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Doc says I'm better now, I'm free to roam in society again :-)
Me? Middle aged British punker who is heavily in love with anything punk related circa 1976 - 1982. Film fanatic who indulges in any genre of film but specialises in film-noir, westerns, war and big - bold - historical epics.
I like writing reviews, even having some published in British newspapers and I have received nice emails from people associated with films that I have reviewed. While my mantra here is quite simply lets be here to learn and share.
The Director Titans
Alfred Hitchcock Robert Aldrich Anthony Mann Sam Peckinpah Jacques Tourneur
The Director Gods
John Ford Budd Boetticher Robert Siodmak Billy Wilder Joseph Losey
The Director Royalty
Edward Dmytryk Nicholas Ray Fritz Lang John Sturges John Carpenter
The Director Gurus
Preston Sturges Frank Capra Howard Hawks Marcel Varnel Carol Reed
Modern Director Legends In Waiting
David Fincher Michael Mann
Stay Cool Peeps, See You On The Boards.
The Yossi Ghinsberg Survival!
Jungle is directed by Greg McLean and adapted to screenplay by Justin Monjo from the book written by Yossi Ghinsberg. It stars Daniel Radcliffe, Joel Jackson, Alex Russell and Thomas Kretschman. Music is by Johnny Klimek and cinematography by Stefan Duscio.
Film is the retelling of real incidents when in 1981 Israeli adventure Yossi Ghinsberg entered deep into the Amazon Rainforest and found hell waiting for him.
People keep doing it, these adventure types going into treacherous Mother Nature territory to explore and discover the untapped world - only to find misery, while some are never seen again. Greg McLean mixes adventure and horror perfectly, which when coming from the director of Wolf Creek and Rogue comes as no surprise. It's standard formula in narrative drive, man meets new friends in beautiful surrounds, it's all very jolly and daring, and off they go in search of wonderment.
Of course, as is often the case, these stories can sometimes end in utter distress, Ghinsberg was a very lucky fellow to come out alive and tell his amazing story, which is in turn compelling and excellently performed by the cast. As problems begin to surface, the group dynamic begins to facture, with one particular character highly dubious in motives intent. The terrain gets steadily worse, then they got to eat of course, and as bodies begin to wane, decisions on a survival course of action take precedence. Then it's over to high peril for Ghinsberg who has to try and salvage body and mind in the hope that he might somehow escape his jungle nightmare.
Once the pic turns its entire focus on Ghinsberg's solitude, things become a little repetitive and much of the chilling danger begins to ebb away. Yet we are willing him to survive, to stay hooked in as we grasp for a semblance of good news to come out of an otherwise dark tale. Clearly from Ghinsberg's perspective, the real man himself, there was a yearning to be a better man, for better or worse, but the film is a little out of focus for an in depth portrayal of Yossi, with this blend of survival horror and characterisation not quite working. That said though, this still comes as highly recommended viewing, as does further reading on the incidents featured here. For come the closing credits, as real people are shown in photos, and their actual fates written in type, you know there has been no titillation here. 7.5/10
One Good Turn (1955)
Bulliish Brighton Buffoonery.
One Good Turn is directed by John Paddy Carstairs and Carstairs co-writes the screenplay with Sid Colin, Maurice Cowan, Talbot Rothwell, Dorothy Whipple and Ted Willis. It stars Norman Wisdom, Joan Rice, Shirley Abicair, Thora Hird, William Russell, Joan Ingram and Richard Caldicot. Music is by John Addison and cinematography by Jack E. Cox.
Norman is the oldest orphan at Greenwood Children's Home and has slotted into the furniture as the unpaid caretaker. The happiness and tranquillity of The Orphanage is greatly disrupted when it comes to light that the Orphanage chairman wants to sell it and turn it into a factory. Can the staff, the kids and the biggest kid of them all - Norman - stop the scheming rotter?
A delight for Wisdom fans, this monochrome piece finds the jumping bean that is Wisdom on fine form. There's nothing new in the narrative threads, it's Norman causing chaos when he's trying to do good, and those around him are affected either physically or emotionally. So watch Norman with a wasp up his trousers, bringing the tears with onions, a child's motor car chase, a charity walk, taking control of an orchestra and more! The kids are great, as is the wonderful as usual Hird, and there's even a couple of musical numbers to ease the flow of the ebullience.
We know where we are heading, but really who cares? The fun is in getting there and finding Wisdom doing what he does best - lifting those blues. 7/10
While I Live (1947)
For while I live, you shall not die!
While I Live is directed by John Harlow and written by Robert Bell, John Harlow and Doreen Montgomery. It stars Tom Walls, Clifford Evans, Sonia Dresdel, Patricia Burke, John Warwick, Edward Lexy and Audrey Fildes. Music is by Charles Williams and cinematography by Freddie Young.
It has been 25 years since her composer sister died in tragic circumstance, but Julia Trevelyan (Dresdel) still obsesses over her. Then one day an amnesiac woman arrives at the family home looking for help, and now Julia is certain that she is the reincarnation of her beloved sister.
It has become one of those films more known for its theme music than for the film itself. For here we have Charles Williams' quite beautiful "The Dream of Olwen" featuring as a key part of the narrative. It's the piece of work that Olwen Trevelyan (Fildes) was struggling to finish before her untimely death. While it's undeniably the beating heart of the pic, it's a disservice to ignore what characteristic and narrative smarts are on show.
This is a fascinating delve into not only the world of amnesia, but also to that of grief as a sometimes unstoppable force. Thus with the setting to the tale being a cliff top dwelling in Cornwall, pic is ripe for ethereal tones and shadowy visuals, with the mystery of the amnesiac lady a constant intrigue. It's all very improbable of course, and much of the acting is of its time and very "correct" as it were, but this is a lovely film with sharp themes at the core, some nifty tech aspects on show and a bona fide classic piece of music driving it forward. 7.5/10
Home and Away (1956)
Football Pools or Fools?
Home and Away is directed by Vernon Sewell and Sewell co-writes the screenplay with Heather McIntyre and R.F. Delderfield. It stars Jack warner, Thora Hird, Kathleen Harrison, Lana Morris, Charles Victor and Valerie White. Music is by Robert Sharples and cimematography by Basil Emmott.
A working class British family's luck seems to have turned when the father hits the jackpot on the football pools...
How wonderfully quaint and of its time, this harks back to an era when all the family lived under one roof, where the patriarch's opinion held sway and any woman who was remotely flighty was looked down upon. This was before the lottery's of the world started to take a hold and dangled riches beyond compare to the lucky winners. Back here in the 1950s there was The Football Pools, a coupon you would fill out in the hope of toting up enough points from football match predictions of the week and snag the jackpot. Hope springs eternal...
George Knowles (Warner) thinks he has finally cracked it, and thus the celebrations begin - but then there's a twist and the film kicks on to something more darker in tone. It's the reactions of all involved that keeps this ever watchable, the humour derived from the catty barbs the women throw at each other, and then the male foibles also come to the fore. The message of money as poison is deftly played, as is the family values angle, and while it doesn't finish off with a bang, pic has a comforting feel that has made worth the time investment. 6.5/10
Frontier Gal (1945)
The shrew wasn't willing?!
Frontier Gal (AKA: The Bride Wasn't Willing) is directed by Charles Lamont and written by Michael Fessier and Ernest Pagano. It stars Rod Cameron, Yvonne De Carlo, Andy Devine, Fuzzy Knight, Sheldon Leonard, Andrew Tombes and Clara Blandwick. Music is by Frank Skinner and Technicolor photography is shared by Charles Boyle and George Robinson.
What a mixed bag of a film! It begins with the high speed pursuit of Rod Cameron on horseback. He's our man in black and we shunt our way through absolutely gorgeous Technicolor enhanced locales. From there he hits town and quickly flirts with a ravishing De Carlo, flirting that goes so far as to use sexually playful violence as part of the process. This annoys local dude Sheldon Leonard, a macho muscle flexing contest occurs, a faux wedding is strangely arranged, Cameron bogs off for a few years, comes back to town, finds he has a daughter with De Carlo and the pair carry on warring as secrets begin to will out.
The story itself is utterly bonkers and tonally it is never at ease with itself as it unconvincingly tries to blend offbeat farce, action, drama and musical numbers. Some of the location photography around Kernville and Mammoth Lakes is sumptuous, the costuming gorgeous and sparkling in Technicolor (with a top print of the film now available). Yet these tech highpoints are undone by some real creaky money saving stage work, notably for the big finale as the scenery props wobble and the big dramatic "child in life threatening peril" sequences are blighted by appalling process work.
Cast are fine, very likable stars who are in on the nutty nature of the beast, with Beverly Sue Simmons as the precocious child of the play something of a revelation. The musical score is standard throwaway stuff from Skinner, likewise De Carlo's musical numbers - where I'm not convinced she is actually singing herself? There's also plenty here for the politically correct to get in a twist about, but personally it doesn't bother myself as I take it as intended for the era it was made. So all told, approach with caution because it's all over the place, but as wacky and as frustrating as it is, I still kind of enjoyed it - sort of... 5/10
The King's Speech (2010)
The gift of cinema does credit to the gift of speech.
The King's Speech is directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler. It stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi & Michael Gambon. Music is by Alexandre Desplat and photography is by Danny Cohen. The idea for the film came about after Seidler read about how King George VI (Firth) overcame his stammer after a friendship was formed with his voice coach Lionel Logue (Rush). Having himself overcome a stutter problem in his youth, Seidler set about writing his story from informed information. A bonus came before filming started when notebooks belonging to Logue were put forward for use. These enabled Seidler to incorporate works from the books into the screenplay. Plot picks up just prior to George's brother, Edward (Pearce), abdicating the throne, thus thrusting the stammering George on to the hottest seat in England. With World War looming, George will be needed to make the speech of speeches to becalm his nation, but first he must work closely with the affable Logue and hope it brings an end to his vocal woes.
I first viewed The King's Speech just a couple of days before the Academy Awards that year, so I didn't know how it was going to perform there. It would garner the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director (Hooper), Best Actor (Firth) and Best Original Screenplay (Seidler), with 12 nominations in total. This was a year when Oscar and BAFTA (where it won 7 of the 14 categories it was nominated for - including Best Film and Best Actor for Colin Firth) got things right. The film at that time I watched it had already made over $230 million in profit, which was a figure guaranteed to rise considerably since the film was still playing to packed theatres in the UK (which was indeed the case as the last figure put forward was $412 million).
I myself ventured to the theatre on 22nd February 2011, which was over 6 weeks after it was first released in its homeland. As I approached the cinema I saw there was a queue! A queue? I haven't queued to get into a film since the halcyon days of Jaws, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind! I noticed there was many youngsters in this line, so of course they were going to see the Yogi Bear movie, or that Gnomeo & Juliet film, Surely? Not so actually. In they went to see The King's Speech, an audience that ranged from 12 years of age to the fragile OAP day trippers. For the next two hours the only sounds I heard were that of laughter, hushed words of praise for what was on the screen, and even sobs during some of the more tender moments within. No mobile phones, no chitter chatter about acne or the boy next door, just an across the board appreciation for expert film making.
There in is the reason why The King's Speech coined it in at the box office and broke merry records as it went on its way. It has universal appeal, a film without tricks, just a simple involving story acted supremely by a cast of bona fide thespians. It beats a true heart, whilst doling out a visual history lesson to those so inclined to matters of the British Monarchy and the political upheaval about to surface as Adolf started his surge. Even for a film so chocked full of dialogue and basic human interactions, the pace is brisk and never sags, the quieter reflective moments only bringing anticipation of the next enjoyable scene. When all is said and done, The King's Speech success snowballed because of word of mouth, it started out as an intended independent picture, to be shown in selected theatres only, and now it holds up as one of the best films of 2010/2011. Believe me, believe the hype, that if you still haven't seen it then you owe it to yourself to see this beautiful movie. 10/10
Vice Squad (1953)
Look sister ... That was a cop they killed - and you gals know who pulled the trigger!
Vice Squad (AKA: The Girl in Room 17) is directed by Arnold Laven and adapted to screenplay by Lawrence Roman from the novel "Harness Bull" written by Leslie T. White. It stars Edward G. Robinson, Paulette Goddard, K.T. Stevens, Porter Hall, Adam Williams, Lee Van Cleef, Edward Binns, Barry Kelley and Jay Adler. Music is by Herschel Burke Gilbert and cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc.
Whichever title the marketing people throw at this MGM programmer does not in any way tell you exactly what sort of film is on offer. I mean, "Vice Squad" sounds devilishly tempting but this is merely one strand in a whole, likewise the suggestive "The Girl in Room 17" is exactly the same. Really - and it is too bland for MGM suits to have ever considered - it should have been called "A Day in the Life of a Los Angeles Police Captain", for that is exactly what this is, and damn great it is too.
Robinson is Captain Barnaby, who while trying to focus on who is responsible for the killing of a cop, has to juggle several other incidents in the day whilst coming to believe that a planned bank robbery the same day could be linked to the cop's murder. What quickly transpires is that Barnaby is not merely a cop, throughout the day he also has to be a psychiatrist and a councillor. He will have to make deals - not all text book legal - and he will use tricks and tactics that would now make the prissy brigade shiver and shake - and yet to get the right results has to be the order of the day here. He even will, during the chaos of the day, be called into a TV show interview to exude the upstanding greatness of the police force. What a day!
As police procedural "noirs" of the 50s go this one sits at the top end of the table. The editing (Arthur H. Nadel) is high quality as it stitches all the threads together without halting the flow of the story, the multitude of subplots seamlessly holding attention throughout. Within these sublots we find cynicism and dramatic verve, some choice suggestive and mocking dialogue, and even some censor baiting humour (hello underwear thief). Cast are superb within their respective roles, led by a steely in character Robinson, and even though Goddard (all swingy hips and suggestive postures as the "escort agency" boss) is underused (a crime given her scenes with Robinson are electric), this is a fine roll call of 40s/50s genre performers doing justice to the material to hand.
This was at the beginning of what would be a limited big screen directorial career for Arnold Laven (he would become a prolific TV series director/producer), but he marshals this one splendidly. He's helped by having Biroc (Cry Danger) on photography duty, where Biroc brings some deft noir visuals to the play (see the cross shadows as Barnaby takes troubling phone calls). Nifty location work comes out of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Long Beach, and how nice to report that there is now a nice looking print of the pic out there to sample. Ultimately though we want a hot pot of crims, coppers, shysters and working dames to seal our deal, and here we get the all - and all in one day! 8/10
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Let me give you some advice. Assume everyone will betray you. And you will never be disappointed.
So the latest in what is becoming a long running sci-fi franchise sees Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) get his prequel movie. Unsurprisingly, such is the ferocious core fan base of the Star Wars series, it has been met with a mixture of outright hatred to pats on the back appreciation. It really is a case here of jumping in to view it on its own terms to at least give it a chance. The truth is, is that if this was a stand alone movie being judged purely as a science fiction action movie, then it would be better appreciated. For this is cracker jack entertainment in that sphere, with superbly constructed worlds inhabited by delirious looking aliens species, feisty droids hold court, and the humans are daring, cheeky and even sexy. It is in short quality and fantastical sci-fi, even if in truth as per the Solo character trajectory it's safe film making.
We, as in the royal Star Wars fans we, all have our card carrying belief that our opinion on any Star Wars film is correct, but really the only advice I can honestly give here is that if you haven't seen it yet then at least give it a chance. Those that have seen it have their minds made up either way, so personally I can only say how much fun I had watching it - twice! All the dots are joined towards the Solo character I love so dear, from back when with childhood eyes in the late 70s I was transfixed on that big screen. How great to see how Han met Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and how their brilliant friendship begins. To witness the birth of the Han/Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover excellent) friendly rivalry - and all that that entails as regards our favourite spaceship - The Millennium Falcon. Yes, I like it well enough for sure, maybe you will as well? 7.5/10
The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
The Seventh Voyage of Bing and Bob.
The Road to Hong Kong is the seventh and final film in the "Road To" series of films starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. It's directed by Norman Panama and Panama co-writes the screenplay with Melvin Frank. Music is by Robert Farnon and cinematography is by Jack Hildyard. Plot pitches Hope and Crosby in the middle of a mistaken identity scenario and thus mixed up with an organisation intent on world domination via the moon!
There had been a ten year gap since The Road to Bali was released in 1952, but such was the success and popularity of the series the boys were once again trundled out for one last "Road To" hurrah. Behind the scenes squabbles and stipulations tainted it some what, most notably the shunting out of the way of the series' previously leading lady Dorothy Lamour (who ends up making an extended cameo), who was replaced by a youthful Joan Collins. So with some scratchy back history and a word of mouth reputation as the worst of the series, with claims of the dynamic duo being too old and long past their best, The Road to Hong Kong must be a stinker then? Right? Actually no.
Sure it lacks some of the energised nuttiness of previous instalments, but this definitely isn't a stinker. Yes the boys are a bit long in the tooth, and Collins, whilst no Lamour in screen presence and chemistry value with the duo, is sexy, spunky and grounds some of the more older frayed edges. The sci-fi plot is delightfully bonkers, very much capturing the space age zeitgeist of the 60s, and there's a whole bunch of great gags as usual (my favourite is about an elephant thermometer). Not all the intended humourous scenes work, but most do, while there's even a quite surreal one involving banana feeding machines! Bonus sees a cameo from the great Peter Sellers as his patented Indian Doctor, a scene where you can see Bing and Bob looking on and thinking the torch is being passed, while a strong support cast includes Robert Morley, Walter Gotell and Felix Aylmer. Funky opening credit sequences as well!
Worst in the series? Well that's a harsh statement, more like it's a lesser light than the rest it is probably more fairer to say, but it's a fun film that adds weight to what fine entertainment value Bing and Bob were. 6.5/10
La perla (1947)
This is a story that old men tell to children. They aren't sure where it happened or when.
The Pearl is directed by Emilio Fernández and John Steinbeck co-adapts his own novella of the same name with Fernández and Jack Wagner. It stars Pedro Armendariz, María Elena Marqués, Fernando Wagner, Gilberto González, Juan García and Charles Rooner. Music is by Antonio Díaz Conde and cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa.
We are in La Paz, Mexico, and when Quino and Juana's son is stung by a scorpion the couple are anguished by not having the finances to pay for medical treatment. Hope springs eternal when Quino discovers a large pearl, something which is seemingly the answer to their prayers - is it?
What we basically have here is a morality play about the corruption of greed. Once the pearl of the title is discovered the ugliness of mankind rears its vile head. People around Quino and Juana - a homely honest but poor couple - suddenly have designs on the financial gains that the pearl can bring - with some of them willing to commit cardinal sins to achieve their aim. The pearl also begins to drive a wedge between the loving couple, and thus we are held enthral of the story to see exactly where this will all end up?
Though it's not very subtle in the telling, with Steinbeck's literary bent often as heavy as a sledgehammer, this is undeniably compelling stuff. That it's also a visual delight also considerably aids the viewing experience. Fernández and Figueroa bring truly atmospheric cinematography into play as a key character of the piece, with kinked frames and low level shots perfectly embracing the discord of the troubling human conditioning on view. Come 1947 what we would come to know as the film noir style of film making was in full effect, fans of such should for sure add The Pearl to their must seek out lists. 8/10
The Outer Limits: Soldier (1964)
Soldier is directed by Gerd Oswald and written by Harlan Ellison and Leslie Stevens. It stars Lloyd Nolan, Michael Ansara, Tim O'Connor, Ralp Hart and Jill Hill. Music is by Harry Lubin and cinematography by Kenneth Peach.
Season 2 - Episode 1
A soldier named from the far future Quarlo (Ansara), conditioned from birth to be a killing machine, is teleported back to present day 1964. Psychiatric linguist Tom Kagan (Nolan) is assigned the near impossible task of getting to the bottom of who Qarlo is, and where has he come from? As some headway is made and things begin to unravel, another soldier from the future arrives to kill his enemy, Quarlo.
Written by expert science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, Soldier became famous for being the episode that saw Ellison charge James Cameron with plagiarism when he wrote the screenplay for The Terminator. The subsequent legal battle saw Ellison receive a writing credit on later prints of The Terminator. Regardless of that, what we have here is superb start to series 2, a smart thought out sci-fi story with tense sequences and spiffy sci-fi visuals to aid the viewing experience. 8.5/10
To the Ends of the Earth (1948)
Utterly polished piece of adult crime drama film making.
To The Ends of the Earth is directed by Robert Stevenson and written by Jay Richard Kennedy. It stars Dick Powell, Signe Hasso, Maylia, Ludwig Donath and Vladimir Sokoloff. Music is by George Duning and cinematography by Burnett Guffey.
Dick Powell stars as Treasury Agent Commissioner Michael Barrows, who after witnessing a terrible incident at sea goes on the trail of a major narcotics ring. Part docu-noir, part straight out crime drama, Stevenson's film is a pic that demands your full attention. Such are the intricacies of a plot involving a global narcotics operation, and the number of characters involved as Barrows literally country hops, it may even be a picture that improves because of a "needed" second viewing. Not to say that is a requisite, the structure and pace of the piece simply may not be your thing, but I'd like to put it on record that it seems an improver and definitely one to watch and listen to carefully. Helps, also, that there is much narration to aid the complexity of the case.
It begins in shocking fashion, with an event that has the ability to take you aback, and with your attention grabbed we are then on a jaunt with Barrows, getting up close and personal with either shifty persons or loyal international people willing to help the intrepid agent. He has dry wit and a cunning knowing, a guy we basically like to be around, with Powell (not for the first time in such a role) splendidly in character. There was a large budget afforded the production, so the near documentary approach doesn't look cheap (helps having Guffey on photography duties), while the MPA eased their "drugs in film" regulations to let the pic breath an air of much needed realism.
With the evils of narcotic smuggling given intelligent filmic substance - we learn much about the manufacture of opium and how it is hidden and retrieved etc - and some very drastic scenes involving murder and suicides, this is mature film making. Not all the cast leave lasting impressions (apart from Powell they were largely unknown at the time), and some of the speech sections are a little clunky, but this is an utterly polished piece of adult crime drama film making. 7.5/10
You told me to use any tactic that works, never to commit yourself to one style, to keep an open mind!
Bloodsport is directed by Newt Arnold and written by Christopher Cosby, Mel Friedman and Sheldon Lettich. It stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, Norman Burton, Forest Whitaker and Bolo Yeung. Music is by Paul Hertzog and cinematography by David Worth.
One of the earlier films that made Van Damme into a star, Bloodsport finds Van Damme as real life martial artist Frank Dux. Dux enters into the famed Kumite, a no nonsense tournament in Hong Kong and must overcome various hurdles to hopefully achieve his goals.
As is the norm for a Van Damme action movie, particularly where his late 80s and early 90s output is concerned, one has to be prepared for some at best average acting and a flimsy plot. Plot follows a familiar Van Damme trajectory, his character will yearn to overcome adversity, go through a strenuous training programme, meet and make friends and enemies, produce some outstanding martial artistry, and end up in a winner takes all fight for justice, revenge, honour...
Away from the seriously great fighting skills showcased by Van Damme and the other martial artists he comes up against, there's not a lot of artistic film making craft on show. But as fans of this sort of stuff will tell you, and I'm one of that number, it matters not, for they deliver exactly what we expect. Great fight choreography, a super Kumite montage, a vile villain who needs his ass kicked, and of course lots of Van Damage as we hurtle towards what we hope will be a triumphant finale. Hooray!
Though supposedly based on facts in Frank Dux's life, this has been called into question over the years, so best to just observe it as an energised martial arts film rather than a part biography piece. 7/10
Oklahoma Territory (1960)
Houston We Have A Temple!
Oklahoma Territory is directed by Edward L. Cahn and written by Orville H. Hampton. It stars Bill Williams, Gloria Talbott, Ted de Corsia and Grant Richards. Music is by Albert Glasser and cinematography by Walter Strenge.
Temple Houston was a most interesting real life character, one who is very much worth reading up on. This picture is not based on any real facts, but the essence of the real man is very much evident. Clocking in at under 70 minutes, Cahn's movie is devoid of pointless filler and extraneous wastage.
The story is intelligent as it tells of the persecution of a Cherokee Chief because shifty factions are operating behind the scenes for their own ends. The legal aspects are intriguing as well, as Houston -as the DA for the territory - has to first prosecute Buffalo Horn for murder, only to then be forced into being his defence council - with not exactly legal methods wonderfully brought into play.
In truth it's all a bit fanciful and nutty, but consider the low budget and you find a smart screenplay surrounded by a nice looking film (Calif locales), with the wily Cahn keeping it all together rather handsomely. 6.5/10
Alpha Dog (2006)
You ever have that dream: the one where you did something... You don't know why, but you can never go back?
Alpha Dog is a filmic interpretation of the real life Jesse James Hollywood/Nicholas Markowitz case of 2000.
We are in the company of young dope dealers, a group of wannabe gangsters who ultimately are way out of their depth, whose decisions are so moronically misguided they form the basis for what is the tragedy of this story. Directed by Nick Cassavetes, the pic has serious intentions but never quite gets to reach the greatest heights for dramatic verve purpose. Yet for all that, after being in the company of genuine lost boys and girls, watching them as 24 hour party people bluster for majority of the piece, it means that once the tragedy strikes the film has done its job. It becomes something to last in the memory, where Cassavetes' flashy techniques (split-screens - freeze frames etc) don't detract from the harsh reality of it all. There's a bunch of committed exuberant performances on show, with a roll call of then up and coming young actors to note. 7/10
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
I'm not saying women are better. I've never said that. I'm saying we deserve some respect.
Battle of the sexes is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Simon Beaufoy. It stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Eric Christian Olsen, Alan Cumming and Elisabeth Shue. Music is by Nicholas Britell and cinematography by Linus Sandgren.
Back in 1973 there was a tennis match - a show event - where self proclaimed media hustler Booby Riggs (Carrel) took on supreme ladies champion of the era Billie Jean King (Stone). It would be tagged as The Battle Of The Sexes and the importance of such has echoed through time to still be relevant today.
Here we have a film running at two hours in length that actually plays more as a King biography than it does a piece about the tennis match at pic's closure. Why not just call your film Billie Jean King? That would still have worked and been more closer to the themes playing out. On the King biography terms it's a fascinating and engrossing film, her battle with her sexuality issues - and the media threats that such a thing of the era would produce - and her wonderfully stoic stance for women's acceptance rights in sport. Unfortunately since the focus is more in this area the film becomes repetitive and over stuffed, and crucially it sadly puts the Bobby Riggs story firmly into the background.
However, there's a lot to like on show here if one can forgive it its ill thought out unbalancing act. The cast performances across the board are top line. Stone and Carell are kind of a given, the latter really nailing the characterisation, but key turns by Riseborough, Olsen, Silverman and a wonderfully flamboyant Cumming light up the period play. The last third as we head towards the match of the title is excellent, characterisations have been set up for maximum impact, while the writers do not pander to gloating or PC banner waving to leave us on a positive and thought provoking note. If only the Riggs axis had been given more meaty substance, and the mid-section not practically slow to a snails pace, then we would have had a better movie more befitting the title - and historical event - than the one we get. 6/10
Flesh and Fantasy (1943)
Director Julien Duvivier's 1943 anthology film tells three other worldly type tales. The first story is set at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans and finds the plain and embittered Henrietta (Betty Field) choosing a mask that alters her life considerably. The second involves a psychic palm reader (Thomas Mitchell) who predicts that Marshall Tyler (Edward G. Robinson) will commit murder. The third segment is about a circus performer (Charles Boyer) who literally meets the girl (Barbara Stanwyck) of his troubled dreams.
Though the title is a bit more grandiose than what is actually within the pic, this holds up as a very solid entry in the anthology splinter of classic era films. As is often the case, the stories differ in quality. Pic was originally to be a four pronged affair, but the original opening story was pulled and reworked into the feature film "Destiny", which was released the following year. This goes someway to explaining why the running order of Flesh and Fantasy feels unbalanced, a running order that sadly leaves us with the weakest segment as the closure.
A constant throughout the tales is the look, the twin photographic talents of Stanley Cortez (The Night of the Hunter) and Paul Ivano (The Suspect) firmly capturing the ethereal nature of the fantastical premise of the stories. The Mardi Gras play is delightfully off kilter in vibe, very noirish in visuals and hauntingly tender in characterisation terms. The second palmistry influenced section exudes a shadowy menace, as the great Robinson is put through mirrored torment, the resolution more darker than the other two offerings. Finally the damp squib that is the closure fails to ignite, the high wire sequences the only excitement as an ill fated love story smoothers the tantalising dream based core.
Good craft is mostly on show to make this well worth time invested for those who like such genre fare. 7/10
The Oklahoman (1957)
The good doctor takes up the good fight!
The Oklahoman is directed by Francis Lyon and written by Daniel Ullman. It stars Joel McCRea, Barbara Hale, Brad Dexter, Gloria Talbott, Michael Pate, Verna Felton and Douglas Dick. Music is by Hans Salter and cinematography by Carl Guthrie.
After his wife dies during childbirth, Doctor John Brighton (McCrea) stops in the small Oklahoma town of Cherokee Wells to bury her. Deciding to stay there and start a practice, he comes to run afoul of the local bad boys fronted by the Dobie brothers (Dexter/Dick).
A CinemaScope/De Luxe Color production, The Oklahoman appears to be one of McCrea's lesser known Westerns. Which is a shame, for although this isn't high on action quotas, it is however rich on characters and beats a solid worthy message heart. It's a typical McCrea characterisation, Doctor Brighton is a peaceable man, a bastion of the community, loved by all but the baddies. As the stench of racism rears its ugly head, and a secret of the land comes to the fore, Brighton is forced to stand up for values that he knows to be right, putting himself into great danger in the process.
The Native American characters are well written, showing them to be hard working and integral parts of the community. This is a town where integration clearly works, it's only when financial gain for the Dobie Brothers surfaces does race become an issue. There's a rather fanciful (sort of) love triangle in the mix, as both the Hale and Talbott (playing a young Indian character) have soft feelings for the much older doctor, but this aspect is no hindrance to the pic since it isn't overtly played. Over on the villain side of things Dexter does a nice line in gurning mistrust, and thankfully he doesn't shift into cartoon caricature.
It's not a very insightful picture, as per the themes ticking away, this is after all a second tier "B" Western. Yet some classy veneers shine bright as our characters move about the comforting surrounds of the Iverson Ranch locales. While of course McCrea is the most reassuring presence of all. 7/10
Gun the Man Down (1956)
Gun the Man Down is directed by Andrew McLaglen and adapted to screenplay by Burt Kennedy from a story written by Sam Freedle. It stars James Arness, Angie Dickinson, Emile Meyer, Robert J. Wilke, Harry Carey Jr, Don Megowan and Michael Emmet. Music is by Henry Vars and cinematography by William H. Clothier.
Three outlaws rob a bank and during the escape one of them, Rem Anderson (Arness), is badly wounded. His two partners kidnap his girlfriend, take his share of the loot and leave him to be captured by the closing in posse. After serving a year in jail, Rem gets out and has only one thing on his mind, to locate his double-crossing partners in crime and enact sweet revenge on them...
It's a notable Western for a number of reasons, it was Angie Dickinson's first credited starring role, it was the first film directed by Andrew McLaglen (son of Victor), and it was to be Arness' last credited feature film before embarking on a 27 year TV career.
In plot terms we are very much in familiar "B" Western territory, it's the story of a bad man who has good at his core but is driven on by a need for revenge. After the initial robbery and desertion of cohorts, we then follow Rem out of prison and onto a small tin-pot town where he knows those who done him wrong are situated. Pic then focuses on what Rem will do? Will he get revenge and end up back in jail? Will he make up with his one time love, Janice (Dickinson), who we find out is now the lover of his nemesis, Matt Rankin (Wilke)?
Into the mix comes a couple of strands that sees Rem having to justify his being in town to the local law enforcers (Meyer the sheriff - Carey Jr. the deputy) - so promptly not giving the law reason to lock him up, and of course to stay alive since some factions want him dead ASAP! These factors bring out a rich characterisation for Anderson, he has to use his wits as much as he does his pistol. The sheriff and deputy relationship is very warm, very father and son like, and their sensing of Rem being a good man behind his motives gives the simple story some sure footed foundations to work from.
Running a short 76 minutes, pic is very traditional Western fare, and it doesn't quite have enough good material to actually be this long in length - McLaglen working with tight budget pads out some scenes to reach the time slotted target. In fact, the budget restrictions are never more evident than in the town itself, which is strangely devoid of people, this even though the sheriff keeps telling us that Rankin's saloon has been a hive of undesirables! So, an allowance and understanding of the "B" Western drawbacks will definitely aid the likeminded adults viewing experience.
Though not high on action quotas, pic gets by on tense scenarios and character interactions, notably when Janice is involved. It's a nicely written character, with twin confliction of head and heart and suitors of varying degrees. She is also the centre piece for a dramatic turn of events that lifts this still further away from being a "run of the mill" cheapo Oater. There's some nice location photography on show (Woodland Hills - Calif), a couple of niftily shot scenes involving shadow play and one with Rem and a full length mirror, and the finale - like the cast performing for us - is very agreeable.
Not a must see movie of course, but for fans of the genre it holds enough about it to keep you entertained. 6/10
Simpatico is directed by Matthew Warchus and Warchus co-adapts the screenplay with David Nicholls from the play written by Sam Shepard. It stars Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone, Catharine Keener and Albert Finney. Music is by Stewart Copeland and cinematography is by John Toll.
Three young confidence tricksters have orchestrated a horse racing scam tat is making them big money. However, when the scam is unearthed by a top official they set him up for blackmail and make off into the sun. Twenty years later the three of them are brought together by circumstance and the time of emotional reckoning...
It was met with disdain by critics and film goers alike, and even now some 20 years after it was first released it holds below average ratings on the main internet film sites. Is this fair? Does it at the least deserve to be revisited and re-evaluated on its neo-noir character driven terms? Well sort of...
Off the bat it deserves better scores than those afforded it on line purely for the acting alone, this is a high grade group of actors breathing life into damaged characters. Very much a talky character driven piece (stage origins boom out from the off), the screenplay does have a deft potency about it, dealing as it does about shame and guilt and the foundation of success built out of financial gain, with the kicker being the long term repercussions of youthful criminality. Dialogue is often sparky (helps being delivered by those fine actors of course), Toll's cinematography around the Kentucky locales is beautiful, and come the final resolutions to the main characters journey we get a huge emotionally metaphorical whack.
However, there's an overuse of the flashback structure to show us the principals in their younger scamming - life altering - days (played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Shawn Hatosy and Liam Waite). Annoyingly there's also the puzzling question hanging over the play as to if this is a simple life story of errors never mended - of cheats prospering only to fall at the later in life hurdle? Or is this attempting to be a complex study of the human condition? Maybe even giving us a stark warning, a message piece if you will. Of course, maybe that's Shepard's thing? to not have definite answers? Either way it's a little frustrating to not have an absolute with such a strong character piece.
It's hardly a must see recommended picture, that's for sure, in fact Warchus' first time direction away from the actors is uncomfortably staid. Yet there's some nice craft here, and a tantalising "more than meets the eye" question mark that keeps you interested if you be so inclined to stick with it. Infertile or interesting? You decide. 6/10
Adiós Sabata, Hello Maximilian The First!
Adiós, Sabata is directed by Gianfranco Parolini (AKA: Frank Kramer) and Parolini co-writes the screenplay with Renato Izzo. It stars Yul Brynner, Dean Reed, Ignazio Spalla, Gerard Herter, Pedro Sanchez, Joseph Persaud, Salvatore Borgese and Susan Scott. Music is by Bruno Nicolai and the Technicolor/Techniscope cinematography is by Sandro Mancori.
The second of what would eventually be known as The Sabata Trilogy, we here have Brynner stepping into the shoes previously worn by Van Cleef. We are in Mexico under the self imposed rule of Emperor Maximilian I, and Sabata is hired by guerrilla leader Señor Ocaño to steal a wagonload of gold from the Austrian army. Unfortunately the gold has already been appropriated by Colonel Skimmel and so Sabata and his dubious cohorts set about stealing the gold back.
This has all the good and bad hallmarks of Spaghetti Western film making, the action is outrageously entertaining, the weaponry and methods of death and destruction are enterprising, and the lead man is cool and quippy. Conversely it's all very absurd and the plot is wafer thin - but Spaghetti Western fans kind of embrace these as virtues and have a good time if the film isn't insulting one's expectation levels. There's a less comedic tone running through this one than that of the first picture, helped by Brynner's machismo fronted bad boy act. The comedy that is here sits safe within the fruity period set-up, and even as acrobat stunts in battle seem oddly at war with the greed and power hungry thematics pulsing away, it's easy to just sit in tight and go with the flow.
In the mix we have a toy model ship that actually fires killer ammunition, Sabata's awesome sawed off side loading lever action rifle (with a chamber for Sabata's cigar as well), and a man who flings ball bearings with his feet!! Sabata can also play a killer tune on the piano, as can his dubious ally, Ballantine (Reed). There's the usual Spaghetti trait of vibrant camera workings on offer, likewise the musical accompaniments, and it all builds to a ferocious battle (stunt men earning their keep for sure) and chase finale that has a tongue in cheek charm about it. It's probably not one that even the hardcore sub-genre fans would revisit often, but while it's playing it holds the attention and entertains accordingly. 6.5/10
Nora Prentiss (1947)
The Man Who Died Twice.
Nora Prentiss is directed by Vincent Sherman and collectively written by N. Richard Nash, Paul Webster and Jack Sobell. It stars Kent Smith, Ann Sheridan, Bruce Bennett, Robert Alda and Rosemary DeCamp. Music is by Franz Waxman and cinematography by James Wong Howe.
Dr. Richard Talbot (Smith) is fed up of his dull family life. So when pretty nightclub singer Nora Prentiss (Sheridan) calls on him for treatment to a minor injury - his head - and his life - is turned drastically.
What did he do? What was he hiding?
One of film noir's devilish delights is that of a filmic entry that finds a protagonist in a fantastical situation. Think of Dark Passage where Bogart has plastic surgery to alter his looks, or The Big Clock which sees Milland investigating himself for a crime! The suitcase/cannister plot devices of Kiss Me Deadly and City of Fear, the identity swap madness of Hollow Triumph, and on it goes, the more bonkers the plot scenario is in noir, the more fun the enjoyment can be. And so enter Nora Prentiss, often tagged a woman's melodrama, it's most assuredly a crafty piece of noirville that hinges on a quite superb and fantastical twist of fate come the final stretch. 'Sure there's melodrama and some romantic delirium, but this is not cosy stuff, the pay offs beat a true pin cushioned heart.
The title may be Nora Prentiss, but she's not the key character, Doctor Talbot is, so really it's a name grab title to aid Sheridan in her efforts to break out of a lull (47 also saw her make The Unfaithful - also under the watchful gaze of Sherman). The story trajectory actually isn't what you would perceive as true film noir on plot terms, in that Nora isn't a femme fatale. In fact we are on her side, she's not malicious or shredding Talbot's life by choice, she is actually the one being messed around by the doofus doctor. Talbot is inconsiderate of his actions to how they affect those he so readily leaves behind (wife and two kids), and he lacks a spine to at least do the right thing as he plots a new life with the sultry Nora. And thus he makes a decision - when an opportunity arises in his medical office - that's brilliant in how it shifts the course of the picture into far darker territories.
Tech credits are high end, there's absolutely nothing wrong in the wily Sherman's direction, where although I can't personally say all his noir ventures are successful, he handles the tonal shifts smartly here whilst getting top perfs from his leads. Sheridan and Smith are done proud by the writers, they get interesting characters to play who are caught in a web of passion, unfulfillments, paranoia and a stonker of a lie. While as ace composer Waxman drifts tonal harmonies over proceedings, Sheridan even gets to warble a couple of very pleasing tunes. Yet all play second fiddle - not for the first time for many others - to Wong Howe's photography. A master of low-key compositions, he blends the expressionist feels with claustrophobic visual tightness. Witness the scenes in the hotel room that Nora and Richard share, a sequence post an operation that's filmed in clinical shadowed low lights, and the metaphorically potent scene of Nora and Richard talking through a prison grille.
A hit at the box office, the realignment of Sheridan's career in place, Nora Prentiss has many reasons for being sought out for viewing pleasures. More so if you like to tread the dark and sometimes nutty sidewalks of noirville. 8/10
The Outer Limits: I, Robot (1964)
The Trial of Adam Link
I, Robot is directed by Leon Benson and adapted to screenplay by Robert C. Dennis from the story written by Eando Binder. It stars Howard da Silva, Ford Rainey, Marianna Hill and Leonard Nimoy. Music is by Harry Lubin and cinematography by Kenneth Peach.
Season 2 - Episode 9
Originally a very short story in Amazing Stories, it would influence Isaac Asimov and in turn see a big screen blockbuster released in 2004. Plot sees a robot named Adam Link on trial for the murder of his creator. Defence attorney Thurman Cutler (da Silva) comes out of retirement to not only try and prove Link is innocent, but to put on trial the workings of a machine in a human world, and that of the human condition of acceptance, growing and learning one self.
A super episode, one of the better entries in series 2, the messages it gives remain pertinent as ever, the court case with its legal wrangling's holds strong interest, and the finale is socko - with the closing narration striking a mighty chord. 9/10
The Scarlet Hour (1956)
The Kiss Off.
The Scarlet Hour is directed by Micahel Curtiz and written by Rip Van Ronkel, Frank Tashlin and John Lucas. It stars Carol Ohmart, Tom Tryon, E.G. Marshall, Elaine Stritch, Jody Lawrance and James Gregory. Music is by Leith Stevens and cinematography by Lionel Lindon.
It has been a hard to locate film noir for may a year, which when you consider it's directed by such a titan of classic cinema comes as a surprise. The plot dynamics are very familiar to noir fans, and coming as it does late in the original film noir wave it does lack a bit of freshness, but there's little deviations in the shenanigans of the principals to at least give this its own identity.
We essentially have an abused wife (Ohmart) having an affair with one of her husbands (Gregory) employees (Tryon). They plan to run away together but need money to do so. As it happens, during one of their love sessions in a parked car they over hear crooks planning a jewelry robbery and she convinces her man to hold up the thieves so as to take the jewels for themselves. In true noirville form this becomes a road to nowhere and danger lurks on every corner, with dodgy alibis, unrequited passions and a few twists and turns to keep the narrative perky.
This is no shoddy production either, it comes out of Paramount and the presence of Curtiz shows you that the studio wasn't merely making a contract filler. Though the absence of chirascuro from Lindon is a shame, we do get some nifty sequences such as violence enacted that we only see via shadows. There's moments of humour as well, while there's also a musical surprise as Nat King Cole turns up to croon Never Let Me Go. Cast are fine, Ohmart has classic fatale looks and legs from heaven, but her character trajectory is a little muddled in the writing. Tryon plays the dupe competently, Lawrance sparkles in a secondary role, as does the scene stealing Stritch.
I'd stop at calling this a hidden gem, as some other amateur reviewers have, though it does rather depend on how many other similar noirs you have seen previously. This doesn't come close to Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice or Thérèse Raquin, but that doesn't stop it being a good film, because it is and for sure it's well worth noir fans tracking it down. 7/10
The Outer Limits: The Invisibles (1964)
You do not know these men.
The Invisibles is directed by Gerd Oswald and written by Joseph Stefano. It stars Don Gordon, George Macready, Dee Hartford, Walter Burke and Tony Mordente. Music is by Dominic Frontiere and cinematography by Conrad L. Hall.
Season 1 - Episode 19
Luis Spain (Gordon) infiltrates a secret organisation known only as The Invisibles and what he discovers shakes him literally to the core. We are in the territory of alien possession for this atmospherically tight episode. The twists perk the narrative no end, ensuring dialogue must be followed closely, and it all builds towards a haunting conclusion that has made this a favourite of many a series fan. 7/10