Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Thursday, January 31, 2019
Thursday, January 24, 2019
|Ann Jillian, Rosalind Russell, Karl Malden|
Rose Hovick (Rosalind Russell of Auntie Mame) is the stage mother to end all stage mothers, and she pushes her daughters Louise and June into the theater whether they want to go or not. Baby June* (Morgan Brittany and Ann Jillian) fears that her mother will never let her grow up, and Louise (Diane Pace and Natalie Wood), forced to dress like a boy, fears that she has no talent and will never please her mother. Acting as their manager is Herbie Sommers (Karl Malden of Time Limit), who wants to marry Rose and tries to keep her wilder aspects in check. When circumstances remove June from the act, Rose sets her sights on Louise, who will wind up attaining stardom in a way no one would ever have anticipated.
|Paul Wallace as "Tulsa" with Natalie Wood|
|"You Gotta Get a Gimmick." Bruce, Dane and Arlen|
|Gypsy Rose Lee struts her stuff|
* "Baby June" grew up to become the successful actress June Havoc (not to be confused with June Haver, who married Fred MacMurray). She and her sister were estranged for many years, mostly over Gypsy, even though her depiction was not that negative. Her latter-day achievements after the events of Gypsy were completely eliminated of course. Her last theatrical film appearance was in Can't Stop the Music.
Verdict: Delightful! ***1/2.
|Nutty as a fruitcake: Sally Field|
Sybil (Sally Field) is a young substitute teacher in New York City who tries to hide the fact that she has blank spots in her memory and often wakes up days or even months later with no idea of what she's been doing. After an accident, she meets a sympathetic psychiatrist named Dr. Wilbur (Joanne Woodward), who discovers that Sybil has several different personalities. Using hypnosis and interviewing people from her patient's past, Wilbur determines to discover what happened in Sybil's childhood that made her this way, but Sybil may not like the answers.
|Gullible as a guppie: Joanne Woodward|
|Be a clown: Brad Davis and Sally Field|
Verdict: Field is impressive, but this is a turgid and unconvincing mini-series. **.
This superb biography takes a thorough, exhaustive look at the life and career of Rex Harrison, highlighting his enormous talent and good points while unsparingly detailing his less admirable traits, which were many. Walker covers Harrison's early British films and stage work, his coming to America to appear in Anna and the King of Siam with Irene Dunne, his triumph in both the Broadway and movie versions of My Fair Lady, and his many marriages to the likes of Collette Thomas, Elizabeth Rees, Lilli Palmer, and Rachel Roberts, among others. Roberts was a particular handful, an alcoholic whose behavior in public was often disgusting, and who even after her divorce from Harrison and his subsequent remarriage never stopped trying to get him back. Then there are the numerous affairs, the most publicized of which were with Carole Landis (who committed suicide over him) and Kay Kendall [Les Girls] , whom Harrison married, divorcing Palmer, after learning Kendall had only a couple of years to live. Walker's biography maintains a balance between Harrison's career and personal life, analyzing his performances, and is bolstered by many interviews and comments from friends and co-workers.
Verdict: A damned good show! ****.
Apparently without a ghostwriter, Lilli Palmer [Body and Soul] writes affectingly of her life and a bit of her career and writes so well that she proves as talented an author as she was an actress. Palmer tells of growing up a Jew in Berlin, leaving the country for France and then England when Hitler reared his ugly head, her early struggles to have a career as an actress and winding up as part of a singing act in sleazy nightclubs, her work in theater and films, and her marriage to Rex Harrison. From an insider's pov, Palmer tells of the effect Harrison's affair with Carole Landis [Out of the Blue], a suicide, had on her and her husband's lives -- they essentially had to flee Hollywood for New York until My Fair Lady changed everything -- as well as the major impact of his affair with co-star Kay Kendall [Les Girls] , whom Harrison had to take care of as she was dying, a fact that was kept from her. It was difficult for Palmer to continue co-starring with Rex Harrison in "Bell, Book and Candle" in London after he fell in love with Kendall, but the producer wouldn't let her out of her contract. She lied and told Harrison that she would return to him after Kendall's death, but told him the truth afterward. Palmer then had a happier marriage to Argentinian actor and author Carlos Thompson [Raw Wind in Eden]. Palmer provides interesting portraits of such folk as co-stars Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and close friend Laurence Olivier, as well as of Noel Coward, Greta Garbo, Helen Keller, and the malicious Hedda Hopper, but the best sections relate her impressions as anti-Semitic feelings grew in Germany, and her reactions when she returned to make films in her homeland many years later, wondering which of her co-workers were Nazis and which weren't.
Palmer goes behind the scenes of a couple of her movies, but most of her film work is only mentioned in passing. (She doesn't even mention stuff like The House That Screamed.) Interestingly, second husband Thompson did not want her appearing on the New York stage because, as she puts it, "I couldn't possibly ask him to sit around and twiddle his thumbs for a whole year ... " this coming not long after Thompson spent two years away from Palmer researching a book! Sadly, Palmer died of cancer about ten years after this book was finished, and Thompson committed suicide four years later.
Verdict: Absorbing and very well-written memoir. ***1/2.
|Audry Totter and Robert Montgomery's reflection|
Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) submits a short mystery story based on truth to a pulp magazine and is invited in to meet the editor, a woman named Adrienne (Audrey Totter). She is more interested in hiring Marlowe to look for her boss, Derace Kingsby's (Leon Ames), wife, who has supposedly run off with a man named Chris (Dick Simmons of Man with the Steel Whip). This leads into a series of murders and a kind of strange affair between Marlowe and Adrienne, whom the private eye doesn't quite trust. Then he starts tripping over bodies ...
|Man in the mirror: Marlowe gets first aid|
|Audrey Totter and Leon Ames|
One has to pay careful attention while watching this picture, because at the end you still may not be certain who did what to whom and why. Raymond Chandler's source novel undoubtedly spelled it out in more detail. In any case, the movie is suspenseful, and there's at least one creepy scene when Marlowe searches inside a bathroom.
Verdict: Watch for Totter if nothing else. **3/4.
|Ricardo Cortez and Mary Astor|
Jewel robberies have become such frequent occurrences in Paris that the board of the insurance firm Hayle's Ltd figures that post-war adventurers have banded together for the purposes of crime. At an auction for the famous Karenina Diamond necklace, the bidders include Odette (Mary Astor) and Pierre (Ricardo Cortez of The Big Shakedown) who wins the necklace and begins a romance with Odette. The action then switches to the Orient Express, where Odette has followed Pierre when he suddenly takes the train to Istanbul. There are other sinister characters, necklace switches and jewel robberies, and at least one murder on the Orient Express.
|Irving Pichel and Astor|
Verdict: Smooth, fun picture with good performances. ***.
|Loretta Young and Tyrone Power|
Vicky Benton (Loretta Young of The Accused) and her second husband Bob (Lyle Talbot of Jail Bait) are on vacation in Florida when they run into Vicky's first husband, Raoul (Tyrone Power), who is still in love with her. Vicky has nagging feelings of affection for Raoul as well, but tries to suppress them. Then Bob is called to New York on business and Vicky stays behind. From the very first frame you know whom Vicky will wind up with, I mean -- Tyrone Power vs Lyle Talbot? If only the audience had been spared sitting through the 80 minutes that it takes for the two leads to realize whom they really wanted to be with.
|Violet the raccoon goes a callin'|
Verdict: One honeymoon too many. *.
Thursday, January 17, 2019
This week Great Old Movies looks at the beautiful film star Hedy Lamarr (1914 - 2000), reviewing several of her movies as well as a biography written about her. We look at the film that first brought her to international attention, Ecstasy, and later films in which she did fine work, such as H. M. Pulham, Esq. and I Take This Woman. You can learn more of the biographical facts of the lady's life by reading the review of the book below.
Lamarr was often unfairly considered just a gorgeous manikin, but she could act, even if you might not have considered her for a role in, say, O'Neill or Williams. With the right part and director and sympathetic co-stars, she could often be quite adept and effective, and she could play romantic scenes with the best of them. A documentary of her life is entitled Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story and goes into her considerable scientific achievements (she was no dummy). Several of her films have already been reviewed on this blog -- just type in her name in the search bar on the above left and they will come up.
|Hedy Lamarr in her famous nude scene|
Eva (Hedy Kiesler, soon to be known as Hedy Lamarr) marries an older man named Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz) but he proves to be a cold fish. Eva returns to her father (Leopold Kramer) and sues her husband for divorce; Emile is heartbroken. One afternoon Eve takes a nude swim and runs after her horse -- still naked -- where she encounters a handsome engineer named Adam (Aribert Mog). The two fall in love, and an encounter between Adam and Emile leads to tragedy on more than one level.
|German hunk Aribert Mog|
|Lamarr and Mog|
Verdict: This Austrio-Czechoslovakian co-production was Hedy's fifth film and decidedly one of her most interesting and unusual. ***.
"Time wounds all heels." -- Marcesca.
Georgi Gregore (Hedy Lamarr) tries to throw herself off of an ocean liner due to an unhappy love affair, but she is saved by the compassionate Dr. Karl Decker (Spencer Tracy). Georgi is still dealing with her feelings for the married Phil Mayberry (Kent Taylor), when she gets involved with Karl -- who works at a clinic for low-income patients -- and marries him. But trouble begins when Karl joins a practice that caters to the wealthy, and Georgi runs into her ex-lover, Phil, once more. Can this marriage be saved?
|Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr|
I Take This Woman, alas, makes the mistake of trying to ape Frank Capra, throwing in a final scene that is sentimental in the wrong way and unconvincing. But the picture is still easy to take, Lamarr looks stunning, and the performances by both stars are quite memorable.
Verdict: Tracy and Lamarr make a better team than you might imagine. **3/4.
|Hedy Lamarr and Robert Young|
Harry Pulham (Robert Young), a successful businessman with a mansion, wife and children, thinks back on his life and remembers the woman he fell in love with but didn't marry twenty years earlier. The oddly named Marvin Myles (Hedy Lamarr) is another copy writer in a firm where the young Harry is employed, and the two gradually fall in love. But Marvin is too independent to want to be a proper Bostonian wife, and Harry eventually marries someone else. Thinking that his marriage to wife Kay (Ruth Hussey) has been a failure, he goes to see Marvin again ...
|Paging Marcus Welby? Robert Young|
Verdict: Interesting study of one man's life and loves. ***.
Advertising man Duke Crawford (Robert Cummings) is fed up with women after dealing with his ex-fiancee Michelle Bennett (Anna Sten), a cosmetics queen. Michelle insists upon acting as if the two were still engaged, and Duke desperately needs her to sign a contract. Hoping for a male client, Duke decides to do publicity for a shrink who's written a book, but Dr. J. O. Loring (Hedy Lamarr) turns out to be a woman -- and what a woman! Finding Duke nervous and excitable, Dr. Loring takes him on as a patient, which does not sit well with her boyfriend, Dr. Field (Robert Shayne). Which woman will Duke ultimately wind up with?
|Anna Sten and Hedy Lamarr|
Verdict: The actors try mightily to put this over but the material just isn't there. *1/2.
Peter Karczag (John Hodiak of Lifeboat) is an immigration officer assigned to Havana, where he pretends to be a man named Josef Gombush. Peter is hoping to get the goods on Palinov (George Macready), who illegally gets people out of Cuba. One of the hopefuls is Marianne Loress (Hedy Lamarr), who is desperate to get back to the United States. Things are complicated when Peter and Marianne meet and fall for one another. Palinov takes Marianne and others on a flight to Florida and Peter follows ...
|John Hodiak and Hedy Lamarr|
Verdict: You can hardly wait until it's over. *.
This excellent biography scrutinizes the life and career of one of the world's most beautiful women, Hedy Lamarr, who was an Austrian-born Jew and came to the U.S. before the outbreak of WW2. She caused a sensation with a nude scene in the German-language Ecstasy, then made her first movie in Hollywood with Charles Boyer as her leading man: Algiers. Lamarr may not have been an acting genius but she was talented, and gave some perfectly convincing performances in many of her movies, which included The Strange Woman, Samson and Delilah, Crossroads, and White Cargo wherein she famously played the sexy Tondelayo. As for her private life, she had six unsuccessful marriages which had an emotional and financial cost on her and her husbands, numerous boyfriends, and in her later years was immersed in several lawsuits -- in addition to her repeatedly claiming that her expensive jewelry had been stolen -- and more than one arrest for shoplifting. Without the "protection" of the studio system, Lamarr got involved in often disastrous foreign productions, and playing Joan of Arc in Irwin Allen's Story of Mankind did her no good whatsoever. She also got a reputation for being "difficult" at times. Her last film was The Female Animal in 1958, in which John Gavin was replaced by George Nader, who was a better actor. Lamarr got back in the spotlight in her later years when it was revealed that she and composer Georges Antheil had developed technology that eventually led into the creation of cell phones and the like. (For more on this, see the documentary Bombshell.) Lamarr had two natural children, and adopted one boy that she didn't have much to do with in later years. Lamarr was furious about the publication of her ghost-written autobiography, "Ecstasy and Me," failing to vet the book and discovering it portrayed her as a nymphomaniac who had sex with both men and woman. (Shearer states that no evidence of lesbian affairs has ever been uncovered, not that any sophisticated person would care.) Beautiful is a well-researched, very well-written biography that is understanding of its subject without glossing over any of her flaws. Shearer is also the author of the similarly worthwhile "Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life." "Beautiful" would make a good mini-series, if only there was a modern-day actress would could play Lamarr!
Verdict: Excellent bio! ****.
Thursday, January 10, 2019
|Lorraine Bracco and Ray Liotta|
As a boy Henry Hill (Christopher Serrone) admires the mobsters in the neighborhood who play by their own rules (unlike the "suckers") and goes to work for them. As an adult, Henry (Ray Liotta of The Son of No One) realizes he can only go so far because he is part Irish and not full Italian. In spite of this, he makes lots of money and marries a dead-common but feisty gal named Karen (Lorraine Bracco). Henry reports to Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) but his main pals and associates are Jimmy (Robert De Niro) and the psychotic Tommy DeVito (Oscar-winning Joe Pesci). Henry risks Paulie's wrath when he goes against his orders and gets into the drug trafficking business ...
|Robert De Niro|
Verdict: There really is no honor among thieves. ***.
|Jack Lemmon and Terry Thomas|
Confirmed bachelor Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon), the very successful writer-artist of a popular newspaper strip, Brash Brannigan -- Secret Agent, lives in a fabulous Manhattan townhouse with his devoted butler/houseman Charles (Terry-Thomas of The Vault of Horror). One night at a bachelor party for a friend, Stanley gets drunk and wakes up in the morning married to a stranger (Virna Lisi) who speaks only Italian and turns out to be the gal who jumped out of the cake. With the help of his lawyer Harold (Eddie Mayehoff of Off-Limits) and his wife, Edna (Claire Trevor of The Velvet Touch), Mrs. Ford begins taking over the house, the kitchen, and threatens to fly her mother in from Italy. When Charles quits in disgust, Stanley decides it's time to take action. But when he kills off Brash's wife in the comic strip and the real Mrs. Ford disappears, he finds himself in very hot water ...
|Jack Lemmon and Eddie Mayehoff|
|Mary Wickes, Lemmon, Claire Trevor|
Verdict: Women-hatred at its worst, but with a few chuckles and adept performances. **3/4.
This career study posing as a biography briefly looks at Young's early days, then documents the movies she made on her way up [Platinum Blonde; The Hatchet Man; Wife, Husband and Friend], before emerging as the major star of such films as Orson Welles' The Stranger and Rachel and the Stranger with William Holden. In her last days of movie stardom, she began to appear in such "B" movies as The Accused and Paula, before she accepted it was time to throw in the towel and flee for television. There she had the successful Loretta Young Show for several seasons, an anthology in which she played various parts with well-known co-stars. When she got tired of that she tried to reinvent herself as a sitcom star, but The New Loretta Young Show, in which she played a widow with several children, only lasted one season. Young had no desire to go the fright flick route a la Davis and Crawford, which is one reason why she is not an icon today. She did sign to star in the prime time reboot of Dark Shadows, but backed out (as did Joan Fontaine after her), with the role eventually going to Jean Simmons. Two late-in-life telefilms years later capped her career, but she spent most of her time devoted to her Catholic faith and in humanitarian works. Her first husband was the actor Grant Withers [Jungle Jim serial], and both of her sisters were also actors, Polly Ann Young and Sally Blane [She Had to Choose].
Frankly, most fans find more fun and fascination in the "bad girls" such as Davis, with Young -- if she's thought of at all today -- as the somewhat sanctimonious hypocrite who had a child out of wedlock with the married Clark Gable, then didn't tell her daughter the truth of her birth for many decades. At times Young almost seems demented in her piousness. The shame of it is that whatever you think of Young's character or private life, she was a very good actress and gave strong performances in many movies. This book, however, doesn't delve into her true character that much; there are few if any back stage anecdotes or interviews, and it's hard for the reader to get a true sense of just what the woman was like. On the other hand, author Dick does examine her career with thoroughness, even devoting a chapter to her radio appearances wherein she reprised her performances in some of her movies and took on other actress's movie roles as well.
Verdict: Superficial as biography, but worthwhile as career study with some biographical details. ***.
In 1948 Georgia, handsome and popular teen Buster Lane (Jan-Michael Vincent) is engaged to one of the high school's prettiest gals, Margie (Pamela Sue Martin). Margie, however, won't "put out," so Buster decides to try a date with the town tramp, a shy young lady named Billie Jo (Joan Goodfellow). Although Buster's primary interest in the girl is sex, he develops tender feelings for her, breaking off his engagement and defying the town's attitude towards this gal of easy virtue. Unfortunately, the two are headed down a tragic path ...
Verdict: Lots of possibilities in this, but it never really catches fire. **1/2.
Thrown out of his Hittite community for marrying a non-believer, Jim Schmidt (Douglas Barr) farms his land with his wife, Martha (Marin Jensen). After he is killed in a strange tractor accident, Martha is visited by two close friends, Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner), both of whom have unpleasant encounters with the pious Hittite leader (and Jim's father), Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine). But there are other forces leveled against the women that they may be unprepared to deal with ...
|A tarantula wants to make nice with Sharon Stone, who's having none of it|
|Marty gets religion: Ernest Borgnine|
Verdict: Silly and oddball in the wrong way. **.
|Bette Davis and Gene Raymond|
Commercial artist Helen Bauer (Bette Davis of Deception) doesn't like the idea of marriage even if her boyfriend is Don Peterson (Gene Raymond of Hit the Deck), the handsome head of a small advertising agency. Nevertheless, after some hesitation the two decide to get hitched, only Helen is convinced that this has spoiled things, only creating jealousy and hurt feelings. They decide to live separately and make dates, even with other people. Don dallies with Peggy (Kay Strozzi), who is married to a man who makes boilers, while Helen goes out with the oily Nick Malvyn (Monroe Owsley of The Keyhole). But will this arrangement really work in the long run?
|Bette Davis and Monroe Owsley|
|uncredited opera singer|
Verdict: Bette is always interesting; the picture less so. **.
"We need people who care about the one life as much as they do about the millions."
This picture is sort of a sequel to the last MI film Rogue Nation, as villains and supporting characters from that film are re-introduced. Frankly, the first half of this movie just seems like one long, somewhat confusing chase scene with so many characters and factions that you need a scorecard, but none of that really matters, because in the second half the film really gets going. The set-up has Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his Impossible Missions team attempting to disarm two nuclear bombs in India, but they not only have to find the bombs -- which are linked together in a non-physical sense-- but get the detonator from the bad guy so everything that needs to be done can be done at the precise instant required. Naturally there are all sorts of complications, with one creep trying to keep the team away from the bombs even as Ethan flies off in a helicopter after the man with the detonator. This leads into a copter battle in mid-air and a tense, exciting climax with the two opponents clashing high on top of a mountain. True, there is nothing here that hasn't been seen before, but it is nevertheless very well done.
|Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill|
|Alec Baldwin and Cruise|
Verdict: If you liked the other MI movies you'll probably enjoy this one but you'll also forget it before you've even left the theater. ***.