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410 reviews in total 
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Slow Race to the Finish Line, 4 January 2015

Clavillazo was not frequently associated with a given director, as other Mexican comedians: Tin Tan had Gilberto Martínez Solares and Cantinflas worked almost exclusively with Miguel M. Delgado. Clavillazo was directed by many filmmakers (as Julián Soler, René Cardona or Rafael Baledón), and although Martínez Solares was in charge of several of the comic's finest movies, he was simultaneously making Tin Tan's best work, so I guess Clavillazo came second in his list of priorities. In this one the comedian worked for Alejandro Galindo, a respected director who made a few classics with strong social comments during the golden era of Mexican cinema, including "Campeón sin corona", "Una familia de tantas", "Esquina, bajan...!" and "Espaldas mojadas", or popular melodramas as "Tu hijo debe nacer". Galindo also made comedies, and in 1951 he had a big success with a parody of the "red menace" dramas called "Dicen que soy comunista", starring Resortes, another popular funny man. But eight years later, as hard as everybody tried, "Golden Legs" seems too elaborate for a sports film: it was largely shot outdoors, but for comedy details of the central bicycle race Galindo relied too much on back projection and studio shooting. On the positive side, on the role of the Mayor, Óscar Pulido as usual delivers his comedy lines with aplomb (making them sound funnier) but he does not have enough screen time. So at 92 minutes the film feels like an endless race to the finish line, with reiterative xenophobic jokes and a character running amok shooting at Clavillazo with a pistol (luckily with no aim at all), while nobody takes action, unless we as spectators stop watching. Not surprisingly by the end of the decade the crisis of the Mexican post-war cinema would go into a more profound crisis, until a new generation of filmmakers saved the day in the 1970s.

Fine Rural Melodrama, 3 January 2015

Moving melodrama about Dr. Alberto Robles, an idealistic city physician (Arturo de Córdova) living in a rural community ruled by macho customs and feudalistic landowners, who falls for Soledad, a peasant woman (Stella Inda, of "Los olvidados" fame). She loves him in turn, but their relationship is marked with abuse and violence from heavies Pedro Armendáriz and Carlos López Moctezuma. Director Roberto Gavaldón as usual makes a good work, although sometimes the Catholic sentimentality (best illustrated by the character of Father Juan and his children choir) is irritable, as well as the final "conscience-rising" speech by Dr. Robles to his city colleagues. Be wary of commercial copies that repeat some shots to cover missing fragments: though brief sometimes it feels as if the filmmakers had no footage to edit, which is not the case. I suppose that better copies of the film are non-existent, since a great fire destroyed negatives of many Mexican films in the vaults of Cineteca Nacional de México.

Lisa (1962)
The Inspector, 29 December 2014

Changing the title from the original "The Inspector" to "Lisa" for American release somehow misses the point, since it changes focus from Dutch police inspector Peter Jongman (Stephen Boyd) and the task he accomplishes as to appease his remorse for what he did not do for his girlfriend Rachel when seized by the Nazis: to give a helping hand . Drama is action, and action means change and it is Jongman who goes through a stronger process of transformation during the film narration, and in the end he is a different man. Jongman finds the object of his mission in Lisa Held (Dolores Hart in one of her last film roles), an abused Jewish girl that was a prisoner in Auschwitz, lost all her relatives and wants to go to Palestine to find a cure to her mental wounds and a sense to all what happened to her. Neither character is quite original in the history of films: we have seen several stories about Jewish women traumatized by war and concentration camps like Lisa, and men like Jongman, in search of expiation. But Jongman goes to an unusual extent of his professional duty to make him an attractive character, under a light that somehow makes him different. The material taken from a novel by Dutch writer Jan de Hartog was a good basis for what could have been a better drama. Instead, in the hands of old Hollywood professional Philip Dune, the film drags the load of sentimental melodrama (not helped a bit by Malcolm Arnold's omnipresent score). By 1962 standards this was what the French critics disdainfully called "cinéma de papa" (or "Dad's cinema"), an old fashioned formula that in the case of literary adaptations turned the motion picture into a vehicle of the "filmable" aspects of the books. This is most evident when the action moves from Europe to the city of Tangier in North Africa, including cardboard scenes with smuggler Karl van der Pink (Hugh Griffith) in a flat with a big window that shows mockups of the city, and where the man is attacked by special-effects bats. I guess that what affected me the most when I finally watched "The Inspector" (52 years after its release) was the fact that I had read so many good comments about it and found out they were romanticized visions of the motion picture and one more rumination of the Jewish drama (as the change of title suggests). Still the chemistry of Boyd and Hart is essential to keep us interested, backed by the usual good cast of British actors, also including Leo McKern, Donald Pleasence, Robert Stephens and Finlay Currie.

Bye, Bye, Barker, 28 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Thankfully this was Lex Barker's last Tarzan film. Discarding clichéd Cold War leanings and Eastern European villains in the stories, the routine plot of "Tarzan and the She-Devil" turned its attention to hot-blooded Europeans with similar greedy motivations, this time for profits from ivory trading, including three mean Mediterranean males and one Belgian woman. But as Jane's mishaps are central to the plot, the enterprise turns too mellow and becomes more melodramatic than the previous entries that showed the Greystokes' domestic life. In the story Jane is abused, lost in the jungle, kidnapped and imprisoned, and in the proceedings the Greystokes' tree house is set on fire, so there was a need to introduce before romantic images and dialogues between Tarzan and Jane that in the end seem too ludicrous and out of place. On top of that Monique van Vooren's character (a Belgian business woman called Lyra) becomes too soft to be one of cinema's unforgettable she-devils (think of Ona Munson in "The Shanghai Gesture", Gale Sondergaard in "The Spider Woman", or Mari Blanchard in "She Devil", for example). Directed by Kurt Neumann (a veteran in Burroughs land, having directed Johnny Weissmuller in "Tarzan and the Amazons", "Tarzan and the Leopard Woman" and "Tarzan and the Huntress") the film still has high entertainment values to keep our attention. As Neumann went on to direct "She Devil", "Kronos" and the original "The Fly", Lex Barker became a superstar in European adventure films, made two movies with Cuban H-Bomb Chelo Alonso, appeared in Fellini's "La dolce vita" with Anika Ekberg and De Sica's "Woman Times Seven" with Shirley MacLaine, and lived happily ever after married to Miss Spain 1961, until his death in 1973.

Tarzan's Magician Nemesis, 27 December 2014

By the fourth Lex Barker entry into the Tarzan series things were more or less established, and though the new adventures had become almost routine, the efficiency evidenced in the previous films was still maintained. The new additions here are a surrogate for Boy called Joey, played very well by a kid whose only film this was; and a fourth actress playing Jane, pretty Dorothy Hart. The Cold War shadow is still present in this production, with a Russian villain named Rokov (Austrian-born actor Charles Korvin), who wants to get hold of the diamonds of an African tribe. As in "Tarzan's Peril" a murder happens in the first minutes, leading to the impersonation of Lord Greystoke, Tarzan's cousin, by the villain's weak colleague (Patrick Knowles), and Jane convincing Tarzan to help them. Here Cheetah's compulsive stealing is also a main ingredient of the plot, and little Joey also plays a key role in the proceedings. Considered by some specialists as one of the best Tarzan movies, it was directed by Cy Endfield, an American left-wing filmmaker who had a promising career but when blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, he went to England in 1951, where he made television, advertisement and a few good films as "Mysterious Island", "Sands of the Kalahari" and "Zulu" before retiring and inventing the Microwriter. Possibly it was Endfield who introduced several "sleight-of-hand routines", performed on screen by Rokov, who uses them to trick gullible natives. Known as a "master of the art of micro magic", Endfield had worked in Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. Last but not least, this is probably the only Tarzan movie to include two black-listed film professionals: Endfield and Korvin.

Tarzan Meets Cold War, 27 December 2014

Third Tarzan film starring Lex Barker is still good, directed by Byron Haskin, who had made "I Walk Alone" and "Treasure Island" and who would go on to make the science-fiction classic "The War of the Worlds" and the adventure films "The Naked Jungle" and "Captain Sindbad". Labeled as the first Tarzan film made in Africa, the material mostly consists of establishment shots and good sequences of dances and tribe life, aptly directed by Philip Brandon and photographed by cinematographer Jack Whitehead. It matches only moderately well with the studio shooting, but still gives add some distinction to the product. As it happened before with Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto and Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan is affected by the United States foreign policy, so he is part of a Cold War intrigue. Thankfully it is not openly exposed, but suggested: the villain (George Macready) is called Radijek, he probably comes from Poland or any other country behind the Iron Curtain, and he is providing guns to the Africans, although not under the Soviet aegis: he is a ruthless, egotistical, murderous dealer, who wants to sell his weapons and collect . His first opponent is a retiring British commissioner (Alan Napier), who defends the colonialist regime of the Crown, and wants to leave the natives under control and evangelized by Protestant missionaries, a work that took him 30 years. But things get violent soon in this entry, quickly increasing the body count and including women abuse, as Queen Melmendi (Dorothy Dandridge) is subject to the whims of the feisty but mean ruler of another tribe, King Bulam (Frederick O'Neal). As usual Cheetah keeps stealing things and getting scared even by rubber snakes.

Welcome, Lex Barker!, 25 December 2014

First Tarzan film with Lex Barker in the title role, "Tarzan's Magic Fountain" is a welcome improvement after Johnny Weissmuller's last entry, the dull "Tarzan and the Mermaids", whose only saving grace was the location shooting in México, with its attractive monuments and landscapes. When he moved the franchise to RKO Radio, producer Sol Lesser was much helped with the addition of Barker, a handsome, tall and dignified Lord Greystoke; simple and attractive art direction and inexpensive but effective visual effects. Although the story is lineal and easy, lacking strong emotional or action peaks, it is still fun to watch, due to its fantasy elements: a British woman pilot who disappeared in an African jungle (not to far from Tarzan's home), reappears 20 years later looking as young as when her small plane crashed, thanks to the magic fountain of Blue Valley. Soon greedy men want to get there and start a business bottling the fountain water. (In the story, the product target is women, but in these days it would be also a success among vain men). The plot is more romantic than this but it's up to you to discover the whole story. And Cheetah is funnier than ever!

Very Good Tarzan Film, 25 December 2014

If it weren't for this little voice that keeps telling me that I am exaggerating, I would give 8 or 9 stars to Lex Barker's second Tarzan film. The truth is that I did not look at my watch in any occasion, and I watched the movie in delight from start to finish. Again RKO added more punch in production values, with top professionals in all key departments; Barker took off the slippers worn in his first incursion in Burroughs' territory, and all the women in the cast are beautiful -although Denise Darcel makes herself a bit ugly, playing her role of Lola as if she were in a vulgar sex comedy, looking out of place in a Tarzan movie. The story (as lineal and easy as usual) is a bit intriguing: when an Egyptian-looking kingdom in the African jungle (or so it seems...) is being affected by a strange disease, Tarzan guides a doctor with a serum to the capital, without knowing that the crown prince has ordered his henchmen to kidnap women from nearby tribes, among whom there is Tarzan's mate, Jane Parker. What Tarzan does is a lot of fun, leading to a satisfactory resolution. As in the first Barker entry, Cheetah steals every scene he is in.

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The Mask of the Demon, 22 December 2014

When "La maschera del demonio" was released in 1960, cinemas displayed a warning to those who could be affected by its strong images, right from the first sequence when Asa, a Moldavian witch or noble ascent, is sentenced to death by the Inquisition, and the title mask is nailed to her smooth, peculiarly beautiful face, with big eyes, high cheekbones, and fleshy lips. Director Mario Bava, who for the first time was in complete control of a motion picture, was subtle and graphic at the same time, in this adaptation of Nikolai Gogol-s long tale "Viy". A reading of the source against a screening of the motion picture would reveal the resorts of film adaptations: for a more faithful version, one should see the Soviet film "Viy" (1967). But the writers of "La maschera del demonio" opted for distancing from the original, and the result was an autonomous product, that still had potent echoes of Gogol's story, illustrated by two examples: one, the ominous vacation trip of the seminarists in the original, becomes the fateful journey of Dr. Kruvajan and his young assistant, Dr. Gorobec, key figures in Asa's resurrection; and two, Gogol's passage of a young novice who kills a witch in a cemetery, is reworked in three lines of action: a girl reluctantly milks a cow in a stable adjacent to the town's graveyard, where simultaneously Javutich (Asa's cousin, lover, and assistant) is raising from his grave, and not too far Dr. Kruvajan is picked up by a ghostly carriage to take him back to Asa's crypt. Moreover, the dead witch —who in "Viy" is first killed in the cemetery and later turns out to be a landowner's dead daughter— has accordingly a dual visual resonance: the face of witch Asa is the same as Katja's, daughter of one of Asa's relatives, both played by British actress Barbara Steele. Other resources and images are strictly Bava's: Asa's dead, wax-like visage, intact for centuries, except for empty eye-sockets; Katja's first appearance with a black mastiff, her languid expression as Asa vampirizes her with a touch, or the revelation of Asa's putrid body... Bava was also his own cinematographer (assisted by Ubaldo Terzano), excelling himself with striking, Gothic, black and white images; and the film was cut by classic film editor Mario Serandrei, who also contributed to the script. Roberto Nicolosi's score is effective in general terms, with the possible exception of the piano romantic theme, which sounds too contemporary for the visuals. (When the film was bought by American International Pictures for distribution in the United States, Les Baxter wrote a new score). Besides Steele (who was immediately crowned Queen of Horror) and British leading man John Richardson as Katja's suitor, Dr. Gorobec, three prestigious Italian character actors completed the main cast: Andrea Checchi as Dr. Kruvajan; Ivo Garrani as both the Inquisition leader and Katja's father; and Arturo Dominici as the tall, sinister and frightening Javutich. Although since the release of "La maschera del demonio" motion pictures have augmented explicitness and reduced suggestion, Bava's first film won a place in the history of cinema for giving new breath to the horror genre all over the world, in a time when it was overlooked by most film critics and audiences.

Bombs, Killings and Mambos, 20 December 2014

I saw "Dollar Mambo" again last night, during a cultural act in the open air, by the coast of Panama Bay, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the American invasion of Panamá on December 20, 1989, in which thousands of innocent persons were killed. The first time I saw the movie I rejected it, for I expected a naturalist treatise about the invasion, and was confronted by a figurative motion picture, in which Mexican artist Paul Leduc gave his personal impression of the events, Panamá and its people. Last night I re-discovered "Dollar Mambo", and found it a very good motion picture, so I write this to retract myself. After "Frida, naturaleza viva", director Leduc followed his own aesthetic path of fluid camera movements, almost no dialogues and post-modern, fragmented story lines. First he made "¿Cómo ves?", a controversial docudrama about marginal life in México City, in which music played a central role, so it did not come as a surprise when he decided to make a musical trilogy. First he adapted Alejo Carpentier's short novel "Concierto barroco" into "Barroco" (1989), he followed it with a new remake of the novel by Federico Gamboa "Santa", this time called "Latino Bar" (1991), and finally he ended the trilogy with this musical "a la Leduc", based on a real event during the American invasion and posterior occupation of Panamá for months. Leduc adapted news he read in the papers, about a woman who was killed in a Panamanian bar by American soldiers who were acquited after detention for a while, as if nothing (the same response given by American authorities to the claims of the victims' relatives). He wrote the screenplay with the collaboration of many artists, including Panamanain poet Pedro Rivera, and came out with this strong metaphor of oppression, genocide, transculturation and death, to the sound of Afro-Caribbean rhythms, mambos by Dámaso Pérez Prado and a touch of rock and roll: the story follows the romance of a black dancer (Dolores Pedro), and her lover (Roberto Sosa), when suddenly bombs and bodies start to fall, and she is forced to degrade herself having sex with several American soldiers, in front of her beaten boyfriend. A very simple story turned into a tense, dramatic film, definitely not for all tastes, it is true, because of its many musical metaphors and symbols, in the midst of angry visual statements against American imperialism. But a quiet observation of the film and probably a conversation after its projection would reveal many missing interpretations and readings that we may lose on the first sight (as it happened to me). After "Dollar Mambo", Leduc retired from feature films for a while, and made several digital animation shorts on music appreciation.

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