Saturday, December 31, 2011

No Blade of Grass (1970)


MGM-EMI
Directed by Cornel Wilde
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Chaos breaks out in London when a worldwide famine threatens the food supply. A small group of men lead their families and girlfriends to the country in the hopes of reaching a farm where they can start over. They must fight roving motorcycle gangs and common citizens turned vigilantes. Filled with disgusting imagery of dead animals and even a live human birth, it's a poorly directed if well-intentioned depiction of an ecological disaster in the near-future.

New Year's Evil (1980)


Cannon Films
Directed by Emmett Alston
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Paragon)
(Turner Classic Movies)

A man is killing girls on New Year's Eve, at the top of the hour in synch with the time zone celebrations being shown on TV. He calls in to the show's host, Roz Kelly, better known as Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days, after each murder and replays them on a cassette tape. He makes his way to the hotel where the show is originating, intending to make Roz his final victim. The most interesting parts of this predictable slasher are the bands on the TV show. You've got "Shadow", a bad heavy metal band, even though the audience is supposed to be all punk rockers. Even worse is "Made in Japan", who sing their hit "Dumb Blonde".

The Jade Mask (1945)


Monogram Pictures
Directed by Phil Rosen
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM)

Static Charlie Chan entry that takes place entirely within a few rooms of one house. A mad scientist type is killed for his experimental gas formula. The suspects include his family and house servants. Chan, Number Four Son Edward and manservant Birmingham stumble around after clues. The resolution is as ridiculous as it is improbable.

The Next Voice You Hear... (1950)


MGM
Directed by William A. Wellman
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

The "voice of God" is heard on the radio one night, at the same time all over the world. The voice breaks in every night for the next seven days, the same amount of time it took to create the world. An all-American family comes to grips with the possibility that it really is God. It's sort of a Christian version of War of the Worlds: mass panic, disbelief, fear that the world is ending. Joe Smith, all-American dad with an expecting wife, gets drunk at the local bar but later regrets it. Joe, Jr, the boy with a newspaper route, is ashamed, but they make up one night at the house of an atheist. Meanwhile, mom, played by that ultimate symbol of puritanism, Nancy Davis, has her baby on the Seventh Day. I thought maybe it would be Baby Jesus, but it was a girl. Hilarious for all the wrong reasons.

Tough Assignment (1949)


Lippert Pictures
Directed by William Beaudine
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

The illegal beef racket is the subject of this poor "film noir". An intrepid newspaper reporter and his picture-happy new wife accidentally snap a photo of thugs leaving a butcher shop. To get more information for a newspaper story they pose as farm workers and head out to the rustler's ranch. Eventually their cover is blown and they have to make a run for it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Boy Friend (1971)


MGM
Directed by Ken Russell
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Understudy Twiggy takes over the leading role of a play in a run down London theater circa 1926 in front of few paying patrons when the star has a foot injury. A famous film director shows up and the cast play up to him in hopes of landing a ticket to Hollywood. Russell accentuates the complex set design of the play with occasional flights of fantasy that fully indulge in bright psychedelic colors. Twiggy is fine as the innocent girl who falls in love with her leading man, both in and out of the play. A supporting cast of virtual unknowns outside of the works of Russell give energetic performances.

The Taming of the West (1939)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Norman Deming
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Bill Elliott becomes sheriff of a dusty western town overrun by lawlessness. I think he is mostly interested in impressing pretty Iris Meredith. Anyway, eyewitnesses are being intimidated before Wild Bill can convict the bad guys. So, he comes up with a plan: let them out of jail and follow them to the man giving orders. Brilliant!

The Waltz King (1963)


Walt Disney
Directed by Steve Previn
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Walt Disney)

The young Johann Strauss, Jr., lives under the shadow of his father who is the waltz king of Vienna. When the young Strauss shows promise as a musician, dad tries to sabotage his career before it starts, preferring he pursue the more conventional profession of law. Well, it backfires and Strauss Jr. becomes even more famous. However, his fame comes with a price, everywhere he goes he is mobbed by young adoring women, poor guy. He eventually tires of writing waltzes and tries his hand at more serious compositions, finding more fame in operettas. This Disney biopic is bolstered by the music and location shooting in Europe.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Double Dynamite (1951)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Irving Cummings
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
(DVD, Warner Bros)

Odd pairing of Groucho and Sinatra living it up on gambling money. Frank unknowingly saves a bookie from getting beat up by thugs and then wins a boat load in his back room horse parlor. He enlists Groucho, a waiter at the local Italian restaurant, to help him hide the loot. Frank is suspected of embezzlement in the bank where he works as a teller. Jane Russell is a coworker and love interest. The plot is contrived and performances strained. Groucho gets the best lines impersonating a millionaire.

The Squeeze (1977)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Michael Apted
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Stacy Keach is an alcoholic ex-cop in London whose ex-wife is kidnapped. The thugs demand money from her husband, who runs an armored car company. Keach and friend Teddy turn private investigators while the husband tries to keep the kidnappers occupied. There are long, unpleasant detours into Keach's battle with alcohol and the kidnapper's sadistic treatment of their victims. It concludes with a predictable armored car chase and robbery.

Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935)


Republic Pictures
Directed by Joseph Kane
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)
(Encore)

One of the earliest and best Gene Autry pictures for Republic. After a fight with his father he joins a traveling medicine show. Years later, he returns to find his father murdered and the suspect his best friend whom he just saved from dying. However, he soon learns that the real killers are loose and hatches a plan to get them. Gabby Hayes is fun in a supporting role not as a sidekick but the owner of the medicine show. Even Smiley Burnette manages to keep himself under control.

Child of Glass (1978)


Walt Disney
Directed by John Erman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Walt Disney)

Atmospheric Disney TV movie about a family that moves into an old southern plantation haunted by a little French girl (and her dog). Steve Shaw is the teenage son visited by the ghost and given a riddle to solve. Katy Kurtzman is his friend with the kooky psychic aunt who helps in the search for a doll which will allow the ghost to rest in peace. Subplots include a drunk handyman out for revenge, a costume party ruined by a dog chasing a cat, a barn fire, a fall down an abandoned well and a diamond treasure. It's never boring!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Riders in the Sky (1949)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by John English
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)
(Encore)

A memorable song but unmemorable movie from Gene Autry. He tells the story in flashback of how he inherits enough money to retire from being a deputy to buy a ranch and retire. However, he falls in love with a girl in a stagecoach and ends up helping her prove her father was wrongly accused of murder. Features flashbacks within flashbacks and an obvious stunt double for Gene.

Unidentified Flying Objects (1956)


United Artists
Directed by Winston Jones
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Painfully boring attempt to convince viewers that "flying saucers" are real. Endless scenes of interviews, newspaper headlines and dramatic recreations of sightings. Tom Towers, a real LA newspaperman, plays Al Chop, a civilian assigned as public relations man for the military. Various cases are examined, with only a few fleeting glimpses of actual UFOs. The best is saved for last, the extended footage, but it's a real let down. Just a few white dots against blue sky, completely unconvincing.

King Lear (1953)


Directed by Andrew McCullough
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, E1 Entertainment)

Archaic TV production by Peter Brook and company omits the subplots and focuses strictly on the disintegration of King Lear. I must admit difficulty in following the language of Shakespeare, only being able to make out a word here or there. Welles is appropriately grandiloquent, but only the last scene, dragging the dead body of Cordelia to the throne, made any lasting impression on me.

West to Glory (1947)


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

Eddie Dean and sidekick Soapy Jones are undercover deputies watching a diamond in a dusty western town. A gang of thieves, posing as cattle buyers, are after the diamond and some gold. A girl gets involved, but she turns out to be an undercover deputy as well, for Mexico. The action takes several breaks for Dean to sing sappy love songs. The supporting actors are terrible, even by B western standards, just listen to Dolores Castle deliver her lines as Maria.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On the Town (1949)


MGM
Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Bros)

Those two rascals Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra team up with sailor buddy Jules Munshin for 24 hours of shore leave in NYC. They see the tourist sites in the first few hours, but what they really want are girls. Gene falls in love with poster girl Vera-Ellen, leading to a frantic search of the city's museums and cultural centers. Frank falls in love with taxi driver Betty Garrett, or the other way around, while Munshin picks up anthropologist Ann Miller. The couples hit the nightclubs with plenty of stops for songs and dances. Energetic production with some very good dance routines, particularly a couple of stylized tangents with Kelly, but dragged down by some dumb ones as well, such as an ill-advised caveman number and one at Coney Island with the boys in drag.

Montana Belle (1952)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Allan Dwan
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Warner Bros.)
(Encore)

The Dalton Gang is terrorizing the Oklahoma Territory when one of the brothers rescues Jane Russell from a hanging. They take her in to their hideout, which inevitably leads to infighting. They plan to rob a casino but Jane likes it so much there she decides to stay. Before long she is the resident singer and half-owner. However, her past eventually catches up with her when the Daltons show up again. In wonderful teal and orange Trucolor.

The Missing Juror (1944)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Budd Boetticher
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony Screen Classics by Request)

Newspaperman Jim Bannon writes a feature story about a series of murders on a jury that mistakenly found a man guilty. He falls in love with the next potential victim when he goes to warn her. The murderer is a poorly disguised George Macready, in one of his patented raspy-voiced performances. Macready can play these characters in his sleep, which he may have been doing here. Anyway, the police get involved but arrest the wrong man. Can Bannon get the story while saving the girl? One of director Boetticher's least memorable films.

'Neath the Arizona Skies (1934)


Lone Star Pictures
Directed by Harry L. Fraser
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Alpha)
(Encore)

A young John Wayne befriends a too cute orphan girl worth a fortune in oil money. A gang of thieves is trying to kidnap her. They frame Wayne for bank robbery. It all leads to the predictable shoot out. Wayne's roundhouse punches are unconvincing in the fight scenes.

Neighbors (1981)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by John G. Avildsen
My rating: BOMB
IMDb
(DVD, Sony Screen Classics by Request)
(Sony Movie Channel)

John Belushi is a bored suburban husband. One night the arrival of new neighbors Dan Aykroyd and Cathy Moriarty bring more excitement to his life than he has ever known. Moriarty immediately tries to seduce him. Aykroyd torments him with passive aggressive acts and a pretense of friendship. I thought maybe he was after his money, but other than some petty theft that doesn't pan out. They seem to be there for no reason at all. As a comedy, it fails miserably. Belushi is too restrained and Aykroyd's bizarre behavior is never explained. It's an utterly pointless movie with no resolution, no laughs and a terrible soundtrack. I mean John Belushi shaving to the Bee Gees?

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Lion Hunters (1951)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Ford Beebe
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Lion hunters are poaching in the jungle and Bomba comes to their aid. He befriends the daughter of one of the hunters and teachers her that lions prefer freedom to cages. He turns the tables and puts one of the hunters in a cage and the animals literally laugh at him. The message may be one of respect and responsibility towards animals, but the delivery is anything but believable.

The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance (1941)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Sidney Salkow
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Lanyard makes a bet with the police that he can stay out of trouble for 24 hours. A detective is killed on the ledge of his hotel window and Lanyard is the suspect. He goes on the run with sidekick and butler Jamison to prove his innocence. They tangle with counterfeiters and rescue a kidnapped man trapped on a train. Fast paced, but often juvenile, entry in the series.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Destry (1954)


Universal-International
Directed by George Marshall
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Audie Murphy is appointed deputy in the wild west town of Restful. He has put away his guns and put his faith in the law. His will is tested by a crooked saloon owner and his gang, including the corrupt mayor. A saloon hall singer and conservative daughter of a rancher compete for his romantic attention. There are some fun saloon songs and the atmosphere is upbeat, but Murphy is a poor leading man lacking charisma.

A Christmas Carol (2009)


Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-Ray/DVD, Walt Disney)
(Starz)

After the dreadful Polar Express and simply awful Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis returns with yet another attempt at motion capture magic. Like the others, it's mostly a failure. Ebenezer Scrooge counts his pennies and bah humbugs Christmas all the way home. He is visited by the ghost of Christmas Past on Christmas day, who gives him a guided tour of his childhood. Dropped back in his bedroom, Christmas Present in the form of a Christ figure shows him the impacts of his behavior on those around him. Finally, Christmas Future appears in the form of death with dire warnings. The original Dickens is still there, but where the film goes all wrong is the modern updating with ridiculous action chase scenes, presented in a gimmicky 3D and accompanied by a loud, bombastic score. I guess the modern audience expects more of a theme park ride than characters and plot. The animation improves somewhat over the previous Zemeckis films, but is still plagued with the "uncanny valley" effect: dull, lifeless eyes that appear to stare into nothing.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Makes Sammy Run? (1959)


NBC Sunday Showcase
Directed by Delbert Mann
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Koch Vision)

Predictable story of backstabbing Hollywood writers who sacrifice their craft, and often their ethics, for profit. John Forsythe represents a writer with a conscience, he still believes in theater and plays, but is persuaded to go to Hollywood after seeing the success of his young copy boy. The two of them often bicker about not only screenplays, but women, since they are both in love with writer Barbara Rush. What starts out as a promising expose on the corrupt Hollywood system becomes nothing more than a long-winded melodrama by the second half. The "live TV" production contributes to the look and feel of a TV soap opera.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Huckleberry Finn (1920)


Paramount-Artcraft Pictures
Directed by William D. Taylor
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Huck Finn runs away to his island in the river to make his own kingdom. Soon he is joined by fellow runaway slave, Jim, and his friend Tom Sawyer. They build a raft and pick up a couple of crooks. Their "adventures" consist of swindling townsfolk at a local theater and planning to rob some kids of their inheritance money. Huck has second thoughts and returns home. Lewis Sargent is an unconvincing Huck with his painted-on freckles and gap-toothed smile.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Goldstein (1964)


Directed by Benjamin Manaster and Philip Kaufman
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Independently produced film from Chicago that shows disaffected artist-types dealing with modern, big city dehumanization. At its best on location in the Chicago meat packing industry where hot dogs come off the assembly line, or in a junk yard where cars are crushed and neatly stacked. An old, homeless man is an important character, but his purpose and origin are never explained. He just seems to drift from place to place. In other scenes, artists argue over the Mona Lisa and then perform an abortion, a man dances in a club with showgirls, and other vague, seemingly unrelated tangents.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yankee Fakir (1947)


Republic Pictures
Directed by W. Lee Wilder
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Slow moving account of a pair of "pitch men", snake oil salesmen, in a dusty Arizona border town drawn into solving a murder. Douglas Fowley is Yankee Davis, the fast talking salesman who has his eye on local gal Joan Woodbury. Her father is the victim and the suspects are any number of suspicious townsfolk. He hires an elderly gold prospector to pass himself off as a millionaire. They hatch a plan to expose the killer by offering a reward for the "worst person in town", hoping to learn his identity when the locals air their dirty laundry. Odd title comes from the last line in the movie, in which the millionaire is called a "Yankee faker", but it is indeed spelled "fakir" in the titles of the TV print aired on Encore Westerns.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Knock on Wood (1954)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Olive Films)

Uneven Danny Kaye vehicle swerves between comedy, romance and spy thriller. Kaye is a ventriloquist, and in some initial painful scenes has problems controlling his dummy, who ruins his relationships with women. He goes to Zurich to seek help, but unknowingly brings along stolen missile plans hidden in the dummy by spies. Meanwhile, he falls in love with his psychoanalyst, the lovely Mai Zetterling. They flee to London, where more spies chase him around trying to recover the missing papers. A long detour into a Russian ballet production provides occasional laughs. However, the external shots in London use an obvious double for Kaye and almost ruin it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fear and Desire (1953)


Directed by Stanley Kubrick
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

A plane with four soldiers crashes behind enemy lines. They build a raft and plan to go down a nearby river at night to get back to safety. A local girl discovers them and they take her hostage. One of them is left to guard her but goes crazy with fear and kills her. One of the other men convinces the group to try a daring assassination attempt of a general they spot in a nearby house. Kubrick casts the same actor to play the general and the leader of the group, leading to an interesting existential question when they meet. There are a few memorably composed shots: the shadowy figure of a man in the river and the fog enshrouded final scene stood out to me. However, narration is overused and slightly pretentious, and Kubrick lets the camera linger uncomfortably long on the dead.

Miracles for Sale (1939)


MGM
Directed by Tod Browning
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Robert Young designs elaborate tricks for stage magicians. After one of his customers is found dead on the floor in a pentagram, pretty Florence Rice comes to him for help. Unsure of her motives, Young turns detective to uncover the killer. The magician angle complicates this lighthearted mystery, filled with trap doors and disguises, nothing is what it appears, and thus solving the mystery difficult if not impossible. The resolution is complicated and unsatisfying.

A Page of Madness (1926)


Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Experimental Japanese film set in an insane asylum. The main character is a middle-aged man, revealed to be a janitor in the final scene, whose wife is an inmate. Confusing flashbacks suggest she attempted to drown her baby. The man gets keys to her cell and attempts to get her out of the asylum, but she resists. It's an emotionally cold and nearly plotless exercise in technically virtuosic editing and camera gimmickry.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Overland Riders (1946)


PRC
Directed by Sam Newfield
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Buster Crabbe helps clear the name of his sidekick Fuzzy St. John, wrongly accused of murder. The real killers try to stop him. The opening scene with Fuzzy in a stagecoach with a girl and a very smoky cigar is good, but it's all routine afterwards.

Destroyer (1943)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by William A. Seiter
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony Screen Classics by Request)
(Turner Classic Movies)

Contrived Navy drama with a retired Edward G. Robinson going back to active duty aboard a newly christened destroyer. He butts heads with young Glenn Ford over military and personal matters, since Ford is romancing his daughter. The final battle scenes between the run down destroyer and a Jap sub almost make it worthwhile, but obvious model work spoils the fun.

Everything Happens at Night (1939)


20th Century-Fox Film Corporation
Directed by Irving Cummings
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Fox)
(Fox Movie Channel)

Ray Milland and Robert Cummings are a pair of reporters in Switzerland competing to get the scoop on a political informer in hiding. However, they spend most of their time competing for the attention of Sonja Henie, who turns out to be the one hiding the man. Sonja gets an elaborate fantasy skating sequence in a rink decked out with chandeliers and Greek columns. There are numerous outdoor skiing scenes done with obvious back projection. Cummings and Milland's romantic rivalry is tiresome.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dark Hazard (1934)


First National Pictures
Directed by Alfred E. Green
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Edward G. falls in love with a girl who cramps his gambling lifestyle. He gets married and promises to change his ways, but old habits prove hard to break. She leaves him and runs home to ma. After a couple of years on the road he comes crawling back. She wants to marry a wealthy playboy, but decides to stick out for their kid. Predictably it doesn't work out.

I Loved a Woman (1933)


First National Pictures
Directed by Alfred E. Green
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Edward G. Robinson portrays a reluctant meat packing tycoon in Chicago with one fatal flaw: a naive belief in love. His wife is a philanthropic debutante, and in the early years of their marriage he uses his position to further her humanistic pursuits at the expense of the company. However, when he falls in love with an aspiring opera singer, he absorbs her flawed character traits and resorts to unethical business practices to acquire personal wealth. Learning of his affair, his wife vows revenge at any cost. He ends up heartbroken and penniless in old age. An unusual character study anchored by Robinson's sensitive performance.

Round-Up Time in Texas (1937)


Republic Pictures
Directed by Joseph Kane
My rating: BOMB
IMDb
(Encore)

In what might be Gene Autry's worst movie, he goes to South Africa in search of his missing brother. The antics of sidekick Smiley Burnette nearly take over the movie, here is a sampling: he swallows a harmonica and plays a song on his stomach, he dons a one-piece leopard suit and top hat to convince the natives he is a god, while in black face he escapes lions by climbing a tree and being rescued by a man in a gorilla suit on swinging vines. In fact, it is filled with horrible Hollywood stereotypes with natives in floppy afro wigs, occasionally breaking out in southern gospel songs.

Black Sheep (1935)


Fox Film Corporation
Directed by Allan Dwan
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Breezy entry set aboard a Transatlantic crossing with Edmund Lowe a gentleman gambler on the prowl for his next poker victim. In steps the lovely Claire Trevor, a struggling actress that sets her eyes on Lowe. Together they help a young chap who is being blackmailed by a vampish Adrienne Ames over a stolen necklace and gambling debts. Far more entertaining than it should be, with amiable performances, authentic ship setting and toe tapping music.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Hidden City (1950)


Monogram Pictures
Directed by Ford Beebe
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

A more apt title might be: "Bomba Reluctantly Gets a Girlfriend". Zita is the pretty daughter of a local merchant in the "hidden city", which looks more like leftover sets from an old Monogram serial. He tries to get her married off to the cruel ruler, but she is more interested in jungle boy Bomba. She follows him into the jungle where Bomba has to catch her food, show her where to sleep, carry her across the river, etc. Well, it turns out Zita is actually a long lost princess, and they must ward off the current leaders who would rather see her and Bomba dead. Barely acceptable escapist entertainment, even by Saturday matinee standards.

The Lone Wolf Keeps a Date (1940)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Sidney Salkow
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

The debonair reformed jewel thief gets involved in a kidnapping when his beloved stamp collection is stolen while in Cuba. The lovely Frances Robinson is trying to catch the kidnappers as well to prove the innocence of her wrongly jailed fiance. There is more comedy than usual in this entry, including a particularly funny scene where Lanyard's stamp collection ends up in ruins. Less successful comedy relief is provided as usual by manservant/sidekick Eric Blore as Jamison and some bumbling policemen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hurricane (1974)


ABC Movie of the Week
Directed by Jerry Jameson
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Episodic TV-movie treatment of a hurricane bearing down on south Mississippi. Larry Hagman is the skipper of the SS Minnow caught in the eye, Grandpa Walton and Olivia struggle to convince us that they are meteorologists in Miami, a man and his dog disregard evacuation orders and then can't get his pick-up truck to start while Sgt. Carter from Gomer Pyle gets drunk at a hurricane party. It should be awful, and to most it will be, but my rating is influenced by the hazy memory of a 9-year-old kid in south Mississippi who thought it was the greatest movie ever made. Fairly interesting stock footage can be glimpsed between all of the bad acting and it looks like the old home of the real Hurricane Center in Miami.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Silver Dollar (1932)


First National Pictures
Directed by Alfred E. Green
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Edward G. Robinson is a Colorado miner who strikes it rich, becomes a politician then ends up destitute when the price of silver collapses. His Yates Martin is a rather naive character: easily duped into buying a worthless mine, spending money freely on far-flung projects such as an elaborate opera house and having an affair with a wealthy socialite which ruins his marriage. He is difficult to relate to and even unlikeable at times, so when he ends up broke the emotional reaction is almost one of indifference. Nonetheless, Robinson's performance makes it watchable, and it's interesting to see him do something other than his usual gangster persona.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Top of Old Smoky (1953)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by George Archainbaud
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Formulaic late Gene Autry entry, by now he is using his real name and essentially playing himself, finds the singing cowboy impersonating a Texas Ranger to help out a girl having problems collecting tolls on her road. Sidekick Smiley Burnette sings and provides juvenile comic relief.

The Slams (1973)


MGM
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)
(Turner Classic Movies)

Jim Brown goes to prison after stealing drugs and millions from the mob. Inside, he deals with racially aligned gangs, predatory homosexuals and a member of the mob who wants the money and drugs back. Outside, his girlfriend is harassed for the same reason. He concocts a daring escape plan but needs help to pull it off. Potentially interesting drama shot inside a real California prison is marred by excessively repellent acts of violence.

The Widow from Chicago (1930)


First National Pictures
Directed by Edward F. Cline
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Edward G. Robinson owns a swanky dance club in NYC, which he uses as a base of operations for his gangster activities. Alice White, whose husband is murdered by Robinson in the opening scenes, infiltrates the club by posing as the wife of a gangster thought dead. He shows up unexpectedly one day, but she is pretty enough that he goes along with her charade. Eventually she incriminates Robinson by using an open phone line to the police, leading to a memorable stand off in the dark club. However, other than those last scenes, it's mostly talk, talk, talk.

Down Three Dark Streets (1954)


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

Broderick Crawford is an FBI agent that takes over the cases of another agent killed in the line of duty. The trail to the killer leads to three interrelated cases. The story takes each in turn, leading to a rather episodic film accompanied by dry narration. The most interesting of the three involves an extortionist who is terrorizing a recently widowed woman and her young child. His identity is either "friend of the family" who takes liberties with her or a live-in Uncle with a habit of walking into her bedroom unannounced. The conclusion takes place at the W in the Hollywood sign!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fort Yuma (1955)


United Artists
Directed by Lesley Selander
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Peter Graves leads a small Cavalry troop across Arizona in hostile Indian territory. Two women are along for the ride: a missionary and an Indian girl, the sister of the troop's Indian scout. Graves is in love with the Indian girl, but won't admit it because of his deep down hatred of all Indians. The missionary woman is in love with the Indian scout, but he won't admit it because, well, he's an Indian. These melodramatic plot lines drag the story down. However, it is shot completely on location and some of the fighting is quite bloody, boosting the authenticity of the production.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Quantez (1957)


Universal-International Pictures
Directed by Harry Keller
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Universal Vault Series)

Talky drama about a gang of thieves and killers holed up in a dusty abandoned town. They bicker among themselves over Dorothy Malone, each man trying to convince her that he is the one for her. Eventually, Indians arrive and force the issue. Fred MacMurray is unconvincing as the aging gunslinger and de facto leader of the group. He speaks in short sentences which are supposed to make him sound wise, but instead seem forced and insincere. Malone also struggles to maintain her southern accent.