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Most ratings of this film give it a one star or bomb rating, however, "The
Black Sleep" is not as bad as some would have you believe. Mind you it's not
a great film, but in fact is an adequate programmer that compares favorably
with any thing turned out by Universal or Monogram in the
Basically, it's a mad scientist film with Basil Rathbone emoting as usual, in the lead role. But then old Basil was always way over the top. Herbert Rudley is the nominal hero - the good scientist who is rescued from the gallows by Rathbone.
In the supporting cast are many seasoned veterans. Akim Tamiroff is good as the procurer of Rathbone's "subjects". Playing various mutants are Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine (in yet another over the top performance) and poor old Bela Lugosi.
Lugosi nearing the end of his life looks sick, tired and underweight. Chaney is totally wasted. Had the producers beefed up his part, "The Black Sleep could have been a much better picture. They could have combined his role with that of the Rudley character, for example.
Given all of its limitations, "The Black Sleep" is good way to pass an hour and twenty minutes if you don't expect too much going in.
The Oregon Trail was the last of four serials that Johnny Mack Brown made
for Universal in the 30's before moving exclusively to features. This 15
chapter saga details the trials and tribulations of a wagon trail headed
west to the promised land in Oregon.
There are large scale Indian attacks, the cavalry riding to the rescue and the usual hair-raising escapes to entertain the avid serial lover. As in most Universal serials, liberal use is made of stock footage from the silent era.
Once again, Brown is cast as the dressed all in black hero who leads the wagon train. Fuzzy Knight provides support as Brown's sidekick.
Where the casting breaks down is in the portrayals of the chief villains. James Blaine is barely adequate as "Morgan", the chief baddie, but it is Jack C. Smith as "Bull Bragg" who clearly was not up to the role. Of the villains, Charles Stevens as "Breed" stands out. Either Forrest Taylor, Tom London or Charles King, who play small roles as henchmen, could have elevated this picture by playing the "Morgan" and "Bragg" roles.
If the producers could only have seen a few years into the future, they would have seen that they had the future "King of the Bad Guys", Roy Barcroft (cast curiously as General Custer) in their cast. Ah but hindsight is always 20/20.
Rustlers of Red Dog was the first of four serials that Johnny Mack Brown
made for Universal in the 30s. It's loaded with non-stop action and boasts
cast of thousands. There are large scale Indian attacks and raids by the
large gang of rustlers of the title a-plenty. There is liberal usage of the
Universal library of stock footage (obviously from the 20s)very much in
evidence as well.
There are the usual assortment of cliff hangers at the end of each chapter (falls off the cliff, overturned wagons, the hero and/or heroine in life threatening situations etc.).
There is a stellar cast of serial and "B" Western veterans in the cast. An all in black Brown plays the hero and Raymond Hatton and Walter Miller play his two sidekicks. One of the best "B" Western villains, Harry Woods (billed here as H.L. Woods) plays the chief bad guy and Joyce Compton is the helpless heroine "Mary".
A sharp-eyed fan of "B" Westerns will spot veterans Edmund Cobb, Bud Osborne and Wally Wales (Hal Taliaferro) as members of Woods' gang and Iron Eyes Cody, Chief Thundercloud and Jim Thorpe as injuns.
Although lacking the polish of the later Republic serials and over-using stock footage, I nonetheless found this serial very entertaining.
The 1925 version of Ben-Hur is an outstanding example of silent film making
at it's best. With the proverbial cast of thousands, it compares favorably
with it's more expensive and lavish 1959 remake. Had the Academy Awards been
given out at this time, Ben-Hur would undoubtedly have won it's
The video version that I saw was restored to it's original splendor complete with tints and two color technicolor sequences, They are quite spectacular and hold up quite well today. The birth of Christ sequence is most memorable.
The flagship sequences, the sea battle and the chariot race, are expertly staged and remain the most exciting parts of the picture. They are as good as those in the 1959 version.
The casting is, for the most part, excellent. Ramon Navarro as Judah and Francis X. Bushman as Messala stand out. The only problem is the casting of May McEvoy as Esther. With her blond hair, blue eyes and riglets, she looks more like a Mary Pickford want to be than a Jewish slave girl.
Despite all of it's well documented production problems, Ben-Hur still is one of the best movies of all time, silent or sound.
Life is Beautiful is really two movies in one. The first half, which takes
place in pre-WWII Italy, involves the comical wooing and winning by Guido
(Roberto Benigni) of his wife Dora (Nicoletta Braschi). The second half
takes place during WWII (about 5 years later) during the persecution of the
Jews by the Germans.
In pre-war Italy life is beautiful as Guido becomes a waiter in his uncle's hotel and keeps running into (literally) a charming school teacher named Dora. He finally wins their heart and they marry. Benigni could have made a charming movie ending it here. But cut to a few years later, it is now WWII and they have a 5 year old son. Guido and his family, being Jewish, are soon rounded up by the Germans and sent to a concentration camp. There, the picture takes on a more serious tone as Guido tries to protect his son, with humour and imagination, from the horrors of the camp.
Writer, director, actor Benigni has created a cinematic masterpiece - in any language. He is able to perfectly blend humour, pathos and tragedy in telling his story. His characters are believable and synpathetic. It was also nice to see Horst Buchholtz (as a German doctor) again after so many years.
This movie, in my humble opinion, should have been given the Best Picture Oscar over the inferior Shakespeare in Love. It's so good that if you watch it in Italian with sub-titles, you won't even notice the sub-titles, you'll become so engrossed with the story. A bona fide tear jerker.
The Black Legion is significant in the career of Humphrey Bogart. This film
is the first time he played the lead in an "A" feature. The film is also a
great showcase for his acting talents.
In this film Bogey's character, Frank Taylor, moves from a happily married family man, to a man filled with hate and finally to a man remorseful for the trouble he has brought upon himself and others.
When Frank Taylor loses an expected promotion to a "foreigner", he becomes disillusioned and is coerced by a co-worker (Joseph Sawyer) into joining a secretive hate and Klu Klux Klan like organization called The Black Legion. Despite pleas from his wife (Erin O'Brien-Moore) and best friend (Dick Foran), Taylor continues his terrorist activities leading to the inevitable tragic consequences.
The subject of prejudice and hate organizations in a major studio production was quite daring for the 30s, given the introduction of the Production Code only a few years earlier. It still delivers a powerful message today.
The Black Legion remains one of the best of Bogey's early films.
G-Men vs. the Black Dragon was the first of two serials released in 1943
starring Rod Cameron as Government Agent Rex Bennett. Loaded with action,
is one of the best of Republic's serials. There's at least two knock down
drag out fights in every chapter, enhanced by Cameron's athletic prowess,
which allowed him to be clearly a part of the fisticuffs (although he is
clearly doubled in the more difficult stunts).
The story, set during WWII, involves the evil Japanese price Haruchi (Nino Pipitone) and his secret organization The Black Dragon, trying to sabotage American War efforts while planning an invasion of the U.S. Aided by his two henchmen Rango (Noel Cravat) and Lugo (George J. Lewis), The Black Dragon attempts to steal secret plans, blow up strategic installations and the like only to be thwarted at every turn by Bennett and his two assistants (Constance Worth, Roland Got).
All of the serial cliches are here, the exploding bridge, cars/trucks going over the cliff, warehouses blowing up, narrow last minute escapes etc. The stuntwork is excellent as always and the special effects created by the Lydecker Brothers are amazing for their time. Director William Witney keeps the action flowing and the fights a coming.
Cameron (before going on to bigger and better things) is excellent as Rex Bennett, who just can't seem to stay away from fist fights. Pipitone, Cravat, and Lewis add admirably to Republic's gallery of hissable serial villains. The only weakness in the cast are the wooden performances of Worth and Got as Bennett's assistants.
Still and all, G-Men vs. The Black Dragon represents one of the best examples of the lost art of Saturday matinee serials and should not be missed.
The Third Man is a truly classic film. Filmed in Black and White it
a text book example of the film-noire period. It shows the Black and White
film as a true and distinct art form. It is a pity that so few films
this medium today.
The story has Joseph Cotten (excellent as always) coming to post-war Vienna to take a job with his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It seems though that Mr. Lime is not what his friend believed him to be. The rest of the film has Cotten, together with Vali, Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee trying to solve the mystery of Harry Lime.
In terms of photography, The Third Man ranks right up there with Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, both incidentally starring Orson Welles. The lighting and shadows are all there and the chase through the Vienna sewers is a sight to behold. That first shot of Welles standing in the shadows is a cinematic masterpiece. Director Carol Reed must have collaborated very closely with Welles in the directing of this film. It has Welles written all over it.
A superb film, the kind of which nobody seems to make any more.
This latest episode of the Star Wars saga is a special effects feast. It
seems that George Lucas has turned his Industrial Light & Magic division
loose. What they came up with are digital effects, the like of which we have
not seen before. No need to pay supporting players or extras here, they'll
just create them digitally.
The special effects, to be sure, are dazzling but did they go overboard? There are so many digitally created characters that the human cast is almost lost. Take the Jar-Jar Binks character as an example of the overkill. Firstly he comes off as a cartoon-like character, as sort of cross between Daffy Duck and a duck-billed platypus, and is totally unecessary. He looks like Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century.
R2D2 and C3PO could have just as easily handled the comic relief chores as they had in the previous films. For some reason, Lucas chose to keep them in the background. We could have done without the giant horsefly character, whose name escapes me, as well. It was nice to see old friends Yoda and Jabba the Hut again but they merely put in cameo appearances. The droid army looks like an army of mechanical ants.
The Pod Race sequence seems to pay homage to the chariot race sequence in Ben-Hur. There are many similarities.
Of the human actors, and there are few, Liam Neeson stands out as the Jedi Master. It's hard to imagine Ewan McGregor as Obi-wan growing into Alec Guinness. In an effort to appeal to the younger crowd, Lucas has cast Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala and Jake Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker. It's a pity that actors of the calibre of Terence Stamp and Samuel L. Jackson were given so little to do.
George Lucas directs this episode and it reminds one of the first Stars Wars in both its settings and characterizations. It is hoped that he will return to the more simplistic and less creature oriented themes of the earlier films, when he makes the next episode.
As a post script, it has always interested me that both Lucas and Steven Spielberg have often looked to the old B&W serials of the 30s and 40s for inspiration. Why don't one or both of them make a new serial and see how it flies (no pun intended).
Dick Powell was a musical comedy star in the 30's who in 1944 made a
dramatic career change when he switched to hard-boiled private eye/cop
roles. Station West, his only western, is basically this character in a
western setting. Make no mistake, Station West is a good
Powell plays an undercover army officer trying to find out who murdered two soldiers while stealing a gold shipment (No not the Gold Diggers of 1933). Along the way he meets Jane Greer as a business like saloon owner who may not be what she seems to be.
One of the best moments in the film is the knock down drag out fight Powell has with Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, playing a villain this time around. At first, after Powell knocks him down in the saloon, Williams utters a classic line: "You're too small to have made such a big mistake".
Other notables in the cast include Raymond Burr as a cowardly lawyer, Agnes Moorehead as Powell's "contact", Tom Powers as the army commander, Powell regular Regis Toomey as an undercover agent and an unbilled Burl Ives as a guitar strumming hotel clerk.
The black and white photography is excellent, particularly in the outdoor scenes. Station West raises the question as to why Powell didn't make more westerns. This was a good one.
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