Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Machine-Gun Kelly (1958)
The gangsters seem like beatniks!...
The clothes and cars are of the 1930s, but sometimes the score sounds like something from the 30s, and other times, with bongos, it sounds like the soundtrack of a beatnik movie of the early 60s and late 50s. Even stranger, the actors talk like Beatniks lots of times. There is little bank robbery action here. Roger Corman did not have the same budget Warren Beatty had with "Bonny and Clyde" over at Warner Brothers, so he had to make do with this largely being a relationship and character study picture with scenes that could be staged on cheaply dressed sets.
This is notable and worthwhile for several reasons. It is an early role for Charles Bronson in the title role. In this highly fictional biopic Kelly is afraid of things that remind him of death - coffins and skulls for example. His fear of coffins plays heavily in one botched bank robbery when he encounters a funeral procession and is feet from the coffin and ends up being a no show for the job. Also, Susan Cabot, often remembered for playing the lead in Wasp Woman, is a dragon lady as Kelly's girlfriend. She seems to be much bolder and more bloodthirsty than Kelly is. In fact, Kelly had a wife that encouraged him in his life of crime and got him into machine guns. But the biggest reason to watch this - Morey Amsterdam. If you only remember him as Buddy Sorrell on the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 60s, and the bane of the existence of yes man Mel Cooley, then this performance is a revelation. He is a wacko but cowardly comrade of Kelly's that Kelly "teaches a lesson" to in a most unique way. This does not improve his overall mood, and though he has only a supporting role it is memorable.
Machine Gun Kelly and his wife were actually taken alive as shown in the film. For all of his bravado Kelly didn't want to die. Kelly died in prison in 1954. His wife was paroled in 1958, the same year this film was released. I wonder if she ever saw it?
Just one more thing - Connie Gilchrest plays Ma Becker here, Kelly's girlfriend's hard boiled brothel running mother. I kept thinking that if this picture had been made ten years later, Shelley Winters could have done a lot with this part, maybe even stolen the picture. I guess Corman and I were on the same page, because in 1970 he cast Winters as Ma Barker in "Bloody Mama" in a very similar kind of role.
The delightful and dastardly Dan Duryea...
... makes this film. Paramount made another film with the exact same name 25 years before, but it was a Gloria Swanson film very much of its time, and this is a film very much of its time - the film noir cycle. And the title is a bit bewildering since "manhandling" really has nothing to do with the plot.
The film opens with psychiatrist Dr. Redman listening to his patient, Alton Bennett (Alan Napier) , talking about a troubling recurring dream he has in which he murders his wealthy and wayward wife, Ruth (Irene Harvey). The doctor advises Bennett to sleep in the guest bedroom for a few nights if he is afraid of what he might do. He then tells his secretary, Merl (Dorothy Lamour), to return that night because he wants to tell Mrs. Bennett all about what her husband just said. Patient-doctor confidentiality isn't what it used to be apparently.
The most catching of Mrs. Bennett's possessions are a bunch of jewels that she owns that are worth and insured for one hundred thousand dollars. After the doctor tells Mrs. Bennett about her husband's dream, she blows it off basically telling the doctor that her husband is harmless. But the next day she is found murdered in her apartment and the jewels are missing.
There are plenty of suspects besides the husband. For one, the secretary Merl has some kind of secret past, and she has only been working for the doctor for four weeks. Her downstairs neighbor, a PI and ex-cop (Duryea) seems up to no good, and Ruth Bennett told her latest boyfriend about the husband's threat and he seems surprised and fascinated when she also tells him that the jewels are authentic - he thought they were fake. Who knows what other people Ruth might have told about the jewels or who these people that we know about might have told.
There are plenty of twists in this one, and who actually did it is a surprise, but it is a bit of a mystery that Duryea is third billed since he is the person you notice, whose character jumps off the screen at you. Lamour and even Sterling Hayden, whose big break will come the following year in Asphalt Jungle, and are both billed above Duryea, seem a bit two dimensional in this. It is really a plot driven noir.
Paramount didn't do very many noirs, but the ones they did do were done extremely well. Maybe this one isn't as well known as "Sorry Wrong Number" because there are no really big names in it. I'd recommend it.
An intense drama touching upon two families...
Each with a young son who is being severely bullied at school. The idea of bullying is the point of departure for a look at related issues, especially the idea of revenge. The original Danish title was actually that single word---revenge. It was changed (the new title is somewhat of a stub ) for the International release, probably for the better, at least for the USA since the original title would probably conjure the notion of an action film with a minimum of delicacy instead of what it is, a rather heavy-hitting soap opera that deals with the inevitable emotional upheaval with a modicum of nuance here and there.
The movie asks how does one handle this sort of humiliating experience. This theme is enlarged by the fact that one of the fathers is a doctor who treats patients at a Sudanese refugee camp and has to deal with roving warlords. Back home this father makes what what comes across as a wise decision in turning the other cheek when he himself is bullied and lightly pushed around by a neighbor mainly because the offense was relatively light weight but could have escalated into something of a serious and perhaps far-reaching consequence.
So what do you do when such discretion is lost on your 10-year-old son who thinks you're a coward and calls you a wimp? The teleplay makes clear that domestic corporal punishment or no dessert for a week is not the answer, it wants to mean business and point to a more non-visceral response. This episode is thematically important and hits home with its direct simplicity and urgency but is subservient in scope to what these two young boys are up to.
There is backstory where a mother has died of cancer in one family, and a separation is in progress in the other, both that take a toll on the two young boys. Danish actress Trine Dyrholm pulls off an incredibly charged scene where she stumbles upon the neighboring boy in the hall of a hospital towards whom she has an uncontrollable and justifiable anger when she suddenly realizes that she is talking to a child, a child the same age as her own. The struggle in betraying a sudden compassion in such a circumstance is extraordinary.
Wisely, the teleplay imposes an interruption to the scene, otherwise the whole thing might have been ruined by either over sentimentality or rank incredulity. As is, it is terrific and I still have not been able to quite get it out of my mind.
The FBI Story (1959)
James Stewart always rises above his material....
... and this little obscure piece of cinema history takes a book written about the FBI and turns it into two well told interwoven stories. One is the story of the life of one of the first FBI agents, the fictional John Hardesty (James Stewart) and his personal life through about 35 years as he marries and raises a family. The other is the story of the FBI from its infancy, told through the eyes and narration of Hardesty himself, covering several cases through the years including the Klan in the 20s, gangsters in the 30s, wartime espionage in the 40s, and then Communist espionage in the 50s. Vera Miles plays Hardesty's wife who does have her limits as the family is moved all over the country as Hardesty's assignments change.
One of the most interesting scenes to me is inside the Washington Bureau where dozens of women are in a big windowless concrete room filing stacks of correspondence by hand. That had to be mind numbing work.
I was surprised when I discovered the director was Mervyn LeRoy, because, although he directed some good ones over the years, he had a couple of bad habits. One was taking every single adapted play he directed and making it look like a play. In 1932 he actually changed scenes in one such film by having a curtain fall and then rise on another scene. The other bad habit was taking adapted books and have them play out like somebody is reading you the book - books on tape on film so to speak. This film, however, was done very well. But then I learned he and J. Edgar Hoover were friends, so maybe he had an extra incentive to have this one turn out well.
Agent Hardesty was certainly at the center of some big operations. The great irony of that being that J. Edgar was such a jealous guy that Hardesty would have spent a large part of his career in exile if he had been a real person with such a record of success. But then we would have no movie. So I found the secret to enjoying this film is to just forget about some of the actual truth that this film whitewashes over and enjoy it as an action/crime film of the time.
It can get a bit heavy handed and corny at times, but it holds up well due to the bigger than life talent of every man James Stewart.
Charlie Chan's Secret (1936)
10th outing for star Warner Oland as the title sleuth...
From 20th Century-Fox and director Gordon Wiles. Chan (Oland) heads to the mainland from his home turf in Hawaii to help solve the mystery of a missing heir, and he gets wrapped up in the backstabbing of an eccentric, wealthy family involved in seances and other trappings of the paranormal.
Seances, ouija boards, voices from the beyond...it seems if a series goes on long enough, they have to do a spooky/horror entry, and Charlie Chan is no exception. He's dropped into a standard "old dark house" style mystery, with a big spooky house riddled with hidden passages, and a murderer on the loose. The supporting cast is capable if unmemorable. The mystery has enough twists to keep viewers guessing.
This Is Not a Test (1962)
Bargain basement with a cast I didn't recognize...
... so imagine my surprise when...I couldn't stop watching it. This is strictly B, but oddly entertaining. The premise is that the US is under attack, and a by-the-book cop forms a blockade to prevent motorists from going to the city...where there will soon be chaos. The acting isn't bad at all, with the exception of the lead (the cop) who over acts his stiff character. It really is an interesting take on the unquestioned power of the authority figure in the early 60's, as well as the impact of the cold war, the 'red scare' . Each character has there own background to contend with, from the crusty old man who understands the situation to the wanted criminal on the run. A claustrophobic young girl, a fun-loving alcoholic couple, a good-citizen trucker... How long will each tolerate the sometimes brutal treatment by the cop? When will they give up hope of surviving? It's not great filmmaking, but the performances were better, and the dialogue wasn't as hokey as I expected.
Be afraid be very afraid...
... when you tell people, quite honestly, that neither you nor economists really understand why our gigantic national debt has not caused problems akin to those in the Weimar Republic where people were pushing around wheelbarrows of money to buy a loaf of bread. And, since nothing bad has happened yet, we might as well dump a few trillion more dollars into infrastructure. In the words of Han Solo, I've got a bad feeling about this.
Usually John takes an issue and breaks it down and explains it. I appreciate that he admits that this phenomenon of the lack of disaster in the face of such gigantic debt cannot be explained, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored either.
Interesting factoid - Did you know that 23% of all dollars ever printed have been created since January 1, 2020?
On the humorous front, I loved his piece on Peeps and Pepsi that made my pancreas want to curl up and die, his erotic Nicolas Cage pillows, and the bit about Uncle Sam digging a gigantic hole in the desert and his warning to kids.
The only trouble with tribbles is that they are not as good as this episode!
I haven't seen this episode lately, but it was well acted, written, and directed. Probably the best episode of the entire series.
McCoy is made delusional when he accidentally injects himself with a dangerous drug. He beams himself down to the planet the Enterprise is orbitting and then jumps through a time travel device on said planet. Now Kirk and Spock are on the planet at the time McCoy enters the time travel machine, and suddenly they can no longer communicate with the Enterprise. Somewhere in time, McCoy has managed to alter the events of history such that the Enterprise no longer exists.
Thus Spock and Kirk go through the time travel device to the same place that McCoy did, which is 1930 Depression era New York City. Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) is a woman who runs a mission there, and she gives them shelter and odd jobs to support themselves while Spock tries to determine what universe altering event McCoy has been a part of, and while Kirk and Keeler fall in love.
For all of the Fox films Joan Collins laid waste to in the 1950s, she is marvelous here as Keeler. She is authentic and you can see why Kirk would have fallen in love with her. Not an inkling of the cheesiness and overacting that made her so bad in the 50s or so good on Dynasty. And it makes you realize that history can turn on such small things.
It took ten months to write this script, and that effort shows. Even if you are not a big fan of Star Trek, if you know something of the nature of the main characters, I really do recommend this one.
Agnes of God (1985)
This film was a frantic "yoohoo!" at the Academy Awards....
... because you have all of the elements of an Oscar nominee there. There is a crisis of faith, a clash of logic versus faith, an extremely childlike woman accused of a most horribile crime, and fine acting, and a release date at the end of the year 1985, when the Academy tends to be paying attention. Problem is that the script really fails to tie anything together.
Agnes (Meg Tilly) is a young childlike nun who, in spite of her seeming innocence, has given birth to a baby with the newborn found dead in the waste basket in her room, seemingly murdered by Agnes. Psychiatrist Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda) is tasked by the court to interview Agnes and determine if she is fit to stand trial. She finds resistance in Mother Miriam (Ann Bancroft), who believes the baby was divinely conceived.
Livingston does more than just interview Agnes, as that wouldn't be a very engaging film. She turns in to the Canadian Columbo and unearths some unexpected details in the process that really have nothing to do with Agnes' fitness for trial. Livingston has long sense lost her faith, worn down by life, and by a mother who is in the throes of dementia and doesn't even know who she is. She is also dedicated to science, so this divine conception mumbo jumbo she is just not buying.
It is weird when Agnes becomes hysterical and then demonstrates the stigmata. But then I had an anti-vaxxer colleague once who had hysterical chickenpox after I told her I had a shingles shot. She had already had chickenpox as a child. Had I not told her about the shingles shot would she have broken out in hives? If Agnes had not known about the stigmata would she have demonstrated this phenomenon?
The reason I have a spoiler warning on this review is, after the plot goes in circles longer than I had patience with it, and demonstrates more secret passage ways in the convent than a medieval torture chamber, the cause of the baby's birth is revealed to be exactly what you'd expect it to be. Some peasant boy romancing Agnes, bedding Agnes - perhaps raping her, with the result being pregnancy. Agnes just wasn't knowledgeable enough about the facts of life to know what happened to her. Why some people keep saying that the cause of her pregnancy is left unresolved I have no idea.
I give it five stars as a fine demonstration of the acting craft.
It's a great story, a shame so much of it is fiction
This highly fictionalized account of Ben "Bugsy" Siegal's life looks and sounds great. I wish that films actually made in the 1940s looked this good. The ballroom scenes and the big bands are all perfect, the automobiles long and shiny. When Warren Beatty made a period piece, it usually looked very good, so this was not a surprise.
So Beatty portrays Ben Siegal as a sociopathic gangster whose curse is that he is a dreamer who is careless with money. He somewhat dreams of being in pictures and enjoys the glamor of Hollywood, but ultimately dooms himself when he falls in love with an idea - building a casino in the middle of nowhere in Nevada, where prostitution and gambling are legal. He argues to his mob investors that they can be 100% legitimate. And if they decide to be less than 100% legitimate, he figures controlling the gambling interests in a state where it is legal and at that point - the 1940s - unexploited, he can eventually control the state.
The other decision he makes that dooms himself is getting involved with Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), a kindred spirit in all the wrong ways. They fight violently, make up violently, and she ultimately gets grabby with the mob money that is the construction funds for the Flamingo. This was a very versatile role for Annette Bening as Hill, and is probably the best thing she ever did. She was slated to be Cat Woman in a film the following year, but she managed to do something much more remarkable - actually get Beatty to enter into matrimony - an institution he had skillfully avoided up to that point - in a union that yielded four children. And she also appears to be the model for the Columbia Lady with a Torch - although everybody denies it in spite of Beatty's heavy investment in Sony/Columbia.
Other interesting performances - Ben Kingsley as the low key Meyer Lansky. In spite of being a Best Actor Oscar winner, that honor never really paid off for him in break-out roles. Elliott Gould as the hapless Harry Greenburg. Honestly, you rat on the mob and another member of the mob asks you to go for a ride and you say you love riding in the night air? The underrated Joe Mantagna as just "George". Since "George" was starring in the film "Manpower" that was shooting as Bugsy looks on, that had to be George Raft. Were they afraid the Raft estate would sue, and who exactly is the Raft estate since Raft never had any kids?
Finally, not so much an interesting performance but an interesting vignette - Bugsy walks up to singer/actor Lawrence Tibbett's house and pays him sixty thousand in cash for it. Like so much of the movie, this never happened. But Tibbett's kids did object to the portrayal of their dad as a short elderly overweight wimpy guy. But somehow, the film makers were NOT afraid of the Tibbett estate!
The one thing that annoyed me about this film - the score by Ennio Morricone. It never breaks out into any particular kind of mood, and it sounds enough like one of Morricone's other scores - the one for The Untouchables - that it sounds like if it were to take off it would sound exactly like that score.
Okay America! (1932)
Looks like something that Warner Bros. could have done the same year...
... In fact, this would have played better with Lee Tracy or James Cagney in the part of the Walter Winchell like Larry Wayne and Joan Blondell as his secretary who loves her boss from afar. Instead you have Lew Ayres as the sassy gossip columnist and Maureen O'Sullivan as his secretary, and they acquit themselves pretty well. Although, O'Sullivan got to show much more sass after she signed with MGM.
The print I saw was very bad, with faces often looking like light bulbs with dark holes where eyes are, so it is hard to evaluate lots of things, including the art design, but it was better than nothing. Still, I would have liked to get a better look at Margaret Lindsay as the kidnapped girl.
Wayne has a column and a radio show and is always plugging pieces of gossip about well known figures in both. The main plot - about Wayne getting involved with solving the kidnapping of the daughter of the wealthy best friend of the president - isn't long enough to fill the running time, so they have a scene where Wayne is confronted with a man who finds out his wife is cheating on him via Wayne's column and wants to shoot Wayne instead of his wife, and a shot of Wayne inside what looks to be The Cotton Club, or a facsimile thereof. It would be great to have a pristine print just to get a look at the inside of this club and at the costumes of the chorines.
So the main plot has Louis Calhern, believably enough, as a mobster. Not so believably, he uses his perfect diction to sling words like "ain't" and "mugs" like he is Ed Brophy. There is even a scene with the president, which we are told is a Republican, so this must be Hoover. Hoover had a midwestern accent, this president is only shown in silhouette and has a patrician tone - very un-Hoover. With a very unexpected ending and even a man who walks like a zombie, this initially formulaic seeming film got interesting in a hurry. I'd recommend it. Just have patience with the bad prints that are out there.
Lively Swedish comedy
...from director Sigurd Wallen, which also marks the proper screen debut of Ingrid Bergman. In a rundown neighborhood of Stockholm known as Old Town, a motley assortment of characters go about their days getting into light mischief. There's the "Count" (Valdemar Dalquist), an old and affable man always on the hunt for a drink; Gurkan (Sigurd Wallen), the Count's pal and the henpecked partner of fishmonger Amalia (Tollie Zellman); innkeeper Borstis (Eric Abrahamsson) and his young cleaning girl Elsa (Bergman); and mysterious newcomer Ake (Edvin Adolphson) who may or may not be a wanted thief and bank robber.
This lightweight affair about poor but pleasant people making the best of the lives while also working and hoping for more reminded me a bit of the Marseilles Trilogy from Marcel Pagnol, the French film trilogy about workers along the waterfront. The characters are vivid and likable, even if the situations are at times a bit too regional. For instance, much is made about needing ration books to obtain liquor, but this isn't explained in any detail, so I'm not sure why there was rationing in pre-WW2 Sweden. I watched this for Ingrid Bergman, and she's not bad. Only 19 when this was filmed, she has quite a substantial role, and even gets to sing a few lines.
Q: Into the Storm (2021)
This show is more interesting if you know something about computer science...
... and even I was bored. If you didn't know what Q'Anon believed before you watched this, I doubt you'd know it afterwards. What wasn't lost on me is the fervor with which these people do believe stuff that sounds like pure hogwash to most people.
I am basically rewriting this review based on watching the entire series. I still don't agree with the 10 star reviewers. This documentary is actually three stories not one story, and thus it is tough to integrate. It follows Fred Brennan, a man who suffers from brittle bone disease and is therefore wheelchair bound, the story of the Watkins father and son team ,and lastly the Q followers. Let's just call the last two groups "quirky" for the sake of being kind. And to try to integrate those communities in one documentary is just too challenging.
Trying to being open minded and allowing yourself to go down the rabbit hole with that crew of pathological liars and narcissists would not be easy. Add on the supremacists and the religious crackpots and hostile gamers and this was not a day trip to the beach. Fred Brennan seemed to have a change of heart. He was the only person spotlighted here who seemed the least bit redeemable.
It ultimately makes me ask an existential question of myself - If I had been born in Algeria to a household of devout Muslims, would I be a devout Muslim instead of a devout Christian?. Maybe I just want to believe? It seems to be the case with these QAnon folks. They live mundane work a day lives and seem to want to be part of something bigger. They are largely white, largely working class, and see their world slipping away from them because the US is becoming so integrated with the rest of the world and thus much more diverse. But still, to be taken in by this nonsense is just too much.
Fiend Without a Face (1958)
Fun little odd addition to the Criterion collection...
... which usually highlights the best films from around the world. So you'd expect and you would find "Seven Samurai", "The Third Man", and "Bicycle Thieves" among those films that are or have been in print by this group. But why this film?
I really don't know. Maybe just because it is a good representative of late 50s sci fi horror. In the 30s and 40s people were afraid of Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. In the nuclear age people are just not that afraid of a giant bat. And that's where this little film comes in.
It's got lots of angles covered. There is the American military installation in Canada. The military and the nearby farming community do not like or trust one another. There is nuclear power at the installation...to power the radars? I looked this up and this actually was a thing. The natives think that the nuclear power plant is effecting the milk production of their cows. One nearby villager is killed one night when he is nearby the military installation taking notes. Then three more locals are murdered. And in a most unusual way. Their brain and spinal column has been sucked out of their body through a tiny hole in their head. And whatever killed them is invisible. So now the Canadians think there is a crazy American soldier killing people on top of everything else.
So enter Major Cummings (Allan Thompson) to solve the mystery. And this film is so very 50s. Cummings openly takes speed so he can work late hours. His idea of romancing a gal is to walk into her house just because the door is unlocked to find her clad only in a bath towel. In fact, Cummings is so bad at romance a special sax score plays whenever it is supposed to be a romantic moment, because you'd never figure it out without that cue. And we are just waiting to see what this invisible killer looks like because it makes the weirdest "swishing" noises as it approaches.
To obviously be a B film with a low budget, it does what it does well, and manages to include as a clue a word that does not exist - "sibonetics". Did they mean cybernetics? I'd recommend this quirky little film that is home in both the Criterion Collection and MST3K.
Girl in Danger (1934)
Ladies crave indictment
This, the last of the Inspector Trent series by Columbia, starring Ralph Bellamy, involves a bored society woman (Shirley Grey as Gloria). She sits at a nightclub with her friends when one of those friends tells her about a gangster who wanted to hire him as an attorney. That gangster, Dan Terrance, happens to be in the same nightclub. He introduces them (Some friend!). Gloria tells dashing Dan she craves excitement, and Dan lets Gloria be the getaway driver when he steals an expensive emerald, which is apparently in a room with an open window, no burglar alarm, and no guards. Some people just don't deserve nice things. They make a semi-clean getaway, in that they get back to Gloria's place unarrested. Dan says he will send somebody to her to retrieve the emerald tomorrow. But he won't tell her who the guy is, give her a password, or anything. When the next day somebody shows up but only speaks in vagaries about what he is there for, Gloria is dubious about the authenticity of this person.
By the time the film is half way over, Gloria is regretting that the chose this path for excitement. No surprise since her new hobby involves high speed chases, kidnapping, crooked bankers (they've always been a problem, haven't they?), murder, and a whole other bunch of thieves she didn't anticipate who also want the emerald and will do anything to get it.
This is a fast moving little crime drama at under one hour. Columbia was a poverty row outfit, so they didn't have money for expensive sets, and it is obvious that several rooms are the same room with different set pieces. There is no element of mystery in this entry as there was in the others, and everything feels very rushed. The movie poster, with Trent's arm around Gloria, makes it look like they are romantically involved, but they are not. Trent is smarter than that. If Gloria would do this, who's not to say that some day, five years down the road, she would get bored with the kids and dishpan hands and go on a five state crime spree to blow off some steam? Pretty embarrassing for a cop looking to make it to retirement!
Les émotifs anonymes (2010)
A wholly predictable story elevated by the outstanding performances
This is a French film about two people in a small chocolate factory, the owner and employee. Both people are pretty dysfunctional emotionally, but have a common love of creating great chocolates. They are so afraid of even making eye contact. We all can identify with their basic shyness but it becomes alternately amusing and heartbreaking taken to the extreme by both these characters. The supporting cast of vendors and fellow chocolatiers help round out the fairly limited leads, representing us - how average people like us would react in this situation.
French locations and trappings gave an old world exotic feel to the story too. When people wonder why "they don't make movies like they used to", realize that sometimes they do: This film is no different than a William Powell/Kay Francis 80 minute romantic comedy, appealing to the same audience.
Moonlight and Pretzels (1933)
Footlights and lederhosen
On the surface, this is a Laemmle era Universal attempt to capture the magic of the Busby Berkeley musicals over at Warner Brothers made the same year. But look deeper, and it is actually much more done with much less.
In a small town, songwriter George Dwight (Roger Pryor) meets and teams up with music store owner Sally Upton (Mary Brian) with George composing and performing his songs in her store, upping foot traffic, boosting sales, and ultimately saving the business. Then George gets a letter from a music publishing business in New York, and off he goes, pledging to write. But he never does.
It's not that George gets a big head, he's just busy and he is a success, eventually leading to him putting on his own Broadway show, "Moonlight and Pretzels". Sally decides to come to New York and find George herself, but he initially doesn't even remember her, even when she shows up as a chorine in one of his numbers. Complications ensue.
This thing is an original. You can't say that Pryor and Brian are just standing in for Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler over at Warner Brothers, because the situation is much more complex than just a couple of kids in a show falling in love. And the story throws every Depression era backstager plot device in the book into the script, and yet it all works - crooked businessmen out to cheat George, the big time gambler where easy comes and easy goes, the girl from the sticks who gets a big head, the fast talking wise cracking stagehands, and Bobby Watson as the rather effete dance director.
The numbers are originals and the music memorable. Bobby Connolly is obviously copying Berkeley's style, and the musical finale is much like the Forgotten Man number in 42nd street, but then Berkeley's numbers could be described as numbers shot at angles in such a way that could never be done on a stage. This finale actually has newsreel footage in it! Well I guess that is no crazier than Winnie Shaw's face being transformed into the island of Manhattan in Golddiggers of 1935.
I'd recommend it.. It is certainly one of a kind among the second wave of early sound musicals.
An ending I can root for!...
... because by the time Joan Crawford does away with Van Heflin's character at the end, the main thing I was afraid of was that she would stop with only one bullet. What a contemptible cad he played!
This was one of those post war films trying to get scientifically to the bottom of mental illness, specifically Louise's (Joan Crawford), when she is picked up on a city street catatonic and looking for David - that would be Van Heflin's character. But this film is not all test tubes and therapy. There's plenty of melodrama to keep the viewer interested.
Through flashbacks you see that David and Louise were having an affair, and that Louise fell deeply in love with David, the piano playing construction engineer who says he has wanderlust because of the war. He breaks it off with her because he says she is smothering him, but it's just not that he doesn't want to get married, it's just that he doesn't want to marry her.
But does David take Louise's pain seriously and give her time and room to heal? Nope. He shows zero consideration and goes down the next day and gets a job from Louise's employer. Makes fun of her pain. When she marries her employer, the wealthy Mr. Graham, David invites himself to the wedding, says snide things to Louise, hangs around the house, and gets involved with and ultimately engaged to Louise's new twenty year old stepdaughter. David is 35. As an aside, this guy is just not thinking ahead. Ten or fifteen years from now things can get hard in such a May- December romance. Or to put it bluntly, things stop getting hard.
Louise starts seeing and hearing things. Starts thinking that she has killed people only to realize it was a hallucination. So did she really kill David or just wish that she did? Watch and find out.
This film had great atmosphere and Joan is in fine form as a woman who is losing her mind. Would it have ever happened if David hadn't hit her so hard emotionally? Who knows. Massey is good as Dean Graham, a stern presence as always, but believe it or not he and Joan as newlyweds kicking up their heels on a ballroom floor is actually believable. Geraldine Brooks is good as Carol - daughter of Dean Graham. She plays it somewhat snobby and acts like, well, a twenty year old girl. Not 16. Not 25. So seldom did a production code era film get a college age girl's character and maturity just right. This is one of those times.
It's too bad Joan spent so many years at MGM being put into bad roles often in bad films and not more years at Warner Brothers, a studio that knew how to put her in roles that played to her strengths. This is one of my favorite Joan Crawford films. I'd recommend it.
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
A sweet romance buried underneath "Man Show" style humor
If you liked "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" you will love this movie. In fact, it rejoins a couple of the supporting cast of that film, starring Steve Carrell, who played "Brick" who, in my opinion, stole that show with his clueless stares and inane ramblings. In this film, Andy, the 40-year-old virgin, gets a lot of unwanted help from his male coworkers, who are all so completely dysfunctional that they really don't have any business trying to repair anyone else's private life. The fact that Andy also still rides a bicycle and is chided by his coworkers for that, too, just seems to emphasize that modern society has turned virginity into a stigma similar to not being able to pass a driving test.
Instead of wanting to lose his virginity, though, what Andy really wants is a relationship with the nice woman running a store across the street from where he works. His virginity is just a byproduct of him not finding a good relationship with a woman yet. The resulting story is actually a rather sweet romance buried underneath all of the Man Show style humor. It carries a rare message in modern film - that chastity before marriage is not a bad thing, and that everybody is running on their own schedule.
Terrible eco-horror schlock...
...from American General Pictures and director Harry Kerwin. Wayne Crawford stars as university marine biologist Mike, who is in the small coastal Florida town of Palm Cove to do some pollution testing on the local waters. A nearby chemical plant, run by the shady Papa Jack (Bert Freed), has been dumping unknown chemicals into the ocean, and it seems to be causing the local barracuda population to become overly aggressive. As Mike digs deeper into what's going on, powerful forces begin to close in.
This micro-budget travesty is a mash-up of Jaws and countless nature-gone-wrong horror tales, slathered in a thick coat of 70's conspiracy paranoia. The acting is woeful, particularly from star, co-writer, and underwater sequence director Wayne Crawford. William Kerwin, star of many of H.G. Lewis' memorable 60's horror films, plays the local sheriff. The killer fish are really secondary to the conspiracy plot, and the fish attacks consist of someone off camera holding a bad barracuda prop and slapping the actors and actresses with it while red fruit punch is generously squirted into the seawater. The movie's cynical ending is not unexpected. Perhaps the only redeeming feature, if barely, is the throbbing synth score from Klaus Schulze, which seems like an almost-there rip-off of Tangerine Dream.
Bottom-of-the-barrel comedy from Realart Pictures
... and director William Beaudine. Nightclub performers Duke Mitchell (Duke Mitchell) and Sammy Petrillo (Sammy Petrillo) fall out of an airplane and land on a remote tropical island. The natives nurse them back to health, and Duke falls for the chief's daughter Nona (Charlita). Nona, who was educated in the US, introduces Duke and Sammy to the island's resident mad scientist, Dr. Zabor (Bela Lugosi), who is experimenting with transforming apes into monkeys, monkeys into apes, and humans into both.
This one certainly lives down to its reputation. Mitchell and Petrillo, for those who don't know, were an awful nightclub act that was a direct rip-off of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Petrillo, who looks a lot like the young Lewis and had a gift for vocal mimicry, makes Jerry's comic antics look nuanced and reserved, while Mitchell, a cheeseball crooner, wasn't fit to polish Martin's shoes. Combine their "talents" with a sub-moronic script, no-budget production values, and the directorial flourish of "One Shot" Beaudine, and you have a bad-movie "classic". Seeing the elderly, emaciated Lugosi trying his best in this garbage was both inspiring (he gave it his all even in this trash) and depressing (what's he doing in this trash?). Bela followed this up with his Ed Wood-directed appearances. I can't really say that I would rank this with the more entertaining of the worst movies ever made. I've sat through more excruciating experiences, but this one provided nothing warranting a second viewing. It gets two stars just for Bela being such a trooper.
Moody Iranian vampire film
Set in an oil industry ghost town-like city in Iran, this movie, directed by newcomer Ana Lily Amirpour - an American of Iranian descent - is highly reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's early style. Interestingly, in an interview between her and legendary producer/director Roger Corman on the DVD extras, she claims she's not much of a fan of Jarmusch. But as virtually everyone who studies film has pointed at the stylistic similarity, she's taking it as a compliment.
Like Jarmusch's work, the movie is shot in atmospheric black and white - and it works beautifully. The dialogue is all Persian (Farsi) - even though the movie was shot in America, standing in for Iran - and is subsequently sub-titled. However, this does not work against the film (whose strength is its visuals) at all, as the dialogue is at all times minimal and slow, thus making the reading easy and unobstructive to the fascinating camera work.
So, it's a horror movie. It's principal character is a Persian woman vampire - who stalks the town, robed in a black chador, which is quite an unsettling shadow to behold standing 10 feet away from a potential victim late at night. The events exist within a kind of imagined Iranian underworld of pimps, hookers, drug dealers and street urchins. Our vampire watches this dark town, at times slowly riding a skateboard down the street! When she interacts with people, she is unblinking, mostly un-verbal, and seems to be at all times appraising their circumstances and their worth.
Aside from the beautiful blocking shots and photography, a high point of the film is its use of sound effects, music (which sometimes references Morricone-like spaghetti westerns) and an impressive soundtrack of mostly modern pop music.
Any criticism of this movie (though it's more praised than not) seems to center around it being "style over substance" and "too slowly paced". Well, it is moody, that's for sure - and maybe too slow for many of today's horror fans, that's true - but there's no arguing that its greatest strength is its style.
You know you're a proper villain when you have your own theme music...
... played live whenever you happen to be around.
This is the second of two Fox films made for the series with Basil Rathbone as Holmes. The film starts with a jury acquitting Dr. Moriarty (George Zucco) of murder. Right after that, in bursts Holmes and Watson with evidence that proves Moriarty was guilty, but the judge says it is too late. And believe me the judge is not happy about it. As Moriarty shares a cab with Holmes as they leave the courthouse, they both provoke and prod each other verbally. Moriarty says that he intends to break Holmes by pulling off the crime of the century right under his nose. Then he says, with Holmes' reputation ruined, he can retire in peace.
In the following days Holmes gets two requests for help. One is for the crown, helping guard a rare emerald that is to be added to the crown jewels. The other is from a young wealthy woman (Ida Lupino as Ann Brandon) who has received a drawing indicating her brother will be murdered and even gives the date. Ann is not being hysterical, as her father received exactly the same kind of note right before he was murdered when she was a child. This double duty requires Holmes to practically be in two places at once. Is Moriarty up to something? Of course he is! But as to what, watch and find out.
Zucco makes a very good Moriarty. After returning home after his acquittal he goes into his greenhouse to admire his plants and notices one of them is dead. He chastises his manservant for having "murdered" a plant by not watering it properly. Later, when his manservant is shaving him, he practically dares him to kill him with the bare blade. He's evil, he's edgy, and he prevents his role from descending into camp.
There are a couple of odd things I had questions about. At one point, Holmes and Moriarty are having it out in a gun battle and Holmes runs up the stairs of a building. Moriarty chases Holmes. With the police on the way. Up the stairs of a building where there is no exit. Did Moriarty get confused and think this is the twentieth century where a helicopter can arrive with his minions and help him make his escape? Also, the bit with the death threat to the Brandon family. Did Moriarty have something to do with the murder of Ann Brandon's father years ago, or did he just know about it and duplicate the elements? This is never explained.
Nigel Bruce gets some good lines in as Dr. Watson. At one point he is lying in the street helping Holmes reenact a crime. A passerby asks him if he should get a doctor. Watson replies "I'm a doctor, what's the matter with you?".
The Silent Witness (1932)
This was better than I'd thought it would be
This seldom seen Fox courtroom melodrama at first looks like it is a paint by numbers precode, but the second half shows that it is more than that.
In London, Young Anthony Howard (Bramwell Fletcher) is seeing a slightly older more worldly woman, Nora (Greta Nissan). But one day when visiting her flat he finds her extranged husband visiting, acting like he comes and goes at will and making fun of Tony. When the husband leaves, Tony and Nora get into a fight, she breaks up with him, and Tony strangles her in a fit of passion. He flees the scene in a panic. He tries to keep it from his family, but then he learns the police are on the way and he spills everything. His dad , Sir Austin (Lionel Atwill), sends everyone else upstairs while he speaks to the police, who are indeed there to talk about Nora's murder. But they are actually there to speak to Sir Austin, because they found his billfold in Nora's flat. Now that's a surprise. So Sir Austin goes on trial for Nora's murder unwilling to say his son did it, but also thinking that he can get acquitted himself.
But then, like the title says, there is a silent witness. OK, exactly how many men did Nora have stuffed in her apartment that night, none knowing about the others? And what kind of police force risks the life of a witness when they know the bad guy has a cane that ... shoots bullets???
It turned out far less conventional than I thought it was going to be, and it is great seeing Lionel Atwill before he was typecast in B horror films involving cannibalism, vampirism, and wax museums. Greta Nissan played the female lead in the silent version of Hell's Angels, but was replaced by Jean Harlow when it was remade with sound. And the irony is that is exactly who Greta Nissan reminds me of here - Jean Harlow. She has the voice and the attitude.
Definitive work on Val Lewton
Excellent documentary examines Lewton's life, from his arrival in Hollywood and sponsorship by his aunt Nazimova, to an 8 year stint working for David O. Selznick, to his arrival at RKO and his setting up a low budget horror film unit. The documentary examines each film he made, from "Cat People" (1942) to his final film "Apache Drums" (1951). Lewton had a deep streak of pessimism in his nature, and that deeply influenced his films.
This is one of the two best documentaries I've seen for the first time this year. A must see for horror film lovers, and those who admire Lewton's films. Documentary gets at what made Lewton tick, so to speak.