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Stampede (1949)
Rod Cameron Dodges Hot Lead, Flying Fists, Stampeding Cattle, Even Dynamite, But Not...., 11 December 2014
8/10

...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.

Well Turned Out "B" Western, 6 November 2014
7/10

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.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Flight To Mars Has Only Six Things Going For It, 1 August 2014
5/10

...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.

Blackout (1950)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Stiff Upper Lip From Beginning To End, 2 April 2014
6/10

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.

Cheap Production Values Don't Lie, 26 March 2014
1/10

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!!!!

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Forgotten 'Forties Western Stylish And Entertaining, 8 August 2013
8/10

Fury At Furnace Creek is a richly textured Western from 1948 starring charming second-tier leads Victor Mature and Coleen Gray. The mid to late 1940's, the Golden Era of Hollywood movies, produced such Western Classics as Red River (1948), My Darling Clementine (1946), and San Antonio (1945) (see my review). While not in a league with those blockbusters, this picture reaps the benefits of a big studio industry that was at the absolute peak of movie-making artistry. Though a medium budget picture, it gets the same glossy production values as any top-dollar 20th Century Fox number.

Mature and second lead Glenn Langan play long-estranged brothers uneasily reunited in a effort to clear their late Army General father of charges he caused an Indian massacre. Ms. Gray, as a pretty, but spunky diner waitress whose enlisted man father died in the massacre, makes a lovely romantic interest for the appealingly laid-back Mature. Formidable villainy is provided by Albert Dekker as a suave crime boss with henchmen Roy Roberts, Fred Clark, and the ever sinister Charles Stevens. Stevens, who claimed to be the grandson of Geronimo, was an asset to any Western. With his beady eyes, his weathered ferret-like face, and his wiry, stooped physique, he seemed the quintessential Western villain. Reginald Gardiner plays a pivotal supporting role as an alcoholic retired Army captain possibly involved in a conspiracy to frame the General.

Though director Bruce Humberstone directed only two other Westerns, he nevertheless shows a nice touch for the genre here, getting fine performances out of a diverse cast and brilliantly setting up the scenes for some dazzling cinematography. He and film editor Robert L. Simpson move along the critically acclaimed Charles Booth/David Garth story with silky smooth scene transitions and nary a wasted camera shot in a lean 88-minute running time. The colorful score, credited in the movie's opening graphics to Alfred Newman, not David Raksin as IMDb indicates, consists mostly of pervasive period honky-tonk music but works quiet effectively. Sets are lavishly detailed and costumes are colorful and authentic looking. All of which along with intelligent, colorful dialog, and Harry Jackson's stylish cinematography creates a rich, layered, ambiance. The style of Jackson's atmospheric cinematography, abounding with night scenes and starkly shadowed, obliquely angled camera shots, shows the influence of the dark, Gothic crime melodrama, now known as film noir, which was all the rage of the late 1940's. Look for some some real knock-out camera work in this modest Western, particularly the following: 1) a lengthy sequence of panicked Garder stalked through, dark streets, boardwalks, and alleys by Stevens -- 2) a shot of Mature descending a stairway viewed between the silhouetted hats of the two villains watching him -- 3) in the final reel horseback chase a pose of villains galloping across the top of a rugged cliff while the two fleeing brothers ride parallel to them at the bottom of the cliff, all in the same frame. And surely the climatic shoot-out scene in the ruins of the old fort accompanied by whistling wind, tumbling tumbleweeds, and screeching gate hinges, has served endless inspiration for a later generation of Spaghetti Western directors.

If you are a Western fan, or just a fan of classic movies, don't miss this one. Fury At Furnace Creek is a skillful blend of drama, intrigue, and action, exciting, atmospheric, and engaging from beginning to end. First-rate Western entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Years.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Lost Italian Comedy Needs Rediscovery, 26 March 2013
8/10

The Little Nuns is a delightfully funny comedy, one of the best and brightest from Italy's golden age of comedy, the 1960's. Unfortunately it seems to be almost unknown now, at least in the English-speaking world.

The nuns in a rural Italian convent are being driven to distraction by the noisy commercial jet aircraft flying overhead, disrupting the classes in their orphans school. The vibrations are even damaging the ancient fresco of their patron saint. When it is discovered the convent owns a single share of stock in the offending airline, two nuns are dispatched to the airline's next stockholder's meeting in Rome. The naive sisters may not understand the worldly ways of the city, but they have very decided notions about the way things should be. Their innocent misadventures make life hilariously miserable for the sophisticated CEO of the airline (Amedeo Nazzari) just as effectively as if they had really intended it. International beauty Catherine Spaak, uncharacteristically well covered in a traditional nun's habit, shines as the formidable Sister Celeste. Nazzari, who seems to have been in every other Italian movie of this period, though in his fifties, was still a robust, handsome man with a remarkable resemblance to Errol Flynn. His suave, urbane demeanor made him the perfect straight man for this genteel farce.

I caught The Little Nuns a couple of times back in the 1980'a on something like the Late, Late, Late, Desperate Night Owl Theater. There appears to be no DVD of this minor classic, and that's a shame. The Little Nuns is a delightful, lively, charming, little madcap comedy from an Italian cinema industry which was turning out first class entertainment at a time when Hollywood had almost forgotten how.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Around The World In 30 Minutes -- Courtesy Warner Bros B-Unit, 19 February 2013
8/10

Back in Jules Verne's steam-powered 19th Century, a trip around the World in only 80 days was considered astounding. In 1924 two U. S. Army aviators managed it in a new world record of 15 days, 11 hours. But that was nothing! In 1937 Warner Brothers second feature Fly-Away Baby, Glenda Farrell as irrepressible, smart-girl reporter Torchy Blane zips around the world in less than 30 minutes, using only the final half of the fast-moving, action-packed one-hour movie. All done with stock footage of the vehicles used and still pictures or footage of the various cities Torchy passes through, the mood for each locale set with appropriate regional music. All the while, a bold line meanders across a map of the Pacific Ocean, Asia, and Europe with the shadow of an airplane following along, motors humming. Lengthy scenes in Honolulu and Stuttgart are economically but artfully dispatched with small sets and back-projection. You may be so swept away by this Old Hollywood magic, and so absorbed into this engrossing, lightning-paced mystery pot-boiler, you will feel as if you've actually been to San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Suttgart with Torchy. And wow! what a window into time! You get to see file footage of a huge China Clipper taking off from a choppy sea, a gigantic Zepplin majestically gliding though the clouds, and a shot of the yet unfinished Golden Gate Bridge -- not to mention the usual swarms of square-top, spoke-wheel automobiles to be seen careening about the streets of 1930's motion pictures.

The Torchy Blane series was a chance for reliable Warner supporting players Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane to strut their stuff in lead roles for a change. And they both shine! He's Torchy's tough cop boy friend Steve McBride, who needs her help to dope out the cases he's not sharp enough for. At least that's the way she tells it. Fly-Away Baby has the crime-solving duo after a diamond thief/murderer. The main suspect (Gordon Oliver), who is a columnist of a newspaper rival to Torchy's, is making an around-the-world promotional trip. Torchy and Steve suspect the crook will try to sell the hot diamonds somewhere along the way, so Torchy convinces her own newspaper publisher (Henry Davenport) to spring for her to follow along in what is promoted as an "around the world race." Hugh O'Connell provides sophisticated comedy relief as another reporter in the so-called race. A dandy with a rich wife, he's always bragging to his no-class cronies about spending her money and playing around on her. Little does he know his suspicious spouse has hired Steve's muddled, philosophical driver Gahagan (Tom Kennedy) to tag along and keep an eye on him. Steve joins Torchy in Stuttgart, where another murder takes place, then they take off aboard the Zepplin for the final leg of the journey and the exciting denouement. The airship scenes are very impressive for a B-movie.

Fly-Away Baby is not quite so good as the first in the Torchy series, Smart Blonde (1937) (see my review). But Smart Blonde was something special, really a tough act to follow, and Fly-Away Baby is still wonderful. Fast-talking, fast-moving, breezy, funny, engaging, exciting, beautifully filmed, and expertly acted, especially by the two charming leads -- a delight from beginning to end. All handsomely wrapped up in polished production values only a slice below what you would expect from one of Warner Brothers' top "A" pictures. Director Frank McDonald, a career B-picture specialist, and film editor Doug Gould pack so much action into sixty minutes of running time, it's like five gallons of slick, smooth Classic Hollywood entertainment concentrated into a half-pint movie!

It's never ceases to amaze how the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out these minor masterpieces while bringing to bear only a fraction of their available resources.

Muddled 3rd Rate Detective Yarn Hard To Resist, 1 January 2013
6/10

Like the Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers "B" detective thriller Find The Blackmailer involves a search for a black bird. Here the resemblance ends. In this case the black bird, rather than a jewel-encrusted statuette, is absurdly a talking crow, which can put the finger on the detective's client for a murder. Honestly! Not as bad as it sounds, but not Golden Era Hollywood at its best either.

The principle attractions of this picture are the unusual and charming casting of Jerome Cowan in the lead role as the tough if somewhat bumbling detective and some stylish noir cinematography by James Van Trees. Cowan is ably supported by the ever reliable Gene Lockhart as his blackmailed politician client, Margorie Hoshelle as his breezy, underpaid secretary, and second-billed Faye Emerson as a nasty femme fa-tale. The script is muddled, ridiculous, and padded out with a lot of meandering, unnecessary action. It looks as if director D. Ross Lederman was struggling to squeeze out the required 55-minute running time. If his picture had been tightly edited, it could have easily run only 40 minutes without losing anything. Dialog is cliché-ridden, but fun. Just about every wise-crack and every colorful slang term from every detective, mystery, cops-and-robbers picture from the previous decade as been gathered for recycling in Find The Blackmailer. Surly this picture was meant to be a spoof. Big hint -- the detective's name is Trees, same as the cinematographer. Or does that just mean they were making up the script as they went along? This suspicion will creep in from time to time as you watch the strange proceedings. Never mind, just relax and enjoy. You can't be expected to figure it out if it doesn't make sense. And it most assuredly does not. Cowan's character is more humorous that tough. Cowan didn't have a muscle in his body, but he still manages to get tough when needed by keeping his hand on the .32 automatic in his coat pocket. But mostly he just cracks wise and grins through his trademark pencil-line mustache.

But not so bad for all that. As yours truly has stated elsewhere about other, better second features, the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out good-looking, entertaining pictures while only half-way trying. In Find The Blackmailer it looks as if they didn't try much at all, yet it still turned out a watchable, even enjoyable picture -- if you're in the right mood.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Little Programer Packs A Big Punch, 29 December 2012
8/10

Dynamite comes in small packages. Which describes both short "B" second feature Smart Blonde and its cute, perky star Glenda Farrel as Torchy Blane. Initial entry in the highly successful Torchy Blane series, Smart Blonde runs on open throttle for its entire 59 minutes. It is smart, tough, breezy, lightning paced, with funny, snappy dialog delivered incredibly fast. This picture is nothing if not fast-talking. Glenda Farrell reportedly could speak 390 words per minute, and she demonstrates it throughout. But co-star Barton MacLane, who plays her tough cop boy friend Steve McBride, may actually have surpassed her in the motor mouth department in a couple of scenes. Most of the other Runyonesque characters in this entertaining mystery do likewise. If all the dialog in this movie had been delivered at a normal cadence, the running time would have been at least twenty minutes longer. This picture along with other Warner Brothers gangster movies of the 1930's makes you wonder if the studio had a course in fast talking for its stock players.

Stock players were exactly what Farrell and MacLane were. Usually in supporting parts, she the hard-boiled broad, he the burly, loud-mouthed gangster or cop. But the Torchy series gave both a chance to use their special talents in leading rolls, and both made the best of it. The pair had crackling chemistry together, with cozy affectionate interludes only occasionally breaking their constant rat-a-tat wise-cracking. Torchy is a smart girl reporter who solves the cases Steve isn't sharp enough to dope out on his own. At least that's the way she sees it.

Farrell and MacLane get solid support from a crew of other Warner Brothers stock players, especially Addison Richards as a shady, but on-the-level night club/race track operator around whom the murder mystery swirls, Wini Shaw as the beautiful singer who loves him, and Charlotte Wynters as the high class dame he loves. This role as a tough, but likable borderline hoodlum was a real change of pace for Richards. In 400 movie and television appearances from the 1930' to the 1960's the tall, lanky actor rarely played other than judges, district attorneys, doctors, high ranking army officers, and other dignified types. MacLane may have showed good chemistry with the pretty, vivacious Farrell, but it was Charlotte Wynters who became Mrs. Barton MacLane about a year after Smart Blonde's release.

Smart Blonde is a delightful, stimulating little mystery potboiler, full of plot twists, intrigues, and explosive bursts of action. Characterization is colorful and well developed. As a big studio "B" picture, the sets and cinematography are nearly as good as in one of Warner Brothers' top productions. Director Frank McDonald, a life-long "B" picture specialist, keeps all on target throughout. To compress all that happens in the story into less than an hour running time, even considering the machine gun dialog delivery, should rate as a masterpiece of film editing for Frank MaGee. Acting was first rate all around but especially from the two likable leads.

An enduring example of how the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out good looking, entertaining pictures when only half-way trying.


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