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

Thursday, March 31, 2022

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1966). Director: Richard Lester. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 

The slave Pseudolus (Zero Mostel) is hoping to acquire his freedom and comes up with a plan. His master's son, Hero (Michael Crawford), has fallen for a virginal courtesan, Philia (Annette Andre), just installed in Marcus Lycus' (Phil Silvers) brothel next door, and Hero will free Pseudolus if he arranges a relationship between the two. The problem is that Philia has already been bought by the egomaniacal Captain Milos Gloriosus (Leon Greene), who is on his way from Rome that very afternoon to claim his bride. Pseudolus schemes to get Philia away from Gloriosus even as his master Senex (Michael Hordern of Theater of Blood) schemes to get away from his termagant of a wife, Domina (Patricia Jessel).  


The first half hour or so of this adaptation of the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is delightful -- although it takes too long for someone to finally sing a song -- with Mostel fully in charge of his material along with Silvers, Jack Gilford as Hysterium, Hordern and Jessel, and especially Greene as the captain. But after awhile this farce just becomes a bit labored, and the film completely falls apart with a tasteless scene in the arena and especially a drawn-out slapstick sequence that falls completely flat. Others have noted that the film has a typically sixties attitude towards women: they are either young beauties lusted after by ugly old men or old hags unworthy of consideration. One could also argue that anything having to do with roman slavery is not exactly a great subject for the comedic treatment to begin with. I think the main problem is that this is the type of material that works much, much better on the stage. However, the producers wisely kept on Mostel and Gilford from the Broadway production. Unwisely, because they thought big movie musicals were on their way out, they cut most of Stephen Sondheim's tuneful score. What remains is the lovely "Lovely," sung by Philia; the captain's song as he comes into town and the dirge he sings later on; the spritely "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid;" and the infectious opening number "Comedy Tonight."

Leon Greene and Zero Mostel
As the young lovers Michael Crawford (who would find fame on Broadway as The Phantom of the Opera) and Annette Andre fail to make much of an impression. British actor Leon Greene, however, makes quite an impression and went on to have many more credits, mostly in the UK. Buster Keaton [Backstage], in his last role as a man looking for his kidnapped children, is, unfortunately, not good at all. 

Verdict: Some fun to be sure, but it just becomes too silly. **1/2. 

A WOMAN SCORNED: THE BETTY BRODERICK STORY

Meredith Baxter
A WOMAN SCORNED: THE BETTY BRODERICK STORY (1992 telefilm). Director: Dick Lowry. 

Betty Broderick (Meredith Baxter of The Cat Creature) has been nagging her successful husband, Dan (Stephen Collins) about a divorce for years, but when he finally gives up, moves out, and files papers, she is absolutely livid. Betty mounts a campaign of terror against the man that spares no one, including her own children. She goes so far as to call her little boy a "little traitor" because he wants her to stop carrying on the way she does, which includes driving her car into her now ex-husband's house when her children are inside! Later claiming that she was "driven to it," Betty goes to his home (supposedly wanting to "talk" late in the evening), climbs the stairs to the bedroom, and shoots both him and his new wife (Michelle Johnson) dead.

Kelli Williams and Stephen Collins
A Woman Scorned
 makes very clear that -- although some stupid people made Broderick a cause celdebre, seeing her as a symbol of middle-aged women dumped by husbands for younger models, an over-simplification to say the least -- Broderick was, as one psychologist calls her, an extreme "narcissist" who had no problem using her own children as pawns in a war with her ex. Ignoring restraining orders, acting like a loon, alienating friends and family -- even though she could have started over again with her new boyfriend -- she was her own worst enemy. In an Emmy-nominated performance, Meredith Baxter brings the woman vividly to life, never chewing the scenery, always making it clear what makes this woman tick. Baxter is excellent casting, showing the dark side of the sitcom mom she had previously played. Stephen Collins and Kelli Williams are also perfection as Dan Broderick and his oldest daughter, one of four children caught in the middle of this mess, and there are a host of solid supporting performances as well. Followed by Her Final Fury. Dick Lowry also directed The Jayne Mansfield Story and many others. 

NOTE: In 2014 Stephen Collins admitted to People magazine that he had "inappropriate sexual contact with three female minors." The statute of limitations prevented him from being arrested. 

Verdict: Well played and suspenseful, this is one high-class telefilm. ***. 

HER FINAL FURY: BETTY BRODERICK, THE LAST CHAPTER

Betty on trial: Meredith Baxter
HER FINAL FURY: BETTY BRODERICK, THE LAST CHAPTER (1992 telefilm). Director: Dick Lowry. 

After shooting her ex-husband and his new wife dead in their own bedroom, Betty Broderick (Meredith Baxter) goes on trial for double homicide. Betty has gotten a surprising amount of support, primarily because she paints herself as the stereotypical "discarded" wife, and her ex-husband as an abuser, even though the prosecution finds no evidence of this. DA Kerry Wells (Judith Ivey) is reluctant to put Betty's little boys on the stand, although they have important information to relate, because she fears further traumatizing them, but her eldest daughter, Kate (Kelli Williams of The Practice), willingly becomes a prosecution witness, incurring her mother's eternal enmity. 

Judith Ivey versus Meredith Baxter in court
Her Final Fury
 boasts another fine performance from Meredith Baxter as the narcissistic sociopath Betty Broderick. Judith Ivey also offers her customary excellent work, as does Kelli Williams as the conflicted daughter, who loved her father. Watching the proceedings, it is clear Broderick hated her husband less because of the divorce, than because he walked out on her, before she could do the same, and because she didn't get enough money despite his more than generous alimony payments. While we generally think it's men who shout "no one walks out on me!" and "If I can't have you, no one can!" women are perfectly capable of having the same mind set. The first trial ended in a hung jury (because of two dumb hold outs), but Betty was convicted in the second trial. 

Betty Broderick was denied parole in 2010 and on subsequent occasions because she showed no remorse and refused to admit she did anything wrong. (Let's make no mistake -- even if her husband had been the monster she portrayed him as, murder is never an option, and it only made things worse for everyone, especially her children.) Her next parole hearing isn't until 2032 when she will be 84. Interestingly enough, her two older children think she should stay in prison, while the two younger children want her to get out.

Verdict: Well-acted and absorbing follow up to A Woman Scorned. ***. 

POSTHUMOUS

POSTHUMOUS

My latest thriller, for people who love movies, celebrities, psychos, and suspense fiction, is entitled POSTHUMOUS. Below is a description. It's available in hardcover, trade paperback, and inexpensive kindle editions on amazon.

"Anna Corrigan, the daughter of the late movie star and entertainer Mavis Edwards, has spent years trying to deal with the emotional fall out from the decades she spent with her often difficult and neurotic mother. Anna attends her sister Estelle's singing showcase at a tiny supper club uptown, where she encounters some of her mother's "friends" from the past. These include a crooked business manager named Louie Mayhew; her old co-star Jerry Giddings, who has fallen on hard times; her bitchy rival Marjorie Easterbrook; choreographer “Busy” Borroway, an unrepentant child molester who numbered Mavis Edwards among his victims; and George Kelker, a director who refused to hire Mavis Edwards for an important production many years before. George is only the first of these individuals to be horribly murdered by a crazed female intruder who, Kelker's wife insists, looks just like Mavis Edwards! There had always been nutty stories in the tabloids about Mavis Edwards being alive and hidden in a sanitarium and with all these reports of a crazy lady who resembles her beginning to surface, Anna wonders if it could possibly be true. But as the murders continue and Anna finds her life unraveling, she learns that the truth is far more terrible than she could ever even imagine."

"POSTHUMOUS is a movie lover's thriller, dissecting one impossible star's neurotic behavior and the effect it has even years later on her children."

Is "Mavis Edwards" meant to be Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, or someone else? Read the book to find out!  

CHINA MOON

Madeleine Stowe and Ed Harris 
CHINA MOON (1994). Director: John Bailey. 

Kyle Bodine (Ed Harris of National Treasure: Book of Secrets) is a detective working with a younger partner, Lamar (Benicio Del Toro of The Wolfman), and sort of showing him the ropes. Kyle meets an attractive woman named Rachel (Madeleine Stowe of Blink) and is at first unaware that she's married to an abusive and controlling husband, Rupert (Charles Dance of Alien 3). Kyle and Rachel begin a relationship, but there's a serious speedbump when Rupert winds up dead. Kyle risks his career by going to bat for Rachel without disclosing the affair to his superiors, but he doesn't realize that he is being seriously played by someone close to him.

Harris, Charles Dance, Del Toro
It's a wonder that China Moon ever got made. Its plot is over-familiar and whatever surprises it contains are not that jolting. The characters are one-dimensional, and the dialogue is flat. Although Charles Dance and Benicio Del Toro give effective and committed performances, I'm not certain what to make of the leads. I can be polite and say that Harris underplays, or was simply uninspired by the script -- no wonder -- but he's mediocre, as is Stowe. I'm not surprised that Stowe never had a major theatrical career as her presence is strictly small-scale, and works much better on television (in the TV series Revenge, for instance). If you're going to play a femme fatale, then play it for all it's worth, but Stowe never pulls out the stops. Her too-deep, unfeminine voice is no asset, either, although some people might have found it sexy. 

Verdict: Some films should never get beyond script stage. *1/2.  

Thursday, March 17, 2022

IN NAME ONLY

Grant, Lombard and Francis
IN NAME ONLY
(1939). Director: John Cromwell. 

Alec Walker (Cary Grant) is trapped in a loveless marriage with his wife Maida (Kay Francis), who freely admits she was in love with another man at the time of their wedding and only married Alec for his money. Alec meets a free-spirited widow, Julie Eden (Carole Lombard) with a small girl, and he and Julie, instantly smitten, fall in love. But will Maida graciously step aside -- or cause them all manner of trouble? What do you think? The stars are all in top form in this -- it's one of Francis' best performances -- and the picture is warm, humorous, dramatic, and absorbing, the only deficit a climactic bout with pneumonia that's a bit of a bore. Otherwise, this is very entertaining. Supporting players include Helen Vinson as the bitchy, man-hungry Suzanne, supposedly Maida's best friend; Katharine Alexander as Laura, Julie's bitter sister; and Charles Coburn as Grant's father, who doesn't have nearly enough to do. Grant and Lombard are really terrific in this. A lost film from that great year for movies, 1939. 
 
Verdict: Kay, Carole and Cary make this a winner! ***1/2.

JUST A GIGOLO

William Haines and Irene Purcell
JUST A GIGOLO (1931). Director: Jack Conway. 

Lord Robert Brummel (William Haines) finds lots of female companionship with married women who have no problem cheating on their husbands. His Uncle George (C. Aubrey Smith) thinks his nephew is an overspending mountebank who doesn't know the value of a dollar. For some reason George thinks a match between Bob and equally upper-crust Roxana Hartley (Irene Purcell) would make the perfect union. But before he consents, Robert wants to make sure that Roxana isn't like (to his eye) most other women, and tests her by pretending to be a paid dancer and gigolo. 

C. Aubrey Smith and Haines
Just a Gigolo is a mildly amusing comedy that boasts a winning performance by the likable Haines, and an especially notable turn from the equally charming C. Aubrey Smith. Although a trifle off-putting at first, Irene Purcell proves an attractive and capable leading lady. This was her first full-length film and she only appeared in five more. (Ironically, Haines only had five more films to go before his movie career was over.) An interesting aspect of the film is the fury felt by Roxana when she learns of Bob's deception, his gall at testing her morals when he himself is hardly above reproach. The movie gets across the unjustness of the double standard without hitting you over the head with it. Although released in 1931, Just a Gigolo isn't creaky and moves at a fairly fast pace. Charlotte Granville is fun as Roxana's mother, and although Ray Milland is listed in the cast, if you blink you will certainly miss him. 

Verdict: A good chance to see Haines, once a top box office attraction, in a sound film. **1/2.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ORSON WELLES? Joseph McBride

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ORSON WELLES? A Portrait of an Independent Career. Joseph McBride. University Press of Kentucky. 

What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? is not a biography of the famous actor and director, but rather a study of his career and an attempt to correct misconceptions about the man that have proliferated both before and after his death. McBride is often successful at this, and sometimes not, and the book -- while well-written and well-researched -- occasionally has a petulant "fan-boy" tone to it. Film buff McBride became acquainted with Welles and was even cast in The Other Side of the Wind as a nerdy film geek (a talented writer, the less said about his acting the better), and spoke and dealt with him on and off over the years. McBride argues against some of the assertions made against Welles, but at other times makes clear that these assertions are often true. Welles clearly was a narcissist, and clearly expected those under his spell to do what he wanted, come hell or highwater. However, McBride argues that Welles was not some corpulent figure of fun but an artist who not only made some successful and brilliant films, but, like a true artist, kept on working right up to the very last minute of his life. McBride dissects many of Welles's lesser-known film projects, and does make it clear that Welles's career did not begin and end with Citizen Kane. One suspects he's just too close to The Other Side of the Wind to see how really bad it is. To his credit, McBride doesn't shy away from examining Welles's flaws, and even goes into the man's ambivalent feelings about his sexuality. 

Verdict: Whatever you think of Welles, this is an interesting and thought-provoking read. ***. 

OBSESSION

Bujold and Robertson
OBSESSION
(1976). Director: Brian De Palma. 

Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) loses his wife (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter when a kidnapping/ransom goes awry and they apparently die in a burning vehicle. Many years later Courtland meets a young woman, Sandra (also played by Bujold) in Europe who is the spitting image of his wife and falls in love with her, bringing her back to the states. But who is Sandra really? While this is nowhere in the league of its obvious model, Hitchcock's Vertigo, on its own terms it's a credible thriller. Paul Schrader's screenplay is weak on characterization, however. Also, the fact that Courtland has no suspicions concerning Sandra minimizes the film's suspense and its mystery factor. The best performances come from Bujold and John Lithgow as an associate of Courtland's; Robertson is comparatively somnambulistic and passionless. The movie is handsomely produced with outstanding cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond. Great score by Bernard Herrmann, even if it's a little "too much" at times. Very well directed by De Palma. 

Verdict: No Vertigo, but not without interest. ***.

THE BLACK ROOM

THE BLACK ROOM
(1935). Director: Roy William Neill.

A dire prophecy hangs over a feudal kingdom: the younger brother will murder the older in the infamous "black room" of the castle. To prevent this from occurring, the black room is sealed up, but the evil twin Gregor finds another way in. When the good twin Anton - both are played by Boris Karloff -- returns to the kingdom he learns that Gregor is suspected of doing away with several women who have completely disappeared. Although the movie doesn't make nearly enough of its horrific sequences, this is a very interesting macabre thriller with Karloff in top form -- both of him! Marian Marsh is lovely as the pretty Thea, who ignites romantic interest in the twins and others, but Robert Allen is pretty bad as her heroic lover, Lt. Lussan. Thor the dog gets high marks for his spirited performance as a hound who harasses Gregor.

Verdict: 2 Karloffs for the price of one! ***.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND

John Huston as Jake Hannaford
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (Releas-ed 2018). Filmed from 1970 - 1976. Director: Orson Welles.

"He's so crooked he has rubber pockets so he can steal soup!"

"I'm bored with the whole story."

Director Jake Hannaford (John Huston) is celebrating his 70th birthday with a large assemblage of friends, enemies, and sycophants, while bemoaning the fact that he apparently can't complete his latest movie because his leading man, John Dale (Robert Random), has run off, not to mention the usual financial difficulties. Attending his party are such people as director-acolyte Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich); critic Julie Rich (Susan Strasberg), who asks too many questions; associate Billy Boyle (Norman Foster); cynical actress Zarah Valeski (Lilli Palmer); and other characters played by Edmund O'Brien, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Stewart, Mercedes McCambridge, Paul Stewart, Gregory Sierra, Dan Tobin, John Carroll, and others. Interspersed with scenes from the party are sections of the uncompleted film-within-a film being made by Hannaford. 

Peter Bogdanovich
As revealed in the excellent book Orson Welles's Last Movie: The Making of 'The Other Side of the Wind' by Josh Karp, Welles took years to shoot this film outside the studio system and never did complete it. After years of legal entanglements it was eventually finished by others supposedly working from Welles' notes, and then released by Netflix. Some of the material seems to have been watered down from the original intentions for one reason or another, as you only know certain things are going on because you've read about the movie in Karp's book or elsewhere. 

Robert Random and Oja Kodar
The big problem with The Other Side of the Wind is that it has no plot, no decent script, only a premise that is never developed. The party scenes are shot with hand-held cameras that give the movie a very cheap cinema verite feel but also distance the viewer from what's going on on screen. The clips from Hannaford's movie are shot in color and widescreen and these sequences are a bit more striking -- a would-be sex scene in a car between the character played by Dale and the character played by Welles' real-life mistress (and co-screenwriter) Oja Kodar, for instance, and a sequence where Kodar walks about nude in the desert -- with a very hokey phallic symbol in evidence. (Kodar does have a nice body but that's about all you can say about her acting and writing abilities.) One doesn't know who contributed the film's rare moments of quality dialogue, but we can guess. 

Hannaford celebrates his birthday with a cake
We've been told by Welles' chroniclers that in this film Hannaford is a macho closet case who seduces his leading ladies (or the wives of his leading men) when he really wants to bed the leading men, and that he is obsessed with his current (or vanished) star John Dale. The evidence for this consists only of Hannaford keeping many life-size dummies of Dale around his residence, and some remarks made by Strasberg near the end of the film that don't cut quite close enough to make all of this a certainty. ("Have a go at the dummy, Jake," McCambridge says when someone starts shooting at them, "they bleed even more easily than people.") If Welles had finished his film, everything might have been made more explicit or at least more comprehensible, but I'm not sure that it would have made an especially good movie in any case, and the sexually-conflicted Welles, who had some old-fashioned ideas about homosexuality, probably wasn't the best person for this project in the first place. One of the longest scenes has to do with Jake going on about "faggots" to an English professor (Dan Tobin, who is excellent) who once had Dale in his class.

Lilli Palmer
John Huston might seem like perfect casting for Jake Hannaford but he only hits the mark in a couple of scenes, and is not that effective throughout most of the movie. Bogdanovich, although a trifle amateurish at times, suggests that he might have had a major career as an actor had he chosen that route instead of directing (of course he did amass 57 acting credits!!). Strasberg is a cast stand-out, and there are nice vignettes from Palmer, O'Brian, Sierra, Stewart, McCambridge, Mitchell, and others. The Other Side of the Wind truly shows desperation when Welles calls in a bunch of midgets to cause mischief, and although, as mentioned, there is some good dialogue lost in the mess, the movie is more often than not simply pretentious. The film is so briskly edited that you aren't bored, at least until it becomes painfully apparent that there isn't any real storyline. Michel Legrand's nice score does its best to smooth over the rough edges but it's a losing battle. 

Verdict: What a shame! An Orson Welles Home Movie. **. 

THE CABINET OF CALIGARI

Constance Ford, Daniel O'Herlihy, Glynis Johns
THE CABINET OF CALIGARI (1962). Director: Roger Kay. 

When her car breaks down, Jane Lindstrom (Glynis Johns of The Vault of Horror) seeks shelter at a sanitarium run by Dr. Caligari (Daniel O'Herlihy of Invasion U.S.A.). But her gratitude turns to fear and outrage when she discovers that there's no apparent way out of the establishment and she is being kept prisoner. The other "guests" don't seem to be much help: old Ruth (Estelle Winwood); romantic young Mark (Richard Davalos); friendly Vivian (Doreen Lang of The Wrong Man); firm and deceptively helpful Christine (Constance Ford); and others. When Jane sees Ruth being assaulted by one of the other patients as the others calmly watch, she determines to find her way out of this nuthouse no matter what she might have to do ... 
 

Johns is "helped" by Constance Ford
Robert Bloch wrote the screenplay for this mess, and it's proof that the man could turn out solid scripts as well as ones that should never see the light of day. This is one of three theatrical films for director Roger Kay, who mostly toiled in television, and he's unable to do much with this terrible story. Heroine Glynis Johns, with her squeaky voice and munchkin-like appearance, seems all wrong for this kind of movie, although one could argue that she is the ultimate masochist. Johns gives a good and committed performance, however, although there must have been times when she and the other actors wished they'd chosen a better project. Daniel O'Herlihy is effective in a supposedly dual role, and the others named are all better than the picture deserves. This is a remake of the silent classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in name only, although some shots try to ape the expressionistic sets of the original. There is  an explanation for the strange goings-on, but the movie is so utterly tedious that you probably won't want to wait until the ending to find out. There are some interesting touches -- Caligari has a revolving door into his office, and there's a glass panel above Johns' bathtub into which people can peek as she bathes -- but they aren't enough to save this from the scrapheap.

Verdict: A waste of talent and celluloid. *1/2. 

ONE OF MY WIVES IS MISSING

James Franciscus and Jack Klugman
ONE OF MY WIVES IS MISSING  (1976 telefilm). Director: Glenn Jordan.

Daniel Corban (James Franciscus) is on his honeymoon in a small town when he tells Inspector Levine (Jack Klugman) that his wife walked out after a minor argument and hasn't been seen since. The laid-back Levine tries to be sympathetic but doesn't think there's much to worry about, especially when Mrs. Corban (Elizabeth Ashley) walks in and announces that she's back. The only problem is that Corban insists that he has never seen this woman before and that she is not Elizabeth Corban! Although Corban thinks of every way he can to convince the inspector that he's telling the truth, his "wife" counters his every move, and the situation truly begins to look desperate ... 

Elizabeth Ashley
Three good lead performances are at the heart of One of My Wives, a twisty tale that has been told before and afterwards. Anne Baxter was the harried honeymooner in Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958), then Janet Leigh in Honeymoon with a Stranger (1969). In 1986 came yet another telefilm, Vanishing Act, which starred Elliot Gould as the honeymooning husband. These were all official or uncredited versions of Robert Thomas' stage play "Trap for a Single Man." Like other versions, One of My Wives is suspenseful and intriguing, bolstered by Klugman's pleasant cop, Ashley's increasingly sinister and witchy portrayal, and Franciscus' credibly mounting fear, confusion and alarm. There is also good work from Joel Fabiani as a priest, Milton Selzer as a grocer, and the ever-lovable Ruth McDevitt as a neighbor. 

Verdict: Good version of this oft-told tale. ***. 

A KISS BEFORE DYING Ira Levin

A KISS BEFORE DYING. Ira Levin. 1953. 

A young man at university has great plans for himself, but his plans seem to go awry when his wealthy girlfriend, Dorothy, gets pregnant. An early marriage, before he has a chance to win over his disapproving father-in-law, will undoubtedly mean that "Dorrie" will be cut off without a penny and that just won't do. Unable to convince Dorothy to get an abortion, he gives her some pills which don't work, and then decides all he can do is do away with dear Dorrie. So he concocts a highly sinister scheme ...

A Kiss Before Dying was Ira Levin's first novel and it was so well-received that it led into a long and successful writing career, with such subsequent books as Rosemary's Baby, This Perfect Day, The Stepford Wives, The Boys from Brazil and others. His fiction output was not that extensive -- there were 14 years between Kiss and his 2nd novel Rosemary -- and he actually wrote more plays than novels, his most famous theater work being Deathtrap. (No Time for Sergeants and Critic's Choice were two other well-known plays of Levin's.)

Despite one really dopey moment (would a woman who fears that a man threw another woman off of a roof actually go up to said roof with the very man she thinks is a killer?), A Kiss Before Dying is an excellent suspense novel with a number of terrific plot twists and a great (and surprisingly moving) wind-up. 

Woodward and Wagner in the first film version
The book was filmed twice, but neither does full justice to the novel. Part of the problem is that the twists which work so beautifully in the book can't translate as well to the picture screen. The 1956 version is poorly directed by Gerd Oswald, who films in long, long takes, although there is some tension to the murder sequences and Robert Wagner gives a very good performance as the sociopath. Joanne Woodward as Dorrie, Robert Quarry as another tragic victim, Mary Astor as Wagner's mother, George Macready as Dorrie's father, and Jeffrey Hunter as a radio DA and amateur detective are all good, but Virginia Leith with her odd, flat voice and even flatter delivery is a definite deficit. The 1991 version starred Matt Dillon and Sean Young and was both sexier and more violent than the first version, but I didn't think much of it when it was first released and haven't seen it since. 

Verdict: Book  -- ***1/2.
              1956 movie -- **3/4.

FOR THE DEFENSE

William Powell and Kay Francis
FOR THE DEFENSE (1930). Director: John Cronwell. 

Bill Foster (William Powell of The Thin Man) is a famous defense attorney known for his flamboyancy and for tricks that keep his clients from going to jail. His main squeeze is Irene Manners (Kay Francis of Give Me Your Heart), who is loyal to him but discovers that he has no intention of marrying her -- for him things are perfect as they are. Irene goes out for a drive with love-smitten Jack De Foe (Scott Kolk), who proposes to her just before she accidentally runs over and kills a man in the road (we never learn a damned thing about this unfortunate fellow). Jack doesn't want to get Irene involved so he lets her run off while he takes the rap, which is exacerbated by the fact that he was drinking. Irene importunes Bill to take Jack's case and keep him from going to jail for manslaughter, but the lawyer suspects that there's more to the story -- and more to Irene's relationship with Jack. 

Scott Kolk with Powell
At a mere 63 minutes, For the Defense moves at a brisk pace and wastes precious little time in true character development, although the actors, especially an excellent Powell, do much to bring these rather stock characters to life. There's a funny/scary bit in an early courtroom scene when Powell decides to test a piece of evidence, a bottle supposedly filled with nitroglycerine, by dashing it to the floor, giving everyone in the room conniption fits! With a far less dynamic role, Francis can do little to steal scenes from Powell, but she is quietly effective as a woman who loves not wisely but well; Kolk is also effective. The movie with its interesting situations is entertaining despite the contrived script. Poor Francis is decked out in a series of hats that remind one of a classic I Love Lucy episode when the boys give the gals some phony French fashions! John Cromwell would go on to direct much better pictures including Caged. Two years later Powell and Francis reteamed for Jewel Robbery

Verdict: Powell is always exciting to watch. **3/4.