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Maybe not great, but still a very good gangster film
It took me a while before I really appreciated this film. Despite its flaws, this is probably the most serious, accurate, and restrained treatment on the subject you're ever going to get without watching a straight-out documentary. What you have is sort of a "docudrama" on the infamous St. Valentine's Massacre, and the events leading up to it.
Not that the film ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE takes itself too seriously. It doesn't, but all of the over-the-top acting merely enhances the product. There are still some inaccuracies but the story adheres so closely to the actual facts that these discrepancies are easily forgiven. The violence shown might have been considered sensational in 1967, and this was most probably the intent, but it's pretty tame by today's standards. And if it falls short of being a great film, it's a near miss rather than one by a mile.
In this dramatization of the final showdown between the South Side and North Side gangs for control of Chicago's underworld in 1929, Jason Robards takes center stage as Al Capone. He might have been much older and looked nothing like the real Capone but then so what. As they say, you want an interpretation and not an impersonation. His histrionic performance, with all of its eye-rolling and exaggeration, strikes just the right note and does its part to help keep things moving throughout. This was an actor who knew what he was doing, and exactly how he should play it in this instance.
But it takes a while for Capone to show up, finally seen casually arriving in a limousine on his way to a board meeting with his underlings. The first hood to show up on screen is played (some could say overplayed) by George Segal as Pete Gusenberg, a member of the rival gang, who proceeds to intimidate a bar-owner. Actually, Segal gives a rather convincing performance as a very smug, arrogant thug who enjoys pushing people around, and acting like he's one bad dude, with guns and a gang to back him up.
A very effective technique employed throughout the film, provided by narrator Paul Frees, is the frequent voiceover commentary on various characters. Information is given, such as that the individual was born on this or that date, at whatever place, something about his background, and his place in the particular gang, etc. (often including his time of death as well). Not only does this provide an easily-understood guide for who's who, but it helps to get the viewer involved with these characters however unsympathetic or unsavory they might be.
In brief but well-played roles, on the Capone side, there's Paul Richards as Charlie Fischetti, Joseph Turkel as Jake Guzik, and Harold Stone as Frank Nitti, with a more conspicuous role played by Clint Richie as Jack McGurn, who gets put in charge of organizing the title massacre. That particularly bloody episode was designed to rid Capone of his archenemy and chief rival, George "Bugs" Moran, capably played by tough-talking Ralph Meeker. Moran was the head of the North Side gang, and in flashback scenes we're shown what befell Moran's two predecessors, Dion O'Bannion (played by John Agar) and Hymie Weiss (played by Reed Hadley).
The rest of the cast is made up of many fine actors, some familiar and others less so. Among the unlucky seven who have an appointment up against a certain garage wall, besides Segal's Pete Gusenberg, included are David Canary as Pete's brother Frank, Kurt Krueger as Moran's top lieutenant, Milton Frome as the gang's accountant, Joseph Campanella as a low-level employee, Bruce Dern as a mechanic, and Mickey Deems as a hanger-on. Not to be overlooked is the always excellent Frank Silvera as Nick Sorello, a not completely innocent pawn used in trying to set up Moran.
Almost every actor with a speaking role gets at least one good scene and a chance to shine, from the major actors right on down to several of the minor supporting players. An attempt is made to show some of the camaraderie and interaction among the members of each gang. The careful planning of the "hit" is laid out, including an amusing scene where two gunmen, posing as musicians, are renting a room from a wary landlady.
Such details add to the plot and the characterizations, with keen attention being paid to recreating a 1920s atmosphere, and don't forget all of the various gunplay and assorted mayhem along the way, leading up to the fateful massacre. They even throw in a completely superfluous fight between Gusenberg (Segal) and his girlfriend over a fur coat. Since it's only a brief rest from the action, and we get to rest our eyes on Jean Hale, then what's the harm. Enjoy this trip back in time to gangland Chicago.
Lydia Bailey (1952)
Not bad historical drama, good showcase for Marshall
A history lesson in brief: The Haitian people, under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture, overthrew French rule in the short term. After taking over in France, Napoleon himself was determined to reconquer Haiti and assigned this task to his brother-in-law, Gen. Leclerc. The film plot in brief: Albion Hamlin is a lawyer who goes to Haiti because he needs Lydia Bailey's signature on a document, and gets caught up in the continuing war of Haitian independence. Along the way, before Hamlin gets involved with Bailey, who is engaged to one of Leclerc's officers, he also befriends "King Dick", a Haitian revolutionary and patriot.
It is William Marshall as King Dick, with his considerable acting skill and imposing presence, who dominates the proceedings in a well-written, non-stereotypical role. The resourceful King Dick saves Hamlin's life on more than one occasion, and it is his stratagem, in which Hamlin impersonates a half-witted servant, that gets them within Leclerc's stronghold. There, the patriot's mission is to assassinate a traitor to the Haitian cause.
The film and television roles that were even remotely worthy of Marshall's immense talents came few and far between, and a certain stardom of sorts finally came to him twenty years later (in BLACULA of all things). The stage probably served him better, and I remember seeing his powerful portrayal of Frederick Douglass on PBS some years back, which seemed to be from a one-man stage show. His performance in BAILEY might be slightly less noteworthy but is no less powerful.
As for the leads, Dale Robertson makes for a rather stodgy hero as Hamlin, and while Anne Francis (as the title character) is a beautiful woman, she is not a strong enough actress here. Charles Korvin is also lackluster as Andre D'Autremont, Bailey's fiancee, who serves as a somewhat sympathetic villain. Their weakly-played triangle is deservedly dwarfed by the larger story of Haitian revolutionary intrigue, where Ken Renard puts in an understated but effective appearance as the great Toussaint.
By the time you get to the end of this film, you'll probably agree that it should be renamed in honor of it's most memorable character, King Dick. This was an auspicious film debut for William Marshall, and what a career he could have had if he had been allowed to follow it with different and better opportunities. A belated salute to you, Mr. Marshall, wherever you are.
Macabre classic with a humorous twist
When I first heard about this film, I had no desire to see it, dismissing it as merely an excuse for much blood and gore. Later, I happened to catch the last twenty minutes or so on the Sci-Fi Channel, and could see that it had style, and that it just might be a worthwhile film after all. Since it was not rerun since then, I finally rented a video of RAVENOUS, despite my weak stomach and the realization that the worst instances would not be edited.
There was little to worry about on that count, as there is nothing in the film that should bother anybody, except the most sensitive viewer, beyond an initial few seconds. Antonia Bird, the perceptive and talented director at the helm, has shown a remarkable and most welcome degree of restraint. Directors who use excessive gore usually do so in order to cover up the fact that they have no story. Here, there is a very compelling story to tell, and there is no need for unnecessary excess. For those of you looking for much more blood and gore, and disappointed by the relative lack therein, that's not an issue for me to comment on. We'll leave that matter between you and your psychiatrist.
The story that remains is still a sufficiently grim and grisly tale, with dashes of well-placed dark humor, punctuated by a truly offbeat music soundtrack. It is c.1849, and a phony war hero named Boyd is posted far away to isolated Fort Spencer. Besides the permissive and unassuming commander, Col. Hart, there is a small detachment of assorted personalities: Reich, an enthusiastic "gung ho" type; Toffler, an annoyingly weak-willed "holy joe"; Knox, a drunken doctor; Cleaves, a blurry cook; and two Native Americans named George and Martha. A stranger soon intrudes upon this setting, with his terrible account of cannibalism and people being held prisoner in a remote cave.
A rescue group is then formed, consisting of Hart, Boyd, Reich, Toffler, George, and the stranger, and sets out to find the cave. Once there, events both inside and outside the cave reach a tense, pulse-pounding conclusion, as the true identity of the cannibal becomes known. The scene is driven by a totally unsettling score playing in the background. Then, surprisingly, the tension is eased or at least redirected, with a catchy banjo tune playing as the cannibalistic killer pursues hapless Toffler through the woods. As Reich and Boyd give chase, some yodeling can be heard to accompany the banjos. Who would think of that? A twisted sense of humor is at play here, and it all works.
Guy Pearce has the protagonist role of Boyd, a war hero who was not really a hero and is anything but heroic. This actor is not meant to play run-of-the-mill "good guys", but is at his best when playing troubled characters, tormented by their inner demons. Such is the case here, when it is slowly revealed that some of Boyd's later actions are guided not so much by any cowardice but by something far different. No one could have given this part the same emotional depth.
Robert Carlyle, who can project sinister without hardly trying, creates an inspired incarnation of evil. His dominating performance is actually four different characterizations. First he's Calhoun, the supposed survivor of the ill-fated party that became stranded and resorted to cannibalism. Then he apparently deteriorates into a babbling idiot, unhinged as the rescue group approaches the cave where the atrocity took place. Then he reveals himself to be "the cannibal", a crafty, playfully murderous individual, who toys with his victims and exhibits a wild energy. And finally, he turns up yet again, this time in the guise of the outwardly cultured Col. Ives.
Jeffrey Jones gives another memorable performance, convincing and sympathetic as the well-meaning fort commander. Of the other actors, only the intense Neal McDonough makes any impression, all too briefly effective as the recklessly fearless Reich. Maybe parts of his role were trimmed, but David Arquette's Cleaves makes little sense career-wise unless he thought his performance as an 1849 doper would be hilarious. It isn't. He doesn't have much to do and is unable to do anything with it. Jeremy Davies is equally forgettable as Toffler. Joseph Running Fox and Sheila Tousey, as Native Americans employed at the fort, aren't given much to do either, but their undeniable presence adds a note of authenticity.
However, after Boyd makes his big leap, the story literally has nowhere to go but down. This is only a slight turn because the story is still compelling, just not quite as compelling as the first half of the film. The second half is unable to maintain the same tension, humor, and surprise, but that might have been an impossible task. In the latter part of the story, momentum is somewhat lost, and everything is almost (I said almost) bogged down by a lot of mumbo jumbo on the benefits of cannibalism (apparently curative, in addition to its revitalizing and addictive powers).
But the climax is impressively destructive, a brutal and bloody confrontation between good and evil, here represented by the flawed Boyd and the ghoulish Ives. Right up to the very end, it remains an open question as to which is the stronger: man's sense of morality or his will to survive. Profound, eh?
A unique and original, humorously macabre classic that will gain in reputation through the years.
The Raven (1935)
Karloff and Lugosi at their best, with Lugosi even better
In my opinion, THE RAVEN is far and away the best out of all the many horror-type thrillers that the studios turned out during the 1930s-1940s. It has remained a favorite because it is consistently suspenseful and enjoyable on its own merits, and not because of its place in the Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi association, although the latter aspect is of interest. Overall, Karloff was much more talented as an actor, and I like both him and his films far better than Lugosi and his films (many of which were awful). Lugosi continually came in a distant second to the great Karloff, except for in the rare instance of this excellent horror film.
Lugosi was the big horror star after Dracula (1931), but turned down the creature role in FRANKENSTEIN, which went instead to Karloff. Then there were two horror stars, eventually teamed in three above average films (BLACK CAT, RAVEN, INVISIBLE RAY). However, Lugosi was almost immediately overshadowed by his "rival", due to his own limitations and poor career choices. Aside from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), their other teamings were mostly of no consequence, and in their last film together, the otherwise well-done BODY SNATCHER (1945), Lugosi actually played a relatively small and unimportant supporting role.
While throughout his long career, Karloff was successful, appreciated, and steadily employed (until his death in 1969), not so with Lugosi. He struggled to keep working, and usually found starring roles mainly at bargain basement studios. Later, he was addicted to drugs, and drifted from one bottom-of-the-barrel production to the next. Lugosi was already a sad and pathetic figure, ravaged by age and illness, by the time he hooked up with the infamously inept Ed Wood Jr., whose unintentionally hilarious film travesties made the actor seem even more pathetic. It was in such company as this that Lugosi finally died in 1956.
But in 1935's RAVEN, Lugosi had once again, albeit briefly, found his place.
While it certainly can be argued that Karloff, who played the disfigured henchman, Bateman, could have played either part (but Lugosi would not have been effective as Bateman), there is no way that Karloff could have played the role of Vollin any better than Lugosi. As the arrogant, imposing, obsessed, and insane surgeon bent upon vengeance, Lugosi gave a bravura performance. This is the one time he clearly dominated Karloff in their various joint ventures, and helped earn the film an additional distinction, and a note of achievement for the actor.
The film is a well-crafted but rather short thriller, coming in at just over an hour. That being said, it hardly lets up for a second, from the car crash which sets the plot in motion, to the exciting climax which takes place in Vollin's torture chamber. As the story goes, the imperiously aloof Dr. Vollin (Lugosi) is persuaded to operate on and save the life of a young socialite. But when he can't have her for his own, he devises other plans for the girl, her fiancée, her father, and anyone else who gets in his way. To aid him in this scheme, he extracts the services of Bateman (Karloff), an escaped criminal made to look hideously ugly by the diabolical doctor.
All of the invited guests soon arrive at Vollin's estate for a weekend of "fun and games". Unfortunately, that involves spending some time in his own personal torture chamber, filled with devices inspired by Poe, with whom the doctor has a strange fixation. There are several memorable scenes, such as when Bateman sees what he has been turned into, via his reflection in a row of mirrors, while Vollin's crazed laughter fills the room. Later, Bateman tries to turn on his "master", and thinks he has him trapped beneath a descending pendulum blade. Vollin responds, "If anything happens to me, you will remain the hideous monster that you are."
The rest of the cast go about their tasks adequately, but it goes without saying that we're all here to see Lugosi and Karloff do their stuff. As such, I claim it is truly their best, in that it is the most genuinely entertaining of their team efforts, and just happens to be the only one where Lugosi was able to take center stage. He proved that he too was capable of seizing the opportunity and scoring with it, when given the right role in the right film. You did great, Bela.
A series deserving of some new respect
As for the inexplicable "One Step Beyond"-"Twilight Zone" rivalry (if you can call it that), where do I begin? First of all and most important, they were both excellent shows, each in its own way. "Zone" is undoubtedly a popular and well-known classic, while "Beyond" is a lesser known near-classic with a relatively small but loyal following. Also, the latter was not based on fictional works, but dealt with strange events that were supposed to have actually happened.
Rod Serling was a better host than John Newland, but then he had a much stronger screen persona. Since the stories Newland introduced were supposedly true, his understated, scholarly approach was more appropriate, and there was no need for cleverly written lines and sardonic wit. They both served their respective shows well, and in the long run it matters not one iota who hosted what, or if there were no hosts at all. Each series was driven by the quality of their stories, and neither would have lasted longer than the standard thirteen episodes without an interesting tale to tell.
And since "Zone" was on twice as long as "Beyond", it obviously produced more episodes, and that's not always a good thing. Let's face it, there were quite a few poor stories that most of us avoid whenever they turn up (you know which ones they are). On the other hand, I have never seen a single episode of "Beyond" that wasn't interesting and entertaining. So the latter series actually had a better track record of consistent quality. Not bad for an also ran.
The production values on "Beyond" were certainly on a par with the average half hour show of that time, and since there were no spaceships or aliens, no lame effects were used. And it employed the talents of performers who invested their material with conviction and authenticity to spare, from long-established character actors to rising stars, such as: Christopher Lee, William Shatner, George Grizzard, Charles Bronson, Louise Fletcher, Patrick O'Neal, Robert Loggia, Suzanne Pleshette, Pernell Roberts, Patrick Macnee, Paul Richards, Edward Binns, Jack Lord, Ross Martin, Donald Pleasence, Elizabeth Montgomery, and even Warren Beatty.
As for the stories, there's too many to choose from, and limiting examples to only a couple was a tough call, but two of my favorite episodes are as follows:
In "Doomsday", the great Torin Thatcher appears as a 17th century lord who condemns a witch to death. She sets a curse upon him, his son dies, and so it will be with the lord's descendants, for generation after generation, that each head of the family will be predeceased by his eldest son and heir. Nearly 300 years later, the current head of the family (Thatcher again) is on his deathbed, and his eldest son is terrified, waiting for the curse to strike as it always has before. But then... It's a tragedy with a twist.
In "The Devil's Laughter", another great, underrated character actor, Alfred Ryder, plays John Marriott, an English murderer waiting to be hanged in 1895. The frightened man is eventually led up to the gallows, the noose is placed, and the lever is pulled. But the rope breaks. After being revived, Marriott is no longer afraid, and calmly goes to the gallows again. But the trap door won't spring. Finally, Marriott receives clemency and is set free. And then... The story is both grim and funny, and very well done.
As for the "based on actual events" aspect of the series, "based on actual claims" would be more accurate. I had heard about some of the claims elsewhere, and so they were indeed based on something which supposedly took place. Whether you believe these actually occurred, or were the product of the supernatural or a more reasonable explanation, is beside the point. That they could have happened, or that someone claimed as much, gives the series an extra shudder or chill that "Zone" can't duplicate. And episodes were always recounted in an intriguing and compelling manner.
Unfortunately, the last I saw of "One Step Beyond" was at least six or seven years ago on the Sci-Fi Chanel, where "Zone" episodes now reside ad infinitum. It's long past time to resurrect the former for another round or two, or three. It's also time to give this otherwise underappreciated series the respect it deserves. While admittedly not as great as the other show, "Beyond" nevertheless has carved out its own niche as the best of its particular genre.
The Battle of the Sexes (1959)
One of Sellers' funniest and finest
Peter Sellers could do just about anything and this film helped to prove that fact. With some white hair, a moustache, and spectacles, you thoroughly believe his transformation into Mr. Martin, a character at least twenty-five years older than the actor was at the time.
Although the title sounds like a sex romp, that's not the right description of this clever comedy with a somewhat dark theme. But BATTLE OF THE SEXES is about a power struggle between a man and woman. Martin is the faithful manager at the House of MacPherson, a Scottish firm that's been turning out tweed the same way for decades. When the new heir (Robert Morley) takes over, he brings in a domineering efficiency expert (Constance Cummings), an American no less, whose ideas threaten to ruin the company.
Martin is forced to act. While he seems like a quiet and unassuming sort, he actually has a lot of guile and cunning beneath his mild-mannered exterior. First he tries to get her fired, but when that doesn't work he decides that more drastic measures are called for - like murder. Martin comes up with what he believes is the perfect plan, and all he has to do is carry it out.
Do yourself a favor and watch it all unfold. Entertaining from start to finish, hilarious in several places, with a good supporting cast, and a plot that has a couple of surprises in store. Sellers proves yet again that he's a true comic genius. Three cheers for that, and four stars out of five for the film.
Back from Eternity (1956)
This remake is the one to see
After having just seen BACK FROM ETERNITY for the first time in about a "hundred" years, I really have to weigh in with my opinion on this. It is one of the few times when the remake is an improvement on the original, exceptionally so.
I saw the original (FIVE CAME BACK) some time ago and, from what I can tell, the only thing which could possibly raise it even slightly above the superior remake is the curiosity factor of having Lucille Ball in the cast. Other than that, the acting and the production were very wooden and dated, and the overall cast pales in comparison to that which was assembled for ETERNITY.
For anyone not familiar with the story, a plane crashes in the midst of a remote South American jungle. Besides the pilot and co-pilot, there are nine passengers: a so-called "fallen woman", an engaged couple, an elderly professor and his wife, a small boy and his guardian, and a cop with a prisoner in tow. They must stay alive until the plane is repaired, a task complicated by the realization that they are surrounded by a hostile tribe of headhunters.
Here you have Robert Ryan instead of Chester Morris, Rod Steiger instead of Joseph Calleia, and Gene Barry instead of Patric Knowles. Ryan and Steiger especially, in the main roles, display more screen presence and acting talent in this one film than their predecessors were able to conjure up in their entire careers.
Ryan plays the world-weary pilot, another of his sturdy and dependable performances which are often overlooked and not fully appreciated because he made it seem so effortless. Steiger has the more colorful role as the anarchist, with only imprisonment and execution waiting for him if and when they make it back to civilization. The same talent, which would gain an Oscar for the actor some ten years later, is clearly evident here.
The underrated Keith Andes (as the co-pilot, instead of forgettable Kent Taylor) gives a hint of the star he could have become, and the equally underrated Phyllis Kirk is far more effective in her role than whoever played it in the original. Barry, usually cast as a good guy, gives a good account of himself, playing Kirk's fiancée. Whereas most of the other passengers rise to the occasion, his character becomes increasingly desperate, grasping, and unstable.
Anita Ekberg, frequently dismissed as an actress, may not have been as talented as Lucille Ball (who played the part in the original), but at least proved that she could indeed act, and is certainly more convincing in this type of role than Lucy was.
Of note is a pre-Lassie Jon Provost as the little boy. Jesse White, better known for his work in comedic films, does a fine job as the boy's roughhewn guardian, and Fred Clark is good at giving a distasteful stamp to the rather seedy cop. Above all, Cameron Prudhomme and Beulah Bondi, as the old professor and his mrs., give two very moving, heartfelt performances.
The story concerns the characters' survival, how each holds up under the pressure and are changed by the situation. Steiger begins to rediscover some of the values of his youth, but then finally takes it upon himself to decide who will live and who will die, when it is learned that some must stay behind. The conclusion builds to a shattering climax that will stay with you long after the film ends. This is the remake to see and it is definitely worth seeing.
Two Way Stretch (1960)
A hilarious prison and caper comedy
This effort may not have been all that taxing on the considerable talents of the great Peter Sellers, but the character of Dodger Lane is an original, and the star gives a sly, confident performance as an unreformed "model prisoner" and untrustworthy trustee.
TWO-WAY STRETCH involves a trio of prison cell-mates who help to devise a crime with a twist. All they have to do is sneak out on the night before they're due to be released, pull off their latest heist, and then return before being missed, thereby providing themselves with a foolproof alibi in addition to their ill-gotten gains.
Huntleigh Prison is a very liberal institution, and Dodger (Sellers) takes full advantage of this, making his cell a home away from home. With the assistance of his two partners, Lennie Price (Bernard Cribbins) and Jelly Knight (David Lodge), he's practically running the place, and the three of them make a great comic team.
They don't plan on having any trouble sneaking out of Huntleigh, but that was before the appointment of the new head guard, Sidney "Sour" Crout (played by Lionel Jeffries), a tough disciplinarian, who barks rather than speaks. Why, he even expects the inmates to actually do some work in the rock quarry . . .before the arrival of their morning newspaper. Although Crout's presence disrupts their escape plans, the intrepid Dodger refuses to give up.
Also on hand is old reliable Wilfrid Hyde-White as Soapy Stevens, a crony who enlists Dodger for the heist; Maurice Denham as the hopelessly well-meaning warden; Irene Handl as crooked Ma Price; and the indispensable Liz Fraser as Ethel, Dodger's shapely girlfriend.
Everything clicks and there is never a dull moment in this hilarious comedy. There's nothing profound or insightful about it but that's one of the reasons why it's good. My rating of TWO-WAY STRETCH is a definite four stars out of five.
The Silencers (1966)
A reasonably enjoyable spy flick thanks to Martin and Stevens
THE SILENCERS was the first in a line of spy films starring the legendary Dean Martin, but it will probably be enjoyed more by fans of old Dino than by fans of the genre. For one thing, there's no way it can be taken seriously as an action-adventure, with all of the star's mugging and leering, his double entendres, and frequent song parodies that come out of nowhere. But neither is it really a comedy, since there is a lot of realistic violence and mayhem.
Rather, it hovers back and forth and in between the two, a world in which Martin is completely at home as the all too casual superspy Matt Helm, agent for ICE (Intelligence and Counter Espionage). You know that he'll meander along in his own inimitable way, boozing, joking, and scoring, until he saves the world at film's end. If you accept that, then you can kick back and enjoy the show for its low-brow humor and the adequate action.
Forget the plot. I'm not sure that I can explain much beyond relating that the evil BIG O (Bureau of International Government and Order) is out to start WWIII between the superpowers. The main bad guys are played by Victor Buono (made up to be Chinese!), Robert Webber, and Arthur O'Connell. Each of them have done far better work elsewhere, and there's nothing in their roles here that couldn't have been handled by a call to central casting.
The ladies are another matter. Helm is joined by a partner, played by Daliah Lavi (in a step down from the previous year's LORD JIM), who tries very hard in her role. Making a better impression are Cyd Charisse and Stella Stevens. Charisse, the only female co-star in Martin's "over forty" age bracket, proves that she's still got it with a libido-raising routine during the credits, and turns up again later as an exotic dancer who passes along some vital microfilm during her act.
Stevens really livens things up, as a redhead who is suspected of being an enemy agent because she's the girlfriend(?) of Webber, and happens to wind up with the microfilm. She's innocent (well, at least of being a spy) but gets dragged along, accompanying Helm on his mission. Later on, her character turns out to be not quite so dumb, and does her part to battle the bad guys and save the world. While Helm is singlehandedly mowing down the enemy, she shows more ingenuity using her favorite new toy, the reverse-firing gun (a clever weapon, as you'll see).
Again, this film will be enjoyed if you know what to expect, and you'll know what to expect if you know Dino, who played Helm the way he played himself. If you're a fan of his well-worn persona, then that's probably good enough. Along with his easygoing style and humor, throw in assorted action sequences, and many beautiful women (especially sexy Stevens, who does a lot with her role), and you've got THE SILENCERS. It succeeds as very passable entertainment, and is certainly the best of the entire Matt Helm series.
The Mouse That Roared (1959)
Three Sellers equals one very funny film
THE MOUSE THAT ROARED was Peter Sellers' first starring film, and he would succeed beyond all expectations. This became a huge "sleeper hit" when it was shown in the States, and deservedly so. Its brand of satire still holds up today.
The story is about a miniscule European state, the duchy of Grand Fenwick, which sees a way out of bankruptcy by declaring war on the US (to be followed by a quick surrender, and rehabilitative aid from the generous victor). An invasion force, with 12th century chainmail and crossbows, is thereupon dispatched to New York. But by mistake, the commander captures the nuclear "Q-Bomb", along with its inventor and his beautiful daughter, and brings them back to Grand Fenwick.
Sellers plays three roles: Gloriana XII, the old reigning duchess (believe it or not); Baron Montjoy, the crafty prime minister; and Tully Bascomb, the inept army commander. For my money, the third role is the best. Absent any sort of disguise, except for a pair of glasses, Tully is the central character. The first scene of Grand Fenwick's part-time commander, and full-time gamekeeper, has him caught in a trap and unable to scare away the fox that just sits there looking at him. As the bumbling hero, he is funny in his own right, and we're all rooting for him to save the day at the end.
The one and only Sellers does a great job in all departments, the state of Grand Fenwick is expertly brought to the screen with a unique sense of humor, and this MOUSE still roars plenty loud even after forty some years. Four out of five stars.