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Gorilla at Large (1954)
It's not so much that there's more than meets the eye as it is what
does meet the eye that makes this picture worth a look-see.
Sure, if you want to be all serious, then you could easily object to a
rather predictable plot, or some wooden performances (though I'd
have something to say about that), or a delightfully inept gorilla suit
that looks more like an animated swatch of shag carpet (the eyes
are so...human!). You could moan and groan about the film's
portrayal of women, etc., etc. You could call it a bad movie.
But you shouldn't! Firstly, it does offer the sorts of thrills that
B-movie fans relish: the lurid carny life, cartoonish violence,
trapeze artists in skimpy costumes, emotions writ large and
unambiguously (at least ostensibly).
In fact, I'd say that many of the performances are great, not
because they are especially moving or "realistic," but rather,
because the conventions of the genre frame them in such a way
as to be quite effective, and not least of all, gratifying. Anne
Bancroft smolders magnificently as a trapeze artist with quite a
shady past. Raymond Burr's controlling, yet ambiguous carnival
manager never fails to intrigue. Lee Marvin is great as a feckless,
blow-hard police officer. And perhaps most compellingly, there is
Lee J. Cobb, as a no-nonsense, cigar-chomping gumshoe. You
really get a sense of what an entirely watchable performer he is in
this picture, and personally I think he's better here than he is in "On
the Waterfront" (gasp!).
Camp values aside, the technical aspects of the film are
breathtaking. The picture's technicolors blast out of the screen,
aided by 3-D that is so sharply defined and brilliant that you feel
like you are watching some sort of moving ViewMaster reel. A
restored print has recently been struck and you'll be blown away if
you have a chance to see it. I'd say that its use of technicolor and
3-D are perhaps more impressive than even "House of Wax," and
certainly more accomplished than such unnecessarily 3-D'd
features such as "Dial M for Murder" or "Miss Sadie Thompson."
Color, violence, a beautiful girl and a gorilla--and in not one, nor
two, but THREE dimensions. What's not to like?
Reign of Terror (1949)
A whole lotta French Revolution and Arlene Dahl, too
This early effort from Anthony Mann (who went on to direct such
classics as Winchester '73 and The Man from Laramie) contains
his typical fast-pacing as well as an alternation between
extraordinarily wide landscape shots and extreme closeups, plus
his trademark fight and horse scenes, but played against the
unlikely backdrop of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror
period. In addition to the stylistic tricks that Mann would later use in
his Westerns, one sees here as well a strong importation of the
noir aesthetic, with its extreme chiaroscuro, complex plotting and
otherwise amoral atmosphere, interestingly grafted onto an
18th-century period picture. A great example of the way style can
often transcend genre expectations.
Apart from these and other notable aesthetic techniques (the use
of extreme, menacing close-up being among the most pronounced), the picture is a great deal of fun, largely owing to the
conventions and limitations of B-level studio pictures that were
standard in its day. Specifically, much of the delight emerges from
the way that Mann fashions a worthwhile cinematic expression
(camp value and all) from resources that many critics might
adjudge second-rate. Rather than drown actors such as Bob
Cummings and Arlene Dahl in period accuracy that would
overwhelm their expressive range, the performers--the entire
picture, in fact--seems to be winking at the fact that it is cramming
the entire Terror into 87 action- and intrigue-packed minutes.
(Dahl-watchers will be especially delighted by her campy, vampy
hijinks as a potential double agent who can impersonate everyone
from the most elegant marquise to a chicken farmer's wife with
just a rearrangement of a few fashion accessories.)
Indeed, RoT packs all the familiar faces of the Revolution into the
action for their respective fifteen seconds of fame: the Marquis de
Lafayette, Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just and even good-old
Napoleon, who shows up at the end for one of the picture's silliest,
most sublime moments.
To that end, pay special attention to Richard Basehart's portrayal of
the infamous tyrant Robespierre. Forget what you learned in
history class: Hollywood's version is a delightfully malevolent and
distinctly epicene figure, who struts about in a tight-fitting black silk
outfit, is said by other characters not to like women, and who has
placed his elegantly appointed, not-quite-Empire-style
headquarters in the same space as a torture chamber. You will
not be surprised that he's the sort of character who can undermine
the Revolution's hard-won ideals while having his wig powdered
or making a citron pressé into an exquisite goblet. Truth be told, he
seems more interested in the wig-powdering.
All in all, this is an entertaining--and sometimes delightfully
campy--picture whose lightweight aspects are counterpoised by a
strong and accomplished mise-en-scene and a delightful sense
of perversion. Check it out and lock it in!
Predictable, perhaps, but not exactly conventional
This film, sometimes predictable, is nonetheless quite watchable. And then, of course, if you start to think about what's happening on screen and the metaphorical possibilities thereof, you may feel like you've discovered a hidden gem.
Susan Hayward aficionados (I won't exactly say fans) will never be bored, as Miss Hayward gives it her typical spitfire all from the get-go, her performance liberally punctuated with her signature eye-squints, chin-jerks and tit-thrusts.
Compared to Hayward, in fact (and this hardly seems accidental), Tyrone Power's character is seen as quite emasculated. From the beginning of the film he has "lost" his gun, and it is Hayward, not he, who takes out the last bad guy. One scene has him preparing bacon, beans and coffee for the bandits that have wrought such murder and mayhem on the stage coach depot he reluctantly manages.
Visually, the film is quite striking, with an impressive mise-en-scène that alternates between wide shots expressing the vastness and solitude of the West and extreme--and unusually-constructed--close-ups that explore characters both good and evil and as well make us a part of the growing intimacy between Hayward and Power.
Finally, fans of gunplay will thrill to the extremity of the scene where one particularly incorrigible gunman makes his last stand by taking pot-shots at Hayward's toddler ward, Callie.
Marvelous juxtaposition of harsh reality and lyricism
This film, which sets up many of the story lines and themes that are taken up in "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," is as charming and seductive as the latter, even in black and white and without the musical numbers. In fact, the black and white is quite spectacular--the camera loves Anouk Aimée in particular--and the film seems as if it is going to turn into a musical at almost every moment. While watching the film, one thrills to see the first statement of director Demy's beautiful and poignant cinematic universe. "Lola" is at once a splendid homage to the classic Hollywood film, and at the same time, through its expression of complex, mostly tragic themes, and quotidian--if not ugly--realities, something much more intriguing than a conventional film romance. Yet, such harshness is tempered, even transformed, by the dreamscape of cinema, both in what is depicted on-screen as well as through the characters' own processes of dreaming. You needn't resist the temptation to call it sublime.
These Glamour Girls (1939)
A sparkling and witty hidden gem
This little-known film is a lot of fun. The dialogue is quite pointed and witty and the pacing is very good. Lana Turner is especially appealing, and the college boys' catty girlfriends are astounding when they get going with their bitchy badinage.