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2361 reviews in total 
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Dames (1934)
Inspired Hokum, 31 August 2014

Busby fans have to wait until the last part for their guy to do his stuff. But then it's a real eye-popper. The dames keep comin' at yah one after another, blondes, brunettes, and in- betweens. What a line-up of 30's cuties. Then there's Berkeley's trademark: feminine geometry. That's enough to give Freud analytic overload and others x-rated dreams. Good thing those fluid figures were too abstract for the censors to erase. Speaking of blue- noses, '34 was the first year of Code enforcement. So, wouldn't be surprised the plot was jabbing at our watchdogs of public morality. After all, ridding the city of stage shows is the millionaire's (Hugh Herbert) favorite hobby. It's a winning cast, even if Powell mugs it up faster than a Ferrari's RPM's. True, Keeler's hoofing may be on the clunky side, still she's got the sweetest smile this side of Hollywood and Vine. Too bad the real dame, Blondell, was hobbled by six months of motherly gestation. Working her camera angles must have been a real challenge. I know a lot of folks don't especially like these antique concoctions. But in my book, they're inspired combinations of artistry, pizazz, and sheer Hollywood hokum.

Repetitive, but with an Interesting Undercurrent, 30 August 2014

No need to recap the plot. HEFILM's right: the material would have worked better in a 30-minute format. That's mainly because the one-note plot dwells on the same point, albeit with an interesting undercurrent. Middle-age Kennedy wants to join his bikini cutie and the Gidget beach crowd. On the other hand, dour wife Thaxter just wants to go home, back east. The producers knew what they were doing when they hired two of the best actors in the business-- movie vets Kennedy and Thaxter. They manage to maintain interest throughout, despite the often redundant narrative.

One interesting feature is trying to figure out Kennedy's motives. He treats Thaxter callously, but seemingly won't let her go. So why not just divorce her and then join the Frankie and Annette crowd. Then too, what is that hole in the cellar intended for. Is he acting on impulse when wielding that shovel or has he planned this all along. I'm not sure whether this undercurrent of ambiguity is intentional or not. Then again, maybe I missed something. Anyhow, it's an exotic treat watching one of Hollywood's best play a balding aerobic wannabe.

Tense, Tough, and Terrific, 30 August 2014

B-movie gem, topped by two noir icons: sultry Marie Windsor in a photo spread worthy of Victoria's Secret and tough guy Charles McGraw in a role worthy of his jut-jawed best, with enough twists and turns to delight the most jaded late night fans. The cleverly crafted one-liners between these two circling sharks fairly drips with shredded flesh. Not noir in classic sense of "Detour", it's still an unstable world with few certainties and a cynical subtext where cops can be bribed in a manner that debunks law and order 1950's. Sharp, imaginative direction: fat guy Paul Maxie clogs passageways like a heaving dump truck; wash-day clotheslines pop-up like a nightmare gauntlet; plus, great close-in camera work that creates subtle sense of no escape. Two diverse points: watch for errant palm tree in high-prairie town of La Junta, Colorado, and miscasting of a Beaver Cleaver mom (Jaqueline White) in pivotal role that left me unconvinced. Still, this modest little black-and-white manages to lift its pot-boiler origins to near perfection, showing once again what was lost in the mindless stampede to Technicolor extravagance.

Jim Gets A Message From The Stars, 29 August 2014

Seems Jim (Lloyd) has had psychic experiences in the past. Now he approaches Alex (Hirsch) with a wild story that Alex is going to die at home in a few days at a definite time. Alex laughs it off, but then certain of Jim's predictions come true. So what's Alex to think now.

Good episode, though a little on the heavy side. Alex gets to show his sober-minded skeptical side, and we wonder how the writers will finesse the outcome since Jim seems dead on. As usual, Louie (DeVito) stirs the pot, but then relents once he thinks Alex is headed for the graveyard. This is a Hirsch-DeVito showcase. And unless I missed something, it's also Jeff Conaway's (Bobby) last episode since he's not listed in the credits in the following entry.

Scott Showcase, But Not Much Else, 28 August 2014

Plot heavy western that should please Scott fans, even if the film doesn't. In fact, the lantern jaw actor carries the 80-minutes, at the same time supporting players drift in and out rather aimlessly. Bounty hunter Kipp (Scott) is on the trail of three baddies who've blended into Twin Forks, so that their identities are now hidden. As a result, Kipp has to figure out who the guilty ones are. Trouble is the townspeople don't take kindly to being under suspicion, so he's got his work cut out for him.

A plot like this relies greatly on script, which I found pretty loosely structured. Except for Kipp, none of the other many characters are sharply etched. Thus the mystery element never really gels, and with that goes much of the suspense until the last ten minutes. As you might expect this is not a scenic western, with most of the action taking place in a studio town. What the film does have going for it--in addition to Scott-- is the great Marie Windsor as, surprise, surprise, a dancehall girl. I just wish they had given her more to do. Some verbal face-offs between her and Scott would be explosive. Looks to me also like director deToth couldn't really engage with the script, despite his proved record with outstanding westerns—Ramrod (1947), Day of the Outlaw (1959).

Overall, the oater shows off Scott's powerful presence, but, I'm sorry to say, not much else.

Hokey, but with Compensations, 27 August 2014

A teapot monster from outer space seeks human form from a farm family in a secluded part of a desert.

I know I'm in a minority, but there are commendable aspects to this drive-in special. Too bad snooty Hollywood never gave Oscars to horror movie productions. Because I would sure give one to Lorna Thayer for her calibrated portrayal of volatile Carol Kelley, farm wife and mother. In my book, she delivers a gamut-of-emotions equal to the industry's more celebrated actresses. After all, as wife and mother, she's been going slowly nutzoid on that god-forsaken farm. Now she has to traverse emotional stages to adjust to the new realities. And she does it in finely nuanced fashion. As the father, Paul Birch too, is much better than expected for one of these 50-dollar Corman specials, while unknown Leonard Tarver may have no lines, still he's got just the right kind of confused, intimidating presence. Too bad he was in only two films. Finally, Dona Core as daughter Sandy is pretty wobbly, but sure looks the winsome part.

To me, the movie could be a sleeper, if filmmakers had figured out something more imaginative than a tea pot monster. The spinning kitchenware is about as scary as collecting stamps. The desert and farmhouse scenes along with the superior acting really deserve something less hokey. But then producer Corman astutely figured his drive-in fans wanted something they could laugh at. We fans sure got it here, even if the monster wasn't in a rubber suit. I just wonder if Hitchcock caught this flick, what with the marauding birds that attack people. Then too, I wonder if Dan Mainwaring, screenwriter of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), didn't also catch the 80-minutes since there is a thematic resemblance.

Anyhow, the movie's well directed and photographed. No effort at prettying up anything—the shack the family lives in, for instance. In fact, a number of the desert visuals are striking. So, this 50-dollar special does have some redeeming features. And a salute to you Lorna Thayer for refusing to walk through a role that could have been just another easy payday.

Bland, Despite Duryea, 26 August 2014

Lawyer Al Jennings discovers he likes robbing better than lawyering, but then tries to straighten out. Yet the past has a way of catching up, especially if there's a relapse back into robbing.

Badly flawed western, with a spotty screenplay, uninspired direction, and indifferent acting. Pairing ace villain Duryea with malt-shop Storm is like pairing Dillinger with Shirley Temple. Unfortunately, Duryea pretty much walks through his role as Al Jennings. Too bad, because given a good script and quality direction, few could deliver more memorable performances than slick-haired Duryea. Yet it looks like his career was on a downturn here since he went into TV (China Smith) the following year (IMDB).

I just wish director Nazarro could have heightened the drama with a few close-ups. Instead, his camera remains at an impersonal distance, which doesn't help. Then too, there's sloppy attention to detail. Note how after the wild buckboard chase, Storm looks like she just stepped out of a fashionable beauty salon. Even her over-sized hat is un-windblown. Sure, this is minor, but it all adds up, including sloppy staging as when the posse tries to catch the gang at the Diamond B ranch.

In my little book, the oater's a bland waste of talent, whose best feature may be the Technicolor photography, even if action never leaves LA environs. Too bad all around, especially for fans of the great Dan Duryea.

Warm but not Sappy, 25 August 2014

No need to recap the oft-repeated plot. Note that the movie was produced at the height of the McCarthy red-scare (1951), when Hollywood was reeling from the blacklist. I mention this because the movie makes an unsubtle appeal to traditional values, especially family and patriotism. The latter is unspoken in the Eagle Scout scene, but the visuals are awash in flags, salutes, and proto-military symbolism. Nothing necessarily wrong with this. I note these points because they're very indicative of a period when Hollywood was trying to re-establish its patriotic bona-fides. This Warner Bros. production, I believe, reflects a part of that effort.

The movie itself is mostly warm and sentimental, without becoming sappy. That's thanks mainly to the two problem kids (actors Mann and Tatum) who are quite convincing in their emotional travails. I especially like little Iris Mann (Jane). She's neither Hollywoodish pretty nor cute, yet conveys real pathos. Seeing her flower at the prom is especially rewarding. Also Drake registers as Mom with one of the sweetest smiles on record. It's no stretch seeing her as an open-arms type mother. But I have to agree with others. Grant does well in the light comedic role, but is much too sleek and handsome to be playing an every-man. Remember, this is supposed to be an average American family.

Somewhat surprisingly, the screenplay is shot through with innuendo, stemming mainly from Poppy's (Grant) frustrations with Mom's many motherly distractions. I suspect these adult asides were added to provide greater mature appeal. Overall, the results are more amusing and comforting, than funny and challenging. True, the film may be dated in many ways, but the moral remains a solid cross-generational one. As the movie shows, kids really do need family and nurture.

A Subtext in a Little Depth, 24 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Intrigued by the title, I wanted to see this movie back in '49, but missed it. Probably didn't have the money. Anyway, I'm really glad to have finally caught up with it. From the stylized backdrops to the shrewd use of Technicolor to the overriding performances, the movie's a real treat, both as story and metaphor.

Poor little Mary's (O'Brien) parents have died, and she's been sent to live with her cold- hearted uncle (Marshall) in a big gloomy mansion. She's been shunned and told she's homely by her parents, and now, in the mansion, her uncle refuses even to see her. As a result, she's become understandably mean and bratty. It doesn't help that in the night, she hears piercing unearthly screams, while the servants race to a mysterious upper room. Turns out it's her uncle's bed-ridden young son Colin (Stockwell) in torment. He too has been rejected, told he's crippled, and must stay in his room. Thus, he never gets to go outdoors into the sunlight. As a result, he too has become mean and bratty, like his young cousin. On the whole, I don't think I've seen more jarring behavior from adolescents than these two unfortunates, especially when they wreck his bedroom trying to outdo one another in meanness. Good thing there's a servant's young son, Dickon (Roper), to serve as an emotional anchor.

But then, in her wanderings around the grounds, Mary discovers what amounts to a strange presence. It turns out to be a secret garden that no one ever talks about. Its grounds are surrounded by a high wall and a locked gate kept hidden by overgrown brush. But every time she pokes around, the gardener shoos her away. Naturally she's intrigued. What's in there, and why are the contents kept locked and secret. Seems Dickon, her frequent companion, would also like to find out. Now, unknown to them is the uncle's story behind the garden. Seems the uncle was having tea with his beloved wife in the garden when it was open and happy. But then out of nowhere a tree branch fell and crushed her. Ever since, he's been haunted, trying to bury the memory behind a locked gate. As a result, he too has become withdrawn and unhappy, thus adding to the travails of his young son and niece. Now, except for the servants, it's an intensely unhappy household.

All in all, it's hard for me not to see the "secret garden" as a kind of metaphor for the inner lives of the three family members. I want to merely suggest the following view of what may be going on in the subtext, without claiming it was anybody's "intended" meaning. Now, all three for various reasons, have sealed off their inner lives not only from others but from themselves. Thus each harbors his or her own locked "secret garden" and allowed it, like the real one, to become untended and unflowering. Hence their unhappiness. But where to find the key to unlock the gate not only to the real garden but to themselves. The raven-- perhaps standing for free flight-- finds the real one; Mary, I think, finds her own inner key in the yellow daffodil blossom a beautiful sight. When she holds it up, it shows her what the garden could become if it were tended. That she needs to unlock the gate comes from her seeing her outer self in the tormented Colin. By helping him, she's also helping herself to open up to what's been sealed off. In Uncle's case, he more implausibly adjusts through knowing that the garden is again open and flowering. The tending is thanks to Dickon, Mary, and Colin who have since joined together, instead of remaining enclosed and apart. Thus the "secret garden" is no longer secret, either the real one or the metaphorical one. Using Technicolor to express this transformation from the gray was, I think, a daring and striking move. Now all four sit together, enjoying the garden and each other. A happy family, at last.

It's O'Brien's film that she carries in effective fashion. At times, she's close to going over the top, yet her presence remains a strong one throughout. Stockwell too registers in a difficult role, requiring screaming hissy-fits that O'Brien answers in kind. Perhaps surprisingly, the illustrious supporting cast hasn't much to do. Marshall has only a couple extended scenes, while Lanchester provides a dollop of comic relief in her one extended scene. As the third member of the youthful trio, Brian Roper provides solid support. Too bad he didn't stay in the USA. On the other hand, I can't help thinking that George Zucco's benevolent doctor was an effort at compensating for Aubrey Mather's corrupt medical man who keeps poor Colin in unneeded leg braces.

Anyway, the movie's a fine, atmospheric production from MGM, with a strong storyline and a good moral. It may have taken decades, but I'm glad I finally caught up with it.

Eye- Catching Locations, Spotty Acting, 23 August 2014

Be sure to catch the opening scene of Buzz and Todd tooling along a country road. There they discuss for one of the few times why they're following life on the road instead of settling down like everyone else of the 1950's. In this entry they end up in Grant's Pass, Oregon, with a dysfunctional family of a prominent hops grower, yes, hops! Trouble is the boy (Bolster) can't stay out of trouble, which he can't handle. So Buzz ends up fighting his fights for him. Then too, the daughter (Heatherton) works at being a rural Lolita in overdone fashion. Overall, I agree with reviewer zsenorsock: the episode might work if Bolster and Heatherton could act. Unfortunately, both border on parody. Nonetheless, the Oregon locations are persuasive, while the whitewater rafting down the Rogue River amounts to a scenic and dramatic highpoint. All in all, however, the entry is only average, at best.

(For an exciting Technicolor adventure down the Rogue catch up with Rogue River {1950} with Peter Graves.)

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