Now With More Than 3000 Reviews! Go Nuts - Read 'Em All!!

WELCOME! Use the search engines on this site (or your own off-site engine of choice) to gain easy access to the complete MAKSQUIBS Archive; over 2500 posts and counting. (New posts added every day or so.)

You can check on all our titles by typing the Title, Director, Actor or 'Keyword' of your choice in the Search Engine of your choice (include the phrase MAKSQUIBS) or just use the BLOGGER Search Box at the top left corner of the page.

Feel free to place comments directly on any of the film posts and to test your film knowledge with the CONTESTS scattered here & there. (Hey! No Googling allowed. They're pretty easy.)

Send E-mails to MAKSQUIBS@yahoo.com . (Let us know if the TRANSLATE WIDGET works!) Or use the Profile Page or Comments link for contact.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY (1948)

1948 was pretty late in the day for a Screwball Comedy featuring a flighty runaway bride heiress. But here’s Joan Fontaine as a marriage-phobic rich girl who meets Mr. Right on her wedding night . . . to someone else. Mr. Right? That’d be James Stewart, an entrepreneurial war vet struggling to get his air-freight operation off the ground. Naturally, he misreads the situation in the hotel suite next door, but still comes to the rescue with a secret lift out of town on his freight plane. Anyway you slice it, this is all comic leftovers, made worse by one of those music scores that does the chuckling for you. Happily, the film quickly drops the forced gagging to find a lightly romantic comic rhythm for its mutually attracted (and attractive) leads under journeyman director H. C. Potter. (At his best later this year with even better call-and-response playing from Cary Grant & Myrna Loy in MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE.) The film builds a lot of goodwill as it flies NYC to L.A. with plenty of warm, funny support from Eddie Albert, Percy Kilbride & a clean-shaven Porter Hall among others. The forced comedy returns right at the end, but at least the music cues calm down . . . most of the way.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Mirroring the film plot, Stewart in real life was working for Fontaine (and then husband William Dozier) since it was her company, Rampart Productions, producing.

DOUBLE-BILL: Rampart made its one & only other film this year, LETTER TO AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, a Max Ophüls masterpiece.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

PATERSON (2016)

Jim Jarmusch has been stealthily releasing a film every three or four years for decades; a dozen since 1980. But it’s been a while since one has seemed to matter this much. (Along with a welcome reduction in hipster quotient.) Simply shot, and beautiful in Jarmusch's minimalist style, it tackles an unusual topic (poetry & the mystery of creation) from an unusual proletariat angle. Traversing a week in the life of Paterson, N.J. bus driver Adam Driver (a bus driver named ‘Driver,’ and his film character named Paterson), the film closely observes his life habits with its small variations of regular hours, daily chores & duties of domesticity; a very routine routine. Yet, rather than dull artistic spirit, quotidian repetition feeds creative process, opening mind & thoughts experientially. A pretty tough concept to verbalize, let alone organize & pull off as film where time moves at the same pace for every viewer. Driver, a nearly perfect vessel here, fascinating in repose, is cinematically blessed with a forehead that ‘reads’ as thought. (Something of a Native American cast to his profile, though apparently not in his bloodline.) As his wife, Golshifteh Farahani (a name to stymie SpellCheck) is spacey & sweet, an eccentric homemaker, but a fine receptacle for his literary longings (the poems are charming & believably his). While the rest of a smallish cast, largely bar & work acquaintances, work gracefully as backstop to his still forming ideas. Jarmusch can’t quite maintain his design, giving in to questionable dramatic incidents to pump up the third act. And though you can see why he does it, the film has to land somewhere, you may wish he hadn’t. Still, a lovely piece.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Frederick Elmes’ cinematography really brings out a found bleak beauty in the streets & buildings of Paterson’s on-its-heels working-class town, even without the forested train trestle that pictorially bridges a ravine, a waterfall & the film.

Friday, May 19, 2017

DEATH ON THE NILE

After putting Agatha Christie back on the cinematic A-list with their well-appointed MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS/’74, producers John Brabourne & Richard Goodwin double-dipped on a second All-Star whodunit with a whole new team. And while there’s a distinct drop in glamor (as in EXPRESS headline lovers Sean Connery & Vanessa Redgrave downsized here to Simon MacCorkindale & Lois Chiles), the results are more swings & roundabouts then losses. Our lead, Christie’s famously fatuous empty-vessel of a Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, flips from stiff, padded, stunt-cast Albert Finney to the more naturally appropriate Peter Ustinov, making small work of the task at hand without missing a trick or a self-reflexive laugh. Elsewhere, with the exception of bickering travelers Bette Davis & distressed paid-companion Maggie Smith, along with soused novelist Angela Lansbury (all three in high comic heaven), the other suspects (you can hardly call them characters) have neither the wit nor wattage so prodigally wasted in EXPRESS. (The surfeit in talent part & parcel of its enduring louche charm.) Yet isn’t NILE the better structured, better plotted murder mystery? (Hat tip to scripter Anthony Shaffer.) What fun director John Guillermin has gruesomely murdering our main victim over & over again as Ustinov proposes the next likely solution. (Surely the only murder mystery ever solved by recognizing the use of ‘conditional tense.’) And if Mia Farrow, as the jilted & vengeful fiancée, looks even thinner & paler than she did during her ROSEMARY’S BABY pregnancy, there’s still an unusual amount of blood spilled for the typically bloodless Ms. Christie.

DOUBLE-BILL: The producers eventually tapped the Christie well too often with a lousy Miss Marple for Ms. Lansbury in THE MIRROR CRACK’D/’80 and a diminished Poirot finding EVIL UNDER THE SUN/’82..

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Normally, it’s the ladies’ hair styling that goes wrong in period pieces. But here, the men look too contemporarily coiffed. Bring in the shears!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT / aka FALSTAFF (1965)

Even those who first saw CHIMES in rare screenings 30, 40 years ago, had little trouble looking past battered prints and subfusc sound to recognize a masterpiece. Now that’s it’s out in Criterion’s stunning restoration, it should be putting the lie to all the rot you still read about Welles’ post-CITIZEN KANE decline. Of course, it’s not. And Welles would no doubt be amused to see that when it comes to his Stateside reputation, John Ford’s famous line from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, ‘When the legend becomes fact . . . print the legend,’ still holds. (Ford wasn’t his favorite American film director for nothing.) The film, his own remarkable distillation of decades of thought & productions on Shakespeare’s ‘War of the Roses’ plays, is now condensed, concentrated on Falstaff, the fat knight he was born to play. It’s a physically stunning film, made on the usual Welles’ slim dime, with cascading brilliance on all sides. Standouts include John Gielgud’s guilt-ridden Henry IV; Keith Baxter as an open-faced/ secretly hard Prince Hal (later Henry V), torn between a chilly father and the warm mass (and mess) of Falstaff’s humane anarchy; Margaret Rutherford’s doughty Mistress Quickly (you have to go back to Marie Dressler to find the like, though even Dressler couldn’t have topped the ‘cold as stone’ eulogy). Really, too many character gems to list, held aloft by the unified look Welles gives to every detail (click on the charming costume/action sketch below),

with the now legendary Battle of Shrewsbury (still looking technically advanced) positioned dead-center, as the world pivots to darkness & melancholy. Only Angelo Francesco Lavagnino’s lively score, the flip side to his doom-laden music for Welles’ OTHELLO/’51, tries to keep contact with happier times, while cinematographer Edmund Richard brings a chiseled, contrasty b&w in place of the refined grey scale he gave Welles on THE TRIAL/’62. As a boy, Welles worked on a series of books called ‘EVERYBODY’S SHAKESPEARE.’ but only delivered on the promise 25 years after CITIZEN KANE. He never made a better film.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Back in radio days, Welles often played multiple parts. Not so easy in a film. But he could still dub vocals as needed . . . or even just for sport. Listen up here as he has a bit of fun voicing a sheriff who comes to Quickly’s inn looking to collect a debt from Sir John. Welles hiding from ‘Welles.’ Considering how he financed these things, it’s an apt gag.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Keith Baxter, such a wonderful, moving Hal (physically he’s like a more robust Anthony Perkins, Welles’ lead in THE TRIAL/’62) never got the film opportunities he deserved once CHIMES more or less disappeared. But he thrived on stage, even making something out of Shakespeare’s notoriously unplayable Marc Antony against Maggie Smith’s Cleopatra in Stratford, Canada.

DOUBLE-BILL: We’ve mentioned this before, but in a striking coincidence (if it is coincidence), Welles not only chose the same three Shakespearean subjects as Giuseppe Verdi for adaptation (MACBETH/’48, OTHELLO/’51, FALSTAFF), but made them in the same order.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

LA LOI DU MARCHÉ / THE MEASURE OF A MAN (2015)

Simply made in the old cinéma-verité/ documentary style, and all the more effective for it, Stéphane Brizé’s topical/award-winning film finds its drama following skilled-laborer Vincent Lindon as he looks for a new job. Middle-aged & downsized out of a well-paid tool-and-die union position, he does all the right things to get back on track. Retraining, deportment classes, Skype interviews, refinancing; each new humiliation quietly suffered. He’s lucky in his family with a sympathetic wife (though Brizé misses a trick in not letting us know if she works) and a great teenage kid, thriving in spite of various physical problems from cerebral palsy. (A scene with his school counselor is equally heartbreaking & wonderful.) Finally, Lindon (a professional actor surrounded by well-cast amateurs, he deservedly cleaned up on the award circuit) gets a decent, if depressing security gig at one of those huge faceless all-in-one superstores. He’s good at it, too. Note how Brizé jolts the drama ahead by skipping the steps that got him the position. And we’re so drawn in to Lindon’s improved fortunes that we’re relieved (to our shame) when a staff meeting is called, not as we suppose to announce a closing, but to deal with a tragic event. At the end, after overseeing one too many soul-draining, ego-bruising cashiered cashier incidents, Brizé offers a bit of prideful folly that doesn’t fully ring true. We’ve earned it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

GOD IS MY CO-PILOT (1945)

With the war nearing an end, Warners rolled out the ‘B’-team for this fact-inspired fancy on the famed China-based Flying Tigers fighter pilots. Dennis Morgan is his usual blandly pleasant self as real-life Col. Robert Scott, advancing from supply runs to bombing missions only to face a ‘what’s-it-all-about-God?’ personal moment. Thankfully, Alan Hale’s on hand as a missionary priest to let him know that . . . well, see the title. With personal backstory & group camaraderie but lightly sketched, the main focus goes to the action stuff; standard issue, like the rest of the film. But between process work, stock shots & newsreel combat footage, some airborne take-downs retain impact. And, in the film’s best sequence, Scott’s one-man attack on a Burma Road Japanese military convoy is exceptional. But who did it? Journeyman helmer Robert Florey? Asst. Lester Guthrie? Unlikely. Maybe Robert Burks & Roy Davidson, credited on the exploding aircraft F/X, were in charge? Elsewise, enjoy the good Franz Waxman score; be mildly appalled by an unusually high level of verbal Jap-bashing*; note a third-billed Dane Clark with only eight minutes screen time; and check out the tropical make-up on Raymond Massey’s Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault, a Louisiana native of French stock. What ethnicity was Perc Westmore going for?

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *As ‘Tokyo Joe,’ the Flying Tigers’ arch-enemy in the sky, Richard Loo earns credit for giving as good as gets in the trash-talk department . . . the buck-toothed heathen! (Actually, he has excellent teeth.)

DOUBLE-BILL: Warners spent more time & energy considering God’s position on warfare in SERGEANT YORK/’41. But then, that came out a couple of months before Pearl Harbor

Monday, May 15, 2017

BIANCO, ROSSO E . . . / THE SIN (aka WHITE SISTER) (1972)

Pretty dreadful. The post-war glory days of Italian cinema came to a screeching halt in the mid-to-late ‘60s. Most of the big names weren’t much affected, but standard commercial fare went into fast decline. Regardless of political leanings, producers & directors, terrified of seeming old-fashioned/out-of-touch, discarded old verities in cinematic grammar & craft, tossed aside in the hustle to survive. So a fine journeyman helmer like Alberto Lattuada, who’d given Fellini a leg up in VARIETY LIGHTS/’51, made sharp, near perfect dramedies both romantic (LA SPIAGGIA/’54) and cynical (MAFIOSO/’62), now looks hopelessly ill at ease in the lumbering sentiment & political sparring of this comic-tragedy. Sophia Loren is just as uncomfortable as a saintly, irreplaceable nun riding out the latest crisis at an overrun strike-happy hospital. Adriano Celentano is the comical communist orderly, leading the revolt (and he’s plenty revolting), but falling hard for the unavailable Sister Sophia. It’s one of those hospital-as-metaphor-for-society films popular at the time, but too lazy to stick with the conceit, jumping into backstory for Loren (pre-nunnery lost love) and street protests for schlubby Celentano. (A big star in Italy whose appeal didn’t cross over.) Kudos to Alfio Contini for some polished cinematography, but it hardly matters.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The Lattuada films mentioned above are all great, with MAFIOSO (out on Criterion) easiest to find.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

HOSHI O OU KODOMO / CHILDREN WHO CHASE LOST VOICES (2011)

Now in his 40s, anime master Makoto Shinkai awaits a Stateside breakout. YOUR NAME/’16, a huge hit in Japan, caused barely a ripple here while this ambitious feature (aka JOURNEY TO AGARTHA, his second as solo director) didn’t get a proper theatrical release. Good as it is, you’ll see why. Neatly divided in half, it begins as a girl’s coming-of-age tale, then switches gears (and a few principals) for something of an Orpheus/Eurydice journey to the UnderWorld. That should make sense, the girl’s father died when she was a kid, and her unexpected expedition partner, her new teacher, is desperately seeking his late wife. Yet, the girl's father isn’t mentioned again, yet alone looked for. Odd. And those voices the girl heard in the mountains back in the opening half? Not space aliens, but souls from the netherworld, something confirmed with help from a rogue kitty-cat and a dreamboat boy, each visiting topside. It's how she discovers the secret portal that goes below, leading to a series of action adventures, dangerous flesh eating beasts, weird religious rites and the breaking of a few social taboos. ALICE IN HADES? All very Japanese in tone, especially compared to the first half. Plenty scary, too. (So, this one’s Kid-Friendly with Warning Lights.) Yet what an eye for landscape, spectacle, movement and architectural detail from Shinkai. Perhaps YOUR NAME, a teenage personality-swap tale, finds the sweet spot.

DOUBLE-BILL: Shinkai’s considerable gifts are better displayed in the gorgeous, concentrated final segment of 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND/’07.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

OPEN WINDOW (2014)

Something of a visual tour de force, a pointless one. Nacho Vigalondo’s over-twisted thriller builds little suspense, too busy exhausting itself in techno-onanism. Elijah Wood (no pun intended) is the laptop obsessed blogger who seeks digital revenge after a dinner with cult-film vixen Sasha Grey is canceled. Not that he’s initiated the computer hack of her life, he merely follows instructions from some unseen cyber-wiz who’s taken control of his system and won’t let him go. Suddenly finding himself in over his head in some nefarious murder plot (aided by a third party of camouflaged ‘helpers’), Wood is at the mercy of . . . . whom? And why? All happening in Pop-Up Windows cascading o’er his laptop without an edit in sight until, two-thirds of the way in, a car crash pushes us intermittently off the screen. By then, you’ll either have lost patience, the plot thread or just grown past caring about the next character reveal/plot reversal. Vigalondo, a natural filmmaker, keeps this airborne far beyond its natural expiration date. (No small thing considering porn-star Sasha Grey’s acting abilities.) But the mystery elements devolve into silliness, more like a detective drama parody from an old vinyl Firesign Theater L.P. where the lack of visuals made its brain teasing vagaries more fun to unravel.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Since the film largely takes place on a laptop screen, maybe it would work better viewed on one. Nah.

Friday, May 12, 2017

IL DESERTO DEI TARTARI / THE DESERT OF THE TARTARS (1976)

As the DVD package says, BEAU GESTE meets WAITING FOR GODOT in Valerio Zurlini’s existential epic.* Adapted from a once famous 1940 novel by Dino Buzzati, the cast list includes Vittorio Gassman, Max von Sydow, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Fernando Rey & Philippe Noiret; yet you’ve probably never heard of it. A stinker? Some uncinematic Euro-Centric lost-generation jeremiad? A plotless, philosophically-minded screed on the insanity of (metaphysical) war published on the cusp of a new outbreak? The story touches all the expected Foreign Legion tropes as a junior officer finds his jejune/romantic ideas/ideals of military adventure quickly replaced with rigid custom, brutal discipline & bitter cynicism from a motley core of worn out eccentrics at a border fort where everyone waits . . . and waits . . . and waits for the coming hordes of savages to overwhelm them. But here, as a literary work, not some potboiler, offered with the languid tone of an exhausted civilization on the verge of mental & moral collapse. And given a magnificent production in the spectacular ghost city of Bam, Iran, emptied by an earthquake into a barren, ancient desert metropolis. A perfect setting for the elaborate rituals of a dying aristocracy unraveling toward its end. More intriguing than successful, even as socio-political commentary, yet you know you’re watching something.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Possibly a better description posits a Foreign Legion pic divvied up for Michelangelo Antonioni on exteriors and Luchino Visconti on interiors.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The film’s producer/star Jacques Perrin can’t quite hold the screen as needed against that starry support. But comes thru at the end, wasting away in shockingly believable fashion.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

Using subjective camera POV for a whole movie (‘YOU solve the murder!’) is one those perennial ideas that sounds good if you don’t think too much about it.  Effective enough in small doses, it soon wears out its welcome and slows things down considerably.* Art may thrive on rules & limitation, but has anyone licked this particular trick? Even Orson Welles, who toyed with using the technique for his first film project, an adaptation of HEART OF DARKNESS, gave it up. (Later this year, Delmer Daves used it for the opening section of DARK PASSAGE/’47, helping Humphrey Bogart coyly hide facial surgery.) The technique is extreme, but having your lead be the camera is fun in limited doses, especially with director/star Robert Montgomery & cinematographer Paul Vogel pulling off some clever effects. Things You Can’t Miss: a big kiss right on top of us; a sock in the jaw. Things You Notice Subliminally: barely perceptible dissolve-edits when camera position or lenses need a quick change within a shot. But more often, the technique reduces rather than heightens visual storytelling, leaving a film that plays out like radio drama. (Probably because the technique restricts editing choices.) The case? Well, we’re in Chandler-town, so there’s plenty of hard-nosed dames & action, with P.I. Marlowe taking it on the chin before sussing out the mystery of an estranged wife gone missing and why police dick Lloyd Nolan has it in for him. Audrey Totter is in fine early form as a not-so-bad girl and Tom Tully’s police Captain gets a rare chance to evolve into something like a good egg. As Philip Marlowe, Montgomery is smooth & cynical, cackling with contempt even when he’s playing sincere. With a few more reverse angles to help out, he might have scored. As a one-off, this just gets by.

DOUBLE-BILL: Maybe something was in the air? In addition to DARK PASSAGE (see above), not so hot with or without subjective camera, Hitchcock played with extreme POV in the faux one-shot of ROPE/'48. OR: Stick with Montgomery starring in and directing the superior, if still peculiar film noir RIDE THE PINK HORSE/’47.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Like a mime using ten minutes instead of ten words to get a point across.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944)

Convoluted John Wayne Western from R.K.O. works its B+ budget plenty hard, churning out heaps of plot, but without enough to show for all the effort & action. Mid-list megger Edwin L. Marin, a shoot first/hope for the best type (he probably just wanted to get home on time) rushes every shot. (Better than dawdling, though.) The story has Wayne hunting down the man (or men) who killed his new employer, with cattle rustling, ranch ownership, card sharps & lowbrow comedy (courtesy of Gabby Hayes) figuring into things. But why is every other guy Wayne meets trying to do him in? A vet supporting cast does well enough, defaulting into standard character mode, but Wayne’s young love interests (bad-girl Ella Raines/good-girl Audrey Long) overact badly. And Marin lets the tone swing so wildly, the story never gains traction, with bits of romance, action or comedy all hit and miss. It’s one of those films that probably played better on old Afternoon-At-The-Movies tv, where commercial interruptions dealt it out piecemeal.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Roy Webb’s score must have gotten into Dmitri Tiomkin’s head. That opening phrase grew into the Oscar nominated theme song from FRIENDLY PERSUASION/’56.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The film provides a rare opportunity to catch Wayne kneading biscuit dough . . . with his fists. He even remembers to flour the ‘cutter.’

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A GUY NAMED JOE (1943)

The dead are always with us, but they get better movie roles in wartime.* This WWII model has Spencer Tracy lost on a bombing run, leaving behind a mourning Irene Dunne for a new heavenly assignment as ectoplasmic wingman/mentor to pup pilot Van Johnson. It’s a one-sided relationship that grows uncomfortable when Van’s increasingly confident flyboy meets ‘that old gal of mine’ and love blooms. Sound icky? Perhaps. But it doesn’t play that way in wartime. (Something Steven Spielberg ignored to his cost when he swapped bombardiers for fire fighting pilots in ALWAYS, his 1989 remake.) Here, with the exception of Herbert Stothart’s typically lackluster score (heavy on ‘I’ll Get By.’), just about everything works. Even the dated special-effects flying action is better than expected. But it’s especially solid, even revelatory in the romantic first half where Tracy & Dunne bring out a rare erotic charge from each other. (Tracy, along with helmer Victor Fleming in their fifth & final collaboration, gave Dunne a lot of grief during production. She was plenty pissed off, but it may have helped bring out a tough, sexy edge not even seen in work with Cary Grant like THE AWFUL TRUTH/’38. Lordy, what a talent! Still remarkably youthful at 46.) The script isn’t without its purple passages, likely from co-scripter Dalton Trumbo; and Production Code objections jettisoned a sort of Wagnerian Liebestod/Immolation finale (Dunne as Brünhilde?) for a cop-out ‘have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too’ ending that may just be an improvement. It’s a one-of-a-kind film, but also, one for a very specific time. So adjust.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID/DOUBLE-BILL: *In many ways, this is like a militarized HERE COMES MR. JORDAN/’41, an earlier life-after-death fantasy keyed to the wartime market but centered on boxing. Character actor James Gleason is in both, but takes a different assignment here. JOE gives Ward Bond the analogous role.

Monday, May 8, 2017

THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU (1980)

Released barely a month after his death (to cash in on a funereal back-draft?), this Peter Sellers comedy has an undeservedly lousy rep. He made far worse. Something of a take-off from Christopher Lee’s largely forgotten Fu Manchu pics in the ‘60s (from the Sax Rohmer books* - see our poster), it’s spotty as hell, but often enough gosh darn funny, too. Sellers cycled thru three directors before hiring himself to complete it, yet the film has a unified, rather handsome style thanks to Jean Tournier’s rich cinematography and from a ‘Pomp & Hilarity’ production design from the superb Alexandre Trauner. (He’s tweaking Ken Adams’ classic James Bond sets, like MOONRAKER which Tournier had just shot.) Befitting Sellers’ fragile physical condition, most of the typically broad comedy is played on the dry/sedate side, with a welcome touch of wistful mortality to Sellers’ work as a Scotland Yard detective brought out-of-retirement. (The silly plot has Fu Manchu, also played by Sellers, sending minions around the world to steal ingredients for a youth elixir.) Sid Caesar is a bust as an FBI agent (his Italian mob shtick somehow more politically-incorrect than Sellers' 'Oriental' villain), but everyone else (David Tomlinson, Steve Franken, John Le Mesurier) get enough funny bits to make their mark. (Helen Mirren tap dances!) And while the finale is a dud (so too the opening diamond robbery via mechanical tarantula), the credit sequence is cool enough to make up for a lot.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Sellers actually had a second posthumous lead when Blake Edwards tried to keep his PINK PANTHER franchise alive by cobbling outtakes into the unfortunate TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER/’82; then used that as set-up for the Sellers-less CURSE OF THE . . . /’83 which had Ted Wass as a cluelessly unfunny Clouseau-like klutz. (It does include an inspired one-take gag involving wind, rain, an automated glass door & an umbrella.) Elsewhere, Alan Arkin, Roberto Benigni & Steve Martin all came to grief in the part. Sellers was indeed irreplaceable, even in second-tier stuff like this.

DOUBLE-BILL: *The five Christopher Lee Fu Manchu films (not seen here) are available as a DVD set. OR: The delicious (and very non-PC) fun & horror of Hollywood ‘Orientals’ Boris Karloff & Mryna Loy in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU/’32. (See below.)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

WOMAN AGAINST WOMAN (1938)

Don’t expect a catfight. Instead, a more-than-decent M-G-M programmer on modern divorce. Surprisingly, they‘re for it! Mary Astor plays the supremely selfish, hyper-controlling wife of successful lawyer Herbert Marshall. But so good at covering her intentions, so cunning in acting the injured party, no one spots her game. Even her adorable little girl and mother-in-law, all unawares, aid & abet. Leave it to dear old nanny to catch on to the act, step up and pull the wool from Marshall’s eyes. Turns out, he knows the score, just can’t admit it . . . or face up to the gorgon. But tonight, husband & wife will have it out! Post-divorce, one year later, it’s whirlwind romance with Virginia Bruce & a speedy marriage. If only Astor wasn’t poisoning the well with all the best people in town. The production is a bit threadbare; the child actor playing the daughter perfectly ghastly; and Robert B. Sinclair’s direction choppy at a harshly edited 61". Yet the topic & attitudes are fascinating here, alternately dated and advanced, with Astor’s bitch-wife subterfuges subtler than expected. Add in an amusing scene about stockings for Marshall in appellate court and for Bruce, a chance to break out of angelic mode to show some well deserved indignation. Just keep your expectations in check.

DOUBLE-BILL: A deluxe version of this situation came out from R.K.O. the following year with Cary Grant trying to drop duplicitous wife Kay Francis for fresh, honest Carole Lombard. It takes a big melodramatic turn, but works like a charm.

Friday, May 5, 2017

THE NIGHT MANAGER (2016)

With THE NAÏVE AND SENTIMENTAL LOVER already taken on an early novel, John Le Carré went with a second choice title that fits nearly as well. Or so you might imagine in this big, confidant 6-part thriller about international deal-making in the illegal arms trade. We’re hunting down a particularly vile, smooth operator (Hugh Laurie, a little one-note) with Olivia Colman: British Intelligence, 40-ish, pregnant, squeaky-wheel sort. She lucks into a possible, if unlikely, inside ‘plant’ in civilian Tom Hiddleston’s unattached hotelier. But is he willing? Is he up to it? (Or only distractingly buff?) Le Carré’s story may be just good enough to get by (would Laurie really fall for Hiddleston's coincidental return?), yet feels immensely satisfying, a throwback to comfort-zone suspensers without hand-held camera jitter, obfuscating techno-babble, or assistants furiously typing fake code. Civilized relief on an uncivil subject. If only the characters added up or the plotting didn't go limp in the middle episodes. As a hotel man looking for a cause, Tom Hiddleston falls into the spy racket with only moderate guilt & ennui as motivation; and his libido-induced missteps with Laurie’s chilly mistress (Elizabeth Debicki) are less amour fou than Hitchcock Faux.* (See NOTORIOUS/’46 and/or NORTH BY NORTHWEST/’59.) But so handsomely produced, debonaire in pacing, casting and in Susanne Bier’s stately, not stolid, formally beautiful helming. It gleans more pleasure from second-tier Le Carré than most find in first.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Le Carré remains unbeatable setting up red herrings & reversals of fortune, then fudges the easy stuff, like getting two people to bump into each other on the street.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Speaking of Hitch, watch Le Carré do a cameo, assaulted by a drunken Tom Hollander, great as Laurie’s gay aide-de-camp. (Hollander’s like Martin Landau in NbyNW.)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

THE BFG (2017)

What can you say? Not since HOOK/‘91? Maybe Steven Spielberg should stay away from London-based Kid Lit. This story of a dream-dealing giant who befriends a spunky orphan girl never gets off the ground. And Spielberg seems to know it, over-compensating with elaborate motion capture/CGI set pieces to cover up story & casting problems. The sort of empty technical tinkering we’ve come to expect from onetime Spielberg protegee Robert Zemeckis (POLAR EXPRESS’04; CHRISTMAS CAROL/’09), and what Martin Scorsese (of all people) defaulted to on the equally charmless, over-produced HUGO/’11. Things take a slight turn for the better in the third act when Penelope Wilton shows up, corgis in hand, as a decidedly practical Queen Eliz II. But far too late to make much of a difference. What a sad final credit for Melissa Mathison (E.T./’82; BLACK STALLION/’79) who adapted the Roald Dahl book.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: We direct your attention (once more) to Dahl’s scary, kid-friendly THE WITCHES/’90.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Dahl’s book has a following, but does anyone think Big and Friendly come to mind when you see BFG? Granted, the film didn’t lose 100 mill on its title, but still . . .

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

LAST OF THE MOBILE HOTSHOTS (1970)

Sidney Lumet’s second Tennessee Williams* (adapted by Gore Vidal) comes from one of those hapless, if often intriguing, late plays that revisit familiar terrain with new frankness. But for Williams, candor proved a double-edged sword, revealing truth as it dulled character, and thinning the texture by having sub-text upgraded to text. On stage, where it ran a month, Brian Bedford, Estelle Parsons & Harry Guardino played the roles taken by James Coburn, Lynn Redgrave & Robert Hooks in a film largely noted for receiving a rare non-porno ‘X’ rating. Something of a wreck, but also pretty good late-Williams, especially as variant for fans of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF/’58 and BABY DOLL/’56. It’s a moss-covered inheritance tale, with melodramatic third-act revelations Lillian Hellman would have recognized, as Hooks waits for sick half-brother Coburn to die and leave him the decaying family manse. Instead, Coburn returns home with bride in hand (Lynn Redgrave, a bit too screechy), a stranger who picked him up on a tv game show. Slowly piecing together the relationship of brothers who once shared favors in bed (favors one of the two can no longer perform), the isolated threesome alternately scheme & ogle as rain beats down and levees threaten to break. Yikes! Subtle it ain’t. But decidedly tasty for those who can hold tight thru a lot of torpid exposition in the early going. Also, Hooks is very good.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward & Maureen Stapleton should give interest to Lumet/Williams’ THE FUGITIVE KIND/’60. Saner heads will head for Richard Brooks’ turgid, entertaining CAT and Elia Kazan’s delicious BABY DOLL.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Thematically, Coburn splits the diff between Brick and Big Daddy in CAT, but squint hard and you can just see what he’d be like as Blanche DuBois.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Don’t blame cinematographer James Wong Howe, in fine form on one of his last credits, for the Tinker-Toy® flood finale.

Monday, May 1, 2017

DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER (1969)

With original director Robert Totten & replacement helmer Don Siegel each refusing credit, this minor Western became the debut feature for the prolific, if nonexistent, Allen Smithee. It also boasts a claim to fame with Richard Widmark & Lena Horne in an interracial romance neither objected to nor taken note of. Alas, there's little else of interest in this tv-ready Western about old ways giving way to new in the fast growing town where bullish Chamber of Commerce types want to force Widmark’s out-of-step/trigger-happy Marshall into early retirement. It’s one of those Westerns that wants to be a Greek Tragedy (hubris all over the place), but hobbled with the paint-by-numbers production values of Universal Studios in the ‘60s, where company head Lew Wassermann made even the classiest pic look like a Movie-of-the-Week. (Typically, the backlot Western town is all fresh paint & pasteboard.) Siegel, who bonded with Widmark on MADIGAN/’68, initially turned it down (script problems), but ended up coming in for the last week or two when Widmark refused to continue with Totten. He had a point. Much of the opening is blunt, obvious, almost comically overstated, but the real problem is that Widmark’s character doesn’t fit the storyline. He only shoots in self-defense and, in a real stretch, gets blamed for a suicide. A big fatalistic finale with the town council going ballistic is ridiculous. For Siegel, it was onward & upward, from galley to glory years. For everyone else, back to the tv grindstone.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: But credit this story for being the rare Western with a plot that doesn’t boil down to Stranger Comes To Town.

WATCH THIS NOT THAT: For an actor usually tagged as a tough urban type, Widmark made quite a lot of Westerns. Try Edward Dmytryk’s little-seen, undervalued WARLOCK/’59 with Henry Fonda & Anthony Quinn.