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319 reviews in total 
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A Colorful Farce With Grable Having Some Nutty Fun, 28 May 2017

I came onto this film as one of a large purchased collection, and after reading a batch of reviews on various film sites didn't expect much from it; there were numerous citings that it was perhaps Grable's worst film, that it wasn't vintage Sturges, that it was loud farce devoid of virtues except for an expert use of full Technicolor.

And color it has, And it is a loud farce. But although it completely lacks the soft focus turn of the century costumer that Grable so often appeared it, and barely gives the viewer time to absorb the nutty humor, Beautiful Blonde, from it's initial scenes with Grandpa Russell Simpson teaching his little curly-haired granddaughter to reduce bottles to smithereens with a careful aim to the last mad gunfight, a loud and vulgar and often screamingly funny parody of dozens of final shoot-outs in hundreds of western hero epics, this film exudes a sense of madness, of a cast nearly out of control in the spirit of farce.

One critic mentions how often Olga San Juan as "Conchita" the dark- skinned servant, is insulted—but failed to remark on her hilarious comebacks, a few surely cut off mid-sentence by censorship concerns. If a careful viewer listens carefully (often hard to do in this raucous unendingly noisy film), there are ample double-entendres as well as the beginnings of a limerick that rhymes with "Nantucket." Surely most alert viewers will fill in the blank. This film demands your attention, and if you do not have the patience for noise and chaos as part of your experience, you may actively dislike it.

Grable seems to be having a great time, especially as the substitute teacher with a golden gun, confronted by a pair of demented youths out of some clueless Beavis-world, one an off-the-wall Sterling Holloway. And the film is certainly worth watching just to see so many familiar character actors taking full advantage of their few lines—whether it's Margaret Hamilton, Hugh Herbert or for a brief moment, Marie Windsor in full-on scarlet feather drag—the film is so short, so fast-paced, that co-star Cesar Romero almost seems insignificant, and seems to be plot window-dressing. Which he is!

Of course this is no Palm Beach Story, that brilliant farce about romance and love and money: nor has it the zany coherence of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. But it reflects the scattershot, nutty world that Sturges created so often, and seems like his final party before the silence descended--and you are invited.

Smarty (1934)
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Pre-Code Drawing Room Comedy, The Last Gasp, 5 May 2017

Perhaps too many folks are getting their things in an uproar about this zippy, fast-paced little comedy about the battle of the sexes. Yes, there are slaps in the film, but Blondell's character seems intent on getting them-- which to modern eyes seems bizarre indeed, and offensive in too many ways. But there is no indication that wife-beating is really the focus of this film, but instead the games people play when they discover relationship kinks that are not mainstream.

In many ways, this is a deeply cynical film (witness the running commentary from the two constant house guests) about public and private lives, the last gasp of pre-code comedy before the censors came down hard on creative expression of and shuttered them into the kitchen with their aprons for the next thirty years or so, when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton exposed a more modern version of the S/M games that can develop when love is stunted by circumstance. This is not a great film by any measure, but viewed in an unusual context can be great fun.

A Lush Cornucopia of Character Actors, 1 March 2017

While not a classic for the ages, this pre-noir gangster adventure is an excellent example of the studio product churned out in a short time to top a two-film bill at your local theatre in the 1940's, and one of the things that makes it great fun for committed film fans is the use of familiar faces to back up Tyrone Power, playing a rich kid turned bad boy, and Dorothy Lamour, who surprises us by offering a good deal more in the acting department than in the Crosby-Hope Road films, where she functioned primarily as tropical window dressing.

One fascinating performance is offered by the underused Charlie Grapewin, perhaps known to the average film goer as Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz, or as Grandpa in Grapes of Wrath (Grapewins's most sympathetic and memorable role is as burned-out Jeeter Lester in Jonh Ford's misunderstood Tobacco Road). In Johhny Apollo, Grapewin's take on the burned-out lawyer who takes milk with his Scotch and mumbles Shakespeare when to evade confrontation is both funny and endearing and he becomes a pivotal plot element as the plot thickens.

And thicken it does, with lusty Edward Arnold tossed into jail for embezzlement, and his disowned son, Power, taking up with gangster Lloyd Nolan (always reliable, but here essayed with a nasty undercurrent); much of what Nolan's brutal ganglord does adds a noir element to the film,and a brief scene in a steam bath is right out of Sam Fuller.

Add thug Marc Lawrence from Broadway, Jonathan Hale, reliably a doctor, Fuzzy Knight as a nervous prisoner, and from the Son of Frankenstein, Lionel Atwill, cold and calculating as the lawyer without ethics--until money is dangled his way. The pace never flags, and, except for a short and absurd tagged-on ending that Zanuck probably demanded on behalf of Power fans, the film builds to a dynamic shoot-out in a prison. Not a great classic, but a perfect example of 20th Century Fox machine making a film worth watching.

Vivid Protest Film with Documentary Qualities...and Merciless Ming!, 28 February 2017

I found this gem in the Warner Archive "Forbidden Hollywood" collection, a series of several dozen pre-code films; this one's from Volume 9, and it dazzled my eyes from start to 62-minute later finish, plunging at once into headlined stories concerning poor prison conditions, and then wasting no time depicting those conditions; as the film opens, a new prisoner whose hands are bleeding from using a pick axe and collapses from overwork, is put into "the sweatbox," a crenelated metal enclosure--to teach him a lesson.

The camera continues a barrage of brilliantly made images edited with speed and expertise, built around the main character, Richard Dix (a hugely popular star for a short period of time), in for bank robbery, and dismayed when his younger brother ends up in the same camp.

Unlike many RKO melodramas, this film has a strong documentary feeling, with some persuasive touches seldom seen in a fast-moving prison film-- during one mother's visit to the prison, the camera pauses in close-up just long enough to see a grown man feel the touch of his mother's palm. The prison supervisor is normally a unfeeling chilly individual--but in an intimate quiet scene is shown tuning up his violin and sitting down to play some music while the convicts are chained in a cage.

And for those of you who are Flash Gordon devotees, Charles "Ming The Merciless" Middleton essays the prison mystic, crucial to several plot developments, and often very funny in a space of his very own. There is much to notice in the film, such as the black prisoner's chorus with a refrain that encapsulates another plot development, and the effeminate cook treated as something other than another Hollywood stereotype. Hell's Highway is one of those gems that make digging around in the old stuff worthwhile.

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No Way A Gorilla Could Do That!, 14 December 2016

Have you ever sat through a movie with someone determined to point out all the things in the film that couldn't possibly be real? Like sitting through the wacky, throbbing Korean mock-horror epic "The Host" and having someone complain that there is no way a monster that big could live in a sewer--or in Kong, another complaining that there's no way any Gorilla could climb the Empire State Building!

I bring this up because it seems to be that many reviewers of this film are looking for something besides a good thriller, a tight mystery with clues strewn here and there but little definite plot until, as the film continues, a willing viewer can easily get caught up in several kinds of espionage and cult subterfuge, one can get caught up in what I might call a Midnight Special,i.e. a film to watch for fun, to suspend one's disbelief so that the involvement is total.

The ingredients are here: the film has an independent streak, features five actors of compelling capability, several really frightening jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and enough likely intentional references to past films of a similar nature to echo past thrills as one runs away with the haunted, gifted child escaping and his parents. This isn't Manchester By The Sea, nor is it a cartoon--and doesn't intend to be. It's a roller coaster ride, a Midnight Special. For me it succeeds in spades.

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Warner Brothers Romp Shows Off "B" Expertise, 11 September 2016

This little mystery is great fun, and zips along familiar cinematic paths with professional skill, all the Warner technicians called into play to fashion a quickie "B" mystery with some of the best of the character actors around, and one new guy, Turhan Bey, who was still wet behind the ears, but managed to be "clever and cunning" and craftily mysterious.

From the opening shots on a foggy wharf, with a mysterious large box hoisted off as ship and into a truck, the extremely mobile camera transports us quickly to an English boarding house crammed with lamps and antimacassars and ferns and portraits and zooms from upstairs to downstairs and in and out of doors as suspects in a crime skulk about and share concerns and accusations with mild hysteria lurking just below their civilized surfaces.

But this is not a serious film; it is a fast-paced gem full of strange relationships, a murder or two, folks running about in disguises, and, at last, a clueless police force showing up as things get out of hand, a couple of bodies in locked upstairs rooms.

I was never bored, was often amused, had a devil of a time attempting to pin down who-done-it, and much enjoyed the offbeat characters written into the script. Would that much of today's major films had the virtues of succinctness!

Frisco Sal (1945)
Spirited Barbary Coast Antics with Cowboy Flair, 11 September 2016

Turhan Bey as "Dude"? Is this the same Turhan Bey that enriched all those exotic Technicolor adventures opposite Sabu and Maria Montez, the handsome Hungarian usually cast as Arabian? Indeed it's the same magnetic actor playing a peace-loving tavern owner who wants to bring harmony to the booze halls of the Barbary Coast, much to the annoyance of shifty Alan Curtis, who runs what is ostensibly a "mission" just down the street, a place rife with miscreants and ne'er-do-wells. Toss into the mix fresh-faced virginal vocalist Susanna Foster, fresh from the East and searching for her long-lost brother, and conflicts build, bolstered by roistering, ebullient turns by such Universal stalwarts as blustery Andy Devine and crafty Samuel S. Hinds.

Toss into the mix two extended bar-room brawls, plenty of unexpected sentiment and some classy singing, and what results is a Western in the spirits of Destry Rides Again--not quite in the same class, but nevertheless more entertaining than one might except and needing a really good DVD transfer. Go Turhan!

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.

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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.

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