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358 reviews in total 
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Hats Off (1936)
John Payne First Starring Movie - For John Payne Completists, 8 February 2017

I was wondering why John Payne looked like and acted like Jimmy Stewart in this movie. I think it was because 1936 was Stewart's break out year. He starred in four movies and had good parts in four more. His career was exploding. Somebody probably saw Payne and figured people would think he was Stewart. Payne never quite reached Stewart's level of super-stardom, but he seemed to have a greater acting range, playing tough guys as easily as sweetheart roles. Here, he is quite affable and charming. One wishes he had more screen time. This is also Sam Fuller's first screenplay. I am not that familiar with Fuller's corpus except for some of his major works - "The Big Red One," "Shock Corridor" "The Naked Kiss" and "Pick Up on South Street." This seems quite different from the other works that I've seen by him, much lighter in tone. Mae Clarke is dull and Helen Lynn does seem to be doing a Gracie Allen imitation. Only Luis Alberni as Rosero hits the right notes to brighten the film a bit. The other characters are not given enough screen time to make a solid impression. This is just passable and I think only John Payne fans would really be interested enough to watch the whole thing.

Air Mail (1932)
Very Much a Prototypical John Ford Movie, 26 January 2017

This is about a band of rugged air mail pilots who risk death to deliver the mail. It seems pretty silly nowadays, but I think people would have accepted the premise in 1931. Ralph Bellamy is excellent playing the heroic John Wayne style hero (Ford made 14 pictures with Wayne). He is a man of extraordinary courage and dedication and few words. Pat O'Brian is quite good as a hot shot, devil-may-care, egotistical flyer. Lacking any real villains, he plays the antagonist in the film. Slim Summerville gives a nice, comical sidekick performance. Besides them, Lilian Bond, as a faithless, bad girl, and Gloria Stuart (Titanic) as a faithful good girl are fun to watch.

The flying scenes are not as thrilling as they were in 1931, and it is not a masterpiece, but it is entertaining enough to hold your attention for the 84 minute running time.

"Mr. Blaine, I've gotten myself into a mess", 5 January 2017

Yes, the movie is awful, but there are some redeeming features, and it almost makes it into the "so bad, its good" category. I suspect that this was supposed to be a breezy screwball-comedy, crime-mystery picture. The comedy falls flat and there are too many jumps in the script and jumps in character logic to make the crime-mystery satisfying.

For example, why doesn't Mary Astor's character, Sally Fairchild,just use the fire escape to escape from the room that her runaway bridegroom has locked her in? Obviously the fire escape led down to the street as a criminal uses it to enter her room a few minutes later. The only reason seems to be that Sally couldn't escape from the room because then the criminal could not plant the diamonds on her to start the merry chase that the moves the rest of the plot forward. Then one wonders why Sally doesn't call the police when the criminal and another detective are shot in the room. Again, the answer seems to be, the movie would end right there after fifteen minutes, so she has to do the stupid thing and runaway. The screenwriter might reply that she's a runaway bride and that would be scandalous and disgraceful if the police found out. True, but she should be intelligent enough to figure out that being accused of murder trumps being accused of being a runaway bride. When she confesses to handsome Lloyd Hughes (the Lost World, 1925), "Mr Blaine, I've gotten myself into a mess," it is almost as if she's confessing to the audience how she feels about the movie she's appearing in.

The most redeeming feature and the reason to watch the movie is Mary Astor's wonderful performance. It is so sincere and she looks so beautiful and distressed throughout that you want to rush in and comfort her. It is an "A" performance in a throwaway "B" picture. We feel angry that the script and other characters are not being as sincere as Miss Astor. You feel as if her talents are being ignored and wasted. Thank goodness for John Huston and "the Maltese Falcon," otherwise modern audiences would not have appreciated Mary.

As mentioned by another reviewer, the cinematography is also quite good. It is another element that makes us sad that the script is so lightweight. Leo Tover was only 28 at the time. He would become one of the great cinematographers in Hollywood. He was nominated twice for an Oscar, but sadly, never won. "the Heiress," "the Day the Earth Stood Still," and "Love Me Tender" are some of his most well known works.

I would also note that Paul Hurst seems very comfortable playing a police sergeant. He played a detective or cop in about 20 other movies, although he was most famous for playing in Westerns.

In summary, this is a cheap, frustrating, throwaway movie, but not an uninteresting one.

Entertaining, Enthralling, and Thrilling while also Silly and Ridiculous, 25 December 2016

There were plenty of alien disaster movies in cinema before this - "War of the Worlds," "Invaders from Mars" and "Day of the Triffids," and there were plenty of monster disaster movies, such "Gozilla" and "the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," but hardly ever any disaster movies without aliens and monsters. The only ones that I can think of are "Things to Come," "Time Machine" and "On the Beach," and "Journey to the Center of the Earth"

The movie does add a nice love triangle subplot to the world disaster major plot with top scientists Dana Andrews and Kieron Moore both being in love with Janette Scott.

A lot of the special effects are just old documentary footage of lava flowing and atomic bombs, but after a while you become absorbed in the situation and the badly mismatched reaction shots just relieve some tension and make the movie more fun. Scott and Kieron also played in "Day of the Triffids" (1959) together.

The message of the movie is that when scientists warn of disaster, we should pay attention. It is still a good message. Although I'm sure that the artificial intelligence machines that will be reading this in 2037, after the human race has been wiped out, will get a big laugh from it.

5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Back to the Sixties - Nostalgia and Roots - Essential Allen Comedy, 28 November 2016

Harsh critic reviews keep me from watching this for almost two months. As usual the mass of critics were wrong and I totally enjoyed the two and a half hours I spent binge-watching this on the day after Thanksgiving. By the way, Elaine May's "Ishtar" is another movie the mass of critics were totally wrong about. Trust me, it was hilarious - see it).

I felt that this was very much like some of Allen's early movie efforts from the 1960s and 1970s like "Take the Money and Run" "Bananas" and "Love and Death" where plot took a backseat to absurd and ridiculous one-liners and dialogues.

For example:

Lenny (Miley Cyrus): I don't dislike you, its just everything that you stand for.

Sidney: God's going to punish us in this. Kay: God's not going to punish you, you're an atheist. Sidney: But if I'm wrong we're in big trouble.

Kay: Chairman Mao say "Death's certain, life unpredictable." Sidney: He got that from Charlie Chan.

If you're familiar with early Woody Allen, watch this and see the amazing continuity. If you are unfamiliar, watch this and then get DVDs of "Bananas," "Take the Money and Run" and "Love and Death." You will see what a rich source of material the 1960s youth rebellion offered for sharp comedians of the time.

Miley Cyrus is terrific and Woody Allen is Woody Allen and Elaine May is Elaine May. That should be enough of a recommendation. After you see it, come back here and write a great review of it.

Hitchcockian and Fun, 23 September 2016

Most of the things I felt about the film were nicely expressed by the favorable reviewers I read, especially the ones from the U.K.. I remember Deborah Kerr from "the King and I," and sort of remember Trevor Howard from "Mutiny on the Bounty," the excellent 1962 version with Marlon Brando. It was nice to see them much younger in this 1946 film. I agree with the viewers that said this movie was witty, full of surprises and twists and turns and had a beautiful performance from a younger and very beautiful Deborah Kerr. I agreed with the negative criticism of the film that it is a bit long and the plot gets muddled a few times. In its defense, the movie does manage to unmuddle itself the numerous times that it strays from the beaten path. If you like movies that break formulas so much that you can't trust the narration, this is a joy. Actually the narrator tells you in the very beginning of the movie what to expect from the film when he says that he has chosen the wrong place to start his tale and restarts it at a completely different place. Thanks to all the U.K. and other reviewers who filled us in on the many historical and other references in the film.

Iron Man (1931)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Put Your Robe On, You Wanna Get Pneumonia, 1 September 2016

For a boxing movie, there really isn't a lot of boxing in the movie, perhaps ten minutes total. Apparently the original ran 73 minutes and the version I saw on Youtube ran 68 minutes. I suspect the missing five minutes were boxing scenes.

This may be a blessing as Lew Ayres is certainly too handsome and collegiate looking for a boxer. Without muscles, he certainly does not physically resemble any contemporary boxers.

However, the reason to watch this story is not the boxing, but to watch a strong tale of friendship between a coach and an athlete and the selfish, sinful woman who disrupts it.

The acting is terrific. Robert Armstrong had only been starring in movies since 1928 when this was made in 1931, yet this was his 20th starring role. This was two years before his career making performances in "King Kong," and "Son of Kong," but it is easy to see why he was chosen for the lead in those movies. He gives a rock solid, believable performance here.

Lew Ayres is a bit uneven at the beginning, but eventually grows into the part. He was 23 years old and only in his fifth starring role, with the first being the classic anti-war film "All Quiet on the Western Front." It seems that Ayres was trying to develop a tough guy image after the romantic image he portrayed in that first film. My guess is that it was the studio's decision. It worked with song and dance man James Cagney, but not with Ayres. Still, he's a great actor and is easy to watch throughout.

I was surprised at how well Jean Harlow did. We should remember that she was only 21 and this was only her fourth starring role. She is quite despicable in the movie, but that was her part. She plays it with intensity and believably. I think reviewers here are criticizing her unfairly, because she doesn't show much of her comic or sexy siren side here. However, that is not the role. She is a jaded, mean, despicable woman and she plays it straight.

Again, this is a good dramatic piece and those looking for a sports movie or light comedy (although it does have moments of humor) will be disappointed. Those looking for sharp direction from Tod Browning and wonderful performances from three great actors will enjoy the movie.

Liliom (1930)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Beautiful Religious Fantasy Film In German Expressionist Style, 12 August 2016

I was attracted to the film because of the lead, Charles Farrell. I enjoyed watching him as the wonderful father in the 1950s Gale Storm sit-come "My Little Margie." Watching him here was a total delight. I loved how he humanized and made us feel sorry for a character whom was meant to be a perfect bastard. He is vain, dumb, arrogant and egotistical, but we instantly understand why Julie (Rose Hobart) falls in love with him. He is a loser and a dreamer, but Farrell plays him as a lost kid. The sets are terrific and it was wonderful to see a good print from 1930. I saw it on Youtube, where most of the pre-code films are barely watchable because of the bad transfers. This still has the striking cinematography by Chester Lyons that rivals "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". Sadly Lyons died only six years (nine films) after this film at the age of 51.

This movie is a fairy tale, but of the pre-Disney, "Match Girl" Brothers Grimm kind. It is not nice, but shows the awful side of life for the poor. There is a hands motif throughout the film. People express themselves with their hands. Julie's friend Marie tells her about passionate love. She explains that it is when your lover holds your hand and swings it back and forth. Notice how the seductive Buzzard (Lee Tracy) uses his hands in his scenes. Notice too how his hand is held in the climatic scene by the man he attacks. Finally, it is the hand of Liliom slapping the face of his daughter that ends his second chance.

There is also a neat train motif. Notice that Liliom dreams of taking a train to get to his dreamland of America. He yearns to be one of the fine gentlemen who rides on those trains. It is also on trains that he finds his destiny. Some feminist critics were upset that Liliom was an abusive lover and mentioned that the movie promoted domestic violence. That is nonsense. The movie makes clear that Liliom's violence occurs because Julie is smarter than him and he can't answer her. In other words, it explains his actions, but certainly doesn't justify or promote them. Even Julie's statement that you can love somebody so much that you don't feel the pain when somebody hits you, just means that love is more powerful than violence, a beautiful message, which does not at all excuse or promote domestic violence. It simply offers insight into it.

The movie is a religious fantasy promoting a neo/pseudo-Christian world-view, but it is done with style, so like Cecil B. Demille's "Ten Commandments," you hardly notice the theological lesson being promoted.

One of the funniest jokes in the movie is when the Chief Magistrate tells Lilliom that he is going to hell on a train called "the Red Express," He then adds parenthetically that no political message was intended. Of course, that the name of the train was the Red Express and it was going to hell would have been taken by most of the audience to be a political attack on the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union. It seems that a political message was intended.

The movie is fascinating and a beautiful work of art from the period that still moves us emotionally.

I'll have to watch more of the director Frank Borzage's work with this film in mind.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A very Macabre Murder Trial Movie, 9 August 2016

The only other James Whale movie that I have seen, except for his classics, "Frankenstein," "Bride of Frankenstein" and "Invisible Man," was "the Old Dark House." I liked "the Old Dark House," but it wasn't a masterpiece like the other three.

I have never seen "Wizard of Oz" title character Frank Morgan in a leading role, so I always assumed he was a character actor, but he easily carries the film in this case. His wife is played by Nancy Carroll who starred in some 35 films from 1928 to 1935. She is quite fine. Gloria Stuart, famous for the Titanic (1997) has appears briefly in the film. Jean Dixon, as a very sharp statuesque woman lawyer nearly steals the picture with a sharp sense of humor.

The movie is about obsession, love and murder. Whale does a wonderful job of balancing comedy with tense scary moments as he did in "Bride" and "Invisible Man." The movie is very humanist and really solidifies the idea of him being a great auteur director. There's an hilarious scene of two gay newspaper men commenting on the trial. The movie is tight and short, barely over an hour, so it can't be called a masterpiece, but it does manage a lot of emotional intensity for a film of this length and this time period.

Jean Arthur Rising, 5 August 2016

Clara Bow and Jean Arthur both started starring in movies around 1924. Bow was 19 and Arthur was 24. In 1927, Bow reached super-stardom as the "It" girl in "It" and playing in first Academy Award Winning movie "Wings." So, now two years later you have superstar Bow, age 24 and star Arthur age 29 playing sisters.

Oddly, Arthur seems to be playing the younger sister. In the opening scene, Bow brazenly pulls up Arthur's dress and reveals Arthur's underwear for the camera. She accuses her sister of stealing her "step-ins". It establishes Clara as the dominant personality.

Later, there's a wonderful scene where both are in their underwear about to go to bed. Arthur has just stolen Bow's boyfriend. Bow prays, while Arthur hops into bed. She moans innocently, "I can't help it if he like me more than you." Bow snaps back, "Shut up, I'm saying my prayers." Bow is strong and gives a great performance, but its Arthur with a thin, almost squeaky, voice who steals every scene.

The movie moves briskly with nice scenes in a department store, on the street and on an apartment porch beneath what could be the Brooklyn Bridge.

Nice comic support is given by Edna Mae Oliver who plays a store manager putting on a pageant for Goldberg's, the store where the sisters work. In the play that she puts on, she casts Arthur as virtue and Bow as pleasure to show the triumph of virtue over pleasure. This is ironic as in the movie, they are playing the opposite roles.

Charles Sellon, the unforgettable Mr. Muckle in W.C. Fields "Its a Gift," also gives a great performance. He's gambler-neighbor who cons Arthur to give him money by reassuring her, "With me its not a gamble, but an investment." Bow would go on to make eight more films over the next four years and then quit movies forever in 1933 at the age of 28. On the other hand, Jean Arthur continued starring for twenty more years in classics like "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".

Some people will be disappointed because the film is pretty light weight. It is barely over an hour and basically climaxes just when it is getting most interesting. Still, watching Bow at the top of her game and Arthur rising to match her is delightful.

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