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Moon of the Wolf (1972)
Good made for TV horror
"Moon of the Wolf" is a good example of a an early 70's made for TV horror film. This werewolf saga succeeds admirably due to the efforts of the cast, some good location shooting and a better than average screenplay (for TV at least). Actors like David Jansenn,Bradford Dillman and Barbara Rush do their professional best to put this story of lycanthropy in the south across and it manages to be both interesting and somewhat exciting despite some cheesy make up effects. It is a good way to pass an hour or so, and for my money is just as captivating as the kind of PG-13 horror fare that is ground out today to entice teenagers to go out to the multiplex.
Jeanne Eagels (1957)
Great Kim Novack performance
After hearing about this film for years I finally did get to see it on the TCM channel. This bio-pic, though not all that faithful to the life and career of the real Jeanne Eagles does work as a film due mainly to the casting of Kim Novak. In the title role she gives one of the most memorable performances of her career. Maybe the role that she is playing - an actress hell bent on success who nonetheless feels that something is missing hit a little close to home, but it works in the context of this Harold Robbins - type show business saga. At the start of the film she is all tremulous ambition, moving on to buoyant success and then to loneliness, depression and addiction. Though she overdoes it in some of the drunk, bitchy diva scenes she does redeem herself at the end and her death scene is tragic and touching. The film benefits also from some good supporting cast work from Agnes Moorhead and Jeff Chandler and some great black and white cinematography.
Queen of the Amazons (1947)
A great time waster
I just watched this film on my computer at work (on my lunch break). What I find amazing is how a whole movie could be constructed around some African safari stock footage and still be entertaining in a junky way. The 1940's stock character actors do their best to put the plot across and for me it works as a grade B campfest. The men are either handsome and stalwart or older and rather dithering and the women look great in that 1940's glamor sort of way. I love that all the jungle amazons look like they stepped out of a Hollywood beauty parlor in full make up. The action scenes are hilariously hokey and you'll have fun pointing out the mistakes in continuity. As the way to pass an hour I prefer this kind of fun trash to some TV reality show or CSI Wherever.
The Carpetbaggers (1964)
This is the most successful of all the Harold Robbins adaptations (Though for my money "The Adventurers" is the most fun). Made at at a time when the movie industry was trying to shake off the strictures of the production code, "The Carpetbaggers" has an odd feel to it as director Demytryk and screenwriter Hayes struggle to bring some of Robbins sexed-up material to the screen. Thus we are subject to scenes where the lead characters walk off screen while we get to stare at an empty set as they cavort verbally.
What makes this film work is the casting and the performances. Carol Baker drawls out her Jean Harlow-like lines spilling out of Edith Head gowns and looking great. Elizabeth Ashley is a standout as the one "good" character in the piece - the long suffering wife of the Howard Hughes surrogate Jonas Cord.
As Jonas Cord, George Peppard starts out a little weakly, but as the film goes on and he becomes more and more soulless the performance starts to work - with his malevolent yet dead stare making an impact. Martha Hyer, Bob Cummings and a very tired-looking Alan Ladd are also fine in their roles.
This is a great example of a 1960's best-seller adaptation. The direction, though stolid moves the story along and the great set design,photography and costumes are evocative of the period of the story (pre WWII). The one element that I found unforgivable was the rather abrupt happy ending which is true to neither the spirit of the Harold Robbins novel nor the 149 minutes of film which came before it.
Bloody Mama (1970)
A good "Bonnie and Clyde" - type genre film
This film has everything- nudity,violence,incest,homosexuality,drug addiction - that it takes to make a good drive-in exploitation flick. It also has some good acting from the likes of Shelley Winters,Robert DeNiro,Don Stroud and Bruce Dern.
This Roger Corman directed crime film tells the story of real-life Ma Barker and her boys who ran a crime spree in the 1930's. Though Corman's film obviously does not have the wit or the style of Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" it holds one's interest with bloody sensationalism. The newly released DVD which is part of the Roger Corman collection has a crisp widescreen transfer and is worth a look.
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Quick, Cheap and Good
From the first scene with the beat poet declaiming away, this satirical horror film grabs ones' attention for the rest of its 60 minute running time. Made during the late 50's, the time of folk songs, beatniks and coffee houses this black and white Roger Corman film is a somewhat comedic "House of Wax". A bullied bus boy in a coffee house tries his hand at sculpture. By accident he kills the neighbor's cat. Next he turns up back at the coffee house with a perfect, life size sculpture of a dead cat. The artsy crowd pronounces it brilliant. A narc follows him home to his apartment. His next work is a life size dead man. You can see where all this is going. "Bucket of Blood" (bad title) works because Corman has hired a great cast and directs in his usual straightforward fashion. It contains a not-to- subtle ridiculing of the art scene where supposedly profound intelligentsia declares something "the next big thing" even though some may expect that they are exhibiting corpses.
That Hamilton Woman (1941)
Of it's time - Yet ahead of it's time.
Once I got past the British-Empire agitprop (which seems to belong in another film) I was caught up in the story of the scandalous Emma Hamilton and her Lord Nelson. I've never thought that much of Alexander Korda as a director but here his florid style is perfect for the material. One sequence sticks in my mind: the shot of Vivian Leigh running across rooms and terraces to meet up Laurence Olivier while the Miklos Roza score wails away - very effective. Most of the cast is up to par - Though I found Olivier to be a little dull and no match for the dynamic Ms Leigh. The shot of her face as she reacts to Nelsons' death is amazing and very moving. Though on the surface the filmmakers do seem to be trying to hit us over the head with 1940's family morality in condemning their relationship, there is something subversive about the film in that you do root for the couple. The moralizing is easy to ignore even with the sad ending for Lady Hamilton (which is historically accurate).
Soldier Blue (1970)
Flawed, yet powerful
Despite some atrocious acting from Peter Strauss and to a lesser extent Candace Bergen, Soldier Blue still retains much of it's power, functioning as a time capsule of committed and some times wrong-headed late 1960's film-making.
Though it was released in 1970, the film has a Vietnam era feel to it and harks back to when the big studios were looking to capture the youth market by producing films which reflected the views and concerns of college age people. The story itself being grounded in historical fact is compelling and the anti-imperialistic message is still potent as is the relationship between Bergen and Strauss reflecting the early women's lib sexual politics.
What could sink this film more than Strauss overacting or Bergen's hippie-chick portrayal (which though often on the mark, is sometimes just annoying) it the unrelenting up-to-the-minute (for 1969) style of the film-making. The background score has an intrusive, blaring quality to it, (except for the great Buffy St. Marie ballad over the credits). The editing and camera angles contribute to this making the film seem at times dated and anachronistic.
The story and the scenery do work to make the film successful, and the last half hour is flawless. The massacre is one of the most harrowing ever committed to film, and is just explicit enough to make one truly horrified.
Okay, but not all that.
Dreamgirls is a decent movie musical far above such recent efforts such as PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and RENT. The over the top praise is a little annoying, however. Bill Condon directs the film as if he has never been to a concert. Why were the Dreams always singing in nightclubs that seem to seat about 200? In some of their numbers they are singing without any microphones or amplification while on stage. What was up with the "One Night Only" number? Where were they? Studio 54? And what's with all the chorus boys in leather? Some great performances here - in fact all of them with the exception of Jamie Fox who just seems bored. What we don't get in this film is any sense of the world outside the sound stage in which the movie was filmed. It sort of reminded me of the 60's camp classic VALLEY OF THE DOLLS in that respect.
Also, too many close ups - especially during Beyonce's superfluous I-can-sing-as-good-as Jennifer-Hudson number "Listen"
Junior Bonner (1972)
A different, but very good Peckinpah film
Probably the most peaceful of all of Sam Peckinpah's films, JUNIOR BONNER is one of his most moving. Part of this is due to the casting, with an aged Robert Preston and Ida Lupino as the parents of Steve McQueen who is also starting to show wear and tear as he travels the rodeo circuit. It is easy to like them immediately and to care what happens to them. Not much does happen in this film but it is still engrossing. McQueen returns to his home town rodeo after some bad falls on the road. Preston and Lupino live apart and still have some affection for each other. Preston is a dreamer looking for that final big score - prospecting in Australia. There is no money to stake him. His "successful" son, played by Joe Don Baker is too busy selling off the American West as trailer park subdivisions. McQueen has a chance to make some money if he can ride a particular bull that has never been ridden for more than 8 seconds. Peckinpah brings his signature style to JUNIOR BONNER particularly in the rodeo scenes, where he uses his slo-mo style, usually used to depict violence to show the violence of the rodeo. It is another of his films dealing with the death of the west, and of men dealing with their own winding down. Steve Mcqueen gives a great, quiet performance. In keeping with Junior's character, he doesn't speak a lot, but all the emotion is there - in his face.