Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The ORIGINAL Black Lizard is a pre-feminist treat!
A few minutes in I realized this is not the 1968 film of the same name, the camp classic staring a female impersonator.... I had no idea the same film had been made only 6 years earlier staring a woman, and to my delight the original is just as fabulous, peppered with weird musical sequences, off kilter camera angles, and dynamic theatrical lighting - yet also somewhat edgier by doing it first and by playing it "straight".... I imagine it was an evolution similar to John Water's Hairspray - a low-budget movie which became a Broadway musical and then again a film.... Most reviews credit Yukio Mishima as adapting the stage show from the original novel - he absolutely did not, the source is clearly this film. Aside from the gendered casting, the two versions of Black Lizard are identical scene for scene. The remake is more slick, has extra sequences, and plays as a comedy. However the original is just as stylish, strange and seductive.
Ms Kurotokage is a mastermind jewel thief whose capers are becoming more brazen and fetishized. She enjoys putting herself right into danger, publicly confronting her victims and then escaping in disguise. Vain and immoral, she takes great pleasure in outwitting her victims, even explaining the crime to them as it is happening. Her desire to steal "jewels" extends to young beautiful people she collects to use as pawns in her game of match-wits with a master detective Akechi Rampo, the only man who truly understands her.... How can she not fall in love? "Crime and detectives are two sides of the same coin" she tells him. And "You romanticize crime."
Although the remake is perhaps better known (it had a festival revival in the 1990s and a limited DVD release), don't pass up the opportunity to also see the gem that spawned it. Everything that makes that film entertaining is also here: the uncompromisingly fabulous villain-protagonist with devoted servants, over-the- top speeches about love and crime (some simultaneous between her and the detective in split-screen), and most (if not all) of the magical visual moments are here too, like characters stepping into a spotlight to speak their thoughts in monologue - in this case it seems less a campy veneer, and more as inspired theatrical tricks to hide small cheap sets and and keep chewy dialog entertaining. Little wonder it translated so well into a successful theater show.
Woman Times Seven (1967)
Some real gems here
Woman Times Seven is a collection of vignettes about seven random women (not adultery, as the synopsis claims) all played by Shirley MacLaine, and all the women are different. That's the whole point, they are different - one is shy, one is a prude, one is a bitch, one is even boring! They end up in different situations, some ridiculous, some poignant. There is no over-arching thread or moral to bind them together. They are character studies more than plots, something American audiences may not appreciate. Some vignettes are left unresolved, some are broad comedies, some are bittersweet. If you are waiting for the punchline it isn't always here, but sometimes it is, leaving the overall flow bumpy and uneven.
I'm not a fan of vignette films, but it's so difficult to find interesting female characters in today's films. How refreshing to see many different "types" here - even if all played by the same actress. MacLaine is good. She's thoughtful about each character and steps out of her usual pixie/harlot role, but taken together it feels like a gimmick - the sum is not greater than the parts. The characters suit the style of each story, so some have gravity and others are comic caricatures that serve the situation - another aspect that makes the film seem uneven. Within each vignette MacLaine does a fine job, using her considerable talents as a dancer to physically embody each woman differently, but we're not with these women long enough to see any metamorphosis.
The first is a grieving widow opposite Peter Sellers whose words of comfort keep turning to inappropriate propositions. The scene belongs completely to Sellers, and it's the weakest of the stories.
The second character is a prudish wife who after discovering her husband and her best friend in bed, runs out of the house vowing to have sex with the first random man she meets. Instead she finds sympathy in a group of prostitutes who exchange war stories about love and men. For all their sexual experience they don't seem to have a better grasp on relationships, and an instant sisterhood bridges their social divide.
The third is a modern sex farce about a beautiful UN translator who has become so jaded about men that she has idolized her platonic relationship with a gay roommate. Meanwhile she reads poetry in the nude and invites two playboy dignitaries to her bed while she shows them slides of modernist paintings. the handsome men humor her bizarre quirks while trying to get the other to leave, a testament to men putting up with any amount of femcrazy to get laid.
The fourth character is the dull housewife who feels she must compete with the unrealistic fantasy woman of her husband's novels. She begins to embody the outlandish descriptions, wearing wigs and costumes, laughing and singing and being so impetuous that everyone begins to think she is having a mental breakdown. This is the first episode that feels like a real story arc, moving from awkward comedy to a heartbreaking moment as she realizes she has gone too far, crying out "I'm not crazy , I'm just in love!"
The fifth vignette is my favorite. MacLaine plays a society bitch who is mortified to discover a rival will be wearing the same gown to the opera. The stakes escalate as their powerful husbands get involved, then their husbands' corporations as the two Dames flex their power, neither willing to budge. MacLaine is spectacular shifting gears between barking orders at her husband's employees, giving condescending lectures to the maid, looking absolutely fabulous, while plotting violent sabotage. It's lavish and campy and evil. So much fun!
The next episode clunks. MacLaine and Alan Arkin are lovers trying to negotiate a suicide pact but keep coming up with excuses to not go through with it. The dialog feels improv, and it all takes place in realtime in one room, like a one-act play or a TV skit. It's a case where the vignette before it is so lavish and fun this scene drags in comparison.
In the final piece, a shy housewife and a glamorous model friend meet for lunch and they are followed by a young man. As they separate the shy woman is thrilled the man follows her instead of her friend. She wanders home slowly hoping to make the moment last. The tone is innocent and bittersweet (but also a little creepy by today's standards of harassment and stalking - there is a twist at the end that lets us know he will not come back later, break into her house, and murder them all).
What's remarkable with Woman Times Seven is individual moments that stick with you long after the movie has gone. It never gels together as a whole, but I feel that's a problem with all vignette films. There are some interesting situations and characters who probably are not compelling enough for a whole movie, and maybe that's the idea. Most of these women are having small personal moments that define them. It's individual portraits done in a charming way, with a big talent Hollywood actress but with European flavor. We get to follow some pre-feminist characters we would not normally be allowed to see. They are fallible, self-contradictory, and immature.
While there are observations about the different sexual expectations of men and women, it's dismissive to say this is a movie about "adultery" or sexual romps, as if it is another slice of '60s Euro-erotica. Instead of cheesecake, many of the women are portrayed unflatteringly or for laughs. The viewer sees through the illusion they do not see themselves, and there-in lies the opportunity to say dozens of small truths through comedy: it *is* crazy to try to become someone's fantasy. The shyest person could crave dangerous attention. Love is NOT worth dying over, but also death is not the end of love....
Congo Maisie (1940)
Maisie Revier in the Jungle!
If you are a fan of the Maisie films you may be surprised (as I was) that this is only the second in the series (out of ten). It's so over the top it feels like the series has "jumped the shark" and the brassy showgirl from Brooklyn finds herself in Africa in an isolated medical camp surrounded by restless natives.
In all her films Maisie gets into hilarious situations, but the best scenes are when her suffering stage acts go horribly wrong just before she gets fired.... In Congo Maisie however the "disaster" stage act comes at the climax when she must out voodoo a native witch doctor with hokey illusions from her nightclub act - and of course this means she has to present her entire show including singing St Louis Woman to the accompaniment of native drums while wearing a showgirl costume. This is mere minutes after assisting in emergency surgery, meanwhile clearing up the relationships of everyone around her.... It's all for laughs at a manic screwball pace. Southern moves briskly from scene to scene holding the energy. By the time she starts doing her nightclub act in the jungle I was in love.
All the Maisie movies are charmers, and as the series progressed Maisie joins the war, works in an airplane factory, goes out west and discovers a hidden goldmine.... Maisie is practically a prototype of Scooby-Doo-esque iconic American adventures, borrowing liberally from trendy plot lines appropriate for a B comedy. They are all feather light and Ann Southern puts so much heart and sweetness into her character, It's wonderful to see same Maisie story progression, her fighting and falling in love with her leading man again and again - even though we know it won't be the same guy next time, poor Maisie!
But Congo Maisie is the one that really stands out as the most outrageous and off the hook. It breaks from the apple pie formula into stylized farce, and pokes fun at so many movie tropes of the day that it stands out from the rest of the series as a funny parody of many films, from Harlow's Red Dust to Ann Harding's Prestige, all painted with broad strokes and with snappy dialog.
Heavy Metal (1981)
Juvenile, mind-numbingly bland, and clichéd vignettes move from instant gratuitous sex to instant gratuitous war, numerous droning speeches about War & Destiny from people you don't care about, mediocre animation that relies too much on rotoscoping, tinny b-list radio play soundtrack, and a nonsense story arc that is meant to hold it all together.... This is getting a 3/10. It's that bad.
HEAVY METAL is one of those films that fans love because of what it represents, rather than what it actually accomplishes on its own. Although the source material may have been groundbreaking, the vignettes here are either boring or incoherent. The magazine was a collection of serialized "adult comics" and the film attempts to show a range of those stories each realized with different animation teams based on artwork from the publication, but the film never pulls together as a whole and is actually weaker than its individual parts.
Two of the sequences rise above their genres. "Den" is a sarcastic take of barbarian/fantasy genre with its musclebound hero literally having the mind of an 18yo nerd, an evil queen who interrupts a battle to have sex with the hero, and a sneering gay-ish villain who seems ready for the whole thing to be over. But the sequence never gets the chance to LOL as a genre-challenging satire. The animation is appalling (Thundar the Barbarian TV-show looks better!) and contrasts badly with the final sequence "Taarna" which takes its Fantasy pretensions seriously.
In the Sci-fi story "So Beautiful, So Dangerous" a scientist reporting to the Pentagon on the impossibility of extra-terrestrial life turns out to be a robot planted by aliens. When he malfunctions and is retrieved via vacuum tube to a giant spaceship that looks like a kawaii-style smiley face, a sexy Jewish "New Yawker" secretary (reporter?) is accidentally sucked aboard as well. Beautiful/Dangerous is the best-looking and least dated of the entire film - and the gratuitous sex is the least irksome, although there's still plenty to cringe at.
The lone Horror-genre piece "B-17" written by Dan O'Bannon (ALIEN) stands out as the most memorable sequence, told almost entirely through action and in real time. The story would feel at home in EERIE or similar pulp comic from the '50s, and really is an oddity in this film. It completely ignores the Loc-Nar story and is the better for it. I've read it was not an actual story from the magazine.
Another odd-ball is "Captain Sternn" where the life of a rogue is examined in a court trial that gets interrupted by mayhem. The character animation here is refreshingly stylized rather than rotoscoped, and the plot also dismisses the Loc-Nar arc.
The opening credit sequence "Soft Landing" shows an astronaut sitting in a vintage Corvette. The animation is processed with hand-painted Xerox frames but would have felt dated even by 1981 in the age where MTV was exhausting alternative animation methods. Like most of the film, "Soft Landing" is a one-punch joke that you are stuck with for too long.
"Harry Canyan" is a clichéd effort at a noir double-cross set in future New York City where cab drivers are the baddest dudes you will ever meet. There's a girl with an artifact. There's a gangster. There's a deathray in the back of the cab for unruly passengers. It's low-grade writing, although it's amusing to contrast this sequence with THE FIFTH ELEMENT where similar cab driver/hero clichés are done with a wink and nod.
The peak sequence "Taarna" is handsomely animated but slow and pretentious. The plot is so ridiculously unimaginative - belonging to the Fantasy sub-genre: Naked woman in a Temple with a Sword - that I could devote an entire review pulling it apart. Meanwhile the filmmakers are convinced that what they are showing is SO amazing that they cannot cut away or edit for narrative pacing. Long rotoscoped sequences and long speeches, the title character putting on her skimpy leather straps for a really long time, people you couldn't possibly have any investment in are slaughtered (probably because it takes Taarna so long to get dressed) - all with monumental self-importance.
The only worse sequence is the recurring story arc that is meant to hold the film together "Grimaldi" where the green orb Loc-Nar must convince a little girl how EVIL it is, apparently by talking her to death.
If you see this, be sure to also see ROCK&RULE and WIZARDS. They got it right.
The Captain Is a Lady (1940)
Fun B-movie with a ton of recognizable mature stars!
This is a light-weight film with a stellar cast of mature actors that rise above it's so-so script simply because the actors are so sturdy. No doubt their experience adds depth to characters who would otherwise have none and plays a huge part of making this a winner, even though no one goes far out of their way to steal a scene or play over the top. It's really great to see so many "old ladies" working together in the same film, without the backstabbing or bitchiness in THE WOMEN. Sure they fall into "types": the busy-body, the old maid, the grand dame..., but everyone hits their mark and says their lines with little fuss and the film just flies. Charles Coburn is a wonderful foil as the curmudgeon sea captain who suddenly finds himself at the center of attention in an old ladies home and the butt of jokes by the old men in town. Most of the comedy plays around him being cantankerous because he can't smoke or cuss or drink like a man should -- and the ladies being both fascinated and repulsed by his manly failures. It drips with sentimentality and there are no bad guys here, just a lot of "aww shucks" kind of men who bumble their way through a world controlled by women hoping to be loved and accepted for all their faults.
Smart Blonde (1937)
Glenda Farrell as a fast talking sleuth reporter
Glenda Farrell originates the role of Torchy Blain, a fast-talking wise-cracking reporter who will do anything for a scoop, including using her amiable lieutenant boyfriend to sneak into crime scenes, steal clues from the police, and even bully suspects into making false statements to find the real culprit. Farrell has a filmography a mile long, usually playing a second-fiddle gold diggers and hard-luck girls, so it's nice to see this forgotten actress take the lead in a role that is smart and funny. Lasting only an hour, SMART BLONDE is one of those "B" movies that was shown before the main feature, so don't expect deep characters or an intricate mystery, but Farrell tears through the script at lightning speed, trading quips and unraveling a murder cover-up. Barton MacLane as her lieutenant boyfriend McBride is a sturdy and likable foil -- for once the cops aren't entirely stupid. Despite some shamefully racist moments, the Torchy Blane series of films are overall very satisfying and fun. They should be remembered in the same pre-war vein as HIS GIRL Friday, where a woman could be every bit as smart and career-driven as a man. Oddly enough, Farrell played an identical character in the horror classic MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) but lost top billing to Fay Wray.
Eleanor Powell in uniform!
Fans of Eleanor Powell will wonder how she detoured into this Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy overblown costume piece -- and in the role of Jeanette MacDonald no less! Whereas delicate Jeanette would have floated through this pageant with an air of fluttering dignity, pants-wearing Ellie delivers too much punch for a princess. She barks most of her lines and unfortunately comes off as a bitch. A more delicate actress would have softened the barrage of "womanly" insults laid on Nelson Eddy and we would know this meant she was smitten. But with the confidant and athletic Powell delivering the insults you really start to wonder if wooden Eddy is a masochist or just extremely submissive. It's an electric energy that cost Powell her spotlight, and didn't fit with MGM's idea of what a feminine leading lady should be.
Those who are fascinated by Ellie's unusual (at least on film) gender-play will be thrilled to see her "go all the way" and dress as a man to sneak into a military academy where she leads the cadets in a marching drill in front of a phallic war memorial. While Powell is hardly mannish (and here with Jeanette's wardrobe and make-up budget she never looked prettier) the production plays with her "masculinity" and dresses her in all extremes of buttoned-downed marching band jackets and crisp uniforms, interspersed with overly feminine gowns with frou-frou puffy sleeves and Jeanette's corkscrew curls. It's an inconsistent and mostly unsuccessful gender dichotomy -- especially when compared to her smart wardrobe play and winning charisma in the Broadway Melody films.
Her tap numbers are too few and too short -- a Pieroette "ballet" on giant drums is an weird jumble of inconsistent imagery, and a brief scene with Ray Bolger makes you wish they'd shared a competitive dance of lightning legwork rather than the time-wasting dialog in the script. Other supporting players are also underused: as the Queen Edna May Oliver appears briefly in a tiered nightgown that exaggerates her Olive Oil frame, and Frank Morgan does his best to keep the banter rolling as a befuddled monarch with a ventriloquist dummy, but there isn't enough comedy here to entertain. A sudden accidental revolution in the tiny Balkan monarchy has potential, but is dropped just as quickly. Even the production numbers are too short, following the pattern of the other MacDonald/Eddy films where actual choreography and musical style are ignored for lots and lots of extras arranged in expensive costumes and plenty of operetta bombast from Eddy.
Other than seeing Eleanor Powell in one of her few starring roles this is a forgettable film that shows no one to advantage, except possibly MGM's costume department. I can see how this was originally a vehicle for Marion Davies because the sets are jaw-droppingly huge.
That Touch of Mink (1962)
38 isn't old and she isn't a virgin, but doris Day is very funny
That Touch of Mink seems like such formula star vehicle fluff that it's a surprise the original script by Stanley Shapiro and Nate Monaster almost won the Academy Award (it did win the Golden Globe)! The mildly amusing dilemma "will she or won't she", which has Doris Day breaking out in hives and hallucinating that everyone can see her in bed with Cary Grant, is easily overshadowed by the antics of the supporting cast.
Audry Meadows takes a break from the Honeymooners as Day's protective conscience who dispenses advice along with lunch through the tiny windows at the Automat, and Gig Young shines as Grant's employee and confidant who worships the industrialist but openly hopes someday he will get his comeuppance.
It's actually never said that Day is inexperienced. The joke of her being the "world's oldest virgin" is a sexist slur. The real trophy at stake isn't her virtue but her value. Easily won is easily discarded it takes a woman of experience to know how men think, and to hold out for what she really wants. Far from being a prudish throwback in an age of carefree swingers, Day forges her own brand of lipstick feminism: the right to wear skirts and high heels and still insist that men respect you in the morning, no matter what your age or experience.
Plenty have criticized Day's comeback career as an outdated fantasy with its aging star and wrinkled morality, but it probably plays better now than it did in the pseudo-liberated '70s. Nearly half a century has passed since this film debuted and women still earn less, are still judged by their femininity, and still struggle with society's double-standards on sex and marriage Day's comedies are perhaps more resonant now after the collapse of equality. Women now want to be respected on their own terms, not for adopting the cavalier morality of bachelors.
What works for this Cinderella fairytale is its satire of the age, poking fun not just at stunted feminism but also at eligible industrialists who welcome womanly advice and donate huge sums of money to help unmarried mothers. Plenty of laughs are at the expense of a Freudian psychologist who is perplexed when he mistakes Young's obsession with Grant for romantic attraction. Day admits she has an uncle who is a socialist, and even UNIVAC is spewing pastel colored punch cards after one of her emotional piques.
The whole courtship takes place in a matter of days, as if modern romance can be plucked as easily as a sandwich from the Automat.... If it's not exactly fresh, That Touch of Mink is something akin to refrigerated left-overs: comfort food in a microwave age for women old enough to measure and know their own worth.
Recommend Shapiro and Monaster's How to save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life (1968) as a similar romantic comedy of the sexes.
A Thousand and One Nights (1945)
Sparkles like the jewel in the Sultan's turban
Big colorful sets and fantasy costumes are featured in this hokey update to Alladin's Lamp that never takes itself seriously. Evelyn Keyes is adorable as the genie that no one but handsome Cornel Wilde can see, but he has eyes only for Adele Jergens as the blonde princess. Sidekick Phil Silvers has his eyes on every jewel in the palace. Of course there's a scheming Vizir and a Sultan switcharoo. A thief masquerades as a prince, and just about every other Arabian Nights cliché is given some sort of send up.
Most of the comedy involves one of the secondary characters turning to the camera and saying something modern while the leads play it straight. Subplots (and villains) are invented then abruptly dropped, and cultural awareness seems unknown in 1940s Hollywood. If this sort of thing makes you cringe you will hate this film, but if you like pretty musical comedy in gorgeous Technicolor there's a lot here to like! The Princess is carried in a royal blue litter that matches her dress, and her bed is draped in sumptuous curtains the same color as her lilac gown. Harem girls flutter in pastels, and the brightly colored see-thru veils they use to cover their faces is merrily naive. Set pieces are few and far between but fabulous, and every other scene seems to take place on an ornate balcony. An authentic looking dance is a welcome distraction, and Silvers and Wilde share a bar sing-along about women (one for romance, the other against) that is campy fun.
By the end it feels over-sweet like you've swallowed too much cake icing, but it moves along quickly and there's a happy ending for everyone even the genie. This film is in the same vein as Marlene Dietrich's version of KISMET (1944), which I highly recommend for its pastel harems and anachronistic Baghdad that never was.
Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
Should be called 2 Mealtickets and a Drunk!
Lana Turner, Judy Garland, and Hedy Lamarr star in this showgirl exploitation flick that tries to cash in on the glamor and drama of The Great Ziegfeld (it actually recycles footage from that film's dazzling musical numbers), but ends up a chintzy lurid and poorly-written propaganda piece about what happens to women who dare to abandon their paternalistic yoke and enter showbiz.
The whole plot (or should we just call it the moral) is spelled out 20 minutes into the film in an opening night speech: " You're Ziegfeld Girls Some of you will end up with your name in lights (close up on Judy Garland). Some of you will end up with a husband and kids (close up on Hedy Lamarr). And some of you are going to end up , well, not so good . But don't blame it on the Follies " Some pep talk!
Despite an all star cast, the film fails to find much glamor. The costumes by Adrian are stolen from a highschool pageant with fake birds, butterflies, and stars sticking out in all directions with wires, and an uninspired montage of showgirls on stair-parts evokes nothing of Ziegfeld's creatively evolving stages.
But Lana Turner as golddigging Sheila has a few campy moments climbing into a bubble bath wearing her jewelry, and spends the whole movie drinking herself to the bottom. She gets slapped by a gangster in a speakeasy while anachronistically wearing a private eye disguise. If she'd been a little older Turner might have played it over the top and we'd have a hilarious gem like The Dolly Sisters. Anyway, she is exquisitely pretty and plays the material straight, but the script is unfair to say the least so it's hard to walk away enjoying her performance.
Hedy Lamarr is decorative and not much else, but that's what you expect from a showgirl. She supports her deadbeat musician husband who promptly dumps her as thanks. 17 year old Judy Garland plays her usual starry-eyed kid with the big voice. She gets one good number Minnie from Trinidad with choreography by Busby Berkely, but otherwise stays virginal and financially supports her overbearing bombastic father sort of a vaudeville era Hillary Duff. Eve Arden shows up from time to time as a wisecracking Eve Arden-type, and Tony Martin is handsome but nearly invisible as the Follies' crooner.
Florenz Ziegfeld certainly didn't have to go out "discovering" pretty girls since they lined up for an opportunity on his casting couch, but in this film Ziegfeld doesn't even appear. Instead he's represented by the sexually ambiguous Edward Everette Horton, who comes off as a creepy pimp with lines like "Mr Ziegfeld is only interested in your daughter!", and suddenly dragging a confused Lamarr up to his boss's office with "Mr Ziegfeld is waiting for YOU!".
Ignore this schmaltz and watch the real Ziegfeld in Glamorizing the American Girl instead.