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2394 reviews in total 
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Is Physics True, 30 September 2014

As expected from Monogram, the sets are cheap, the comedy broad, and the acting erratic. Still, the premise is engaging. That is, how can deaf-mute Harrison (Hamilton) manage to be in two places at once. If we're to believe our eyes, he's emceeing big public events in one part of town, while in another part, he's wringing people's necks. Pretty good trick. So the movie's more a howsitdun than a whodunit.

Hamilton's excellent in the pivotal role. Looks like he's been doing sign language for years. Plus there's that unblinking stare, while we wonder what's behind it. Happily, Woodbury (Barbara) injects needed spark as a girl Friday, while Moreland enlivens with his bug-eyed comedic bit. Too bad he soon disappears (as another reviewer points out). Now, if casting had kept Moreland and dumped the unfunny cop Hymer, things would have improved—but then Moreland probably had to get over to the Charlie Chan set. And who is Dick Purcell, the supposed leading man. I kept looking for him, but he's so recessive, he's hard to spot. I guess all the good B-leading men were away at war, but then neither the script nor director Beaudine throws much Purcell's way.

Anyway, despite the drawbacks, there's enough suspense-- especially around the piano-- to keep up interest and maybe even reaffirm the laws of physics.

Sanders is on the Mark, 29 September 2014

In the 1880's, a handsome rake schemes his way to the top of French society leaving a trail of exploited women in his wake.

I was about to slam Sanders' performance as a wooden one-note. Note how in the many close-ups his expression rarely changes, conveying little or no emotion, regardless the situation. Then it occurred to me. That's exactly right for such a heartless egotist as Duroy. In fact, he feels no emotion. Instead he's a walking calculator in the way he uses people. In place of warmth or animated charm, he seduces women with a strongly masculine presence and complete self-assurance, which Sanders conveys, in spades. Note too, how in the dueling scene, Duroy looks on impassively while his opponent musters strength to shoot him. Now a lack of emotion while staring death in the face is either evidence of an iron will or a simple lack of feeling. Of course, as an actor, Sanders can emote subtly or otherwise when called upon, as his lengthy career shows. So I figure his impassive manner in this movie is intended to define Duroy's character, and is not a deficiency on either the actor's or director's part.

Anyway, the movie itself amounts to a triumph of parlor room refinement. I especially like Lansbury. Her baby-face Clotilde provides enough meaningful emotion to engage the audience in ways that Duroy does not. In fact, the actresses, including a poignant Marie Wilson, are all well cast. Still, pairing the 40-year old Sanders with a girlish Douglas, half his age, amounts to a real stretch. But catch some of those parlor room sets that are doozies. The one with the checkered floor and striped wall had me cleaning my glasses. Overall, it's an oddly affecting morality play, with a style and taste that make even the painted backdrops somehow appropriate. Too bad this was the great Warren William's (Laroche) last movie. In terms of a commanding presence, he and Sanders belong together, as William's pre-Code films abundantly show. Nonetheless, this is one of the few features of the time to make a thoroughly dislikable character the central figure. And that took some guts. No wonder the film was an independent production.

Network (1976)
A Conjecture on the Max--Diana Romance, 28 September 2014

After 300+ reviews, there's no need to echo consensus on the movie's overall excellence. Instead, I want to suggest an underlying reason why Max (Holden) continues to "love" Diana (Dunaway) despite her cold-hearted nature, and despite the fact that he's returning to his wife (Straight). Now, at one point, the script identifies Diana with the medium of television. In short, what's implied is that she's more like an embodiment of the commercial industry, than a human being. Considering her single-minded devotion to her job and the institution of television, that's no stretch. Max has found out the hard way, namely, that underneath her cold business-like exterior beats an even colder heart. So why does he continue to love her even as he walks out the door, back to his wife.

My conjecture is that his infatuation is really with television itself as the compelling medium it is. He can't totally reject Diana because that would be like rejecting TV itself, plus the industry that is his livelihood. In that sense, he's a stand-in for the rest of us who can't totally reject commercial TV even though we understand its hazards, hazards that Beale identifies and roundly denounces. But unlike Beale, Max is not on a crusade. He returns to his wife, which is like returning to reality, at least, within my little framework. After his fling with Diana, he now has a perspective he'll use to keep family (reality) separate from Diana's (TV's) seductive presence. That amounts to having found a proper balance, one without which his life could well have disintegrated. Thus Max has managed to escape the TV trap that Beale loudly warns about. Keep TV but keep it at a safe distance-- in that sense, the movie serves as a reminder to us all, that is, if we need one. The point may seem trite, but within a dramatic framework, it works quite well.

I don't claim this rendering was intended in any way by the filmmakers. I do think it's a worthwhile take on the romantic aspect.

Salesman (1968)
Fascinating, 27 September 2014

The camera follows four Bible salesmen as they follow up on names of Catholic parishioners in Boston and then Florida.

I can understand that the documentary is not for all tastes. There's really no narrative, while we know next to nothing about the four principals. Yet, the results, to me at least, are fascinating, if not entertaining. The four Bible salesmen are a harried crew, near the bottom of a commercial food chain. Pressure to sell goes from ownership to management to salesmen, and finally to prospective customers to buy. And throughout, the camera never wavers, at times lingering over a face in rather enigmatic fashion. Nor do the subjects ever acknowledge camera's presence-- quite a cinematic accomplishment. Importantly, these are ordinary faces, certainly not the Hollywood variety.

To me, the most interesting part are the working class customers. They can barely pay the bills they already have, let alone fork over an extra dollar a week. I'm guessing Badger's burnout comes from years of hustling people who should not be hustled. Of course, the pitch revolves around having a Bible with illustrations that will confirm a Catholic's faith and enrich their lives. I'm supposing the salesmen have to believe that at some level, otherwise how could they continue to pressure poor people to buy. And catch the ride by the ritzy Miami Beach hotels, right before the guys start knocking on wear-worn doors.

Overall, this is quite a remarkable 85-minutes, like nothing else I've seen. I'm not sure what to make of the result, that is, whether there's an intended point beyond the momentary. But either way, the unvarnished glimpses the film provides are definitely memorable.

A New Appreciation, 26 September 2014

Unusual entry that delves into medical history of the 1880's. I guess I'd never really thought about how medical science has developed over time, and what sacrifices have been involved. This episode touches on search for an effective anesthesia. Cocaine has just arrived on the medical scene but needs to be tested as a possible solution. So Dr. Halstead (Space) and colleagues use themselves as guinea pigs, soon finding out that the drug's addictive. By then, however, it's too late and their medical careers are derailed, except for Halstead. Now, I thought the Sinatra film Man With The Golden Arm (1955) was the first Hollywood production to deal with drugs and addiction. But looks like this 30-minutes beat the movie by a few months. I'm glad the producers took a chance and showed Halstead going through excruciating withdrawals, certainly daring for TV and that time. Overall, it's an effective and informative entry. Plus I'll be more appreciative next time I visit the doctor.

Even Matinée Idols Are Mortal, 26 September 2014

Typical episode except the patient is an aging movie actor, bearing something of a resemblance to swashbuckler Errol Flynn. Real life actor Stevens does well in the paraplegic role, as do best friend Alderson and nurse Morrison. In fact, the series as a whole depends on quality performances since typical focus is on the human element. Good touch having Stan (Alderson) burst into the room in studio Indian make-up. The scene on the staircase is particularly well executed, and had me thinking 3-d for a moment. Episode goes through the various stages of rehabilitation, from bed-ridden to therapy to crutches. Thus, there's hope even for an ex-matinée idol. Nothing special here, just a good solid story.

Warren William Showcase, 25 September 2014

A con-man works his way up the fortune-telling ladder only to find his life is not made better.

The con-man role is tailor made for the commanding Warren William. His Chandra The Fortune Teller is such a masterful stage presence who in the audience would dare challenge his psychic gift. Never mind that his shifty confederate Frank (Jenkins) is feeding him answers telephonically. It makes for a heckuva show, and the rubes keep coming, sometimes ruefully so. Oddly, I found myself being anxious when there's problems with the messaging relay from Frank. That is, do I really want Chandra to succeed in his criminal con job. Yet I couldn't help being torn. Anyway, notice in passing, how the map shows Chandra first touring smaller border state towns, nothing big yet. That will come later, once he hones his act. Cummings (Sylvia) makes an attractive love interest, even if the script presents her flip-flops in a pretty implausible light. Also, the familiar Allen Jenkins plays his part pretty straight, unlike many of his comedic side-kick parts.

Now, you might think, courtesy the screenplay, that every upper-class husband in New York has a silken mistress, leaving a broken-hearted wife behind. Then too, I suspect that dark suspicion played well with Depression era audiences. But once Chandra goes big-time, there are no more rubes, only the sleek and well upholstered. Frankly, I didn't like the big turnaround that comes last. After all, this is pre-Code, so abject mea-culpa endings aren't required as they soon would be. Up to that point, the story really deserves a climax more ironic than the implausibly conventional. (Check out the similar Nightmare Alley {1947} for a more apt ending.)

Anyway, William has to be one of the neglected delights of that long ago period. Passing away in 1948 means he had no post-war credits to speak of. Thus he's largely unknown even to many old movie fans. It's that pre-Code period, before his serial programmers (Perry Mason, the Lone Wolf), where he really shines, usually as an ethically challenged big-wig (Employee's Entrance {1933}; Skyscraper Souls {1932}). And there's no one better. Plus, he's good enough here to make even the flawed, albeit interesting, script well worth watching.

Atmospheric Thriller, 24 September 2014

RKO's great artistic team of Silvera and D'Agostino, along with stylish director Nosseck and photographer Hunt, lift the visuals to near artistic heights. Even when the story falters, the dream-like atmosphere carries the ball. It appears stage actor Parker's (Loder) head gets conked during a London air raid. Now he has trouble separating his strangler stage role from everyday reality. Needless to say, this causes problems for him and a couple of corpses he leaves behind. On the whole, Loder is excellent as the schizoid Parker. His generally low-key demeanor proves as disturbing as anything more florid. If there's a problem, it's with the script's treatment of the lovely April (Duprez), who seems impossibly naïve. Like when she goes to the dark roof with Parker even after some of his semi-loony behavior. Still, I love that amusing moment when the English maid tries politely to get her head around American slang.

I'm impressed with Nosseck's ability to coordinate a spotty narrative into an atmospheric whole. Looks to me like he's in the Edgar Ulmer (Detour, {1945}) category, working artfully and anonymously in Hollywood's lower rungs. His American career appears limited by mostly innocuous programmers-- unlike Brighton-- which may be why he went back to Germany. Nonetheless, he appears to have a real feel for this sort of Gothic material. Overall, the 60- some minutes is close to a sleeper, except for the spotty script. It also helps show why lowly RKO was the studio of record during the post-war 1940's.

Is the Title Meant to be Ironic, 23 September 2014

It's early Harlow in a role that doesn't require her signature sparkle. Still, there's enough shine to get noticed. The movie itself is nothing special, reminding me a bit of a cut-rate Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Here shapely working-class girls Clarke and Harlow try to satisfy their hearts' desire by marrying well; at the same time, they must dodge the inevitable mashers. Seems however their rich gentlemen already have wives, so that becomes a problem. Still, we get to see Harlow wiggle in and out of costumes in what would become part of her appeal. Have to say I didn't recognize the familiar Andy Devine under all that chauffeur's uniform. Too bad he didn't get more screen time. Then there's Marie Provost, the wise-cracking third girl, whose rather chubby figure presaged an eventual tragic end (IMDB), cutting short a promising Patsy Kelly-type career.

There's one really jolting scene that's sneaky as heck. Broken hearted, Gladys (Clarke) peers down from stories above street level. We think we know what she's planning, but as it turns out, we don't. Anyway, it's a really well thought-out sequence in an otherwise unexceptional screenplay. All in all, the 60-some minutes amounts to a good look at a pre-celebrity Harlow, along with Mae Clarke, who at least doesn't have to eat grapefruit courtesy Jimmy Cagney.

Republic Goes Epic, 22 September 2014

Seton and Cantrell compete for both district marshal and pretty Mary McCloud on the eve of the Civil War.

Generally, the results are uneven, probably due to three big-time leads, each of whom must get adequate screen time. I expect for little Republic, stars like Trevor and Pidgeon were more expensive than usual. However, the romantic triangle (Wayne-Trevor-Pidgeon) gets a lot of dialog time, too much for a title that promises lots of action. Still, Wayne is little short of terrific. It's before he became frozen into the tough-guy icon that didn't demand much besides a growl and a hard-eyed stare. But here, catch his first cozy talk with Trevor. His subtle reactions are perfectly calibrated, proving he could deliver sensitivity when called upon.

Pidgeon too, is excellent as the commanding Cantrell, along with Gabby Hayes providing his usual comic relief and with teeth, no less. Except, I don't think I'll be making an appointment with him anytime soon. And, of course, there's a young Roy Rogers, making an apt impression in a role that's almost a lead, along with the severe Marjorie Main in an odd and inessential role. Anyway, Republic popped for a lot of extras, especially for the last battle scenes. So if the big action's a long time coming, it's worth waiting for. Then too, note how the script avoids denigrating either the Union or the Confederacy in the lead up to the big war. This was very much a feature of many 40's and 50's westerns. After all, a movie's going to be shown in Atlanta as well as New York.

All in all, the film's as much an actor's showcase as it is an epic western, a movie of parts rather than well-blended whole. Nonetheless, in my book, it's John Wayne at his physical and histrionic best, totally convincing as the virile and unaffected young Seton. And if the 94- minutes is somewhat uneven, Wayne certainly is not.

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