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The Mob (1951)
On The Waterfront., 18 September 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Those were the days, working with what was called "break hold cargo," loading and unloading sacks and crates from ships. Now everything is pre-packed and sealed in a container that a crane lifts neatly from the hold and sits down gently on the trailer of an eighteen wheeler. No fuss, no muss, no jobs. It's why San Francisco is no longer a port, having lost its business to the more modernized Oakland across the bay. When I was a kid I used to wander the docks on New York's waterfront and pick up oddments like rolls of cinnamon from Sumatra (or so I imagined) or shards of twisted cork from Portugal.

In 1951, the period of this movie, a stevedore's job may have been hard to come by but the corruption was all over the place. The basic story is that of "On the Waterfront" except simpler and more careless. Instead of Marlon Brando discovering he has a conscience, we have gruff Broderick Crawford doing his job as an undercover cop, slugging and getting slugged. Among the bad guys who are ripping off the union are John Marley, Ernest Borgnine, and Neville Brand -- a real group of merry men. There are some women involved too, but not to any great extent.

I realize other have found this more entertaining than I did. I thought it achieve the routine. Crawford is such a slob, he never looks right in a suit -- and a pretty blond tells him he's "cute", twice. And he growls like a German shepherd when he speaks, even when he's trying to be pleasant.

Richard Kiley isn't too convincing as a waterfront working stiff. He sound educated and looks it too. He once did a PBS special in which he did nothing much but read and enact poems that are high school standards, like "Richard Corey" and "Mr. Flood's Party." Can I quote the last stanza?

There was not much that was ahead of him, And there was nothing in the town below— Where strangers would have shut the many doors That many friends had opened long ago.

What a portrait of desolation, and Kiley turned it into one of the most moving recitations I've ever heard. I love the guy but he seems miscast here.

The art direction is pedestrian and the milieu is one of those unnamed cities. Unnamed because it describes miscreance in high place. The dialog, though, has little sparkles sprinkled throughout. Not Edwin Arlington Robinson but dismissible and neat exchanges. "Tell me all about yourself," says a a pretty blond gangster's moll to the drunk and disheveled Crawford. "I come from a typical family. My father was an oil executive and my mother was a socialite." The jealous Kiley asks: "Did they ever marry?"

Well, if it's not exceptional for most of the movie, it livens up towards the end. It's not bad in any way but except for a few performances and the capacity shown by the dialog to insinuate its way out of the humdrum, it's just what you'd expect.

Above Average Biography., 14 September 2014
7/10

Alfred Hitchcock was born a greengrocer's son in a London suburb. He entered the movie business, married a film editor, Alma Reville, and went on to become a famous director -- probably the most easily recognized movie direct ever.

There have been continuing arguments over whether he was a genuine artist or a commercial hack, as if it were impossible to be somewhere in between.

But this is a biography, not a history of the movies. We follow Hitchock, his family, and his career from its humble beginning in London, through his British successes like "The 39 Steps", and his emmigration to Hollywood in 1939, where he was simply instrumentalized during a seven-year contract with the pill-popping, workaholic, egomaniacal boss, David O. Selznick.

There were, let's say, creative differences between the two. Yet Hitchock produced some of his most powerful films under Selznick's rule. "Shadow of a Doubt," for instance. Not one of Hitchcock's blockbusters but compare it to what else was being shown on the screen in 1943. It's conspicuously subtle.

Finally, the indentured servitude ended and Hitchcock was on his own. He made two films according to his wonts at the time -- one in which there were very few cuts and another in which there were no cuts at all -- and both promptly flopped.

Time to move on, showing a bit more respect for the commercial director and a little less attention to the experimental artist within.

Lies -- All Lies!, 14 September 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Major Nigel Patrick, a British intelligence officer, is head of a small team of operatives in 1944 London who are trying to let slip the fake information that the Allied landings will be in Holland rather than Normandy.

Jeffrey Hunter is a CIA agent, when it was still called the OSS, who is second in command. Patrick is stern and secretive and wound up like a spring. Hunter is easier going and gets involved with a Dutch woman, Annemarie Düringer. The two of them stumble into two German spies who are ransacking the office. Düringer shoots one of them and later breaks down, telling Hunter that she can't get the man's face out of her mind. "Just forget about it," he advises her.

That's the kind of advice that's commonly given to the guilt ridden, both in the movies and in real life. "Don't think about it." "Put it out of your mind." I've often wondered how you DO that. Can you WILL your mind not to think of something? If so, what agent is doing the willing? Is there another mind BEHIND the mind we know about and are conscious of? Where are Descartes and Freud when we need them? I usually discount all British films without scores written by Malcolm Arnold or Maurice Jarre and conducted by Muir Mathieson and John Wooldridge's score for "Count Five and Die" provides a good example of the reasons why. When Jeffrey Hunter creeps through a darkened office, pistol in hand, we hear the tingling of tremolo violins. No surprises anywhere. Zzzz.

In the course of the film, Düringer begins to look an awful lot like a German mole. We find this out rather earlier than Hunter does, when, just before she shoots the office burglar, he tells her in German that he's working for "Mulder" and asks her to help him, presumably by finishing him off before he can be interrogated. It's a nice touch because it alerts the audience that there's a bigwig named Mulder behind all this counter-espionage. But who is Mulder? I mean, besides David Duchovny? Anyway, the uncovering of Major Nigel Patrick, a British intelligence officer, is head of a small team of operatives in 1944 London who are trying to let slip the fake information that the Allied landings will be in Holland rather than Normandy.

Jeffrey Hunter is a CIA agent, when it was still called the OSS, who is second in command. Patrick is stern and secretive and wound up like a spring. Hunter is easier going and gets involved with a Dutch woman, Annemarie Düringer. The two of them stumble into two German spies who are ransacking the office. Düringer shoots one of them and later breaks down, telling Hunter that she can't get the man's face out of her mind. "Just forget about it," he advises her.

That's the kind of advice that's commonly given to the guilt ridden, both in the movies and in real life. "Don't think about it." "Put it out of your mind." I've often wondered how you DO that. Can you WILL your mind not to think of something? If so, what agent is doing the willing? Is there another mind BEHIND the mind we know about and are conscious of? Where are Descartes and Freud when we need them? I usually discount all British films without scores written by Malcolm Arnold or Maurice Jarre and conducted by Muir Mathieson and John Wooldridge's score for "Count Five and Die" provides a good example of the reasons why. When Jeffrey Hunter creeps through a darkened office, pistol in hand, we hear the tingling of tremolo violins. No surprises anywhere. Zzzz.

In the course of the film, Düringer begins to look an awful lot like a German mole. We find this out rather earlier than Hunter does, when, just before she shoots the office burglar, he tells her in German that he's working for "Mulder" and asks her to help him, presumably by finishing him off before he can be interrogated. It's a nice touch because it alerts the audience that there's a bigwig named Faber behind all this counter-espionage. But who is Faber? He turns out to be one of those typical, unsmiling, ruthless dentists. I kept waiting for him to say, "Turn this way a little." Anyway, the uncovering of Durginger's real identity puts the team in a bind. Having already seduce her -- or the other way round -- Hunter must now go on dating her, even though Patrick has brought him up to date. How would you like to try making love to someone you know to be an enemy? Of course, this isn't the place for an essay on marriage. But Hunter finds he can't do it. He's cold towards her. And Duringer shows what a proper actress can do. Hunter abruptly leaves her apartment after rejecting her advances. Alone, she mopes, her expression sad. Then her eyes widen as she realizes that Hunter and the rest of the team must be on to her. It's a slight physical change but it alters her entire expression.

Otherwise it's a rather routine movie, hampered probably by a low budget. There are no period airplanes. The wardrobe and grooming are 1960-ish. The director has shot a few street scenes with innocent spectators standing in the background and staring at the camera. The Morse code is gibberish. There is a neat twist at the end, and one or two striking noir-like shots. The dialog is functional but has an occasional twinkle.

Rache -- Big Time., 13 September 2014
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's forty-eight minutes long and it's not bad at all. Homes (Peter Cushing) and Watson (Nigel Stock) solve two mysterious murders in which the killer has written on the wall in blood, "Rache," which is either an aborted attempt to write "Rachel" or the German word for "Revenge." Hint: Scotland Yard inspectors believe it to be the former.

The adaptation does what it can with Conan-Doyle's first published story of the famous detective, a longish novella. Hugh Leonard, the writer, has of necessity chopped out all the back story of lust and intrigue in what Conan-Doyle called "the Great American desert", which is not a desert at all, except culturally. The back story was dull anyway. We're interested in Sherlock Holmes and his operations, not in some piqued lover. There's a 1933 version floating around in the ether somewhere. Skip it.

I haven't read the story in years, yet it's the closest adaptation I've seen of "A Study in Scarlet." The tale is one of the most interesting in the canon, but it seems to be generally avoided by the movies and by television, probably because of all that tangential tramping around in Utah. It's certainly one of the most dramatically effective -- as in the final moments, when Holmes asks a cab driver to help him move some boxes and then claps a pair of handcuffs on a man who appears to be a completely innocent stranger.

The production values are good too, about at the level of the Fox pair from around 1940 and much higher than the Universal series.

Peter Cushing makes a satisfactory Holmes. He's less tic-y than Jeremy Brett, more friendly, less abrasive, but not as commanding as Basil Rathbone. Cushing was a nice guy, devastated by his wife's death, who carried on with a long career. It began in film as a homosexual director in the play-within-a-play in Hamlet. Bowing and swooping, he was a fine pouf. Nobody else has as much to do, and there are some weak performances. Edina Ronay, as the subject or object or target of the affections of one of the villains, is made up for 1968. And she's young enough but doesn't look at all comfortable with simple daintiness. She's beautiful, but in a way that suggests she could eat a man alive, beginning with his toes. Joe Melia as the chief scoundrel overacts to beat the band. And Jefferson Hope's name should be Jefferson Mope.

I recommend it, for fans of the canon or for the curious. It's a finely done mystery featuring an investigatory figure that has become iconic over the course of the last century.

Hit 'em Hard!, 12 September 2014
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One of several films about beaten-up professional sports stars. One had Charlton Heston. This one has Nick Nolte. I get all of the mixed up. Usually the star has a final triumph and then quits while he's at the top, rather like Robert Redford in "The Natural". Come to think of it, the story doesn't have to be about sports. Charlton Heston played a similar role in the much better "Will Penny," as an aging cowboy realistically reduced to a life of three baths a year.

Nick Nolte has some good scenes in this one. He's a laid-back football player for the North Dallas Bulls. He's not noticeably old but he's been so battered by playing the game he loves that he's dispirited, and the management doesn't like it. He should be playing for "the team." The management consists of Steve Forrest, Charles Durning, and G. D. Spradlin (in a semi-sympathetic role for a change). At the speech-ridden end, Nolte realizes that their argument about playing for the team is just so much horse hockey designed to win the championship and get Forrest's photo on the cover of time. Forrest is so rich he doesn't need the money that the team will make because he's a steel magnate, and a money magnet to boot. He only wants the glory, which is paid for by the blood of his players. Now, is that egocentricity or not? Nolte quits, presumably marries the girl (Dayle Hadden, beautiful but can't act), and retires to raise horses. Nolte was a little nervous about his two Big Scenes in the movie but he was my supporting player in "Weeds" and "Everybody Wins", so I helped him over the rough spots, as is the duty of any old pal.

Genuine football fans -- and I'm not among their number -- will probably be disappointed because there aren't many scenes of football being played. Only one, really, and the set up isn't so hot, so it isn't as exciting as it should be. Redford's "The Natural," by contrast, had a great set up for the final game and the climax was spectacular and satisfying to our glands if not our aesthetics.

The chief problem with the film is its lack of focus. What the hell is going on? Fast Eddy could talk about shooting pool in "The Hustler" and we could feel that his description, limited to only a few sentences, was authentic. The Germans call it Funktionslust, the love of doing what one does well. I didn't get it from Nolte or anybody else on the team, a couple of whom were bat-crap bonkers.

I guess the moral that we can drag in from somewhere outside the noösphere is that playing along with the team is childish and then when you grow up, you follow your own bliss. Spradlin even gets to quote the passage from St. Paul about "when I became a man, I put away childish things." But it's very confusing because we're told so often that Nolte has far more love for the game than he does for raising horses. His Funktionslust is a "childish thing"? I mean, you can see that the calculus doesn't quite work out. When I was a kid I wanted to be a catcher for the New York Yankees, but when I became a man I put away that childish thing because I realized I was a lousy ball player. Nolte, on the other hand, is supposed to be very good.

Well, you can make up your own mind. I found it a little monotonous and basically dull and at cross-purposes with itself.

We Lose., 11 September 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's a pretty straightforward telling of the Japanese conquest of the Maylasian peninsula and of the British-held island of Singapore after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In early 1942, there seemed to be nothing that would stop the Japanese or German advances. General Percival surrendered more than 100,000 men. Churchill called it "the greatest defeat in British military history." There's little in the way of combat footage in the film. We hear a good deal from two expert British ex generals, one who has studied General Yamashita and the other who takes Percival's point of view. The graphics are adequate, mostly very informative maps and two-dimensional figures of the sort you find in a child's pop-up book. There are still photos as well -- close ups of faces, almost all Japanese, sweating and wearing savage expressions. Contrast enhancement shows every pore in their half-shaved features, and their open mouths present the viewer with a panorama of disfigured teeth.

There is no such bias elsewhere in the presentation. The Yamashita expert simply observes at the end that the Japanese general "made no mistakes." Except that he allowed his men to behead prisoners, for which he was hanged after the war. The Percival expert allows that, yes, Percival erred in several ways, but although he outnumbered the enemy, his troops were hampered by lack of training and equipment inadequate to the circumstances. An armorer and engineer demonstrate the simplicity of the Japanese innovations (traveling quickly by bicycle) and rebuilding bridges by having men act at piles for the boards.

Two British capital ships -- the Prince of Wales and the Repulse -- were sent against the Japanese in Maylaya and promptly sunk by air power. Percival had nothing to equal the Japanese A6M Zero and his air force, mostly biplanes, were quickly eliminated.

The surrender ceremony at Singapore was a complete humiliation for Percival, with Yamashita pounding the table and angrily demanding unconditional surrender, while Percival looked very much as if he'd rather be somewhere else.

At the end, Singapore City has become a mess. What had always been a quiet outpost of the British empire had turned into a lawless riot, with desertion, looting, drunkenness, and summary executions. Percival had no choice other than to disobey Churchill's order to fight to the last man. (Editorial remark: What a stupid order, yet the politicians back in the capitals keep issuing them.) One commenter remarks of Percival that one of his weaknesses was that he didn't fit the stereotypical template of the British general. And in fact he was built like a giraffe, and had the face of a 1930s stage comedian. But with what was available to him -- no air power, most troops with no combat experience, some with only a few weeks training in close order drill -- the outcome in retrospect looks a little inevitable anyway.

For The Sake Of The Team., 10 September 2014
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The title -- "Two Minutes to Play" -- is a reference to the climax of the movie, in which Franklin College is losing a football game to rival Augusta by three points.

Poor Herman Brix, as Martin Granville, the best player Franklin has, has been suspended from the team for an infraction of the rules -- an infraction of which he is innocent. Then, in the midst of this near-disaster on the gridiron, the truth is revealed to the coach. "Find GRANVILLE, wherever he is, and tell him to get SUITED UP!", bellows the coach. Something like that anyway.

It's a tense moment indeed. The time out is ticking away as Brix hurries into his uniform and rushes out onto the field and the crowd cheers and bells ring. It's a grave disappointment when Brix trips because he's forgotten to change out of his high heels, sprains his lateral pterygoid plate, breaks his coccyx, a wing of his sphenoidals, and both his legs. The crowd moans in anguish. As Brix's broken body is carted off the field, Franklin goes on to lose the final game -- Augusta 3, Franklin negative 6. I'll tell you, the Franklin faces are fallen when they read in the next morning's papers that the coach has done himself in by hugging a red hot stove to death while swallowing a string of lighted firecrackers. Compared to this tale, "Othello" is a romantic comedy.

Of course, you don't believe that. Brix was a fine athlete, something to do with the shot put in the Olympics, if I remember. He seems to have regular enough features for a male lead. I can't tell if he's handsome or not. And if he's not a natural actor, he's at least as good as anyone else in the movie -- somewhere between Ron Carey and Gary Cooper.

There are some running gags that succeed in their own quiet way, and the ending is ironic. Brix doesn't get the girl. Neither does his chief rival on the football field. Instead, she marries Grady Sutton, who looks like Humpty Dumpty but has recently acquired thirty-seven million dollars.

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Traumatized., 9 September 2014
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I don't know why this isn't a better know film because it's generally well acted and thoroughly absorbing.

Kirk Douglas is a famous German juggler who has survived a concentration camp where he lost his wife and children. He winds up a refugee in Haifa but his experiences have left him deranged, mistaking strange women for his wife, claustrophobic, bitterly mistrustful of authority. He runs away from the refugee camp, battering a curious policeman almost to death, and hikes across much of Israel with a boy, Joseph Walsh, that he's picked up along the way. When he reaches a remote kibbutz, they welcome him, and he and one of the staff, Milly Vitale, fall in love. But the police are on his trail because of the assault on the cop. They capture him and take him away for trial and psychiatric treatment.

Describing the tale in a precis like this drains it of all blood. Along with "Champion", it's certainly one of Kirk Douglas' finest performances. The climactic scene in which he's locked all the doors to a tiny cabin and threatens to kill any policeman who tries to break in is indescribable. Milly Vitale, at the door, makes the point that he hasn't locked others out, he's locked himself in. And when Douglas realizes that she's speaking the truth, his eyes roll back and his face is distorted with anguish.

Of course it's overdone. This is Hollywood speaking. And they want to make sure you get each particular point, even if they have to hit you over the head with a crowbar to do it. Thus, when Douglas' shirt sleeve is accidentally rolled back, uncovering his tattoo, someone must remark, "That's a concentration camp number. You must have been in a concentration camp!" The last shot is a disappointment, with Douglas on his knees, begging for help.

At the kibbutz we get the happy peasant cliché. Everyone is kindly and unpretentious. They take pleasure in simple things, like the arrival of two cows, which they decorate with flowers. And after that, there must be a folk dance to George Antheil's frenzied music and Edward Dmytryk's gigantic close ups of wildly happy faces.

The cast look genuine enough in dusty work clothes. Douglas appears only briefly with his hair carefully trimmed, combed, and moussed. But Milly Vitale is always made up and wears a stylish 1953 do. That's a mistake, because Milly Vitale is radiant and doesn't need her face plastered with goo.

But there are moments, sometimes brief, just a line or two of dialog, that stand out as if accompanied by barely perceived fanfares. On a hilltop, Douglas is explaining how he lost his family -- thank God, no flashbacks -- and then he answers all her questions with old jokes or tricks. As for how he was swept up, "The juggler is juggled." Why can't he accept the kibbutz as his home? Douglas is juggling four oranges (he's pretty good) and he repeats, in time with the rotation of the fruit, "Home . . is a place . . you lose."

Like "The Pawn Broker," the film deals not with the suffering of the concentration camps but with the suffering that lives on within us after the horror is "over." It's a difficult movie to forget.

Bonded., 9 September 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Before her time bomb blow a personal airliner to pieces, Elke Sommer bails out over the ocean. This struck me as a very tasteful and artistic scene because before she bails out, Sommer sheds her long slacks and deplanes wearing only tight white plastic bottoms.

She's picked up by her co-conspirator, Sylva Koscina, and together they swim to a beach and puncture a man with a spear gun. This was also handled very elegantly. Both of the young ladies are wearing only the most perfunctory of swim clothes. Sommer, in particular, is bulging out of her top. I didn't care a hoot about the murdered guy, whom we don't know anyway, but I kept wondering about who exactly fitted those exact swimsuits to those exact figures, and how did they do it? A chef d'oeuvre by some artist in the wardrobe department.

Before these magnificent events unfold, we have to sit through the credits while somebody warbles the theme song -- "Deadlier Than The Mail" -- before the musical score switches to speedy thriller noise with a lot of bongo drums.

Hugh Drummond, Richard Johnson, is some kind of insurance investigator, not that it matters. He's James Bond in all but name. Well, not quite so fussy about his dress and his wine, but he speaks Japanese and is a martial arts expert like all high-echelon insurance men. He's going to get to the bottom of this business, which involves a merger of two giant oil companies. Those who object to the merger, one by one, are picked off by the two girls in colorful ways -- spear guns, rolling off a fifteen-story balcony, and the like. These vixens are viciously matter of fact about their misdeeds but this is no place to talk about my five ex wives.

I always enjoy Richard Johnson. Never a bravura performer, he was always reliably proper in his deportment. He doesn't crack jokes with the facility of James Bond. He was the anthropologist in "The Haunting", studying ghosts. I like him for that too, because that's my profession and I even studied ghosts in a culture where ghosts are not just superstitions but something to contend with. The chief villain -- or, in this case, we might call him the head honcho, surrounded as he is by porcelain-doll Japanese women -- is Nigel Green. He's a fine actor, unforgettable really. That suave tonality, that politely superior demeanor.

There isn't that much action in this flick, despite the atmosphere of mock menace and several acts of violence. Johnson doesn't dance off the walls, held up by wires. There are no highly ritualized sword fights, as in "Kill Bill." Nobody's head gets wrenched off, as in so many action movies.

So, it's a shameless ripoff of James Bond, but it's pleasant enough. If you can stand another James Bond movie, you can sit through this simulacrum.

Musical Kaleidoscope, 9 September 2014
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's 1922 in New York. Tribal customs of grooming and dress are colorfully pierced. Julie Andrews' bosom is too large, so her drooping pearl necklace doesn't droop symmetrically. Mary Tyler Moore is her hotel mate in a girls-only establishment. Very proper, you know. Except that the concierge, Beatrice Lilly, is in cahoots with the likes of Philip Ahn, whose business is kidnapping naive young ladies and selling them into a white sex slave trade. Or something.

The costumes are varied and rich, and the two principals are gorgeous. The musical arrangements are neatly done too, mostly but not entirely renditions of period tunes like "Charmaine" and "Baby Face". The latter is Andrews' paean to John Gavin, who ought to be ashamed of himself, although he handles his assignment here well enough. What a handsome guy. He even obtained political prominence under Reagan, being appointed ambassador to Mexico. It was one of those rare ambassorships that was justified, since Gavin's mother was from a prominent Mexican family, Gavin spoke fluent Spanish and Portugese and had graduated in Latin American history at Stanford. A success at everything he tried, and Julie Andrews' true love, to boot. I hate his guts.

Sorry. I know that was a little off topic, but if you think that was a bit on the random side, you should see this movie. I couldn't tell where it was going. The general idea, of course, is from "Singin' in the Rain." A shift in the cultural paradigm. But then there are hints of other comedies. Andrews glances at the camera and makes a moue when disappointed. First time I saw that fourth-wall device in a modern movie was in "Tom Jones", released three years earlier. (That's not counting Laurel and Hardy.) The comedy is fast, there are a lot of songs, and Julie Andrews is a sonorous soprano. But I found it dull. There are snippets of "The Great Race," which appeared two years earlier. Stuff seems to happen for no reason other than to add some dash to the story. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Worst of all, though it has a lovely English lady as a singer, there is only a smattering of dance -- and it's not original or exhilarating. If you're going to transpose "Singin' in the Rain" from 1929 to 1922, the least you can do is use a choreographer who knows how to stage a dance. Anybody can sing, but dancing is HARD WORK. Where is Gene Kelly when you need him? Or Bob Fosse? A celebration at a Jewish wedding -- one of those events that comes out of nowhere -- begins with promise but ends with Andrews belting out a song in Yiddish while the celebrants to an ordinary ring dance.

A disappointment, but a fast and vibrant one. I imagine a lot of people will have fun watching it. The kids might not get some of the racier gags, but then they're not very racy so the kids won't be missing much.


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