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

Thursday, July 25, 2019


An iconic image from Picnic by James Wong Howe
PICNIC (1956). Director: Joshua Logan. NOTE: Logan also directed the stage play. This review gives away some important plot points.

Hal Carter (William Holden) is a drifter and failed, wannabee actor who winds up in Kansas where he looks up an old buddy named Alan (Cliff Robertson), hoping to find work. Alan's father gives Hal a job, but things are complicated at the Labor Day picnic when Hal and Alan's fiancee, Madge (Kim Novak), find themselves attracted to one another. Alan is furious, but Madge's mother (Betty Field) is horrified at the fate in store for her daughter if she runs off with Hal. Meanwhile Madge's younger sister, Millie (Susan Strasberg), is suffering growing pains, and their border, spinster schoolteacher Rosemary (Rosalind Russell), is having a crisis of her own.

William Holden and Kim Novak
Picnic is based on the Pulitzer prize-winning stage play by William Inge, and screenwriter Daniel Taradash has intelligently opened up the drama without apparently losing much of the original's meat. Both of the two leads, Holden and Novak, are too old for their roles -- Novak was twenty-three and Holden thirty-eight looking older -- and Holden is really not the right type for Hal at all, but he still manages to give quite a good performance, as does Novak, whom I've always believed could be quite accomplished with the right role and director. Betty Field and Susan Strasberg score as mother and younger daughter, and Rosalind Russell, while she tends to overplay in some sequences, has a terrific moment when she's begging her steady beau, Howard (Arthur O'Connell, carried over from the stage version), to marry her. Cliff Robertson gives one of his best performances as Alan, a nice guy who is treated badly even as he treats Hal badly out of jealousy. There are also nice turns by Verna Felton (the tough maid on I Love Lucy) as a very sympathetic neighbor who takes to Hal right off the bat, and Reta Shaw and Phyllis Newman in smaller roles.

William Holden
Just as straight writers composed stories that revolved around female objects of desire, some gay writers did the same thing with male figures as the centerpiece. Tennessee Williams comes to mind with his "Orpheus Descending," which debuted on the stage four years after Picnic (although Williams' first version, "Band of Angels," dates back to 1940. Meanwhile "Orpheus" was filmed as The Fugitive Kind with Marlon Brando three years after Picnic hit screens.) Both Picnic and Fugitive Kind deal with sexy bad boys and drifters who burst into town and inflame passions among women; the plays and movies were too soon before Stonewall to deal upfront with any gay influences. This is not to say that the characters were all meant to be male.

Rosalind Russell and William Holden
However, both plays have more on their minds than just virile rough trade. Picnic is basically a study of small-town desperation and loneliness; the film has persistent undercurrents of both. It is made clear that Hal is just as lonely in his own way as Rosemary is, culminating in a painful sequence when Rosemary humiliates Hal after he, in her mind, rejects her advances. The film also looks at the pain of growing older and the anguished jealousy it can engender when a middle-aged person is confronted by someone with youth and promise and more overt attractiveness and sensuality.

Cliff Robertson and William Holden
Picnic has many memorable sequences. There is the amusing montage of scenes at the picnic, with crying babies, cute dogs, and silly games, and -- in contrast -- the sort of sexy slow dance that Hal and Madge do together on the bandstand. James Wong Howe's cinematography is outstanding, and George Duning has contributed a sensitive score. Picnic has to be considered an anti-romantic film. Playwright Inge probably meant the ending to indicate that Madge is giving full range to her feelings and taking a chance on life and love and perhaps getting away from a stifling small-town environment, but in the bittersweet conclusion she's also going off with a man she has known for only one day. (Paging Dr. Phil!) And does anyone really think the relationship between Rosemary and Howard will work?

The play starred Ralph Meeker as Hal, Paul Newman as Alan, Janice Rule as Madge, Eileen Heckart as Rosemary, and Arthur O'Connell as Howard. Aron Copeland's beautiful opera The Tender Land, which debuted around the same time as the stage version of Picnic, also dealt with a young woman who falls in love overnight with a drifter and wants to run away with him.

Verdict: Despite some problems, this is an excellent picture. ***1/2. 


Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair
MY SISTER EILEEN (1942). Director: Alexander Hall.

Ruth Sherwood (Rosalind Russell) and her younger and prettier sister, Eileen (Janet Blair), feel that they'll get nowhere fast if they stay in small town Ohio, so the gals head for New York City with the encouragement of their grandmother (Elizabeth Patterson) and to the dismay of their father (Grant Mitchell). They manage to find an apartment in Greenwich Village, but soon discover that they're blasting for a new subway tunnel right underneath their feet. Ruth tries to sell her writing to a magazine edited by Bob Baker (Brian Aherne) while Eileen hopes to become an actress. As their money runs out they meet an assortment of characters who live in the building on Barrow Street. These include "Wreck" Loomis (Gordon Jones) and his jealous wife, Helen (Miss Jeff Donnell); the fortune teller Effie (June Havoc), who used to live in the apartment; drug store owner Frank Lippincott (Richard Quine); and slimy reporter Chic Clark (Allyn Joslyn).

Richard Quine with Blair and Russell
My Sister Eileen is based on a play by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov, who also did the screenplay. The movie boasts some very adept performances and is consistently amusing and amiable. Although she was never quite the comic genius that Lucille Ball was, Rosalind Russell is still a fine actress who can not only do comedy well but can reveal the dramatic nuances under the laughs; she's wonderful. Blair is very effective as the not-so-naive Eileen, and once you get used to his blustering over-acting early on, Aherne makes a good foil for Russell. In addition to the others named above, there is also good work from Donald MacBride as a blithering cop; Chick Chandler as a friend of Effie's and an air raid warden; George Tobias as the landlord and wannabee painter, Apoppolous;.and Arnold Stang as the annoying copy boy, Jimmy. There are also the group of handsome Portuguese merchant marines who form a conga line in the village, a delightful sequence. And you must not miss the hilarious cameo by the Three Stooges!

The Fleet's In 
My Sister Eileen was turned into the Broadway musical Wonderful Town -- with a score by no less than Leonard Bernstein -- in 1953. Russell, who had already been a little old for the part in the film, and who couldn't really sing, was cast as Ruth yet again, and the show was a big hit, eventually being televised. In 1955 Columbia did a color and widescreen remake of My Sister Eileen with Janet Leigh and Batty Garrett. This was directed and co-written by Richard Quine [Sunny Side of the Street] , who plays Lippincott. To date there has been no theatrical film version of Wonderful Town, which is rarely revived.

Verdict: Fun movie with a terrific and talented cast. ***. 


"Why did I ever leave Ohio?"  McKeever and Russell
WONDERFUL TOWN (1958 telefilm). Director: Mel Ferber. Directed for the stage by Herbert Ross.

Ruth (Rosalind Russell) and her prettier younger sister, Eileen (Jacquelyn McKeever) come from Ohio to Greenwich Village to find fame and fortune and instead find a apartment house full of characters and the explosive booms from a new subway line below them. They also get involved with a variety of men, chief among them magazine editor Robert Baker (Sydney Chaplin). Despite her many suitors Eileen finds herself falling for Bob without realizing that Ruth has feelings for the fellow as well. Then there's the fact that if they don't get good jobs soon they will have to return to Ohio in disgrace ...

"It's Love!" Rosalind Russell and Sidney Chaplin
Rosalind Russell had already played Ruth in the film My Sister Eileen when she was tapped to star in a musical version for Broadway with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Comden and Green. Since the musical's producers wanted too much money for the film rights, the studio came out with their own musical version, also called My Sister Eileen, with a totally different score by Jules Styne. Wonderful Town was never filmed, but it was shown on television, nearly intact, although at least one song ('Pass That Football") was dropped. Reprising her role, Russell is as "wonderful" as ever, and McKeever, who has a very nice if imperfect voice, also makes her mark as Eileen. Chaplin, who has a good if not great voice, plays Baker very ably and with charm.

"I Love a Quiet Girl:" Sidney Chaplin
Wonderful Town may not be one of the really great musicals, but it has more than its share of delights, including the score, which includes such standards as "Little Bit in Love" and "It's Love!" as well as the pretty "I Love a Quiet Girl," the plaintive "(Why Did I Ever Leave) Ohio," the Irish ditty "Pretty Eileen," sung by the cops to the young lady, as well as a bouncy conga, a couple of lively jazz numbers, and the snappy "Greenwich Village." The other supporting roles are well cast by enthusiastic performers. McKeever was essentially a stage actress and had only a few other TV credits. Chaplin, the son of Charlie Chaplin, amassed 37 film and TV credits, but his greatest successes were on the stage.

NOTE: There have been at least four audio recordings of this musical. There is the original mono cast recording of the show with Russell and George Gaynes. Then a stereo studio set with Russell and the cast of this TV production was released, with all of the songs included. There is a London cast version that I have not yet heard, and a studio version conducted by Simon Rattle. The stars of this version are the ubiquitous Audra McDonald as Eileen, Kim Criswell (whose voice isn't that much better than Roz Russell's) as Ruth, and no less than operatic baritone Thomas Hampson as Bob Baker. His rendition of "I Love a Quiet Girl" (sung with quite strength and not at all over-done) is this album's highlight. Comden and Green's lyrics are comparatively trite but most of Bernstein's music is memorable if not on the level of, say, West Side Story.

Verdict: Tuneful and bouncy TV adaptation of a hit Broadway musical. ***. 


Janet Leigh and Bob Fosse
MY SISTER EILEEN (1955). Director: Richard Quine.

Ruth Sherwood (Betty Garrett) and her younger and prettier sister Eileen (Janet Leigh of The Spy in the Green Hat) come from Ohio to Greenwich Village to pursue careers as, respectively, a writer and an actress. Eileen becomes entangled with lunch counter waiter Frank (Bob Fosse) and on-the-make reporter Chick (Tommy Rail), while Ruth is involved with prominent magazine editor, Bob Baker (Jack Lemmon). Will the sisters find success and romance?

Bob Fosse and Betty Garrett
My Sister Eileen was originally filmed in 1942 with Rosalind Russell playing Ruth. Russell then reprised the role in a Broadway musical version entitled Wonderful Town with music by Leonard Bernstein. Columbia Pictures, which owned the rights to the original film, wanted to do a film adaptation of Wonderful Town with Judy Holliday stepping into the lead, but the show's producers wanted too much money. Therefore they decided to remake Eileen and add a completely new and different score by Leo Robin and Jule Styne. Meanwhile, Judy Holliday became unavailable and Betty Garrett, oddly, was signed to the part.

Jack Lemmon
Garrett, who was married to the blacklisted Larry Parks, is pleasant and competent enough as Ruth, but she can't hold a candle to Rosalind Russell. My Sister Eileen did not lead to major stardom for Garrett, who had bigger successes on television (All in the Family; Laverne and Shirley). Aside from a film noir feature some years later, Eileen was, in fact, Garrett's last starring role. Everyone in this remake is a step downward from the cast in the earlier film with the exception of Bob Fosse, who is very appealing, and Tommy Rail, who is handsome and adept, although, like Fosse, better known for his dancing (and in Fosse's case, choreography and direction). Ironically, Fosse's role in the original picture was played by Richard Quine, who co-wrote (with Blake Edwards) and directed this remake. Jack Lemmon is also quite nice as the editor, Bob Barker. Lemmon and Quine reunited for How to Murder Your Wife ten years later.

Kasznar, Leigh, Garrett, York
Other roles are filled by Kurt Kasznar as the landlord and Dick York as the off-season football player (which the skinny York scarcely resembles) who lives upstairs. The roles of the sisters' father and grandmother have been eliminated, along with the fortune teller Effie. This remake is not only in Technicolor and CinemaScope but it's been opened up with scenes in Frank's drug store, the El Morocco nightclub, and even the Brooklyn Navy Yard, although the apartment and Village scenes are clearly filmed on a sound stage. The Portuguese merchant marines have become Brazilian sailors. Expanding this sequence just creates a ridiculous scene in which these guys all chase after the not-very-sexy Garrett, something not handled quite so blatantly in the original. The conga scene from the original movie becomes a big production number but loses most of its charm. Another change has Ruth pretending that her stories about Eileen are really about her, an unnecessary development that goes nowhere.

Garrett, Fosse, Leigh, and Rail
Then there are the songs. Jule Styne, the composer of Funny Girl, Gypsy and Darling of the Day can be counted on for some nice numbers and he delivers such good tunes as "I'm Great But No One Knows It," "There's Nothin' Like Love" and "Give Me a Band and My Baby." One of the best scenes in the movie has Fosse and Rail doing a dancing dual as Eileen goes off for an audition.

Verdict: On its own terms, this can be entertaining, and the musical interludes are generally nice, but on a whole it's a cut below the original. **1/4.


LIFE IS A BANQUET: ROSALIND RUSSELL. Rosalind Russell with Chris Chase. Random House; 1977.

Published posthumously, Rosalind Russell's autobiography, very well-written by Chris Chase, has an affecting introduction by her widower, the producer Frederick Brisson. Russell writes of her comparatively privileged upbringing, her two sisters (one of whom was to remind her of Auntie Mame), her first stabs at acting, her long-lived marriage to Brisson, and her many famous roles, especially Mame, which she played both on Broadway and in the film adaptation. Her other notable film roles included Sister Kenny, Gypsy, Craig's Wife along with a few stinkers, such as What a Woman, which she declines to even mention. She does not relate that many backstage or behind-the-scenes stories, and is generally kind to her co-stars, although she does excoriate some unnamed film directors who have no idea of what they're doing and can not work with actors at all. Russell reveals that Hayley Mills was extremely unpleasant to work with when she appeared in The Trouble with Angels, as well as the fact that Russell and her husband were close, lifelong friends with Frank Sinatra, who took over and completely handled what sounds like an incredible 25th anniversary party for the couple. Russell indulges in some perfectly understandable name-dropping along the way, including people who were not in the film business. In later years, she worked hard to help people who suffered from arthritis, as she did. Russell always felt that she was not quite "of" Hollywood, that she wasn't one of those stars who was so devoted to her career and so obsessed with becoming a top-ranked star that she neglected everything else in her life, and it sounds like she was all the better for it. Russell insists that she was not dubbed at all for her singing in Gypsy, but it's very clear in the movie that she begins to sing a number until Lisa Kirk takes over; Russell never mentions her and seems to have a delusion about her true vocal contribution. Russell gives an excellent performance in the movie, however.

Verdict: Excellent film memoir is engaging and well-written, although not very "dishy." ***1/2. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019


Belly up to the bar, boys! Ray Milland
THE LOST WEEKEND (1945). Director: Billy Wilder.

Feeling himself a failure as a writer, and living off his brother, Wick (Phillip Terry of Hold That Kiss), Don Birnam (Ray Milland) has become, in his brother's words, a "hopeless drunk" His girlfriend of three years, Helen (Jane Wyman of Johnny Belinda), refuses to give up on Don, and does her best to help him. But even when he winds up in an alcoholic ward and later gets the DT's and has scary visions, he still won't stop drinking. Will Helen be able to get through to him, to get him to let his better self come through, or is he doomed?

The Lost Weekend is based on the autobiographical novel by Charles Jackson. Although Jackson married and had children, late in life he identified as bisexual and moved in with a male lover. This aspect of his life, and the fact that self-hatred over his homosexuality added to his distress and undoubtedly contributed to his drinking, is, of course, completely unexplored in this 1940's movie. The only thing that is mildly homoerotic in the picture is an obnoxious male nurse, Bim (well-played by Frank Faylen), in the alcoholic ward. Jackson wrote other works after Lost Weekend, but none were ever as successful as his first, and, although the movie intimates that Birnam will overcome his addictions, that was, sadly, not the case in real life. In 1968 he committed suicide.

Phillip Terry, Jane Wyman, Ray Milland
Still, The Lost Weekend is a memorable film with some first-class performances. Ray Milland, who is generally excellent, won the Best Actor Oscar. (The film also won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay [Wilder and Charles Brackett] and Best Cinematography [John F. Seitz of the silent Four Horseman of the Apocalypse].) Phillip Terry, one of Joan Crawford's cast-off husbands, had a rare opportunity in a "A" picture and delivers a solid job in probably his most memorable role. Jane Wyman is as sympathetic and adept as ever. Howard Da Silva scores as the bartender, Nat, as do Doris Dowling as the barfly Gloria and Mary Young as Birnam's landlady, Mrs. Deveridge.

An interesting aspect of the picture is that, as played by Milland, Birnam often seems arrogant about his drinking and his life, as if the world owes him a living. In a sequence when Birnam steals a woman's purse in a restaurant, he seems to smirk as if he's gotten away with something, as opposed to his being ashamed and humiliated by his actions. This suggests that Birnam has character failings that have little to do with his drinking.

Jane Wyman
The film has some notable sequences, such as when Birnam sits at a performance of La Traviata, and the opera's famous brindisi (or drinking song) sequence only reminds him of the bottle of hootch he left in his jacket at the coat check and he has to leave to get a drink. Then there's his desperate run from pawn shop to pawn shop so he can get money for his typewriter only to learn that all the shops are closed for the Jewish holiday.

As good as the film is, it now has a kind of dated aspect to it. All you have to do is look at one of the episodes of Dr. Phil where he has desperate family members bringing an alcoholic and drug-addicted person on the show for a last chance at help, to realize that a person rarely just decides to stop drinking. The film is sanitized -- what seems horrifying about the debased, pathetic lives of drunks in this film is nothing compared to the reality. As good as Milland is, he rarely looks or acts like a really hard-core drunk despite the DT's and all the rest. As noted, the photography is first-class, as is Miklos Rosza's score, although the music the composer uses to denote, so to speak, "Demon Rum," is a little over the top and sounds like something out of a science fiction movie.

Verdict: The Lost Weekend must still be remembered as probably the first movie to depict alcoholics not as comical drunks but as tormented and addicted individuals. *** 


George Sanders and Esther Williams -- in the same movie!
JUPITER'S DARLING (1955). Director: George Sidney.

"If Hannibal attacks and Rome is destroyed, we can be buried together as man and wife." -- Fabius.

In 216 B.C. Hannibal (Howard Keel of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) is marching toward Rome with hundreds of men and sixty elephants to sack the city. Inside the city, the dictator Fabius (George Sanders) tries his best to marry his recalcitrant fiancee Amytis (Esther Williams) while hoping he can hold the barbarians at bay. Amytis and her maid, Meta (Marge Champion), sneak off to grab a peek at the elephants -- and handsome Hannibal -- and before you know it they are captured by Hannibal's men. Now it's a question if Hannibal will murder Amytis as a spy or fall in love with her.

Howard Keel as the lusty Hannibal
Jupiter's Darling is a real oddity. First we have Esther Williams and George Sanders in the same movie, although it must be said that they play perfectly well together, although it's no question that despite Williams adroitness in this kind of stuff Sanders is the better actor. Then we have to take into consideration that this is, after all, an Esther Williams Musical and she does manage to get in a fair amount of swimming. Jupiter's Darling is also a kind of war movie (although the climactic battle never quite takes place) as well as a romance and action story. Everything but the kitchen sink. It would be all too easy to laugh at the picture if we were meant to take it seriously, but we're obviously not, and although the picture was a financial bomb for MGM -- it probably cost a fortune to make --  it is also quite entertaining and quite successful on several levels.

The magnificence of Rome
First there is the look of the picture. The cinematography by Paul Vogel and Charles Rosher is outstanding and the movie -- filmed in CinemaScope and Eastman color -- is great to look at throughout, thanks also to art direction by Cedric Gibbons [Tarzan and His Mate] and Urie McCleary. There is especially stunning underwater photography, and the underwater sequences are in every way splendid. Esther dances with some statues that come to life, and later is chased by three of Hannibal's men in an exciting and protracted sequence wherein you wonder when the participants managed to get some oxygen. The songs by Harold Adamson [Change of Heart] and Burton Lane are more than pleasant, with Keel warbling "The Road to Rome," "I Never Trust a Woman," and "Don't Let This Night Get Away." The soldiers come out with "Hannibal, Oh Hannibal," on more than one occasion. Although a dubbed Williams gets to sing "I Had a Dream", the duet she later sings with an un-dubbed Sanders, as well as a dance number for Marge and Gower Champion (playing another slave/soldier) was criminally cut, although it can be seen on the DVD.

Marge and Gower Champion dance with Hannibal's elephants
Speaking of the dancing, although his number about how he loves being a slave is in questionable taste, Gower delivers some fancy footwork in this sequence. Gower and his wife Marge really show off in a subsequent number in which they dance with a group of well-trained and talented elephants. (For the end of the film, the elephants were dyed different colors!) Hermes Pan did the lively choreography for the film. Keel, Williams, and especially Sanders, all offer good performances (albeit nothing Oscar-worthy), and they get excellent support from Norma Varden as Fabius' disapproving mother, Richard Hadyn as an historian, and Douglass Dumbrille as one of Fabius' generals.  An interesting aspect of the movie is that the heroine is essentially a traitress, although she does not kill anyone as some people have wrongly suggested. Another interesting aspect is that there's no way even audiences of the time could get around the fact that Hannibal and Amytis -- who fears becoming a vestial virgin -- are really shaking up that tent as Hannibal keeps postponing the sacking of Rome to satisfy his lusty appetites!

Verdict: Say what you will, this is an entertaining, colorful, and occasionally sexy MGM romp. ***. 


Tony Curtis
HOUDINI (1953). Director: George Marshall.

Harry Houdini (Tony Curtis) is performing as the "wild man" in a carnival sideshow when he encounters the pretty Bess (Janet Leigh), who finds him a little headstrong. Nevertheless, he wins her over, the two are married, and the couple head for Europe where Harry is determined to become a great magician. Harry manages to escape from a strait-jacket, gets out of a Scotland yard jail cell, and nearly dies when he is caught beneath the ice in the Detroit River. Bess feels some trepidation as Harry prepares to extricate himself from the "Pagoda Torture Cell," which is filled with water and seems inescapable ...

Curtis and then-wife Janet Leigh
Houdini is loosely based on the life of the famous magician, although it does manage to get some of the facts straight. (The Pagoda Torture Cell was actually called the Chinese Water Torture Cell and Houdini escaped from it numerous times. not just once, and the ending to this film is pure fiction). Tony Curtis makes a perfect Houdini, combining brashness with slight nervousness, and giving an energetic performance, while his then-wife Leigh compliments him well as Bess. There are also notable turns by Torin Thatcher [Witness for the Prosecution] as the assistant to a late famous magician who comes to work for Houdini; Mabel Paige [Johnny Belinda] as a phony medium that Houdini exposes; Ian Wolfe [Foreign Correspondent] as the head of a magicians' society; and others. The film is also distinguished by good period atmosphere and the photography of Ernest Laszlo.

Verdict: Entertaining, colorful romp about a fascinating historical figure. ***. 


JANE WYMAN: A BIOGRAPHY. Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein. Delacorte; 1985.

Jane Wyman had a distinguished career with one Oscar win, several nominations, and Emmy awards for her work on the TV series Falcon Crest. It has been suggested that the fact that her ex-husband Ronald Reagan became president had a lot to do with her late-in-life success -- even this book makes that point -- but the book also makes clear that Wyman had quite a body of work and a long list of achievements that would have made her a major Hollywood figure no matter whom she was married to.

This book goes on a bit too much about Reagan, which is not necessary considering the life and career enjoyed by Wyman. But it also looks at Wyman's other marriages, her toiling as a contract player in numerous forgettable movies where she was the wise-crackng blonde, then her emergence as a serious player in such films as Johnny Belinda, Miracle in the Rain, The Blue VeilAll That Heaven Allows and others. Many were surprised that Wyman, who continued making (mostly minor) movies, fled to television for her own anthology series a la Loretta Young, when her movie career was going much, much better than Young's. Wyman, however, felt that her type of picture was on its way out. The series, Jane Wyman Theatre, lasted several seasons.

Wyman had two children via Reagan, Maureen and Michael (who was adopted), upon whom Wyman would use a riding crop when he misbehaved, although he apparently never held it against her. Wyman's show Falcon Crest, in which she was excellent as the scheming Angela Channing, lasted for nearly a decade. Her last credit was on an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. A conservative Republican like her ex-husband (whom she probably divorced because she found his constant yakking about politics boring beyond belief), Wyman refused to play "ax murderers or lesbians" (!) when she was offered scripts with same.  Wyman was a private woman, and the book has no major interviews with insiders who knew her well. Still, it manages to be a good read.

Verdict: Solid if sometimes superficial study of a very talented movie star. ***. 


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The Unborn (2009). Written and directed by David S. Goyer. Casey (Odette Annable), a self-absorbed young woman, discovers not only that she had a twin brother who died, but that she is being haunted by a malevolent spirit called a dybbuk. Somehow this production managed to ensnare such name players as Jane Alexander (as the young lady''s grandmother) and Gary Oldman as a rabbi who tries to exorcise the dybbuk, but it's an illogical rehash of every horror movie ever made. There is an interesting sequence in a nursing home where an old man is transformed into a monster, and the closing theme music is snappy. **.

The Wife (2017). Director: Bjorn Runge. Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce co-star -- and are marvelous -- in this study of a long-term marriage when the couple travel to Stockholm where the husband is to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. But simmering tensions over the possible true authorship of his novels begin to boil over. Unlike a lot of modern-day movies, this film does not shy away from dramatic confrontations and is all the better for it. It's a good film all around, although one may come off with the nagging feeling that it could have been better, that some things don't quite jell. ***.

Dismissed (2017). Director: Benjamin Arfmann. High school English teacher Mr. Butler (Kent Osborne) comes into conflict with a bright and ambitious -- and unfortunately sociopathic -- student named Lucas Ward (Dylan Sprouse). Lucas takes serious exception when Butler gives his lengthy paper a B plus instead of an A, and Butler finds his life spiraling out of control. Dismissed is suspenseful and well-acted, and demonstrates how anti-social personalities can figuratively and literally destroy the lives of innocent people, but it can't exactly be considered a modern Bad Seed. **1/2.

Hereditary (2018). Written and directed by Ari Aster. A tragic and gruesome death in an already dysfunctional family causes a mother (Toni Collette) to seemingly go off the deep end, but are her problems really caused by the fact that her recently deceased mother was a Satanist? With its slow pace and off-putting style, Hereditary tries to disguise the fact that it's just another devil/possession movie masquerading as a family drama. When the spooky stuff starts late in the picture, it seems somewhat absurd and almost comical. Collette and some of the other actors give good performances, but stick with the less obtuse and more entertaining The Omen instead. **.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018). Director: J.A. Beyona. It turns out that the public zoo of Jurassic World was inexplicably built on an island with an active volcano, so the two leads of the last film decide to try to rescue the remaining dinosaurs. Unfortunately, some greedy people want to sell the monsters off to the highest bidder (would these savage beasts really make great weapons?) but it is no surprise that they wind up getting loose. JWFK is a pretty bad movie, with a terrible and stupid script hampered by dumb animal rights aspects and obnoxious characters, only one halfway memorable sequence, and moments that we have already seen over and over again. Chris Pratt seems so bored with the material -- and who can blame him? -- that he barely gives a performance. Terrible, despite some amazing and fluid FX work. *1/2.

Deadly Runway (aka Fatal Fashion/2018). Director: Doug Campbell. Jennifer (Linsey Godfrey), a disgraced fashion photographer now working in a high school, takes a shy, nerdy guy named David (Joshua Hoffman) to hand and manages to turn him into a top male model. But trouble begins when she gives the same treatment to Caitlyn (Ellen Michelle Monohan), and David becomes attracted to her. Meanwhile David's mom (Jamie Luner) worries about the relationship between Jennifer and David, as Jennifer goes full-out psycho. The cast in this is appealing and the film works as a decidedly minor thriller. **1/2.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). Director: Peyton Reed. This sequel to Ant-Man, is similarly entertaining but it is also more stupid than it needs to be. Henry Pym (Michael Douglas) sets out to find his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp, lost for decades in a molecular zone, with the aid of the new Wasp, his daughter (Evangeline Lilly), and their new friend, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) while the latter dodges FBI agents (who are basically portrayed almost as villains) and invisible attacks by a young lady called the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). After awhile the silliness (typified by an annoying character named Luis)  outweighs the thrills. **1/2.

Three Identical Strangers (2018). Director: Tim Wardle. This is the true story of three boys, triplets, separated at birth and who grow up in different households until they come across each other during their college years. They later learn that they were part of a study on twins and triplets that was done without their knowledge or consent. While the movie is nowhere near as "astonishing" as the hype would suggest, and I don't necessarily buy the thesis that being separated leads to depression and suicide (sadly, lots of people kill themselves without being separated in childhood), the documentary does have its interesting and poignant aspects. **1/2.

The Little Stranger (2018). Director: Lenny Abrahamson. In 1948 England a young doctor (Domhnall Gleeson) becomes involved with a once-prosperous family, including the mother (Charlotte Rampling), her disfigured veteran son (Will Poutler) and especially his sister, Caroline (Ruth Wilson). The film begins well, is well-produced and photographed with some good performances, but it abruptly turns into an unconvincing "ghost" story. With all of the elements the plot embodies, surely there could have been a stronger storyline to pin them to? Gleeson's performance plays a bit like a stunt. Based on a novel. **.

Replicas (2018). Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff. After his entire family is killed in an automobile accident, a scientist (Keanu Reeves) and his colleague (Thomas Middleditch, the nerd in the Verizon commercials) clone them and use special technology to transfer memories and personalities into the new bodies. The movie could have gone in several interesting and thoughtful directions, but instead turns into a mere "action" film with the family running from the stereotypical evil corporate executives -- which we've all seen a thousand and one times before. Often very illogical and comparatively shallow, the film takes intriguing notions and doesn't do enough with them. Reeves and Middleditch are okay, but Mona Foster, playing the wife, doesn't even appear to be an actress. Like a long and mediocre episode of The Outer Limits. **1/4. 



New York's Film Forum --located at 209 West Houston Street, west of Sixth Avenue (212-727-8110)-- is presenting a festival of Burt Lancaster films from Friday July 19th to Thursday August 15th, 2019.
Lancaster with Janice Rule in The Swimmer

The films include The KillersThe Swimmer (my favorite Lancaster performance), From Here to Eternity, The Leopard, Criss Cross, The Crimson Pirate, A Child is Waiting, Atlantic City, The Professionals, Brute Force, Birdman of Alcatraz, Desert Fury, Elmer Gantry, The Rainmaker, Seven Days in May, Judgment at Nuremberg, The Rose Tattoo, Sorry Wrong Number, and others.

For a complete list of films and more information click here