Reviews written by
retro_gal

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15 reviews in total 
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12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Hey, it's only a game . . . Or is it?, 19 April 2004

Peter Falk as the wily, dogged detective Columbo meets his match when he engages in a cat-and-mouse game with a true master of *his* game, Laurence Harvey as the reigning U.S. grand chessmaster Emmett Clayton, who is set to square off shortly against a most formidable opponent, Russian Tomlin Dudek, a former champion who has decided to come out of 'retirement,' much to Emmett's anxiety. The film starts off imaginatively with a nightmarish and surreal scene consisting of a huge chessboard set, with Emmett and Dudek as life-size 'pieces' pitted against one another, a scene which is full of ominous darkness and fog and which serves to effectively infuse a sense of paranoia and panic in Harvey's character and throughout the story. His dream seems to be an accurate predictor of things to come when, during an encounter of the two chessmasters before the big playoff in an intriguing restaurant scene, Emmett fears sure defeat at the hands of his rival and takes steps to ensure that the match never takes place by bumping off the competition. He concocts what seems to be a foolproof murder scheme, but all the chess pieces eventually come tumbling down with the arrival of Columbo on the scene.

Harvey has often been criticized as being a wooden, thoroughly cold and inaccessible actor; while I do not necessarily argue with that, the man did have screen presence and when cast in the right roles, he was nothing short of riveting, as he is here in the sort of calculating, cunning part that makes full, advantageous use of his icy, remote persona. He's exudes controlled intensity and is totally believable at the ruthless, amoral, deliberate Emmett who's driven to unsettled yet unflappable distraction, but becomes increasingly unhinged by the investigative antics of Columbo until he finally "loses it" in a wildly satisfying scene. His ravenous-hungry, remorseless aura, 'gaunt'-lean appearance and callous, cruel attractiveness make him even more convincing as a cad capable of murder. Jack Kruschen as the good-hearted Dudek radiates mischievous, winsome charm that belies a man nevertheless obsessed with his craft but not at the expense of chipping away at his humanity and with what's *truly* important in life, and of course Peter Falk as the quirky Columbo, is, well, Columbo as only he could play it. And with a relatively short length, the film never drags on and holds the attention throughout. The pacing is brisk yet not rushed, and takes it's time when it needs to during certain key scenes without getting dull.

21 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Jimmy's no gent, 18 April 2004

Strangely, this an overlooked film, quite unusual considering that is stars a number of movie legends, but may be due to the fact that in terms of story line there's nothing "stand-out" about it, as with the performances (exception being Judy Garland), and the movie as a whole may tend to "displease" purists as it doesn't quite fit in a definitive genre with it's offbeat combination of melodrama with musical numbers. The titular "Ziegfeld 'Girl'" actually focuses upon 3 young women--Garland is Susan Gallagher, a cute 17-year old part of a not-very-successful song-and-dance act with her spirited, comic-pathetic father; MGM's rising, resident blond bombshell Turner is Sheila Regan (tho she's ostensibly *supposed* to be a redhead as her nickname "Red" indicates, despite her looking quite blond--strawberry blond, perhaps?), a driven dame from the wrong side of the tracks determined to use the Follies as a stepping-stone into upward mobility; and legendary beauty Hedy Lamarr is Sondra Kolter, a simple, down-to-earth married woman whose life suddenly becomes complicated when she's snapped up by the Follies and becomes the breadwinner in the household and the amorous pursuit of the show's handsome headliner (Tony Martin, whose marvelous voice is displayed well here), much to the chagrin and jealousy of her unemployed musician husband.

Turner without a doubt has the "meatiest" role, going from a basically 'good' individual who nevertheless is willing to trade her love for a "poor boy" in exchange for the riches and success she's always dreamed of and becomes a millionaire's mistress, only to discover that such things are surprisingly unfulfilling when there is hurt in the heart (as her character puts aptly " . . . Why can't the men you want have the things you want?"), and as a result succumbs despairingly, dissipatedly and dangerously into alcoholism. But despite her plum part and the range and depth of emotions it offers, she's never able to more than ripple the surface. She's not deplorable but is still quite green. She's adequate, nothing more, but her potent allure, ultra-glamorous beauty and simmering sensuality makes her highly watchable. Lamarr isn't given much of anything to do but as she wasn't particularly talented or magnetic it's probably just as well, but--her beauty was such and the part rather limited that it's enough for her to just hang around and look gorgeous. And James Stewart as Sheila's blue-collar truck-driver turned gangster boyfriend, justifiably bitter and angry over being thrown over in favor of material pursuits, is improbably but interestingly cast in this forcefully "rough-and-tumble" role at a time when MGM didn't quite know what to do with him and had yet to discover his "niche". Despite all these big names, Garland manages to steal the show with the only one, truly genuine, heartfelt performance in the whole film--she's achingly tender, particularly in the scenes with her father who her character poignantly must part ways with, and, most stunningly, show-stoppingly, in the "I'm Always Chasing" Rainbows scene (the slow one!). And even in the beauteous company of Lamarr and Lana, Garland is luminous with her huge brown-button eyes, spirited, pert nose and tremulous bite, appealing in her own special way.

Highlights include--The frothy "You Stepped Out Of A Dream" extravaganza (down to the gargantuan circular stairway!) and the spunky "Minnie From Trinidad" number. It's obvious from the production values that MGM went all out, and the results are exceptional. These 2 numbers, along with Garland, make the film worth watching and the sparkling, glossy B&W cinematography works well. Also worth mentioning is the notorious Paul Kelly, who has a small yet sizable role as the show director and Jackie Coogan in a "grown-up" role as Turner's kid brother.

3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Growing up is hard to do . . ., 15 April 2004

Completely forgotten Natalie Wood-Robert Wagner soap-opera fare that unfortunately deteriorates into bad over-the-top melodrama without reaching camp status as it takes itself way too seriously and is so-bad-that-it's-not-even-good, but is still "worth" a look. It certainly is a sinful pleasure of mine. With George Hamilton and Susan Kohner along for the ride, all *seem* to try their best to make a go of the uneven, turgid script, but it's still not enough. Wood and Wagner, in a film obviously and crassly meant to capitalize upon their real-life romance, are cast in the roles of Sarah "Salome" Davis and Chad Bixby, poor white Texan trash and anguished young lovers living in a dreadful backwoods, she with her mother, nauseatingly stern father and a shackful of grubby young siblings; and he faring not much better off with his impoverished, recently widowed mother (which is ok by him since he hated his father with near Biblical-rage proportions). The only refuge they have from the tedium and ugliness of their lives are the moments they steal away with each other, and of course they end up doing what comes naturally and the inevitable, unpleasant and all-too predictable occurs. This event becomes the catalyst that flings the young lovers out of their deadend existence and onto divergent courses, whereupon "fate" thrusts them into one anothers' paths again, and in their wake they will have wreaked havoc and heartbreak upon the 2 people in love with them, with their careless and callous actions.

The title is improbably long and absurd yet admittedly catchy (in a trashy sort of way)--I suspect and wouldn't be surprised if it was done in an attempt to lure theatregoers with its lurid aura. This film was based on a novel called "The Bixby Girls"--one has to admit that title isn't nearly as attention-getting, it sounds more like an innocuous, sunny musical than a tawdry melodrama; whereas the sensational "All The Fine Young Cannibals" aptly captures the tabloid-esque nature, not to mention is quite symbolic in that the characters figuratively "cannibalize" and destroy each other.

While her performance hardly knocks one's socks off, Wood doesn't go far wrong as she capably expresses Salome's range of emotions from quiet desperation to erotic angst to frustrated panic to confused, "forbidden" desire. Her looks also play a large part, especially her huge, tremulous, expressive eyes. The club scene, where she's sitting at a table wearing a black spaghetti-strap dress, her chin set in her hand as she sees Chad for the 1st time in years and stares trancelike at him, is an image of heartbreaking yearning and inexpressable, near-breathtaking loveliness. Her face is calm and devoid of expression, but her wistful eyes say it all. Wagner is just about the weakest link, as he inexplicably manages to be callow and sulky even as he's playing his character with an excessively heavyhanded, cloying level of broodiness. He comes across not unlike a good little boy trying to play grown-up James Dean moody, and falls flat with a resounding thud. George Hamilton is quite stilted as Salome's cuckolded husband, but as his role isn't the main emotional focus of the film, he can be overlooked. Susan Kohner really rivets the attention as Chad's spoiled-rotten, high-strung, romantically-exasperated wife, but as her performance borders on that of a spiteful, at times shrieking, harpy, it's up for grabs as to whether that's a good thing. And lastly, Pearl Bailey as Ruby, Chad's perpetually-soused, self-destructive 'mentor,' I have mixed feelings about her--while she effectively emotes the pain and despair of her tragic character, at times she becomes a wince-inducing Billie Holliday-esque caricature. With the exception of the haunting tune Chad plays in the nightclub when he encounters Salome again, the jazz score is adequate but forgettable.

I suppose the 'moral' of the story is--We all have to grow up sometime. However, if this is the message, it gets muddled up in the histrionics. This *could* have been a much better film that it was, but as it is, it's wildly unsatisfying and frustrating, and despite the characters' abundant emotional woes, for the most part they come across as so empty and soulless that I really didn't feel as much for them as I should have, but nevertheless they are distastefully fascinating as an episode of Jerry Springer, but instead of a cheap-looking set and physically repugnant-looking guests, this film makes itself more "palatable" with its tony, glamorous environs and an extremely attractive cast.

20 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
One of Flynn's better "twilight" films, 15 April 2004

This is among one of Errol Flynn's better films during his career decline, particularly after a long stretch of duds (his last best film was 1945's "Objective, Burma!" and possibly 1948's "Adventures of Don Juan") and before his short-lived comeback in the notable "The Sun Also Rises," "The Roots of Heaven" and "Too Much, Too Soon." A high-seas tale that doesn't rank on the illustrious level of Flynn's other, earlier pirate flicks during his career height ("Captain Blood" and "The Sea Hawk"), but nevertheless what otherwise would have been a completely run-of-the-mill production is elevated by the main roles of leads Flynn and Maureen O'Hara and the oft-cast Flynn co-star Anthony Quinn as the villian (again). They all bring their characteristic star quality to their roles, but rather than "cancelling" or overpowering each other as such strong screen presences are sometimes in "danger" of doing, they play off each other well. Flynn plays Brian Hawke, a British naval officer on a top-secret mission to infiltrate pirate activity in Madagascar, under the guise of turning renegade. He manages to convince the buccaneers that he's not a spy and is allowed to join them, but their captain, Roc Brasiliano (Quinn), remains unconvinced and suspicious. Their uneasy alliance is made all the more tenuous by the gorgeous and dashingly glamorous lone female pirate "Spitfire" Stevens (an apt name if ever there was one), whom both men desire; and by the pretty Patma, an Indian princess (who doesn't look Indian in the least, BTW) whom Hawke has rescued and, along with being smitten by him and thus incurring the wrathful jealousy of Spitfire, ends up causing no end of nit-witted, unintentioned trouble and danger.

While not displaying the breathtaking level of razzle-dazzle as in his younger days, Flynn still retains his trademark charisma and cheek, turning in a solid, albeit unremarkable, performance by imparting a mature worldliness appropriate to his character. And while he's gotten bloated and jowly in the face, he remains handsome enough and has still has a fine-looking physique for his age, and, especially, for someone of his high-living lifestyle. Still I have to admit I would have loved to have seen Flynn in this film several years earlier, at the peak of his godlike beauty, physical grace and magnetic powers. As for Maureen O'Hara--no other actress could have portrayed a female pirate quite as convicingly as she. With fire and desire, dynamic spunk and sass and rakish allure, she epitomizes this she-rogue who is a match (and even more) for any man, but has rather forgotten how to be a woman--yet despite, or rather, because of this, is remarkably fresh, frank and sexy, no cunning feminine wiles here. Also, the sight of O'Hara's impressive, strapping physique costumed in green pirate gear is a masterstroke--the color shows exceptionally well on her and is an amazing complement to her flaming red hair, green eyes and white skin.

Poor Anthony Quinn is--in what must have been quite frustrating for him--again in the kind of unchallenging part he knows all too well, so therefore he doesn't go wrong and, more to his credit, doesn't allow any boredom he may have with his typecast role affect his menacing, spirited performance. He is overshadowed, though, by the meatier roles of his 2 co-stars. The big fly in the ointment is undoubtedly Alice Kelley as Princess Patma. Looking not unlike a slighter-built, dumbed-down version of Jennifer Tilly (who's not all that intelligent-looking to begin with), she's emotes with such tiresome vacuousness and stupidity that it's near cringe-inducing proportions. It's easy to understand, despite her character's fabulous wealth and pedigree, why she holds no fascination for Hawke and doesn't hold a candle to Spitfire. To be fair, her character is not the sharpest knife in the drawer (more like the dullest one there), but Kelly lacks the skill and allure to make the role endearing. And while the movie is filmed in lush Technicolor, a drawback is an obviously fake seaport set. But the plusses outweigh the minuses, making it above-average fare, and at a succinct 83 minutes, it moves at a brisk, entertaining pace.

13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
"No good deed goes unpunished" OR A do-gooder who does good at the expense of others does no good at all!, 11 April 2004

Highly entertaining marital situation-morality play of the sort Cecil B. DeMille was so adroit during the silent period (He seemed to have lost his touch later on with similar bedroom farces/battle-of-the-sexes films in the 1929 & 1930 "Dynamite" and "Madame Satan" and wisely stuck thereafter to his other strong suits, adventures and Bibilical extravaganzas-morality tales). The title is a bit misleading in that the "affairs" are not affairs in the usual sense of the word. Wallace Reid stars in the title role as the handsome, rich husband Anatol de Witt Spencer, a chivalrous, idealistic, romantically 'inclined' young man who is unable to pass up any opportunity to aid young and beautiful damsels-in-distress, much to the dismay and exasperation (not to mention jealousy) of his glamorous wife Vivian (Gloria Swanson) and at the expense of their marital harmony. The three "damsels" in the film drive home the expressions "you can't tell a book by its cover" and "things are not what they may seem" and are covered in an effective "vignette" style fashion--Anatol's former sweetheart Emilie Dixon (Wanda Hawley) is now a rich old man's mistress, apparently sincere but in reality deceptively repentant. The scene where Anatol realizes he's been duped is a wildly satisfying, frenetic, cathartic one as he figuratively and literally (and how!) lets Emilie's sugar daddy "pick up the pieces!"

The 2nd damsel is a seemingly sweet and pure country girl (Agnes Ayres) who has despondently thrown herself into a river to drown due to the irreparable trouble she has caused in her marriage. She turns out to be rather scheming and seductive when Anatol yet again takes on the role of savior, as well as that of dupe, albeit the latter role as unwittingly as before. The scene where Anatol and Vivian attempt to revive the apparently half-drowned, unmoving Ayres is quite amusing, it looks as if they're performing calisthenics upon a corpse!

These 2 deceptive "damsels" cause Anatol to lament about the lack of "loyalty and honesty," but as a wise character in the film informs him, "loyalty and honesty, like charity, begins at home," which at this point has seriously deteriorated from neglect due to Anatol's dogged, romantically-tinged samaritan pursuits, when he goes off yet again to the ostensibly venal vixen Satan Synne (Bebe Daniels), an infamous stage star-courtesan known as "the wickedest woman in New York," but this time his intent is purely "romantic" rather than gallant. But his anticipated rendezvous doesn't unfold as expected when Satan, unlike the others, reveals herself to be genuinely "loyal and honest," deceptive, but in a good way. Unlike the other 2 segments, this one is not comical but poignant.

Particular praise for Wallace Reid, who is exemplary as Anatol, more than capably embodying his characters' sense of chivalry, romance, sophistication and "goodness," but also a man that is not above being human and falling prey to feelings of fury, stubbornness, revenge, and, of course, a pretty face. It's easy to see why he was a superstar in his day (unfortunately completely forgotten now). He had it all--the virile boy-man good looks, the tall strapping build, talent, and, most of all, charisma and energy to spare. A pity he died under excruciating circumstances at the young age of 32, it's almost enough to take some enjoyment out of the film, but even knowing he was in terrible pain and under the drugs that would help do him in when this film was made, he still manages to be so good (not to mention healthy-appearing) as to make any viewer think nothing was amiss. Regarding the other performers: Wanda Hawley and Agnes Ayres are competent in their parts, but that's it. Nothing stands out about them. Gloria Swanson gives a rather one-dimensional, unsympathetic performance (despite what should be a sympathetic role) which, like her admittedly attractive looks, is hard and brittle and unyielding. But the one who steals the show is Bebe Daniels, she impressively, movingly and convincingly portrays a tigress that is really a pussycat without becoming maudlin.

Other plusses include the exceptional, artfully decorated dialogue cards and the use of color in the Satan Synne segment, it's so expertly done that it appears nearly like Technicolor, seems to be a film that was made much later. And remember, the moral of the story is" "Loyalty and honesty, like charity, begins at HOME!"

15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Richard the Lion-Hearted--King, Crusader & Stud, 11 April 2004

Cecil B. DeMille is one of those rare directors that infuses his "historical" epics (and I realize that many may dispute that term as his films can play fast and loose with the facts) with an exhiliarating level of zest, sweep and scope as to make it riveting even to those that are history-averse. The title is a tad misleading as it isn't the entire expeditions that are spanned in the film, but rather, focuses upon the Third Crusade. However, that's understandable since a title like "The Third Crusade" doesn't have quite the impactful air of romance and drama as just "The Crusades," does it? The story takes place amongst the struggle between the Christians and Muslims for the Holy Land, when the insolent and crass King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Henry Wilcoxon) selfishly uses the conflict as an "escape hatch" from his arranged marriage with Princess Alice of France (Catherine DeMille). In an amusing scene, the wily and determined Princess, not to be outsmarted, also takes the oath to accompany him to Jerusalem. The marriage-averse Richard's scheme backfires when he must marry Berengaria, Princess of Navarre (Loretta Young), a woman he has never met and has no desire to, in order for her father to agree to provide much-needed food for his half-starving men and horses. The wedding scene in what in essence is a "name-only" arrangement, is a memorable one with a justifiably heartbroken and incensed Berengaria having to exchange her vows in a proxy marriage with Richard's sword!

Their marriage is off for a bad start, with Richard's disinterest (and even after his subsequent, superficial fascination after discovering what a gorgeous creature his bride is!) and Berengaria's loathing, but genuine, deep love for each other is awakened when she displays the courage and faith of her character, and his budding zeal and growing realization that The Crusades is not something to use for his own selfish ends, but is a cause worth believing in, fighting for, even dying for. Amidst this bloody atmosphere, further complications arise when Berengaria becomes the captive and object of desire for Saladin, the Sultan of Islam (Ian Keith) and Richard attempts to get her back, all the whilst facing assassinations and alarming casualties.

The two leads shine here: Henry Wilcoxon cuts an impressively stalwart and brash persona, bringing to life a legendary character not above human fault. His strong performance here, along with that as Marc Antony in "Cleopatra," makes one wonder why--with his virile good looks, strapping physique, solid talent and imposing presence--he never became a bona-fide star. Go figure. As for Loretta Young, she is the glue that holds the film together and while it may be an exaggeration it wouldn't be so far off to say that she's a revelation. It takes quite a woman to completely convince the audience that she could captivate 2 such larger-than-life men, mere decorative beauty, however grand, is not enough. And while Young is an ethereal, sublime vision in long flaxen wig and her exceptionally luminous and pure doe-eyed satin-skinned beauty with a hint of sensual promise in her full lips and prominent cheekbones, it is her performance that is the key--she radiates goodness and spirituality and faith without being preachy, an unflappable belief that those around her will do what is right for the Cause, so much so that she makes it irresistible to anyone with an ounce of humanity in them. Also noteworthy are Ian Keith as the honorable Saladin, C. Aubrey Smith as the inspiring Hermit, Joseph Schildkraut as the unctuously cunning Conrad, and Alan Hale as the minstrel Blondel, offering comic relief without getting hammy.

21 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
"Quo Vadis" + DeMille = "The Sign of the Cross", 11 April 2004

Whereas "The Sign of the Cross" minus DeMille leaves the ponderous "Quo Vadis?" This is a Biblical extravaganza the way only DeMille could have fashioned then, and I daresay, now and probably even into the future, anybody would be hard pressed to match or even emulate his style with such flair and finesse. This movie has something for everyone since it pretty much has it all--religion, morality, sacrifice, decadence, betrayal, love, lust, action, song and dance, sex (all kinds) and violence! It is the Golden Age of Rome under Nero in all its pomp and pageantry, opulence and depravity, splendor and sin. Charles Laughton is archetypal in his portrayal as the mad emperor, whose seemingly harmless jolly-rotund exterior and near-comic epicene foppishness belies an unstable and dangerous man, made all the more by the machinations of his beauteous wife Poppaea, in an eye-popping, attention-grabbing (and how!) Claudette Colbert in the role. She exudes all of the ominous, sensual stealth and wicked, reptilian cunning like some sort of exquisite she-viper, but tempers her performance from becoming too mired in malevolence with an air of uninhibited, at times playful, sexuality.

Laughton and Colbert are given relatively little screen time, a pity; however, their flashy roles enable them to overshadow the much larger parts of Fredric March and Elissa Landi. The former plays Marcus Superbus (what a name!), Roman prefect and elusive lust-object of Poppaea, whose loyalty to his service, his state and his emperor is tested when he falls for Mercia, a virtuous beauty, whose people exist under persecution when Nero conveniently scapegoats The Great Fire onto them in an agenda to rid the state of pesky Christians. While March does admittedly look almost ridiculously dandified with his finger-curled raven locks, made-up face and skimpy Beau Brummel-esque Roman attire, if one can overlook that he does turn in a convincing job, going from valiant, womanizing unbeliever to an increasingly understanding, desperately lovelorn character and is particularly impressive in the "conversion" scene without being heavy-handed or maudlin. Landi also holds her own, not as easy feat since her role is very pure and quite understated--if she had been too restrained she could easily have faded away and been dull, and if she played it too virginal she could have slipped into sappiness. As it is, she infuses Mercia with a dignified strength of spirit, a mature wisdom, a brave conviction and a solemn yet inspiring optimism (yet despite her thespian talents, I couldn't help to think that lookswise the ethereal, angel-like beauty of Loretta Young, who later starred in DeMille's "The Crusades," would have been more appropriate than the unremarkably beautiful Landi).

The film is on the longer side but never really feels as if it's "dragging" since there are many highlights to keep things rolling along, notably the few Laughton-Nero scenes, the "Naked Moon" segment replete with orgiastic environs and lesbians, and most famously, Colbert-Poppaea's visceral, sinfully sexy nude milk bath. But the real rewards comes near the finale, during the sexually charged, violence-drenched atmosphere of the Coliseum--after the usual gladiatorial to-the-death games, the spectacle and sensation really begins. The most remarkable among them being: the human-head crushing by Elephants, the African pygmies-Amazon women match, and the 2 nude young women--one horizontally tied to a pole like a pig on a spit for a Crocodilian feeding frenzy, the other vertically tethered for a male gorilla's, er, pleasure. The actual "action" is most instances is not shown, instead the camera pans to the audience reaction and this technique proves to be highly effective in fueling the viewers' imagination and horror.

p.s. There were some amusing tensions between cast members during this film. Apparently Laughton was shocked about March not wearing anything beneath his tunics, and exclaimed "The man is shameless!" Yet that didn't prevent the homosexual Laughton from trying to peep under March's costumes. And at the same time, March was annoyed by Laughton's peeping attempts, yet still went sans underwear.

Dynamite (1929)
11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Bickford provides the fireworks, 11 April 2004

This film has the distinction of being the great Cecil B. DeMille's first "talkie," and it's just as well since there's nothing else that particularly stands out to make it a memorable production, with the exception of the dynamic Charles Bickford. Unlike its title, this movie ended up being anything but "Dynamite" as the box office at the time, and it's not too hard to see why even decades later. DeMille seemed to have lost his touch during the sound period with this genre, for this tale of the battle-of-the-sexes/bedroom farce fused with class distinction is rather run-of-the-mill. The schoolmarmish-looking Kay Johnson is improbably cast in the role of Cynthia Crothers, an insulated, spoiled, flightly rich girl who is faced with the dilemma her late grandfather's will presents of either marrying before her fast approaching 23rd birthday, or else losing her entire inheritance and being left penniless. This is a problem since the man she's in love with, the desirable and handsome but cash-strapped Roger Towne (Conrad Nagel), is already married, and unable to become divorced "in time" due to his gold-digging, foot-dragging wife, who will only let him go if Cynthia is willing to "pay" big bucks for him. An opportunity presents itself when Cynthia gets wind of a (wrongfully) convicted murderer, Buddy Derk (Charles Bickford), willing to "sell his body" for $10,000 to go for the care of his beloved kid sister. Cynthia takes up this offer and in a desperately-driven and practical yet cold-blooded scheme, marries the soon-to-be condemned man, it seemingly being the only solution to obtain the money from her inheritance to "buy" Roger and wed him as soon as she becomes a widow, but complications ensue when Buddy is discovered to be innocent and is released.

Despite Bickford's 3rd billing, he's the real star of the show, a riveting presence that just about steals every scene he's in. He's perfectly cast both in looks and persona as the gruff, grounded and no-frills Buddy, whose rough exterior shields a teddy bear underneath. Conrad Nagel is appropriate in his part, but that's about it as he's not really given much to do here, and his role could be played by any number of other similarly suavely handsome types. As for Kay Johnson, this is the 2nd and only film I've seen her in (after "Madame Satan"), and again she leaves me wondering how she managed to get those 2 starring roles under DeMille--while a capable performer, it's not of the magnitude to counter her lack of looks and magnetism, and her patrician looks and air, while quite suited to her role in "Madame Satan," is inappropriate in the part of pampered party girl Cynthia, whereas Julia Faye as Roger's wife Marcia, displayed the sort of sexiness and spunk that would've been more apt.

To be fair, aside from Bickford, this movie is not without some saving graces. The "fish-out-of-water" scenes involving a recently released Buddy in his strange new opulent surroundings and Cynthia living in the dreary mining town, are quite amusing in their reactions to worlds which they've never been before, and frankly, have no desire to be in. Keep an eye out for a young and virtually unrecognizable Joel McCrea in a small but noticeable part as Marcia's lover Franco.

19 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Mondo Bizarro, 7 April 2004

This is a strange film--a crazy quilt blend of bedroom farce, musical and disaster all rolled into one, resulting in an outlandish oddity. Cecil B. DeMille was adept at all types of films, everything from bedroom farces in the silent days (notably those featuring Gloria Swanson) to sprawling adventures to Bibilical epics-morality plays, but even the versatile director appears to hit a snag with this peculiar production. To give fair credit, he does quite well considering the highly unconventional material and turns it into a fascinating curio; with a lesser director it may have just been a curio, period. This is one film that if ever you have the chance to see it, do not miss it! The first 50 or so minutes is a typical, mediocre bedroom farce--long suffering, reserved, patrician society wife Angela Brooks (looking every inch the prim WASP lady with her pale hair, long nose, pursed lips and all) has all the material comforts but is made unhappy by her straying, high-living husband Bob, who is carrying on with a spirited man-eating strumpet named Trixie (no kidding). To win back her hedonistic husband's full affections, Angela determines she must shed her staid respectability and become a sultry siren, and from that point on the real fun begins!

The main actions involves a lavish masquerade party aboard a dirigible during an electrical storm, which Angela secretly and anonymously attends with the dual purpose of enticing her man back and humiliating her homewrecking hussy of a rival, impressively and out-of-characteristically attired to the hilt in a spectacular Art Deco gown consisting of what appears to be a sheer body stocking with strategically placed bits of fabric over the torso to cover up the naughty, well, bits. Along with a masque and faux French accent, she completely fools her husband and all the guests into believing she is her alter ego, "Madame Satan," and achieves what she set out to do!

Regarding the actors: Kay Johnson (Angela Brooks)--Granted, she does play her part (or rather, parts) competently, but Johnson doesn't have much screen presence and she's quite homely with her long, large banana nose and small, plain, hard eyes (altho' this likely lends more credence to her role--her unsightly looks along with her character's stuffy outlook, make it understable as to why Bob readily and enthusiastically strays). Reginald Denny (Bob Brooks, and no, Denny is not the unlucky Reginald of the L.A. riots infamy) is handsome enough and makes a likable cad, but he's rather bland and also is "expendable." Far more interesting and "impressive" (tho' that's not hard to be considering the company they're in) are Roland Young as Bob's friend James Wade, since he's given most of the "funny stuff" to do; and particularly Lillian Roth (yes, the Lillian Roth of Susan Hayward's "I'll Cry Tomorrow")--she exhibits a catchy screen presence as the feisty, amoral party-girl Trixie. BTW, I was wondering about Roth's exact ethnic background as she has a distinctively marked, appealing mulatto look to her face.

As mentioned before, about the 1st half is an unexceptional bedroom farce, with comic scenes that are initially amusing but soon wear thin (e.g. James' constant, cloddish noise-making as he and Bob attempt to silently sneak back into Bob's house with Angela just a few yards away; James and Trixie's "pretend" marriage and their scene in the bed with Angela's interruptions; and the scene where James tries to stall Bob from entering Trixie's room). The 2nd half of the film is infinitely worth waiting for--the crazy costumes, the static and plodding but memorably weird "Electricity" musical number (replete with lightning bolt accents and enough silvery, bright costumes glary enough to practically blind the eyes) and the downed dirigible disaster. The scene where a young female guest lands on the roof of a high building, holding onto a large weathervane after parachuting down, and pleads to a fellow male guest floating down, to help her, whereupon he responds, "I'm just passing through," is an amusing one. Surely one of the strangest mainstream, old movies you'll ever see. It certainly was for me!

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Criss Cross is the cruelest cut, 5 December 2003

Burt Lancaster, hot off his success in "The Killers," where he burned up the screen with the smoldering Ava Gardner, paired up again with director Robert Siodmak to make this noir hit with yet another sultry and exotic leading lady, this time the stunning Yvonne de Carlo. In this role she proves she's not just a decorative sex symbol and gets to strut the acting chops I've always suspected her of possessing. For those who are only familiar with her as Lilly Munster on the famous TV show, it is a treat to see her at her youthful beauty and in one of her best roles. Although I believe Gardner to be the more beautiful of the two, I couldn't imagine her pulling off this role (at least at this stage of her career; she later developed much more depth) as impressively as de Carlo does, who in my view is (or at least became, in this movie) the better actress. Lancaster also proves that his star-making performance in the aforementioned "The Killers" was not a fluke, and despite the two films' possessing a surface similarity--sexy dame double crosses love or lust-strucked sap with fatal consequences, which, of course, would describe many noirs--Lancaster makes a unique, interesting and multi-dimentional dupe in both roles. He exudes typical male 'traits' of toughness, masculinity and jadedness but yet is susceptible to the more typical 'female' qualities of vulnerability, sensitivity, lovelorness and hopeful, but ultimately futile, optimism in his refusal, or inability, to become completely cynical and hard-bitten, even at the end. In "Criss Cross" he plays the divorced Steve Thompson, who has recently returned to San Francisco where his ex-wife Anna remains, trying to convince himself of every reason in the book for moving back home except the real one--his lingering, potent love and strong attraction for her which still persists. He moves back in with his family and gets his job back at an armored-car company, all the while playing what will turn out to be a dangerous game--going back to their old haunts where he pretends he has no desire to see Anna, when he knows sooner or later he will. The situation proves to be all the more risky when he discovers she has married Slim Dundee, an abusive, big-shot gangster. But despite this extremely dangerous, untenable situation, he is unable to resist when Anna's siren song beckons, luring not only him, but her husband, into her lethal web and complex scheme with cold-blooded precision.

The three principals give riveting performances: Lancaster's Steve--the viewer can feel his painful uncertainty in knowing he should not and must not get tangled up with his ex again, and yet he must; he is so in love (or lust) that there really is no other option for him. De Carlo's Anna in my view is the most difficult role in the film to convincingly portray--despite her despicable, heartless, self-serving actions, she still remains likable and even heartrending in her justifications. She convincingly displays vulnerability and anguish but at the same time is completely venal and selfish, willing to use the two men who love her and then discard them. We get the feeling that she *may* be good at heart, but really and truly has lost her way, has assessed she's too far gone to ever go back, and so she will plow on ahead determinedly, consequences and feelings and people's lives be dam*ed. The scene where de Carlo is with the men as they plan the heist is reminiscent of the one in "The Killers" where Ava Gardner is with the criminal gang--it is obvious they are no mere decorative dames, molls who remain in the background; they play an active role with the big boys, but they have something up their sleeves. As for Dan Duryea as Slim, despite his seeming, or in fact playing, the same kind of roles in all the movies I've seen him in, that of the smarmy, slimy, sleazy character who possesses many of the most undesirable, worst traits in humankind--mean, petty, greedy, cowardly, sneaky, etc., he remains puzzlingly fascinating and even likable, and he does not fail here. His character here is the kind of person no man, and woman, crosses without consequence, and like Lancaster, who loves Anna to the end, Slim is dead set upon paying her back what she has reaped, but despite the fact that all that she's done to him, he still loves her as well. In fact, his feelings for her and the devastated, shellshocked look on his face at the end brings to mind that song, or at least the famous line I've heard somewhere, "I loved her but I had to kill her."

Lancaster, de Carlo and Duryea were such an electrifying trio that it's a shame the three never made a movie together again (in fact, Lancaster and de Carlo's chemistry was not limited to the screen, the two were lovers during filming). But perhaps it's just as well as it would be a challenge to surpass this example of film-noir excellence. The ending is one of the most stunning and shocking I've seen, and the final shot of Lancaster and de Carlo presents an almost artfully arranged, beautiful but devastatingly tragic tableau. Look for Tony Curtis (looking like a gigolo) as he makes an appearance in a small role as de Carlo's partner during a zesty, lusty rumba. And keep an eye out for the dramatic, stylish, minimalist ensemble Duryea wears in one scene consisting of an all-black suit with a retina-scalding white tie--talk about fashion being way ahead of its time, Duryea sure looks sharp! Fascinating noir, recommended also as a companion piece to "The Killers."


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