Thursday, July 27, 2017

Downhill (1927)



W and F Film Service (UK)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Criterion Collection)

College pals spend an afternoon with a local bakery shop girl, who shows up later at the dean's office and accuses them of "inappropriate conduct". She falsely claims the father is the boy with the rich parents, who is promptly expelled and then disowned by his parents. He flees to France where he is taken advantage of by more women, including his new wife who runs through his large unexpected inheritance in no time. He ends up in a trance-like state on the docks of Marseilles, where he is helped on a ship by some friendly sailors and ends up back in England. Hitchcock's follow up to the very successful The Lodger once again features Ivor Novello in the lead role, who also wrote the screenplay. It is a cynical, misogynistic story, perhaps influenced by Novello's status as a gay matinee idol in the 1920s. Hitchcock further develops his visual style, with excellent use of shadows and montage effects.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Easy Virtue (1928)


W and F Film Service (UK)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Mill Creek)

A woman married to a drunken brute poses for an artist. Her husband walks in at an inopportune time, leading to attempted murder, suicide and divorce. At the ensuing trial, the wife is disgraced by the biased judge and jury. She leaves for France where she meets a wealthy playboy. They soon get married and return to England to live in his large estate with his family. She is confronted by his mother, who convinces her husband that their marriage was a mistake. Eventually her former divorce comes up, and she relents to the pressure. Convoluted story starts out with a trial and flashback, then gets more melodramatic as it goes along. Only poor prints exist, so perhaps we are not getting the whole story, but this is rather forgettable early Hitchcock.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)


W and F Film Service (UK)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Criterion Collection)

The mysterious lodger living upstairs falls in love with the daughter of the house. Their developing romance gets in the way of a police detective who is also in love with her. Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the loose in the neighborhood, and her parents convince themselves, and eventually the police detective, that their lodger is the killer. He is arrested but escapes with the help of the girl, but are recognized and chased by a mob who are intent on killing him. Hitchcock's first real success and the film that put him on the map is a well-paced, entertaining thriller with many ingenious camera shots. Just watch the lodger pacing on the glass ceiling! The "wrong man" theme would pop up over and over again in his later films.

Death Carries a Cane (1973)


Cinitalia
Directed by Maurizio Pradeaux
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Pretty Susan Scott witnesses a murder through one of those coin operated binoculars overlooking Rome. Her boyfriend, also a potential suspect, and an inept police detective try to track down the killer. Their only clue is that he, or she, has a limp, but when other corpses start showing up, she finds a photograph linking the killer to a local dance academy. She then becomes the killer's next potential victim. A few tense moments, but overall ineffective giallo with the usual tropes.

A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1975)


Aitor Films
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

A killer is terrorizing Milan, hacking up drug users and prostitutes with an axe, leaving a dragonfly calling card on the bodies. Cigar chomping police detective Paul Naschy and his pretty wife Erika Blanc follow the clues to a gang of neo Nazis, but the killings continue. Routine giallo with the usual doses of nudity and blood.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Death on the Fourposter (1964)


Directed by Jean Josipovici
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Bored Italian young adults travel to the remote castle of a friend for a night of drinking and girls. They play various games to pass the time, while the girls try on old clothes they find in the attic. Two mysterious visitors arrive, one of them holding a mock seance where he foretells that some of them will die. Soon his predictions start to come true and one of them turns up dead. Suspicions run rampant through the night and more bodies turn up. Typical "old dark house" mystery, complete with sliding doors and hidden passageways, slightly updated for the 60's, but now itself outdated. Unsatisfying final reveal of the killer. John Drew Barrymore is the party host, made during his six-year hiatus from Hollywood in Italy.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Pleasure Garden (1925)


Wardour Films (UK)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

The story of two chorus girls and their intertwining love affairs. One helps the other get a job and even allows her to stay at her apartment. Later, the girl's fiance and a friend arrive for a visit, but she is busy flirting with a rich prince at theater. The two men hang out with her roommate, and one of them eventually convinces her to marry him. Both men are sent off to Africa for a job, but the lonely wife soon follows when she finds out her husband is sick. However, when she gets there she finds out he has a native lover and leaves him. The husband murders the native girl and racked by guilt, and then almost kills her as well when he finds her by the bedside of the other man, who has fallen ill with fever. Entertaining if somewhat convoluted directorial debut of Hitchcock, incorporating many of the elements he would go on to explore in his long, illustrious career.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Matter of Innocence (1967)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Guy Green
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Twenty-one-year-old Hayley Mills travels to Singapore with her aunt for a vacation. Her aunt dies in a swimming accident, leaving Hayley alone and with plenty of cash and jewelry. She falls for a local tour guide who convinces her to ditch her glasses and conservative dresses for contacts, a new hairdo and makeup, and sexy clothes. Hayley revels in the attention from the opposite sex, sleeping with the tour guide and going on dates with a rich American playboy. However, she soon tires of her new found popularity and decides to go back to England. It's Hayley's movie all the way, but even she can't save this from her character's implausible sudden transformation, cringe worthy dialogue and dated fashions.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Night Visitor (1971)


Universal Marion Corporation
Directed by László Benedek
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, VCI Entertainment)

Max von Sydow is in a remote Swedish insane asylum, framed for an axe murder he claims he did not commit. He escapes unnoticed to get revenge on his sister's family, the people he believes framed him, returning in time to establish an alibi. He is spotted by his sister's husband in the house, but the investigating police, although he tends to believe him, can't figure out how Sydow can be in two places at once. Seemingly committing the perfect crime, an unexpected slip up finally gives him away. Atmospheric story with an ensemble of some of Sweden's best actors, but it all adds up to little more than a slight mystery with a rather contrived twist ending. Memorable, if atypical, score by Henry Mancini.

Courage of Lassie (1946)


MGM
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros)

An injured young collie is found by a teenage Elizabeth Taylor while sunbathing. She rushes him to a friendly shepherd and they manage to nurse it back to health. Later he is hit by a truck and taken away by the drivers. He survives but nobody knows who the owner is, so when the Army comes along looking for new "war dogs" he is signed up for duty. After training, he sees duty in the Aleutians where he saves a surrounded platoon, but suffers from "combat fatigue". He escapes on a train ride home, and finds his way back to Taylor, but his untreated aggression causes him to attack livestock. He is rounded up and put on trial, but draws the sympathy of the judge for being a wounded veteran. Another well photographed but implausible Lassie story.

The Nightcomers (1971)


AVCO Embassy Pictures
Directed by Michael Winner
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Lionsgate)

Teenage orphans are sent away to a remote country manor where they are put under the care of a governess, housekeeper and gardener. They fall under the spell of the gardener, who spins wild stories and is having a sadomasochistic affair with the governess. The boy spies on their violent trysts, re-enacting them with his sister. The horrified housekeeper writes their father in an attempt to get the lovers fired, but the kids have other ideas. Another eclectic performance by Marlon Brando as the gardener, with a very strange Irish accent. The strong sexual content presages Last Tango in Paris which he would do the next year, though it was The Godfather that would bring him renewed fame.

Son of Lassie (1945)


MGM
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros)

It's been a few years since the events in the first Lassie movie. She is all grown up with pups of her own, and Roddy McDowall has grown up to be Peter Lawford! He has become just as attached to Laddie as McDowall was to Lassie, and when he is called to duty for WWII, the dog comes along. They are shot down over Norway, but with the help of some friendly natives manage to avoid detection for awhile. He is eventually captured and sent to a POW camp but escapes, only for the Germans to use Laddie to find him. This topical Lassie story is beautifully photographed in Technicolor, but the plot pushed the limits of plausibility.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mirage (1965)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Universal)

Accountant Gregory Peck realizes he has amnesia, which started during a blackout while in a NYC skyscraper. A woman acts like he knows her, but he doesn't recognize her. A man follows him a tries to shoot him. He goes to the police, but when he can't remember his date of birth he leaves. A psychiatrist kicks him out of his office. Only down-and-out detective Walter Matthau is willing to help him and together they begin to piece together parts of the puzzle. When his memory finally returns, he finds himself in the middle of a life or death situation. Fun, intriguing, Hitchcock-inspired thriller, even if it does get confusing at times. Good NYC location shooting by Joseph MacDonald.

The Hustler (1961)



Academy Awards, USA 1962

Won
Oscar
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Eugen Schüfftan
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White
Harry Horner
Gene Callahan
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Robert Rossen
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Paul Newman
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Piper Laurie
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Jackie Gleason
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
George C. Scott
Refused even to be nominated.
Best Director
Robert Rossen
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Sidney Carroll
Robert Rossen

Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Robert Rossen
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Fox)

Paul Newman is a talented but cocky pool hustler who travels the country with his money man conning unsuspecting billiard players. He tires of the small time and they go to the pool hall of Minnesota Fats, the best player in the country, to challenge him. They have a marathon battle of the wills, and while Newman appears more talented his character falters over the long haul as he becomes too tired to carry on and Fats declares victory. Seeking solace, he picks up lonely alcoholic Piper Laurie in a dingy restaurant and they start a troubled relationship consisting of long nights of drinking and sex. Newman returns to small time hustling and gets his thumbs broken. Laurie nurses him back to health, but cannot convince to quit. He takes an offer of financing from con man George C. Scott and challenges Minnesota Fats to another long night. He wins, but it comes at a high price. Outstanding performances from the ensemble cast and moody black and white photography by Eugene Schüfftan which perfectly captures the seedy backroom pool halls of America make this an essential film.

Starhops (1978)


First American Films
Directed by Barbara Peeters
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Carhops take over a failing drive-in restaurant and transform it into a successful business. An oil baron wants the property to build a new gas station, but they refuse to sell. He sends his son to dig up dirt on the girls, but he fails to find anything. Instead, he befriends them and helps to stop his dad. Heavy on 70s vibe, including a satirical rip on the Star Wars opening scrawl, but ultimately nothing more than bimbos in bikinis.

Time Bandits (1981)


AVCO Embassy
Directed by Terry Gilliam
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Image Entertainment)

An eleven-year-old boy joins a group of dwarves who emerge from his bedroom wardrobe one night. They turn out to be thieves who are using a map stolen from the Supreme Being to navigate through time. They meet Napoleon, Robin Hood and King Agamemnon on their episodic journey. They are pursued by Evil, a powerful being who wants the map for his own plans, and lures the group to his kingdom where they are imprisoned in suspended cages. They escape and confront Evil, whose identity turns out to be quite a surprise. Imaginative, to say the least, but also noisy, too often succumbing to the cruder aspects of the story. It's never boring, however, with just the right amount of humor from Gilliam's old Monty Python pals. 

Where the Green Ants Dream (1984)



Orion Classics
Directed by Werner Herzog
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout! Factory)

Australian Aborigines use non-violent methods to stop a mining company from destroying their sacred land. The company tries to appease them with money, but the Aborigines are only interested in a large military aircraft they spot while visiting the city. The company buys it and sends it to the Aborigines, but they still refuse to give permission for the mining. It ends up in court presided over by an unsympathetic judge. The usual Herzog culture-clash, with didgeridoos and classical western music alternating with scenes of desert beauty and bulldozers. The Aboriginal acting is stiff, to say the least, and Bruce Spence as the company engineer is not much better. Nonetheless, a powerful argument for Aboriginal rights and against unrestrained corporate greed.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bar 20 Rides Again (1935)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Howard Bretherton
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Hoppy disguises himself as a card shark to infiltrate the ranch of a notorious cattle rustler threatening a friend. The villain here is the most interesting character: he uses the techniques of Napoleon Bonaparte in his rustling activity, played with zest by Harry Worth. There is the requisite romantic subplot. Famous Lone Pine location shooting helps.

White Shadows (1924)



Selznick Releasing
Directed by Graham Cutts
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Betty Compson plays identical twin sisters, one reserved and the other recently returned from Paris where she has been living among free spirited artists and musicians. She meets a man on the boat coming home to England, but when she plays a trick on him with her twin sister it backfires. They fall in love, but he doesn't realize there are actually two women. The other sister runs away back to Paris, sending her father after her and causing her mother to die from grief. Eventually the two sisters meet at a wild Parisian cafe called the Laughing Cat, but unfortunately the film abruptly ends as the last half remains lost. Interesting early Hitchcock (in fact, the earliest surviving, as his 1923 film also with Betty Compson is lost), but it is difficult to rate half a movie. Set design and theme, however, is definitely identifiable as Hitchcock.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Minotaur, the Wild Beast of Crete (1960)


United Artists
Directed by Silvio Amadio
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

On ancient Crete, sacrifices of virgins are made to the beast that lives in a labyrinth under the palace. The dying queen of Crete reveals that she hid a daughter, a twin of the princess, in a remote country village to avoid her sacrifice to the minotaur. Sensing a threat to her throne, Phaedra, the princess, sends a man to kill her twin sister, but she is rescued and brought to the palace. They are captured, imprisoned and tortured, but manage to escape before being sent to the minotaur, who is slain by one of her rescuers. Potentially interesting historical drama undone by peplum cliches and melodrama. The minotaur only appears at the very end, a man in a suit, with some strangely vivid eyes.