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Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996)
After the huge love and deserved critical praise for Ron Underwood's 1990 film, Tremors, this in spite of poor box office and lead man Kevin Bacon disowning the film at the time, sequels were always likely. And so it proved.
Fred Ward and Michael Gross return from the first film and are joined by Christopher Gartin, Helen Shaver and Marcelo Tubert. Underwood hands over the directing reins to S.S. Wilson and co-produces instead, while music is by jay Ferguson and cinematography by Virgil Harper.
In spite of adding some new beasties into the mix, it all feels very same old same old, only without the funny script and any sense of peril. What made Tremors so strong was that even as it had its tongue in its cheek, homaging 1950s creature features with a proud sense of being, it was still scary and suspenseful. The characters there gave a believable sense of danger and fright, here it's just done for laughs, we never once think the principal players are remotely scared of the Graboids and their offspring.
Story has advanced for Earl (Ward) and Burt (Gross), where this time it's Earl who is romancing (Shaver under used but lovely) and Burt is all on his lonesome as his Mrs (Heather played by Reba McEntire) has left him on account of his love of war and weapons, a joke which grows old very fast here. Still, when the action isn't of the budget CGI kind, it's well staged and good fun, though Wilson's comic sequence shooting is flat, while Ward is a strong enough actor to carry the film to keep it above average.
Passably enjoyable for fans of creature feature movies without ever being an essential viewing choice. 5/10
They Who Dare (1954)
The Colossus' of Rhodes.
They Who Dare is directed by Lewis Milestone and written by Robert Westerby. It stars Dirk Bogarde, Denholm Elliott, Akim Tamiroff, William Russell, Eric Pohlmann and Harold Siddons. Music is by Robert Gill and cinematography by Wilkie Cooper.
It's "men on a mission" time as Special Commandos and some Greek partisans meet up on Rhodes to blow up two German airfields. And that's about it really, oh of course there's problems along the way such as questions of loyalty, hazards and set-backs such as minefields, and talking lots of talking - as the men stand or sit around pondering the war and or - their own inadequacies etc. When the big action finale comes it is kind of worth the wait, but the performances are only adequate throughout and the script is lazily written to the point of tedium setting in. 5/10
Dangerous Mission (1954)
Avalanche of Action!
Dangerous Mission is directed by Louis King and written by Charles Bennett, W.R. Burnett, James Edmiston and Horace McCoy. It stars Victor Mature, Piper Laurie, Vincent Price, William Bendix, Betta St. John and Dennis Weaver. Music is by Roy Webb and cinematography by William E. Snyder.
Produced by Irwin Allen and filmed in Technicolor 3-D, Dangerous Mission is an absolute riot of a film. A campy classic awash with laughs and corner cutting techniques. Plot for what it's worth finds Louise Graham (Laurie) hiding out at the Glacier National Park after witnessing a gangland murder. Two men turn up and show great interest in her movements, Matt Hallett (Mature) and Paul Adams (Price), both of whom have different motives in mind.
A super cast, super scenery, even some super action scenarios that point where Irwin Allen was heading in the annals of cinema, yet it's also a pretty laborious story acted out by film stars in zombie mode. King, Allen and the ream of writers (did they all get to put one plot point in each?) insert an action scene wherever possible, but it all feels like cheap gimmicks over story telling worth. In fact some scenes have absolutely no worth to the story what so ever!
Technically it's suspect as well, the editing is awful, as is the back projection work, so to the fake sets and the sight of dummies being flung about the place. On the plus side there's bullet brassieres and square shoulder padded suits, while Mature when he breaks off from his pissing contest with Price gets to dally in heroic machismo by fighting the might of electricity. Wonderful! It's a fun movie for all the wrong reasons, but still fun none the less. 5/10
The Forty-Niners (1954)
The Cold Water Ruckus.
The Forty-Niners is directed by Thomas Carr and written by Dan Ullman. It stars Wild Bill Elliott, Harry Morgan, Virginia Grey, John Doucette and Lane Bradford. Music is by Raoul Kraushaar and cinematography by Ernest Miller.
1849. There was gold in California. According to the Eastern newspapers the mountains and streams were full of it. People from all over the country came here by the thousands, and were called The Forty Niners. Some of them worked hard for their golden dreams - - others robbed, plundered and killed for the gold. The entire burden of law enforcement had to be done by a handful of men - - the few United States Marshals the Federal Government could spare to protect its citizens
Wild Bill Elliott goes under cover to find out the identity of some dastard killers in this pleasant mystery based black and white Oater. Backed by an Elliot voice narration throughout, it's obvious that Carr and Ullman are firmly tuning into a Dragnet for the Western crowd vibe, and it actually works. With Elliott proving to be a likable lead man and Morgan enjoying himself as a shifty card cheat and blackmailer, the material on the page is delivered with entertaining gravitas. The pace is brisk, the action plenty and there's enough twists in Ullman's screenplay to keep you guessing. Yes for sure the ending is never in doubt, this is classic "B" Western territory after all, but a good time to be had here for the discerning Western fan. 6.5/10
They Can't Hang Me (1955)
Soho Killing: Senior Civil Servant Is Charged.
They Can't Hang Me is directed by Val Guest and adapted to screenplay by Guest and Val Valentine from the novel written by Leonard Mosley. It stars Terence Morgan, Yolande Donlan, Andre Morell, Anthony Oliver and Reginald Beckwith.
When Robert Pitt (Morell) is convicted of murder and sentenced to death by execution, he offers the state a bargain. Grant him a reprieve and he will reveal the name of the master spy known as Leonidas before he leaves the country with some atomic secrets.
Thus it's a race against time thriller as the coppers follow the various leads while Pitt grows ever more frantic in his cell. Ideally the police want to find Leonidas without Pitt's help, he is after all a murderer and the state officials are reluctant to grant the requested reprieve. The usual quota of suspects are thrust into the story at regular intervals, giving us a "who is it" thread, while Morgan's head copper tries to keep his lover happy as the search for Leonidas constantly drags him away from planned romantic evenings with her. This is actually a fun thread that's not played for marital drama, as is the byplay between Morgan and Oliver, two intrepid Inspectors who exchange banter and quips even as the pressure mounts.
Enjoyable without ever reaching great heights as a spy thriller, They Can't Hang Me is cautiously recommended to fans of such genre fare. 6/10
The Raging Tide (1951)
The Raging Tide is directed by George Sherman and adapted to screenplay by Ernest K. Gann from his own novel Fiddler's Green. It stars Shelley Winters, Richard Conte, Stephen McNally, Charles Bickford, John McIntire and Alex Nicol. Music is by Frank Skinner and cinematography by Russell Metty.
Hoodlum Bruno Felkin (Conte) hides out on the Linder family fishing boat to avoid the cops. They affect his life as much as he affects theirs
It's got a stellar noir cast and quality in the music and photography departments, but there's nothing raging about this soggy piece of drama. Conte is watchable as a thug, no surprise there, but the screenplay does him and everyone else few favours. Only one to come out on top of the writing is Winters, who revels in cutting remarks delivered via a serpent tongue. Bickford is trying to be Swedish, giving Sterling Hayden in Terror in a Texas Town a run for his money for worst Swede accent ever. While McIntire and McNally at least earn their wages.
Little to recommend outside of the cast list here I'm sad to say. 5/10
Midnight Lace (1960)
Matilda Shouted Fire.
Midnight Lace is directed by David Miller and adapted to screenplay by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts from the play Matilda Shouted Fire by Janet Green. It stars Doris Day, Rex Harrison, John Gavin, Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall and Herbert Marshall. Music is by Frank Skinner and cinematography by Russell Metty.
Kit Preston (Day) is being stalked, but she can't get anyone to believe her. Is she going mad?
The "woman in peril" thriller has always proved popular since the advent of film, Midnight Lace may not have the class or menace of something like Gaslight, but it's a splendid mystery thriller yarn. Pic sets its goals out from the start, as the delightful Miss Day is pursued through the pea souper fog by person unseen. Then the phone calls start, a weird voice at the end of the line issuing less than complimentary advice, but nobody is sure if she is really suffering these harassments.
So, enter a whole ream of suspects from weasels and schemers to the unbalanced and the too suave to be true, red-herrings now rule the roost and it's great fun. As things progress Kit's hysteria goes up a notch at a time until it's all out psychological bedlam. The big reveal is not exactly a surprise, but the enjoyment was in getting there. Unfortunately the production loses points for some sloppy editing and poor design for the London setting, the latter rendering the already fanciful story a fake feel that's hard to shake off; the theatrical origins evident for sure.
Still, Harrison and Day can pretty much sell these characters in their sleep, and they are backed up by Gavin and Loy enjoying themselves. It makes up for what it doesn't have in atmospherics or freshness of formula, with honest to goodness entertainment values. 7/10
The Black Arrow (1948)
Black Arrows for Black Hearts.
The Black Arrow is directed by Gordon Douglas and adapted to screenplay by Richard Schayer, David P. Sheppard and Thomas Sellar from the novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson. It stars Louis Hayward, George Macready and Janet Blair. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.
A little known swashbuckler, the Black Arrow has all the requisite touches for fans of such dashing fare. Story is set just after The War of the Roses has ended and pitches the returning Sir Richard Shelton (Hayward) into a hunt for the truth behind his father's murder. Political intrigue, fights, brutal jousting and romance does follow. It doesn't give the Flynn or Power swashbucklers a run for their money, but it's good honest family entertainment with medieval literacy at the core and red-blooded machismo bulging at the seams. 6/10
Carnival Story (1954)
You will go wherever I tell you.
Kurt Neumann directs Carnival Story, starring Anne Baxter, Steve Cochran, Lyle Bettger, George Nader and Jay C. Flippen. Music is by Willy Schmidt-Gentner and cinematography by Ernest Haller.
Set in Munich, Germany, plot centres on the workings of Grayson's travelling carnival. The perils of love, infatuation and high diving acts come crashing together.
Filmed in Agfacolor/Technicolor and unfurling its narrative in a carnival atmosphere, Carnival Story is pleasing enough on the eyes and ears. That is once you get used to Baxter's German accent that is! Willi (Baxter) is the fulcrum for everything that happens, caught picking the pocket of carnival worker Joe Hammond (Cochran), she ends up getting employed by the owner Charley Grayson (Flippen). From there she starts to literally rise up the ladder of success whilst indulging in a torrid love triangle with Joe and Frank Collini (Bettger).
The temperature never gets above lukewarm settings, the narrative getting bogged down by a repetitiveness that grates entering the last third of film. There's much swooning and sexual discord, but it never steams the screen up, this in spite of Cochran's animal magnetism and Baxter's natural sexuality. While Flippen is under used and Bettger unsuited to the role of a swim trunk wearing high diver. It's all a bit flat in story telling terms, even the ending fails to close pic down with thrilling wonder. A missed opportunity here, but fans of Cochran doing bad boy are well served, as are those of us who have lusty lustations for Annie Baxter. 5/10
The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)
St. Trinian's School For Young Ladies.
The Belles of St. Trinian's is directed by Frank Launder and co-written by Launder, Sidney Gilliat and Val Valentine. It stars Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, George Cole, Hermione Baddeley and Betty Ann Davis. Music is by Malcolm Arnold and cinematography by Stanley Pavey.
Inspired by the cartoon drawings of Ronald Searle, The Belles of St. Trinian's is the first part of a franchise that still thrives even today. With 7 films currently under the Trinian's banner, the roguish behaviour of the girls and their manner of dress sense passed into pop culture and is still going strong today. Either for sexual titillation (the St. Trinian's look has always been popular at fancy dress parties) or as a tag for unruly girls in British schools, it's hard to believe that Searle envisaged the ever lasting appeal of his creations. Unfortunately the films are a mixed bunch, with a couple of them just plain bad. This however is not a problem with The Belles, the best of the bunch by some margin.
The Barchester Bedlam.
Pic is fronted by Sim in a dual role of brother and sister. The art of drag has been tarnished over the years by some of the more stuffy members of the human race, but in the right hands it often works so well, as evidence by the wonderful Sim here. The plot involves a gambling sting at the big horserace on the horizon, with Flash Harry (Cole) aided and abetted by the terrors of St. Trinian's. It's all very chaotic and horsey, both in the equine sense and in horseplay terms. Grenfell is the policewoman who goes under cover as a teacher in the school, where the staff roster is populated by British stars of the future like Beryl Reid, Joan Sims and Irene Handl.
The girls, of various stages of their schooling, smoke, toke, drink and take every opportunity to cause mischief. Their reputation precedes them, as the train that carries them inward bound for the new term approaches, the town citizens start to board the place up, even the chickens run off into hibernation! This is the on going joke that works right to the film's conclusion, sadly it would run out of steam by the time The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery pulled into the station in 1966. But Belles is great fun, very British of course and very clever. From Sim being dry as the Sahara and Grenfell's Duracell Bunny performance, to those rascal girls, the school is open for frolics and energised bedlam. Enjoy. 8/10