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Roses Are Red (1947)
Tight little noir
Compact, tough little noir with Don Castle playing a dual role as the new D.A. and a criminal who impersonates him. Complications ensue when the good guy then has to impersonate the bad guy -- but the bad guy's wife shows up. Joe Sawyer is effective playing against his normal type as a corrupt cop. Edward Keane plays the main bad guy, wheelchair-bound but still able to be dastardly. Good to see Jeff Chandler (on the bad side) and James Arness (on the good side) in small but effective roles. It moves fast, the story's not bad and the cast acquits itself well. This one's a rarity that I saw at the American Cinematheque film noir festival. Very much worth your time.
While New York Sleeps (1920)
Solid three-story silent with surprisingly good stories
Three stories ostensibly about New York, though really only the last one is -- the others could have been set anywhere. But the gimmick is that in each story the same three main actors play the three main parts. The stories are surprisingly good in an O. Henry-type of way. Sometimes the acting gets into that over-the-top histrionics you may dread in silent films, but frequently it seems quite modern and undated. First story's about the wife of a rich man who gets blackmailed by a mysterious person from her past. Second one is about a vamp who picks up a rich man in a club... and he happens to be married. Third one is set in the poverty-stricken East Side (with lots of great exteriors on the river) about a woman who marries a man she doesn't love and has to care for his paralyzed father. All very worthwhile, even if Charles Brabin's style is sometimes stodgy. Wish it were on DVD. Saw it at Cinecon 43 in Hollywood.
Omnibus: All My Loving (1968)
Interesting time capsule but a bit dated
Just saw this at a screening at the American Cinematheque with director Tony Palmer present. For the record, interviews and performances include: Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Cream, Frank Zappa, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Martin, Donovan, Jimi Hendrix, Manfred Mann, Lulu, The Who, Pete Townshend, Anthony Burgess and others. Great to see the fine performances; trenchant insight from Zappa. McCartney and Donovan seem like naive, starry-eyed idealists in hindsight. But a lot of what seems most dated is the whole "what's this pop music all about?" stuff from guys in suits doing experiments and such -- seems almost like a Monty Python parody of this kind of BBC documentary. Still, just as archival footage, it's a treat. Wish he'd shown some performance footage of Zappa and the Mothers, since all the other bands are well represented.
Night World (1932)
Nice work by all in unheralded little film
Yes, it's a cheap versions of GRAND HOTEL, but I think it works just fine. I'm going to disagree with some previous reviewers: I think Karloff is marvelous as the club owner, bringing a fierceness and bravado to it that others would lack. The rest of the cast is also good: Ayres, Marsh and Muse all register strongly. Hedda Hopper is indeed amazing as the bad mother. And George Raft stands out in his small part. A little of it is creaky and dated, but overall, I thought the camera-work was fluid and fine, the story moved fast and the characters were well-written. Nice little Busby Berkeley number near the top, too. Well worth checking out.
I'll Give a Million (1938)
Very charming comedy full of great character actors
This is another turn on the 'rich guy goes hobo' routine, but it's grand fun. Millionaire Warner Baxter tires of all the hangers-on; when he saves tramp Peter Lorre from drowning, he switches clothes and tries out life with no dough. But Lorre tells the press that there's a millionaire dressed as a tramp who's going to give someone a million francs just for being nice to him. So the whole French town takes in all the tramps and gives them everything. Meanwhile, Baxter falls in -- and falls in love with -- Marjorie Weaver at the local circus. Lorre gives one of his best performances; and when he teams up with fellow tramp John Carradine towards the end, it's a match made in heaven. I'd watch a whole movie starring those two guys in those two roles! Baxter is just fine -- if a tad long in the tooth -- in the lead. Weaver is a fresh face; and the cast is full of wonderful faces and wonderful actors. Check this rarity out if it comes your way.
Adventure Island (1947)
Fast-paced "B" Island adventure
Sam Newfield, here working under the nom de plume of Peter Stewart, actually has a good cast and decent script this time out. All those involved acquit themselves well. For any of you familiar with Mr. Newfield, who'd shoot a movie in 3 days and frequently have lots of people standing around talking for indefinite periods of time, this is a welcome surprise. The film moves fast, the actors are all good (OK, Rory Calhoun is a little stiff, but he's the good guy, so get over it)and there's actually some character development (former drunk skipper Kelly who finds redemption). They don't get to the island of the title till two-thirds of the way through, but that won't bother you. Alan Napier then appears and steals the show in a sinister performance. It's a lot of fun and doesn't betray its low budget origins.
Night Unto Night (1949)
Good-looking noir that doesn't make all that much sense
The story is kind of a muddle and doesn't always make sense: Both Ronald Reagan and Viveca Lindfors are damaged, brooding people. She's obsessed with her dead husband. He has epilepsy and thinks his life will end soon. But they fall in love -- and somehow must overcome their personal problems to find happiness. Her 'turn' to the good side really is contrived, with no reason behind it. His is almost as bad. Plus Reagan is totally miscast and comes across as about as emotional as a block of driftwood. Lindfors, Osa Massen and Broderick Crawford all try hard. But the man who tries the hardest is director Don Siegel. He dismisses this movie in his autobiography (though he later romanced leading lady Lindfors) but he works his butt off on it with constantly interesting camera moves and shot compositions -- some amazing dolly-work and beautiful black-and-white cinematography. So I'm giving this high marks because Siegel makes it seem so much better than it actually is. And that's the mark of a first-rate director.
The Notorious Lone Wolf (1946)
Minor but entertaining Wolf
This Lone Wolf entry introduces Gerald Mohr in the title role... and that's part of the problem. It labors for so long to set up that "this new guy" is the Lone Wolf that it takes a while for the plot to kick in -- it's like they felt they had to convince us that Mohr really is the Wolf, honest! Forget about that Warren William guy! So the first ten to fifteen minutes are rather slow. And Mohr is no Warren William. But he's competent enough and once the story gets going, it's amiable and breezy and fun. All about -- of course -- a stolen gem and the Wolf's attempts to find the real thief (he's blamed, as always). So it's not as good as some of the earlier Warren William Wolfs, but it's not bad, either. Moves along a quick clip and wraps it all up neatly, with some good fun as Mohr and sidekick Blore pretend to be Arab Royalty as they try to find the lost gem.
The Underworld Story (1950)
First rate "B" noir
Dan Duryea is one of the best actors out there, able to play the slimiest slime-ball and the staunchest of heroes. Here he does a little of both and you're never sure which side he's on. The movie starts as a Noir Crime Thriller, then becomes a 30's-style social drama, then switches back to noir and crime -- but it never loses its style, its verve and its pace. Constantly fun and involving, due to Duryea's movable morals -- and to Stanley Cortez's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Director/Writer Endfield does a fine job keeping things going, setting up interesting shots and corralling a cast that's great down to every tiny part. Bad Guy Howard Da Silva chews the scenery with relaxed gusto and is a joy to watch. Highly recommended.
Dr. Renault's Secret (1942)
Superior "B" Programmer
Yes, this is a poor man's ISLAND OF LOST SOULS -- it can only afford ONE lost soul. But J. Carrol Naish is so amazing as the Ape-Man and he has such a marvelous supporting cast (including the always-solid George Zucco and Mike Mazurki) that it's absolutely watchable and compelling. Plus director Harry Lachman takes such care in creating each shot -- beautiful shots, every single one -- that it looks far more expensive than it must have been. They play the Man-Beast as more sympathetic and Pitiful than Frightening, which is a very good choice. So this doesn't have Big Scares but it has emotion and tenderness and care and wonderful attention to detail. I liked it quite a bit.
The Soul of a Monster (1944)
Beautiful little Lewtonesque "B" horror film
This movie is a treat: a beautifully-shot, well-acted little horror film in the tradition of Val Lewton. Admittedly, it's very preachy and didactic with a load of pretentious spiritual dialogue, but it's far more advanced than any of the "Monsters jumping out at you" brand of horror that most studios were doing in the 40's. George Macready (always great) is a dying surgeon whose wife pleads with the forces of darkness, or any forces, to save him. Enter Rose Hobart, a mysterious woman who somehow brings him back from death's door. But Macready is now a changed man: moody, vicious, mean, distracted. He eventually leaves his wife and goes to live with Hobart. His friends try to save him, but he nearly kills one of them, then allows another to die when he could easily have saved him. This is all shot in a dreamlike style that takes place in a nightmarish night-world where every action seems to be a choice between life and death, every thought is about salvation and damnation. It's not perfect, but it's very unusual and very worth catching. Wish it were out on DVD.
One Body Too Many (1944)
Too Much Jack Haley; Too Little Lugosi
One wonders at the producers who OK'd the script that centers on a will that could be 'reversed' if certain things aren't done properly. That's only the first of many things that stretch credibility to the breaking point. I know, I know: it's a comedy. But in order for good comedy to work, it has to take place in a realistic setting. And why would the villain, after dispatching two people already in a straightforward fashion, decide he has to take the heroine and climb up on the roof with her 'to make it look an accident'? Surely the writers could come up with something better than that, no? Anyway, it's a mildly amusing film in which the usual heirs to a fortune have to spend a night in a spooky mansion (this one with an observatory on top). Jack Haley is an insurance salesman who is mistaken for a private detective. Bela Lugosi is the butler (so many times he's cast in these useless roles -- producers didn't seem to know how to use his talents properly)who is supposedly offering everyone poisoned coffee (the one gag that works in the film). Lugosi seems to be having a good time. You will have one, too. But I found that Haley's antics wore thin after too long.
Follow Me Quietly (1949)
Nice "B" Noir enlivened by director Fleischer
Richard Fleischer makes this by-the-numbers police procedural interesting. One wishes the script had better twists and turns -- you'd think they'd make the villain someone our hero knows or at least has met. But not a chance -- he's some unknown, not very threatening guy whose motives are never explored. But Fleischer makes it dark and taut, especially all the stuff with the dummy. Cop Lundigan is out to catch "The Judge", a psycho who strangles his victims. One method he uses is to create a dummy that looks like "The Judge" from whatever evidence he has. Director Fleischer saw that the dummy was his only chance to make this movie different -- so he seizes on it as an icon of evil and plays with it throughout the film. The scene where Lundigan talks to the dummy is great. Otherwise, the banter between Lundigan and Patrick is rather trite; and the typical 'montages of police looking for clues' are rather clichéd. Thank Fleischer for those moments of magic that lift this fun film above the norm.
The Light That Failed (1939)
Misogynistic Kipling Tale
This movie puts forth the idea that men can love dogs and they can love (or at least prefer the company of) other men -- but don't trust those women! They'll ruin you! One woman makes a lifelong commitment to our hero (later played by Ronald Colman)which she quickly breaks when they meet as adults. The other is a prostitute who is ignorant and mean -- and ruins his greatest painting. So the only proper thing for our hero to do is go back into battle and end his life with MEN! Fighting other MEN! Only there can life be pure and true! Anyway, this is about painter Ronald Colman who is injured in a battle in a Sudan (the opponent natives are rather racistly called 'fuzzies') but makes a friend of Walter Huston (in one of his more mannered, annoying performances). He becomes a big, successful artist but is arrogant about it -- so it's telegraphed that he's going to have a big fall. And he does -- he goes blind from the war injury and that darned prostitute (Ida Lupino in a lively performance) destroys his masterpiece. Still, he has the love of his dog... and he can go back and die bravely in battle. What else would you want? Way too talky and precious and sentimental for me. But Colman is good, no denying that. The scene where he finally goes blind still retains its power.
The Last Page (1952)
Hammer Melodrama not one of Fisher's finest
I'm a big Terence Fisher fan, so as a completist, I wanted to see this one. But it's only a fair film. Fisher was a few years away from making his classic CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF Dracula, but he was still capable of some fine work in the early 50's (THE FOUR-SIDED TRIANGLE, for example). But this one is pretty much by-the-numbers. Even leading man George Brent looks bored throughout. He runs a bookstore where employee Marguerite Chapman is in love with him. And good-looking Diana Dors is the 'bad' employee -- because she's late a few times. Brent has an invalid wife who needs an operation abroad. He cashes in an insurance policy to pay for the operation. Meanwhile, Dors has caught weaselly Peter Reynolds trying to steal a book but doesn't turn him in. They strike up a relationship. He gets her to try to blackmail Brent after a late night when he kissed her briefly (tho' it looks more like she kissed him). He won't pay, so Reynolds has Dors write a letter to the invalid wife. She dies after reading the letter (in one of a string of incredible plot coincidences). Reynolds makes Dors harass the grieving Brent again for the money. He angrily gives her all the insurance money. Then Reynolds sneaks into the bookstore and kills Dors, taking the dough, but leaving the body so that Brent will be blamed. Brent's soon on the run and Chapman is trying to save him. It all works out in a fiery climax. And it's all competently done, but the script doesn't make a lot of sense. Dors, however, gives a fine, restrained performance and is probably the best thing in it. Worth noting that later Hammer Producer/Director/Exec Michael Carreras is here credited with Casting. And Hammer Writer Extraordinaire Jimmy Sangster is credited as Assistant Director. Really this is just for Hammer and Fisher fans like myself. Or Diana Dors fans, who will be pleased with her work here.
End of the Road (1944)
Nifty undiscovered noir
This is a great little film, even if it does kind of fall apart at the end. Director George Blair moves his camera constantly on this low-budget film noir, creating wonderful feelings of tension and atmosphere. He really tries to make every shot and every scene interesting. The plot is unusual and rather fun: crime writer Edward Norris is certain that the man behind bars for the "Flower Shop Murder" didn't do it. He quickly figures out that it was Florist John Abbott and uses the murder victim's dog to make Abbott flee the city. Norris follows Abbott and befriends him, dropping hints all the while to see if Abbott will admit his guilt. Finally, Norris seems to get involved in his own case of murder -- and then Abbott does admit he did it so the two supposed murderers will stay in cahoots together. But of course it was all a set-up to get the confession. It concludes with an exciting fire escape/building ledge chase. Abbott is a superb character actor and actually makes you feel sorry for him and scared of him at the same time. The obligatory romance between Edward Norris and June Storey doesn't really work. But still: this is a fine, undiscovered gem and deserves to be seen!
Insurance Investigator (1951)
Solid noir from George Blair
This is an effective, fun noir from George Blair, a director I never thought much of before. But this film is efficient, stylish, fast-paced and full of good performances and moments. Denning gives his part a light, breezy touch. Hillary Brooke is very good as the bad girl. John Eldredge is fine as the bad businessman who kills his partner to collect the insurance money -- but lives (for a while) to regret it. The film is well shot and well written. Fine work on everyone's part. Too bad this one isn't available on DVD for people to see. Someone should put the whole Republic library out there -- a lot of lost gems would be discovered. And perhaps a re-appraisal of the works of George Blair is in order.
My Teenage Daughter (1956)
Tame But Entertaining Juvenile Delinquent Film
In most juvenile delinquent films, the teens usually do something horrible or at least somewhat nasty. For most of this film, they stay out late and dance to the same song ("Get With It") in smokey clubs. And they yell at their Mom that she doesn't understand them. It isn't until near the very end that the Bad Boy (Kenneth Haigh) sets out to get money from an old aunt -- and when he steals it, she drops dead of a heart attack, no less! Talk about tame! There are far too many scenes of Mom Anna Neagle going "what will I do? why doesn't she obey me?". But it's a good-looking film courtesy of cinematographer Mutz Greenbaum (especially the club scenes) and Sylvia Syms shines as the Teenage Bad Girl in question. Also, Haigh is first-rate as the Bad Boy. So it's worth seeing, but don't expect real juvenile delinquents.
Here Comes Flossie! (1933)
Dumb but funny
OK, so it's got all the dumb hick farm jokes in it, this short is till pretty amusing. Ben Blue is the handyman to the farm family that includes Shemp Howard as one of the sons. Shemp's Dad in the film gives each of his sons $50 (a huge fortune, they think). The older son buys a wife through the mail named Flossie. Shemp buys a cow through the mail named... Flossie. When the woman Flossie arrives, Shemp tells Ben to put her in the barn. When the cow Flossie arrives, the other brother tells Ben to put her in the guest room. Wackiness ensues. But I laughed, so what the heck? Never seen Ben looking so young. And Shemp is timeless -- he always looked the same. Worth checking out.
When Do We Eat? (1934)
Truly embarrassing and offensive comedy short. Thankfully Lou Holtz didn't make many. The nudist restaurant bit isn't bad, but the rest is. Really bad. Like in the restaurant when an angry customer asks for a demitasse and Holtz says 'what'? And the customer says 'a short black' -- and, you guessed it, Holtz brings out a little black boy as the punchline. No thank you. Lots of long, unfunny bits of Holtz going up against people like Arthur Treacher in which both just sit there and mug. The writing is inane.
And you can't really call any of it acting. I guess Hollywood figured anyone from vaudeville could fit right in and be funny. But there's a reason we know the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers but not Lou Holtz. Because there's good, intelligent comedy. And bad, bad comedy. Like this.
The Mark of the Renegade (1951)
Lame adventure, lots of strange undertones
As a swashbuckler, this is fairly lame. The whole thing is never believable, with an air of lightness that just about always says "can you believe this????" The script makes absolutely no sense. But Montalban is charming in the lead and I'm always grateful to see Gilbert Roland and J. Carrol Naish at work. But what's really odd about this movie are the homo-erotic undertones. Montalban frequently has his shirt off -- more often around men than women. There's more sexual tension between Montalban and Gilbert Roland than there is between him and Cyd Charisse. The men are always trying to top one another -- and they seem more hurt by betrayal than the women. Add in all the pointy objects they keep poking at one another... well, I don't want to make too big a deal about it, but it is odd.
The Dark Horse (1932)
A tribute to Warren William
The main reason to see this film is Warren William, who is in top form as the shyster campaign manager. He is electric, constantly finding ways to fool the public and defeat the opposing party in the midst of the biggest disasters. William is a great actor -- I feel he never got his due. Bette Davis as his girlfriend also shines in an under-written role. Personally, I found Guy Kibbee not quite right as the lame-brained candidate that William and the others are trying to foist on the public. He seemed more like an empty canvas than a person. I would have preferred to see a real character emerge rather than a non-character. The story itself is implausible, silly and clichéd. But Warren William and Bette Davis are well worth watching.
War Mamas (1931)
the girls are good, the movie not so much
A short war-time comedy starring Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts. The ladies are fine comedic actresses but the material is very thin. First they're up against a tough matron; then they get lost and end up behind enemy lines, pretending to be French girls (but speaking English?)and fooling the caricatures Germans. Most of the jokes are not very funny. A long, long strip-poker scene pummels the comedy into the ground. When Zasu actually likes the attentions of one portly German, it becomes kind of uncomfortable. The ladies both deserve better -- and they got better in other projects. Worth it only if you're a completest for Thelma or Zasu. But their chemistry together is good.
The Letter (1929)
One of the greatest performances ever on film
This has just been restored and will be included on the DVD of the Bette Davis version of THE LETTER. You've got to see it to check out Jeanne Eagles in one of the rawest, most powerful performances I've ever seen. She was a stage actress who disdained film -- and who died soon after making this and the lost JEALOUSY. Too bad because she truly is amazing. The film is frequently stagey and flat (and perhaps a bit racist). But you can't fault her: she is towering and emotional and unpredictable every moment. Supposedly Davis saw this and modeled her performance on Eagles'. The final scene will probably leave you breathless because it's so powerful -- and unrepentant. I'm so happy people will be able to see this soon.
That Certain Thing (1928)
Very Accomplished Early Capra
Even this early in his career, Capra was quite accomplished with his camera-work and his timing. This is a thin story -- and quite predictable at times -- but he gets very good performances out of his cast and has some rather intricate camera moves that involve the viewer intimately. The first part looks like a Cinderella story, though anyone with brains can see that the bottom will fall out of that -- the rich 'prince' will lose his fortune.
Nonetheless, because of his good cast and fast pace, it's easy to get caught up in the clichés. Then the movie does become more original, as the married couple have to find a way to make a living. The ending is very predictable but satisfying. I also want to compliment the title-writing: very witty and fun.