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The Quare Fellow (1962)
Misses the mark
This is certainly a compelling movie. The acting is fine to very good. Sylvia Syms is especially good. I think she may be a little miscast: Her elegant manner comes through even in a cat fight.
I guess it was an admirable undertaking. And the basic theme is still there: Hanging is a pretty brutal thing for civilized men to do, even in the name of justice.
But the wit of the original play is mostly lost. The story is opened up for the movie. That happened a lot, especially in those times. But in making it more cinematic, its original punch was lost.
A major character is either left out or greatly toned-down. What's left is a 1930s Warner Brother prison movie transposed to the UK. Those movies were almost always at least entertaining and were often powerful. This is entertaining and a little powerful. But I'm not sure it's Brendan Behan.
The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933)
A rare James Whale shocker
This is not a horror movie. James Whale is best known for those. (His 1936 "Showboat," on the other hand is my absolute favorite movie musical, bar none.) This one is a brief but insightful character study.
Frank Morgan plays a famous lawyer engrossed in a murder case. He finds himself identifying with the jealous husband of a beautiful woman.
He identifies a little too strongly. He begins to see in his own wife the behavior of his client's wife.
Morgan's wife is played by one of the most charming of early movie actresses: Nancy Carroll. I've seen her primarily in light comedy, where she is absolutely charming. She has a quirkiness that resembles that of Janet Gaynor. And she physically resembles the ultra-sexy Clara Bow.
Her career was short, apparently by her own choice. This is one of her best roles. And, though it's atypical and little known, it's a very fine example of James Whale's masterful touch.
Two Dollar Bettor (1951)
A real gem!
Watching a mediocre print of this movie was like seeing "Detour" for the first time. The movie has a terrible, pedestrian title. The stars don't promise much. Well, of course Marie Windsor is always good and Steve Brodie is a noir staple. But John Litel, as the central figure -- which he is? It's the very suspenseful story of a decent guy getting dragged down into a whirlpool of crime and deceit.
Litel is what today would be called a middle-manager. He has an OK job and works hard. He has two daughters in their late teens, whom he adores. He lavishes everything he can afford on them. And, it turns out, more than he can afford.
Urged to bet a horse to show at the races, he slowly gets bitten by the gambling bug. From small bets he moves on to a bookie. And who does the bookie send to collect his money but -- Marie Windsor.
Far be it from me to say exactly what role her character plays in the story. She looks great, as always. This is all I'm saying. But the Litel character is very likable. The money he wants to win is truly only to continue pampering his daughters. And seeing his decline is painful. (And its shocking.)
Though the film seems to have been made on a very low budget, its plot and character development are nuanced. I'm eager to see it again.
The Kid from Spain (1932)
This made me fall in love with Lyda Roberti!
I like Eddie Cantor movies. This is an early talkie and one of his best. It has two superb dance sequences from Busby Berkeley.
I'd have rated it an 8 but for the number done in black-face. Yes, I know that was fairly standard at the time. It grates today, though. The whole thing is fun. It's improbable but that can be the key to the charm of a Cantor movie.
Nevertheless, the highlight for me was his leading lady. I'd heard the name Lyda Roberti. Probably I've seen her before, too. But I was knocked out by her delightful comic performance. Here was a pretty woman, svelte and attractive, who was a topnotch comic. She presaged such greats as Joan Davis and Judy Canova.
I see she died young. What a loss to Hollywood then and to those of us who treasure vintage movies now! Lyda, you were sublime!
The Long Dark Hall (1951)
Not a bad movie but I wonder about the stars' motivations
This is a pretty interesting mystery. It's not really suspenseful but it's done with style.
However, I wonder what purpose it was meant to serve for the public relations of its star Rex Harrison. His friend Carole Landis, a charming star of generally minor films, had killed herself a few years before this came out. As a result, his therefore rising box office appeal had plummeted. Indeed, the brilliant "Unfaithfully Yours" had the bad fortune to come out right after Ms. Landis had died. No one wanted to see Rex Harrison killing a woman over and over -- even if it was in his imagination. "Unfaithfully Yours" was not a success, despite director Preston Sturges's career as Hollywood (apparent) golden boy. Sturges really did not survive this failure commercially.
So, here we have a decent man accused of murdering a pretty young woman. Like the star himself, the character is married to (the very appealing) Lilli Palmer. I don't want to give away the plot. Let's just say that this is a movie that comes out against quick decisions in tabloid cases.
Can this have been a coincidence? Maybe it was. I don't know anything about its history. However, I sincerely doubt that it was.
Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)
Stylish most of the way through
This is a beautifully cast, suspenseful movie. For most of its length. Without giving a thing away, it veers toward the very end into Grand Guignol along the lines of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" Till then, it is chic and icy.
Carol Lynley gives an effective performance as a young women whose little girl has disappeared from her school in London. Keir Dullea is Lynley's brother. The ladies at the school are cast with excellent British actresses. And Laurence Olivier gives a stunningly good performance as the inspector on the case.
We are meant not to know if there actually is a Bunny Lake. If there is, did she ever get to school? If so, who took or her or where did she wander? Though the casting is indeed superb, I have to say that Noel Coward did himself and his memory no favors by appearing here. He plays Lynley's dithering landlord. Anyone living in a large city has encountered people like the man he plays. Yet, why did he want to play such a person here?
I note that this is being remade. Hmm. I'm not sure why. It seems to me that Preminger's's elegant touch is the primary draw.
Toys in the Attic (1963)
Some of the most awful casting in movie history but not without interest otherwise
When Lillian Hellman wrote this play, I doubt she had Dean Martin in mind for the male lead when it hit the screen. In truth, he isn't bad. He may have been cast to provide some box office. If he did, that's good. He contributes nothing else, however.
Similarly, the beautiful Yvette Mimieux is wildly miscast as his insecure wife.
Thankfully, much of the other actors are at home in this film and this sort of film. They give good performances.
Geraldine Page is in fine form as one of Martin's two spinster sisters. It isn't a subtle performance but it works very well. Wendy Hiller, as the other sister, does give a subtle performance. She is not authentically Southern; but for a good actor that makes no difference. (Think, for starters, Vivian Leigh in "GWTW.") Gene Tierney is also on-hand. Though she'd had a troubled life, she'd matured well. She was never a great actress but she had screen presence and she is right for her part here.
I was familiar with the play and wondered if the movie would include its most controversial aspect. (Can't give it away.) To my surprise, it does; and it's very effective.
Please note: I have nothing against Dean Martin. He is fun in "Kiss Me Stupid." But he was essentially a singer and comic performer. This movie contains no songs and is anything but comic. Had his and Mimieux's parts been cast more according to the script, the movie could indeed have been extremely, rather than occasionally, powerful.
High School Confidential! (1958)
Juvenile delinquents in the burbs. Great fun
"The Blackboard Jungle" had covered somewhat similar territory in a far more respectable way. Not too much about this movie could be called respectable. It does have a fine director in jack Arnold. He gave us, among others, the classic "The Incredible Shrinking Man." It's by no means a bad movie, despite its exploitative nature.
Boyish Russ Tamblyn is an unlikely jive-talking bad guy. John Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, is typecast as the snarling hotshot of this high school before Tamblyn had arrived. Diane Jergens is very good as a troubled student.
Mamie Van Doren is there for the sex appeal. Her character doesn't make much sense, to me anyway, but her name and picture on posters doubtless sold tickets. And Jan Sterling plays a teacher. She is, as always, very good.
The movie is about drugs. I have never been drawn to drugs, though most of my friends were or still are users of pot. To me "High School Confidential" seems at times like a riff on "Reefer Madness": Yes, all drugs can have their downside. However, smoking pot does not automatically, as is suggested here, lead directly to heroin use.
The movie has great Jerry Lee Lewis music. I also like Bill Haley and the Comets' famous contribution ("Rock Around the Clock") to "The Blackboard Jungle.
Had I seen this when I was a teenager, a decade or so after it came out, I wouldn't have understood it. Thankfully, I knew nothing about drugs while in high school. But I'm sure that even in 1958 some schools were overrun with them.
As a force for social change, the movie is questionable. But as an occasionally campybut solid entertainment, it's a gas, man.
The Merry Frinks (1934)
Delightful, rather dark, Pre-Code comedy
At the beginning, this seems like an early version of "You Can't Take It You." It has a darker cast, though.
Aline MacMahon is saddled with one of the most ghastly families seen before the one on the Carol Burnett Show, which was spun off into "Mama's Family." Her husband, Hugh Herbert, is a sports writer described by his managing editor as a chronic alcoholic. Her daughter is selfish and dreams of a singing career. The son (Frankie Darro) is a truant who wants to become a fighter.
The demanding hypochondriac of a mother-in-law is there, too, constantly nagging. And none other than Allen Jenkins is her elder son. He is a lawyer and a Socialist.
Guy Kibbee shows up as a long-last relative. He's all they need in their cramped Bronx apartment.
The plot twists and turns. MacMahon is marvelous. And the rest of the cast does a fine job, too.
Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
Lesser-known but iconic Sam Fuller
I had seen this movie only once before, and that was 20 years ago. A lot of the concerns of his masterpiece, "The Naked Kiss," are addressed in it. In some ways, it's more horrifying because it is about what it says it's about: the underworld and, more to the point, the USA. "The Naked Kiss" is, to me, a great movie and also a parable.
(As to Fuller's "best": In terms of polish, it's probably "Pickup on South Street." That movie has most of his eccentricities but uses major stars and is suspenseful and exciting.) Cliff Robertson does a fine job here as the single-minded man out to avenge his father's killing. Dolores Dorn is touching as the girl from the underworld with whom he becomes involved.
The supporting cast could scarcely be better. Paul Duboy is perfect as the slimy Gelo. Richard Rust is shockingly effective as the underworld henchman.
But Beatrice Kay is the standout. She plays the tough female who almost always appears in Fuller's films. (Thelma Ritter's Mo, in "Pickup on South Street, is the most poignant.) We believe that this gal is tough. We also believe that she has a soft side.
When I was too young to appreciate it, an older friend gave me a paperback book about actresses in b-movies, called "Dames." On the cover is a shot from this film: Dorn and Kay are leaning on each other. Kay looks tough as a guard dog and Dorn has bandages over one eye.
The movie is filled with Fuller's most important concerns: At one point, a rooftop swimming pool is pointed out. It is, one character tells another, for the fat cats -- and now and then for underprivileged children. The hypocrisy of some so-called charity is addressed here. So is Fuller's concern for the well-being of children.
I don't think this is out on DVD. You need to find it on VHS. It's absolutely a must.