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A Dog's Purpose (2017)
A dog and his boy, a love that lasts for generations
"A Dog's Purpose" may have fallen victim to shameless political posturing, but its short life in cinemas will be forgotten once viewers experience the film without unnecessary controversy. We go inside the mind and heart of a canine named Bailey, his love for young Ethan, trained to catch a flat football by leaping off the boy's back, how he remained by Ethan's side until that fateful day when life ebbs...but that's not the end of the story, it's just the halfway mark. Bailey's second life is one of sterling character, a trained police dog who saves her master's life at the cost of her own, followed by a third in which he now has big ears and short legs, helping his owner conquer her loneliness and find true love. That brings us full circle to cycle four, a lonely existence for Buddy, who is kicked out of his loveless home only to find Ethan again, still alone and friendless. Not only does Buddy help Ethan reconnect with his long lost true love after 40 years apart, he also finds a way to convince Ethan that his beloved Bailey has come home. For this first time viewer it was a bit jarring to bid goodbye to Bailey at the midway point, but once we reconnect with Ethan (Dennis Quaid) the interest level builds again to a conclusion that no dog owner will want to miss; for viewers who don't enjoy that privilege, this is the one film that should change their minds.
Love Is News (1937)
Tyrone Power in his starring debut
1937's "Love is News" marked the second film to pair Tyrone Power and Don Ameche ("Ladies in Love" came first), but it was the first to offer Power top billing, which reportedly infuriated leading lady Loretta Young. She definitely comes off worst of the three, as heiress Tony Gateson, tiring of the gossip printed about her, getting even with hot shot reporter Steve Leyton (Power) by offering up a scoop for all the other newspapers, that she and Leyton are engaged. Naturally, this doesn't sit well with her former fiancée (George Sanders), but her uncle (Dudley Digges) plays along so far as to buy an interest in Steve's ailing paper, Don Ameche as the harried editor. The stars are able to carry the thin screwball plot, while the supporting players prove even better, in particular Slim Summerville's judge and Walter Catlett's fellow reporter. Fans of Lon Chaney Jr. will be most disappointed, as what would have been his first film under a two year contract with Fox found his role as an unbilled newsman left on the cutting room floor, a fate repeated in "Born Reckless" and "Walking Down Broadway."
The Gorilla (1939)
Going ape with the Ritz Brothers
1939's "The Gorilla" was hardly the best choice for a Ritz Brothers vehicle, somewhat reduced in stature by a complete lack of song and dance patter. Much more at home in the old dark house setting is horror veteran Bela Lugosi, able to effectively prowl with equal amounts of seriousness and bemusement as the butler Peters. His employer, Walter Stevens, is played by frequent co-star Lionel Atwill, so at least the duo lend dignified stature to the lighthearted proceedings, made well before Bob Hope's more successful remake of a similar 1920s chestnut, "The Cat and the Canary." The Ritz Brothers are still an acquired taste, but here the talented trio are handicapped by the single setting and lack of decent material to work with, snappy verbal sparring all they can muster in this one. Contrary to what is often reported, this was not in fact the last straw for the brothers at Fox, doing one final feature for Sol Wurtzel's B unit, "Pack Up Your Troubles," a vehicle for pint sized Jane Withers, leading Harry Ritz to famously quip that their careers had gone "from bad to Wurtzel!" A subsequent move to Universal fared little better, departing after only four additional titles, ironically missing out on the mystery musical "Murder in the Blue Room," which at least would have allowed them plenty of room for dancing and singing, a far more suitable vehicle than the stifling confines of "The Gorilla," a decent horror comedy but hardly the brothers at their best (it is after all hard to upstage the scene stealing Bela Lugosi). Lon Chaney Jr. had earlier appeared with the Ritz Brothers in "Life Begins in College" and "Straight Place and Show," while John Carradine earned more prestigious roles in both "Kentucky Moonshine" and "The Three Musketeers."
Straight Place and Show (1938)
Puttin' on the Ritz
1938's "Straight Place and Show" was one of the later vehicles for Fox's talented Ritz Brothers, just before their greatest triumph "The Three Musketeers," which in turn was followed by their most accessible feature "The Gorilla." Their patter here isn't as bad as some insist, but the script clearly lets them down, unable to do much to enliven shopworn material. The straight story features lovely Phyllis Brooks obsessed with her race horse Playboy, to the jealous chagrin of fiancée Richard Arlen, who bets her that if he doesn't win a race for three months running she loses Playboy to him to do with as he pleases. As one would expect, Arlen wins the bet and decides to just give away Playboy to the Ritz Brothers, a trio of pony ride barkers who figure that Playboy makes a better jumper for a major steeplechase. Phyllis manages to find the boys and become a partner in the venture, but they need $1000 for the entry fee, so Harry Ritz has to pose as champion wrestler Running Deer to win a purse to get by, probably their best scene in the film. The climactic race carries no dramatic weight whatsoever, all the riding done by stunt doubles, the brothers impersonating three crooked Russian jockeys who had planned to sabotage Arlen's riding of Playboy as one last chance to prove his love for Phyllis. Ethel Merman, ending her brief Hollywood career, gets to sing two songs, Sidney Blackmer plays wealthy gambler Lucky Braddock, and Lon Chaney (seen in the earlier Ritz comedy "Life Begins in College") gets a decent bit as Lucky's chauffeur Martin (this early scene inspires the Ritzes to go from pony rides to the race track). A disappointment even for Ritz Brothers fans, but hardly the awful film that some make it out to be. "The Gorilla" later proved an unhappy experience, confined to one setting with no song and dance patter, and after one final picture at Fox, Sol Wurtzel's B unit production "Pack Up Your Troubles," a vehicle for pint sized Jane Withers, Harry Ritz famously quipped that their career had gone "from bad to Wurtzel!" Four subsequent features at Universal failed to improve their fortunes, so they left Hollywood for good in 1944, missing out on the mystery musical "Murder in the Blue Room," which at least would have suited their talents better than "The Gorilla."
Life Begins in College (1937)
First starring vehicle for The Ritz Brothers
1937's "Life Begins in College" was the fifth feature film for the popular Ritz Brothers, but the first to offer them top billing, a shame since it must rank near the bottom of all their films. To modern viewers the story of a Jim Thorpe-type athlete of Native American heritage who becomes the star quarterback for the aging coach of Lombardy College (Fred Stone, Milburn's uncle) comes off as almost entirely humorless, weak material coupled with appalling musical numbers. Nat Pendleton does what he can as the Indian George Black, but it's an uphill battle from the start, crashing his motorcycle at top speed, being hazed by fraternity brothers, and finally joining up with campus tailors the Ritz Brothers, who have spent seven years in their shop before scoring their first customer. George turns out to be extremely wealthy, courtesy Oklahoma oil wells, and the Ritzes use his money to maintain the coach who was forced to resign, his daughter (Gloria Stuart) being romanced in dreadful fashion by the team's quarterback (Dick Baldwin), taking a seat on the bench when George proves the superior player. Later vehicles would offer the boys better opportunities than this turkey, for even the hugely talented Joan Davis is let down by her lone number, chasing after her Indian until he finally relents, to her chagrin. Small roles on the team for familiar faces like Elisha Cook and Robert Lowery, with Lon Chaney Jr. making a very brief appearance in the final moments as the bench warming Gilks, who can't get into the big game with the Ritz Brothers on the verge of losing. This appears to be the last time that Chaney adorned a football feature, after roles in "Girl O' My Dreams," "Hold 'Em Yale," and "Rose Bowl." Those game highlights are the only spark to the entire film, a look back at the early days with the single wing offense, soon to be supplanted by the T-formation that earned the Chicago Bears a 73-0 championship rout of the Washington Redskins in 1940.
Sad waste of talented veterans
1956's "Pardners" showed how the partnership of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was not only fraying at the edges, it was beginning to crumble, with only "Hollywood or Bust" ahead before they finally split. Here they finally turn to a Western spoof, and gather together an impressive cast of veteran heavies, such as Lon Chaney, Bob Steele, Lee Van Cleef, Douglas Spencer, and Jack Elam (relegated to a single line), all of whom are grievously wasted with virtually nothing to do but watch the gyrations of the tiresome Jerry Lewis. A straight prologue depicting the demise of Dean and Jerry certainly sets a grim tone for the dreary remainder, as poor Dean has to try to save Jerry's hide whenever he gets into trouble, eventually made sheriff by the main bad guy, out to steal the heroine's ranch by marrying her as a last straw. By the time the duo arrive out west to the ranch where their fathers died the picture is already half over, though not soon enough for this viewer. With really no character to play, Chaney's Whitey occasionally strokes his chin as he did opposite Bob Steele in 1939, surely a long way from "Of Mice and Men."
Daughter of the Mind (1969)
Ray Milland and John Carradine
1969's "Daughter of the Mind" was one of ABC's earliest Movies of the Week, and like so many from that first decade left an indelible impression on younger viewers, based on the 1964 novel "The Hand of Mary Constable" by Paul Gallico, best known for writing "The Poseidon Adventure." Ray Milland and Gene Tierney, reunited from 1951's "Close to My Heart," again portray a married couple, Professor Samuel Constable and his wheelchair-bound wife Lenore, being visited by an apparition which claims to be their late daughter Mary (Pamelyn Ferdin), who was killed in an automobile accident some two months earlier. Enter parapsychologist Alex Lauder (Don Murray), keeping an open mind on the supernatural, while C.I.C. inspector Saul Wiener (Ed Asner) suggests that foreign agents may be involved due to Constable's private government work. Everything is played with total conviction, keeping the audience guessing for the first two thirds, and even if there aren't any paranormal phenomena on hand it's still an enjoyable watch. Among the many guest stars present is venerable scene stealer John Carradine, around for only two minutes but making an impression on Lauder; his character, Mr. Bosch, is a lifelong illusionist who points the way to the final answer: "don't try to figure out how it was done, that's a waste of time...just start from zero and say this is the illusion I want to create, now how will I go about it?" Though only 49, the still beautiful Gene Tierney looked much older, in what turned out to be her final feature film role.
Death at Love House (1976)
Kate Jackson and John Carradine
Although broadcast on Sept 3 1976, "Death at Love House" carries a 1975 copyright, an indication that, for once, producer Aaron Spelling figured he had a real loser on his hands (this wasn't "Crowhaven Farm"). It works to some extent as nostalgia, aided by some expert casting and shooting on the fabulous Harold Lloyd Greenacres estate. What doesn't work is just about everything else, in particular the poorly filmed footage meant to be from the 1920s, which looks as modern as actress Mariana Hill, whose unspectacular career would end sooner than veteran costars Sylvia Sidney and Dorothy Lamour. Robert Wagner also looks out of place in the flashbacks, and not too well in the current storyline, leaving the dependable Kate Jackson to do all the heavy lifting, with an assist from MAUDE's Bill Macy. Wagner and Jackson are not only married, they are also collaborating on a biography of the mysterious Lorna Love (Mariana Hill), a Clara Bow-type silent screen siren adored by all, except for the few who really got to know her well before her untimely death. As movie director Conan Carroll, who had actually been in love with Lorna before she betrayed him for another, John Carradine is able to share some of his bitterness with the would-be authors before expiring near Lorna's shrine of beauty. Dorothy Lamour gets good mileage as Lorna's greatest screen rival, and ever vivacious Joan Blondell displays her darling dimples yet again as the president of Lorna's now defunct fan club. The prime cast member turns out to be Sylvia Sidney, her career actually dating back to the 20s, as the longtime caretaker of Lorna's estate, who knows just how deeply the star truly loved her departed Joel, lookalike father of Robert Wagner's character. Had there been more meat in the script we might have had reason to fear as Kate Jackson does, but Wagner's writer comes off as a cold fish, hardly worthy of any women's eternal devotion. As weak as the whole thing plays out (nothing supernatural or ghostly goings on) the climactic twist is actually worth the wait, though DARK SHADOWS veteran Kate deserved better, and had shared the screen with Carradine in one episode of her earlier triumph THE ROOKIES, just before CHARLIE'S ANGELS took off.
The Cat Creature (1973)
Meredith Baxter and John Carradine
1973's "The Cat Creature" marked the first of two collaborations between producer Douglas Cramer with director Curtis Harrington and screenwriter Robert Bloch, followed a year later by "The Dead Don't Die," each a rather obvious homage to old style Hollywood horror of the subtle kind, perfect TV fodder for the 70s. Generally regarded as the better of the pair, this item gathers together a fine cast of veterans, mostly in small roles, in an all too predictable mystery plot headlined by Stuart Whitman's lieutenant and David Hedison's archaeologist. We first encounter Kent Smith, from the 1942 "Cat People," as the appraiser who becomes the first victim of the Egyptian mummy, which assumes human form after draining the blood of its prey, a vampire that prowls the night as a black cat and not a bat. The list of casualties wipes out nearly the entire cast, each one in possession of the mysterious golden amulet that has kept the mummy's spirit from returning to life over the centuries. Keye Luke plays the thief who pawns off the amulet, Gale Sondergaard the curio dealer who dabbles in the occult when not fencing stolen goods, Milton Parsons the coroner who reveals how each corpse has been completely drained of blood, John Abbott (the title role in 1945's "The Vampire's Ghost") the scholar who discovers the translation on the coveted amulet. Peter Lorre Jr. was no relation to the late Peter Lorre, just a pretender named Eugene Weingand who fortunately went on to complete obscurity. In the central role, Meredith Baxter never seems totally comfortable, a replacement for both Diahann Carroll and Patty Duke. As the Hotel Clerk who is present for the death screams of the unfortunate thief, John Carradine is as always a delight, paired with a dwarf prostitute because the censors wouldn't allow Gale Sondergaard's character to be a lesbian!
Crowhaven Farm (1970)
Cindy Eilbacher and John Carradine
1970's "Crowhaven Farm" was among the earliest TV movies that left its mark on impressionable viewers of those many decades ago. The prolific Aaron Spelling never lost his knack for producing entertaining television, and with the small screen unable to serve up much in the way of blood or violence, subtlety was the way they had to go. A tale of witchcraft in Massachusetts seems like old hat today, but in the wake of Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" it wasn't as overexposed as it is 50 years later. Hope Lange was clearly cast against type as Maggie Carey Porter, whose presence at rural Crowhaven Farm incites memories long suppressed from a past life, sparking great success for her artist husband Ben (Paul Burke) but dire consequences for herself. The two stars are easily overshadowed by the supporting cast, in particular 12 year old Cindy Eilbacher, alternately angelic yet strangely knowing, even alluring little girl taking more than a liking to the oblivious Ben. Cindy's career was just as busy as elder sister Lisa, both of whom appeared in another TV movie of great creepy repute, 1974's "Bad Ronald." Also on hand, all too briefly unfortunately, is veteran scene stealer John Carradine, in typical form playing handyman Nate Cheever, like the girl a not so innocent presence going about his daily duties with some fiendish purpose in mind (Aaron Spelling had first used the actor on his 1959 Western series JOHNNY RINGO). It may be more effective for those nostalgically inclined, but still holds up as one of the better examples of TV terror from its first and greatest decade.