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One Step Beyond: The Trap (1960)
Trapped in the Chicago desert
Dominic DiNovio (Mike Kellin) of Chicago is suddenly struck by a remarkable malady. He feels as if the world is closing in on him. He is unbelievably thirsty, and the heat is unbearable. He calls out in the night to a strange woman, Edna, and he writes despairing notes of goodbye to her. Dom's wife, Florence (Ruth Storey), is at her wit's end, thinking he may be tiring of her. As a last resort, she sends for Dt. Barnes (Alex Gerry), who commits Dom to the hospital.
In the hospital Dr. Barnes finds the critically ill Dominic to be dying of heat and dehydration. By now he is having hallucinations. The doctor tells Florence that the case is virtually hopeless. A team of specialists has been consulted, but none of them has an inkling what might be wrong with the dying man. Finally, a priest (Bert Remsen) is called to administer last rites.
SPOILER ALERT: While the priest is praying, Dom mumbles incoherently about hearing men on horses, he mentions Reno and a lawyer named Harkness. The priest reports these ramblings to Florence and the doctor who are nonplussed. On a hunch the doctor calls Reno, Nevada, trying to locate such a person.
Astonishingly, on a ranch outside Reno, Nevada, Sam Harkness (Francis De Sales) calls on his client and friend, Edna Gibbs (Jeanne Bates), whose husband Frederick has gone missing, to ask if Fred could have fallen into some sort of pit. Sam received an incredible telephone call from a doctor in Chicago, which they must take seriously.
Sam and Edna go to an abandoned mine on a remote part of the ranch and discover Frederick Gibbs (Mike Kellin) lying under some timbers, almost dead of heat and dehydration.
John Newland says that Dominic DiNovio and Frederick Gibbs were identical twins, and explains the many psychic phenomena shared by such siblings. The men were not aware of the other's existence until this event brought them together. Strangest of all, the notes that Dominic had written in his delirium were exactly like those written by Frederick while he was lying on the floor of the abandoned mine.
One Step Beyond: Gypsy (1960)
The Gypsy sees and knows all
SPOILER ALERT: John Newland and the prison warden (Addison Richards) discuss a strange tale.
One of the prison inmates, Gypsy (Johnny Seven) plans a breakout with his cell mates, Abe (Murvyn Vye), Folger (John Kellogg), and Tom (Robert Blake). There is some question as to whether Tom should be included, but at the last minute he breaks out with the others.
The four cell mates get over the wall safely, but as the last one over, Gypsy is apparently hit by a bullet. The men run through the countryside, eluding the pursuing police. They rob a store to get new clothes and guns. Finally, they find a car that can carry them to safety, but Gypsy persuades Tom to stay behind with him as Abe and Folger speed away.
Gypsy is wounded more seriously than the others realized, and after convincing Tom that he should voluntarily return to prison, he dies. Tom takes Gypsy's advice and surrenders to the prison guard at the front gate.
The warden explains to Newland that Abe and Folger were killed in a car wreck, which would have claimed Tom if he had gone with them and, beyond all reason, Gypsy had been killed at the prison and never made it over the wall. They agree that something psychic must have happened for Tom to have turned himself in.
One Step Beyond: Delia (1960)
A play within a play
The plot of this episode is on two levels, almost a play within a play. John Newland appears not only as the host but also as a participant in the episode. It seems he was visiting a remote island off the coast of San Salvador when he met a man named Bentley (Murray Matheson), who told a most interesting tale. Bentley enters the café and joins Newland. In this episode Bentley is both the narrator and an actor in the story.
The tale: Philip Wilson (Lee Philips) comes to the island from San Francisco for a vacation. He meets the attractive brunette Mrs. Garan (Maureen Leeds), who is also staying at the resort, but they are distant with each other. One evening Philip meets a beautiful blond young woman, Delia Huston (Barbara Lord), and the two instantly fall in love. She tells Philip that for some time she has dreamed of meeting him, but something terrible always interrupts the dream.
Delia is a jewelry designer from St. Louis and gives Philip an ornament shaped like a prayer bell. Although they enjoy their time together, one evening when Philip moves in too close, Delia moves away and enters a cottage in the resort. Philip knocks, but Mrs. Garan answers the door, insisting she is the only occupant of the room.
WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD! Bentley tells Newland that Delia completely disappeared that night. After searching the island from one end to the other, Philip had to admit that Delia was nowhere to be found. He was understandably distraught and could not be consoled.
Newland asks if that is the end of the story. Bentley explains that the United States consulate investigated thoroughly and found no trace of such a person as Delia Huston. Philip even traveled to St. Louis to search, but no one had heard of her.
The tale continues, narrated by Bentley: Philip returns to the island where he spends the next eight years drinking and prowling the beach, eventually becoming a derelict. In an effort to bring Philip to his senses, Bentley chides him severely. Rather than helping, the harsh words drive Philip away. His drowned body is later discovered by the police, holding the prayer bell. Now Bentley deeply regrets his interference.
Newland presses Bentley for information, and Bentley replies that, ironically, the next evening he saw Delia and talked with her. Amazingly enough, Delia was wearing a prayer bell like the one Philip had received eight years before. In disbelief, Newland explains several theories of hallucination related to guilt, assuring Bentley that he was not responsible for Wilson's death. At this point, Bentley gestures and Delia enters the café. She stays a short time passing a few pleasantries with Newland and Bentley, then leaves.
Bentley tells Newland that when Delia arrived on the island from St. Louis, she said she had been there before in her dreams. Some eight years previously, Delia had had a recurring dream in which she met a man at an island resort and fell in love with him. In one dream she had given the young man a prayer bell, and her description was that of the recently dead Philip Wilson.
As in other episodes, John Newland then steps away to assume the role of host, talks of "teleportation," and ponders with the viewers what to make of this mystery.
Frontier Days (1934)
A must-see western.
This film is reputed to be one of Bill Cody's best in spite of some of the worst camera work, acting, and directing in the history of westerns. The first omen is in the opening credits where the director, Robert Hill, appears to have been supervised by Al Alf. Imagine such a credit under the name of Howard Hawks or Clint Eastwood.
This film shows either very early use of a hand-held camera, or the camera dollied on rocky ground or a very rough floor without benefit of a track. Lots of home movies are better than this.
At the beginning of the film Hill, who also wrote the screenplay under a pen name, makes an uncredited cameo appearance as Chief Burrows. He is one of the better actors in the film.
As silent screen actors, the cast employs a panoply of quirks, quivers, and tics that were outmoded by 1934 when the film was made. Much of this could have been solved with some editing that simply tightened up the dialog.
Much has been made of Chico the horse, which was featured in the opening credits much as the horses of Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers. Chico is often left to stand untied until the Kid whistles for him. In one scene the Kid rushes out to call Chico, but the faithful horse is nowhere to be seen. Apparently, he wandered out of camera range, and the Kid had to retrieve him in order to escape.
Twice in the film the Pinto Kid attempts a flying mount, ala the Pony Express riders, but barely gets one leg over the saddle and must clamber up the rest of the way.
At one point the Pinto Kid escapes by crashing through a window. His flight through the air and to the ground is almost Chaplinesque as Cody struggles mightily to subdue his over-sized hat. He rebounds immediately, jamming the hat securely on his head as he scampers out of sight.
Speaking of hats, the cowboy hat of the period generally was "crushed" in the front in the shape of a valley. Much of the time in this film, it looks like the cowboys have crushed their hats with a tomahawk or branding iron, or some such.
One bright spot is in Bill Cody Jr.'s turn as Bart Wilson. As well as deliver his dialog authoritatively, the boy can run as fast as a horse. Late in the film the outlaws leave young Bart tied up, galloping away hell-for-leather. With the help of his burro, Bart wriggles out of the rope and takes off to catch up with the bad guys. Because his donkey is so slow, the young fellow hightails it on foot.
Along the way the Pinto Kid knocks out two of the outlaws, and Bart arrives close behind to tie them up with their belts. When the rest of the outlaws arrive at their hideout full tilt, closely followed by the Kid and Bart, the young guy isn't even breathing hard. All in all, Cody Jr. is a welcome relief from the mess cooked up by the adults.
At that, this is a must-see western that is a textbook lesson in early cinematic techniques.
The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Even the title is a scam.
This summary may contain a spoiler. Do not read this if you have not seen the movie.
David Mamet has proved himself to be master of misdirection, and "The Spanish Prisoner" is no exception. At first the movie seems to be about the modern corporate dilemma of who owns what intellectual property. There is tension between the Campbell Scott and Ben Gazzara characters over how much, if any, bonus Scott will make by having invented an important process for Gazzara's company. The plot really involves a confidence game that gradually unfolds in the plot line. At one point a character explains that someone is setting up a variation of an old scam called "the Spanish prisoner," and begins to explain it. The explanation is interrupted and never finished. Since we know the movie's title, we expect to see that type of fraud carried out. Instead, the title itself turns out to be a scam. The confidence game that Steve Martin and his cohort run is actually called a "pigeon drop" or "Gypsy switch."
In this game, Rebecca Pigeon's character is the "roper" who reels in the "mark" (Scott). It should probably be no surprise that the name of the scam is the same as that of the leading actress, David Mamet's real-life wife.
These days the most popular example of "the Spanish prisoner" is in the barrage of email from Nigeria purportedly from a doctor trying to transfer money out of the country. If you send him some of your money now, he will reward you handsomely after his funds are released.
Moulin Rouge (1952)
The Song from Moulin Rouge
In "Moulin Rouge (1952)" the chanteuse Jane Avril, played by Zsa Zsa Gabor, sings a haunting piece titled "Le Long de la Seine," which means "Beside the Seine." The words are by jazz composer William (Bill) Engvick with music by the noted French classical composer Georges Auric. According to an IMDb source, the sound track was dubbed for Zsa Zsa by Muriel Smith, who played Aicha. The impersonation of Zsa Zsa's vocal timbre is remarkable. Curiously, the song was sung in English, but that may have been a sign of the times.
"The Song from Moulin Rouge" became an immediate hit, subtitled "Where Is Your Heart," and Percy Faith's arrangement was number one on the Hit Parade of 1953 for nineteen weeks. It was subsequently recorded by a number of artists and became a standard for dance bands. The film version was recorded but was never as popular as the commercial score in the United States.
There are interesting differences in the two versions. The commercial arrangement is in the regular thirty-two bar song form that was popular throughout much of the 20th century. The film version adds syllables and the melody takes an extra turn. Instead of ending "where is your heart?" the film version says "it's April again" then adds "beside the River Seine-O."
Another important difference is in mood. The film version of the song is happy since it's April in Paris. The tempo is sprightly and the orchestration is transparent. The key is fairly high and requires an operatic sounding voice. By contrast, the commercial version is melancholy because of insecure, untrustworthy love. The tempo is slower, the orchestration is richer and usually the key is lower to accommodate a pop singer's voice.
An inside joke in the lyrics, possibly unintended, is a play on Jane Avril's name, as "Avril" means "April" in French.
A strange bit of trivia: on one of the web sites that features "The Song from Moulin Rouge (Where Is Your Heart)" the composer's name is misspelled as "Aurie," and the error tracks through several links.
The scenes where the reverend races his buggy and later trades horses are echoed in "Friendly Persuasion (1956)." In the latter film the winner and loser in the race are reversed from "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain," as are the reasons for trading horses.
The minister is called a "circuit rider," a term which was used especially by Methodists to describe a pastor who was responsible for two, three or more rural churches at a time. The pastor would ride from church to church and hold services, often on the same day. The churches, called a "charge," also shared the cost of the parsonage. In this film the minister seems to be in charge of only one rural church, which may be a change from the original novel.
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
The film opens with a tolling bell and a quotation from John Donne's "No Man Is an Island." Then the action literally explodes on the screen with an act of sabotage by Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper), who has just struck a blow for the young Spanish Republic against the fascist Nationalists. As one of about 60,000 foreigners who have come to fight for Spain's freedom, Jordan's story plays out against a background of cataclysmic world events.
Jordan is immediately assigned the task of blowing up an important bridge behind the Nationalist lines in the Guadarrama Mountains, near Segovia. The main story line follows him as he joins a ragtag troop of guerrillas in pursuit of his mission. The guerrillas are led by the forceful Pilar, in an Academy Award-winning portrayal by Katina Paxinou. An equally pivotal character in the band is cunning, treacherous Pablo (Akim Tamiroff), who may at any moment defect to the Nationalist side if it profits him. The guerrillas are a motley crew of pan- European characters, each with his own life story and reason for being in that place at that time.
And then there is the innocent, vulnerable, incredibly beautiful Maria (Ingrid Bergman), who was rescued from Nationalist rapists and is now protected by the guerrillas. Under Pilar's watchful eye Robert and Maria fall in love. With the signing of Ingrid Bergman to play the role of Maria, Paramount jumped on the post-"Casablanca" bandwagon. Echoes of the earlier film that were not in Hemingway's novel crop up as Robert morphs from the stalwart freedom fighter to the lover who is torn between duty and love.
A lengthy film of about 160 minutes, FWTBT takes time to explore the relationships between characters, even the lesser lights. We find out who is strong and weak, who is in favor of the war and who is not, and get a glimpse into how each one might react when the chips are down. A particularly meaningful interchange is when Robert explains to the guerrillas that although the Communists are on their side (under orders from the Soviet Cominterm), the fascist governments of Germany and Italy are supplying the Nationalists with Panzer tanks and Stuka dive-bombers. In reality those governments were testing their armament in preparation for the coming world war.
SPOILER: The end of the film is a whirlwind series of scenes in which Robert almost single- handedly demolishes the bridge as the Nationalist army approaches. Then fate takes a hand. To escape, the guerrillas must ride across an open area through a hail of enemy machine-gun and light artillery fire. Everyone makes it across but Robert, bringing up the rear, who is blown from his horse by an exploding shell. Too wounded to ride, Robert must be left behind with a machine-gun to slow the advance of the Nationalists.
With courage and great pain Robert delivers his "hill of beans" and "where I'm going you can't follow" speeches to Maria. He promises that they will be together in spirit but stops short of saying, "We'll always have Guadarrama."
Maria is thrown onto the back of a horse and the band gallops away, her screams fading into the distance. Fighting nausea and unconsciousness, Robert sets up the machine-gun and fires directly into the camera (mirrored at the end of "Bataan" with Robert Taylor). Smoke and cordite fill the screen, and the scene dissolves to the giant bell tolling a warning to mankind.
In 1943 Hemingway and the everyone in the film knew to their sorrow that the Nationalists had won the Civil War in 1939 and that Spain now lived under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. They could not know that, ironically, with Franco's death in 1975 Spain named King Juan Carlos I sovereign of the democratic constitutional monarchy that rules the Kingdom of Spain today.
Oh! Susanna (1951)
A John Ford knockoff.
"Oh! Susannah" is really a knockoff of several John Ford films. After the success of "My Darling Clementine" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" Republic must have thought the public would accept any sort of rehash as long as the main theme and the title were a folksy ditty. Here we have John Wayne (Rod Cameron), Henry Fonda (Forrest Tucker), Ward Bond (Chill Wills), Grant Withers (Jim Davis), Victor McLaglen (William Haade), Maureen O'Hara (Adrian Booth), and even John Agar (James Lydon) wannabes. The climax is right out of "Fort Apache."
The action is often chaotic and diffuse, with Rod Cameron holding the film together through his understated acting style. "Oh! Susannah" shows glimpses of what Cameron might have done with a better story and production.
Flying Leathernecks (1951)
A hell of a way to run a war.
"Flying Leathernecks" takes an old theme, namely, a struggle between commanders and their subordinates about how to conduct a mission, but treats it rather lamely compared with other films. "Leathernecks" tries to cover too much territory in advancing the cause of air combat Marines as a documentary and establishing a personal story line within a Marine unit.
A subplot concerning one commander's over-identification with his men has resonances with "Twelve O'Clock High," but is not explored to the extent of the latter picture. Again, the result of trying to cover too much ground in one film.
Two Clark Gable pictures, "Command Decision" and "Run Silent, Run Deep," are much stronger in their depiction of such conflict. Even better still are films like "The Caine Mutiny" and "Crimson Tide."