Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Black Book (1949)

Directed by Anthony Mann
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony Screen Classics by Request)

Confusing tale of political intrigue during the French Revolution. Robert Cummings was unconvincing as the traitor turned hero, he simply doesn't have the stature for this character. The plot was about as murky as the print broadcast on TCM, revolving around a missing black book that holds the names of political enemies of the dictator Robispierre. The cinematography, which is admittedly well done, borrows heavily from the horror genre, with scenes of torture and lynch mobs in heavy shadows.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Uncle Silas (1947)

Directed by Charles Frank
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb

Moody, atmospheric tale of a young girl who inherits a fortune only to be stalked by Uncle Silas. Rich characterizations by Katina Paxinou as a governess/witch, John Laurie as Giles the crotchety old butler and of course Derrick De Marney as Uncle Silas. Perhaps the only weak link is lead Jean Simmons, curiously stoic in the face of such monsters. There is some surprising violence, including a murder with a pick axe and a nasty fall under a horse carriage. The Gothic touches are pervasive: blowing curtains, candles, an old musty castle, hidden staircases and passages, warped montages, and on and on. A surprisingly neglected film but a classic of its kind. Based on the novel by Sheridan Le Fanu ("Vampyr").

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies (1973)

Directed by John Erman
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb

Aimless film about a pilot and son wandering the country in the 1920s. There seems to be some sort of role reversal, as the father has a childlike demeanor and the son, who says he is 13, curses like a sailor, drinks, smokes and visits prostitutes. They both are running away from the reality of their mother's/wife's accidental death that starts the film, but what they hope to find is a mystery, and still is when the credits roll.

The Plunderers (1948)

Directed by Joseph Kane
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

Rod Cameron is an Army Cavalry officer who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang of thieves. Along the way, he befriends their leader and finds romance. Eventually they fight side by side against an Indian attack on an Army outpost.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Hour of 13 (1952)

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

Peter Lawford is a suave jewel thief who plays a cat and mouse game with Scotland Yard. There is also a killer on the loose who goes by the name "The Terror" knifing policemen on the foggy streets of London. The two plots meet in a memorable finale in an elevator shaft.

Escape from East Berlin (1962)

Directed by Robert Siodmak
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

The first half of the film has a slow, almost documentary feel. The mostly German cast of relative unknowns was a difficult group to sympathize with, despite the pleas of the narrator. Still, once the tunnel got going it did get more interesting, though it should have been much more tense.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hitler's Children (1943)

Directed by Edward Dmytryk
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Nostalgia Merchant)

Anna is the sweet American girl studying in Germany, while Karl is next door at the Hitler youth school. They fall in love despite their deep political differences, a sort of Romeo and Juliet. They get separated, only to frequently run into each other once Karl moves up in the Gestapo. It comes to a head when Anna gets a public lashing for covert political ideas. It's completely exaggerated and manipulative wartime propaganda that somehow succeeds despite those intentions.


Friday, September 25, 2009

A Severed Head (1970)

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

A British look at "free love" among married couples in 1970. It's an inevitably dated but good-natured comedy/drama told mainly from the point of view of husband Ian Holm. His wife is Lee Remick, who struggles to maintain a British accent, and is only moderately effective in a subdued comedic role. Claire Bloom is the most interesting character of the bunch, a psycho professor who dresses in black, wields a Japanese sword and sleeps with her (half) brother.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Whip Hand (1951)

Directed by William Cameron Menzies
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb

Atmospheric William Cameron Menzies thriller made at the height of Communist paranoia in America. Elliott Reid stumbles upon a small Wisconsin town that is really a Communist cell experimenting in germ warfare. Most of the film is a slow build-up of tension as Reid realizes something is not quite right in this town. Substitute aliens for Communists and you would have a fine sci-fi film.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kind Lady (1951)

Directed by John Sturges
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb

Excellent psychological thriller with Ethel Barrymore held prisoner in her own home by the suave Maurice Evans. As her home is emptied of all valuables and put up for sale, the cat and mouse game between the two intensifies. The main fault of the film would be a somewhat contrived ending.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Flaxy Martin (1949)

Directed by Richard L. Bare
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb

Zachary Scott is a mob lawyer who decides to go straight. Only problem is his girlfriend is also part of the mob and lets him take the rap for a murder. He goes on the lam and meets the girl of his dreams after jumping off a train. Too much melodrama and coincidence, not enough action.


Only Two Can Play (1962)

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

Peter Sellers is a meek librarian with the "seven year itch". He tries to get involved with his bosses' wife, but can't go through with it. Funniest scenes are with Sellers and Mai Zitterling as the other woman, as he must escape from her house when the husband unexpectedly returns, and again in a pasture when their romance is interrupted by some wayward cows.

The Golden Hawk (1952)

Directed by Sidney Salkow
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb

A Technicolor pirate movie is always a refreshing escape. However, this one could use less romance and more action, and Sterling Hayden is not particularly suited as a romantic lead. Rhonda Fleming is ravishing as Captain Rouge. Not bad for a rainy day, which is exactly what it was when I watched it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Women's Prison (1955)

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

More audience manipulation than exploitation, Ida Lupino is the warden who terrorizes the inmates of a women's prison. After a brutal beating and death, they've had enough and riot, and you can't help but be on their side.

Flight from Ashiya (1964)

Directed by Michael Anderson
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM Limited Edition Collection)

The Air Rescue Service responds to a distress signal from a sinking Japanese ship during a typhoon. This frames three flashbacks: a doomed rescue of avalanche surivivors, a doomed love affair with a reporter during an earthquake, and a doomed love affair between an Arab and an American soldier. Special effects are from the Japanese Daiei studio, and their miniatures look like most Godzilla movies from the 60s. It shouldn't work, but somehow does, anchored by the middle story with Richard Widmark.

Ten Days to Tulara (1958)

Directed by George Sherman
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IDMb

Routine story of Mexican bandits who take Hayden hostage in order to get out of the country with stolen gold. Location shooting in Mexico is a plus.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Battle Taxi (1955)

Directed by Herbert L. Strock
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

Standard war programmer of new helicopter footage and actors spliced together with stock footage. Hayden is the leader of a group of Air Rescue pilots who risk their lives to save fallen soldiers in Korea.

I Never Sang for My Father (1970)

Directed by Gilbert Cates
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony Screen Classics by Request)

Hackman takes awhile to get going, but the final extended sequence between him and Melvyn Douglas is a knockout. The entire cast basically puts on a clinic in acting, particularly Douglas. Never quite gets beyond its stage origins... and you have to be in the right mood for its depressing subject matter. Scenes in the nursing homes are devastating.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cowboy Serenade (1942)

Directed by William Morgan
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb

Gene was past his prime by the early 40s, but the film retains some of the feel of an old Republic serial. Best action scenes take place in, and on, a train, but the obvious back projection was a distraction. There is also a short scene with Frog in drag.

All Fall Down (1962)

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

Engrossing story of a dysfunctional, slightly eccentric, family. Warren Beatty is the drifter who returns home, only to fall in love with a family friend. This leads to complications with his younger brother, who worships the ground he walks on, until he learns the ugly truth. Excellent performances from the ensemble cast.


Mad Dog Coll (1961)

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

John Davis Chandler gives an over-the-top performance as gangster Mad Dog Coll. The film often goes for the exploitative elements both in violence and women, but they are counterbalanced by some sensitive character studies. Gene Hackman, in his screen debut, has a non-speaking role as a cop, while Telly Savalas is the more prominent detective on the hunt for Coll.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Comin' 'Round the Mountain (1936)

Directed by Mack Wright
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

Gene is a Pony Express rider robbed and left for dead in the desert. He saves a wild horse from wolves, then goes in search of the robbers. An incredible scene shoes Gene (or stunt double) breaking the wild horse by hanging on to the front of the horse's neck. Good scenery, some unexpected violence, and as always good songs make this one of Autry's best films.

The Split (1968)

Directed by Gordon Flemyng
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb

The heist goes off flawlessly, but splitting the money afterwards proves to be another story. Jim Brown is the lead and may be the weakest cast member, but with superstar power like Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Sutherland and Warren Oates it doesn't matter. A somewhat gimmick ending that made me rethink everything that happened in the movie! A must for Tarantino fans.


The Clown (1953)

Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, MGM/UA)

Red Skelton basically plays himself, albeit with a drinking and gambling problem. He's a single dad taking care of precocious Tim Considine, until mom shows up and rediscovers her maternal love. The comedy bits are tedious, even the sideways room at the end could have been played up a little better. Nonetheless, enough heart and melodrama to overlook those scenes and maybe make a little mud in your eye.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958)

Directed by Raoul Walsh
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Fox)

Proper English gentleman becomes fish-out-of-water in the old West. Jayne runs the local hotel and saloon. Naturally they fall in love. He is appointed sheriff and must deal with a Hatfield-and-McCoy-like feud and Injuns. There are few laughs and no tension in this satire/comedy/musical.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chandler (1971)

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

Warren Oates is fatally miscast as private detective Raymond Chandler. He has zero charisma and sleepwalks through the film. Leslie Caron is not much better, and their on-screen chemistry is less than zero. Add to this a complicated plot, horribly staged fights and one of the worst fake rain scenes in recent memory.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Roughshod (1949)

Directed by Mark Robson
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb

Subdued but intelligent western with Robert Sterling and younger brother rounding up horses in Nevada. They stumble upon a wagon full of saloon hall girls which were thrown out of one town and are headed for the next. Sterling and brother, who are proper and respectful, initially clash with the loose women, but all undergo surprising changes. Suspense is provided by baddie John Ireland who holds a personal grudge with Sterling.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Red Dust (1932)

Directed by Victor Fleming
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, MGM/UA)

Basically a vehicle for Clark Gable's ego, as he juggles two women at a rubber plantation. Even Harlow looks out of place, a bleached bimbo in the jungle?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Blue Lamp (1950)

Directed by Basil Dearden
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb

The first half is a bit slow, a rather routine drama told from the point of view of the police. However, this is all a set up to the very good second half. The death hits us hard because we know the character well. The finale is an extended chase scene, ending up in a crowded stadium, very modern and very fast paced.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our Mother's House (1967)

Directed by Jack Clayton
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb

When their mother dies, seven children bury her in the garden and try to carry on as if nothing happened. They have a curious ritual called "mother time", when Pamela Franklin makes decisions by communicating with the dead mother. The film spends quite some time in their little world, until deadbeat dad Dirk Bogarde arrives. He uses the children for their money and turns the house into a bachelor pad, in stark contrast to their previous life. Things come to an unexpected conclusion, and the film ends on an unresolved note. A bit long, but worth a look for fans of films off the beaten path.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Secret People (1952)

Directed by Thorold Dickinson
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

Talky drama about Italian terrorists in London. Valentina Cortese later regrets her role in the death of an innocent bystander, done out of a sense of duty to her rotten boyfriend and dead father. I simply had no sympathy for her. A young Audrey Hepburn is the sister, but she doesn't have much to do but dance.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Time for Killing (1967)

Directed by Phil Karlson
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb

Glenn Ford adds an air of respectability to what is otherwise a violent exploitation film. Max Baer runs wild as the Rebel soldier who laughs maniacally and kills whenever given the chance. Timothy Carey and an unrecognizable Harrison Ford are Yankees. Inger Stevens is raped (off screen) by George Hamilton. Dreary and depressing, but fine location shooting in Arches National Park.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Under Fiesta Stars (1941)

Directed by Frank McDonald
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

One of the better Autry pictures, with an old mine-set straight out of a Republic serial. Also spotted a nifty horse stunt in the final chase scene. "Purple Sage in the Twilight" is a song highlight. And the impossible happens...Tadpole gets a girl.

The Rounders (1965)

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

Slight, trifling western as Ford, Fonda and a horse who likes to get drunk try to earn a living in the high country of Arizona. Almost nothing of note happens, and it is decidedly unfunny, yet it does have a certain charm in the right frame of mind.

Simba (1955)

Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

A dark, often violent, tale of rebellion on the plains of Kenya. It was filmed as a mixture of location and studio sets, with doubles for the long shots in Africa and poor back-projection for the stars on-set in London. This is a major distraction, although by the end I was more or less able to suspend my disbelief. Bogarde is also somewhat miscast, he just does not seem the rough African settler type. Despite these shortcomings, it is an engrossing film of masters and slaves in colonial Africa.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Face of a Fugitive (1959)

Directed by Paul Wendkos
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

Fred MacMurray is excellent in this sleeper. His character gradually undergoes a transformation from outlaw to law-abiding citizen over the course of one day and night. Along the way, he must deal with a cowardly sheriff, outraged rancher, and lonely widow. A good drama all the way around, ending in a shoot-out at an abandoned hotel. A very early role for James Coburn as one of the bad guys.

Top Gun (1955)

Directed by Ray Nazarro
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb

Sterling Hayden is a gunslinger trying to go straight in Wyoming. The townspeople don't want him, but change their mind when a group of bandits led by John Dehner threaten to take over. Solid characterizations bolster this otherwise routine oater.

Rio Conchos (1964)

Directed by Gordon Douglas
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Shout Factory)

Action-filled western follows a rag-tag group of soldiers and convicts into Mexico in search of stolen rifles. The characters are well developed with backgrounds and motivations. A surreal ending with a delusional Confederate general, portends a similar ending in Apocalypse Now a decade later. Good location shooting throughout.

The Window (1949)

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

Classic boy-who-cried-wolf story with a young Bobby Driscoll. Starts a bit slow, but when the killers break into his apartment the tension mounts. Great performance by character actor Paul Stewart.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Bandits of Corsica (1953)


United Artists
Directed by Ray Nazarro
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Dull costumer with Richard Greene playing separated Siamese twins, one of whom still has a psychic connection which allows him to feel what is happening to the other. There is some political intrigue and a couple of good fights, but the premise is so ludicrous and Raymond Burr so overbearing that it is not a pleasure to watch.

The Westward Trail (1948)

PRC
Directed by Ray Taylor
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4

Eddie and Soapy deal with new settlers and a silver claim. Strictly B-material, but the closing number "When Shorty Does the Schottische" ends things on a high note.

The Terminal Man (1974)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Mike Hodges
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

An early Michael Crichton story about man and machines. George Segal has a computer chip implanted in his brain to control seizures, but of course everything goes wrong and he becomes a walking killing machine. The symbolism is a bit overdone, but there are some great scenes, such as the waterbed, and the film has that overall "70s feel" that cannot be duplicated.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Night Stage to Galveston (1952)

Columbia Pictures
Directed by George Archainbaud
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4

The Texas State Police run amok and it's up to Gene Autry to reorganize the Texas Rangers and restore justice. Child star Judy Nugent is awkward. Gene's sidekick is Pat Buttram, better known as Mr. Haney from Green Acres.

A Child Is Waiting (1963)

United Artists
Directed by John Cassavetes
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)

The story of Reuben, a child who arrives at a mental institute run by Burt Lancaster. New music teacher Judy Garland is taken by Reuben, but she must learn that letting go is in the best interest of everyone. Gena Rowlands and Steven Hill are excellent as Reuben's parents. There are several emotional scenes, including an unforgettable Thanksgiving play.


Together Brothers (1974)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by William A. Graham
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4

A gritty urban drama which works best when focusing on its young characters and their life in the ghetto. However, the film loses its way when it spends far too much time with a couple of unlikable homosexuals. Good location photography in Galveston.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Tioga Kid (1948)

PRC
Directed by Ray Taylor
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4

Eddie Dean plays twin brothers: the bad one wears black and the good one wears white, a tiresome plot device used countless times. The scant running time is padded with stock footage. The best parts are the songs, including the closer "Ain't No Gal Got A Brand On Me", what can I say, not gonna get my pay. I think I remember this song closing another Eddie Dean flick.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Eight on the Lam (1967)


United Artists
Directed by George Marshall
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Painfully long, unfunny Hope vehicle. Jonathan Winters injects some life, but not enough to save it. So many cliches it's mind numbing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rusty's Birthday (1949)

Columbia Pictures
Directed by Seymour Friedman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(VHS, Sony)

Good writing saves this Rusty entry from the dog pound. The Mitchell's help a poor, homeless family. Rusty is central to the melodrama. Animal lovers, like me, are going to get sentimental over ideas like "animals know when people need them" and how Danny handles the fact that Rusty may be needed more by someone else. Surprisingly complex themes in what is essentially a throwaway programmer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Convicted Woman (1940)

Columbia Pictures
Directed by Nick Grinde
My rating: 2 stars out of 4

Titular woman is falsely convicted and sentenced to a correctional institute. She gets bullied by other prisoners and the matrons, until her lawyer shows up and attempts to overhaul the joint. An impossibly young Glenn Ford plays a newspaper reporter.

Ghost Town Renegades (1947)

PRC
Directed by Ray Taylor
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Sony)

Lash La Rue has the demeanor and looks of Humphrey Bogart. He dresses all in black, and uses a whip. Nonetheless, the antics of Fuzzy St. John threaten to take over the picture. The plot involves a ghost town and a gold claim, but other than one scene the ghost angle is not played up.