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

Thursday, May 26, 2022


Victoria Shaw and Cornel Wilde
EDGE OF ETERNITY      (1959). Director: Don Siegel. 

Near the Grand Canyon, Deputy Les Martin (Cornel Wilde of The Naked Prey) pursues a pretty if reckless driver, Janice (Victoria Shaw), distracting him from preventing the horrible murder of an unknown man marked for death. As Les and Janice begin a romance, there are other murders as well, and the County Attorney expects action. Sheriff Edwards (Edgar Buchanan of Lust for Gold) may be forced to ask Les to turn in his badge if he doesn't come up with something. Then Janice innocently gives Les a clue to the first dead man's identity, meaning that her family might even be involved ... 

Dashing Wilde
Edge of Eternity has Wilde adeptly playing a less dynamic, more laid-back kind of individual who nevertheless will eventually get his man -- and woman. His co-star, Victoria Shaw [The Eddy Duchin Story], is also quite adept and thoroughly winning. Also notable is Rian Garrick, who plays Janice's half-drunken brother, Bob; this handsome actor had only a few credits. Mickey Shaughnessy, Dabbs Greer, Jack Elam, and Edgar Buchanan, among others, are old reliables who give solid performances. 

Edge of Eternity also benefits from a score by (Mr.) Daniele Amfitheatrof and Burnett Guffey's CinemaScope photography of those sweeping grand canyon vistas. When a cable car that travels high over the canyon is first introduced, you know that it will figure in the thrilling climax, which it does, although the deputy's actions are a bit too foolhardy to be believed -- still it makes for a rousing sequence. The stunt work at the end -- the long shots reveal no nets and no FX work -- is not only amazing but almost horrifying! This is probably the only movie ever made in which the producers offer thanks to the U. S. Guano Corporation! Australian-born Victoria Shaw was married for a few years to Roger Smith before his marriage to Ann-Margret; Shaw and Smith had three children. 

Verdict: This movie is no guano! ***.


Kathleen Turner and Nicolas Cage
Director: Francis (Ford) Coppola. 

Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) is separated from her husband, high school sweetheart Charlie (Nicolas Cage of Ghost Rider), due to his adultery. She has mixed emotions about going to her 25-year high school reunion, but her daughter, Beth (Helen Hunt), importunes her to attend. After being crowned queen, Peggy Sue passes out and wakes up a quarter century in the past. She has an adult mind in a teenager's body! Trying to figure out if she's dead or simply going crazy, she has to determine if she wants to make the same mistakes -- such as marrying Charlie -- that she made before. 

Nicolas Cage
The basic premise of Peggy Sue, while not especially original, is compelling. Unfortunately, what the screenwriters have come up with doesn't do nearly enough with the material. Peggy Sue boasts some fine acting -- Turner and Cage are especially good if imperfect -- Jordan Cronenweth's photography is first-rate, and whenever the film seems emotionally moving it's undoubtedly due to John Barry's evocative scoring. The movie is a typical Hollywood "concept" picture which does as little with the concept as it possibly can. What could have been an especially affecting sequence when Peggy Sue goes to see her long-dead grandparents is turned into a weird bit of nonsense involving the old man's lodge brothers. (We never learn if her parents were still alive 25 years later.) It's as if the movie was merely a sequence of bits thrown together in the hopes it will turn into a cohesive whole. By the ending, nothing is really resolved. Peggy Sue is right back where she started. The whole time travel business is handled too prosaically anyway. 

Barbara Harris
A disturbing aspect of the picture is that more than once Peggy Sue mentions how much she loves and misses her two children (we only see one). This begs the question: how can she not marry Charlie when it means her beloved children (at least one of them) will no  longer exist -- but this never seems to occur to her. The superficial script doesn't wrestle with metaphysical issues in any case. So we're left with some interesting casting: Barbara Harris [Family Plot] as Peggy Sue's mother; Leon Ames and Maureen O'Sullivan as her grandparents; Barry Miller as the high school geek who makes good; John Carradine as a lodge member; and Kevin J. O'Connor [Deep Rising] as the romantic, mysterious school poet. While Barry's score adds a lot to the movie, it is not as good as his work on Somewhere in Time or Out of Africa

Verdict: Well-acted and reasonably entertaining, this is still a perfect example of how Hollywood can screw up fantasy-type movies. **1/4. 


AGE OF CAGE: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career
. Keith Phipps. Henry Holt; 2022. 

Author Phipps makes it clear right from the beginning that this is not a biography of actor Nicolas Cage. Certainly there is plenty of material in both the man's career and occasionally chaotic private life to turn out a full bio, but instead Phipps has chosen to do a career study, describing the changes in Hollywood and the film industry over the years that impacted on Cage's career, and when he went with the flow or bucked the trends. Whatever you think of Cage -- nowadays many people see him as a name to avoid when it's listed in the cast -- he had some major successes, an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, made some odd but forthright choices (such as the voice he affected in Peggy Sue Got Married), and is generally considered an intense and talented thespian who has given some very interesting performances. Cage's marriages, divorces, and tax and financial troubles are briefly mentioned, but not covered in detail, as the book focuses exclusively on the work. Phipps examines all of Cage's output, from major films to direct-to-video releases, and discusses which ones are worth your attention. Cage is the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, but he changed his name when charges of nepotism got too frenzied (the name change hardly worked). Cage is a big comic book fan who wanted to play Superman, but for multiple reasons it never happened. 

Verdict: Whether you're a fan of Cage or not, this is a breezy, entertaining and well-written look at the ups and downs of an interesting Hollywood career. ***. 


Dick Haymes and Vera-Ellen
CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA (1947). Director: Gregory Ratoff. 

Luisa Molina (Vera-Ellen), daughter of Costa Rican Rico (J. Carrol Naish) and American Elsa (Anne Revere), is told that she is to have an arranged marriage to Pepe Castro (Cesar Romero). For his part Pepe is already in love with the brash Celeste (Celeste Holm), and pretends to Luisa and her parents that he is too sickly to dance, sightsee or do much else that she might enjoy, hoping they will cancel the engagement. While Luisa is contemplating this possible union with a low-energy, half-dead spouse, she meets Jeff Stephens (Dick Haymes), who practically sweeps her off her feet during Carnival. Neither Luisa's or Pepe's parents have a clue to what is going on as everyone tries to do the right thing -- but what is it?

Celeste Holm and Cesar Romero
Carnival in Costa Rica is, as the title implies, very colorful and full of music, including a few fairly insipid if inoffensive songs by Levanna and Ruby. There isn't much plot beyond what is described in the paragraph above, so the movie sinks or swims on its musical numbers, which are at least energetic if not terribly inspired, and its performances. Everyone in the cast is more than adequate, but I especially enjoyed Anne Revere, sophisticated and stylish as the mother; Romero, who is as charming as ever; and of course the ever-delightful Fritz Feld as a hotel manager who has an amusing scene with the two fathers in question. Dick Haymes' is fine as an actor, and when he opens his mouth out comes one of the smoothest and most attractive voices in popular music. He knows how to put over a song, too (if only the songs had been a bit better). Little red-headed Tommy Ivo plays Luisa's sister even if he doesn't look much like a Costa Rican. Vera-Ellen's dancing is swell, but this could have used an Astaire or Kelly. 

Verdict: A pleasant and perfectly forgettable musical comedy without enough comedy. **1/4.


Audrey Hepburn
(1979). Director: Terence Young. 

"People who don't pay up end with their knees nailed to the floor." 

When her father, the head of an international pharmaceutical firm, is murdered, Elizabeth Roffe (Audrey Hepburn of The Unforgiven) takes over the company with the help of Rhys Williams (Ben Gazzara of The Young Doctors), whom she marries. But virtually all of the board members, all of whom are Elizabeth's relatives, are desperate for money, and appalled that she refuses to make the firm public, whereupon they could get ready cash. Before long, there are several attempts on Elizabeth's life, including an elevator crash that kills her secretary (Beatrice Straight). Who is the culprit: Ivo (Omar Sharif), whose mistress is demanding money; Helene (Romy Schneider), a ruthless race car driver; Sir Alec (James Mason), whose wife (Michelle Phillips) has run up huge gambling debts; or someone else? And who is responsible for the murders of several young women in snuff films? 

Ben Gazzara and Audrey Hepburn
Certainly an entertaining movie could have been made from Sidney Sheldon's absorbing page-turner, but this is a by-the-numbers effort with some unfortunate casting, slack direction, and an obnoxious musical score by Ennio Morricone, who simply layers the same treacly tune over every scene whether it is appropriate or not.  Director Young seems to have forgotten all he knew about directing, and despite an okay climax, Bloodline has virtually no suspense. The aforementioned elevator crash sequence is so brief and inept that it's positively comical. The best passages in the book, which concern Elizabeth's grandfather's ordeals in a Polish ghetto and the origins of Roffe Industries, get only a little screen time. This was sort of the second "comeback" picture for Hepburn, who gives a competent performance and looks good, if a little scary-skinny with, as one viewer put it, "ribs up to her neck." Gert Frobe from Goldfinger plays an inspector who tries to track down the culprit, but James Mason positively walks off with the picture, which is no surprise. 

Verdict: So much happening and still so dull. **.

Thursday, May 12, 2022


Olivia De Havilland and Richard Burton
MY COUSIN RACHEL(1952). Directed by Henry Koster. 

Philip Ashley (Richard Burton of Becket) has been raised by a man whom he has always considered a brother, a father, and best friend, Ambrose Ashley (John Sutton of The Second Face). Now Ambrose has gone off on a vacation from which he never returns. While in Italy, Ambrose met and married an Italian woman with a possibly shady history. Now Ambrose -- who sent strange letters to his cousin, Philip -- is dead, and his widow is coming to visit the estate Philip will inherit. Rachel Ashley (Olivia De Havilland) seems charming, and Philip becomes smitten with her, but he can't shake the feeling that she may not be quite as sympathetic as she seems. That perhaps she was in some way responsible for his beloved cousin's death ... 

Richard Burton
My Cousin Rachel is based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, but it is no Rebecca or The Birds, because while Henry Koster is a workmanlike professional he is no Hitchcock. However, if taken more as a romantic drama and not necessarily a suspense film, Rachel is effective and absorbing and has excellent performances. The casting of de Havilland and Burton may seem strange, as they are both representatives of a very different kind of "Hollywood," with Olivia a product of the studio system and Burton an Angry Young Man of the theater. Still, they work together beautifully, and this is certainly a star-making performance for Burton. 

Audrey Dalton with Burton
Olivia de Havilland may not be perfect casting -- she doesn't even attempt an Italian accent -- but her strength is that she never lets the viewer know what she is thinking. No one watching the film can definitely make up their mind about Rachel's guilt or innocence. Audrey Dalton, whose performances can be variable, is lovely as Louise Kendall, someone who has known Philip since childhood and has always expected to marry him, but this is not a certainty once Philip meets Rachel. There's also nice work from Tudor Owen as major domo Seecombe; Ronald Squire as Nicholas Kendall; George Dolenz (father of Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees) as Guido, who may or may not be Rachel's lover. Hamilton Camp [Evilspeak], who plays Philip at age 15, later became a singer. 

Verdict: Not entirely satisfying, perhaps, but entertaining and well-acted. ***.


Meg Tilly and Jane Fonda
AGNES OF GOD (1985). Director: Norman Jewison. 

A young nun, Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly), is arrested for manslaughter when her strangled baby is found in a waste basket at the convent. Dr. Martha Livingstone (Jane Fonda), a psychiatrist, is brought in to assess the nun's mental condition. She has some problems in this due to the nun's reticence in talking about or even acknowledging her pregnancy, and the Mother Superior, Miriam (Anne Bancroft). has objections as well. Martha is a lapsed Catholic and Miriam accuses her of hating the Church. Martha decides to do some investigating and find out who the father of the baby is, and if somebody else strangled the infant. She discovers there's a secret exit from -- and entrance into -- the convent.

Anne Bancroft and Jane Fonda
The film version of Agnes of God, which was based on a stage play by John Pielmeier (who also wrote the screenplay) was packaged in movie houses as a murder mystery. If viewers, especially non-Catholic and non-religious viewers, knew it was actually a kind of dopey exploration of faith and the immaculate conception, there probably would have been even less of them in the theater. The film has a visual gloss to it due to Sven Nykvist's cinematography, some nice music by Georges Delarue, and the acting from the three leads can not be faulted, yet ... Most sensible viewers will feel that Sister Agnes definitely needs a psychiatrist! This is a study of severe mental illness masquerading as an examination of faith.

Verdict: Beatific looks can't help put this one over. **.  


OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: LADY TRIUMPHANT. Victoria Amador. University Press of Kentucky; 2020.

The author of this bio, a life-long De Havilland fan, tracked the actress down in Paris, begged to meet and interview her, and even showed up at de Havilland's doorstep without an invitation (eventually she was invited). Normally I'm very wary of bios written by obsessive fans, questioning their objectivity, but to be fair to Ms. Amador, her portrait of the reclusive Miss De. Havilland seems fair and balanced for the most part. The book looks at the actor's youth, her rather quick ascent in Hollywood, her most famous roles (such as Miss Melanie, of course) and movies, and insightfully examines her acting style and approach to different parts -- when De Havilland was less than special she's not afraid to say so. The book also recounts her ultimately successful legal battles with the studio. her famous "feud" with her sister, Joan Fontaine (which actually gets its own chapter), and her marriages and affairs (according to the diva herself, she did not sleep with Errol Flynn although she certainly wanted to). 

The portrait that emerges of De Havilland is not without warts, as the lady has often come off as quite affected and too oh-so-proper to be believed.  However this book will give the interested reader the basic facts and then some behind the career and life of the actress whose most interesting aspect was her appearances on film in such movies as Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Heiress, Lady in a Cage, The Dark Mirror, and many, many others. Inexplicably Amador supports De Havillamd's foolish, ill-advised and ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against the producers of Feud: Bette and Joan. Admittedly she was portrayed, briefly, by an actress who was nothing like her and she would never have made comments about her sister in public, but that is hardly suit-worthy, and trying to change the laws about public figures would have been opening a can of worms that would have had terrible repercussions for journalists -- and biographers. Amador has added a new chapter after her subject's death that goes on and on and on perhaps a bit too much.

Verdict: Very good read for De Havilland fans and Hollywood observers in general. ***1/2. 


Hywel Bennett and Hayley Mills
ENDLESS NIGHT (1972). Director: Sidney Gilliat. 

Michael Rogers (Hywel Bennett) drives wealthy people across Europe but wants a better life for himself. He greatly admires a piece of property called Gypsy's Acre in a small English village, and dreams of having his dying architect friend, Santonix (Per Oscarsson), design a house for him there. Dreams do come true after Michael meets and falls for Ellie Thomson (Hayley Mills), a lovely young woman who turns out to be an American heiress. Michael is disturbed by the discrepancy in their incomes, but Ellie is determined to marry him, despite her family's and advisors' objections. She is helped in her goal by her friend, Greta (Britt Ekland), who becomes an unwelcome presence in the couple's lives after they tie the knot. Santonix does design a magnificent house for them on the desired property, but events occur which make them feel ill at ease. Then there's a death ... 

Bennett with George Sanders
Endless Night is based on the novel by Agatha Christie, one of the author's personal favorites, and it is a suspenseful and especially well-written book which is told, as in the film version, from the point of view of Michael. Endless Night is quite well-acted by all the participants -- George Sanders adds a touch of class as a deceptively friendly lawyer -- the house is something to see (particularly the inside of it), and the viewer may or may not catch on to the twist that occurs at the finale. 

Britt Ekland with Mills
The trouble is that Endless Night is just blah. There's only one possible twist, not a lot of serious suspects, and the whole production just comes off as second-rate. Even Bernard Herrmann's score seems to consist of snatches from other and better movies. Bennett and Mills first worked together in The Family Way, then reunited for Twisted Nerve and then this film. Hayley Mills married Roy Boulting, who was 33 years older than her, and it is said that his choices for her all but ruined her career. Mills is still acting although her profile is comparatively low today. Bennett passed away in 2017. Britt Ekland's [The Wicker Man] last credit was in 2006. 

Verdict: Read the novel instead. **1/2.


Mark Stevens and June Haver
OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL (1949). Director: John M. Stahl. 

Around the turn of the (last) century, song promoter Larry Kelly (Mark Stevens of Time Table) runs into classical composer Alfred Breitenbach ("Cuddles" Sakall) and uses the latter's arias from his unproduced opera to turn them into tin pan alley hits. This he does with the cooperation and encouragement of Breitenbach's daughter, Doris (June Haver), who has a big crush on Larry. While Alfred enjoys the money he makes as "Fred Fisher" -- the name he takes as composer of popular hits -- he is afraid he is bowdlerizing his art and will never be taken seriously as an operatic composer. So he just takes off to rework the opera while Larry, Doris, and his wife, Anna (Charlotte Greenwood) frantically search for him. But famous conductor Gottfried Steiner (Eduard Franz of The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake) has an idea to get the man back ... 

Charlotte Greenwood and Cuddles Sakall
Mark Stevens had already teamed with June Haver two years earlier in I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now in which he played composer Joe Howard, although in this his character is fictional. There really was a Fred Fisher, born Alfred Breitenbach, and he did have a daughter named Doris, but just about everything else is made up, including his being a classical composer. Cuddles Sakall gives his customary good and lively performance in this, and Mark Stevens gives a fine account of himself as well. Playing another good and proper gal as she generally did, the only thing June Haver lacks is a little frosting. Gale Robbins [Double Jeopardy] is a little spicier as actress Marie Carle, but she isn't given much to do. Charlotte Greenwood is swell as Cuddle's wife, but she not only doesn't deliver any of her famous high kicks, she doesn't sing and dance at all. 

The big finale
A strange thing about the picture is that both Haver and Stevens were singers, but both of them are dubbed in this movie. Bill Shirley, who has a splendid voice, did the singing for Stevens; he appeared as himself in a few movies as well. As for the songs, aside from the title tune (not composed by Fisher), and Fisher's best-known compositions "Peg O' My Heart" and "Chicago," and maybe one or two others, they are forgettable. The finale has Gottfried Steiner conducting a concert version of Fisher's hits, when it probably would have been more appropriate to play the original operatic versions (which never actually existed). In beautiful technicolor. 

Verdict: Pleasant, with a more interesting plot than usual, even if it's completely fabricated. ***.