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Golden Salamander (1950)
Great Movie, No Goof
The Golden Salamander is a thoroughly engaging, high-powered entertainment from the beginning to the end. Other reviews have made this clear.
One point I should like to clear up. Since yours truly has found it impossible to navigate the trivia section to correct misinformation there, I have taken the oblique path of a review. The "Goofs" section incorrectly states that a flock of seagulls is shown to be making noise around a "body floating on top of the water", then we see that the body is actually discovered weighted at the bottom of the shallow water near the shore. In fact it not a body at the top of the water around which the seagulls were flocking, but merely the coat which had come off the body and floated to the top.
Perhaps someone better at navigating (probably intentionally) difficult sites will see this and wedge a correction though.
Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
The Gone With The Wind Of Frankenstein Movies
I must add my own two-cents worth to those others who regard Frankenstein: The True Story as the most satisfying film version of of Mary Shelly's 1818 classic. Though it is not a literal translation of the story, it captures the philosophical nature, melancholy mood and epic scope of Mrs. Shelly's novel better than any other celluloid rendition. While keeping the bare bones (no pun intended) of the novel's plot, it dances all around the original story, pulling off plot elements here and there, then sticking them back on elsewhere. For instance, Henri, in the original merely Victor Frankenstein's concerned best friend, is transformed into a mad doctor who gives Victor the monster-making knowledge. In the book Elizabeth was the ward of Victor's father, but Vic is the ward of Liz's dad in True Story. The Dr. Polidori character, played by James Mason oozing evil from every pore, was a brilliant touch, but no such character appears in the novel. Yet, there was a real-like Polidori in Mary Shelly's orbit. He was Shelly friend Lord Byron's personal physician, confidant, and dope supplier. A brilliant young man, who had already published several medical books, he tragically took his own life at age 21 -- according to some, because of his unrequited love for Mary Shelly!
True Story owes little to previous movie versions, neither the mossy old 1930's and 'forties Universal Frankenstein series or Hammer's 1950's/'60's revivals, but is a completely fresh approach. The brilliant script by Isherwood and Bachardy is almost as literary as Mrs. Shelly novel, yet even more exciting and stimulating. True Story is a splendid production, probably one of the most handsomely turned out made-for-TV numbers of all time. Period (1797 and following) sets and costumes are exquisite. The cinematography is beautiful, belying its TV origins every step of the way. Unlike most TV movies of the time and practically all current theatrical movies, it disdains the shot-a-second montage method in favor of the mise-en-scene approach -- every scene starts with a precisely composed long shot, which gradually pans in to close-up. This classic style of cinematography complements the beautiful sets, enhances the melancholy mood, and displays the humanity of the characters better than montage. Here it is used brilliantly by director of photography Arthur Ibbetson and director Jack Smight.
Frankenstein: The True Story is expertly acted by Mason, Leonard Whiting (Victor), Nicole Padget (Elizabeth), Michael Sarrizan (Creature), Jane Seymour (female creature) and the rest of a fine cast. It is dramatically engaging, thoroughly engrossing for its entire three hours, intellectually stimulating, and gorgeously filmed. A delight from beginning to end. Even Old Hollywood would have been proud to have turned out such a complete motion picture.
P.S. -- Those who are interested in learning more about that early 19th century femme fa-tale and the origin of her famous monster story would do well to read Miranda Seymour's superbly researched, highly readable biography of Mary Shelly (Grove Press, NY, 2000).
The Gentleman from Texas (1946)
Better Than Average But Incredibly Violent Johny Mack Brown Opus
No better example that Johny Mack Brown's rugged Westerns were not made for children exists than The Gentleman From Texas. This one is astonishingly violent even for one of his shoot'em-up, punch'em-down numbers. In the 55 minute running time there must be at least 30 characters killed, or approximately one every one-and-a-half minutes. Nor are the usual furniture-smashing saloon fist fights forgotten. Though Brown's and other low-budget Westerns of the 1930's and 'forties were actually aimed at uncomplicated rural adults, they were always seen and enjoyed by children -- unfortunately. Even realizing that those little snot-nosed bundles of fallen nature are born loving violence, that doesn't mean it should be encouraged in them.
That being said, this is surely one of John Mack's better efforts. Certainly not because of the unfortunate costuming choice which had him wearing the same distractingly loud checked shirt though the entire picture. Partly because of a refreshing absence of the sometimes irritating B-Western comedy relief. But mostly because of the excellent performance (both acting and singing) of beautiful, curvaceous femme fa-tale Claudia Drake, as a shady saloon girl who seems to be stuck on both her criminal boss (Tristam Coffin) and marshal Johny Mack. Likewise good support comes from Christine McIntire, as a rival floozy, and the always colorful Raymond Hatton. Charaterization is better than the average for a low-budget oater, the action scenes well brought off, and editing on the button. Well done by veteran director Lambert Hillyer.
This is a good one for those of you geezers who like yours truly will watch any Western. But don't let your grandchildren watch it!
Private Hell 36 (1954)
Waiting For This Picture To End Is The Private Hell
A standard movie critic's cliché is "Good cast tries hard but can't overcome the material." That is the case with bland 1954 cop drama Private Hell 36, but with the added debacle of Ida Lupino struggling to overcome her own lousy script! The dialog is particularly bad. What may have been a misguided attempt at give the characters' lines an every-day realism succeeds so well it is downright boring. Director Don Seigel blamed it on drinking and other misbehavior on the set by Lupino, her co-screenwriter and ex-husband Collier Young, who also produced, and dissipated co-star Steve Cochran. For all that it doesn't seem much worse to yours truly than Seigel's average output, which except for his magnum opus Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956), never rose much above mediocrity.
Don Seigel has a worshipful following amongst devotees of the auteur philosophy that seems all out of proportion to his modest accomplishments. He was an auteur for whatever that's worth all right in the sense that the pictures he directed show his imprint. Unfortunately that imprint is boring, predicable, and lacking in artistry. Which describes Private Hell 36.
With no sure direction the unusually competent actors founder. Cocharan sleepwalks through it. Conversely Howard Duff overacts to the blood vessel popping point. Poor Lupino seems to get more and more hysterical as the doings progress without her finding a line of her own writing into which she can infuse any drama. Beautiful, talented Dorothy Malone, miscast as cop Duff's drab housewife, stumbles through the proceeding with a "what am I doing here?" look. Only ever-reliable Dean Jagger, as the Police Captain, shows any life, and the picture perks up only when he's on screen. Even the cinematography by Burnett Guffey, who had just won an Accademy Award for his camera work in From Here To Eternity (1953), is bland and lacking artistry. Guffey and Seigel show little imagination in using the wide screen, simply centering the characters in the 1.85:1 frame or overusing giant closeups of faces.
Others liked this picture, but yours truly and the grouchy old wife can't figure out why. She bailed out before the halfway point. Unfortunately oldblackandwhite is one of those self-flagellating types who has to watch on the the bitter end no matter how bad. Private Hell 36 is lifeless, draggy, talky, predicable and just plain bad. An awful waste of a talented cast and also a waste of whiskey if drinking a lot of same on the set is what Ida and her pals believed was the key to movie-making. Only for die-hard fans of Ida Lupino and rock-hard, desperate insomniacs. Others should avoid it as if it were and amateur barber friend with a new set of clippers.
Raft Is One Tough Mamma's Boy In Polished 'Forties Thriller
Nocturne is an atmospheric, entertaining noir/mystery thriller starring taciturn George Raft as a suspended Los Angeles police detective obsessed with proving an apparent suicide was actually a murder. During the course of his investigation, he gets to check out a covey of beautiful dames, as the murder victim was a Lothario par excellence. Even with the list narrowed down, figuring out which babe is the real femme-fa-tale may be the key to the mystery. Was it beautiful, buxom Lynn Bari, leggy, glamorous singer Virginia Huston, or some other honey -- you can't even trust the cleaning lady in this one! Wise-cracking, live-in maid Myrna Dell may have been more and known more than she lets on. Never mind the detective lives with his mother. He probably couldn't have supported the old bingo babe in the style she wasn't accustomed with separate digs on his salary. Mamma's boy or not, he's tough enough for the physical and emotional poundings he will have to go though before he gets to the bottom of this convoluted mystery.
Nocturne is stylishly directed and sensuously filmed by all-purpose director Edwin L. Marin and veteran cinematographer Harry J. Wild with classic noir atmosphere so thick they could have bottled it. Top screen writer and sometimes mystery novelist Jonathan Latimer provides crackling, tough dialog while managing all the taut twists and turns of the Frank Fenton/Rowland Brown story. Marin was equally at home directing mystery thrillers like this, Ann Sothern's light comedies, or some of Randolph Scott's better westerns -- see my review of Fort Worth (1951). Nocturne is one of several collaborations between Marin and Raft, and they seemed to bring out the best in each other. The dark, intense, scene with Raft at the window curtains of the photographer's house is a text book example of noir cinema.
Much ink -- far too much in fact -- has been spilled on this forum labeling George Raft a stiff, even a bad actor. All unfairly. Raft was a stone face to a certain extent all right, but that fit the characters he played -- and his fans liked. Nevertheless he said a lot with is eyes, inflections of his slightly nasal Lower-East Side Manhattan voice, and an enigmatic half-smile. Such a stoic style was admired in men of the 1940's, who regarded "wearing your emotions on your lapel" as unmanly, self-centered, and ill-mannered. This is of course a concept alien to the typically self-absorbed Baby Boomers and their strange hatchlings Gen-Xers, who spend practically every evening examining their navels then all the next day spilling their guts about it to whomever will listen.
George Raft was actually a pretty good actor. And Nocturne is an excellent noir/mystery -- atmospheric, thrilling, dramatically engaging, dark, mysterious, exotic, and ultimately satisfying. Top drawer entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era.
Rod Cameron Dodges Hot Lead, Flying Fists, Stampeding Cattle, Even Dynamite, But Not....
...Gale Storm's size 5 pointy-toe boots on the shin, Ouch! All this in Allied Artist's rock'em-sock'em 1949 western Stampede. Allied Artists, not to be confused with United Artists, was an outgrowth of cheap movie font Monogram, a new label for the modest production company's more expensive pictures. While the budget for Stampede was no doubt comfortably below that of the $1,200,000 layout for the company's critical and financial hit of 1947, It Happened On Fifth Avenue, this highly entertaining western nevertheless qualified as a medium or "B-plus" production. But director Lesley Selander and producer Blake Edwards, who also co-scripted, were a pair who knew how to make every available dollar count. Selander was a veteran of dozens,(eventually over a hundred) B-grade westerns and other programmers starring the likes of Tim Holt, William Boyd, and Gene Autry, while Edwards would later gain fame and considerable fortune with the popular Peter Gunn television show and the fabulously successful Pink Panther series of feature pictures. No wonder Stampede comes off a tightly-knit, impressively filmed, dramatically engaging, outdoor picture of the type highly satisfying to the western aficionado.
The plot, cattlemen versus homesteaders, could be labeled western scenario #6, but who cares -- there hasn't been a new story since 33 A.D. It's the treatment that counts, and it is very well done here with a number of intriguing twists and some unexpected turns. Tall, raw-boned Cameron plays a cattle baron, so hard-nosed in resisting the homesteaders who have legally bought land he had regarded as his range, that he comes off almost an antihero in the opening reels. Diminutive Gale Storm plays the feisty homesteader tomboy who provides his formidable opposition, and of course his eventual love interest. Good support comes from Johny Mack Brown as a sure-shot sheriff friendly to the cattleman, Don Castle as Cameron's happy-go-lucky brother, Jonathan Hale as the cattleman's fair-minded attorney, with John Miljan, Donald Curtis, and John Eldridge as a trio of shady land dealers stirring up trouble.
Much of the considerable entertainment value of this modest western come from the intelligent script by Edwards and John C. Champion, with well-developed characters and lots of snappy, colorful dialog, especially the sharp exchanges between Storm and the two cattlemen brothers. Black and white cinematography by Harry Neumann is first rate. The brutal fist fight segueing into a gunfight and back again to a fight fight inside a dark stable qualifies as a minor masterpiece of action filming. The starkly lighted, obliquely angled shots in this an other night scenes demonstrates how what is now known as the film noir style, all the rage in the late 1940's, filtered down even to unpretentious westerns.
Stampede is an action packed, dramatically engaging, beautifully filmed, smoothly edited western. Top notch entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era.
The Dawn Trail (1930)
Well Turned Out "B" Western
In well-mounted early talkie "B" Western, Dawn Trail, Buck Jones plays a good-natured sheriff caught between mutually hostile and well-armed camps of cattlemen and sheepherders. The lawman's situation becomes even stickier when he has to arrest the boozy brother of his pretty fiancé (Miriam Seegar) for the murder of a sheepherder. The big rancher father of fiancé and brother, played by stalwart character actor Erville Anderson, marshals a small army of cowhands to break the bad boy out of jail. All the while a showdown over water rights between the hell-bent cattlemen and the equally obstreperous sheepherders is coming to a boil.
Dawn Trail is very serviceable little Western in spite of being plagued by all the creakiness of early sound movies, such as the hum of the sound camera's motor heard in the background and players having to speak unnaturally distinctly for the benefit of the primitive microphones. There is lots of action, but with a minimum of bloodshed and other violence. Characterization is quite good. As with all good stories, the well-developed characters drive the plot, rather than being manipulated by the plot, as in cheap potboilers. No doubt this picture was produced on a relatively small budget, but it was well used. Costumes are colorful and authentic-looking, though Jones' hat is about the size of a beach umbrella, and some the the women's outfits betray the influence of the late flapper era in which the picture was produced. Sets are likewise well-turned, especially the rancher's Victorian house. Credit prolific director Christy Cabanne and a solid cast for acting above the usual low standard for little Westerns. Tall, muscular, masculine and mild-mannered, Buck Jones was a handsome cowboy hero. Obviously an expert horseman, he once had his own Wild West show, and he even knew how to shoe a horse!
Dawn Trail is an exciting, dramatically engaging, and colorful Western. Not a great one, but solidly entertaining. Lots of little atmospheric touches. Get an eyeful of the saloon floozy's dance in the opening scene! If you love Westerns from the classic, era you will eventually run out of "A" Westerns you haven't seen. There is, however, a huge trove of little "B" programmers to draw from, and Buck Jones' pictures are a cut above the rest.
Flight to Mars (1951)
Flight To Mars Has Only Six Things Going For It
...Marguerite Chapman's legs, Lucille Barkley's legs, Virginia Huston's legs. Sexy space tootsies provide the principle interest in slow, talky space opera Flight To Mars. Unfortunately the first half of the running time is spent on the space flight itself before we get to see the shapely Chapman in the sexiest space babe outfit this side of Devil Girl From Mars (1954 -- see my review). She and her fellow Martian honeys seem to be what keeps the dying Red Planet alive, along with a phony element that has a goofy name sounding something like Congoleum.
The Rocketship crew, which crash-lands on Mars, is led by the ever earnest Arthur Franz and an embarrassed looking John Litel. Cameron Mitchell plays a reporter along to observe the expedition, but he mostly just observes the comely Ms. Huston. Almost as soon as contact is made with the underground-dwelling Martians, the dull, unromantic Franz surprisingly becomes the love object of the hot, hot, hot Chapman. The Martian leadership headed by the formidable Morris Ankrum, later a Perry Mason judge, helps rebuild the spaceship, supposedly so the earthlings can return home, but the Martians all along plan to seize the rocket when it is finished. But nothing much in the way of action comes of this plot -- just talk, talk, talk. They missed a wonderful opportunity to have what could have been a swell cat fight, when Barkley, suspecting Chapman had joined the earthlings, followed her down he hallway to spy on her. Instead of tackling the leggy Chapman herself, Barkley calls for a couple of burly male Mars henchmen to nab her. Oh, well, Barkley wouldn't have stood much of a chance anyway, as Chapman was much bigger and had showed herself to be one heck of a mean, tough femme fa-tale in Mr. District Attorney (1947).
But I'm making this turkey sound like more fun than it is. In fact Flight To Mars is cheap, tacky, prolix, and boring. Only for geeky students of 1950's Si-Fi, fans of the under-appreciated Marguerite Chapman (which obviously includes yours truly), and desperate insomniacs. Others should avoid this picture as if it were a hypochondriac friend wanting to tell you about her latest medical procedure.
Stiff Upper Lip From Beginning To End
Many thanks to the other reviewers who have clued us in that Maxwell Reed, leading man of Blackout, was attempting to put on an American accent. Yours truly and the grouchy old wife were speculating on what nationality he was -- perhaps Canadian. His lingo didn't sound like any of the usual British accents, yet he certainly did not sound like an American of any known species. Actually there is no one "American" accent, but at least two dozen distinct dialects. My home state of Texas can account no less than six regional variations on the "Taxsun" dialect, which some people think should be regarded as a separate language -- especially damn Yankees who have recently relocated here. But I digress. Reed's attempt to sound like an American, if that is really what he was trying to do for whatever reason, was quite pathetic. He just sounded like and Irishman with a bad head cold.
No one would ever mistake Maxwell Reed or any other Britisher for an American. Yours truly and the grouchy old lady, as we watch these quota quickies and other British productions, always marvel at how this bunch speaks English, yet is no more like us Americans than Italians or Spaniards or Croats. There can't be any other race anywhere as wooden as the British. Stiff upper lip? They're stiff from head to toe! You have to wonder how they know when it's time to bury one of them. And Maxwell Reed was surely one of the stiffest of the stiff! In no scene of Blackout can he be detected moving any of his facial muscles more than one sixteenth of an inch. Leading lady of Blackout, Dinah Sheridan was not far behind. How does a director direct them to act when none of them would show any more emotion for a hurricane than for a hangnail? Not to say that there were not excellent British actors. But most of them, such as Ronald Coleman, David Niven, Merle Oberon, Greer Garson and Herbert Marshall, were usually to be found in Hollywood. If Reed and Ms. Sheridan had ever relocated to that land of big productions and high salary, it is unlikely either would have ever risen much above the level of bit player.
Not that we don't enjoy the occasional product of Albion's cinema. For all its shabby production values and bland acting, Blackout was not such a bad little crime thriller. Pacing was a bit of a problem. Everything rolled along at a continuous breakneck speed with no chance to catch your breath or reflect on the doings. Perhaps they were afraid of running out of film. The score was just background music which did little to enhance the drama or action and was quite irritating at times. However, the cinematography, as with most of these Brit pence-pinchers, was very decent, while the story and the action kept your attention. Enjoyable if you are in the right mood.
Fingerprints Don't Lie (1951)
Cheap Production Values Don't Lie
Which is not to say that entertaining, even good-looking pictures couldn't be made economically during the Classic Era. But there is a level below which the cheapness of production will betray even the best of stories and a solid cast. Fingerprints Don't Lie sinks as far below that point of no return as possible. Not to imply that a good story or a competent cast was around for the atrocious production values to betray. This astonishingly awful picture features one of the most ignominious displays of tacky sets peopled by seedy actors in the history of cinema.
Richard Travis, the tenth magnitude star of this Z-grade cops-and-robbers programmer was a wooden actor at his best. Here, under the inept direction of Sam Newfield, Travis and rest of the cast turn into a virtual petrified forest. Cimematogaphy, as well as direction, is remarkably bad. A single camera simply follows the actors around the small, shabby sets, or sits still as they stand stiff as manikins blankly reciting the dull dialog. Instead of springing for a decent orchestral score , cheap, tightwad producer Sigmund Neufeld settled for a weird, screechy, and very irritating organ accompaniment, which at times when there was no dialog made it seem like watching a silent movie -- a very, very bad one. Speaking of irritating, Sid Melton in what was presumed to be comedy relief, was excruciatingly irritating as he pulled the same unfunny camera gag over and over.
Not even the presence of veteran character actor, Lyle Talbot could save this turkey. Nor could frequent shots of a certain buxom, Swiss model and Burlesque queen in a two-piece bathing suit. Oldblackandwhite is too much the gentleman of the old school to blacken the names of any of the lady players by connecting them in print to such a shamefully awful picture as Fingerprints Don't Lie.
Cheap, dull, slow-moving, lifeless, even stupid, this movie is a serious stinker! Not recommended even for the most abysmally desperate insomniacs or even those peculiar old ladies who will watch practically any mystery. All involved in this wretched production from producer and director down to prop man and gofer should be ashamed of it. Come to think of it, why am I reviewing it, when I should be ashamed of watching it? Uhg!!!!