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

Friday, December 28, 2018


Great Old Movies wishes everyone a great holiday season and a very, very happy New Year.

This week I review the Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol with the wonderful Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, and a couple of Xmas-themed horror films. Rounding out the week are two movies that must have seemed like good bets for Holiday viewing -- Samson and Delilah and Julie Andrews in Star! -- but maybe weren't such good choices after all. (Maybe I should have stuck with Perry Mason!)

Anyway, have a great 2019! (Look for an announcement about my new movie blog coming soon!)


Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951). Director: Brian Desmond Hurst. NOTE: The colorized version, which I watched, is also known as Scrooge.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Alistair Sim) is a tightwad and rather heartless individual whose only response to the holiday season is "humbug!" On Christmas Eve the ghost of his late partner, Marley (Michael Hordern), appears to him, warns him that he's facing a dark future, and tells him that three more ghosts will appear, those of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Days to Come. Scrooge sees visions of his past and the pivotal events that shaped him, such as selling out his employer, Fezziwig (Roddy Hughes)  and losing the love of Alice, (Rona Anderson), the only woman he wanted to marry. He sees the plight of the poor and his own future, as well as that of his employee, Bob Crachit (Mervyn Johns) and his crippled son, Tim (Glyn Dearman). With these increasingly depressing visions, the true spirit of Christmas -- practicing kindness instead of cruelty -- finally takes possession of Ebenezer Scrooge.

"God bless us, everyone." Tiny Tim
A Christmas Carol is a wonderful movie, bolstered by a superb performance from Sim [The Belles of St. Trinian's], great supporting performances, a fine Richard Addinsell score, and superior direction from Hurst.  Every time the film comes near to being a trifle cloying, the next second I'd have a lump in my throat. In other words, you don't need to be Christian or even religious to enjoy and be moved by this picture and Charles Dickens' great story. George Cole plays young Scrooge; Patrick Macnee [The Avengers] is Marley as a young man; Hermione Baddeley is Crachit's wife; Kathleen Harrison is the hysterical Mrs. Dilber; and Ernest Thesiger is notable as Marley's anxious undertaker. Hurst also directed the dull Hungry Hill.

Verdict: Beautiful! ***1/2. 


Hedy Lamarr and Victor |Mature
SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949). Produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

In Gaza in 1000 B.C. the Danite Samson (Victor Mature), who is a hero to his people, dares to fall in love with Semadar (Angela Lansbury), even though she is a Philistine. Semadar's younger sister, Delilah (Hedy Lamarr) wants Samson for herself, and she is embittered over his rejection of her. When Samson's wedding to Semadar doesn't quite come off, it leads to violence and bloodshed, and Delilah vows to have her revenge.

Lamarr as Delilah
Samson and Delilah is an entertaining movie, but for most of its length it's curiously flat. Some of the minor supporting actors speak their lines as if they were in an old Republic serial and even for 1949 the whole production has an old-fashioned, even cheesy, tone to it. Neither Victor Mature nor even the beautiful Lamarr are especially well-cast. Their performances are good enough by old Hollywood standards, but there are other actors who could have done much, much more with the roles. (Mature would do more costume dramas such as The Robe in the future and his work in them would greatly improve.) Supporting players such as Lansbury; Henry Wilcoxon (as Ahtur, another of Semadar's suitors); Fay Holden as Samson's mother; Olive Deering [Caged] as Miriam, who loves Samson unrequitedly; Julia Faye as the maid Hisham; little Russ Tamblyn [Tom Thumb] as young Saul; and most notably, George Sanders as the Saran of Gaza, come off much better, with Sanders pretty much stealing the show.

The best acting comes from George Sanders
However, Samson and Delilah is worth the price of admission for no other reason than the last ten minutes, in which a humiliated Samson gathers his strength (why did the Dagon-worshipping Philistines let him grow his hair back?) and manages to literally bring the house down on the Philistines. Well-directed and edited, with good FX work, this sequence is a stunner even today. If only the whole movie had been on this level! Victor Young's score is disappointing, but the Oscar-winning costume designs by Edith Head and others are exquisite. The art direction also won an Oscar.

Others in the huge cast include Tom Tyler, Nils Asther, Claire Du Brey, Dorothy Adams, and -- of course --Pierre Watkin. George Reeves shows up as an injured messenger and is good, but he looks so different that I didn't even think this was the same actor who would play Superman a few years later. DeMille himself does the pompous narration that opens the film.

Verdict: Wait -- and wait -- for that great temple sequence! **3/4. 


Daniel Massey, Julie Andrews, Richard Crenna
STAR! (1968). Director: Robert Wise.

It must have seemed like a good idea back in the sixties. Let's take the director of the mega hit The Sound of Music, Robert Wise, and team him up with Julie Andrews, the star of not only that film but of Mary Poppins. This was the period of big, long "road show" movie musicals, and everyone must have figured Star! would be one of the biggest and most successful of them all. Boy, were they wrong! Let's get one thing straight at the start. Star! didn't fail because tastes had changed (even if they had); it failed because it was bad.

"Poor Jenny" from Lady in the Dark
Even if The Sound of Music hadn't been based on a hit musical, it had a compelling story line. Star! is not based on anything but the life of Gertrude Lawrence, best known to those of us today as the star, with Yul Brynner, of the wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical The King and I. She had only a few film appearances, and while she was well-known in theatrical circles, she was perhaps not quite a household name. So Star! was already lacking built-in pre-appeal. Then there was the fact that the only thing Lawrence and Andrews had in common is that they were British; Andrews simply wasn't able to successfully approximate the real Gertrude Lawrence. The sketches and songs early in the picture that are meant to be funny fall completely flat because Andrews, despite her talent, is no Lucille Ball  -- nor Lawrence. Andrews makes a good try at coming off like a tempestuous and difficult diva (which is how the film tries to portray Lawrence ) but she just can't get that far away from Maria Von Trapp.

Spending spree at Cartier's 
Star! provides some basic facts of Lawrence's life, although it fictionalizes and exaggerates a lot and combines two suitors, a banker and a small-time producer, into one character (Richard Crenna). Her other suitors include a military captain (Michael Craig), another actor named Charles (Robert Reed), a show biz type briefly essayed by Anthony Eisley, and a husband named Jack (John Collin), who is nothing much like Lawrence's actual first husband. Her closest relationship is probably with Noel Coward, played herein by a de-sexualized Daniel Massey. (The production saved money no doubt by casting male actors who couldn't command large fees.) The film also details her troubles with debts and taxes that nearly landed her in jail, and one of the best scenes has her dramatically declaiming before a a judge (Murray Matheson of Wall of Noise) in bankruptcy court. Lawrence spent much more than she earned, thinking nothing of, say, dropping into Cartier's to buy whatever she fancied.

"He Never Said He Loved Me"
There are several production numbers in the film, staged by actor-choreographer Michael Kidd [It's Always Fair Weather], but most of them are unmemorable, campy, too-weird, or all three. The "Poor Jenny" number from Lady in the Dark is at least lively, but also staged in a way that is more stupid than inventive. There is a silly number set in a Limehouse brothel that could have used more dancing. The one production number I enjoyed, very well performed by Andrews, was one in which she appears to be a harem girl singing about how her doctor loves all of her separate parts but "He Never Said he Loved Me." It has the whimsy that the rest of the film is lacking. At another point Andrews sings a simple love song on a bare stage and nails it beautifully.

The movie makes the mistake of proceeding as a documentary of Lawrence's life which the lady herself is watching and commenting on. Although this is a widescreen picture, about half the movie uses about only a third of the screen to reproduce black and white newsreels. It's a dumb and pointless approach. But then the whole project was ultimately pointless, laying an egg at the box office, almost killing off Andrews' career, incurring the wrath of bored critics, and doing little to revive interest in the real Gertrude Lawrence, considered one of the greatest theatrical talents of the 20th century -- more's the pity. The movie never even mentions her appearance in the film version of The Glass Menagerienor --shockingly -- her triumph in The King and I. 

Verdict: Ten good minutes out of three hours (!) is not enough to save this movie. **. 


Mary Woronov
SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (aka Deathhouse aka Night of the Dark Full Moon/1972.) Director: Theodore Gershuny.

On Christmas Eve in 1950 in the small town of Arlington, Massachusetts, a man named Wilfred Butler (Philip Bruns) is burned to death. Twenty years later his grandson Jeffrey (James Patterson) wants to sell the house and uses a lawyer named Carter (Patrick O'Neal) to work out the details with the town council. Unfortunately, a maniac has escaped from a nearby mental institution for the criminally insane, and Carter and his very pretty girlfriend, Ingrid (Astrid Hereen) become victims of a bloody (but poorly staged) ax attack. Diane Adams (Mary Woronov of Eating Raoul), the daughter of the mayor (Walter Abel), meets up with Jeffrey and the two run around trying to find out what the hell's happening when more people start disappearing. Before the bloody holiday evening is through, there will be more deaths and more than one revelation.

Patrick O'Neal
Silent Night, Bloody Night is by no means a great horror flick but it does have points of interest. For one thing there's the participation of O'Neal [The Mad Magician] and veteran actor Abel [Mirage], although it's no big surprise to find John Carradine in a low-budget fright flick like this. There are also interesting but not necessarily well-thought-out elements to the plot which mixes in insanity, incest (or was I hearing things?), small towns with a dread secret, and even a little bit of Edgar Allen Poe thrown in (sort of borrowing from one of his classic short stories). The film moves fast enough so that some of its illogical aspects are just glossed over. The twisting plot line reminds one a bit of Dario Argento's Italian shockers, but this movie hasn't got much style, although the flashback scenes are kind of creepy and effective.

Walter Abel as the mayor
Mary Woronov's performance is a bit off, but that may be because she seems over-dubbed at times. She was married to the movie's director at the time. James Patterson was a Tony award-winning actor who died of cancer the year this film was released. Theodore Gershuny directed a couple of more movies and wrote and directed episodes of some TV horror shows such as Tales from the Darkside and Monsters. As Woronov had once been a member of Andy Warhol's entourage, the flashback party sequence features such other Warhol regulars as Ondine and Candy Darling. Silent Night, Bloody Night has a fascinating premise, but the execution is too uneven for it to be the classic shocker it could have been.

Verdict: Interesting very early "slasher" film with an intriguing cast. **1/2. 


Katherine Herrington aka Kiva Lawrence
TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980). Director: David Hess.

It's Christmas break at the Calvin Finishing School for Girls, and some of those girls are up to mischief, inviting several boys to fly up in a private plane and join them for sexy hijinks. To this end they drug the den mother, Mrs. Jensen (Kiva Lawrence), so she'll have a good sleep. Unfortunately, a killer who often wears a Santa Claus outfit is on the loose, indiscriminately killing men and women alike with knives, axes, spear guns and the like.

Forrest Swanson and Judith Bridges
To All a Goodnight is clearly modeled on the original Friday the 13th, but whereas that film had atmosphere and some suspense, this has virtually none, despite the wonderful setting of an enormous estate. Director David Hess betrays no skill in crafting scary or dramatic sequences, and the murder scenes generally fall flat, although there's an interesting bit with a severed head being placed on a shower head. There are the usual stereotypes: the shy girl Nancy (Jennifer Runyon); the nerd, Alex (Forrest Swanson) who becomes attracted to her; the "personality plus" nympho, Lea (Judith Bridges, who arguably makes the best impression in the film)' etc. Trisha (Angela Bath), the British bad girl "slut", is also fun but is killed off too early in the flick.

Most of the cast members appeared in this film and nothing else. However, Jennifer Runyon went on to have an acting career, and after a twenty year gap during which she retired, started making low-budget horror films again. But the cast member with the most credits is "Dan Stryker," who was actually porn star Harry Reems, who plays a pilot and appears in two scenes. Not to be confused with The Dorm That Dripped Blood, which also has co-eds slaughtered during Christmas break. Hess had more credits as an actor than director.

Verdict: Watchable for slasher fans but not very good. **.

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron
GIGI (1958). Director: Vincente Minelli.

Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a young French girl (of about sixteen?) who is being raised by her grandmother, Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold). She is also taught lessons in deportment by her Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans), as it seems the girl is being groomed to be the courtesan to some wealthy man to avoid a life of comparative poverty. Gigi's mother is not in the picture.

The title tune: "What miracle has made you the way you are?
Gigi and her grandmother have been befriended by wealthy sugar manufacturer and playboy Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan), who thinks Gigi is just a charming child until ... Could Gaston be the man who will wind up keeping Gigi, but will the independent-minded Gigi even go for this arrangement? Gigi first came to life in a 1944 novella by the French writer Colette. It was made into a film in 1949 in France, and then turned into a 1951 Broadway play starring Audrey Hepburn. Lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe turned it into a musical film in 1958 (not bringing it to Broadway until 1973),

"I Remember It Well"
Leslie Caron made the perfect choice to play the lead role. (Hepburn was a little too old at that time and certainly not French.) One could argue that the storyline is slight, an inferior variation on Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, and there are other things you could quibble about, but it has a pleasant score and is extremely well-acted by Caron and everyone else. This, of course, includes Maurice Chevalier [Love Me Tonight], who plays Gaston's uncle, and gets to sing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" and "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore," as well as the amusing and sentimental number "I Remember It Well," a duet with Gingold. Arguably the two most memorable songs are the bouncy "The Night They Invented Champagne" and the soaring title tune sung by Gaston. Eva Gabor [The Mad Magician] and Jacques Bergerac [Twist of Fate] are fun as Gaston's lover Liane, and her skating instructor, with whom she has the audacity to have a romantic rendezvous.

Despite the satisfying ending are there perhaps undertones of misogyny behind the ever-so-polite and genteel goings-on? One doesn't think too much of the grandmother and aunt who expect Gigi to be, in some ways, little better than a prostitute. And Gaston, a wealthy man in Paris who sings about being eternally bored, is not very sympathetic. Rich and living in Paris -- and bored! What the f--k is his problem?  Like many early CinemaScope movies there is a scarcity of close-ups that might pull the viewer more into the action and the movie is only on occasion cinematic. And what on earth was Minelli thinking in the second scene at Maxim's where he allows an anxious extra -- a lady at the next table -- to repeatedly distract the audience's attention away from Gaston and Gigi? Still Gigi is entertaining and classy, and if you can ignore its hokier aspects you may find it charming. It won the Best Picture Oscar.

Verdict: A sugary confection. ***1/2. 


Doris Day and Louis Jourdan 
JULIE (1956). Written and directed by Andrew L. Stone.

Julie Benton (Doris Day) is married to her second husband, Lyle (Louis Jourdan), a famous concert pianist. However, Lyle is not only pathologically jealous, but Julie comes to realize that he may have murdered her first husband, who was supposedly a suicide. Julie seeks help from old friend Cliff Henderson (Barry Sullivan), as well as the police, but their hands are tied. She is convinced that Lyle is going to kill her as he promised ...

Doris Day and Barry Sullivan 
Julie is unusual in that the movie seems to begin in the middle of the story. More often pictures of wives with sinister husbands show the courtship, wedding, and early days of the marriage until it starts going south, but Julie gets off with a bang: our girl rushes off after Lyle has caused an off-screen scene at a gathering. This is followed by a well-done and exciting sequence in which Lyle and Julie drive off and Lyle nearly causes the car they're in to crash as it goes crazily careening down a coastal highway.

Day is in control!
The often under-rated Doris Day gives a very vivid and convincing performance as the tormented and frightened heroine, who finds herself in a terrifying position faced by many women whose husbands and boyfriends refuse to let them go and are psychopathic to boot. Jourdan may underplay too much, but he's effective enough as Lyle, and Sullivan is more than solid as the concerned Henderson. The movie's climax, in which stewardess Day winds up piloting an airliner, may seem absurd (although it actually plays out convincingly), but it's generally tense and very well acted by all. One could argue, however, that it might have been better if the wife vs psychopath scenario had played out in a more intimate manner.

Julie is well-directed by Andrew L. Stone, who keeps things moving so the audience won't ask too many questions, and Leith Stevens' [The Bigamist] score is effective backup to the proceedings. Frank Lovejoy (a cop), Ann Robinson (another stewardess on the plane), Jack Kelly ( a co-pilot) and Barney Phillips (a doctor on the flight), among others, are good in supporting parts. Aline Towne, Pamela Duncan, and Mae Marsh appear in smaller roles. Four years later Day played another terrified spouse in the equally entertaining Midnight Lace. Stone also directed the creditable Steel Trap.

Verdict: Doris in the cockpit! ***.


THE MUSICAL WORLDS OF LERNER AND LOEWE. Gene Lees. University of Nebraska Press; 2005.

Lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe combined their talents to come up with such memorable shows and films as Paint Your Wagon, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Gigi, which was written for the screen before becoming a Broadway show many years later. Lerner also did the screenplays for An American in Paris and Royal Wedding (he also contributed lyrics to Burton Lane's music), in addition to his screenplays for the often mediocre film versions of the Broadway shows. Lerner's other collaborators included the aforementioned Lane [On a Clear Day You Can See Forever] and Charles Strouse, resulting in Dance a Little Closer, which, unfortunately, opened and closed on the same night. If you're expecting a dry recitation of the credits of the two gentlemen, you'll be pleasantly surprised. because this book is a dishy, intensely readable, even suspenseful look at the work and often messy private lives of these two musical giants. Loewe had only one marriage and divorce, but after his retirement spent his days with a variety of young women, while Lerner was married and divorced over and over again. Lerner became one of the patients of a Dr. Feelgood who gave him injections that negatively affected his health, work and thought processes. Such composers as Richard Rodgers  had to throw up their hands waiting impatiently for Lerner to deliver material, although Lerner managed to complete one work with Leonard Bernstein, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Frederick "Fritz" Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner
The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe goes behind the scenes, often in great detail, exposing the struggles to get Rex Harrison to deliver -- which he eventually did -- for My Fair Lady, the battles over Camelot, and the disastrous making of the godawful film version of Paint Your Wagon, among other highlights. Lerner's eight marriages are scrutinized, including his union to the only ex-wife he hated and wouldn't even name in his memoirs, Micheline, and his apparently very happy marriage to the much-younger and talented Liz Robertson, who starred in the ill-fated Dance a Little Closer and was with him until his death. (While Lees provides backstage info on that production, I do wish he had spent more time discussing the inclusion of the gay male couple who want to get married -- decades before marriage equality -- making Dance a Little Closer ahead of its time in that regard at least. This situation gets no less than three different song numbers, but Lees dismisses the "homosexual airline employees who want to get married" -- along with all of the other characters it must be noted --  as being unlikable.)  Lees makes the point that Lerner, being born into a wealthy family, had no true understanding of people from the lower classes. He also correctly surmises that, sadly, the days of Lerner and Loewe (the latter with his rich Viennese-influenced scores) are over, with Broadway now given over to pop and rock musicals and Disney movie adaptations, more's the pity. Some of  Lees' opinions can be surprising, especially when he states that Paint Your Wagon has only one memorable song, "They Call the Wind Mariah," (ignoring "Wand'rin Star" and others, although, oddly he does mention the beautiful "Another Autumn" later on in the book).

Verdict: A must-read for Broadway, music, and film fans. ***1/2. 


Olivia de Havilland is mad as hell over Feud

If you've wondered why the TV series Feud: Bette and Joan  -- the FX network show about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? -- is not yet on DVD or on Netflix, and why the episodes have been removed from Amazon Instant Video, it's probably because of Olivia de Havilland. You may have heard about how the now 103-year-old actress, living in Paris, feels she was defamed and misrepresented by the program, although I suspect the biggest problem is that they never sought her input and she, therefore, felt left out. Her lawsuits against the program have certainly helped keep her name in the public eye long after Crawford and Davis went to their graves. In any case, the suits were tossed out by the California Court of Appeals and the State Supreme Court, so now she is taking her case to the United States Supreme Court. We'll see. An interesting point is that de Havilland was not even in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but she did co-star with Davis in the follow-up, Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, replacing a "sick" Crawford.

I've only seen the first episode of the series -- and thanks to de Havilland I may not see the rest of it for quite a long while -- but I have to admit that Catherine Zeta-Jones did not remind me in any way, shape or form of Olivia de Havilland. And I can't see de Havilland dissing her sister Joan Fontaine in public, no matter what she thought of her privately. Yet nothing I've heard about what happens in the series actually seems to be "defaming" de Havilland, and the problem with her suit is that she is, after all, a public figure. Still, FX and Ryan Murphy, who produced the series, should have gotten her permission or simply not have depicted de Havilland at all, and I've no doubt they wish they had just left her out of the whole show. People are afraid that this lawsuit could have a chilling effect on cinematic and television portrayals of living people (you can't libel the dead), but filmmakers also have to be responsible and accurate in their depictions. However, one could argue that this is much ado about nothing -- that is, nothing but one aging actress' ego. It should be interesting to see how -- and if -- this case develops.

UPDATE (1/7/2019). The Supreme Court turned down de Havilland's appeal to revive her lawsuit against FX. 


Louis Hayward
THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY (1956).  Director: Noel Langley.

Morey Bernstein (Louis Hayward) becomes fascinated by the practice of hypnotism. First he delves into the life and work of alleged "psychic" Edgar Cayce, then practises his hypnotism on a neighbor, Ruth Simmons (Teresa Wright). During one of their sessions, when Morey regresses Ruth back and farther back in time, he apparently discovers that she had a former life as an Irish woman named Bridey Murphy. Morey and his publisher try to find out what the facts are, and if Bridey even existed, while Ruth gives up more details of the woman's life, death, and after-life under hypnosis.

Hayward with Teresa Wright
The Search for Bridey Murphy was based on a popular non-fiction book of the same name, and the author, of course, was Morey Bernstein. After the book's publication it developed that there were all sorts of holes in Ruth's story (Ruth was actually a woman named Virginia Tighe), and eventually it was discovered that Bridey Murphy was actually the name of a woman who lived across from Virginia when she was a child. Having more or less been proven that the whole reincarnation story was so much b.s. -- Cayce was similarly discredited in later years --  the film proceeds almost like a documentary, and ends with Morey/Hayward admitting that reincarnation has not been proven, certainly not in this case. However, Hayward tells the audience that the most important thing they can take with them is that hypnotism is real and that it can offer genuine help to people in need.

Wright with Kenneth Tobey
So while The Search for Bridey Murphy can't be taken as a true tale of past lives, it is still a surprisingly entertaining picture, and the credit has to go almost entirely to the excellent performances of Louis Hayward and Teresa Wright. The scenes when Ruth tells of what the after-life, a kind of purgatory, is like are interesting if for no other reason that it's about time that someone in a movie asks a "dead" person exactly what things are like on the "other side." There is also an excellent and tense scene when a near-panicked Morey has trouble bringing Ruth out of her trance, afraid she may remain as "Murphy" forever. The two leads have good support from Nancy Gates [World Without End] as Morey's wife; Kenneth Tobey as Ruth's husband; and Richard Anderson as Dr. Deering. Other movies with the theme of reincarnation include I've Lived Before and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.

Verdict: Despite the basic phoniness of the whole premise, this is more absorbing than you might imagine. Two talented leads help a lot. ***. 


Reed Hadley
RACKET SQUAD (1951 - 1953).

"There are people who can slap you on the back with one hand and pick your pocket with the other. And it could happen to you." -- John Braddock.  

Racket Squad was a very popular half hour TV show from the fifties that exposed bunco operations and lasted three seasons and 98 episodes. Reed Hadley [Sunset Murder Case] played Captain John Braddock, who introduced and narrated the episodes, and often took part in the story lines as well, such as one episode when he's nearly blown up in a mine explosion. Racket Squad was a snappy series that educated the public about schemes that are still going on today (imagine what a modern version of the show could make of Internet rackets). The best episodes focused not just on clever and occasionally diabolical schemes but the characters that got embroiled in them, including the criminals and the often gullible and sometimes greedy victims.

Hillary Brooke in Lady Luck
Among the most memorable episodes: "A Place for Grandma," with Mabel Paige as an elderly woman taken advantage of by the nasty woman who runs a boarding house; "The Case of Two Little Country Girls," which details an amazing scheme to rip off a hotel of thousands of dollars;  "The Christmas Caper," in which a kind man (Lloyd Corrigan) is exploited by people running a crooked charity for children; "The Family Tree," with Hugh Beaumont as a phony genealogist trying to scam Frances Bavier; "Miracle Mud," in which a phony health farm scheme is engineered by an unlikely suspect; "Sting of Fate," in which a couple scams a hotel with a fake ankle injury; "The Longshot," featuring a stupid old gambling woman with a fake Irish Sweepstakes ticket; "The Case of the Expensive Tumble," in which a high school boy is victimized by a gang who stage phony accidents and the resulting insurance fraud; "Lady Luck," with Hillary Brooke [Heatwave] as a woman who just can't stop cheating at cards; and "Pick a Number," with Byron Foulger playing a clearinghouse accountant who is innocently pulled into a dangerous scheme plotted by Edgar Barrier.

Garner and Gleason in His Brother's Keeper
Of the episodes I've seen, the most outstanding are "The Soft Touch," in which con artists, thinking the others are pigeons, try to out-con each other at a hotel, proving -- as Hadley puts it -- that anyone can be taken; and the moving "His Brother's Keeper" in which James Gleason [Spring Reunion] expertly plays an old bum who bonds with a boy (Don Garner) when both are forced into a phony begging racket in this grim tale of the exploitation of the homeless.  

Reed Hadley -- tough but compassionate, firm but fair -- makes the perfect lead for the show. After Racket Squad ended its run the unconventionally handsome actor sort of switched sides and became The Public Defender. 

Verdict: Nifty old crime show is worth a watch. ***.


Freeman and Pitt
SE7EN (aka Seven/1995). Director: David Fincher.

An unknown serial killer is choosing victims based on the Seven Deadly Sins -- the first victim is an obese man who symbolizes gluttony -- and a veteran homicide detective, Somerset (Morgan Freeman),  is teamed with a young and immature partner, Mills (Brad Pitt of Troy), to investigate. Se7en, one of the big "serial killer" films of the 90's, still retains its punch. Gritty and well-acted -- Kevin Spacey [House of Cards], whatever you think of him,  is outstanding in a supporting role -- Se7en also has an effective score by Howard Shore. The characters in this are better developed than in the average slasher film, although Gwyneth Paltrow [Iron Man] has a relatively thankless role as Pitt's wife. She does, however, figure in a gut-wrenching finale. Sinister and obsessive serial killers later became the province of such TV shows as CSI and Criminal Minds. David Fincher also directed the excellent Alien 3, although he apparently disavowed it later on.

Verdict: Fast-moving and suspenseful. ***




Thursday, December 6, 2018


Martine Carol and Anton Walbrook in the Bavarian Royal palace
LOLA MONTES (1955). Director: Max Ophuls. This is the remastered and completely restored version as it was first made by Max Ophuls.

"When such a woman spends more than five minutes with a man, that's enough to start rumors."

In her later years, the still attractive dancer and notorious lady Lola Montes (Martine Carol), is exhibited as an attraction in a circus, with the various acts presenting tableaus relating to her scandalous life. Now and then she thinks back to things that happened in her past: her affair with Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg); her early marriage to Lt. James (Ivan Desny of Anastasia), who was her late father's adjutant; and her becoming the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook of Gaslight), a situation which nearly drives the whole country into a civil war before she flees in a coach with a handsome young student (Oskar Werner). Her infamous life and behavior have now literally turned her into a sideshow freak.

Martine Carol and Peter Ustinov
Lola Montes was based on a novel which was a fictionalized version of the life story of the real "Lola Montes," the stage name of the Irish-born dancer and entertainer Eliza Gilbert. Frankly Gilbert's fascinating life should have made a much more interesting picture than Max Ophuls has provided. After its release, the picture was trimmed of about half an hour with the narrative being presented in chronological order. Restoring the movie to its original shape hasn't done it much good, as it never builds up any suspense, introduces characters only to have them disappear a moment later, and has too many of those long and rather boring circus sequences. It doesn't help that in the lead role Martine Carol gives a performance that can only be described as adequate. The other actors make a better impression, especially Walbrook as King Ludwig, and Oskar Werner as the student, who catches Lola's eye but is seen on screen all too briefly.

Martine Carol

Lola Montes is dramatically bankrupt, with one-dimensional characters that never really engage the attention or sympathies of the audience. For much of the movie cinematographer Christian Matras seems to have trouble filling the CinemaScope frame with attractive compositions or even covering the action in a compelling or professional fashion. Faces often seem to be photographed through screens or lattices. For some reason there is s big improvement in the scenes that take place in Bavaria, which are striking. However, most of the settings and the lighting schemes throughout the movie are eye-appealing.

Martine Carol and Oskar Werner
One suspects that the main reason for the circus framing device was that it was cheaper to show Lola "carried off by Cossacks" by using clowns and the like in a theatrical setting than to use scores of men on horseback in a real location. Peter Ustinov has the thankless role of the circus' master of ceremonies. Georges Auric's [Dead of Night] score is occasionally powerful but it can't do enough to save the movie. Lola Montes has its admirers, but despite my admiration for many foreign films, I suspect this would have been much better had it been made in Hollywood. (Speaking of Hollywood, Ophul's best film may well be Letter from an Unknown Woman.) Today Martine Carol is pretty much forgotten (except for this film's enthusiasts) but she amassed fifty credits before dying in her forties and her real life had its own share of scandals.

Verdict: The material was certainly there for a great movie, but this is not the film it should have been. **1/4. 


Candace Hilligoss
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962). Director: Herk Harvey.

Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is one of three young women whose car goes over a bridge and sinks deep into a river, but she is the only one who survives. Mary is a blunt, direct person whose reaction to the tragedy is to have no reaction at all. Traveling to a new town, she gets a room in a boarding house and a new job as church organist. But everywhere she goes Mary is followed by a gaunt, creepy fellow (played by director Harvey), and on other occasions no one can see or hear her, as if she has stepped out of existence. She becomes obsessed by the idea that she will learn the truth about herself at a huge abandoned dance hall near the water. But she may have preferred that she remained in blissful ignorance.

Stan Levitt and Candace Hilligoss
The low-budget but creatively filmed Carnival of Souls was undoubtedly influenced by the 1960 Twilight Zone episode "The Hitch-hiker," or by its source, Lucille Fletcher's famous radio play. But this variation on a theme has its own pleasures, not the least of which is the location filming, especially in that real abandoned dance hall on the beach. The performances are better than you might expect in a 99 cent item, although Hilligoss -- who clearly felt she was superior to the material -- comes off like a talented amateur who needs some seasoning. In fact the film itself seems in many ways like an admirable but amateur movie that might have amounted to much more (especially given those locations) had a more experienced director been at the helm --most of Harvey's films were documentaries -- but for what it is, Carnival of Souls is not bad.

Dance of the Dead
Some of the other cast members make a positive impression. Sidney Berger is excellent as the slimy John Linden, who lives in the boarding house with Mary and has an obvious and vulgar yen for her. Frances Feist, who plays the landlady and appeared on Broadway in Harvey, gets across her general uneasiness when in the presence of Mary, and there is also some good work from Art Ellison as a sympathetic minister and Stan Levitt as a doctor who tries to help Mary deal with her problems. Carnival of Souls has silly aspects -- with the creepy man turning up all over the place for an almost comical effect, and its quasi-religious aspects aren't well-handled --  but it is also undeniably eerie and compelling. The sequences when no one can see or hear Mary and she feels as if she has simply ceased to exist are disturbing, as is the not unexpected denouement. Maurice Prather's cinematography is a decided asset; most of his work was on documentaries. Sidney Berger was an acting coach; his only other film credit was a bit in the 1999 remake.

Verdict: Highly interesting low-budget spook fest. ***. 


MARY MARTIN, BROADWAY LEGEND. Ronald L. Davis. University of Oklahoma Press; 2008.

Biographer Davis was hampered by his obvious contempt for his subject when he wrote a book on Van Johnson, but it could be argued that he almost goes to the opposite extreme with this book on the much-admired Broadway star of South Pacific, Peter Pan, and The Sound of Music, among others. A fan-boy for Martin, Davis got to know her pretty well, and seems loathe to say anything remotely negative about her. So while this is hardly an in-depth look at the woman's life and career, it is still a pleasant and readable examination of her life on stage, and to a lesser extent, in the movies and on television. Martin was married to manager Richard Halliday for many years, and aside from a daughter (son Larry Hagman was from Martin's short-lived first marriage) theirs seems to have been a mostly sexless union. There are indications that, despite her enormous talent, Martin wasn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and as well simply didn't want to deal with her husband's frequent drunkenness, during which he could be vicious and impossible Generally, this is still a solid bio. A later book on Martin was Some Enchanted Evenings.

Verdict: Decent bio of Martin for appreciative fans. ***. 


Robert Milli, Candace Hilligoss, and Hugh Franklin 
THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (1964). Produced, written and directed by Del Tenney.

In New England in 1892, old Mr. Sinclair passes away and his family learns that his will has strange provisions, mostly having to do with his terror of being buried alive. If these provisions aren't carried out, there will be dire consequences, with family members dying according to their greatest fears. Oddly, the first person to die is the maid, Letty (Linda Donovan), who is beheaded. You would think knowing that someone is running around cutting the heads off of the staff would be enough to make everyone move out of the old house, but no, these people almost act as if it's, like, no big problem. Then there are more murders, with one person being dragged behind a horse, another burned to death in her bedroom, and so on ... Is old Mr. Sinclair really dead or not?

Helen Waren and Roy Scheider
The Curse of the Living Corpse has an interesting cast, many of whom came from the theater. Robert Milli, who gets right into the 19th century tone of the piece as vain Bruce Sinclair, worked with Richard Burton in Hamlet around the same time.  Roy Scheider [Sorcerer] is acceptable as drunken Philip Sinclair, and later gained fame when he starred in Jaws, although one wouldn't have imagined he was necessarily destined for great things. Margot Hartman, who plays Philip's wife, Vivian, and is quite good, was married to the writer and director of the film, Del Tenney. One of the best performances in the film is given by Helen Waren, who plays the widow Abigail in very convincing fashion. Hugh Franklin is notable as family lawyer Benson, as is Jane Bruce as the cook and housekeeper. George Cotton makes an amusing Constable Winters, and Candace Hilligoss pops in from her more famous feature, Carnival of Souls, to make a modest contribution in a supporting role.

Roy Scheider in a dramatic moment
The Curse of the Living Corpse doesn't suffer from any great logic, but it it is enthusiastically presented and Tenney directs some of the sequences with a small degree of flair. The picture has atmosphere as well, and with all its scenes of a cloaked figure sneaking about reminds one of silent flicks like The Cat and the Canary or later films such as The Bat.  One suspects that no one took the film very seriously, but it manages to be modestly entertaining in spite of it. This was released on a double-bill with Tenney's rock horror "classic," The Horror of Party Beach.

Verdict: Watch out for that head on a platter! **1/2. 


Mike Connors
TIGHTROPE (1959). Half-hour television crime drama. One season. 37 episodes.

In this taut and memorable crime series, Mike Connors [Day the World Ended] stars as a man known only as Nick, an undercover police officer who can have few friends and only furtive romances as he goes from city to city establishing phony identities so he can infiltrate the mob in one dangerous assignment after another. As part of his cover, Nick often has to treat innocent people pretty badly, but I imagine he figures the ends justify the means. These episodes were very tightly-plotted and fast-paced and always put Nick into intriguing and suspenseful situations.

Gangsters Daughter with Leslie Parrish
Among the more memorable episodes: "Cracking Point" features Richard Jaeckel [The Dark] as a man blackmailed into robbing a bank, with Simon Oakland as guest-star; "Two Private Eyes" features two sleazy gumshoes who get the business when they look for a missing wife; "Cold Ice" is a mini-suspense masterpiece about the cutting of a perfect stolen diamond; "The Model and the Mobster" has Nick taking on a monstrous hoodlum very well-played by Bruce Gordon; Mike Mazurki scores in " "Long Odds," wherein Nick tries to find out which mob boss ordered a hit on a cop; Margaret Field and Jimmy Lydon guest-star in "Brave Pigeon," in which a hit is put on an innocent man who is able to identify a certain criminal; "The Gangster's Daughter" presents the cultured daughter (Leslie Parrish of The Money Jungle) of a wealthy mobster (Barton MacLane) with an overly ambitious nephew; "Bullets and Ballet" has Nick investigating why a top hood has come to town, with the excellent Doris Singleton (Carolyn Appleby on I Love Lucy) as a guest-star. Arguably the best episode of the series is "Man in the Middle" with Nick coming between a newly-released mob boss (Marc Lawrence) who's in deadly conflict with a younger rival (Gerald Mohr). Mike Connors went on to greater success with his hit P.I. show Mannix, which lasted several seasons.

Verdict: This show rarely dips below a "B+" level in quality and there are a lot of "A" episodes as well. ***. 


The alien goes after a pitiful victim
SPECIES (1995). Director: Roger Donaldson.

It appears that an intelligent alien species has been found and has been combined with human DNA, resulting in a hybrid that looks like a sweet young lady but is actually a very dangerous animal. Apparently scientists never realized that they were sent the alien DNA as part of the vanguard of an invasion force. The scientists, who have kept the "girl" -- Sil -- imprisoned in a sterile room-like cage for several years, decide to kill her, but she manages to break out. She metamorphoses into a beautiful adult female, then repeatedly tries to mate with -- but usually kills -- adult males and others who get in her way, such as one poor bar patron who has her spine pulled out in a ladies room. A team headed by Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley) and which includes black ops agent Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen of Kill Me Again), Dr. Parker (Marg Helgenberger of Mr. Brooks), and Dr. Arden (Alfred Molina), go out to try and find and trap Sil (Natasha Henstridge). In her mutated form Sil appears to be some kind of biomechanical creature a la Alien, which is not surprising as she was also designed by H. R. Giger. Species is fast-paced and entertaining, but it is also illogical and kind of schlocky, with few humanistic touches and acting that is okay but nothing more. One may be surprised by the  presence of Kingsley [A Sound of Thunder] and Molina [The Lodger] in this picture, but they can do little to improve it. Followed by several sequels. Roger Donaldson also directed The Bounty.

Verdict: Fun enough in a limited way, but nothing really special. **1/2.  


Siigourney Weaver
COPYCAT (1995). Director: Jon Amiel.

Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver), a psychologist who specializes in serial killers, is attacked in a restroom after one of her lectures and nearly killed. Her assailant is Daryll Lee Cullum (Harry Connick, Jr.), who is arrested, but Helen turns into an agoraphobic who is unable to leave her home. In spite of this she assists two detectives -- Monahan (Holly Hunter) and Reuben (Dermot Mulroney) -- in tracking down a new serial killer, Peter (William McNamara), who is copying the crimes of famous monsters such as Son of Son, Jeffrey Dahmer and others. But will Helen survive when the killer comes after her with a plan to fatally reenact her near-death experience in the college restroom?

William McNamara
Copycat could be picked apart for plot holes and illogical moments but it improves as it goes along, building genuine suspense, despite the fact that the killer is revealed early on. Weaver [Prayers for Bobby] is quite good, and although Holly Hunter [The Burning] would hardly be my first choice for playing a homicide detective, she generally acquits herself nicely as well. Mulroney is perfect as her cocky and ill-fated partner; Connick is positively terrific as the slimy and gross Cullum; and McNamara [Dario Argento's Opera] certainly makes a positive impression as the diabolical and sadistic Peter. One of the best sequences in the film has to do with the unexpected death of a major character, and there is an admirable attempt to flesh out these characters as well. This was one of the big 90's films about serial killers that led to such programs as Criminal Minds. However, those programs look into the lives of the victims a lot more than this picture does.

Verdict: Flashy and slick and quite entertaining. ***.