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Passable Murder Mystery Helped Greatly By Fine Cast
10 June 2017
"Spotlight On A Murderer" is a second rate detective story with a first rate French cast. The story deals with a count whose only asset seems to be his massive stone castle. Top billed Pierre Brasseur plays the count and he has a hit and run part, appearing for a total of maybe three minutes and not doing much besides taking a seat in a concealed room and dying.

For me, the big plus of this movie is Dany Saval's performance as the girlfriend of one of the potential heirs of the count. She has a real personality. Maurice Jarre composed the music for this movie and the score is blah, no match to his score for 1964's "Weekend at Dunkirk". Jarre later married Saval, in 1965 and, when they split two years later, he gave her the rights to his movie score for "Doctor Zhivago" as a divorce settlement. A great deal for her.

As to this movie, I watched the Arrow Blu-ray disc of the movie, a Gaumont restoration that has excellent image quality. At the end, when the killer is on the run across across the castle grounds, Edwige (Marianne Koch) tells Saval's movie boyfriend to shoot the killer in the leg. A shot through a high tower window to a moving target at least 150 feet away using a smooth bore single shot antique pistol. With a crowd of visitors to the castle next to the target. Naturally, the shot hits the killer in the leg.

If your time is limited, try to see "Weekend At Dunkirk" instead of this run of the mill mystery. Maurice Jarre's score for that movie is great and director Henri Verneuil was on a roll in the 1960s directing movies, hitting his peak with 1969's "The Sicilian Clan".
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French Truck Drivers Battle Over Mysterious Cargo In The Sahara Desert
7 February 2017
"Greed In The Sun" is a 1964 movie that is a time capsule, a view of a world long gone, where expatriate French nationals live and work in a heavily Arabic North African country. This movie was filmed in part in Marrakesh, Morocco, where at one point the camera pans across the primitive tanneries in that city as the characters walk to their destination. In the movie, the city is identified as Le Moussorah, a name that exists only on the hotel sign and mile markers made as set dressing for this movie. The movie itself deals with the truck drivers who transport goods through the desert and over mountainous terrain . Those drivers include Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura, playing buddies who work for Gert Frobe's trucking company.

Gert Frobe's character has the best lines in the movie, but he vanishes after arranging for a newly hired driver to take a mysterious shipment of goods to Salem. Rocco, Belmondo's character, steals the truck and Frobe pays Marec (Lino Ventura) to recover the truck. Marec is not very good at that job, another company truck driver, Mitch- Mitch, helps him out three separate times when Marec has problems. Why Frobe did not hire the more competent Mitch-Mitch for the job is anyone's guess.

In "Greed In The Sun", the female characters are treated as second-class humans, dummies good for sex and not much else. The Arab characters are treated worse, lackeys there to serve their European masters. For that matter, the drivers don't come out looking very good either. Marec is a thug who demolishes a roadside store and Rocco is a greedy pig.

In France, there is on sale a Blu-ray version of "Greed In The Sun", a new restoration where the black and white photography looks crystal clear. French only though, and no optional English subtitles. For one scene at the end, there are large, old fashioned hard coded French subtitles, which indicates to me that the original camera negative is missing. Otherwise, we would have new subtitles for this short segment.

The American DVD release of "Greed In The Sun" is a disaster, using an older print, having large white hard coded English subtitles. The subtitles themselves leave out stuff and have errors. I made subtitles using English subtitles from an Internet site where the subs had exact timing but the translation and grammar were off.

The 1960s were the peak decade for director Henri Verneuil, a decade he ended with his great crime film, "The Sicilian Clan", a movie that also starred Lino Ventura. Thanks to computer technology, I was able to make a DVD of "Greed In The Sun" that combined the Blu-ray movie with optional on-off English subtitles in a nicer font, subs that I edited.

In this movie, the scenes that stand out for me are when the trucks drive through the center of the city identified as Le Moussorah. You see swarms of people walking all over the plaza with cars parked in a group on one side. 1964 and the location unit filming here showed how crowded this Southern Algeria city already was. The place looked really depressing, a giant flea market look to it, baking under the sun. No wonder people who live in crowded places like that look to migrate to nicer locations.
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Gunsmoke: The Cabin (1958)
Season 3, Episode 24
Marshal Matt Dillon Finds Himself In Hell
20 November 2016
Trapped in a blizzard traveling on horseback from Hays City to Dodge City, Marshal Dillon attempts to take shelter in a cabin. Only in the cabin are two psychopathic killers and their hostage, the woman whose cabin it is. Dillon finds himself a prisoner as well, constantly with a double-barreled shotgun pointed at him by one of the killers, played by a grimly smiling Claude Akins. John Meston wrote the script for this TV episode and also for the original radio episode of this story. The radio episode ends with Dillon leaving the cabin and, as he rides back to Dodge, commenting on how there was not a sign of life around, that the blizzard had left a barren wasteland. So in this episode Dillon is like a hero from mythology who travels through the Valley of Death and rescues a woman from monsters, then he moves on. The fact that the terrible experience has radically changed the woman's view on life shows that writer Meston does not believe that life tragedies will always wind up for the best. Only Marshal Dillon manages to escape unscathed from a TV version of an encounter with monsters from hell.
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Blindfold (1966)
"Blindfold" Disappoints On All Levels
8 September 2016
Aside from all too few location scenes of Manhattan in 1964, the movie "Blindfold" is a low-budget affair that wastes the acting talents of all involved in this movie. One scene stands out for me, as Rock Hudson's character is talking to the general, played by Jack Warden. They are supposedly flying in a turboprop airplane, yet their seats face each other, the window is covered by a long curtain and you see no one else, not even the pilot. Just a studio set, Universal wouldn't spring for filming in a mock up of a real plane or even in a real small plane. As usual throughout this movie, director Philip Dunne does an abysmal job staging the scene. What is surprising to me is that Joseph MacDonald, the director of photography, does such as bad job lighting up this scene and most of the movie outside of the scenes in Central Park. DP MacDonald usually was aces, as in westerns like "Rio Conchos" and "Alvarez Kelly."

The less said about the story, the better. This movie was co-writer Dunne's last screenplay and he quit while he was at the bottom. I still can't figure out why everyone made such a big deal about kidnapping the scientist, there is no explanation of what he was working on. Beautiful Claudia Cardinale wanders about the movie looking upset. In a chase scene at the end through a swamp, she wears a tight blouse that the director makes sure never gets wet, don't want to show too much of her assets.

The one word that describes this movie is "tired." No one wanted to do more then turn out about ten reels of film. Flat lighting, cheap sets, badly edited chase scenes and dull characters. Rock Hudson as a famous psychiatrist who has a problem with his girlfriend? This movie was a good way for Hudson to prepare for his later career on his series "McMillan & Wife," where cheap production values, bad lighting and shoddy writing were the norm for that 1970s series.

Except for the fine actors in this movie, I can't think of one positive thing to say about "Blindfold."
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Movie Director Edgar Selwyn At His Peak
24 August 2016
"The Mystery Of Mr. X" is the last movie directed by Edgar Selwyn, who had a career in theater and movies that could never be duplicated again. This movie is full of details that are more typical of a Broadway play than a movie. At the end, when the news photographers want to take a picture of Revel (Robert Montgomery) with Miss Frensham, he hesitates getting next to her and she pulls him closer. Earlier, after the police surround Mr. X, he tells superintendent Connor, "I hate you Connor! I hate you." The earlier part of the story shows that Connor justifies that low opinion, searching Revel's apartment without a search warrant, lying to Sir Christopher Marche and trying to solve the policeman murders by assuming the Drayton diamond thief is also the murderer. Throughout the movie, the dialog between Revel and Miss Frensham is literate and delineates the characters in an amusing and cheerful way.

Of course, there is no way this movie could ever be a stage play, since much of the action involves taxi rides, walking down foggy streets and other outdoors activities. This movie must have been a tough shoot, between the constant dialog (1,830 numbered subtitle segments in the closed captions) and the tracking shots for the studio lot scenes. The showdown in the warehouse building set at the end of the movie must have been really hard to stage and film, but Selwyn and company do a fine job at it.

I saw this movie on TCM and the print shown was worn, had frame damage in parts and looked like a 16MM dupe print. Not the best way to watch a movie that has many scenes shot in shadowed settings. IMDb reports that MGM shot a new ending after preview audiences disapproved of the original ending. Director Selwyn, in New York already, did not want to re-shoot the ending. I am guessing that Selwyn had his fill of working so hard to make this movie a great example of the MGM studio system at work. So Selwyn bows out as a movie director on the top, with a movie that should have been better known but got lost in the shuffle when the 1934 Production Code went into full force.

The Warner Archive should find a way to get "The Mystery Of Mr. X" out as a Blu-ray release using better print material that is given a makeover by the LOC Packard Campus.
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Really Great Cast In A Really Bad Movie
10 August 2016
TCM had "The Hoodlum Saint" on August 8, 2016, the first of a series of movies starring Esther Williams. Williams was 24 when she co-starred in this movie and she looked great. Star William Powell looked like he was just earning a paycheck, he had the most script lines and this script was a disaster area, completely unreal. This movie had fine stars and character actors at every turn: James Gleason, Frank McHugh, Angela Lansbury, Rags Ragland. All try hard but who is really interested in a story that revolves in part on the story of Saint Dismas, the good thief in the New Testament who becomes the "hoodlum saint." Greenlighting movies like this turkey paved the way for MGM production head Louis B. Mayer's dismissal.

Cliff Reid was the producer of this movie, his first and last for MGM. Reid had worked as a producer or assistant producer at RKO from 1934 to 1942, according to IMDb. If the movie was low budget, like RKO movies starring Lee Tracy, Reid was the producer. These RKO movies are mostly unwatchable, badly written and with bad production values. For a bigger budget movie like "Bringing Up Baby," Reid was the associate producer. Reid is the one who deserves all the blame for how bad "The Hoodlum Saint" is, it has a low budget script tagged to the high production values MGM gave its movies.

Further, William Powell was miscast as the star, he sleep walked through most of the movie. You have Esther Williams full of vitality playing against a very dull William Powell. Producer Cliff Reid imbued this movie with "B" movie values. You know, MGM would have been better off making this movie starring Lee Tracy in William Powell's role as a former newspaperman who sells out at first to get rich on Wall Street before the crash.
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Supernatural: The Vessel (2016)
Season 11, Episode 14
"Supernatural" Season 11 Best Episode So Far
18 February 2016
This episode of "Supernatural" is the best so far of this 11th season and the credit goes to director John Badham, writer Robert Berens, submarine technical adviser Robert Mackay and the production design crew. That crew must have gone way over budget to design the interior sets on this episode. For this episode, there is plenty of attention to detail. In one scene in the Winchester's hideaway, there are a bunch of documents and maps and such covering a long wooden desk. Someone took a lot of time to create these colorful prop documents, all clearly shown. Director Badham also worked as a movie director, where you can have great attention to detail, to make a film set look authentic. That concern with making things look authentic extends to the acting in this episode where you don't see anyone eating up the scenery with overacting and making faces to look serious or important. A low key approach, the story is bizarre enough as is, what with time travel and the all powerful wooden Hand of God, along with a knockout actress as a "Man of Letters." Now, if they could only show the Winchesters' high quality printer in action.
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Supernatural: Just My Imagination (2015)
Season 11, Episode 8
"Supernatural" Hits Rock Bottom
5 December 2015
Even for a TV series that has run out of ideas for the past five years, this episode of "Supernatural" takes the prize as the worst of the worst. "Supernatural" has gone from head chopping to torture and now to pedophilia. The story for this episode is senseless, the explanation for the events in part that you can in Romania find all sorts of magical goodies. The mopish ending must have been hard to film for the actor playing Sully, dressed in strange duds and reciting lines that were a mixture of bathos and stupidity. As for Dean and Sam Winchester, it is past tiresome to watch them frown sometimes, then look serious and finally make deep and intellectual observations like "huh!" This episode of the now failed series can best be watched as a bad example, of what happens when you mix a showrunner on drugs, actors who are bored and writers limited to copying badly story lines from other movies. The only remaining question is what happened to Sam's forehead, how did it get dented?
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Rage (1972)
"Rage" Is All Bad Writing And Incompetent Direction
1 September 2015
The movie "Rage" starts with a few minutes of filler, a traveling helicopter shot of hilly grasslands and then a truck driving down a dirt road. The background music is really bad, vacuous. Lalo Shifrin gets the credit for composing this score. One demerit. I saw this movie on TCM as part of a full day of movies featuring George C. Scott. Bob Osborne said that as director, Scott bought this movie in a week early and under budget. Scott should have spent some more money, especially on lighting. Except for some scenes of violence at the end, "Rage" has the crummy photography, the long build-up and the shoddy writing you expect from a TV movie.

Over 50 minutes pass before Scott's lunkhead character realizes something is amiss. I mean, at the start, he drives by sheep dead on his property, blood coming out of their noses. A normal person would think, what could have killed his sheep. Not Scott, though. As he drives to a hospital, he passes by a neighbor to drop his dog off. Does Scott phone the hospital from the neighbor's place to let them know of his major medical problem and all those dead sheep? Of course not. It was nice to see actor John Dierkes as the neighbor, an actor who was super in an earlier movie, 1959's "The Hanging Tree," where he co-starred with Scott.

"Rage" is a collection of scenes, with a story that is totally unreal. There is a pretty good scene where Scott stops by a gun store to buy an automatic rifle that he puts together by the gun counter. A copy of a similar type scene in a Sergio Leone movie where Eli Wallach's Tuco assembles a handgun from different guns. Only the Leone movie is done way better. More typical of this movie is where the Army officers meet to discuss how to handle their problem. The actors look like they were reading their lines from a teleprompter.

Looking at the movie in total, as I do now, you come to the conclusion that this movie has enough story to fill a 30 minute TV show. Everywhere there is padding, with dialogue serving as filler like in a TV soap opera series. If the military had done the normal thing, tell Scott's character what the situation was and put him in isolation, there would be no movie. In real life, the dead sheep lying out in the open on the range land would have been a dead giveaway to the other ranchers and TV reporters.

I added one star to my rating because of the appearance of John Dierkes. If this movie ever returns to TCM, avoid it.
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Bits of Life (1921)
Great Talent In A Vanished Movie
28 July 2015
"Bits of Life" is a lost movie, an anthology film was based in part on a Thomas McMorrow short story. McMorrow was a writer who wrote regularly for the Saturday Evening Post in the teens and twenties. According to IMDb, this movie is his only credit. Some 65 years after the release of this movie, McMorrow's son, working at the New York Daily News, phoned up a co-worker of mine at the New York State division I worked at then, asking about a garment firm we were checking into, for something, probably to do with distributing industrial homework. Tom McMorrow came up empty, the co-worker had instructions not to talk to the press.

The movie's cast includes Lon Chaney playing a Chinaman and Dorothy Mackaill in her first full length movie made in Hollywood. The cast also includes Anna May Wong, who could play an Asian without using much make-up, unlike Chaney. Mackaill would later star in 1931's "Safe In Hell," a true pre-Code movie where Mackaill plays a call girl on the run. Call girls are in the news again in New York (refer to New York Governor Spitzer's affairs in 2008).

Producer Marshal Neilan seems to have worked fast. The short story "The Man Who Heard Everything" was in The Smart Set magazine in April 1921 and this movie was out in September of that same year. Like Mackaill, Neilan's Hollywood career was on life support in the mid-30s before he directed one last movie in Britain in 1937. Mackaill last starring role was in 1937's "Bulldog Drummond at Bay," made in Britain.

Both pretty much vanished from sight thereafter, their movie careers over. Mackaill did have a stage career but around 1955, after her mother passed away, she left New York City to live in Honolulu, where she had her last credit, in an "Hawaii Five-0" episode. I sometimes wonder how old time Hollywood talent like Mackaill and Neilan supported themselves when their movie careers were over, their pay may have been good when they were working, much better than most in the pinch penny 1920s and Depression 1930s but, like now again for most workers, they had no pensions. Note: Neilan was very well paid but he lost most of his money on a bad investment in Edendale real estate.

Fame for most vanishes fast with the passage of time. If someone finds a copy of "Bits of Life" in their attic or stored in mislabeled film reels in some European archive, that should temporarily revive interest in these two mostly forgotten talents, who ended their careers playing bit parts. (Edited from a 2008 posting in the now pretty much defunct group alt.movies.silent)
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"Body Of My Enemy" Is A Train Wreck
19 April 2015
Plenty of great movie talent worked on "Body Of My Enemy." For all their efforts, this movie is the worst of the movies that paired Jean-Paul Belmondo with director Henri Verneuil. The plot of this movie makes no sense, dealing with an interloper, Belmondo playing a social climber, Francois Leclerq, who gets involved with the super rich and influential family that controls the textile industry in his town. The movie starts off with Belmondo's character getting off a train at the Cournai station, just out of prison, where he served 7 years for a double murder he did not commit.

This opening scene was masterfully photographed by Jean Penzer, as is the entire movie. Marie-France Piser, who plays the rich man's daughter, never looked better, her beauty luminous thanks to DP Penzer. "Body Of My Enemy" was the fourth and last movie in a row that Penzer photographed for Belmondo's Cerito Films. The next movie Penzer worked on as DP was "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs,' directed by Bertrand Blier, the son of Bernard Blier - who played the head of the rich Liégard family in "Body Of My Enemy." The production values of this Belmondo star vehicle, the fine cast and the effort made in finding exterior locations just right for the story cannot compensate for a movie that is overloaded with flashbacks that vitiate the story. "Disjointed" is one word that you can use to describe this movie. As I watched this movie, I started to think that Leclerq, Belmondo's character, is a really unappealing sort, an egocentric guy quick to join the rich crowd.

I just saw this movie on a StudioCanal DVD (in French only), using the English .srt subtitles someone finally posted for this movie on the Internet. The DVD played fine but the movie not so good, a pretentious look at how rich people live. Still, that Marie-France Pisier. At about the 50 minute point, in a bathrobe, she gives a quick salute to Belmondo before the scene cuts. What a looker, what a personality!
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Perry Mason: The Case of the Potted Planter (1963)
Season 6, Episode 27
Great Perry Mason Episode
8 April 2015
This Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Potted Planter," is one of the best in the series. It starts off with one character, teenager Melinda Tarr, riding a motor scooter down a dimly lit road, wearing a party dress. From there, the episode zips along in Robert Dennis's great script. One character is played by Diane Brewster, who looks so good wearing large wide brimmed circular hats that she wears two styles of such hats during her court appearances. I thought courts told people in the room to remove their hats. I have all the Perry Mason episodes on DVD and I transferred them to XviD avi format, to watch them using my media player. Until two days ago, I never got around to watching this episode. This episode has plenty of rotten characters, most of them concerned with money. At one point, Perry says about his client, that he stands to lose his $29,000 investment spent buying a big share of a radio station. Those were the days, when a dollar was a dollar. Robert Hager was the DP for this episode and, boy, did he like photographing Diane Brewster and the shadows her big hats cast on her cheekbones. With several day for night scenes, this episode is one that would look good when Paramount releases Perry Mason on Blu-ray. Assuming Viacom doesn't spin off its Paramount subsidiary, now that parent company Viacom is falling apart (in April 2015). Even in DVD format, "The Case of the Potted Palm" is recommended viewing from one of television's finest series.
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Great Hollywood Movie About Movie Making In Hollywood
20 December 2014
"The Last Command" is a story about a Russian general's reversal of fortune, who in ten years goes from leading the Czar's army in World War One to being picked to play the role of an extra in a movie directed by former "revolutionist" Lev Andreyev (William Powell), who now rules a Hollywood sound stage. While Emil Jannings got the Academy Award for playing the general, it is my opinion that Powell's performance as Andreyev is what drives this movie forward. Director Andreyev plucks the general from obscurity in the present, a Hollywood extra, and gives him a small movie role as a general. In this movie, Powell plays his part in a deadly serious manner. Not one smile, no snippy comments. But then you think, why did he hire the former general, who ten years earlier as as a real general had arrested Andreyev, belted him with a riding crop for being insolent and then had him locked up. The only answer is in the phrase "turnabout is fair play." Andreyev's plan to degrade the general went awry when he saw that the general stayed true to character, defending Russia to the end, even in a fictional battle on a Hollywood sound stage. Ten years after the fall of Czarist Russia, Hollywood made this movie that deals in the human wreckage left by the Russian Revolution. Andreyev, the former Kiev theater director, survived the revolution and prospered but his fellow conspirator and possible main squeeze Natalia died in a train wreck. Powell played the part right, he had grim memories of the revolution. His "joke," casting the former (and destitute) general as a Hollywood general, had not turned out the way he thought it would. "The Last Command" is an example of Hollywood professionals using a fictional story to make a movie that casts a spotlight on the real world. A spotlight helped by the details tossed in showing the movie's version of present day Hollywood: the crowd of extras scrabbling at the studio window to pick up their uniforms; the assistant directors hovering over movie director Andreyev and trying to be the one to light his cigarette; the camera in the final scene panning back from the sound stage to show the movie cameras set up to film the movie within a movie. William Powell's role is the thread that links the events in this movie, as the director and, in the long flashback, as the revolutionist whose partner Natalia hooks up with the general. These days, Hollywood stays away from movies like "The Last Command," way too serious and cynical.
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Jack Irish: Dead Point (2014 TV Movie)
"Jack Irish: Dead Point" Is Pointless
6 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"Jack Irish: Dead Point" starring Guy Pearce as the title character, is a well photographed movie and has pretty good production values. In one scene, there is a nice special effect showing a helicopter blade whizz by Jack Irish. Those are the only positive things I can say about this badly written crime story that makes no sense at all. Jack Irish is a criminal lawyer who works as an investigator. He seems to be independently wealthy and likes jogging. He also does woodwork. This movie exists in a bubble world where drug dealers leave their drugs in the boot of a fancy sports car stored in an intermodal container on the dock, not in a locker aboard the cargo ship. With rare exception, the police are all honest and they all know Jack. Jack meets and knows all types of people, from elderly pub patrons to elderly gamblers as he tools around in his Studebaker. Most important for this story is that crime does not pay, that anyone involved in the drug trade must die. This movie was a waste of my time, right down to the cop out ending where Jack's client, a judge, comes out unscathed.
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"After Office Hours" Is Junk
30 October 2014
"After Office Hours" is a movie that, for its time in 1935, is insane. It starts off with Constance Bennett's character being dropped off by her chauffeur driven limousine in front of her new workplace, a newspaper, in the afternoon. Soon thereafter, the paper's editor, played by Clark Gable wearing a beanie type cap, is listening to Stuart Erwin's character explain that he only had a two day drunk in Brooklyn, not three days. Then Gable the editor reads a concert review Bennett the writer just turned in. He blasts it as mean-spirited, then fires Bennett and tells her to pick up her pay, including an extra two weeks' sudden termination pay. From there, the movie becomes even more unreal. Another posting here about the movie state that MGM made this movie in response to the tremendous success of "It Happened One Night." That sounds right. Even so, only MGM production chief Louis B. Mayer could a approve a movie like this, one that exists in a parallel universe where the lead characters go to parties in tuxedos, where one character drives his speed boat into a parking space in the living room of his country house and where Constance Bennett wears strange neck pieces made of dead animals. "Screwball comedy" is one phrase that describes what this movie wants to be. Only like most screwball comedies, including "It Happened One Night," "After Office Hours" is not funny and it plays more like propaganda for the masses. I have read that the work of this movie's director, Robert Z. Leonard, is now undergoing reappraisal, that he may be a better director than he gets credit for. In "After Office Hours," Leonard does a fine job directing furniture but that is all. Constance Bennett was a beauty who usually lit up the screen. Not in this movie, though, with her strange attire worn in flat lighting.

I can only imaging what film goers thought seeing this Gable and Bennett star vehicle crash and burn in 1935. This movie escaped to Loew's theaters on February 22, 1935. It may have been playing at second run theaters on April 14, 1935, Black Sunday, when the worst of the Dust Bowl storms unleashed black rollers from the Midwest east across the country.

In 1935, 85,000 people left the Midwest and their homes and buried farms to trek to California to escape the black blizzards. More immigrants to California than during the 1849 Gold Rush. I wonder what it must have been like to be in a movie theater in Kansas in 1935, watching this movie as the sky outside turned pitch black from rollers transporting the topsoil from the moviegoers' farms east to the Atlantic Ocean.

MGM knew how to make realistic movies, just look at the exceedingly grim 1932 movie "Night Court." Thanks to the 1934 Production Code, Hollywood stopped producing movies that were taken from the headlines. Production Code Administrator Joe Breen, the Hitler of Hollywood, censored all scripts to remove negative subjects like drug addiction, corruption, extramarital affairs and hard times for poor Americans, black or white.

Seeing "After Office Hours" on Turner Classic Movies in 2014, I can only wonder what the audiences said after paying their hard earned money to see this crackpot movie in the Depression year of 1935. I can only say this movie gets a 4 from me and I saw it for not much, TCM is included in my FiOS triple play.
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Edge Of Tomorrow Senselessly Violent Science Fiction Film
7 June 2014
Watching "Edge Of Tomorrow," you realize the contempt Hollywood media conglomerates have for their audience. The central character of this movie, Major Cage, spends most of his time getting killed. According to the idiotic premise of this movie, because he was dowsed with an alien creature's blood the first time he died in battle, Cage will now time loop back to an earlier time whenever he is killed. So, like a gamer playing a video shooter game, Cage goes back to the start of the game if the enemy finishes him off. On and on, Cage gets killed, getting more proficient at avoiding wipe out as the movie progresses.

The reason Cage is in battle is bizarre. He is an American major handling PR who tells a UDF general that he is an American officer and he will he not follow UDF orders to land with soldiers attacking the Micmics, the alien enemies. When Cage says he will make life hard on the general if he tries to send Cage into battle, naturally, the UDF general reduces Cage's rank to private, falsifies records to show Cage is an attempted deserter, kidnaps Cage and sends Cage into battle as cannon fodder.

Co-star Emily Blount plays a character called the "Angel of Verdun." That's it for her character development. J squad, the unit Cage joins just before the attack, is made up of the necessary social representatives: a woman, a black guy, a fat guy, some whites including one who looks Hispanic. The less said about Bill Paxton's Master Sergeant Farell, the better. All put on spiffy mechanical exo-skeletons before being sent to battle.

Comparing this movie to 1997's "Starship Troopers" shows how far Hollywood has sunk in its creative abilities. True, Edge's director Doug Liman doesn't hold a candle to Starship's director, Paul Verhoeven. More than that, though, is how "Starship Troopers" showed a team effort, no single character being Superman, and how Verhoeven and his writers threw in an anti-military subtext.

"Edge Of Tomorrow" is an ugly and unreal movie that glorifies fictional soldiers getting obliterated in battle, repeatedly. This movie has no heart and it makes no sense. I've read that Brad Pitt turned down an offer to star in Edge. After starring in "World War Z," a really ugly and stupid movie, I can understand why Pitt did not want to double down with another junk science fiction movie. Tom Cruise's previous movie "Oblivion" is Shakespeare compared to "Edge of Tomorrow." As you may have guessed, I am no fan of "Edge of Tomorrow."
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The White Storm: More A Video Game Than A Crime Story Movie
13 April 2014
"The White Storm" is a totally unreal movie about three Hong Kong narcotics cops trying to bring down a big time drug dealer. Director and co-writer Benny Chan should stick to directing. Chan's previous movie, 2011's "Shaolin," was a very well made movie that held your interest throughout. "The White Storm" is mainly a series of gunfights, very well choreographed but totally unreal. More a video game shoot-em up than a movie. In the middle of the movie, the HK cops are in Thailand to trap the drug lord. During an ensuing gun battle, the bad guys bring in a helicopter fitted with a mini-gun that blasts away at everything. For me, that was the high point of the movie, just mindless destruction with no shallow dialog from the three buddy cops. Benny Chan does a much better job as director when he works with Jackie Chan. For his next movie, Benny Chan should team up again with Jack Chan and leave the writing to others.
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The Assassination of President Kennedy A Great Time Capsule
24 November 2013
"The Assassination of President Kennedy" documentary that CNN aired over the 50th anniversary of the shooting of JFK is technically great, a combination of great editing and superior film and videotape restoration. The video clips of TV broadcasts from 50 years ago look just super. The Zapruder 8MM color film sparkles, looking better than I have ever seen it before. The closing credits show that this documentary was a co-production of companies that usually work on motion pictures, not TV documentaries. That must be why so much effort has been put into obtaining archival footage of TV news broadcasts shown in the aftermath of Kennedy's murder. American network TV stations nowadays would never put so much effort and expense into a documentary like this one. Unlike 20 years ago, when quality came first at network news operations, with magazine news shows like PrimeTime Live and the real Dateline NBC.

Almost nothing is perfect and this JFK documentary has one major flaw: the presence of Vincent Bugliosi, whose leaden comments defending the Warren Commission are completely out of place. Bugliosi's "expert" testimony consists of opinions from a boring former prosecutor. Instead of his talking head shots, I would have like more footage from regular folk who were in Dallas that day, comparable to the lady who told a reporter who asked that the CIA was behind the shooting. In other words, get a picture of the times from more eyewitnesses. One more eyewitness interview could have been James Tague, the car salesman who was watching the Kennedy motorcade pass by when he was struck slightly in the face by the ricochet of a bullet that missed Kennedy's vehicle and then bounced off the pavement at him.

Still and all, "The Sixties: The Assassination of President Kennedy" does a great job showing events in the aftermath of this murder of a president.
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Anne (1998)
Season 3, Episode 1
Peak Production Values For This "Buffy" Episode
29 January 2013
For the first episode of season three of "Buffy," Joss Whedon spared no expense. Great cinematography, loads of stunt work and great set design. (Too bad that IMDb does not post budget information on individual TV episodes, this episode must have gone way over budget to get in those hellfire factory action scenes.) Plus there is the main plot line, a story as grim as any shown on a broadcast TV series. I edited out the scenes set in Sunnyvale, leaving just the scenes involving Buffy and her encounter with an evil group that preys on runaways. In the 32 minutes running time of my version, Buffy goes from a downcast waitress in a diner to a demon killing machine. I have seen nothing like this "Buffy" on TV since, this episode is made like a big budget mini-movie.
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Supernatural: Torn and Frayed (2013)
Season 8, Episode 10
"Torn and Frayed" Pretty Much A Waste Of Time
22 January 2013
Judging from this episode, the rumor is true that season eight of the "Supernatural" will be the series' last. Most of this episode, "Torn and Frayed," is occupied with showing an angel being tortured by Crowley's flunkey. No need for much dialog or spending time with camera setups when you are filming someone strapped in a chair mumbling Nokian. The rest of the story consists of brief scenes showing Sam's former girlfriend and Dean's bromance pal from purgatory. Castiel is there too, to help end this time filler episode. Bad as the Leviathan story arc in season seven was, at least there the producers tried to create some interest in the characters. With "Torn and Frayed," Supernatural hits rock bottom. To think that some years back, this series had a great episode like "Nightshifter," with suspense, mystery and action in a coherently written format. Even I could write a better episode than this one, an episode which seems to have been written by a committee of writers on drugs.
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Massacre (1934)
Richard Barthelmess, Front And Center, Stars As Joe Thunderhorse in "Massacre"
13 August 2011
"Massacre" finally made it to TCM at 2:15 PM on August 9, 2011 as part of an all-day salute to Ann Dvorak. It may be that "Massacre" was on TCM before I started receiving the cable station in 1996, but I doubt it. As Joe Thunderhorse, a traveling show star who knows the score, Richard Barthelmess does a great job. Part of the reason for that has to the movie's director, Alan Crosland, whose career was on a downward slide at Warner Bros. For that matter, co-star Ann Dvorak was also in the Warner Bros. doghouse, in part for going on an unauthorized vacation in 1933.

On the screen, all you see are great talents making a fast moving movie that has a cynical view on life. The storyline involves a cabal of crooked Indian reservation officials who think nothing of robbing Indians of their land and covering up crimes like rape, while Indian Affairs Commissioner Dickinson in Washington, D.C. can only wring his hands until Joe Thunderhorse comes along. In my opinion, I think that director Alan Crosland is responsible for the jaded attitude towards authority you see in this movie. You see that same attitude in Crosland's great "Don Juan," a movie that also moves along at a rapid pace. So, while pabulum like "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" shows up on TCM ad nauseam, "Massacre" was MIA until this week.

Out of curiosity, I looked up movie posters for "Massacre." One of the posters I found on the Internet has in big block letters the name BARTHELMESS at the top, above a color picture of the actor wearing an Indian headdress and, running across the picture. the title "Massacre" in smaller script type letters. Within the B of Barthelmess, in very small letters, is his first name Richard. From a distance, the poster reads BARTHELMESS in Massacre. A very modern approach, everyone knew who Richard Barthelmess was in 1934, a big star, no need to advertise his first name much. Yet in a few months, after he got his walking papers from Warner Bros., his movie career went downhill fast and now, unlike actors like James Cagney and Betty Davis, almost no one remembers him.

On one of the last TCM Preservation Showcase shows he presented, Roddy McDowell (looking very pale) mentioned before the start of the movie coming on, "Midnight Alibi," that the star was the great Richard Barthelmess. To me, Barthelmess in the early 30s movies I saw him in seemed to be too serious and sometimes too much like a punching bag. That is not the case in "Massacre," where he plays his character consistently as a slick dude who won't let anyone push him around. When Harry Warner tried to cut Barthemess' contract pay in 1933, just as the studio had cut the salaries of the non-union studio workers, Barthelmess did not go along. Warner Bros. issued a press release that Barthelmess had agreed to make three movies a year instead of two for the same yearly salary, but that was window dressing. Once Darryl Zanuck handed in his resignation to protest Warner Bros. reneging on an agreement to restore studio workers' cut salaries to their former level, Barthelmess' career at Warner Bros. was kaput. His last movie at Warners, "Midnight Alibi," directed by Alan Crosland, was only 58 minutes long and looked to be filmed on a shoestring budget with Barthelmess playing out the string.

Thanks to TCM, viewers like me got a chance to see the real Richard Barthelmess in action in "Massacre."
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"Gentlemen Are Born" Is A Really Bad Movie
9 August 2011
TCM finally aired "Gentlemen Are Born" on 9 August 2011 as one of 24 hours' worth of Ann Dvorak movies, she being the star of the day. When Darryl Zanuck was in charge of production at Warner Bros., he would have never allowed this pathetic movie to go into production. The credits say Alfred E. Green directed this movie, so he must have, although I find that hard to believe.

Somehow, Franchot Tone got the starring role here, maybe Jack Warner thought he would lend some prestige to the movie, what with Tone usually working at MGM then. Franchot Tone's acting here is horrible, his thin-lipped smile makes him look like he is trying out for a role as the next Dracula. For me, the high point of the story was when Tone's character, Bob Bailey, working as reporter, asks the businessman father of one of his college chums if he is familiar with rumors linking the father's business to a bank that just failed. Mr. Harper, the father, tells Tone to wait in the outer office with his son while he goes into his private office. Next thing you know,Harper jumps out the window and Bailey is telling his editor by phone that Harper accidentally fell out the window, a story the editor isn't buying.

Margaret Lindsay is in this movie also and she looks great, even if her role is totally unreal. At least she doesn't end up like another college chum of Tone's played by Dick Foran. Foran's character gets beaten up in a boxing match, is wrongly tied in to a truck theft ring and gets mistaken as a stickup man.

Next time TCM shows this movie, avoid it.

29 November 2011: Robert Lee Johnson, responsible for the story and screenplay of this turkey, floated from studio to studio as a screenplay writer. He probably thought this movie would put him on the Hollywood map, with its mix of pretentious characters and preposterous storyline, all played with a straight face by the actors here. Instead, this movie tanked and Johnson went on to a career as co-scriptwriter for hire at any studio hiring.

If not for one voter here, my review would have scored all negative votes from the IMDbers who saw this movie. Darn it, too bad that one voter can't retract his positive vote. Those negative voters must live in world where it is the norm for crooked banksters to say say "excuse me" and then commit suicide by jumping out of their office window. If this movie were a comedy, that scene would have been a laugh riot. Trouble is, hack scriptwriter Johnson was being serious. This movie represents a real waste of director Alfred Green's talent.
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Soldiers of Fortune (1955–1957)
Soldiers Of Fortune Is A Cheap Revue TV Series Now Out As A Worse DVD Boxset
25 January 2011
"Soldiers Of Fortune" is an incredibly bad TV series that wastes the talents of actors John Russell and Chick Chandler. No one person could be responsible for this TV disaster, it took teamwork. The first episode of the series, The Gaboon Viper, has it all: a lousy script, incredibly cheap sets and virtually no action. The episode did give some black actors work, but these actors looked none too happy, the producers probably shortchanged them. I saw this episode complete, then I scanned through other episodes, not wanting to use up too much time.

Most episodes I saw looked like Timeless Media Group had only had access to 16MM prints of the episodes. Some looked like video transfers. Worst of all, some had what seemed like decomposition damage on either the left or right side of the frame. On another TMG mastered series I have, "The Texan," TMG did a really fine job, most episodes had no print damage of any sort, no end of reel marks, no scratches or hazy areas. "Soldiers Of Fortune" is another story, much sadder.

So some NBC Universal functionary approves the release to TMG of many bad prints of episodes of "Soldiers Of Fortune," who cares if the resulting box set is a consumer ripoff. I only recall seeing one or two episodes of this series on a black and white TV set over 50 years ago. Seeing this series now makes me realize that some old TV series are better off buried in archives beyond the reach of mortal man (and woman).

Looking at the series episodes, featuring badly filmed stock footage inserts, ill fitting costumes from wardrobe, guest actors for whom the series was the end of the line (with exceptions like Lee Van Cleef and Leo Gordon) and directors collecting a paycheck as the major Hollywood movie studios went into free fall back then, you have to think that working on this series must have been real depressing. But John Russell and Chick Chandler just plugged away, always putting on a cheerful face. Those two deserved better.

As does any consumer who made the mistake of buying this shoddy box set featuring many video episodes mastered to the bad public domain quality you see on Alpha and Gotham DVDs.
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Wall Street 2 Is A Dull Movie
24 October 2010
After a crackerjack start showing Gordon Gekko checking out of prison, the title credit rolls and Wall Street 2 falls into a rut it never gets out of. As the cast moves from one glossy set to another, all very well photographed as if for the Discovery Channel, I was waiting for action.

In Wall Street 2, there is no real action, just talking heads as the actors recite lines from a script with no originality and no humor. Everything is glossy, no exterior scenes at night showing piled garbage in downtown Manhattan, to be picked up later, serving as the smorgasbord for hungry rats. No scenes showing cars getting ticketed and drivers stuck in midtown Manhattan traffic. A movie set in a sanitized Manhattan, where the only minorities you see are the Chinese potential investors at a conference where Shia LaBeouf's character saves the day with his knowledge of a company out to generate fusion energy using multiple lasers to convert seawater to clean energy (Note: I am a big backer of cold fusion).

In this movie about Wall Street, everyone is a Boy Scout, there is no smoking that I recall and no drug use of any kind, not even people taking prescribed anti-depressants. This movie shows Wall Street as accurately as the TV soap opera General Hospital shows the workings inside a hospital. In other words, Wall Street 2 is a complete sham populated by very good looking people who never find themselves in a dark corner, really worried, in trouble with no escape route. There is one scene in LaBeouf's company where you see a chubby office worker walking by LaBeouf, the guy carrying a cardboard box with his personal possessions. Does the guy make a comment about how rotten things are, laid off with thousands of other co-workers? Of course not. That is stuff that happens in the real world, a world the movie's scriptwriters are incapable of presenting due to incompetence or possibly excessive drug use.

Try as he might, Michael Douglas cannot do much with his role as a waffling Gordon Gekko. Someone should have told director Oliver Stone that when he says "Action," there should be some interesting action. Watching the character Winnie Gekko spend most of the movie moping does not qualify as action in my playbook. To end my comments on a positive note, Wall Street 2 does have one redeeming quality: in a down economy hitting Hollywood studio movies particularly hard, this sequel provided jobs to a lot of actors and craft people.
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Out Of The Blue Too Clever For Its Own Good
30 December 2009
For 15 years, I had my laser disc copy of Out of the Blue stored away, plastic shrink wrap still on, with two Camelot Music price stickers on, one red Camelot logo above a $14.88 sell price, another black logo showing $5.99. Camelot used to have video and music stores in many malls in the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida area before it went out of business. I may have bought this laser at the Camelot store in the Broward Mall. The laser cardboard sleeve had a hole punched in the upper right hand corner, the mark of a remaindered LD. I finally got around to looking at this movie, and the movie is less than the sum of its parts.

The title credit for Out of the Blue identifies Bryan Foy in charge of production. Foy had been in charge of producing B movies for Warner Bros. until about 1941, when Jack Warner decided to make only A movies. Goodbye, Bryan, after 14 years your services are no longer wanted. But Foy remembered the stars at Warners he worked with, so he hired George Brent and the still very pretty Ann Dvorak to star in this 1947 movie that takes place mostly in Greenwich Village. The trouble is, Foy did not hire any of the Warner Brothers early 1930s screenplay writers to help rewrite the script, a lame affair involving a wife who vanishes, some snoopy neighbors and attempts at screwball comedy. The very limited movie budget Eagle-Lion provided meant cheap sets, few extras and mostly interior shots.

The early 1930s Warner Bros. movies were like capturing lightning in a bottle, very difficult to do. In 1947, RKO made a crime picture, Riffraff, with former Warner Bros. star Pat O'Brien playing a tough private detective. O'Brien had previously played a tough police detective in Warners' 1933 movie, Bureau of Missing Persons. RKO had one of the former Warner Bros. top stars, but that wasn't enough, just as with Out of the Blue.

Warner Bros. movies like Hey, Nellie! and Friends of Mr. Sweeney, both set in Greenwich Village, had their comedy aspects but they also provided a grim commentary to the Depression years. Both had subplots involving crooked politicians. All Out of the Blue has are good looking characters in search of a script.

I still cannot figure out why the Turhan Bey character breaks the speed limit while transporting a steamer trunk with what he thinks is a dead body in it. Naturally a motorcycle cop stops him to give him a speeding ticket. When asked, Bey tells the cop the trunk has a body in it, which the cop takes as a joke. How clever you Hollywood screenplay writers are. Out of the Blue has some fine actors in it who deserved better material. Hopefully, none of the actors' paychecks bounced.
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