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I also write for Influx Magazine--where many of my opinions and reviews are also posted.
Confidential Agent (1945)
Often, in the good old days of classic Hollywood, folks were oddly cast and occasionally accents simply made no sense at all. A couple examples that come to mind are Barbara Stanwyck in "The Plough and the Stars" where she didn't even try to do the appropriate Irish accent and Katharine Hepburn with her pathetic attempt to be Chinese in "Dragon Seed"! Here in "Confidential Agent", A French actor (Charles Boyer) is supposed to be a Spaniard visiting Britain, where very, very few of the folks sound British! The silliest was Lauren Bacall...who sounds about at British as fondue. Overall, it's like accent goulash and certainly is a strike against the movie at the onset.
This film is set just before WWII begins. Luis (Boyer) is in Britain to try to raise money for the cause of the Spanish Republic (the folks who were fighting against Franco and the Nazis). However, throughout his mission, he's attacked, beaten up and shot at....so all in all, he's NOT a happy man! Along the way, he meets up with Rose (Bacall) and together they have less chemistry than most folks have with their proctologists! As a result, it's an amazingly dull film...one that sure could have been a lot better and had more energy. The only thing I DID like was Peter Lorre playing a wonderfully pusilanimous character who is about to be shot near the end...that was pretty good. Of course, Lorre is another actor wasn't the least bit British but was Slovakian!
By the way, the same studio (Warner) also made "Fallen Sparrow" with a similar sort of plot. It was far better and more effective....though that isn't saying much considering I only score "Confidential Agent" a 3...which is sad, as I love Boyer films normally.
Viva Max (1969)
Well, my parents loved it when it debuted.
The story is about a crazy Mexican, General Santos (Peter Ustinov). He's in command of a few dozen men and tells them they are heading up to Laredo, Texas for a parade. Little do any of them but his second in command (John Astin) know but his plan is to retake the Alamo! Soon, they have secured this National Monument...and the locals are all at odds as to what to do. Little do either side know that their respective troops have no bullets.
I remember when I was a little boy that my parents saw this film and talked on and on and on about how funny it was. Now, almost five decades later I'm getting around to seeing it. Overall, I am not so sure why they thought it was so funny. I'm not saying it was bad...but don't quite understand why they loved it so much. Perhaps it was just something about 1969. Now I am not saying it's bad...but I was left wondering why the film wasn't funnier. The premise sure sounded fun.
By the way, it would have been nice if perhaps some Mexicans had actually played the Mexicans...such as Cantinflas playing the General or his aide.
Chaplin's Goliath (1996)
Mildly interesting and really only for big fans of the big man and his films.
Eric Campbell is a footnote in the history of Hollywood as well as slapstick comedies. This is meant as no insult. He only made 11 films with Charlie Chaplin as his large and angry nemesis and died at the height of his fame....and it's not surprising that today practically no one has heard of him. Additionally, while this documentary doesn't mention him, Campbell's role was supplanted by Mack Swain after Campbell's death and most Chaplin lovers today remember this rotund American instead of the Scottish Campbell. This is no insult...just facts. But these facts also make this documentary about Campbell a bit problematic. His career was short and he's been dead 99 years. So what more can you say about the guy?!
While this film is reasonably well made, it is DEFINITELY a niche documentary. People who don't love Chaplin will likely be bored or unimpressed and it's clearly for his fans and fans of slapstick in general. Worth seeing...at least for the initiated. The fact that it's recently come to Netflix is a bit of a surprise, though I am happy as I am a HUGE fan of the silent comedies.
Public Defender: End of the Line (1955)
One of the better entries in the series.
This is a very unusual episode of "Public Defender" because instead of starring Reed Hadley as the Public Defender, he mostly watches as an elderly member of his department, Jesse (John Miljan) approaches retirement. However, Jesse does NOT want to retire and fights the inevitable...and he doesn't want to retire after losing his final case. So, he convinces his boss to let him take one more case--a case very much modeled after the New Testament of the Ungrateful Servant (also called the Ungrateful Debtor). In this case, a man uses very bad judgment and borrows something without getting permission to take it. Now he has every intention on bringing it back and there are extenuating circumstances...and it would be a shame for this young guy to go to prison for being stupid. But, try as he might, Jesse is having a devil of a time getting the man who owned the equipment to drop the case...even when Jesse reminds him of a similar situation which occurred many year ago...involving the two of them.
This is an exceptional episode made all the better by Miljan. Although he's not a household name and was mostly a supporting actor in the 30s and 40s, he was excellent in the part. And, the episode was very well written and compelling.
Danger on Wheels (1940)
Pretty crappy...even for a B.
crappy rear projection lucky is obnoxious
"Danger on Wheels" is a cheap B-movie, and Richard Arlen made a ton of them. However, the film is different in that although it clearly stinks, it was made by one of the larger studios. While Universal, at that time, was not nearly as big or successful as studios like MGM, Warner or Twentieth Century-Fox, it was big enough that it should have been making better films than THIS. In quality and especially writing, this film looks like sometime from tiny PRC or one of the other so-called 'Poverty Row' studios!
Arlen plays a stunt driver named 'Lucky', though I think a better nickname would have been 'Fat-head', as his character is extremely conceited. Not surprisingly, his attitude is very off-putting and the unfortunate girl he's set his sights on wisely isn't taken in by his brash attitude. Is this because she's intelligent. No...she's clearly an idiot as you'll see through the course of the film-- especially when Lucky and his friend (Andy Devine) try to help her and her father from losing their car company...and she behaves very strange and incredibly hostile. In addition to the film rarely making sense, the leading man being a jerk and the girl being empty- headed, the film uses crappy rear projection and a lot of clichés to bring you 61 minutes of barely passable entertainment. If you care to see it (and for the life of me I don't know why), you can copy it for free from archive.org--a website dedicated to public domain films. And, considering what I just saw, I can clearly understand why Universal didn't bother renewing their copyright on this one!
Hysterical History (1953)
Better than I expected...but then came the awful ending!
Famous Studios (also known as Harvey) made a lot of relatively low- budgeted cartoons in the 1050s and 60s. There's no way you'd mistake them for Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons and their biggest claim to fame was Casper the Friendly Ghost. They had a few other repeating characters as well as some films like "Hysterical History"--stand- alone cartoons without these familiar characters. Well, I hadn't seen any of these cartoons since I was a kid and decided to try one...and I picked this one simply because it was free to download from archive.org.
The cartoon is a silly history of the United States. It repeats many of the familiar historical myths (such as Pocahontas saving John Smith and Columbus supposedly proving the world was round) and this didn't bother me too much because this certainly was NOT meant as a real history lesson. The jokes were all very corny but pretty much what you'd expect from that era. My quibble came late in the film...and this is why I gave it a 3. It ended with one of those god-awful sing-a-longs--the sort that Fleischer Studios loved in the 30s (and Famous Studio was descended from the Fleischers--when Paramount fired them and started making cartoons without them). Not a particularly brilliant or enjoyable cartoon overall---mostly because of that awful singing!!
Land of the Midnight Fun (1939)
Watch this and compare it to see how Tex Avery evolved....
For a cartoon from 1939, this one isn't bad and it holds up reasonably well. However, many viewers who love classic cartoons would be shocked to hear that it's from Tex Avery--a man who created some of the most wonderful cartoon shorts of the 1940s and 50 with MGM. However, before this he worked for Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes and his films are much different. Some of this is because Avery hadn't fully developed his bizarro sensibilities with cartoons and part of it was because Looney Tunes simply was afraid to let him make the sort of strange cartoons he wanted to make. As a result, "Land of the Midnight Sun" is amazingly conventional for an Avery outing...and filled with ultra cornball jokes. They aren't all bad and the animation is nice...but when you compare this to such Avery classics as "Swingshift Cinderella" (made just a few years later), it comes up wanting. Worth seeing...and worth skipping. And, by the way, penguins do NOT live in the Arctic! Additionally, the object the ship is resting on is the iconic Trilon of the 1939 New York World's Fair.
The Song of the Birds (1935)
Nauseating tripe....that is for the birds!
In the late 20s and through the 30s, Disney won an awful lot of awards for its Silly Symphony line of cartoons. Unlike the more successful (and often more enjoyable) Mickey Mouse cartoons, these cartoons did not have recurring characters and they mostly involved music and singing. Many are amazingly artistic, a few are insipid. However, this spurred on copycats from other studios--and they seldom even came close to the Disney films. The worst thing about these copycats is that they often were ultra-cutesy and nauseating...and "The Song of the Birds" is certainly no exception.
First off, you won't mistake this Fleischer Brothers film with a Disney one for two obvious reasons. Disney held a monopoly on the use of Three Color Technicolor--the first true all color film process. Other studios making color films had to use various types of two color systems--such as Cinecolor and Two Color Technicolor. So, instead of a full spectrum of colors, the colors were all combinations of orange and green...and the cartoons look a bit odd as a result. Additionally, the animation, while comparable to most other studios clearly was not up to Disney standards.
The cartoon itself is an awful and preachy mess. A little bird fledges from the nest and a brain-addled little boy (who apparently can only giggle...perhaps due to a cerebral injury) shoots the bird. The kid is sorry and the mommy and daddy bird come and there's lots of tears and singing and...well...yecch!! Preachy nonsense if you ask me and the only reason it earns a 2 is that the animation isn't bad. Otherwise, this is a terrible film...one best shown to prisoners to punish them for serious rule infractions! Or, it can be shown to guys on Death Row to encourage them to either take their own lives or give up making appeals!! Sadly the 1930s was full of this sort of tripe--and most studios made a ton of them.
40 Pounds of Trouble (1962)
A pleasant remake.
This is the third version of Damon Runyon's story and was previously made as "Little Miss Marker" (with Shirley Temple), "Sorrowful Jones" (with Bob Hope) and now with this film. All three are enjoyable, though if I were to recommend one (and I am) it would be the original "Little Miss Marker". Still, you could do a lot worse than watching this nice Tony Curtis/Suzanne Pleshette film.
When the film begins, Steve (Curtis) is evading process servers from California once again and just beats them across the state line to the casino he manages in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. He seems like a reasonably happy man...or at least successful. But when a loser leaves his cute little girl behind in his hotel room, Steve has got a problem. Oddly, instead of calling the police he and the staff grow to like the kid and keep her!! Later, the girl wants to go on an outing to Disneyland but this will mean Steve once again risking be served a summons to pay back alimony. Along for the ride is a night club singer with a heart of gold, Chris (Pleshette).
The plot is very familiar but has been rather de-Runyonized. In other words the lovable seedy characters you've seen in other Runyon productions as well as earlier versions of this story are mostly gone---cleaned up a bit and with dialog that clearly is more normal! I didn't mind this at all and everyone did fine in the film. I particularly liked seeing the footage of Disneyland circa 1962, as things have certainly changed a lot...and you do see a lot of Disney in the film. Not everything about Disney is perfect, however, as the chase scene did become a bit tedious. Still, it's a nice film that has aged well and is worth your time.
Suspense: The Black Prophet (1953)
Enjoyable...but probably mostly fiction.
I watched this old TV episode for one reason...it starred Boris Karloff. And, if you are interested, you can download this episode of "Suspense" from archive.org--a site filled with free to copy public domain files.
The show is a dramatization of the death of the infamous Rasputin. Essentially, the show only consists of folks murdering the lusty monk...not a lot of plot here. Additionally, the stories of the difficulty the soldiers had murdering him were certainly fabricated...or at least highly embellished. So, you see Rasputin (Karloff) drink and eat enough poison to kill several elephants...and THEN he was shot repeatedly...and he STILL was not dead. Yeah, right.
The program has relatively shoddy music and sets--but it WAS the very early days of TV and such things were the norm. So, compared to other shows, it's decent and watchable. Plus, Karloff's over- the-top performance is fun to watch!