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The Stripper (1963)
Film has Marilyn written all over it
Joanne Woodward is excellent in the role of down-on-her-luck performer Lila Green; her acting is natural and believable, even when her whimsical naive dreams briefly draw her away from the hard reality of her existence. It is easy to imagine her role being played by Marilyn Monroe, the actress for which this film was originally intended. Lila's circumstances seemed in tune with Monroe's real-life situation just prior to her death.
The supporting cast holds up well, especially Robert Webber as Woodward's sleazy 'manager', and Claire Treavor, who appears as though she hasn't aged a day since 'Key Largo' (1948). Although Richard Beymer is fine as Kenny, it would have been interesting to see what Pat Boone would have done with the role had he not turned it down; with his wholesome innocent quality, he might have made a more compellingly believable Kenny. All in all, a fine film for its time.
Separate Lies (2005)
The damage we cause
A very admirable, well-made film, Separate Lies tells a complex tale of fate, lies, infidelities and the precarious truces people make with each other in order to move on.
One of the prominent themes in this very human film is that, sometimes, not speaking at all is akin to telling a lie. But in speaking up and accepting responsibility for ones actions, do we inflict further and needless damage and pain?
The acting and directing are first-rate, and the cinematography is compelling without being overbearing. The fact that much of the story is set and filmed in the British countryside certainly doesn't hurt either. A competent adult drama filled with interesting characters that the viewer actually does grow to care about, Separate Lies is deserving of much praise.
Assault on a Queen (1966)
Sinatra sea caper springs a leak
Were they really serious when they tried to make a watchable, entertaining heist caper that otherwise resulted in Assault On A Queen? I couldn't help but wonder the deeper back story to this production.
This has the look and feel of what might have been intended to be a reuniting of the famous Rat Pack clan that Dino, Sammy and Joey wisely decided to pass on (we know Peter Lawford wouldn't have been asked with The Chairman at the helm). If that was indeed the case, Frank had to muddle on with a cast of substitutes, all playing below their game to live down to his expectations.
The climax scenes are so laughably inept, with terribly executed effects...and dialog, that period audiences must have squirmed in their seats. There are far better fish in this sea to catch. Throw Assault On A Queen back.
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958)
Trapped between floors...and murders
A top-notch Film Noir achievement, and the debut effort for French director Louis Malle, this film is a treat for all the senses. Framed by the terrific Jazz score by Miles Davis, this is the story of two lovers, played by Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet, who construct what should come off as the perfect crime- the murder of her arms sales dealer-husband. In what could later be termed 'a colossal failure of technology', the flawless execution of the crime quite literally suffers a power failure, putting unforeseen events into action.
At every turn the characters get tripped up not by the authorities, but by their own hubris, or just plain stupidity. An often-used element of good Noir is the concept of a character escaping blame for a crime they are guilty of, only to finding themselves trapped by charges of another crime they are innocent of. What makes this film a stand-out is the manner in which the most inane objects are used to weave an intricate twisting plot, yet not so much that it becomes convoluted. Yes there are some plot holes and glaring implausibilities. But it's all worth it by the final scene, when the unfaithful Moreau- in an attempt to exonerate her lover- discovers that the camera indeed never lies.
Gangster Story (1959)
What $75,000 will get you in 1959
To Walter Matthau fans- of which I am one- 'Gangster Story' has the look and feel of a very early (possibly first) film acting appearance which was kept in it's rusty can upon completion, only to be released years later to cash in on his popularity once the actor gained more esteem. That's why I find it hard to believe this effort came after his riveting Oscar-worthy turn in 'A Face In The Crowd' (1957).
The effect is almost like watching Gene Hackman peddling frying pans at a swap meet. Mr. Matthau must have been in very dire straits to agree to sign on to this project. That being said, he is still the best element of this mercilessly low-budget film. His trademark dry humor peers through in some scenes, and his newlywed wife Carol Grace gives a performance that get better as her character is allowed to develop.
To say "Gangster Story' is a curiosity is a vast understatement. If one takes it for what it is, it will hold your interest, despite the rampant clumsiness of dialog and action throughout. Worth a peek.
Name Your Poison
It's not often that someone gets the opportunity to solve their own murder, pre-mortem no less. Well that's the intriguing premise of D.O.A., certainly one of the more inventive Noir entries in a genre where intrigue is usually listed as the first ingredient.
Yes, the plot is a tad too convoluted, with one too many characters with one too many identities; or others who are blameless only for the fact they've been dead for six months. And there's also the crucial incriminating letter that gets conveniently discovered the day after it might have answered the crucial questions. But these are all easily excused, if one doesn't peer too closely into the standard number of plot holes.
The acting is overall good, although there is some degree of overacting as other reviewers have noted. DOA deserves the high regard it has earned in the Film Noir genre; it's inventive and doesn't necessarily end well, like all good Noir should.
Taste of Fear (1961)
Compelling Noir-Horror full of wonderful twists
Any veteran fan of either Film Noir or classic horror already knows: when Ann Todd is playing nice, nothing good can come of it! And it certainly doesn't in this worthy film. Starts off a little stodgy, with the usual "seeing-things" denials, but the plot and pace gather momentum soon enough. Good performances throughout, restrained and believable, meaning no one goes over the top.
Yes, there are plot holes aplenty for those who care to dwell on them; but whatever they may be, they are more than compensated for by an inventive array of twists and surprises in the final reel. The savvy viewer will anticipate some of them...but not all! That's the fun of it. Many consider this Hammer's finest effort. It definitely holds up beautifully.
Grey Gardens (1975)
The documentary "Grey Gardens" is now retrospectively regarded as the inception of what would later be termed "reality" programming, and as such, does contain some element of exploitation. The mother and daughter team featured here, former socialites cast adrift from their well-heeled pasts decades earlier, can both be described as 'eccentric', but that's the polite term. They co-exist in a once-grand, now crumbling, trash-strewn, urine-stained oceanside mansion where they exhibit very questionable survival skills. Their relative sanity is also constantly in question. The film, in every sense of the term, is the proverbial car wreck you cannot look away from.
Perhaps it wouldn't seem this way had it made some effort to give the viewer a more focused glimpse of who they once were and the circumstances which brought them to their squalid, delusional situation. Therefore, the viewer would be better able to put some needed perspective on what they are watching. There apparently exists some history of family members' attempts to remedy their plight, but we're only made aware of them through random shots of newspaper clipping which are never elaborated on.
Instead one has to rely on the often incoherent ramblings of two women attempting to tell their own skewed versions of their lives, almost always while stepping on each others' conversations. Overlayed onto this are episodic bursts of anger, regret, sorrow, seemingly constant bickering, and unintended whimsy. The few 'outsiders', briefly seen, don't get to add their perspectives either, even though they likely have an incredible amount they could tell us...and they seem to want to.
This is a fascinating story, to be sure, but we don't really develop any feeling of sympathy for these seemingly deranged women because there's no foundation in which to anchor any emotion, making the proceedings more pointless than they ought to be.
Witness For The Prostitution
Well-mounted, stylish and evenly paced, "Scandal" expertly tells an interesting story with much flare and good dramatic sense. Joanne Whalley, Bridget Fonda and John Hurt are wonderfully cast in their respective roles and the narrative moves along with much interest and seldom sags.
A quick read of the events and personalities related to the real-life events surrounding the British sex scandal of 1963 will attest to the good effort made to make the film largely accurate yet entertaining.
Although the three leads are portrayed as callow and opportunistic throughout most of the action, their human vulnerability remains only slightly obscured; and especially in the case of Whalley's and Hurt's characters, the viewer is compelled to look at them sympathetically once the music stops. Good viewing all around.
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)
Miss Brain Beautiful - 1962!
How on earth did American cinema survive the three-year wait for the release of this motion picture epic??? For those who have a soft spot for really awful low-budget horror films, The Brain That Would't Die (1962) delivers in spades! It's all here: cheese, sleaze, terrible dialog, amazingly inept delivery, and just plain bad acting. Yet, it's all surprisingly entertaining.
A surgeon with a really serious god complex gets in over his head when he causes a car accident that "kills" his future bride. But being an early proponent of 'repurposing' he sets up some comfortable Corning Wear in his lab in which she can rest her head while he searches the finest stripper dives and swimsuit competitions for a hottie who will (involuntarily) give her body to him.
He finally settles on a K-Mart Elizabeth Taylor who herself is trying to save face. But back in the lab, his basting beauty proves she has a good head on her shoulders (minus the shoulders) as she strikes up a kinship of sorts with one of the doctor's failed earlier experiments, whom he keeps locked in 'the closet'. These two take head games to a whole new level, with a predictably tragic but morally sound conclusion.
Actress Virginia Leith is actually quite good as the disembodied fiancé of the mad doctor. Her character displays not only intelligence and wisdom, but also a compelling capacity for evil. Her performance here is head and shoulders above the rest.
The quick and dirty answer: put your brain on hold and just enjoy all of the unintentional humor of a true guilty pleasure.