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The Flying Fontaines (1959)
Stop Clowning Around
At 73 minutes this mishmash is way too long. Clumsily directed by old veteran George Sherman, the thrust here is an arrogant, spoiled aerialist who returns to the circus after a military hitch and causes havoc for everyone with whom he comes into contact. A silly, unconvincing story is not aided by patchwork performances from newcomers Michael Callan and Rian Garrick (although in their tights they may arouse some interest)and first-timer Evy Norland in her only film role. (She is married to actor/singer James Darren if that does anything for you.) Fifties' B-actress Joan Evans also fails to excite. There may be a little variety in watching able character actors John Van Dreelen and Joe DeSantis. If it's a circus movie you're after, Trapeze, Carnival Story, The Greatest Show on Earth and even The Big Circus might be more to your liking.
Gypsy Colt (1954)
It's true what they've always said... this is the equine version of "Lassie Come Home," right down to the horse punctually collecting the kid at school. As with all animal movies, it seems, something dreadful happens to the family and the animal is put to the test as a result. This time out the lead is a young girl, earnestly played by one of the acting Corcoran family, Donna. Ward Bond is appropriately firm-handed as the father and lovely Frances Dee exudes understanding as the mother. Lee Van Cleef is menacing as the villain of the piece. The gorgeous black stallion, Beaut, that plays Gypsy is the same horse that played the title role in the 1950s TV series "Fury" (please observe a moment of silence for my treasured childhood TV show) and was Elizabeth Taylor's loving steed in "Giant." It's a B effort for sure, but it's nicely done for the young horsey set and others so inclined.
The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)
Oh My, Who, on Oahu
I'm not revolting when it comes to enjoying Mamie Stover. The GIs in 1940s Hawaii enjoyed her and so do I. OK, it's not even close to a cinematic masterpiece, but it's worth a gander on a rainy Sunday afternoon when the hubby has on his football. It has stunning Hawaiian locations, a fun if melodramatic script and 20th Century Fox gave it gorgeous Technicolor. It must have had studio head Buddy Adler's blessing because he took producer's credit. If you're a Jane Russell fan, forget "The Outlaw" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "Underwater." The Russell you see here is smoldering...! She plays a down-on-her luck woman run out of San Francisco who lands on Oahu where she becomes a... a... a... dancehall hostess. (If they redid Mamie Stover today, it'd have a whole different look.) She makes lots of money and thumbs her pretty nose at her detractors. Maybe because she's called Flaming Mamie, Russell dyed her dark tresses to a shimmering red and natural redhead Agnes Moorehead, owner of the gin joint where Mamie works, has become a blonde. Aggie never made a film that she didn't elevate to a higher level. Michael Pate is wonderfully menacing as the gin joint bouncer/thug. Love interest Richard Egan is too bland and lovely Joan Leslie is wasted in a nothing supporting role. Tough-guy director Raoul Walsh, who had just finished directing tough-girl Russell in "The Tall Men," knew how to best display her acting chops and sultry good looks. Mmmmmm, whatever Mamie wants...
Tobacco Farming with Troy
Last weekend I wanted to watch a film from my teen years... something that would take me back to those years of wonderment and yearning. I looked through my collection, spotted "Parrish" and knew I had found what I was looking forward. The story of a young man and his mother who move to Connecticut and involve themselves in tobacco farming, meeting a ruthless man and his family and a kind man and his spoiled daughter, it was a feast of young actors and respected mature stars. There wasn't a teen girl of those days and I dare say a few boys whose hearts didn't beat faster at the sight of Troy Donahue. His acting was pouty and wooden but there were those slim, handsome, blond looks, often wearing a red jacket that made teens break their clinches and sit up and pay attention. Whether he was romancing Connie Stevens (the first of their three films together) or Diane McBain (she hooked up with Donahue on the tube) or brunette Sharon Hugueny or whether he was emoting with Claudette Colbert (who came out of retirement for "Parrish" and then promptly retired again) or the esteemed Karl Malden and Dean Jagger, Donahue always came out second best in the acting department. This was Donahue's second of four straight films with director Delmer Daves and the older man certainly learned how to showcase the young blond hunk. The film has a bright and shiny look, plenty of melodrama and a gorgeous Max Steiner score. Get yourself some popcorn, put your feet up on the table and sit back and enjoy "Parrish."
Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
Ladies, Step Up to the Bar
One of those unusual westerns with two women as the central characters... such as in "Johnny Guitar" and "Jubilee Trail," among others. During the Civil War in a town run by ruthless people, bad Kate has it in for darling Sally but stay tuned to the climactic ending to see how this all works out. Definitely a cheap oater with few production values, but it does have lively performances from Joan Leslie and Audrey Totter. If you know these actresses, then you know who plays whom. Fourth-billed Leslie is actually the star of this dopey-titled film and is always a joy to watch. For those who love women fight scenes, this has one of the fun ones. So glad I have it on my homemade VHS as this little-seen film is unlikely to ever be on DVD.
Jubilee Trail (1954)
Warm & Fuzzy in the Saddle
I have a poster of Jubilee Trail on my wall and at the top it says, "The Greatest American Drama Since Gone With the Wind." Now that's a howler and yet I've always liked this unusual western. Nothing quite like Jubilee Trail on a rainy Saturday afternoon with cookies and milk. It's about the settling of California but is short on action and long on dialogue... not for the typical western watcher perhaps. It kind of reminds me of "Johnny Guitar" (made the same year by the same studio) with two women as the leads. Here they are not protagonists but great, supportive friends. Top-billed is Vera Ralston (married to the studio head) but the real star is the always-enchanting Joan Leslie and this is one of her finest moments. Forrest Tucker, John Russell, Jim Davis, Buddy Baer and others who have worked with Leslie and Ralston before make this film look like a happy working experience for all. We couch cowboys are the winners.
Walk on the Wild Side (1962)
What's Not to Like?
An itinerant Texas dirt farmer searches for his lost love discovered now working in a New Orleans brothel where she is the "favorite" of the madam of the house. Much has been written about the superb opening and closing credits and the jazzy music and stunning b/w photography but this film also expertly captures a time (Depression)and place and mood and has a totally engaging story (pared down from Nelson Algren's large novel)and a wonderful cast with Laurence Harvey, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, a young Jane Fonda and the goddess-like Capucine as the center of attention. Various biogs of these stars say it was not a happy production but the finished product is highly polished.