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Hell's House (1932)
5/10
Great Actors in Early Mediocre Work
16 December 2017
When Junior Durkin's mother dies, he goes to live with his aunt Emma Dunn and her husband, Charley Grapewin. Their boarder is smart-talking Pat O''Brien, a bootlegger who charms the kid and gives him a job watching his stash of liquor. When prohibition agents break in, Durkin refuses to squeal and gets sent to reform school.

It's a Poverty Row version of those crusading pictures that argued for better prison conditions, crossed with heart-tugging because it's aboutkids, all of whom seem to be basically good, but who got the wrong breaks.There are some great actors present. Bette Davis is O'Brien's girl-friend, and B Western villain Hooper Atchley is the captain of the reform school guard. However the script by writer-director Howard Higgins, while it covers all the bases, never gives any of these fine actors much of a chance to do anything more than recite their stereotypical lines -- although Miss Davis, of course, manages to put a lot of emotion into her line readings.

There's nothing present to lift this out of the ordinary, so except for seeing some actors before they got a chance to really strut their stuff, it's no more than a mediocre time-waster.
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7/10
Rollicking Pre-Code
15 December 2017
Because it was Charles Vidor's first credited feature, and because it was a pre-this flick. I didn't, but I found it a fine pre-Code.

Marion Burns is on her first steps in what she imagines to be a career in the performing arts -- all she has been in before is college shows. She has gotten a job as a singer in Juanita Hansen's troupe, on their way to Panama, where she quickly makes friends with her room mate, cynical old hand Arline Judge, and begins a budding romance with upright Preston Foster, whose mine is somewhere around there. She soon discovers that the troupe is not called on just to entertain on stage; they're there to get the customers to buy drinks, and Hansen is an old buzzard. Gradually things go downhill...

Although Burns is the central character, it's Arline Judge who has the standout role: pugnacious, profane, liable to marry anything with tattoos, and waiting for her first husband to show up again, she's a three-ring circus on her own. It's a lively movie and a lot of fun.
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4/10
No Interest
14 December 2017
Rex Lease is in need of a wife. If he's married by midnight, his wife collects $800,000. Fortunately, he's supposed to marry Vera Reynolds, but for some reason, can't. So he pretends to be married to Nita Martan, who's Sam Hardy's secretary and cop Paul Hurst's girl friend, and they all wind up by coincidence in an Old Dark House, along with a mountain lion, from which the ladies occasionally disappear.

It's supposed to be a comedy-thriller, and given director Frank Strayer, and Miss Reynolds' silent career, you'd think they would have something, but the mediocre script by Scott Darling, the slow pacing by actors in dialogue and a farcical door-slamming sequence convince me that it's still early days for sound pictures. Where the silent personnel would be comfortable miming things at a leisurely pace and undercranking hard, to make the actions dance, now they're slowing down the actions to give the audience a chance to laugh... and there isn't much to laugh at.

It's a pity, because Strayer, at least, would figure it out and wind up directing the Blondie series at Columbia for some high-speed slapstick humor. Here, though, it's pretty much a misfire.
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5/10
Blue, Blue, My Love is Blue
14 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Irene Rich is married to Marc McDermott. He's old, he's irascible, he's dying, and he's angry that Irene is being escorted to the charity ball by John Roche from across the street. So he switches his sleeping pills for the aspirin and insists she gives him too many so when he dies, she'll be in trouble. What a joke! Fortunately, John's brother, Monte Blue, has just been made a judge, so he gets the investigation quashed.

Monte gets engaged to Norma Shearer (credited as "Norma Sherer"); Monte and Irene fall in love thanks, we are told by vast swaths of titles, to the irresistible force of fate; Monte and Miss Sherer are married an everyone goes off to escort Monte's father to the hospital, leaving the two competitors for Blue alone in the same house because.... well, that seems like a good idea, doesn't it?

It's the sort of story I am not overly fond of, but director Jack Conway does his usual stalwart best with it, with a melodramatic ending involving a fire, wolves and a flood. Unfortunately, while Miss Rich seems well cast, Norma Shearer is still learning her craft, and exhibits her "Ain't I cute?" tricks at full blast, causing me to want to shoot her. Mr. Blue is stuck in the middle with many a reaction shot, in which, I believe, he is supposed to look pensive. Instead, he looks like a rather doughy elder brother of Harry Langdon, thinking about the situation and not coming to any conclusion.

Fortunately, this movie did not seem to hurt anyone's career. Mr. Blue went on to work with Lubitsch in some sparkling comedies at Warners, while Conway, Shearer, and producer Harry Rapf fled to the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where they all did very well by themselves and the studio.
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4/10
Should Have Stayed Away
13 December 2017
This is a sequel to to the 2014 FUKREY in which four college-bound buddies get mixed up with Richa Chadha, a local underworld operator, and beat her through sheer dumb luck. In this one, she's just out of prison, owes her political patron big and is bearing down on the four youngsters for payback.

I haven't seen the original, but this one is far too elaborate, with half a dozen characters' back stories to be investigated and advanced and new ones to be introduced, Miss Chadha to be redeemed and. of course, several dance numbers. The dance numbers seem pretty good to me, but if the four college buddies are elaborated from the earlier movies, then they were sketches of idiots. Here, they are well-executed idiots, with only their travails to make them attractive.... and that doesn't work for me.
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8/10
Excellent Children's Film Foundation Flick
13 December 2017
When Mandy Miller breaks her mother's treasured china dog, she comes down with a brainstorm and runs away in hopes of a :working vacation in Kent without telling anyone.

Having seen half a dozen of these Children's Film Foundation movies, I thought I knew what to expect: some great scenic photography and some heavy-handed moralizing about how good children should behave -- as decreed by people who no longer remembered being children, had no children themselves, or who believed the lies their children told them. What I found was a very well told story directed by John Guillerman with a frequently subjective camera that evoked very nicely the fears and simple moral narratives of children. If it gets heavy-handed at the end, with a melodramatic rescue from a burning mill, at least the evil-doers are ambiguously repentant -- they never expected anyone to get hurt, really, they were just having a bit of a laugh.

I doubt the moralisers will be very pleased with this movie. However, I was.
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5/10
The Maguffin
10 December 2017
I admit I was in a sour mood when I sat down to watch this movie, but I don't think that affected my opinion. It's a murky, overly complicated film in which various detectives/spies, including suave Romily Lunge and beautiful Tamara Desni are trying to solve a complicated mystery around what they are calling "the Torso Murder." It all starts when Bruce Cabot steals.... well, he steals the Maguffin, really. The Germans want it, the British want it back, but it's still the Maguffin and only the fact that the movie was released during the War meant it wasn't intended for catching tigers in the Scottish Highlands. There are some scenes that strain credulity, like the way that everyone shows up, entirely by coincidence so far as I can tell, at the same tiny night club, which offers a very dramatic confrontation.

In the end, the story switches gears several times, so that what story the film makers wanted to tell, what conclusion they wished to offer, remains murky. The movie viewer may know what happened, but the people in the film themselves may still be looking for the Maguffin.
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Say Uncle (1944)
7/10
Just Another Day at Home For Leon
9 December 2017
Leon wakes up with a hangover, a hobo in the guest room, and a fan dancer coming over for brunch -- Leon has stolen her fan, after all. When his wife walks in, his partner explains the fan dancer is his cousin by his uncle (the hobo) whom he hasn't seen in thirty years. Want to guess who shows up next? Leon gets to do some of his eccentric dancing in this one, which is always a pleasure, and the hobo is played by longtime movie comic Bud Jamison, who started out with Harold Lloyd, but may best be known to movie fans today from his work with the Three Stooges. Still, Leon's flustered reactions to the increasingly mad situation is, as always, the highlight of this short. Enjoy!
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5/10
For the Birds, Not the Laughs
9 December 2017
It wasn't the Children's Film & Television Foundation Yet, but the division of the Rank Organization that produced this short feature would evolve into it.

Noel Johnson and assistant Ivor Bowyer are off to the Norfolk marshland to shoot movies of nesting and hatching bitterns. Meanwhile, London crook Tony Quinn is trying to get Peter Butterworth to shoot the birds with guns so he can ship the stuffed animals abroad to collectors. They clash, amidst some nice nature photography and film studio scenes. I certainly enjoyed the nature photography; it's no wonder that director Don Chaffey wound up directing for Disney in the 1960s and 1970s, but there isn't much zest in Peter Butterworth's clumsiness. Since I enjoyed his turn as the Meddling Monk in Doctor Who and he appeared in numerous Carry On Films, I can only conclude he's more interested in birds than belly laughs.
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Wonder Wheel (2017)
7/10
Eugene O'Neill Anyone?
9 December 2017
These days, even the college-educated don't recognize the classics. Spike Lee can film LYSISTRATA, but so long as he moves it to Chicago and calls it CHI-RAQ, no one makes the connection. Instead, they complain that he is slandering Chicago. Well, no doubt, that's what the municipal authorities said about Aristophanes at the time. In this movie, Juno Temple flees from her mobster husband to take refuge with her alcoholic father, James Belushi, and step-mother, Kate Winslett and her pyromaniac son from her first marriage; they've got marginal jobs. The story is told from the viewpoint of Justin Timberlake, who spent the war in the navy. Now he's a lifeguard, studying to be a playwright, conducting an affair with Miss Winslett and falling in love with Miss Temple.

Woody Allen's script makes several references to Eugene O'Neill, and were they living on Nantucket and complaining about how their lives were ruined because the father had made too much money playing the Count of Monte Cristo to attend to his art, everyone would recognize this as LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. However, Mr. Allen has set it in the neighborhood he grew up in and made the fact that they're so broke they're living in a bankrupt freak show house an important plot point, so this will either be overlooked or seen as blasphemy.

This is one of Mr. Allen's serious movies. I join the general population in not being as fond of those as the ones that make me laugh out loud. Yet I take a good deal of pleasure in his recreation of 1950s Coney Island (although his "Greenwich Village hovel" is remarkably clean for the era) and his clear-eyed vision of a world, now vanished, that existed more surely than the one I live in now sometimes seems to.
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