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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

THAT TOUCH OF MINK

Doris Day and Cary Grant
THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962). Director: Delbert Mann.

"When a man donates $200,000, he's entitled to use the facilities."

Wealthy entrepreneur Philip Shayne (Cary Grant) is in his limousine when it splashes mud on out-of-work Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day.) Philip sends his associate, Roger (Gig Young of Hunt the Man Down) to apologize for him, but Cathy insists Philip do it himself. When she meets him, however, she is so instantly smitten that she apologizes to him. Thus begins a difficult romance in which Cathy does her best to maintain her virtue even as Philip flies her off to exotic places and wines and dines her par excellance. A series of comical misunderstandings may or may not lead to the altar ...

A date from Hell: Doris Day and John Astin
That Touch of Mink is a funny movie, greatly abetted by the performances of the two leads. One could quibble that both of them, especially Grant, are a bit too old to be dancing around this whole sex-or-no-sex business, but they make the skirmishes amusing in spite of it. John Astin is also notable as a sleazy man in the unemployment office who has a hankering for Cathy and winds up wishing that he didn't.

Although there's nothing necessarily wrong with Audrey Meadows' performance, I was somehow disappointed by it. Meadows certainly knew how to slap down a line on The Honeymooners, but maybe this part should have been essayed by Eve Arden. Laurie Mitchell, the Queen of Outer Space herself, has a bit part as a showgirl, and John Fiedler is amusing as a confused bridegroom who gets the wrong idea about his wife. That Touch of Mink is typical of many sixties comedies in that it milks some humor out of a misunderstanding over a character's sexual orientation -- in this case Roger's shrink (Alan Hewitt, who is also very good) thinks he is gay. It does lead up to a silly but nevertheless hilarious final sequence.

Verdict: Despite its dated qualities (on so many levels), this is a consistently amusing picture with extremely adept leads. ***. 

THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE

Gene Barry and Rhonda Fleming
THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE (1953). Director: Lewis R. Foster.

Mrs. Edmonds (Agnes Moorehead) brings her four daughters from Seattle to the Klondike to meet up with her husband, a reformer who is trying to clean up the town during the gold rush. Unfortunately, when they arrive they discover that the man has been murdered. The chief suspect is saloon owner Johnny Kisco (Gene Barry of Burke's Law), who does what he can for the ladies, including giving one daughter, Patricia (Teresa Brewer) a job as an entertainer in his club. Her sister Katherine (Rhonda Fleming of The Killer is Loose) falls for Johnny and vice versa, but she can't deal with the rumors about his part in her father's death. Patricia winds up on the outs with the rest of her family as Katherine, taking over her late father's newspaper, does her best to run Johnny out of town.

Teresa Brewer
With a storyline like that you wouldn't think that Those Redheads from Seattle would be a musical, but it is; unfortunately it was produced by Paramount and not MGM. The songs are by a variety of composers and lyricists, some of whom went on to better things. But the big problem is that you would think the movie would have employed some famous musical stars, but neither of the two leads really do any singing (Barry later wound up starring on Broadway in La cage aux folles, but he was no great shakes as a singer). Teresa Brewer can sing, more or less, but the less said about her overbearing style the better -- as actress she is more palatable, but this was her only movie. There's only one halfway memorable song anyway, "I Guess It Was You All the Time," very well sung by Guy Mitchell, who plays Johnny's buddy, Joe. This was Mitchell's first movie. Essentially a vocalist, he had only a few credits on TV and in pictures.

Moorehead with Fleming, Brewer and one Bell Sister
Barry and Fleming make a pretty good team, even if they barely talk to one another throughout most of the movie. Moorehead is as terrific as ever as the somewhat feisty widow. The other two daughters in the film are played by "The Bell Sisters," about which little is known -- this was their only movie. The last few minutes of the film are taken up with a shoot out between Johnny and the real murderer as he tries to bring him in to clear his name, an abrupt shift in tone that doesn't bring nearly enough excitement to the proceedings. On a whole, the movie is pleasant enough, but aside from some of the performances there's little to distinguish it from numerous mediocre musicals. NOTE: This was originally released in 3D, probably the first musical to do so. Not that it helped that much.

Verdict: If we must have western-melodrama-musicals, this one will do until something better comes along. **1/2. 

KIM NOVAK, RELUCTANT GODDESS

KIM NOVAK, RELUCTANT GODDESS. Peter Harry Brown. St. Martin's; 1986.

This is the story of Kim Novak, a "manufactured" star who was signed to a contract because of her looks and then had to learn how to act on the run, so to speak. However, with the right roles and sympathetic directors, Novak was able to give good and sometimes very good performances in such films as VertigoPicnic, Middle of the Night, and others. On some occasions, such as in the wretched biopic Jeanne Eagels, she sunk to the level of the material. Novak had several boyfriends -- including the very married Ramfis "Ram" Trujillo, son of the Dominican president -- and got engaged more than once, but seemed to have commitment-phobia until she married British actor Richard Johnson [Deadlier Than the Male] for a union that lasted less than a year; the two remained friends. However, her later marriage to Dr. Robert Malloy has lasted over forty years. Novak apparently never wanted an acting career or movie stardom -- at least she didn't thirst for it as others did -- and when her glory days were over she didn't spend much energy on trying to make it back to the top, preferring wedded bliss and comparative anonymity over "Hollywood." The book has some behind-the-scenes stuff such as a report on William Holden's embarrassment over doing a sexy dance with Kim and her bad relationship with Laurence Harvey while doing the remake of Of Human Bondage, and some selections of her poetry indicate that she was a better actress than poet. This is a readable, entertaining, if comparatively superficial, bio of the star. Did she or did she not have a real affair with Sammy Davis Jr.? -- the book won't give you a conclusive answer, although Novak has always maintained the two were just warm friends who admired one another.

Verdict: Not a great, exhaustive book on Novak, but interesting and absorbing. ***. 

PRIVATE PROPERTY

Corey Allen
PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960). Written and directed by Leslie Stevens.

Boots (Warren Oates) and Duke (Corey Allen) are drifters who spy a blonde in a corvette and decide to follow her with the temporary assistance of the frightened businessman Ed Hogate (Jerome Cowan). The handsome and more intelligent Duke decides it's time that the older and somewhat simple-minded Boots have a woman, and the blonde, Ann (Kate Manx) -- who lives in a beautiful home with her husband, Roger (Robert Wark) -- has been selected whether she likes it or not. Holing up in an empty house next door, the two watch Ann and plan their next move ...

Robert Wark and Kate Manx
Private Property has its admirers -- it has some atmosphere and moody photography -- but it is by no means a lost masterpiece. The picture takes forever to get going, the antics of the two men and the views of Ann and Roger at home become equally tiresome, there is virtually no suspense, and by the time anything of real interest happens it's far too late to save the picture. Yes, it is clear that Ann, despite her love for her husband, is attracted to Duke, and some sequences almost have a simmering quality, but the chief feeling you get from the film is that Corey Allen -- good-looking, charismatic and talented -- deserved a much bigger career and could have easily played romantic leads. Allen has a rare leading role in this film and is excellent (he later became a very successful director). He gave top-notch, quirky performances in such films as The Big Caper and The Chapman Report.

Allen, Oates, and Cowan
Warren Oates, of course, who is also good, went on to better things. Jerome Cowan appears briefly and is as adept as ever. Kate Manx, who gives an appealing performance, was married to the writer-director Leslie Stevens [Fanfare for a Death Scene] at the time, and did a second film with him, Hero's Island, in which she was James Mason's leading lady! A year after her divorce from Stevens she committed suicide at 35. As for Stevens, he wrote the stage play The Marriage-Go-Round (as well as the screenplay for the adaptation) and created The Outer Limits and It Takes a Thief, among others. Ann and Roger's house in this movie was actually the home of Stevens and Manx.

Verdict: Over-rated B movie features an arresting performance by Allen, who deserved a better vehicle. **1/4, 

BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB (1987)

Judd Nelson and Raphael Sbarge
BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB (1987 two part four hour mini-series). Director: Marvin J. Chomsky.

Charismatic Joe Hunt (Judd Nelson), his best friend Dean Karney (Brian McNamara), and several of their wealthier friends form a group to make big money in investments. Some of the young men may or may not be aware that the whole thing is really just a variation on an illegal ponzi scheme. A con artist named Ron Levin (Ron Silver of Reversal of Fortune) gets involved with the group, allegedly giving them 14 million to play around with, only it's merely a paper account. Then Ron Levin goes missing. The Iranian-born father of one of the boys is found dead. Interspersed with a murder trial are flashbacks that show what happened and reveal the guilty parties.

Ron Silver 
Billionaire Boys Club should have been a riveting, taut, suspenseful and fascinating TV classic, but it never really rises above a mediocre level. For this the actors can't be faulted, as a talented group, led by a terrific Nelson, has certainly been assembled. Rafael Sbarge [Deadly Web] is a stand-out as one of two brothers who hangs on Hunt's every word until he realizes what a bad influence he has become. Fredric Lehne [Wiseguy] as Sbarge's brother, Stan Shaw as a sinister helpmate, Jill Schoelen as Joe's girlfriend, Amy, Allan Miller as a defense attorney, James Sloyan as the D.A., and especially Ron Silver as the ill-fated Levin, among others, are all good as well. Because it's an interesting true story this holds the attention, but that's all. The theatrical remake in 2018 wasn't much better. The real Joe Hunt, serving a life sentence in prison, now claims that Levin went on the run to avoid prosecution and is still alive.

Verdict: Not one of the great mini-series, but well-acted. **1/4. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (PLAYHOUSE 90 LIVE TV/1958)

Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie
DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1958). Playhouse 90 season three, episode 2. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Written especially for Playhouse 90 by J. P. Miller. Introduced by Sterling Hayden.

Joe Clay (Cliff Robertson of Obsession) stands up at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and relates the story of his life, his marriage to fellow alcoholic Kirsten (Piper Laurie of Carrie), and his dark descent and struggle back to sobriety. When Joe meets Kirsten at a party, it is already clear that she likes her liquor. After Joe loses his job due to his drinking, he and Kirsten and their little girl move in with her father, Ellis (Charles Bickford of Anna Christie), who unfairly blames Joe for his daughter's problem. But can Joe convince his wife that she has to give up alcohol entirely or they simply can not have a life together, and she cannot be their child's mother?

Cliff Robertson 
Days of Wine and Roses, as presented on the anthology series Playhouse 90, is a true classic of live television. (Frankly it's inexplicable how certain scene changes were enacted without any cuts or commercial breaks.) Hollywood had already dealt with alcoholism in The Lost Weekend, but this teleplay examines the affects of the disease on marriage and on an innocent child (although the latter aspect is downplayed). The script is strong, the performances from all three leads are excellent, and the teleplay, well-directed by John Frankenheimer [Seconds] early in his career, retains bite and interest. This was remade as a theatrical film starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. One of Robertson's finest performances.

Verdict: A prime example of why everyone raves about the early days of live television. ***1/2.  

DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1962)

Bottoms Up! Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick
DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1962). Director: Blake Edwards.

"The world looks so dirty to me when I'm not drinking." -- Kirsten.

Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) is a public relations man who likes his liquor. When he first meets Kirsten (Lee Remick), the two don't exactly hit it off, but a persistent Joe finally gets a date with her. Although Kirsten doesn't drink, or even particularly like the taste of alcohol, Joe importunes her to try a Brandy Alexander, and she discovers she likes getting tight. When the two get married and have a daughter, both discover that alcohol is playing too large a role in their lives, only Kirsten won't admit she has a problem.

Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick
Days of Wine and Roses is based on a classic and excellent television play that was presented on Playhouse 90 in 1958. J. P. Miller wrote the script for both the show and the movie, although some questionable elements were added.to "open up" the story (one imagines director Blake Edwards also had a hand in that). The casting of Jack Lemmon [How to Murder Your Wife], who was mostly known as a comedian at the time, apparently necessitated sequences fabricated to let the audience slowly get into the eventually sombre mood by turning the first third of the film into a comedy as Lemmon pursues a disinterested Remick [Anatomy of a Murder]. The movie nearly sinks with an utterly ridiculous sequence in which Joe tries to get rid of the cockroaches in Kirsten's apartment, and her neighbors inexplicably complain about it.

Jack Lemmon and Charles Bickford 
The film eventually settles down into the main story, detailing how Joe loses his job due to his drinking, his recognition that both he and his wife are bonafide alcoholics, their moving in with her father, Ellis (Charles Bickford reprising his role from the TV version), who owns a nursery that Joe nearly destroys during a binge. (In both the TV and theatrical version we're not shown Ellis' reaction when he discovers what his son-in-law has done, which might have made for one intensely dramatic sequence.)

Lee Remick
Days of Wine and Roses is a good picture that is bolstered by fine performances from Lemmon (helping to establish him as a dramatic player as well as a comic one), Remick (possibly her best performance), and Bickford. Jack Klugman [12 Angry Men] is much less impressive as a representative of AA who tries to help Joe. The TV version is generally superior to the movie. In the original teleplay Joe is not responsible for Kirsten starting drinking, which he is in the film, and in the movie he never seems to feel any guilt about it. In the film Lemmon almost immediately takes a drink when Remick, in her lonely motel room, begs him to join her, whereas Cliff Robertson sits contemplating the bottle for awhile before he gives in. All in all, the teleplay is better if for no other reason than that it doesn't waste time with the sitcom-like stuff that the movie does. Both versions sort of gloss over the financial angles of the characters' situation, and other things are a bit prettified as well.

Verdict: Worthwhile picture, although not as good as the original. ***. 

BUS STOP

Monroe and Don Murray
BUS STOP (1956). Director: Joshua Logan. Based on the play by William Inge.

"Ain't it wonderful when somebody so terrible turns out to be so nice." -- Cherie.

Bo Decker is a young rancher who has a lot of energy but little experience with life or women. With his foreman and best friend, Virgil (Arthur O'Connell), he travels to Phoenix, Arizona to compete in a rodeo. He is certain that he will meet the right gal for him, and is convinced that that is just what's happened when he runs into nightclub entertainer Cherie (Marilyn Monroe). The trouble is that while Cherie may think Bo is handsome, she has no intention of marrying a complete stranger that she has just met. Bo, unfortunately, simply won't take no for an answer ...

Don Murray as Bo
Bus Stop was based on a stage play by William Inge, and it was opened up by screenwriter George Axelrod. Joshua Logan also directed the film version of Inge's Picnic the same year, although he had not directed the stage version of Bus Stop as he did Picnic. The movie benefits from inspired casting. Marilyn Monroe is simply outstanding as Cherie -- possibly the best performance of her career -- and is able to bring out the pathos and confusion in her character as well as her more comical aspects. Her interpretation of "That Old Black Magic" which she deliberately sings off-key in the saloon is very funny. Don Murray [Advise and Consent], whose first theatrical film this was, is also excellent, just perfect in fact, as Bo, managing to make a man who seems nearly psychotic at times a bit vulnerable and greatly appealing in some instances.

Arthur O'Connell and Monroe
As for the rest of the cast, Arthur O'Connell offers another of his spot-on performances as father surrogate Virgil. Betty Field [Seventeen] makes an impression, and seems to be channeling Mae West a bit, as the coffee shop owner, Grace. Robert Bray [Never Love a Stranger] has possibly his best role as the bus driver, Carl, who has a yen for Grace, and who has a fateful encounter with Bo. Eileen Heckart and Hope Lange are also effective in smaller roles as, respectively, Cherie's friend and co-worker and a young woman on the bus who befriends Cherie. Like Picnic, this romance has a bittersweet conclusion. Murray was nominated for an Oscar (supporting); Monroe should have been. The TV series Bus Stop was very loosely based on this movie.

Verdict: Very entertaining and well-acted comedy drama. ***. 

THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS

Bobby Van and Debbie Reynolds
THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS (1953). Director: Don Weis.

Dobie Gillis (Bobby Van) has enrolled in college but he doesn't seem to have much on his mind academically. He is much more interested in girls, especially Pansy Hammer (Debbie Reynolds), who is initially resistant. Pansy's parents, especially her grumpy father (Hanley Stafford), rarely approve of her boyfriends and Dobie is no exception. Further complicating the matter is that Dobie's pal and roommate, Charlie (Bob Fosse), goes for Lorna (Barbara Ruick), who only has eyes for Dobie. Then Dobie manages to get into trouble over and over again, and it seems as if he and Pansy are to be separated forever.

Roomies: Bob Fosse and Bobby Van
The Affairs of Dobie Gillis is a trifle, but what a charming and entertaining trifle it is, with a great cast of talented performers giving their utmost. Bobby Van [The Navy vs the Night Monsters], while not traditionally handsome, proves an adept leading man with both singing and dancing skills, a pleasant, outgoing personality, and plenty of exuberance and charisma. The same could be said for Bob Fosse, who is both cute (if not on a Tab Hunter level) and appealing, but chose to work primarily behind the scenes as a top choreographer in later years. Debbie Reynolds [Singin' in the Rain] is also cute and perky and while this is mostly Van's show, gives him her best in support. Barbara Ruick, who was in the film version of Carousel as well as Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, scores as the love-sick gal who adores her disinterested Dobie and is given at least one snappy number. 

Reynolds, Van, Freeman
As for the supporting cast, Hans Conreid, as a stuffy professor, reminds one of Mr. Livermore on I Love Lucy. Kathleen Freeman certainly adds to the fun as the comical leader of an all-girl band. Percy Helton shows up as a shop owner, Charles Lane is well-cast as a -- what else? -- grouchy chemistry professor, and there are bits by Alvy Moore,  Almira Sessions, and John Smith. Lurene Tuttle is Debbie's mother, and is fine, but Hanley Stafford as her father is all bluster and no laughs. The songs include "All I Do is Dream of You," "I'm Through with Love;" and "Can't Do Wrong If It's Right," which features some fancy footwork from Van and Fosse. The somewhat episodic film reminds one a bit of a sitcom at times, and indeed it wasn't long before The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was being telecast every week, although with a completely different cast.

Verdict: Lots of fun, good tunes, and fancy footwork. ***. 

HAPPY TRAILS: OUR LIFE STORY -- ROY ROGERS AND DALE EVANS

HAPPY TRAILS: OUR LIFE STORY. ROY ROGERS AND DALE EVANS. With Jane and Michael Stern. Simon and Schuster; 1994.

In alternating chapters, and with overviews provided by the co-authors, Roy Rogers [Wall Street Cowboy] and Dale Evans tell their love story and their life as entertainers and parents of several children, some of whom were adopted. Rogers' first wife died in childbirth, and the heart-broken cowboy made several films with Evans before finally falling in love with her and vice versa. Evans, whose first marriage ended in divorce, admits that in her younger days she cared about little else but her career and at first did not especially want to be one half of the Rogers-Evans combo. Despite toiling for low-budget Republic studios, Rogers caught on with the public and became a bonafide movie star, then garnered even more fans with his rodeo appearances with his beloved horse, Trigger (whom he later had mounted after the horse's death). Rogers, who somehow got out of WW2 military service, took advantage of the fact that rival cowboy Gene Autry went into the military and Republic promoted Rogers as "King of the Cowboys" during his absence. (Rogers' undeniable squinty-eyed sex appeal certainly didn't hurt.) When the film career petered out, Roy and Dale had their own successful TV series. Dale eventually found religion, and Rogers followed suit, although they seem unable to grasp that one can have positive values in life without necessarily having a personal relationship with God. On the other hand, they have helped a great many children, and the most affecting sections of the book deal with the tragic deaths of some of their adopted and biological youngsters. Roy and Dale clearly believed in corporal punishment, and despite the fact that their boys could often be naughty and rambunctious, there are passages that may raise eyebrows, particularly one in which Dale confesses she secretly fed a field mice to one of the boys because she'd heard if was a folk remedy for curing bed-wetting! Factoids in the book include the interesting news that sidekick Gaby Hayes [From Broadway to Cheyenne] was actually a well-educated man who could perform Shakespeare (!), and that Roy's favorite TV show was the soap opera, The Guiding Light!

Verdict: If you can get past the tiresome religiosity, this is more interesting than you might imagine, although it is primarily recommended for Roy Rogers addicts. ***.