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

Thursday, December 24, 2020



GREAT OLD MOVIES will be back in the new year! Happy Holidays everyone! 

(and get vaccinated when it's available!)

Thursday, December 10, 2020


Fredric March and Kim Novak
(1959). Director: Delbert Mann.

"A small bubble of middle-aged sanity has been punctured."

56-year-old Jerry Kingsley (Fredric March, who was actually in his sixties) is a widower in the garment business who consoles Betty (Kim Novak), a woman who works for him one evening, and then finds himself falling for her. She agrees to date him but tells him bluntly that she could never love a man old enough to be her father. Or could she? Both Kingsley's and Betty's families are horrified when they learn that the two are engaged.  

Novak and March
Although this adaptation of the play by Paddy Chayefsky (who also did the screenplay) got mixed reviews at the time of its release, it emerges as an excellent, trenchant and uncompromising study of the relationship between a woman in her twenties and a man in his fifties. It's interesting that the film never comes off as mere wish-fulfillment fantasy for middle-aged men, being on a much higher level. March offers a superb performance that never once hits a false note. Although not on March's level of consummate ability, Novak is nevertheless quite good and appealing as Betty. Edith Meiser, Lee Grant, Glenda Farrell (as Betty's mother), Joan Copeland and Martin Balsam are all on target in their respective roles, and Albert Dekker offers the performance of a lifetime as Walter Lockman, the salesman with the big talk who poignantly pours out his lonely heart to March when he learns the latter plans to marry. The film is full of wonderful and true observations about what it means to get old in our society. As Jerry says to Betty, "I'm scared of things you wouldn't understand because you're just a kid." Chayefsky's dialogue and characterizations are top of the line. Ultimately the movie is about seeking out and holding on to life-affirming experiences no matter what your age. "You can have peace when you're dead," says Jerry. Amen to that!

Verdict: Just beautiful. ****.


(1956). Director: Philip Dunne. 

Bernie Goldsmith (Ernest Borgnine) is horrified to discover that he's been summarily fired from his government job because he's been deemed a security risk due to an alleged "radical" (i.e. communist) past. He hires lawyer Joe DiMarco (Ray Milland) to defend him. Apparently Goldsmith angered some people because of his activism in minority housing (oddly, the subject of anti-Semitism is never broached). Even after a board presided over by Captain Wingfield (Frank Lovejoy) and Lt. McCoy (Nina Foch) clears Goldsmith, he still can't get his job back or get hired by anyone else. DiMarco takes the case to the Army man, Rogers (Dean Jagger), who had the board's decision reversed. Three Brave Men intelligently examines how gossip and innuendo, jumping to conclusions, and sheer sloppy investigating can ruin someone's life as it did many during the McCarthy anti-communist era. The film also has a nice subtext examining how the whole ordeal has revealed how strong Bernie's marriage to his wife (Virginia Christine) is. Still, it's all a bit matter of fact, with few nuances and shades of gray. Yet the fact that it was even made in 1956 -- years before our deplorable "cancel culture" -- speaks volumes. Dr. No's Joseph Wiseman has a notable cameo as a bigot. 

Verdict: Absorbing story of family's ruination and their struggle back. ***.


Stewart Granger
WOMAN HATER (1948). Director: Terence Young. 

Lord Terence Datchett (Stewart Granger of Footsteps in the Fog) is a confirmed, rather misogynous bachelor who at the opening helps a friend run away from his own wedding. When Terence learns that French film star Colette Marley (Edwige Feuillere) is bored with men and only wants to be "left alone" to write her memoirs, he offers her his estate, but pretends he is not Lord Datchett but only the estate agent. When Colette learns that the deceptive Terence plans to prove that she is definitely not bored with men, she decides to turn the tables on him. Bolstering one conspiracy after another are butler Jameson (Ronald Squire), Colette's maid. Clair (Jeanne De Casalis), the stableman, and Terence's lovely mother, Lady Datchett (Mary Jerrold). 

Woman Hater is a British version of a battle of the sexes (but hardly screwball) comedy that falls flat due to a lack of real laughs and occasional slapstick that backfires. Granger is adequate as Terence, although he lacks that certain skill at comedy a la Cary Grant. Edwige Feuillere was a well-known and celebrated French film and stage actress who tried her hand at an English-language film but soon went back to France. She is more than credible if not that amusing in a part that Claudette Colbert could have walked away with. The supporting cast, including Miles Malleson [The Thief of Bagdad] as the Vicar and Peter Bull [Dr. Strangelove] as Mr. Fletcher, are perfect, however. 

Verdict: Very, very predictable and not at all funny. **. 


Martin Sheen and Patty Duke
A MATTER OF JUSTICE (aka Final Justice/two-part telefilm/1993). Director: Michael Switzer. 

Mary Brown (Patty Duke) is appalled when her son, Chris (Jason London), decides to enlist in the Marines at seventeen, but wait until she meets his skanky 24-year-old bride, Dusty (Alexandra Powers), whom he shows up with when he comes home on leave. Mary's husband, Jack (Martin Sheen), thinks Chris should be allowed to make his own decisions, and that they should give Dusty a chance. Dusty proves an unfaithful wife and neglectful mother to their little girl, but Jack -- who regrets his own life and marriage -- tells Chris that he should try to make things work with Dusty if he loves her. When Chris, who has filed for divorce, is butchered, another marine is arrested for the murder, but Mary is convinced that Dusty was behind the slaying, and will stop at nothing to see that she is brought to justice. 

Alexandra Powers and Jason London
A Matter of Justice
 is an absorbing, well-acted telefilm based on a true case. Patty Duke is hardly perfect casting, and at times she seems to be auditioning for a role on a night-time soap as a matriarchal diva, but she is generally passionate and effective, although a more under-stated Sheen is even better. Jason London makes an appealing Chris, and Alexandra Powers is a sexy femme fatale. Of the supporting cast both Jeff Kober and Cole Hauser make their mark as bad boys who bed and beat Dusty; Charles S. Dutton is notable as a private detective Mary hires; and 5-year-old Kyla Pratt makes an adorable Chrissie, the Brown's granddaughter -- there are other good performances as well. An interesting aspect of the film is the sub-text of Mary and Jack rediscovering their love for and commitment to one another as they deal with a tragedy and its aftermath. 

Verdict: Generally intelligent and well-written true crime drama.***.


Albert Finney and Martin Sheen

LOOPHOLE (1981). Director: John Quested.                                                  

Stephen Booker (Martin Sheen), an American architect living in England with his wife (Susannah York) and children, discovers that a certain deal didn't go through and he has lost his job. He also discovers that potential employers find him over-qualified, and there are no openings anywhere. Meanwhile, his and his wife's debts are mounting, the kids are in expensive private schools, bank loans are being called in, and things look pretty dire. Mike Daniels (Albert Finney) does offer Booker a job doing work on a building that he owns, but it turns out that Daniels doesn't really own the building and the job actually has nothing to do with floor extensions and everything to do with robbing the safety deposit vault in a bank. Booker can use his expertise to get the men through the rat-infested sewers below the bank and up to where the booty waits. At first Booker is appalled by Daniel's proposal, but as his debts mount up he decides to join in ... 

Robert Morley
 is one of those caper films in which the robbers seem like friendly, nice guys who would never think of shooting anyone or betraying one another, and even Booker -- who was pulled into this scheme in a very duplicitous way and should be furious -- seems to be enjoying their company. The possibility that Booker may have planned or even achieved revenge on all of them is only intimated, and many viewers felt cheated by the somewhat abrupt and ambiguous and even illogical ending. A climax in which the tunnels are flooded as the thieves try to escape is well-handled, but it's hard to believe there would be such raging torrents in the sewers after such a short period of heavy rain. The film holds the attention but the characters are not developed that well. The very American Sheen and very British Finney actually work together very well, and although her part is small Susannah York has some good moments as Mrs. Booker. Robert Morley has only two brief scenes as Booker's anxious banker, but his presence is always welcome. Jonathan Pryce also scores as one of the robbers. 

Verdict: Rats, sewers and floods are always fun. **1/2. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020




Stay home, stay safe, and enjoy some good food!


Matt McCoy and Annabella Sciorra
THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (1992). Director: Curtis Hanson.

After Claire (Annabella Sciorra) is molested by her doctor (John de Lancie) and other women come forward, the man commits suicide. Claire and her husband, Michael (Matt McCoy), are unaware that the doctor's widow, Peyton (Rebecca De Mornay of Guilty as Sin), is out for revenge. Using an assumed identity she applies for a job as nanny and gets it, then uses her position to cause havoc in the household and try to break up Claire's marriage. When Claire's friend, Marlene (Julianne Moore of Far From Heaven), figures out who Peyton really is, a series of violent incidents occur. Claire may learn that her nanny is far more dangerous than even she could imagine. 

Rebecca De Mornay
Although somewhat forgotten today, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle was a very successful and influential movie in its day. After this there were a whole slew of theatrical, made-for-cable and direct-to-video features about homicidal, manipulative and Machiavellian women out to break up marriages, steal husbands, and the like, with sinister nannies in abundance. While entertaining, Hand is hardly a classic thriller, although it does boast some good scenes, such as a meltdown at a surprise party, and the climax with Peyton on the rampage is fairly exciting. The screenplay has only minimal characterization, however, and the direction makes it seem more like a telefilm than a theatrical movie. The acting is good, with the ladies taking top honors. Matt McCoy makes an adept, blandly handsome leading man. He, De Mornay, and Sciorra -- not to mention Moore and Ernie Hudson as a mentally-challenged handyman whose life Peyton nearly destroys -- all had busy and long careers after this movie. 

Verdict: Not as visceral as Fatal Attraction, but not without its moments. **3/4. 


Boyer and Fontaine
(1943). Director: Edmund Goulding. 

This is considered a "lost" film because the rights to the novel, play and subsequent film have all been dispersed and lost over the years. While not the masterpiece I was hoping for, The Constant Nymph is still a good picture with much to recommend it. Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer) is a modern composer whose work is not very appreciated by the critical establishment. His old friend, the composer Albert Sanger (Montagu Love), thinks that Dodd's music lacks heart and soul and won't become really great until Dodd cries (the old business of the artist must suffer). Sanger has three daughters, one of whom, Tessa (Joan Fontaine) is unrequitedly in love with Lewis. Eventually, after old Sanger's death, Lewis marries Tessa's cousin Florence (Alexis Smith) while Tessa and her sisters are sent to boarding school. But Tessa and her soul mate Lewis won't stay apart for long, leading to painful and romantic complications. 

The movie is handsomely produced (it uses one of the sets from The Old Maid), well-directed and very well acted, but it's perhaps too talky and soapy for its own good. Some will find it more sappy than moving. Whatever the case, Fontaine gives an exemplary performance; Boyer is fine if a notch below Fontaine. Charles Coburn is his usual excellent self as the sisters' Uncle Charles, and Peter Lorre offers his usual distinctive persona as a man who courts and marries Tessa's sister, Toni, well-played by Brenda Marshall. But the big surprise is that utterly gorgeous Alexis Smith gives perhaps the finest performance of her career as Florence, who's desperately afraid of losing the only man she's ever seriously been in love with. She manages to summon up as much emotional fireworks as Davis and Crawford at their best without quite going over the top. The movie has an interesting subtext of the war between romantic (melodious and emotional) and modern (dissonant and mathematical) music, and it's even more interesting that the film's excellent score was composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who composed operas in Vienna before fleeing the nazis and coming to America to "slum" for Hollywood. Korngold's music could be full of noisy, dissonant chords, but he decidedly composed in the romantic idiom. However, it wasn't realistic that Dodd's modern music would have been decried during the time the film takes place, as that's just when that type of music was becoming popular.  

Verdict: A highly interesting curiosity. ***.


GET HAPPY: THE LIFE OF JUDY GARLAND. Gerald Clarke. Dell/Random House. 2000.  

Here is another book that traces the life of the famous singer-actress in generally sympathetic fashion. Clarke looks at Garland's early life and her parents, her emergence as an MGM star, her struggles with diet and pills and more pills, her numerous affairs, marriages and divorces, and even her movies and concerts. There are some things in the tome that give one pause, however. The notion that Judy's mother, the homely Ethel Gumm, was trading sexual favors for consideration for her daughter, seems ludicrous, but to be fair Clarke says whether this is true or not "is impossible to say." Clarke is largely sympathetic to Judy's father, a theater owner, but there is a big difference between a man who is simply gay or bi and a married man who hits on teenage boys -- Clarke doesn't seem to get that if this was true the man was a predator. Clarke also seems too credible when presented with alleged evidence -- a letter -- that Tyrone Power was madly in love [!] with Garland. In those days (and even today) actors would have done anything to cover up even an inference of homosexuality. Clarke also states that Garland "occasionally enjoyed a frolic with another woman" but refuses to label her as bisexual -- huh? Still, Get Happy is well-written, and has some solid information to go with the more suspect material.

Verdict: Generally worthwhile if imperfect Garland bio. ***. 


Colman on his couch
FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE: Ladies on His Mind (1953). Directed by Robert Florey.

Four Star Playhouse, which aired from 1952 to 1956,  had a series of rotating hosts, four stars including David Niven, Charles Boyer, Dick Powell, and Ida Lupino. Either one of the aforementioned male stars was replaced by Ronald Colman, or other stars appeared in certain episodes when one of the hosts wasn't available. In any case Colman [The Prisoner of Zenda] is the star of this indifferent and forgettable half-hour segment, the 17th episode of the first season. In "Ladies On His Mind" Colman plays a happily-married psychiatrist whose wife (Benita Hume) doesn't seem to think too much of his profession. 

Ronald Colman consults
During the half hour Colman sees three female patients played by Patricia Morison (an actress who only hopes to find true love), Elisabeth Fraser (who fears her husband's best friend has fallen in love with her when it might be vice versa), and Hilary Brooke (an unhappy neglected wife whom Colman seems to think is a shrew worth poisoning without ever meeting her husband). As he listens to the ladies' woes, Colman fantasizes himself into a stark painting on the wall where sort of mini-ballets are played out, none of which are very interesting. Colman is as excellent as ever, Hume personifies middle-aged loveliness, Brooke is quite good as the neglected wife, and the others are fine. But the script for this lets everyone down. Gifted director Robert Florey [The Face Behind the Mask] does the best he can with the material. Alix Talton [Deadly Mantis] plays Colman's nurse. 

Verdict: Tries to be something different but just doesn't work. **.


Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee
NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT (1973). Director: Peter Sasdy.                                                            
A number of trustees of the Van Traylen Orphanage on the island of Bela are dying in suspicious accidents. Then a bus crash puts one of the orphans, Mary Valley (Gwyneth Strong), in the hospital, where she is ministered to by Dr. Haynes (Keith Barron) and a reporter named Joan (Georgia Brown), both of whom have to contend with the girl's abusive and crazy mother, Anna (Diana Dors). Eventually Colonel Bingham (Christopher Lee) of the police and Sir Mark Ashley (Peter Cushing), a concerned doctor, head for Bela to find out exactly what is going on in the orphanage and check up on Mary. But the homicidal Anna is heading there as well, yet Mrs. Allison (Shelagh Fraser) and the other staff take it, strangely, in stride and even refuse special police guards. Bingham and Ashley discover that what's going on in the orphanage is even more horrible than they suspect ... 

Georgia Brown and Peter Cushing
With its two special stars, an adept supporting cast (especially Valley, Brown and Dors), an interesting premise, not to mention a skilled director in Peter Sasdy, Nothing But the Night -- which is not a Hammer production, unfortunately -- should be much better than it is. Unfortunately, the movie is lethargic -- there is no tension or suspense and you find yourself merely watching to see what happens instead of getting caught up in the events. There is a fairly exciting climax when all is revealed, but by then it's too late. Too bad. Georgia Brown, who is very good in this, first made her mark playing Nancy in the musical Oliver in both London and New York, but she wasn't in the film adaptation. Cushing and Lee were frequently teamed together, such as in Dr. Terror's House of HorrorsThe Curse of Frankenstein, and The Skull, among several others.

Verdict: An interesting failure. **. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020


 Oops! Got behind in my posts. No Great Old Movies this week. But I'll be back with more reviews in two weeks.

Meanwhile, check out my brother blog B Movie Nightmare. Fun!

Thursday, October 29, 2020


SCARED TO DEATH (1947). Director: Christy Cabanne.

"My dear Josef, if I allowed myself to be announced, I doubt I would be received anywhere."

Well, this movie has something in common with the later Sunset Boulevard, in that it's sort of narrated by a corpse, but that's as far as it goes. (The original idea for Sunset was for it to begin in the morgue, which this picture actually does.) As the pathologists prepare to perform an autopsy on a woman, we hear her voice, and flashbacks tell us how she wound up dead. Laura (Molly Lamont) lives in a strange household. She thinks her husband Ward (Roland Varno) and father-in-law Dr. Josef (George Zucco) are trying to kill her. Then we have Josef's cousin, Professor Leonide (Bela Lugosi), a once-famous magician, who arrives unexpectedly with a deaf mute dwarf, Indigo (Angelo Rossitto), and hates Josef. Rounding out the cast of characters are the maid Lilly Beth (Gladys Blake), a private dick Bill "Bull" Raymond (Nat Pendleton), a reporter Terry Lee (Douglas Fowley). and his date Joyce (Jane Cornell). And we mustn't forget the odd green face that periodically seems to be peeping through some curtains.

Scared to Death seems to have been conceived as a black comedy, but it isn't remotely funny but for one or two moments, and it hasn't got a single chill. The "Natural Color" it was filmed in doesn't help a bit. Even with all the odd characters and weird goings-on, the movie is slow and dull. But the most criminal thing about it is that it wastes the talents -- and the confrontation between -- those two fine actors George Zucco and Bela Lugosi, both of whom are much better than the picture deserves. Roland Varno also appeared in My Name is Julia Ross and The Return of the Vampire. Douglas Fowley was in Flaxy Martin and many, many other movies.

Verdict: Tough to take even for Lugosi fans. *1/2.

THE GHOUL (1933)

THE GHOUL (1933). Director: T. Hayes Hunter.

Poor Boris Karloff got stuck in another stinker with this very boring, alleged thriller/horror film. Karloff plays an egyptologist who vows to return from the grave to get back at his enemies, and keeps his promise. There's also two cousins -- one male, one female -- who are caught up in a family feud and get involved because Karloff was their uncle. This has an interesting supporting cast, including Ernest Thesiger from Bride of Frankenstein and Cedric Hardwicke. "No doubt you will succeed in making a painful interview intolerable," Hardwicke says to one character. But it's very disorienting to see the likes of Ralph Richardson in a Boris Karloff horror film. He plays a priest and is as excellent as ever. Karloff and the others are fine but wasted.

Verdict: Might help you go to sleep. *1/2.


EVIL DEAD 2 (1987/AKA Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn). Director: Sam Raimi. 

Not so much a sequel as a revisioning (and parody) of Raimi's cult hit, The Evil Dead. Ash (Bruce Campbell) is back in a cabin, has to murder his possessed girlfriend again, and then not only has to deal with demons trying to take him over but with the possessed bodies of the cabin's occupants and visitors, including Annie (Sarah Berry), the daughter of a scientist (whose dead, devious wife is rotting and plotting in the cellar). Even more of a comic book than the original, the burlesque, black comedy tone of the film probably made it more influential on the alleged "horror" films (actually gory comedies) that came later. There's a naked, headless corpse dancing ballet in the woods, an eyeball that shoots out of another suppurating corpse and into Annie's mouth, and it becomes very clear that this is nothing that anyone, even the filmmakers, could possibly take seriously. Sporadically amusing and entertaining, but basically too ultimately schlocky to care about. There are some decent stop-motion monster effects near the end. The climax has Ash sucked through a warp into another dimension, setting up another sequel. Bruce Campbell manages to preserve his dignity no matter what shit the script puts him through, acquiting himself nicely in a performance that has to balance [ersatz] horror with humor, and definitely displays star charisma. But while the "Evil Dead" movies may have put him on the map, in the long run they probably didn't do him all that much good. 

Verdict: Some inventive stuff but overall the same old grind. **.


THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932). Director: George Archainbaud. 

The racist girls at a fancy finishing school, St. Alban's, weren't very nice to the Eurasian gal Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy, pictured), so years later she's determined that every one of them who snubbed her will come to an exceedingly bad end. Using a fake swami (C. Henry Gordon) she sends letters of doom to her victims and then watches as her sinister predictions come true. Now she's after Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne), planning to blow up Laura's adorable little boy, Bobby (Wally Albright) with a bomb in a ball. Ricardo Cortez is the police investigator on the case, and Edward Pawley is the chauffeur who's become Ursula's love slave. Peg Entwhistle, who threw herself off the Hollywood sign, is one of the young ladies. There's an interesting climax on a train, but this plot with its subway shoves and falls off of trains needs the Hitchcock finesse to do it justice. Archainbaud pretty much just covers the action although there are some exciting scenes. Loy, Dunne and Kay Johnson are the cast stand-outs. 

Verdict: Minor but reasonably absorbing. **1/2.


THE DEVIL-DOLL (1936). Director: Tod Browning. 

Banker Paul Levond (Lionel Barrymore) and mad scientist Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) escape from prison and arrive at Marcel's home, where his wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano) has continued his experiments. They hope to make everybody tiny so they'll need less to eat (it never occurs to them that tiny humans would be preyed upon by suddenly larger animals and insects). Levond was convicted of embezzlement and murder which was actually committed by three associates. Levond goes to Paris to get revenge on the trio, disguising himself as an old lady and using the shrunken animals and people created by Marcel and his wife. He also befriends his daughter Lorraine (Maureen O'Sullivan) who doesn't realize her father's innocence and despises him. This is a very bizarre movie with excellent special effects and good acting. Barrymore is terrific, and Ottiano makes a suitably weird partner-in-peril. This may have been inspired by certain scenes in Bride of Frankenstein made the year before and possibly influenced the later Dr. Cyclops (which had a very different storyline). The problem with the movie is that not enough is done with the basic premise, as if no one had a very clear idea in which direction the movie should proceed. Tod Browning also directed Dracula

 Verdict: Odd. Maybe too odd. **1/2.

Thursday, October 15, 2020


Dana Andrews and Merle Oberon
NIGHT SONG (1947). Director: John Cronwell.  

Now here's a strange one. Wealthy Catherine (Merle Oberon of A Song to Remember) goes slumming in a nightclub one evening with friends, and is attracted to, and fascinated by, a talented composer, Dan (Dana Andrews), who is also sort of slumming as a piano player. Cathy is initiially distressed to realize that Dan is blind, but decides he needs a patron -- but how to get past his depression and indifference. She hits upon the incredibly tasteless idea of pretending to be blind herself, assuming a new identity and even renting a different apartment from her fancier digs. She is able to inspire Dan to finish his concerto, and in her true identity sponsors him in a competition. Now he has the money to get his eyes operated on, but will he forget all about the blind gal who helped him once he can see the world in all its glory -- including the real Catherine? She wants him to love her as the comparatively drab but steadfast and loving blind girl, not as the glamorous doyenne of the social register. 

James Bond? Hoagy Carmichael
Night Song was made during a period when hopelessly contrived movies came out one after another trading on the romantic and emotional element and the acting of its lead players. Sometimes they worked; sometimes they didn't. Night Song is about half and half. On the plus side are the actors, with Oberon proving once again that she was not just a beautiful face, handling all the cliches and absurdities with aplomb. The same is true of Dana Andrews, who keeps a straight face throughout. Then there's the marvelous Hoagy Carmichael as Dan's friend and clarinetist Chick, who goes along with the deception despite his misgivings (this is another credulity-stretching aspect to the story). Carmichael is charming and makes the most of his thankless role of the best friend. Incidentally, James Bond creator Ian Fleming always thought of 007 as resembling Carmichael, although he never went so far, to my knowledge, as to suggest him for the role. Carmichael gets to warble the snappy number "Who Killed 'Er?" 

A resplendent Merle Oberon
Ethel Barrymore is also excellent as Cathy's Aunt, Miss Willey, who lives with her and acts as her secretary-companion. She is given some of the tartest lines, and the screenplay has some interesting dialogue. Walter Reed [Emergency Hospital] and Donald Curtis [I Love Trouble] have a few moments as two of Cathy's friends and suitors, and Eugene Ormandy and Artur Rubinstein play themselves, with the former conducting Dan's completed concerto and Rubinstein playing the piano. Lucian Ballard's cinematography is first-rate and in some shots Oberon is strikingly gorgeous. The score is by Leith Stevens, who wrote the concerto that the two aforementioned classical musicians supposedly admire. It is perfectly pleasant movie music. This is another movie in which the hero essentially treats his love interest like crap.   

Verdict: You either go with the flow or think "you've got to be kidding me!" **1/2.        


Ronald Reagan and Barbara Stanwyck
CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA (1954). Director: Allan Dwan. 

Sierra Nevada Jones (Barbara Stanwyck), her father, "Pop" (Morris Ankrum), and their friend Nat (Chubby Johnson) are about to stake their claim to the land when a stampede sends all of their cattle running amok, killing the old man and nearly killing the others. A loathsome polecat named McCord (Gene Evans) is in cahoots with an Indian named Natchakoa (Anthony Caruso), who started the stampede. Natchakoa hopes to take control of a tribe of Blackfoot Indians away from his father Red Lance and hated brother, Colorados (Lance Fuller), who is too sympathetic to whites, including Sierra, whom he tries to help. Then there's the mysterious Farrell (Ronald Reagan), who works for McCord but seems to be looking out for Sierra. Rounding out the cast of characters is Starfire (Yvette Duquay), an Indian maiden who is jealous of Colorados' attentions to Sierra. Naturally nothing good can come of all this. 

Stanwyck, Lance Fuller, Chubby Johnson
Barbara Stanwyck was in the final stages of her career when she made this film, essentially a B western with a certified B movie cast, including Ronald Reagan as her sort-of leading man (although Lance Fuller gets more screen time). Stanwyck had done other westerns before and after this one -- and of course did several seasons of The Big Valley on TV -- but Cattle Queen is far below the level of, say, Anthony Mann's The Furies. The cliches don't matter so much because they're almost part of the genre, and Cattle Queen has a workable story, but the movie never really comes alive the way it ought to, and after awhile you just sit there and wait impatiently for it to finally be over. Stanwyck is fine, Reagan is Reagan, the others are all professional, including Myron Healey as an associate of McCord's who gets in a tussle with her, but this is just plain mediocre. It's very odd to see Stanwyck interacting with so many B movie stalwarts, including -- at this point -- Reagan, who would be hosting Death Valley Days in about a decade. Louis Forbes has contributed an arresting score and John Alton's technicolor cinematography is often striking. 

Verdict: Babs in the saddle -- sore. **1/4. 


Russell Nype and Janet Blair
 ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1955 telefilm). Director: George Schaefer. 

Museum owner Whitelaw Savory (George Gaynes) is anxiously waiting for a statue of Venus to arrive in his office when a substitute barber named Rodney Hatch (Russell Nype) places a ring on the statue's finger and she comes to life. Venus (Janet Blair) inexplicably falls in love with the nerdy Rodney, although he resists her charms because he's engaged to the rather witchy Gloria (Mildred Trares). Venus disposes of Gloria even as Whitelaw woos the goddess and still tries to find out where the statue is. Eventually Rodney is accused of Gloria's murder, but fortunately the gal isn't gone forever. Rodney and Venus happily plan for a rather earthbound future on Staten Island. But will these two opposites continue to attract? 

George Gaynes and Janet Blair
One Touch of Venus
 is a TV version of the 1943 Broadway musical, which was turned into a theatrical film in 1948 with Ava Gardner playing Venus. This telefilm is taken from a production of the show done for the Dallas State Fair. This is presumably more faithful to the original stage version as the movie made a great many changes to the plot and dropped most of the score by Kurt Weill and Odgen Nash. Whatever its flaws, this telefilm retains virtually all of the songs, and they are all memorable: "A Stranger Here Myself" sung by Venus; Rodney's "That's How Much I Love You'" and "Wooden Wedding;" Savory's song to his lost love, "West Wind;" Venus' "My Foolish Heart" and "That's Him;" the amusing chorus "The Trouble with Women;" and the love duet "Speak Low When You Speak Love." Savory's secretary, Molly (Laurel Shelby), sings the title tune. Although Janet Blair is the only one of the principal performers who dances, the telecast does include dance numbers and ballets. 

As for the performers, no one really has the light touch that this type of whimsical material requires, making the story pretty silly, but it's saved by the songs. And the singing of the principals really makes this work. I always knew Janet Blair as a competent light dramatic and comedic actress but never knew how really talented she was, as she sings her numbers for all that they're worth. Russell Nype also has a good voice and delivers on his numbers. George Gaynes was a busy Broadway performer and while some may find his voice old-fashioned, I have to say I love his singing style. Nype also did a lot of stage work. Weill's music is lilting; Nash's lyrics clever and funny.

Verdict: This may seem crude compared to the film version, but this has all the songs and they sing! ***. 


Margaret Sullavan
NO SAD SONGS FOR ME (1950). Director: Rudolph Mate.

A young wife and mother (Margaret Sullavan) discovers she has inoperable cancer and tries to arrange for another woman -- a co-worker of her husband's -- to take over when she's gone. This sounds like very depressing subject matter, but while the movie is very moving, it's also uplifting due to the artistry of Sullavan, whose performance is compelling, affecting and restrained yet believable. Although you of course know the outcome from the first, the story is still unpredictable. Howard Koch's fine screenplay transcends soap opera, and the supporting performers (Wendell Corey as the husband, Viveca Lindfors as the co-worker who falls in love with him) are also excellent. The raw graphic treatment that you would see in a film of this subject today is avoided, but at the same time, Sullavan does not get more glamorous as her health worsens. Some might find the final scene a bit pat, but it works for this movie, and avoids a morbid air. Very worthwhile. This is "adult" material in the best sense of the word.

Verdict: Great. ***1/2.


Finn Wittrock wtih Zellweger
JUDY (2019). Director: Rupert Goold. 

With her finances in a shambles and her addictions getting the better of her, Judy Garland (Renee Zellweger of Down with Love) is importuned to give a series of concerts in London. As a girl Garland was given pills by the studio to keep her weight down, among other reasons, and she's come to rely on them to get her through the day and night. She wants custody of her smaller children, Lorna and Joey, but ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell of Hercules) thinks they would be much better off with him. Her new husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) tries to get her a deal that might make her financially secure, but will her bad reputation put paid to that as well?

Loosely based on the stage play End of the Rainbow, this new movie is much more sympathetic than the play, which presented a burlesque of Garland's later years. It doesn't whitewash her, but it does make an attempt to understand her better. This is certainly helped by Zellweger's Oscar-winning performance, as she clearly studied Garland and the lessons paid off. The biggest problem with the film is that Zellweger does her own singing. She has a voice, but she is no Garland, although she mimics Garland's style and approach to a song very capably. The other performances, including those named as well as Jessie Buckley as her handler, Rosalind; Darci Shaw as young Judy; and others, are all quite good. Of course the movie has to include an adoring gay couple as well as other scenes that rely on dramatic license. The ending is contrived but moving. 

Judy got some serious hate from viewers. Most of this hate came from obsessive Judy-fans who will not be satisfied with anyone other than the real Garland, but for that you have to rely on her old movies and recordings. If you are interested in seeing and hearing the real Garland I would recommend the CD Judy at Carnegie Hall and the film A Child is Waiting

Verdict: No masterpiece by any means but an entertaining look at a great entertainer with an outstanding lead performance. ***.

Thursday, October 1, 2020


Catherine Spaak and Rod Taylor
HOTEL (1967). Director: Richard Quine. Based on the novel by Arthur Hailey.

The beautiful and stately St. Gregory's hotel in New Orleans is in danger of shutting its doors forever. The owner, Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas), is fielding two offers, the most aggressive of which comes from Curtis O'Keefe (Kevin McCarthy) who isn't above playing a few dirty tricks, such as using his girlfriend, Jeanne (Catherine Spaak), to get information from the hotel manager, Peter McDermott (Rod Taylor of The Liquidator). While this is going on there is a thief (Karl Malden) loose in the hotel, and a Count (Michael Rennie) and Countess (Merle Oberon) are being blackmailed by the house dick (Richard Conte) because they ran over a child in their expensive car. 

Kevin McCarthy and Taylor
Hotel is basically sixties schlock, devoid of deep characterization or any meaning whatsoever. At one point, when a dignified black couple is turned away at the desk of the St. Gregory according to the hotel's long-standing racist policy and their unproven fear that it will cost them clientele, it looks as if there might be something of substance to say. But everyone seems much more upset at what bad publicity will do to their coffers than their unfair and dated policy toward "Negroes." It's a case of "this is bad for the hotel" as opposed to "this is just plain bad." Peter may not be a racist but his employer definitely is.

Michael Rennie and Merle Oberon
In spite of all this, the film is smooth and mildly entertaining, with good performances. Taylor is commanding and pleasant, McCarthy and Douglas are solid pros, and Rennie and Oberon, especially the latter, nearly walk off with the movie. We never learn anything about the boy who was killed, nor do either of these privileged people ever express the slightest feeling about the child's death! Although we're supposed to believe that McDermott is a great manager, he doesn't shut down an elevator that is acting funny (resulting in the liveliest scene in the movie and undoubtedly a major lawsuit for the hotel) and seems to spend more of his time imbibing cocktails in the bar than anything else. Spaak and Malden both appeared in Cat O' Nine Tails.

Verdict: Watch Grand Hotel instead. **1/2.                                                                                                 


Edward G. Robinson
SCARLET STREET (1945). Director: Fritz Lang. 

Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson of Barbary Coast) is a cashier for a large company, as well as a part-time painter, and is married to a harridan, Adele (Rosalind Ivan), who is still obsessed with her late husband. One evening he intercedes when he sees a young woman, Kitty (Joan Bennett of The Man Who Reclaimed His Head), being slapped around by a guy and she befriends him. He doesn't realize that the abusive fellow, Johnny (Dan Duryea), is Kitty's boyfriend, and he importunes her to take advantage of the situation when they both wrongly surmise that Cross is rich. Before long Cross is stealing from his company, and things get worse after that ...

Dan Duryea and Joan Bennett
If you haven't seen this film noir masterpiece I won't spoil it by saying anything more about the plot, other than to say that Scarlet Street is thoroughly unpredictable, full of surprising and completely unexpected and highly ironic developments. The acting is first-rate, with both Robinson and Bennett outstanding in their roles, and there is excellent support from Duryea, Ivan, and Margaret Lindsay [Emergency Hospital] as Kitty's initial roommate, Millie. The roles of Cross' friends and co-workers are also filled with fine character actors, and the film is well photographed by Milton R. Krasner. Hans J. Salter also contributed an interesting score. Then there's the great screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on a French mystery novel.  For my money this is far superior to the earlier Lang-Bennett-Robinson-Duryea collaboration The Woman in the Window.Jean Renoir also filmed this story as La chienne. An added side note: Some paintings that figure in the story line and which are seen as great art by some of the characters are the very definition of kitsch!

Verdict: Absorbing and well-made, beautifully-acted melodrama. ***1/2. 


Barbara Cook
BLOOMER GIRL (Producer's Showcase/1956). Directed by Alex Segal. Presented Live

Bloomer Girl was a successful (if now essentially forgotten) Broadway musical that was adapted for television in an abbreviated version for the program Producer's Showcase. Celeste Holm, who had starred on Broadway, was replaced by Barbara Cook, a wise choice. The musical takes place just before the Civil War, and Evalina (Cook) is the only unmarried daughter of hoop (for skirts) manufacturer Horatio Applegate (Paul Ford). Her Aunt Dolly (Carmen Mathews) not only runs the newspaper but is an early feminist. Along comes Southern gentleman Jefferson Calhoun (Keith Andes), who is going to work for Horatio and begins courting an initially unimpressed Evalina. Unfortunately, Calhoun also brings along a slave, Pompey (Roy Spearman), who is hoping to stay North as a free man, something Evalina wants but which his owner may object to.  

Roy Spearman
Bloomer Girl
 dealt with women's rights and black rights in the 1950's, and frankly it's amazing that a live production was shown on television during the same period. Of course Pompey is a polite, somewhat subservient black character, yet he's also given the stirring song "The Eagle and Me," which is all about wanting and needing freedom. The performances in this TV version are all excellent, with Cook as delightful and in as good a voice as ever. Keith Andes adeptly plays the leading man, his charm working to overcome Calhoun's less likable traits, although he eventually triumphs over them. Carmen Mathews and Ford are typically on-target, and Spearman not only has a wonderful voice but imbues the role with a certain dignity.  

In this shortened version of the Broadway show, several of the lesser numbers have been cut. However, there's some gold in what remains: "When the Boys Come Home;" "Evalina;" "Sundays in Cicero Falls;" and the romantic duet "Right as the Rain" -- along with "The Eagle and Me" -- are the most memorable tunes. The lilting music is by Harold Arlen and the lyrics by E. Y. Harburg. Bloomer Girl isn't necessarily one of the all-time great musicals, but it is a worthwhile and interesting show which in some aspects was ahead of its time. 

Verdict: Tuneful, well-done, and sometimes moving. ***. 


THE FORTUNE COOKIE (1966). Produced and directed by Billy Wilder.   

When cameraman Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) is knocked over by Cleveland Braves player Boom Boom Jackson (Ron Rich) during a football game, his brother-in-law, Whiplash Willie (Walter Matthau), importunes him to pretend his injuries are far worse than they really are for a huge cash payout. At first Harry is appalled by the very suggestion, but when Willie intimates that Harry's ex-wife, Sandy (Judi West), may come back to him out of sympathy, he agrees. Meanwhile a very guilty Boom Boom, who practically becomes Harry's servant, finds his own life spiraling out of control. Yet Harry's essential humanity may put paid to Willie's audacious and avaricious plan.

The Fortune Cookie is an excellent comedy-drama which begins as an amusing dark farce and midway turns a bit more serious. The performances are superb, with Matthau master of all he surveys, Lemmon on target throughout, Ron Rich sympathetic and appealing, and Judi West, introduced in this picture, scoring as Harry's ex, a singer who dreams of a shot at the big time in New York's Persian Room. Cliff Osmond also makes an impression as private eye, Purkey, although Lurene Tuttle overdoes it a bit as Harry's hysterical mother. There are other good character actors in the cast such as Les Tremayne. Although highly exaggerated, the characters come off more or less as real people, although many of the situations are not realistic and are not meant to be. I won't give anything away, but the ending strikes a blow for Civil Rights in a way that is unusual for a sixties movie (although one might wonder how anyone could be certain of Harry's reaction). Handsome and talented, this was the first big role for Rich, but he had only a few credits after this. Similarly, Judi West, who actually had a couple of TV credits before this film, had only a few subsequent credits as well. Joseph LaShelle's cinematography is first-rate.

Verdict: Imperfect at times, but a very entertaining black comedy with outstanding performances. ***1/2.                                                             


Theodore von Eltz and Alan Hale
THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT (1933). Directed by George Melford. 

John Ross (William V. Mong) has been the lawyer to a wealthy woman for many years. When this woman dies, Ross is set to inherit most of the money, but his young associate, Wayne Winters (Theodore von Eltz), wants in on the action. To stymie Ross' plans he digs up two supposed heirs to the estate from an early marriage -- embezzler Charlie Moore (Arthur Hoyt) and dead-common Tessie  (Marie Prevost) who has pretensions of class -- and then there's also Max Stager (Alan Hale) who claims he is the father of the dead woman's daughter. Ross has two daughters: Corinne (Marian Marsh of Svengali), who is in love with Wayne, and Nina (Gloria Shea) who is engaged to Jerry Trent (Lyman Williams of Damaged Lives).  One of them is actually adopted and is Stager's daughter. It's anyone's idea who, if anyone, will wind up with the money if assorted secrets get out. 

Marie Prevost with von Eltz
Based on a stage play, Eleventh Commandment -- "thou shalt not get caught" -- sets up an interesting situation with a few intriguing characters, but it has far too many of them to make this anything but confusing and ultimately unsatisfying. It does present two of the most unethical and unlikable lawyers in the history of the movies. The performances are quite good, however, with von Eltz being pleasantly oily and Alan Hale doing his best with an under-written part. Ethel Wales is effective as the embezzler's wife. Handsome and adept, Theodore von Eltz' career ran from the silent period all the way to 1957. 

Verdict: Passable melodrama but nothing more. **. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020


Merle Oberon
AFFAIR IN MONTE CARLO  (1952). Director: Victor Saville.

Novelist Robert Stirling (Leo Genn of Personal Affair) tells a group of casual friends and tourists the story of a woman he knew, Linda Venning (Merle Oberon of The Price of Fear), who fell in frantic love with an unnamed young man (Richard Todd of The Hasty Heart) who loses all of his money in the casino. Linda is afraid that he is going to commit suicide and tries to help him. Although his personality is such that is hard at first to imagine why she is drawn to him despite his attractiveness, something about him eventually wins her over, even after he confesses that he bankrolled his trip by "borrowing" a necklace from an aunt. The two have an idyllic day together, but then comes the time when Linda must decide if she is going to pursue this relationship or not. But will she be able to live with her decision?

Star-crossed lovers: Todd and Oberon
Based on a novel by Stefan Zweig (as was Letter from an Unknown Woman), Affair in Monte Carlo is a lovely little picture that boasts a wonderful and sensitive performance from Oberon, an interesting musical score by Robert Gill and Philip Green, and an unexpected and satisfying conclusion. Stirling is convinced that Linda was genuinely in love with the young gambler, and not just infatuated, but the feelings can be equally mesmeric in either case. Genn is good; Todd effective if not as good as Oberon. IMDB lists the film as being 75 minutes long but the only print I can find -- on Amazon Prime and on youtube -- is ten minutes shorter, and there is an obvious gap when Oberon seems done with Todd but then there's an abrupt cut to a scene when they seem perfectly at ease with each other in a carriage.

Richard Todd
In any case, Affair in Monte Carlo is a pleasant surprise. It examines those quick but intense relationships that spring up unexpectedly and mean something to the participants even though they don't know each other very well. It also delves into those situations in which people want to dive head first into a romantic relationship even while realizing that it's probably a terrible mistake to do so. And then there's the bittersweet - sometimes awful -- knowledge of the ultimate fate of someone that you once even thought, however crazy, that you might spend your life with.

Verdict: For romantic souls only. ***. 


Danny Kaye
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (1947). Director: Norman Z. McLeod.

Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye) is an editor at a pulp publishing house that puts out magazines of horror and crime. His own life -- living with his unpleasant mother (Fay Bainter) and engaged to an unappreciative fiancee (Ann Rutherford) -- is dull  enough for him to indulge in a variety of fantasies. He imagines himself as a brilliant physician, a famous pilot in the RAF, a riverboat gambler, old west cowboy, and so on. But then he meets a beautiful blond (Virginia Mayo) and his life suddenly gets more exciting -- and dangerous. The blond is named Rosalind, and she gets Mitty involved with deadly spies who are after a book that lists the location of art treasures hidden away from the Nazis. In their attempts to get the book, Mitty almost loses his life on more than one occasion.

Virginia Mayo with Kaye
Walter Mitty holds the attention for the most part, is generally well-acted, and has some clever and amusing moments -- a shot of Whistler's Mother in a bathing suit -- but it just isn't that funny. A routine Kaye does in which he imitates an old music professor goes on forever and hasn't a single laugh. The song numbers by Sylvia Fine, Kaye's wife, are pretty awful. The ever under-rated Virginia Mayo is luminescent, however, and there's some good work from Fritz Feld as a European designer of women's hats. (Kaye later does an imitation of him with some characterizing the caricature as "homosexual," but I doubt if that was the intention.) Thurston Hall is fine as Kaye's boss, who is near-apoplectic at times, and Boris Karloff shows up as a very peculiar psychiatrist.

Boris Karloff with Kaye
Rutherford does a nice job as the fiancee, and Florence Bates is typically on-target and amusing as her somewhat disapproving mother. Bainter [The Children's Hour] makes Mitty's mother a borderline harridan, treating her son like he's a ten-year-old, and she isn't funny enough to make the character palatable; a very good actress but not a skilled comedienne. Gordon Jones of The Green Hornet serial plays a man who has a romantic interest in Rutherford; Konstantin Shayne [The Unknown Man] is a nasty character known as the Boot; and the ever-cadaverous Milton Parsons plays his butler.

Verdict: Kaye running around amiably but not that memorably. **1/2.