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Steve Randall (1952)
Early Hollywood-based series
When Melvyn Douglas was having career problems with the blacklist in 1952, he went to New York and shot this t.v. series which ironically takes place in Hollywood. He stars as a lawyer who has been wrongly disbarred and finds work as a private detective in and around the movie business. The show was titled "Hollywood Offbeat" but was then retitled as "Steve Randall." It had also been known in preproduction as "Randall's Briefcase." In one episode, Cara Williams, plays a second-tier star who has had her contract canceled and sets up a plan to steal $50,000 worth of prop jewelry by using her stand-in to create an alibi. When a studio guard is accused of the theft, Randall takes the case and exposes the real culprit. The sets are cheap-looking and the New York production work was heavily inter-cut with stock location shots of Hollywood. Douglas often appears inside his car, augmented by voice-over, driving to and fro, without the help of rear-screen projection. Each show ended with a credit for filming at Parsonnet Studios in New York.
The Artist (2011)
I have never written a review of a current film, but if there ever was one that deserved the time it takes to input this, THE ARTIST is it! It's outrageously terrific and the film-makers deserve 10/10 for their audacity. Jean Dujardin is wonderful in the role of a silent screen star and the sets, costumes and ambiance are very true to the period. There are many memorable - in fact, unforgettable - moments in this gem. At a screening in Los Angeles, John Goodman said that, like in silent films, the actors were improvising dialog as they went but because Dujardin and Bejo were speaking in French and Goodman in English, it was very difficult to concentrate. Bejo added that director Hazanvicius had music playing during filming. Hazanavicius has shown from his homage to the O.S.S. spy films of the 60's, that he can recreate filmic styles. THE ARTIST was a much more difficult venture. To even attempt a silent black and white film is completely counter-intuitive in today's marketplace, but trust the French to pull it off! The bottom line is - it REALLY WORKS.
Headline Shooter (1933)
Hotshot Newsreel Cameramen
"Headline Shooter" is a quick-moving, entertaining little film with excellent use of contemporary newsreel footage. A hotshot independent newsreel cameraman (Gargan), always on the prowl for a great story, crosses paths and falls in love with a newspaper columnist (Dee). Trouble is, she's already engaged to... who else but the classic "other man" of the 30's Ralph Bellamy. There's plenty of snappy dialog and well integrated newsreel footage of contemporary disasters including the Long Beach earthquake, a brewery fire, a race car crash, and a flood. There is even some attempt at realism in portraying accurate camera equipment in a distinct difference between the motor-run sound cameras and the hand-cranked silent camera that Wallace Ford uses. It's obvious he's a lower budget operation although his crank speed looks suspiciously faster than the standard one crank per second. Quibbling aside, this picture is certainly worth a look to film buffs. There's even a reference to using Nitrate film as a fire starter.
Everybody's Old Man (1936)
Irvin Cobb takes over for Will Rogers
Darryl Zanuck had intended this as a Will Rogers project but it was reassigned to Irvin S. Cobb after Rogers' death in a plane crash in 1935. The story has all the folksy elements of a Rogers film and is very enjoyable, but unfortunately Cobb can't rise to the Rogers charm. Cobb, an odd-looking man, was also a journalist and had appeared with Rogers in "Steamboat Round the Bend" so he was a natural choice for the part. He plays a grumpy, but very successful businessman who holds a grudge against his main competitor, who is also a former friend. When the friend dies suddenly, Cobb investigates the competing company and finds that his friend's son and daughter have been wasting all their money and are in danger of losing the company to some conniving executives. He does his best to straighten out the profligate kids and nurtures a romance between his son and the competitor's daughter. "Everybody's Old Man" did not match the box office success of any Will Rogers movies and Cobb only did one more "B" picture for Fox. An interesting sidebar is that Zanuck had produced "The Working Man" starring George Arliss for his previous boss, Jack Warner, in 1933, which was based on the same original story.
What a Life (1939)
Pleasant High School series opener
Based on a successful play, this movie launched a somewhat bland series. What's really surprising is that the screenplay was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder who also wrote the script for "Ninotchka" and "Midnight" that same year. There isn't any of the typical Wilder/Brackett bite in the script, but they may have been saddled with constraints of the original. Aside from Jackie Cooper who was a real teen at the time, most of the other students were considerably older. The rest of the cast is competent, including Hedda Hopper as Henry's mother. John Howard provides a pleasant counterpoint to the stuffy teachers on Central High's staff. Henry's father, who is often referred to in the dialog, never appears.
The Postman Didn't Ring (1942)
Pleasant little B picture
There can't be too many films where the main character is a stamp collector/dealer, but this is one of them. Brenda Joyce plays a philatelist who finds out about a sack of mail that was stolen 50 years earlier. She teams up with a postal inspector, who is personally delivering the letters, so she can retrieve a valuable stamp from one of the envelopes. In doing so, she gets involved romantically with Richard Travis who is a populist in a small town where the local bank is run by a greedy family. The bankers are upended and the town is sure to be a better place. For a wartime light drama, this film makes quite a few points about how important mail, and the unimpeded flow of it, is to the country. It almost seems like it was made so satisfy the postal service. Nevertheless, it's a rarely seen oddity directed by Harold Schuster, who would make the classic "My Friend Flicka" a year later. Joseph MacDonald contributed nicely lit and composed camera-work. Considering it was a B picture, the production values are pretty solid.
Interesting story set at time of Israel's nationhood
This is the story of Jewish underground fighters' efforts to track down a former Nazi Panzer commander who has been helping the Syrians with tank strategies in the months before Israeli nationhood was declared. Only one woman can help them identify the commander, so they smuggle her into Palestine. Judith, the central character in the story, is a survivor of Dachau where she lost her son. But she has a darker past at the concentration camp which gives her the ability to identify the German commander. Played by Sophia Loren, Judith certainly has the physical ability to appeal to various men and get the information she needs. She also has a personal reason to find the German which complicates the story. For some reason, this movie has gotten a bad rap from some of the ratings guides but it is an entertaining and well-produced film. The technical aspects are first-rate as is most of the acting with Peter Finch and Jack Hawkins acquitting themselves admirably in opposing roles.
Three Brave Men (1956)
Average guy vs. government
At the height of the Cold War and the HUAC hearings, government employee Bernie Goldsmith (Borgnine) is summarily fired. He discovers, to his horror, that he's suspected of being a Communist. Ostracized by most of his community, he hires a lawyer and fights the charges. The other two brave men of the title are his lawyer (Milland) and a representative of the military (Lovejoy) who stand up for him. The film depicts the trauma Goldsmith and his family go through in the efforts to clear themselves. Based on a newspaper story, the film is an interesting attempt to deal with the blacklist issue circa late 1956 when it was produced.
Flaming Frontier (1958)
Inept thy name is "Flaming Frontier"
While he was in Canada shooting his "Last of the Mohicans" t.v. series, Sam Newfield directed this low-low-low budget western as a Fox Regalscope programmer to play on the bottom half of double bills. The directing is poor, the acting is marginal (except for pros Bruce Bennett, Jim Davis and Canadian Cec Linder), the black and white anamorphic photography is adequate, and the story functional. Bennett plays a Cavalry officer in Minnesota trying to make peace with the warring Indian tribe but Davis, who abuses his wife, prefers fighting the hostiles. What really sinks this B-movie is the budget. The Indian camp consists of four tents and a bunch of scraggly extras. The big action in the first half of the movie is an arm wrestling match between Bennett and the Chief (Solway) which goes on interminably. The casting makes no sense. Even though Bennett is a good 20 years older than Solway (a flabby out-of-shape Indian chief if there ever was one), their characters are supposedly childhood friends. The Indian attack on the fort is laughable. It looks like crew members were hurling flaming arrows at the soldiers. One arrow even appears to fly over feathers first. This is one to watch if you've seen almost everything else ever made.
The Lucky Lady (1926)
A moderately interesting romantic comedy effort by Raoul Walsh.
Princess Antoinette (Nissen) of San Guido, a fictional Monte Carlo which depends on gambling, is forced to wed the unwilling, womanizing Count Ferranzo (Barrymore). This will accomplish two things; keep the monarchy alive and wipe out the Count's 1,500,000 francs debt to the casino. However, the Princess has her own ideas about the marriage and prefers an American visitor to her town (Collier). She disguises herself and lures the Count into a compromising relationship which makes him unsuitable to the Royals. With just a brunette wig, she fools everyone as a seductive alter-ego, and the fact that no one else recognizes her verges on ridiculous. She ultimately runs off with her true love. The story has some charm but it's handled in a fairly clumsy way. No Lubitsch touch here. Fortunately, Walsh would find his true calling in action/adventure movies during the next four decades.