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312 reviews in total 
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Lost In The Garden, 6 January 2016

Many a time I have dragged unwilling guests to various early Eddie Izzard shows, hopefully to help them discover the considerable delights of Izzards's scatter-shot humor, his ability to assume identities of all kinds, to put hilarious spins on mankind's foibles--in short, to be a very funny, highly individual comic whose cheeky and irreverent humor is both scathing and incisive.

It it with regret that I found the Madison Square Garden cold and obvious, overly calculated, as if Izzard was cowed by his first major appearance in New York, feared the chill that almost every comic feels in his bones when the joke falls flat. This hour and a half set lacked the charming, sometime childlike silliness that Eddie can conjure up, and in place of that inventive fun that one excepts, seems far too scripted, and his all-too frequent use of the "F" word in place of wit or commentary or impersonation, seems a desperate cover-up for failing to charm the audience.

One complaint that has nothing to do with Izzard himself but everything to do with the production designer is the much too frequent use of audience shots, the camera set on different couples, supposedly rolling in hilarity, as if to demonstrate to the viewer that indeed, this is a funny program (when in truth if often lacks genuine hilarity) implying that everybody else is in hysterics--and why aren't you? I didn't pay to watch the audience.

I kept thinking that as Izzard moved though various civilizations and applied his shape-shifting tropes to the Egyptians or Aliens or Squirrels, that the inimitable stream of consciousness would rise to the top and sweep us along, but the act seemed to just get desperate, and wear the man out. It wore me out, and I was so in hopes to be swept away.

Engrossing Surprise from An Early Talkie, 27 September 2015

What begins as a conventional Unfaithful Wife Story evolves into something more fascinating, as we see a ruthless editor of a major city newspaper tread on too many toes and get some comeuppance. There is some wonderful set work at play in this "B" film, with a fashionable ultra-mod apartment turned out as Kay's Love Nest with a naughty banker who offers whiskey in bottles the size of a glass brick, as well as some zippy tracking shots in a newspaper office setting a fast pace of hustle and rush.

From the beginning, the viewer eavesdrops on cynical reporters attempting to bribe the little brother of a recent suicide, simultaneously offering the Mother cold cash for the dead boy's verse; editor George Bancroft sets the tone here as a heartless man who claims that no matter who the story damages--if it sells papers, it's news. His wife, Kay Francis, sits at home, draping various parts of her body with eye-catching fashion, and in one scene, other action front and center, there is some pre-code semi-nudity with mirrors catching the sort of undressing censored just three years later.

But it is the plot that, despite the soapy melodrama, rises above its origins, and provides no little suspense--with an odd, seemingly tacked-on ending, probably to please the money men. An additional incentive to early film fans is the rich casting of secondary players--Irving Bacon, Sid Saylor, Vince Barnett, Robert Parish, and even the man that become The Weenie King in The Palm Beach Story--Robert Dudley.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day, 28 August 2015

What a peculiar (but often fascinating!) film! The title has a little to do with Robinson's character, but it really isn't a woman he loves, but the meat-packing business! Eddie G., who wants to make the world more artistic and to clean up the Chicago slums, inherits an unsavory but highly successful business from his father, and makes an attempt to break away from corporate alliances--enter Kay Francis, in one of her vamp roles, this time as an opera singer aiming for the top European houses, but needing a little cash infusion to get there--she seduces the good EGR by sitting down at the piano--and suddenly warbles a contralto version of "Home On The Range"! No Tosca, no Mimi, no Traviata--this overdressed little flower brims blooms with the Western tune a total of three times--and it becomes an ironic interlude throughout the film--Robinson also attempts to capture the world food market, even buys cattle instead of just canning it! (Some echoes of Upton Sinclair feeds plot complications).

For early fans of Mr. Robinson and Our Kay, this is compelling fun, and frequently details fascinating turns of historical event--Teddy Roosevelt makes a personal appearance and WWI turns the world upside down. For those expecting the powerful one-note (but perhaps less well-rounded) characterizations which Robinson was often gave, there may be surprises as he ages--and hides out in another country. For others, this is a historical curiosity peopled with familiar early First National Faces.

Hoppy Impersonated!, 4 July 2015

It's a fascinating comment on "B" Westerns, and possibly on films in general, that one of the reviews on this site plugs this simple Western film as one the "better Hoppy films," while one of the other five cites it as "lesser Hoppy." Both reviewers are right, of course, and each took the time to comment from separate viewpoints. In a world as big as the Wild West, there should be plenty of room for both opinions. Too bad the world isn't so big any more!

Black-clad, cool-headed Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd) must track down lawbreakers and get the guys in the slammer--and wouldn't it be a surprise to all of us if he failed to do so? Most Hoppy films have a distinguishing hallmark, and perhaps this one's is a Movable Herd and the men who move it.

Mystery Man is a low-key, genial cowboy movie with only one song tossed in for good measure, and the sheriff's daughter picking on whatever attractions Hoppy's second- hand man has to offer. For action fans, there is a good deal of gun-play behind boulders and dust-raising in Lone Pine, and' as is often the case, the cinematography by Russell Harlan is a major bonus point, taking what could show as dull chases and enhancing California desert landscape with background mountain majesties and banks of clouds. Harlan turns the ordinary into memorable--lucky us!

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Don't Take It Serious--It's Too Delirious!, 26 June 2015

This is a deliciously daft precode, notable for the appearance of a very pallid Basil Rathbone as a high-strung Italian violinist (or was he French?), one of the few available talkies made by wide-eyed, silent star Billie Dove, and mainly, the presence of a slinky, sex-mad countess Olga, played with great verve by Kay Francis, who early on establishes her credentials by trying out the stable boy and then checking out the older dude who works the feed duties: Kay is constantly on the prowl in a very modern sense, while the script sets up poor Billie as the put-upon wife who gives up fortune for love and finds out husband's real talent is infidelity.

For today's moviegoer, this is probably pretty dull stuff, but for the film historian, the fan of Kay Francis, or anybody who wants to enjoy the minor delights of an early "B" romance, this can be great fun.

The Incidental Pleasures of "B" Westerns, 23 June 2015

This traditional "Hoppy" adventure was never meant to be any kind of classic, but mainly functions as Saturday Matinée fare, a pitting of the good guys against the bad guys with plenty of horse chases and gun-play to keep the kids in their seats and wanting to come back for more.

Having grown up in the 1940's, I watch the old Westerns today for reasons other than a gripping plot about which the outcome is clearly foretold. The photography in this one, for example, is exceptional, with cinematographer Russell Harlan going beyond the usual camera set-ups to capture the beauty of location shooting in Lone Pine, California-- the desert-like conditions shot against mountain vistas, the beauty of rustling sycamores framing the action, and exceptional long shots giving us such keen perspectives as robbing of the Well's Fargo Stage from several angles (Harlan, incidentally, went on to film the indelible images of To Kill A Mockingbird). FYI, an unsolicited commercial: Platinum Productions (though Echo Bridge) has released the Cassidy adventures in multiples for very little money, and the transfers are remarkable!

Another incidental pleasure of Hoppy Serves A Writ is Hoppy himself, of course, a cool character who always seems a little above the chaos around him: William Boyd, a leading man from the 1930's found his niche in these Westerns--and we don't have to listen to him sing! Frequently pointed out is Robert Mitchum's first major appearance in a film: a performance at the edge of narcolepsy, but Mitchum actually saddles up a few times and rides; future Superman George Reeves has a meatier role as a dude with attitude, attempting to romance the sole female on the film, but losing her to Hoppy's cute, mild-mannered assistant. And for those with an eye for familiar character actors, the laconic Byron Foulger serves as a shopkeeper; Victor Jory, so often a villain in both Westerns and crime films, sports a nasty scar on his cheek that marks him as the one to hiss.

In all, this is 64 minutes of matinée fun, perfect for a Saturday afternoon with a bowl of popcorn and all your memories of time well spent with your Hollywood pals.

Delon In Mellow Fade Out Role: Retired Cop Targeted by Mafia Guns, 13 October 2014

For years, Alain Delon has held the mantle of the handsome brooding detective, soft- spoken almost to the point of silence, quietly going about the business of murder-- or solving them. In Europe Delon has been a major star since the 1950's, justly celebrated for films made with Visconti, Antonioni and Clement; his few American films didn't do much to enrich U.S. appeal, but no matter. Le Samourai, Rocco and His Brothers, Mr. Klein, Purple Noon and many others justly cemented his reputation, and here towards the end of his career, he has made this swan-song to a lifetime of crime in the movies, playing a cop about to retire.

Fabio Montale is set mainly in Marseilles (where Delon actually grew up), and the rich Technicolor and sense of place contributes greatly to this series of related cat-and- mouse detective thriller, as Montale, the title character, attempts at last to make some kind of dent in mafia crime.

As the three parts continue, it is evident that for one reason or another, it is dangerous to know Montale; even though he is much loved by the populace, and especially by his mom-and-pop neighbors, who have a seaside home where Montale likes to hang out, there lurks in the darkness people who want to do him in, who want to drag him into deadly shooting when he is ready to retire. It is a civilized entertainment with a quality script, plenty of suspense, and a richness of character development in it's 4 1/2 hour running time.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Primitive Tuneful Delight For The Archivist Only, 2 August 2014

If you are possibly going to spend 75 minutes or so out of your life watching an early musical from MGM, there's a strong chance you already know what you're in for--this short quickie, compared to a creation from Busby Berkeley at Warner's a few years later, is primitive indeed, but captures a time and place in Hollywood like few other films are able to do.

The plot is simple--winsome secretary loves a songwriter who falls for a society dame. The songwriter is zippy Lawrence Gray who smiles through his tears, and composes a song when he wants to express himself in love or out of it. One of his interpreters (and comic relief) is a Sophie Tucker type, a sort of Red Hot Mama attached to her ethnic pianist (at least that's how's he's played). We get some peeks at various musical numbers, some out-of-step minstrels in a theatre and a nutty song and dance in a nightclub--and "you ain't seen nothing" until you've seen the production number for "Dust," one of the hero's hits--with several helpings of actual dust--and later, a catchy little number "The Whole Darned Things For You."

The pleasures in this film are to be found in the sense of history it represents, awkward dealings with the sound, none of it prerecorded--even an outdoor encounter with comedian Jack Benny is fascinating, and one wonders if the subway entrance was a location shot or on the MGM lot. "Jiminy Cricket" Cliff Edwards also makes a jokey cameo, and the film zips along at a good pace--but ending as if the producer decided the company had run out of resources and just called "cut" and "print." Children of Pleasure is an archivist's delight!

Araya (1959)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Striking Visual Style in Elemental Black and White Fits Elemental Lifestyles, 7 May 2014

This documentary-style, relatively short feature film is poignant, stunning in it's simplicity and rich in its humane impulses; it features actual workers in an almost impossibly hostile semi-desert bordering on the ocean that has served as a salt mine for over 450 years; the huge pyramids of salt are impressive, but even more so are the men who climb them with 140 pound baskets of salt, dumping them on top and receiving a few coins in their palms each time--and the women at the base of the pyramids who bag and tie the salt in hideously hot and dry climate.

While this group produces much of the money for the locals in their adobe villages, another group produces the food, venturing out in a large boat every morning hopefully to return with nets full of fish, as they have for hundreds of years. There is a strong sense of community that binds these people, and filmmaker Margot Benacerraf, instead of having anyone employ dialogue, follows her subjects with mostly poetic narration and a strong musical soundtrack.

There is actually a conclusion, and how the viewer reacts to it will certainly reflect attitudes toward modernization and the erasure of ancient traditions; this is a remarkably visual film, stunning to look at, whether from the top of a salt pyramid or bending down to a simple grave decorated with seashells in lieu of the flowers which cannot grow in this part of Venezuela. This is a valuable film document of a disappeared occupation; be sure to watch the "extra" which, fifty years later, follows up on some of the original workers.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
William Powell Shines in Zippy Light-Hearted Intrigue, 1 April 2014

Long before he directed Casablanca, Mildred Pierce and The Adventures of Robin Hood (among other brilliant films) Michael Curtiz took a hand in putting together this little Depression gem about shady detective work, women with money to spare, and a budding romance. The always puckishly sophisticated William Powell appears to have a great deal of fun playing what appears to be a shady detective—but one with an integrity and a great charm for women.

In this zippy little pre-code gem, Powell is hired to put a wealthy female gambler in jeopardy so that her considerable winnings can be taken back by the speakeasy where she gambles; can you guess what happens when the two meet? The woman is played by the engagingly attractive but underused Margaret Lindsay, and she's an apt foil for Powell's machinations (Lindsay has never looked better than she does in this film, and one wonders why she never moved into more major films).

This is another Warner Brother's quickie, a highly entertaining, fast-moving (67 minutes!) "B" film loaded with familiar character actors like Hobart Cavanaugh and Irving Bacon and even Toby Wing, whose wide-smile and sexy persona impresses immediately in a five second appearance as one of Powell's willing conquests. There's even a pre-code drug addict named "Whitey" referred to as a "hophead" into "snow," the sort of drug reference which, as a result of the new code, would completely disappear from films for twenty years after 1934; drugs didn't make a major appearance again until Sinatra's Oscar-nominated performance in The Man With The Golden Arm in 1956.

This is not a great film by any means, but a perfect Saturday matinée popcorn movie, an excellent example of a studio film that was no longer made after 1950.

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