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

Thursday, October 31, 2019



We've got a fresh crop of Halloween horrors this week at Great Old Movies: two Brian De Palma shockers; a modern horror film that eschews the supernatural for common sense; a "classic" starring the ever-delightful Chucky; and the colorized version of a very old favorite with Vincent Price.

And check out some more horror films over at my brother blog, B Movie Nightmare!

Have a great night! 


Who's the bigger bitch? Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (colorized/1959). Produced and directed by William Castle.

Annabelle Loring (Carol Ohmart of The Scarlet Hour) has conceived of the idea of holding a party in a supposedly haunted house and having the guests arrive in hearses. Unfortunately, her husband, Frederick (Vincent Price), has his own ideas, and chooses the guests himself, offering all of them $10,000 if they stay locked in the house all night. There's no love lost between Frederick and Annabelle, whom her husband sees as nothing more than an amoral gold-digger. The guests -- test pilot Lance (Richard Long); gambling columnist Ruth (Julie Mitchum); psychiatrist David (Alan Marshal of Lydia); Loring's employee Nora (Carolyn Craig of Giant); and the house's weird owner Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr.)  -- can only wonder what, if anything, the Lorings are up to. Then somebody is found hanging ...

Carolyn Craig and Richard Long
Discovering that House on Haunted Hill had been colorized gave me an excuse to watch this guilty pleasure all over again and despite its lack of logic and its kind of clunkiness, it is a pleasure. Chief among the delights is the interplay between Price and Ohmart, who are wonderful as the combative and sneaky spouses. We mustn't forget the creepy and melodramatic score by Van Alexander which works beautifully with this kind of pseudo-scary and definitely amusing material. A scene late in the picture with a skeleton rising out of a pool of acid in the house's basement  undoubtedly had all the kids in 1959 screaming their heads off with delight. Hokey it may be, but the flick is a lot of fun.

As to the colorization, which is well done, I have to wonder if it really adds anything to the picture. At least the addition of color doesn't strip the film of atmosphere, thank goodness, which it has in abundance despite its often silly but always-macabre tone. Julie Mitchum was the older sister of Robert Mitchum; this was the last of her eight credits.

Verdict: Perfect Halloween viewing. ***. 


Best Buddies? Chucky and little Alex Vincent
CHILD'S PLAY (1988). Director: Tom Holland.

A very nice widow named Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) wants to get her little son Andy (Alex Vincent) a popular "Good Guy" doll but finds it too expensive. However, she manages to acquire one from a street vendor and brings it home to her delighted six-year-old son. Neither of them realize that the doll -- Chucky by name -- has been possessed by the spirit of nasty strangler Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif of Dario Argento's Trauma), who is out to get revenge on certain people, such as cop Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon), and anyone else who gets in his way. But both Andy and then his mother will have a tough time convincing anyone that this weird little doll is actually alive ...

Chris Sarandon and Catherine Hicks
Child's Play manages to be both suspenseful and creepy in spite of its absurd premise, thanks to some adroit direction and editing and the casting of Catherine Hicks, who is quite good as the mother, and little Alex Vincent, who is sympathetic and appealing as the innocent and rather resourceful Andy. Chris Sarandon [The Light in the Piazza] plays the cop on the case as the stereotypical blase and gruff detective and is okay on that level. But one might wonder why no one would think Chucky was a pygmy or midget before they would accept a supernatural explanation. It's also a little strange that no one in the subway remarks upon a six-year-old traveling by himself on the subway -- we New Yorkers are not that indifferent to what's going on around us.

Don't make Chucky mad
One of the best sequences has Chucky attacking Norris as he drives in his cop car, desperately trying to keep his body up off the seat when Chucky starts trying to thrust a knife into his private parts. Considering his small size, Chucky manages to inflict a lot of damage on certain individuals, such as Karen's friend, Maggie (played by Lee Grant's daughter, Dinah Manoff), who babysits Alex when Karen has to work and comes afoul of that demonic plastic toddler. An interesting touch is that the spell that put the dying Dourif's spell in the doll will eventually turn him completely human. (Although Dourif tries his damnedest to have his consciousness wind up inside Andy, he might as well stay inside the doll as in either case he'll still be a child.)

Child's Play was so successful that it was followed by several sequels, and also engendered a terrible remake that just came out this year. Tom Holland also directed the memorable Fright Night, which starred Sarandon. Child's Play may have been influenced by a segment of the TV film Trilogy of Terror, which also featured a lively killer doll.

Verdict: Appealing players help put over this pretty exciting horror flick. ***. 


Fateful encounter: Angie Dickinson and Ken Baker
DRESSED TO KILL (1980). Written and directed by Brian De Palma.

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is a sexually-dissatisfied Manhattan housewife who encounters a dark, pursuing stranger (Ken Baker) at a museum and has an assignation with him. Angie has a son, Peter (Keith Gordon), who is a science genius, and she sees her therapist, Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) on a regular basis. After Kate is gruesomely murdered in an elevator after her illicit rendezvous, Peter teams up with a witness, the hooker Liz (Nancy Allen). to find out if his mother's killer could be one of the doctor's psychotic patients. Their investigation puts both of them in harm's way.

Michael Caine 
Dressed to Kill is clearly a modern-day take on Psycho, if not quite in that classic's league. (De Palma was already under the Master's influence with Sisters and Obsession.) We have the blond female protagonist who is dispatched fairly early in the film, and a killer who may be a genuine transsexual (and not a sort-of transvestite as in Psycho). Then there's De Palma's heavy but totally appropriate reliance on a Hitchcock-like subjective camera. Indeed, the entire film has a stunning and stylish look due to the superior cinematography of Ralf D. Bode and it is all swathed in an evocative score by Pino Donaggio. 

Keith Gordon and Nancy Allen
In the unrated version of the film, which is more graphic both in terms of nudity and violence, the elevator slashing is even more disturbing than in the original. But the more memorable sequences include the aforementioned museum pick up and the encounter that Liz has with both some punks on one hand, and the slasher on the other, on a subway train. In addition to using Donaggio from his earlier film Carrie, De Palma employs another climactic nightmare sequence that is quite chilling and very well-crafted. Gerald B. Greenburg was the editor.

Angie Dickinson
What the script says about De Palma's attitude toward women I'll hold off on until my review of Body Double. I don't think the director was in any way intending to make a negative statement about transsexuals in Dressed to Kill -- in fact, he includes a clip from a Phil Donahue show where the guest is a happy and well-adjusted trans woman. The performances in this are all good, with Caine a stand-out, and there is also fine work from Dennis Franz as a cynical but likable cop assigned to the case. De Palma's career after this film has been hit or miss, with a couple of notable Al Pacino starrers, Casualties of War and Mission: Impossible being decided highlights. He's had a  number of clunkers in the suspense department, although Body Double has its devotees.

Verdict: Not an out-and-out masterpiece like Psycho, but a very good, very well-directed suspense thriller and high-class slasher. ***1/2. 


Deborah Shelton and Craig Wasson
BODY DOUBLE (1984). Director/Producer/Co-writer: Brian De Palma.

Jake (Craig Wasson), a struggling actor, gets fired from a vampire movie because of his claustrophobia, and finds out his girlfriend (Barbara Crampton) is cheating on him. A new acquaintance, fellow actor Sam (Gregg Henry), tells him he knows of a sublet he can use for awhile, an obvious sex-pad high over Hollywood. Sam shows Jake a telescope and points it toward a house across the way where the pretty occupant does a nightly naked  and provocative dance. Before long Jake is following this woman (Deborah Shelton), and discovers that someone else much more sinister is after her as well. Then there's a horrible murder ...

Craig Wasson and Gregg Henry
Body Double is another one of De Palma's homages to Hitchcock -- especially Vertigo and Rear Window -- although I don't imagine that the Master would have been satisfied with this convoluted and often senseless screenplay which doesn't add up very well when you give it any thought (and which also cries out for meatier characterizations). One could also argue quite successfully that De Palma's attempts to cover up the true identity of the killer are fairly clumsy. On the other hand, none of that matter's much if you like De Palma's post-Hitchcockian style and are willing to suspend disbelief almost from the first frame to the last, although De Palma really pushes it in at least one sequence.

For instance, there's the ludicrous scene when Wasson and Shelton, after the latter has had her purse snatched on the beach and Wasson has pursued the thief, begin suddenly making out (these two are an improbable couple in the first place) and De Palma apes the revolving-camera kiss of Vertigo. But while Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak might be seen as a somewhat improbable couple themselves, Hitchcock's scene plays beautifully (for one thing, there\s an emotional connection between the two people) and the scene in Body Double is actually laughable. For this and other reasons Body Double was excoriated by the critics, although -- the beach scene aside -- it is very skillfully and smoothly directed by De Palma. At times De Palma seems to be channeling Italian director Dario Argento as well as Hitchcock.

De Palma also came in for heat because of the gory (if not relentlessly graphic) power drill murder of the cringing female victim. It's all well and good for the director to claim that he's only operating on the "damsel in distress" principle, but even then women were not exactly weak and helpless. (At least Dario Argento is more honest in that he simply prefers beautiful, sexy women as victims  -- we'll ignore for now what that says about his psychology.) De Palma found the criticism of this sequence laughable, but he knew it would outrage people and he also knew that the controversy would sell lots of tickets.

Wasson and Melanie Griffith
De Palma not only imitates Hitchcock but his own Dressed to Kill. A main character teams up with a hooker to unmask a killer in Dressed, and in Body Double Jake at least tries to team up with the porn star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith, whose mother Tippi Hedren starred in two Hitchcock classics). At one point both characters participate in a rock video for the song "Relax" by the group Frankie Goes to Hollywood. This scene seemed sexy and outre in the eighties but now seems just a bit forced and clunky. In any case, you get the impression that De Palma, although he waves away charges of misogyny, is one of those truly old-fashioned fellows who classifies women as either virgins or whores!

Craig Wasson gives a very good performance as the somewhat nerdy, voyeuristic but concerned Jake (even if the shadowy victim in this is pretty much forgotten by story's end). Shelton and Griffith are supposed to be little more than sexy kewpie dolls and are good enough on that level. Busy actor Guy Boyd makes an impression as the distrustful Detective McLean. Pino Donaggio's score is effective and Stephen H. Burum's cinematography is first-rate.

NOTE: De Palma had wanted to use an actual porn star to play Holly Body, but the studio objected too strenuously. De Palma substituted this thriller for Cruising.

Verdict: Your call. I enjoyed it while being aware of its all-too-obvious flaws. ***.


Ethan Hawke
REGRESSION (2015). Written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar.

In 1990 Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke of Sinister) investigates a case wherein a 17-year-old girl, Angela (Emma Watson), has accused her father, John (David Dencik), of raping her. She also tells stories of numerous masked people -- Satanists -- coming into her room and holding unholy rituals. Kenner doesn't believe in Satan, but he does believe that there are cults of Satanists performing rituals involving animal and even child sacrifice. As he investigates further, he becomes more and more paranoid, and is convinced people are following him. He also discovers that at least one police officer, George (Aaron Ashmore of Fear Island), may be one of the Satanists.

Hawke and Aaron Ashmore
One thing I liked about Regression is that it isn't the usual sub-literate Church vs Satan movie. I believe the lack of supernatural and grisly events is what turned many critics against the picture, as it is absorbing, well-acted, and well-made for the most part. Hawke and Watson are fine, and there is also good work from Ashmore, Dencik, David Thewlis [Wonder Woman] as a psychiatrist, Peter MacNeill as the chief of police, Lothaire Bluteau as a creepy Reverend, a dynamic Dale Dickey as Angela's grandmother, and Devon Bostick as her troubled brother, Roy. (If I have one quibble about the film is that it's hard to feel complete sympathy for a character who throws his son out of the house for being gay, although this is not necessarily condoned.) 

Verdict: Nominal horror film has the courage to eschew graphic, nauseating gore and keep the devil out of the equation. ***. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Tyrone Power and Kim Novak
THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY (1956). Director: George Sidney.

Eddy Duchin is a brash, talented pianist who comes from Boston to New York to play with a band, but discovers it's not as easy as he thought. Nevertheless he works his way up to becoming a bandleader (although how he does this is never quite shown). He also marries a socialite, Marjorie (Kim Novak), and the two have a son, Peter. Life seems wonderful for Eddy, but he doesn't know that there is more than one tragedy in his future.

Rex Thompson as Peter Duchin
The Glenn Miller Story (starring Jimmy Stewart) had already been filmed two years earlier, and eventually other musicians besides bandleaders, such as Gene Krupa, would get the biopic treatment. Although The Eddy Duchin story is heavily fictionalized with a lot of dramatic license, most of the basic facts of Duchin's life are presented unflinchingly, and in fact this is one "musical" that is quite depressing. There are many contrived, if moving, sequences in the film, such as one with Duchin bonding with a little Asian boy while in the service. Power's performance is good, but it's Hollywood acting, not the kind of consummate emoting that would signify a really great performance. Kim Novak is lovely and adept as Marjorie, and Rex Thompson is excellent as young Peter at about age ten. A sequence when Eddy has to give his son some particularly disturbing news has Thompson out-acting Power.

Victoria Shaw and Tyrone Power
Eddy Duchin also has a superior supporting cast, with James Whitmore as a club owner and loyal associate of Duchin's; Frieda Inescort and Shepperd Strudwick as relatives of Marjorie's who raise the boy; and Victoria Shaw [The Crimson Kimono] as Chiquita, another relative who befriends Peter and eventually becomes his mother. I wondered where Gloria Holden of Dracula's Daughter might be, then realized at the end that she had played  Eddy's mother (quite well by the way)! The film is greatly bolstered by a score by George Duning and especially Harry Stradling's superb widescreen cinematography.

One thing the film ignores, which might have contributed more drama to the screenplay, is that Duchin was Jewish, and Marjorie was bounced out of the social register when she married him.

Tyrone Power was 43 when he made this film, two years older than Duchin was when he died of leukemia. Power himself would be dead in two years. Even with make up and Hollywood lighting, Power, although still handsome, generally looks in his fifties or older.

Verdict: Moving if manufactured biopic with good performances and a beautiful and classy look to it, thanks to Harry Stradling. ***. 


CARY GRANT, DARK ANGEL Geoffrey Wansell. Arcade; 2016.

This updated version of Wansell's biography of Grant is a coffee table trade paperback loaded with photographs. The book keeps hinting at Grant's "dark side," which numerous co-stars, friends and directors apparently noticed, but it's never really explored in any depth, although there are details of the actor's problematic relationship with his mother. As usual, the book notes that Grant and Randolph Scott lived together even after Grant's first marriage -- Grant's first five marriages all failed, and his sixth ended with his death -- but is coy about everything else. Apparently Grant was a terrible husband until his more mellow final years. The author does a perfectly workmanlike job of exploring Grant's various film roles, his affairs, and Hollywood career, but whether Grant was gay or bisexual and desperately needed the heterosexual facade of a movie star, or whether he was just the stereotypical much-married Hollywood actor, this book doesn't reveal.  Much of the book covers very well-tread territory.

Verdict: Not bad for what it is, but there's nothing really new here. **1/2. 


Hank Stratton and Helen Hunt
MURDER IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: THE PAMELA WOJAS SMART STORY (1991 telefilm). Director: Joyce Chopra.

Pamela Smart (Helen Hunt) is the media director of a high school in New Hampshire. She begins work on a project with several teens, and begins an affair with one of them, 15-year-old Billy Flynn (Chad Allen). Pamela assures Billy that her love for him is genuine, but that her supposedly abusive husband, Gregg (Hank Stratton) will make her life miserable if she divorces him. Pamela importunes Billy, with the help of some friends, to murder Gregg, and after some agonizing, he does. Pam is sure that the police will never figure out her involvement, but people, after all, will talk ...

Chad Allen as killer Billy
Murder in New Hampshire is based on real-life events, some of which were later fictionalized in the film To Die For. This is a fairly standard TV movie with some good acting, but it is never what you could call riveting film-making. Allen, who was 17 at the time, probably makes the best impression as the gullible Billy, although there is good work from Stratton and from Ken Howard and Michael Learned as Gregg's parents. Hunt is also good, but she doesn't get across the hardness and sheer dumb dead-commonness of Pamela Smart. Chad Allen, who is openly gay, later appeared in the film Save Me (along with many others), and again proved what a fine actor he is.

Hank Stratton  as Gregg Smart
Smart, who is serving a life sentence, was recently interviewed on Dateline. She maintains her innocence to this day, and refuses to show remorse or admit her guilt, two things she must do if she ever wishes to be paroled. (Flynn and the other boys have all been paroled.) She downplays the fact that she had an affair with a minor, a fact that might well have sealed her fate even if she were, improbably, innocent. The point was made, as it should be, that the true victim in this is Gregg Smart, who by all accounts was a perfectly nice guy. Joyce Chopra later directed a somewhat better telefilm, The Danger of Lovewhich was about another sociopathic lady, Carolyn Warmus, who murdered her boyfriend's wife. Not surprisingly, Smart and Warmus became friends in the penitentiary!

Verdict: Fair-to-middling TV version of a fascinating case. **1/2. 


Nicole Kidman
TO DIE FOR (1995). Director: Gus Van Sant.

"You're not anybody in America unless you're on TV." -- Suzanne Stone.

Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman of Eyes Wide Shut) is determined to have a career in broadcasting, and using her perch as weather girl for a local channel, works with some young people on a documentary that she hopes will get attention. Suzanne is beginning to believe that her loving husband, Larry (Matt Dillon), will only hold her back from her ambitions. Beginning an affair with the boy Jimmy Emmett (Joaquin Phoenix of The Village), Suzanne tells Jimmy that the only way they can be together permanently is if Larry is out of the picture ...

Joaquin Phoenix
To Die For was inspired by the real-life Pamela Smart case as seen in the earlier telefilm Murder in New Hampshire. It may seem in bad taste that this story -- although the names have been changed along with certain incidents, and Suzanne is much more over-the-top than the real Smart -- is played as a very dark comedy, but the film has a serious undertone throughout, and "Larry's" death is in no way made fun of. The one person who comes in for drubbing is Pamela/Suzanne, who is depicted as a self-absorbed and narcissistic monster. The audience laughs at her and her outrageousness, not with her. Based on Joyce Maynard's novel, Buck Henry's screenplay delves into celebrity, sociopathology and other trenchant topics in very entertaining fashion. 

David Cronenberg
Nicole Kidman is perfect as Suzanne, and there is also good work from Phoenix as her young lover; Dan Hedaya as Larry's father; Holland Taylor as Suzanne's mother; Illeana Douglas as Larry's sister; Casey Affleck as one of Jimmy's murdering buddies; Alison Folland as Lydia, a friend of Jimmy's; and an uncredited George Segal as a slimy newsman who gives Suzanne some sexist tips. David Cronenberg, who directed many of his own movies, shows up at the end as a hit man pretending to be a Hollywood producer. Suzanne's final fate in this movie is perhaps more satisfying than what happened to Pamela Smart, who is still in the penitentiary as of this writing!

Verdict: Absorbing, very darkly amusing film with a strong lead performance. ***. 


Robert Ryan
ACT OF VIOLENCE (1949). Director: Fred Zinnemann.

Frank Enley (Van Heflin) is a respected man with a wife, Edith (Janet Leigh), and an infant son. Into their lives comes Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), a friend and associate of Frank's during the war. Trying to save the lives of his men in a German POW camp, Frank made a terrible mistake, and these same men died torturous deaths. Joe is one of the survivors and has come to kill Frank, whose guilt and shame is at times overpowering. A woman Frank encounters named Pat (Mary Astor), puts him in touch with someone who can help, but then he learns that the plan is to murder Parkson ...

Van Heflin, Mary Astor, Berry Kroeger
Very well directed by Fred Zinnemann, Act of Violence is a superior crime film with some excellent characterizations and performances. The film doesn't offer easy answers, as even Frank himself wonders how noble or base his motives may have been during the war. Heflin turns in another sharp turn as Frank, and I don't think I've ever seen Janet Leigh better. Ryan has less to do than the others but he is effective and is given some fine moments. Phyllis Thaxter also makes an impression as Ann, a woman who is in love with Joe and tries to talk him out of murdering Frank. Strangely, the only performance that doesn't work at all is Mary Astor's, herein miscast as a middle-aged barfly, one of the few if only times I haven't been impressed with her work. (Her introduction into the story is rather contrived as well). Berry (sic) Kroeger [Atlantis the Lost Continent] certainly scores as the sinister Johnny, who plans to kill Joe for money.

Van Heflin and Janet Leigh
There are some comparatively minor problems with Act of Violence. It makes little sense that Edith wouldn't have had Joe arrested when he forces his way into the house, at gunpoint no less. That would certainly have gotten him off the streets for quite a while. The ending of the film is ill-conceived as well, although it gives Frank a chance at redemption. Unusual for a film made in the forties, there are no opening credits except for the title, with the rest of the credits coming at the very end. An interesting question: by refusing his superior officer, Frank's orders, was Joe more responsible for the men's deaths than Frank was?

Verdict: Worthwhile forties melodrama with more depth than usual. ***. 

Thursday, October 3, 2019


Wife vs. mistress: Ann Harding and Myrna Loy
WHEN LADIES MEET (1933). Director: Harry Beaumont. NOTE: Some plot points are given away in this review.

Novelist Mary Howard (Myrna Loy) has had a sort of long-time boyfriend in Jimmie Lee (Robert Montgomery), who is hopelessly in love with her. But Mary has fallen for her married publisher, Rogers Woodruf (Frank Morgan), and is examining the situation in her latest, unfinished novel. She thinks the heroine, who is also having an affair, should intelligently talk things out with her paramour's wife, an idea that the men who read her book, at least, think is crazy. But then Jimmie concocts a scheme where he manages to get both wife, Clare (Ann Harding of The Unknown Man), and mistress -- and eventually the husband -- in the same house during a weekend in the country, and the scenario Mary has envisioned may play out differently than she expects.

Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy
When Ladies Meet is a frank, interesting and well-played comedy-drama whose best scene is when the two women talk about husbands, affairs, mistresses and infidelity without Clare being aware that Mary is her husband's latest girlfriend, and without Mary knowing that Clare is her lover's wife! Then the husband shows up ... Although Loy never quite seems bright enough to be a serious novelist (yet her character is rather naive) and Harding overplays a couple of moments, both ladies give good (not great) performances. Also notable are the boyish Montgomery as the mischievous Jimmie, and Alice Brady [Three Smart Girls] as the ever-talkative and amusing Bridget, who is hosting the country weekend along with her architect-boyfriend, Walter (Martin Burton).

Frank Morgan: a young woman's dream of bliss? 
A decided weakness of the film is the miscasting of Frank Morgan as the publisher. Not terribly attractive and with a distinctly negative aura in this, Morgan is a bad choice to play a lover boy. It might make more sense if Mary was an aspiring author, and wants Morgan's help and tutelage, but while pretty young woman do on occasion become attached to much less appealing older men, this pairing is a bit much to swallow. Woodruf turns out to be a real pig in any case. Harding has some very good moments coming to some hard conclusions abut her marriage, although Loy underplays her rejection scene way too much. Whatever its flaws, When Ladies Meet is absorbing and entertainingIt was remade eight years later with the same story, much of the same dialogue, but with a completely different cast. Loy and Harding also played rivals in The Animal Kingdom

Verdict: Illicit romances never run smoothly. ***. 


Greer Garson and Joan Crawford
WHEN LADIES MEET (1941). Director: Robert Z. Leonard.

Successful novelist Mary Howard (Joan Crawford) is having an affair with her married publisher, Rogers Woodruf (Herbert Marshall of Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble). Exploring this situation in her latest unfinished novel, Mary thinks that her heroine should go and talk things over frankly with her lover's wife. Jimmy Lee (Robert Taylor of The Night Walker), a boyish reporter who is in love with Mary, contrives to put wife and mistress together at a house in the country during a weekend in an effort to pull Mary away from Woodruf. When Mary meets Clare Woodruf (Greer Garson of Random Harvet) the latter is using a phony name as part of Jimmy's ploy, and has no idea who she really is. Neither does Clare realize that Mary is her husband's latest mistress. The two, who like each other very much, talk frankly about men, love, marriage, infidelity and the like until Rogers walks into the room, and the tenor of the conversation changes dramatically. 

Greer Garson and Robert Taylor
When Ladies Meet is a remake of the 1933 version starring Myrna Loy and Ann Harding. This version, although longer and with added sequences that are only mentioned in the original film, is equally entertaining and just as well-acted. One might argue that while Woodruf might get bored with the sweet Ann Harding, the very glamorous and beautiful Garson is a different kettle of fish! Still, Garson gives a good performance, along with Crawford, and as in the original film, the best scene is when the two ladies have a long talk just before bedtime. Taylor is good, but a cut below Robert Montgomery in the original, while Spring Byington as the weekend's hostess, Bridget, while perhaps not as funny as Alice Brady in the '33 version, is as spirited and delightful as ever.

Herbert Marshall and Joan Crawford
One improvement in the remake is the casting of Herbert Marshall as Rogers Woodruf. While Frank Morgan in the original was about as romantic as a dead fish, the more attractive and likable Marshall makes a convincing playmate for Crawford. While Woodruf is still a philandering dog in this version, the script and his emoting make his character much more palatable, and he seems genuinely concerned that he may have hurt Mary. Bridget's French butler, Pierre (Max Willenz) is funnier in this version, while Rafael Storm makes a bit more of an impression as Bridget's architect boyfriend, Walter. Another difference with the remake is that the Woodrufs have no children.

Verdict: A remake that is just as good as the original. ***. 


Miriam Hopkins and Frances Dee
BECKY SHARP (1935). Director: Rouben Mamoulian.

Becky Sharp (Mariam Hopkins), a charity case in a finishing school, goes off with her wealthy friend Amelia (Frances Dee of I Walked with a Zombie) where she hopes to become affianced to Amelia's portly brother, Joseph (Nigel Bruce). Things don't go quite the way Becky expected, but she advances in society due to her looks, her aggressiveness, and many compliant men, including the Marquis of Sheyne (Cedric Hardwicke) and her husband, Rawdon Crawley (Alan Mowbray), whom she seems to love sincerely. But Becky's scheming may eventually undo her ...

Miriam Hopkins and Alan Mowbray
This version of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, filmed in early Technicolor, is amusing and engaging. Hopkins demonstrates true star quality, although her performance is at times overwrought and overly theatrical, yet she always plays with undeniable passion. It's hard to see Alan Mowbray [Dante], better known as a comic foil than anything else, as a romantic figure, but he is as good as ever, as is Hardwicke. Frances Dee is fine as Amelia, even though her character is allowed no real fireworks even when she thinks her husband is carrying on with Becky. Nigel Bruce offers one of his best portrayals as Joseph, and Alison Skipworth is a riot as Rawdon Crawley's peppery Aunt Julia. Billie Burke has a small role, and Mrs. Leslie Carter is lost in a crowd with no lines. (Five years later Hopkius would play Carter in Lady with Red Hair.) An exciting sequence takes place at a ball when Napoleon arrives at the nearby village of Waterloo.

Verdict: An arresting if uneven performance by Hopkins in an absorbing, fast-paced adaptation of a classic novel. ***. 


Miriam Hopkins
SAVAGE INTRUDER (aka Hollywood Horror House/1970). Written, produced, and directed by Donald Wolfe.

A maniac is running about murdering and dismembering women and leaving their body parts laying about, such as at the bottom of the hill where the Hollywood sign is located. Meanwhile retired movie star Katherine Packard (Miriam Hopkins), who lives in a fabulous old mansion, gets drunk, falls down the stairs, and winds up in a wheelchair. A very strange male nurse named Vic Valance (John David Garfield) is hired to look after Katherine, but before long they are engaged in what might be termed an inappropriate relationship. This does not sit well with the other women in the household: secretary Leslie (Gale Sondergaard); elderly cook Mildred (Florence Lake): and especially housekeeper Greta (Virginia Wing), who is also sleeping with Valance. Then people begin disappearing ...

(John) David Garfield
Savage Intruder is a seriously perverted version of Sunset Boulevard, with a little Night Must Fall thrown in for good measure. The plot is still workable, but the script could have stood some improvement, and while some scenes are well-handled, others are schlocky, and there are times when the direction gets pseudo-psychedelic and artsy-fartsy. A little gore is thrown in now and then, almost enough to classify this as an early slasher film. One bathroom mutilation murder is a bit reminiscent of the splatter films to come. The film gets points for holding the viewer's attention, and there are some good performances as well.

Gale Sondergaard and Miriam Hopkins
This was the last film role for Hopkins, who died two years later at 69. She seems to be enjoying herself in this, having a laugh at her own excesses, and lustily kissing her paramour, pining for some vodka, and getting drunk at a Christmas parade in Hollywood (where she gets boos for railing about "hoods and queers" ruining Hollywood boulevard). Garfield [The Stepmother], the son of John Garfield, has his moments, but he just doesn't seem ready to take on such a big and difficult role as this; he comes off like a talented amateur where other actors could have really taken off in this part. Virginia Wing was introduced in this film, and she's at least professional, and had a few more credits over the years up until the present day.

Gale Sondergaard investigates
Florence Lake, who was younger than Hopkins but looks older, amassed nearly 200 credits, and was a solid character actress of a certain type. However, the actor who makes the best impression is Gale Sondergaard, who registers her usual authority as Hopkins' stern and efficient secretary, and who eventually becomes quite frightened for her employer. Last but not least we have Joe Besser of Three Stooges fame playing a tour bus driver who takes people past Hopkins' house, actually the Norma Talmadge estate in Hollywood. Hopkins at times seems to be channeling her old rival Bette Davis, but this film did not have anything like the box office of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Verdict: Does show how old movie stars often wind up mired in alcohol and really awful people. **1/2. 


MIRIAM HOPKINS: LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL. Allan R. Ellenberger. University Press of Kentucky; 2018.

Miriam Hopkins is long overdue a serious biography, and at last we've got one. Hopkins never quite made the front rank of stardom -- like such ladies as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford -- but she was a highly gifted actress who appeared in many notable films and gave some excellent performances in them. Hopkins first made her mark on Broadway, and like many actors during this period, had some reservations about "going Hollywood." Seen as incredibly sexy in her twenties ( a sexiness that faded out rather early), she was cast in a number of crappy melodramas, such as the terrible 24 Hours, but also did The Smiling Lieutenant with Maurice Chevalier and starred in more than one movie for Ernst Lubitsch. Although she gave an uneven performance as a rape victim in The Story of Temple Drake, the film brought Hopkins a lot of attention, and she was excellent in William Wyler's These Three. (Years later Hopkins also scored in Wyler's remake of this, The Children's Hour, which stuck more closely to the original plot of Lillian Hellman's play.)

Although the media has made (too) much of the alleged "feud" between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, there was much more of a feud -- if that's what you want to call it -- between Davis and Hopkins. The two appeared together in The Old Maid and Old Acquaintance, and there was decided tension on the set. Hopkins felt sure that Davis had had a fling with Hopkins' then-husband Anatol Litvak, and she was also furious that Davis had played her part in the film version of the stage play Jezebel. Hopkins also infuriated other actors and directors with her scene-stealing and other antics. As Hopkins grew older, she concentrated more on the stage, although she had one of her best roles in another brilliant William Wyler film, The Heiress. Also as she aged, Hopkins never quite understood that she was not really the mega-star that, say, Davis was, and never attracted that kind of obsessive fan attention. This excellent book also examines Hopkins' other films and stage roles; her marriages and many affairs; her adopted son, Michael; behind-the scenes on-set experiences; and Hopkins' relationship with Tennessee Williams during and after her starring in his play Band of Angels; amused by her yet respecting her talent, Williams called her a "magnificent bitch." Well-researched and with plenty of interviews.

Verdict: First-class look at the inimitable Miriam Hopkins. ***1/2.