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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

SHIP OF FOOLS

Oskar Werner and Simone Signoret
SHIP OF FOOLS (1965). Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer. Based on the novel by Katherine Anne Porter. 

"There are over a million Jews in Germany. What are they going to do -- kill all of us?" -- Lowenthal. 

"I've met women like you. You're 46-years-old and still think you're a coquette." 

"I didn't even see a Jew until I was fifteen." -- Tenny. "Maybe you were too busy lynching Negroes to take time for the Jews." -- Mary. 

In 1933 an ocean liner sets sail from Mexico to Germany with a motley group of crew and passengers. Dr. Wilhelm Schumann (Oskar Werner) is the ship's doctor, a married man with a heart condition who develops a romantic relationship with La Condesa (Simone Signoret), a woman who faces prison in Cuba because she spoke out against the oppressive government. David (George Segal) is an American "starving artist" who loves his girlfriend Jenny (Elizabeth Ashley), but fears she is too "modern" for him even as she fears he can only settle for the traditional wife who has no life or career of her own. Karl Glocken (Michael Dunn) is a dwarf who is not invited to the Captain's Table, any more than Lowenthal (Heinz Ruhmann), who is Jewish, but the two sit together and become friends. Bill Tenny (Lee Marvin) is a washed-up baseball player, and Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh) an aging and desperately lonely divorcee, who eventually have a distinctly unpleasant encounter. 

Vivien Leigh
Ship of Fools is not on the level of Stanley Kramer's masterpiece Judgment at Nuremberg, because even though it deals with matters German and (in part) with anti-Semitism, it doesn't have as good nor as powerful a story line. There are also some odd casting choices in this. Jose Ferrer as a Nazi? Simone Signoret as a Spanish noblewoman? Nonetheless Signoret did win a Best Actress Oscar, and Werner won as Best Actor. Both give good performances, although their love story isn't entirely convincing because one can't see any real on-screen chemistry between them, although they play well together. Poor Vivien Leigh is given the utterly thankless role of yet another desperate and aging woman to follow Blanche Dubois of Streetcar and Mrs. Stone of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone -- Still attractive, she must have gotten awfully sick of it. Leigh was fifty-two at the time, playing forty-six, although she holds up better than Signoret, who was forty-four playing forty-two. The irony is that Mary Treadwell acts as if she's all washed up when down the hall La Condesa is getting action with the handsome ship's doctor! Leigh's performance is fine but her portrayal is dated.  

Lee Marvin and Michael Dunn
Michael Dunn, infamous as the evil Dr. Loveless on The Wild, Wild West TV program gives a notable performance, but although Lee Marvin has his moments, he seems to have wandered in from a different movie. Liz Ashley, in her pre-sex pot phase, is more than credible as Jenny, as is George Segal as her painter boyfriend. Charles Korvin is appealing as Captain Thiele. Jose Ferrer is completely miscast and not very good in the film, but there is fine work from two lesser-known actors: Alf Kjellin [Madame Bovary] is wonderful as Freytag, who is forced to leave the Captain's table because he is married to a Jewish woman, but suffers from great guilt because he abandoned her for his career; and Charles De Vries makes an impression as young Johann, whose elderly father is a miser. Werner Klemperer has some nice moments as a crew member who hopes to initiate a relationship with Mrs. Treadwell and is rather cruel to her when he is rejected. 

Ernest Gold's score is effective and Ernest Laszlo's cinematography deservedly won an Oscar. (The film also won as Best Picture, and the art direction also received a statue.) Abby Mann's screenplay, however, just doesn't delve deep enough into the characters, of which there are too many (the character of the ball player doesn't even belong in the movie). The film can't be said to be boring, as such, but it is never riveting the way the far superior Judgment at Nuremberg is. Still, it has memorable scenes, such as the sad one when Dunn observes that Lowenthal is a "fool", because he just isn't able to believe the dire and hopeless future for the Jews in Germany. 

Verdict: Despite many good moments, this should have been a much more absorbing and powerful picture. **3/4. 

JULES AND JIM

Henri Serre and Oskar Werner
JULES AND JIM (aka Jules et Jim/1962). Director: Francois Truffaut. Based on a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche.

French Jim (Henri Serre) and German Jules (Oskar Werner) become the best of friends in Paris, and become a trio when they meet the free-spirited Catherine (Jeanne Moreau of The Yellow Rolls Royce). Eventually she marries Jules and all of them are separated by WW 1. After the war they are reunited, and Catherine transfers her affections to Jim, despite the fact that she and Jules have a young daughter. They live together in a kind of strictly heterosexual menage a trois, but Catherine's screwy personality is such that a lasting happiness with either man may be unlikely for her ...

Jeanne Moreau and Oskar Werner
The "New Wave" Jules and Jim was much admired when it was released and still certainly has plenty of fans among foreign film  enthusiasts. The generally fast-paced film is well-acted by the three leads, it boasts a fine score by Georges Delerue [The Conformist] and beautiful cinematography from Raoul Coutard. There is a free-love, supposedly European frankness to the film that certainly differentiates it from a Hollywood soap opera without necessarily improving upon it. In fact, one can imagine the same story being told by a major Hollywood director who could have given it much more impact, although the downside is that the production code might have insisted on the old moralistic "sin and suffer" approach. The trouble is that the characters of Jules and Jim never quite seem like real people, just sketches made with too-broad brush strokes; instead of seeming sophisticated, they just come off as childish. There's too much of the narrator telling us things about these people instead of letting the film show us. The light touch of the movie, with everyone seeming to accept the situation (without really doing so), is at odds with the utterly melodramatic, indeed somewhat farcical,  developments that wind up the picture. Still, it's just these bizarre touches that probably made the picture stand out when otherwise it might have been forgotten. Jules and Jim is too well-made to dismiss, but I can't quite disagree with those people who think it might have better been titled "Two Dopes and a Skank (who can't make up her mind)." A better Truffaut film is The Story of Adele H

Verdict: Like a fair-to-middling French Woody Allen movie, for better or worse. **1/2. 

THE LOOTERS

Danton, Faylen, Adams, Calhoun
THE LOOTERS (1955). Director: Abner Biberman.

"I haven't had this much fun since I was kicked out of the Campfire Girls." -- Sheryl.

Jesse Hill (Rory Calhoun of That Hagen Girl), a loner and mountain climber who lives in the Rockies, gets a visit from a shady ex-army buddy, Peter Corder (Ray Danton of Code Name: Jaguar). When a commercial plane crashes in the mountains, the two decide to climb towards the wreckage, but with very different motives. Jesse wants to look for survivors, while Pete is more interested in salvaging what he can, which turns out to be a trunk full of loot. Pete's true nature is revealed pretty quickly, and he stakes his claim while threatening everyone else. Before long the two men start a tense descent back down the mountain along with three survivors, a former cheesecake model named Sheryl (Julie Adams), a captain named Leppich (Frank Faylen of The Mystery of the 13th Guest). and a wannabee big shot named Parkinson (Thomas Gomez). Who will get to keep the loot and who will survive?


Ray Danton as sneaky Pete
The Looters has a very good premise and could have been turned into a nail-biting and memorable suspense film. Instead it's a mediocre and often hokey time-waster that isn't good enough for the audience to ignore its many implausible aspects. Now, the plane crashed on top of a mountain, but it isn't in a nearly impassable area as the plane was in Three Secrets, so it seems to me that even if there were no survivors, arrangements would be made to get the victims' bodies back to their loved ones. But when the military, who is playing war games in the area, discovers that no one is at the plane, they start bombing the whole area -- say what? Admittedly, this adds some excitement to the climax, but it doesn't make much sense, as if the military's attitude would be "let's just blow up the bodies of the crash victims without even finding out what caused the crash!"

Of course one reason for this silliness is that it may fool viewers into not scratching their heads when one survivor expresses the hope that everyone will think he died in the crash. Another problem is that no one seems to act as if this was the scene of a tragedy, that there are several dead bodies (never shown) lying just out of view for much of the film's length. Then you have to wonder why Sheryl and Jesse would want to make out when neither has brushed their teeth for at least several days. Gomez makes his mark as the weaselly Parkinson, Danton is typically vivid, Adams is reasonably adept and sexy, giving the film no more than it deserves, and Calhoun is adequately stolid and heroic. But this is one flight you may not want to book. After meeting on this film, Adams and Danton were married. Abner Biberman was originally an actor, playing a great many Asian roles, before switching to directing.

Verdict: Another reason to avoid the Rockies. **. 

FEDERAL MEN / TREASURY AGENTS IN ACTION

"Have you paid your taxes?" Walter Greaza
FEDERAL MEN (aka Treasury Agents in Action/1950 - 1955.

This long-running fifties crime drama, consisting of 190 half hour episodes, looked at various, supposedly true cases investigated by the Treasury Department, under whose jurisdiction came everything from tax evasion to counterfeiting to smuggling. Each story was introduced by Walter Greaza as the somewhat stern chief, who is out to get you if you dare to cheat on your taxes. (One can see him putting sweet little old ladies in prison for failing to report bingo money!) If this program sounds a little dull, be forewarned that some of the episodes, standard looks at standard crime cases, are just that. But the best episodes of the series (at least the ones I've seen) focus just as much if not more on the human drama as on the crimes involved, looking into the desperate lives of people who sometimes feel they have no other option but to break the law.

"Lonely People:" Frances Rafferty and Skip Homeier
One of the best episodes is "The Case of the Lonely People," in which a father and daughter team ensnare a crippled veteran (Skip Homeier of Stark Fear) in a scheme to cash stolen veteran's checks, a scheme that becomes complicated when the vet and the daughter fall in love. Homeier and Frances Rafferty [Money Madness] give outstanding and sensitive performances. Homeier was also terrific in "The Case of the Princely Pauper," playing a no-good guy from a once-wealthy family who smuggles in cheap rings and other goods, with his clients paying inflated prices when they think they're getting a bargain.


"Buried Treasure:" Byron Foulger
Another excellent episode is "The Case of the Buried Treasure," in which a once-shady man and his wife bury booty they don't wish to declare to the IRS only to find out when they dig it up years later that it's become riddled with mold. Still, they do their damnedest to get rid of it. Byron Foulger [The Black Raven] and Vivi Janis give notable performances in this. There were other memorable episodes as well. In "The Case of the Leather Bags" Joanne Davis nicely plays a washed up cruise singer who helps her boyfriend smuggle heroin. "The Case of the Man Outside" details how some prisoners are actually able to make counterfeit money while inside a penitentiary, and the fate of the head of the shop who only wants to keep his nose clean and get parole.

"Steady Hand:" Gloria Talbott

Gloria Talbott guest-starred in "The Case of the Steady Hand," playing a woman who has trouble accepting that her boyfriend is both a crook and a creep. Douglass Dumbrille plays a theatrical impresario who pretends his books all went up in smoke when the IRS comes a'calling in "The Case of the Slippery Eel." Paul Langton is a married hood and tax dodger who falls hard for a classy opera singer, only to learn she's of common stock herself in "The Case of the Perfect Gentleman." Charles Bronson plays an agent who is ordered to murder a man in "The Case of the Deadly Dilemma."

John Stephenson 
Several different actors portrayed Treasury, IRS and Customs agents over the years depending on the episode's target: Ross Martin, Harry Landers, Harry Lauter, and Richard Travis, among them. John Stephenson played Agent Grant in many episodes, although he did even more voice-over work for cartoons than he did live-action, everything from The FlintstonesThe Jetsons and Duck Dodgers to G. I. JoeX-Men, and Jonny Quest. As for star Walter Greaza, both before and after this series he was mostly cast as judges, cops and psychiatrists.

Verdict: Remember to pay your taxes! **3/4.

THE LAST DINOSAUR

Steven Keats and Richard Boone
THE LAST DINOSAUR (1977). Directors: Alexander Grasshoff and Tsugunobu Kotani.

"A creature forty feet tall and weighing eight tons with the mind of a pea has just destroyed one of the greatest minds of the century."

 Masten Thrust Jr. (Richard Boone of I Bury the Living) is not only a famous hunter but one of the world's wealthiest men. He has developed a vehicle called the Polar Borer, that uses lasers to drill through the Polar Ice Cap, discovering a hidden world in a prehistoric valley below that is warmed by a volcano. Four men have already died at the teeth of a T-Rex, that appears to be the only one of its kind, although there are other dinosaurs in the valley. Returning to this land with the only survivor of the first expedition, Chuck (Steven Keats), Thrust also brings along Professor Kawamoto (Tetsu Nakamura of The Manster); an expert and silent seven foot tall tracker named Bunta (Luther Rackley); and a perky photographer named Francesca (Joan Van Ark). Although the original plan is only to study the tyrannosaurus, when it proves aggressive and even squashes the poor professor underfoot, Thrust determines to destroy the creature. But then the big beast snatches up the Polar Borer in its teeth and the whole group is stranded in the valley with time running out ...

The rubber T-Rex
The Last Dinosaur has a workable plot line, but it borrows very heavily from the film The Land Unknown, and the Polar Borer (which hardly looks large enough to hold so many people) reminds one of a similar machine in At the Earth's Core. Of course it's just another imitation of The Lost World minus diamonds and "fire gods." A bigger problem is the FX work, which features some crude but effective process shots and a rubber monster brought to life with "suitmation" -- a man in an dinosaur suit. The creature also lets out metallic wails that are borrowed from Godzilla. The shame is that the film does manage to work up some suspense -- as in Land Unknown there's a small window of opportunity to get out of the valley if they can survive the beast's attacks -- and this could have made a very exciting picture had Ray Harryhausen brought the creatures to life. A battle between the T-Rex and a triceratops does not compare favorably to a similar battle in Harryhausen's The Valley of Gwangi.

Bantu takes after T-Rex with a spear -- good luck with that!
The acting in the movie is professional, if uneven, with Richard Boone creating a colorful if contradictory character, and William Overgard's screenplay does do its best to bring some of the people in it to life. There's some decent art direction in the movie, but the score is pretty terrible. This was meant to be a theatrical film, but it was released to television in a somewhat edited version. The film makes much of the fact that the title refers to Boone as much as it does to the tyrannosaurus.

Verdict: Hardly the "last" dinosaur we've ever seen in film. **1/4. 

THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER

Richard Dix
THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER (1945). Director: Lew Landers.

Jean Lang (Janis Carter of Slightly French) spies a stranger (Richard Dix of Lovin' the Ladies) in a bar and decides to read his fortune from across the room with playing cards. When the cards say that he faces death within 48 hours, she  decides to see if she can help him, and discovers that he has lost his memory in an accident. Along with her sister, Francie (Jeff Donnell of The Fuller Brush Girl), Jean and the stranger, whom she calls George, hunt down every clue they can to his identity. But will smitten-but-stupid Jean eventually get an unpleasant surprise when she finds out who the man really is ... ? This is the third in the Columbia mystery series based on the radio show The Whistler, and, as usual, the unseen narrator pipes in now and then to push the story along and to, alas, minimize the suspense that's been built up in the first half of the film. Too much information is given away too early so that the final quarter just plods along on a predictable path. This is too bad, because the basic premise is fine, and there are many opportunities for tense sequences (especially one involving a poisoned birthday cake) that are just frittered away by routine direction and not enough taut music. Hitchcock might have done something with this. Dix is pretty good in the lead, the two ladies are fine, and Loren Tindall makes a pleasant impression as Francie's fiance, Charlie. Tala Birell plays a ballet dancer who was once involved with "George."

Verdict: This is one you will probably watch and quickly forget. **1/4. 

GET SMART, AGAIN!

Bernie Kopell and Don Adams
GET SMART, AGAIN! (1989 telefilm). Director: Gary Nelson.

The comedy spy series Get Smart had already had one theatrical feature, The Nude Bomb, when nine years later this TV movie reunited most of the crew of the series. In this the spy group CONTROL has gone out of business, but their opposite number, KAOS, is still alive and kicking and is blackmailing the world with a deadly weather control device. Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) is called back to active duty, and eventually his wife, Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) follows suit. Conrad Siegfried (Bernie Kopell) is still Smart's adversary, only he now reports to a mysterious new leader. Meanwhile, Agent 99 is preparing to publish her memoirs when she discovers enemy agents have gotten their hands on some of the pages. Get Smart, Again! may sometimes trade on old gags, but it is also guilty of inspired lunacy, such as when helicopters and the resultant winds are used for top security "Hover Cover."  Then there's the bit with the "Hall of Hush" where spoken words are transformed into literal letters until the room gets so crowded with them that no one can read what they're saying. And then there's that old "Cone of Silence," now placed in the Smarts' bedroom. Get Smart, Again! retains its hilarity for most of its length although it gets a little slack towards the end, but the cast, a top-notch group of very funny actors led by the wonderful Adams, is certainly game and able. Kenneth Mars especially scores as the head of the security agency, as does Dick Gautier, who is just terrific as Hymie the robot.

Verdict: If you liked the original series, you'll probably like this. ***. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN

Liz Montgomery as Lizzie
THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN (1975 telefilm). Director: Paul Wendkos.

In Falls River, Massachusetts in 1892, Andrew Borden (Fritz Weaver) and his wife, Abby (Helen Craig) are found axed to death in their home. The chief suspect immediately becomes Andrew's daughter, Lizzie (Elizabeth Montgomery), who maintains her innocence both in court and to her sister, Emma (Katherine Helmond). With flashbacks showing the troubled life of the family, the movie shows us the investigation, the trial, and the outcome. The Lizzie Borden story remains one of the most fascinating unsolved mysteries and double murders in history, and this early look at the case, sticking mostly to the facts, makes for a compelling TV movie. It leaves out the fact that a cousin was staying in the house at the time of the murders but he was apparently out of the house during the actual gruesome event. The movie's explanation for how Lizzie did not get blood on her clothing is somewhat suspect, however. The biggest problem with the telefilm is the lead performance, with Montgomery often acting as if she were in rehearsal, and hardly giving what could be called a committed performance for much of the film's length. Helmond is more on the mark as her sister, as are Weaver and Craig, and Fionnula Flanagan as the maid, Bridget. Ed Flanders [The Exorcist III] makes an efficient prosecutor, and John Beal [The Vampire] is fine as a doctor who ministers to family friend, Lizzie. Helen Craig, who plays the unpleasant stepmother, is better in this than she was as the evil nurse in The Snake Pit. This is superior to the Lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, (although the fictionalized series that followed, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, was quite entertaining).  Paul Wendkos also directed the excellent telefilm The Brotherhood of the Bell. NOTE: A new Lizzie Borden theatrical film, focusing on the character's lesbianism, has just been released, and it seems based (without crediting him) on Evan Hunter's novel, Lizzie, which also posited the theory that Lizzie and maid Bridget were lovers.

Verdict: Entertaining, but just misses being really special. **3/4. 

IN PIECES: SALLY FIELD

IN PIECES. Sally Field. Grand Central; 2018.

After appearing in the short-lived sitcom Gidget, and then toiling for three years on the hit series The Flying Nun -- a show she absolutely hated and denounced as "drivel" -- Sally Field thought she would never be taken seriously in Hollywood. But after appearing in several telefilms -- as well as another short-lived series, The Girl With Something Extra (she has little good to say about co-star John Davidson) -- she managed to win an Emmy for the multiple personality drama Sybil, and then went on to garner two Best Actress Oscars for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. She also received accolades for playing Mary Lincoln in Lincoln, and won another Emmy for her role in the TV series Brothers and Sisters. But Field's private life wasn't so successful. In between two marriages to men she admitted she wasn't really in love with, she had a long-term relationship with Burt Reynolds, a control freak and (in my opinion) long-time asshole (he deemed Field the "love of his life," however; his first wife was Judy Carne). She had a  very problematic relationship with both her biological father and her mother, actress Margaret Field [The Man from Planet X], who divorced her husband to marry actor Jock Mahoney [Tarzan's Three Challenges]  and eventually developed a drinking problem. Field claims that Mahoney molested her continuously for several years when she was a minor, but he would only admit to her mother that it was one drunken incident. (After Lex Barker -- who was married to Lana Turner --  Mahoney is the second actor to play Tarzan who allegedly molested a step-daughter.) Trying to be a good mother to her three sons, and (in her eyes, at least) failing more often than not, she couldn't quite avoid the mistakes her own mother made. In Pieces is an extremely well-written memoir, full of honest reflection and in-depth ruminations on life, career, and loves, as well as the usual dose of movie star self-adsorption. Field doesn't spend as much time on her films as one might have hoped, but there's plenty of meat in here for people who want to know the inside life of a movie star and for aspiring actors who are hoping to follow in her footsteps.

Verdict: Thoroughly absorbing page-turner proves that Field can write as well as act. ***1/2.  

THE MUGGER

Kent Smith, Nan Martin, James Franciscus
THE MUGGER (1958). Producer/director: William Berke. Based on a novel by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter).

An unidentified man is running about the city stealing women's purses and leaving a slight slash on their cheeks. Lt. Pete Graham (Kent Smith of Nora Prentiss), a police psychiatrist, is assigned to the case. He is convinced that it is unlikely the "mugger" will move up to murder, but then a victim, Jeannie (Sandra Church), is found dead. But was she really a victim of this mugger, or did someone else kill her? Suspects in the case include Nicholas Grecco (George Maharis), who was infatuated with the murder victim; cab driver Eddie Baxter (James Franciscus), who was the brother-in-law of the victim; and Franklin Corey (Bert Thorn), who may be hiding a secret from his wife  Graham's fiancee is policewoman Claire Townsend (Nan Martin), who goes out undercover to try to catch the mugger. Dick O'Neill is a police sergeant and Renee Taylor plays a woman who is being followed -- by her husband.

James Franciscus and Kent Smith
The Mugger is a slick, low-budget, generally absorbing feature that in some ways resembles a television crime show. A very young James Franciscus [The Valley of Gwangi] has some good scenes as the cab driver; Smith is reasonably effective; Maharis [Journey to the Unknown] plays his character like a nerd to explain why Jeannie doesn't want to date him; and the other performers are all competent. The most chilling thing about the movie is after the killer is dispatched in a grisly fashion, and an old man who witnessed the death (and doesn't know the person was a murderer) waxes philosophical about the event without displaying a shred of compassion, although this may have to do with some insufficient emoting on the bit actor's part.

Verdict: Okay programmer with some interesting players. **1/2. 

MARKHAM

Milland as Markham with Macdonald Carey on Suspicion
Markham 1959 television series.

"As a man of obvious breeding, Mr. Markham, I'm surprised you would ask such a crude question."

The character of private detective Roy Markham (Ray Milland of So Evil My Love) first appeared (in what was the pilot for the resulting series) on the anthology program Suspicion, in an hour-long story entitled "Eye for Eye."  In this a divorce lawyer (Macdonald Carey) takes a pro bono case to help get a battered wife (Kathleen Crowley) away from her husband (Andrew Duggan.) When the husband kidnaps the lawyer's wife, he wants to make an exchange, but his own wife is terrified to go near him. With the help of private eye Markham, the frightened lady is importuned to go along with the plan, and Markham eventually saves the day. Well-acted by all, with an especially noteworthy performance from Kathleen Crowley, this was an auspicious debut and the show was picked up by CBS (even though Suspicion was telecast on rival NBC). In the meantime Macdonald Carey got his own show, Lock Up, although he played a different character.

Markham only lasted one season in 1959, but it amassed 59 episodes (nowadays we're lucky if a series has twenty or even fewer episodes per season). For the first eight episodes Simon Scott played Markham's friend and colleague John Riggs. What distinguishes this private eye series, aside from the international flavor,  is the fact that Roy Markham is played by no less than Oscar-winner Ray Milland [Bulldog Drummond Escapes], who adds a certain class and distinction to the series. (Milland won for The Lost Weekend.) As well, Markham is what you might call an intellectual private eye, a much smarter and much more cultured specimen than, say, Mike Hammer.  I've seen about half of the episodes of the show, most of which were good, many excellent, and I wish all of the rest were available.

A designer's wife is involved in the murder of a blackmailer in "Vendetta in Venice," which features such players as Paula Raymond, Robert Lowery, and Allison Hayes. "Escorts a la Carte" has Markham in Rome where a friend has supposedly committed suicide, and which leads him to a sinister escort service that employs an escort played by Suzanne Lloyd. Gale Robbins plays a famous singer in The Bad Spell," who comes to Markham for help when someone keeps trying to blow her up and succeeds in killing her husband.  "The Searing Flame" is a weird story in which Markham searches for a young lady painter who has disappeared in Paris and nearly winds up burned to death in a provincial cabin. In "Three Steps to Murder" a series of inexplicable bombings of abandoned buildings leads to a genuine murder of a hoodlum. Of the episodes I've seen, arguably the best is "Strange Visitor," in which kidnappers bring an heiress (played by Louise Fletcher) to Markham's apartment where tragedy ensues. This is a taut and suspenseful episode with a touch of pathos. Another outstanding episode is "A Cry from the Penthouse," in which a slimy blackmailer (Jack Weston) locks Markham out on his balcony with its shatter-proof doors in freezing cold weather and nearly kills him in the process. Also notable are "The Last Bullet" wherein Nita Talbot is one of the suspects when a wealthy man's suicide turns out to be murder and a million dollars goes missing; "We Are All Suspect" with June Vincent excellent as a wife whose husband disappears when he simply goes out to walk the dog; and "The Long Search," a shipboard story of intrigue over a stolen ancient scroll, with Katherine Squire as one of the suspects.


Other episodes include "The Cruelest Thief," where dogs are used in a smuggling racket; "Round Trip to Mozambique," about a pretty moll with a young son; "The Human Factor," in which a client Markham can't stand is accused of assaulting a woman; "Sing a Song of Murder," in which a little boy witnesses a hit; and "The Young Conspirator," in which a paperboy tells Markham someone is trying to kill him. Locales for the stories included everyplace from Guatemala ("The Other Side of the Wall"); Hollywood ("Deadline Date" with Peggie Castle); Mexico ("The Bay of the Dead"); Istanbul ("No Flies on Friday" with Henry Daniell); and Paris ({Paris Encounter" with Colleen Gray). Guest stars on the show, along with those already mentioned, included Walter Woolf King ("Coercion"); Phillip Terry ("Incident in Bel Air"); Betty Lynn ("The Marble Face")' Sebastian Cabot ("Forty-Two on a Rope");' and Robert H Harris, who was wonderful as a former mob lawyer in "The Seamark" and as a jealous and murderous sculptor in "Image of Love."

Markham episodes were directed by such notable people as Mitchell Leisen [No Man of Her Own] and Robert Florey [The Beast with Five Fingers]. The show was sponsored by Schlitz, "the beer that made Milwaukee famous."

Verdict: Quite good private eye show with a degree of sophistication and some wonderful guest stars. ***. 

THE WHITE GORILLA

Ray Corrigan in costume as the white gorilla
THE WHITE GORILLA (1945).Director: Harry L. Fraser.

Steve Collins (Ray Corrigan of Captive Wild Woman), a guide in Africa, comes back alone from an expedition to tell others about his experiences in the jungle, including an encounter with an "outcast" and angry white gorilla (also played by Corrigan). Most of the film consists of flashbacks which were actually taken from the 1927 silent serial, Perils of the Jungle. The biggest giveaway is the hair style and look of the gal in the flashbacks as opposed to the more natural and much sexier look of Ruth (Lorraine Miller) in the "modern" segments. The scenes from the serial have to do with a cute little white boy, Kimpo (Bobby Nelson), who is somehow able to lord it over the natives (Tarzan as a child?) and who first appears hanging from a friendly elephant's trunk. Then there's a search for treasure in the Cave of the Cyclops, where the little boy's mother lives, pretending to be crazy so the natives -- who are called "Tiger Men" -- will leave her alone. The white gorilla seems not to have come from the serial, and there are two scenes where this outcast battles a mighty black gorilla for domination. There's a very exciting scene (from the serial) in which lions attack an outpost, as well as a sequence with a hippo supposedly going after a frightened gal -- judging from these sequences Perils of the Jungle seems like it must have been a lively and fast-paced cliffhanger.  The "cyclops" of the cave only turns out to be a giant statue. but the wildlife footage in this is excellent. Ray Corrigan proves to be a better actor in his ape suit than he does out of it. The opening credits for this read "starring Ray Corrigan and an All Star Cast" -- hardly.

Verdict: Interesting opportunity to see a silent serial with some ape nonsense thrown in for good measure. **. 

FAIR NEW MOVIE -- AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

 Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange) 
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018). Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo.

A dangerous cosmic entity known as Thanos (Josh Brolin, in a computer-generated performance) wants possession of several powerful rings so that he can remake the universe the way he wants to, and eliminate half of the population -- and although he is opposed by a great many heroes, including the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, he essentially succeeds (until the sequel, of course). Aside from a few dull stretches, Avengers: Infinity War is not boring and mercifully moves at a fast pace, although I can't imagine how people who are not "Marvel fans" and have not seen all of the Marvel movies might get into this. As others have noted, not a single character is ever actually introduced to the viewer. (Fortunately, being a long-time comics fan, I knew who most of these people were, or were supposed to be.) The movie is a noisy amalgamation of cute quips uttered by characters (ostensibly so they can keep up their courage), serious moments that are touching for twelve-year-olds, and lots of explosions and flying bodies. The film has been widely overpraised by people who, I suspect, read nothing but comic books and only see comic book movies, having no other frame of reference. As noted, I am a big super-hero fan, and know that comics are not always juvenile and mindless, but I don't confuse them with Shakespeare or Citizen Kane, either. That being said, AIW has some great art direction and striking cinematography, and action scenes that often seem more cluttered and busy than especially effective. The "human" drama in this -- if you can call it that -- has to do with the love story of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch, as well as the love-hate relationship between Thanos and his "daughter," Gamora (Zoe Saldana, giving a very good performance). One could add that Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has trouble turning into the CGI Hulk, although there seems little point to this (aside from Ruffalo perhaps wanting his actual face to be seen more in the movie). There are interesting things in the picture, but this notion that it is the "culmination" of every other Marvel super-hero movie is ridiculous. Personally, I have never found Thanos to be a very interesting villain, even in this, and have always thought he was just a pale imitation of Jack Kirby's Darkseid, who should be showing up in a DC Universe movie any year now. With the exception of X-Men: Apocalypse and Logan, I think Marvel's X-Men films are much better than the Avengers series.

Verdict: A lot of sound and fury signifying very little, but some fun for the inner geek. **1/4. 

CYRANO DE BERGERAC: OPERA

Placido Domingo (foreground) with lovers
CYRANO DE BERGERAC. Opera composed by Franco Alfano.

NOTE: Great Old Movies will occasionally post a live or taped opera review if the story has also been adapted for film or has cinematic potential.

The famous story of homely lover and swordsman Cyrano De Bergerac has been told many times in films and on the stage, and this is an operatic version composed by Franco Alfano. Alfano is best remembered as the man who finished "Turandot" after the death of Giacomo Puccini, but he also composed several operas of his own, including the notable "Risurrezione" -- probably his masterpiece -- and the more than credible "Cyrano." This outstanding-on-every-level production from Valencia stars Placido Domingo, one of the premiere artistes of the 20th and 21st centuries, as Cyrano, who is unrequitedly in love with his cousin Roxanne (Sondra Radvanovsky), who only has eyes for the handsome young soldier Christian (Arturo Chacon Cruz). The story could be described as intensely, and even masochistically, romantic, in its tale of love denied and staggering self-sacrifice, but even today there are people who mistake mere sexual attraction for true l'amour. Roxanne realizes too late that true love has to be about much more than a handsome face. Alfano's score is more lyrical than melodious for the most part, but it does have passages of great emotion and beauty. This was produced at the striking opera house and arts center in Valencia, Spain in 2007.

Verdict: This opera -- and story -- deserves a first-class mounting and it gets it here. ***1/2.