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

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Geraldine Page and Laurence Harvey
SUMMER AND SMOKE (1961). Directed by Peter Glenville.

"Ask for all -- and be prepared to get nothing." -- Alma.

In a small Southern town around the turn of the century, Alma Winemiller (Geraldine Page) has been in love with her next door neighbor, doctor's son John Buchanan Jr. (Laurence Harvey), since they were children. Alma would prefer a more spiritual romance with John, while the lusty and somewhat wild and free-wheeling John would prefer just the opposite. Alma's father (John McIntire) is the town preacher and her mother is mentally disturbed, having had a breakdown years before. John's father is incredibly stern, which perhaps leads his son to take up with the daughter (Rita Moreno) of the owner of the local gambling den. Alma eventually commits what John deems a betrayal, but the bond between them still exists, until both realize that the tables have turned ... This very odd "romance" is based on the 1948 play by Tennessee Williams (revised some years later as Eccentricities of a Nightingale); Page played the part in a 1950's revival. Page, who received an Oscar nomination, gives a very strong performance, although at times she seems overly theatrical. Harvey is good but not in her league.  Una Merkel [Destry Rides Again] also received an Oscar nomination for her notable performance as Alma's mother. Earl Holliman does some nice work as a traveling salesman that Alma encounters at the finale. Pamela Tiffin [The Fifth Cord] was "introduced" in this film as the daughter of a madame played zestfully by Lee Patrick [Caged]; Tiffin never developed into a major star.

Geraldine Page as Alma
I basically think Summer and Smoke is an absorbing and interesting picture with a good storyline, but it does have some problems. Page and Harvey were both in their thirties at the time, perhaps a little too old for their roles; Page was nearly forty, in fact. Younger actors -- assuming they were good actors -- might have added a certain degree of veracity. Considering the obsession that Alma has had for John over the years, I thought her reaction at a development at the end of the film is a bit too subdued. But the film has a good score by Elmer Bernstein (which even adds suspense to the proceedings). some lively and poignant sequences, moves quickly, and boasts an essentially fine performance by Page. Her scene when she finally declares her love for John is superb.

Verdict: Star-crossed, touching romance with some wonderful acting. ***. 


Sal Mineo
THE GENE KRUPA STORY (1959). Director: Don Weis.

Gene Krupa (Sal Mineo of Crime in the Streets) is fascinated by the syncopated rhythms that are taking the nation by storm and his dream is to be a drummer. His Polish-American and devout parents would rather he become a priest, but while he prepares for that role he comes to realize that it just isn't in him. Eventually moving to New York, Krupa becomes not only a famous drummer, but does solos that astound and excite the audience. Although Gene has a girlfriend named Ethel (Susan Kohner), he lets success go to his head, holds loud and fabulous parties, neglects Ethel (even on her birthday), and takes up with seductive singer Dorissa Dinell (Susan Oliver). In other words, he basically turns into an asshole.

Sall Mineo and Susan Kohner
Krupa gets his comeuppance, however, when reefers are -- according to him -- planted on him and he winds up arrested and jailed. This film has him winding up performing in Chinese restaurants and topless bars as he struggles to get back to the top, but I suspect much of that is fabricated for the movie, although the basic facts of Krupa's life are realistically presented.  Nevertheless, as a show biz bio, this pic leaves no cliche unturned.

Sal Mineo gves a terrific performance in this, and even resembles Krupa a bit (this is the rare case when the real person is as good-looking as the actor portraying him). He really seems to be playing the drums during those sequences when he's really letting loose on the percussion. Susan Kohner, always an excellent actress, also scores as the lovely, loving and disillusioned Ethel. (In real life she divorced Krupa, and then remarried him, living with him until her death.) James Darren [The Brothers Rico] is given the thankless role of Gene's friend, Eddie, but he's good, and gets to pleasantly sing "Let There Be Love" (Darren had some hit records back in the day). Susan Oliver [Looking for Love] saucily slinks around like a perpetually horny pothead and the real Anita O'Day delivers a fine version of "Memories of You" in a cameo. Red Nichols plays himself, but Tommy Dorsey, who had passed away three years earlier, is portrayed by Bobby Troup. Celia Lovksy (the former Mrs. Peter Lorre) portrays another of her patented suffering old European mothers.

Verdict: Entertaining biopic with a charismatic and excellent lead performance. ***. 


Percy Kilbride and Marjorie Main
MA AND PA KETTLE (aka The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle/1949). Director: Charles Lamont.

"I still wish you'd fix the roof of the hen house. Would you like to sit in the broiling sun and have to lay eggs besides?" -- Ma to Pa.

Lovable hillbillies Ma and Pa Kettle (Percy Kilbride and Marjorie Main), who first appeared in The Egg and I as supporting characters, are in danger of being thrown out of their messy and cluttered house along with their sixteen children. Fortunately, Pa wins a tobacco slogan contest and he and his brood become the proud possessors of a new ultra-modern home. All Pa really wanted was a new pouch for his tobacco, and he isn't crazy about all of the new-fangled inventions in his swanky domicile. Then the jealous termagant Birdie (Esther Dale) and her mother (Isabel O'Madigan) maintain that Pa stole the slogan from somebody else ...

The Kettle children minus Tom
It's amazing that Pa has so many children when he hardly seems to have the energy to get out of bed -- maybe that's his problem! Along with Kilbride and Main, we have Dale and O'Madigan, as well as Richard Long [House on Haunted Hill] as eldest son Tom Kettle (who's invented a new incubator) , as holdovers from The Egg and I, and there's also a guest appearance by Ida Moore, reprising her role as a rather dotty old lady. (One could argue that it's not in the best of taste to present a lonely old woman who talks to her late husband in front of people as if he were still alive and make a joke of it.) Still, Ma and Pa Kettle is an amusing enough picture with excellent performances. Meg Randall [Without Warning!] plays a pretty writer who becomes Tom's love interest. There were no less than six sequels to this film, making it a fairly successful movie series of the forties and fifties.

Verdict: The two leads are funny characters and actors, and Main is especially winsome. **3/4. 


Peter Lorre
DER VERLORENE/ aka The Lost One/1951. Director: Peter Lorre. 

NOTE: This is a report on the movie as opposed to a review. The only print I could find of this film was in German with no sub-titles, but I had a detailed synopsis of the film which told me what was going on. However, as there was no way I could judge the effectiveness of the dialogue, I will withhold a verdict until I see the film with an English soundtrack or sub-titles.

In the only film ever directed  by Lorre, he plays Dr. Karl Rothe, who was the former director of bacteriological research under the Nazi regime. Now he has changed his name and works as a well-liked doctor at a post-war German refugee camp. Into the camp comes Hosch (Karl John), who had been his assistant before the war, and now -- also under an assumed name -- becomes his assistant once again. Meeting Hosch brings back unpleasant memories to Rothe, such as when he murdered his own fiancee when it was revealed that she was a traitor. Now he can't control his urges to kill other women. some of whom escape and some of whom do not. Finally Rothe can no longer live with himself.

Der verlorene got a mixed reaction, with some feeling that it was an uncomfortable mixture of politics and thrills; other contemporary critics felt it was one of the best films to come out of Germany in years. The picture is undeniably gloomy, well-photographed by Vaclav Viche, and there's a very powerful (if perhaps too often overwrought) musical score by Willi Schmidt-Gentner. For much of its length Der verlorene reminds one of nothing so much as a "B" noir thriller, and there is some suspense in certain sequences. Two of the best scenes involve trains, one concerning a murder, and the striking final shot of a train bearing down on Rothe that seems right behind the actor.  As far as I can judge, the performances in the film  seem to be quite good. 


Joan Evans
ON THE LOOSE (1951). Director: Charles Lederer.

Jill Bradley (Joan Evans) is a small-town 16-year-old girl who has distracted parents (Lynn Bari and Melvyn Douglas) and a seemingly devoted boyfriend named Larry (Robert Arthur of Naked Youth). When Larry brings Jill to his house when his parents are gone, he passes out on the sofa and is found hungover the next morning. Larry is forced to break up with the "fast" Jill, who dates lots of guys to get over her heartbreak and winds up with a "reputation," nearly leading to tragedy. On the Loose is a time capsule of a movie, looking back at 1950's attitudes towards dating and premarital sex, as well as at timeless troubled marriages, and on that level is quite effective. Joan Evans [Roseanna McCoy] gives a very good performance as the confused and unhappy young woman, and the rest of the cast are also on target, with Melvyn Douglas [Hud] delivering some fine moments when he does his best to bond with his daughter in the second half of the film. Hugh O'Brian makes an impression as a kind-hearted doctor, and Tristram Coffin plays a judge, who shows up after some melodramatic developments in a bar. The ending is unrealistically happy but nevertheless touching.

Verdict: Teen angst well-played. ***. 


Ruth Dunning and Gwenda Wilson
DANGEROUS AFTERNOON (1961). Director: Charles Saunders.

Letty Frost (Ruth Dunning) runs the Primrose Lodge boarding house which is home to women who, like her, were once in trouble with the law. Letty was once a notorious jewel thief who escaped from prison some years before. She has a "niece," Freda (Joanna Dunham), who is about to marry her boyfriend, Jack (Howard Pays). Letty hopes that the couple will have a better life than she had and that they will never learn anything of her past, but all that is threatened by the release from prison of Jean Hinton, aka Jean Berry (Gwenda Wilson), who was left behind during the prison break and now wants revenge ... When Dangerous Afternoon first begins, showing us a little old lady shop lifter, Louisa (Nora Nicholson), you wonder if this will turn out to be a senior citizen version of The Belles of St. Trinian's, but despite a few amusing moments (mostly to do with Louisa's penchant for stealing) this picture is more grim than funny. If this had been made in America in say, the 30's, it might have been similar to The House on 56th Street with its theme of mother-sacrifice and men-who-lead-women-to-ruin. But this British film approaches the subject from a more oblique angle, and is quite unpredictable. Unfortunately, its very short running time (about an hour) minimizes the characters' development as well as their back stories. Still, this is well-acted by all.  Charles Saunders also directed Womaneater. Norman Percival's theme music is notable.

Verdict: Another unusual film that\s good enough that you wish it had been better. **1/2.


Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) in disguise as an old guru
MR. MOTO TAKES A CHANCE (1938). Director: Norman Foster.

"If I was casting a horror picture I'd have him play the murderer." -- reference to Mr. Moto.

Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) is on an archaeological dig in Cambodia, which is under French rule, when who should drop in by parachute but Victoria Mason (Rochell Hudson), who was flying around the world until her plane caught fire. Among the other supporting characters are filmmakers Marty (Robert Kent of Who's Guilty?) and Chick (Chick Chandler of Circumstantial Evidence), who hope to photograph some of the forbidden royal temples. Objecting to this is Bokor (George Regas), the High Priest, who is in a power struggle with the portly and deceptively amusing Rajah Ali (J. Edward Bromberg of The Mark of Zorro). Then one of the Rajah's wives is murdered by poison dart. Half of the time Moto disguises himself as an elderly guru  who gives orders to the High Priest while spies are plotting and trying to kill each other -- and Moto -- everywhere. If this sounds interesting, be warned that Mr. Moto Takes a Chance is essentially a plot-less stew with a thrown-together script that just gets duller as it goes along until a fairly exciting climax in the temple. Peter Lorre gives his customary good performance but one senses he was mighty bored with the material, along with the audience.

Verdict: Where's Charlie Chan when you need him? **. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018


Alistair Sim
THE BELLES OF ST TRINIAN'S (1954). Director: Frank Launder.

Millicent Fritton (Alistair Sim of The Millionairess), the clueless headmistress of the St. Trinian's School for Girls, is in a quandary. The school's bank account has only $400 but it is in debt for ten times that much. The students are incorrigible monsters who ignore their teachers when they aren't blowing each other up with bombs. The teachers are a weird lot consisting of inebriates and felons. Both the Ministry of Education and the police are investigating the school, although representatives from the Ministry never seem to return from their visits there. Policewoman Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell of Stage Fright)  is directed to infiltrate the school as a new professor, where she discovers that there is an active gin-making business among half the students while the other half are trying to manipulate a horse race -- by stealing a horse -- in order to make some cash (an idea that after some outrage appeals to Ms. Fritton). Someone else who wants to make money on the race is Millicent's brother, Clarence (also played by Sim) and his daughter, Jackie (Diana Day), a nearly middle-aged women who should have been out of school years before. Inspired by the cartoons of Ronald Searle, The Belles of St. Trinian's is a very clever and consistently amusing black comedy that gets high marks for utter originality. The casting of Alistair Sim as the headmistress is absolutely inspired, as Sims does a dead-on impression -- if you can even call if a mere "impression" -- of a dowager who will maintain her dignity no matter what vulgar or appalling shenanigans are going on all around her. There's also a terrific and fun score by Malcolm Arnold [Stolen Face], and a host of wonderful supporting performances. The soccer match is hilarious, and the ending is a pip! Followed by several sequels and an inferior remake.

Verdict: This picture is not a drag. ***1/2.

NOTE: This post is part of the Gender Bending the Rules Blogathon co-hosted by Angelman's Place and The Midnite Drive-In


Peter Lorre and Edward Arnold
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (1935). Director: Josef von Sternberg.

"You said you'd show me some of your blundering police methods, and you certainly have!" -- Roderick to Inspector Porfiry.

Roderick (Peter Lorre) is a poor but talented writer on criminal psychology who is months behind in his rent. He is forced to bring some of his possessions to a pawnbroker, Leona (Mrs. Patrick Campbell), a loathsome old lady who insults her clients and offers them little money for their items. Roderick hatches a scheme to get the money he needs, but things go wrong almost from the start. Now Roderick has to deal not only with Inspector Porfiry (Edward Arnold of Lillian Russell), who admires Roderick but comes to suspect him, but with his own conscience. One could argue that the movie is a cinematic "cliff's notes" version of Dostoevsky's famous 1866 novel, but the story and its implications and ironic aspects remain powerful. Lorre gives a great performance, nearly matched by Arnold, and there is also fine work from Marian Marsh [Svengali] as Sonya, whom Roderick has fallen in love with; Tala Birell [The Frozen Ghost] as Roderick's sister, Antonya, who is willing to make any sacrifice for him; Campbell as the old lady and murder victim; Gene Lockhart as Antonya's much-older suitor; Douglass Dumbrille as another man who is in love with the sister; and especially Elisabeth Risdon as Roderick's mother, who gets at least one very strong scene when she finds out the truth about what her beloved son has done. One problem with the movie is that our modern-day knowledge of criminology might cause us to look less sympathetically at Roderick. Nowadays we might even see Dostoevsky's anti-hero as a borderline narcissist and even a sociopath -- his crimes are even worse in the book than they are in the film -- and his "conscience" could simply be worry over being caught, thereby proving him not to be quite as superior as he thought.

Mrs. Patrick Campbell originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in Shaw's Pygmailion on the stage.  She was perhaps most famous for her oft-quoted line: "It doesn't matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses." More of a theater person than a film personality, she had only six movie credits, of which Crime and Punishment was the last. She did not enjoy working with von Sternberg, possibly because  he (appropriately) made her look horrible on camera.

Verdict:  Some very raw and powerful acting in this. ***. 


Betty Hutton and Dana Andrews
SPRING REUNION (1957). Directed and co-written by Robert Pirosh.

A small town is the location of a 15 year reunion for the high school class of 1941. The most popular girl in school, Maggie Brewster (Betty Hutton) is unmarried and works in her father's real estate office. Maggie has been trying to sell off a house owned by old classmate Fred Davis (Dana Andrews) -- "most likely to succeed" -- when he comes back to town and changes his mind. A romance begins between the two even as Maggie's friend, Barna (Jean Hagen of Singin' in the Rain), who has a husband and children, finds herself attracted to married former football hero, Jack Frazer (Gordon Jones of The Green Hornet), who seems to exist on reflected glory. Spring Reunion is a pleasant surprise, a light romantic drama greatly bolstered by some excellent performances. Betty Hutton, who I can find overbearing in some of her comedies, is not only lovely and comparatively subdued in this, but gives one of the best and most poignant performances of her career. Andrews is similarly excellent, as are Hagen and Jones, and Laura La Plante [Show Boat] and Robert F. Simon are wonderful as Maggie's parents. Spring Reunion is full of interesting scenes, such as one when Maggie's father makes it clear to her mother that he doesn't like the idea of taking a vacation without his daughter along, that it won't be much fun, and the mother's expression speaks volumes. In another good sequence, Maggie and Fred try to figure out why their lives didn't quite turn out the way they'd intended. James Gleason (billed as "Jimmy") is fine as a lighthouse keeper, and Sara Berner is fun as an impressionist who performs at the reunion. Irene Ryan (Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies) plays a high school official who doesn't know what "Smirnoff" is yet loves the spiked punch, but she isn't given enough to do. Hutton sings "That Old Feeling" and nails it, and Chopin's "Nocturne in E Flat Major" is used as an evocative theme.

Spring Reunion does reflect the attitudes of the time it was made in. Many single women in the fifties probably did feel like "old maids" because they were unmarried in their thirties, but even today women -- and men -- still hope to find someone special to share their lives with. As for Spring Reunion, many of Hutton's fans were disappointed that she wasn't the overly zany Betty Hutton they remembered. Subsequently, this was her last film, although she starred in her own TV show and had other television credits. This was also the last film -- and last credit -- for silent movie star Laura La Plante.

Verdict: Nice romance with some unpredictable touches. ***. 


THE LOST ONE: A LIFE OF PETER LORRE. Stephen D. Youngkin. University Press of Kentucky; 2005.

It was to the eternal frustration of much-admired actor Peter Lorre that he was forever seen as some sort of "horror star," and never quite got the kind of roles that he wanted, and that would have lifted him into a more exalted category. Of course, nowadays most film enthusiasts who are familiar with Lorre's work in various genres have come to recognize his dramatic ability as his numerous fine performances certainly attest to. This lengthy, in-depth biography of the actor covers his life as a Jewish emigre from Austria to his move to the United States, details his coming to international attention thanks to his starring role in Fritz Lang's M, looks into his Hollywood career and the frustrations it engendered, and examines his private life, including his three marriages and serious, life-long drug addiction. Along the way he appeared in such notable films as the first version of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, Mad Love, Crime and Punishment and Casablanca, starred in a series of Mr. Moto movies, and directed his one and only picture, the controversial Der verlorene ("The Lost One"). In his later years he appeared in everything from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, along with a Jerry Lewis film, The Patsy, and Roger Corman's The Raven and Tales of Terror. The Lost One is a solid bio, although I wish it was perhaps a bit more entertaining; the passages devoted to Lorre's relationship with Bertolt Brecht eventually become tedious and there are other dry stretches. The details of Lorre's divorce from his first wife, Celia Lovsky, with whom he remained close, are never quite made sufficiently clear. Otherwise, this is a good book on an important film figure.

Verdict: Possibly not the last word on Lorre, but he certainly deserves this exhaustive look at his life and career. ***. 


Frank Lovejoy as McGraw

Most baby boomers will have heard of and possibly even seen such well-known private eye/adventurer shows as Peter Gunn with Craig Stevens, Michael Shayne with Richard Denning, Mike Hammer with Darren McGavin, and Richard Diamond, Private Detective with David Janssen, among others. But back in the fifties and sixties there were a whole bunch of private detective shows that resurface from time to time on DVD or on youtube, but which never quite caught on with the public, or at least are not too well remembered all these decades later. For instance:

Meet McGraw, also known as The Adventures of McGraw, lasted for one season and 42 episodes in 1957. Frank Lovejoy [The Crooked Web] plays a sort of private eye who gets involved in various adventures. Lovejoy was good in the part, and first played the character on an episode of Singer's Five Star Playhouse entitled "One for the Road." In this Audrey Totter plays a woman who supposedly wants protection from her jealous husband. Very few episodes of this show are available. The first one I saw, "The Fighter," about a boxer who is inexplicably nervous about his upcoming match, is supposed to be one of the best but is mediocre. Much better is "Ballerina," an interestingly convoluted piece with someone apparently trying to frame a dancer's husband for nefarious acts, with Hans Conreid as guest-star. I liked Lovejoy and hope someday to come across more episodes of this series. **1/2.

Philip Carey as Marlowe, outfitted with scar
Philip Marlowe is, of course, Raymond Chandler's famous private eye, but this 1959 show only lasted for one season and 26 episodes. Philip Carey [Zane Grey Theater] is fine in the part, and the show seems interesting. In "The Ugly Duckling" the mistress (Barbara Bain) of a married man is murdered and his wife (Virginia Gregg) is arrested; Marlowe tries to find out who really killed the woman. In "Murder is a Grave Affair" Gene Nelson plays a director with a dismissive wife (Betsy Jones-Moreland) whose delusional girlfriend is found murdered. Both episodes are good enough to make me wish more were available. **1/2.

The Files of Jeffrey Jones (aka From the Files of Jeffrey Jones) only lasted for 16 episodes in 1952. I have seen one episode, "Pigeon Hunt," which has L.A. private investigator Jones (Don Haggerty) investigating when a boxer he knows tells him that he is afraid he might have murdered a woman while under the influence. Lyle Talbot plays his manager, and Alix Talton is a hard broad who is also involved in the case. Tristram Coffin plays a cop on the show. This episode was good enough to make me want to see more. There's a lively and amusing fight scene between Jones and a hulking bouncer in this one. **1/2.

Don Haggarty and Patricia Morison
Don Haggarty [Footsteps in the Night] also starred in another 1952 series, and this one lasted just 13 episodes: The Cases of Eddie DrakeIn this Haggarty plays a more traditional hard-boiled private eye; he also plays the role in a sexy fashion that has him practically leering at any woman he encounters. An interesting feature of this short-lived series in that the episodes unfold as flashbacks being told by Drake to a pretty lady shrink played by Patricia Morison. I've seen only one episode of the show, "Shoot the Works," and it is terrific, making me wish more of these classics were available. In "Shoot the Works" a wealthy, cheating wife hires Drake to find a watch given to her by her husband, but which was stolen during a robbery at a casino. The story has a number of interesting plot twists, real snappy dialogue, and is very well-acted by all, with Haggarty playing Drake in just the right note. A radio show entitled The Cases of Mr. Ace and starring George Raft used the same device of having the private eye tell his stories to a shrink, and may have been the basis for this program. Haggarty would have made a terrific Michael Shayne. ***.

Lee Bowman as Ellery Queen
Ellery Queen, or The Adventures of Ellery Queen, debuted live on the Dumont network in 1950 with Richard Hart playing Queen. The character of Ellery Queen -- a novelist and amateur sleuth whose father is a police inspector -- is not forgotten, of course; in fact Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine is still being published. However, today people are more likely to remember the 70's Ellery Queen TV series than any other. The 1950's show lasted several seasons, with Lee Bowman [Next Time I Marry] eventually replacing Hart as the protagonist. Four or so seasons in, the show changed its name to Murder Is My Business, and Hugh Marlowe was cast as Queen. In 1959 there came a new series, The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen, this time starring George Nader as the hero.

Ellery Queen was a bit primitive, with that old organ music and all, but Hart and Bowman were both fine as variations of the character. Judging from the very few episodes I've seen, the show had some good scripts. In "The Hanging Acrobat" Kurt Katch makes an impression as the trapeze artist Hugo, whose wife is strangled. "Death Spins a Wheel," in which a piano player is murdered near a nightclub that may be a front for a counterfeiting racket, features another knock-put performance by Robert H. Harris as the club owner; this time he's affecting a very convincing accent. In "The Adventure of the Man Who Enjoyed Death," a mentally-disturbed district attorney, who lost a case due to Queen's testimony, gets even with him by playing a cat and mouse game in which he strangles a series of women. John Newland, best known as the host of One Step Beyond, is very good as the D.A. In "Buck Fever" Queen gets involved in murder and corruption when a deputy is shot while deer hunting and the detective is initially accused. "Murder to Music" features Jerome Cowan as a maestro whose crippled wife seems neurotic and dangerous to his protege, a pretty young pianist named Anita, but she may be up to something. Cowan is as terrific as ever but the show is stolen by the excellent actress who plays Anita, but whose identity I could not uncover although I tried several sources. ***.

Updated on 9/25/2018. 


John Wayne
THE HURRICANE EXPRESS (12 chapter Mascot serial/1932.). Directors: Armand Schaefer; J. P., McGowan.

Jim Baker (J. Farrell MacDonald), an engineer on the world's fastest train, the Hurricane Express, is killed when the express is deliberately sabotaged. Baker's son, Larry (John Wayne of McLintock!). is determined to uncover the identity of "The Wrecker," the mysterious figure who, with the help of his gang, is out to destroy the railroad for uncertain reasons. The suspects include Walter Gray (Lloyd Whitlock), who runs an airline; Howard Edwards (Tully Marshall), the head of the railroad; Frank Stratton (Edmund Breese), who escaped from jail after being falsely accused of robbing the railroad; Tom Jordan (Matthew Betz), a disgruntled former employee of the railroad; and others. Larry Baker teams up with Stratton's daughter, Gloria (Shirley Grey) to unmask the Wrecker and prove her father's alleged innocence. There's also a lot to do with a stolen gold shipment that everyone is fighting to recover. An interesting aspect of Hurricane Express is the way the villain uses highly detailed and convincing masks to pretend to be other people throughout the serial, not only confounding Larry, Gloria and the authorities, but confusing the audience at times as well. While this aspect is certainly suspect, it's amusing to note that the same "mask" business is currently used in the Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible movies made many decades later (and it is still quite improbable that these masks would actually fool anyone). The cliffhangers in this are nothing that special, but we've got a runaway box car, a plane that catches fire and crashes to earth, and Wayne is nearly crushed by a descending and very heavy airplane part at one point. In general, the movie lacks the slick polish of Republic's serials, but it's generally fast-paced and entertaining, with a dollop of suspense pertaining to the identity of the Wrecker. It's funny how many characters in the serial jump to conclusions about the mastermind's identity when everyone is clued in to the fact that he wears masks and nothing could be certain about anyone. John Wayne did several serials for Mascot in the thirties, and gives a competent and rather charismatic performance. Armand Schaefer also directed Wayne in the serial version of The Three Musketeers.

Verdict: One express you might want to catch if you like these old cliffhangers. ***. 


Eleanore Tanin and Douglas Dick
FOOTSTEPS IN THE NIGHT (1957). Director: Jean Yarbrough.

Henry Johnson (Douglas Dick) has been trying to overcome a gambling addiction so he can marry his sweetheart, Mary (Eleanore Tanin of The Werewolf). Unfortunately, Fred Horner (Robert Shayne), who lives next door to Henry, challenges him to a card game and Fred winds up dead. Henry insists that he's innocent and goes on the run even as Lt. Andy Doyle (Bill Elliott of Love Takes Flight) and Sgt. Mike Duncan (Don Haggerty) pursue Johnson, and other leads as well. Then it occurs to Doyle that the motel where Johnson and Horner lived has a name very similar to another motel where temporarily resides a businessman, Bradbury (James Flavin of Irish Luck), who always flashes a huge wad of cash ... Could the wrong man have been murdered? Footsteps in the Night is a short, cheap TV-type production that has little to distinguish it, aside from Shayne's good performance as the murder victim. The other cast members are all solid as well.  Elliott was basically a western star who later played cops; this was his last feature film and final credit of many. He did four other movies before this in which he played the same character (although he is named "Flynn" instead of "Doyle" in the first feature.) This movie is so cheap that when a car crashes into a wall at the climax, all we hear is the noise but the crash itself is never shown.

Verdict: Not much to recommend this stale cop drama. *1.2, 

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Kay Kyser bolstered by Petter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff

YOU'LL FIND OUT (1940). Director: David Butler.

Playing himself, band leader Kay Kyser brings his College of Musical Knowledge, along with singers Ginny Simms and Harry Babbitt (also playing themselves) to a spooky mansion where resides Janis Bellacrest (Helen Parrish of First Love), who happens to be engaged to Kay's manager, Chuck Deems (Dennis O'Keefe). Before long the group finds itself cut off from everyone with a cut phone line and a bridge that falls apart due to an explosion. Janis' Aunt Margo (Alma Kruger of Craig's Wife) is friends with a spiritualist named Prince Sallano (Bela Lugosi), who seems to be held in little regard by Professor Fenninger (Peter Lorre) and Judge Mainwaring (Boris Karloff). As Kay, Chuck, and alleged comic Ish Kabibble explore secret passages in the old mansion, attempts are made on Janis' life more than once. RKO obviously hedged its bets by bringing in that triumvirate of terror in the persons of Lugosi, Lorre, and Karloff, who get right into the silly spirit of things with marked professionalism and without losing their dignity. Kyser remains a likable presence, although some of the comedy shtick he does in the film is not only unfunny but painful to watch; ditto for Kabibble, whose jokes wouldn't impress a three-year-old. However, O'Keefe [Abroad with Two Yanks] is just right for this kind of material and he and Kyser make an engaging comedy team at different points in the story. Ginny Simms, who was not only Kyser's singer but was involved with him at the time, zestfully sings two nice numbers, including "I'd Know You Anywhere" and "One Track Mind." Late in the picture Kyser has the band instruments imitating human voices with horrific results. There's an amusing business with the dog Prince, who gets phosphorescent paint on his tail at one point, and later on plays catch with a bomb! Experienced director David Butler helps keep this whole thing running more or less smoothly. A number called "The Bad Humor Man" may have made the "Good Humor" ice cream people nervous.

Verdict: Silly, but with some nice numbers and a few laughs, not to mention those horror stars! **1/2. 


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

Taking shelter in a rainstorm in the district of Rashomon, a traveler (Kichijiro Ueda) encounters a priest (Minoru Chiaki) and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) who attended a trial concerning a murdered samurai, Takehiro Kanazawa (Masayuki Mori). They tell the traveler of the disparate accounts given to the court by various witnesses, including an infamous bandit, Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune), who encountered Kanazawa and his wife, Masako (Machiko Kyo), in the forest. Tajomaru claims he had his way with the wife, but only killed her husband when she insisted they fight a duel over her. Then the wife claims her husband was disgusted with her, and she may have stabbed him during a black out. The husband's ghost, via a medium, says that his wife asked the bandit to kill him and he later committed suicide. The woodcutter, who did not tell his story to the court, tells the traveler that he witnessed everything, and his account is entirely different from what the others have said. Rashomon is a thought-provoking and fascinating movie that greatly benefits not only from some wonderful performances but from striking cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa and an interesting score by Fumio Hayasaka (although I guestion Kurasawa's insistence on doing a riff on Ravel's Bolero). The picture proceeds as an allegorical dream and works beautifully on that level, although some viewers may be insistent on more clear-cut answers than the film provides. Mifune's performance borders on caricature at times, but Machiko Lyo as the raped and abandoned wife, is especially excellent. The picture has an almost-feminist perspective (intended or not) yet it also suggests the old style attitude of the duplicitous nature of females. This was remade as The Outrage, with Paul Newman surprisingly effective as the bandit.

Verdict: A classic. ***1/2. 


Paul Newman
THE OUTRAGE (1964). Director: Martin Ritt.

In the late 19th century in the southwest, three men take refuge from a rain storm at a train depot: A priest (William Shatner), a prospector (Howard Da Silva) and a con man (Edward G. Robinson), with the first two telling the third the conflicting stories they heard at a murder trial. The trial centers on the notorious bandit Carrasco (Paul Newman), who is accused of raping a southern woman (Claire Bloom) and murdering her wealthy husband (Laurence Harvey). The bandit, the wife, the dead man (via an Indian medium) and then the prospector all tell their stories, but trying to figure out which is the correct one will drive you crazy. The Outrage is an interesting remake of the much more famous Japanese film Rashomon, and while it's generally a good picture (it helps if you're unfamiliar with the original), it's also a mixed bag. On the plus side is a charismatic and quite adept performance from Paul Newman, who's much better in what is essentially a character part than you might expect. Newman is on top of things in every scene. The next best performance is from Edward G. Robinson, whose expert acting skills are on marvelous display in his winning performance as the not very likable con artist. Although Claire Bloom [Three Into Two Won't Go] could be accused of being a little stagy and overly theatrical at times, she's playing many different interpretations of the same person and playing them well, with near-perfect line readings. Howard Da Silva scores as the prospector, and Laurence Harvey is fine in an underwritten part in which he is tied up and gagged for most of the running time. Shatner tends to overact a bit as he did as Captain Kirk -- he always seems to think he's doing Shakespeare -- but he's effective enough in the part.  James Wong Howe's cinematography is typically outstanding. While Alex North's score has some lovely things in it, it also seems inappropriate at times given the subject matter, but then again, The Outrage has several sequences that border on black comedy (which in of itself is inappropriate). Still, whatever its flaws, The Outrage is absorbing, good to look at, and features several excellent performances. Whether it has the kind of attitude towards rape that you might find today on, say, Law and Order:Special Victims Unit, is debatable. Martin Ritt directed Paul Newman in Hud the previous year.

NOTE: Apparently I had already reviewed this film on Great Old Movies eight years ago.  I liked it a little better this time around, and think it might even have more emotional impact than the original.

Verdict: Newman gives a striking performance in an unusual role for him. ***. 


Julie London and Rock Hudson
THE FAT MAN  (1951). Director: William Castle.

A dentist named Bromley (Ken Niles of Out of the Past) is knocked unconscious and thrown out of an 18th story window. His secretary, Jane (Jayne Meadows), comes to the corpulent private investigator, Brad Runyan (J. Scott Smart), for help in proving that the dentist's death was murder and not an accident. Suspects include mob boss Gordon (John Russell of Hell Bound); his shady chauffeur, Anthony (Anthony George of Checkmate); a patient named Roy (Rock Hudson) who disappeared after being fitted for a dental plate; Roy's worried wife, Pat (Julie London); and Roy's ex-cell mate, Ed Deets (Emmett Kelly). The large and interesting cast also includes Jerome Cowan as a police lieutenant and Tristram Coffin as a Missing Persons Officer.  The Fat Man is an entertaining, if cold-blooded movie -- hardly anyone registers dismay over the death of the poor dentist, and the Fat Man doesn't seem much bothered by the murder of his client -- but director William Castle keeps things moving at a snappy pace. In this early role for Rock Hudson, it's clear that he had the ability and presence to emerge a major movie star, as he did. Based on a long-running radio series, the character of The Fat Man was created by Dashiell Hammett. This was Brad Runyan's one and only screen appearance. Although J. Scott Smart gives a competent performance as Runyan, it's easy to see why the character never caught on with the public, as he's just not that likable. Julie London makes a positive impression as Pat, although Clinton Sundberg, playing Runyan's major domo, has been seen to better advantage elsewhere. The Fat Man is a bit similar to another fictional detective, Nero Wolfe. Playing a most unusual role considering his usual profession as a clown, Emmett Kelly proves a splendid actor and walks off with the movie. Even the bit parts in this are well-cast.

Verdict:  Absorbing enough mystery. ***. 


Dan Duryea and June Vincent
BLACK ANGEL (1946). Director: Roy William Neill. Based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich.

When sexy singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) is murdered, the chief suspect is her lover, Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), who was being blackmailed by her. In spite of his affair, his wife, Catherine (June Vincent), remains loyal, as well as convinced that he is innocent. When he winds up convicted and on death row, with time running out, she makes up her mind to uncover the real murderer, and winds up working with the victim's ex-husband, Martin Blair (Dan Duryea of Terror Street), who was investigated by police and cleared. Catherine and Martin get a job as a singer and accompanist at a night spot owned by Mr. Marko (Peter Lorre of The Verdict), whom Martin swears he saw at Mavis' apartment house the night she was killed. Can the couple uncover the truth before they become more of his victims ,..? Black Angel is an absorbing, nominal film noir with some fine performances and a degree of suspense. Although June Vincent [Shed No Tears] is better cast as a bad girl and at first seems out of place in the movie, she has her typically sharp and unusual delivery to set her apart from the standard heroine. Duryea is, as ever, first-rate for the most part, and Lorre, in another in a long line of supporting roles that wasted his talent, is effortlessly excellent. Broderick Crawford plays the investigator on the case and is about as usual. There's a good score by Frank Skinner, and a snappy number called "I Wanna be Talked About" warbled by a dubbed Vincent. The ending is strangely moving, but you may be scratching your head at a couple of loose ends that make the denouement a bit suspect.

Verdict: Credible mystery with interesting cast. ***. 


William Henry and Susan Morrow
CANADIAN MOUNTIES VS. ATOMIC INVADERS (12 chapter Republic serial/1953). Director: Franklin Adreon.

Sgt. Don Roberts (William Henry) of the Canadian Mounted Police and agent Kay Conway (Susan Morrow) team up to tackle a gang of spies who are planning to launch missiles against the U.S. from a remote base in Canada. First the spies do their best to get rid of people who want to settle in the very area where they want to build the rocket launchers, then shift their efforts in attempts to kill off Sgt. Roberts. To that end there are cliffhangers that employ avalanches, warehouse fires and explosions; and Roberts is both shot off the top of a cliff, and then knocked off another cliff when a car crashes into the spot where he's standing. The fight scenes in this serial are well-choreographed and exciting, especially a battle that occurs in the back of a careening pick-up truck. William Henry [The Thin Man] is solid as the Mountie, certainly essaying a different kind of role than he did in his earlier films. Susan Morrow [Macabre] is also good as Kay, who is handy with a gun when required and seems as diligent and brave as Roberts. Arthur Space [Panther Girl of the Kongo] is terrific as the villain, a foreign agent named Marlof who disguises himself as a simple-minded trapper named Ol' Smoky Joe -- he is particularly effective in this role. Hank Patterson, Harry Lauter (who appears so briefly I never noticed him), Tom Steele, Dale Van Sickel, and -- wouldn't you know it? -- Pierre Watkin appear in smaller roles.  One lively sequence has Roberts trying to stop a pack of wild dogs let loose by the bad guys from attacking a group of reindeer that are meant to be food for the settlers (those poor reindeer can't win either way!). William Henry began acting at a very young age and amassed 230 credits.

Verdict: Another fast-paced, utterly mindless, but very entertaining and action-packed Republic serial. ***. 


SILVER BULLET (aka Stephen King's Silver Bullet/1985). Director: Daniel Attias.

In the small town of Tarkers Mills, a "maniac" is on the loose, targeting young and old, tearing people literally to pieces. Young Marty (Corey Haim), who is in a wheelchair, inadvertently discovers the identity of the person who can transform into a werewolf, and has to do what he can to protect himself and his family, including his sister, Jane (Megan Follows) and fairly obnoxious Uncle Red (Gary Busey of The Firm). With this premise there's no reason why Silver Bullet shouldn't have emerged as an edge-of-your-seat terrifying suspense film and mystery, but there's way too much of the comparatively boring kid and his family, minimizing the tension despite a couple of exciting and scary sequences. Stephen King's screenplay, based on his book "Cycle of the Werewolf," features characters that often act stupidly, as well as moments of sheer illogic. Busey's irritating presence is no help, although there are good performances in the film: Haim is notable as the kid; Everett McGill makes a mild impression as the town's minister; Terry O'Quinn [Black Widow] is fine as the sheriff; but Kent Broadhurst really scores as the father of a murdered boy -- his reaction when he finds his son's body (the pieces of which which are not shown) is very powerfully played. Lawrence Tierney [Bodyguard] has a small role as a bartender who meets a grim end. Carlo Rambaldi's creature FX are mostly first-rate.

Verdict: So-so werewolf movie with some good scenes and interesting elements. **1/2.

Thursday, September 6, 2018


Van Johnson and Liz Taylor
THE BIG HANGOVER (1950). Written, produced and directed by Norman Krasna.

David Muldon (Van Johnson) had a strange experience in the war that left him so "allergic" to alcohol that he can get tipsy just with a sip of it. The sensible thing to do would be to tell everyone of the situation without going into details, so that he wouldn't feel required to drink a toast, for instance, and act silly. Instead his boss's daughter, Mary (Elizabeth Taylor), decides to try to help him overcome the problem. You would think from its title that The Big Hangover is a riotous tale with frequent scenes of an "inebriated" David making a comical fool of himself, and while there are such scenes in the movie, that's not really what the picture is about. David has gotten a job with a prestigious law firm because he is an honor student and valedictorian. In a touching and well-played sequence, he demonstrates the speech he'll give on graduation day to Mary, telling of his best buddy, who dreamt of being a lawyer, but who died in his arms overseas during combat. He is determined to follow in his footsteps. When a Chinese-American doctor (Philip Ahn) is locked out of his apartment with his pregnant wife by a racist manager, David assumes his law firm will side with the doctor, who is not a "Chinaman" but an American born in the U.S. But David learns that the law isn't always on the side of what's right. While one can't necessarily say that this ranks with the best of Frank Capra as a thoughtful comedy-drama, it is still an entertaining and worthwhile picture that has more on its mind than at first glance. Van Johnson gives another excellent performance, maintaining the perfect balance between humor and seriousness, handling every sequence with aplomb. Elizabeth Taylor, who is no comedienne, at first seems miscast, but once you settle into the true tone of the picture, she is very warm, winning, and adept. As for the supporting cast, we've got Percy Waram and Fay Holden as Mary's parents; Leon Ames [The Velvet Touch] as a public attorney who is outmaneuvered by high-priced lawyers and Rosemary DeCamp as his wife; Edgar Buchanan and Selena Royle [The Damned Don't Cry] as Davis's amusing aunt and uncle; and Gene Lockhart [A Scandal in Paris] as a senior partner in the firm who does his best to get David drunk at a swanky gathering (a scene that will make you want to reach into the TV set and give Lockhart a major bitch slap!). The supporting performances are all wonderful, with Leon Ames having a fine, underplayed moment when he admits to his mediocrity during the aforementioned dinner, and Philip Ahn is as dignified and effective as ever as Dr. Lee. If I have one quibble I wish that they film hadn't tacked on an unconvincing happy ending to the love story. One simply can not see La Liz happy with a husband who isn't wealthy and successful, and who tells him she admires him but doesn't want someone who's so noble. Still, it hardly ruins the movie. If Percy Waram is unfamiliar to most viewers, it's because he was primarily a British stage actor and had very few credits in pictures.

Verdict: A lost gem of a movie. ***1/2. 


George Montgomery and Dorothy Lamour
LULU BELLE (1948). Director: Leslie Fenton.

Around the turn of the century, new lawyer George Davis (George Montgomery) stops into a tavern to see a client and is mesmerized by the singer there, a lady named Lulu Belle (Dorothy Lamour). Before long he has ditched his practice and fiancee and taken off to New Orleans with her. Lulu Belle loves George, but she also loves money and the good life, and she gets involved with a boxer named Butch (Greg McClure), his wealthy manager, Mark Brady (Albert Dekker). and eventually a really rich married guy named Randolph (Otto Kruger) who brings her to New York where she becomes a Broadway star. The movie begins with a double-shooting, and then the main story is told in flashbacks narrated by George and then Lulu Belle's friend, Molly (Glenda Farrell). Dorothy Lamour is quite good in a role that seems more suited for Yvonne De Carlo, and George Montgomery, in a very winning performance, makes his character more sympathetic than he should be considering the way he ditched his loving girlfriend as well as some of his subsequent actions. Greg McClure [Sky Liner] has possibly his very best role as Butch, and is terrific, and both Dekker and Kruger [Woman Who Came Back] are as smooth and professional as ever. Both Glenda Farrell and Charlotte Wynters offer flavorful support, the latter in the role of Kruger's wife, and Addison Richards makes an effective police commissioner. There are gaps in the story that were presumably left on the cutting room floor but the movie is unusual in that it doesn't end with an expected clinch but has a more realistic wind-up. Director Leslie Fenton started out as an actor in such films as The Public Enemy. He was also Ann Dvorak's first husband. |The character of "Mark Brady" is most likely based on the real Diamond Jim Brady.

Watching Lulu Belle in the wake of the metoo# movement, one can easily see how it not only illustrates how some men can treat women like mere possessions for their sole pleasure, but the other side of the coin as well -- women who go after men for their own advantage, a sort of mutual exploitation.

Verdict: Absorbing romantic melodrama with good performances. ***.  


Brigitte Helm
L'ATLANTIDE (1932). Director: G. W. Pabst.

Captain Saint-Avit (Pierre Blanchar) and Lt. Morhange (Jean Angelo) are on a mission in the Sahara when they somehow stumble across the lost city of Atlantis. There Saint-Avit becomes pathologically obsessive towards the queen, Antinea (Brigitte Helm of Metropolis), driving him -- at her direction -- to a despicable act against his friend, Morhange. This oddball French production can only be taken seriously if you look at it as a dream or allegory, as little in the movie makes much sense. Although there is some atmosphere in the claustrophobic tunnels through which the cast sometimes travel, there is no attempt at describing or elucidating the realities of this allegedly lost civilization. Brigitte Helm is no raving beauty (as Antinea was in the remake, Siren of Atlantis), but she is quite striking, although it's hard to judge her actual acting ability in this. With his quietly handsome and sensitive features, Pierre Blanchar makes an impression as Saint-Avit, although Jean Angelo is a bit more standard and blustering as his comrade. Vladimir Sokoloff [Beyond the Time Barrier] is excellent as the strange Count Hetman, who was apparently taken to Atlantis from Paris years before -- a long flashback showing him in Paris with Can-Can girls and the like interrupts the main "action," if you can call it that. The movie is strangely sensual, with interesting images throughout, and there are more actual love scenes in the picture than in the remake. What may keep you watching -- even if you can't wait for it to be over -- is Wolfgang Zeller's highly interesting musical score. The novel (by Pierre Benoit) that this was based on was also filmed as the silent film Missing Husbands, the aforementioned Siren of Atlantis, two other Pabst versions also made in 1932 starring Helm but with two different lead actors (Queen of Atlantis and Mistress of Atlantis), a 1972 foreign telefilm and a 1992 French remake, as well as Edgar G. Ulmer's Journey Beneath the Desert.  Pabst is most famous for the silent film Pandora's Box.

Verdict: A curiosity with some interesting elements, but not really an especially good picture. **. 


Maria Montez
SIREN OF ATLANTIS (1949). Director: Gregg G. Tallas.

Lt. Andre Saint-Avit (Jean-Pierre Aumont of Carnival of Crime) is found in the desert, delirious, half-starved, wailing about a lost city, an evil queen, and a friend he murdered. In flashback he tells his superiors how after a sandstorm he discovered the lost city of Atlantis -- improbably hidden under the mountains in the Sahara -- where the beautiful Queen Antinea (Maria Montez) loves and disposes of one man after another, and acts cruelly towards her subjects and her slaves. Andre's friend is Captain Jean Morhange (Dennis O'Keefe), who can resist the queen because he's headed for a monastery anyway. Before too long, Andre becomes the favorite of the queen, and presumably does a lot more than play chess with her, but then days go by and Jean is nowhere to be found and the queen isn't calling for Andre ... In his novel "Myron," the sequel to "Myra Breckenridge," Gore Vidal wrote about a Maria Montez flick called Siren of Babylon, and it was probably this picture he was referring to. Not quite a camp classic, it immediately suffers from the fact that it works up absolutely no sense of wonder over this apparently marvelous hidden city, which doesn't seem much different from the kind of places you'd find in those space-babes-on-the-moon epics. Maria Montez is indeed beautiful, if somewhat heavy featured, but her acting is barely adequate. She comes off like a particularly vicious drag queen (not to suggest that most drag queens are vicious). Aumont is fine in an impossible part, and an almost comically miscast O'Keefe doesn't look particularly good in a mustache and goatee. Other characters in the film include Lindstrom (Allan Nixon of Pickup), one of Antinea's cast-off lovers; Cortot (Alexis Minotis of Land of the Pharaohs), an alchemist who had his tongue cut out by the queen; the tragic slave Tanit (Milada Mladova) who dies a horrible death; and Blades (Henry Daniell), the court librarian and philosopher who acts as a kind of butler or assistant and who cackles and belittles the men, primarily acting like the loathsome little cockroach that he is -- Daniell easily offers the best performance in the film. (Movies like this should offer some kind of catharsis, but neither he nor his mistress ever get their comeuppance.) Antinea has her ex-lovers turned into immortal statues. Michel Michelet's score is interesting if a trifle overblown at times, and Karl Struss' photography is fine, especially a sequence in which Andre sees the mirage of an oasis of rushing water in the desert. Aumont and Montez were a real-life married couple from 1946 until 1951 when the Spanish beauty (born in the Domenican Republic) drowned in her bath after possibly suffering a heart attack. She was only 39. Director Tallas also helmed Prehistoric Womenwhich starred Allan Nixon. It is much worse than this.

Verdict: Everyone should see at least one Maria Montez movie. **. 


Danny Kaye meets Danny Kaye
WONDER MAN (1945). Director: H. Bruce Humberstone.

Witness to a gangland killing, club entertainer Buzzy Bellew (Danny Kaye) is bumped off at the direction of mobster Ten Grand Jackson (Steve Cochran).  Before you can say Topper, his ghost importunes his nerdier twin brother, Edwin (also Danny Kaye), to impersonate him until the murderers are found, which creates an obvious and dangerous disadvantage. Buzzy can not be seen by anyone, and can take over Edwin's body whenever he wants, but this often causes more problems than it solves. Added complications are that Buzzy was supposed to get married to long-time beau Midge (Vera-Ellen) while Edwin has fallen for beautiful librarian, Ellen (Virginia Mayo), who cares for him but comes to think he's demented. Will all of this ever get straightened out, and will anyone give a damn? Perhaps I'd seen too many Danny Kaye movies in a row, but Wonder Man didn't work for me at all. Kaye is a talented performer, but his shtick can be unfunny and wearisome at times. Meant to be whimsical, the plot of Wonder Man is actually rather depressing, as is Buzzy's jaunty attitude about being deceased (Since he's dead, Midge simply goes off and marries someone else, and seemingly forgets her fiance in a second without shedding a tear, but then Buzzy seems to forget about Midge as well! That's love for ya!) On the plus side, Vera-Ellen does a splendid dance routine and the performances in the picture are all good. Steve Cochran [The Big Operator], who, like Mayo, appeared with Kaye several times, gets a much smaller role this time, but we get appearances from Huntz Hall [Valentino] as a sailor, and "Cuddles" Sakall as a delicatessen owner who is very amusing, as is Gisela Werbisek as his wife. Otto Kruger [Beauty for Sale] is a district attorney, and Natalie Schafer shows up briefly as a patroness of the arts who finds Edwin fascinating if a little too strange. The worst thing about the movie is that it has the temerity to try to ape A Night at the Opera by including a climactic bit on the opera stage (they even use music from Verdi's Il trovatore, as in the Marx Brothers film). This seemingly endless scene not only isn't very funny, but it suffers mightily in comparison to that Marx brothers masterpiece.

Verdict: Not Kaye's finest hour and a half. *1/2. 


Nancy Guild and George Montgomery
THE BRASHER DOUBLOON (1947). Director: John Brahm.

Private eye Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery of Street of Sinners) is hired by the formidable Mrs. Murdock (Florence Bates) to recover a very valuable coin which he suspects was taken by her own son, Leslie (Conrad Janis). Marlowe is attracted to Mrs. Murdock's somewhat strange secretary, Merle (Nancy Guild of Somewhere in the Night), who seems to be keeping secrets from him. As Marlowe investigates, he keeps tripping over bodies, and uncovers some family secrets and a mysterious death in the past. Along the way he encounters cops, gangsters and gamblers, most of whom have little respect for his health. It all winds up in his office as he unveils the killer and his motives with a piece of provocative film. The Brasher Doubloon is based on Raymond Chandler's "The High Window," and despite being a little too short, is a very good example of both film noir and the detective story. As Marlowe, George Montgomery is excellent -- smooth, handsome and very adept -- but the critics felt he couldn't compare to Humphrey Bogart in the role and he was again mostly delegated to westerns after that. Guild and Janis are on the money, and Bates offers a ferociously dynamic performance as Mrs. Murdock. Roy Roberts is also effective as Lt. Breeze. The picture is full of amusing and sexy scenes such as when Guild holds a gun on Montgomery and orders him to take his clothes off! Director Brahm keeps the movie atmospheric, fast-paced, and suspenseful. Great ending! The Chandler novel was also filmed as Time to Kill some years earlier with Lloyd Nolan playing not Marlowe but Michael Shayne!

Verdict: This long-forgotten movie is a lost gem. ***.