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Boulevard du Rhum (1971)
Proves that movies do need a script
"Rum Runners" could be taken as an experiment: is it possible to make an 80-minute film with apparently no script at all? Well, it is possible....that doesn't mean it is desirable, though. Virtually nothing happens in this movie. I don't mean nothing interesting, I mean NOTHING. Lino Ventura is a likable actor, and Brigitte Bardot still looks great in one of her last screen appearances, but they are both defeated by this non-existence of a script. Bardot has an unusual introduction - projected on a theater screen as a silent-film star - but has little to do from that point on. What's more, the film has fallen into public domain, which means that if you do find a copy it will probably be dubbed, cropped, and faded in color. Don't go out of your way to search for a copy, in any case. * out of 4.
Venere imperiale (1962)
Aimless, meandering would-be epic
"Imperial Venus" has three major problems. The most important one is its lack of narrative thrust; the viewer gets the feeling that nothing is happening for most of the running time. The second is the choppy continuity (despite the film's overlength); large sections of the story (what little story there is) and entire time periods appear to be missing. The third problem is the low budget; virtually all of the battles and any other action scenes occur off the screen - what we do get on the screen is 90% talk. To be fair, Gina Lollobrigida and Stephen Boyd make a handsome couple, but this is not the lighthearted romp you might except based on the plot summary, and Gina is deliberately made to look tired and unhappy at times. *1/2 out of 4.
Keeping Track (1986)
It's not so easy to keep track
"Keeping Track" is a noble but not altogether successful attempt at a modern Hitchcockian "couple on the run" thriller (where the couple is made up by two strangers forced to join forces by circumstance). Margot Kidder and Michael Sarrazin try, and the plot does have some interesting ideas, but on the whole the film suffers from a murky story, some dimly lit and thus confusing key action sequences (especially the ones on the train, at the start, which already make it hard for the viewer to do what the title describes), and a certain lack of chemistry between the two leads. But if you, like me, are drawn to obscure flicks with an espionage theme regardless of the era they were made in, you might want to give "Keeping Track" a look. ** out of 4.
Death Is a Woman (1966)
Does not live up to its great title
So what do you expect from a movie with a title like this? A deadly femme fatale who kills repeatedly and without remorse? You'll get that....but only twice, at the start and at the end of the film. Patsy Ann Noble is perfectly cast, and she is equaled, if not surpassed, in the hotness department by the two other female cast members, Wanda Ventham as the good girl and Caron Gardner as a ditzy conquest for the bad guy; this film comes from the era where the thick, strong, curvy, healthy look was the "in" look for women. But the story, after setting up an intriguing locked-room mystery, meanders, the underwater scenes are - as usual - boring, and there is FAR too much screen time given to an old drunk character, who turns out to be of no consequence to boot - was this actor a friend of the producers or something? This film would have been better without him. ** out of 4.
Genius at Work (1946)
No great shakes, but amusing enough
A lot of people are comparing the little-known today comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney with the much more famous Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and I can see the resemblance, though one crucial difference is that their relationship is never physically abusive; their put-downs to each other are frequent but strictly verbal. Brown and Carney may not be comedic geniuses, but they are quite funny in their own right. And they are surrounded by a strong supporting cast: Anne Jeffreys is a smarter-than-average female sidekick, while Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi make a great villainous team (I wish the identity of "The Cobra" hadn't been revealed so early, though). These two wisely play it straight - even when Atwill disguises himself as an old lady in a wheelchair! ** out of 4.
Russian Roulette (1975)
Disjointed espionage thriller improves somewhat as it goes along
George Segal is slightly out of his element in the action-spy genre, but he handles himself well enough; the major problem with "Russian Roulette" is a disjointed script, as a result of which very little happens in the film for about an hour! Once the main idea of the plot - and it's a pretty good one - is revealed, the film does improve somewhat, and there are three or four admittedly great stunts (the only memorable moments of "Russian Roulette"). Segal's co-star, Christina Raines, is pretty, she reminded me of Ali MacGraw, I wonder why she is so forgotten today. And the biggest mystery: why hire an actress of Louise Fletcher's caliber (who won the Oscar the same year for "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest") only to give her such a completely throwaway bit part? ** out of 4.
Flawed but effective spy thriller
For the most part, "Telefon" works like a well-oiled machine. It brings to mind the old saying "they don't make them like they used to anymore", as it takes its time to set up the (ingenious) story and build the relationship between the two central characters: Charles Bronson and Lee Remick have a genuine rapport, and Charlie in particular gives one of his best performances, both repeating his usual tough-and-taciturn persona and subtly having fun with it. On the side of the flaws, Tyne Daly is cute as a computer expert but her scenes don't amount to much, and there is an inexplicable scene near the end where Bronson deliberately "triggers" a sleeper Russian agent (instead of protecting him, or sending him away, or hell, even just knocking him out for a while) and then, of course, he has to kill him. I have never understood what he was hoping to accomplish there. Anyway, despite its flaws, "Telefon" is an above-average Bronson vehicle. **1/2 out of 4.
State Secret (1950)
An involving, tight little thriller that should be better known, and is in need of some print remastering (though I consider myself lucky to at least have a copy). Although the decision to open the film with a sort of flash-forward is, in this case, a questionable one, since the viewer from that point on knows that the hero will eventually get caught, writer-director Sidney Gilliat manages to milk a lot of suspense out of the situations and the incidents that occur while Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is desperately trying to escape. The fictional language created especially for this film is a masterstroke, familiar-sounding enough to be believable but also alien-sounding enough to be impossible for a foreigner like Fairbanks to understand more than a word or two. All the actors give fine performances, and there is some very well done first-person point-of-view camera-work. The ending may strike you as a little too "deus ex machina"-ish. *** out of 4.
This "Kommissar X" film abandons the spy genre and enters crime-movie territory: Joe Walker and Captain Rowland cross paths again, this time in Canada, because they are both on the trail of an escaped criminal and his two cohorts, who are looking for 3 million dollars worth of stolen jewels. The film lacks the exotic flavor of its predecessors, but it does have a more coherent plot than most of them, including a neat twist at the end. Brad Harris and Tony Kendall still have good chemistry, and their pseudo-antagonistic relationship is fun to watch. The music score is quirky, and the fight scenes are accompanied by some of the loudest punch sound effects you have ever heard. All in all, this is one of the better entries in the "Kommissar X" series - now I only have one more film ("FBI Operation Pakistan") to find to complete my collection, sadly it's also the most elusive one. **1/2 out of 4.
The Great Gambini (1937)
Static, but frequently inventive mystery-comedy
"The Great Gambini" is a static production: all the action takes place inside three locations - a nightclub and two houses. But there are also some inventive moments that probably had very rarely been seen in the movies before 1937: I'm talking in particular about the conflicting flashbacks, where we see more than one version of the same story, and the one-minute countdown to give the audience the chance to name the killer (though the on-screen text claiming "You have now been given all the vital clues to solve the mystery" is a bit of an exaggeration - for example, we had heard about the mysterious blackmailer with the initials "M.M" for the first time only a few seconds earlier!) With the exception of the bland John Trent, the cast is very fine, particularly Genevieve Tobin doing her best Gracie Allen impression (Gracie herself is even name-dropped in the dialogue), the deadpan Reginald Denny, and the frustrated police inspector William Demarest (a role that was given to him many times, for a reason - he was very good at it!) **1/2 out of 4.