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Lucky Devils (1933)
An edge of your seat action film starring Bill Boyd...
... before he left modern dress roles forever and became Hopalong Cassidy for the long term.
The film starts with an extremely violent bank robbing scene. Men armed with automatic weapons storm the bank from the doors and the glass ceiling in broad daylight. Anybody, customer or employee, who even looks the wrong way gets filled full of lead. An operator trying to reach the police is punched in the face and is thrown down the stairs. Then the police arrive and a director yells "CUT". You've been watching stuntmen do their stuff including the telephone operator! Have I got your attention?
The rest of the film is about Hollywood stuntmen and the fact that they are "lucky devils" to be alive at the end of each work day. There was no Osha or workman's comp, or class action lawsuits in 1932. You die in a stunt, too bad for you. But while you are alive the pay is good, and the more dangerous the stunt the better the pay.
So obviously some superstitions grow up around such men who are always in danger. If a bottle breaks, then some stuntman is going to "get it". And by "It" I don't mean an Academy award. And there is the slogan of the business that "A good stuntman makes a bad husband and a good husband makes a bad stuntman". And if a good husband becomes a bad enough stuntman that he dies on the job, the wife is left broke. So Boyd's character is never going to get the marriage bug. But then he meets her - a starving unemployed girl he saves from suicide, and his motto goes down the tubes. How will this work out? Watch and find out.
This is not your typical precode. There is no extra or premarital sex going on. The things in this film that the code would stomp out in 1934 is all of the violence and dangerous stunts and probably even the suicide attempt by the jobless desperate starving girl. And then there is a police chase scene in which the police are outsmarted. That would be gone during the production code era too.
Things to look out for? For one, note that the script writer is a woman, sitting right next to the director on the set, editing on the fly. Ask Frances Marion how that career worked out for women after about 1935 when the suits began to realize they had made it through the talkies and the worst of the depression and could jettison women in important jobs behind the camera. Also, look out for a very young Lon Chaney Jr. among the stuntmen almost a decade before he becomes The Wolfman.
The Terminal Man (1974)
It manages to make a modern Frankenstein story dull...
... and I am not saying slow, which is different from dull. "Babbette's Feast" is confined in cast and setting and although I guess you could call it slow, it is not at all dull. George Segal plays Harry Benson, a man with a form of epilepsy in which he becomes violent during his seizures and then awakens remembering nothing. He also is paranoid about machines controlling humans ten years before "The Terminator" was released.
His wife leaves him, and it looks like his outbursts will have him traveling through the criminal justice system which can do nothing for this situation or maybe he will wind up shot dead by some would be victim.
So some scientists think that Benson could be a beneficiary of an experimental procedure in which electrodes are implanted in his brain and his epilepsy is controlled by impulses sent to those electrodes. Post operation, things seem to be a success, but Dr. Janet Ross (Joan Hackett) discovers that Benson's brain is becoming addicted to the impulses, and in time - and she actually can calculate the time - he will have more frequent and severe violent outbursts.
But before she can do any kind of medical intervention, Benson leaves. Apparently he has prearranged an escape with some woman he barely knows, sporting a blond wig so you can't tell he just had surgery.
So the last half of the film is just Benson having those predicted seizures and becoming horrifically violent during each one. It doesn't have the pathos or irony of the Frankenstein monster's trek through the German countryside. Segal just begins to shake, his eyes roll up in his head, and he does violence to whomever and with whatever is at hand. That's it. That's essentially all that the last half is.
George Segal never really got the credit he deserved for some of the really good roles he had in the 70s. This is not one of those good roles, and I really don't see how he or anybody else but the writer could have saved a film that is really only half there. I'd give the pre-escape part of the film a 7 or 8. I'd give the last half a three. This is where I come up with my 5/10 rating.
Experiment Alcatraz (1950)
This little programmer surprised me!...
... and in a good way! The direction is rather wooden, but the acting surprised me with pretty good and authentic performances from an almost anonymous cast.
The story has to do with some prisoners from Alcatraz volunteering for a medical experiment that involves receiving large doses of radiation. If the volunteers survive, then they are promised their freedom. Question unanswered - yeah, but what good does it do to radiate these guys since they don't have the blood disease for which this treatment is a cure? Well, don't expect every loophole to be closed in these old programmers.
Then unexpected tragedy as a pair of scissors slips out of the apron of one of the military nurses who is making rounds in the ward and on to the bed of convict Barry Morgan who seizes the scissors and stabs convict Eddie Ganz through the heart, killing him. Morgan and Ganz were friends, and Morgan does not remember doing what he did. Well, a deal is a deal and Morgan is set free along with the other convicts. But since the radiation is the culprit in the killing the experiment is terminated immediately. Also, the careers of the doctor whose idea this was (John Howard as Dr. Ross Williams) and the nurse who dropped the scissors (Joan Dixon as Lt. Joan McKenna) are over. McKenna has a brother with the fatal blood disease and was hoping the experiment would be a first step toward a cure.
So Dr. Williams and Lt. Joan McKenna decide to do some investigating into Ganz' and Morgan's friendship and see if they can find out if this was truly the fault of the experiment, or was it something else? This leads them into mob filled night spots, Italian restaurants where the waiter is insulted if you don't finish the calimari, an old dark house, and to a convict who is just nutty about post cards.
This film picks up a trick from other B noirs/crime dramas/mysteries of the time. If your plot is thin and has some holes, just keep moving from scene to scene and fill your film with interesting off-beat characters. Even if you do have the doctor doing silly things like continually ducking into a phone booth to ask "Have they scheduled the destruction of the isotope yet??" like he is checking on the execution of a death row inmate.
This one is an original and not a bad way to spend an hour. I'd recommend it.
Like Forrest Gump without the wit or charm
The most irritating part of Benjamin Button is that it has this strange premise (aging backward) and doesn't take advantage of it. The Fitzgerald short story actually shows Benjamin going through life stages backward (from cranky old geezer to mild-mannered husband to young virile asshole; it's actually pretty funny and interesting) whereas the movie merely shows this dull blank slate of a character aging backwards biologically with this soporific love story thrown into it. Like he starts off as this little old man, but he just comes across like a soft-spoken kid with a bad skin disease (I get that it was trying to go for that 'second childhood' phase but I felt like it chickened out, like why not start out asa cranky old geezer). The movie was too afraid to be weird and interesting, instead vying for safer Hollywood schmaltz. It was all just so incredibly bland.
Bandstand: Episode #22.9 (1979)
The last days of disco...
... and probably the last days of an age of innocence that enshrouded American Bandstand, a show hosted by the seemingly ageless Dick Clark in which popular bands would lip sync their tunes to the weekly show.
I saw this show on January 6, 1996 on VH1 Flashbacks as a retro presentation of American Bandstand, and it is indicative of what you cannot find on cable/Dish/etc. today -some golden nugget from the past. What you can see today is some nobody in the middle of the night with the set dressed up to look like it is CNN to give "credibility" to their sales pitch hawking magic crystals that cure cancer. But I digress.
It was great seeing the Village People in their prime as they performed "YMCA", "Macho Man", and "San Francisco". They are remembered even today although their time in the limelight was short. What was funny was that neither Dick Clark nor the extremely hetero audience got what was going on or what they were parodying - gay stereotypes. I haven't seen anything funnier on TV since the early 1970s when Lawrence Welk thought that "One Toke Over the Line" was a gospel song and had it performed it that way. Wunnerful. Wunnerful.
Imagine: John Lennon (1988)
the best portrait of Lennon and The Beatles on film
It revolves around the recording of song "Imagine" as well as the album of the same name in 1971. It is narrated by Lennon from tons of interviews he gave. After the scene is set, it goes back to the beginning of The Beatles and and see many familiar clips of performances of "Twist And Shout", "From Me To You" and "Help".
The most fascinating part of this documentary are rare home movies of John at home and of some news segments probably not seen since they were aired. A striking scene shows where an obsessed fan found his way to John's England estate. The young man is confused and may be on drugs but believes John's songs are speaking directly to him, asking him the meaning behind his "I Dig A Pony" song, John tells him it was just playing around with words, literally a nonsense song. John gently tells him the songs should not be mixed up with his own life and offers the guy something to eat.
John is gentle when dealing with his fans, but he can have a temper when dealing with technicians in a recording session, or reporters who say they miss "the old Beatles". It sure is intriguing stuff for any Beatles fan and definitely worth your time.
A Summer Place (1959)
Emblematic of an era that was passing away
Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan) came up from working class roots to make something of himself in business. His real love, Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) whom he met one summer while working as a lifeguard when a poor student, was married off to somebody of bluer blood and family money (Arthur Kennedy as Bart) but was ultimately made of weaker stuff.
The old lovers - well, middle aged lovers - reunite when Ken takes his wife and daughter to spend their vacation at this "summer place" where his old girlfriend is running an inn out of what was once the family mansion, the family money now gone. Sylvia is still married to the guy with blue blood, but his blood is also 150 proof. Upon hearing of her marriage, Ken had married on the rebound. His wife is a snobby ice queen. So the old lovers meet again, having stayed in their respective unhappy marriages because of their children.
Oh, and their children are both about the same age, are teens, and are attracted to each other.Complications ensue.
This film marked the beginning of the newly discovered heart throb Troy Donahue and his association with director Delmer Daves. Even though the critics panned this movie, filled with the usual studio soap opera formula, it was a box-off ice smash. Looking back at what happened with this movie, the real success was the theme song, that swept across the country in a whirlwind of popularity. The 45 rpm (single) "Theme From A Summer Place by Percy Faith" sold in the millions of copies. Aside from this technical success, Donahue and Sandra Dee became stars as a result of the hoopla created, mostly by the teenage fans that hadn't flocked to a movie like this one, since the release two years earlier of "Peyton Place."
This set into motion director Daves to produce a series of pot-boiler melodramas throughout the 1960's. The film is today symbolic of it's era and everything else that goes with the sexual anxiety felt by society that couldn't be so clearly shown on film. However, by the end of the decade, with certain restrictions lifted, "A Summer Place" would end up looking more like a Disney film.
It is just a ball of the mixed messages that were the early 60s/late 50s. Good girls are supposed to be passionate after marriage, but before marriage they are "bad girls" if they have a sex drive. Men are justified in drinking their lives away if they find out on their wedding night that somebody else "got there" first. The male American success story is "strong" and thus virtuous, and all other types of males are "weak". And on it goes. No wonder analysis became popular in the 60s. It would take years to uncross all of the mental short circuits caused by such goofy values.
Recommended for its place in popular culture.
Get Outta Town (1960)
A no name cast in a pretty lively film
This quickie is about a former hood (Doug Wilson) who returns to his old stomping grounds to find out who killed his brother. The cops aren't too happy to see him; one of them tells Kelly to get outta town because he stinks. He refers to Wilson as "rough as a stucco bathtub." Wilson's mother isn't too happy to see him and tells him to get outta town. Wilson's former girlfriend (Jeanne Baird) tells him to ... well, you get the idea.
Wilson decides to look up his old pals (with classic names like Rico and Tony), but first he runs into Rico's wife (Marilyn O'Connor). The two quickly go to her apartment for some tonsil hockey, and, for a change, she doesn't tell him to get outta town. As the plot develops, we meet a hood named Rocky and a jerk named Squirrel. Meanwhile, Wilson and O'Connor exchange more saliva. Then Wilson collects some bruises and contusions because somebody wants him outta town. Eventually, we find out what happened to his brother, and Wilson gets outta town.
Wilson is decent in the lead, although the way his hair protrudes over his head was a bit much. All of the babes in the cast (including extras) are great looking ... except for the crone playing Wilson's mother. The jazz score is snappy, and the script is lively and fast moving.
Nationwide, this flick was on a double bill with The Amazing Transparent Man. That film was promoted with a million dollar contest in which moviegoers were asked what they would do with the invisible ray featured in that film. Get outta town!!!
Land of the Pharaohs (1955)
Ponderous film worth watching for all its' missteps in the first half
In Ancient Egypt, Pharaoh Khufu (Hawkins) returns from another war. laden with gold and jewels and other spoils. He is very concerned with the matter of a secure tomb being built for himself and his gold in the Afterlife. After much negotiating, he begins construction on his tomb. When he receives tribute from conquered nations, Cyprus offers him Princess Nellifer (Collins) in place of gold and grain.
The characters are talking like Kentucky colonels. That's occasionally noticeable, but that's not the most noticeable misstep. The scenes of crowds mourning are scored and played like a gospel revival service, just set in Egypt. The scenes of slaves singing while they build pyramids are good for a horselaugh or two. The film is filled with British accents (Collins, and others).
None of the actors really make an impression, except for Collins. Her performance is campy villainy (if she had a mustache, she'd twirl it), but she gives the film a badly needed shot of energy with her two-faced treachery. Screenwriter Faulkner even steals a plot development from "The Little Foxes" (1941) to give Collins her "Bette Davis moment" of high drama (or camp, depending on your viewpoint). It's rare that I'll credit Joan Collins for saving a film or anything else for that matter, so you know this one needed help badly.
If the whole film was as good as the last half hour, it might have been a classic. As it is, film is worth a watch for lovers of 50's spectacles and bad films. Dimitri Tiomkin contributed a good score that keeps the film moving along.
Return of the Ape Man (1944)
Typical Monogram "B" thriller out of the mad scientist school.
Bela Lugosi plays the scientist who, with assistant John Carradine, travels to Alaska (or, at least, somewhere north where it's freezing cold) in the hopes of finding a neanderthal man frozen in the ice upon which he wants to experiment with a serum to see if he can restore life to him.
What luck, he finds one (did you have any doubt?) but, upon reviving him decides that his brute brain must go or, at least, be altered with the partial brain of a civilized man. From there things go predictably haywire.
This 60 minute quickie has the usual silly script and cheap sets that you only come to expect from Monogram. Lugosi and Carradine go through their paces but neither actor seems particularly inspired (does anybody wonder why?). The film has the usual climax, with a beautiful young woman passed out in the ape man's arms as the police and her fiance chase after them.
Biggest mystery of the film for me was the third billing given to veteran character actor George Zucco as "the Ape Man," along with Frank Moran in the same part. For starters he's not an ape man, he's a caveman. Apparently, from what I read, Zucco briefly appears in the role but darned if I could spot him. It's more like Zucco is playing the invisible man in this film than anything else.
Lugosi had previously appeared in another Monogram "B" entitled The Ape Man. I assume that film did sufficiently well at the box office to inspire this title though it is in no way or form a sequel, aside from the screen presence of its top billed star.
You may be puzzled when you watch this film...
... because when it was made Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were still supporting players. The real stars of the film are Randolph Scott in modern dress not western garb,and queen and songbird of the RKO lot at the time, Irene Dunne. A somewhat musical rom-com, it has Huck Haines (Fred Astaire) and his big band arriving in France only to learn that their promised gig has fallen through. Huck's best friend John Kent (Randolph Scott) decides to look up his aunt, a dressmaker named Roberta (Helen Westley) to see if she has any advice on work for the band.
John ends up inheriting the dressmaking firm with Roberta's death, and he falls for lead designer Stephanie (Irene Dunne), while Huck meets up with Lizzie Gatz (Ginger Rogers) a neighborhood gal pretending to be European aristocracy.
Give this one a chance. I All four leads are charming and on top of their game. The costumes are elaborate, and the models are stunning, including a young blonde Lucille Ball. The songs are good, too, including the standard "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".
Special When Lit (2009)
The one genre of film that has gotten better in quality over time...
... that being the documentary. I stumbled across this documentary about pinball machines. As a big fan of pinball machines, I know a fair bit about them, witnessing their evolution the past 40 years.
This documentary illustrated their historic beginnings and the inner workings of their conception, design and marketing. Several points were brought up that I did not know: Pinball Machines were considered gambling and were banned in all US states at one time! Only in the 50's did they start trickling into acceptance as "entertainment only" citing the flippers made it a "game of skill". By the mid 70's, pinballs were common throughout the US.
It stated 90% of machines built prior were shipped to Europe. Who knew? Obviously the filmmakers, since this is a British documentary. The pinball industry made more money than the film industry in the US between 1950-1970!
The documentary visits the only remaining manufacturer of these machines and discusses their design, psychology and shows they are all built by hand. It also profiles fans & players, a National competition, and a NYC Arcade owner-all great interviews that flesh out many aspects of pinball's appeal.
I was impressed with the clever closing credits of digital style framing & lettering, indicative of new "digital" pinballs. It's a clever bookend to the opening credits featuring old style artwork. Highly recommended.
Maria's Lovers (1984)
Dark romantic drama
The film centers on Ivan (John Savage), a WWII P.O.W. who returns to his small hometown after the war. He survived in the P.O.W. camp by imagining a marriage and life with Maria (Nastassia Kinski), the prettiest girl he knew growing up. When he gets home, he woos and marries her, but cannot consummate the marriage. This naturally leads to dysfunction, frustration, and infidelity. Also starring Keith Carradine as a fast-talking, wandering balladeer, Robert Mitchum (with a beard) as Savage's father, Vincent Spano, Bud Cort, John Goodman, Bill Smitrovich, and Tracy Nelson.
The script is all over the place, with some scenes achieving some frank honesty and emotional truth, while others seem wildly florid and almost campily over-the-top. Savage's natural tendencies to be a bit histrionic in his performances works okay here, since his character is supposed to be a bit unbalanced and dealing with PTSD. Kinski delivers her most mature performance to date, but she's still a bit rough around the edges, and some lines come out clunky.
Carradine steals the movie, though, with an oily turn as a seedy Lothario. Mitchum just has to be gruff and drunk, which was never a problem for him. Anyone with prudish sensibilities should be forewarned that there's a lot of heavy breathing here, as well.
The Unfinished Dance (1947)
Worth watching for Margaret O'Brien attempting to transition to more complex roles
This was a 1947 film featuring Margaret O'Brien and Cyd Charisse. It also showcased Danny Thomas in his first film role. I initially recorded this film because I was intrigued by the synopsis in the Dish guide: "A ballerina arranges an accident to cripple her mentor's foreign rival." It sounded very dark, especially for a movie with Margaret O'Brien and Cyd Charisse. I thought the film was pretty good, even if the film didn't follow through with the plot described in the synopsis.
While O'Brien did plot to sabotage her mentor's rival's performance, she wasn't trying to cripple or injure her. What was interesting about this film was the way it framed O'Brien's struggle with her conscience versus her reality. While the film was so-so, I thought that O'Brien's was the standout performance in the film. It's a shame that she wasn't able to make the transition between child and adult performer. She may have been able to achieve a Patty Duke type career as I believe that O'Brien had the chops. I also thought that O'Brien executed her ballet steps very well.
The Peanuts Movie (2015)
This movie was adorable.
I was unsure at first because of the animation style, it was much more modern than the charming animation style of the 60s and 70s specials. However, despite the 3D CGI animation style, the original charm of the cartoon specials remained intact. I liked how the animation didn't seem as finished just like the original Peanuts specials. In the film, just like in the specials, the trees and other plants in the background remained static. Even when it was supposedly windy. This film, like many of the Peanuts specials, had two storylines: A Charlie Brown storyline and a Snoopy storyline. In the Charlie Brown storyline, the film deals with Charlie trying to work up enough nerve to talk to the Little Red Haired Girl. In the Snoopy story, Snoopy finds an old typewriter and works on writing a novel. His novel deals with the World War I flying ace trying to save his crush Fifi from the clutches of the evil Red Baron.
This movie featured many in-jokes from the specials and comic strips. The typical Peanuts sentimentality was also present as were the lack of adults. The wonderful Peanuts music was present throughout the film. I wish they wouldn't have included a modern song, but it doesn't detract too much from the film. There were also bits of the comic strip that popped up throughout the film and also the fun 60s style graphics that would also appear periodically. It was such a fun film, I will definitely be purchasing my own copy.
I read that this film was written in complete cooperation with Charles M. Schulz's widow and the other members of his family. Schulz' son and grandson wrote the screenplay and apparently the Schulz family had to have approval over all aspects of the film. They also used archive sound recordings of Bill Melendez' Snoopy sounds for Snoopy's "voice" in the film. I did think that the Peppermint Patty voice was slightly off. The other Patty (who normally has brown hair and wears an orange dress) in this film was blonde and wore a green dress. Neither of the Pattys inaccuracies affected my enjoyment of this film.
Just Off Broadway (1942)
Misfire Michael Shayne film ...
...with Lloyd Nolan as the Michael Shayne character. In this entry, Nolan is serving on a jury in a murder trial. A witness is knifed while testifying, so Nolan immediately jumps out of the jury box and hides the knife under a table. I'm no legal expert, but I think this qualifies as either suppressing evidence or obstruction of justice.
It gets worse. Nolan figures out who killed the witness ... some professional knife-thrower guy named "Shiverino," or something similar. Nolan tracks down the guy to a warehouse, and breaks in (I think that is also illegal). Then the guy turns up dead. In trying to escape, Nolan slugs a security guard (sounds like assault and battery to me). In the courtroom finale, Nolan, still acting as a juror, is allowed to call and question witnesses. Then he sums up the case, Charlie Chan-style, but you need a scorecard to figure out who did what to whom and where. Justice is served, somewhat, as Nolan gets a short jail term for contempt of court. The screenwriters should have gotten the electric chair.
This film is not even amusing. Nolan comes off as irritating, which is too bad, since I like him. Marjorie Weaver, who plays a reporter, aids and abets Nolan. Phil Silvers is barely funny as a newspaper photographer. Janis Carter, a lovely B-movie gal, is completely wasted as the defendant. She has little screen time, and only has a few lines near the end of the film. The fight and chase scenes are shown at high speed, in an early attempt at Cinema de Benny Hill.
Joan Valerie sings (or lip-syncs) "It Happened, It's Over, Let's Forget It." Sound advice.
The Law in Her Hands (1936)
OK quickie, with Margaret Lindsay and Glenda Farrell as new lawyers
They open their own office and soon find they have no customers. Lindsay falls for Warren Hull, who works in the D.A.'s office. When he tries to one-up her on a case, she resorts to a little trickery to win, which sets her down the road to working with a racketeer (Lyle Talbot). Soon the dough is rolling in. Then Talbot is accused of a serious crime, and wounds Hull. Will Lindsay save the day? The ending could have been really good, but the film falls back on a pat finale.
Farrell doesn't get as much airtime as Lindsay, and when she does, it's mostly for wisecracks. Eddie Acuff supplies some comic relief as a process server who collects various contusions, abrasions, and broken bones in the course of serving papers. In a running gag, he looks more beat up in every scene, progressing from a few small bandages when he first appears on screen, to his arm in a sling, to needing crutches, and ending up in a wheelchair during the final scene. Lindsay is very cute, but I got a little tired of her pronouncing every "a" as "ah." "Let me ahsk you something." "There is a chahnce."
I cahn't take this.
Man Hunt (1936)
Mediocre entry starring Ricardo Cortez as a crook...
... who has escaped from prison. He hides out in a hick town, where schoolteacher Marguerite Churchill hides him in her cabin because she has no brains.
William Gargan plays a local reporter and Churchill's sweetheart, who wants to snare Cortez so he can get a job at a better newspaper. Chic Sale, a younger man who always dressed up and played older men, plays an old coot who manages to irritate anyone with a heartbeat. When Cortez plans to rob the local bank, Gargan and Churchill come up with the brilliant idea of spreading a rumor that the bank is insolvent; thus, everyone in town withdraws their dough, and the bank is empty ahead of Cortez and his gang.
Sale, whose head is as empty as the bank, fires his rifle at Cortez' car and blows out a tire. Cortez uncharacteristically surrenders. (For a change, at least he wasn't killed by Kay Francis.) Gargan and Churchill decide to stay in the hick town. Olin "Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze" Howland has a bit as a big city reporter. Cortez is onscreen for less than half the film.
I did some research on this film and discovered that during filming in the San Fernando Valley, a swarm of gnats, attracted by the bright lights, swooped down on the company. Everyone had to fan the air and swat at the gnats. This went on for three nights until a carload of flit guns arrived. Unfortunately, the film was completed.
Winners of the Wilderness (1927)
A rarity showed up in bad condition
For those interested,Tim McCoy and a young Joan Crawford star. Film is set in North America, in 1755, during the French and Indian War. McCoy is some sort of British scout; Crawford is a daughter of a French general, and complications ensue, including an Indian attack that must have been impressive looking in 1927, but in the print I saw, was a challenge just to tell who was who(m).
Crawford wears a blonde wig and white clothing for the first twenty minutes, and is almost totally washed out as a result. She changes back to brunette twenty some minutes in for the rest of the film. I can't criticize anything but the quality of the print. If you want to see this rarity and it turns up, don't delay; if I thought this was an easily available film, I would have quit watching after a minute or so .
I'm not rating this one because the bad quality of the print I saw completely overwhelms any good features the film might have had.
Chad Hanna (1940)
Not one of Fonda's better films
Henry Fonda plays an "aw shucks" country boy who falls in love with Albany Yates (Dorothy Lamour) in the circus... before later marrying Caroline (Linda Darnell), who has also joined the circus.
The movie was okay, not great. I've enjoyed Fonda more in other roles (e.g. 12 Angry Men), and I've been appreciating Linda Darnell more as I see more movies that feature her, but here her role was weaker (or it was just a poorly written script). I liked the Technicolor and got a kick out of Jane Darwell's role as a feisty fat lady. In one scene she stands holding a rifle, making a man promise that he won't bother the circus team again. He does. She then hits him over the head with the rifle, knocking him out, then says, "Now I believe him!"
This is basically the price Henry Fonda had to pay to star in "Grapes of Wrath". He had to agree to be a contract player at Fox and he occasionally got stuck with this kind of role in this kind of film. But he did make the most of it like the trooper he was.
Slave Girls (1967)
Incredibly silly entry from Hammer Studios.
David (Latimer) is a guide to an African expedition. The fool he's working for shoots, but only injures a leopard. David goes to put the leopard out of its' misery, and unknowingly enters the land of The Sacred Great White Rhinoceros, which is guarded by fierce natives. They capture David, and their leader speaks English. He sentences David to death, while the others babble and wail nonsense (literally "ooga booga--listen for the phrase). David escapes, and wanders further into the Rhino's land. He is captured, this time by unfriendly women. You can guess the rest of the plot.
The only acting required is to keep a straight face throughout the silliness. Beswick succeeds admirably at this, and went on to better, more dignified roles with Hammer and AIP ( 1971's "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde", 1974's "Seizure", etc.). Ronay succeeds. Latimer has a hard time keeping from smiling and in one instance, laughing.
The script is laughable. It goes from business-like British, to nonsense, to pseudo-Biblical talk among the second group that captures Michael. For those who've seen "Carry On: Up the Jungle" (1970), there are two scenes from PW satirized in that film.
The movie shows as much T and A as Hammer dared in the mid 60's. It doesn't take a Freudian to figure out what these women are worshiping. Could be appreciated on a "so bad it's good" scale.
Et mourir de plaisir (1960)
Slow paced, but beautifully photographed vampire film.
Time is 1960. On a jet, a man tells his friends a story about an inexplicable medical mystery that happened in Italy. Count Leopoldo Karnstein (Ferrer) is making preparations for a masked ball to celebrate his wedding to Georgia Monteverdi (Martinelli). His cousin, Carmilla Karnstein (Vadim) is in love with Leopoldo, and jealous of Georgia. The night of the ball, Carmilla wants to be alone and wanders the estate. Odd events follow.
Director Vadim seems more interested in following the erotic possibilities afforded by vampirism than by following vampire folklore. Ferrer is good as Leopoldo, who treats the whole story of his family's vampirism as a joke, until it's too late. Martinelli is fine as Georgia, who's the imperiled Gothic heroine in a modern setting. Annette Vadim is very good as Carmilla, who at first doesn't know what's happening to her, and then thinks she's possessed by an ancestor.
The photography is by Claude Renoir, and his playing with colors, light, and shadows alone make the film worth checking out.
Movie is worth seeing because of the dream-like tone it sets, early on, and for Renoir's stunning photography.
Death Wish (1974)
Charles Bronson was born to play this role!
And I am giving this film a 10/10 not so much for being good cinema, but for being a great snapshot in time of where urban America was concerning crime and punishment in the mid 1970s. It resonated with so many people, and just as a film in general, I would say this is a 7.5/10.
Bronson plays a New York City architect, Paul Kersey. One night when he is away from home and his wife and grown daughter are home alone, a gang of criminals get into the apartment by posing as grocery store deliverymen and murder his wife and gang rape his daughter. The daughter is left in a catatonic state. Paul travels to Tucson for a job, and while there, he sees some mock western shoot-outs staged for entertainment and he begins to consider the value of the old "code of the west". Then he goes home to New York with a brand new revolver that is a gift from a client.
So he decides to go out at night and bait traps for criminals with himself, armed with the revolver. The first time he is mugged and shoots he only shoots the criminal once in the stomach. The guy saw him. If he lives he could be ID'd, but Paul is so traumatized by doing violence to a total stranger that he just runs home and becomes ill. But you know, just like violence escalates in the criminal population because it becomes easier as you repeat the act and become desensitized to it, so Paul becomes desensitized to shooting criminals. He begins to take on two and three at a time, making sure they are shot dead before he dispassionately walks off.
So the police are tasked to get this vigilante - after the first four or five bodies of criminals they figure that is what is going on. And in walks Vincent Gardenia as inspector Frank Ochoa of the NYPD. The police are putting way more manpower into finding the vigilante than they ever did or would to find the murderers/rapists who ruined Paul Kersey's life. But two interesting things are happening as the spree continues. First, muggings and violent crime in general are way down. Second, the citizenry are admiring and starting to imitate this vigilante to some degree. They are fighting back with hatpins, whatever they can find.
Now Ochoa has the blood of an investigator in him, but he also realizes that this vigilante is making his job and that of the police much easier and the city safer. So what happens? Watch and find out.
This film was a great study of what happens when urban environments inevitably divide into two camps - the civilized who abhor violence of any kind, and the criminals who prey on them. What happens when these two groups inevitably interact and the police only seem to be able to document the crimes, but can't stop them in any reliable way. Bronson says so much with his expressions and his walk - he has little dialogue here. It's when Death Wish became a franchise that it became a parody of itself. I would highly recommend this first one.
The Fall Guy (1955)
Dave O'Brien was much more than "the fall guy"
It was nice that MGM let the final Pete Smith short be about Dave O'Brien/Dave Barclay's contribution to the series. However, if you only saw this short, you'd think that Dave was only contributing stunts to slapstick comedy. He was much more than that, and so was the series. Coming from poverty row as an actor, he wrote, directed, and acted in the Pete Smith shorts. He was gifted at pantomime, and that was needed because the Pete Smith series was Smith narrating over O'Brien's actions.
The big studios stopped making one reel comic shorts in the 50s because of the economizing that had to be done due to competition with television. But this didn't get O'Brien down. He spent the rest of his life as a writer for Red Skelton on TV, and died at only age 57 in 1969.
This short is entertaining enough. I would probably give it a higher rating if it pointed out the diversity of Dave's talent.
I'm Still Alive (1940)
Woman of the Year it is not...
... because little RKO just didn't have the star power and budget to put much energy, excitement, or depth to this story. And yes, Katharine Hepburn as the big star would have made this film much better, but RKO had already deemed her box office poison, mainly because of their own awful scripts, and sent her packing to MGM, where the next ten years would prove her to be otherwise. But I digress.
This is the tale of a Hollywood stuntman, (Kent Tayler as Steve Bennett) who first feuds with then falls in love with and marries a big star (Linda Hayes as Laura Marley). Then, AFTER the ceremony, AFTER she sees Steve do his first big stunt post nuptials, THEN Laura pouts until he gives up the profession he loves and becomes a bit actor - and a mediocre one at that - in Laura's films. His first reaction is - "Well, I couldn't keep doing this the rest of my life." That is true. But he needed to come to that realization on his own schedule. And surely Laura must have noticed that all of her dates with Steve involved adventurous sports?
Eventually, Steve is brought down by a combination of missing his old profession, feeling he is under the thumb of his influential wife, and an accident on the set for which he blames himself because he was not the experienced guy doing the stunt. I'll let you see yourself how this paint by numbers plot pans out.
This film has a few things that recommend it. First, RKO has found its own Asta in Skip as Laura's dog that actually brings the feuding couple together in the first place. Second, there is the bar - "The Graveyard" - where all of the Hollywood stuntmen gather for a drink that closes anytime a stunt man dies. How does such a bar stay in business with such a narrow clientele and such a gloomy name? Finally, there is a laugh out loud minute at the beginning of the film where Steve and Laura go to their "trailers" on the movie set, before they first meet. Inside each "trailer" the place looks like a dressing room complete with cheery drapes on sunny windows. But outside - they look like the big portable trash containers you rent if you are moving and need to throw away a pile of junk! It was just a great comical art direction moment in film.