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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
A Gruesome Twosome!
I wish I could get on the 'we love "Bonnie and Clyde"' bandwagon. But I cannot. I found its paint-by-numbers storytelling style boring and predictable.
Based upon the lives of depression-era criminals Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, the film routinely shows us how they met, lived and eventually came to their undignified doom.
Certainly, the Oscar winning colour cinematography of Burnett Guffey is breathtaking, the recreation of the thirties depression era superb, an excellent musical score adds immeasurably to the film's ambiance and the acting of the supporting characters is stellar. Sadly however, that's it for me. I found Warren Beatty's Clyde Barrow was forced and unconvincing, with Faye Dunaway's Bonnie Parker less depression thirties than hippie sixties.
Unfortunately, I also did not see much in the way of on screen chemistry between the two leads. For me they were more like a couple of limp lettuce well past their best before date. Only Gene Hackman's good-old-boy brother Buck, Estelle Parsons near- hysterical wife Blanche, and most especially Michael J. Pollard's quirky C. W. Moss add any spark to their characters.
"Bonnie and Clyde" is not exactly a time waster, but do also check out Joseph H. Lewis's 1949 black and white, totally fictional cheapie "Gun Crazy" for a vastly more satisfying take on the B & C story. For this commentator it is far more interesting, with the on screen chemistry of Peggy Cummins' Laurie Starr and John Dahl's Bart Tare threatening to ignite everything around them. Indeed, total conflagration in the Lewis film may only have been avoided because the director had to sanitize his movie past the prissy Hays office.
No, "Gun Crazy" may not have the opulence or graphic violence of the Arthur Penn/WarrenBeatty (who produced) collaboration, but it makes up for it in so many other ways.
Deep, Deep Down - A Ton of Fun!
"Danger Diabolik" is lot of comic-book hokum definitely NOT for the younger set. A stylish, kaleidoscopic mixture of ridiculous characters, garish sets, inventive action and one-dimensional acting, it's the ultimate guilty pleasure - 'high kitsch', ladled on with a trowel, as the gift that keeps on giving with each subsequent viewing.
A psychedelic trip into the amoral sixties, it features John Phillip Law as master criminal Diabolik, a kind of James Bond-gone-rogue who must have anything he wants, any and all costs be damned!
For some, the moral and ethical consequences of the mayhem may be troubling. That I can fully understand as I'm not exactly grabbed by them myself. But counter- balancing those concerns, what really carries this silly flight-of-fantasy is the same thing that carried the "Batman" television series - it's overall tongue-in-cheek sense of the ridiculous. The violence may be a little more realistic, Diabolik and his partner-in-crime Eva Kant (Marisa Mell) more likable than the The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin or Bloefeld from the early Bond films, but the means by which they achieve their ends are little different. It's just that director Mario Bava has managed to have us almost (in spite of ourselves) rooting for them.
Backed by a magnificently appropriate score by Ennio Morricone, "Danger Diabolik" is fast paced entertainment of the most supercilious kind, a ton of fun that everyone plays straight-from-the-shoulder.
I couldn't have enjoyed it more!
Somebody Lost Track Of The Checkout Time!
First off, I should know better than to buy a film I have never seen. But on the strength of the original "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and the return not only of most of its stellar cast but also of its writer and director, I figured, what could possibly go wrong? Sadly, the answer is 'far too much.'
There are far too many subplots, most especially the ones involving Richard Gere, Tamsin Greig and David Strathairn, and a notable lack of chemistry between newcomer Gere and on-screen love interest, the returning Lillete Dubey. Worse still, the focus is less on the struggles and triumphs of the residents and far too much on the silliness of Marigold's owner/manager Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). In the first one you felt 'Mummy G Kapoor' (Dubey) was little more than a class- conscious ogre, insensitive and uncaring about the hopes, dreams, aspirations and above all, the potential of her ambitious son. In this one she gets near-redemption as the kid comes across as a composite of the three stooges all rolled into one. And don't get me started on the way he talks back to his mother - and gets away with it.
Certainly the Bollywood dancing is fun, the cinematography ravishing and the acting from a uniformly excellent cast top drawer. But the whole enterprise is undermined by excessive length on the one hand and its sound-bite style approach to character development on the other.
If you have fond memories of your first visit to this hotel, savour them. Don't spoil them by checking in for a second time.
Engaging Spy Sleuths Yarn
"Counter Spy Meets Scotland Yard" may not be high art, but it is an enjoyable spies and sleuths programmer that pits the good guys, led by Howard St. John and Ron Randell, against a nefarious network of villains out to defrock truth, justice and the American way. Released by Columbia Pictures in 1950, "Spy" also includes B film stalwart June Vincent and Amanda Blake, who was to find fame (and maybe fortune) on the television version of "Gunsmoke" as Miss Kitty, as two friends not quite as in sync with each other as one of them seems to think.
As scripted by Howard Green (based on the radio series "Counterspy") and directed in no nonsense fashion by Seymour Friedman, this one is an engrossing, low-rent potboiler that nicely entertains the entire 67 minutes of its economical running time.
Personally paired as 'our feature attraction' with the Columbia-released Gene Autry production "Gene Autry and the Mounties", it made for a great nostalgia film package, the sort that used to routinely play my beloved Granada Theatre here in Hamilton.
Oh how I miss those days!
Gene Autry and The Mounties (1951)
Above Average Autry Oater.
When it comes to Gene Autry westerns I tend to approach them with some trepidation. Autry himself was a likable, low-key screen personality with an agreeable singing voice, a pleasant 'watch', unless the singing overwhelmed things to such an extent as to literally 'stop the show.' Happily, in "Gene Autry and the Mounties" it does not. A tightly scripted duster, "Mounties" has Gene and sidekick Pat Buttrum chasing some baddies led by Carleton Young into the Canadian rockies via the San Bernardino forest east of L.A. Along the way they assist a wounded Mountie (Richard Emory) who falls for the pretty girl who helps dress his wounds. (Elena Verdugo plays that pretty girl before moving on to be the title character of the early 50s TV sitcom "Meet Millie" and 1969/1976 reception nurse to "Marcus Welby.") Autry gets to play kindly mentor to a wayward- thinking youth (Jack Frasher) and Buttrum's sidekick silliness is mercifully kept to a sensible, almost minimalist level.
With its requisite fisticuffs and gun-play, the brisk direction of John English is complimented by the San Bernardino location nicely masquerading as the Canadian rockies. An unpretentious horse opera, this one should appeal to all B western junkies even if some of us aren't necessarily on board with its interpolated, overtly neo- conservative political moment.
Viewed as the lower half of a personally designed Columbia Pictures double bill headlined by the innocuous noir, "Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard", this was just the sort of film package I loved to see at the long, lost Granada Theatre, whose demise I have always lamented, along with the demise of the B picture programmer.
Ah yes, those were the days!
Hostile Witness (1969)
"Hostile Witness" is one of those grand, old fashioned British courtroom dramas that can be lots of fun. Fun, but dangerous when it comes to the telling because the 'buy in' as to who did what and why needs at least a little bit of believability, something sadly missing in action here.
Briefly, barrister Ray Milland is accused of murdering an old judge he had accused of running down and killing his daughter. Hitting him extremely hard, he has a mental breakdown followed by a three month convalescence after which he is 'cured.' But returning to work does not necessarily mean putting the past behind him and getting on with life because Milland is arrested and committed to trial. The barrister is now in the dock, and he isn't handling it very well. Let the games begin!
When I first saw "Hostile Witness" on the stage of the Music Box Theatre in New York in 1966, I quite liked it even though I quibbled that some of the actors in general 'and Ray Milland in particular tended to speak too quickly, making themselves a little difficult at times to understand.' Unfortunately things have gone from bad to worse with the screen version, a film that first showed up on United Artist's release schedule in 1968 but was never seen. Little wonder as "Hostile Witness" comes across as a poorly constructed artifact from a bygone era. Thundering and screaming and yelling and bulldozing its way to its laughable conclusion, it is just so out of touch with 1968, which is probably why it never got a North American release. Now its 'old-fashionedness' would probably be okay if the film had been a 'period piece.' But it wasn't. It was ostensibly set in 'modern London.' So why aren't there any references to London's many mod' characters, swinging Carnaby Street, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
I wish I could like "Hostile Witness" because I love British courtroom dramas. But courtroom dramas that make a modicum of sense, contain some colourful characters and have punctuated shading in pace and performances. Again, missing in action all!
Ray Milland, when tightly reigned in by A-list directors like Fritz Lang, John Farrow, Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock can be amazingly effective. But left to his own excesses and he is not only insufferable, but as the film's director he also ensures that so also are many of those around him. Only Sylvia Miles, Norman Barrs, Felix Aylmer and Julian Holloway manage to rise above their material, and even here the results are decidedly mixed.
The Old Man and the Sea (1958)
Tracy Nominated For Wrong Film??
Like many, I do not particularly care for "The Old Man and the Sea". And unlike the previous year's one-man show, "The Spirit of St. Louis", this one, although considerably shorter, is a much more lugubrious slog. It starts out well, with some very warm, authentic grandfather/young boy interactions between Spencer Tracy and Felipe Pazos Jr., who sadly only appeared in this one film. Their palpable, on-screen chemistry is magical, leaving one feeling cheated because it is so quickly replaced by the numbingly boring, poorly matched water-tank phoniness that makes up the core of this film.
Based upon Ernest Hemingway's novella of the same name, the story basically delves into what happens when an old man goes out fishing and manages to land 'the big one!' At times very symbolic and allegorical it made for a fascinating, thought-provoking read. But in adapting it to the screen, "The Old Man and the Sea" loses most of its impact. Partly done in by its apparently limited budget, only the brilliant cinematography of James Wong Howe makes it a worthwhile watch.
In the lead role, Spencer Tracy gamely tries to make the 86 minute enterprise interesting. Sadly, for this viewer at least, he can't. Even Tracy's scoring a nomination for a best actor Oscar in a lead performance is undermined by his own brilliant performance that same year in the screen adaptation of Edwin O'Connor's "The Last Hurrah!", the film for which he should have been so honoured.
Finally, a word about Dimitri Tiomkin's often thundering, bombastic score. I find it quite unfortunate that producer Leland Hayward, who had hired Franz Waxman to score "The Spirit of St. Louis" didn't rehire him to pen the music for this one as well. Often overblown and over-bearing, Tiomkin's score is more intrusive than supportive, lacking any sense of a main identifiable theme or even much in the way of Cuban rhythms. It may have won the music scoring Oscar in 1958, but why I have yet to fathom.
Going My Way (1944)
Let's Pretend Was Never Better!
It may be silly, sentimental hokum, but as Christmas movies go, it just doesn't get any better than "Going My Way." Bing Crosby is the world's perfect priest, paragon of virtue Father Charles O'Malley, Barry Fitzgerald its most lovable and the story that drives this film makes you wish it was all true. It isn't of course. It's fantasy of the most fantastic kind, a feel-good, warm/fuzzies movie that is and always will be a Christmas tradition with me, like hearing Gene Autry sing "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" or Judy Garland warble "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."
Set towards the end of the second world war, "Going My Way" opens at St. Dominic's Roman Catholic church, a vulnerable bricks and mortar edifice teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, threatened with foreclose by the Knickerbocker Loan and Trust Company as headed by Ted Haines Senior (Gene Lockhart.) To try to save the parish the bishop assigns Fr. O'Malley to take over the running of St. Dominic's without first telling forty-five year incumbent Fr. Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald.) Conservative, persnickety, and extremely set in his ways, Fr. Fitzgibbon does not initially take very kindly to the more modern, hep younger man and his 'progressive' approach. But somehow O'Malley manages to bring the old man on board without once trespassing on his dignity or defiling his self esteem.
With just enough music and plot twists to keep everything briskly flowing, "Going My Way" is that rare film that never lags during its two hour and seven minute running time. The perfect Christmas confection, it is never preachy, thus making its core message that much more powerful. Yes, it may be a schmaltzy old relic from a bygone era, but its incandescent glow is as warm and comforting today as it undoubtedly was when first released in 1944. The perfect 'let's pretend' movie, the multi Oscar winning "Going My Way" (best picture, director, actor and supporting actor among others) is the perfect antidote to our twenty-first century seasonal madness of rampant consumerism fuelled by unbridled greed. Definitely not to be missed!!!
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
A Nicely Leavened Holiday Classic!
Next to "Easter Parade", "Meet Me In St. Louis" is my favourite Judy Garland vehicle from the MGM film-factory days. Chock full of those freshly scrubbed, wholesome family values that Hollywood used to love to propagate (if not necessarily emulate), the picture is a warm, endearing fantasy with just enough realism to keep it out of the treacle jar.
Opening in the summer of 1904, it starts innocently enough with Esther Smith (Judy Garland) mooning over boy next door John Truitt (Tom Drake), older sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) pining for Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully) with everyone happily laughing and singing about the impending world's fair coming to St. Louis next spring. So far, so predictably good. But then the plot gets seriously leavened as we are introduced to Tootie Smith (Margaret O'Brien), the youngest sister of the clan whose girlish pranks and blood-curdling prose mix a little comedy with some genuinely mean-spirited Halloween behavior that take us to the darker side of human nature, adding some much needed sinister malevolence when it is most needed. But there's more as the plot thickens still further when patriarch Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) imperiously (albeit with the best of intentions) informs everyone, the day following Halloween, that the family is leaving St. Louis for New York. Initially laughed off, this unexpected announcement turns out to be one post-Halloween trick that is no treat as nobody, wife Anna (Mary Astor) included, is much amused.
"I don't believe it!"
"It's true: I'm to start the first of the year. We'll leave right after Christmas."
With noteworthy attention to period detail, the film is brilliantly directed by Vincent Minnelli, trumpets some excellent acting from its ensemble cast, and includes an engaging Ralph Blane/Hugh Martin score that, for the first time in motion picture history integrates the songs directly into the plot, something pioneered for the stage a year earlier by Rodgers and Hammerstein when "Oklahoma" premiered on Broadway. Better yet, "Meet Me In St. Louis" also deftly combines Christmas candy and homespun virtue with the contemporary reality of the danger of making the business agenda, the bottom line, the sole arbitrator of what really counts, even if that wasn't the film's original purpose. Indeed, with the Smith's standing in for all of us, the movie is not just an enjoyable, warm/fuzzies romp through a bygone era. It is also a timely reminder that even the best of well intentioned actions can elicit unforeseen responses, that people, not impersonal automatons, are the final repository of all human actions, noble, imperious or mean-spirited.
White Christmas (1954)
Not The Sum Of It's Too Many Parts!
Like a few posters before me, I truly wanted to like "White Christmas." Sadly, I cannot, at least not very much. Set mostly post WWII, this one has Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as discharged army buddies who make it big in show business, eventually winding up in a far-too-balmy Vermont (for December) trying their best to help their retired general (Dean Jagger) to make a go of his debt-ridden inn. Bing is the driven one, Kaye more the playboy, with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen falling into line as the sister act/plot device that ushers in the cliché-ridden romantic complications. A noble effort to be sure, the film struggles mightily to overcome its paint-by-numbers script and leaden direction, but all to no avail. Lacking even a modicum of genuine on-screen chemistry between Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, this bloated, lugubrious mishmash simply staggers from one over-produced dance routine to the next, literally at times 'stopping the show.' Yes, there are a few shiny bobbles to be found thanks to Bing's excellent vocalizing, the multi-talented Danny Kaye's sharp comedy timing (and hoofing), Vera-Ellen's superb dancing, and costumes icon Edith Head's wardrobe expertise. But that is it! All too often Bing Crosby looks decidedly uncomfortable and out of place, Rosemary Clooney appears to be auditioning to be the next Hitchcock 'ice-blond' and Michael Curtiz seems to have been bizarrely seized of the notion that 'sledgehammer directing' was the only way to ensure musical comedy success. Oh where was Stanely Donen when we needed him.
Being a lover of musicals, and genuinely respecting the many great talents involved in this enterprise, it makes me very sad to come on as the Grinch with this one. But try as I might, I just can't be very positive about it.
Law of the Lash (1947)
Typical PRC Cheapie a Fun Nostalgia Trip
As a kid, seeing dusters like this made my day. I loved them then and I still do now. A staple lower half or 'kiddie' matinée fixture, they were churned out on an assembly line, probably in pre-production for three or four weeks, shot in three or four days, and then wound up with another three/four weeks of post production prior to release. They looked cheap and they were cheap, especially when cranked through the PRC sausage factory. Making matters even worse, the Alpha Video transfer of this cheapie Poverty Row opus is grainy and at times bleached, making a bad situation even worse. Still, it's fun watching our boy crack the whip as he herds another gang of baddies towards their just desserts, toothless Fuzzy Knight along for comic relief.
Storywise, there is nothing much original about this one that pits your garden variety robber/town terrorizer against the skills and determination of incognito lawman Larue and sidekick Knight. What is a little more original is the higher quality acting one gets from our two heroes, definitely a cut above the usual phoned-in nonsense one usually finds in these sagebrush programmers. Indeed, Larue's most notable rival at the time, Monogram's incredibly wooden Whip Wilson could only watch in envy.
'B' programmers like "Law of the Lash" may not be high art, but they are entertaining and that's all that counts. It's just too bad the look of this one is so decrepit. Otherwise, it might have at least merited a five instead of the three it got.
One Man's Way (1964)
Somewhat Shallow and Very Disappointing!
Like 1955s "A Man Called Peter" and 1961s "The Hoodlum Priest", 1964s "One Man's Way" is a tightly focused study of one man and his unshakable faith in God and himself. Collectively this trio of films affirms for all believers, but most especially for those in full time service, the paramount necessity of those twin pillars of faith if one is to survive, to adapt from William Shakespeare, the slings and arrows of outrageous society. Individually each film deals with unique yet often similar personalities, providing us with some interesting insights as to what motivated whom and why.
In "A Man Called Peter", we are first introduced to a young boy seized with the notion of going to sea. Years later an adult Peter Marshall, walking in a blinding fog across the Scottish moors, believes it is the voice of God that saves him from a perilous tumble into a lime pit. A life-changing event, that experience inaugurates his unshakable belief that 'The Chief' would always guide him to wherever he was meant to be.
"The Hoodlum Priest", Father Charles Dismas Clark was a Roman Catholic cleric whose equally unshakable faith propelled him into efforts to ensure that ex-convicts got a chance for a better life upon release from prison. The payoff was Dismas House, a halfway house established in St. Louis, Missouri, mandated to ease the transition from regimented prison routine to rehabilitated ex-con able to move beyond his criminal past.
"If the Lord ever calls me, I'm not going." So says a a very young Norman Vincent Peale in "One Man's Way", a film based upon the book "Minister To Millions" by Arthur Gordon. Somewhat loosely based upon Dr. Peale's life, the man became, like Dr. Marshall, a charismatic orator who filled empty churches. Unlike Dr. Marshall, he also went on to author a number of best selling books, most famously led by "The Power of Positive Thinking."
Sadly (at least for me) "One Man's Way" lacks the gravitas of the other two. Oscillating between synthetic biography and near Billy Graham polemic sans altar call, it never really establishes Peale as an either likable or interesting character about whom we should care. Playing off more as a cheapie made-for-television movie-of-the-week than compelling, theatrical motion picture, its only saving grace is the screen debut of Diana Hyland as Peale's hard-to-get, reluctant girlfriend/eventual spouse. But even there, we have no sense of how this woman with the notable lack of faith (a) handled the presumably ever present demons of her past thinking when those inevitable challenges/troubles arose or (b) more importantly, the transition from rebellious, near non-conformist to dutiful minister's wife dealing with the ladies who lunch and go to Dr. Peale's church. (Dr. Marshall's wife Catherine seems to have had no such issues mainly because she seemingly grew up a more conforming believer who went regularly to church.) Regrettably, William Windom and Virginia Christine as Peale's parents are, unsurprisingly, quagmired as one dimensional cardboard cutouts who deserved much better.
Interestingly, actor Don Murray essays the very disparate Father Dismas Clark and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale with the sort of unassailable sincerity he always brought to such endeavours. It's just too bad he didn't have as much to work with in this one because he showed in earlier efforts like "Bus Stop", "The Bachelor Party", "A Hatful Of Rain", "These Thousand Hills" and most especially "From Hell To Texas" a lot more depth and range than he gets to display in "One Man's Way." Indeed, because he also lacked the vocabulary of Richard Todd's Dr. Peter Marshall, Murray's preaching scenes are often annoying and long winded. An actor I have long admired, I am only sorry that I can't give this film more than a civil five.
Finally, three other titles worth checking out, "Dead Man Walking" with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn and "Romero" with Raul Julia, both of which, also focus on specific full time service believers and social justice concerns. Also "The Cross and the Switchblade", the story of the Rev. David Wilkerson (portrayed by Pat Boone, directed by Don Murray) and Wilkerson's work with troubled street kids.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
A Nostalgic Trip - in more ways than one.
When I was about ten years old, I had my tonsils and adenoids removed. In recovery back home, I well remember sitting up on our sofa with my my loving, supportive parents offering encouragement to me that "Yes Gordon, you will get your voice back, no Gordon your throat will not always be sore."
I equally well remember my father excitedly promising me that if I was good and did everything I was supposed to do and got well, we would all go (me, my parents and my brother) to see TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME when it opened next week at a local neighbourhood theatre for a Thursday-Saturday run . I was madly in love with the movies then (as I still am) and you bet, I wanted to see that picture. My father, bless his heart loved most sports and he took my brother and me to see almost everything he went to - football, baseball, hockey, wrestling, lacrosse, etc. Not surprisingly he also loved sports movies so tantalizing me with the prospect of seeing TMOTTBG was a slam dunk. (Trust me, my recovery trajectory had only one way to go.) Last week, when I saw the film available on DVD through our local public library I got to thinking about those events, so much so that I decided I would pick it up for a re-see, the nostalgia associated with the title proving too hard to ignore.
More an occasional base hit than a grand slam home-run, the picture is the sort of pleasant, breezy musical-comedy entertainment as only MGM could produce them. Starring Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin and Betty Garrett, it's based upon a Kelly idea/homage to the early days of America's national sport, not that the plot means anything. It's well acted, comical, corny and interspersed with enough musical numbers to retain one's attention. What it does not have for me is very little that is memorable about those musical numbers. Betty Garrett's energetic "It's Fate, Baby, It's Fate" has its moments but only "O'Brian To Ryan To Goldberg" really registers thanks more to Jules Munshin than either Kelly or Sinatra.
I am sure as a ten year old kid sitting in our favourite row in the Strand Theatre I would have loved TMOTTBG. As an adult re-viewing it sixty plus years later, not so much.
I Could Go on Singing (1963)
Judy can - and will always - GO ON SINGING!!
As others have noted, the story itself is certainly not top draw. A soap-operatic mishmash about a driven show biz mom, prim and proper stiff upper lip Brit doc and an illegitimate teenage son into whose life driven mom wants to re insinuate herself, well it's all right out everybody's favourite soap (spoof) As The Stomach Churns. Happily however, the whole enterprise is almost fully redeemed by the brilliant performances of Judy Garland, Dirk Bogarde, Gregory Phillips, Jack Klugman and Aline MacMahon. If you're a Judy Garland fan (and I am) you'll overlook the quill and parchment foolishness and wallow instead in the great songs and near flawless acting.
Certainly, as others have also noted, there are threads of Judy Garland's life woven into this uneven tapestry, but one standout reason for watching this film, for those who never got to see Judy live, is to get a sense of the enormous power, indeed charisma the lady projected from the stage. I saw her in person twice with that first show being near the end of her 'Carnegie Hall' tour. With Mort Lindsay conducting thirty or more musicians out came 4' 11" 'Joltin' Judy' for what she once described as "two hours of POW!"
No dancing chorus boys!
No backup comedy acts!
It wasn't just a concert - it wasn't an event - it was a HAPPENING - exactly as the concert sequences in this film imply.
It's a shame other characters in the story weren't more fully fleshed out, and certainly it is highly regrettable that Judy Garland was such an underrated actress. It is equally shameful that she didn't cop an Oscar nomination for her performance or indeed that I COULD GO ON SINGING was her cinematic swan song. But we do have what she left us in movies, her television series and her glorious recordings, most especially those great Capitol Records titles like MISS SHOW BUSINESS, JUDY, ALONE, JUDY IN LOVE, THE LETTER, JUDY! THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT and of course JUDY GARLAND AT CARNEGIE HALL. Under brilliant producer Voyle Gilmor she got to work with the best musicians and orchestrater's in the business, people who knew exactly how to showcase her unique vocal talents, names like Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Jack Marshall and the aforementioned Mort Lindsay among others. Indeed, it is why, along with film titles like A STAR IS BORN and I COULD GO ON SINGING that I unhesitatingly say Judy Garland will always GO ON SINGING!!
Murder at the Gallop (1963)
A Delightful Romp!
As is well known by now, Dame Agatha Christie was not enamoured of Dame Margaret Rutherford's take on her Jane Marple creation. Fair enough as Dame Agatha had lovingly constructed a plain Jane, spinster/every-woman who, underneath the quiet demeanour and placid knitting possessed a mind sharper than the point of any of her knitting needles. And like television's Columbo she was always under-estimated, to the eventual chagrin of the guilty party in the crime under investigation. As a fan of the BBC/PBS Masterpiece Mystery series I have probably seen most if not all of Dame Agatha's books dramatized, my favourites being those with Joan Hickson whom I find to be the very embodiment of the Jane Marple Dame Agatha originally had in mind. That said, I am not so much of a purist that I cannot enjoy Dame Margaret Rutherford's decidedly non Dame Agatha approach to super sleuth Jane Marple. In short, all four films in the MGM produced series are a pure delight with MURDER AT THE GALLOP just barely edging out MURDER SHE SAID as my personal favourite.
Others have more than adequately provided a synopsis of this and the other trio of Marple movies in the series, so I won't re-till that ground. Suffice to say, if you haven't seen any of them, or you just want a good, light, engaging Brit whodunit then don't miss any of these wonderful confections. I've seen them all many times and yet every repeat showing finds me totally entertained by Dame Margaret, real life hubby Stringer Davis, Charles Tingwell, the excellent casts of supporting players and Ron Goodwin's superb scores. Indeed, they are still as much fun today as when first viewed in their initial theatrical runs back in the sixties.
The Night of the Generals (1967)
Not The Sum of its Parts.
Sadly, I can not join in with the chorus of those who rhapsodize over the many merits of "Night of the Generals." It isn't that I don't want to - I would love to. You have a uniformly excellent cast (Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasance, Charles Gray, Coral Browne and many others) doing some very fine acting, solid if not inspiring direction, brilliant cinematography and a music score by Maurice Jarre that almost atones for the blood-congealing treacle that was his earlier "Dr. Zhivago." Unfortunately you also have from my perspective a tome that loses focus once the story shifts from Warsaw to Paris.
I won't waste time with a story synopsis as other posters have already done that most brilliantly. Instead, I will move on to some of the thoughts with which the film left me.
What is the value of one human life? Does it matter whose human life we are talking about - trained soldiers - freedom fighters - nationalists - innocents caught up in the cross-fire - prostitutes! Can killing of any sort ever be justified? If so, how? If not, what about 'the greater good' question?
In one form or another, "Night of the Generals" poses all of the above questions - and a good deal more. But regretfully, the impact upon us of those very pertinent questions is diminished by a screenplay that gets bogged down, indeed becomes obsessed with the character study of one man. And further adding to the lessening of what I trust was the intended emotional impact of this film is the setting up of the investigating officer as a heroic white knight, galloping along on his white charger, pointing his lance and singing 'stronger than dirt.' Sorry folks, but it just doesn't wash!
To conclude, a previous poster suggested a series of 'what if' questions one can see as encircling this picture. Absolutely - with each question being perfectly valid. However for me, one question got left out, namely, 'What if each of the three story lines in this film had been more economically presented through some very necessary (albeit judicious) editing? What if then?'
The Ugly American (1963)
As Riveting As Ever.
I remember first seeing "The Ugly American" upon its initial release in 1963, and I equally remember immediately linking it with what was happening in Viet Nam. I found it absorbing and timely then just as I do today.
As the American ambassador with a total white hat/black hat mentality, Marlon Brando in my opinion gives one of his best performances. There's the shouting and the strutting, but there are also some very, eerily quiet, contrasting moments when he simply lets the frustration of his character all hang out.
As his former best friend and now rebel leader of the fictional Sarkan to which Brando's Ambassador White has been posted, Ejii Okada is every bit Brando's equal. Their sharp exchanges are riveting, as is so much of the dialogue in this film, dialogue-heavy moments that I do not personally find boring because what they are discussing strikes me as being as important today as in 1963 when this film was first released.
I do recognize that some reviewers were terribly disappointed (maybe even offended) that the film was not a recapitulation of an apparently well written, highly complex novel which I haven't read yet but intend to if I can find a copy. However, no matter how great the book, shouldn't a film be judged as a film because it is not a book? For one thing, movies don't have the luxury of an endless running time, a constraint not put upon the number of pages needed to tell a print story. Also, is not the punctuation, grammar and syntax of image quite different than that of print?
Finally, as others have said, it is too bad (a) "The Ugly American" has been mostly forgotten (if it has ever been heard of) and (b) the powerful message that ends this picture is still as relevant today as it was in 1963. Indeed, if anything it is even more (very sadly) spot-on than it was then.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
A GREAT Guilty Pleasure!
Happily, this thoroughly disarming, ridiculous, totally entertaining guilty pleasure is now available on DVD and I'VE GOT IT! Indeed, I just recently re-watched it and once again had a truly super time with 'B' favourite Allison Hayes doing her over-the-top womanly thing. More flawed than a politician's justifications for past misdeeds, it does nevertheless possess a chilling music score coupled with some neat black and white cinematography. Indeed, Hayes is almost pre-transformation believable when not being undercut by the ridiculous dialogue.
A fifties treasure from a poverty row studio, this cheesy enterprise may be more holey than righteous, but it should not be missed by addicted aficionados.
The Werewolf (1956)
A Neat Little Chiller That Truly Delivers!
It's a pity that actor Steven Ritch disappeared from the scene in 1962 as his very affecting performance as Duncan Marsh, the accident victim who is victimized in more ways than one indicated a talent that was waiting to be discovered but sadly was not.
Eschewing the hokey full moon/silver bullets thing, THE WEREWOLF is a neat combination of sci-fi/horror that is nicely augmented with a few film noirish touches. The story, while a little trite revolves around Marsh, who is rescued from an auto accident only to be subsequently violated by a couple of misguided scientists who shoot an experimental serum into him with the predictable, tragic results.
Filmed in glorious black and white at Bear Lake, the difficult terrain and looming mountains in the background not only add visual splendor to the film, they also represent notworthy metaphors for the tough moral and ethical struggles of the local sheriff, doctor, nurse, victim's wife, son and, above all, the victim himself. And given that, THE WEREWOLF might just tear at your heart a little, a not very common reaction to 'B' enterprises such as this.
Happily now available in a two DVD/four title set, THE WEREWOLF was originally released as the lower-half to the talky yawner EARTH VS FLYING SAUCERS. However, I have just finished watching it as the top half of a double bill that concluded with THE CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, an admittedly more routine, far less moving chiller that does nevertheless make for an excellent duo and is also included in the two DVD package. (The other titles are the ridiculous THE GIANT CLAW and the surprisingly effective ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU.)
Bottom line? WEREWOLF is definitely VERY highly recommended as is seeing it in tandem with ATOM BRAIN.
Al Capone (1959)
Steiger's Staggering Alphonso!
Method actor Rod Steiger probably spent a lot of time prepping his impersonation of Twenties Chicago mobster Al Capone for the film of the same name. Method actors tend to do that sort of thing. Sometimes it works, at other times it doesn't. In Steiger's case, it's 'spot on.' Eschewing any pretence at subtlety, his coarse, sweaty, psychotic Capone is pure evil, street-smart scum who can preside over a hit from another time zone while simultaneously enjoying good music, expensive scotch and a civilized conversation with a fascinated, old aristocrat.
Based upon the life of racketeer Alphonso Capone, AL CAPONE violently traces the hood's 1920s rise from journeyman bodyguard in a Chicago nightclub/whorehouse to feared crime boss whose devotion to position, power and money are the only real loves of his life. And of course, as with any true love there will be those inevitable bumps and detours, ups and downs along the way. Indeed true love, like those pesky universes sometimes referred to, have this rather nasty habit of not unfolding as one might otherwise wish.
Filmed in 1958 and released by poverty row studio Allied Artists in 1959, AL CAPONE also effectively features Fay Spain, James Gregory, Martin Balsam, Nehemiah Persoff and Murvyn Vye along with a fine David Raksin (LAURA) score. A riveting black and white gem, it was economically directed by Richard Wilson and is probably the best screen presentation of the Capone story, with the charismatic Rod Steiger brilliantly capturing the diabolical drive and zealotry of a maniacal monster barely a step removed from the suicide-bombing fanatics of today.
This one is not to be missed!
The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957)
Near Fossilized Hokum
A motley crew of 240 year old plus crustaceans, led by suave but diabolical doctor Victor Jory, are hanging out at a reform school for teenage girls, who are really in their upper twenties and early thirties. But I digress. It seems that to keep themselves alive, these crumbling pillars of the medical fraternity have to indulge in a little bioelectrical hanky panky from time to time. However, the ruse will soon be up because Miss Goody Two Shoes prison psychologist Charlotte Austin and prison psychiatrist William Hudson, (he being the nasty hubby of poor, dear Allison Hayes in the fifties cult classic "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman") are both determined to put an end to the chicanery that is going on.
As much a B-mystery movie as it is a B-horror movie, "The Man Who Turned To Stone" celebrates a silly script, leaden pacing and granite-like performances except for Jory, and Ann Doran as 1957s foreshadowing of Nurse Ratchet. A minor low-brow effort with little to redeem itself, "The Man Who Turned To Stone" is a cheapie quickie that somehow managed to do respectable box office by virtue of an enticing ad campaign and, much more importantly, a generous television advertising budget at a time when such products rarely got the sort of dollars this one (and its packaged co-feature "Zombies of Mora Tau") received. I know, because in my city it was the television ads flowing out of Buffalo that immeasurably hyped our box office at the Downtown Theatre in Hamilton.
Almost instantly forgettable, "The Man Who Turned To Stone" is a minor, 71 minute artifact that should really have been on the lower half of the double bill package given it's "Zombies of Mora Tau" that displays most of the life.
The Prize (1963)
Illogical nonsense that's a great GUILTY PLEASURE!"
If you're in the mood for a little sophisticated humour leavened with just enough suspense to keep it interesting, then "The Prize" is for you. Set in Stockholm, Sweden at Nobel Prize Ceremony time, the story revolves around the lives, battles and petty jealousies of a disparate group of winners with only one of them seeming to have any sense-of-the-occasion. Grand soap opera at its most ridiculous, the film focuses on Paul Newman's Andrew Craig, a somewhat tipsy author of serious novels suffering from acute, 'serious writer's' block syndrome. But never one to let such a trivial annoyance get in the way, Craig keeps hearth and home together (along no doubt with a fancy liquor cabinet stocked with a favourite single malt) by punching out cheap detective stories for the masses under a pseudo name. He doesn't make his crime yarns sound much like high art, but then again neither is this movie. What both are, however (especially if you've ever read Dashiel Hammett, Jim Thompson or Raymond Chandler) are amazingly entertaining.
At times re-tilling famous Hitchcock ground, "The Prize" is a thoroughly enjoyable soufflé with a delightful cast that includes (a little under-used) Edward G. Robinson, Elke Sommer, Diane Baker, Kevin McCarthy and the always solid, sturdy Leo G. Carroll.
As directed by Mark Robson, the introductions and subsequent interplay of many of the film's characters is quite reminiscent of the approach Robson also took in his sumptuous 1957 soap opera "Peyton Place." And Robson wasn't the only one stealing from himself.
Ernest Lehman (who also wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's wildly successful "North by Northwest") shamelessly borrows more than once from that highly successful opus, but that's okay. His retreads also work very well in "The Prize" too thank you very much.
Finally, other assets to this pleasant romp include Jerry Goldsmith's sometimes understated score coupled with some glorious cinematography that deftly captures the film's various locations.
So again, if you're looking for sophisticated fare with a gentle thriller twist, don't pass up on this one. You can't take a single frame of it seriously, but then again, you're not intended to. Just sit back, be patient, relax and enjoy!! It really is worthy of its 8 out of 10.