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Only the great humorous Robert Benchley could take such an offbeat
topic as "The Courtship of the Newt" and make it excruciatingly funny.
His low-key style comic delivery has been copied many times but seldom,
if ever, equaled. The more satirical but less farcical comedy of radio
and television greats Bob and Ray owed much to Robert Benchley's brand
of hilarity. Benchley's influence can even be seen and heard in the
later marvels of British buffoonery Monty Python and in the far-out
antics of Firesign Theatre. Benchley down played both his humor and his
acting, but was a master of both--and a gifted writer to boot.
While "The Courthsip of the Newt" isn't quite on a par with his Oscar winning "How to Sleep," it is still a joy to behold, especially for those comedy lovers who haven't been exposed to Benchley's shorts of the 30's and 40's.
At only eight minutes in length, "The Courtship of the Newt" is almost like an introduction to Benchley's brand of mirth. He attempts to show a live newt to the audience by reaching into a tank of murky water filled with seaweed but to no avail. Utimately he calls on his bored and annoyed assistant sitting by his side to scoop up the newt for view on the big screen. Though no newt is visible, a big splash is heard when Benchley drops the newt back into the tank. Diagrams are utilized as with most "educational" talks, but Benchley's drawings are very different from what one might expect from such a lecture, with an out-of-place drawing always popping up to befuddle and confuse both the speaker and the audience.
The last of the highly successful Dr. Kildare/Dr. Gillespie series
which foreshadowed the later popularity of medical shows on TV, "Dark
Delusion" has its moments, though overall routine with the
psychological mumbo jumbo at times unintentionally humorous. The most
entertaining scenes are the ones with veteran character actor Keye Luke
as Dr. Lee Wong How, especially the part where he tries to convince a
heart patient that he really isn't a heart patient; and the teasing
confrontations between Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) and Nurse
'Nosey' Parker--almost a comic version of Nurse Ratched before her
time. The character of Napoleon portrayed by Ben Lessy is fun to watch,
in particular his final appearance.
The story centers as always on the medical staff and patients of Blair General Hospital. This time a new doctor, Dr. Tommy Coalt (played by the somewhat bland James Craig), is having serious bedside-manners problems since he always tells the truth the way he sees it to patients and staff alike. How do you get rid of an unwanted employee without causing an unnecessary blowup? Either promote him to a higher level bureaucratic position where he becomes nothing more than a highly paid pencil pusher or send him to a nowhere place such as Bayhurst where nobody cares, just thankful there's a physician in town.
But Dr. Coalt is still an unruly colt. This time he takes on the entire medical profession by becoming involved with a young lady, Cynthia Grace (Lucille Bremer),who has been diagnosed as having a mental problem. Dr. Coalt is determined to cure her without confining her to an institution the way her family doctor has advised. Cynthia's father has also been persuaded to institutionalize his daughter. Sent by Dr. Gellispie to appraise the situation, Dr. Lee Wong How (Luke) reports back by telephone, "The good news is Dr. Coalt is not in jail yet."
The acting is mixed. Barrymore, Luke, and Jayne Meadows give the best performances. Why Jayne Meadows couldn't make it as a viable screen personality is a mystery. Perhaps she reminded the movie goers of too many other actresses in comparable roles.
If you're a fan of the series, then "Dark Delusion" will be enjoyed. For others, the going may be rough in spots but the high points will still be high points.
This much neglected futuristic film from the 70's deserves a second
look. Like "A Clockwork Orange" the amoral violent future "Rollerball"
showcases is in reality a projection of the amoral violent present at
the time of its creation. The movie lampoons the dress, fashion, and
look of the 70's decade, spoofs the Texas cowboy ethos of the period,
and takes jibes at the deification of athletics, in particular
football, which dominates American culture and to some extent world
culture. Comparisons can be made between Rollerball mores and the mores
of the hedonistic Romans where humans were gnawed to death by hungry
animals in the arenas and gladiators fought to their deaths in the
Colosseum as crazed spectators cheered and slobbered as they ate their
daily bread. "Rollerball" even foreshadowed the political correctness
of the 1990's with the generic Bach-like Corporate Anthem played before
When the film was produced, roller derbies were hot items on TV and attended by large gatherings of blood-thirsty fans who egged on the pugilistic elements participating. Jim Croce even had a hit record parodying the game, "Roller Derby Queen." Add bikes, spike-studded gloves, the roller ball, change a few rules and there's Rollerball.
One of the more interesting elements of "Rollerball" is how it differs from the futuristic societies depicted in the two classics, "1984" and "Brave New World." Rather than Big Brother watching you, an anonymous board of directors who run a corporate global conglomeration rule the world. No one, apparently not even their spokesperson, who is also the manager of the Rollerball team, Bartholomew (John Houseman), even knows who the directors are. The vote is taken via closed circuit TV. A soma-like substance is taken to induce dreams and visions but is used sparingly, unlike in Brave New World. And instead of book burning utilized by traditional totalitarian governments, books are hidden away. The only way to read one is to view a summarized and sanitized version, à la "Reader's Digest," on a computer.
Acting honors go to the consummate Thespian John Houseman as the corporate spokesperson. His facial expressions alone convey what few actors can communicate with all their skills. James Caan as superstar of Rollerball, Jonathan E., gives one of his best performances on the big screen. John Beck incarnates a Houston redneck appropriately named Moonpie with all his pride and prejudices. The weakest part of "Rollerball" is the lame attempt at romance in a nondescript relationship involving husbands and lovers. Therefore, the women roles are ill defined and not well written. The only important part for a woman in "Rollerball" is when a pistol is used to set trees ablaze making the depletion of the rain forests seem like child's play.
The story concerns Rollerball idol of millions, Jonathan E., who for some unknown reason the corporate ladder orders to retire at the height of his career. The big game between Jonathan's Houston and Tokyo is coming up to determine the world championship. The global conglomerate suspends the penalty rule and limits the substitutions making it a fight to the finish. Disobeying the command to leave the game, Jonathan E. puts total effort into winning, even causing a small riot of the Japanese fans. Will Jonathan survive his assault on city hall (the Conglomeration), or will he die in the quest?
The dazzling camera work by Douglas Slocombe with emphasis on icy white interiors and cold shades of white exterior structures delivers the images director Norman Jewison intended. The angles and movements during the games as well as the closeup shots enhance the viewers enjoyment of the action scenes.
Oh, and Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is as mesmerizing as ever.
A fairly decent script with a suspenseful, surprise ending is spoiled
by weak acting from a cast pruned from TVLand, directed by a TV
alumnus, Charles Correll, son of legendary Charles J. Correll, aka Andy
Brown (of radio's "Amos and Andy"). The producer also had problems
finding a suitable title. The one now used, "Violation of Trust," while
still weak, is much better than the original moniker of "She Says She's
Innocent." Talk about nondescript!
The plot centers on a divorced, pregnant mother, Susan Essex (Katey Sagal), who trusts her daughter, Justine (Charlotte Ross), explicitly when she swears she knows nothing about the murder of her new friend, Vicky Gilmore (Kimberly Hooper), amid accusations that Vicky and Justine had a violent confrontation at Justine's house the night of the homicide. Deeply involved also is one of Justine's old buds, Ashley (Amy Moore Davis), a straight-A student whom Justine's mom thinks is a positive influence on her daughter but who in reality hated Vicky and attempted to stir up trouble between Justine and Vicky over a common thread boyfriend, Ryan (David Lascher). To complicate the issue, Vicky was two-months pregnant when killed. Was it Ryan's baby?
To prove her daughter's innocence, Susan conducts her own investigation but muddies the waters when she begins dating the law officer in charge of the case. Slowly the evidence uncovered begins to make sense when suddenly Vicky finds herself in a deadly encounter with the killer.
If the viewer can ignore the amateurish acting, the pedestrian direction, and the intrusive subplot concerning Susan and her ex-husband, then he/she should enjoy the above-average script and story.
Apparently most of the money spent in making "End Game" went to pay the
stars. With such adept actors as Cuba Gooding Jr., James Wood, Anne
Archer, and a pasty-faced Burt Reynolds literally having a bad-hair
day, this movie should have been much better. None of the others looks
quite as shopworn as Burt but they do give the appearance of being
tired and bored. Cuba almost walks through his lines as if reading from
a cue card.
The story is trite and lackluster, with only a few exciting scenes such as the opening assassination. Both writers, J.C. Pollock and stunt man Andy Cheng, are novices and it shows. Even the title is lame. Of what relevance is "End Game," and what exactly is the story? This viewer got confused, especially toward the end.
Vaguely, the film is about the assassination of a President and a personal investigation by the secret service man, Alex Thomas (Gooding), who did take a bullet for the President. But the bullet pierced Thomas' hand and then hit the President, ergo Thomas feels responsible for the Chief Executive's death, that he also let the First Lady down. He is joined in his manhunt by a reporter, Kate Crawford (Angie Harmon), who is determined to crack the case and get her scoop even at the risk of her own life. The situation becomes extremely hazardous as more and more evidence is uncovered pointing a finger to those in high places of our government. How the case is resolved at the end of the game leaves several unanswered questions. That all this sounds familiar indicates the picture's lack of originality and creativity.
The hackneyed script does provide a few good lines such as when Kate is interrogating an indigent person who keeps asking her for money. When she wants him to keep a house under surveillance, he tells her he would be glad to help anytime. She mumbles under her breath,"And how much will that cost me?"
Rather than waste time watching "End Game," why not rent other better movies on the topic such as "In The Line Of Fire," starring Clint Eastwood?
"Must Have Dog" is one of those movies that is entertaining fluff with
no substance beneath, like icing without a cake. The acting is
superior, especially veteran actor Christopher Plummer's performance as
a playboy patriarch. The directing is fine, as is the cinematography.
And the music, made up of old and recent hits of country and pop tunes,
is enjoyable and generally apropos. The script by director Gary David
Goldberg, based on Claire Cook's popular novel, furnishes some good
lines and a few hilarious situations but his background of writing for
TV sitcoms shows through the candy-coated veneer. This leaves the
viewer with a few laughs, a few bits of cracker-barrel philosophy, and
a forgettable movie, about as boring as watching "Doctor Zhivago"
The situation is this: Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane)suddenly becomes single when her husband walks out on her. "He just stopped loving me,"Sarah explains later in the film. Sarah is hesitant to become involved in the dating game since she is already in her 40's. She comes from a big family that tries to be close to each other, which at times can become smothering. Her two sisters are determined to find a match for Sarah even if it's no more than casual dating. At least she will put some fun back into her life rather than wallowing around in self-pity forever.
One of her meddling sisters posts Sarah's profile on an internet dating site, spicing it up a bit, including adding the phrase, "Must love dogs," even though Sarah as yet doesn't have a dog. As a result she has encounters with all sorts of men, from criers to overly protective fathers. She ultimately narrows her choices down to two, Bob (Dermot Mulroney), the parent of one of her students (she teaches kindergarten), and an odd guy, Jake (John Cusack), recently divorced who builds boats. From this point on it's a series of misunderstandings and misrepresentations until the wrap up where all the loose ends are tied together.
One of the funniest scenes takes place near the beginning of the picture. I won't spoil it for you but it involves Sarah's first encounter with a blind date from the computer. The continuing saga of Sarah and the meat man at the grocery store is also fun to watch. Truth is, most of the film will tickle your funny bone. Just don't expect another "The Graduate" or "Tootsie" and you won't be disappointed.
Postscript: Don't miss the video blurbs during the opening and closing credits.
The best thing about this sixteen-minute short is the eye-popping
Technicolor. The music is ho-hum and at times downright boring, snipped
from Warner Brothers musical shorts of the previous decade. Ukulele Ike
(Cliff Edwards, aka Jiminy Cricket)is pleasing, singing and playing a
guitar rather than a ukulele. Cowboy Dick Foran shows why singing
shoot-em-up pictures came to be called horse operas. Unlike Gene Autry,
Roy Rogers, and Tex Ritter, Foran's voice was more suitable for opera
than for western ballads. His style was derivative of Nelson Eddy
rather than Bing Crosby.
For smirks, there's Clark Gable lookalike John Carroll warbling a song while in a canoe. Carroll turned out to be a much better actor than his reputation would indicate. For movie buffs there's a glimpse of starlet Lauren Bacall as her picture floats across the screen while the narrator emphasizes the importance of photography in the making of a Hollywood film.
Mainly for die-hard fans of 1930's-era popular music, "Hollywood Wonderland" is more like Hollywood Babalu-land.
Footnote: The tour guide is the same Wanda Hendrix who played Pilar in the film noir thriller, "Ride the Pink Horse," the same year.
"River Of No Return" spotlights one of Marilyn Monroe's best early
performances, once more showing the world that she was more than just
another sex kitten, that there was real talent behind her beautiful
figure. Most contemporary critics failed to recognize Marilyn's
extraordinary gifts other than the obvious ones. Too bad she was short
changed in the song department. Had Marilyn been allowed to strut her
stuff with a composition comparable to Marlene Dietrich's ribald "See
What The Boys In The Backroom Will Have" from "Destry Rides Again," she
would have brought down the house. Instead Marilyn is stuck with three
ditties that don't deserve their big movie status, "I'm Gonna File My
Claim," "One Silver Dollar," and "Down In The Meadow." The exception is
the bewitching title ballad hauntingly sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford
over the opening credits and later with verve and longing by Marilyn.
Not only does Marilyn exhibit a marvelous acting style, but she is paired with one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood history, Robert Mitchum. Why critics have often failed to notice his abilities as a performer is amazing, with so many inventive portrayals to his credit. Rory Calhoun has his moments as a low-life scoundrel loved by Marilyn. And little Tommy Rettig is ideally cast as Mitchum's abandoned son. His role in "River Of Not Return" is perhaps the reason he was later chosen to play a similar part in TV's "Lassie."
Joseph LaShelle's cinematography is breathtaking, except for the obvious rear projection used in the treacherous raft scenes depicting Mitchum, Monroe, and Rettig fighting the rapids on the River Of No Return. The beauty of Alberta, Canada's Jasper National Park is spellbinding and definitely an asset. The footage shot along the Toutle river in Washington State supplements the Canadian grandeur.
A major weakness of the movie is the lackluster script and threadbare story. Since the plot is a simple one, director Otto Preminger must emphasize the interplay of the leading characters with as much analysis as possible. Here the writer Frank Fenton, who based his screenplay on a story by Louis Lantz, is unable to rise to the task. Though many of the lines between Mitchum and Monroe and good ones, there are not enough of them to sustain an entire film.
Matt Calder (Mitchum) seeks his son entrusted to a friend when Calder went to jail for killing a man (possibly in self-defense). His son, Mark (Mark follows Matthew in the Bible), is left to wonder around a boom town until taken in by the local dance hall queen, Kay Weston (Monroe). Once Matt finds Mark, the two journey to Matt's farm on the banks of the River Of No Return. Floating down the river come Kay and her husband, Harry Weston. Both are in danger of drowning. Matt saves them only to have Harry steal his horse and take off. Kay has a distorted image of Harry in her mind, bent out of shape by the pliers of love. Matt perceives Kay as nothing more than trash, but his son knows a different side of her, a kind and loving woman. The three take off down the River Of No Return: She to get back her man; he to kill her man; and the boy to try to work it all out in a peaceable manner, with an ironic twist to the story at the end.
The River Of No Return, as the name implies, is symbolic, but of what? The metaphor is not easy to reconcile with the story, except in places. See what you can do with it.
The legends surrounding Geta Garbo were like so many deifications,
partly true, partly fiction. When Garbo was good, she was very, very
good, but when she was bad, she was only average. In "Two-Faced Woman,"
Garbo assays comedy one more time following her success in Ernst
Lubitsch's classic farce, "Ninotchka." This time she nearly falls flat.
Garbo's one redeeming feature in the film is the outlandish dance she
performs midway through the show. It is indeed a marvel to behold and
worth the price of admission.
Almost all the other Thespians in "Two-Faced Woman" out shine the star, especially Constance Bennett, giving a wonderful personification of an acerbic bitch determined to keep her hooks in fresh meat. The gifted actor Melvyn Douglas shows his flare for comedy in a Cary Grant-type role, fun to watch in a slap-stick finale down a ski slope. The indomitable Ruth Gordon makes the most in a small role as Douglas' secretary. Bennett's former "Topper" colleague, Roland Young, is perfect as, again, a lecherous old man. Future TV "Topper" star Robert Sterling shows why he was chosen to portray George Kerby over a decade later.
Another problem with "Two-Faced Woman" is the hackneyed story and script. Director George Cukor hoped to strike pay dirt a second time with a screwball comedy along the lines of his brilliant "The Philadelphia Story," utilizing a title similar to his recently successful "A Woman's Face." Unfortunately, he was let down by the writers, who gave him a theme already old hat. Bedroom farces involving mistaken identities, twins and lookalikes, etc., were passé by 1941. The popular Fred Astair, Ginger Rogers musicals of the 1930's employed such gimmicks in a fresh and original manner. The twins ploy of "Two-Faced Woman" just doesn't work.
Karin Borg (Garbo), a ski instructor, meets and falls in love with Larry Blake (Douglas), a magazine writer. Following a whirlwind courtship that lasts only a few days, the two decide to tie the knot. Once married, however, their varied lifestyles clash. Larry spends most of his time in New York City away from Karin, who refuses to follow him, enjoying the life she already has. Distraught by visions of being two-timed and having her marriage canned, Karin heads for New York City, ending up incognito as her non-existing twin sister, Katherine. That Larry tends to be a philander becomes more evident as Karin sees her husband with other women, one in particular, Griselda Vaughn (Bennett). Katherine finds herself in the dubious position of competing not only against Griselda but against her own alter ego, Karin.
Perhaps the shortcomings of "Two-Faced Woman" helped Garbo in deciding to retire from motion pictures. She never made another film. Though "Two-Faced Woman" is not a dud, it is below standards Garbo had set for herself.
Perhaps the best film noir movie of them all, "Out of the Past" has all
the ingredients that make the genre so popular today. And Jane Greer is
the definitive femme fatale. Oh, how she supplements Robert Mitchum's
brilliant performance. That the two mesh as few other movie couples do
is part of the fun of watching this once in a lifetime film.
Directed with élan by Jacques Tourneur, he made the wise decision to drop the title of the novel on which the picture is based, "Build My Gallows High," for a much more alluring and apropos one, "Out of the Past," which is a key to the story being told, even though the line "build my gallows high" is used toward the end of the show. The novel and the screenplay were written by the almost neglected Daniel Mainwaring, aka Geoffrey Holmes, partly responsible for such goodies as "The Big Steal," "The Tall Target," "Roadblock," "The Hitch-Hiker," "The Phenix City Story," and the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." He also did the rewrite of "Out of the Past" called "Against All Odds," released posthumously. Why he is not given more credit for his works is a mystery. If much of the narration sounds similar in style to Walter Neff's in "Double Indemnity," and Frank Chambers' in "The Postman Always Rings Twice," it's because James M. Cain had a hand in the screenplay.
The story involves a one-time shamas, Jeff Bailey (Mitchum), who botched a job for a big-time crime boss, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas in his second film role), because he fell for the loving lies of his prey, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer at her most cunning). Now Jeff has a run-down gas station in small town America, dependable friends including a deaf mute, The Kid (played by former child star Dickie Moore), and Meta Carson (Rhonda Fleming) who loves him, and time to enjoy bucolic pleasures such as fishing.
Out of the past comes danger from Whit Sterling, seeking to rectify old affronts, and the return of siren Kathie to haunt Jeff's heart once more. Has Jeff learned from the past? He believes he has. So begins an elaborate cat and mouse game entangling Jeff, Kathie, Whit, and Whit's henchmen in a struggle for survival in an amoral jungle, quite unlike the idyllic new life Jeff had attempted to build for himself.
The viewer will see some of the best acting ever put on the big screen. Douglas is magnificent even when laid out on the floor. The cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca helps define noir. Note the signs of threat and decadence lurking behind the rustic simplicity of the small town of Bridgeport. All in all a film that deserves the praise it has received from critics and noir fans.
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