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routine but with a good cast, 1 October 2014

George Raft, Ella Raines, Pat O'Brien, Jim Backus, and Bill Williams star in "A Dangerous Profession," a 1949 film directed by Ted Tetzlaff.

Vince Kane (Raft) is an ex-cop who now works as a bail bondsman with his friend Joe Farley (O'Brien). A detective, Nick Ferrone (Backus) arrests Claude Brackette (Williams) a suspect in a robbery during which a police officer was killed. Kane finds out that Brackette's wife is none other than his old girlfriend, Lucy (Raines).

Lucy wants her husband out on bail. She believes he's innocent. The bail is set at $25,000, and she only has $4,000. Still angry over their breakup, and the fact that he didn't know she was married when they were together, Kane shows her the door. Then a mystery man gives Kane $12,000 toward the bail. Vince puts the company's money over the objection of his partner.

Vince thinks that an associate of Brackette's, a nightclub owner, was the brains behind the robbery. Kane poses as a crook, something that his demeanor lends itself to, and blackmails McKay to see if he can find out if he's guilty.

Fairly routine, with Raft his usual dapper and smooth self. This plot gets a little convoluted, probably due to edits. Not the best, but if you like Raft and the lovely Ella Raines, you'll enjoy it. Bill Williams played Kit Carson on TV and married to Barbara Hale, TV's Della Street on Perry Mason, for 46 years, until his death. He's the father of actor William Katt, and there's quite a resemblance.

Honolulu (1939)
They laugh alike, they walk alike, At times they even talk alike, 1 October 2014

"Honolulu" is a silly, fun B movie from 1939 starring Robert Young in a dual role, along with Burns & Allen, Eleanor Powell, and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.

Young plays an idolized film star, Brooks Mason, probably modeled on MGM's own Robert Taylor, who is exhausted and needs a vacation. When he meets his double, George Smith, who has a plantation in Honolulu, he eagerly trades places with him. George wants to go to New York, where Brooks is being sent, because his girlfriend Cecelia (Rita Johnson) wants him to learn a little sophistication, so it works out. On the ship to Hawaii, Brooks meets Dorothy, and she thinks that he's Smith.

When Brooks arrives in Hawaii, he has to deal with George's fiancée as well as Dorothy. Plus George forgot to mention that he owes his future father-in-law $50,000 from a deal, and now the old man wants his money back.

Typical switched identity film made fun by Powell dancing, the presence of Burns & Allen, and Robert Young. Even if he could have played these roles with a little more verve, Young had the warm presence and sincerity that made him a TV megastar.

Powell does some terrific dancing, and Burns & Allen were both good, with Gracie using some of the old vaudeville jokes.

Of course, stereotypes abound -- an Asian houseboy who can't speak much English, a black butler who hasn't had much education, and Eleanor in blackface doing a tribute to Bill Robinson. However, none of that makes up a lot of the film, and Eleanor's tribute to Robinson was great.

Cypher (2002)
odd but fun, 30 September 2014

I don't see a lot of science fiction films. I found "Cypher" both bizarre and interesting. It was made in 2002, and, 12 years later, Lucy Liu looks exactly the same -- great.

Jeremy Northram plays Morgan Sullivan, a bored suburbanite, who takes a job as an industrial spy for a company called Digicorp, an international computer corporation.

His job turns out to be not that exciting at first. He attends conventions, records the deadly dull speeches, and hands in the discs. When he encounters Rita Foster (Lucy Liu), he finds out there's much more to the job. As he gets more involved with what he's doing, he encounters brainwashing, playacting, and danger.

Everyone except for Liu in this film is pasty-looking with bloodshot eyes and bags under them, photographed with a fish eye lens, to indicate that they are all pretty much zombies at these conventions. The color is sort of a no-color muted color. Nearly everyone speaks as if he's a computer-generated voice, but a good one, not the robot type.

Thus, one immediately is aware of the world we're in, and it's a perilous, fast-moving one where one doesn't know whom to trust, if anyone. The denouement puts a human face on what all the running around and corporate stealing was about.

Northram and Liu are attractive, and the people surrounding them -- Nigel Bennett, Timothy Webber, et al. are appropriately sinister. Definitely worth checking out.

This time around, it's another Lupin, 28 September 2014

"Arsene Lupin Returns" is a 1938 film starring Melvyn Douglas, Virginia Bruce, Warren William, Monty Woolley, and John Halliday.

Rene Farrand (Douglas) is engaged to a wealthy, beautiful woman, Lorraine de Grissac (Bruce). When a fabulous emerald necklace is stolen from Lorraine's uncle, everyone is a suspect. A private eye who once worked for the FBI, Steve Emerson (William) is brought in to investigate. The name of the famous jewel thief, Arsene Lupin, is tossed around, though he is dead. However, Emerson has never believed that, and there are clues pointing to his return from the grave.

Emerson is very suspicious of Farrand, and suspects that he might be the dead Lupin. In one scene, the necklace keeps turning up, first in one person's pocket, and then another's.

One bone to pick. One review here complained that NO ONE in this movie had a French accent, even though this story takes place in France. In France, the people speak French. They don't speak English with a French accent. So no accent is needed since one assumes they're speaking French. Following the line of thought of the review, if these people needed accents, so would anyone performing a Chekhov play need Russian accents, and you'd need Swedish accents for Strindberg. Incorrect.

This is a good movie with nice performances all around; the series never caught on, in part due to the fact that Arsene was played by different actors all the time.


awful, 28 September 2014

Normally I think people are too hard on some of the "Midsomer Murders" episodes, which over many years vary in quality. Now it's my turn -- I hated this one.

I'm not a fan of horror films, but I could even have lived with the horror aspects of this one because of the presence of Barnaby. In The Straw Woman, the curate of the church in Midsomer Parva is burned alive in the effigy of the straw woman, which brings Barnaby and Scott into the village to investigate. Later, the vicar, the curate's lover, is also killed by burning to death, possibly the result of spontaneous combustion.

The village is all atwitter because of the presence of Alan Clifford, sort of a Hugh Hefner type, a wealthy man due to the sex business. He has moved to Midsomer Parva. He has plans for a mansion there, and people are nervous about it.

Due to the death by burnings, which continue, people are beginning to see witchcraft everywhere, as witches once inhabited the village, and they somehow connect this with the local homeopath. Hopefully Barnaby and Scott can solve the murders before local citizens take the law into their own hands.

I thought the denouement of this episode was so stupid. Scott is his usual flirtatious self, and this time has a more serious involvement.

I forgot to mention that all kinds of things go on with pig heads. I guess I blocked it out.

A total delight, 28 September 2014

"The Theft of the Royal Ruby" is a Christmas episode, one which demands a special viewing around Christmas, even if you've already seen it. It is so warm and atmospheric will the feel of the holiday season, it will put you right in the holiday spirit. And let's get real, it sometimes these days if very hard to be in the mood.

With Miss Lemon and Lt. Hastings away for the holidays, Poirot is looking forward to Christmas alone in his comfortably heated apartment, a box of chocolates, and a few of his favorite things. It just doesn't work out that way. Poirot is summoned to help recover an incredibly valuable royal ruby, owned by the bratty, insolent Prince Farouq of Egypt. He let some woman try it on, and of course she walked away while wearing it. He's desperate.

One of the few individuals aware of the ruby being in England is a well-known scholar on Egypt, Colonel Lacey. Poirot consults him, and the Colonel invites him to spend Christmas with his family. Poirot tries to wriggle out of it, but gives up and agrees.

The family is very gracious, and Poirot's cover is that one of Lacey's daughters is seeing a man, Desmond Lee-Wortley, who has an unsavory reputation. Poirot, as far as Mrs. Lacey is concerned, is there to check him out. Also there is a man who is assessing the Lacey valuables, as the Colonel is having financial difficulties and has asked him to discreetly evaluate what he has so that he can sell some pieces.

Calling upon the children in the family, Poirot works on setting a trap for the ruby thief.

Really lovely and fun episode, with Poirot enjoying the family atmosphere and have a much better time than he expected.

Lynch-type thriller, 28 September 2014

Kseniya Rappoport stars in "The Double Hour" (La Doppia Ora), a 2009 film.

Very reminiscent of David Lynch, the story concerns ex-cop Guido (Filippo Timi), who seems to be a chronic speed-dater. On this particular night, he meets someone he feels he can actually date, Sonia (Rappaport), who works as a hotel chambermaid. The relationship develops. However, as we slowly learn more and more about Sonia, she isn't all that she seems.

The plot isn't all that it seems, either, and as the film goes on, we see both dream and reality emerge.

Like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, and Cache, The Double Hour is a fascinating film, where things are not always as they seem, and what goes on underneath is far more interesting. Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, if you're a fan of Lynch or Michael Heneke, you will enjoy this film.

British versus the Jews, 27 September 2014

This is an anti-British film, and apparently the British attempted to limit the distribution.

Directed by George Sherman, the film stars Dana Andrews, Stephen McNally, Jeff Chandler, and Marta Toren. Andrews plays a freighter captain who has agreed to let his ship be used to smuggle Jewish refugees ashore in Palestine. He plans on taking his money and leaving, but things don't work out that way. He's very angry to find himself embroiled in the conflict as the British seek to round up the immigrants and arrest the organizers.

In most films, I think, the Andrews character might have been impressed with the commitment of the McNally, Chandler, and Toren characters and agreed to help them. But this guy not only betrays them once because all he cares about is his ship, but he almost betrays them again. He does come to some understanding and admiration for Kurta (Chandler), but it takes a while.

The beautiful Marta Toren, alas, died at the age of 30, about eight years after this film. Such a shame. She married an Italian director in 1952 and worked in Italy, doing better roles.

Very good movie with an emotional and quite beautiful ending. According to what I heard during a discussion of the film, the British and the Jews never actually fought in battle as they do here, but director Sherman wanted to show that there was indeed a conflict.

The Middle East remains a powder keg, and Israel still has lots of problems. This was pre-Israel Palestine, with the Jews seeking a place where they could be safe. Given what's going on in the world today, I wonder now if anyone can ever be truly safe.

Downstairs (1932)
Gilbert stars in this film and wrote the story, 27 September 2014

Albert (Paul Lukas) is the head butler in a Baron's home, and is marrying Anna, a maid (Virginia Bruce, John Gilbert's real-life wife). On their wedding day, the new chauffeur (John Gilbert) arrives. It doesn't take long for Albert to start disliking Karl, who seems a little too interested in Anna and tries to seduce her when Albert is not around. Anna is an innocent and can't see him for what he is, which is an underhanded cad. In fact, Albert fires him, and Karl gets his job back by going to the Baroness and threatening to blackmail her.

Nice precode, with the interest in the film mainly because of Gilbert. This type of leading man went out of style. To see him now, looking by today's standards older than his 35 years, slight, and mustached, one could easily wonder what all the fuss is about. I think the fuss was about his acting and charm, both of which hold up very well today.

Of course when one hears his voice, there's nothing wrong with it at all, and it's still a question today as to what happened when he appeared in his first sound picture. Did Mayer speed up the sound? I am of the opinion that it was just a horrible choice of script, similar to the sound picture with Jean Hagen in "Singin' in the Rain." As Barry Paris points out in his excellent Garbo biography, people in those days were not used to phrases such as "I love you" being said in public, and they probably laughed nervously at some of that flowery language in the movie theater when "His Glorious Night" played. Gilbert was his own worst enemy due to his alcoholism.

This is a light precode with Paul Lukas as a very serious husband and butler and Gilbert as a cheerful con man. Well worth seeing for John Gilbert, especially if you're not familiar with his work. He was, after all, an early superstar, and he deserves to be remembered. By the way, his grandsons, John Fountain and Gideon Fountain, are both actors who appear occasionally in film, though they both are involved in other professions as well. His daughter, Leatrice, who was also an actress, just turned 90 on September 6.

Color noir, courtesy of Dwan and Alton, 27 September 2014

With redheads Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl starring in this, you just know "Slightly Scarlet" had to be in color. The male star is John Payne, the year is 1956, the director is Allen Dwan, and the great cinematographer John Alton.

Based on the novel Love's Lovely Counterfeit by James M. Cain, Fleming plays June, secretary to a mayoral candidate, Frank Jansen (Kent Taylor). We first see her picking up her sister Dorothy (Dahl) from prison - third time. Dorothy is apparently a kleptomaniac, though she also seems to be a nymphomaniac.

Ben Grace (Payne), who is associated with a city crime boss, has photographed June picking up her sister at the prison, hoping to sully the honest Jansen's campaign. But he falls for June and then tries to help Jansen defeat his opponent. But Ben is still playing both ends, and June and Dorothy are soon caught in the middle.

There are a couple of problems romantically, too -- one is, Jansen wants to marry June, who is in love with Ben; and Dorothy wants Ben too, however she can get him.

John Payne obviously saw himself as a tough guy. He couldn't get away from those Fox musicals fast enough. Here, about 10 years after his Fox tenure, he looks the worse for wear but does a good job. He loved this kind of role.

The gorgeous Fleming wears outfits that show off her assets and the film's vibrant colors. She does well. Less successful for me was Arlene Dahl, whose acting left something to be desired. Her character was somewhat annoying, and I think she was going for a kittenish quality that she missed. One scene made me chuckle. She goes to put on a bathing suit and returns with a completely different hairstyle. Gotta love those glamor days when you looked good no matter what.

Entertaining noir, with Alton's magnificent cinematography an added plus.

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