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Can a reckless playboy be redeemed by true love? Will a mean capitalist
father stop his son from marrying the daughter of a generous-hearted
parson? How many cast members will be left after Reginald Barlow's Mr.
Wallace goes on another firing bender?
These are the questions in play in "His Private Secretary," a light comedy which fits in two stories within its one-hour running time. In the first half, we see Dick Wallace (John Wayne) put in a rare day of work only to discover himself smitten by that parson's daughter, Marion (Evalyn Knapp). In the second, Marion works to reconcile Dick and his father by taking a job as Daddy Wallace's personal secretary.
Daddy doesn't know who Marion really is, and she won't tell him. This sets up much of the second-half comedy that gives the film its title and much of its interest.
"Never marry a rich man's worthless son," Daddy tells her. "You'll regret it."
On the surface a pleasant curio for fans of John Wayne interested in his pre-"Stagecoach" career, "His Private Secretary" is something of a curiosity upon closer inspection. Like "Stagecoach," he's billed second behind an actress. Unlike "Stagecoach," the actress actually deserves top billing. Knapp's a pleasure to watch, and makes the most of this program-filler.
Knapp actually had recently co-starred in successful films with the likes of Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and Joe E. Brown, so it makes sense this cheapo production would tout her services over those of Wayne, who in 1934 had been reduced to Poverty Row titles like this after the abject commercial failure of his early starring vehicle "The Big Trail." It's an adjustment watching Wayne settle into his gadabout role here, and he seems only adequate, smirking to himself as he checks out various ankles and dickers with Daddy. Knapp is what sells the film, with her cat eyes and contagious exuberance.
One special scene doesn't involve Wayne at all. In it, we see Marion help a heretofore unpleasant office manager who has gotten the whack from Daddy Wallace. With a gentleness that's hard to imagine in movies today, she first manages to smooth over the boss, who has come to respect Marion in a way he does no one else, and then glides up to the office manager to tell him as obliquely as possible that he still has his job. The scene is so well acted and shot, office workers straining to listen in the background while the manager in stark close-up struggles to keep his composure, that your heart almost aches in gratitude, as silly as that may read. As good as the scene plays now, it must have been riveting in the midst of the Great Depression.
But the rest of the film, while not chaff entirely, is not nearly as fine. Director Philip H. Whitman for the most part plays this in strict by-the-numbers style, with few cuts and a lot of plot jumps. Characters and subplots are quickly introduced and abandoned after getting a chuckle or two. The last five minutes is a clear rush to get the story resolved under the wire, and really wrecks a lot of the good will established.
It's just not a good movie, but it's not really bad at all. A light tone predominates, along with a simple message of finding forgiveness and human decency that makes the experience of watching it hard to dislike. Certainly people who, like me, force themselves to watch every Wayne film they can will be somewhat impressed, if not on account of Wayne. I think I may try to watch another Knapp film before my next Wayne.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The chance to watch two future stars lock lips at their physical prime
against the backdrop of an imploding Asian nation seems a great
cinematic opportunity, but it's that emphasis that ultimately bogs down
"The Year Of Living Dangerously."
June, 1965: Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) is an Australian reporter sent on his first overseas assignment, covering Indonesia as communists and right-wing generals vie for control. He makes two important friends. Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt) is a crafty photographer whose amiable exterior hides a soul in torment. Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver) is a British embassy secretary who struggles to reconcile her sense of duty with her romantic feelings for Guy.
Gibson and Weaver got star billing, but Hunt got the Oscar. That was fair. For much of the film, it's Hunt's performance that gives us a handle on what is going on. Kwan helps Guy land a scoop interview with head Communist D. N. Aidit, all the while pushing Guy not to lose sight of the human dimension involved, the suffering of the people and the unfulfilled desire for freedom.
"Add your light to the sum of light," says Kwan.
That Hunt was a woman in a man's role gets a lot of attention, as does the fact the American plays a part-Chinese character. It's kind of pointless getting hung up on that. She's about the only thing in "Year Of Living Dangerously" that makes you care.
It's not a bad movie, just a confused one, with long slow passages where Guy and Jill make small talk amid the bamboo. In one inane sequence, they run a roadblock and are met with a barrage of automatic-weapon fire, something they treat as a lark.
I was more interested in Guy's teamwork with Billy, who uses his short stature to negotiate dangerous crowds and gives Guy the leads on important stories. "That little twerp knows everything," sneers a Washington Post reporter (Michael Murphy) who does everything but wear an ugly-American T-shirt for easy identification. Gibson and Hunt are an easy pair to like; Gibson with his put-upon mien, Hunt with her enigmatic serenity.
"Don't take it personally," Kwan tells Guy as he is menaced by an angry crowd. "You're just a symbol of the West."
"Feel more like a spittoon," Guy answers.
Eventually they fall out, over a story that Billy claims jeopardizes Jill. That Billy is angry I get, though we don't actually see Jill menaced for the information she gave and Guy seems to have no choice but to use the information. A labored connection is made between Guy's "betrayal" and a similar disillusionment Billy feels for Indonesia's embattled leader, Sukarno. Even when Billy is visited with personal tragedy, his over-the-top reaction is something even Hunt can't sell.
The music is first-rate; so is the camera-work. You know you can count on those things in a Peter Weir movie, and the celebrated director indeed delivers. There are also several small moments, like one where a corporal of the guard at a scene already awash in blood briefly menaces a pair of helpless travelers before apparently taking mercy and sending them on their way with a smile.
Too often, though, the film reaches for more than it delivers. The second half of the movie, when the romance between Guy and Jill is thickest, slows to a crawl. Putting the political intrigue in the background creates needless plot confusion just as things are reaching a boil. We don't even get to see the major crisis point in the movie, Guy getting his biggest (and last) story.
The frustration with "The Year Of Living Dangerously" is ultimately more than it can manage. While noble in its refusal to traffic easy answers (despite what others say, this is not a "good-communist" movie), there is a failure to present the questions in a clear or compelling way. Instead, it is content to reference the Indonesian art of "wajang" and employ shadow puppets in place of clearer characters or setting, a poor brush-off of the need to tell a good story.
It is perhaps appropriate that "Comanche Station" marks the end of the
run of westerns Randolph Scott made with director Budd Boetticher. Lean
and pure, it embodies the overarching thematic and moral concerns that
make their films so lasting.
We open on Jefferson Cody (Scott) riding alone through the grim dry hills of a western landscape. Suddenly surrounded by Comanche warriors, he wordlessly puts away his rifle and lays out a blanket full of goods. The Comanches offer horses; he shakes his head and makes sign he wants something else. Even when they brandish their spears, Cody is undeterred. Soon, he gets what he wants: A white woman (Nancy Gates) with a bounty being offered for her return.
The scene unfolds with little dialogue. It is six minutes before even two words are spoken in English, two more minutes pass before anything else is said. By then, we are paying close attention, to the point where a sentence becomes like a soliloquy.
The Scott-Boetticher films were always so; here it becomes almost natural. We have come to expect this sort of spartan scripting, and in Burt Kennedy we have a scripter able to make the most of very little. Sometimes it isn't what's being said, but what isn't said, that's important.
Asked by the woman if he would still want a woman after what the Comanche have done to her, Cody's answer is simple: "I loved her, it wouldn't matter." The important word here, as we come to discover, is the word that's missing at the beginning of his reply: "If."
Coming as it does at the dawn of a new decade, one to be defined by westerns of a decidedly different hue, "Comanche Station" determinedly belongs to the old camp of solid values, yet with an understanding such values aren't easy to come by. Take the main antagonist, Ben Lane (Claude Akins). Cody openly dislikes Lane, on account of a brutal attack Lane led against a village of peaceful Indians. But Lane has two companions with guns, and Cody must allow Lane to ride with him and the woman, even though Lane makes clear he has a hankering for the $5,000 bounty the woman's husband put on her return, dead or alive.
"You got a worth," Lane tells the woman with a nasty grin.
So does "Comanche Station," a worth hard to explain. Lean as it is, it's as easy to take for granted as it is to watch. You have to view it a few times to pick up on the many subtleties, like how Cody quietly works the gaps he discovers between Lane and one of his subordinates, Dobie (Richard Rust), in order to work out a method for staying alive.
Boetticher westerns often rely on the strength of its bad guys for dramatic interest; here it's Dobie that draws us in. As Cody is as taciturn as Scott usually was in westerns, you need Dobie to give us something to hold onto. But what? Dobie is stuck in a life he doesn't like, but as his partner tells him, "a man gets used to a thing." Rust sells the performance with gentle humor and an affectionate way we don't expect from a red-shirt henchman.
The film does feel like a story that has been told before. Scott and Boetticher in fact did so before, in earlier westerns that, at their best, moved with a little more vigor and bend. The deterministic quality of the plot and its characters here can be a weight when you've seen the other films, most notably "Seven Men From Now," which had a similar plot, and "Ride Lonesome," which had the same ambiguities.
But taken as a variation on a theme, and its culmination, "Comanche Station" is terrific entertainment, something to be savored as well as enjoyed. Scott would make only one more western after this, "Ride The High Country," setting up that director Sam Peckinpah on a trail entirely different from the one being rode here. But you watch close, and you can see there's a continuation between those later, darker westerns, and what you get here, an exploration of rugged individualism tested by adversity and found somehow ennobling, whatever the cost.
A film about a merry rich drunkard living a consequence-free lifestyle
in the Big City may not seem promising entertainment, yet after 20
minutes "Arthur" makes you wish they just left it at that.
Instead, you get a long, dreary tale in two parts, one a tragedy of a friendship cut short by death, the other a rom-com between the title character and a perky shoplifter who doesn't mind Arthur's alcoholic foibles given the nine-figure nest egg involved.
It all boils down to money. "I wish I had a dime for every dime I have" is how Arthur puts it.
As played by Dudley Moore, Arthur alternates between an annoyingly sad drunk and an annoying happy one. Supposedly Moore based his performance on his former comedy partner Peter Cook, a comedy genius who wound up a drunken sot and his own best audience. The first thing we hear in the movie is that braying laugh, which sounds like something which must have drove Moore crazy in a prior life. Now his pain becomes ours.
Why was "Arthur" such a big hit? The theme song topped the Billboard pop chart, it took home two Oscars, and there was even a sequel and a remake. God may not love a drunk, but someone apparently did.
One Oscar went to John Gielgud as Arthur's butler, Hobson, a font of bitter witticisms. "Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature," he tells the new woman in Arthur's life, Linda, played by Liza Minnelli. Yet we are asked to accept Hobson as the voice of human warmth otherwise missing in Arthur's life, mainly by virtue of his getting the big lines.
We are supposed to believe Arthur will give up anything and everything to be with Linda. You would think she might be someone who might have something real to pull Arthur from his chemically-induced fog. Instead, Minnelli plays her character way too much like a celebrity cameo, all exaggerated eyeblinks and cutesy asides.
Writer-director Steve Gordon seems to have had some darker subtexts he wanted to work in. For example, Arthur expresses a fondness for Soviet communism, and there's a strong sense of evil from the capitalist plutocrats who run Arthur's world. But the most Gordon gins up this way is a contrived situation where Arthur is being pressured to marry a woman whose father is set up as some kind of homicidal tycoon with a criminal reputation. Why would Arthur's ultra-wealthy, hyper-snooty family promote such a union for their fragile son?
I guess it's for the same reason Hobson has that chronic cough. We need a story to go with the punchlines. I just wish the punchlines had been better. I enjoy Moore in other roles, and he's a solid-enough improvisational actor that he makes some of Arthur's lighter scenes work here, when he doesn't overplay the tipsiness as he too often does. The main takeaway I got was of him punching well below his weight, and somehow coming up short anyway.
People defending "Arthur" say you had to be there. Take it from me, I was there. It wasn't any funnier then than it is today.
Can a real Christmas movie get made in our cynical, charm-free 21st
century? Probably not, if "Elf" is the best stab at it so far.
Up in the North Pole, Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) discovers he isn't an elf at all, but a displaced human orphan who found his way into Santa's bag at the end of a busy Christmas and was then raised in Santa's workshop. He undertakes to reconnect with his biological father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), a gruff Manhattan executive who has found his way on Santa's naughty list.
Odd to step back in time and see Will Ferrell in this early starring role, playing so resolutely to PG sensibilities that he almost seems made of gingerbread. Unless you own Keebler stock or have an aversion to watching spaghetti being eaten with maple syrup, there's little here to offend you.
Alas, "Elf" is a film that thinks it's way cuter than it actually is. The idea of hearkening back to the stop-action TV Christmas shows I grew up with back in the 1970s is pleasant enough, and so is seeing NYC all dolled up for the holidays. But the story is a one-joke premise stretched well past its limit: Ferrell doing his man-child thing wearing an elf suit in the big city.
One sequence demonstrates for me the limited nature of the film. In it, a children's book author played by another future big star, Peter Dinklage, comes to Caan's publishing house office to help concept an idea. Buddy spots him and immediately calls to him as a fellow elf, thus sparking a WWF rumble in the conference room.
Sure, Dinklage is a little person and so the joke gets a bit of a laugh, but not anything to build deeper humor from. Why not, since we know Buddy is an overgrown kid, move past that and have the two get into a spirited disagreement about kiddie fiction, or what weather conditions are like on the North Pole? Instead, it's a short joke, some mayhem, and then cue the next scene.
The film has a lot of go-nowhere moments like that, whether it's Buddy getting mistaken for a store employee at Gimbel's or Buddy's stop-motion pals on the North Pole. Caan deserves credit for playing his part with a deft lightness I wasn't expecting, and indeed most of the supporting work is fun. I especially enjoyed Bob Newhart as an especially sedate elf who looks after Buddy.
There are also some funny bits for fans of Ferrell's wilder roles. Watching Buddy get into it with a department-store Santa (Artie Lange) who he accuses of being a fraud ("You sit on a throne of lies!") is good for a few laughs, even if it devolves into another rumble. Zooey Deschanel is sweet as Buddy's left-field romantic interest, and the ending actually manages to be rousing, shot as it was literally in the ashes of 9/11.
But manipulation is kind of at the heart of this film, both when it's working and when it's not. For all his evident good taste and desire to please, director Jon Favreau seems at a loss when it comes to finding that next gear and giving "Elf" a sense of wonder or of mission. It's pleasant and light, and often amusing, but still leaves you with the feeling of a misfit toy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Lone Star John Wayne westerns are a weak series in the main; this
early effort proves no exception despite a promising opening.
Randy Bowers (Wayne) rides to an isolated saloon to talk to the proprietor, only to find him and two others shot to death inside. Moments later, the law arrives and takes a protesting Randy into custody. Can Randy clear his name and bring the true perpetrators to justice?
"You don't look like a killer," says the proprietor's niece, in what amounts to Randy's only interrogation.
"Well, I'm not," he answers. "Just give me a chance. I can prove it."
The opening sequence is a mini-masterpiece of mood setting. We see Randy enter the saloon, his face suddenly registering the carnage inside. In addition to the bodies, there's an open safe and a player piano still playing a happy tune. Real eyes follow him from the cut-out eyeholes of a portrait; next to the safe is a shot-up wanted poster with a warning: "Lay off sheriff, or you'll get the same thing..."
But director Harry L. Fraser is pretty much out of bullets after that. Instead, we are treated to a double role by George (not yet "Gabby") Hayes, as a genial mute storeowner who secretly runs the gang of villains behind the triple murder.
Why is Randy there? Why is the sheriff so quick to slip the cuffs on him? Why does the niece keep her silence about Randy's innocence? Most critically, why is the town so easily taken in by "Matt the Mute's" fake mustache, while his scowling face decorates so many wanted posters?
"Randy Rides Alone" is not a film for such introspection. It's designed as a brief boys-own escape from Depression-era miseries, with many elements that would be used in other Lone Star Wayne vehicles before and after. There are secret passages, double identities, horse chases, a lazy sheriff, and a nasty henchman, the latter two played by Lone Star regulars Earl Dwire and Yakima Canutt, respectively. Randy manages to win the girl's affections, another trope.
There are moments you feel like Fraser was having fun with the formula. The opening is unusually effective, and watching Hayes finally tire of his "Matt the Mute" charade in a showdown with the niece (Alberta Vaughn) with his last line ("No one makes a fool of Marvin Black") has a silly zest about it.
What kills the film is the outrageously slow pacing. Others point out the scenes where we have to wait for "Matt" to write out one of his messages, but the whole film moves like that, slowly and with a kind of counter-energy. Fraser may have had a talent for mood-setting, but directing for action seems beyond him.
The final showdown is a major letdown this way. We see the villainous outlaws surrounded in their hideout, and have been told the area is littered with hidden dynamite. Sounds promising, but the shooting fails to trigger any explosions and is over quickly while Randy chases Marvin/Matt for a final scene that strains credulity. Instead of escaping, Hayes' character goes back to the saloon to get the loot he believes is there, only to get a faceful of splinters for his trouble.
At least Wayne is in good form, and seems to be having fun in this B- picture outing. That's more than I could say for me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A tense standoff between two carbound people and a rabid St. Bernard is
the fulcrum of this well-acted, beautifully shot yet unsatisfying
adaptation of a minor Stephen King novel.
Donna (Dee Wallace) and her son Tad (Danny Pintuaro) are the humans trying to stave off the title character, a dog which, infected by a bat bite, has now entered shaggy Terminator status. Before we get there, though, we get some business involving Donna's problematic marriage and Tad's fear of the unknown.
"There's no such thing as monsters," Tad is told by his patient pa, Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly). "Only in stories." Especially Stephen King stories, unfortunately.
The root of the problem for the film "Cujo" is the source material. Written by King in the throes of alcoholism, "Cujo" the novel was a largely formulaic endeavor enlivened only by King's storytelling abilities and his sneaky social commentary about commercialism run amuck in a world of lost values. It's a work of craft rather than imagination, with a downbeat ending King himself encouraged the film's producers to jettison.
Unfortunately, the constraints of the film also required them to jettison the parts of "Cujo" that might have made an audience care. Vic is an advertising executive whose major breakfast cereal account is undone by too much red dye in the product, causing children to vomit red. "Nothing wrong here" is the cereal company's tag line, which in the novel becomes a motif for what happens when the unexpected invades our comfy lives.
But this isn't the book, and so here you have only nods in the direction of the cereal issue and Donna's left-field affair with a hirsute handyman (Christopher Stone, Wallace's real-life husband) before moving on to the dog attacks which is the film's reason for being.
Director Lewis Teague tries setting up a backstory in the limited time available to him, yet the whiffs of subplot wind up fluttering loose ends. Instead, you are left with the standoff for the latter half of the film. Much of the focus here is on the woman and her child, who cries and then suffers an asthma attack. Did Tad always have this condition, and if so, why isn't it mentioned beforehand?
Teague was more focused on the dog, and on his star, Wallace, who gives a fine account of a person trying to manage under great stress. Her often-harrowing scenes with Pintuaro work surprisingly well, but seeing them cooped up in her crapped-out Ford Pinto (adding new meaning to the term "unsafe at any speed") while Cujo either bides his time or leaps at the windows whenever noise sets him off becomes an unintended ordeal in tedium.
I really love the work of cinematographer Jan de Bont, who keeps us in suspense even when the screenwriters (helped by an uncredited King) provide little real action. De Bont, along with the acting, does a great deal to ground us in the reality of the moments, such as they are.
"Cujo" is a horror movie only in the broadest sense, though, with sudden scares in place of catharsis. Too much attention is paid to showcasing Wallace. One scene features her smashing a window with a revolver as she lets out an enormous scream, a bit rendered silly in slow motion.
The movie doesn't so much end as run out of time and ideas, with a final sequence that culminates in an unrealistic attack followed by a freeze-frame shot with soaring music that, like so much of the score, feels goofy and trite. The effort at emulating John Williams' "Jaws" score is "Cujo" the movie's most glaring weakness.
The book ends in a decidedly different way, and I feel strongly that the movie, for all its faults, does better here at least. But by taking an already somewhat-denuded King story and making it even slimmer in terms of human interest, "Cujo" can't help but be a let-down, a would-be satire of commercialism that winds up being too commercial itself.
Douglas Sirk and Sam Fuller. Not a likely pairing in any producer's
shortlist, the legendary director and iconic screenwriter came together
one time to show maybe why conventional wisdom has a point now and
It's the story of Griff Marat (Cornel Wilde) and Jenny Marsh (Patricia Knight), a parole officer and parolee who crime brings together, first as a matter of bureaucracy and later as outlaw lovers. It doesn't sound like a bad idea, but neither Sirk nor Fuller are at their best here.
We open on a shot of Jenny going into a dress store to purchase a new outfit. If you were expecting a car chase or a scene of Jenny's arrest, forget it. This is a Douglas Sirk film; just be glad we don't spend the next 15 minutes watching Jenny make her face.
After that, Fuller takes over with his on-the-nose dialogue. Jenny's not bad, Griff keeps insisting in his salt-of-the-earth Fuller way, she just needs a new direction. "I'm counting on her meeting some normal, decent people," which is too bad because they live in L. A.
The basic idea of the film is that love conquers all, or at least keeps one from looking both ways before crossing into traffic. This is the only rationale for Griff transforming from tough parole officer, not even looking up to greet Jenny when she first steps into his office, to cheerful chipmunk who can't wait to take the convicted killer with a chip on his shoulder to meet his blind mother and tagalong kid brother.
The performances are actually pretty good, given the dicey material. Wilde has a smooth delivery that almost sells his character despite a glaring absence of professionalism, while Knight's brittle beauty draws us in and makes us wonder about her motives. Sirk works the scenes around her, and Knight delivers when the "I'm-no-good" dialogue isn't choking her.
The best work is John Baragrey as Harry Wesson, the guy Jenny took the rap for five years ago and who still wants her, in his jaded but determined way. Baragrey delivers prime Fuller wisecracks in such a cool, off-handed manner, I kept begging for him to show up while Jenny read love poems to Marat's mom. Baragrey's smugitude is off the charts, and delightful.
"Excuse me while I push Humpty Dumpty off his wall."
No, you'll break his heart.
"That's the idea. You catch on quick, Jenny."
It's a shame Baragrey didn't get more film work. He'd be my Doe Avedon candidate for best performance in a bad film, 1949, if only for the fact "Shockproof," dull and silly as it often is, never sinks quite so low as to be called "bad." It has an energy, moving at a quick pace. The scenes of Griff and Jenny slinking through the shadows, wondering if their story made the local papers, are marvelously acted and well-shot. The problem is they come too late and don't get much time for development before everything's wrapped up in a bizarre ending.
It's the one part of the movie even supporters agree doesn't work. Here's the thing: I liked it. No, it doesn't make sense, but it breaks the formula the rest of the film so doggedly follows. Most important, it gives my man Baragrey a chance to deliver the final line, and it's a beaut.
OK, if you enjoy Sirk and Fuller, you will see things here to engage and interest you. It's not a well-made film, but it's an interesting effort, and there are scenes, lines, and moments that show you why both men would make screen history so long as they listened to the parole board and kept a healthy distance from one another.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you feel a bit done in by the patronizing ploys of others, it's
possible there's more than just "hard cheese" at work. "School For
Scoundrels" is a comedy of manners in which applicants at the title
school learn to shed some manners in order to get ahead and stay
"He who is not one-up is one-down," explains the school's headmaster, Mr. Potter (Alistair Sims), who finds in Ian Carmichael's Henry Palfrey an apt pupil. "Lifemanship is the science of being one up on your opponents at all times. It is the art of making him feel that somewhere, somehow he has become less than you less desirable, less worthy less blessed."
Palfrey, a well-meaning but inept executive, has met the beautiful April (Janette Scott). No sooner has he taken her on a date than he finds the budding relationship horned in upon by a charming cad named Delauney (Terry-Thomas), who sweeps her away with his command of a French menu and a two-seater coupe in which three's a crowd. Can Potter's school teach him a lesson in "lifemanship" and help him exact revenge?
Less a movie in a story sense, "School For Scoundrels" is a concept film in which the concept involves using ploys to keep one from getting buried by others - by burying them first. We watch Carmichael's character as he cleverly takes the lessons learned from Potter to use in his life struggle, eventually settling in on a return match against Delauney at the tennis club where he previously suffered his most piercing defeat.
Like ianlouisiana points out in an April 2009 review here, this is the sort of film Monty Python could have done a decade later, but with a heavier tread. One thing I enjoyed thinking as I rewatched this was the notion of a Python remake with Eric Idle in the Palfrey role, John Cleese as Delauney, and Michael Palin as Potter. The comedy might have been sharper and the laughs harder. But the principals in this film do work just fine.
Carmichael stretches a bit from his amiable persona to good effect, while Terry-Thomas steals every scene he's in as his character steals April. Sim had a wonderfully mordant tone, smoking his stogie and rolling his eyes as he makes Palfrey sign a check for 250 pounds, which he pontifically declares "part of the treatment."
Who was directing this movie, anyway? The credits say Robert Hamer, but he was said to have been fired for his alcoholism. I missed the gentle, twisted vibe he gave to his classic "Kind Hearts And Coronets." The tone here is a trifle disengaged, and leans heavily on the source works, a trio of comic "how-to" manuals authored by Stephen Potter. We don't see much in the way of Palfrey's transformation, just Carmichael's smirk and a wicked gleam in his eye once his one-upping bears fruit.
I found this very enjoyable, once it got past Palfrey's early miseries, and I think you will, too. However much Palfrey's tricks or ploys (the distinction may be subtle, but important to Mr. Potter) suggest social commentary in the direction of a capitalist society, the real pleasure of the film is watching him get what he's after, even if this treatment does work out in a rather pat way. Weighing in at just over 90 minutes, there's little time for soul-gazing here.
The end is the best part, again pat in a way, but giving some amusing shading to the moral questions under review. Potter finds himself in the presence of a student whose abilities at lifemanship astound even him, and the way he lets the audience in on his unease is quite funny.
Terry-Thomas fans will enjoy this especially for the way it gives T-T so much to work with, proving him a fine comic actor in his many spotlight moments. Charm may be a cheap commodity in our world, but "School For Scoundrels" shows where it has its uses.
Other reviewers are correct when they say it's setting yourself up for
disappointment watching this expecting a werewolf flick. Truth is, it's
not going to help just hoping for something good.
Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) is about to be married, but she lives with a deadly secret: That at night, she becomes transformed into a killer who is rampaging London. Her fiancé, Barry (Don Porter) is convinced she is imagining things and, failing to convince her, sets out to investigate the matter for himself by watching the estate where she lives with similarly secretive women...
Everything about "She-Wolf Of London" is wrong. The performances are stiff, the dialogue more so. Yes, it's not trying to be a horror movie, except with that title. But as a psychological mystery, it fails just as badly. The story is nonsensical and unengaging, more so after it all comes to a merciful, silly end.
Defenders point out this is a short film. But 61 minutes of watching people walk up and down stairs and across corridors is a long time. By the time the police inspector played by the familiar Dennis Hoey walks in to sort it all out, you're happy it's over but sorry he's not Graham Chapman: "No, no, this won't do. It started out an interesting idea about female werewolves, but now it's just gotten silly."
The script by George Bricker is turgid in the extreme, people talking stiffly to make up for their lack of authentic English accents. "I must be subject to spells...of insanity." "Run along and do your marketing." "Surely you don't believe those newspaper stories about werewolves. That's just sensational trash."
Sensational or not, it would be nice for some hairy beast to break into the proceedings, just to relieve the monotony. Lockhart seems poised to break out of Hollywood-ingénue mode, and she certainly looks lovely here in her resplendent youth, but the film's idea of drama is to have her furrow her brow as she lies in bed, or else blanch when a growling German shepherd comes near. Maybe a collie would have been more to her liking?
A great point made by Scarecrow-88 in a July 2008 user review here points out a missed opportunity. At one point, Phyllis tells Barry about her strange dreams of taking part in "pagan rites" and that "I assumed the form of a wolf." But we see no dream sequences or anything to give substance to this idea, which is only thrown out late in the film as a hook to hang all the melodrama upon. Instead we get shots of Phyllis looking dazed at her muddy slippers and quivering her lips at the breakfast table when talk turns to last night's murder.
Director Jean Yarbrough is too focused on keeping things formal, in keeping with the veddy English atmosphere maintained throughout. Even though the story is utterly nonsensical, there are opportunities to give it a lift. Sara Haden hovers around the impressive interior set as Phyllis's guardian, bristling effectively at the insolence of her daughter Carol (Jan Wiley) and their lone domestic, Hannah (played by the only real English person in the house, Eily Malyon), but like everyone else, she is cossetted by a story and script that insists on propriety at every turn, until we get to that ridiculous ending where instead of people walking up stairs, we get to see one running down them instead.
I won't spoil it for you, because that would require explaining it and I'm not Stephen Hawking. This is one movie that doesn't move much, and despite the elegant Universal trappings, is as empty and depressing as a jack-o-lantern a month after Halloween. Miss it and thank me for that extra hour of your life.
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