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179 reviews in total 
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8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Great German Expressionist Film That is Slowly Paced, 14 March 2009

Flirting with a (then) science fictional theme of body part transplantation, the film explores the feelings of a concert pianist, who having lost his hands in a train wreck, receives a new pair of hands that belonged to an executed murderer. Austrian director Robert Weine, who created the landmark 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1919) here reunites with and directs its star, Conrad Veidt, as the tormented pianist Paul Orlac.

The camera focuses on Veidt's many moods and reactions to his plight -- his hands are not capable of his concert abilities, and he feels that they are taking him over with thoughts and deeds of crime and murder. He does an outstanding job, but too much of the film is slowly paced. From the beginning extended train crash rescue, on through scene after scene of Orlac's, his wife's and the maid's over the top Expressionistic gesturing, the scenes seem to go on too long.

This slow pace is exaggerated by the lack of camera movement (everything is mostly wide shots with little tracking), the wonderfully and effectively spooky new musical score (on the KINO 2008 version), that sometimes lacks verve and variety, as well as the extensive time spent on the actors' Expressionist movements.

The film certainly has its high points. It's great to see an entire film shot in shadows and low light, all with Gothic sets. This is great German Expressionism. If you can relax and just go with the pace of the film, you can really enjoy the acting of Conrad Veidt-- whose hands keep getting creepier and scarier.

If it were cut to about sixty minutes to pick up the pace, it would be easier to enjoy and to see the great care that went into its creation and execution.

I'll have to give it a six.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Real Ed Wood Stinker!, 9 March 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The best of Ed Wood's films-- his love song to Bela Lugosi, 'The Bride of the Monster' (1955), the amazing Wood-de-force, 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' (1959) and his masterpiece 'Glen or Glenda' (1953)--all contain the elements of his classic 'film making' style. These include poor direction, stilted acting, fakey looking action, monologues and dialogs ranging from the poor and sit-at-the-desk pedantic to the surreal and bizarre, non sequiter sequences, mistakes not edited out, non matching inserts of stock and original footage, lack of camera movement, cheap post production overdubbing -- oh, the list could go on forever if I had a film making degree from USC.

This film shares these elements, but somehow, for me they just didn't 'click' this time. Too many boring sequences of Kenne Duncan (as Lt. Matt Carson) sitting at his desk talking to Duke Moore (Sgt. Stone) either about the relationship between pornography and crime, or to explain the developing action of the story that is mostly not shown. Here is the ultimate crime of visual or print story telling-- don't tell what happens, show what happens (don't say a man is evil, to make your point describe or show him kicking a cat or squashing a lizard with his foot).

We finally do get a visual story: a mix of a serial killer (a well cast Dino Fantini) knifing models in the park after looking at their 'smut' photos; a small town girl, eager to make it in Hollywood, getting tricked into the porno racket, and the battles of the 'smut' merchants Johnny Ryde (Carl Anthony) and Gloria (the bizarrely dressed hoarse voiced Jean Fontaine) with the police, their customers and 'the syndicate'.

This description makes the film sound better than it is. Little that goes on is of note, except for its unintentional humor (another great part of Ed Wood's 'style'). This is why it's best to watch the 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' 1994 version (available on DVD) that not only glorifies the humorous high points ("You're filming your shirt!" etc.), but also helps us wade thru the tedious dead spots, of which there are many.

We know why Ed Wood relied so much on explaining off stage action rather than showing it: it was a simple lack of budget and time (but also skill). This does not put him up on the level of doing the best with the least. That honor properly goes to the great Edgar G. Ulmer whose landmark Poverty Row films 'Detour' (1945) and 'Man From Planet X' (1951) are master classes in film making technique in working on virtually no budget or time.

Ed Wood can never be considered in the same rank as other film makers, but occupies his own unique and special place: The Top of the Bottom. The MST3K version helps it a lot, but still I'll have to give it a 2.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Best Episodes of the Great First 'Noir' Season!, 20 February 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The first season was originally broadcast in the evenings, not in the afternoons for children. 1952 was not that far away from the 'film noir' style of film making from the 1940s that we love, even though much of it was developed in low budget films to save on costs.

What does this have to do with "The Adventures of Superman"? Most of the episodes of the first season are suggestively, or deliberately noir: darkly lit stories peppered with deviant characters and low life villains with dire situations for our heroes to be trapped in. Others have commented on how the series degenerated into silliness later on, but here in the first season we have well photographed, written and acted and often suspenseful episodes.

For me, the best episodes of the first season are: 'Superman on Earth', the noirish 'The Haunted Lighthouse', 'The Monkey Mystery' (many of these early episodes actually were mysteries), 'Night of Terror' with the feisty Phyllis Coates, the great science fictional 'The Mind Machine', 'Rescue' with Phyllis Coates in a kind of 'Ace in the Hole' (1951) episode, 'The Secret of Superman', 'The Stolen Costume', the two ultra-noirish episodes 'Mystery in Wax' (with a great performance by Myra McKinney) and 'The Evil Three' and finally 'Crime Wave'.

What is noteworthy about this first year is the demonstrated craft of the lead actors in taking their roles seriously. Of course, they had no idea of how actors in their far future would play the same and other comic book characters and be respected and lauded for their efforts --in the year 2009 Heath Ledger was nominated for an Academy Award for playing DC's 'The Joker,' and Christopher Reeve played Superman in four successful films that also featured Marlon Brando, Gene Hackett, Susanna York, Terence Stamp, Jackie Cooper, Robert Vaughn and Richard Pryor among many stars.

The first season has well done ensemble acting. The episodes featured different pairings of the four leads. You get Clark and Jimmy in 'The Haunted Lighthouse,' Perry and Jimmy in 'The Evil Three,' and other episodes featuring Clark, Lois and Jimmy, or Clark and Perry, Clark and Lois, Clark, Jimmy and Perry, and even Clark and Inspector Henderson. Although Noel Neill was fine in the two 'Superman' serials, Phyllis Coates is strong and feisty in this, her only year. Kudos to 'method' actor (and James Dean's friend) Jack Larson as Jimmy--an adult playing a teenager with such lines as "Jeepers!" "Golly! (he says it "Gah-lee"), "Gleeps!" and "Gosh, Mr. Kent!"

24 first season episodes in all, actually 26. The others were the two-part 'The Unknown People,' which was actually a short 1951 theatrical film, 'Superman and the Mole People,' which just features Lois and Clark. In it, George Reeves plays Clark Kent as not mild mannered, but a tough, two fisted fighter of small town prejudice directed against those who are different (in this case, mole men from inside the Earth). Clark even assists in a surgery to save a mole man's life! Reeves continues to play Clark as smart and tough throughout the series. (The feautre film is also highly recommended.)

A thoroughly enjoyable first year of a television series. I'll give it an 8.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Raymond Burr and a Good Cast Make This Clunker Passable, 18 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Is it because of watching so much 'Perry Mason' (1957-1966) that when Raymond Burr, who plays the lead villain, Blake, is on screen we are riveted to his words, inflections, movements and gestures? For those of us who watched him as the bad guy in so many movies when we were children, such as 'Tarzan and the She Devil' (1953), the answer is no. He had real charisma and great screen presence whatever he did. Just check out his other evil performances of the era in such films as 'Rear Window' (1954), 'His Kind of Woman' (1951), 'Bride of the Gorilla' (1951), or his classic pyromaniac gangster in 'Raw Deal' (1948).

So it's no wonder that the best part of this film is watching him. The movie is helped by other fine performances by Cesar "The King of Lippert Pictures" Romero, as FBI chief Glen Stedman, the nice looking but strong Audrey Totter as Shirley Wayne the FBI clerk, and Tom Drake as her fiancée.

The problem is that the plot has holes bigger than swiss cheese, and too many of the scenes focus on the backs of people's heads. A state governor seeks Blake's aid in retrieving his fingerprint card, under his real name 'John Williams,' from the FBI in Washington, D.C. He's afraid his past criminal record as a convicted murderer will come out, destroying his chances in running for the Senate. The movie revolves around Blake's attempts to retrieve the fingerprint card, and the FBI's attempts to connect the murders of those FBI staff Blake uses to get the card with, to them, the unknown killers-at-large.

The first clerk, Natalie Craig (played by Margie Dean), takes the fingerprint card, but is killed in an auto accident. Even though later in the film when agent Donley (George Brent) and Stedman know they are looking for John Williams's fingerprint card, Donley says, "There must be 10,000 John Williams's!" and they both hopelessly give up the quest in looking for it in the files. Well, Natalie had had no trouble finding it, and neither does file clerk Shirley who later takes it to Blake. As a police procedural, this is no 'Dragnet' (1951-1959).

The governor is relieved it is over after Blake burns the card in a fireplace. As if there were only one copy of his real fingerprints in the country! What about where he was convicted? And where were any witnesses or evidence to connect him to his past life? This whole McGuffin is preposterous, but Burr has us almost believing in it in spite of all these improbables.

For too many scenes, the director and cinematographer have the characters moving from stage left to stage right where the camera is, and we see much of the dialog coming from the back of someone's head. No cut to a second camera to see their faces. The director was obviously not bothered by these shots. Jack Greenhalgh, the cinematographer, did over 200 films (mostly for Poverty Row studios like PRC and Lippert), including the classic 'Tell Your Children' (1936), which we know and love as 'Reefer Madness,' and then went on to do his other masterpiece, 'Robot Monster' (1953).

Oh, if only Ed Wood had been involved in this film! He would have added dialog to raise it to even more absurd heights, and would have overseen even worse photography, juxtaposing bizarre stock footage and a feebly weird soundtrack. Oh, wait! He did just that in his masterwork 'Glen or Glenda' (1953) featuring Bela Lugosi.

The quality seasoned acting skills of the principal players beguile you into accepting the film's premise, at least until the ending when you realize the plot hasn't made any sense. The performance of Burr, and those of Romero, Totter and Drake help the film, but ultimately it's only a 4.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Mary Pickford 'Mends Nets' in a Poignant Short Film, 14 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Back in 1912, Mabel Normand, Mary Pickford and D. W. Griffith were making pictures for the Biograph Company. Talk about cranking them out -- between 1908-1916, Biograph made 1204 films! This is one of its better shorts. In just 17 briskly edited minutes Griffith provides us with a brief capsulated soap opera with a poignant ending that stays with you.

On the Santa Monica coast, Mary has a routine job where she works mending fishing nets for her father. A young fisherman who has been admiring her finally professes his love for her and proposes. She ecstatically accepts. In her face and gestures we can feel the rush of joy she feels, anticipating the great changes to come in her life.

Unfortunately, the man has a prior girlfriend, played by Mabel Normand, who was watching the proposal from a hill, and feels spurned and apparently damaged and used by the young fisherman. She goes to his cabin apparently pleading with him to 'honor' her (had he 'had his way' with her?) by marrying her and making their relationship respectable. Mary's brother, having seen Mabel enter the cabin, goes there with a gun to shoot the young two-timing fisherman. Mary sees this and rushes to protect her fiancée by stopping the shooting.

Griffith builds the tension through quick cutting from interiors to exteriors and some fast paced action. The brother can't get off a clear shot, and as they both rush into the cabin---Mary sees the other woman! She tells all to Mary, who having come there for one purpose, now has another choice to make. Mary decides there is more at stake than just her own personal feelings, so she takes her fiancée's hand and places it on Mabel, probably saying that you loved each other before, and probably still do, so you should be, and stay, together. Here she is literally mending human nets.

She goes back outside, returns to her job of mending fishing nets, looking briefly and wistfully off into the what could have been and the what might have been. Then, head down, she starts mending her nets. Could you, or I, sacrifice our own happiness for that of others?

Pretty good for 1912, during the teen era when histrionics and melodramatic poising were still the norm for many pictures. A short slice of life moment economically and concisely fit into its brief length. Too bad the other 1203 couldn't have been this good! I'll give this one a 7.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
von Stroheim: Extravagant Design and Rich Development, 14 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Erich von Stroheim is most famous for writing and directing the film 'Greed' (1924), which originally clocked in at 9 hours in length (42 reels of film). Much mutilated and shortened by various editors, the copies that survive today are about 239 minutes. This earlier film, known as the first million dollar film in terms of initial cost, features Stroheim as writer, director and star. The finished version that he delivered to Universal was 8 hours long! It also suffered a similar butchering, but today we have a cobbled together version that is 146 minutes (about two and a half hours). The film tells the story of a con man, a fake Count Karamzin (Stroheim) and his accomplices: it is never boring, is full of extravagant sets, some rich set pieces and it makes great use of color tinting and quick dissolves.

Stroheim's style seems to have had two main aspects: extravagant production and design with authentic detail, and scenes and sequences that unfold and develop in their own sweet time. At Point Lobos in Southern California, Stroheim had an immense reconstruction of Monte Carlo built as one of the major settings for the story. The frames there are filled with activity, huge casts of people, even down to little accurate details. These scenes are on the scale of 'Intolerance' (1916) or 'Cabiria' (1914).

No wonder he'd wind up with 42 reels: sequences develop at their own pace and are almost set pieces in themselves. The first obvious example is the opening scene on the balcony, in which we are introduced to the key characters (the Count, his two 'cousins,' the maid, the counterfeiter, Ventucci, and his daughter, who all figure in the finale) during a leisurely breakfast. Another famous one is the Count's failed attempt to seduce the wife, Mrs. Hughes, in the old hag's cottage during an intensive rainstorm.

The color tinting is well done throughout the film: daytime interiors will be brown; night time interiors a light plum and night exteriors blue; but Mr. and Mrs. Hughes's suite is only always black and white; during the finale there are fast cuts between the orange-red fire and the blue night. The entire film is interesting to watch, with von Stroheim nicely telling us with eye, tongue, and facial movements his wicked intentions, feelings and duplicitous nature.

The musical score by Sigmund Romberg is listenable all by itself, but is not the greatest matching piano accompaniment. We also get Mae Busch as one of the con 'cousins.' Later featured in 'Our Gang' comedies, she was also a regular fixture in many Laurel and Hardy shorts. She was "Mrs. Hardy" in three of them, including the wonderful sitcom type feature 'Sons of the Desert' (1933) and as Ollie's crazed fiancée in 'Oliver the Eighth' (1934).

I'll give the film an 8 for its sumptuous design and rich development.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Mary Pickford Shines in a Rapid Fire Quickie, 11 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Before D. W, Griffith made 'Judith of Bethulia' (1914) he had already cranked out 491 films! In this one, from 1910, not only do we see the frenetic motions and overly exaggerated miming we consider the stereotype of silent movies but also the high production values and fast paced editing of a Griffith film. The bonus here is having Mary Pickford as the lead.

In a fast paced 17 minutes, Mary Pickford plays a feisty peasant girl who is offered a marriage proposal by a high born lord. Reluctantly accepting the offer, once she's removed from her environment and placed in his, she feels stifled, ill at ease, and commits errors of etiquette in courtly situations. Dressed as a man, she runs off to an inn with her husband's nephew, who has designs on her, which she strongly rebuffs. The husband, having followed her, secretly witnesses her actions, pleased with her strength and fidelity. He returns home before she does, and when she comes in repentant, he willingly accepts her. All this in less than 20 minutes!

It goes without saying that the story's development is told quickly and economically with no extraneous scenes. The editing is rapid fire. But Griffith does not skimp on the costumes or the courtly scenes, either. When Peggy (Mary) is outside with her high born husband, the frame is full of an elaborate cast of costumed extras, many of whom are performing minuets in the background.

At first, it seems as if Mary Pickford is just doing the same overly exaggerated physical gesturing that passes for acting so common to the oughts and teens eras. In these early days, the female characters were even more exaggerated; see for example, Mae Marsh in 'The Battle of Elderbush Gulch' (1913), Universal's 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea' (1916) or 'The Bluebird' (1918). Over the next few years Griffith seems to have toned it down a little; see the much better Griffith / Pickford short 'The Mender of Nets' (1912) or Constance Talmadge as The Mountain Girl and Mae Marsh as The Dear One in 'Intolerance' (1916).

Mary Pickford, however, displays a screen presence and character that, like the great Lillian Gish, sets her off from and above this overly melodramatic early acting style. This film tells the story of a woman, and Pickford dominates the screen and all the action. Griffith knows how to focus on her because she is such a strong presence on screen. Apparently this is a comedy; dressed as a man she makes a pass at a maid in the inn. Perhaps during these early years just seeing people jumping up and down doing such physical histrionics qualified as humor.

Ultimately the film is of value only to see the development of Pickford's and Griffiths' style. I'll give it a four and half.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A Technicolor Noir Western!, 8 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a Technicolor film noir western that tells the story of five desperate characters on a horseback journey through the Rocky Mountains. It's a psychological adult western suggestive of 'The Treasure of Sierra Madre' (1948) though with a similar but different ending.

The characters are all losers of one kind or another without much redeeming noble value. Jimmy Stewart plays a Civil War veteran whose wife sold his ranch and ran off with another man while he was fighting. In an attempt to repurchase his ranch, he seeks to capture a wild outlaw (Robert Ryan) for the $5,000 reward. Stewart wonderfully plays against type here as an obsessive bounty hunter with his wounded humanity deeply buried. Robert Ryan, the laughing, devilish villain (looking a little like a young Stuart Whitman) turns in one of his best and most colorful acting jobs, quite unlike his flat stone faced delivery so common in most of his films.

Of necessity in bringing Ryan back to Kansas for the bounty, Stewart accepts the aid of two more losers in life's game. One is Ralph Meeker, who plays a dishonorably discharged ex-Army officer, whose discharge refers to him as 'morally unstable.' Another winning performance as he exhibits the brashness, cynicism and athleticism that he would perfect in 'Kiss Me Deadly' (1955). The other is a grizzled prospector, played by Millard Mitchell, who had spent his lifetime chasing after the elusive gold strike. (Mitchell had previously received a Golden Globe in 1952.) Along for the ride is a young Janet Leigh, who lost her family but has chosen to stick with Vandergast (Ryan) as her security. These are the only people in the whole film (except for a brief raid by a party of unknown Blackfoot Indians)!

While suggesting the three way conflict between Dobbs, Curtin and the Old Man in 'Treasure' over who is going to keep the gold (with Ryan as a living symbol of the riches to be gained) and not as complex, this is a psychological adult western with its own interesting twists and turns. It glues your eyes to the screen all the way through. This is because of the expert direction by Anthony Mann, the intriguing acting of the five characters, the beautiful Technicolor outdoor photography (none of it was filmed on a sound stage) and the well written script. The script co-written by Sam Rolfe, who later went on to create the adult TV western 'Have Gun, Will Travel' (1957- 1963), was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay.

The film is well balanced with action sequences, the best of which is the climax, with Stewart reduced to climbing a steep cliff with his 'naked spur' (also shown in the opening shot of the film), and with Stewart and Meeker battling a raging river to salvage their 'goods' (Ryan). You expect, as in other greed and revenge films and in the bleakest of noirs, for everything to be lost by all at the end, but that's not the ending we have here. Seeing it again, this one works and is very impressive.

This is a unique western for any decade. It certainly is one of the best westerns as well as one of the best films of the fifties. I'll give it an 8.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Let's Sit Under the Apple Tree With the Andrews Sisters!, 4 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is an unpretentious wartime musical from Universal Pictures 'war effort,' about enlisting to do your part. With 13 songs in 68 minutes the plot hardly gets in the way of the music. What little plot there is is handled mostly by Dick Foran, Jennifer Holt, Harry James and Shemp Howard.

Dick Foran (who really was a band vocalist before he became an actor), Helen Forrest and all of Harry James and His Music Makers enlist in the Army. After a brief romantic plot interlude between Dick and Jennifer, a matinée show is performed that ends with the song "We've Got a Job To Do" shot in a cinematic montage, or what we'd call today music video style, of America's war effort ending (the film) with a large squadron of Army Air Force planes spelling out "USA" in the sky overhead.

The other real high point is the lengthy production number of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," sung by the Andrews Sisters, which contains a separate frenetic dance routine by the Jivin' Jacks and Jills. Though not a part of the troupe, 16 year old Donald O'Conner and his dance partner Peggy Ryan appear in the background doing some of the routines.

Also featured towards the beginning is a fresh, young and clean looking Joe E. Lewis with a nose like Tom Ewell and a face like Mr. Bean, but who is totally upstaged in his scenes with Mary Wicke and Shemp Howard.

On a funny note, to prove to Jenny (Jennifer Holt) that he isn't a 'crooner,' Dick Foran sits at the piano and sings "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," which turns into a happy smiling duet with Helen Forrest, and of course, which causes Jenny to fall in love with him. This odd juxtapositioning of sorrow with a smiling face was lampooned by 'Saturday Night Live' in the late 70s. Since Dick is playing the slacker who refuses to do his duty as a soldier, his plea is hardly believable-- his tide of misery rolls in when his filet mignon is overcooked.

But other than that, this is a wonderful, fast moving time capsule of the tempo (musical and otherwise) and spirit of the early days of America's entry into World War II, as well as an opportunity to see Harry James and the Andrews Sisters perform. I'll give it a 6 and a half.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
One of the Gloriously Outrageous Treats of 1940s Junk Cinema!, 31 December 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film is a horror comedy that unintentionally skewers the low budget horror genre. Mantan Moreland finally gets to shine as the comic star, though he has third billing to the two bland and clueless leads, Dick Purcell and Joan Woodbury.

Dick Purcell, to be blander in 'Captain America' (1944) here is apparently supposed to be the clichéd 'hot shot' pilot: Irish and spouting snappy tough guy slang like "right up my alley," "a cinch," and "I'll be glad to get away from this dump!" On a mission to track down America's enemies, he is forced to land his plane on a secret island. The government agent, John Archer, is totally dull in all senses of the word; his valet, Mantan Moreland, is the spark of the film, stealing every scene he's in with his physical takes or off the cuff remarks ("That something ain't never no good for nobody to do no time," etc.).

They land in a graveyard ("Must be someone's marble orchard," Archer says in his only witty line) and soon discover they are on a zombie island, lorded over by Doctor Sangre, (played by Henry Victor, in a part originally written for Bela Lugosi) who is trying to transfer the mind of a captured American military officer into that of his wife.

Most of the film follows Moreland as he wanders around. He has several scenes in the kitchen interacting with the help (all black, of course) and eventually with the zombies, who act like lumbering stupefied robots rather than the flesh eating types we think of as zombies today. He joins their ranks but later becomes 'dezombified.' This is like a film told from the point of view of the hired help rather than the putative stars. As such you keep waiting for Moreland to come back on screen to liven up the dull proceedings with his humorous and natural delivery. And he does. For fans of Mantan Moreland (who usually appeared in the background in Charlie Chan movies), seeing him star in this film is a treat.

You can also see him get major screen time in the 'buddy' movies he made with Frankie Darro such as 'Up In The Air' (1940) or 'Let's Go Collegiate' (1941).

The film also features interesting camera work by Mark Stengler, with some great angles and composition.

Especially because of the decision to build the film around Mantan Moreland, this zombie film stands out as one of the gloriously outrageous treats of 1940s junk cinema. I give it a 7.

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