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Tales of Tomorrow: The Window (1952)
"The Window": one of television's finest thirty minutes ever.
This is the creative and surprising "War of the Worlds"-like episode where a "Tales of Tomorrow" story begins normally but suddenly we see that the live telecast is being interrupted by outside forces that halt the drama-within-a-drama and throw the entire production into chaos. Crew, actors and bystanders are in turmoil as the panicked, confused and set-upon production personnel attempt to comprehend the nature of the disastrous broadcast which is collapsing all around them. Interestingly there were no national incidents this time around, but the network and local switchboards must have fielded a few calls nonetheless. This was masterful television, and a great example of why the period is called the Golden Age.
The House Next Door (2006)
There goes the neighborhood! A good psychological thriller based on the famous novel.
After too many years of waiting, Anne Rivers Siddons' noted 1979 book "The House Next Door" has finally been filmed. The result veers a bit from the novel which, especially in the first story of the trilogy is understandable if unsatisfying as it's a TV film, the whole of which is absorbing and actually very good, just not as great as the book, one of Stephen King's favorites and one of mine as well.
With more running time and fewer constraints as a theatrical release, all the richness inherent in the original three-part story of the ominous ultramodern house could have been explored and nurtured, especially the climactic revelation near the very end.
Still, the whole cast does well in this thoughtful tale of mindless malevolence. There are a few unnecessary cheap shocks but the growing atmosphere of dread is well developed. Actually, one of the most disturbing scenes involves an abstract painting of the house by its next-door amateur-artist neighbor who is trying to visualize its corruption on canvas.
Be sure to read the great novel.
Stand By All Networks (1942)
A warning for the 21st Century
Just before America's involvement in World War II, Ben Fallon, a popular newscaster for radio station WECA of the United Broadcasting System, thinks he might be beginning to unravel the growing story behind mysterious attacks on American infrastructure. Suspecting fifth-columnists, he begins to mix personal opinion into his newscasts, saying that stronger official steps need to be taken to halt the growing danger. But broadcast management (fearing censure by the Federal Communications Commission) confronts Fallon, saying he's overstepping his journalistic bounds and becoming inflammatory by opinionizing during his newscasts.
As friction mounts, revelations come forth from a tipster that a famous American might be connected to the destructive episodes. But the informant is found murdered, and when Pearl Harbor is attacked the reporter's investigations intensify, much to the consternation of his employers who keep insisting on only straightforward reporting of known facts, not conjecture.
'Stand By All Networks' wastes no words or actions painting a concise portrait of complacent isolationist America just before and after the sudden Pearl Harbor attacks and, as the story progresses, you'll be reminded of another attack on America nearly sixty years later.
Runaway Car (1997)
Baby on board: a magnificent, sweeping tale of love and romance, with a minor subplot.
This 1997 film-blanc classic tale of smoldering passion has achieved its well-deserved legendary status as one of the screen's greatest sagas of a doomed and hopeless love. The pervasive, ongoing and progressive magnetism between Judge Reinhold and what's-her-name is sure to set many a viewer's heart a-flutter with memories of one's own first crush. The brilliant screenplay dangles this embryonic affair-to-be in front of the enraptured audience, sitting transfixed as the abstract, almost-expressionist cinematography deep-focuses on the just-under-the-surface desires that ebb and flow between the principals. You can cut the sexual tension with a dull tire iron.
A tiny drop of perspiration on the end of a nose catches the bright sunshine, and leaves no doubt as to its significance. Scenes like this abound and bear watching again and again. As with "Jane Eyre" and "Rebecca" (to which this masterpiece is so often compared), the closeups of the actors' faces as they experience the slow dawning of the great love-that-is-not-to-be will haunt you forever.
The now-classic RC soundtrack score, with its creative and unique use of solo synthesizer, emphasizes the emotion that drips throughout like a leaky crankcase.
If I had any criticisms at all by mentioning what I consider a minor flaw (and dared to risk the wrath of the millions of fans who hold this classic so dear to their hearts), I would say that the hallmark of "Runaway Car" - its sense of mounting sexual tension - is briefly broken by the highway scene, which now after repeated viewings seems just a bit overlong (and probably even unnecessary?) to the eternal, bittersweet tale of Love Interrupted.
Dare I advance what I perceive as the tiniest of flaws in this critically-acclaimed triumph of modern cinema? 'Citizen Kane' had its 'Rosebud' . . . 'Runaway Car' should have its catchword as well. Perhaps the film could have opened with an extreme closeup of Judge Reinhold saying something such as "A car is an extension of its owner!", and the rest of the storyline could then be dedicated to parsing every syllable, subtlety and nuance of that phrase. Had that plot line been done, this film could have topped "Titanic" at the Golden Globes that year, I'm convinced.
My one regret? That I didn't read the novel first.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
I felt my IQ dropping as this dreck progressed . . .
So you want to know why film attendance is dropping, and what's wrong with the Hollywood product today? This film could offer some answers in any serious study on the topic.
Oh, sure, it's still drawing crowds, but I believe it's doing that at the cost of serious filmgoers swearing off any further such efforts towards seeing what Hollywood thinks is funny nowadays. In short, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra this is not.
There is some quick-and-snappy frat-boy dialog, okay. Not okay is that it's delivered to Henry Gibson, get it? You know, the stereotypical old guy with a befuddled expression at all the oh-so-hip talk from these modern whippersnappers, or so we're supposed to think? Let's see ... oh, yeah, the brutal beating outside the wedding. Fun-NY! Then there's the Plot 217-B ending, the Big Scene In Church Where Everything Changes. Ho-hum; it was old when "The Graduate" did it, and much better.
Ah, Hollywood, Hollywood, we hardly knew ye ...
A House on a Hill (2003)
A house of memories.
Who hasn't seen the burnt ruins of a once-proud house and wondered at the old secrets that might lie within?
This particular house, however, has the chance to live again when a couple secures the property and searches out the now-retired architect to draw blueprints for a new structure on the old foundations.
The initial reticence he feels is soon replaced with a growing excitement in the possibility of raising the lost structure once again, though it becomes apparent that the wishes and goals of the couple vary from his renewed exercise in architectural creativity. Actually the couple seems to be on separate paths themselves, and they each begin to display a shallowness that injects a growing unease within the architect, dampening his reborn spirit in what might be the last project of his life.
This is a profound tale of disappointments. We learn more about the house's past, and the architect's broken dreams, and the personal hollowness of the husband and wife who had initially recalled him from inactivity.
These are great performances all around. Shirley Knight and James Karen illuminate the screen as usual in supporting roles.
A Perfect Murder (1998)
An almost-perfect murder film.
Ignore the few minor dangling threads in the script and direction, and you'll enjoy this classic yarn of marital disharmony and intrigue.
The biggest flaw is in the casting of slackjawed Gwyneth Paltrow, who glides mannequinlike through nearly all the proceedings with such a deadpan expression that the sympathy we need to make her character work just doesn't click. Worse, her early-on relationship with her charismatic, flawed artist friend seems to fly in the face of the devotion we see from Steven, her husband. That she would consider sacrificing her position for the penniless David is possible, sure, but hardly believable. Considering her husband's seeming early attentions and what we learn of her secret life, we find ourselves less indignant than we should have a right to at the point when Steven makes his proposal to David.
Snow Dogs (2002)
The theatre was nearly full, including many children. Yet we laughed only once, at a comment by James Coburn, whose considerable talents are wasted here. This is formulaic pap, with cardboard characters. It left us all cold.
A welcome portrait of the innovative American radio, automobile and appliance pioneer.
Powel Crosley Jr. was an innovator who made radio, electric refrigeration, compact automobiles and appliances available and affordable to millions of Americans.
The list of achievements attributed to Crosley and his companies is impressive. Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio pioneered night baseball in 1936. His hometown radio station WLW ("The Nation's Station") transmitted with 500,000 watts of power. Crosley automobiles pioneered in efficient and direct design, overhead-cam engines, four-wheel disc brakes, envelope bodies, all-steel station wagons, and the first modern American sports cars: the HotShot and Super Sports.
Bill Nimmo holds the proceedings together well, and there are occasional almost-dreamlike dramatizations that portray legendary vignettes such as the development of the Shelvador refrigerator.
Interviews with Crosley associates, owners and family members give a qualified and at times humorous perspective to the life, dreams and aspirations of "the Baron in homespun", as he was thought of by admirers.
Still, his goals were not always met, as in the case of his longtime dream, the Crosley automobile project which, after a brief success, began a downhill slide that Powel Crosley's mightiest efforts could not reverse, and the saga is well-documented here. When that lifelong dream finally ended in July 1952, Powel Crosley was heartbroken, and lived but four more years.
As this bio-documentary story unwinds, you may wonder as I did where the Powel Crosleys of the 21st Century are, all the stick-to-it dreamers and innovators who made the last century so vibrant.
This film is a must-see for students of American industrial history, and a fond tribute to Powel Crosley, Jr., Cincinnati's favorite son.
Rock Rock Rock! (1956)
Yet another mid-'50s exploitation cheapie-quickie ...
... and typically, it looks like it was shot with a home-movie camera. It's the usual 1950s hoo-hah about "misunderstood youths" who only find "acceptance" and "true understanding" under the oh-so-benevolent mid-Fifties rock-and-roll promoters ... three years before their cover was blown in the Payola scandals.
In retrospect, however, with what we now know about the recording industry at that time, this film has historical value. You'll gather some insight into the values of the era, and a form of music - doo-wop - that has completely vanished. (So much for "rock and roll will never die", right?)
One act, though - the quartet Cirino and the Bowties - is terrific, and easily the equivalent of their contemporaries the Preps, Freshmen, Aces, Lettermen and Lads. One wonders why their popularity was so brief. I hope it wasn't because of their exposure in this film, though they do elevate the goings-on during their on-screen moments with their wonderful and memorable "Ever Since I Can Remember".