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Funny and often savage comedy, 29 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

While those looking for a rather typical 50s British comedy will not be disappointed, this film also offers some more biting social commentary than usual. An ensemble cast plays out a zany caper story about a creepy amoral grifter (Dennis Price) and a group of assorted loonies who try in various ways to undermine his attempts to blackmail them. It's not dis-similar from other excellent comedies of the era such as "Lavender Hill Mob" and "Kind Hearts and Coronets", but this film from the "Rank Organization" lacks the dry quality of the Ealing Films. Also there is no presence as compelling as Guinness' in the best Ealings. Peter Sellers, second-billed below Terry Thomas (who, as usual, has perhaps one too many scene with certainly one too many eye roll), of course tries his best to steal the film and every scene in it, and Peggy Mount is very funny as a mystery writer intent on acting out her own story. But none of the characters are given the chance to really center the film, and as a result it comes off with less heart than the very best films of this type.

Sellers plays a kind of corrupt game show host, in danger of being exposed as a slumlord to the very elderly audience who adore him. I thought that was a nice, if obvious, bit of social statement. Neither Sellers nor any of the other people being blackmailed is a lily-white innocent, so you wonder as you watch it whether Price's character will get his comeuppance or not. That gives it more suspense than some comedy, but not really enough to make it compelling. Still, it's a quality film with good contributions from everybody.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Excellent bio-pic, with a few reservations, 18 June 2014

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There is a lot to recommend here -- audiences unfamiliar with the history of African American entertainers in Hollywood will get a good introduction to Dorothy Dandridge, and a decent introduction to other figures of the era such as the Nicholas Brothers. Halle Berry was born to play Dandridge -- the physical resemblance is remarkable, and her acting skills are top notch. The production values are good enough that it probably could have, and should have, been released to theaters instead of cable. Many scenes manage to distill the indignity of life as a black entertainer in that era -- and some (think: Dixie Cup Bathroom) even manage to do so with a good dose of dark humor.

Although Brent Spiner is a very good actor, and his character is engaging, I think that the presence of an approving and sympathetic white character in almost every scene is a weakness for the film. I was not surprised to see that the film was based on Spiner's character's memoirs, because his character appears as a sort of white saint -- an apology, if you will, and a sop for white audiences who might otherwise feel alienated by the negative portrayals of white characters (particularly Klaus Maria Brandauer's excellent performance as sadistic director Otto Preminger).

Another minor problem is the pace of the film; by attempting to show the entire life of Dandridge, the later parts where she is burdened by depression and drug addiction come too swiftly. It makes the whole aspect of her story seem a bit cliché, although Berry really plays "strung out" pretty convincingly.

So, it's not a masterpiece, but it's a lot better than a made-for-cable movie has a right to be. It will be of great interest to those who enjoy Hollywood history but have not discovered the joys of "Carmen Jones" and such. And it's a triumph for Berry, who would go on of course to win the famous Academy Award that Ms. Dandridge was the first black woman nominated for.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Decidedly minor, but a lot of fun, 18 June 2014

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I enjoyed this little "caper" film a lot, despite the fact that its story is extremely improbably and lightweight. It presents an excellent example of "fun noir" -- it does not delve into the soul of the post-war disillusionment, but it features many other tropes and styles that would make this genre popular in retrospect. The interplay between Liz Scott and Edmund O'Brien is the high point of the film. There are many scenes where it's impossible not to laugh out loud as each tries to come off as more hard and cynical than the other. However, the ending of the film is much too pat (who is really going to so easily forgive the con, as this millionaire?). Terry Moore is cute and hilarious as a nympho who gets turned on when O'Brien pretends to be a burglar (previously she had failed to notice him no matter what he did). This film is no champion, but it's a winner.

Standard Scott Oater, 15 June 2014

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This film, which features a production credit for star Randolph Scott and direction by H. Bruce Humberstone, is typical of his post-war output with Columbia. Jocelyn Brando appears, without much to do, but the film does have some nice bits for Richard Boone, Leo Gordon, and Lee Van Cleef (all of whom would later reappear even more memorably in the Ranown series with Budd Boetticher later in the 50s/early 60s). There are some strange shifts of focus.... early in the film, the focus is more on Scott's family, and later it is more focused on Dennis Weaver's sheriff character. The Ranown films would benefit from better direction by Boetticher, better stories by Burt Kennedy and Elmore Leonard -- but this one is a step in the right direction, with Boone and Van Cleef in particular giving their characters some nasty meat on the bones, and Scott's characters gradually becoming more convincingly bitter and hard-edged.

Drango (1957)
Original Django movie?, 13 June 2014

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I know that "Drango" was sometimes translated as "Django", so I wonder if this could be considered the original Django film? At any rate, it's not very memorable.... the script is pretty good, it opens with a rousing but typical Western ballad, and some good scenes setting up the action with Drango's (Jeff Chandler) interaction with the recently "liberated" Southerners, but the film meanders until it's really nothing better than any other B oater. Chandler's performance is dull, and this is the main cause of the film's lack of luster. Julie London provides some good character moments, but her character almost seems to be coming from another film.

Ty Power is a piano player, 13 June 2014

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I expected to see a lot of hand double scenes, but the director Sydney does not let Tyrone Power cheat -- in cinema-scope, as Mr. Sydney puts in a Herculean effort to give these piano playing scenes some energy, it's clear Mr. Power must have spent weeks practicing his miming skills. Ty Power is great, as always, but he's too old for the role in the early sequences.

I thought the beginning of the movie was pretty engaging. I like the period, and I enjoyed his romance with Kim Novak as a rich perfect woman. But of course, the minute she starts freaking out about how the wind terrifies her, we know she's a goner. Hollywood just does not give a leading lady such a dark side in this era, unless she's going to die or go insane. The rest of the movie stretches our sympathy for Duchin/Power as he proves a neglectful father and rather embarrassing lover.

The movie is basically a big opus about a guy who used to play piano in hotel clubs. He even knew Xavier Cugat! The music is the height of cultural appropriation and corny schmaltz. The incidental characters, like Novak's aunt/uncle, appear and interact in a way that is far too functional. There's just nothing inspired here.

Decent early mob melodrama, 4 June 2014

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Boris Karloff and Leo Carillo play two feuding mobsters, but the attention is on their children, played by Constance Cummings and Robert Young, who have fallen in love and must keep his identity a secret. The film has some pretty good writing, some unusual angles, but on the whole it's not a very ambitious movie. Perhaps fearing public censure for glamorizing mobsters, the film makes sure to include some social protest angles, such as a newspaper writer who seems to be personally angry at the mafia. And there are numerous references to children and "baby carriages" being caught in the crossfire of the mafia wars. Nevertheless the film depicts ordinary Americans enjoying bootleg liquor quite liberally.

The film's best scene is one which involves Carillo's character and Emma Dunn, who plays his long-suffering mama. Cloaked in cinema shadows, Dunn excoriates her son and warns him that his son "will be next." Karloff mostly appears in the early parts of the film, and much more time is given to Carillo and his side of the family. Carillo is excellent. Young is just himself, appearing unconvincingly Italian in his mustache, and Cummings seems to be having some problems with her line readings. They're an appealing couple but their love affair, like the film itself, is nothing to write home about.

Easy to pass the time with this one, 2 June 2014

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Nothing too remarkable here, but Marilyn Monroe fans will enjoy her performance despite the lightweight nature of both the comedy and music in this little Columbia B. Despite the fact that Adele Jergens does not look old enough to be Monroe's mother, they sell the thing pretty well. Jergens, by the way, is a dead ringer for Virginia Mayo. Marilyn is a bit more thin and her acting is a bit more natural than we would usually associate with her, especially for comedy. Rand Brooks is a pleasant presence as her fiancé, and Nana Bryant has some fun with her role as a society matron who, in order to soften the blow of her son's engagement to a "burlesque queen", pretends to be a former burlesque girl herself. Phil Karlson's direction is as assured and simple as ever, and the film's short running length passes easily enough, with no major memorable positives or negatives.

Mediocre comedy saved somewhat by nice support, 2 June 2014

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This is the kind of comedy that basically disappeared after the 60s... a kind of lower wattage version of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", with a pair of "appealing" young stars (Jim Hutton and Dorothy Provine) backed by mostly aging but still beloved comic support. The plot concerns a treasury employee who accidentally steals and destroys $50,000, and who decides to break into the mint to print it up again so nobody will notice.

The first friend he enlists is a retired printer, played by Walter Brennan. It's always fun to see Brennan in films, but he isn't given as much to do here as he should be. Eventually the two end up enlisting a huge gang to help them, and everybody wants some more of the money. Milton Berle provides some good humorous moments as a selfish pawn shop owner. Joey Bishop is largely forgettable as, I guess, an expert on sewers. Bob Denver provides his usual clowning as an ice cream truck driver (trying to figure out why he is essential to the heist is beyond ordinary reason... but at least it provides a nice small role for the wonderful Jackie Joseph from the original "Little Shop of Horrors"). Victor Buono gives the film's strangest performance, as a psychotic would-be sea captain who must pilot them through the sewers. Jack Gilford is, of course, the funniest of all the support as a deaf safecracker.

I found Jim Hutton totally unappealing and not funny. Provine is a very talented woman, and had a few good scenes, but her character was under-developed and certainly not given enough laugh lines. This is the kind of movie that certain people will feel nostalgic about, and try to justify as some kind of great comedy, but there's very little in the script to laugh at. The great supporting actors (OK, great with the exception of Bob Denver) do their best to give it some life.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Incompetent western by a bunch of people who don't care, 1 June 2014

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This movie, although shot in widescreen and color, is as cheap as a Bowery Boys adventure, features no appealing actors, typically racist characterizations of Native Americans, poorly staged fight scenes, and just about everything else that is poor and forgettable in the American Western. Surprise, surprise -- it was directed by the notorious William Castle, whose main talent was not direction but rather in-house cinema tricks like electrocuted seats and flying skeletons. For an example of how poorly the film is directed, take a look at the two big fight scenes with the film's lackluster leading man, Dennis Morgan -- in the first, he's ambushed by a single "indian" as he's out in the woods for no good reason with his best friend's wife (Paula Raymond who, incidentally, he earlier offered to "make love to"). The "indian" takes one poor shot at Morgan and Company, then we see Morgan apparently maneuver around a rock to take a crack shot at the "red skin" (yes, this film liberally uses that term), who we see die in a close-up. In other words, never were the two combatants actually on screen together, and never is there a single shot that situates them in such a way that there is any suspense and sense of physical location in the combat. In another example of Castle carelessness, during the big final confrontation, Morgan and a "red skin" are mud wrestling rather ineffectively while everybody else seems to be hacking and shooting each other. It's as if Morgan and his foe are in another movie. The action scenes in this film are done in such a way that there is no excitement and no drama whatsoever, just a cartoonish killing spree.

It's a cheap, ugly film and it has nothing at all to offer a modern viewer. Richard Denning is the only actor who can hold any weight, and after his initial half-convincing drunk scenes, he becomes a boring self-sacrificing hero. The most exciting scene in the film is a hunt for wild buffalo. It's not worth taking time out of your life to see this.

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