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Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933)
Song, dance, danger, and romance in B'way roman-a-clef
Manhattan mobster Frank Rocci (Paul Kelly) helps out a childhood friend by getting her sister Joan Whelan (Constance Cummings) a job as a chorine in Tex Kaley's (Texas Guinan) nightclub and quickly falls in love with her. He buys the place so's he can showcase Joan in a Max Mefoofski (Gregory Ratoff) revue which makes her a star and out of gratitude, she agrees to marry him. Before the wedding can take place, however, rival racketeer Tim Crowley (C. Henry Gordon) makes an attempt on Rocci's life so he shuffles Joan off to Miami with her motherly girlfriend Sybil Smith (Blossom Seely) and both gals promptly fall in love: Joan with crooner Clark Brian (radio heartthrob Russ Columbo) and Sybil with his busom buddy, the none-too-bright Peanuts Dinwiddie (Hobart Cavanaugh). Rocci gets wind of it and orders Joan back to New York and Clark, hot on her heels, humbly asks Rocci for Joan's hand. The tough-guy touchingly gives his consent but when Crowley's gang kidnaps the bride on her wedding day, bloodshed, sacrifice, and hope lie ahead...
Broadway reporter-at-large Walter Winchell's saga of song, dance, danger, and romance so closely resembled the real life love triangle between entertainer Al Jolson, hoofer Ruby Keeler, and racketeer Johnny "Irish" Costello that Jolson punched Winchell out when he saw him at a Hollywood Legion prize fight, causing the columnist to sue for $500,000. The Fox film (a Darryl Zanuck Production) opens with a POV peek thru a keyhole that becomes a montage of the Great White Way (called "The Stem" at the time) where the underworld really can meet the elite. There's plenty of musical numbers on display and a couple of them are fairly inventive including tuxedo-clad songstress Frances Williams' rousing rendition of "Doin' The Uptown Lowdown" and a Busby Berkeley-style number with hoola hoops and crotch shots. There's also a romantic duet by handsome Russ Columbo and pretty little Constance Cummings, who's later seen in a transparent dress. Since it's Pre-Code, Connie's in step-ins a lot, too, and un-PC moments include a typical-for-the-time gay stereotype and derogatory slang for Jews. There's quite a bit of double intendre gender-bending going on as well- bits include Seely, dressed in a man's suit and fedora, puffs on a cigar and kisses her gangster boyfriend (after which the guy wipes his mouth) and handsome milquetoast Russ Columbo (he nearly swoons over a cut to his finger) has a too close relationship with his pal Dinwiddie, predicting the one shared by John Hodiak & Wendell Cory in DESERT FURY over a decade later.
As this film shows, silent leading man Lowell Sherman quickly became a capable director at the advent of talkies and he remained so until his untimely death in December, 1934. The British-born Constance Cummings was a popular leading lady for a couple of years in the early '30s and in addition to a top-notch supporting cast, the Broadway luminaries on hand included notorious "Queen Of The Speakeasies" Texas Guinan, the Sophie Tucker-ish Blossom Seely, singer/dancer Frances Williams, Eddie Foy, Jr., Abe Lyman & His Orchestra, and Winchell himself. Young Lucille Ball has a bit as a Miami Beach golddigger as does Ann Sothern & Susan Fleming (soon-to-be Mrs. Harpo Marx) as chorines. Lots of fun!
Lo voglio morto (1968)
A low budget spaghetti western elevated by its ambitions
Handsome Craig Hill stars as Clayton, a horse trader who sets out to avenge the rape and murder of his sister by tracking the pair responsible to the lair of Charles Malleck, a wealthy Southern arms dealer who doesn't want the Civil War to end until he can squeeze every last drop of profit from it. With help from one of Malleck's women, Clayton infiltrates the gang and finds that their plans to hijack a Confederate gold shipment pales in comparison to a daring double assassination plot set to occur at a summit meeting between generals from both sides...
Released in Germany as a "Django" movie, this spaghetti/paella (Italo- Spanish) co-production has a fairly ambitious storyline that moves along at a fast clip and contains enough shootouts, fist fights, and other assorted brutality to satisfy most genre fans. The cinematography and sweeping vistas aren't bad, either, and there's an appropriately fitting end. Craig Hill does a credible job trying to channel Clint Eastwood and lissome Lea Massari (L'AVVENTURA) is always a welcome presence, especially here as a feisty gal out to better her lot.
A far out premise undone by a cheapjack production
A traveling salesman, in Okland for the annual Halloween celebration, fingers the sheriff as the leader of a gang that dressed up as saloon girls to hijack a stagecoach, rape his daughter, and kill a man four years earlier. The happily married lawman is innocent, of course -his evil twin's the real culprit- but that's not Okland's only cause for alarm because a masked murderer (looking like Claude Rains in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) plans to rob a local bank during the traditional masquerade on All Hallow's Eve...
IN THE NAME OF...yada, yada, yada is pretty much a cheapjack production, unexceptional at best, with one too many day-for-night shots and contrary to any internet buzz, there's no "giallo influence" despite a couple of POV stabbings done to conceal the killer's identity. With his thick blond mane and green eyes, craggy Craig Hill (on the far side of 40 at the time) was still a handsome man and he differentiates the twins by alternating between quiet resolve and maniacal mustache-twirling.
Sexy Ágata Lys as the ravished daughter is fourth-billed in the credits but on my DVD-R cover art she's top billed over Craig. The movie poster is obviously from a late-70s re-release after Ágata became a European pop star and the titular enigma in LA NUEVA MARILYN (1976) with nude layouts in men's magazines all over the world. And why not- when MM's early movies were re-released, she was also top-billed over the real stars in poster art, including ones for THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and ALL ABOUT EVE. Marilyn Monroe was big in the mid- 1970s; the same year Ms. Lys was invoking the iconic love goddess, one-time TV sexpot Misty Rowe was doing the same in Hollywood's GOODBYE NORMA JEAN (1976) and in 1975's TOMMY, Monroe's cult status finally achieved the inevitable.
Unkissed Bride (1966)
An obscure '60s sex comedy that wallows in innocuous bad taste
A pair of newlyweds can't consummate their marriage because the groom passes out whenever he's close to coitus but with the help of a sexy psychiatrist and the liberal doses of LSD she administers with an atomizer, the young man is able to mount ...er, surmount his obsession with Mother Goose stories.
An obscure '60s sex comedy that wallows in innocuous bad taste and stars real-life queer Tommy Kirk as a milquetoast who can't get it up and handsome he-man Jacques Bergerac as his randy contrast. Jacques' got a sexy French accent that makes him hard to understand at times but who cares, he supplies beefcake in spades with a chest as hairy as the bearskin rug he lies on and it's easy to see what got Ginger & Dottie hot. He's also the owner of the resort hotel the couple are honeymooning at and even the house dick falls for him after ending up in the Frenchman's arms during a brawl. L.A. radio personality Joe Pynes (who dat?) plays himself as does Henny Youngman in a cameo at the drive-in where this movie most likely unspooled. The wholesomely attractive TV actress Anne Helm (a poor man's Annette Funicello) plays the frustrated frau but it's a former Miss Canada, Danica D'Hondt, who takes the cheesecake as Kirk's shapely shrink. Although shot on the cheap using one location, there's an un-PC night out on the town at the Hollywood A Go-Go that climaxes in drunk driving for laughs and Barbara McNair's on hand (or at least her voice is) to sing "Queen Of Soul". Tommy croons the title tune, "Mother Goose A Go-Go" ("You're a quack/Get off my back"). Oh, brother.
Jacques Bergerac, star of stage, screen, and tabloid scandal, was a tall, dark, and handsome staple on '60s TV in such shows as ALFRED HITCHCCOCK PRESENTS, PERRY MASON, DANIEL BOONE, and BATMAN. The strapping 6'3" actor was like a suave, Gallic version of Mike Henry and if he'd made only THE HYPNOTIC EYE, it would have been enough. Married to Oscar winners Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Malone (but not at the same time), his career never scaled those heights but he did become an executive at Revlon after retiring from show biz.
Wharf Angel (1934)
Love vs Friendship in a Paramount Pre-Code
Political activist Como Murphy (Preston Foster), on the run from a murder rap, ducks into Mother Bright's (Alison Skipworth) waterfront saloon on the infamous Barbary Coast and forms a fast friendship with Turk (Victor McLaglen), a stoker on a ship bound for Shanghai. When the cops close in, Como's directed upstairs where he stumbles into Toy's room (a sexy Dorothy Dell) and he spends the night there. The next day, he leaves a note for Toy promising to return and signs on with Turk's ship but on shore leave in the Orient, Como learns the gal Turk carries a torch for is none other than Toy. Como doesn't tell Turk he knows Toy and when their ship docks in Frisco, both men make a bee line for Ma Bright's where their romantic triangle comes to a deadly head...
Paramount's burly brawler Victor McLaglen had been playing variations on the "love & friendship" shtick ever since WHAT PRICE GLORY? back in '26 and handsome Preston Foster makes a good romantic opponent for him here. Paramount's back lot Frisco, all fog and shadow, was put over with a bit of panache by director William Cameron Menzies, who'd go on to greater fame as one of Hollywood's premiere set designers. Released just before the Production Code crackdown, it's obvious how Dorothy Dell earns her living at Mother Bright's and there's lots of snappy patter, too, such as "No tow-headed jane is gonna make a monkey out of me!" and Dell actually tells McLaglen to "flock off" at one point. The alluring Dottie also warbles a wistful blues ballad and a lean and lanky Mischa Auer makes the most of his role as shifty shipmate Sadik, replete with an earring and a turncoat temper.
Things were going great guns for nineteen year-old Dorothy Dell at the time; the former "Miss New Orleans" and "Miss Universe of 1930" was plucked from the Ziegfield Follies by Paramount and groomed as its answer to Fox's Alice Faye. Dorothy had just made her mark in the Shirley Temple starrer, Little Miss Marker, and it looked like she had arrived when it all came to a sudden, tragic end on June 8, 1934. Returning from a party in the Altadena hills, Dottie and her date were killed in a car crash; their automobile went over an embankment, hit a telephone pole, and rammed into a boulder. Dorothy was killed instantly and her escort died a few hours later. Engaged to another at the time of her death, Dell was also romantically involved with crooner Russ Columbo who, along with Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby, was making multitudes of female fans swoon as his velvety voice wafted over the airwaves.
L'osceno desiderio (1978)
Another Italian rip-off of a U.S. horror hit
Sexy Marisa Mell stars as an American ex-pat whose new husband brings her back to his ancestral castle where she learns the family was cursed by a witch burned at the stake centuries before. She soon becomes pregnant and it's a ROSEMARY'S BABY redux (cashing in on THE OMEN's recent success) from here on out, only now the emphasis is on "erotic horror".
Almost all the sex is gratuitous; Marisa's husband kills prostitutes in his spare time for no good reason other than to provide more nudity in a film already rife with it courtesy of Ms. Mell. Even the U.S. title, OBSCENE DESIRE, is only there to titillate. Since it's the '70s, an exorcism (sort of) was thrown in for good measure and although the whole thing is more than a little silly, it's a lot of fun anyway, the "bare" essence of "Eurotrash". But what was up with that ending?
***SPOILER***When Marisa and her baby (the son of Satan) board a plane for the U.S., one of the coven seeing her off smiles and says, "America needed that baby." ***END SPOILER***
This was obviously a good-natured (?) zinger, unlike the Italian giallo's cumulative xenophobia. Most of them are exotic "travelogues" set in the various capitols of Europe and beyond but when seen collectively, the unmistakable (albeit unintentional) message seems to be, "This sick sh!t doesn't happen here", it's always somewhere else whereas nearly all Spanish gialli take place on their own turf.
The still-gorgeous Marisa Mell was about 40 when she made OBSCENE DESIRE and her looks are a bit "hard" here, no doubt from a growing cocaine dependence. She'd been an international playgirl and tabloid darling for over a decade and was romantically linked to Alain Delon, Warren Beatty, Robert Evans, Roman Polanski, Alex Onassis, and the Shah of Iran among others but by the early 1980s the actress was reduced to posing nude in hardcore men's magazines. Destitute and alone, Marisa died a horrible death from throat cancer in 1992.
"Movies are my life, and my life is a movie." -Marisa Mell
El escapulario (1968)
A religious ghost story
Mexico's "La Epoca Del Oro" was noted for blending primitive superstition with baroque religious symbolism (isn't that what santeria is?) and all I can say is, that very Catholic country loved putting the fear of God into the devout.
A ghost story set around the time of the Mexican Revolution, THE SCAPULAR concerns an old woman on her deathbed who tells the priest giving her last rites of the strange and powerful influence a religious medal had on her four sons. It's told mostly in flashback and the fog-bound atmospherics "Golden Age" cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa provides in abundance makes it look like we're observing the otherworldly goings-ons through the mists of time. If using black & white was a deliberate choice for this 1968 flick, it was a stoke of genius. An impressed 8/10 but only because I'm not into organized religion (although I'll grant it's pretty scary).
Il figlio di Spartacus (1962)
Par for the course peplum starring Steve Reeves
Steve Reeves plays a high-ranking Roman centurion who finds out he's the son of the infamous rebel slave leader and spearheads a revolt, of course, in one of the better "sword & sandal" entries. Mixing the backstory of Moses (instead of a swaddling cloth, an amulet gives him away) with the exploits of a comic book superhero (Reeves sneaks off every now and then to shuck his tunic for dad's face-covering armor), director Corbucci took the tale and ran with it, producing some impressive mise-en-scène amidst his unexpectedly inventive camera-work. Gianna Maria Canale as Crassus' cougar wife does little more than lounge around on divans and ogle our hero but no matter, it's always a pleasure to see her in peplum like this.
Crimine a due (1964)
An Italian proto-giallo that's worth a look, at least
Within the first ten minutes, John Drew Barrymore gets beaten up by gangsters, talks his girlfriend into an abortion, and convinces his mistress they'd be better off with her wealthy husband dead but nothing is what it seems in this post-noir/proto-giallo crime thriller. It actually references the Italian horror sub-genre by having a police inspector ask one of the suspects what kind of books she reads and she replies "anything except giallo -they're too violent and improbable" but, of course, she doesn't have to since life soon begins to imitate art. There's also a horribly disfigured family member hidden away upstairs with the lovely Lisa Gastoni as his mysterious nurse. The gritty black & white photography and jazzy score give the film a "noir" ambiance and what appears to be a happy ménage à trois ending turns into a satisfyingly sick denouement just in the nick of time. Throughout his dodgy "B-list" career, psychotronic film star John Barrymore, Jr. either tried too hard or not hard enough and this is a case of the latter, unfortunately, but I was interested even if he wasn't and the film definitely belongs in a "giallo continuum" that begins with 1934's GIALLO.
Il tradimento (1951)
A great big pile of improbable hokum
A family man (Amadeo Nazzari) gets framed for murder and while he spends the next fourteen years in prison, his wife dies and his young daughter disappears. When he gets out he accidentally runs into his now-grownup girl (mistaking her for a prostitute) but their chances of living happily ever after are jeopardized by the girl's (Gianna Maria Canale) romantic problems and the self-serving heel (Vittorio Gassman) who framed him...
It's a great big pile of improbable hokum filmed in the then-popular "noir style" by genre director Riccardo Freda and another one "inspired by a true story". Luscious Gianna Maria Canale, a former "Miss Italy 1947" runner-up who lost to Lucia Bose, would go on to marry the director and become the reigning queen of Cinecetta peplum splendor. Gassman plays the same type of sleazeball he did in WHITE SLAVE TRADE and gets the same special billing ("with the participation of"). He actually makes a very hissable villain, an opportunity denied most Hollywood heartthrobs back then, the reason being that when they did play "against type" (like Tyrone Power in NIGHTMARE ALLEY), the public didn't care for it. Europe was different, however, and Vittorio's movies are a gas, man!