrote the introduction, may think). Fully half the book is devoted to synopses of all of the Stooges shorts -- and there were many -- but it's more fun to watch (some of) them than to read about them. Still, this is a must-have for serious Stooge fans.

Verdict: Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk -- For all things Stooge. ***.

ST. BENNY THE DIP

Nina Foch and Dick Haymes
ST. BENNY THE DIP (1951). Director: Edgar G. Ulmer.

Benny (Dick Haymes), Monk (Lionel Stander), and Matthew (Roland Young) are three con artists trying to pull a rather mean score when the law intervenes and they take it on the lam. The trio hide out by disguising themselves as priests, and wind up running an abandoned mission for the indigent. Benny has trouble staying in character when he meets pretty illustrator Linda (Nina Foch), and the three men's fates just might turn out differently than expected. The premise might be a bit sappy, but it has possibilities that aren't overly plumbed in this quaint comedy that has some good performances. Haymes [Irish Eyes Are Smiling] is a cast standout, and is given one nice number, "I Believe," which is not to be confused with the more famous song of the same name; he's also in fine voice. Young and Stander are also good, with the latter less gross and tiresome than usual. He has a good scene reuniting with his long-suffering wife, Mary (a notable Jean Casto), late in the picture. Nina Foch [Illegal] is given an odd part, and at times she seems demented in her determination to marry a man she hardly knows. A shockingly bad performance is given by a grown-up Freddie Bartholomew, once a wonderful child actor, who plays a geeky young priest named Wilbur. Bartholomew could give good adult performances, as he did in The Town Went Wild, but in this he just tries too hard to be funny; it was his last picture. The odd thing about this movie is that it has a certain quality and appeal despite the fact that it's really not that good. Robert W. Stringer's interesting score, especially the excellent theme music, may have something to do with that.

Verdict: Oddly interesting comedy with some good performances. **1/2.

MOTOR PATROL

Jane Nigh and Don Castle
MOTOR PATROL (1950). Director: Sam Newfield.

"Hope to see you again real soon." -- Happy, the morgue attendant.

Larry Collins (William Henry) is an officer with the traffic division of the LAPD. His sister, Jean (Gwen O'Connor), is engaged to a friend and fellow cop, Ken Foster (Don Castle of Roses are Red), who also wants to be on "motor patrol." When Larry is murdered by people involved in a hot car racket, Ken steps in to do undercover work, but seems somewhat ill-prepared. Connie Taylor (Jane Nigh of State Fair) is in love with Russ Garver (Charles Victor), who is the head man in the gang. Connie is secretary to George Miller (Frank Jaquet), a formerly honest car dealer who reluctantly works with the crooks. Motor Patrol is a routine, plodding, if professional low-budget cops and robbers production with little to distinguish it. Richard Travis [Missile to the Moon] and Onslow Stevens play, respectively, a police detective and lieutenant. Sid Melton is less obnoxious than usual as the manager of a coffee shop where some of the "action" takes place.

Verdict: Few if any thrills in this. *1/2.

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB (1995). Director: Hugh Wilson.

"Don't get mad -- get everything!" -- Ivana Trump.

Cynthia (Stockard Channing), who was dumped by her husband for a young bimbo, throws herself off of a roof. At her funeral, three old college friends reunite: housewife Brenda (Bette Midler); another housewife, Annie (Diane Keaton of Annie Hall); and actress Elise (Goldie Hawn, outfitted with huge fake collagen lips). The three women each discover that they have been left by their husbands for other women, and are in much worse circumstances than they were before. They decide to team up to get justice and essentially blackmail their ex-spouses, whose activities have not exactly been on the up and up, into giving them more money and so on. But they also have a broader, more feminist goal in mind. You can certainly find dozens of things to quibble about when it comes to First Wives Club so it's best to just take it as an amusing and farcical look at the ugliness of divorce. It's pointless to accuse the film of being one-sided, as its premise looks at wives who have been discarded for younger replacements after many years of marriage and find themselves all at sea -- it is not the husbands' story. However, the soundtrack may have ladies warbling "sistahs are doin' it for thermselves" but in this picture Brenda and her pals get help from her Uncle and his mafia cronies! I question the wisdom of any of these three gals wanting to get back with their errant ex-spouses, and while a big bitch-fight sequence when the three friends go off on each other has funny dialogue, it comes off as contrived and silly. However, the main point of the film is its three sharp and funny lead performances. The spouses are played by Victor Garber [Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows], Stephen Collins, and Dan Hedaya, who seems capable of playing one and only one characterization no matter what movie he's in. Eileen Heckart as Annie's mother offers one of her rare mediocre performances. There's an interesting, if awkward, sequence in a lesbian bar -- Annie's daughter (Jennifer Dundas) is openly gay -- and Ivana Trump has an amusing cameo.

Verdict: Fun, essentially amiable movie despite some really stupid aspects. ***.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

ABROAD WITH TWO YANKS

Battling Beauties? William Bendix and Dennis O'Keefe
ABROAD WITH TWO YANKS (1944). Director: Allan Dwan.

"I came over here to wear a uniform, not a girdle!" -- Biff

Biff (William Bendix) and Jeff (Dennis O'Keefe), two marines on leave in Australia,  are more or less friendly rivals (although the casting of the handsome O'Keefe doesn't exactly level the playing field!), especially when it comes to women. Jeff pretends to be Biff so he can get in good with Joyce (Helen Walker), who is anxious to meet Biff because he saved the life of family friend, Cyril (John Loder). The first half of the film, in which Jeff tries to maintain the impersonation while Biff suggests to Joyce that his "pal" has mental troubles, is pretty average and even silly, but the picture certainly picks up in the second half. For unaccountable reasons the Marine sergeant wants some of the guys to dress up as gals during a show, but both Biff and Jeff take off in drag with the latter intent on proposing to Joyce while the former wants Cyril to have a shot at it. There are hilarious developments as these two gals romp around a social event trying to get the better of the other one. William Bendix [The Big Steal], always a fine actor in either comedy or drama, has a ball playing the sensitive, likable but feisty Biff, while O'Keefe also offers a fine comic performance as his hated buddy. A highlight is watching Bendix warbling "All I Need is a Man!" Helen Walker [Nightmare Alley] might seem an odd choice for this kind of material but she's winning throughout. John Loder is blandly professional, as usual. Walker and O'Keefe also appeared in Brewster's Millions, in  which they were not nearly as effective.

Verdict: After a slow start, this is a very funny service comedy. ***.

MURDER BY CONTRACT

Pine, Bernardi and Edwards
MURDER BY CONTRACT (1958). Director: Irving Lerner.

"Us two, we don't claim to be Superman. Me, I don't even claim to be Mighty Mouse." -- Marc.

Claude (Vince Edwards) isn't making enough money on his job, so he decides to pile up the cash quickly by becoming a hit man. After several successful assignments, he is offered far above his usual rate to travel to California where his latest victim is waiting. Claude takes his time mulling over his game plan, which worries his boss' associates, Marc (Phillip Pine) and George (Hershel Bernardi). Then the whole plan hits a snag when Claude discovers who -- or rather what -- his latest victim is to be. Will Claude go ahead with this hit that is very important to his unseen boss, and even if he does will he be able to get past dozens of cops to pull it off? Murder By Contract is a simplistic film with modestly developed characters, but it works because it's completely absorbing as well as unpredictable. The performances help a lot, with Edwards solid (if hardly perfect) as Claude, and Pine and Bernardi giving expert support. There is also fine work from Kathie Browne [Happy Mother's Day, Love George] as a hooker; Frances Osborn as a drunken former maid; Michael Granger [Pier 5 Havana] as Moon, who gives Claude his earliest assignments; and Joseph Mell in a nice bit as a room service waiter who temporarily excites Claude's ire. Caprice Toriel plays a nightclub singer who was once involved with Claude's boss and she is competent; she only appeared in this one movie. Lucien Ballard's cinematography is top notch, although I don't think Perry Botkin's guitar score works all that well. Oddly, Lerner also directed Edwards (and Browne) in City of Fear the following year, yet that was a terrible picture.

Verdict: Unusual crime suspense film. ***.


CULT SCIENCE FICTION FILMS

CULT SCIENCE FICTION FILMS: From The Amazing Colossal Man to Yog -- Monster from Space. Welch Everman. Citadel Press; 1995.

This entertaining and well-illustrated hardcover looks at cult sci fi movies with synopses and analyses of each picture. Everman covers everything from The Atomic Submarine to Westworld with stops at Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter, The Medusa Touch, Mysterious Island, Scanners, War of the Colossal Beast, and many, many others. The author does not deal with big-budget science fiction films that have already received much intensive scrutiny, nor with classic sci fi (ditto), but movies that in his opinion have not received much critical analysis. Like other books of this nature, Cult Science Fiction Films not only provides some informative nostalgia for those who love these movies, but will also have the reader digging out titles from their DVD collection for another look and/or looking for additional items to put on their watch-list.

Verdict: Fun and attractive vintage Citadel Press tome. ***.

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (1941). Director: Elliott Nugent.

Steve Bennett (Bob Hope) works for stockbroker T. T. Ralston (Edward Arnold) in Miami Beach. Ralston's niece, Gwen (Paulette Goddard), gives Steve $10,000 and asks him to invest it for her. Steve tries to double the money by accepting a crazy bet that he will do nothing but tell the truth for 24 hours, leading to hurt feelings and various misunderstandings. Nothing But the Truth is based on a play that had already been filmed in 1929, and critics in 1941 found the enterprise rather creaky but still entertaining. Hope is in top form, as is Goddard, and there is fine support from Arnold; Leif Ericson [Three Secrets] as Gwen's boyfriend; Helen Vinson [In Name Only] as a predatory actress; Glenn Anders [The Lady from Shanghai] as Steve's co-worker; and Willie Best as his valet; among others. The movie has some real laughs and is consistently cute, but after awhile there seems to be more witless running about than anything else. This premise still worked for an amusing I Love Lucy episode wherein Lucy also had to tell the truth for 24 hours to win a bet from Ricky, Fred and Ethel. The same premise was also used for Jim Carrey's Liar, Liar 56 years after the Hope version!

Verdict: Enthusiastic players put this over. **1/2.

LATE AT NIGHT

Cover by Elderlemon Deisgn
LATE AT NIGHT. William Schoell. Cemetery Dance; 2017.

My vintage horror novel Late at Night has been reissued in epub format by Cemetery Dance, and can be read on Kindle, Nook, or on your computer or other device.

In this book a group of psychic investigators and others come to the infamous Lammerty Island, which has a history of murder and mayhem. One night our hero, Ernest, wants something to read until he feels sleepy and discovers a paperback in the old house's library. As he reads, he discovers that he is the main character, and the supporting players are the other people in the group. What's going on here? And then the murders start ...

Readers have found this book both scary and suspenseful and I'm happy that Cemetery Dance has given it a new life. I was also pleased with the reviews on Amazon. This one was a lot of fun to write!


P.S. I LOVE YOU: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF PETER SELLERS

P. S. I LOVE YOU: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF PETER SELLERS. Michael Sellers. E. P. Dutton; 1981.

In this revealing, entertaining, and well-written book, the son of Peter Sellers talks about his life with his famous father, his siblings, his mother, and his father's assorted other wives, including actresses Britt Ekland [Asylum] and Lynne Frederick [Schizo]. The portrait that emerges is of a man who never seemed quite satisfied no matter what he got out of life, which in terms of success, wealth and prestige was considerable. Paranoid, mercurial, and often inexplicably temperamental, Peter Sellers would routinely disown assorted children on what some might deem a whim, although he was often mortally offended, such as when her daughter Victoria tactlessly referred to him as looking like a "little old man" in Being There. (Victoria was the daughter of the hated second wife, Britt Ekland). Michael Sellers and his siblings had a life of privilege for the most part, although his father was, like most movie stars, probably more concerned with his status in the industry than with anything else, although he undoubtedly loved his children as much as he was capable of. The final chapters of the book deal with how fourth wife Frederick somehow managed to get virtually all of her estranged husband's fortune away from his own children. This is an intimate and frank portrait of its subject, although I'm not certain if we needed to know about Seller's late-in-life bouts with impotency.

Verdict: Good read about a comic genius with assorted issues. ***.

GAS HOUSE KIDS GO WEST

Those Wild and Crazy Gas House Kids!
GAS HOUSE KIDS GO WEST (1947). Director: William Beaudine.

The Gas House kids are invited to spend some time at a California ranch by its owner, Mrs. Crowley (Lela Bliss). The boys arrange to drive a used car cross country with friendly police sergeant Casey (Emory Parnell of Safari Drums) in tow, but they are all unaware that the auto is hot. In a coincidence that can only happen in the movies, or in old Hardy Boys books, the stolen car gang is operating in the very town where Mrs. Crowley's ranch is located. The head of the gang is Jim Kinsgley (William Wright), who is engaged to Mrs. Crowley's daughter, Nan (Chili Williams), who has strange taste in men, With the help of Casey, who is in love with Mrs. Crowley, the boys cook up a scheme to trap the gang. Gas House Kids Go West is another entry in this short-lived imitation of the Eastside Kids/Bowery Boys, and it is amiable but dull. The boys are Alfie (Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer); Chimp (Tommy Bond); Orvie (Benny Bartlett); Scat (Rudy Wissler); and Roy Dolciame as Corky. Switzer gets to sing an off-key version of "West of the Pacos" and accidentally kisses Tommy Bond instead of Nan at the climax. Wissler, who actually had a fine voice, is not given a number. Vince Barnett [Drums of Africa] is notable and amusing as Steve, the man out west who receives the stolen car and hides it in the Crowley barn. Followed by The Gas House Kids in Hollywood, the third and final film in the series. Chili Williams was a pin-up queen and competent actress who managed to amass twenty credits,

Verdict: Take some pepto bismol and don't call me in the morning. **.