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

Thursday, December 26, 2019


Jane Russell and Ralph Meeker
THE FUZZY PINK NIGHTGOWN (1957). Director: Norman Taurog.

Movie star Laurel Stevens (Jane Russell of Foxfire) is planning to attend the premiere of her new film The Kidnapped Bride, when she's actually kidnapped by two, fortunately, nice guys named Mike (Ralph Meeker) and Dandy (Keenan Wynn). Mike spent four years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, which makes Laurel feel sympathetic towards him. It also doesn't hurt that he's a rather sexy man. While Laurel's assistant Bertha (Una Merkel) and agent (Robert H. Harris) try frantically to find her, studio head Arthur Martin (Adolphe  Menjou) wants to keep it out of the papers, afraid it is -- or at least everyone will think it is -- nothing more than a publicity stunt. If Laurel admits she was kidnapped Mike could go to jail, but if she doesn't, her public could turn on her.

Adolphe Menjou, Una Merkel, Robert H. Harris
The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown has an interesting premise and holds the attention, but the movie could only have worked if it was a riotous farce, which it isn't; the picture has only a few chuckles. Yet a scene wherein Laurel and Mike drive off in a police car is so ridiculous that even Ralph Meeker looks irritated. The performances are good enough on one level -- although Meeker would never make a deft comedian -- but the leads take a back seat to Robert Harris, who is quite funny as the agent. Although Russell did appear in a few more movies, this was her last starring role, and her age was beginning to show -- it didn't help that Fuzzy was a flop. Ralph Meeker [Jeopardy] was seen to good advantage in Paths of Glory that same year.

Verdict: Ironically, Jane Russell's swan song as a major movie star. **1/2. 


Christine Kaufmann and Jason Robards
MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971). Director: Gordon Hessler.

In Paris around the turn of the century, Cesar Charron (Jason Robards of Philadelphia) runs a Grand Guignol theater that nightly presents an adaption of Poe's story "Murders in the Rue Morgue." First the actor playing the orangutan is murdered with acid, and then more people who used to work for Charron, including an actress turned prostitute and an escape artist, are killed the same way. Charron fears that the killer is a former associate, Rene Marot (Herbert Lom), whose faced was once disfigured with acid and who supposedly took out his anger by axing the woman he loved (Lilli Palmer). Marot committed suicide and Charron transferred his affections from the dead woman to her daughter, Madeleine (Christine Kaufmann of Constantine and the Cross), whom he later married. But if Marot is truly dead, how can he be the killer? This is also a question for Inspector Vidocq (Adolfo Celi).

Herbert Lom and Christine Kaufmann
Despite its intriguing plot, Murders in the Rue Morgue is not a very compelling nor entertaining picture. Robards doesn't seem to have any feel for this kind of material, and Lom is generally forced to run about in a mask and opera cape as if he were in out-takes from the 1962 version of Phantom of the Opera Lilli Palmer only appears in flashbacks and manages to retain her dignity. Michael Dunn adds a bit of flavor in his portrayal of Marot's friend, Pierre, but his role is never clearly defined. The story is good, the motive for the murders makes sense, but the picture is clumsy, disjointed, and at times almost laughable. After the main story is over and its revelations revealed, there is a long, slow and dull post-script with Madeleine being chased around in the theater that, if possible, sinks the picture even further.

Verdict: Highly disappointing horror film, which is no better than the 1932 Murders in the Rue Morgue with Bela Lugosi. *1/2.


NOT SINCE CARRIE: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. Ken Mandelbaum. St. Martin's Press; 1991.

This very entertaining survey of flop Broadway musicals is not just a list of mega-bombs that were hated by critics and public alike, but a serious look at what went wrong with certain projects that should have and could have been great. Mandelbaum makes it clear that if is often simply more fun to watch, dissect and laugh about major Broadway disasters than it is projects of genuine quality, and that there are people who are sorrier they never got to see "Carrie" on Broadway than the latest hot ticket offering. But Mandelbaum also discusses why some musicals seemed doomed to failure from the outset due to bad ideas or unlikely source material and why others had great ideas, librettos or scores but still made little dent at the box office. Along the way you're given information about shows you may never have heard of and closed early that were still worthwhile or had excellent scores, many of which were recorded. However, in the final chapter Mandelbaum discusses shows that didn't deserve the ignominy of failure, but for me he almost overturns the whole book with his singling out Jerome Moross' The Golden Apple, a through-sung borderline opera that updates the story of the Odyssey to a post-Civil War period. With a terrible book and only one really memorable song (and a couple of other decent ones) amidst a lot of dribble, it's hard to believe Mandelbaum actually thinks this is a masterwork. Candide, yes; Apple  no. Oh well, to each his own.

The book was published nearly thirty years ago -- how time flies! -- so the reader has to supply his  own postscripts. For instance, Peter Allen bombed on Broadway in Legs Diamond -- he not only starred but did the songs -- yet years later the show about Allen (The Boy from Oz) was a success. There have been numerous revivals of Carrie at various theater companies. The bomb At the Grand was retooled into the successful Grand Hotel, even using some of the same songs. And so on.

Verdict:  Engaging, informative, thoughtful look at what makes some shows succeed while others fail. ***. 


Steve Cochran
I MOBSTER (1959). Produced and directed by Roger Corman.

I Mobster traces the rise and fall of gangster Joe Sante (Steve Cochran of The Big Operator), whose father virtually disowns him and whose mother (Celia Lovsky) eventually follows suit. As a boy (played by an uncredited but talented youngster), Joey was taken under the wing of Black Frankie (Robert Strauss), and later also works for crime boss Paul Moran (Grant Withers of the Jungle Jim serial). Joe takes up with a nice neighborhood gal named Teresa (Lita Milan), who is at first highly disapproving of his activities but ultimately there's no arguing with love. But Joe's ambitions and high-risk lifestyle may become his undoing ...

Saucy Yvette Vickers 
I Mobster is an absorbing crime drama with a fine and charismatic lead performance by the always-under-rated Steve Cochran, who is perfect as Joe. Celia Lovsky does her usual hand-wringing turn as the heartbroken mother; Strauss is quite good as his mentor and associate; and Lita Milan [Never Love a Stranger] turns in a very nice performance as Teresa. Grant Withers also scores as the big boss, and there is a very nice bit by Yvette Vickers as a saucy blond who tries to pay off her gambling debt by coming on to Joe -- fat chance! Ed Nelson, Robert Shayne, Thomas Browne Henry and Bruno VeSota have smaller  parts, and stripper Lili St. Cyr (who is much more attractive than the rather horse-faced Gypsy Rose Lee) does her cameo on stage in a bath tub.

In the long run, however, I Mobster doesn't really rise above all of the hoodlum cliches -- sobbing mother, worried, conflicted girlfriend, rivals and hits -- but the darn thing is too entertaining and well-played for that to matter much. As for Cochran, a hell-raising lover boy off-screen, he died at only 48 under very mysterious circumstances.

Verdict: Fast-paced Corman melodrama with a well-chosen cast. ***. 


Freddie Stewart
JUNIOR PROM (1946). Director: Arthur Dreifuss.

"You're all acting like a bunch of drips!"

At Whitney High School there's an election for student body president, with the two nominees being Freddie Trimball (Freddie Stewart) and Jimmy Forrest (Jackie Moran of Barefoot Boy). Jimmy's father tells the principal, Professor Townley (Milton Kibbee), that if his son doesn't win the election the school won't get new uniforms or any donation from him. Initially Freddie drops out of the race for the good of the school, although Townley refuses to buckle under. But eventually Freddie and Jimmy run a heated campaign, with Jimmy's manager, Roy (Frankie Darro), going so far as to romance school reporter Betty Rogers (Noel Neill of Superman) to get his man favorable publicity, leading to an estrangement between Betty and her two sisters. Every once in awhile someone, mostly Freddie, breaks out in a song ...

June Preisser and Freddie Stewart
Junior Prom was the first starring role for the now-forgotten Freddie Stewart, an amiable and nice-looking crooner who sang for Tommy Dorsey. Unfortunately, his Hollywood offers only included one from cheapie Monogram studios, who cast him in a series of "Teen Agers" films, of which Junior Prom was the first. His love interest was generally June Preisser [Strike Up the Band], herein cast as Dodie Rogers. He made eight more "Teen Agers" movies even though he was already 21 at the time of filming this flick, and the other "teens" were a bit long-in-the-tooth as well. His various attempts at a comeback were not successful.

Harry the Hipster: This was once the epitome of "cool"
As for Junior Prom, it is also amiable, with some snappy dance numbers and an especially good routine from Preisser during a lively "Teen Canteen" production number, which also features bandleader Abe Lyman (black musician Eddie Heywood appears in an earlier sequence). Another cast member is Warren Mills, who plays the borderline camp and take-charge Lee Watson. "What if you didn't have a boy to take you to the prom?" Dodie asks Lee. "What if I did?" replies Lee, who doesn't seem adverse to the idea even if he's going with Dodie's other sister, Addie (Judy Clark). Murray Davis is cast as fat soda jerk Tiny, but his supposedly funny shtick can sometimes he painful. The picture has the usual tiresome swing vs classical music business. Harry "the Hipster" Gibson, playing himself, does one irritating number. This was his only film appearance.

Verdict: Enthusiastic and talented players, but for most of them this was not an auspicious debut. **3/4. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019


Tom Courtenay and Dirk Bogarde
KING AND COUNTRY (1964). Director: Joseph Losey.

During WW1, British private James Hemp (Tom Courtenay of 45 Years) has been accused of desertion despite the fact that he volunteered for service, and has been in the war for longer than some of his accusers. The somewhat stern Captain Hargreaves (Dick Bogarde) is assigned to defend Hemp in a makeshift court, and develops sympathy for the man in spite of himself. In his opinion, Hemp simply walked away to get away from the noise and have some privacy, but was not really attempting to desert. But will the court see it Hargreaves' way, or is the young man doomed?

Tom Courtenay
King and Country is an absorbing and affecting military drama that presents the story simply and clearly and doesn't beg the viewer for compassion that most will undoubtedly feel in any case. The film has more of the atmosphere of WW2 than WW1, although the acting can not be faulted. There is a little too much time spent on some of the soldiers' attempts to rout or kill some rats, and if this is meant to be symbolic, it doesn't work. While many feel this film takes a back seat to the similarly-themed Paths of Glory -- there are similarities to Billy Budd as well --  King and Country is still a good picture on its own terms. James Villiers, Leo McKern, Barry Justice, Vivian Matalon, and Barry Foster, among others, also give notable performances. Joseph Losey also directed Dirk Bogarde in The Sleeping Tiger.

Verdict: Sad and sobering, eventually infuriating, look at victims of war; the very definition of grim. ***. 


MYRNA LOY: THE ONLY GOOD GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD. Emily W. Leider. 2011; University of California Press.

This absorbing, well-written and well-researched biography of Loy traces her roots in Montana, her early years doing movie after movie, often cast as "exotic" Orientals [The Mask of Fu Manchu], her indentured servitude working for studios that hardly ever gave her a day off, her eventual emergence as a major star with a wider range than expected who commanded some respect from fellow filmmakers, and her final days when she turned to the theater and became a character actress in a few late movies [Midnight Lace]. Along the way we meet Loy's four husbands, most of whom treated her badly (and most of whom were plug-ugly, although Leider refers to one potato-head as "catnip to women!"). Loy had liberal politics, seemed to care about people other than herself (which alone makes her different from most movie stars) and decided after her fourth divorce that it was not so terrible not to have a husband. The bio also delves into Loy's many friendships with people famous and not so famous, her relationships with various family members, and analyzes most of her films and her approach to her roles, which included co-starring in the Thin Man movies, The Best Years of Our Lives, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Animal Kingdom, and many, many others.

Leider resuscitates this business about Loy possibly having had some kind of relationship with Montgomery Clift while they were making Lonelyhearts and after (first brought up in Patti Bosworth's bio of Clift). Loy denied this vehemently in her own memoir, and also denied it (in my presence) to Lawrence Quirk, who wrote The Films of Myrna Loy. Considering that she was no longer married to her husband at that time years later, it makes little sense to deny it if it were true. Also, Clift was essentially gay, Loy was 15 years older, and as this book makes clear, she was not the type to sleep around indiscriminately or cheat on her husband. (I also knew Jim Kotsilibas-Davis, who worked on Loy's memoirs with her.)

Verdict: Excellent biography and quite possibly the last word on Loy. ***1/2. 


Jayne Mansfield and Dan Duryea
THE BURGLAR (1957). Director: Paul Wendkos.

Nat Harbin (Dan Duryea) leads a small gang of criminals, including Gladden (Jayne Mansfield), the girl he was raised with. They steal a very valuable necklace from a old lady spiritualist, Sister Sarah (Phoebe MacKay), who lives in a sprawling mansion. Now the question is whether to sell the necklace at a great loss or wait until the heat is off, a suggestion that does not sit well with Baylock (Peter Capell of The Fury of the Cocoon), who is desperate to get out of the country. None of them are aware that another person is watching them and scheming ...

Martha Vickers and Dan Duryea
The Burglar is an interesting crime melodrama that just misses being special. Duryea gives a solid performance, although Mansfield comes off like an amateur, and one doesn't buy that she "hungers" for Duryea (the only actor billed above the title). Stewart Bradley, who was "introduced" in this picture (he had had previous TV credits but this was his first movie role) makes a definite impression as the cop, Charlie. Martha Vickers (one of Mickey Rooney's ex-wives and who also appeared in The Big Bluff) also makes an impression as Della, a woman who picks up Nat in a bar and has a few secrets of her own. Mickey Shaughnessy  plays Dohmer, another member of the gang who is a little too trigger-happy. The Burglar features interesting settings in Philly and Atlantic City, such as a shack on the lonely coast and a fun house where the climax takes place. Paul Wendkos also directed the excellent Brotherhood of the Bell.

Verdict: Not quite top-drawer but it does hold the attention. **3/4. 


Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride
MA AND PA KETTLE GO TO TOWN (1950). Director: Charles Lamont.

Pa Kettle (Percy Kilbride) wins another contest for a soda with the prize being an all-expenses paid trip to New York City! At first Pa and Ma Kettle (Marjorie Main) have trouble coming up with a babysitter for their fifteen rambunctious children, but along comes "Shotgun" Mike (Charles McGraw), a thief hiding out in town. Ma at least has some reservations about leaving the children with a complete stranger (although they prove to be more than he can handle), but she thinks he has a kind face, and off they go to Manhattan. There they encounter more problems with Mike's cronies, and discover some marital woes for son Tom (Richard Long) and daughter-in-law Kim (Meg Randall).

Richard Long and Meg Randall
Ma and Pa Kettle were introduced in The Egg and I and proved so popular that they got their own feature, Ma and Pa Kettle. This led into several sequels, of which this is the first. Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town is not only consistently cute and amusing, with great performances from Main and Kilbride and good work from the rest of the cast, but it avoids the cliche of New Yorkers being portrayed as horrible city slickers taking advantage of the Kettles; in fact, the pair actually like New York and the people who live there (although, of course, they're just as glad to get home). Ma and Pa exhibit sheer delight in seeing Manhattan from a cab as they stand up in a hole in the taxi's ceiling, and there's a great bit with Pa dropping a cup of water from the top of the RCA building and encountering that same water later on.

Verdict: Very cute picture. ***. 


Rory Calhoun and Linda Darnell
BLACK SPURS (1965). Director: R. G. Springsteen.

In Texas in 1885 Santee (Rory Calhoun of Night of the Lepus) is engaged to pretty Anna (Terry Moore) but he wants to wait to marry until he's made his fortune. He bids adieu to Anna and sets off to capture or kill the notorious bandit, El Pescadore (Robert Carricart), something he succeeds at. After this Santee becomes a full-time bounty hunter with many kills to his credit. Many. many months later he returns to his lady love only to learn that she has understandably married another, Sheriff Ralph Elkins (James Best) of Lash, Kansas. An embittered Santee decides to help a certain entrepreneur named Gus Kile (Lon Chaney Jr.) bring gambling and loose ladies to Lash no matter who gets hurt, but does the man have a chance at redemption?

Lon Chaney Jr. and Rory Calhoun
Black Spurs certainly has an interesting cast. Although Calhoun mostly shows the emotion of a rock, his co-players tend to be better, and this includes Linda Darnell in a small role as a madame. Darnell is a bit zaftig but not unattractive. She died in a fire before the film was released. Scott Brady plays, of all things, a priest, Richard Arlen owns the local saloon, and Bruce Cabot is an enforcer who zestily throws people out of town with a sneer or a heave. Patricia Owens and Jerome Courtland [Kiss and Tell] play lovers who aren't really married, and there is a brief appearance by pre-Star Trek DeForest Kelley as another sheriff.  Handsome Joseph Hoover has a rare (if small) speaking role as another one of Arlen's associates. Manuel Padilla Jr. [Tarzan and the Valley of Gold[ is cute as the little boy, Manuel, who loves to sing and eventually becomes disenchanted with his hero, Santee.

Black Spurs is by no means a great western but it features a basically sound storyline (albeit probably one that has been used in different variations many, many times over) and has some flavorful performances. Courtland and Owens each had one more theatrical film before doing some TV work; Courtland became a director. Calhoun and Moore had a great many more credits, and the latter is still acting today. Director R. G. Springsteen amassed nearly 100 film and TV credits, mostly working on westerns.

Verdict: Okay western for devotees. **1/2.