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Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952)
She didn't have...? What?
Mitzi Gaynor, to me, is an enigma. She could dance well, sing with more than a little ability... but never really grabbed the screen and held onto it. Her performance in this one is a very good example. True, the part is ridiculous, and the character's transition is sloppily written. But her acting, in general, is pure artifice, part of the problem she would eventually face in 'South Pacific'. She is pert and yet lacking charisma. This film does have some charm, including the 'I've Got a Feeling You're Foolin' Number. And Scott Brady happens to be in his element here. To me, though, the film is worth seeing just to admire Marguerite Chapman, one of the most beautiful and unjustly forgotten actresses. Few actresses could show 'spit and vinegar' and temperament in their performances the way Chapman does so easily. Harmon Jones' direction follows the imperfect script. When the structure of a Runyhon yarn becomes so obvious that you take note of its inconsistencies, its plot holes seem like Manhattan potholes.
Sky Full of Moon (1952)
Quiety delightful, warm hearted winner
Carleton Carpenter had a wonderful charming personality that warmed up every film he made, beginning with the serious and underrated LOST BOUNDARIES. He did some fine work at MGM (delicious number with Debbie Reynolds in the Aba Daba Honeymoon scene and subsequent best-selling recording). But, here,in SKY FULL OF MOON, he turns in a superb, easygoing, depiction of a cowboy in the Las Vegas of the period. A natural ease and a clear nice performance make this film a winner. Of course, Jan Sterling, herself one of the unheralded 'greats' of the screen...and stage... brings her abilities to the pleasant story. The ending of the film is both proper, satisfying, and even tenderly sad. This film was made on a low budget at MGM just prior to Carpenter leaving the studio. But it is worth the search. You will find yourself smiling at the proceedings. You will admire the work of Carpenter and Sterling... and you will get a brief glimpse of Elaine Stewart, one of the screen's great beauties, with talent, who had a short film career. But you won't take your eyes off her during her brief scene. See this film, and relax at the work of pros with a simple, nice script and film.
It Happened in Flatbush (1942)
The Dodgers and the Loons
Those of us who grew up with, and loved, the Brooklyn Dodgers had gotten a smile and a kick out of this film. Does anyone know if it is available anywhere? Would love to turn back the clock and enjoy this one over again. Great film - hell no! But so much of the Brooklyn spirit....and great dialogue poking fun at non-Brooklynites.Lloyd Nolan, of course, was fine in his role as manager of the team, and the much maligned but beautiful and actually quite talented Carole Landis is a wonderful woman to have around. Then there is the wonderful Sara Allgood...... No, Ray McCarey didn't have the chance to reach the career status of his brother, Leo, but Ray's films are devoid of the sentimental mash that his brother offered. Has anyone actually been able to watch Going My Way anymore? Impossible (even with the joy of seeing Rise Stevens).
Funny Back Then... Still Funny
When it first appeared, Dreamboat hit the mark with Sid Caesar-like precision. The old old movies were still floating around the smaller channels, and it was not unusual to find the TV screen filled with the histrionics of Valentino, Pola Negri, among others. Today, their existing work can be found, occasionally on TCM. Dreamboat was an absolute 'hoot' in its initial release, and Webb and Rogers were every bit as wacked-out funny as Caesar and Coca in a TV sketch about silent movies. Today, Deamboat may seem a little obscure, perhaps, but its broad and zany humor will still be there. One hopes that someone somewhere decides it is time to produce that elusive DVD release of this film (which includes an adorable Anne Francis, one of those underrated stars who deserves special attention).
Without Honor (1949)
The problems that may be inherent in the story were made worse because the then-still-somewhat-powerful arbiters of censorship gave the film a rough time. The objection, I would assume, resulted from the fact that the Laraine Day character is allowed to live and not 'pay for her almost-fatal-act-of-murder'. Day didn't always get a chance to grab the parts that lead to awards, but she is more than good in this one. Sorry to contradict one of the earlier writers on the piece, but the worst acting in the film, and the only truly awful performance, is the one by Agnes Moorehead, wearing an outfit that could have come from Ed Wood. This is far from an unwatchable film... it does have suspense...and the ending is surprising in denouement. It is forgotten, I admit, but this film did earn considerable attention in the news regarding its producers' fights to get it released without disastrous cuts. Thus, a moment in the censorship issues that were finally blasted apart by people like Otto Preminger.
A Royal Scandal (1945)
An underrated masterwork
The history of this film has been documented well,and its failure, at the time, has taken its toll on its reputation. Perhaps, it was made at the wrong time; perhaps Tallulah Bankhead was not the 'darling' of the film critics as she had been by theater critics; perhaps it was an easy target because Lubitsch had been ill and Peminger substituted - a simple target to call a film 'not of a piece'. I do have a copy of it, though, and, today, it stands as a comedy of wit, charm, and delicious mischief. Bankhead is 'mahvelous' playing it to the hilt and offering superb takes on all of her lines. Her reaction shots are among the funniest yet capture on film. No, it is not Catherine -- it is Tallulah--but this is a satirical romp and not meant to be faithful to Russian history. William Eythe, forever underrated, is perfection.A stellar comedic force (he was equally fine in more serious roles e.g. TheHouse on 92nd Street). Coburn is in the right frame of mind and action; Anne Baxter does not quite capture the spirit of the madness, but she is not bad. It is probably insane to think that 'A Royal Scandal' finally can get the credit it deserved. But it is a tasty and wonderful cinematic morsel to enjoy again and again.
The Mandarin Mystery (1936)
Give me the 'real' Ellery!
If one can simply forget the literary Ellery Queen, this is an OK murder mystery (locked room murder, etc. etc. ). the problem, for Ellery Queen fans is that the whole thing, on that basis, is WAY off the mark. Queen is an analytical detective, and his father and the Police are not dolts. The books are written with more twists and turns and excellence that most others on the mystery shelf (with the possible exceptions of S.S. Van Dyne (Philo Vance) and, of course, Agatha Christie.)Dropping the comparison, one must note the ridiculousness of some of the plot e.g. the whole world knows the value of the stamp - it even appears on the Times Square news bulletin - yet the girl carries the stamp in an envelope in her open pocketbook. Despite all of this, Quillan is a fun actor, definitely not Ellery but giving the film the spunk it desperately needs. Charlotte Henry does not have a 'clue' and thus cannot handle the idiocy of what her character says and does. Still, on a chilly night, with the rain on the window, and curled up on a comfortable chair, this passes the time quickly.
Il giovane Toscanini (1988)
Misunderstood and Underrated
The story behind the making and breaking of this film probably deserves close scrutiny. The whole things, at least at first, seems to be a giant mystery. Franco Zeferelli directed (yes, he was capable of doing poor work e.g. Endless Love despite its cast) but this one is not a bad job. C. Thomas Howell, as Young Toscanini, gives a fine performance and one that should have propelled his busy career into a leading man category. His work is excellent. Elizabeth Taylor likewise performs with the professionalism that is often overlooked. She is every inch the operatic diva the story requires. True, the ending scenes involve sloppy, how-do-I-finish-this-one moments. BUT the remainder of the work features excellence in acting, set and art decoration, cinematography, etc. The script has its lapses, but the rest of the film, despite its easy ending, may not be true to Toscanini but makes for splendid film-making. Why did this one slip by in the middle of the night?
In Harm's Way (1965)
Get out of Harm's Way!!
In Harm's Way is a ridiculous and embarrassing look at the time of Pearl Harbor. In many ways, the writing and the direction make a trivial incident of Pearl Harbor and the tragedy that took place there. During the attack, after the attack, and throughout the action, the dialogue and the direction of the actors is limply weak. There is a lot of banter, wisecracks, and giggly smiles even while we know that the bombings have created one of the most tragic incidents in history. While ships are sinking under the raid and people are dying, we watch Wayne and Douglas smirk and make 'wit' of each other instead of showing us the shock and horror that really occurred. From that early moment in the film, no one appears to be harrowed by what happened; the characters go about their business, and there are even parties. Oh, man! Wayne is at his worst - Mr. America, indeed!! Kirk Douglas is likewise at the nadir of his usually impressive acting credits. Patricia Neal greatly suffers from the smiles and come-ons towards Wayne within moments after the attack. Tom Tryon, Paul Prentiss, Brandon deWilde are better; they actually show concern and or disgust at the raid or each other. Making a smirky, gee-whiz look at the characters AT THE SCENE of the attack is totally absurd. Preminger usually brought some sort of interest in even his minor works, but this big budget war film shows him at his poorest command of all involved.
The Girl Next Door (1953)
Haver at her best and... her last
The Girl Next Door is a surprising and fascinating film, partly for what it delivers, and partly because of what it indicates the future could have been for its star. The film opened quickly, and disappeared just as quickly, in New York, because its start June Haver had already entered a convent (she, of course, didn't stay there long). Not expected to be box office, the film, though, has some extraordinary moments, and the most surprising element of all is the work of June Haver. Although her voice is dubbed, her dancing is a complete revelation. Her work with Dan Dailey is superlative and shows maturity that she had never shown before. Indeed, her torch song indicates a Haver never seen before...and never to reappear. The cartoon networking is fun, and the dish number between Dailey and Billy Gray is a joyous scene. Haver also displays a wide range of emotions that indicate she had matured as an actress and was no longer the perennial ingenue. Even her figure is more eye-watchable than in previous vehicles -- including The Dolly Sisters. The film sags badly whenever Dennis Day is at hand, and even more sadly because he sings the one number that had a brief bit of fame - If I Love You a Mountain. His voice allows no emotion, and his expressions are devoid of any acting. His vis-a-vis, Cara Williams, is totally wasted. It's nice, though, that the film has hit DVD, because its merits are commendable. Certainly, it is professional work - with the sad exception of the scenes with Dennis Day.