Friday, September 30, 2011

Relentless (1948)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by George Sherman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Robert Young is an easy going cowboy who just wants independence and to take care of his animals. One day his horse is stolen and is killed, so he tracks down the man who did it and shoots him dead. However, circumstances frame him for a series of murders he did not commit. The dead man's partner can clear him of the charges, but he has to find him first. He befriends a traveling salesgirl who helps him out of many tricky situations and of course they fall in love. The search leads him into a shootout in the mountains of a desert. Familiar tale competently told, but lacks grit.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

China Sky (1945)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Ray Enright
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Randolph Scott is an American doctor in China running a hospital in a remote town beset by constant air raids. His real problem, however, is not bombs but women. His new wife is jealous of the time he spends with his female co-doctor. She forces him to chose between her or his work, which of course is an impossible predicament. Meanwhile, a Japanese prisoner is manipulating her into helping him escape. Take away the war and foreign settings, this is actually not that far from Scott's more usual B western fare, and not much better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Painted Veil (1934)


MGM
Directed by Richard Boleslawski
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Garbo impulsively marries British doctor and follows him to China where he fights a cholera epidemic. While he's occupied with science, she has an affair with a British diplomat. He finds out and drags her to the interior as a sort of punishment. She comes to her senses and becomes a nurse. She expresses her love for him at the very end, but it does not ring true. Garbo's thick Swedish accent hinders her acting, every sentence seems to be bathed in some kind of melodramatic over-expression. Nonetheless, if all she did was raise her face, look at the camera and crack a smile, it would all be worthwhile.

Top Banana (1954)


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

This is literally a filmed play, although there is no audience reaction, so it was probably in an empty theater. As a result, it is very un-cinematic: there is no plot, no editing to speak of, the lines are delivered loudly, etc. Nonetheless, it does have some funny bits. Phil Silvers is fictional television comedian Jerry Biffle, trying to put together a show. His cast consists of old burlesque and vaudeville veterans, and it is their routines that give the film whatever life it has. Johnny Trama, billed as the "Little Man", has a crazy routine where he "sticks" to Silvers, it absolutely had me in stitches. Otherwise, it's mostly one-liners accompanied by rim shots and cymbal crashes, in the best burlesque tradition. Songs by Johnny Mercer have a way of staying with you, particularly the title song.

Raiders from Beneath the Sea (1964)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Maury Dexter
My rating: BOMB
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Loser husband who lives off his wife cooks up an idea to rob a Catalina Island bank. He talks some ex-con buddies and his beer guzzling brother into helping him. Their ill-conceived plan involves walking down a crowded street in skin diving suits. They are stopped by a policeman and the whole thing falls apart. Strictly amateur production, complete with a cheesy jazz soundtrack.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Miniver Story (1950)


MGM
Directed by H.C. Potter
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

The war is over and the family from Mrs. Miniver is reunited in London. It begins appropriately enough on VE Day, with all of London celebrating. However, Mrs. Miniver, again played to perfection by Greer Garson, is shown going into a doctor's office. An unexplained illness throws a pallor over the return of her husband and daughter. Later, we learn she only has months to live. She keeps the diagnosis to herself while dealing with the love life of her daughter and the career of her husband. The shadow of the just-ended war hangs over the entire movie. At one point she says everyone had to be tough during the war, but she "just wasn't tough enough". Her daughter's romance, sparked during wartime, is struggling to survive at home. Her husband wants to leave the country all together, the view from his office window dominated by a crumbling building. These themes are delicately woven together with her story. The final scenes could have been heartbreaking, but are handled with a poetic dignity. The camera can't bear to watch as she breaks the news to her husband, instead filming the scene in reflected water. The final image we have of Mrs. Miniver is her ascending the stairs, then disappearing in shadows. Vastly underrated.

Ramona (1936)


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

Loretta Young is the daughter of a Spanish aristocrat living on a plantation in Old California. At first, it appears to be a harmonious blend of Indians, Mexicans and newly arrived Americans. However, when she falls in love with Indian Don Ameche, racism rears its ugly head. Her family quickly disowns her and the couple must leave the ranch to get married. On their own, they become successful farmers in the fertile San Fernando Valley. One day land grabbing Americans take their land by force, with the blessing of the government. On the road again, they end up in the cabin of Tennessee rednecks who at first welcome them but then become suspicious once they found out they are "Injuns". Since these Injuns happen to be Christians they put away their guns. It's a handsome Technicolor production and Loretta photographs beautifully in her jet-black, dyed hair, but tends towards the melodramatic.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah (1962)


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

Stewart Granger is Lot, who leads his wandering tribe of Hebrews to a parched tract of land across the river from the hedonistic city of Sodom. Bad idea. He makes a bargain with Queen Bera to buy the land in exchange for food. They build a dam and are quite successful. However, the Queen's brother allies himself with the violent nomad tribe who attacks the Hebrews. A grand battle ensues, capped off by a dam break which drowns all of the nomads, a poor imitation of the parting of the Red Sea from The Ten Commandments. Their land useless, the Hebrews move into the city of Sodom, hoping to convert them. Instead, it works the other way around and soon the once peaceful tribe is living in sin. It takes another act of God to save them. Too much melodrama and politics, not enough spectacle.

The Golden Mask (1953)


United Artists
Directed by Jack Lee
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

British archaeologist Eric Portman is running out of money and reluctantly agrees to take along American Van Heflin to Algeria in search of an ancient mask with historical and monetary value. Heflin plans to use the discover to make money by writing books. Along for the expedition is Wanda Hendrix, Portman's dutiful daughter, who resents his presence at first but eventually falls in love. When their search through Roman ruins turns up empty, they make new plans to go deep into the desert. They must overcome a gang of desert bandits and a competing group of treasure hunters. Location shooting in Algeria adds authenticity, but also tends to bog the film down in unnecessary tangents such as belly dancing and cute orphan kids.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Criminal Lawyer (1951)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Seymour Friedman
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Sony Screen Classics by Request)

Pat O'Brien is a slimy lawyer who uses underhanded tactics both in and out of the courtroom to get his clients off the hook. In one case, he stages accidents involving jury members so they will vote not guilty in a manslaughter case involving a pedestrian. He wins, much to the delight of his office lackeys. Jane Wyatt is his secretary and love interest. O'Brien has regular "two day benders" which she criticizes but accepts, since she herself is fond of a martini or two. Well, the wife of the dead pedestrian shows up and tearfully points out the effect of his charade on her children. This sends him into a week-long bender, during which his bodyguard "Moose" is accused of murder. Can O'Brien get off the bottle long enough to save his friend? Incredibly, he hasn't learned anything at all and stoops to more morally questionable tactics to prove his innocence, which the film seems to endorse by the happy ending.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Song Without End (1960)


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

Musically spectacular but dramatically obvious portrayal of Franz Liszt. Concert performances in luxurious European music halls attended by royalty are contrasted to his scandalous personal life. Dirk Bogarde must have some piano skills, because he pulls off the difficult live shots with apparent ease and crafty editing. However, he has less success portraying the flamboyant Liszt and his relationships with women. Capucine is the Russian princess for whom he sacrifices everything. Somehow it all ends up in the Vatican with Liszt retiring to a commune!

11 Harrowhouse (1974)


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

Charles Grodin is an American diamond buyer visiting a large dealership in London. One day he is summoned to the mansion of a millionaire who wants him to purchase a special large diamond. Instead, they decide to pick the diamond dealership clean in a cleverly planned heist. He enlists the help of his rich bimbo girlfriend Candice Bergen, in a terrible performance, and inside man James Mason, a disgruntled employee with terminal cancer. Mason's role in their plan is both critical and improbable, not only does he gain access to the vault, but his medical condition allows him to do it with no fear of being caught. Grodin provides ongoing narration, occasionally becoming nothing more than commentary on the action, which is both unnecessary and irritating.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Hook (1963)


MGM
Directed by George Seaton
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Three soldiers in Korea take a POW aboard a merchant ship they are using to transport fuel. Kirk Douglas is commanded by his superiors to kill the man. Douglas puts the task off until after having dinner with his two subordinates and the prisoner. Robert Walker is Private Dennison, who refuses to obey Douglas' order to kill the man in cold blood, especially after getting to know him a little better. Nick Adams is Private Hackett, who owes Douglas for a prior incident involving a fight with a superior. He can't do it either, even after Douglas gets him drunk. Pushed to the wall, Douglas must decide to do it himself or give in to the arguments he has so vehemently denied to that point. Meanwhile, the prisoner has his own plans. An excellent companion piece to Douglas' earlier anti-war film Paths of Glory, here he plays the obedient and hateful soldier, almost in direct contrast to his character in the other film. The symbolism of the title, which is simply the hook used to unload cargo from the ship, perhaps refers to the treatment of human life during war as cargo to be jettisoned overboard.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Solomon and Sheba (1959)


United Artists
Directed by King Vidor
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM/Fox)

Yul Brynner as Solomon ascends to the throne of Israel against the wishes of his older brother Adonijah, played by George Sanders. Solomon is the poet, who rules the country wisely and fairly. Adonijah is the military bully who flees to Egypt and plans to take the throne back by violence if necessary. Enter Gina Lollobrigida as Queen Sheba, allied with Egypt, who leads Solomon away from his God by lust. The elaborately staged and choreographed pagan orgy in which she finally seduces Solomon is a highlight. The final epic battle features thousands of miniature Egyptians and horses falling into a gorge, horrifying yet hilarious.

La M├ętamorphose des Cloportes (1965)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Pierre Granier-Deferre
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Lino Ventura is persuaded by his cronies to join their safe cracking job. They are in desperate need of a blow torch, but the one they eventually use proves inadequate. Ventura is the only one caught and sent to prison, where he ruminates for years on his revenge. Released, he tracks down and murders his former partners. He ends up in the Paris art world where his criminal past actually helps him to become an excellent salesman, despite no knowledge of art. It's a deft blend of heist caper, subtle comedy and even some interesting symbolism using cockroaches, with a great Jimmy Smith organ soundtrack.

Monday, September 19, 2011

We Were Strangers (1949)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by John Huston
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Columbia TriStar)

Cuban revolutionaries dig a tunnel from a house in Havana to a cemetery across the street, hoping to kill politicians at a funeral. Young Jennifer Jones is pulled into the plan when her brother is killed for distributing anti-government leaflets. Her transformation from innocent bank teller to machine-gun toting revolutionary is the heart of the film. John Garfield is their leader who hatches the plan. Gilbert Roland almost steals the film as a guitar strumming member of their cell. It's a little too obvious the stars were never in Havana by the overuse of back projection as a substitute for location shooting.

Deputy Marshal (1949)


Lippert Pictures
Directed by William Berke
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

Undercover Federal Marshal Jon Hall arrives in outlaw town of Tumult, Wyoming, in search of wanted criminals. They have changed their names but have a new plan to acquire railroad land by murder and extortion. Hall's keen investigatory senses soon lead him to the killers, but he must deal with a crooked sheriff and some local gals who may or may not be involved. Fair western livened up by character actor and former vaudevillian Clem Bevans as the town doctor, undertaker and other assorted titles.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Casino Royale (1967)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by John Huston, Val Guest, Ken Hughes, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish and Richard Talmadge
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM)

Gargantuan satire of all things 007 implodes under its own weight. Having multiple directors only results in an episodic and confusing film with virtually no plot. Each scene is almost self-contained. Apparently no expense was spared, because the sets are stunning, but ultimately numbing. By the time you get to the big action finale in the casino, you could care less. Even the instantly recognizable theme song by Herb Alpert is run into the ground.

F.B.I. Girl (1951)


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

A state governor is after fingerprints on file at the FBI which would reveal his criminal past. Raymond Burr is his henchman who will stop at nothing to get them. He blackmails a young female FBI employee to steal the prints but kills her in a faked automobile accident before he can get them. He tries the same thing with Audrey Totter, but the FBI is on his trail this time. Dry, stale programmer with no style and wooden acting.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Honor Thy Father (1973)

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

Riding the coat tails of the success of The Godfather, this TV movie covers familiar ground, minus the explicit violence and language, it's sort of Godfather-lite. The characters seem very familiar, depending on stereotypes rather than characterization. Joseph Bologna is the son of aging Don Raf Vallone, whose "family" is coming apart due to gang wars and pressure from the Fed. People are dying, mostly from hits, but also from heart attacks caused by too much Italian food or too many cigarettes. There are some truly disturbing coughing fits. His home life is not much better, Brenda Vaccaro is the neglected wife and his kids don't know what daddy really does for a living. He flees to Arizona to escape for awhile, but a bad credit card does him in anyway.

The Golden Arrow (1962)


MGM
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Tab Hunter wins princess Jamila by shooting a "golden arrow" at a contest. However, he loses the arrow and must go through a series of trials to get it back. Three genies appear to help him and to provide comic relief. An action finale featuring flying carpets brings it down to an almost juvenile level, but overall I thought it was fun Saturday afternoon matinee escapism. George Lucas must have seen this as a kid as I saw many similarities to Star Wars: the desert and exotic palace settings, a blonde hero saving a princess in danger, the way the three magicians moved objects around like "the Force", even the final battle scene with flying carpets.

The Story of Temple Drake (1933)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Stephen Roberts
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Muddled presentation of a William Faulkner story featuring Miriam Hopkins as the stereotypical Faulkner flawed southern lady. She's got a taste for fast living and fast men, which leads to an accident on a dark highway during a thunderstorm. She finds refuge at a nearby house, only to be raped by a gang leader who happens to live there. Meanwhile, her old boyfriend is a lawyer and his latest case leads straight to her. A long-winded trial ensues leading to a tearful confession on the stand.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Nun and the Sergeant (1962)


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

Tired account of band of handpicked misfits from the Marine Corp brig who are sent on a mission in Korea to blow up a tunnel. Along the way they pick up a group of schoolgirls and the nun who teaches them. They overcome various manufactured problems en route to their goal. Cliched characters, obvious studio lot sets and predictable plot completely sabotage this one.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Man on a Tightrope (1953)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Elia Kazan
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Elia Kazan exposes the horrors of Communism through the eyes of a traveling circus struggling to survive in Czechoslovakia. Fredric March gives a quietly powerful performance as the circus owner who not only keeps the unruly performers in line, but has an audacious plan to cross the frontier into free Bavaria. Gloria Grahame is his wife, who has lost respect for him since he gave in to Communist demands and is having an affair with the macho lion tamer. However, when he reveals his plan for defection she falls in love with him again. The tension builds as he is brought in for questioning by the authorities, some of whom suspect him of being a traitor. The final break across the border by the parade of circus misfits and animals is frighteningly surreal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Burning Hills (1956)


Warner Bros
Directed by Stuart Heisler
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Tab Hunter's brother is killed by a neighboring rancher who wants his land. Driven by revenge, he confronts the killers and wounds the man responsible. However, they relentlessly pursue him across the wilderness. Wounded and near death, he is taken in by Natalie Wood, a half-Mexican girl whose father was killed by the same man. They work together to avoid capture. The most interesting part is the cat and mouse game between them and an Indian tracker hired by the pursuing gang. However, Hunter lacks charisma for the lead and Wood over-emotes as the Mexican spitfire.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mask of the Dragon (1951)


Lippert Pictures
Directed by Sam Newfield
My rating: BOMB
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

An American soldier returns from Korea with a valuable Chinese art figurine. Unbeknownst to him it contains contraband Uranium and he is killed for its contents. A pair of amateur detectives investigate. The trail leads to a curio shop in Chinatown. Obvious mystery full of awful stereotypes, it even has a cheesy organ score!

The Kissing Bandit (1948)


MGM
Directed by Laslo Benedek
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Bros)

A fish-out-of-water story with Boston-educated Sinatra traveling to old California to become the "kissing bandit" like his father before him. However, during his first stage robbery he chickens out when he has to kiss pretty Kathryn Grayson. Later, he goes to her mansion disguised as a baron, determined to get it right this time. Their naivety is ludicrous, considering Frank is 33 and had been a sex symbol as a crooner for over 10 years and Kathryn is on her second marriage at 26. You would think Frank had kissed a few girls in his time. J. Carrol Naish almost saves it with his terrific characterization of "Chico", Frank's older and wiser companion. In eye-popping Technicolor, beautifully restored on the Warner DVD.

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)


Warner Bros
Directed by Laurence Olivier
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Marilyn Monroe is the ditzy blonde actress picked up after the show one night by a slumming British royal. She is whisked off to the palace where she manages to stay for the next couple of days despite continually being brushed off by her would-be suitor. She is befriended by the Queen and made handmaiden for a day, allowing her to attend the coronation of King George. Later, she gets invited to the coronation ball. These events take up much of the running time, with the camera lingering on details of historical, if not always narrative, interest. Laurence Olivier, who stars and directs, also lets the camera linger a little too long on Marilyn's bum, by which he seems fascinated.

The Man from Cairo (1953)


Lippert Pictures
Directed by Ray H. Enright
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

Italian film starring American George Raft set in north Africa involving some missing French gold from WWII. The confusing plot is made worse by too many characters that come and go for no reason, I literally could not keep up with names and faces. All of the cast is dubbed except for Raft but the voices are often out of synch with lips, further taking one out of the film. Raft's double has a good fight in an exciting finale on a train.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Happy Thieves (1961)


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

Genteel thieves Rex Harrison and Rita Hayworth exchange a copy of a Goya painting for the real thing and then try to smuggle it out of Spain. They are double crossed and spend the rest of the movie trying to cover up their mistake by planning yet another caper. It doesn't go as planned either. Hayworth is especially unconvincing as the nervous smuggler and thief, the performance has got to rank among her worst. The soundtrack is cute and repetitive. As with most Hollywood movies set in Spain at this time, there are the obligatory bullfighting scenes, this one featuring real footage of a bull being slaughtered for entertainment.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Shake Hands with the Devil (1959)


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

American Don Murray is a student at an Irish medical school. One night he watches in horror as a friend is shot in the street as he rushes to help a fallen rebel. Despite his initial disinterest, he gets drawn into the conflict by circumstance. His medical school professor, James Cagney, turns out to be the leader of the local uprising. At first, he admires Cagney, but comes to hate him when he realizes the depth of his brutality. Well acted all around, though at times it can be difficult to root for what are essentially terrorists.

The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Marty Feldman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Universal Vault Collection)

Identical twins are adopted by an aging English royal, one bred to be a "hero" and the other perpetually in his shadow. The family diamond goes missing and so do the sons who have joined the Legion. It's all a framework for Feldman's unique sense of humor, part Mel Brooks and part Monty Python. Film buffs will enjoy the appearance of Gary Cooper from the original Beau Geste, a hilarious scene in which Feldman shares a smoke of "Moroccan gold" with Cooper. Later, there is a great scene incorporating silent films and intertitles. It's these touches that make the film as much a homage as a satire. The funniest bit, though, has to be the commercial which interrupts a fight scene in the desert in which Avery Schreiber appears as a used camel salesman, introduced by Ed McMahon. One of my favorite comedies from the 70s, and the Universal Vault print looks fantastic.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Man from Tumbleweeds (1940)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Bill Saunders is Wild Bill Elliott, whose fast guns are just what the good people of Tumbleweeds need to rid themselves of the gang led by Powder Kilgore. The governor sends Bill some ex-cons to act as deputies, promising them pardons if they get the gang. Shifty is one of the outlaws and pulls a triple cross, leading Bill to their hideout. A long gunfight ensues. Wild Bill wears his guns backwards, but I watched him draw and think it actually slows him down a bit.

From the Earth to the Moon (1958)


RKO Radio Pictures/Warner Bros.
Directed by Byron Haskin
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Scientist and entrepreneur Joseph Cotten discovers the secret of atomic energy in the late 1800s. After a demonstration of its power, the President of the United States convinces him to abandon it for the good of mankind. However, he accidentally discovers a light weight metal which will allow him to construct a rocket ship and go to the moon. The small crew includes a saboteur and a stowaway. They sip wine while sitting comfortably in the rocket shortly after lift off. Debra Paget's hair and make up are always perfect during the long voyage to the moon. The ending seems rather abrupt, explained by the fact that RKO ran out of money, this being the studio's final film.

Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules (1961)


Embassy Pictures
Directed by Antonio Leonviola
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Retromedia)

Maciste and his friend Bangor allow themselves to be captured by the Mole Men to rescue the people who have become slaves. The Mole Men live underground and operate giant machinery to mine gold and diamonds. The rays of the sun are deadly and will turn them to skeletons after a few minutes of exposure. They are ruled by Queen Mosab, who falls in love with Maciste and offers to release the slaves in exchange for marriage. The other Mole Men have different ideas. Maciste is put to a series of tests, including one involving giant slabs piled on top of him with his friends chained beneath it. The impact of the elaborate sets is severely compromised by the full-frame, washed-out print on the Retromedia release, but unfortunately it is the only one available.

The Happy Years (1950)


MGM
Directed by William A. Wellman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Dean Stockwell is a bratty kid sent to reform school in a small New Jersey town. He doesn't get along with his classmates, spending most of his time picking fights, particularly with 'Tough' McCarty. The first year passes and he becomes a virtual outcast. He spends the summer with his uptight, wealthy family and returns for the second year. He takes up football under the guidance of his Latin teacher, 'The Old Roman'. On the same team as his old nemesis 'Tough' McCarty, they overcome their differences on the field. The film is at its best when it combines endearing Americana with childhood innocence: the pancake eating record, gerund vs gerundive in Latin class and the football scenes are particularly memorable.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Savages (1972)

Angelika Films
Directed by James Ivory
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Confused, pretentious story that has one point to make then no where to go. It opens with black and white footage of a tribe of primitive human mud men who wander around a forest, have sex, take drugs and otherwise are generally bored. They stumble upon an abandoned mansion and explore its contents. Cut to color, where the rest of the film is about wealthy socialites who wander around a mansion, have sex, take drugs and are otherwise generally bored. There is narration in German with no subtitles, unexplained violence and no plot. Similar themes have been explored much more interestingly by the likes of Fellini, Antonioni and especially Bunuel.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Death of a Gunfighter (1969)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Don Siegel, Robert Totten
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Encore)

Bland soap opera dressed up as a western shot on the generic Universal back lot. Richard Widmark is the the sheriff that everyone in town hates. He is asked to resign by the town leaders but refuses. I still don't know why. He shoots and kills a number of men, either in self defense or by accident. Carroll O'Connor seems to be his main nemesis, but his motivation is unclear, heck I don't even know what his character did or why he lived in the town. Lena Horne is wasted as Widmark's love interest. That red headed kid from the Disney Dexter Riley series, Michael McGreevey, is here, but I don't know why. It's the first use of the "Allan Smithee" pseudonym, so the real directors must not have thought much of the finished product either.

New York Confidential (1955)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Russell Rouse
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

Broderick Crawford is the head of the syndicate in NYC. Richard Conte is the cool-as-ice hit man who comes from Chicago to work for him. When a deal worth billions of dollars unravels a hit is ordered which threatens to bring down the whole system. Conte must choose between his loyalty to the man or the organization. A subplot with Anne Bancroft as Crawford's confused daughter doesn't work quite as well.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Black Magic (1944)


Monogram Pictures
Directed by Phil Rosen
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM)

Sidney Toler is cruising along in this late Charlie Chan entry. A seance is the setting for murder, and Chan is called to investigate when his daughter Frances is a suspect. Full of gags like a disappearing bullet, skeletons on a wire, hidden rooms, disembodied voices and floating handkerchiefs, it's fun but the mystery is almost a second thought. Mantan Moreland continues his recurring role as Birmingham, this time as a house servant.

Hold That Co-Ed (1938)


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

Predictable campus comedy about a run-down state college getting financial help from a politician to advance his own career. John Barrymore is Governor Gabby Harrigan, who freely spends millions of tax payer dollars to build a new stadium and outfit the team, just so he can get more campaign publicity. No opportunity is wasted for the young cast to break into George M. Cohan's "Harrigan", many times over. George Murphy is the coach who leads the amateur team to victory in the "big game", with the help of female kicker Joan Davis.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I'll Get By (1950)


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

Remake of Tin Pan Alley from just ten years earlier, in Technicolor with new songs. William Lundigan is the ambitious music publisher who lets business get in the way of pleasure. June Haver and Gloria DeHaven are the aspiring nightclub duo the Martin Sisters, who prefer rich men over true love. Lundigan and company make millions on hit songs and expand westward to Hollywood. However, romance takes a back seat to war. The lovers meet up and reconcile in a contrived happy ending on VE Day during a USO performance. Harry James steals the show as far as I am concerned!

The Man Who Understood Women (1959)


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

Interesting first half shows Henry Fonda as a disenchanted Hollywood actor and director discovering Leslie Caron. Backroom wheeling and dealing over roles, some swipes at the Oscars and the sacrifice of art for commercial success are examined. Fonda eventually marries her and she rises to international stardom. At this point the couple holiday in France and the plot takes a left turn into romantic mush. Caron has an affair with Cesare Danova sending Fonda into a drunken stupor during Carnival. There are endless scenes of Caron and Danova having romantic dinners, dancing on scenic balconies, etc. It all leads to a ridiculous plot twist and happy ending. The title must be ironic, because Fonda's character understands absolutely nothing about women.

Barbary Pirate (1949)


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

"Jungle Sam" Katzman produced this Columbia matinee quickee. Despite the title, there are virtually no pirates to be found. Instead, we get "King Yusof", the paranoid ruler in Tripoli who ruffles the feathers of the newly founded United States of America. Thomas Jefferson and friends send a spy over to infiltrate Yusof's palace. At first he succeeds, but when he is uncovered he is sent to the dungeon. Don't worry, a pretty girl saves the day.

The Shadow on the Window (1957)


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

Jerry Mathers, AKA Beaver Cleaver, becomes traumatized when he witnesses mom being beat up by thugs. He goes silent, thwarting the efforts of his policeman dad to find her. A psychiatrist gives him phenobarbital and he finally gives them some clues to follow. Meanwhile, the teenage juvenile delinquents debate whether or not to kill mom. Slightly better than similar JD films of the time, but marred by some poor acting, especially by one John Barrymore, Jr.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Wanda (1970)


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

Written, produced, directed and starring Barbara Loden, the wife of Elia Kazan. She portrays a recently divorced, uneducated woman in a Pennsylvania coal mining town. She drifts into the life of a small-time thief one night as he is robbing a bar. He's got a short temper and slaps her around, but she's got no other place to go. "If you don't have anything you're not even an American citizen", he says at one point, then proceeds to steal merchandise from the unlocked cars at a Woolworth's parking lot. Unsatisfied, he cooks up a plan to kidnap a bank employee, which includes leaving a bomb at home with his family. By any technical standard this is a strictly amateur production. Nonetheless, a portrait emerges of a quietly desperate woman and the even more desperate man she ends up with, both on the fringes of society.

The Steel Helmet (1951)


Lippert Pictures
Directed by Samuel Fuller
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Criterion Eclipse Series)

Gene Evans is Sgt. Zack, a seemingly indestructible infantry man in the early days of Korea. The opening scene has him playing dead with his hands tied behind his back, the bodies of his fellow soldiers around him. A little boy walks up to him with a gun, then pulls out a knife to free his hands, luckily South Korean. Sgt. Zack and the boy happen upon a platoon of misfits and proceed to a Buddhist temple to set up an observation post. Most of the film takes place here, rather confined and frequently adrift without plot. Fuller constantly throws religious symbols at us, most prominently the large, stoic Buddha statue in the shrine, but really doesn't know what to do with them. In this respect, he is no Ingmar Bergman. He is also interested in racism, a black medic and a Japanese soldier are in the mix, but again does little with them. It's a modest film with ambitions beyond the capabilities of its young director.

Madison Avenue (1962)


Twentieth Century-Fox
Directed by Bruce Humberstone
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Fox Movie Channel)

Sex, lies and advertising, sixties style. Dana Andrews is the ruthless ad man who uses women to land clients. Eddie Albert is the man-child he helps climb to the top of the milk industry. Eleanor Parker is the homely ad executive he transforms into a chic monster. Jeanne Crain is the newspaper reporter he uses for public relations, but might be the one girl able to see through him. A very entertaining film filled with terrific performances, a scathing script and a cocktail in just about every scene.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

In the Navy (1941)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Arthur Lubin
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Universal)

Abbott and Costello rehash Buck Privates, only in the Navy. They even mistakenly call the film Buck Privates in the opening title sequence. Anyway, The Andrews Sisters return, and even get some speaking parts, since Lou is supposedly in love with Patty. The plot is mostly carried this time by Dick Powell as a crooner hiding from his rabid female fans in the Navy. Intrepid reporter Claire Dodd is also on board posing as a man. The best routine is when Lou shows Bud how 7 x 13 equals 28 by butchering simple mathematics.

The Blue Bird (1976)


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

Only marginally better than the dreadful 1940 Shirley Temple film of the same name. Two cute kids, one of whom is Bobby Brady's brother, go to sleep without supper one night, only to have "Light", Elizabeth Taylor, lead them on a search for the "blue bird of happiness". They go to various lands: memory, luxury, night; never finding happiness, but rather washed-up Hollywood stars. The sets resemble Saturday morning shows by Sid and Marty Krofft, particularly HR Pufnstuf, which I couldn't stop thinking of during their visit to the "forest" and its talking trees. As in the Temple film, there is that awful final stop in the land of unborn children, where Father Time arrives to send them on their way to Earth to be born. Ballet sequences attempt to give it some culture, but instead are completely out of place in the amateur surroundings.

Sons and Lovers (1960)


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

British adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel features a young Dean Stockwell as sensitive teenager Paul Morel. He lives in a dismal row house with his bickering parents. Dad is a coal miner and drunkard, unable to understand why his son prefers painting and poetry to life in the pit. Mom is sympathetic and probably a bit overprotective. In the midst of this dysfunction, he falls in love with a local girl who is unwilling to "go all the way" due to her strict religious upbringing. After gaining an arts patron, he goes to London and begins an affair with a married woman. It leads to more unhappiness. Meanwhile back at home, mom falls ill and he hurries to her bedside. All of this depressing melodrama is set in a cold and grey England, captured by the magnificent cinematography of Freddie Francis.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Border Treasure (1950)


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

Tim Holt and sidekick Richard Martin as Chito go after thieves who take money and jewels intended for earthquake victims in Mexico. Jane Nigh, one of the worst saloon singers I can remember, leads them to the gang. The Lone Pine locations look even more spectacular than usual thanks to many long shots.