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Friday, June 30, 2017


Early Talkie from Gregory La Cava runs the old story of a straying husband who mends his ways when led to believe the wife is enjoying a fling of her own. Tepid stuff, but worth a look to see La Cava abruptly figuring out how to accommodate sound. While most of the film follows the dialogue like a dog trolling for a treat, signs of cinema keep popping up. Note how spurned wife Mary Astor (sharp & charming) greets faux love interest John Halliday in overhead shots, with camera movement, composition in depth and a grand staircase giving rhythm & pace to vapid drawing room dramatics. Real filmmaking!; back from the dead zone of Early Talkie technical tyranny. (And giving a brief glimpse at the Gregory La Cava of MY MAN GODFREY/’36 & STAGE DOOR/’37.) It’s also a rare chance to see Robert Ames, a might-have-been star who drank himself to death by the end of the year at only 42. In a lousy part, love-blind hubby falling for blonde Golddigger while Astor pines, he’s expert at the task. No wonder he made 20 pics in less than three years. The film’s an antique, of mostly historic/technical interest, but La Cava & Astor fans should dig in.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The big other might-have-been star from 1931 was Robert Williams, co-star with Loretta Young & Jean Harlow in Frank Capra’s PLATINUM BLONDE/’31. Dead from appendicitis that year at 37. On screen, he was a bit like Lee Tracy who was a might-have-been star who didn’t die, but peed his career away. Literally. On a drunk during the filming of VIVA VILLA/’34 he pissed over his hotel balcony and on to some Mexican Cadets marching below.

DOUBLE-BILL: Three from this film, Ames, Astor & Edward Everett Horton co-star with Ann Harding in an excellent, if stagebound, version of HOLIDAY/’30, the great Philip Barry play best known from George Cukor’s ‘38 beauty with Kate Hepburn, Cary Grant & a repeating Horton. Yet, the earlier film is unexpectedly fine, and Mary Astor, a far stronger sisterly rival than Doris Nolan was in the redo, serves the drama as revelation.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


The Beat Generation meets Kennedy’s New Frontier in racially integrated early ‘60s Paris. That’s the setting (and setting is whole deal here) in this otherwise wan romance² about a pair of tourists (Joanne Woodward; Diahann Carroll) who fall in with a pair of jazz men (Paul Newman; Sidney Poitier). Tussling between the sheets when not roaming the town and debating Artist’s Life vs Conventional Family or La Vie de M. Noir vs Civil Rights activism back in the States. All in all, quite pleasant, and fun to watch director Martin Ritt locate his inner charcoal-sketch stylings under lenser Christian Matras (Jean Renoir & Max Ophüls in his past; Luis Buñuel in his future) as they take on some Parisian nabs designed in classic forced perspective by Alexandre Trauner. (The sets work out better than the real locations. The exact opposite of Ritt Stateside.) But drop the music (which includes a couple of set pieces for Louis Armstrong as well as a Duke Ellington score) and the dramatic pickings grow slim. Basically, will Paul make a mark as serious jazz composer, will guitarist pal Serge Reggiani kick his drug habit, and which couple holds on. Newman, working his usual self-centered cad routine of the time, looks incredibly fine; Woodward struggles against a bad hairdo; Carroll is impossibly pretty; and Poitier, ah, Sidney. He’s the real reason to watch. Dandy playing fake sax, but more importantly, looser, sexier, more comfortable in his shoes than in any other film. Perhaps, like his character, he’s just so gosh darn happy to drop the ‘credit-to-his-race’ striver roles he so often got stuck with, allowing personality angles rarely on display to shine out. He’s a knockout.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/LINK: Good as she is here, Carroll wouldn’t make another feature until 1967. Though she did return to Paris . . . Paris, Broadway, that is, in Richard Rodgers’ 1962 musical NO STRINGS, as a fashion model who falls for Maine-boy Richard Kiley. Now, she’s the one who doesn’t want to go back to the States. Here’s the opening number:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Insufferable romantic claptrap, in M-G-M’s signature Early Talkie style: chintzy taste; stolid camera work; ersatz British refinement; Mid-Atlantic accents. Based on a whopper of a play by Janes Cowl & Murfin, it was silent in ‘21 (same director Sidney Franklin), and musicalized for Jeanette MacDonald in ‘41. A tragic backstory has Fredric March, as rival suitor, take a pot shot at the wedding of Leslie Howard & Norma Shearer. A generation on, Howard still mourns his loss while March’s son (also played by March) falls for Howard’s niece (also played by Shearer.) Luckily(?), WWI intervenes to sort things out. Franklin’s helming is alarmingly stiff in the first two acts, slightly livelier post-war. But the writing & acting! Howard, already showing good form in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM that year, looks faintly embarrassed; March mans up to pull off a cornball renunciation scene; but what to make of Shearer?, tossing in a carefree laugh at the end of every God-damn line until you want to strangle her. (Who wouldn't want to strangle someone named 'Moonyeen?') And this from her best period when she normally played ‘daring’ Pre-Code ladies in slinky, revealing outfits. Here, she prefigures the worst of her latter Great-Lady-of-the-Theatre manner. Naturally, the film got a Best Pic nod from the Academy. The one dud on a still highly entertaining list. LINK:

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Though still very 1932 in sentiment, style & technique, the Frank Borzage/Gary Cooper/Helen Hayes version of another WWI tragic romance, Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS, no less (see below), puts this film to shame on every level. Look for the uncensored cut. (BTW: Borzage also directed the 1941 Jeanette MacDonald SMILIN’ THROUGH.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The theme song for this version, as in 1941, was written as a tie-in for the silent film. (See sheet music cover to your left.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Alexander Mackendrick’s sophisticated, if oddly unsatisfying adventure film (kids; pirates; mutiny; murder & miscarriage of justice) never finds its proper tone. Though it certainly dives straight into the action, opening on a tropical storm that ravages the island home of The Thorntons, forcing a decision to send the children home to England for proper schooling & manners. But when their ship gets overtaken by buccaneers, the kids wind up sailing off with a band of pirates led by Anthony Quinn & James Coburn who are soon being pursued as kidnappers/murderers. The story has a lot going for it (plus Douglas Slocombe lensing), but the playing is unfocused & overcooked. It soon grows wearying, especially Quinn & the kids.* And Mackendrick, no Carol Reed in child wrangling, gets a spotty perf from young Deborah Baxter whose closed face barely registers . . . anything. Worse, he fumbles some crucial action scenes. (A climactic stabbing makes no sense at all.) A pity since the story’s dark turn is loaded with possibilities.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *The playing really does leave you exhausted, as if you’ve binge-watched a 10-episode series, a format that might make a better fit for this sea-faring tale. Cable-programmers, check on the rights!

Monday, June 26, 2017


In his third film, Terence Stamp draws down his natural aura to play a sort of British cousin to Norman Bates in William Wyler’s exceptional adaptation of John Fowles’ debut novel. Disturbingly quiet, emotionally closed off, socially immature, Stamp’s routine of office drudgery is broken by a passion for butterfly collecting. But when a big win in the National Football Pool sets him up as a country gentleman on a lonely estate, he finds a new type of ‘butterfly’ to collect in student-artist Samantha Eggar. Kidnapped & figuratively pinned down for display, Eggar puts up physical & psychological resistance, confounding Stamp’s expectations of friendship & love for all his attentions. Basically a two-hander, the film is largely without boilerplate thriller aspects (though an ill-timed visitor, with accompanying bathtub overflow, is faintly comic/nail-biting stuff), more concerned with intellectual envy, class resentment & life-or-death gamesmanship. Wyler paces & structures the film as if the built-in limitations of the storyline simply didn’t exist; and successfully mines for depth rather than variety in his two largely inexperienced leads. A feel-good film it’s not, but creepy & satisfying in its unique way. (Excellent tech, too, with Robert Surtees’ Hollywood shot interiors & Robert Krasker’s location work in England, perfectly in synch.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Who else but William Wyler would opt out of THE SOUND OF MUSIC/’65, where he was well into pre-production, to take on this small, challenging chamber piece? It shows the range of subjects Hollywood trusted him with; and the distrust (largely misguided) of too many film academic types who hold range of content as a signifier of impersonal output. (It’s does make for an unwieldy monograph.)

CONTEST: The old Hollywood Production Code, still in effect in ‘65, got pushed against two ways here. Name them to win a MAKSQUIBS Write Up of your choosing.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


This early credit for fast-rising Japanese writer/ director Kôji Fukada shows easy sophistication in both story & technique, and an unexpectedly witty tone that (calmly) echoes Jûzô Itami. The tale’s an old one: the outsider who moves in and quietly takes over; here played out as a darkly comic sex roundelay at a small family-owned print shop with living quarters above. Everyone seems to be cheating in some manner (with cash, flesh or affection), not in the hectic near-miss of French Boulevard farce, but with the resigned discomfort & off-kilter drawing-room sensibility of Brit playwright Alan Ackbourn. Fukada’s structural gimmick ups the ante one modest outrage at a time, trapping the store proprietor into capitulating after he beds the stranger’s wife, a mysterious blonde foreigner. Similar hazards lurk for his recently returned divorced sister; his much younger second wife; and her slacker brother. All neatly dovetailed in Fukada’s no-sweat style (hiding under a thin coat of realism) that allows you swallow the more outlandish moments in this modern ‘comedy of humours,’ even if some tidy explanations wrap things up a little too neatly. But with excellent perfs and spot-on camera placements even in the tightest of corners, Fukada is a guy to watch, in this and in the future.

DOUBLE-BILL: Similar ideas get a darker workout in Harold Pinter/ Joseph Losey’s THE SERVANT/’63 with Dirk Bogarde & James Fox.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


What an over-crowded mess of a poster. Accurate, though. With LEGO MOVIE guys Phil Lord & Christopher Miller dispatched to producer status, the reins fall to Chris McKay in a feature debut that finds him tucking in all the gags & Pop Culture references he’s been saving up during years of tv work. (Afraid of not getting a second chance to use them?) Exhilarating or exhausting? The answer lies mainly in demographics. (Though Fanboys may pall finding moralistic/philosophic nods at Individual vs Group Think and Hero/Villain Co-Dependency not too far off PIXAR’s INSIDE OUT/’15.) As in the previous LEGO pic (see below), there is a feeling of missed opportunity seeing CGI used on Peg-like critters born for Stop-Motion techniques. But if nothing else, the film does its fair share in lightening the mood of recent DC Comics gloom-fests.

LINK: Here’s some irresistible real LEGO® Stop-Motion STAR WARS® action. Heaps of this stuff on YOUTUBE®.

Friday, June 23, 2017


Competition is fierce, but Tom Hanks spouting off about ‘No crying in baseball’ (in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN/’92) may top the charts for the most inaccurate, if highly quotable, line in film. And not only at the movies; imagine an All-Star Game without some tear-clogged anniversary salute. This film, a tru-life fairy tale about a high school science teacher/coach, who missed his shot at the Majors, only to find his pitching form at 37, is a veritable three-hankie male weep-athon . . . and pretty much irresistible. Not a lot of surprises, but neither Mike Rich’s script nor John Lee Hancock’s direction push harder than they have to. In fact, the film is improved by the relative lack of film savvy; bigger skill sets might have curdled sentiment. It’s also helped by an unusual, slightly unwieldy structure: double prologue (local legend; childhood-on-the-move); followed by Two Halves in Three-Acts² (high school team makes good; comeback pitcher makes better). All unexpectedly satisfying; and well played, if admittedly a couple of reels longer than it has to be. (A fault uncorrected in later films by this writer or director.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The film wouldn’t work without Dennis Quaid. Believable as a ball player (is he truly a leftie?), it’s the sort of star presence perf that never gets award traction, especially in a ‘light’ entertainment. But when you’ve earned early fame showing your ASSets (ass & shit-ass grin), you pay a price; and Quaid knows it. He’s long demurred gratuitous ass flashing, though he certainly looks fit enough to get away with it. Lately, he's even shut down the full-bore grin, as if withholding it makes him, ipso facto, a serious actor. But wait here till 1'50", when he hits The Majors, for a welcome re-emergence.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Writer/director Andrew Stone, with his co-producer/editor wife Virginia, had a knack for pulling off large-scale pics on the proverbial dime. But where at times it felt as if they’d bitten off more than they could chew, this less ambitious project feels just right; lean & mean, emphasis on mean. James Mason is perfectly cast as the new ship’s captain, an emergency transfer from fancy luxury liner to grimy freighter. Expecting resentment from the rough-and-tumble crew, he’s unaware/unprepared for crewmen Broderick Crawford & Stuart Whitman, a couple of malcontent sociopaths with a plan to kill everyone on board, damage the ship, then float in to claim a million bucks salvage. And when sexy Dorothy Dandridge comes aboard with her husband, the replacement cook, she becomes one more opportunity to rile things up. Stone quickly starts turning the screws on this one, setting up one neat suspense piece after another, with stabbing cuts & composition ‘reveals’ that really make you jump. Much helped by his use of a real ship with tight corridors & the relentless chug of the engines. (The only ‘music’ in here.) No-frills tech work also plays its part, efficient & effective, with special kudos going to tv lenser Meredith Nicholson who figured out how to light in mighty tight spaces. The film is nothing fancy, but in a good way; with honest, neatly played action, believable thrills and those extra creepy perfs from Crawford & Whitman, who goes after Dandridge like a man possessed. Who knew this bland leading man had it in him?

DOUBLE-BILL: Another surprise at sea, Richard Lester’s subversive ‘disaster pic,’ JUGGERNAUT/’74 with Omar Sharif & Richard Harris playing mind games as ship’s captain & mad bomber.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Doomed indeed. Frances Howard Goldwyn, the very Catholic wife of indie producer Samuel Goldwyn, initiated this project, a sort of Catholic Guilt Noir about a troubled young man (Farley Granger) with priestly issues to settle and a mother just past Last Rites. For some inexplicable reason, his tale of woe & semi-redemption is fodder for a flashback/pep-talk, along with a calming cup of tea, from parish priest Dana Andrews (in narcoleptic mode) to his questioning novice. It all turns on the murder of a worn out priest (with his own desk crucifix!); the robbery of a movie theater cash box; a Plain Jane girlfriend tired of waiting; and a roomful of flowers for a first-class funeral service. Credit helmer Mark Robson & cinematographer Harry Stradling for giving it a glistening inner-city tenement menace so dark & atmospheric it cloaks much of the missing narrative logic; so the pic is unexpectedly watchable in spite of its faults. According to Granger’s excellent auto-bio (INCLUDE ME OUT), there were months of reedits, reshoots, even a post-release revamp; though what got added/altered is a mystery. (Maybe just that risible ‘let’s have another cup of tea’ tag line.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Hitchcock’s films are brimming with Catholic Guilt, usually served on the side, but as a main course in the underrated I CONFESS/’53.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: As mentioned above, Farley Granger’s INCLUDE ME OUT.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


A trifle, though not without nostalgic charm. Less in the film itself than in how it recalls the experience of college-town Art House cinema in the ‘50s: foreign-language omnibus pic; subfusc print (in this TeleVista DVD); spare subtitles; multi-national cast dubbed in French though mostly acting in Italian. Ah, the good old days . . . which were kind of the bad old days. Gianni Franciolini directed a few of these portmanteaux; here, six tales set in Rome’s Villa Borghese park (the short opening sketch is dropped in this U.S. release print), with enough major names (Vittorio De Sica, Gérard Philipe, Eduardo De Filippo) to lend marquee value. Story 1 has a failing student hoping to blackmail her professor with a kiss in the park.; Story 2 finds De Sica ditching his wife for a rendezvous with a young prospective mistress, only to be shadowed by her mom & jealous fiancé. (De Sica may have directed this segment, but not so you’d notice.); Story 3 sits De Filippo’s small-town father at a café in Rome’s famous park to settle an arranged marriage for his charming daughter. (The most stylish & assured piece in here.); Story 4 sends two kids & a nanny off on a boat ride so Mom can meet one last time with departing lover Gérard Philipe.*; Story 5 watches two competing hookers (one a knock-out/one second-choice) run away from the cops, then hiding out at a beauty contest as contestant & judge. Twice as long as the rest, this last story could have supported a feature, especially with Franca Valeri showing off assured comic technique as the girl least likely to. The stories all end with the Italian version of an O’Henry twist, it keeps them from being too obvious. But even without it, they give off a musty charm. And how clean & under-populated the great old park looks.

DOUBLE-BILL: The year before, five stories made up O’HENRY’S FULL HOUSE/’52 (see Write-Up below), but a better bet might be from the following year when De Sica made an omnibus masterpiece in GOLD OF NAPLES/’54. It also lost one of its six stories in the original Stateside release. Look for the complete cut of 2'18". (Worth every minute.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Shortly before he died, Marlene Dietrich told Ernst Lubitsch she’d found the perfect young actor to play Octavian (against her Die Marshallin) for his dream project, a non-operatic version of ‘Der Rosenkavalier.’ It was Gérard Philipe who might well be playing a test-run of the role here, especially in taking his leave. A real might-have-been moment.

Monday, June 19, 2017


Director George Cukor suffered more than his fair share of damaging post-production interference from second-guessing moguls. Half an hour bled from A STAR IS BORN/’54 after its initial release* and ‘clarifying’ voice-over narration & dumbed-down restructuring on BHOWANI JUNCTION/’56 being only the best known examples. And while much the same sort of distortion happens here, courtesy of producer Darryl F. Zanuck, it’s hard to mourn the loss. Anyway you slice it, and DFZ sliced with abandon, the film would still be a dud. With a stylish quartet of Malibu women to sample, we follow their personal crises with stops for participation in a Kinsey-esque sex survey they’ve volunteered for. Amazingly, they all seem shocked!, shocked! when their mystery interlocutor has the temerity to ask about . . . their sex lives! (Did they think it would be Coke?; Pepsi?; or Dr. Pepper?) Jane Fonda, still learning to read lines, is the frigid young widow; Shelley Winters is cheating on her all-too-solid hubby with a commitment-phobic two-timer; Claire Bloom’s the alcoholic-nympho who digs debasement; and Glynis Johns plays comic relief, scared at the brink of ravishment with a hunky beach boy. The script, nearly as desperate as the ladies, wants to be daring, modern, adult, but (again like the ladies) has trouble taking the gloves off. (Those dress gloves! Were they still omnipresent in Cali/’62?) And the big revealing sex interviews? Empty soliloquy workouts for the gals. (But offering a fresh ensemble at every session. Check out Fonda’s stupendous white hat! Just the thing for research.)

Halfway in you realize what Zanuck was up to, trying to sculpt a newfangled version of an old hit, A LETTER TO THREE WIVES/’49, now with psychological trimmings. All better handled by writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz in the earlier pic, and whose nephew, Don Mankiewicz, just happened to co-write this.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: As mentioned, LETTER TO THREE WIVES which actually had FOUR wives until DFZ took a blue pencil to Mank’s first draft.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Lovingly restored in 1983 to something near it’s original condition/length.

Sunday, June 18, 2017


‘Too much’ was never enough for Brit filmmaker/ provocateur Ken Russell. But this largely overlooked bio-pic, on the intense, if platonic, relationship between manically gifted young artist Henri Gaudier (1891-1915) and older novelist Sophie Brzeska, finds purpose in excess, and far surpasses his better known/plusher films on Liszt, Tchaikovsky & Mahler.* Not that it’s without major faults of its own, starting at the top with fresh-faced ‘discovery’ Scott Antony, all wrong as Gaudier. (See self-portrait of the real Gaudier.)

Trying for artistic bliss & untamed spirit, he’s merely unfocused, ultimately exhausting. Dorothy Tutin's Brzeska gets closer to the maddening core of their odd partnership, but the real excitement shows up in stellar support from actors playing various avant-garde intellectual types (hilariously pretentious &/or insufferable), particularly young Helen Mirren as militant suffragette, bed partner and full-frontal nude goddess. Some superbly grungy sets from future ‘Queer Cinema’ pioneer Derek Jarman (putting the have-not into hovel) and resourceful lensing from Dick Bush reflect what must have been a real starving artist’s budget in a positive way. Maybe that very lack of funds helped keep Russell more on-track than usual, capturing something normally missed in artist bio-pics between his usual crudities & knee-jerk iconoclasm.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Russell’s at his very best in his early tv films, topped by SONG OF SUMMER/’68 on composer Frederick Delius. (And one on Edward Elgar, not seen here, has a fine rep.)

CONTEST: Spot the anachronistic Beatles reference to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choosing.

Saturday, June 17, 2017


Intriguing adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel, relocated to the US/Mexico border from France(?), is just good enough to frustrate by not being better. A literal Am-I-My-Brother’s-Keeper story, its Cain/Abel dichotomy is complicated by not quite knowing which role Van Johnson & older brother Joseph Cotten play. (This idea, directly expressed in dialogue, must be straight from the novel.) On a dark & stormy night, escaped convict Johnson, held back by flash floods from reaching his family in Mexico, seeks help from long-estranged brother Cotten. Financially well off, but in a barren marriage to Ruth Roman, Cotten has cut family ties to gain success . . . and buried any guilt for it. Director Henry Hathaway (with cinematographer Lee Garmes, CinemaScope & Deluxe® Color) can’t quite pull this off (let down by on-the-nose writing & playing), but still gets some tremendous effects from the SouthWest ‘Country Club Chic’ look in the well-to-do interiors of Cotten and, in a wicked party scene, their friends Jack Carson & Margaret Hayes. The latter, a tv actress, is particularly fine reveling in the chance to play mischief-maker, goading the worst out of her guests for the entertainment value. A final set piece, as the brothers patch things up trying for the border, is all but flawlessly run by Hathaway . . . which unfortunately exposes the tag ending as something of a cop-out. (Be sure to look for Harry Morgan in a perfect little scene at a roadside diner to see how this great supporting actor pulls the best out of Johnson.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: With his M-G-M contract running down, Johnson did some of the best work of his career, often as borderline alcoholics. (In 1954 alone, heavy tippling in BRIGADOON, CAINE MUTINY and LAST TIME I SAW PARIS/’54.)

DOUBLE-BILL: Hathaway & Cotten are even more in their element in the TechniColor suspense of NIAGARA/’53.

Friday, June 16, 2017


Visually dull with flatfooted staging, the writing/directing team of Melvin Frank & Norman Panama specialized in leaving the canvas blank for comedians like Bob Hope & Danny Kaye to romp in. Here, they drop the jokes (all but one, involving a low-flying plane & a water tower) for a rare serious outing, while staying visually dull with flatfooted staging. Robert Taylor, least fondly recalled of Hollywood’s top Golden Age stars, takes the lead in this fact-inspired story of the pilot who dropped the first Atomic Bomb. And with a woman’s angle filling half the pic as put-upon wife Eleanor Parker grows increasingly frustrated at being left in the dark.* Dramatically, all highly respectable, even attempting to deal with the difficult issue of innocent war casualties. But it’s a subject that calls for daring. (Unlikely at early ‘50s M-G-M; though not impossible; see John Huston’s RED BADGE OF COURAGE/’51.) This one's neither great nor awful, plodding ahead tastefully . . . which in a way is worse. Frank/Panama do manage a bit of atmosphere on the eve of the mission, and the bomb run lends some tension (how could it not?), but the film is only intense in being intensely unmemorable.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Worried about appealing to ‘The Ladies,’ the trailer features encomiums from nearly every major female magazine editor & gossip columnist of the day. Starting with the holy press trinity of Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons & Sheila Graham.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: In a brief, tardy appearance, Gen. Curtis LeMay adds his approval to the bombing. (He famously didn’t believe in the concept of innocent civilians and in ‘68 ran for Vice Prez on the George Wallace ticket.) To play him? Who else but Mr. Magoo! Er . . . Thurston Howell of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND!! Oh, it’s Jim Backus.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Made in 1938, but feeling five years behind the times; a lag that shouldn’t much matter after eight decades. Yet it makes all the diff in this modest romantic comedy since those involved know they’re handling stale goods and, under William Seiter’s routine megging, make a hard sell out of what ought to be light fun. The story is one more variation on the 'Three Girls Looking for Love' storyline, here with Loretta Young & two sisters leaving their Kansas chicken farm to find a millionaire in California. Parked at a swank resort, Loretta goes all La-Di-Da while her siblings act as her social staff. Sure enough, rich types Joel McCrea & David Niven come a’courting . . . but only one is really a millionaire. Young’s comic touch is harsh & overly bright, as if she were bribing us to chuckle, but if you hold on till the third act, the film detours into Screwball territory with a wild perf from Binnie Barnes as Niven’s hedonist sis. She’s not really as funny as she thinks, but her character, a beer guzzling lush in furs & couture, with a taste for hunky men, is so peculiar, you can’t take your eyes off her. Then the script pairs everyone up for a happy ending except her. How graceless.

DOUBLE-BILL: Joel McCrea's next attempt at this sort of thing came charmed with greatness (even wisdom), Preston Sturges’s THE PALM BEACH STORY/’42 with Claudette Colbert & Mary Astor effortlessly giving Young & Barnes a demonstration on how to play brittle sophisticated comedy.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


This Michael Winner/Charles Bronson film came out the year before they struck vigilante paydirt with DEATH WISH/’74. (They’d been milking violence since CHATO’S LAND and THE MECHANIC in ’72.) But where DEATH WISH caught the Zeitgeist in having Bronson’s regular guy pushed toward shoot-em-up revenge, here he’s no fish-out-of-water agent of death just a trigger-happy cop with quick fists in the interrogation room. Leaving NYC for L.A. after shooting one punk too many, he winds up working both coasts when some suspects get bumped off mob-style. Coincidence? Connection? Turns out Godfather Martin Balsam (really?) is on a Mafioso consolidation spree and there’s been collateral damage. Winner was just about the coarsest of mainstream hacks: kick down a door and find a titillating lesbian couple, bluntly staged chases & fight scenes, action that slams but doesn’t build, and zoom-lensed non sequitor transition shots. At least he cast well, with actors who can take care of themselves. (Hey!, it’s John Ritter & Norman Fell before THREE’S COMPANY.) If he could only keep his coasts straight. (Where are we?) Or sort out his car chase drivers before wrapping things up with a cheap amoral tag and a witticism from Mr. Bronson. Perhaps the crap cinematography by Richard Moore was intentional.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Winner, who’s on the short list for Worst Film of All Time (normal budget division) with WON TON TON: THE DOG WHO SAVED HOLLYWOOD/’76, did try to break out of his rut adapting Alan Ayckbourn’s darkly farcical A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL/'89 (with Jeremy Irons as the unwitting Lothario in an amateur theatrical company - a fabulous project), but he simply hadn’t the chops for the job.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Before B’way composer Stephen Sondheim supplied musical cachet & cultural gravitas, SWEENEY TODD was Penny Dreadful stuff; camp, comic, playfully gross. As in this ‘Quota Quickie’ from George King, a specialist in these mandated British ‘B-pics,’ sops to the U.K. import/ export production ratio. Some directors, like Michael Powell & Carol Reed began there, then moved on; George King remained. This one, available in dupey, tv sourced prints with slightly cropped framing, features a grandstanding turn from the aptly named Tod Slaughter, wringing his hands & chuckling as the murderous barber. Hammy, but undeniably creepy, especially in the alternating rough/unctuous treatment of John Singer as young apprentice Tobias, recognizable from later supporting roles. Except for a brief tangent in the tropics, the story stays more or less the same (young sailor makes good; hopes to wed a wealthy man's young ward; is nearly turned into a human-meat pie!!). With suitably penny-dreadful production values, but not nearly as dire as you first expect; some of the secret back-street chambers have real Dickensian flavor, so too the flamboyant acting. (Something of Uriah Heep in this Sweeney.) Try to ignore the milling music that comes & goes to no particular purpose on the soundtrack. Added later for tv showings?

DOUBLE-BILL: Tim Burton’s trimmed 2007 rethink of the Sondheim musical is impressive, particularly on the male side.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

ALLIED (2016)

With the exception of FLIGHT/’12 (ducked here), Robert Zemeckis has sojourned for nearly two decades in cutting edge CGI TechnoLand & motion-capture performance. Results have been mixed. (As in some worked commercially/all creepy to sit thru.) It makes this try at traditional WWII romantic suspense seem less old-style thriller, more career intervention. Everything feels a little ‘off,’ right from the opening title that sees ‘ALLIED’ subliminally fade to ‘LIE.’ Glam spies Marion Cotillard & Brad Pitt meet for cocktails in Casablanca (‘of all the gin joints in all the towns . . . ‘*) playing faux married couple to run a dangerous Nazi takedown op. Real marriage follows back in London before Pitt gets confronted with the possibility that he’s just wed a German agent! Plots don’t come more old-fashioned than that. Yet with all the meticulous period detail and seamless CGI effects, plotting & attitude (cultural & military) fail to convince or add up. (Pitt’s accent is noted as too Québécois, but 21st century mores get a pass.) Credit for a great action set piece when Pitt sneaks in to occupied France and then has trouble getting out. (Staying out of the brig after this is another matter.) And look fast for some b&w wedding photos that show our handsome stars suddenly looking just right for their parts.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Speaking of Casablanca, or rather of CASABLANCA/’42, Steven Knight, whose tone-deaf script is the film’s biggest stumbling block really has no shame, tossing in a brave rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’ before a roomful of German officers as a major plot point.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Bertrand Tavernier’s LAISSEZ-PASSER/ SAFE CONDUCT/’02, tells a twin tale of WWII espionage & resistance from within the film industry that’s both thrilling and true.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Late Susan Hayward vehicle, Made-in-the-U.K., is moldy as Stilton cheese, and none the worse for it. Taken from a novel Daphne Du Maurier might have disowned, it feels comforting, like a second-rate play you inexplicably enjoyed, ‘opened up’ for filming. Hayward, out of jail after 18 months on a euthanasia charge, is turned down for job after job before suddenly getting a position as companion/nurse to Peter Finch’s mentally unbalanced wife . . . and he’s the prosecutor who sent her to jail! Why has he searched for her, of all people? And just what’s wrong with wife Diane Cilento? Hayward’s late style tended toward over-determination, but here she’s relaxed & sensible, playing nicely against the conventions of Modern Gothic in the story. And just as surprising is Robert Stevens’ smooth megging, a tv director with a natural feel for the size & pace of a CinemaScope production. The twisty wrap-up is silly & barely motivated, but at least it’s speedy. Comforting in a proudly ridiculous, guilty-pleasure sort of way. Fun.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: After winning a belated Oscar® for I WANT TO LIVE/’58 (hardly her best), Hayward films always seemed to be sending her off to court. Here, twice.

DOUBLE-BILL: Hayward's at her youthful best in the under-seen beauty DEADLINE AT DAWN/’46 (see below), playing a ‘dance hostess’ who helps a sailor on a murder charge.

Friday, June 9, 2017


It’s disingenuous to feign disappointment with the increasingly rote exercises of MARVEL STUDIOS.* This one, which uses IRON MAN’s arrogant-scientist-laid-low template, was generally well-received, though not without a share of fanboy pushback. But it’s a lumpy piece of merchandise, a pedestal built to display another pedestal, as Benedict Cumberbatch swallows the Kool-Aid of career-advancement playing the eponymous doctor. (Looking like Pierce Brosnan; inhabited by Tom Cruise’s acting choices.) A forgettable story sends him to the Mystical East, hoping to find a spiritual cure for his surgical-worthy hands, crushed in a car wreck. Turns out, he’s a natural at inner-bliss/meta-physical incantations, but has to spend his time fighting world domination battles against Mads Mikkelsen, with raccoon eye makeup substituting for character. There’s a nice cameo from Benjamin Bratt as a former graduate of Tilda Swinton’s inner-cure swami institute, but everyone else just worries over their next lame repartee. It all gets sorted out (and made meaningless) via time continuum rewinds which, alas, aren't available for the viewer.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The film is loaded with phantasmagoric (fantasmagoric?) visual effects - traveling & collapsing thru time & space. They must have looked hallucinogenic on the big 3D screen. But in home viewing, much of the film's non-special effect scenes suffer from murky digital photography funk.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The film offers two follow-up teaser tags. Sneak peek or threat?

DOUBLE-BILL: *Even the best MARVEL pics (CAPTAIN AMERICA/’11; GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY’14; DEADPOOL/’16) lose their footing or overplay their hand in the inevitable sequel.

Thursday, June 8, 2017


There’s a pejorative tinge in saying a film is ‘nice.’ But here’s a film that’s nice in a good way; and in a smart way. Writing & helming in the wake of his MIRACLE ON 34th STREET success*, George Seaton dared to stay small with what first looks like an all too tidy tale of retired philosophy prof Edmund Gwenn giving up on life until he opens his home, heart & intellect to a young couple stiffed by the post-WWII housing shortage. SHE: Jeanne Crain; pregnant, motor-mouthed, resourceful / HE: William Holden; G.I. Bill Chem Major, guilt-ridden by a lack of income, feeling he’s falling behind. Seaton knows that we know what’s coming and smoothly plays out the whole curmudgeon-warms-up tropes in act one; much helped by expert playing from leads & support. And the film keeps making sharp moves, using much of the second act to highlight the frustrations of war brides losing contact with husbands challenged & changed by college experiences; then shifting to personal tragedy in the third act (without going maudlin) so Holden can work his manly sensitivity angle. (Solid & handsome as they come, Holden had a flair for showing the messy inside of a breakdown.) The first act theme (life is worth living) returns in a coda (served dry, with a twist) and only Seaton’s square megging keeps this from being a top pick. (See him fumble a comic set piece for Holden & Gwenn.*) But still plenty good enough. In fact, it’s downright nice.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Production head Darryl F. Zanuck took an inexplicable disliking to MIRACLE and thought he’d give Seaton a lesson opening this quintessential Christmas picture in June! Then the damn thing ran and ran; right thru the holiday season.

DOUBLE-BILL: *The overworked gag has Holden & Gwenn struggle to assemble a baby’s wash tub from ‘easy’ DIY instructions. You’ll find pretty much the same gag from Preston Sturges (same year/same studio), but with far better comic results, for Rex Harrison and a home recording machine in UNFAITHFULLY YOURS/’48.

LINK: The Victorian parlor song that runs thru the film, Michael Balfe’s I DREAMT I DWELT IN MARBLE HALLS, would have been part of everyone’s musical DNA at the time. Now, not so much. Here’s an early (w/ piano accompaniment) and later (orchestrated) link to recordings by Dame Joan Sutherland.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Keisuke Kinoshita’s fourth film was another wartime special, designed for the changing fortunes of 1944 and apparently commissioned by Army authorities. Something of a pep talk and a recruitment vehicle, if with a rather downbeat edge, it’s a multi-generational portmanteau pageant that begins in the battle-scarred midst of an 1866 war for supremacy between warring Japanese factions. Notably, the family arc we follow, with stops every decade or so for a fresh war, is on the losing side. After about four of these vignettes, the second half settles down to concentrate on a more modern story as a father, disappointed in own his war record, sees small hope for military advancement coming from his eldest son, a weakling and a bit of a sissy. Instead, the father leads a youth military-prep group in-between escalating comic fights with the factory owner who funds the organization. He hardly notices how his son has grown up, winning a fine army commission after all. Kinoshita gives us much of the war drama via commentary from non-participants, avoiding the action we hear discussed. An odd directorial choice, perhaps dictated by budgetary concerns. But it all leads up to a final sequence of real power, as the son heads to his deployment in China amidst thousands of marching troops in a festive citywide celebration to send them off. The film’s focus shifts to the mother, at first avoiding the spectacle, but then drawn to it in an increasingly desperate try to see her son in the big parade before he leaves. Kinoshita builds this sequence into an exceptionally strong set piece, as the mother struggles thru crowds for what could be a final look.*   It’s like an OTT silent film set piece from King Vidor, like the one in THE BIG PARADE/’25 where the French girl can’t bring herself to let go of her soldier boy as he’s being driven out of town. Here, it’s so effective, you have to think twice to remember the horrors perpetrated by the Japanese during the Chinese Occupation; leaving a sour taste to this historically interesting film.

DOUBLE-BILL: The complete Kinoshita WWII films are on Criterion/Eclipse - Series 41.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *John Ford gets a similar effect (in 20 seconds & a handful of shots) as Claudette Colbert moves to higher & higher ground for a last look at husband Henry Fonda as he marches off to face the British in DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK/’39.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


All but unknown Nicholas Ray pic (you’ll see why) is a bitchy affair for Joan Fontaine, a bit long in the tooth as a New Girl in Town, hustling between San Fran’s artsy ‘smart set’ and old-wealth ‘social set’ to get ahead. And if that means dumping macho literary light Robert Ryan for her roommate’s monied fiancé (Joan Leslie; Zachary Scott), so be it. Fontaine positively purrs her way thru the role and the film has its moments in the first half, but too many plot complications & see-thru lies stop it cold before too long. Ultimately, Ray has neither the style nor much zest for this sort of trash. At least Mel Ferrer gooses things up in an early credit as an amusingly mediocre society painter, a wolf behind gay trimmings. And Robert Ryan gets a shot at something outside his usual brutes & borderline psychos, playing a suave, but rough-hewed writing talent (think James Jones/Irwin Shaw). He’s terrifically appealing, his enjoyment in the role infectious.

DOUBLE-BILL: Fontaine’s a regular Eve Harrington here (of ALL ABOUT EVE fame), filming right across town from this R.K.O. production over @ 20th/Fox.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Don’t skip the Alternate Ending on the disc with gives Joan a couple of extra turns of the screw . . . so to speak.

Monday, June 5, 2017


Third go-round for George Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize winner must have seemed psychologically obvious even in 1950, like Ibsen For Dummies. Not a bad thing in some ways, there’s craft (or rather craftiness) to it, and Joan Crawford is frighteningly well-suited to her role as the house-enthralled Mrs. Craig, both controlled & controlling as she manipulates & lies her way thru a childless marriage to Wendell Corey, sabotaging his career & friendships to keep him close by, dependent on her alone. Relatives & servants get similar treatment, finally leaving her with only her freakishly well-ordered house as companion. (As if ‘bizarro’ Nora, from A DOLL’S HOUSE, finding herself alone, stayed inside when she slammed the door.) The film makes a basic mistake in opening up Kelly’s play, losing its single-set claustrophobia; and Crawford’s actions (and acting) are too transparent. One neat addition has Corey explicitly held thru sex, with Crawford’s short, manly hair style adding a dominatrix edge. (Still very striking under lenser Joseph Walker though director Vincent Sherman brings little flair even in house design.) But the part really doesn’t work without a sense of pity; here it’s Termagant’s Comeuppance. In ‘36, Rosalind Russell & John Boles took a more stagebound approach under Dorothy Arzner. What we really need is the lost ‘28 silent version with Irene Rich & Warner Baxter, perfectly cast, under forgotten writer/director William de Mille, older brother of you know who.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, the earlier Arzner (under the play title, CRAIG’S WIFE) . . . OR: To get a feel of what the de Mille silent might have been like, there’s his MISS LULU BETT/’21 a fine domestic dramedy with great perfs from manly Milton Sills & exquisite Lois Wilson.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


You know the drill: small-town spinster teacher never realizes how many lives she’s affected over the years. (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE/’46 is like a guy version of the same idea, with wife & kids in the mix. Miss Dove even stops a panic run on the local bank for those who missed the Capra.) Henry Koster megs in his becalmed non-interventionist front-and-center CinemaScope style (he was livelier back in the ‘30s) and a light comic tone keeps things from getting too sticky. Along with some oddly stiff acting; as if English were everyone’s second language. But halfway in, you notice that Jennifer Jones’s Miss Dove is less severe disciplinarian/truth-teller, more vinegary, unyielding and needlessly rude; hiding 'the Terrible’ Miss Dove’s soft spot under a cruel comic edge. She's like a female Clifton Webb, the phenomenally popular cranky, know-it-all at 20th/Fox (where this was made). Webb, who came late to film, after decades on stage, made an unlikely leading-man. Fey, fussy, yet a top studio grosser, often as Dad to batches of children. Easy to see how this might have been developed for him. (Same dialogue; different clothes.) To some extent, it works well enough with Jones, these Most-Memorable-Teacher things always do. (Though perhaps not in Germany! - see bonus poster)

The trouble is that Jones has nothing like the sheer technique Webb built up over decades headlining B’way revues. (Romberg, Berlin, Porter & Kern all wrote for him.) So where Webb was tart, stylized, precise; Jones gives mannerisms by rote. She soon went back to glamorous suffering and returned the Clifton Webb act to Clifton Webb.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Until Webb retired and left Richard Haydn as a reasonable facsimile in THE SOUND OF MUSIC/’65.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Watch close to see the student population go from lily white to integrated over the decades. First a Jewish kid (with a matzo ball making mom) then during the final assembly, look fast for a black kid. Progress.

DOUBLE-BILL: Webb’s at his strict sweet-and-sour funniest in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN/’50 . . . OR: For a more traditional spinster teacher number, see Claudette Colbert, John Payne & director Henry King take much of the curse off the format in REMEMBER THE DAY/'41.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Piss poor, with witless dialogue, inept action (staging & direction), and a joyless tone, this comic book adaptation, a fantastic turn-of-the-last century adventure stocked with glosses on famous literary characters as a privy fighting guild brought together to battle a villainous mastermind, was a damp way for Sean Connery to end a career.*  The basic idea is INDIANA JONES meets the A-TEAM, but it’s more 'Triple A' division, with a story that doesn’t add up after a nifty initial prologue with a platoon of faux Germans invading British banks before a platoon of faux Brits retaliate by raiding a German weapons factory. Someone’s trying to start World War Zero, ya? But it’s all downhill from there, beginning with a second prologue that scoots off to Africa to enlist Connery’s Allan Quatermain in the eponymous league. From there, neither plot, characterization (not a memorable perf in the lot) nor shot sequence make much sense. Easy enough to blame over-parted megger Stephen Norrington (he hasn’t directed since), but plenty of shame to go around. The best thing in here, and very much worth a look, are the models & miniatures (vast cityscapes and sea-going sub) which lend the feel of a deluxe Pop-Up Picture book to things, and hold up far better than the all-too-quickly dated CGI monsters and explosions. Otherwise, pass.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Maybe that’s why he’s hiding under a hat in our poster.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Of course, Connery nails this sort of thing in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE/’89, second best of that series.

Friday, June 2, 2017


Dean Stockwell makes an adorable hardluck kid in a sweet, but not overly sentimental pic that finds director Henry King working right in his comfort zone. Orphaned three years back when Pop died at sea, Stockwell, after running away from a series of foster homes gets a tryout with hard-shelled/soft-centered Anne Revere. If only he could spend all his spare time with Dana Andrews’ independent lobster fisherman (and hearty Portuguese mate Cesar Romero), it just might work out. Andrews’ connection to the kid is Jean Peters, his on-again/off-again fiancé and the boy’s social worker. Unsure of the surrogate-father relationship, she worries about Stockwell’s safety out at sea almost as much as the bad turn he’s taking on land. There are a couple of nice detours built into the story, but the real reason it works so well comes from how King handles his players (all naturals, has Romero ever been this good?, and watch for the great D. W. Griffith actress Mae Marsh as a worried neighbor); his locations (plain, but handsome Maine seascape & towns); his understated staging (with just the right positions to cover some scenes in one confident set-up); and by letting homely attitudes speak for themselves. The film’s largely low key, but not without a wallapalooza storm-at-sea sequence to show off some still powerful effects work. (Presumably from F/X specialist Fred Sersen & second unit helmer Joseph Behm.) And note it’s placing as a second act turning point rather than holding back to milk for an action finale. Just a lovely little pic. A shame the print isn’t in tip-top shape, but don’t let that stop you.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Warm, lovely, talented, Jean Peters had a major career quashed by her loathsome, jealous creep of a husband, Howard Hughes.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Cyril Mockridge contributes a fine, evocative score, very British/Frank Bridge, and gorgeously orchestrated by Maurice de Packh who seems to have freelanced around town when something special was needed. (See to spot the M-G-M/ Arthur Freed musicals he was brought in on.)

Thursday, June 1, 2017


Those who know the gently satiric post-war Ealing Studio comedies (e.g. KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS/’49; THE LAVENDER HILL MOB/’51) will recognize tropes & tone in this bit of wartime escapism, yet still find the Japanese orientation a little jarring. A smoothly run debut for director Keisuke Kinoshita, out in ‘43 when the war seemed to be going well, no doubt explaining the relatively modest patriotic elements. It’s is a standard farce set-up about a couple of con men who land on an underdeveloped island where they ingratiate themselves before raising a syndicate to restart the old shipyards with shares bought by trusting locals. Naturally, they’re planning a hasty escape with the cash before any work starts, but plans go awry when love enters the picture along with an unknown ‘relative’ and worst of all, when war is declared!  !Bonsai!  (Hey, it’s a Japanese war pic, Pearl Harbor is celebrated.) Suddenly, their bogus plans take a practical turn as ship building is not only a boon to the community, but also patriotic & profitable.*  The playing leans to the broad side and some transitions are abrupt, but there’s more than just historical interest here. Especially with a cast that features fistfuls of actors soon seen in works from Ozu and Mizoguchi. Kinoshita continued making these wartime quickies, now collected in a Criterion set, and more prestigious fare later. But his films never really broke thru Stateside so that even his BALLAD OF NARAYAMA/’58 is better known in Shohei Imamura’s Cannes’ prize-winning version of 1983.* More reports on these wartime efforts to come.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Sure, it’s WWII Japan, but we might well be watching a sequel to THE MUSIC MAN or THE PRODUCERS.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *The heavy-weather subject matter of NARAYAMA (voluntary death in the forest for seniors) was D.O.A. in the Matthew McConaughey/Gus Van Sant SEA OF TREES/’15.