Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Brand of Hate (1934)


Supreme Pictures
Directed by Lew Collins
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Communications)

It's Bob Steele vs. Gabby Hayes in this B-western. Hayes seems to relish his role as a villain, just watch him at the barn dance. He spends his time at the refreshment table inhaling sandwiches and gulping punch, all the while never missing a chaw on his tobacco. He takes over the house of his brother and wastes no time in rustling cattle and committing murder. It's up to Steele to root them out, and of course win the girl.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Angel Baby (1961)


Allied Artists
Directed by Paul Wendkos
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

Southern Evangelical preacher George Hamilton heals young Salome Jens one night in his revival tent. Able to speak for the first time in her life, she feels the calling and becomes a preacher in her own right. A slimy manager tries to profit from her popularity, leading to her eventual downfall. However, it's not the religion but the love triangle between Hamilton, Salome and his wife-in-name-only Mercedes McCambridge that is central to the story. McCambridge overdoes the angst at times in a difficult role. She's ignored by Hamilton when she tries to seduce him. Her jealousy drives her to destroy Jens in a memorable finale that literally brings the house down.

The Trusted Outlaw (1937)


Supreme Pictures
Directed by Robert Bradbury
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Communications)

Bob Steele is a reformed outlaw entrusted to deliver the payroll to a group of waiting miners. He must thwart a gang of outlaws and win the girl in the process. More trail ridin' and less action than the typical Steele oater.

Border Incident (1949)


MGM
Directed by Anthony Mann
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

The plight of illegal Mexican farm workers is the subject of this pseudo-noir. Ricardo Montalban goes undercover for the Mexican police to root out the bad guys. After a harrowing trip from the Mexican side hidden in a truck, he ends up on a California farm picking lettuce. The cover is blown for his American counterpart and he must improvise a nighttime rescue on a water tower. Moody black and white photography is about the only connection to the noir style. Droll narration attempts to impart a documentary feel, but actually hurts the film.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Demon for Trouble (1934)


Supreme Pictures
Directed by Bob Hill
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Communications)

The feisty Bob Steele performs some impressive horse riding in this otherwise routine B-western. He jumps from a rooftop to his horse, still standing, and in anther scene rides his horse off a cliff into a lake. All the while he is trying to impress blond Gloria Shea, the rancher's daughter he's fallen in love with. The problem is she suspects him of murdering her brother. Most of the plot is about Steele trying to prove his innocence and uncover the real killer.

Calamity Jane and the Texan (1950)


Screencraft Productions
Directed by Ande Lamb
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Ahhh...TruColor, it gives a film an ethereal, hypnotic quality. Teal and orange are thrust to the forefront, like an old, faded postcard. This western is set after the death of Wild Bill Hickock in Dead Wood, South Dakota. Calamity Jane carries on as the proprietor of a casino and saloon. Ownership is called into question by a Texan lady who sends her lawyer to Dead Wood to find out the truth. Instead, he believes "Calam" and falls in love with her. Filled with endearing character performances, particularly Lasses White as Colorado Charley, and the usual quota of shootin' and brawlin'.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Border River (1954)


Universal-International
Directed by George Sherman
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Joel McCrea is a southern Rebel in Mexico with a stolen stash of gold seeking to buy arms and ammunition for the cause back home. He makes a deal with a Mexican warlord, but can they trust each other? Everyone is after McCrea's gold, while McCrea is after the lovely Yvonne De Carlo. She goes through a luxurious wardrobe and I don't think she ever looked better than in this movie. Otherwise, McCrea does nothing to change my opinion that he is one of the most boring American western icons.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Frontier Marshal (1939)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Allan Dwan
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Randolph Scott is Wyatt Earp, the new sheriff in the lawless town of Tombstone, Arizona. Cesar Romero is Doc Halliday, a feared outlaw who commands the respect of everyone in town. Instead of confronting Halliday, Earp befriends him. It turns out that Halliday is really a sentimental guy, he just takes his frustrations out on poor, unsuspecting victims. When a girlfriend from his former life turns up in Tombstone, Halliday must choose between the life of an outlaw or that of a respected doctor.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Border Phantom (1937)


Republic Pictures
Directed by S. Roy Luby
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

Bob Steele turns detective in this blend of the mystery and western genres. An entomologist is murdered while collecting bugs near the Mexican border. The suspects include his niece, a local cowboy, some Chinese men running around and Steele himself. Charlie Chan where are you?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Flame (1975)


Directed by Richard Loncraine
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Shout Factory)

Flame is a rock band in the film played by real-life rock band Slade. It chronicles their beginnings as a bar and wedding band with an Elvis impersonator as a singer. When they replace him with a real singer it gets the attention of a big-time manager. They become famous and don't handle it too well. Conflict is provided by their old manager who stoops to violence to get his share of the pie. Despite the gritty realism I found this to be a rather familiar tale of immature musicians who can't handle the pressures of wealth and fame.

The Fast Sword (1971)


Directed by Feng Huang
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Crash Cinema)

Nan confronts and kills a local warlord who murdered his father years ago. In his eyes and the eyes of the peasants, it is a justified revenge killing. One day a stranger shows up at his farm and arrests him. He must transport Nan across deserts and through forests to stand trial for murder. Along the way, the men faithful to the slain warlord make several attempts to kill him. Nan is an expert fighter with long knives, his sister wields a wicked whip and even his blind, elderly mother can take on dozens of young fighters with her stick. A reverse film gimmick is overused so people can defy gravity and jump from the ground to great heights. The Crash Cinema transfer has subtitles that are frequently illegible and the sound is drowned out by background noise.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cluny Brown (1946)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Jennifer Jones is a ditzy young girl who is sent away by her father to be the maid at a luxurious mansion in the British countryside. In a miraculous coincidence it also happens to be the house where exiled professor Charles Boyer is staying, who just a week earlier had gotten her drunk in London. Jones breaks all the social rules for maids, like talking to the lords of the manor at dinner and fixing the plumbing. She thinks she falls in love with the local chemist, a middle aged man living with his mother. Really, though, it's Boyer, also at least twice her age, that she is in love with. There is no one to root for in a film filled with dumb, unlikeable characters and stereotypes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Untamed Frontier (1952)


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

The Denbow's are a Texas ranching family who own hundreds of thousands of acres. They won't give up an inch to homesteaders. The younger Denbow is a womanizer who flaunts his wealth in town. One day he is framed for murder in a shootout. He must marry local gal Shelley Winters to keep her from testifying at the trial. She uncovers the truth but continues to live at their sprawling ranch. Eventually she falls in love with cousin Joseph Cotten. Perhaps a bit too much romantic melodrama, but overall another solid color production from the always reliable Universal-International.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ring of Fire (1961)


MGM
Directed by Andrew L. Stone
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

David Janssen is the sheriff in a hick Oregon town full of amateur actors. One day he is taken hostage by a trio of juvenile delinquents. He drives them into the forest and starts hiking cross country in an attempt to shake the local pursuit. He is seduced by one of his hostage takers, the pretty Joyce Taylor, but the film is not clear if they "go all the way". He eventually wrestles the gun away from them and leads them back to town. She accuses of him of rape but then changes her mind when he saves her and the town from a forest fire that would make Irwin Allen proud.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Henry Koster
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Jennifer Jones is Miss Dove, a stiff, unemotional schoolteacher in a typical small American town. Year after year she molds her young students into upstanding citizens regardless of their background. She takes ill one afternoon and is literally carried to the hospital, the whole town behind her. From her hospital bed, while waiting for test results, she is visited by old students. The film is essentially a series of flashbacks, each student's vignette showing how Miss Dove made a lifelong impression. This plot device is almost a gimmick and is overused, leading to far too many flashbacks. As a result, the film is never really allowed to congeal and feels fragmented. I wish Jones had been allowed to show just a little emotion, but I suppose that is the character. The outcome is never in doubt, I mean how could such a beloved hero die?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tin Pan Alley (1940)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Walter Lang
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Entertaining musical-romance-comedy set mostly in the ruthless song publishing district of New York City known as Tin Pan Alley. Aspiring publishers Jack Oakie and John Payne will stop at nothing to make their millions by discovering the next big hit. In the process, Payne nearly ruins his blossoming romance with the lovely Alice Faye. When they do finally hit pay dirt it's fleeting. The business goes bust and Alice flees to London. The partners decide to join the Army, which leads to some patriotic moments and a sentimental reunion of the two lovers.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)


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

Harry Belafonte emerges from a mine to find himself the only person left in the world. Old newspaper stories hint at some kind of worldwide nuclear catastrophe. He travels to New York City in the hope of finding people but instead finds a deserted Manhattan. He takes up residence in a posh apartment building, restores the electricity and begins broadcasting on shortwave radio. He spends his spare time talking to mannequins and "saving" works of art. Inger Stevens spies on him from the streets and after a few weeks reveals herself. Their relationship is hindered by a lack of action from both and some shadows from the past. Mel Ferrer arrives by boat and things get even more complicated. Their petty differences are solved when one of them refuses to resort to violence. One of the first serious films that speculated on the effects of a nuclear holocaust.


Destination Gobi (1953)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Robert Wise
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Richard Widmark leads a rag tag group of weathermen out of the Mongolian desert while under attack from the Japanese. They rely heavily on local Mongols, who arrive just in the nick of time to save them once too often. While the Mongols have common sense and survival skills, they are also easily bought by saddles or other trinkets. After a long trip through the desert to China, they end up prisoners of war, again rescued by, who else, the Mongols. A final battle takes place on the water. Entertaining if unrealistic military/adventure yarn.

Made for Each Other (1971)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Robert B. Bean
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Two dysfunctional New Yorkers, one a flaky, washed-up actress the other a hot-headed Italian, meet at a self-help group. Their ensuing relationship is anything but boring. Real-life couple Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna also wrote the film. After a shaky start that tends to get bogged down in flashbacks, the last half or so is terrific. In particular, the dinner table scene with his family is controlled chaos, with Olympia Dukakis as his mother making the most of her screen time. The drive home after the dinner is very moving if bittersweet. This recalls some of Woody Allen's best moments, only Woody Allen hadn't made this kind of movie yet!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stars and Stripes Forever (1952)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Henry Koster
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

This biography of march king John Philip Sousa is satisfying Americana. The turn of the century setting and Technicolor combine to create an almost hypnotic allure. Clifton Webb is perfectly cast as Sousa, a curiously unemotional man dedicated to his music. He strikes up a friendship with young Marine Corp recruit Robert Wagner, an aspiring musician. He presents Sousa with a sousaphone of his own invention, a kind of modified tuba. Wagner's personal life also provides a romantic subplot with the always spunky Debra Paget. There are plenty of interludes for music and dancing.

So Evil My Love (1948)


Paramount
Directed by Lewis Allen
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Ann Todd is transformed from self-sacrificing missionary to thief and eventually murderer by the shady Ray Milland. Desperate for love after the death of her husband, Milland easily seduces her despite some initial misgivings. He manipulates her with empty promises and faulty reasoning for their increasingly criminal activity. Meanwhile, he keeps a lover on the side. It is that revelation that finally opens Todd's eyes and leads to her eventual redemption. It's too long and tends towards the melodramatic, but still a fair expose of how love can be manipulated by the unscrupulous.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Was an Adventuress (1940)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Gregory Ratoff
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

A trio of high-class jewel thieves travel the globe scamming unsuspecting socialites. One day they choose the handsome young Richard Greene. He falls for one of their tricks, but also for Zorina, the beautiful young ballerina. It's not long before she falls for him as well and leaves her partners behind, or so she thinks. Years later they show up to harass and blackmail her into the old life. There is an artistic presentation of Swan Lake towards the end, completely out of step with the rest of the film.

The Gal Who Took the West (1949)


Universal-International
Directed by Frederick De Cordova
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

The lovely Yvonne De Carlo is hired to sing at an opera house in the old west of Arizona. Upon arrival, she finds herself in the middle of a Hatfield and McCoy feud between two cousins named Grant and Lee. Before long they are both fighting over Yvonne and she does nothing to discourage them. After some songs, some bar fights and too much courtin', she must choose one or the other. Predictable yarn told almost entirely in flashback.

Cattle Town (1952)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Noel M. Smith
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

A standard B-movie plot spruced up a bit by a studio budget. Singing cowboy Dennis Morgan sides with ranchers in a Texas land dispute. There is the usual quota of shoot-outs, bar fights, romance and stampedes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Command (1954)


Warner Bros.
Directed by David Butler
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Guy Madison is a doctor forced to take command of a Cavalry troop when the other commander is killed in action. At first he is not popular with the men, but he proves to be quite adept at picking up Cavalry tactics. The troop must escort a civilian wagon train through hostile Indian territory. There are the usual skirmishes, a romance and the Big Action Climax finale. Entertaining if predictable time waster with an early CinemaScope production gloss.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hullabaloo (1940)


MGM
Directed by Edwin L. Marin
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Frank Morgan plays an impersonator trying to make his way onto radio. The film relies on a gimmick: Frank lip syncs to the real voices of famous actors and actresses of the time, like Mickey Rooney and Hedy Lamarr. The gimmick is run into the ground and the novelty wears off real fast. We are left with a limp plot centered around Morgan who along with his ex wives and newly discovered children dupe an ad executive into letting them put on a radio play. The highlight occurs towards the beginning when Morgan spoofs Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio panic.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Bounty Hunter (1954)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Andre De Toth
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Randolph Scott is the title character who trails a group of bank robbers to a sleepy western town. The other residents, mostly outlaws themselves, aren't too happy with his arrival. He tangles with the local doctor, his pretty daughter, the town sheriff and hotel manager. Most of them serve as red herrings to the identity of the real bandits. Scott is a cool customer and one of the more consistently watchable western icons. Shot but never shown in 3D, I only noticed one gimmick shot: a bullet blows the hat off an outlaw straight into the camera.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Private Potter (1962)


MGM
Directed by Caspar Wrede
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

A British platoon on an undercover mission is given away when one of its members screams. He's arrested and court-martialed. In his defense, he claims to have had a vision of God and got scared and screamed. His commanding officer, at first skeptical, eventually gives him the benefit of the doubt, as does the company padre. However, a psychologist and General don't and proceed with the court-martial. He escapes, runs through the countryside and swims naked in a mountain stream. Has he had an epiphany or is he insane? The question is left open. I thought it spent too much time on military procedure and not enough on religious speculation.

Holiday for Lovers (1959)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Henry Koster
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Limp account of a psychologist who allows his grown daughter to travel alone to South America, but then has to pursue her when she falls in love and decides to stay. He totes along his wife and teenage daughter for the trip to Brazil and Peru. The cast is never actually in South America, made obvious by overuse of poor back projection. The film often digresses into tours of Sao Paulo, Rio and Lima, or extended dance and song routines of natives. Both daughters in the film fall in love at first sight and then argue with their parents about getting married. It's trite, irritating and badly dated fluff.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dear Brigitte (1965)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Henry Koster
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Jimmy Stewart is the eccentric professor type at a California College. He lives on a houseboat with his wacky family. His eight-year-old son turns out to be a mathematics wizard. At first Stewart refuses to let him be exploited, but when it turns out he can predict horse races he changes his mind. He justifies it by donating the money to his "foundation", but the child is exploited just the same. Little Erasmus just wants to go to France and meet his idol Brigitte Bardot, and who can blame him?

Tall Story (1960)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Joshua Logan
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Hopelessly dated college comedy with Jane Fonda a love-sick freshman after basketball star Anthony Perkins. The sight of Jane seducing Perkins, and his resistance, is just asking too much from the modern viewer. The professors help Jane along by seating her next to Perkins and other little things, then douse themselves with martinis at home. All of this leads to a big basketball game against the Russians, which I guess is supposed to make some kind of political statement. The only reason to watch this film is the sight of a 23-year-old Jane Fonda in a cheerleader outfit.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Otley (1968)


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

Tom Courtenay is an every day bloke pawning junk on the London streets. One day he ends up sleeping on the couch of a friend who unbeknownst to Courtenay is a spy. The friend is assassinated and Courtenay becomes unwillingly involved in an elaborate game of spies vs spies. He shuffles between one group and another, never quite knowing where he is or who they are, until he ends up in the hands of the government. More subterfuge follows leading to viewer confusion. The lovely Romy Schneider is a friendly spy who helps him along the way. It's about as exciting as breakfast, especially considering the genre.

Fire Sale (1977)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Alan Arkin
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Alan Arkin directs and stars in this hilarious look at a dysfunctional family. Dad is an aging patriarch of a failing department store. He has disowned one son, Arkin, who now coaches a pathetic high school basketball team. In one plot line, Arkin discovers a basketball prodigy on the streets and adopts him, literally, so he can join the team. The other son, Rob Reiner, runs the store after Dad suffers a heart attack. He cashes in the fire insurance policy to buy new merchandise, unaware that Dad has actually convinced his insane uncle to burn the place down. A mad dash to stop him is the film's finale. This is not quite as good as say Mel Brooks, but has a similar sense of humor.

Monday, April 4, 2011

B.S. I Love You (1971)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Peter Kastner plays a young director of TV commercials disillusioned by the older generation that runs the advertising company he works for but not quite fitting in with the young hippie generation either. He's pulled in several directions and struggles to cope. He leads a complicated love life that neatly symbolizes the problem: he's having affairs with his boss (the older generation), her nymphomaniac daughter (a hippie) and the girl next door (innocent yet unattainable). It's derivative of The Graduate, the ending in particular is almost a copy of that superior film, but nonetheless a worthwhile examination of the social and moral revolution underway at the time of its release.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Bed Sitting Room (1969)


United Artists
Directed by Richard Lester
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Absurdist comedy-drama set in a post-nuclear London. The raison d'ĂȘtre is revealed towards the end of the film: being "British" they must "carry on". And carry on they do, from every day activities such as riding the subway and watching television, to basic human activities like having babies and family relationships. However, these activities are filtered through the devastating consequences of nuclear war. It's set in a bleak landscape resembling a toxic landfill. Colors are often filtered through orange or puke-green lenses, giving the sky and water a sickly hue. The technique is taken to the extreme: people become inanimate objects, one person becomes a parrot and is then eaten, shrewdly implying cannibalism. It is more or less plot-less, which hurts its watchability, and some of the British culture references went over my head, but otherwise a sobering reminder of the nuclear threat which still persists today.


Rockin' in the Rockies (1945)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Vernon Keays
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Moe (or in this case Shorty), Larry and Curly end up at a dude ranch. However, the ranch hands are more interested in impressing a Broadway producer for their chance at stardom. This is an excuse for numerous musical interludes, the best being Spade Cooley, King of Western Swing. Other musical acts are less successful, such as the harmonica playing Cappy Barra Boys or the interminable antics of the Hoosier Hotshots. The Three Stooges comedy is pretty lame as well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Robin Hood of El Dorado (1936)


MGM
Directed by William A. Wellman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

It's mis-titled, as the "Robin Hood" of this film is actually a Mexican revolutionary in California. His young bride is brutally raped and murdered early in the film by some nasty gold prospectors. His desire for personal revenge fuels his hatred of all Californians, but mostly the greedy gold miners. He joins forces with a real bandit, played marvelously by J. Carrol Naish, and before long they are waging near-war on the hapless Americans. It's unique in the fact that the Americans are the bad guys and elicit no sympathy. We are left to root for the Mexicans, while not exactly perfect are at least less vile. At times the film breaks down into song, giving it an almost operatic quality, but more often resembles a B-western. An odd film from the prolific Wellman that may require additional viewings to fully digest.