Friday, July 31, 2009

Adventures of Rusty (1945)

Directed by Paul Burnford
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Sony)

Not a bad little programmer about a boy and his dog. Rusty is a former German soldier dog, and only responds to commands in German. Danny is the boy who must teach him English, not to bite the hand that feeds him, and save dad's marriage along the way.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Scarlet Coat (1955)

Directed by John Sturges
My rating: 2 stars out of 4

Sleep-inducing account of spies during the American Revolution. The main problem is simply no action. Instead, we get endless couriers with endless messages: fake, stolen or otherwise. Then there is Cornel Wilde, who can go between the British and Americans seemingly at will, always with access to the highest ranking officers. I still don't know to which side he was loyal. All of this stealth is supposed to lead to the discovery of Benedict Arnold. However, he is only briefly glimpsed near the beginning and end of the film.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Get Yourself a College Girl (1964)

Directed by Sidney Miller
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

I'm giving this a slightly higher rating than it deserves based on the extended performances by The Animals (though Eric Burdon's lip synching could have been better), Jimmy Smith, The Standells (all too briefly), Astrud Gilberto (stoned? nervous?) and The Dave Clark Five (complete Beatles rip offs). Otherwise, the film is a teeny bopper disaster.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Devil's Disciple (1959)

Directed by Guy Hamilton
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, MGM/UA)

Towering star power is the main attraction of this Revolutionary War satire. The film never completely escapes its stage origins. I had problems believing the sudden personality changes that are the heart of the story, particularly Lancaster, who goes from pacifist minister to murderous rebel in a heartbeat. Douglas goes the opposite direction with better results.

The Group (1966)

Directed by Sidney Lumet
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Overlong soaper chronicling the lives of a group of women after their college graduation. Mostly they seem interested in getting married, or struggling with their marriages to stupid men, or talking to each other about marriage and men. It's all rather boring and goes on for 2 and a half hours .

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Big Sombrero (1949)

Directed by Frank McDonald
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

While it is great to see Gene in color, the film is stictly routine. In fact, this one feels more padded out than usual and the 82 minute runtime goes on forever. If there is a plot, I don't remember it. This movie pales in comparison to the Roy Rogers color effort of the same year, The Golden Stallion.

The Deadly Affair (1966)

Directed by Sidney Lumet
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony Screen Classics by Request)

Sidney Lumet's spy/crime drama unfolds like a novel, very slowly and very precisely. It is set in a gray, dirty London. Poor old James Mason is married to nymphomaniac Harriet Andersson but ignores her escapades until it is with someone he knows. The ending is rather clever, but it takes a long time to get there.


Stage Struck (1958)

Directed by Sidney Lumet
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Interglobal or VCI)

This is a polarizing film, loved or hated depending on how you feel about Susan Strasberg's performance. I will say upfront I loved her, and the film. One has to remember that she is playing a young, stage struck girl, who did Shakespeare in a high school in Vermont. The very opening scenes of the film show her wandering, mouth agape, under the Broadway marquees. In this respect, she played the part to perfection. She is supposed to be reciting Shakespeare on a balcony, supposed to be idealistic, supposed to be different than every other Broadway actress. And there is the relationship with Henry Fonda. There was little chemistry between them, but Fonda took advantage when opportunity presented itself and felt bad afterwards. As for Strasberg, she knew him from theatre magazines and again true to character, was stage struck. If anything I thought Fonda was miscast. I would have preferred a slightly sleazier character. Christopher Plummer, who was obviously better suited for her, instead finds himself unable to win her love. The reasons are complicated and generally unspoken, other than "Shakespeare had a miserable home life". If you are looking for a Hollywood happy ending, it isn't here. Perhaps another reason the film is generally forgotten and even hated today by the masses.

Hold On! (1966)

Directed by Arthur Lubin
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

This is more or less a beach movie starring Herman's Hermits. Peter Noone, as Herman, is not allowed to meet girls, so he sneaks out of his hotel to find Shelley Fabares in an amusement park. The rollercoaster ride with back projection is a highlight, particularly the dummy on the "real" rollercoaster. Another fun part is the set piece with singing in outer space, the band members suspended like puppets around a space capsule. It's all ridiculous and very, very boring.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Golden Stallion (1949)

Directed by William Witney
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Republic Pictures)

The best Roy Rogers film I've seen to date. In particular, there is one scene that it is a classic of the western genre. Trigger has been falsely accused of killing a man and is condemned to death on the spot. In the next few moments we are unsure what will happen, as Trigger is led away with a man with a shotgun. A close up reveals that Roy is in agony and disbelief. Rather than let Trigger be shot, Roy falsely confesses he killed the man, and proceeds to do 3 years of hard labor. Now that is what I call dedication to an animal. The rest of the film has a better script than your typical B western, and is in wonderful Republic Trucolor to boot.

The Killer Is Loose (1956)

Directed by Budd Boetticher
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Boetticher foreshadows the entire stalker genre with this excellent, tense drama. Character actor Wendell Corey is Foggy Poole, a mild mannered bank teller who also happens to be a homicidal maniac. He plays the killer to perfection: cold, soft spoken, intelligent, seemingly indestructible. A citywide manhunt eventually leads to a memorable finale. I was reminded of Carpenter's Halloween, especially given the suburban LA setting.

Escape in the Fog (1945)

Directed by Budd Boetticher
My rating 2 stars out of 4
IMDb

Early Boetticher film in which he has yet to crystallize his style. Pedestrian crime drama asks for too much suspension of belief. We do get femme fatale Nina Foch and lots and lots of fog.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

From Noon Till Three (1976)

Directed by Frank D. Gilroy
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, MGM/UA)

Innocuous piece of western fluff with Bronson as an outlaw and Ireland the prude he seduces. Second half does have some interesting things to say about western legends, but as a whole the film is weighed down by cliches. It begins with a gotcha dream sequence and ends in an insane asylum.


Friday, July 24, 2009

One Mysterious Night (1944)

Directed by Budd Boetticher
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

My first exposure to Chester Morris in the "Boston Blackie" series. I think this entry assumes some familiarity with the characters and their situations, as I was struggling to figure out which were the "good guys" and which the "bad guys". In the end, it felt like a rushed programmer to fill the bottom half of some forgotten matinee. Give me Mr. Moto or Charlie Chan any day.

Anthony Adverse (1936)

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
My rating 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Warner)

Poor Anthony must fulfill the destiny of his name. We get the complete biography: from the tragedy surrounding his birth, his days in a friendly orphanage, his new life as a businessman, downfall as a slave trader and rebirth in French high society. Somehow he ends up fighting for the hand of his wife against Napoleon Bonaparte of all people. The music is good and there are some brief opera scenes. However, the acting is unsteady and the film tries to cover too much ground. It is entertaining, though.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bells of San Angelo (1947)

Directed by William Witney
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Reel Enterprises)

Roy fights silver smugglers along the Mexican border. Dale and Trigger help, while Cookie, another overweight sidekick, provides unfunny comic relief. Originally in Trucolor, I watched an old MCA black and white television print on Encore Westerns.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Sniper (1952)

Directed by Edward Dmytryk
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony)

Arthur Franz has problems with women, lots of problems, and randomly shoots them from rooftops. His backstory is only hinted at, and the film would have been stronger if it were explored. Instead, Kramer is more interested in painting a sympathetic picture of the killer from his point of view: women are rude, manipulative and sleazy, the police mock petty sex criminals in a line up, and the general public makes arbitrary comments like "he should be killed". The final frame of the film is very telling.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Anne of the Indies (1951)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
My rating: 3 stars out of 4

Tourneur adeptly helms this Technicolor swashbuckler, with the added twist of a female ship's captain. Naturally she falls in love with a crewmember, which ultimately leads to her downfall. Character actor Thomas Gomez is a robust Blackbeard.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Carey Treatment (1972)

Directed by Blake Edwards
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Involving medical crime drama in the Crichton style. James Coburn is a doctor turned private investigator when a colleague is accused of murder. Jennifer O'Neill is the unnecessary love interest.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Home in Wyomin' (1942)

Directed by William Morgan
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

Gene Autry goes to Wyoming to help a rodeo star. He gets involved with murder, mobsters and an abandoned gold mine. Comic relief is provided by his sidekick Frog and his son Tadpole, who are both overweight and not very funny.

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

Directed by Penelope Spheeris
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, RCA/Columbia)

Penelope Spheeris effectively exposes the excesses and stupidity of Hair Metal. It's hard to say what was real and what was faked in the interviews, but the music is consistently bad. Megadeth renounces the Hair Metal lifestyle and say they live for the music. Unfortunately it's only marginally better. Lemmy from Motorhead has some words of wisdom but is seldom seen, despite a Motorhead song playing over the opening credits.

The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967)

Directed by Tony Richardson
My rating 2.5 stars out of 4

Ian Bannen grows tired of his girlfriend while vacationing in Florence. He leaves with Jeanne Moreau on her yacht, and ends up sailing the Mediterranean in search of a former boyfriend who may or may not exist. The symbolism doesn't really work, the characters are for the most part unlikeable and there is a ridiculous aside with Orson Welles.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Barricade (1939)

Directed by Gregory Ratoff
My rating: 2 stars out of 4

The film starts rather poorly, with Alice Faye faking a Russian accent to win the sympathy of the American consulate. Instead she finds herself trapped there with a washed out, drunken reporter. Naturally they fall in love while fending off angry natives. The last half hour or so is actually pretty good, with some tense moments hiding out in a basement while the house above is ransacked.

The Glass Menagerie (1950)

Directed by Irving Rapper
My rating: 3 stars out of 4

Tennessee Williams' play suffers from a stagebound feel and stilted dialogue. Still, there are many great scenes on display here. My favorites occur when Kirk Douglas steps into their home: the candlelight conversation and dancing in Paradise.

Tiger Shark (1932)

Directed by Howard Hawks
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Edward G. Robinson gives a fine performance as a Portuguese fisherman who loses his hand to a shark. He gets a hook to replace it and wears a large, garish earring. He has trouble getting women, but the daughter of one of his crew marries him out of gratitude and pity. Unfortunately she falls in love with his best man. Location filming helps this melodrama along, though I could have done without the graphic shark shooting and fishing scenes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

Directed by William A. Wellman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, TCM Archives)

High schoolers in the Great Depression hit the rails in search of jobs and a better life. Instead they find violence, hunger and live in a sewer pipe city. A sympathetic judge eventually bails them out. A bit mushy at times, but a sobering look at poverty and its impact on society.

Berlin Express (1948)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Post WWII Germany is the setting for this partially successful Tourneur thriller. It tends to get bogged down in documentary-like narration, although the images of a war ravaged Frankfurt are historically interesting. The four main characters represent the victorious Allies in post-war Europe, a rather obvious symbolism, and stereotypes abound. Nonetheless, when the final act in a bombed-out brewery unwinds things do get interesting.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die (1972)

Directed by Tonino Valerii
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Wild East)

James Coburn leads a band of murderers and thieves to a remote fort headed by Telly Savalas, with whom he has a personal vendetta. It sounds great, but it is slow going with the only action reserved for the final battle in the fort. A very twangy guitar soundtrack typical of spaghetti westerns.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Fearmakers (1958)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Dana Andrews is a Korean war vet with combat shock. He returns to his old job only to find it taken over by "subversives". He agrees to work with a Senator undercover to expose them. Far from grade A Tourneur, the film suffers from heavy handidness and an incredibly bad ending at the Lincoln Memorial, complete with patriotic music.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wild Country (1947)

Directed by Ray Taylor
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

Eddie Dean is a singing cowboy who rounds up an escaped convict and corrupt sheriff. His sidekick Soapy Jones has the best scenes, especially an early one where he is mistaken as the convict in the local saloon. The last song is kinda catchy.




Come On, Rangers (1938)

Directed by Joseph Kane
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

The Texas Rangers are dissolved and Roy Rogers finds himself without a job. He joins the Cavalry to fight criminals and avenge his brother. He finds time to sing and woo a lady along the way.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)

Directed by Clarence Brown
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Irene Dunne is an American in England who marries a dashing young Englishman she meets at a royal ball. The film chronicles her sacrifices, and those of her family, as England is drawn into the first and second World Wars. Similar territory as The Best Years of Our Lives, though not as good, it nonetheless contrasts idyllic young love with the heartbreak of war. Nicely photographed by George Folsey (nominated 12 times for cinematography, including this film, but never a winner).

Nightfall (1957)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony)

A very good little crime drama, the kind that Tourneur does best. An excellent cast featuring Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft and Brian Keith as the heavy, although character actor Rudy Bond steals the show as the maniacal Red. A memorable ending with a snow plow.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)

Directed by Irving Cummings
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Fox)

Entertaining if un-extraordinary telling of the invention of the telephone. Our hero Don Ameche struggles in poverty, then has his invention taken away from him by a rival company. A court battle ensues. Capitalism at its best. Loretta Young is the love interest.

Challenge of the Gladiators (1965)


Directed by Domenico Paolella
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb

Rock Stevens is Spartacus, who has superhuman strength and is really more like Hercules than Spartacus. There is a cumbersome plot about Nero, or Nero's fake, and a treasure that will free the slaves from their Roman persecutors. A girl get's in the way and there are some vague references to Christianity. The torture and gladiator scenes are weak, so this turns into a boring soap opera set in what was once Thracia but today southeast Europe.

The Bottom of the Bottle (1956)

Directed by Henry Hathaway
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb

Van Johnson is excellent as an escaped prisoner holding up at his brother's ranch in Texas near the Mexican border. A swollen river keeps him from crossing into Mexico, forcing him to confront his alcoholic demons. The film works best when focused on the relationship of the two brothers, and I found myself wishing for more backstory. Instead, we get tossed into the world of rich Texas ranchers, who have fallen into a moral morass of alchohol and infidelity. The film does boast a wonderful color scheme and is a pleasure to watch.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Timbuktu (1959)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
My rating: 2 stars out of 4

Lackluster French Legion yarn set in North Africa. It has none of the directorial flair usually associated with Tourneur, despite ample opportunity afforded by the desert locales. Victor Mature and George Dolenz as the male leads are simply flat, and the usually perky Yvonne De Carlo can't save it alone. Still, some nice scenes featuring tarantulas and a shootout in a minaret.

The Big Show (1936)

Directed by Mack V. Wright
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

Gene Autry switches places with his real life stunt double and goes to the Texas Centennial. There is the usual quota of shootin', singin' and lovin'. Location shooting at the real Texas Centennial in Dallas gives this an intersting historical angle.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Bowery (1933)


Directed by Raoul Walsh
My rating: 3 stars out of 4

Lively drama set in the heart of New York City in the Gay '90s. Plot is secondary to the rowdy saloons, singing and pugilism which fly by at breakneck speed. I thought it was a tad long, especially in the third act, and the happy ending which emphasized patriotism did not ring true. Still, I learned some new words, most notably "skoits".

Samurai Saga (1959)

Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

A Japanese variation of Cyrano de Bergerac, it actually stays fairly close to the original story. I found the first half of the film to be talky and studio-bound, struggling to hold my attention. However, from the battle scenes forward the film takes on a melancholy epic grandeur. The finale was especially satisfying and beautifully shot among falling cherry blossoms.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Colorado Sundown (1952)


Directed by William Witney
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Roan Group)

Rex Allen plays Rex Allen and Slim Pickens plays Slim Pickens and Koko the Miracle Horse of the Movies plays Koko. The songs are smooth. There is stock footage of flash flooding. The evil character has bleached stripes in her hair like the Bride of Frankenstein. Saturday Matinees in the early 50s must have been a blast.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hell's Heroes (1930)


Directed by William Wyler
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Good early talkie western with atmosphere due to location filming both in the desert and Bodie, California, a real ghost town. Based on Three Godfathers, three men wander into New Jerusalem, rob the bank and flee into the desert where the find themselves the ward of a newborn. There is an undercurrent of religious symbolism, the three men wandering the desert Christ-like and their ultimate sacrifice and redemption by saving the child. The film ends in a church on Christmas with a choir singing Silent Night, Holy Night.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jungle Manhunt (1951)

Directed by Lew Landers
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony Screen Classics by Request)

Jungle Jim battles stock animal footage, a rubber shark and extras in Halloween skeleton costumes while searching the California desert, er jungle, for a football player. I've seen worse, believe it or not.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Jungle Jim in the Forbidden Land (1952)

Directed by Lew Landers
My rating: BOMB
IMDb

Jungle Jim wrestles stuffed panthers, plastic hippos and werewolves tall enough to be starting centers in the NBA. Hilariously inept.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Night Train to Munich (1940)


Director: Carol Reed
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Criterion Collection)

Many of the same stars from Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes show up in Night Train to Munich. However, this film is pure propaganda, made in 1940 at the start of WWII. The German military is grossly stereotyped, with Hitler pounding away on maps and monocle-wearing Gestapo. There is an exciting climax on a mountain top, about the closest this film ever gets to Hitchcock.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Key (1958)


Director: Carol Reed
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Columbia Classics)

The key to understanding "The Key", I think, is revealed more than halfway through the film by Sophia Loren: she is listed as dead when applying to help with the war effort, killed in an air raid. She has frequent premonitions: a bottle of wine splattered on a shirt soaking it through like blood, and the burning photo of a boat on a newspaper page. So does she exist? The ending, especially, is ambiguous. She leaves the train station in a cloud of steam, as if exiting a dream, while William Holden declares that he will find her in London, somehow. Even Loren's performance is ghost-like, as if sleepwalking through the role. I believe that is on purpose. In wartime a normal life is impossible, death a constant companion.

Beyond All Limits (1959)




Director: Roberto Gavaldon

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

Good location photography and atmosphere in a small Mexican fishing village highlight this otherwise routine melodrama about two men, a woman and a boy. Cinematography is by the great Gabriel Figueroa, whom Bunuel utilized in Simon of the Desert and The Exterminating Angel, as well as John Huston in the incredible The Night of the Iguana just a few years later in 1964. The VCI DVD release has some minor complaints: this is the English dubbed version, and the aspect ratio is perhaps a bit too wide (1.78 vs IMDb list of 1.37). Neither flaw detracted me from enjoying the film, as the dubbed version was done with original actors and the framing did not seem to suffer from the extra matting. The Spanish version (Flor de Mayo) would have been preferred, in which Jack Palance supposedly speaks in Spanish. He is reasonably subdued in this performance, though does have a knack for taking his shirt off whenever given the chance. Maria Felix does not do the same.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ill Met by Moonlight (1957)

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Hens Tooth)

Maltin describes this as a "taut WWII thriller", though I found it to be a rather leisurely paced film more interested in the native Greeks than any kind of suspense. Still, Powell and Pressburger are always worth watching, and there were some nice photographic moments in the mountains, fog and of course moonlight. However, I really did not care about what happened to anybody, except maybe the kid and his boots.

Jungle Jim (1948)

Director: William Berke
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, GoodTimes)

The first of apparently 16 Jungle Jim films. Johnny Weissmuller is basically "Tarzan in clothes", he talks the same as Tarzan, does the same things (fights alligators, etc.), but does not do a Tarzan yell. This entry is ridiculously padded with stock footage of animals from an old documentary. We get numerous diversions that have nothing to do with the story like synchronized diving and dog tricks. After all of that, it is still barely an hour in length.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tail Spin (1939)

Director: Roy Del Ruth
My rating: 2 stars out of 4

Alice Faye is Trixie, female aviator. One of her flying buddies is Speed, and he likes to fly fast and try to set records. Hmmm...an odd coincidence of names with the famous Speed Racer duo? So we've got Trixie and Speed flying in fast-motion, just as often with rear projection than without, competing with mainly a bunch of other female aviators. Instead of portraying these women as pioneers in a male-dominated industry, they have cat fights in the locker room and use men to fix their engines.

Hilda Crane (1956)


Director: Philip Dunne
My rating: 3 stars out of 4.
IMDb

Jean Simmons is the whole show. It is based on a play by Samson Raphaelson, and like many films based on a play feels staged at times. It took maybe half the film for me to warm up to Jean Simmons, but by the end I had an emotional involvement so rated this higher than is generally given. The lecherous French professor was entertaining, as was the mother-in-law from hell. A must for Jean Simmons fans, and anyone interested in a depiction of a liberated woman in the otherwise not-so-liberated 1950's.