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Polish film from 1959, 26 January 2015

As a viewer, for me, the most important thing about a film is to know what it is I'm about to see.

Up front, one has to know ahead of time that "Night Train" is a psychological drama, not a Hitchcock suspense story, not a murder mystery. Setting it up by using the name Hitchcock is going to cause people to hate it.

Night Train is filmed in a dark, moody. claustrophobic way, and looks similar to Diabolique. It concerns the passengers of an overcrowded train en route to the seaside. One of the people on this train is a murderer. The train is filled with interesting characters: a beautiful blonde, Marta (Lucyna Winnicka) in the wrong compartment, who refuses to leave; the man in sunglasses, Jerszy (Leon Niemczyk) who is in the same compartment; an insomniac who can't sleep in a bunk bed because it reminds him of his time in a concentration camp; an attorney practicing a closing to a jury; his good-looking, flirtatious wife; a young man rejected by Marta, who continues to pursue her, even at one point hanging off her window on the train.

When police board the train unexpectedly, they are looking for the murderer and an assumption is made. And here the story becomes about crowd psychology, and there's a neat twist.

Night Train moves slowly and concentrates on the characters and their interrelationships. The "story" part actually comes in the last half hour. The final scene in the film is very striking.

Some excellent acting throughout, and as a bit of trivia, the lead actress, Lucyna Winnicka, married the director, Jerzy Kawalerowicz.

Recommended for its atmosphere, jazz score, and style.

good Poirot, with an amusing subplot, 26 January 2015

Poirot has been sent for a rest by his doctor, and he has chosen to stay at the Grand Metropolitan Hotel in Brighton. A theatrical producer, Ed Opalson, and his wife, actress Margaret, are staying there as well. Opalson has purchased a valuable string of pearls that he will use in his new play about -- what else, a jewel theft.

Naturally, the jewels disappear. At first, Poirot is encouraged by Hastings to turn it down, which he does. However, when the detective continues to be taken as "Lucky Len," who is part of a newspaper contest where the person who can find Len wins ten pounds, getting rest is difficult. So, why not take the case? This is a fun episode with more than a touch of flamboyance: the play itself, the pearls, Lucky Len, it all adds up to a highly entertaining episode. I love it when Poirot has Hastings to bounce off of, as he does here. Actually my favorite episodes have the old gang on hand: Hastings, Miss Lemon, and Japp.

one of the better Poirot episodes, 26 January 2015

Hercule Poirot is hired by a man who just outbid him on an antique mirror. The man, Gervase Chevenix, invites Poirot to his country home and explains that he believes his business partner, John Lake, has committed fraud against him.

What he doesn't know is that his daughter Ruth is secretly married to his enemy, Lake. and accepts his offer to travel to his country home and take on a case. Chevenix believes he has been defrauded by a business partner, John Lake. Unknown to Chevenix is that his adopted daughter Ruth has secretly married Lake.

It's evident observing the household that Gervase is powerful, manipulative, and that no one can stand him. His nephew Hugh wants his uncle to invest in a new project, but Gervase wants him to marry Ruth first. Besides the fact that Ruth is already married, Hugh is engaged to someone else, Susan.

So no surprise when Gervase is found dead, but at first, it appears to be a suicide. Poirot thinks differently. Inspector Japp learns that Hugo has no intention of doing so and is engaged to Susan Cardwell. Gervase had a new, unsigned will, which convinces Poirot that it is murder.

Excellent story, with a fine performance by Iain Cuthbertson as Gervase. Hugh Frasier is on hand as Hastings. One of the stronger stories, with color characters, strong production values, and the usual wonderful work by Suchet as Poirot.

heavy-handed comedy from Monogram, 22 January 2015

Marjorie Weaver and Robert Lowery star in "Fashion Model," a 1945 comedy of the sledgehammer variety. When models at Madam Celeste's Fashion House start showing up dead, a stock boy, Jimmy (Lowery) is a chief suspect. His girlfriend, who is also a model, Peggy (Weaver) wants to help clear him. The two work together to find the killer.

Actually, this isn't a bad comedy. It has some really funny bits, but they're done too over the top. In the hands of someone like Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea, for instance, and directed by Leo McCary, this might have been a classic. It comes off as silly and overdone. Weaver is a great example of this. Her character is supposed to be quirky, so rather than Peggy BEING quirky, she instead puts it on. It's not such a subtle difference when you watch it.

The best part is the two trying to escape the fashion house wearing bridal attire and getting caught in the window with the drunk, nearsighted window dresser.

Could have been better, but then, these films were made over a few days.

Blonde Ice (1948)
a femme blonde ice, 20 January 2015

Leslie Brooks stars in "Blonde Ice" from 1948. She plays a reporter, Claire, who is ambitious, not for her career, but for a man who can give her the money and social standing she wants.

She has a boyfriend, Les (Robert Paige) but dumps him for a wealthy man, all the while declaring her devotion to poor Les. She promises to write; unfortunately, while still on the honeymoon, her husband sees the letter and decides to dump her.

Desperate, Claire hires a pilot (Russ Vincent) and pays him extra to keep his mouth shut. She flies to Los Angeles to find her husband. The next day he is dead of an apparent suicide. The police figure out that it is murder, but try as they might, they can't pin it on Claire since she was not in town.

Needing someone to help with probating her husband's estate quickly, Claire wangles a meeting with attorney turned politician, Stanley Mason (James Whalen). He of course is attracted to her, and the two become secretly engaged (meaning without Les knowing about it), their impending marriage to be announced the night of the election.

Then the pilot, who has seen Claire's picture in the paper, shows up and attempts to blackmail her.

This is a fairly routine noir, without much acting going on. These films were made in a few days' times, and there wasn't an opportunity for nuance or probably much rehearsal. Brooks does an okay job, coming off as cold and not very sincere, so it's a surprise anyone believed her. Everyone else was all right -- Paige reminded me of Zachary Scott after living in the Bowery a few weeks.

Leslie Brooks might have had a more major career, but she retired to make a go of her second marriage, which, by the way, was to that sleazy pilot in the film, Russ Vincent. Vincent acted for many years and then became a land developer.

I would have liked to have seen this film with better direction.

Go West (1940)
The Marx Brothers in the old west, 18 January 2015

"Go West" isn't the best Marx Brothers film, but it has some wonderful moments, including the train sequence in the finale.

This is one of their MGM films, and while most people prefer their Paramount days, I like the MGM movies better. They have more structure and so do the gags.

S. Quentin Quale (who else, Grouch) is on his way west, and on route he meets Joseph and Rusty Panello. They're on their way west to find gold. The brothers and Groucho all work hard at ripping one another off; the brothers win. This is one of those bits that could have been done in any Marx Brothers film under any circumstance.

Once they reach their destination, they meet a miner, Dan Wilson. His property has no gold, so they give him $10, all the money they have, so he can start a new life. He gives them the deed to his mine as collateral.

What he doesn't is that the son of his rival, Terry Turner (John Carroll), who is in love with his daughter Eva (Diana Lewis), is arranging for the railroad to build through his land. This will make Dan rich and hopefully pave the way for Terry and Eva. But Red, the saloon owner, gets the deed away from the brothers. Now they and Groucho have to get that deed back and help Dan, Terry, and Eva.

This is a spoof of the western genre, with a singing saloon girl with an incredibly deep voice (June MacCloy). What I loved was Groucho's singing background in the big ballad, "Ridin' the Range." It was both funny and kind of sweet at the same time.

Both Harpo and Chico have excellent musical numbers. Overall, enjoyable, if not my favorite, A Night at the Opera. The ingénue, Diana Lewis, quit acting shortly after this film to devote herself to her marriage to William Powell, which lasted until his death 44 years later.

delightful mystery series, 18 January 2015

Peter Davison is perfect as "Campion" in these mysteries from 1989-1990.

If I were to compare this series to Inspector Alleyn, the difference is in the personality of the detectives. The Campion episodes are more lively, as Campion rubs elbows with both the low and the high classes with ease. He also is very whimsical.

I believe this is a take-off on Lord Peter Wimsey, more of one than the Inspector Alleyn mysteries. Campion has his manservant, Lugg, who is devoted to him and obviously from the streets. Brian Glover is great in the role.

Campion always looks very dapper and wears wonderful horn-rimmed glasses. The episodes are brighter in look than the Alleyn mysteries, and, like the Alleyn mysteries, they have high production values. Campion's background is a mystery. He's obviously well-educated. In the books he's supposedly related to royalty and cut off from his family, and he's not using his real name.

High quality mysteries, very well acted, with a lovely song which Peter Davison sings at the beginning which sets up the series perfectly: lyrical, tuneful, and bright.

another British mystery series, and as usual, I like it!, 18 January 2015

What is it with these British mystery series? They're all wonderful in their own way.

I haven't researched this totally, but I believe that Alleyn, Campion, and Inspector Lynley were all inspired by Lord Peter Wimsey to some extent. And that's okay, because their characters and stories were tackled by good writers.

This series stars Patrick Malahide, Belinda Lang, and William Simons. The first episode that I saw, I kept staring at Patrick Malahide and saying to myself, why is it that I distinctly remember seeing another actor in this part? Well, I had, and it was Simon Williams - years ago.

In the books, Alleyn is known as Handsome Alleyn. I don't think Malahide is handsome, and I notice it's not mentioned in these episodes. He is, however, very elegant, and Malahide underplays, giving him a somewhat mysterious quality. Belinda Lang for me is perfect as Agatha. Remember, this is the '40s, not 2015. It was a more formal time. And these are mature people, taking their romance slowly. There's an undertone of flirtation, wryness, insouciance -- they have both been around the block a few times. As a couple, they are marvelous.

The mysteries are very good, normally taking place among the upper crust. I love William Simons as Fox - rough and tough, no nonsense.

These are engrossing mysteries. They're not filled with car chases, things blowing up, or over the top characters. It's not bombastic. It's British upper class, after all.

Precode directed by Dorothy Arzner, 13 January 2015

Frederick March and Sylvia Sidney star in "Merrily We Go to Hell," from 1932.

For those of us who only remember Sylvia Sidney as an older character actress -- and usually a pretty mouthy one at that -- seeing her as an ingénue is always a revelation.

Jerry Corbett (March) is a reporter and a drunk, still pining for the woman who broke his heart, Claire (Adrienne Allen). When he meets the lovely Joan Prentice (Sidney) from a wealthy family, the two fall for one another and marry.

Jerry wants to write plays, and he eventually is able to have one produced, early in the marriage. Unfortunately, one of the stars is Claire, and she's perfectly willing to take up where they left off. Jerry starts drinking again. Joan is heartbroken as well as hurt and starts drinking and partying herself. Finally, though, she returns to her father's home.

Nothing too surprising in the plot, but good performances all around. Sidney is pretty and vulnerable, taking a chance on a man her father disapproves of but whom she loves. March shows that Jerry is a weak man who in his heart doesn't believe he deserves the happiness he's had with Joan. Can these two find their way back to one another? Just guess.

Dorothy Arzner had a good sense of pacing, so the film doesn't drag or slow down. Worth seeing for the actors, not necessarily the story.

I'll take romance, 13 January 2015

Jean Arthur, Charles Boyer, Colin Clive, and Leo Carrillo star in the big-budget "History is Made at Night," directed by Frank Borzage and released in 1937.

Arthur plays Irene Vail, who has divorced her wealthy husband Bruce (Colin Clive), but he won't accept it. He hires his driver to fake an adultery situation with Irene while she is in Paris, which voids the divorce.

Before that can happen, a headwaiter, Paul Dumond (Boyer) rescues her by pretending to be a thief and stealing her jewelry. Bruce has arrived to "catch" Irene, but he winds up in the closet, while the chauffeur is knocked out. Paul rushes out with her and returns her jewelry while they drive around Paris.

Paul takes her to a restaurant, Château Bleu, where he works with his good friend Cesar (Carrillo). Paul and Irene fall in love. Unbeknownst to them, Bruce has murdered the chauffeur. He blames Paul and forces Irene to return to New York with him.

Paul travels to New York to try to find her. He and Cesar obtain work in a fancy restaurant. He reserves a table for Irene, knowing she will eventually come there.

This lovely film, beautifully acted by Boyer and Arthur, takes a surprising turn -- well, it was a surprise to me -- that makes for an exciting finale. Of interest, Irene and her husband are set to travel on the Hindenburg, which actually caught on fire and fell from the sky a few months later.

This was Colin Clive's last film, sadly, as he was stricken with pneumonia and died at the age of 37 a few months later. The wonderful Boyer, so suave and with his to-die-for accent, actually didn't seem to have much vanity. He wore a toupee for movies, but all other times, including those when he was out in pubic, he did not. He and Arthur make a sweet couple. Arthur could do drama and comedy equally well.

Romantic and atmospheric - it's so hard to believe that some of these films were made on sets.

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