This year is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, what is considered the start of the modern-day Gay Rights/LGBT pride movement. I couldn't let it pass without compiling reviews of some interesting LGBT motion pictures. Not all of these are "gay" movies, as such, but they all deal with LGBT elements in one way or another. Sadly, not all of these are especially memorable, but they do have a place in cinematic and LGBT history in spite of that.
Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Saturday, June 29, 2019
|John Bolger and Richard Ganoung|
Michael: "At fifty or sixty impending death doesn't freak you out so much."
Joan: "I bet it does. I bet it's a fuckin' drag even if you're eighty."
Michael (Richard Ganoung) and Robert (John Bolger) have been a couple for some time, but now the latter decides he finds the relationship "predictable" and has taken an assignment in Africa for two years. Michael is upset over this, and gets mixed signals from Robert, but he also has time to visit and help care for Nick (Steve Buscemi), who has AIDS. During Robert's last night in town, they have dinner with his closeted boss and his wife, and attend a party for Robert given by friend Joan (Kathy Kinney), while a cute store clerk named Peter (Adam Nathan) sets his sights on Michael. But there's an unexpected development, and Michael finds he may have to make a choice.
|Steve Buscemi and Adam Nathan|
Verdict: There's some good potential here but it just isn't realized. **.
Since he was left an orphan many years ago, Billy Lynch (Jimmy McNichol) has lived with his Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell of Midnight Lace). Now that Billy is reaching the age where he might leave home to go off to college, Cheryl is becoming more clingy and possessive. One afternoon the frustrated Cheryl comes on to a completely disinterested handyman, Brody (Caskey Swaim), and she winds up stabbing the fellow to death. Cheryl insists that the man was trying to rape her, but there's a decided complication. The victim was gay.
|"Are you a fag, boy?" Bo Svenson|
|Sick, sick Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell)|
Verdict: Oddball slasher film with some LGBT twists. **1/2.
|Edmund Donovan and Matthew Frias|
Interested in athletics and each other, college students Benny (Matthew Frias) and Christopher (Edmund Donovan) begin dating. All goes swimmingly for a while until Chris takes Benny down to Florida to hang out and meet his mother, Carol (Amy da Luz). Unfortunately, Carol feels compelled to tell Benny that she was the woman driving the car -- with a much younger Chris in the back seat -- when she accidentally hit and killed Benny's brother years ago.
|Matthew Frias and Joseph Melendez|
Verdict: Nice try, but ... **1/4.
|Derek Jacobi and Julian Kerridge|
Brilliant mathematician Alan Turing (Derek Jacobi of The King's Speech) knows his knowledge of cyphers and science can help the British war effort during WW2, and he's chosen to find a way to break the code of the German's Enigma machine. His genius also eventually brings about the creation of digital computers, but his work and worth are diminished in his later years simply because he is gay and apparently unapologetic about it. He pays a hard price for his indiscretion.
|Prunella Scales and Derek Jacxobi|
Verdict: Despite some technical explanations that go on a little too long, this is altogether admirable. ***.
Genius mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch of Star Trek Into Darkness) joins, and eventually takes over, a group of crypto-experts who are trying to crack Germany's Enigma Code. At first Turing is disliked because of his rather obnoxious, superior personality, but eventually he wins the respect of his peers, not only cracking the code but building technology that will eventually lead to the creation of modern-day computers. Unfortunately, he doesn't get his due until long after his death due to his conviction on a homosexual morals charge ...
The Imitation Game is the second film about Turing after the superior Breaking the Code (which also has the much better title with its double meaning), which came out nearly twenty years earlier. This is a splashier, longer, opened-up and bigger-budgeted version but it does not at all improve on the earlier picture. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a good enough performance, but perhaps makes his character more repellent -- especially in the earlier sequences -- than he needs to be; he almost plays it like an old-fashioned "bitchy queen." He is not as good as Derek Jacobi was in the earlier film. A bigger problem with this fictionalized biopic is that it not only tries to deal with his orientation as little as possible -- there are absolutely no sequences showing him even having conversations with other gay men -- but strips the film of true drama (his conviction, trial, etc.) and substitutes some events that I found very suspicious. Dramatic license is one thing, but Imitation just makes up sequences out of whole cloth (like the one when Turing and the others decide not to warn a convoy that is about to be bombed because then the Germans will know they've cracked the code. Sounds reasonable, until you really think about it. )
Like the earlier telefilm, this movie goes back and forth in time when a linear narrative might have been more compelling. There are some good supporting performances from Charles Dance [Victor Frankenstein] as Commander Denniston, and young Alex Lawther as Alan at school (he has a wonderful scene trying not to show how devastated he is by a loving friend's death), among others, but on the whole the picture is a big disappointment and somewhat on the dull side. Perhaps the worst thing is that this film simply accepts that Turing was a suicide when the first film, and some biographies, have suggested that he might have died by accident or even been killed off as a security risk. Who knows? The film was highly acclaimed and made a great deal of money, but since then many people have noted its glaring inaccuracies.
Verdict: Stick to Breaking the Code. **.
Thursday, June 27, 2019
Two nuclear bombs are detonated at the same time, and before long there are serious changes to the weather -- flooding, devastating winds, and a massive heat wave along with thick fog. London reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd of Island of Terror) tries to ferret out exactly what's going on with the unwitting help of a ministry employee named Jean (Janet Munro of Life for Ruth), who gets angry when Stenning's paper publishes the alarming fact that the blasts have not only shifted the tilt of the earth, but caused an 11% shift in orbit that has the earth moving closer and closer to the sun!
|Edward Judd and Leo McKern|
|McKern, Judd, Munro and Gene Anderson|
|Happier times: Janet Munro and Edward Judd|
Edward Judd was married at the time to Gene Anderson, who plays the saucy barmaid May. Tragically she died four years later.
Verdict: This is probably the best film Val Guest ever made. ***.
|When will he remember? Greer Garson and Ronald Colman|
Towards the end of WWI, an amnesiac and shell-shocked soldier named "John Smith" (Ronald Colman) is institutionalized in a small British town, but he escapes during the melee when the end of the war is announced. He meets up with a sympathetic music hall entertainer named Paula (Greer Garson), and the two eventually fall in love, get married, and have a child. But when "Smithy" goes to Liverpool for a job interview, he is struck by a taxi and his memory comes back -- he is really a wealthy man named Charles Rainier. Unfortunately, he goes back to his old life with absolutely no recollection of his wife and baby. Will Paula ever be reunited with the man she loves?
|Susan Peters and Ronald Colman|
Verdict: Well, if you can just suspend disbelief Random Harvest has its rewards. For romantic souls only! ***.
|Mamie Van Doren, Jeanne Carmen, Lori Nelson|
Two sisters heading for Hollywood -- Penny (Mamie Van Doren of The Girl in Black Stockings) and Jane (Lori Nelson) -- are arrested for vagrancy and sent to a work farm for thirty days by Judge Steele (Lurene Tuttle). The farm is owned by Russ Tropp (John Russell), whose housekeepers are girls who offer certain services in exchange for "special privileges." Tropp orders his latest "housekeeper," Lillibet (Jeanne Carmen) back to the barracks with the other girls, resulting in a catfight. The judge sends her son, Bob (Don Burnett), to work at the farm as a regular employee -- he doesn't know that his mother and Tropp are secretly married. And the judge doesn't know about the deplorable conditions at the farm ...
|Cougar? The judge (Tuttle, right) hankers for Russell|
|Mother and son: Don Burnett and Lurene Tuttle|
With a better script Untamed Youth might have emerged a credible melodrama instead of the somewhat campy exploitation picture it is. But on that level, the movie is fun.
Verdict: Catch Mamie doing "Slimy as a Salamander!" **1/2.
Babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane of The Mafu Cage) is terrorized by a caller who keeps asking her if she's checked on the kids. When the police manage to trace the call Jill gets an unpleasant surprise. Years later John Clifford (Charles Durning), a former cop on the case, is hired by the children's father to find Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), the psychopath who turned his life upside down and who has escaped from an asylum. Clifford tracks Duncan down, but can he stop him permanently before he goes after the terrified babysitter, Jill, who is now a grown woman with children of her own?
|Colleen Dewhurst and Tony Beckley|
A very good sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back, came out in 1993. And there was a remake in 2006.
Verdict: Absorbing horror-suspense film. ***.
This guide to classic film is divided into chapters such as "Must See," "Drama," "Suspense," "One of a Kind" performers such as Carmen Miranda and Jerry Lewis, "Screen Teams" and so on. The main asset to this book is the many, many photographs from the movies. It falls short as a work of film scholarship for two reasons: most classic movie fans will already be familiar with most of the material in the book. Also, there is no analysis of the individual films, just a brief synopsis and sidebars on the cast, Oscar wins or nominations, and factoids about the famous players. On that level, the book is still a good bet for young movie enthusiasts who might wish to learn more about films released many, many years before their births. Indeed, the author makes the case that, say, a film from the 1980's can';t really be called a "classic." The included movies are generally the ones you would expect -- no "B" movies or forgotten gems -- along with a few that have always been over-rated.
The book was written by Afton Fraser, the wife of actor Brendan Fraser [Looney Tunes: Back in Action] and mother of their three children. Sadly, four years after this book was published the couple ended their ten year marriage. Also an actor Ms. Fraser now goes by Afton Smith.
Verdict: Recommended for readers who don't know much about classic film. ***.
Thursday, June 13, 2019
"A woman is like a postage stamp. Once there's a black mark on her, she's no good to nobody." -- Pick.
In pre-Civil war Louisiana, two sisters live on a plantation with their slaves and their father. Gilberte, or "Frou Frou" (Luise Rainer) is the pretty and somewhat muddle-headed younger daughter, and Louise (Barbara O'Neil) is the more practical and less attractive older daughter. The young mountebank, Andre Vallaire (Robert Young), wants to propose to Frou Frou, but he is too late, as she has already decided to accept a proposal from the lawyer, George Sartoris (Melvyn Douglas). The trouble is that Frou Frou doesn't love George, but Louise does ... and Andre will not forget Frou Frou. Things come to a boil when George asks Louise to come and run the household, as Frou Frou -- a "toy wife," in his estimation -- seems incapable of doing so.
|Luise Rainer and Alan Perl|
The Toy Wife's patronizing treatment of black characters is typical of the period, unfortunately, but the film is still absorbing and has a very touching conclusion. There is first-rate cinematography from Oliver T. Marsh and a nice score by Edward Ward.
Verdict: Memorable, well-acted, and unpredictable drama. ***.
Screenwriter and bachelor Mark Christopher (Dick Powell of Pitfall) finds himself with an unusual Christmas "present." Two cops of his acquaintance want him to babysit a 17-year-old girl, Susan (Debbie Reynolds), over the holiday so they won't have to actually book her for some minor offense on Christmas Day. Mark reluctantly agrees but this causes problems for his sort of fiancee Isabella (Anne Francis), and upsets his household, which consists of secretary Maude (Glenda Farrell) and his old Navy buddy, Virgil (Alvy Moore). But is the middle-aged author more drawn to lovely, very young Susan than he would care to admit?
|Farrell, Moore and Reynolds|
Verdict: Strangely appealing May-December romantic comedy that shouldn't work but does. ***.
|Bing Crosby and Donald O'Connor clown around|
Broadway veteran Bill Benson (Bing Crosby) and hot shot TV star Ted Adams (Donald O'Connor) are teaming up to do a Broadway show. They each decide on a leading lady, unaware of what the other has done. So on a boat back to New York from Europe, they have to contend with the fact that they promised the plum role to two different women: Patsy (Mitzi Gaynor) and Gaby (Zizi Jeanmaire). Complicating matters is the realization that each man has started to fall in love, not with the woman they chose to star with but with her rival!
|Mitzi Gaynor and Donald O\Connor|
|Zizi Jeanmaire with chorus boys|
|"Blow, Gabriel, Blow." Jeanmaire, Crosby, Gaynor, O'Connor|
Verdict: Talented cast helps put this over. ***.
Apparently not being satisfied with the first book, this is the late Curtis' second autobiography. Never forgetting a slight, real or imagined, in this volume he settles scores. Since his first wife, Janet Leigh, had passed away by then, he feels free to dissect their marriage and highlight her alleged faults as a wife. (One can't imagine that this endeared him to his daughters by Leigh, including Jamie Lee Curtis.) One gets the impression that Curtis had no real interest in honest reflection nor in seeing things from other people's pov\s. He is the very personification of the self-absorbed movie star.
Curtis traces his early years and his bad relationship with his parents; the tragic deaths of his two brothers -- he never balances his basically successful life with the brother who was placed in a mental institution and eventually wound up homeless and beaten to death -- his determination to make it in Hollywood, and his cinematic triumphs in such as Sweet Smell of Success (arguably his greatest performance) and Some Like It Hot, among others. Curtis doesn't shy away from detailing the years afterward, when he was forced to take virtually any role in any piece of crap just to pay the bills, including alimony and child support. He also writes about his cocaine addiction and his many marriages (at least one wife never gets mentioned at all).
Curtis never lost the chip on his shoulder. Part of this is due to the fact that he never felt he was really taken seriously. Part was also due to the fact that no matter what the role he generally came off as dead-common. This book didn't help him shake off that image.
Verdict: Not a bad read, but it leaves a sour taste. **1/2.
Judy Bellaire (Judy Garland of Presenting Lily Mars) belongs to a theatrical family, but she keeps getting thrown out of one school after another because she prefers swing music to classical and is therefore considered a "corrupting" influence. The rest of the household consists of her playwright father Hilary (Reginald Owen); her actress mother Diana (Billie Burke); the housekeeper Olga (Fanny Brice), who used to work in vaudeville; and the handsome cook, Ricky (Allan Jones of Reckless), who is moonlighting as a singer at a posh cafe. Judy also has a sister named Sylvia (Lynne Carver), who is struck on Ricky and vice versa. Judy wants to help get needed money for the cash-poor family by singing at the same cafe, but has to resort to subterfuge when her parents deny her permission to do so. Meanwhile Hilary tries to mount his own show but objects to his wife's acting partner, Jerrold Hope (Reginald Gardiner).
|Bus song: Garland, Carver, Jones and Gardiner|
Verdict: Not just for Garland fans, but they will especially enjoy this. ***.
Thursday, June 6, 2019
Remember, my brother blog B Movie Nightmare publishes every other week, alternating with Great Old Movies. This week it's time for B Movie Nightmare -- two weeks' worth, in fact. You can also sign up there for email notifications, which is the best way to catch all that B Movie Excitement over at my other blog, LOL!
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading!