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

Thursday, November 25, 2021


Great Old Movies is taking a week off to enjoy some turkey (I eat a lot of turkey).

So there are no turkeys to review this week.


Thursday, November 11, 2021


(1966). Director: Russell Rouse.

Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd) is a low-level garment worker who sort of falls into acting because he "impresses" a lady talent scout named Sophie (Eleanor Parker). Sophie gets him a top agent in "Kappy" Kapstetter (Milton Berle), who manages to convince studio head Kenneth Regan (Joseph Cotten) to sign him to a contract even though Regan senses something off about the guy. Fane becomes a star, but keeps biting the hand that feeds him -- even though some of his remarks to those who helped him have a point. When his career starts slipping badly, he has nightmares of going back to being nobody, and hitches upon a desperate plan to nab an Oscar and put himself back on top. The Oscar does show how undeserving louts can become movie stars simply because somebody has the hots for them -- which has happened more often than anyone imagines. The movie might have had more bite had Fane been someone desperately committed to the art of acting, but this can't be confused with the far superior Career -- it's basically entertaining trash with mostly one-dimensional characters and often hokey dialogue -- and not a few tedious moments. Once Fane begins to slide, however, the pic picks up. The fact is that the narcissistic, ambitious, self-absorbed Fane is all too typical of most Hollywood actors.

Elke Sommer and Boyd
Although miscast as some low-bred tough guy, Boyd is not at all bad as Fane, and has his best moment at the very end of the movie (you almost feel sorry for him). As his pal and procurer, Hymie, Tony Bennett seems amateurish until he has some powerful moments at the climax. Jill St. John gives it a good try, but she hasn't the real acting chops to make the most of her scenes as the girlfriend Fane stole from Hymie. Elke Sommer is okay as Kay Bergdahl, a designer Fane makes a play for and eventually marries, and Berle is at least flavorful as Kappy. Eleanor Parker gives the sauciest performance as Sophie, and makes St. John and Sommer look like a couple of kittens in comparison. But Edie Adams and Ernest Borgnine almost walk off with the movie as a husband and wife who are celebrating their divorce in Mexico when they encounter Fane and Kay and re-enter their lives in an unexpected fashion. Peter Lawford has a small but significant scene where he plays a once-famous actor who is now a headwaiter at a Hollywood restaurant; Lawford is excellent and this is probably the best scene in the movie. There are some celebrity cameos and Hedda Hopper as well. One of the screenwriters was Harlan Elison, who became better known as a science fiction writer.

Verdict: Not exactly Eugene O'Neill but fun. ***.


Hugh O'Brian and Shirley Eaton
TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965). Director: George Pollock. 

Ten people, including two servants, are given invitations to work or play at an isolated estate located high atop a mountain and accessible only by cable car. They discover the strange nursery rhyme about "ten little Indians" in each of their rooms The mysterious voice (Christopher Lee) of their unseen host declares that they have each gotten away with killing someone, and now it is time to pay the piper. The first to go is singer Mike Raven (Fabian), who ran over two people and barely got a slap on the wrist -- he dies by arsenic -- and then more murders occur, somehow each corresponding to the method of death mentioned in the rhyme. Will anyone be left alive? 

Leon Genn and most of the group
George Pollock had previously directed four Agatha Christie "Miss Marple" adaptations, and he does a good job adapting her "And Then There Were None/Ten Little Indians" to the screen. While I might have preferred a little more tension, this is not quite as "cutesy" -- for lack of a better word -- as the forties film And Then There Were None. Hugh O'Brian pretty much smirks his way through the movie, as if he were above it all (which he isn't), but his performance is adequate, although the other cast members are more on target. Stanley Holloway, Shirley Eaton, Dennis Price, Leo Genn, and Mario Adorf (as the houseman) deliver adept performances, while Fabian gets an "A" for effort and Wilfrid Hyde White seems to think he's back in that forties adaptation and can best be described as annoyingly impish. Surprisingly Daliah Lavi has a very good turn as the high-maintenance actress Ilona Bergen, and comes through in her scene when she admits all about her past. As the cook and housekeeper Marianne Hoppe is, perhaps, a bit too hysterical. 

Dennis Price and Wilfrid Hyde White
This version transplants the story from an island to a mountaintop and two of the murders center on falls from great heights, one in a cable car whose cable snaps, and the other while a character attempts a climb down the mountain to get help; these are well-handled, and the film has genuine suspense. O'Brian and Eaton are given a love scene that seems a bit out of place. Malcolm Lockyer's jazzy score does little for the picture, but the lensing is sharp thanks to cinematographer Ernest Stewart. This was George Pollock's last theatrical feature. 

Verdict: Very entertaining Christie picture with some fine performances. ***, 


Dana Andrews
SPY IN YOUR EYE (aka Berlino appuntamento per le spie/1965). Director: Vittorio Sala.

Colonel Lancaster (Dana Andrews) assigns two of his men --  Bert Morris (Brett Halsey) and Willie (Mario Valdemarin) -- to rescue Paula Krauss (Pier Angeli), the daughter of a deceased scientist who has invented a "super death ray." Both the Russians and Chinese want Paula in the hopes that she knows her father's secret formula. As the woman is shuttled back and forth from spy to spy and country to country, Colonel Lancaster has his missing left eye surgically replaced with a micro-telecamera that looks like a human eye. Lancaster thinks that only he can see out of his mechanical eye and doesn't realize that enemy agents are seeing and hearing everything that he does, and therefore have full knowledge of his agents' plans. 

Brett Halsey
This last aspect of the story is really the only point of interest in the movie, but little is done with it. Because Dana Andrews was still a name, and Brett Halsey a recognizable "B" actor, American filmgoers were fooled by a major ad campaign and saturation bookings into thinking they were seeing some kind of James Bond-type adventure. Instead they got a mediocre eurospy film  Aside from the fake eye, the movie is pretty low-tech, with Bert using special dehydration pills to get two bad guys to talk, and another bad guy employing a supposedly devastating weapon to shoot down a bird. 

Consultation: Halsey and Andrews
There is some mild excitement at the climax, in which the walls of a clinic move back and forth, creating new rooms to fool secret agents, a femme fatale is crushed, and the heroes and villains shoot it out amidst the melee.  The real voices of Halsey [Return of the Fly] and Andrews [Night of the Demon] are used, while the Italian actors are generally dubbed. Both actors had many, many more credits after this film was released, although this was not one of the better films that either performer appeared in. 

Verdict: Better than some eurospy movies but not great. **1/4. 


Sylvia Pascal and George Nader
THE VIOLIN CASE MURDERS (aka Schüsse aus dem Geigenkasten/1965). Director: Fritz Umgelter. 

FBI agent Jerry Cotton (George Nader) is called in, along with his partner, Phil Decker (Heinz Weiss), by their boss, Mr. High (Richard Munch) to investigate what becomes known as the "Bowling Gang,' due to the location of their hide-out. The gang seems to be run by Christallo (Hands E. Schons) but he takes his orders from the nasty Dr. Kilborne (Franz Rudnick). These fellows, including a man named Percy (Helmut Fornbacher), carry weapons in violin cases (like something out of the forties) and think nothing of murdering without mercy anyone who gets in their way. Pretending to be a drunk who witnessed the group's activities and wants to join up, Jerry infiltrates the gang and discovers that they plan to blow up a school to create a distraction for their latest caper. 

Jerry and Percy (Helmut Fornbacher) after a fight
"Jerry Cotton" was a character as popular in Germany and Finland as James Bond was in the US or UK. He appeared in a huge series of novels over many decades, written by a variety of authors. When it was decided to make a film of his exploits, an American actor was chosen to play the U.S. agent, and many sequences were filmed on American locations, such as New York City, where that bowling alley HQ is located. George Nader, who had previously played the insurance investigator on the TV show Shannon, is fine as Jerry, and there are a host of excellent German supporting actors. Sylvia Pascal is cast as Christallo's girlfriend, and Heidi Luplot is her ill-fated sister, Mary. Nader uses his real voice in this English version while the other actors are dubbed.

Nader with Heinz Weiss
The Violin Case Murders
 is a treat, a fast-paced, very well-directed, and skillfully edited action-suspense film with some taut and beautifully choreographed fight scenes. There's also a clever bit with the bad guys using rolling oil cans, set on fire, to try and trap Phil Decker. One problem with the movie, however, is the music with its martial Jerry Cotton theme (which Jerry even whistles at one point) and jazzy carnival-like rifts that threaten to dissipate the exciting atmosphere at any moment. One can imagine how good this might have been with a different, more suspenseful score. Nader appeared in several more Jerry Cotton movies. 

Verdict: Despite the music, this plays. ***.  


Herbert Marshall, Pat O'Brian and Claire Trevor
CRACK-UP (1946). Director: Irving Reis. 

Art lecturer George Steele (Pat O'Brian) breaks into a museum, acting all crazy, and insists that he was just in a tremendous train wreck and barely survived. Cops, museum staff, and sort-of girlfriend Terry (Claire Trevor) are worried by his behavior, even more so when they learn that there has been no news of any train wreck. George tries to retrace his steps, and even takes a train from Grand Central, the same train he thinks he took earlier, to try and figure out what happened to him. There is talk of a missing or forged art masterpiece. When his friend and colleague Stevenson (Damian O'Flynn) is found murdered, George goes on the run. 

Ray Collins ministers to O'Brian
Based on a short story by Fredric Brown, Crack-Up is a fair suspense story that in the long run doesn't really deliver. This is too bad, because the picture begins very well, is well-acted, and has a couple of terrific scenes, especially a creepy one when George goes back on the train, sees another train slowly approaching from the other direction, and is terrified -- as is the audience --  that there is going to be a crash. But the rest is just a ho hum mish mosh that just doesn't distinguish itself from the competition, despite good photography by Robert De Grasse and a score by Leigh Harline that adds heft to certain sequences. The climax is criminally flat as well. 

O'Brian and Trevor
In addition to the actors already named, we've got Herbert Marshall wasted as an alleged romantic rival for Terry's affections, Ray Collins as a concerned colleague, Wallace Ford as a not-so-concerned police officer, Dean Harens as a handsome art aficionado, Mary Ware as the timid secretary, Mary, and Robert Bray as a silent and sinister figure on the train and elsewhere. While there are good performances and sequences in the movie, one can also understand why this is one bit of film noir that is almost completely forgotten. 

Verdict: Initially intriguing but ultimately minor crime drama. **1/4.