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Bogie plays another 'Rick", 25 May 2015

Films made around this time always have an interesting behind the scenes story, and "Across the Pacific" from 1942 is no different.

Rick Leland (Humphrey Bogart) is court-marshaled and booted out of the service; he then heads for Canada and attempts to enlist, but the Canadians know who he is and say they can't use him.

Leland then leaves on a Japanese ship for the Orient, making no bones about the fact that his talents are for sale! He meets an attractive woman, Alberta Marlow (Mary Astor) and one Dr. Lorenz (Sidney Greenstreet). Lorenz loves the Japanese and its people, and speaks the language very well.

You'll probably guess most of this.

This is a Maltese Falcon template, with the exception of Peter Lorre. John Huston directed, but when we entered the war, he left to do documentary films for the government. Vincent Sherman started the film at a difficult moment in the action, and he asked Huston how a particular situation would be resolved. Huston said, "That's your problem!" and left.

Originally this film had to do with stopping an attack on Pearl Harbor, but we all know what happened there, so the plot was changed to the Panama Canal.

I liked this film - there is a lot of light repartee between Bogart and Astor, which is fun and makes the film less intense than it might have been. They worked very well together. And you really can't beat Sidney Greenstreet when it comes to being slimy.

The majority of the Japanese in the movie were actually Chinese since most of the Japanese were interred, a black mark not often discussed, which is odd.

Some exciting action and solid work by all the cast.

seemed long, 24 May 2015

You can always tell when a film isn't particularly well put together - it's endless.

The minutes flew like hours in "Dead in the Water," a Midsomer Murders mystery from 2004. Scott is still working with Barnaby.

While Barnaby is attending the big Midsomer Regatta with wife Joyce and daughter, Cully, a man named Guy Sweetman, the rowing club chairman, is found dead in the water. The autopsy report says he was hit and then deliberately drowned.

Sweetman had been involved with nearly every woman in the town, and he was also meeting with two other club members. At the last meeting before he was killed, there was a huge argument. After that, Sweetman disappeared until he was seen floating in the water.

Though the other men lie about the reason for the meetings, Barnaby gets to the bottom of it as he talks with many witnesses and suspects, and also stops a blackmailer.

Jealousy and greed play big roles in this mystery. Also, Joyce and Cully want to buy a boat, hoping their father will relax. Cully swears wherever they are, a murder happens.

The show moved slowly and it was hard to care about any of the characters except Barnaby and his family, and Scott. When all was revealed, I didn't care.

Robinson, a little but powerful man, 24 May 2015

Edward G. Robinson stars in "The Last Gangster," with a cast that includes Lionel Stander, Rosa Stradler, James Stewart, John Carradine, and Sidney Blackmer.

As older men, Stander and Blackmer would be known for the TV show Hart to Hart (no mistaking that voice) and Rosemary's Baby, respectively.

Robinson is Joe Krozac, a powerful, ruthless mob boss who does not tolerate anyone moving in on his territory.

Joe takes a trip to Europe and returns with a bride, Talya (Rosa Stradner). Talya doesn't speak much English so she really doesn't know how Joe makes his living.

When she becomes pregnant, Joe is crazy with joy, absolutely obsessed with the idea of having a son, whom he dreams of taking over his crime business.

Joe, alas, taking a page out of Al Capone's book, lands in jail for ten years for tax evasion. He is determined to be a model prisoner so he can get out on time. When Talya brings the baby to see him, he only cares about the baby and not her.

When her son is called baby mobster in the newspaper, with a photo, Talya becomes disillusioned and stops bringing the baby. She also divorces Joe. Meanwhile, Joe left a lot of money somewhere and his old friends want it as soon as he's released.

This film went the typical gangster route until the end, and it's really very sweet. Robinson was such a wonderful actor - he could play a wimp or a bully, do drama and comedy - he was a real treasure.

James Stewart had an early role in this film. I thought he looked on the young side for Rosa Stradner, even though he was five years older. Toward the end of the film, I guess to show the passage of time, he has a mustache someone stuck on him, and it looks dreadful.

Rosa Stradner did a good job as an insecure woman from another country who marries the wrong man. She was married to Joseph Mankiewicz, during which time, she didn't work in the early years while he was out having affairs with Judy Garland and Linda Darnell.

But they stayed married, and she did a film, The Keys of the Kingdom, in which she was marvelous. At the age of 45, an alcoholic by now, she committed suicide. Very sad.

Supposedly the line from the Mankiewicz screenplay of All About Eve - "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night" was inspired by Rosa.

You won't have to fasten your seatbelts for this, but thanks to Robinson, it's good.

not Woody's best but not bad either, 21 May 2015

I love Woody Allen's films, but I freely admit that "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" from 2010 isn't one of my favorites.

I had a problem because I really couldn't relate to any of the characters, but all of them were fleshed-out characters who wanted more than they had. And it's a top cast, which includes Sir Anthony Hopkins, Lucy Punch, Naomi Watts, Gemma Jones, Antonio Bandares, and Freida Pinto.

Set in England, the story concerns the desires and struggles of people of different generations. Helena (Gemma Jones) is alone after her husband Alfie (Hopkins) left her. She has begun seeing a fortuneteller (Pauline Collins) and believes everything she says.

Alfie, meanwhile, is in love with a hooker he met on an outcall (Punch) and has decided to marry her. She calls herself an actress, but as his daughter Sally (Watts) says to her husband Roy (Brolin), "The only acting she's ever done is faking an orgasm."

Sally works in an art gallery and is mad for her boss (Banderas). Her husband was a one-hit novelist trying to come up with a second one and very frustrated. He fantasizes about the woman he sees across the way, Dia (Pinto). As he's trying to get that book together, Helena has been paying all the bills.

Some of the outcomes for these people are good, some are not so good, though we really don't know what will ultimately happen to them. I guess his moral is, if you were happy before and lose that happiness, for whatever reason, you can be happy again. And if you were unhappy to begin with, and get what you think will make you happy - it won't.

The only character not fleshed out sufficiently is Dia, and as a result, Freida Pinto doesn't register much.

Everyone else is excellent, but the standout is Hopkins in a case of inspired casting. Normally this would be the Woody Allen role, and as you might imagine, there's no Woody in Hopkins. And there's none of his big characterizations in big movies that he has given us over the years. He's just a guy here who wanted something other than he had, who picks the wrong person and suffers for it. It's great when films are cast against type -- and it happens all too rarely.

This movie has a narration throughout, some good music, and is pretty to look at. It will remind you of some of Allen's films from 30 years ago in look.

Directed by Busby Berkeley, 20 May 2015

Choreographer Busby Berkeley, known for his contributions to films like 42nd Street, Dames, the Gold Diggers films, and so many others, also did quite a bit of movie directing. He directed this 1938 musical starring Pat O'Brien, Margaret Lindsay, and John Payne. The leads were intended for Bette Davis and Dick Powell, but Powell allowed took a suspended rather than do the Payne role.

John Quinn (O'Brien) manages a night club, Garden of the Moon, that has booked Rudy Vallee and his band. When Valee is in a car accident, Quinn's secretary Toni (Lindsay) books Don Vincente (Payne) -- a nobody -- and his band.

The band is thrilled to have the steady work, but when they arrive, they find out that they are only to be there for two weeks. Vincente feels duped, and from there on, war is declared.

Toni and Vincente fall for one another, and Toni plots a scheme to keep him and the band there. By the time Vincente gets a lucrative offer to do some radio shows, Quinn is determined to do anything to keep him.

Pleasant musical with some very funny bits in it, including a maharajah "friend" of Don Vincente who brings a lot of publicity to the club, in spite of the fact that he is in reality an ex-waiter and a not so ex- thief.

Payne, a real find for Darryl Zanuck, who signed him and made him a star in 1940, sings like a dream and is a solid romantic lead. Like Powell, this wasn't his favorite kind of role, and, like Powell, he ultimately went the noir route.

This movie was a departure for Margaret Lindsay, who had played heavier roles in the past; nevertheless, she pulls it off and probably fit it better than Bette Davis would have.

As Quinn, Pat O'Brien is great. He plays an abrasive boss with a soft spot for royalty, and he can be friendly when he has to be - that's almost never to an employee, with the exception of Toni.

Berkeley did a good job with this - it's pleasant and funny with good comedy and singing. Not terribly special, but entertaining.

Irene (1940)
sweet musical starring Anna Neagle, 19 May 2015

The musical Irene opened in 1919 and was revived in 1973, starring Debbie Reynolds.

The basic story is the same as in this film, and similar to the 1926 film of the same name.

Irene O'Dare (Anna Neagle), on an errand for her employers, goes to the home of Mrs. Vincent (Billie Burke) and meets Don (Ray Milland), a friend of Mrs. Vincent's son Bob (Alan Marshal).

Don suggests that she try out as a model in the "Madame Lucy" dress shop. For good measure, he invests in the shop himself. However, Irene isn't sure she wants the job after the store manager makes a pass. Don fires the manager and puts in another one, Smith (Roland Young), who visits Irene at her home and asks her to work for him.

Irene is a smash hit as a model, and Smith assigns her the most beautiful gown to wear at Mrs. Vincent's charity ball. Unfortunately, some Irish stew wrecks it. Irene goes anyway, wearing a stunning blue gown that belonged to her mother, and knocks everyone's socks off.

A guest at the ball, Princess Minetti, believes Irene is related to one Lady O'Dare, and Irene doesn't correct her.

Smith decides Irene is perfect for a publicity campaign to put the dress shop on the map. He sets Irene up in a Park Avenue suite, passing her off as the niece of Lady O'Dare. This way, she will be invited to social functions and wear the shop's beautiful gowns.

When a jealous fellow model tells a newspaper columnist that Irene is really shanty Irish, all hell breaks loose.

This is a nice musical, and Anna Neagle is lovely. She was an enormous stage and screen star in Britain and even has a street named after her. She did musicals and drama up until 1985. For 15 years, she was in the top 10 of biggest British box office stars. In this she dances, sings, and acts beautifully and looks wonderful in all of the gowns.

Good cast, well directed, a pleasant musical, and a good chance to see Anna Neagle, a British treasure.

nice movie but the midget bit is very un-pc, 18 May 2015

"April Showers" is a cute musical starring Ann Sothern, Jack Carson, Bobby Ellis, Robert Alda, and S.J. Sakall.

The film is based on the true story of Buster Keaton, who was responsible for making his parents' vaudeville act successful.

Sothern and Carson are husband and wife Joe and June Tyme, vaudevillians who have a lousy show and, when we first come upon them, are fired from their job. However, Joe is always upbeat, and the couple is in love. Plus, they stay at a place where the proprietor (Sakall) carries them.

Their son Buster is away at school but is desperate to join his parents' act. He finally shows up and does so. The act becomes a huge hit with the talented dancer and comic working with them, and they ultimately receive an invitation to play New York. When they arrive, the theater manager is appalled -- Billy is underage and the local children's society will not allow him to work.

Their troubles are just beginning, as Joe gradually loses his good humor and takes up a battle with the bottle.

Everyone is very good, with Sothern singing beautifully. Carson sang beautifully as well, and I think it was his voice, as he was a singer. Bobby Ellis was wonderful. The numbers are cute but not spectacular.

I guess I would say there just isn't anything special enough to separate this out from other musicals of the era. The actors rose above the material.

There is one section where Bobby imitates a midget (and is dubbed by Mel Blanc) to convince the children's group in New York that he can work -- very politically incorrect. Things like that in old films can be quite jarring. Is it as jarring as seeing Katharine Hepburn as a Chinese woman in Dragon Seed? No, but it's noticeably in bad taste.

Some enjoyable moments. Sadly, Carson died at 53 and Bobby Ellis at 40. Two talented people, dead too soon.

a murder, a novel, a van, and a poacher, 18 May 2015

Shane Thurgood, back home from Newcastle, is shot and killed. A mile away, the van of a poacher named Linus Campion has been burned. Campion blames Allen Barnes, a gameskeeper who is his former father-in-law. Barnes' other daughter Clara Peyton is married to an estate owner.

Shane is back to sell his grandfather's farm, and originally sold it to the Peytons, who backed out of the deal.

Part of figuring out why Shane was killed is to find the roman a clef he wrote about his relationship with both of the sisters. Vera is hoping there are clues there. His ex-wife had visited him shortly before his death and warned him to stop "stalking" her sister.

It turns out that the death is more about something else.

Love Vera and Joe, but I had a hard time getting into this one for some reason. I also found it a tad confusing - whether it was or wasn't, I don't know. It could be my attention drifted. The episode that followed this one, Protected, is way superior.

Still, I am so glad the series is back and sad to learn that David Leon will not be back next year. It won't be the same without him.

one of the best episodes of the series, 18 May 2015

A man is found dead on the street of a beach town, apparently hit on the back of the head in "Vera: Protected," from the fourth season.

Vera and Joe investigate and learn that the man is David Kenworthy, from a prominent family in the area. The family does property development and has for years.

On the night of the murder, there was a huge retirement for his father, but David wasn't there. No one knows what he was doing in that town.

David's older brother Tom is an alcoholic and is a suspect due to possible sibling rivalry and jealousy. Then there is an arcade owner named Larry Crowe. His son fell off the Kenworthy roof many years earlier during an apparent burglary, so the police said. This devastated Crowe because his son wasn't a criminal and never committed a robbery. He has hated the family ever since.

David and Tom's sister, Lorna, is estranged from the family, but she shows up where David died to leave flowers -- the story has received a lot of publicity. Vera and Joe find out she's been seeing her brother secretly.

Then there's David's girlfriend, with whom he fought on the day he died.

Meanwhile, Joe and his wife are looking for a house in a better area and arguing about how they can afford it.

Vera and Joe dig and go way back into the past to discover a well-kept secret, and some major dishonesty, to figure out the identity of the killer.

Intricate story with an excellent denouement, with Brenda Blethyn in fine form as Vera, who seems to have lightened up a little this season, making jokes and generally friendlier.

This is a wonderful episode, and it's always fun when Joe and his family are involved in the story.

I wasn't as crazy about it as some, 18 May 2015

...but there were some interesting elements to "Below the Deadline" from 1946.

This is an almost noir from Monogram directed by William "One Shot" Beaudine. The studios must have loved him.

This movie dealt the problems of a returning veteran, Joe Hilton (Warren Douglas). Certainly this has been explored in films such as "The Best Years of Our Lives," but I liked this take.

A gangster (Philip Van Zandt) dispatches two thugs to to threaten Jeff Hilton (George Meeker), using Jeff's attorney (Paul Maxey) in order to keep him from muscling in on certain rackets.

Jeff's girlfriend (Jan Wiley) convinces him to go out on his own and forget about the mobsters. We know what happens next, he's iced.

When his war hero brother Joe returns from service, seeing that his brother has been killed, he takes over his rackets. He wants revenge not only for his brother, but for these gangsters who made money on the black market while he was "eating out of cans covered with lice" and fighting for his country. Don't blame him.

He takes up with a woman (Ramsay Ames), who works in one of the clubs.

Short and not bad, and I wasn't familiar with the work of Ramsay Ames before this. She was a staggeringly beautiful woman -- and very modern looking -- someone else on this site mentioned that as well. She had a very "today" look. Apparently a lot of men fell off of catwalks at the studios trying to get a gander at her. She was multitalented - a former model and dancer-singer who had her own interview show in Spain. She was married to Man of La Mancha playwright Dale Wasserman.

Decent film, with some familiar faces who later worked a lot in TV, including Paul Maxey, Phillip Van Zandt, and the star, Warren Douglas, who became a writer and producer as well as an actor.

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