Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The Toll of the Sea (1922)
Dull melodrama elevated by Anna May Wong's performance
Lotus Flower (Anna May Wong) finds an American sailor (Kenneth Harlan) washed up on her shores, and quickly succumbs to his amorous advances. After being convinced by his ship-mates that he doesn't want a Chinese wife, he abandons her and the son he doesn't know about. The film goes on to show Lotus Flower pining after him and penning her own letters from him as a pretense to shore up her pride. When the incredibly insensitive sailor returns, he brings his new wife (Beatrice Bentley) along!!! Lotus Flower decides to give her son to the couple so that he can be raised for a better life in America.
This film is mostly notable for two reasons: first, because it is an early and fairly impressive performance by Anna May Wong, who's asked to hold the whole film together practically by herself. Some of the other posters here have voiced respectful reservations about Harlan's performance -- I'll just say that he stinks in the whole film. His performance is so unappealing that it makes the character even more reprehensible than the writers obviously intended him to be. Bentley, a non-actress, fumbles through her scenes with Wong. Let's be frank: half the film is basically Anna May Wong standing around weeping with her hand pressed against her forehead. It's a testament to her talent and beauty that the movie isn't totally insufferable.
The second reason the film is notable is the photography by J.A. Ball, a person who seems to have been a technician with Technicolor and who has no other credits as a photographer. In fact this film was produced by Herbert Kalmus and the Technicolor corporation, which had been incorporated a mere 7 years prior. Finding it difficult to convince any of the major film companies to use their expensive process, the company decided to make a feature film as a demonstration model. This is that feature film. The photography is sometimes nice, certainly interesting to look at, but it's generally not any more inspired than the direction. However I was startled by the obvious lens flares in the final shots of the film -- these could have been re-shot, so perhaps they used the effect deliberately? If so it must be the first time this was ever done on film. Perhaps it was a happy accident.
Tammy and the Doctor (1963)
Where no Tammy has been before....
A medical emergency for the kindly old Mrs. Call (Beulah Bondi) brings Tammy to uncharted waters -- Los Angeles, where she sets up camp at a modern hospital as a nurse. It's quite a feat, considering she just dropped out of college, but she has some experience already with birthin' babies. Along the way, as usual, she has to help solve the problems of uptight non-river folk. Her boyfriend's (Peter Fonda) mentor, the senior doctor (Macdonald Carey) seems to think that being a heart surgeon requires a vow of abstinence, and is very keen to force this impression on his protégé as well. In order to get laid or, whatever it is that she does once she gets her claws in these various men, Tammy must convince the nurse to seduce the overly dedicated surgeon.
This one has a few more genuine laughs than the others, since Tammy's chores give her plenty of opportunity for light slapstick and situational comedy (typical of the series' low but corny humor is a scene where a black baby is substituted for "Bernard Schwartz"). My hopes were raised for this one when I saw that they had hired veteran cameraman Russell Metty for this final film in the series; however, the film only gives him a brief opportunity to show us the river and the quaint college before plunging us into concrete L.A. and a bland hospital set that's impossible to light in any interesting way. The direction by Harry Keller is just as dull as his work on the previous Tammy film.
Sandra Dee seems to have warmed up to the role and feels more confident here, more in possession of the Tammy character she inherited from Debbie Reynolds. Peter Fonda is somewhat more appealing also than her other two previous boyfriends..... Leslie Nielsen was too stiff and sincere, and John Gavin just seemed to grin at everything she said as if he was amused at her. Fonda instead brings a kind of shy quality, a more introspective version of the "dream man". Contemporary viewers will be amused to see future TV Batman Adam West pop up as the sleazy alternative man (each Tammy film has a variation on this undesirable man scenario), the aptly named "Dr. Hassler."
Won't disappoint those who enjoyed the other two films, but manages to be slightly more entertaining, though by far the dullest in the series to look at in terms of set design, costumes, etc.
Tammy Tell Me True (1961)
slightly better than the original
Sandra Dee more than adequately fills the role formerly occupied by Debbie Reynolds, as "Tammy", a naive river hick who helps people discover their true selves and who falls in love with stiff- shouldered men. It turns out that Leslie Nielsen's character from the original film didn't really care for Tammy after all, never returning any of her letters. Tammy decides she needs to go to college in order to be a fit wife for her man, so she takes up the anchor and has her riverbarge friend (Cecil Kellaway) tow her down to a spot closer to institutions of higher learning.
As in the original film, Tammy is adopted by various needy individuals, most notably the local Dean of Women (Virginia Grey), who's trapped in a sexless marriage with a failed painter (Charles Drake). However, most of her attention this time is devoted to an elderly lady (Beulah Bondi) who she befriends, while her scheming daughter (Julia Meade) is trying to have her committed and steal her fortune. Bondi is a more seasoned and talented performer than just about anybody in the original film, and she really gives this movie a huge boost.
Essentially though, it's still the same kind of unambitious, saccharine and totally predictable film as its predecessor. The director, Harry Keller, brings the same kind of vision that he brought to other important screen properties like "Commander Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe" and the same sense of drama that he brought to television for the unforgettable "Letter to Loretta" series. The movie is pleasant enough, and it lacks some of the elements that made the original "Tammy" movie so execrable.... notably racist stereotypes and the constant presence of Debbie Reynolds. I find Sandra Dee to be much cuter, much more genuinely funny and slightly less corny.
John Gavin basically has just as little to do here in this film as Nielsen did in the original. Perhaps by teaming Gavin and Dee in this film and in "Imitation of Life" the producer Ross Hunter hoped to clone the magic of his combination of Rock Hudson and Doris Day in "Pillow Talk." But it would have helped if they gave Gavin an actual human character to play, instead of just the new version of Tammy's idealized male. Not that I'm sure Gavin can actually play a real human being, but it would be interesting if he had the chance.....
Although this film lacks the truly offensive middle section of its predecessor, it does manage to score some good housekeeping points by allowing Tammy to teach Bible lessons to atheist children (no less than a tiny Bill Mumy) and giving her a good opportunity for an anti-feminist message -- she convinces Virginia Grey that all her problems with her husband are caused by the fact that she makes more money than he does. I'm sorry, the guy seemed like a total creep to me, he was trying to get in Tammy's pants the minute that he saw her. Instead of telling the poor woman to adopt a kid she should have told her to dump her creepy husband and hook up with a man that isn't intimidated by a successful woman. But then, nobody should really be asking Tammy for romantic advice.....
Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)
ludicrous colorful comedy
Debbie Reynolds plays a country gal, Tammy, raised on a houseboat next to a river by her moonshinin' pa Walter Brennan. In an early scene, Tammy bemoans the fact that she's never seen her "complete self" in a mirror. Somehow she knows all the tricks to modern makeup however. As I was watching the film, I kept wondering how it would have played if they had actually cast somebody who looked or felt even remotely like a hillbilly. But this film exists in some kind of Pollyanna time warp, its down-home Americanisms pushing skinny Debbie Reynolds into the over-sized and outdated shoes of Mary Pickford where they are unsurprisingly uncomfortable.
Leslie Nielsen's performance is a study in generic male appeal with no real personality. He's a male ingénue and not given much of any chance to do any of the interesting things we now know that he's capable of. The rest of the cast features some pleasing turns from veterans like Brennan and Fay Wray, but the whole enterprise is soaked in mawkish sentiment, a sort of worshipful attitude towards naiveté. Absolutely nothing unpredictable is allowed to happen, and there are few genuine laughs. The film's only redeeming quality, for those not already intoxicated with the talents of Debbie Reynolds, is the colorful set design and costumes which are captured faithfully and unimaginatively by Arthur Arling's photography.
This is basically a movie for people who like TV. If you watched "Wonderful World of Disney" every Sunday night back in the 70s, then you might enjoy this completely vanilla film. The less said about the film's middle section, where Tammy and the rest of the members of the household dress up as Antebellum stereotypes -- including the maid in a red bandanna mammy outfit -- by the far the better. You might find yourself, like me, with your mouth agape that a film so bland and so deliberately inoffensive could actually be so vile. It's not as if the film-makers weren't aware of what they were doing and, "oh it was a different time" -- if that were the case, they would not have put that little scene where Tammy and the maid discuss how distasteful the whole thing is. Tammy could have said something about it and took a stand, but she's not really the heroine that all the characters in the movie make her out to be. She's just another movie naif who we're supposed to adore, for no particular reason except that she's Debbie Reynolds in pigtails.
The Swimmer (1968)
themes and ruminations of a perfect mixed bag
"The Swimmer" is a brilliant one-man show for aging Burt Lancaster - - an impressionistic swirl of suburban alienation that hits vaguely like a reverse-image of "The Graduate." Director Frank Perry (most in- famous for TV films like "Mommie Dearest") allows his actors total free reign in their characterizations and this results in an uneven film that feels like it's supposed to be uneven. Lancaster holds the whole enterprise together.... he had long before figured out how, with films like "Sweet Smell of Success", to make himself less appealing. But all his performances are grandiose, and here he's given us a vision of the grand pathetic.... a sort of suburban Lear.
The film thematically is very interesting, as you don't really see a film very often about personal failure. His professional failure is something that we figure out about halfway through the film, but we don't want to face the idea that he is a failure as a human being any more than he does. Every gesture that seems spontaneous early in the film, every moment that comes across as an expression of his will to power and his joy in living, later reveals itself as dull repetition and escapism. There is a thin line between the casual recklessness of the perpetual winner and the empty boasts of the fallen champion.
There's more going on in the film's script than meets the eye, so I'll just take a single motif and look at it in that context.... how about, alcohol? In the first scene, Lancaster's character refuses a drink which is repeatedly being offered to him by his seemingly over-the- hill younger friends. Lancaster comes off in this scene as a winner, physically fit and envied by his friends who are dependent on alcohol to bond or relax or distract themselves. About halfway through his journey, he begins to reluctantly accept a drink ("just one, to be polite"), but by the time he arrives at his former lover's (Janice Rule) house, he admits "I need one." Looking back on the first scene in hindsight with what we know by the end, his friends come off a lot better. They're disturbed to see him in a state of denial, they want to hear "all about it" over a drink; they've gone from being the losers to the winners. The difference is one of perspective: as Julie's (Janet Landgard) cute crush on the guy she babysits for morphs into a dangerous situation where Ned (Lancaster) harbors unrequited affection for the nymph who is now even more inappropriate as a partner.
I like the film a great deal, not so much as a finished product which is in many ways unevenly executed and deficient as entertainment (too episodic and without enough verve), but as a springboard for conversation and thought. I would compare it to a film like Joe Losey's "Boy with Green Hair", another "cult" film -- far from being "great" in any sense but also genuine and unconventional enough to resonate and take on a life of its own.
The Postman (1997)
Costner & Co. create absurd and grandiose epic
Well, I really put off watching this one for quite a long time, having just given it a first chance at long last. Not quite love at first sight, but the early scenes in the film have a quiet majesty and intrigue about them that's hard to deny. Costner's performance has a real core, and as the film expands in scope to include dozens of characters in an epic post-apocalyptic sprawl, Costner in his role as director generously allows the actors to really inhabit the space, creating strong characters nearly across the board.
It's a long film, and it has several distinct sections with different mood: the early laconic wanderer, then the bitter prisoner on a wild escape, and eventually we get Costner as a revolutionary organizing young people into ad-hoc postal committees to spread information and propaganda against the sadistic fascist regime of Bethlehem (Will Patton). The later parts of the film have a sort of "Red Dawn" vibe about them, with almost as much nationalistic flag-waving as Milius' film but less of a pro-military attitude.
Costner takes his themes and his story seriously, which is admirable and certainly ambitious, but the whole thing is really too sentimental, particularly in the denouement. He has this obsession with slow- motion close-ups of people riding on horses past other people..... just cuz it looked cool in "Dances With Wolves" doesn't mean he needs to do it in every other shot.
Although I'm sure her presence in the film did young Olivia Williams no good, her performance is credible and, again, Costner deserves praise for moving over and letting her steal a lot of their scenes together. Paxton is fascinating, but ultimately not gripping enough to be a great movie villain.
It's a unique film in the post-apocalyptic genre because it has a lot more focus on character and mood than just about anything else I've seen, at least up to its time.
The Martian (2015)
solid entertainment but nothing really exceptional
The audience wasn't bored despite the running time, and Matt Damon does a really good job of holding everybody in just the right amount of tension, but the whole thing is too calculated and manipulative and, like most of Ridley Scott's output, looks like an advertisement. In this case, it's a big propaganda advertisement for the American and Chinese space programs and for various corporations that get prominent screen space -- who wants to bet me that the big "Forever 21" logo that looms over half the screen towards the film's climax looks just as stupid as the the bit TDK neon sign at the end of "Blade Runner"?
It was one of those movies I walked out of with a good feeling, but the bad taste spreads the longer that it sits in my stomach. It's almost too cute, how Matt Damon's character makes these witty statements every 10 minutes or so, and the disco music and all of it. "I will survive!" The world is sure ready to put a lot of effort into saving a single white man sitting on some damn planet he has no business being on in the first place. He even brags about being the first colonizer! This movie will really be hilarious to watch in 2040, I'm telling you!
But it wasn't too bad to watch in 2015 with a nice date and a good crowd of people either. Hard to hate it, but impossible for me to love it. Every time I was hoping for a good idea, it delivered sentiment or sardonic wit. At first I was into the way the movie raised intelligence and science up as virtues. But when Matt Damon gets up at the end to deliver a soliloquy about how science can deliver human beings from any problem..... you have to wonder why we can't spend some small part of the energy that we would spend to bring an astronaut home from Mars to, I dunno, save a child from slavery in a mine or a textile factory in the "third world." And, yeah, I'm pretty sure Matt Damon wonders the same thing.
Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
reaching for masterpiece....
Sam Fuller's ambitious "Underworld U.S.A." is a focused, driven little machine of a picture with Cliff Robertson as a man intent on avenging his father, who was murdered by 5 men who eventually became mafia kingpins. In order to do so, he must first spend time in the "big house" to get the info from the one perp he identified, and then insinuate himself into the organization to track down and destroy the others.
What's notable to me in the film is the way that the positive/moral characters in the film are only vaguely given much room to actually wield moral authority. For example, Sandy (Beatrice Kay), the kindly tavern owner who more or less adopts Tolly Devlin (Robertson) after his father's murder, is characterized by gigantic posters of babies on her walls and creepy looking dolls stuffed throughout her house. The police are portrayed in a positive way, but they're also showed as dupes (Devlin easily abuses the D.A.'s trust for his own revenge) and perhaps overly zealous. The film repeats propaganda tropes about young people ("age 10 to 15" as the villain specifies) becoming hooked on drugs by the mafia, much in the same way Fuller's "Pickup on South Street" scared us with the ever-present commie threat to our way of life. There's a sense that the depiction of that menace is being undermined by the film's single-minded focus on the hero's equally single- minded mission.
Robertson and the rest of the cast are solid, not necessarily remarkable... it's a weird film because in some ways it more closely resembles a film from the late 40s or early 50s, but in other ways it's ahead of its time. It's a bit closer to "Death Wish" or "Point Blank" in terms of how little credence or attention it gives to the idea of the hero actually "going straight" or doing anything other than follow a very linear path to a gruesome ending. As such, it fits into a pattern of other late 50s/early 60s films that reached back to 30s archetypes and tried to re-invent them in more brutally deterministic terms (Fuller's westerns from the period follow the trend as well).
There are many truly memorable scenes here -- this one deserves to be seen by a lot more people.
They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970)
They call me Mr. Sequel!
Even allowing for the inevitable "sequel letdown", this film is more than just a little mediocre. I doubt Poitier would have done it if he hadn't been offered a lot of money. Basically, everything that made the first film work is either missing or wrong. For example: Rod Steiger's racist cop and all the narrative friction that came with him -- gone. Quincy Jones' excellent music -- here, as stylish as ever but done in a funky style that's incongruous with the character of Virgil Tibbs and which makes the film seem more generic in a "70s blaxploitation" way than it should. The only major element still present in force is Poitier, and his performance is good. He's added a more sexual element to his performance, and finds some humor as well in the mostly dry situations. It's just not enough to power such a mediocre film.
The mystery elements do not work very well. We know from the beginning that the murderer is either the really obvious guy, a landlord (Anthony Zerbe) who looks like date rape on two legs, or the slightly less obvious guy, a preacher (Martin Landau) who's an old friend of Tibbs. Landau's character is so poorly conceived that it's amazing Landau is able to do anything at all with it. BTW, with his largely black congregation and his political crusades, Landau's character more than a little resembles the infamous Oakland/San Francisco preacher Jim Jones, who would rocket to stardom a decade or so later in supremely unfortunate circumstances.
To make up for the lack of "heart" (the first Tibbs movie was a buddy cop story), this film gives him a family. He's also been moved inexplicably from Philadelphia to San Francisco, but presumably the audience wasn't supposed to remember anything from the first film, right? Anyway, his home life is so dull, and so objectionable on so many levels -- after having an awkward conversation with his son about how he was "supposed to be there, the black man and all that", he hits him in the face -- that it makes a film that otherwise might have been mediocre into a disaster. Barbara McNair, whose main experience prior to this was playing a nun in an Elvis movie, must have been thrilled to share so many scenes with Poitier but she can't strike a rapport with him that makes up for the fact that we already saw an entire Virgil Tibbs movie without her. She's window dressing of the most painful sort, and the writers' attempts to make Tibbs' family life some kind of social statement is just about as successful as their attempt to make Landau's preacher into some kind of activist hero.
In fact, that's the film in a nutshell -- the first movie was timeless, this one tries instead to be topical.
It wouldn't be fair to close these comments without a few words about the director, Gordon Douglas: he sucks. Right from the very first shots of the movie you can tell it's a disaster: he shoots the entire murder in first person subjective camera angle, which is just as tacky and dated as extreme zooms from the same era. The fact that the producers picked a guy like Douglas, who'd been in Hollywood already for almost forty years and had directed almost 90 mediocre films, says a lot about their lack of ambition for this picture. Which is really too bad, because the original film combined genre mystery elements with social problems in a stylish way, whereas this film just plods along like any other B movie.
Angels Over Broadway (1940)
Minor gem directed by Ben Hecht
A comedy that examines the hopelessness of modern urban life -- Ben Hecht combines the bitter and the sweet, with a dash of autobiography thrown in. The legendary theater man acted as writer, producer and co-director on this film, making a supremely ironic bid to eclipse young Orson Welles. Perhaps the film's only major fault is its ambitiousness -- like the inebriated has-been playwright played in the film by Thomas Mitchell, this film sets up too much for it to satisfactorily resolve. However, I prefer a stew with too many ingredients than too few. When Mitchell's character begins to refer to Rita Hayworth and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as characters that he is re-writing into the hero and heroine, we know we're in for something special, and we're not wrong.
Hayworth's acting here is more effortless than usual, allowing her charm to come full to the fore. Doug Fairbanks Jr. was never more natural or believable than he was here, playing a suave nobody. I thought their banter had some real appeal -- they spend the picture posing for each other, acknowledging their poses and then acting hurt when the other recognizes the truth. The film also presents a rare opportunity for a real performance from John Qualen, as well. If you don't bite your nails when the poor guy is trying to pretend to be a big-shot at the poker-table, you've got no heart.
This film came out in 1940, but it's really a meditation on the decade that preceded it. The theme is similar to "Casablanca", but with purely humanist goals instead of patriotic ones. Fairbanks is a ruined idealist, pretending to be a hardened cynic. Hayworth is a ruined romantic, pretending to be a whore. It says a lot about how urban Americans saw themselves at the time, and how Mr. Hecht thought they could seek some form of redemption -- note the title, "Angels", not "Angel." This isn't a story of redemption through love, but rather love through redemption.
It's vastly under-rated and deserves to be remembered as one of the milestones in Hecht's astonishing career. Lee Garmes has contributed some very nice photographic details, such as the startling overhead shot of the gambling table, and the opening shots of Fairbanks in the rain. An outstanding production which amounts to a witty film equally dark and convincingly optimistic.