December 23, 2014

Fedora (1978)

After watching Fedora I have no feeling that the title character, a famously reclusive movie star, had anything special because director Billy Wilder miscast the pivotal role - the film's downfall. The story is intriguing (and thematically ripe for a remake starring Renée Zellweger!) but I thank author Tom Tryon for that because the whole presentation feels like a B movie. It was interesting to see Stephen Collins (yes THAT Stephen Collins) play a young William Holden but Marthe Keller is just wooden and Hildegarde Knef is no Gloria Swanson ... or Greta Garbo.

Watch Fedora on YouTube now

December 7, 2014

The Crowded Sky (1960)

In The Crowded Sky (based on the best-selling novel) every woman is a self-described tramp (except Hollis Irving as the virginal dog) and every man has a non-sexual flaw (except Keenan Wynn as the lothario). All of these peccadilloes are revealed in the first 90 minutes of the film which is followed by an exciting mid-air plane crash and its consequences. The crowd is populated by Rhonda Fleming, Anne Francis, Patsy Kelly, Troy Donahue, John Kerr, Dana Andrews and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (the latter two switching the pilot roles they played 15 years later in Airport 1975) but too many flashbacks and voiceovers make this precursor to the disaster films of the 70s unintentionally funny until the nicely filmed denouement.

December 3, 2014

The Uninvited (1944)

1944's supernatural tale The Uninvited isn't the most horrifying ghost story but it does have the following things going for it:
  • Charles Lang's Oscar-nominated cinematography
  • Gail Russell's performance as Stella By Starlight (the pop standard based on the movie's theme)
  • a story that engrosses up to the somewhat unexpected denouement
  • a hint of mid-40s lesbianism offered up by Cornelia Otis Skinner
With Russell, Skinner and Ruth Hussey, Ray Milland comes off even more bland than usual, and frankly a little ridiculous. Fortunately though, we can watch Russell as she takes over the screen with her bedroom eyes, full lips and hauntingly delicate performance - 17 years before she died from alcoholism at the age of 36.

November 16, 2014

About Miss Shirley Booth

Streaming on Amazon Prime (and not available on DVD) is About Mrs. Leslie, a wonderfully romantic movie starring the actress with the biggest heart in Hollywood, Miss Shirley Booth. This film was the followup to her film debut Come Back little Sheba and demonstrates (again) how Miss Booth's luminescent talent can light up the screen - this time as a saucy nightclub singer (à la Belle Barth) whose life is transformed by a same time next year relationship. A host of well-recognized character actors do excellent work supporting the genteel Miss Booth and her rugged co-star Robert Ryan in this emotional tale of (un?) requited love.

In this YouTube premiere, Miss Booth as Vivian Keeler sings Kiss the Boys Goodbye (lyrics by Frank Loesser) and I'm In The Mood For Love

If interested in downloading this out-of-print film,
email me for a link.

November 12, 2014

Bobbie Gentry's Spring Thing (1969)

The Spring Thing is a 1969 television special co-hosted by Bobbie Gentry and Noel Harrison (son of Rex and co-star of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.). Unfortunately, there is no surviving video footage of this musical salute to spring which featured performances from Goldie Hawn, Shirley Bassey, 60s rock group Harpers Bizarre, Rod McKuen and Meredith MacRae (daughter of Gordon and star of the seminal 60s television series Petticoat Junction). Kudos go to the enterprising proprietor of the Noel Harrison fan site who posted this rare MP3 of Bobbie and Noel crooning Bobbie's hit song Peaceful; it was lifted directly from the program so I added visuals and now everyone can enjoy this slice o' Bobbie.

November 9, 2014

Why Be Good? (1929)

I had the joy of experiencing the 1929 synchronized sound film Why Be Good? in a movie theatre. It features a wonderfully effervescent performance by Colleen Moore with studly support from Neil Hamilton (who some might remember as Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series). The story is somewhat akin to Clara Bow's earlier classic It but the film is so modern you'd swear it was filmed later - like today.

November 6, 2014

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

The Taking of Deborah Logan is a somewhat original yet involving horror film about an Alzheimer's patient who turns out to have more afflictions than her diagnosis portends. The acting is outstanding especially Jill Larson (All My Children) in the title role, Anne Ramsay (Mad About You) as her daughter and Michelle Ang as the filmmaker documenting Deborah's illness. Some twists and a particularly creepy end to this 2014 film (now streaming on Netflix) make this perfect for a dark and stormy night.

November 5, 2014

The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977)

Karen Black shines (once again) in The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver, a 1977 television thriller penned by the amazing Richard Matheson. Without giving away too much, Mrs. Oliver (Black) finds herself donning the look (and soul?) of a woman five years dead. The story is involving, the ending unexpected and it even has a small yet pivotal role played (as always) nicely by Gloria LeRoy (who acted with Karen in The Day Of The Locust) so check it out on YouTube.

November 2, 2014

September Affair (1950)

The first part of the 1950 romance September Affair amounts to a beautiful black and white travelogue of Italy as the story of two lovers who are mistakenly reported dead in a plane crash is established. It's an involving film from an adult script by Robert Thoeren (and an uncredited Ben Hecht) brought to life by pros Joan Fontaine, Joseph Cotten and an affecting Jessica Tandy (in a supporting role as a woman affected by the pair's deception). The score is beautiful (winning a Golden Globe for composer Victor Young) and the penultimate scene in which Fontaine (her character is a pianist) gives a concert in New York is movie magic at its finest.

Streams on Amazon Prime

October 27, 2014

A Taste Of Evil (1971)

If you're a Stanny fanny you could do worse than watching her give us A Taste Of Evil in this 1971 thriller from the ABC Movie Of The Week cannon, produced by Aaron Spelling. Not many TV movies start with the rape of a young girl but leave it to Barbara Stanwyck to notch up the evil even further as the cold matriarch Miriam Jennings. Barbara Parkins, Roddy MacDowell, William Windom and Arthur O'Connell join in the fun; yea, it's not that scary or thrilling but Stanwyck makes it fun.

Watch it now on YouTube

October 26, 2014

The Raven (2012)

John Cusack is an anachronism in The Raven despite the 1800s set design, his Edgar Allen Poe goatee and the knowledge that he has acted in other movies. The script itself is somewhat interesting as it fictionalizes some rumors surrounding Poe's mysterious death. Ultimately though, Cusack's acting and the general malaise of the direction make this one kind of a snoozefest.

October 19, 2014

Puzzle Of A Downfall Child (1970)

Photographer Jerry Schatzberg interviewed 1950s supermodel Anne St. Marie so he could tell her story in (and direct) his first film Puzzle of A Downfall Child starring Faye Dunaway as a supermodel being interviewed by a photographer. The film is nicely composed but the story of unlikable people smacks of self importance and pretension; hell, two characters don't even speak in contractions which is a noticeable anachronism. It's talky and pretty boring, and Dunaway (despite her youth and obvious beauty) is sometimes photographed in an unflattering fashion even before her character's downfall.

October 17, 2014

An American Dream (1966)

An American Dream (aka See You In Hell, Darling) deserves a place in hell. The 1966 color noir is nothing but Stuart Whitman, Harold Gould, Murray Hamilton, Barry Sullivan and J. D. Cannon preening and showing each other the size of their dicks while Eleanor Parker and Janet Leigh do the same with their clitorises. This movie (based on the Norman Mailer novel) is the worst kind of claptrap for which I give it my first 0* rating; the negative and digital bits should be destroyed so future generations don't even know it existed.

aka Joey Heatherton

October 13, 2014

The Sacrament (2013)

I thought The Sacrament was going to be a trashy, found-footage reenactment of the Jim Jones massacre at Jonestown (in 1978) but it turned out to be mesmerizing with a horrifying script and some incredible acting. Despite Eli Roth's name attached as presenter it is not a horror film; in fact, it brought to mind John Frankenheimer's Seconds which I had seen the week before. Gene Jones and Amy Seimetz, in particular, are excellent as the fanatic cult leader and his paramour but kudos go out to all the cast and crew (especially multi-hyphenate Ti West) for, if not helping us to understand these peoples' actions, putting them into a perspective.

October 5, 2014

Seconds (1966)

Rock Hudson has always seemed more a (cardboard) personality than an actor but he does acquit nicely in the somewhat squirm-inducing John Frankenheimer science fiction film Seconds - and he only appears in the last two thirds! Seconds is not an ordinary movie; it contains themes that are au courant, was filmed stunningly in black and white by James Wong Howe, and directed tautly by Frankenheimer. Any more details will spoil the unfolding horror so watch it cold for an indelible and harrowing experience.

October 3, 2014

The Mothers-In-Law (1967-69)

The Mothers-in-Law is I Love Lucy (and Ethel) shtick performed by powerhouse talents Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard. I burst out laughing during a number of scenes in season 1 (not as much in season 2 where a Darren Stevens/Becky Connor actor switch of Ballard's husband was made). If you like this latest WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE clip of Arden and Ballard in a Camay commercial than a binge of The Mothers-In-Law should be in the cards for you.

September 29, 2014

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Now that I've blown my nose and wiped the tears from my eyes, I can write about Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the 1941 romantic fantasy starring the warm and friendly and even gentle Robert Montgomery (Elizabeth's dad), the comely Evelyn Keyes (Scarlett's younger sister) and the take charge Claude Rains (Charlotte's doctor). The original engorges the heart just as deeply as its more famous 1978 remake Heaven Can Wait but lacks the laugh out loud comedy of the latter. Although it has no Dyan Cannon, Here Comes Mr. Jordan does have James Gleason, Edward Everett Horton, a very young Lloyd Bridges and any number of great and familiar Hollywood character actors (many from the Preston Sturges stable) that we've all come to know and love.

July 14, 2014

Sugar Hill (1974)

Marki Bey sizzles the celluloid (bits?) as Sugar Hill in this 1974 voodoo-zombie-revenge thriller that reminded me of the structure of the female revenge thriller I Spit On Your Grave. And, of course, there's Zara Cully as Mama Matrisse the voodoo queen - a few years before hitting the big time as Mother Jefferson in the iconic television series. It's not bloody because the zombies are not the flesh-eating kind; that said, the zombies look kind of ridiculous but the movie is fun and well-acted and you might recognize a few other actors before they became more prominent in Hollywood pictures.

June 29, 2014

Survivors (2008)

Survivors is a thrilling post apocalyptic BBC series with fascinating characters, some bizarre scripted motivations (Samantha and Greg - really?) and dramatic, action scenes that are nail-biting. The United Kingdom setting thoughtfully affords us a relatively gun free source of violence - which is an absolute pleasure! Only two seasons ran before the show was cancelled with (from what I read) many loose ends so I stopped watching after Season 2, Episode 4 which has a satisfying-enough series finale.

June 28, 2014

The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring is an intriguing and (somewhat) engrossing take on demons and exorcism. The film makers did their home work in one respect because there are bits and pieces of every demonic possession movie I've ever seen integrated into this story. In another respect no homework was done: being a pastiche, the threads in the story should be invisible, not black.

June 24, 2014

Coma (2012)

There was no reason to remake the 1978 movie of the 1977 book Coma because, though a groundbreaking theme in the 70s, torture porn has pretty much made organ theft a mundane topic. This mundanity, a pedestrian script and some (less than ground-breaking) CGI leave you nothing but Ellen Burstyn claiming These are mah babies. This one's Chinese. And this one is a mulatto. And although her part is a supporting role, it is ALWAYS a pleasure to watch Ellen Burstyn.

June 20, 2014

Bonnie and Clyde (2013)

In the darkness of the first scenes of Bonnie and Clyde: Dead And Alive, the 2013 uninvolving and long television tale, I thought Clyde's mom was played by Mare Winningham. In the later, brighter scenes I saw it was Dale Dickey whom I had never seen before. After almost four hours, that's all I got.

June 15, 2014

Thirteen Women (1932)

Thirteen Women (showing on WatchTCM this week) at its heart is a film about bullying in a girl's school and Irene Dunne is the bully! Myrna Loy and Peg Entwistle (who infamously jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign shortly after filming this, her only film) are some of the women in the cast (which never quite reaches 13). It's an interesting artifact to watch (and somewhat prescient) although it felt much longer than it's 59 minutes.

June 14, 2014

Flickers (1980)

Flickers is one of those quirky BBC dramas they made back in the day; this one takes on the fledgling film industry with Bob Hoskins and Frances de la Tour as a couple of quirky producers running a silent picture studio. There's not much history although writer Roy Clarke has definitely used factual events to fashion his story. The ensemble cast is wickedly good despite the broad characters but thankfully the action centers around the perfectly bearish Hoskins and the marvelously adroit De La Tour, both endearing actors playing great together.

May 1, 2014

Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark (1988)

I laughed at two things in Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark and they were not her breasts. Cassandra Peterson's character is beloved but unfortunately the two jokes wear very thin repeated endlessly in this pastiche of unfunny. The film feels like the contract stipulated a specific number of double entendres in the movie so everything in the script works towards that end before it concludes at a movie theatre friendly ninety six minutes.

April 30, 2014

Don't Bother To Knock (1952)

The closest Marilyn Monroe ever came to appearing in film noir is the first movie in which her name appears above the title, the 1952 black and white thriller Don't Bother To Knock with noir favorite Richard Widmark and singer Anne Bancroft. Although not the brightest script, Monroe proves her acting chops as the baby sitter in hotel room 809; she is poignant, detached and bat-shit crazy. I've read that this movie is closest to the real Monroe (not the blonde bimbo) but there is no playacting here; Monroe is mesmerizing.

April 28, 2014

Life With Judy Garland: Me & My Shadows (2001)

Kudos to writer/producer Lorna Luft, actresses Tammy Blanchard and Judy Davis and director Robert Allan Ackerman for creating a poignant portrait of Frances Gumm and her doppelgänger in Life With Judy Garland: Me & My Shadows. The 45 years go by in three hours as you're immersed in the glamour, angst and humanity of the iconic entertainer. Be sure to listen to the informative DVD commentary in concert with the film; Luft and Ackerman (among others) offer information about Garland and how her real life was dramatized for television.

April 18, 2014

Dial M For Murder (1954)

To call Dial M For Murder a crackingly, taut, suspense thriller still understates the feeling that you are on the edge of your seat throughout. Alfred Hitchcock has taken the uber successful 1948 Broadway thriller and filmed it with his eye for irony and angles. Grace Kelly gives one of her best performances as do her gentlemen callers Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, John Lawson and John Williams - the latter actor having worked with Hitchcock more than any other.

April 16, 2014

Vera (2011)

I binged on season 1 of the British crime drama Vera. Brenda Blethyn wows as Vera (the 'surly' detective); she's surrounded by a great cast (David Leon, Wunmi Mosaku), and the intricate mysteries kept me guessing 'whodunnit' until the end. If you like puzzlers, seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Amazon Prime (four episodes each).

March 18, 2014

Alien Trespass (2009)

It's amazing that some one somewhere found the 1957 presumed-destroyed film Alien Trespass and was able to release it in 2009. This pastiche of every 50s science fiction B movie you might have seen before it has not much more than that premise except a charming performance by Eric McCormack ... and color film! The movie is prepended with the newsreel that had been placed before it in 1957 which, coupled with Robert Patrick, gives the whole thing a family feel - although I'm not sure why.

February 28, 2014

The Flapper (1920) and Olive Thomas

I have no idea why this film is called The Flapper because it has no flappers (or flapper dresses); in fact, it was made in 1920 before the term was even used on a regular basis. At the most, star Olive Thomas (a one-time Vargas and Ziegfeld girl) attempts to vamp her man as she acts like (and wears a dress similar to the one) Theda Bara wore in A Fool There Was. The story is a piffle about a teenager from a girl's school, the adult she finds exciting (silent child sex?) and a robbery, but it is fascinating to see Thomas whose death (from accidental poisoning shortly after this film was made) was the first of the Hollywood tragedies to be sensationalized by the media - which ultimately lead to the enactment of the Production Code.

See The Flapper in its entirety

See my Pinterest page for a slew of
pictures of Olive from throughout her life and career.

Olive Thomas in Love's Prisoner - unfortunately incomplete -
ends with a title card explaining the missing footage.

This episode of Beatrice Fairfax is Olive Thomas's first screen role.

February 16, 2014

Night Must Fall (1937)

Night Must Fall, the 1937 film of the successful Emlyn Williams dramatic thriller, is a dark, atypical MGM film in that its tone and characters go against the studio's more famous light-hearted fare. Young Rosalind Russell, Robert Montgomery and (yes!) Dame May Whitty are all fascinating to watch dancing around the central murder mystery and are supported by a stellar cast (all in Oscar caliber performances). I don't want to convey anymore because it's a tight story (adapted by John Van Druten of I Am A Camera/Cabaret fame) and a fine film to watch unfold without prior knowledge.

February 15, 2014

The Dolly Sisters (1945)

The Dolly Sisters starring Betty Grable and June Haver is 20th Century Fox's 1945 musical biography about the titular vaudeville performers from the turn of the 20th century. Although the music and dancing are enjoyable, the lack of any story on which to hang these musical numbers is clearly evident (although sometimes it plays like For Me And My Gal with a second gal added). Vaudeville performer Harry Fox (played by John Payne) is also part of the story (or lack thereof) as is a song performed by the sisters in blackface; the former I get, the latter I don't.

January 16, 2014

Zoolander (2001)

I thought Zoolander (in essence, a comic take on The Manchurian Candidate) was an Adam Sandler movie so I never saw it. When I was informed that it was Ben Stiller and not the aforementioned, I found it immediately, watched it, and loved it! All white guys look alike.

January 9, 2014

Hedy Lamarr as a Nymphomaniac

Dishonored Lady is a 1947 potboiler in which the ravishing, patent-owning Hedy Lamarr, without so much as uttering the word, plays a nymphomaniac who seeks the help of a psychiatrist. Although timely in its themes (for example, Lamarr works in a man's job), the public domain movie plays out as one might expect from post-code Hollywood: love and marriage and murder (not in that order). The final scene almost plagiarizes the final scene of Casablanca - interesting considering the producers of the 1936 Joan Crawford vehicle Letty Lynton were convicted of plagiarizing the play version of Dishonored Lady causing the Crawford film to be pulled from circulation to this date.

January 6, 2014

It Happened One Christmas (1977)

It Happened One Christmas, the rarely-aired 1977 gender-reversed remake of It's A Wonderful Life was the first Frank Capra movie I saw; in other words, the television movie is pretty much a shot-by-shot copy of the classic original - with the same artificial snow and some small script modifications. Fortunately, the story is so strong that this version stands on it's own as a pleasant tale. Producer Marlo Thomas (who as lead actor channels her future television daughter, Jennifer Aniston) also made the right decisions in hiring Orson Welles (as Mr. Potter) for gravitas, Cloris Leachman (as angel Clara Oddbody) for humor and Wayne Rogers (as Mary Bailey's other half) for banality.

January 4, 2014

This Gun For Hire (1942)

This Gun For Hire, the 1942 film noir, is at times hopelessly propagandized, ridiculously out-dated, magically tuneful, screamingly over-the-top and miraculously riveting. In the film that made him a star (and with a part that belies his fourth billing), Alan Ladd creates the template for hired killers by stroking kittens, slapping women, killing men and seeking revenge while packing an unstoppable punch; the monologue in which Ladd recounts a battered childhood was an emotionally draining experience for both of us. Veronica Lake is the sultry songstress who becomes his redemption and Robert Preston is her guy and although you always know how this one will end, the last twenty or so minutes is a nicely paced, pulse-racing chase scene with great black and white cinematography that is not as expected.