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Below the Belt (1980)
Great, if only for Regina Baff's performance
Not ordinarily the kind of film I would like or praise -- as other reviewers have said, it's rather depressing -- I actually liked "Below the Belt" very much, primarily because of the superb performance by the beautiful Regina Baff.
I really can't understand why she hasn't starred in more movies. She has looks, including a fascinating and unusual face that is sensitive and looks vulnerable, a great figure, and gorgeous legs.
Plus, she was athletic enough in this movie to handle the strenuous wrestling scenes.
All the players were so realistic, the film seemed almost a documentary some of the time.
Having known some similar wrestlers in my time, working as a TV station camera operator, I could accept this as a realistic slice-of-life film about some slice-of-life people. They deserved our sympathy, in part because they were so human, in part because they had not tried hard enough to avoid being in a rut, defined a long time ago as "a grave with the ends removed."
All the actors were professionals, very believable; the directing was generally very good, and the cinematography was great.
I wish there were more chances to see Regina Baff. What a superlative woman, and what a wonderful actor.
Rough Riders' Round-up (1939)
Better even than usual Roy Rogers movie
Frankly, if it says "Roy Rogers," the odds are it will be good. And this one is. For several reasons.
One, the historical setting is very interesting. It's around the turn of the 1900s and this contingent of Rough Riders is returning to these United States ... well, actually, considering the time, to a territory of these United States: Arizona, and the border with Mexico.
The Rough Riders' leader, Colonel Teddy Roosevelt, is being talked about as a vice-presidential candidate
Roy Rogers nearly always played either himself or a character named Roy Rogers, which was the case this time. It seems an odd practice, but was also done with Gene Autry, among others. Often, it detracted and/or distracted from the movie, but here it doesn't matter.
Soldier turned Border Patrol officer Rogers is joined by, among others, Rusty Coburn, played by veteran Raymond Hatton, an actor who had been around since the silent days and who often hammed it up like a B-class John Barrymore but who, here, was restrained and believable.
Other talent, and I do mean talent, included the beautiful Lynne Roberts and former chorus girl Dorothy Sebastian, as well as the prolific Eddie Acuff and the almost ubiquitous Hank Bell, again uncredited!
Seriously, it's hard to think of westerns without thinking of Hank Bell, he of the handle-bar mustache and Western drawl, and a superb character actor. Here he got some lines and again showed he should have been given many more speaking parts and many more-important parts. Maybe he never complained but many of us, his fans, do.
Amazingly, also uncredited were Duncan Renaldo and George Montgomery. The latter had a small part, but Duncan Renaldo's character was very important to the story.
Chris-Pin Martin and the really talented I. Stanford Jolley were also uncredited even though Martin also had an important part.
So, even if the story or directing or music were minor -- and they weren't; they were quite good; after all, the director was Joseph Kane - - the cast alone makes this more than worthwhile.
The Marshal of Mesa City (1939)
Excellent cast headed by the superlative George O'Brien
Turner Classic Movies made a recent Monday morning memorable by presenting this little-known (in fact, unknown to me) gem.
First, the cast was one of the most impressive ever found in a B western, including as a bad guy the excellent Leon Ames. Mr. Ames, suave and debonair and very citified in so many films, was just about perfect as a corrupt sheriff.
His henchmen, not necessarily big names, were all huge in talent and were absolutely delightful to watch. Hmmm, "delightful" might be misleading: I don't mean they were fun, because they were, after all, bad guys, but I do mean they were such great cowboy villains that it was a real treat to see them getting an opportunity to perform in a high-class western.
George O'Brien was actually not very tall, despite a reference to that effect by the leading lady, the more than lovely Virginia Vale. But he was very manly and had a great physique, looking like a weight-lifter, and he could move gracefully and handle his fight scenes well.
In scenes where he attempted to intimidate bad guys without using his weapons, he was, therefore, very believable.
One very surprising actor, one I didn't, I blush to admit, recognize (and I used to see him at Sons of the Desert meetings when I lived in Los Angeles), was the great Henry Brandon in an unusual role.
Naturally, being Henry Brandon, he was winning and likable, and also very believable.
Western fans will love this; classic movie fans will love this; movie history buffs will love this. I know I did.
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Strange, yes, but entertaining
No matter what is happening visually on the screen, "Johnny Guitar" is worth attention, if only for the hauntingly beautiful score by Victor Young.
Granted some of the action might seem silly or "campy" (the first time I saw "Johnny Guitar" in a theater, the audience was mostly gays from a local club along for the Joan Crawford romp; they cheered and applauded at the most campy bits), but the cast is one of the best assembled, and, again, the music is one of the best scores by one of the best composers of the 20th century.
Mercedes McCambridge was very well known for her radio work, more so than for her films, but she made several movies, and in my opinion had one of the most beautiful voices in broadcasting. I also found her fascinating to look at, especially in "Johnny Guitar."
There are many levels to this movie, and most of us might be turned off by the most obvious level. Still, with the cast and the score, it's well worth taking the time to watch.
In fact, a later viewing, with no audience distractions, might well prove this a fine movie, if unusual, with a story not much less plausible than many another, and, again, an excellent cast and magnificent and haunting score.
Cow Country (1953)
Not many big names, but plenty of huge talent
On Edmund O'Brien's birthday, 2012, Turner Classic Movies presented this movie hitherto unknown to me.
This is an astonishingly good movie, and for several reasons: It assembled some of the most talented actors in Hollywood; they were all good to even great actors (Mr. O'Brien, for example, is one of those rarities who is believable in any role, and anyone who is a good cowboy is, to me, at the top of his profession); the characters, except, of course, for the bad guys, were likable and often admirable; even the bad guys were well-rounded and believable.
There are two female leads, and both of them are good horse riders; both even know how to mount a horse, even in long skirts, as if they had been riding for years (and might have been; unfortunately, I haven't read their bios to know for sure). That is important for characters who are supposed to be natives to the West.
Don Beddoe has not only one of his best roles, he handles it beautifully. He shows he was an actor who deserved even more and even better roles.
Raymond Hatton was a veteran of movies back to the silent days. He too gives one of his best performances.
Robert Wilke also has one of his best roles, and also handles it beautifully. So often all he is allowed to do is walk on and get shot. Here his character is very integral to the entire plot. And, again, he shows he was very capable of more and bigger roles. (In our one conversation, he never expressed any regrets about his career. He might have been content or even happy. His auto license plate read, if I have the spelling right, "VILLEN." He was one of the best and one of the busiest of them.)
The writing and directing were good, if not perfect, and the only criticism I have is of the costuming. Even most of that was good, but one of the characters wore a Fredericks bra, which was popular in that era of film-making but actually deformed the female figure. (Just imagine Madonna as she so often appeared on stage.)
Otherwise, well, "Cow Country" is good enough for me to rate it a 9. I highly recommend it.
Paradise Alley (1962)
Outstanding cast of iconic performers in sweet story
Though it has been many years since I saw this on TV, it has stuck in my mind.
There is a sweetness -- and I don't mean saccharineness -- about "Paradise Alley" that is missing in movies today. It is about people, people full of flaws and foibles, but who learn to be better people.
Carol Morris, to name one, was such a beautiful young woman, even at the tender age at which I first saw this and saw her, I fell head over heels in love.
Marie Windsor was a widely talented actress, who could play the nastiest villain or the strongest heroine with equal ease.
Corinne Griffith performed mostly in silent films, and only in four talkies. Interestingly, she was in two movies titled "Lilies of the Field." She was, in movies I saw, glowingly, hauntingly lovely.
William Schallert, Billy Gilbert, Margaret Hamilton, and Chester Conklin were just a few more of this excellent cast, all of whom can and will hold a willing audience in thrall.
Finally, there is the master of this production, Hugo Haas himself. Frankly, I always found him to be just about perfect in every role he played, usually relatively minor ones. But as the big boss, despite an apparently small budget, he was extraordinary.
"Paradise Alley," this one, not the Stallone film of the same name, should bring a lump to your throat, perhaps a tear to your eye, and definitely a feeling that, by golly, this is a pretty good world after all. Or at least can be.
I highly recommend "Paradise Alley" and wish for more recognition for Hugo Haas.
Excellent cast has some wonderful dialog in a great story
As a former journalist, I acknowledge that news rooms haven't been anything like the one portrayed here in many decades. In fact, no news room in which I worked was like this, but that in no way detracts from the enjoyment I felt for this excellent movie.
Perhaps Jack Webb is an acquired taste, and later in his career, his Joe Friday character became almost a caricature of itself. Still, I rate him generally very good in his surprisingly few movies.
Just as so often in real life, this newspaper begins its day with no major stories and the staff is wondering what to place in the pages.
I was reminded of a "Shoe" strip in which that Jeff McNelly creation is preparing a headline saying "News Shortage Grips Nation."
One of the glories of "-30-" is its large cast of speaking characters. Each is very well delineated, and very well played.
David Nelson looked awfully young to be a medal-winning ex-sergeant, but he did continue to look young for many more years. But his character was, again, very well written and very well played. I wonder why he too didn't make more movies.
Much of the story-line was taken from actual incidents, but the dialog was much better than any of that spoken in any of the news rooms I ever worked in. (Truth to tell, most of the journalists I worked with were just not very well educated. The reason so much "news" is seemingly biased is not that journalists are necessarily dishonest; it's just that they don't know very much. And, yes, that is a generalization, but based on many years of experience.)
Newspapers today, disappearing as they are, don't have as many departments because, for example, when reporters type their stories into computers, they are essentially setting type at the same time.
Most newspapers don't have any person resembling the Richard Deacon character, who can use a pencil or pen and draw something. Drawing and art generally is done by computer. (Very few papers even have a staff cartoonist any more.)
Reporters are more likely to get a story by phone, too, rather than actually going to a scene. (TV "news" people go to the scene in order to have pictures, and many a major news story is ignored because there is no picture for the TV cameras.)
This movie, produced and directed by its star, Jack Webb, made me nostalgic for news-gathering. It made me yearn for the days when newspapers really were about news, and might even publish an "extra" because something big and unexpected happened.
But -30- works because it is, at bottom, about the people, the people who produce the news and the newspaper, and the people about whom the newspaper writes.
Turner Classic Movies is to be thanked for presenting us with -30- and I highly recommend it.
Love N' Dancing (2009)
Great dancers, very likable characters
MoviePlex is a generally blah movie channel (especially since it dropped its Western Wednesdays) but occasionally it brings us a little or little-known film that just grabs a viewer's heart and won't let go.
This movie is one of those.
Its cast of mostly unknowns (I think Billy Zane is the only one I had heard of) are not only astonishingly talented, but the characters they play are very likable and even compelling. There are some stereotypes, but they just add to the fun.
They are also mostly extremely attractive, either as physical specimens or as characters. Nicola Royston, for one, is just eye-poppingly and exotically beautiful -- and has made apparently only one movie. (What is the matter with the world's casting directors?)
Even the film's closest-to-villainous characters are likable and good- looking. One man who ignores his intended and pays more attention to business is one of them, but he is to be pitied, not censured.
Look especially for Rachel Dratch, of whom probably I should have known, but this was my first look. She is absolutely adorable, and in her last scene, she steals it. Watch her face. Marvelous!
The music is not even close to being what I would ordinarily listen to, but as setting for the dances, it was something even I liked. Some of the choreography is less than perfect, but the dancers are so good, so watchable, so graceful and athletic, any flaws (which would be subjective, anyway) are totally unimportant.
In short, this is one excellent movie, one I've already watched twice, and one I highly recommend to any person who likes dance, who likes "damn nice" people (to quote one character's assessment of some of his dance rivals), and who appreciates top-of-the-line talent.
Santa Fe Trail (1940)
Great cast wasted on dumb script
Hollywood almost never got right anything historical.
"Santa Fe Trail" is a good example.
However, if one just blocks out true U.S. history, and shuts down his mind, this movie can be enjoyed for the portrayals and action.
Since there is a little truth in it, it can also be enjoyed, or at least admired, for the dedication of people on both sides of a philosophical and moral issue.
Plus, as ever, one can just sit back and enjoy looking at the always beautiful and talented Olivia de Havilland.
When first released, dashing Errol Flynn was billed as the star and a young and up-and-coming Ronald Reagan was listed fourth. Today, though, Reagan is the better-known name and recordings for home viewing seem usually to list Reagan first.
In his first autobiography, "Where's The Rest Of Me?", Reagan tells the story of Flynn's jealousy and attempts to upstage Reagan. Other people who worked with Flynn recounted similar stories, saying that Flynn, despite immense talent, frequently seemed lacking in confidence.
Raymond Massey, as John Brown, is, as always, simply superb, and most of the rest of the players are good to excellent.
One more flaw needs to be pointed out. Warner Brothers had a superlative stable of excellent actors, but, as in this film, the studio, possibly because of bad to mediocre writing, often wasted some of them in silly, stereotyped roles. For example, Guinn Williams and Alan Hale, eventually known as Alan Hale, Sr., have to make the best of two of their silliest roles, totally unnecessary sidekicks to Flynn and Reagan.
Both are capable of handling even such silly roles, but it is a shame to waste them, and a shame to insult the audience, with such characterizations.
Vengeance Valley (1951)
Excellent cast, good direction, good script
Watching Burt Lancaster's early efforts (such as "The Rose Tattoo") might make one wonder why he was allowed to continue. Watching his later portrayals, one knows exactly why.
Probably his looks, especially his physique, gave him his chance, but Burt Lancaster just got better and better as an actor.
"Vengeance Valley" is a good example.
He was surrounded by good to very good actors but he didn't have to take second place to any, not even Ray Collins.
Since a very large portion of his film roles was in westerns, probably no one should be surprised at how good a cowboy he was, but it is still a pleasurable surprise to see him horseback, in fights, drawing his pistol.
He portrays the proper emotions, to the right degree.
Besides the excellent Lancaster, every cast member seems perfect. I have to admit I did not recognize Hugh O'Brian behind his whiskers and surly manner -- meaning he was so good, he was submerged in his character.
Big studio westerns were often overdone, with too much plot and too little action. "Vengeance Valley," though, shows what those studios could have done, much more often.