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

Thursday, August 30, 2018

THIS IS MY LOVE

Linda Darnell and Rick Jason
THIS IS MY LOVE (1954). Director: Stuart Heisler.

Vida Dove (Linda Darnell) lives with her sister, Evelyn (Fatih Domergue) and brother-in-law, Murray (Dan Duryea), and their two small and adorable children.  Vida was originally Murray's girlfriend, but he married Evelyn instead and the two formed a dance team until Murray was in a car crash. Now a bitter and often nasty paraplegic, Murray owns a coffee shop where the two sisters are waitresses. Vida has been engaged for several years to a likable lunkhead named Eddie (Hal Baylor), but one day Eddie brings a handsome friend, Glenn (Rick Jason) into the restaurant with him. Suddenly all of Vida;'s romantic fantasies center on Glenn, but she may have to contend with her own sister's desires just as she had once before, all leading up to one unspeakable act ... The fascinating and unfairly forgotten This Is My Love combines seriously dysfunctional families, unrequited love triangles, sibling rivalry, twisted passions, extreme loneliness and jealousy, and even cold-blooded murder into an absorbing and unpredictable 90 minutes of melodrama. The movie and the performances are on occasion more overwrought than they need to be, but given the situations and the raw emotions they engender that can certainly be forgiven. Linda Darnell gives an excellent performance, and a highlight is an absolute meltdown she has when she realizes she may again have to take a back seat to her sister. Although comparatively inexperienced next to Darnell, Rick Jason [of TV's Combat] not only looks swell but is right up there with his more famous co-star in the scenes they have together. (I confess that while |I watched this movie, I was convinced that Glenn was being played by serial star Judd Holdren, who is also in the movie, and who greatly resembles Rick Jason. Apparently Holdren has the very small role of a doctor; I blinked and missed him.)  Domergue [Young Widow] is also very effective as the not necessarily bad but clueless sister, and Dan Duryea almost walks off with the movie as the crippled man who loves his wife desperately but is also so terrified of losing her that he takes it out on everyone around him. Hal Baylor makes the most of his role as nice guy Eddie, who's only crime is that he's just not the romantic figure of Vida's dreams. William Hopper of Perry Mason fame shows up briefly as a district attorney, and the little boy is played by Jerry Mathers of Leave It to Beaver fame. Franz Waxman's score features an excellent opening theme that underscores Vida's romantic thoughts and is nicely warbled at one point by Connie Russell [Nightmare].

Verdict: While many things are left unsaid and unexplored -- let's not forget there are children involved -- and this is not exactly Clifford Odets, it is still a highly interesting and worthwhile picture. ***. 

THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE (1939). Director: H. C. Potter.

Encouraged to stop doing low comedy routines for Lew Fields (the real-life vaudevillian who plays himself, albeit years older), Vernon Castle (Fred Astaire) starts a dancing act with his new wife, Irene (Ginger Rogers). After a false start in Europe, they become a sensation dancing at the Cafe de Paris, and rapidly make their way back to New York City. They introduce many new dances, including the Foxtrot, sell various products under their names, while Irene unveils the new bob hair cut for women and influences clothing fashions as well. Then Vernon becomes a military flier in World War One. Training pilots back in the states, Vernon has a date with destiny ... Vernon and Irene is such a delightful and upbeat picture that the tragic ending almost seems out of place, were it not for the fact that it's part of history.  But for most of its length, this is a joyous film with top performances from the leads (as well as from Fields, Walter Brennan [Nobody Lives Forever] as their pal, Walter, and tart Edna May Oliver as the Castles' manager)  and some excellent singing and dancing. A particular highlight is the ballroom dancing the Castles do for their audition in Paris. A clever bit shows the couple going on tour in the United States by picturing a big map with dancing figures superimposed all over it. Still a top team, Astaire and Rogers did not make another film, The Barkleys of Broadway, for ten years.  In real life, Walter was actually African-American, and the lady manager was happily gay. Vernon Castle was only thirty when he died while Astaire was ten years older when he made this picture.

Verdict: Very entertaining musical biopic. ***. 

STAGE STRUCK (1936)

STAGE STRUCK (1936). Director: Busby Berkeley.

Dance director George Randall (Dick Powell of Star Spangled Rhythm) is working on a new production when he is told that there is a new financial backer who just happens to want to star in the show as well. Peggy Revere (Joan Blondell of Good Girls Go to Paris) has absolutely no experience and no talent, but she is famous for shooting her husband -- a mere "flesh wound" -- in France and getting acquitted. Now the producers figure Peggy's notoriety will sell lots of tickets. The trouble is that she and George can't stand each other. At the same time George becomes a little struck on young hopeful Ruth Williams (Jeanne Madden), who is talented but is told by George in a rather patronizing way that she should just go home. Obviously thinking show girls are some kind of lesser breed of female, he is afraid she will become just like "all the rest." (His condescending and negative attitudes towards these gals goes basically unremarked upon and unresolved, but that's show biz.) So which of these two ladies will walk out on stage on opening night? Stage Struck is an entertaining and well-played musical with a couple of very nice song numbers by Harburg and Arlen: "This Can't Be True" and "In Your Own Quiet Way." Powell is terrific as both actor and singer, but the cute Jeanne Madden only made two more pictures after this more than satisfactory debut. Other notable cast members include Frank McHugh as George's assistant; Warren William [The Man in the Iron Mask] as his nervous and excitable producer; the eternally old Spring Byington; Jane Wyman, charming in a bit part; two adorable dachshunds and a bigger pooch who loves to rough house with George; and the Yacht Club Boys, a quartet who figure prominently in a clever and funny number called "The Body Beautiful," which has decided Marx Brothers overtones.

Verdict: Fun minor musical with nice songs and excellent performances. **3/4. 

SHED NO TEARS

Hardboiled: June Vincent
SHED NO TEARS (1948). Director: Jean Yarbrough.

With the help of his wife, Edna (June Vincent of The Creeper), Sam Grover (Wallace Ford) cooks up a scheme to fake his own death. He plans to meet up with Edna after she gets the insurance money, but doesn't realize that she really plans to run away with her lover, Ray (Mark Roberts of The Brothers Brannagan). But Edna doesn't reckon with Tom (Dick Hogan), Sam's son from his first marriage, who is convinced that his father was murdered. Another complication is the annoying presence of Huntington Stewart (Johnstone White of Anything for a Thrill), a private eye hired by Tom who really has only his own interests at heart. Shed No Tears is a twisty, suspenseful, and mostly unpredictable crime drama and borderline film noir (this has a femme fatale but no real hero) that boasts a sharp, outstanding performance by June Vincent, an excellent and unheralded actress who gets across her character's venality without ever once resorting to chewing the scenery. Johnstone White, who was introduced in this film (after actually appearing in several earlier productions), is also quite good and has a terrific scene with Vincent when he first confronts her with his suspicions. It may have been hoped that White would develop the kind of career enjoyed by Clifton Webb -- he's similarly florid -- but he had only a few credits. Dick Hogan has an appealing face and manner but his performance is only adequate; two years later he played the murder victim in Hitchcock's Rope, his last feature film appearance. Wallace Ford is acceptable but perfunctory in the key role of Sam Grover; he was much better in The Breaking Point. Frank Albertson is fine as a police detective who investigates Grover's death. June Vincent amassed 110 credits, many of which were on TV in her later years.

Verdict: Fast-paced, intriguing, and snappy crime meller. ***. 

KING OF THE FOREST RANGERS

Larry Thompson and Helen Talbot
KING OF THE FOREST RANGERS (12 chapter Republic serial/1946). Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet; Fred C. Brannon.

Professor Carver (Stuart Hamblen) discovers that there might be a treasure in the woods when he discovers an old Indian rug and a transparent map that can be fitted over it. He begins to buy up the property of the people in the woods, and uses force if they don't comply. His chief enforcer is the utterly nasty Spear (Anthony Warde), who isn't above killing and torturing anyone who gets in his way. Chief among his opponents are good guy Steve King (Larry Thompson) of the Forest Rangers and his staff, as well as the pretty and feisty Marion (Helen Talbot), who is handy with a pistol. The fisticuffs in this serial are amazing, with a let's-smash-all-the-furniture fight scene at least twice in every exciting episode, all ably choreographed by Tom Steele, who also plays one of the bad guys. Notable cliffhangers include: King engulfed in flames in an old cellar; a fight on a plane that ends in a crash; a platform of spikes crashing down on King; Marion about to be fed via conveyor belt into a pulp grinder; and King and Marion trapped in a pit where Spear and his cohorts throw flaming branches down at them, causing a conflagration. Larry Thompson is a likable and efficient hero; Helen Talbot is an attractive and equally likable second lead; and Anthony Warde [Roaring City] is completely convincing as the truly evil and loathsome Spear. Mort Glickman [King of the Mounties] has contributed some memorable theme music. This was really the only lead role for Larry Thompson, who did mostly uncredited small parts in various features.

Verdict: Really snappy and fast-paced Republic serial. ***. 

FLOOD TIDE

George Nader, Michel Ray, Cornell Borchers
FLOOD TIDE (1958). Director: Abner Biberman.

Former playboy Steve Martin (George Nader of Shannon) has fallen in love with his neighbor, Anne (Cornell Borchers), but they have to contend with the jealousy and manipulations of her crippled ten-year-old son, David (Michel Ray). Another concern is that David may have lied when he told the police that another of his mother's suitors, a man named Halloran (Russ Conway), dumped a drunken friend into the ocean after an argument, causing his death. While Steve deals with his on-again/off-again romance with Anne, he does his best to bond with the boy, and also find out the truth about Halloran, who is serving time in jail for a crime he may not have committed. Flood Tide is an interesting and unusual romantic drama that greatly benefits from a excellent performance from the young Ray, who was actually fourteen at the time (looking younger) and by any standard was one of the most talented child actors in pictures. (Ray made only a few films, including The Brave One, Space Children, and Lawrence of Arabia before retiring from the movies to further his education and becoming a multi-billionaire.) In contrast, George Nader, who is at least competent in this and was seen to much better advantage in other parts (such as "Self-Defense" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents), is a trifle perfunctory, as if he's afraid of showing too much emotion. Cornell Borchers is much better as David's sympathetic, but slightly unstable mother. Flood Tide is not an out and out thriller, but at times is threatens to turn into The Bad Seed with a sex change, and while we are always aware that this is a tormented ten-year-old boy, his behavior is very borderline and even criminal at times. Steve's attempts to play child psychologist, however, are often pitiful. Joanna Moore [Monster On the Campus] is fine in a small role as one of Steve's girlfriends, and Troy Donahue shows up very briefly as a young man on the beach who reports that David is ill. Cornell Borchers had mostly German credits and only one film and one TV appearance after this film was released. She and young Ray also appeared in The Divided Heart and she was Rock Hudson's leading lady in Never Say Goodbye.

Verdict: Absorbing, and sometimes moving, in spite of itself. ***. 

I'VE LIVED BEFORE

Jock Mahoney
I'VE LIVED BEFORE (1956). Director: Richard Bartlett.

Airline pilot John Bolen (Jock Mahoney of Three Blondes in His Life) basically has a meltdown as his plane is coming in for a landing, and imagines that he is a WW1 flier being pursued by enemy aircraft in France. John's co-pilot, Russell (Jerry Paris), saves the day by knocking him out, but when he wakes up he's convinced he's a man named Peter Stevens, who died in 1918. Once he's himself again, John decides to find out if he truly has any connection to this man who died before he was born by finding a woman who was on the plane, whom he recognized from somewhere, and whom he feels may be responsible in some way for his nearly deadly flashback. I've Lived Before is an interesting if minor-league look at the possibility of reincarnation, although telepathy is also mentioned as a possibility by Dr. Bryant (John McIntire). Mahoney gives an okay performance, and while he was never exactly a Jimmy Stewart, doesn't work up much a sweat delineating the mental torment that John must be undergoing. No one ever suggests a complete set of medical and psychological tests for John, nor is it mentioned that -- reincarnation or no -- he will likely be grounded forever. Leigh Snowden [The Creature Walks Among Us] makes a pleasant impression as John's fiancee, Lois, and has an especially good scene when she talks earnestly to Jane Stone (Ann Harding), a woman who was once engaged to Peter Stevens. Harding [The Animal Kingdom] is a little breathless and slightly affected in the role, but she is also very effective and classes up the picture. The script was co-written by actor William Talman of Perry Mason fame. he and director Bartlett, a former actor himself, worked on several movies starring Mahoney.

Verdict: Won't convince most people either way but it's absorbing enough. **1/2. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

THE SPELL

Lee Grant
THE SPELL (1977 telefilm). Director: Lee Philips.

Rita Matchett (Susan Myers) is a slightly overweight 15-year-old girl who is cruelly taunted by the mean girls in her class. One of the meanest is in gym class when she falls off a rope doing a trick and breaks her neck. Rita has a younger sister, Kristina (Helen Hunt), a father, Glenn (James Olson of Crescendo), who's rather cold to her, and a mother, Marilyn (Lee Grant), with whom she seems to share a special bond. As more strange things begin to occur, Glenn wants to pack Rita off to a special school in London and Marilyn resists suggestions that Rita is not only different but dangerous ... The Spell is one of a long line of films made in the wake of Carrie, although this picture drops the strange-girl-vs-mean-girls storyline pretty early and turns into a domestic drama of sorts with two comparatively ineffectual parents trying to deal with their strange and rebellious daughter. Nothing much supernatural or especially weird happens until a friend and neighbor of the Mattchetts literally burns up from the inside out and becomes a ghastly corpse halfway through the movie, a literal cooked sausage. For the finale, the picture winds up back in Carrie territory. The Spell presents some intriguing situations, an interesting young heroine, and has a couple of twists, but it's also a little disjointed and confusing (one suspects scenes were left on the cutting room floor to make way for the commercial breaks), and there's no particular flair to the direction. If the film works at all it's because of the acting, with Lee Grant splendid as the mother, emoting with complete conviction as if she were in a serious drama and not a semi-schlocky made-for-TV suspense film. James Olsen and Susan Myers are also excellent, and a very young Helen Hunt already shows signs of the abilities that would eventually net her an Oscar. Brian Taggert, who also scripted the Lee Grant starrer Visiting Hours as well as a TV remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with the Redgrave sisters, seems to have grafted a not completely convincing horror story onto a tale of teenage angst in which the heroine discovers that she not only doesn't mind being "different" but actually prefers it. Director Lee Philips, who also helmed the interesting telefilm The Girl Most Likely To ..., was originally an actor in such films as Peyton Place and others. Years later Grant and Helen Hunt would both appear in Dr. T and The Women.

Verdict: Grant makes the most of a script that doesn't quite call for her talents. **1/2.

NOTE: This review is part of the "Lovely Lee Grant" blogathon co-hosted by Chris of Angelman's Place and Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews

THE MAFU CAGE

James Olson and Lee Grant
THE MAFU CAGE (aka Deviation/1978). Director: Karen Arthur.

Ellen (Lee Grant) lives with her strange sister Cissy (Carol Kane of Annie Hall), who retains a love for all things African -- they once lived in Africa with their late father -- and who also seems to have incestuous feelings for her sister. Ellen is herself not too tightly wrapped, because she resists the notion of sending Cissy to a therapist for, among other reasons, her penchant for slaughtering her pet apes. Cissy, who is unraveling by the minute, chains up Ellen's boyfriend, David (James Olson of The Andromeda Strain), in the cage where the apes are kept, and you can probably guess what happens next. The Mafu Cage is a film so bad that it seems to exist in its own universe of awfulness, never coming close to a real world or even a cinematic equivalent. It just moves along, ploddingly, throwing idiotic scenes at the viewer, and providing embarrassment for all of its actors, all of whom should have known better. The film reaches its absolute nadir with its scene of poor Carol Kane exchanging sloppy mouth to mouth kisses with a champagne-guzzling orangutan. (I am not joking; this is not an old April Fool's post.)  Grant, Olson, and Will Geer [The Brotherhood of the Bell] as a friendly animal trainer all give good performances; Kane is like her character from the sitcom Taxi on uppers. The script was written by actor Don Chastain (from a play by Eric Wesphal), whose other writing credit was for an episode of As The World Turns. Karen Arthur primarily directed for television.

Verdict: Without a doubt, the worst movie Lee Grant ever appeared in. 1/2*.

NOTE: This review is part of the "Lovely Lee Grant" blogathon co-hosted by Chris of Angelman's Place and Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews

UP IN ARMS

UP IN ARMS (1944). Director: Elliott Nugent.

Danny Weems (Danny Kaye, in his film debut) is a hopeless hypochondriac who not only thinks he has every ailment imaginable but convinces others as well (in the film's funniest sequences). Danny is also hopelessly smitten with pretty Mary (Constance Dowling) who only has eyes for Danny's buddy, Joe (Dana Andrews of Where the Sidewalk Ends). Meanwhile, nurse Virginia (Dinah Shore of Follow the Boys) is unrequitedly in love with Danny. Then Danny and Joe get drafted and the two gals join up as nurses, wherein all four find themselves on a ship sailing into the Pacific war zone. Up in Arms is supposedly a remake of Eddie Cantor's Whoopee, with the setting transferred from the wild west to WW2, where the sight of singing and dancing on a ship sailing into combat seems pretty silly. Indeed, although the movie starts off quite well, it soon becomes a little too silly, although Kaye is a wonderful performer and emerged a major star after this. Andrews, Dowling and Shore are marvelous support, and Shore gets to sing two memorable numbers, "Wildest Dreams" and "I Had a Man." A very odd sequence occurs when the two men and the two gals are sitting back to back on a bus, carrying on a conversation while pretending (according to military edict) not to know one another, with the result that it appears as if Kaye and Andrews -- and Dowling and Shore -- are wooing one another! The decidedly homophobic reactions from the other passengers, considering the time period, are a little discomfiting! Other cast members include Lyle Talbot (typically bland as a sergeant); Louis Calhern as a colonel; Margaret Dumont [Shake, Rattle and Roll], looking rather slender in a scene in a movie theater lobby; Elisha Cook Jr., Benny Baker, and George Mathews as fellow sailors; and Virginia Mayo as one of the beauteous Goldwyn Girls -- in short order Mayo would be deservedly co-starring with Kaye in several pictures. Constance Dowling (sister of Doris Dowling) was a pretty, perfectly competent actress, somewhat reminiscent of Veronica Lake, who made her debut in this film and made just a few others, often in Italy.

Verdict: Amiable nonsense that has little to do with the actual war. **1/2. 

OUT OF THE PAST

Jane Greer
OUT OF THE PAST (1947). Director: Jacques Tourneur.

"You're like a leaf that's been blown from one gutter to another."

Jeff (Robert Mitchum) has a new life running a gas station, as well as a girlfriend named Ann (Virginia Huston), when his past catches up with him in the person of gunsel, Joe (Paul Valentine). Joe works for crooked big shot Whit (Kirk Douglas), and some time ago he hired Jeff to go after his gorgeous gal pal, Kathie (Jane Greer), who not only shot Whit but left town with $40,000 in cash. In flashback we learn how Jeff caught up with Kathie and decided he wanted her for himself. But Kathie may have had other plans. Now she's back with Whit, who wants Jeff to do a favor for him -- or else. Well, Out of the Past should be prime film noir -- it certainly has all of the elements (even if much of it is actually played in sunlight instead of shadows), including a beautiful femme fatale, but somehow this just doesn't add up. The characters are little more than stick figures, brought to life with satisfactory but somehow second-rate thesping. Everyone, especially Douglas, who underplays nicely, is cool and professional but there's something missing, although Paul Valentine [House of Strangers] probably has the best role of his career in this and runs with it. Virginia Huston [Tarzan's Peril] is pleasant and competent but she only had a few credits after this. Dickie Moore [Passion Flower] makes an impression as the deaf and mute boy who works for Jeff at the gas station, as do Ken Niles as the nervous lawyer, Eels, and Rhonda Fleming as his secretary. Others in the cast are Steve Brodie as Jeff's former partner, and Richard Webb as a man who's carrying a long-time torch for Ann. The film is beautifully photographed in crisp black and white by Nicholas Musuraca [Clash By Night], and Roy Webb has contributed an effective theme. There's a certain poignancy to the conclusion, hinging on a not-so-little white lie. (Whether the lie should have been told or not Ill leave up to the individual viewer.) There's so much confusing going back and forth from place to place by the cast that it gets somewhat tiresome after awhile.

Verdict: For a great film noir with Robert Mitchum watch Otto Preminger's Angel Face instead of this. **1/2. 

BROADWAY RHYTHM

George Murphy and Ginny Simms
BROADWAY RHYTHM (1944). Director: Roy Del Ruth.

John Demming (George Murphy) is a Broadway producer and dancer who is planning a new show and hoping to get film star Helen Hoyt (Ginny Simms) for the lead. For her part, Helen thinks John's script is too "arty" and she can't afford a flop, but she is importuned by John's father Sam (Charles Winninger), to appear in his production, a show about the illustrious Demming family itself. John's sister, Patsy, (Gloria DeHaven) also gets into the act. Broadway Rhythm is a sort of oddity, a backstage musical with a creaky "let's put-on-a-show" plot that is filmed in startling Technicolor. The songs feature the work of a number of composers, but except for a couple of old standards, they are mostly forgettable. The film's musical highlights include Lena Horne (playing a character instead of herself but getting little dialogue) singing "Somebody Loves Me," and Charles Winninger and Tommy Dorsey teaming for "I Love Corny Music." Murphy [No Questions Asked] is smooth and pleasant, as is Simms [Night and Day] in one of her infrequent film appearances; DeHaven is also notable. Charles Winninger [Destry Rides Again] is as winning as ever, and whether singing or clowning Nancy Walker is delightfully deadpan throughout. Others in the cast include perky singer Kenny Bowers; Eddie "Rochester" Anderson; the excellent dancer Walter B. Long (his only film appearance); Sara Haden (in an unbilled bit as a school headmistress); and Ben Blue as Felix. Dean Murphy certainly makes an "impression" as a farmhand who is also an expert impressionist, imitating everyone from Mortimer Snerd to Jimmy Stewart to Cary Grant to (hilariously) Bette Davis! The Ross Sisters do an awful number called "Potato Salad," but they are certainly skilled contortionists if nothing else. Tommy Dorsey proves as personable as rival band leader Kay Kyser in this.

Verdict: Oddball but entertaining musical. **1/2. 

HAPPILY BURIED

Rita Oehmen and John Hubbard
HAPPILY BURIED (1939 MGM short). Director: Felix E. Feist.

In this musical comedy short, the owners of two rival waffle companies -- Evelyn Foster (Rita Oehmen) and Richard Wright (John Hubbard of Up in Mabel's Room) -- decide to form a merger and get married. Unfortunately, Evelyn wants to stick with the round "magic circle" waffle iron while Richard insists they only offer the "four corners" square waffle iron. Of course, they could decide to manufacture both waffle irons, but that would be too easy. Richard decides to perk up business for his company by putting himself in a transparent coffin for the publicity value, while Evelyn exhibits the world's largest (round) waffle iron -- which can hold an orchestra and dancers -- at the 1939 World's Fair, an exhibition which Richard sabotages. While both parties are stubborn, Richard is so obnoxious that it's staggeringly sexist that Evelyn would happily take the creep back at the end. Both Oehmen (who had a lot of heartbreak in her life) and Hubbard (who was billed as "Anthony Allan" for this and other early film appearances) have pleasing personalities and Hubbard has a smooth and attractive tenor voice. He had a very long career, especially on television in his later days. Oehmen's only starring role was in a western programmer, Gun Law, and she had only three other credits, Happily Buried being the last of them. Her daughter, Charmian Carr, appeared in The Sound of Music. Benny Rubin plays an Hindu prince who can walk on coals. Incidentally, The songs are by Wright and Forest of Kismet fame. Incidentally, does this silly short forecast the fact that round waffle irons seem no longer to exist except as antiques on ebay? What a shame!

Verdict: Pleasant short with some singing. **. 

LEPRECHAUN

Warwick Davis
LEPRECHAUN (1993). Director: Mark Jones.

Tory Reding (Jennifer Aniston) has gone on vacation with her father (John Sanderford) in North Dakota, and is appalled by the filthy house they are occupying with its dust, cobwebs, and tarantulas. Where is the pool and the shopping mall? she wonders. Little does she know that there are worse problems, such as the fact that a leprechaun (Warwick Davis) is imprisoned in a crate in the basement. This nasty little fellow is after gold that was stolen from him twenty years before, and he attacks and even kills anyone who gets in his way. If even one coin is missing, this leprechaun will take revenge on anyone who may have stolen it. With a massive ad campaign that helped generate a profit, Leprechaun emerged a successful film and has so far spawned six sequels, some of which went direct to DVD. While one can't say it's a particularly good movie -- in fact, it's kind of ridiculous --  in its own strange way it's somewhat entertaining, and Davis offers a showy and charismatic performance as the evil leprechaun. The other characters include slow, chubby Ozzie (Mark Holton); his smart little brother Alex (Robert Hy Gorman) and Nathan (Ken Olandt), who has a kind of romance with Tory. There's some gore and violence, and the tone throughout is strictly black comedy as opposed to out and out horror. Some scenes have a little suspense and excitement, not to mention laughs, and the characters and actors are not without appeal.

Verdict: If we must have a movie about a killer leprechaun, this could be worse. **1/4. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

BRIGHT LEAF

BRIGHT LEAF (1950). Director: Michael Curtiz.

Thrown out of the town of Kingsmouth, NC many years before by the wealthy tobacco man Major Singleton (Donald Crisp), Brant Royle (Gary Cooper) returns to make a fortune and stir up trouble. With the aid of John Barton (Jeff Corey), who has invented a machine for making and packaging cigarettes, and the financial help of gal pal Sonia Kovac (Lauren Bacall), he builds the Royle cigarette company into a giant that puts many of his tobacco competitors out of business. Sonia is in love with Brant, but he only has eyes for Singleton's lovely daughter, Margaret (Patricia Neal), and as the years go by he becomes more and more like her father, gaining power and prestige but treating people shabbily. Brant finds out that he may not have a friend left in the world ... Bright Leaf is a pot-boiler that slowly builds in dramatic intensity and features some effective performances. Cooper is better than usual in his portrayal of Royle; Neal is good but not great; and Bacall [Shock Treatment] has one of her best roles in this. Jack Carson and Jeff Corey are fine as Brant's business partners, Elizabeth Patterson [Out of the Blue] is terrific as the major's elderly sister; and Donald Crisp [The Old Maid] nearly steals the show as the implacable major -- one of the movie's best scenes has the major challenging Brant to a duel. As the love rivals, Neal and Cooper haven't any scenes together, unfortunately. A comical aspect of the movie is when Bacall tells Cooper that she's opened a "rooming house" when it is all too obviously a brothel! Smoothly directed by Michael Curtiz.

Verdict: This could be dismissed as a nearly two hour advertisement for cigarettes were it not for its sheer entertainment value. ***. 

THE KID FROM BROOKLYN

Walter Abel, Steve Cochran, Danny Kaye and Eve Arden
THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946). Director: Norman Z. McLeod.

Burleigh Sullivan (Danny Kaye) is a skinny milkman who comes to the rescue when his sister, Susie (Vera-Ellen), is bothered by a masher, the boxer Speed McFarlane (Steve Cochran of The Chase). When Speed, the heavyweight champion, is knocked out with one punch, the press wrongly believe that Burleigh delivered the blow. Speed's manager, Gabby (Walter Abel), decides to capitalize on the situation by hiring Burleigh as a fighter, and paying his opponents to take a dive so he can ultimately cash in when Burleigh has a real match with Speed. Complications occur when Burleigh's success goes to his head, and Speed and Susie fall for each other. Kaye is wonderful in this light-hearted, silly, modestly entertaining musical, and the pic is bolstered with fine supporting performances, not only from those already mentioned but from an absolutely gorgeous Virginia Mayo as Burleigh's recent girlfriend, Polly Pringle, and the inimitable Eve Arden as Gabby's acerbic gal pal, Ann. Clarence Kolb of My Little Margie is the head of the milk company, Lionel Stander is as repulsive as ever as Speed's associate (and the one who actually knocked him out), and Fay Bainter [The Children's Hour] has an amusing scene with Kaye when he teaches her how to box and duck. Some of the characters, such as Polly and Susie, seem to over-react when Kaye's behavior changes after his "success" in the ring, but he's never as bad as they make him out to be, making it seem more like they've got sour grapes. Kaye and Mayo would make more movies together.

Verdict: The players help put across this. **1/2.   

DUCHESS OF IDAHO

Esther Williams and Van Johnson
DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950). Director: Robert Z. Leonard.

Ellen Hallet (Paula Raymond) is madly in love with her playboy boss, Doug Morrison (John Lund of The Perils of Pauline), but he doesn't know she's alive. He consistently has Ellen pretend to be his fiancee so he can dump other women in a very cruel fashion. While any woman with sense or self-respect would tell Doug to go screw himself, Ellen has to have him, and her sister, Christine (Esther Williams) -- a theatrical swimming star, of course -- comes up with an idea. This idea, which doesn't make much sense, is for her to go to Sun Valley where Doug is staying and romance him, apparently with the hopes of opening his eyes to Ellen's charms. Say what? As only can happen in the movies, this ploy apparently works until Doug finds out about it, and we mustn't forget the complication of band leader and singer Dick Layn (Van Williams), who falls for Christine but is put off by her attentions to Doug. Oy vey. The plot for this flick is pretty stupid, but it has its charms, mostly due to a winning cast. Paula Raymond [The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms] has one of her most memorable roles, and is on screen almost as long as Williams. (In fact, there are times when our gal almost seems crowded out of her own movie.) Johnson makes a handsome and adept leading man for Williams, Lund is also good, and Williams swims with distinction and plays with her usual saucy and sexy attitude. Eleanor Powell dances in a guest bit, Red Skelton cameos for a minute or two, and Connie Haines, as singer Peggy Elliott, is merely mediocre. Mel Torme plays a bellboy named Cyril and looks 14, Lena Horne warbles a number, and Amanda Blake [Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard] is effective as the slinky Linda, who tries to drag Doug to the altar. Clinton Sundberg makes his mark, as usual, as Doug's slightly acerbic butler. The song numbers, mostly be-bop or a lesser variation on swing music, are not memorable.

Verdict: The script is nothing to crow about, but the cast puts it over with aplomb. **1/2. 

FAST AND FURIOUS

Ann Sothern and Franchot Tone
FAST AND FURIOUS (1939). Director: Busby Berkeley.

When Gerda Sloane (Ann Sothern), the wife of bookseller and amateur sleuth Joel Sloane (Franchot Tone), is told by him that the two are taking a vacation, she doesn't know that he's put money in a bathing beauty contest occurring in the resort town of Seaside City (read: Atlantic City). As Gerda runs interference for the occasionally amorous beauties, Joel investigates the murder of the contest's promoter, Eric Bartell (John Miljan). The suspects include his girlfriend, Lily (Ruth Hussey of The Uninvited); his other girlfriend, Jerry (Mary Beth Hughes of Men On Her Mind); Sloane's old friend, Mike Stevens (Lee Bowman of Up in Mabel's Room); and others. Fast and Furious was the debut and apparently the one and only entry in this bid for an aborted mystery series a la The Thin Man, but it's mediocre enough that there were never any sequels. Sothern and Tone make good leads -- Tone is somewhat better and has more aplomb at this than his co-star does -- but even Tone, good as he is, can't compete with William Powell. The business about a wife getting all hot and bothered because her husband is judging a beauty contest was to be repeated ad nauseum in various movies and TV shows, and had probably been done even before 1939. Harry Kurnitz' script has few laughs aside from a very funny bit involving some lions, and there is at least one very suspenseful scene when our couple are caught underneath a descending stage elevator, nearly crushing them. Otherwise, this is forgettable.

Verdict: Not one of the classics of 1939. **.

GOVERNMENT AGENTS VS PHANTOM LEGION

Walter Reed
GOVERNMENT AGENTS VS PHANTOM LEGION (12 chapter Republic serial/1951). Director: Fred C. Brannon.

"I'm a dead duck anyway, so I might as well take you along. " -- Duncan to opponent with murder on his mind.

The members of a trucking association, who have government contracts to deliver important supplies, are alarmed when their trucks are attacked and hijacked, the equipment stolen. Agent Hal Duncan (Walter Reed of Flying Disc Man from Mars) is assigned to track down the perpetrators with the help of assistant Sam Bradley (John Pickard). A complication is that one of the members of the association is secretly behind the robberies, and his two main henchmen, Regan (Dick Curtis of Terry and the Pirates) and Cady (Fred Coby of The Brute Man) report to him through a two-way mirror as he sits safe and unidentified in another office. The cliffhangers in this are of the standard "missing information" variety, but they are still effective: fire engulfs a mine car full of hand grenades and nearly blows Duncan to bits; an ore dump drops its contents on top of him; his parachute lands right on the tracks in front of an onrushing train; he gets trapped in a remote-controlled runaway truck; and -- best of all -- is nearly incinerated when a stream of gasoline is ignited and rushes down the highway towards his automobile! Walter Reed is not afraid to show panic and dismay on his face during these frightening moments. The other cast members are good, although Mary Ellen Kay as the nominal heroine displays little acting skill. Stanley Wilson's exciting score is a plus. Tom Steele and Arthur Space are also in the cast.

Verdict: Fun serial ***.

SCANDAL

Toshiro Mifune
 SCANDAL (1950). Director: Akira Kurosawa.

A well-known artist named Ichiro (Toshiro Mifune) is painting on a mountainside when he encounters a famous singer, whom he at first doesn't recognize, named Miyako (Shirley Yamaguchi). Offering her a lift, they check into separate rooms at a hotel, but talk to one another on a balcony later on. Some tabloid journalists see the two, assume they are having an affair, snap their picture, and bring it to Hori (Eitaro Ozawa of The H-Man), the publisher of Amour.  Although neither Ichiro or Miyako are married (which in itself may be a problem), the photo causes a scandal and embarrasses the both of them. Ichiro hires a lawyer named Hiruta (Takashi Shimura), whose young daughter, Masako (Yoko Katsuragi), is ill and has been confined to her bed for years. Miyako decides to join Ichiro in the lawsuit, but when Hirata goes to see Hiro, the former may succumb to his basest urges ... Scandal is a relatively minor film from the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, but it is not without merit and its poignant moments. Scandal reminds one of a Japanese Frank Capra film (admittedly not one of the really great Capra films), with its mix of pathos, humor and sentiment. In later years star Mifune was known for his gruff and acclaimed portrayals of outlaws, Samurai, and the like, but this is his matinee idol stage, and he is quite good-looking and sexy. His part, as well as Yamaguchi's, is underwritten, however, and the viewer never gets to know these two faux lovers very well. This is perhaps all right, as the film truly belongs to Hiruta (beautifully portrayed by another Kurosawa regular, Shimura), the lawyer who has a crisis of conscience in the face of a crushing tragedy, and the film ends on a sombre note. Tanie Kitabayashi also scores as Hiruta's wife, and the other performances are all well-played. It's a little strange to watch a crowd scene in which dozens of extras are singing "Auld Lang Syne" in Japanese!    

Verdict: Takes a while to get going, but this is not without interest. ***. 

BULLDOG DRUMMOND ESCAPES

Guy Standing, Reginald Denny, and Ray Milland
BULLDOG DRUMMOND ESCAPES (1937). Director: James P. Hogan.

Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond (Ray Milland) nearly runs over an anxious woman, Phyllis Clavering (Heather Angel of The Undying Monster), on the road, and discovers that she is apparently being held captive in a manor nearby. The owner, Norman Merridew (Porter Hall) pish-poshes this accusation, and it doesn't help that Merridew is friends with Drummond's old adversary, Commissioner Nielson (Guy Standing). With the help of his buddy, Algy (Reginald Denny of Rebecca), and his butler Tenny (E. E. Clive), Drummond invades the mansion to affect a rescue. Paramount apparently began a series of Bulldog Drummond films with this picture, but star Ray Milland wisely only stuck around for the first entry. Milland is smooth and handsome but overly boyish and wide-eyed to the point where it's hard to see him as any kind of heroic figure. Heather Angel, who's not especially impressive in this, played the same role in several future Bulldog Drummond films, becoming that character's fiancee, and after many movies, his wife. (She was much more impressive in Hitchcock's Lifeboat,  under the master's tutelage.) The most interesting cast member is actually Fay Holden, playing a sleek if middle-aged villainess the same year she debuted as the mother of Andy Hardy in You're Only Young Once. Drummond is such a "friend" to his close buddy Algy that he uses subterfuge to get his help when the latter is at the hospital with his wife waiting for his child to be born! Bulldog Drummond Escapes is such a dull movie that it's a wonder Paramount ever made a follow-up, but apparently it was pleasing enough as a bottom of the bill flick to engender many sequels.

Verdict:  You'd be better off watching the sixties Drummond film Deadlier Than the Male. *1/2. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY

Ginger Rogers, Oscar Levant, Fred Astaire
THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949). Director: Charles Walters.

Josh and Dinah Barkley (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) have been a top team on Broadway for several years, but all is not rosy in their lives backstage. Secretly Dinah is a bit tired of her husband's Svengali-like attitude and his criticisms, as well as the feeling he has that he "made" her. When a very handsome playwright named Jacques Barredout (Jacques Francois) insists that Dinah has great and untapped dramatic talent, she decides to try her hand at playing Sarah Bernhardt in his new play. Will she fall on her face, and how will Josh feel if she does? Barkleys presents Astaire and Rogers in absolute top form, and this is one of their most winning movies. As their friend and collaborator, Oscar Levant [The Cobweb] offers one of his better performances, although the device of pairing him off with one beautiful woman after another becomes tiresome. Levant was an oddity -- he couldn't sing or dance, and certainly wasn't good-looking -- but his sardonic delivery often works, and he is allowed to play the piano on excerpts from two pieces, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1." If Barkleys falls down in one respect it's that the new songs by Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin aren't up to the standard set by Ira and George Gershwin -- the only melodic bright spot is Gershwin's old tune "They Can't Take That Away from Me." Astaire's smooth elegant dancing is much on display, especially in a number when he trips the light fantastic with dozens of pairs of animated dancing shoes. The supporting cast includes Billie Burke [Three Husbands], who is wasted as a talkative patroness of the arts; Hans Conreid [Juke Box Rhythm] as an avant garde artist who draws Dinah as if she were a pancake (!); and George Zucco, who appears on stage during the Sarah Bernhardt sequence. Clinton Sundberg and Gale Robbins also appear, with Robbins playing Dinah's excitable Southern understudy; she's swell. Jacques Francois is now little-known except for this picture, but he amassed 150 credits, mostly in French productions, and he makes a good impression in this.

I believe this was the last time Astaire and Rogers were teamed in a movie, There was actually a ten year gap between Barkleys and their previous film, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Lest one wonder if the real Rogers felt like Dinah does in this movie, we must remember that Rogers had already proven her dramatic acting chops in several previous films -- and she won the Best Actress Oscar for Kitty Foyle in 1941 -- so this was not a case of art imitating life.

Verdict: Delightful musical with the inimitable team of Rogers and Astaire. ***. 

MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS

MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS (1945). Director: Arthur Crabtree.

Maddalena (Phyllis Calvert) is a convent-raised girl who is raped and traumatized shortly before being married off to the kindly Giuseppe (John Stewart). Years go by and their daughter, Angela (Patricia Roc of The Wicked Lady), is now grown, but the announcement of her marriage to Evelyn (Alan Haines) precipitates another episode in which Maddalena runs off for months and vanishes. Maddalena has a whole other life as Rosanna, the lover of the criminal, Nino (Stewart Granger of Blanche Fury), in Florence. Neither Guiseppe nor Nino realize that Maddalena/Rosanna has a split personality due to her rape years before, and Nino thinks that she has taken a lover, Giuseppe, and decides to kill one or the other ... Madonna of the Seven Moons is hard to take seriously as it's much more of a pot-boiler than a drama, but it is arresting at times, and generally well-acted. Phylllis Calvert [The Man in Grey] is quite effective at getting across her different personalities and at different time periods, and the other cast members are all good. Especially notable are Peter Glenville as Sandro, Nino's slimy brother, and Nancy Price as their cackling old crone of  a mother. The film is entertaining, but one senses it would have worked better as an Italian verismo opera with a score by Pietro Mascagni.

Verdict: Watch out for those wild Florencian passions! ***. 

SWING FEVER

Kay Kyser and Marilyn Maxwell
 SWING FEVER (1943). Director: Tim Whelan.

Lowell Blackford (Kay Kyser of Carolina Blues) is a classical composer who hopes to interest someone in his music. He is befriended by band singer Ginger Gray (Marilyn Maxwell of Summer Holiday), but he misinterprets her interest in him. Ginger has a boyfriend named "Waltzy" Malone (William Gargan), who is interested in the boxing racket. When Malone learns that Lowell can fix people with an "evil eye" and literally knock them out, he wants him to use his power on his boxer's opponent. But then his opponent's crew kidnap him ... Kyser had already done several movies before this, but this was the first and only time he was playing a character and not himself. True, he doesn't come off much different than before, but his performance is more than competent and he is, as usual, appealing in his nerdy way. Musicians such as Harry James and Jimmy Dorsey, who have cameos in this film, may be better remembered today, but Kyser was the only popular band leader who became a nominal movie star. As for Swing Fever, you can tell that any movie with this plot is probably not going to be very good, and that is sadly the case with this picture, although the other performances are okay and there are some pleasant song numbers. Maxwell warbles "Undecided" but she's outshone by the three young people who shake and shimmy to the music afterward. Weird comic Ish Kabibble, who frequently appeared with Kyser, appears briefly and his routines are unfunny, to put it mildly. Others in the film include Lena Horne, Morris Ankrum, Pamela Blake, singer Harry Babbitt, and the amusing Curt Bois [That Night in Rio], who plays Malone's partner.

Verdict: Kyser is likable but the picture is no knock-out. **. 

BECOMING ANITA EKBERG

Mastroianni and Ekberg in La dolce vita and 27 years later, both still sexy
BECOMING ANITA EKBERG
 (2014  documentary). Director: Mark Rappaport.

While I always strive to review a book or movie for what it is as opposed to what it isn't, sometimes you're not given much of a choice. If you tune in to a (very short) documentary entitled Becoming Anita Ekberg, you would think you'd have a right to expect some sort of biographical treatment, and that you might be told, say, what her early life was like; who, if anyone, she might have married; some of her personal thoughts on her films and co-workers; how she got her start in show business; and so on. Alas, Becoming Anita Ekberg is yet another of director Mark Rapport's insufficient "video essays," this time purportedly on Ekberg but more about the nature of stardom and the short shelf life of sex symbols. (Some of this is interesting while much of it is obvious and pretentious.) You won't learn much more than the basics about Ekberg herself: how she played "Anita Ekberg" in the Martin and Lewis comedy Hollywood or Bust (an all too obvious title); reached international stardom as the movie star in Fellini's famous La dolce vita; and wound up playing herself again in Boccaccio '70, this time as a giant-size poster of herself that comes to life. For the record Ekberg was married to actors Rik Van Nutter and Anthony Steel and had sixty-five credits in films, few of which are even mentioned. Her life and career were actually quite interesting, but you will learn much more at imdb.com than you will from this "documentary." Obviously, this is just a collection of clips tied together to illustrate Rappaport's ruminations, with the clips coming first and the ruminations second. There's also a bit of ageism in this as the film tries to make out that Ekberg has become hideous or something because she's older, but she and Mastroianni, although undeniably older, still look quite attractive. One of her later movies was Killer Nun. She was certainly prominent in the poster for Back from Eternity, which gurgled "Ooh That Ekberg!" Rappaport was also responsible for Debra Paget, For Example, which is somewhat better than this.

Verdict: Skip it and watch one of Ekberg's movies instead. *. 

MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE

Mark Stevens
MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE (aka Martin Kane/1949 - 1954.)

Martin Kane, Private Eye started out as a popular radio series, then spread out to television even as the radio show continued. The NBC half-hour telecast was sponsored by the U.S. Tobacco Company, and many of the ads were sort of incorporated into the story, with characters going into a tobacco shop to buy the sponsor's cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and the like. (This is "product placement" par excellance!) The show was originally introduced with loud organ music like a radio show, and the old style announcer practically shouts out the name of the series in figuratively italicized letters. Martin Kane was played by William Gargan, Lloyd Nolan (of Michael Shayne fame), Lee Tracy, and Mark Stevens. I believe the show was aired live, but despite its low budget it's well-produced, with more movement and action than you may associate with live TV.

Here are some episodes, listed by actor. I give the season and episode number when available.

William Gargan: Pleasant and amiable Gargan [Night Editor] made a very likable Martin Kane. He says good-night to the audience at the end of each episode.

  (S2, E 20) "The District Attorney Killer." A convicted killer (Frank DeKova) clears an innocent man from the witness stand, but then pulls out a gun and kills the district attorney who prosecuted him. Then he says the gun was given to him by his own attorney! Who's telling the truth? And is the "innocent" man guilty after all? Suspenseful story with some good twists and a comparatively complex plot. A.

"Hotel Con Game." A man named Smith comes to Kane to tell him that his entire life savings has been stolen, presumably by the land lady of the hotel where he lives, who is also a fortune teller who importuned him to change banks. Then a murder results. B+.

"Doctored Will." An elderly man is shot to death and his heirs all become suspects, but has someone fiddled with the will? C

"Murder on the Ice." An obnoxious if talented rookie hockey player takes a drink of brandy before a game and drops dead on the ice. Kane is convinced from a smell of almonds that the man was poisoned, but the chemical report on the bottle may contain some surprises. Roland Winters plays one of the suspects. C-.

"Reclusive Sisters" stars an excellent Una O'Connor and Nydia Westman in a darkly comic tale of three weird sisters who live alone in an old mansion and take steps when an elderly lawyer comes to tell them that they're losing the house and must move to a home. B+.
Lloyd Nolan

Lloyd Nolan could be tough when required but generally gives it the light touch after appearing in several Michael Shayne movies such as Dressed to Kill.

  (S3, E 27.) "Black Pearls." Kane is accused of murder when the grumpy man who hired him and who has a fabulous collection of black pearls, is murdered on his yacht and the pearls are found in the detective's pocket. B.

"A Jockey Is Murdered." There are a number of suspects when a jockey (Walter Burke) who throws a race is stabbed to death right in front of a betting window. B.

"Nightclub Murder." Nightclub singer Johnny Silver (Mark Dawson) is shot dead in front of an audience after just a few bars of his hit song, and Kane uncovers the fact that several people in his life had major motives for killing him. B+.

"Rest Home Murder." In one of the worst episodes of the series, Judith Evelyn plays the shady owner of a rest home who tries to find out the whereabouts of a $100,000 check from a "patient," a former client of Kane's who calls him for help. D+.

Lee Tracy [Dinner at Eight] offers one of the most interesting and flavorful interpretations of Martin Kane, adding great charm to his portrayal.

 (S4, E25.) "The Comic Strip Killer." The clever plot has a comic strip artist and writer foolishly telling everyone that he'll reveal the identity of the person who murdered a philandering woman's wealthy husband in the comic strip itself. B+.

Mark Stevens [Time Table] is more of a traditional hard-boiled private eye than the others, and the handsomest of the actors who played the role.

"The Milk Bottle Burglar." Trying to catch whoever is stealing his milk bottles, an elderly major comes afoul of a hit man who is after the thief for other reasons. Robert H. Harris is terrific as the mob boss who ordered the hit. C+

"The Shoeshine Murder." When a shoeshine boy witnesses a murder he goes on the run, then winds up out on a window ledge where Kane and others try to talk to him, and the murderer tries to get him to throw himself down to the street several stories below.  B-.

Verdict: Hard to judge this based on only a handful of episodes (some are on youtube; others on DVD) but it might be safe to say this is a real mixed bag with some hidden gems. **1/2. 

HOT SUMMER

Frank Schobel
HOT SUMMER (aka Heisser Sommer/1968). Director: Joachim Hasler.

If you've ever wondered -- and who hasn't? -- what an AIP Beach Party movie would look like if it was made in East Germany, look no further. In Hot Summer a group of gals and guys go off on separate vacations and are initially dismayed when they run into each other, but then those pesky hormones kick in. The gals are annoyed that the boys, who play various jokes on them, are so immature, so it takes awhile for romance to come into play. Then a triangle situation develops with Brit (Regine Albrecht) coming between hunky friends Kai (Frank Schobel) and Wolf (Hanns-Michael Schmidt). The way they carry on in such jealous fashion you would think they were in committed relationships or marriages instead of mere summer flings! The movie features many, many song numbers, most of which are awful, although Kai warbles one nice ballad, and his number "I Found the One" is also pleasant. The choreography is terrible. With his matinee idol looks Frank Schobel gets most of the male close ups while the majority of the female close ups go not to Albrecht so much as Chris Doerk as Stupsi, a loud young lady with a big face and mouth and very large teeth, cast in the Connie Francis role of the gal who doesn't land the guy. (Interestingly enough, pop star Doerk and Schobel were married when this picture was made, although they divorced in 1974). Any attempts at feminist enlightenment are sort of washed away by the scene when some white mice, let loose by the boys, have the girls jumping up on their beds and screaming! Despite this coming from a Communist country, its sensibilities aren't much different from American musicals of the sixties.

Verdict: If you've seen one East German teen movie you've probably seen them all. **. 

FAIR NEW MOVIE: LADY MACBETH

Florence Pugh and Cosmo Jarvis
LADY MACBETH (2016). Director: William Oldroyd.

Katherine (Florence Pugh) lives on a farm in 19th century England with her horrible father-in-law, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), her cold husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton), and assorted workmen and servants. Into her life comes a brash groom named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and the two begin a passionate affair. They manage to remove all obstacles to their happiness in ruthless fashion, and then are confronted with a sweet little boy, Teddy (Anton Palmer), who is her late husband's ward and now his chief heir ... The story that inspired Lady Macbeth was filmed once before as Siberian Lady Macbeth, and that is by far the superior picture. This version shifts the action from Russia to England, and while it remains gloomy, it loses something in the "translation." The lead performances are good, although hardly expert, and there is some interesting work from Hilton and Fairbank, as well as Naomi Ackie as the maid, Anna, and Golda Rosheuve as little Teddy's caregiver, Agnes. The concessions to modern taste don't always work well and the new ending to the story, while very depressing, doesn't pack the satisfying wallop of the original. Siberian Lady Macbeth has much more raw dramatic power than this.  When will modern film directors realize that the low-key approach isn't always the best one?

Verdict: Stick with the more faithful Yugoslavian version. **1/2. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS

Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor
THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (1954). Director: Richard Brooks. Very loosely based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In post-WW2 Paris, war correspondent Charles Wills (Van Johnson) meets beautiful Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor). Initially attracted to Helen's sister, Marion (Donna Reed), he makes a date with her that is intercepted by Helen, leading to a major romance and marriage. Although the couple discover oil on property they own and have plenty of money, the marriage is threatened by Charles' inability to sell his novels to any publisher, the drinking and carousing that results from it, and Helen's reaction to this as well as his flirtatious relationship with the much-married divorcee, Lorraine (Eva Gabor). It all leads up to an unexpected tragedy ... The main strength of The Last Time I Saw Paris are the lead performances, which are better than the movie deserves. Taylor  plays the somewhat spoiled woman-child very well, but Johnson is especially outstanding, doing some of the very best work of his career. The trouble with the movie is not so much the basic plot but the screenplay by Julius and Philip Epstein, which indulges in one cliche after another and rarely delves into the situations with any depth. The final quarter of the film is the most memorable, as it finally deals with Charles' apparent rejection of Marion, as well as with his relationship with his young daughter,  Vicky (a charming Sandy Descher of Them!); these sequences are moving and very well-played. (Cast as Marion, Donna Reed truly has a thankless part.) Four years earlier Johnson and Taylor were teamed for a comedy entitled The Big Hangover, and there are times when the light soap opera tone of Paris threatens to just collapse into giggles; you get the sense the tragedy that occurs is meant to add some sobering substance to the proceedings, even if it doesn't quite work. Eva Gabor [The Mad Magician], who was always more talented than her sister Zsa Zsa (although hardly an acting genius) is fun as Lorraine; as Helen and Marion's rather irresponsible father, Walter Pidgeon is Walter Pidgeon. Roger Moore [A View to a Kill] shows up and is as smooth as ever as a playboy who dallies with Helen. Of all people, the corpulent Bruno VeSota [Attack of the Giant Leeches] shows up in a party scene clad in a tuxedo!

Verdict: Some tender and amusing moments, but Paris -- and Fitzgerald -- deserve better. **1/2. 

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR

Ross Martin
EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962). Produced and directed by Blake Edwards.

Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) is a bank teller who lives with her teenage sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers of Die, Die, My Darling). One night a stranger named Red Lynch (Ross Martin) sneaks up behind her in her garage and tells her she has to steal $100,000 from her bank or there will be dire consequences for her and her sister. Kelly manages to contact the FBI, and Agent Ripley (Glenn Ford) is assigned to the case, trying both to find and identify Lynch and to protect Kelly and her sister from harm. Eventually it is decided to let Kelly go along with the plot in an effort to trap Lynch, with the climax occurring in a crowded stadium. Experiment in Terror begins well and has a couple of decent sequences, but Blake Edwards is no suspense specialist, and the film becomes meandering, uninvolving, and rather dull. Remick gives a controlled and competent performance but doesn't offer one iota more for her portrayal; Powers is much better as her sister. Ford plays the "G-Man" with a quiet authority that never quite makes him seem like the best man for the job. Anita Loo and Patricia Huston have flavorful supporting roles as two women who were also in Lynch's life, to the former's advantage and the latter's regret. Ross Martin gives the most notable performance as the criminal "mastermind" who seems to have some sympathy for the little son of a woman he knows and whose hospital bills he is paying, but his character is not very well developed; three years later he gained TV fame on The Wild, Wild West and he was also outstanding in the classic TZ episode Death Ship. Henry Mancini's score is at times quite effective, and Philip Lathrop's cinematography of San Francisco and environs is also good.

Verdict: Paging Alfred Hitchcock. **. 

SIBERIAN LADY MACBETH

Olivera Markovic and Ljuba Tadic
SIBERIAN LADY MACBETH (aka Sibirska Ledi Magbet1962). Director:  Andrzej Wajda

In the Russian district of Mtsensk, Katerina (Olivera Markovic) lives a comparatively bleak existence with her husband, Zinovij (Miodrag Lazarevic), who is usually absent, and her grumpy, awful father-in-law, Izmajlow (Bojan Stupica). One day comes an attractive laborer named Sergei (Ljuba Tadic), who makes a play for Katerina that she only momentarily rebuffs. Trying to hold on to a life together, the couple commit an increasingly terrible series of murders, then discover that the land they thinks belongs to them actually belongs to a child nephew. Just how far will these passionate lovers go to hold on to what they've acquired  ...? Siberian Lady Macbeth is based on a story by Sveta Lukic, which was also the basis for Dmitri Shostakovitch's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. If anything, this Yugoslavian film is even more hard-hitting than the opera, uncompromising, powerful and at times horrifying to the extreme. The performances are excellent, and the film is well-directed and photographed, with a highlight being the climactic prison march. The compelling film is one of those movies, told from the point of view of people devoid of conscience, that almost -- almost -- makes you feel sorry for them at times (the fact that most of the victims are somewhat odious helps in that regard), but you'll ultimately feel that they get their just desserts in a very grim and pitiless finale. Remade as Lady Macbeth in 2016 with the setting transferred to England

Verdict: Dark, sombre, fascinating -- a near-masterpiece. ***1/2.  

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH

George Ardisson and Barbara Steele
THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964). Director: Anthony Dawson (Antonio Margheriti).

Near the end of the fifteenth century, Adele Karnstein is burned as a witch. She was accused of a murder actually committed by the Baron Kurt Humboldt (George Ardisson), who also murdered her older daughter when she confronted him. Some years later Kurt forces the "witch's" other daughter, Lisabeth (Halina Zalewska), to marry him, moving her into his castle. Then along comes a mysterious woman named Mary (Barbara Steele), who bears a striking resemblance to the dead sister, and with whom Kurt becomes obsessed. Becoming her lover, Kurt then importunes Mary to help him get rid of Lisabeth so they can be together forever. But Kurt may not be aware that there may be other deadly plots going on as well ... The Long Hair of Death is an interesting if imperfect film that comes off like a stretched-out episode of, say, Thriller, but it does make good use of medieval settings, tombs, secret passages, and the like, and there are certainly some effective sequences. Although this version has the actors speaking Italian (with sub-titles), most of the international cast are dubbed, meaning we don't get to hear Barbara Steele's great voice. The lead actors give more than adequate performances, and the rest of the cast includes such Italian horror staples as Laura Nucci [The Bloodstained Shadow] as the housekeeper Grumalda, Umberto Raho as Father Yon Klage, and Giuliano Raffaelli as Kurt's father, Count Humboldt. Steele and Raho were also in The Ghost.

Verdict: Low key but fairly absorbing Italian horror film. **1/2.