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

Thursday, February 28, 2019


Great Old Movies is making way this week for our monthly installment of our sister blog, B Movie Nightmare.

GOM will be back next week! 

Thursday, February 21, 2019


Peter Lawford and June Allyson
GOOD NEWS (1947). Director: Charles Walters.

Love is in the air at Tait University. Beef (Loren Tindall) is crazy about Babe (Joan McCracken), but she only has eyes for skinny Bobby (Ray McDonald). Connie (June Allyson) is smitten with football hero, Tommy (Peter Lawford), but he pangs for a new student, the pretentious, money-hungry, French (mis)quoting Pat (Patricia Marshall). Pat resists Tommy because she thinks the stuffy Peter Van Dyne III (Robert E. Strickland) has much more money. Considering who the stars of the picture are, it's no secret who will wind up with whom.

Patricia Marshall and Peter Lawford
Good News is a remake of a 1930's musical that was based on a Broadway show from the twenties. The plot -- such as it is -- was silly and insubstantial for 1930 let alone 1947, so the movie has to get by on its charm, its cast and its music. Neither Peter Lawford nor June Allyson can really sing -- Lawford is especially horrible to listen to; even his speaking voice is overly nasal -- and the other cast members don't have such dulcet tones, either, although Marshall is okay and McCracken (who was on Broadway in Rodger and Hammerstein's Me and Juliet) at least has personality and a voice best described as flavorful. Then there are the songs [De Sylva/Henderson/Brown].

Varsity Drag
Some of the songs are instantly forgettable, but there are a few that stay in the memory. "The Best Things in Life are Free" is, of course, a well-known standard, but there's also "Lucky in Love," as well as "Pass That Peace Pipe", "Just Imagine" and "Varsity Drag," which is the movie's liveliest production number. The performances across the board are all good, even though hardly anyone looks like a college kid with maybe the exception of 27-year- old McDonald. Allyson is certainly much more appealing in this than the rather freakish Penny Singleton in the 1930 version. Lawford has enough charm to get by even though he is hardly perfect casting. Others in the cast include Mel Torme as a student, Connie Gilchrist as a house mother, Donald MacBride as a rapacious coach, and Clinton Sundberg as a French teacher. Patricia Marshall did not appear in another movie for 28 years; she appeared primarily on the stage. McDonald only lived until 37 and McCracken died at 43.

Verdict: Mindless kitsch but fun if you're in the mood. **3/4. 


Liz Taylor and Richard Burton
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966). Director: Mike Nichols.

"I'd divorce you if you existed." --Martha regarding George.

George (Richard Burton of Becket) is an Associate Professor of History at New Carthage University. His wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor of Giant) is the daughter of the university president. Married for some years, they are enmeshed in bitter disappointment and alcohol. They were not able to have children, and George had hoped to be head of his department by now. The contempt they feel for themselves and for one another bursts out in lacerating games and accusations.

George Segal and Sandy Dennis
After a party one night they invite a younger couple, new to the university, to their home at two in the morning. Nick (George Segal) is a new biology teacher, and Honey (Sandy Dennis of That Cold Day in the Park) is his wife. The two were only married because of an hysterical pregnancy, and Honey's family is wealthy. Copious amounts of alcohol keep the "games" coming, with Martha pretending that she and George have a son. Before long all four people are lashing out at each other, and George decides it's time to put one rumor to rest.

George notices that Martha has plans for Nick
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? intelligently opens up Edward Albee's play with scenes at a roadhouse and on the lawn, and the film is very well directed by Nichols, who gets excellent performances from the entire cast, and an especially strong one from Oscar-winning Elizabeth Taylor. Alex North's music is used very sparingly but it adds to the grim atmosphere of this black comedy, as does Haskell Wexler's top-notch black and white cinematography.

George fences with Nick
Since the play is much longer than the movie, cuts were obviously made, but I suspect that the movie is better than the play. It is debatable if Virginia Woolf is a great work of theater or more along the lines of kitsch, and in truth it probably lies somewhere in the middle. Although seen as a dissection of typical married life back when it premiered in the sixties,  it was obviously not the first play to deal with dysfunctional marriages. There was a typically sixties frankness and crudity to the language that was different, however, and Albee's dialogue is often very good and very funny.

George and Martha 
The whole business with the "son" doesn't really make much sense, but one's left with a vague air of tragedy because these people seem so pathetic, despite the fact that they are not that likable nor sympathetic. As played (beautifully) by Sandy Dennis, who also garnered an Oscar, even Honey is simply too freaky to engage our sympathies. Although we obliquely learn certain things about the characters -- the whole business with George's book, his parents' (?) deaths and so on is admittedly intriguing if obscure -- it might be said that we don't quite come to know them that well (nor do we want to).

Still, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf holds the attention and has its fascinating aspects. Underneath the laughs and bitchy interplay there is genuine pain and loneliness, but other plays have perhaps gone into the same themes with more brilliance and compassion. (Admittedly, there are undoubtedly big differences between the play, which I have not seen in some years, and the film.) Albee based George and Martha on a straight couple he knew -- they were never intended to be a gay couple, which is probably why he nixed an all-male version that Burton and Henry Fonda wanted to do with Jon Voight and Warren Beatty in 1970. True!

NOTE: The film Martha is referring to when she imitates Bette Davis saying "What a dump!" is Beyond the Forest.

Verdict: Who's Afraid of Alcohol Poisoning? ***. 


JACK LEMMON. Michael Freedland. St. Martin's; 1985.

This overview of Lemmon's life and career is a fast read which gives most of the facts and highlights without digging too deeply, but it does manage to get across Lemmon's character, his devotion to acting, and his approach to certain challenging roles, such as in Some Like It Hot and Days of Wine and Roses. The book briefly discusses his first marriage, then his relationship with actress Felecia Farr, which led into his second, long-lasting marriage which was not without its problems, although this book downplays them considerably. His film work is certainly not ignored, and the book explores his working and friendly relationships with director Billy Wilder and actor Walter Matthau, with whom he collaborated numerous times. Along the way Lemmon did television and stage work, but his most frequent appearances were in films. He appeared in such early works as Betty Grable's penultimate film Three for the Showthe dreadful It Should Happen to You, and the vastly over-rated The Apartment. Frankly Lemmon was guilty of shameless mugging in some of his films, such as Luv, but he developed into a fine dramatic actor in such movies as The China SyndromeMissing and Save the Tiger, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar (he had won a supporting Oscar for Mr. Roberts). Published in 1985, this book doesn't go into his later major triumphs in Glengarry Glen Ross and in the stage and TV adaptations of Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Verdict: A nice book on Jack Lemmon, but hardly the last word. ***.  


Liz Taylor and Laurence Harvey
BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960). Director: Daniel Mann.

"Every awful moment of it, I Loved!" -- Gloria.

Gloria Wandrous (Elizabeth Taylor) is a model and good-time girl who has a male best friend, Steve (Eddie Fisher), who may be in love with her, to the consternation of his girlfriend, Norma (Susan Oliver). Gloria begins an affair with an unhappily married man named Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey of Summer and Smoke) and is convinced that her sordid liquor-and-sex past is over, that she has found true love at last. But there is still the wife, Emily (Dina Merrill) to deal with, and more than one ugly misunderstanding ...

Eddie Fisher and La Liz
Butterfield 8 is undoubtedly a sanitized, cliff notes version of John O'Hara's 1935 novel, and has apparently been updated to the late 1950's. Gloria is not an especially sympathetic character (nor Weston) until she reveals to Steve what happened to her in her childhood in a powerful sequence. Like something out of Harvey's film Room at the Top, Weston has apparently married for a good job and social position, although his wife seems to blame her own family for making things too easy for him. Taylor gives a very good performance, and won an Oscar for her portrayal. Harvey is also excellent, and there's good work from Merrill, Oliver, Kay Medford as a motel proprietor, Carmen Mathews as Emily's mother, and especially Mildred Dunnock as Gloria's mother and Betty Field as her very blunt best friend, Frances. Eddie Fisher, who was married to Taylor at the time (after leaving Debbie Reynolds for her), gives a respectable performance.

Verdict: Good performances and some good dialogue lift this a notch above the soap opera level. ***. 


ANNA LEE: MEMOIR OF A CAREER ON GENERAL HOSPITAL AND ON FILM, Anna Lee with Barbara Roisman Cooper. McFarland; 2007.

Although in her later years Anna Lee was best known for her work as the matriarch on the soap opera General Hospital, she had a long career in movies and on television. After the soap, many people recall her as the neighbor of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? But she also appeared in dozens of films, being the leading lady in many early productions, including Bitter Sweet, The Man Who Changed His Mind with Boris Karloff, King Solomon's Mines and others. As a supporting actress Lee had notable turns in several John Ford films (she was one of his favorites), including How Green Was My Valley and The Last Hurrah, as well as roles in such films as Summer Storm (with George Sanders, whom she disliked), the spy flick In Like Flint, and Sam Fuller's The Crimson Kimono

Lee writes in a flavorful style of her childhood in England, her early days in British pictures, her three marriages (to director Robert Stevenson; a sexy American captain she met during WW 2 while entertaining the troops; and the author Robert Nathan, when they were both in their dotage), and can be forgiven for frequent name-dropping as she met and/or knew such folk as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, screenwriter Charles Bennett, the ultra-ambitious Merle Oberon, the hateful Fritz Lang, General George S. Patton, and Alfred Hitchcock, who gave her away at her second wedding! In her final years, Lee was confined to a wheelchair but still managed to make it to each taping of General Hospital that required her appearance. She died in 2004.

Verdict: Despite Lee not being a major star, hers is a very interesting story. ***. 


Constance Bennett
SMART WOMAN (1948). Director: Edward A. Blatt.

Prosecutor Robert Larrimore (Brian Aherne) is brought to town to clean up after the corrupt district attorney Bradley Wayne (Otto Kruger). In Wayne's employ is Frank McCoy (Barry Sullivan), who pressures attorney Paula Rogers (Constance Bennett of What Price Hollywood?) into helping them by suggesting harm could come to her young son, Rusty (Richard Lyon). Larrimore and Bennett face each other in court, but in spite of this a romance develops. But just when things are getting good for the couple, they find themselves on opposite sides again when McCoy is accused of murder.

Mad as a wet hen: Otto Kruger and Brian Aherne
Larrimore is convinced that McCoy is guilty, but while Paula knows McCoy is a crumb she doesn't believe he is a murderer. During the trial, a secret comes out about the relationship between Paula and McCoy, further threatening her future with Larrimore. Smart Woman is billed as a "Constance Bennett Production," but she should have been smarter and chosen a better script. Despite romance, murders and other assorted skulduggery, as well as dramatic courtroom revelations, the main feeling you get from Smart Woman is how overlong, hopelessly contrived, and essentially dull it is. Aherne seems miscast, Bennett is good if a little too breathless at times, but Otto Kruger is as good as ever, Sullivan [Pyro] makes a decided impression, and there's nice work from Isobel Elsom as Paul's dithery mother, Richard Lyon as Paula's appealing son, and Selena Royle [The Big Hangover] as Mrs. Wayne. James Gleason and Michael O'Shea have smaller roles. Bennett has some good moments in court and talking to her son about his father.

Verdict: There's a reason why some movies are forgotten today. **. 


Dennis O'Keefe and Lionel Stander
TAHITI HONEY  (1943). Director: John H. Auer.

In Tahiti just before Pearl Harbor, bandleader Mickey Monroe (Dennis O'Keefe) decides he needs a woman for the act, although previous songbirds have only caused trouble for the band. Mickey hires Suzette (Simone Simon), who agrees to join his team because he tells her he can get her to the U.S. The other band members are against taking her, but Mickey appeals to their sympathy by saying she wants to be reunited with her soldier fiancee, Charlie. Mickey makes up so many phony letters that the band members all come to believe that "Charlie" actually exists. And then a real soldier shows up, Lt. John Barton (Michael Whalen), whom everyone thinks is Charlie. Suzette decides to go along with the deception, creating romantic feelings in John and jealousy in Mickey. Which man will she finally wind up with?

Dennis O Keefe and Simone Simon
Tahiti Honey is a typical Republic musical time-waster, although it's easy to take for most of its length until it eventually wears out its welcome. The songs are pleasant enough but not likely to stay in your memory. O'Keefe is excellent, an adept comic actor who makes the most of his role as a smooth-talkin' ladies man; you just wish he had better material. Simon (of Cat People fame and Girls' Dormitory) is cute and apparently dubbed -- her singing, that is. Lionel Stander, whom I usually can't abide, is not only very good but much less obnoxious than usual. Michael Whalen [Highway 13] is fine as the initially confused, then smitten, lieutenant. Simon made this movie in between her most famous feature, Cat People, and its sequel. Her American career never really took off.

Verdict: O'Keefe fans may enjoy this, but not recommended for anyone else. **1/4. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019


The Dreaded Deadline Doom has caught up with me.

Great Old Movies will be back with a bunch of fresh posts in a week.

Thank you!