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

Thursday, February 20, 2020


Dean Martin and Susan Hayward
ADA (1961). Director: Daniel Mann.

Bo Gillis (Dean Martin of Sergeants 3) is a pleasant, uncomplicated good ol' boy running for governor under the direction of men like Steve Jackson (Martin Balsam) and savvy if crooked politico Sylvester Marin (Wilfrid Hyde-White). One night Bo is introduced to"B" girl Ada (Susan Hayward of And Now Tomorrow) and against everyone's advice eventually decides to marry her. Bo becomes governor and Ada, who doesn't trust Marin as far as she can throw him, makes a deal with him to become Lt. Governor, an idea that goes badly with Bo's male pride. When Bo announces that he's going to start reading bills before signing then and is out to clean up corruption, he is badly injured in a murder attempt. Now Ada is the acting governor, but she may find that Marin and his forces are not about to let this former whore boss them around.

Ada tells off biddies, including Kathryn Card, 2nd from left
With a plot like that -- hooker winds up becoming governor -- you would think that Ada would be a real trash wallow, but it's actually somewhere between a strong drama and a guilty pleasure and never quite makes up its mind which. The film does have a feminist perspective, even if it's only from a dated sixties point of view. Dean Martin is perfect casting for Bo -- he has to have enough charm and charisma to convince the voters but also be laid-back enough to be seen as comparatively "weak" next to strong-willed Ada. Hayward plays with her customary authority, and is especially good in a scene at a party at the governor's mansion, where she tells off a bunch of patronizing old biddies -- one of whom is Kathryn Card, Lucy's mother on I Love Lucy, here a tough old bitch and not the dithery Mrs. McGillicuddy.

Ralph Meeker and Susan Hayward
As for the supporting cast, Ralph Meeker [The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown] makes the best impression as Colonel Yancy, employing his trademark insolence to good effect as he makes flagrant passes at the governor's wife on a regular basis. (In the book this film is based on, Ada Dallas, Yancy and Ada were former lovers.) Martin Balsam is always solid but in this he isn't given much to do. The usually reliable Hyde-White is a major disappointment, giving a performance devoid of flavor and nuance -- there are at least a dozen character actors who could have given this role more bite.

Although Hayward and Martin performed surprisingly well together on camera, they did not like each other at all off-screen. For more on this and other Martin films see Martini Man: The Life of Dean Martin.

Verdict: Minor potboiler with some interesting elements. **3/4. 


Michael Parks as The Idol
THE IDOL (1966). Director: Daniel Petrie.

"To be idolized, a man must offer the unusual." -- ad copy.

Marco (Michael Parks) is an American studying art in London. He has a sort of girlfriend in Sarah (Jennifer Hilary) and a kind of best buddy in Timothy (John Leyton), and the three pal around a lot together. Marco is less impressed when he meets Timothy's mother, Carol (Jennifer Jones), also an American, who is divorcing her husband and about to remarry. Carol also seems to be slightly overbearing with Timothy. Marco seems to have a problem with parents and authority in general. When Marco is embarrassed by Carol at a house-warming party, he is furious, but Carol warms up to Marco when he comes to her son's rescue after two slobs try to beat him up. One New Year's Eve Marco goes to Carol's home to find Timothy, but he has already gone to a party with Sarah. At midnight Marco gives Carol a kiss and one thing leads to another -- with highly unfortunate repercussions ...

Jennifer Jones
There were many great British films made in the 1960's, but The Idol isn't one of them. Its screenplay is half-baked and its characters poorly developed   -- especially Marco, who has little reason for doing anything he does except that he's an asshole -- and the overlong film is also tedious. Made by an American studio, The Idol would still have been a poor movie, but at least it might have been more entertaining with the right trashy cast. Parks is better in this film than he is in Bus Riley's Back in Town, but Laurence Olivier might have had trouble with this character. Jennifer Jones has the good sense to look embarrassed through most of the movie, and her performance is one of her weakest. John Leyton, although he's way too old to convincingly play someone who's just nineteen, probably comes off best. Jennifer Hilary is adequate but she lacks the raw sex appeal of, say, an Ann-Margret -- or a Michael Parks -- so her love scenes with Parks aren't very exciting.

Parks, Leyton and Hilary
Some viewers claim that Carol has incestuous feelings for her son and/or vice versa, but if this was intended, it is not handled very well. Timothy seems to have a crush on Sarah, whom he pursues when he thinks Marco has broken off his relationship with her, but it may be just as likely that Marco is the true object of his sensual attentions. In the long run, none of this makes a difference, because it's impossible to care about any of these characters. One member of the large supporting cast who deserves kudos. however, is Rita Webb as the landlady at Marco's nifty apartment who repeatedly remarks about her tenants that "they're all a bit mental." One wonders what she would think of this motley crew?

Verdict: Lame attempts at pseudo-profundity don't help and neither does an ad campaign that promises more than it delivers. **.


Merle Oberon and Lex Barker
THE PRICE OF FEAR (1956). Director: Abner Biberman.

Jessica Warren (Merle Oberon) is driving carefree and a little drunk when she runs over an elderly man. Does she call for an ambulance? No, she keeps driving. Her temporary crisis of conscience fades when she sees dog track owner Dave Barrett (Lex Barker) "borrow" her car and figures if she reports the vehicle as stolen he will be accused of the hit and run, not she. Complicating matters for Dave -- who took Jessica's car because he was being followed by hoods who want a piece of his track -- is the fact that the same time the elderly man was run over, an enemy of Dave's was shot to death. Barrett is going to be convicted of one crime or the other, but he gets close to Jessica to find out what he can. But is she really falling in love with him or does she have her own agenda?

Warren Stevens and Merle Oberon
The Price of Fear has more than one interesting situation and the relationship between Jessica and Dave with their conflicting goals but obvious attraction to one another adds to the film's compelling quality. This was one of Oberon's last starring roles -- it's a bit surprising to see her in this kind of film noir -- and she gives an excellent performance that keeps the audience guessing as to exactly what's on Jessica's mind and what she is ultimately planning to do. Barker gives it the old college try, and his line readings are certainly not terrible, but next to Oberon he's a bit of a wooden Indian. Warren Stevens gives one of his all-time best performances as the shady character Frankie Edare, who's responsible for a lot of Dave's problems; he and Oberon play especially well together.

Lex Barker
There are also good performances from Gia Scala [The Garment Jungle] as the heartbroken daughter of the elderly man; Charles Drake [It Came from Outer Space] as the police sergeant assigned to the case; and Stafford Repp [Batman: The Black Widow Strikes Again] and Mary Field as a tippling cab driver and his unloving wife. With a little added depth and characterization, The Price of Fear would have made an even more memorable picture, but it's quite absorbing as it is. It has a tense climax and an uncompromising wind-up. Abner Biberman was primarily a television director.

Verdict: Another one of those movies that is so good you wish it were just a bit better. ***. 


THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976). Director: Bert I. Gordon.

Football player Morgan (Marjoe Gortner) takes some time off with some buddies and travels to an island where they have BIG problems. This white paste-like stuff has come out of the ground near the cabin of Mr. and Mrs. Skinner (John McLiam and Ida Lupino) and for unaccountable reasons they have mixed it with corn meal and fed it to their chickens, with the result that the baby chicks have grown to be as tall as a man and eaten their parents. With the help of entrepreneur Bensington (Ralph Meeker) and his contemptuous scientist-assistant, Lorna (Pamela Franklin), the couple hope to profit off the "food." Unfortunately, the white stuff has also been consumed by wasps and rats, and before long Morgan, the Skinners and other luckless individuals are fighting for their lives against a horde of hungry, giant-sized and extremely aggressive rodents. Meanwhile a young pregnant woman named Rita (Belinda Balaski), travelling with her boyfriend Thomas (Tom Stovall), starts delivering her baby just as the rodents attack. As Morgan and others try to defend themselves and beat off the voracious creatures, Mrs. Simmer prays, "whatever sins I've committed, don't let us get eaten by rats!"

Jon Cypher and Marjoe Gortner vs. rats
Bert I. Gordon, aka "Mr. BIG," directed several fun creature features about out-sized monsters in the fifties. He did a pretty terrible adaptation of H. G. Wells' "The Food of the Gods" in the sixties (Village of the Giants) which focused on giant teenagers, but this picture is very loosely based on the early chapters of Wells' novel which do feature giant chickens, insects, and rats. Typical of a Gordon production is the uneven FX work, with a big rubber rooster that attacks Morgan and a bunch of see-through wasps. The rats, however, are a different story, with the little darlings making excellent performers as they run at, scrabble over, and chew on a miniature cabin that stands in for the real thing. Some of the process work is more than satisfactory.

Ralph Meeker
Say what you will about the film -- which did get some good reviews among the excoriating ones -- it is fast-paced, works up a lot of suspense, and the final scenes with the rats attacking the cabin are undeniably intense and unnerving. Gortner is effective enough as the charismatic hero, and there is good work from Jon Cypher as his PR man, Brian, who quite sensibly doesn't want to accompany Morgan as he goes out hunting for rats. Both Ida Lupino and Ralph Meeker are two old pros who deliver the goods no matter how crazy things get, and Belinda Balaski offers a strong and sensitive portrait of a terrified woman who's afraid her baby will be gobbled up by rats a moment after it's born.

There are some dumb moments in the film, such as when Rita and Thomas leave the relative safety of their camper when a rat jumps up on the roof. On the other hand Gordon's screenplay does try to make these people more dimensional than usual. Some might argue that the best thing about the movie is the excellent, striking poster with the supine woman and the giant rat!

Verdict: Fun, gruesome flick from Mr. BIG. ***. 



As noted previously, these are not reviews, per se, but notes on films that I watched or suffered through until I just gave up on them for one reason or another. Sometimes I skipped to different sections just to get a sense of what was going on or to see if the film became more entertaining. Not all of these pictures are necessarily bad, they just didn't hold my attention. If you see one on the list that you think deserves another look, let me know.

Meet Mr. Callaghan (1954) is a British private eye movie about the murder of a wealthy man with four nephews and other suspects. The main character and lead actor are both rather irritating in their way, and the movie is full of cliches. I couldn't care less who the murderer was.

Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), which was directed by Robert Aldrich,  actually did not necessarily seem like a bad biblical spectacle of sorts, but I didn't care for the cast, which included Stewart Granger and a lot of actors whom I didn't find that interesting. This is an international co-production, not a Hollywood film, the reason why the cast is not exactly stellar. It all seemed a little tacky as well, just not something I wanted to spend another hour and a half on.

The Weekend Murders (1970) is actually a dubbed Italian film originally entitled Concerto per pistola solista. It is a take-off on an Agatha Christie-type British manor mystery with a reading of a will and (off-screen) murders occurring afterward. Comedy is provided by a Scotland Yard Inspector and a country sergeant who proves smarter than his superior. I actually watched most of this but it's rather slow and silly and eventually I just skipped to the end to find out who the killer was. The film's "composer," Franceso de Masi, has the temerity to rip off Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto # 1 for the theme music, which one hopes was deliberate. The picture has no style and is not memorable.

Innocent Bystanders (1972) is a late-entry spy saga starring Stanley Baker as an aging operative who is sent on assignment by Donald Pleasence, but isn't apprised of all of the facts. I found the "mod"-like style of the film to be off-putting, and couldn't quite get through a quarter of it.

Screamers (1979) is a dubbed Italian film with Richard Johnson and Barbara Bach hoping to get treasure that is guarded by some mutated Atlanteans who have become half man and half fish. The prologue in a cave with Cameron Mitchell and Mel Ferrer has some gory moments and appears to be added afterward. In the main story Joseph Cotten plays a scientist who wants to study the fish-men. This is slow and unrewarding and isn't really a horror film at all.

Frances (1982) stars Jessica Lange in a very heavily fictionalized version of the life of actress Frances Farmer based on a biography that was later largely discredited. I didn't just turn this off after a time because I knew I wasn't going to get the real story -- Sam Shepard saunters through the movie and narrates even though his character never actually existed -- but the dramatic license at times becomes ludicrous, illogical and even outlandish. For the record Farmer was never lobotomized as this film depicts!

The Human Stain (2003) didn't hold my attention even though it actually has some interesting aspects in this study of an academic (Anthony Hopkins and Wentworth Miller in different time periods) who has hid the fact that he's African-American for virtually all of his adult life. (Ironically, he quits his job when he's accused of racism.) Based on a novel by Philip Roth (The Humbling) we have yet another old man in an improbable relationship with a much younger woman (Nicole Kidman). Both Hopkins and Kidman are miscast, and the film meanders a little too much, although Miller (bi-racial in real life) gives a very good performance.

Masks (2011) is a German-language version of an Italian giallo film, or at least that's what its proponents say it is. About a young lady who comes to study at a strange acting school, the movie is slow and dull despite the occasional bloody sword attack. Comparing it to the (best) work of Dario Argento is ridiculous. This had trouble holding my attention for more than a third.

Camp Dread (2014) is a pretty terrible film about a down-on-his-luck horror film maker (the down-on-his-luck Eric Roberts) who concocts a scheme to use troubled youths on a reality show that will ultimately turn into something like one of his horror movies. Then the youths begin getting killed. The film hasn't a dollop of atmosphere and some of the actors are amateurish to boot. Not compelling nor well-made enough to keep watching.

Suspiria (2018) is a remake of a much better film by Dario Argento centering on a coven of witches in a dance studio. The remake takes place in post WW2 Berlin, and in an attempt to add some depth and pathos to the story, drags in the events of the holocaust. The movie is long but the real problem is that it just didn't grip me or pull me into the story the way that Argento did. If they had stuck to making a simple and effective horror film this might have amounted to something. Tilda Swinton is quite good -- amazing, in fact -- in a dual role. I got about halfway through this and then peeked at subsequent sequences, some of which seemed so silly as to be laughable. Jessica Harper, the lead in the original Suspiria, has a cameo role.

Book Club (2018) has four friends -- Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen -- reading "Fifty Shades of Gray" for their book club and having assorted misadventures with men. Okay, for awhile this was cute, but it seemed too much like an extended ad for "Fifty Shades" (I wouldn't be surprised if the book's publisher is a division of the production company.) Too much like a sitcom, the humor is of the variety of friends getting together and making jokes about sex, the same stuff you can hear in any bar. This wasn't terrible, it just didn't hold my interest for more than half an hour. I was surprised that for a film supposedly against age discrimination, it portrays the very elderly in the same disdainful light as everything else.

Other films that failed to grip me: Hootenanny a-Go-Go; A Swingin; Summer; Gidget Goes to Rome; Every Day's a Holiday with Freddie and the Dreamers; Tough Kid; Racing Blood with Frankie Darro; Juvenile Court with Rita Hayworth; Wild Racers with Fabian; Promises, Promises with Jayne Mansfield, Maid for Murder; Hollywood Dreams; This Man is Dangerous; Adventures of a Private Eye; A Yank in Ermine; Badge of Honor with Buster Crabbe; Girl Loves Boy with Eric Linden; the eurospy flick 13 Days to Die; Doorway to Suspicion; Tale of Five Cities/Women starring Bonar Colleano; The Final Countdown with Kirk Douglas in bangs; and Master Stroke, a caper movie. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020


Howard Keel and Betty Hutton in Technicolor!
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950). Director: George Sidney.

Famed sharpshooter Frank Butler (Howard Keel of Jupiter's Darling) with Buffalo Bill Cody's (Louis Calhern) wild west show, takes on any challenger, but he meets his match in hillbilly Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton), who falls for him but discovers his male pride takes a beating each time she learns a new trick. During their first match she beats him, but she isn't so sure she wants to win the second one at the climax. On this she is advised by none other than Chief Sitting Bull (J. Carroll Naish) of Custer's Last Stand, who comes to see her as his honorary daughter. Will Annie get the man she loves or the prizes?

Naish, Hutton, Calhern
I had trepidation about watching this film because I had always loved the TV version with the wonderful Mary Martin, which was broadcast seven years after this film came out. I was also afraid Betty Hutton would be too overbearing. There are moments in her performance that are borderline, but I must say Hutton is excellent as Annie, capturing both the vulnerability and the pride of the character. Although Hutton does not sing badly (accept on "They Say That Falling in Love is Wonderful" in which Howard Keel saves the day), her vocal skills are no match for Mary Martin's (who played Annie in a more feminine and lady-like fashion). In any case, Judy Garland was originally signed for the lead and did a few scenes that survive, and, frankly, she isn't nearly as good as Hutton.

That "handsome devil" Keel
Now we come to Chief Sitting Bull. Although he was in part responsible for the massacre of American soldiers (who attacked first) at Little Big Horn, I guess that even in the 19th century celebrity trumps everything. The chief joined Buffalo Bill's show and stood around signing autographs -- yes! -- and participating in some re-enactments. Annie Oakley did indeed become like a daughter to Sitting Bull, but whether he encouraged her to throw a competition so she'd get her man is debatable. What is not debatable is that Irving Berlin's score is one of his finest, and one of the best of any Broadway musical, responsible for "There's No Business Like Show Business;""" "Doin' What Comes Naturally;" "The Girl That I Marry;" "My Defenses are Down;" "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun;" etc. although it's disappointing that the film excludes "Moonshine Lullaby;" "I Got Lost in His Arms;" "I'm a Bad, Bad Man" (which could have been quite a showcase for that handsome devil Keel); and "Old-Fashioned Wedding."

In addition to Hutton and Keel, there are fine performances from Naish and Calhern [The Asphalt Jungle] and Keenan Wynn, Clinton Sundberg, and little Brad Morrow as Annie's cute baby brother, Jake. Charles Rosher's widescreen, technicolor cinematography is often breathtaking.

Verdict: The cartoon Indians are questionable in this day and age, but the movie has an interesting (if heavily fictionalized) story and lots of great music and performances. ***. 


Jimmy Stewart and Ralph Meeker
THE NAKED SPUR (1953). Director: Anthony Mann.

After the Civil War Howard Kemp (James Stewart) lost his farm to a faithless, greedy woman and is determined to buy it back with $5000 reward money for a murderer named Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan). Ben has been traveling with the daughter, Lina (Janet Leigh), of one of his deceased best friends, and he is equally determined to stay one step ahead of Kemp. Kemp enlists the aid of old prospector Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell of Singin' in the Rain) and unsavory and dishonorable ex-soldier Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) to capture Ben, but now his two "partners" each want a third of the loot. The whole group begins a trek to Abilene where Ben is to be hung, but it's anybody's guess if they will all make it there in one piece, and if Ben will remain their captive ...

Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh. 
The Naked Spur sets up an interesting and harrowing situation -- the three captors are not just pitted against Ben and possibly Lina, but also each other -- and sustains suspense and tension all the way through. Admittedly, some scenes are not handled as dramatically as they might have been, and there's a disturbing sequence when a whole bunch of Indians are slaughtered when they are really just trying to get justice for a maiden who was apparently raped by Anderson. Stewart gives another impassioned and first-rate performance as Kemp, and Janet Leigh [Act of Violence] proves yet again that she was far more than just a pretty face. Ryan [Caught] plays in an unusual sardonic style considering what he's facing, but he pulls if off, and Meeker, as cocky as ever, makes the most of his turn as the rather sleazy Anderson. The ending seems tacked on to make Stewart's character more palatable, but it only makes him seem like an idiot. It's nice that character actor Millard Mitchell, who also gives a fine performance, is billed above the title with the four stars.

Verdict: Zesty if imperfect western with terrific cast. ***. 


Maurice Ronet
ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (aka Ascenseur pour l'echafaud/1958). Director: Louis Malle. France. 

Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet of The Champagne Murders) is sleeping with the boss's wife, Florence (Jeanne Moreau of Jules and Jim), who urges him to kill her husband. After the murder, Julien goes back into the office to dispose of some incriminating evidence and gets trapped in the elevator when the power is turned off. Meanwhile young Louis (Georges Poujouly), boyfriend of flower seller Veronique (Yori Bertin) takes off in Julien's car for a joy ride and takes a mildly protesting Veronique with him. On the road they encounter a German couple who befriend them, but when there's a homicide Julien becomes subject of a manhunt despite the fact he's still stuck in an elevator. Which crime will Julien wind up being accused of?

Jeanne Moreau
Elevator to the Gallows is an interesting if minor crime film and the first to be directed by Louis Malle. Although the movie has some interesting twists and situations and a very satisfying ending where no one gets off with anything, it also has one-dimensional characters and Malle (admittedly a very different type of director from, say, Alfred Hitchcock) does virtually nothing to maximize the suspense -- just because people are speaking French doesn't make this a profound drama. The performances are generally good across the board. One could argue that Ronet plays it a little too cool considering his situation but it can also be argued that he is an ex-soldier who keeps his head no matter what.

Georges Poujouly
Georges Poujouly makes an impression as the ever-sullen young baby-faced tough who steals Julien's car. He was a child actor who graduated to adult roles and amassed forty-four credits in France. There are a scattering of good character performances throughout the film as well. Miles Davis contributed a moody jazz score that works fairly well for the movie. An interesting aspect of the film is that the two lovers are never together throughout the entire movie, only seen talking to each other on the telephone at the opening.

Verdict: Interesting film that could have been much more memorable if it had had a better script and taut direction. **1/2. 


Esther Dale and Marjorie Main
MA AND PA KETTLE AT THE FAIR (1952). Director: Charles Barton.

This fourth Ma and Pa Kettle film presents these two interesting characters -- and I do mean characters -- interacting with various townspeople, some friendly and some not, and finding themselves with financial problems. How, for instance, can they afford to send second oldest daughter Rosie (Lori Nelson of Untamed Youth) to college? Ma hopes to win some prize money with her jam and bread, but accidentally enters in the harness race. Fortunately, Pa just bought an  old nag that used to race -- twelve years ago! After some accidents and blunders, Pa still thinks he has a chance of winning the race, but then he and Ma get arrested for supposedly poisoning the rival horses.

Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair is another amusing and lively entry in the series. Richard Long and Meg Randall, who were married off, do not appear in this installment, but are replaced by Lori Nelson and James Best of Killer Shrews as her handsome beau. Esther Dale, who was also in The Egg and I and Ma and Pa Kettle, returns as Ma's rival Birdie Hicks, and the interchanges between her and Main are a lot of fun, especially a scene involving a pitchfork and Birdie's rear end. Emory Parnell is also back as the amiable general store owner, Billy Reed. The climactic horse race is a highlight, and Ma and Pa Kettle show their own brand of solid integrity in this.

Verdict: More fun with the Kettles. ***. 


John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan 
ROUND UP OF NEW AND RECENT FILMS PART SIX. Here are some short notes on some more recent movies of interest.

STAN AND OLLIE (2018). Director: Jon S. Baird. This is an affectionate look back at what was in my opinion the Comedy Team Supreme, Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan of Philomena)) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly of Dark Water). Both of these two actors do superb impersonations of the men they're playing (with Coogan's Laurel having, perhaps, a slight edge) and their spouses are also well-played by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda. Rufus Jones is also notable as the smarmy manager of their late-career London tour, which is the focus of this movie. This is a well-produced and absorbing comedy-drama which besides being entertaining in its own right, will hopefully have viewers taking a first or second look at the boys' wonderful films, such as their masterpieces Our Relations and Babes in Toyland, among others. ***.

BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB (2018). Director: James Cox. In a true story, two friends, Joe Hunt (Ansel Elgort) and Dean Karney (Taran Egerton), embroil some of their much wealthier friends in financial schemes, unaware that they are being played themselves by one Ron Levin (Kevin Spacey). This is a remake of a 1987 mini-series of the same name, wherein Hunt was played by Judd Nelson (who plays his father in this remake). The movie portrays Hunt in a very different light from the way he was portrayed in the mini-series. But although the acting all around is excellent -- I'm glad they didn't edit out Kevin Spacey because he really scores as Levin -- the movie just never comes to a full boil. **1/4.

Melissa McCarthy
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (2018). Director: Marielle Heller. The true story of Ms. Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a writer who had hit the New York Times bestseller list with a biography but has now hit hard times, and who happens to be a lesbian. To support herself, she cooks up a criminal scheme to forge letters from famous people for profit. and employs gay pal Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) to help her, until it all falls apart. This is an absorbing study of an interesting if not especially likable individual. Although McCarthy could easily have played this in her usual fat-girl-goes-nutso persona, instead she gives a real and very good performance as Israel. Grant is also excellent, and Jane Curtin is notable as Israel's agent. Israel is not the most positive or sympathetic representative of the LGBT community, but the movie is quite entertaining in spite of it. ***.

Emma Thompson
LATE NIGHT (2019). Director: Nisha Ganatra. A long-time talk show hostess named Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is told by the network president that her ratings have been steadily slipping and she will be replaced by a jackass of a young stand-up comic. Katherine, a self-absorbed and not terribly likable person who loves only her husband (John Lithgow) decides to fight back, hiring her first female comedy writer, Molly (Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the script), an Indian-American, to join the white guys on her staff. Irreverent, absorbing and quite well-acted, especially by Thompson and an appealing Kaling, Late Night has some very amusing moments, although one could argue that there's a little too much white-bashing, which is just prejudice-in-reverse. (The use of a swishy gay character tells you that, in Hollywood, despite all the political correctness, some things never change.) The script never quite rises above a sitcom level, but on that level it has its moments. **3/4.

Frank John Hughes with Rick Gomez in the background
LEAVE (2011). Director: Robert Celestino. Writer Henry (Rick Gomez), a cancer survivor, has been enduring a terrible recurring nightmare for months, so he kisses his wife goodbye and goes off to their country house to finish a book. Along the way he encounters a stranger, Chris (Frank John Hughes), who turns out to be someone he knows quite well. The suspenseful Leave is beautifully-done, well-directed and shot and superbly acted by the two leads -- who also did the story and script -- but it just isn't very original. (I can't even name its two primary sources because that would give the game away immediately.) However, the picture, not exactly intellectual, works on the purely emotional level and is quite moving, even if some might find it exploitative as well. ***.

GONE: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF AEYRN GILLERAN (2011). Directed by Gretchen and John Morning. This affecting if very imperfect documentary features a lengthy interview with Kathryn Gilleran, a former cop in Cortland,  New York whose openly gay son Aeyrn disappeared while working in Vienna. Gilleran came up against sexist and homophobic attitudes from the Austrian police, and there were strange stories from both them and eyewitnesses. There are hints that the police may have covered up a crime committed at an exclusive gay bathhouse in a tony part of Vienna, and that Aeyrn may have witnessed something (possibly confronted a closeted politician?) that sent him literally running out naked into the streets. Police say he committed "spontaneous suicide"  by jumping into the Danube canal! You don't expect this film to come up with the ultimate answers as to what may have happened to the man, but so much else goes unexplored. Admittedly, this is the mother's story, but the fact that Aeyrn had a long-time partner is only mentioned in passing and we learn virtually nothing about him or about his relationship with Aeryn -- such as how did he feel about Aeryn going to a bathhouse, where undoubtedly hook-ups for sex took place? As one viewer noted, this documentary leaves you with more questions than answers. You feel great sympathy for the mother but you also wonder what the partner was going through, something this film never even bothers to explore. **1/2.