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

Thursday, May 28, 2020


Lana Turner and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. 
BY LOVE POSSESSED (1961). Director: John Sturges.

Two law partners in a small town have personal problems to go with legal ones. Arthur Winner (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) is afraid that his wife, Clarissa (Barbara Bel Geddes) and son Warren (George Hamilton) feel completely disconnected from him. Julius Penrose (Jason Robards of Philadelphia) is afraid to get close to his tippling wife, Marjorie (Lana Turner), because of physical problems which undoubtedly include impotency. Meanwhile Arthur's father-in-law, Noah Tuttle (Thomas Mitchell), the head of the firm, seems to be senile and may have even committed embezzlement. Just as Arthur and Marjorie draw closer for an illicit relationship, Warren is accused of rape by the town tramp, Veronica (Yvonne Craig), with his girlfriend, Helen (Susan Kohner of The Gene Krupa Story) waiting in the wings.

Jason Robards (Jr.) and Lana Turner
Although her part is not even that large, Lana Turner was obviously cast and headlined so that the public would think they had another Peyton Place on their hands, which is not the case. Despite all the heavy breathing (especially on Hamilton's part) and other goings-on, By Love Possessed is neither strong drama nor even a trashy guilty pleasure. Zimbalist, who has the biggest part, is adequate and smooth but as bland and pedestrian as ever. He and Turner and some other cast members give overly earnest line readings as if they thought they were reciting something profound. Sometimes there is some interesting dialogue, such as when Veronica tells Warren "If I get drunk and pass out it's no fun for me, and if you get drunk and pass out it's no fun for me." Later Arthur tells his son: "Your generation doesn't have a monopoly on sex, legal or otherwise -- you just talk about it more."

Unrequited: George Hamilton with Susan Kohner
Jason Robards seems a mite uncomfortable acting with Lana, and his performance is actually only adequate. Bel Geddes [Caught] is playing the wise, warm and womanly role years before she enacted same on Dallas but she does it in a rather bland fashion. Old pros Mitchell and Everett Sloane as a doctor are more impressive, and the younger generation of Hamilton, Kohner, and Craig are also on the money. Jean Willes has a small role as a former prostitute suing her late paramour's estate, and she is fine. As for the story, everything with both couples is neatly resolved by the finale, but Warren's fate in the rape trial is left unrevealed, although it's hard to believe anyone would find Veronica -- who always refers to herself in the third person -- a creditable witness. The audience is supposed to be devastated by the sad fate of Helen, but we never get to know her well enough to feel anything for her. Elmer Bernstein's musical score has a few nice moments, but is also a bit sappy, which is no more than the picture deserves.

Verdict: This talky flick would have been more fun if it were just a blatant trash wallow. **. 


Charles Boyer
A WOMAN'S VENGEANCE (1948). Director: Zoltan Korda. Screenplay by Aldous Huxley, based on his short story "The Gioconda Smile."

"I think of Henry all the time." -- Janet.

"No, you don't, you think of yourself in relation to Henry which is an entirely different proposition." -- Dr. Libbard.

Henry Maurier (Charles Boyer) has three women in his life: his bitter, ill and jealous wife Emily (Rachel Kempson); his dear long-time friend, Janet (Jessica Tandy of Butley); and his pretty young mistress, Doris (Ann Blyth). Henry is no angel, which causes him big problems when Emily is found dead. At first everyone assumes she died of heart failure, but the hateful nurse Caroline (Mildred Natwick) insists it was murder. An autopsy shows that there was arsenic in her system, so Henry's new marriage to Doris is interrupted by a trial. The results seem preordained, but Emily's doctor, James Libbard (Cedric Hardwicke of The Winslow Boy), engages in a battle of nerves with the person he believes is truly responsible.

Jessica Tandy
The performances in A Woman's Vengeance can not be faulted, with Boyer managing to make a sympathetic figure out of someone who may not deserve any sympathy. Mildred Natwick and Cedric Hardwicke are both excellent as doctor and nurse. Ann Blyth proves once again that her Veda in Mildred Pierce was no fluke, and Jessica Tandy nearly walks off with the movie in her fascinating portrait of a woman suffering from unrequited love. Called upon to display every possible kind of emotion she is on top of it all in every sequence. John Williams is also notable in a brief bit as the prosecutor, and there are other good supporting bits as well.

Boyer with Ann Blyth
One has to wonder exactly what screenwriter Huxley -- best-known as the author of "Brave New World" -- was trying to say in this little picture. One suspects it wasn't that circumstantial evidence can condemn an innocent man, and one hopes it was more than the old "Hell Hath No Fury" chestnut, but I'm not certain. The feelings of the scorned woman are explored, although her actions are not condoned. While A Woman's Vengeance is not and is not meant to be an Agatha Christie-type murder mystery, the pace does drag after the not-so-big reveal, and Huxley's screenplay is awfully talky at times. Russell Metty is the cinematography and there's a subdued score by Miklos Rozsa. Director Zoltan Korda was the brother of Alexander Korda. Rachel Kempson was the wife of Michael Redgrave.

Verdict: Great cast -- especially a superb Tandy -- giving their all but the film on a whole is unsatisfying. **1/2. 


Brian Aherne and Kay Francis
THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF (1941). Director: Edward Ludwig.

John Evans and Malcolm Scott (both played by Brian Aherne of My Son, My Son) both look  exactly alike, so alike that no one, including Scott's wife, Adrienne (Kay Francis of The Keyhole), can tell them apart. Evans wakes up in Scott's bed -- sans Scott -- and the household staff, including lovable Paul (S. Z. Sakall of Lullaby of Broadway)  assume he is their employer. Evans discovers that "he" died in a fall in front of a subway train, when the dead man is actually Malcolm Scott. When John realizes that he is attracted to Adrienne, who is on the perpetual verge of divorcing Scott, he decides to assume the other man's identity. And this is a comedy?

Glamorous Kay
The Man Who Lost Himself offers some intriguing situations but hasn't much idea what to do with them. Evans doesn't seem the slightest bit upset when he learns of Malcolm's death, but this is made somewhat palatable when we learn that Scott was a bit of a bounder. The cast, including a very enthusiastic Aherne, the glamorously caparisoned Francis, and especially the wonderful "Cuddles" Sakall do their best with the material, but there's a kind of grotesque seriousness underneath the silliness that strips the film of its alleged fun quotient. The picture could have been a funny movie but aside from one or two chuckles it just isn't. It may have worked better as a drama.

"Cuddles" Sakall and Brian Aherne
Other cast members include Henry Stephenson as the family lawyer; Dorothy Tree as a girlfriend of Scott's nicknamed Boobie Woobie; Nils Asther as an admirer of Adrienne's; Marc Lawrence as a would-be blackmailer; Sig Ruman and Barlowe Borland as psychiatrists; Henry Kolker as a business associate; and Eden Gray as Scott's sister Venetia. They all give it their best but it just isn't enough. Of all the films about doubles taking the place of someone else, this is one of the least interesting. There is no explanation for why the two men look like identical twins but apparently aren't.

Verdict: Lots of possibilities that add up to very little. **. 


Mischa Auer and Joan Davis
SHE WROTE THE BOOK (1946). Director: Charles Lamont.

Jane Featherstone (Joan Davis of Around the World) is a prim and proper, intellectual science professor at the conservative Croydon College. She and everyone else on the faculty are appalled by the publication of a banned tell-all memoir entitled "Always Lulu," in which a woman's many amours are recounted in detail. No one knows that the author is actually the Dean's wife Phyllis (Gloria Stuart of Titanic). Phyllis can't collect the considerable royalties for the book unless she appears in person in New York, so she importunes her friend Jane to impersonate her. But when Jane is knocked out and becomes an amnesiac, she believes what everyone tells her, that she is Lulu, and takes on a whole new glamorous persona.

Joan Davis as "Lulu"
Given the excellent premise of this movie, as well as the cast members, one would think that She Wrote the Book was a laugh riot, but instead it's a disappointment. Joan Davis certainly gives it her all, and she gets some good support from Jack Oakie as the publisher's advertising manager; Mischa Auer as a man hired to woo her for money; Kirby Grant [In Society] as Eddie, a nice young guy who is attracted to Jane but definitely not to Lulu; and Thurston Hall as a wealthy ship builder who is mightily attracted to the supposedly oh-so-sexy and highly experienced "Lulu." John Litel is the dean and Jacquline deWit [The Damned Don't Cry] is the ship builder's jealous wife who threatens more than one person with a gun. The trouble with the film is not necessarily with the players but with a screenplay that lacks wit and never really pulls off the solid laughs it deserves, although there are a few amusing moments here and there. She Wrote the Book still manages to hold the attention and you do wonder how it will all turn out.

Verdict: Cute idea but the execution is only so-so. **1/2. 


Jayne Mansfield
THE LOVES OF HERCULES (aka Hercules vs. the Hydra/aka Gli amori di Ercole/1960). Director: Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia.

Hercules (Mickey Hargitay of Bloody Pit of Horror) learns that his wife and child were murdered by the King of Ecalia. What he doesn't know is that the actual murderer was Licos (Massimo Serato of The Killer Nun), who goes so far as to murder the king to cover up the crime. Hercules goes to Ecalia to confront the king's daughter, Queen Delanira (Jayne Mansfield of The Burglar), who goes through a strange, violent ceremony to prove she had no part in the death of Hercules' family. For his part, Hercules seems to forget all about his slain wife and falls in love with Delanira in a trice. When the queen's fiance is found murdered, Hercules is blamed and is forced to go on the run, where he encounters the Amazons, whose Queen Hippolyta is fond of turning her lovers into trees and develops a dangerous hankering for the son of Jupiter. Will Hercules and his new beloved Delanira manage to triumph over the evil schemes of both Licos and Hippolyta and finally be reunited?

The three-headed hydra
Hungarian body-builder Hargitay and his wife Mansfield were two years into their six-year marriage (resulting in three chidren, including the very gifted Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) when they went to Italy to make this "spectacle," which does feature a few impressive settings as well as the out-sized physiques of the briefly-married couple. As their voices are dubbed it's hard to judge their performances, but one can safely say there were no Oscar contenders in the cast, at least not in this production. The film is briefly and minimally enlivened by the appearances of a huge bull that Mickey wrestles to the ground, an 8-foot-tall caveman, and a full-scale Hydra which is like a funhouse prop, but is very well-designed, has three fire-breathing heads, and looks good despite its limited movement. In the second half of the film Hippolyta transforms herself into Delanira, so Mansfield is given a dual role. The men-turned-into-trees business is a macabre touch.

Verdict: Hardly anything spectacular here but more watchable than you might imagine. **1/2. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020


Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone
THE LAST VOYAGE (1960). Written and directed by Andrew L. Stone.

Robert Adams (George Sanders) is the captain of the cruise liner SS Claridon, which will be retired after only five more voyages. Adams is hoping that he will be given a new ship and a promotion, and is therefore reluctant to see a major problem when a fire breaks out in the hold. Unfortunately, this fire leads to an explosion that not only causes a number of deaths, but traps one lady, Laurie Henderson (Dorothy Malone), under a piece of steel in her shattered cabin. As the captain and crew argue about what to do next, Laurie's husband Cliff (Robert Stack) tries to get someone, anyone, to help him free his wife before the ship goes down, and also importunes a compassionate crew member, Lawson (Woody Strode), to get his little girl, Jill (Tammi Marihugh), into a lifeboat.

Strode, little Marihugh and Stack
Part of the reason that this gut-wrenching disaster film works so well is that it was filmed not on a Hollywood sound stage but on the SS Ile de France, which was retired the previous year. The ship was partially sunk and these sequences certainly add a chilling veracity to the proceedings. The climax with surviving characters racing to get off the boat as gallons of water wash down the corridors and over the decks is thrilling and fantastic. Not only is there the horrible dilemma of whether or not Cliff can leave his wife to die so that he can be a father to their child -- Laurie even contemplates suicide to free him from that choice --  but at one point the little girl is trapped herself over a huge hole in the floor.

George Sanders
There is also some first-rate acting from such players as Malone, Sanders and Strode, although Stack hardly gets across the desperation that his character would be feeling. Edmond O'Brien is fine as the chief engineer, who clashes bitterly with the captain in one especially effective sequence. Little Tammi Marihugh is a natural performer, and when she has to crawl on a board over a deep pit you have to wonder if she was actually acting or not; she certainly out-acts Stack. There are several very good supporting performances as well from such as Jack Kruschen, George Furness, Marshall Kent, and others.

Woody Strode 
The action in The Last Voyage starts even before the credits begin and never lets up, so the screenplay doesn't have much room for character development, but some of the actors are able to get it across in any case. We don't learn that much about Laurie and Cliff, but Lawson emerges as a brave and highly sympathetic figure and Sanders etches a classic portrait of the man in authority who is too concerned about his job and appearances to make sure that people are safe, and we all know how many people there are who fit that description. Andrew L. Stone also directed Doris Day in Julie. Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone were previously teamed in Written on the Wind.

Verdict: Highly entertaining and often nerve-wracking suspense film. ***1/2. 

IRON MAN (1951)

Jeff Chandler
IRON MAN (1951). Director: Joseph Pevney.

Coke Mason (Jeff Chandler) is a coal miner with a girlfriend named Rose (Evelyn Keyes of Dangerous Blondes) and a brother named George (Stephen McNally of The Black Castle). Coke is generally a nice guy, but when he gets riled up he can really go after a guy with his fists, and George thinks his "killer instincts" may turn him into an excellent boxer and get him out of the mines. Initially disenchanted with this notion, Rose eventually thinks of all the money he can make and what it might mean for their future happiness. But as Coke embarks on his career and becomes successful, he is seen not as an athlete but a dirty fighter who will do anything, hit any low blow, to win a match. He may become the heavyweight champion of the world but will he lose everything else, including Rose?

Hudson, Keyes, McNally
Iron Man is an absorbing well-acted drama that may not get points for originality but is nevertheless very well-done and well-directed by Joseph Pevney, who includes several exciting fight scenes. Chandler is on top of things throughout the movie and gives a very good performance, as does Evelyn Keyes. McNally, who is usually solid, strangely plays his role in one note throughout. A young Rock Hudson makes a better impression as "Speed," a fellow miner and friend of Coke's who assists him and then becomes his rival in the ring. Jim Backus is merely okay as a sports writer who doesn't think much of Coke's tactics but eventually becomes his manager. At one point a woman looks at Rock Hudson and says, "You are divine," to which he replies "I know -- but I'm in training." James Arness has a small role as a nasty co-worker of Coke's who nearly gets his head handed to him; he's fine. Pevney also directed Chandler in Foxfire.

Verdict: Memorable boxing film with some good acting. ***. 


William Lundigan and June Haver
I'LL GET BY (1950), Director: Richard Sale.

Aspiring songwriter William Spencer (William Lundigan of Pinky) meets another composer named Freddy Lee (Dennis Day) and the completely fictional team of Spencer and Lee is born. The two men have romances with the singing team, the Martin Sisters: Liza (June Haver of The Dolly Sisters) and Terry (Gloria DeHaven of So This is Paris). Thelma Ritter cracks wise now and then as their secretary; Steve Allen appears as a radio DJ; and Harry James occasionally blows on his trumpet.

Gloria DeHaven and Dennis Day
I'll Get By apparently ran out of real-life songwriting teams when it came up with this concoction, but the soundtrack contains such memorable standards as the title tune, "You Make Me Feel So Young," and "Deep in the Heart of Texas," as well as a host of other songs written by a variety of composers and lyricists including Vernon Duke and Jules Styne. The story, alas, is not up to the music. It begins in 1939 and goes up to the end of WW2, which is almost literally tossed off with a gag. Dennis Day has a nice voice and likable manner, the two leading ladies are pleasing, Lundigan is smoothly handsome and professional, and Ritter probably makes the best impression with her deadpan delivery. Danny Davenport plays the initially naive songwriter Chester Dooley. When he asks Lundigan how much he will have to pay to have his song published, Ritter says "Who let you off the farm?" There are cameos by Jeanne Crain, Victor Mature, Dan Daily (doing a soft shoe routine) and Reginald Gardiner.  The film is fun at first, but the silly misunderstandings that keep the two couples apart eventually become irritating.

Verdict: Some good songs and talented performers can't quite save a tired screenplay. **1/4. 


Maureen O'Hara and Dana Andrews
BRITANNIA MEWS (aka The Forbidden Street/1949). Director: Jean Negulesco.

In Victorian England Adelaide Culver (Maureen O'Hara of The Parent Trap), who comes from a wealthy family, falls in love with her painter-teacher, Henry Lambert (Dana Andrews of Where the Sidewalk Ends), and decides to marry him. The two reside in an area of tenements known as Britannia Mews, which Adelaide has been fascinated by since girlhood. Henry, who has made a group of intricate puppets that Adelaide has no use for, gets little work done and drinks too much, a situation that leads to tragedy. Blackmailed by an ugly and pitiful old woman known as "the Sow," (Dame Sybil Thorndike of The Prince and the Showgirl), Adelaide figures she has little to look forward to in life until she meets a man named Gilbert Lauderdale (also Dana Andrews), who bears a strange resemblance to Henry.

O'Hara and Andrews
Britannia Mews, which was rechristened The Forbidden Street for, presumably, box office reasons, is an odd picture that goes in a lot of different directions but on the other hand is entirely unpredictable. It's completely absorbing, although one can't say that it's completely satisfying. The performances are quite good, however. Andrews was supposedly angry that his voice was dubbed in British prints, but in the print I saw the dubbed voice was only used for bearded Henry, not clean shaven Gilbert, so this may have been intentional all along; in any case it's an excellent job of dubbing by the uncredited actor. Dame Sybil Thorndike, made up to look like the most hideous of harridans, certainly scores as Mrs. Mounsey, AKA the Sow. Anthony Tancred is also effective as Adelaide's sympathetic brother, Treff. Wilfrid Hyde-White has a small role as their father. This has an interesting score by Malcolm Arnold.

Verdict: Interesting aspects to this, but one can't quite escape the impression that this is just a well-polished bodice-ripper with pretensions. **3/4. 


Pinky Tomlin
WITH LOVE AND KISSES (1936). Director: Leslie Goodwins.

Homer "Spec" Higgins (Pinky Tomlin), a farmer and songwriter in Huckabee, Arkansas, sends his latest number to radio singer Don Gray (Kane Richmond of Behind the Mask). Months later Homer hears Gray not only singing his song but attributing its composition to himself. An angry Homer takes off to New York to confront Gray, and winds up getting a contract with both Gray and then a shifty nightclub owner named Draper (Kenneth Thomson), with the terms being distinctly unfavorable to Homer. An added complication is that Homer needs his cow Minnie for inspiration, and is also falling for nightclub songstress Barbara Holbrook (Toby Wing), whose brother, Gilbert (Arthur Housman) is a drunken lawyer. Can Gilbert stay sober long enough to get Homer out of his lousy contract?

Toby Wing with Pinky
For those who have been anxious to see a Pinky Tomlin film -- and who hasn't? -- With Love and Kisses is one of a few films the musician starred in in the thirties, with a few further appearances in the forties and fifties. When I first saw Pinky I thought he might be bandleader Kay Kyser, whom he somewhat resembles even down to the spectacles, performing under a different name, but, no, Pinky is Pinky. As a performer Tomlin is perfectly affable, and perhaps a bit more polished than Kyser. Pinky's leading lady in this, Toby Wing, who was briefly affianced to Pinky in real life, is a perky singer with a cute chubby face. As for the other cast members, Housman does an expert and classic drunk act and Olaf Hytten [Shanghai Chest] is very amusing as the butler Dickson. Kane Richmond does little more than look handsome and perturbed. Si Jenks as Sheriff Wade and Robert McKenzie as the deaf Mayor Jones make a silly couplet, and the African-American Peters Sisters Singers offer a snappy number. Morey Amsterdam of The Dick Van Dyke Show does an unfunny radio routine. Billy Benedict has the small role of a dizzy farm boy who tries to give Barbara directions. The songs in this are pleasant, with "The Trouble with Me is You" being the snappiest. Leslie Goodwins directed everything from Mexican Spitfire features to Mummy movies.

Verdict: I have a feeling if you've seen one Pinky Tomlin film you've probably seen them all. **1/2.