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

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. 


Robert Walker and Burt Lancaster 
VENGEANCE VALLEY (1951). Director: Richard Thorpe.

Owen Daybright (Burt Lancaster) was taken in by cattle man Arch Strobie (Ray Collins), when he was a boy, and he grew up with Arch's son, Lee (Robert Walker). Owen has often had to cover for Lee, who can be irresponsible. Lee impregnated Lily (Sally Forrest) --  apparently before he married his wife, Jen (Joanne Dru) -- but Owen has to front for him. This causes Lily's two brothers, Hub (John Ireland) and Dick (Hugh O'Brian), to assume he is the baby's father, and they start gunning for him. Fearing the truth may come out, Owen tells Lee that he should take his wife and make a fresh start elsewhere, but Lee has other plans.

Out for blood: Hugh O'Brian and John Ireland
Vengeance Valley is strange. While this isn't technically a "B" movie, it has all the appearances of one, and aside from the business with the pregnancy,  it plays like something Roy Rogers could have starred in. The acting is all good, although Ray Collins, best-known as the detective on Perry Mason, sometimes seems disinterested. Carleton Carpenter is also in the cast as Hewie, a cowpoke who has a crush on Lily, and he's fine. Ted de Corsia also scores as another rancher who comes afoul of Owen. Director Richard Thorpe doesn't make the most of the film's dramatic moments, but the story is nothing special and doesn't live up to its title. This was Lancaster's first western.

Verdict: So-so western with a very good cast. **1/2. 



A few years ago I got a free month of Amazon prime and immediately started adding movies to my watchlist. When my list was compiled you can imagine my surprise when I clicked the tab marked "prime" with my mouse and suddenly most of he movies I'd chosen disappeared. All that was left was stuff like Can't Stop the Music with the Village People. Yikes -- what happened to the good stuff?

What I found instead was some schlock and lots of "B" movies, some of which were terrible, and some of which were terrific. Still I didn't stay past the trial period. But then I decided to try Amazon Prime again and found that, so far, I've decided to keep it. Prime offers other advantages, such as free shipping on selected items, but I'm sticking with it -- so far -- because it has literally thousands of movies to stream. It's not for everyone, but real movie buffs, especially those who love older movies, will find lots of stuff to put on their watchlist. Sure there are lots of Bs and horror films, but also classics like Wuthering Heights and The Little Foxes -- they also have more recent and new movies like Rocketman -- and many others, all of which you can watch for free for a monthly fee. (Some people can get it at half price if they qualify.) I also found rare television specials on Prime, such as an adaptation of A Doll's House that I reviewed last week, as well as TV adaptations of the shows Kiss Me Kate, One Touch of Venus and even the fairly forgotten Bloomer Girl 

But the Amazon Prime movie experience can be odd. Not all "Prime" movies are free. Generally you can tell this if you see a price next to the film's description, but there have been times when I've seen no price, put it on my list, but it disappears when I click on "prime." Stranger still is the fact that some films have more than one listing even if its basically the same version. One listing might be free, while another will cost, say, $3.99! I had the horror anthology film Asylum in my queue, only to discover there was another listing for it, this time a remastered version, the one I watched (why didn't Amazon get rid of the other version? Wouldn't most of us want to look at the remastered print?). It's as if someone just throws every movie they can find into the mix but doesn't bother weeding out the  poorer copies. In at attempt to get as many films as possible, Amazon streams some very poor and occasionally incomplete prints (such as Affair in Monte Carlo, which I reviewed this week).

On the other hand, the prints of most of the films are excellent. You can find pictures you hadn't seen in years or never saw (and always wanted to) on Amazon Prime. I'm always coming across something interesting by looking at the suggested titles (same director or actor or similar types of movies ) listed underneath the screen when I've finished watching a movie or TV program (yes, AP has tons of old and newer TV shows as well). My watchlist is growing to frightening proportions.

NOTE This is not an endorsement for Amazon Prime and they have not paid me for my critique, but they certainly can if they want to. 


Farley Granger and Dana Andrews
EDGE OF DOOM (1950). Director: Mark Robson.

Father Thomas (Dana Andrews) tells a colleague (Robert Karnes)  -- who wants to leave this impoverished parish and go elsewhere -- the story of young Martin Lynn (Farley Granger), and how meeting him helped renew his faith. Martin's father was a criminal who committed suicide, and he hates the church because he was denied a Christian burial. Now Martin needs a raise to send his ill mother out of town, but his boss can't afford it. When the mother dies, Martin insists that old Father Kirkman (Harold Vermilyea of Manhandled) -- the one who denied the burial -- make up for all the money his mother gave to the church by paying for an elaborate funeral. Kirkman objects and things go downhill from there.

Granger with Mala Powers
Edge of Doom doesn't exactly take an intellectual approach to the material -- few "religious" movies ever do -- but it is nevertheless an interesting picture, and not as simple-minded as it might at first sound. An interesting aspect is the depiction of Father Kirkman. While he is not quite an ogre, he is also not the beneficent Bing Crosby-type of priest, being generally grumpy (and not in a cute way) and unpleasant, out of touch with his parishioners -- I wonder what the Catholic church thought of how he was portrayed. It would also be all too easy to dismiss Father Thomas as a bleeding heart who confuses reasons (for a person's behavior) with excuses, but it is easy to see why he has sympathy for Martin despite the young man's actions. Oddly, virtually no sympathy is expressed for the victim, despite his being an elderly priest! But this is typical of movies that focus more on troubled-young-men who become killers than they do on the ones they kill (especially if the killers are handsome).

In deep trouble: Farley Granger
The performances in the film are generally good. Granger at 25 may be a little old for the part but he certainly has affecting moments. Andrews is solid and convincing in an unusual role for him. Mala Powers is sensitive and effective as Martin's girlfriend. There is also good work from Paul Stewart as a neighbor, Robert Keith as a detective, Vermilyea as the older priest, Houseley Stevenson [Dark Passage] as Martin's boss at the flower shop, and Mabel Paige as an old woman who sees the priest killer outside the rectory and becomes a witness. Adele Jergens is a bit unsatisfactory as Stewart's girlfriend, however, especially in a scene she has with Andrews and Granger at the rectory. Douglas Fowley and Ellen Corby have smaller roles. Oddly Joan Evans, who was with Granger in Roseanna McCoy the previous year, receives top billing with him and Andrews but only has a small and relatively unimportant role as Father Kirkman's niece; she has one tiny scene with Granger. NOTE: Apparently the scenes with Andrews telling Martin's story were added after the film's initial release, as some feel the whole point of the movie and the novel it is based on is that the Church really can't do much to solve the problems of its parishioners.

Verdict: Imperfect but interesting crime drama. ***.

Thursday, September 3, 2020


Michael York
CONDUCT UNBECOMING (1975). Director: Michael Anderson.

In Colonial India, two young British men whose fathers were also in the military, arrive to begin a three month probationary period in their distinguished regiment. Arthur Drake (Michael York) is anxious to make good while blase and cynical Edward Millington (James Faulkner) hopes to get thrown out as soon as possible. But there may be more serious consequences when Millington is accused of assaulting Marjorie Scarlett (Susannah York), widow of a legendary hero, and Drake is tapped to defend him in a special private hearing. As the trial progresses, many disturbing revelations come to light ...

James Faulkner and Susannah York
Although based on a stage play, Conduct Unbecoming is not stage-bound or overly talky but is suspenseful, intriguing, and holds the attention throughout. Part of this is due to a compelling story line, and part to some excellent performances.  Michael York and Faulkner are perfection, and Georgia-born Stacy Keach does a dead-on English accent and is absolutely splendid as Captain Harper, who oversees the private hearing. Christopher Plummer, Michael Culver [Goodbye, Mr. Chips], and Richard Attenborough offer riveting portraits of various officers, and Trevor Howard makes a strong and convincing Colonel Strang. Persis Khambatta of Star Trek: The Motion Picture appears briefly as a woman who may have been another victim.

Stacy Keach and Michael York
Susannah York [The Killing of Sister George] is not quite up to the level of the gentlemen, unfortunately, and a stronger actress should have been chosen. York just does her scenes as written in the script but never adds any nuances or layers -- she doesn't make the most of her one big climactic outburst; she has given better performances elsewhere. One could also argue that the inexperienced Drake manages to arrive at certain conclusions as if he were a veritable Perry Mason! -- undoubtedly he has a legal career in front of him. An interesting touch is the role reversal between the two young soldiers, as well as the examination of how keeping one's "honor" is not always so honorable. Director Michael Anderson directed the much less successful Doc Savage the same year and worked with Michael York again the following year on Logan's Run.  By the way, Michael York and Susannah York were not related and were never married to one another.

Verdict: Absorbing, very well-acted courtroom-military drama with some interesting twists. ***. 


Jack Hawkins and Claudette Colbert
OUTPOST IN MALAYA (aka The Planter's Wife/1952). Director: Ken Annakin.

Liz Frazer (Claudette Colbert) and her husband, Jim (Jack Hawkins of Five Finger Exercise), own a rubber plantation in Malaya. Jim wants Liz to accompany their cute little boy, Mike (Peter Asher), when he goes to school in England, but Liz is sure Jim doesn't want her to return and she's not sure if she will  -- something seems to have gone out of their marriage. A bigger problem are the communist terrorists -- herein referred to as "bandits" -- who are attacking and murdering the people in the area. They wage a bloody attempted siege of the plantation in an exciting climax.

Anthony Steel with Colbert
Two years previously Colbert had filmed Three Came Home in which she played a wife imprisoned in a Japanese camp. Somehow it was decided she would again eschew a glamorous part in Outpost, in which her character had also been in a Japanese camp some years before this story begins. Frankly, I imagine most of Colbert's fans wanted to see her being witty and sophisticated, not firing guns and lobbing grenades (!) as she does in this movie. The amazing thing about Outpost is that -- until the climax and despite some of the dramatic things that happen -- the movie seems quite dull for the most part, the most exciting scene having to do with a fight between a cobra and a mongoose named Mr. Mangles! Things might have percolated more if Colbert's wife had had a steamy affair with handsome Captain Dobson (Anthony Steel of Another Man's Poison), but, alas, nothing like this ever develops.

little Peter Asher
However, the last twenty minutes of the movie, detailing the attack on and defense of the plantation, almost make up for the lethargy of the first hour. It's not just the events that transpire, it's as if somebody took over from director Ken Annakin and decided to actually direct the movie. As for Colbert, she acquits herself well, although there must have been times when she wondered what the hell she was doing there. Jack Hawkins is also good, but he and Colbert don't have very much chemistry. Peter Asher and Jeremy Spenser [The Prince and the Showgirl] as Mike's buddy Mat are talented and effective child performers. Anthony Steel does have chemistry with Colbert and is much better than expected. Ram Gopal was introduced in this film and plays Nair, an associate of the Frazer's. There are also some good performances from Asian actors in supporting roles as well.

Verdict: Give Colbert a cocktail and some good dialogue and keep her out of jungles! **1/2. 


Elvis, supposedly in Acapulco
FUN IN ACAPULCO (1963). Director: Richard Thorpe.

After the death of his brother in a trapeze accident, Mike Windgren (Elvis Presley of Girl Happy) flees to Acapulco to get his head together, feeling he can no longer continue with the high-wire act. In Mexico Mike encounters a cute little boy named Raoul (Larry Domasin), a highly self-assured youngster who has many relatives and actually becomes Mike's manager. Mike gets assorted singing engagements while romancing a liberated lady bullfighter named Delores (Elsa Cardenas) as well as a pretty lady named Marguerita (Ursula Andress), who is the daughter of the hotel chef (Paul Lukas). Meanwhile high-diver Moreno (Alejandro Rey) does not take kindly to Mike's interference. Elvis does not wind up fighting a bull but he does take a dive off of a 136 foot high cliff.

Little Larry Domasin with Elvis
Since there really isn't much to the plot, Fun in Acapulco throws a song at the viewer almost literally every five minutes. Some of these tunes are quite nice -- "Acapulco;" "Mexico;" "El Toro;" "Marguerita;""Gaudalajara;" and a sexy "Bossa Nova" that Elvis also wiggles his pelvis to in flamboyant fashion -- while others are merely serviceable.  "Mexico" is sung by Elvis and little Raoul while riding on a bicycle, a charming moment.

Paul Lukas and Ursula Andress
By this time Presley had almost become a camp figure, with a decided sameness to each of his movies: bouncy songs with lots of wiggle room; girls fighting over him; some aging supporting players who really act; and a few adorable newcomers. The movie is easy to take, especially for Elvis fans, but it peters out before too long, unfortunately. After this film veteran actor Lukas [Deadline at Dawn] had two more theatrical features along with a host of television credits. Andress is sweet and attractive (and does not appear to be dubbed as she was in Dr. No) but the movie is stolen by the very talented child actor Domasin. Spanish kids who know everything and everybody are a cliche in movies, but Domasin makes the character very lovable.

Verdict: Just can't stay mad at Elvis! **3/4. 


Julie Harris and Christopher Plummer
A DOLL'S HOUSE (1959 telefilm). Director: George Schaefer. NOTE: This production was broadcast Live.

Nora Helmer (Julie Harris) is married to a man, Torvald (Christopher Plummer), who is on the verge of great success, and their marriage seems to be happy -- on the surface. Two visitors bring upsetment to Nora's life: her old friend, Kristine (Eileen Heckart), a widow whose life turned out quite differently from Nora's; and Nils Krogstad (Hume Cronyn), who lent Nora money some time ago in order for her to secretly help her husband. Now Nils is pressuring Nora to make sure her husband doesn't fire him, or the truth will come out -- that Nora forged her late father's signature in order to get the money. An added complication is that the Helmers' good friend, Dr. Rank (Jason Robards) tells Nora that he is madly in love with her. Nora can only hope that Torvald will react with understanding if the truth about the loan and her criminal actions comes out, but she may get a very unpleasant surprise.

Eileen Heckart with Harris
This truncated TV version of one of Henrik Ibsen's greatest plays and one of the earliest masterpieces to have a feminist perspective (without hitting you over the head with it) boasts some excellent performances from the entire cast, although Robards never seems capable of playing fervid love scenes convincingly. Although she is certainly given cause, some may find Nora's seemingly abrupt character change to be equally unconvincing, along with some of her actions at the end, although that may be due to the cuts in the text made in the teleplay. In any case A Doll's House is a great play and even this abbreviated version is compelling and suspenseful.

Verdict: Worthwhile to see even this imperfect version of a masterpiece with such a great cast. ***. 


Tom Tyler
BROTHERS OF THE WEST (1937). Produced and directed by Sam Katzman.

Ed Wade (Bob Terry) is riding shotgun for a man named Chandler who fears a payroll robbery. When Chandler is shot and killed, Ed is taken prisoner by crooked lawyer Jeff Tracey (Roger Williams), who heads the gang. Tracey is engaged to Celia Chandler (Lois Wilde), who is convinced that Ed murdered her father, a charge devoutly denied by Ed's wife, Annie (Dorothy Short of Captain Midnight). Ed's brother, Tom (Tom Tyler of The Talk of the Town), a detective with the Cattleman's Protective Association up north, cuts short his move to New York City to come and save his brother.

Once upon a time Tom Tyler was a big cowboy hero for Republic pictures, but today he is better known for the classic serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel, in which he played the costumed super-hero. Tyler's career was cut short by health issues -- he only lived until fifty -- and hence he never became a big competitor for Roy Rogers, who also had a natural charm and smoothness that Tyler, at least in this film, lacks. Tyler, however, is handsome and does have the requisite toughness to handle the fight scenes, especially a lively one in the exciting climax. This is one of only five films that were directed by the prolific producer, Sam Katzman. He handles the material well enough that you wonder why he didn't direct more pictures.

Verdict: Adequate performances and a fast pace make this modern-day western easy to take  -- or leave. **1/2.