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Queen Bee (1955)
Strictly melodrama with powerhouse Crawford
This is a melodrama and is obviously written for one reason and that is to be a melodrama. The result is a one-dimensional and at times seemingly slow film as scenes of pure melodrama follow one after the other. Joan Crawford was the master of the genre and she is terrific in this one, even getting intimidatingly physical at times, and shockingly so. You gotta see these scenes as she goes completely over the top, they are priceless.
It all takes place in one house, with the characters constantly interacting in close quarters, as if scorpions in a bottle. This really doesn't work as well as it should because the characters have little or no development and in some cases no background. For example, all we really know about Crawford's character is that she came from Chicago and she is meaner than hell.
Fortunately all of the acting is outstanding. Barry Sullivan gives one of his best performances, its maybe his finest ever. He is believable as Avery, the suffering husband and father of the Queen Bee's two children. The acting in "Queen Bee" is so good that it overcomes any shortcomings, making this a film I would recommend. It is one of the classic late-Crawford "eyebrow movies" and not to be missed.
Autumn Leaves (1956)
Joan Crawford was a great screen actress and her performance in this otherwise routine melodrama is terrific. But her eyebrows are yikes- in at least one scene they are not smooth across but spiked, the result is unintentionally frightening. Oh well, thats just Joan being Joan.
Usually Anthony Perkins would have played the confused ex-soldier part, but I guess he was busy. So we fortunately have Cliff Robertson in the role. Robertson was at that time a virile and vibrant young New York stage actor who is perfect for this role. Crawford and Robertson work well together.
While the actual character emotions are intense, the methods and practice of psychiatry is rather shallow and obviously just there to up the melodrama quotient. Shallow, skimmed-over psychiatry in a melodrama that is at the same time so definitely intense with Robertson's fine portrayal of suffering is a dichotomy I find detrimental to the film. And in a desperate attempt by the film-makers to enhance the melodrama effect, they actually carry the May/December angle into Mommie territory, emphasizing Crawford's motherly qualities (to the extent she had any).
If you view "Autumn Leaves" strictly for its performances and dramatic attributes while ignoring its implausibility and unnecessary references to May/December Mommie relationships you will certainly enjoy this highly dramatic film. Look for Lorne Green and Vera Miles in excellent portrayals of an unhealthy relationship- and wow does Crawford verbally chew them out in a magnificently acted scene by Ms.Crawford.
Overall "Autumn Leaves" is a noteworthy accomplishment by Aldrich and a great example of his ability and skill.
The Dark Avenger (1955)
Lively historical and swashbuckling film
There is a DVD of this movie that shows its excellent wide screen color cinematography. Another big plus factor of this movie is its basis in historical fact.
The Black Prince, portrayed by Errol Flynn, was a real person, the Prince of Wales in old England of the 1300's. He really did marry a noblewoman named Joan, here portrayed by Joanne Dru. Many of the characters portrayed in this move were real, such as the King of France who is correctly mentioned as a prisoner of England, and the Dauphin of France who was suddenly forced by circumstance to rule in his father's absence. But the big ultimate winner of all the warfare was French hero Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France, who is portrayed in this film. Although depicted here as losing a battle, du Guesclin really did eventually regain almost all of France from the English and other assorted groups. These characters are chronicled more fully in a fine book called "The Distant Mirror" by noted historian Barbara W. Tuchman. The book also documents the constant wars, castle sieges, attacks, counter attacks such as those presented in "The Warriors". Believe it or not, these guys really did run around in a bloody, crazy, messy hundred years of warfare all over France and parts of Italy and the Habsburg Empire. And the English did have a claim on Aquitaine and fought for a long time to retain it.
So the movie is not just swashbuckling for its own sake. For me, understanding that the circumstances and that the major figures presented here are historical adds a new perspective to what you might be tempted to call "just another swashbuckler". The only failing that I perceive to all this is that not much time can be allowed for character development (hence the Tuchman book for reference- its well written but really long).
Errol Flynn's acting is good as it always was throughout his career, but alas he is too dissipated to be able to swash many buckles, although he or his double do participate in some action scenes. Dru is not effective in her part which is only secondary to this film's story, but Peter Finch and others including a young Christopher Lee do a fine job in supporting roles. Yvonne Furneaux steals the movie from all these stars with a lovely fun performance.
So this film has a lot of action in a true historical perspective, is well made and features good wide-screen cinematography. I can't pigeon-hole this as "just a swashbuckler" because it is a historical film at the same time, and you can't just say "its another late Flynn" because in his late films he grew as an actor and still tried to deliver a performance while suffering the severe decline of his health related to alcoholism and heart failure.
"The Warriors" lacks depth but is overall a pretty good action movie.
Girl of the Night (1960)
Watch this one
This is one of the most perceptive and realistic depictions of psychology in film. The psychological aspects and the psychologist as portrayed by Lloyd Nolan are absolutely spot on. Anne Francis is perfectly cast as a woman truly in need and seeking out some internal insight, and believe me this is a realistic search by her character and not just an overblown cinematic exploitation. Kay Medford gives us quite a screen acting demonstration- she shows you how to act for the movies, she is that good. John Kerr portrays a total louse but the psychologist also endeavors to figure him out for the sake of his patient, Ms. Francis. Major childhood incidents and issues of the two lead characters are explored in a very frank manner, way ahead of the time frame of c1960 era film-making. And its not exploitative- it is all realistic and highly dramatic. Kerr was master of the psychological side of screen acting (we have seen examples of his work in "Tea and Sympathy" and "The Cobweb") and this film showcases Kerr as an even more well-rounded and impactful character.
"Girl of the Night" should be viewed whenever you are ready for a heavy, serious cinematic experience. Not frivolous or titillating, it is just a well conceived, well written and well acted movie.
Joan Crawford's performance is masterful, ranging all the way from pitiful to frightening. Crawford was a great movie actress. She commands the screen and has thoroughly prepared for every scene and every word of dialogue, however good or bad the dialogue might be.
The whole film is never dull for a moment and is well made within the limits of the guilty pleasure sort of style. Like a train wreck, you can't look away.
Supporting cast acting is adequate, especially Diane Baker who works well with Joan Crawford as they create a memorable mother/daughter team.
For the ultimate in absurd, guilty pleasure brilliance by director William Castle and star Joan Crawford, view "Straight Jacket" when you get the chance.
Borrowed Hero (1941)
Fast Moving Florence Rice Movie
A lively cast provides a lot of spark for this Monogram crime/lawyer/courtroom b-movie. Florence Rice really keeps things moving and the capable Alan Baxter works well with her, mainly due to Baxter's confident style and well-trained acting credentials that make him, like the well-established star Rice, a fortunate addition to the acting lineup for Monogram Studios. Monogram constantly strove to provide a quality product beyond its modest means, and sometimes succeeded as it does with "Borrowed Hero".
Movie perennial John Hamilton has a major role in this film as a shady "civic leader" who has his busy fingers in most of City Hall's activities both above-board and behind the scenes. Hamilton was always dynamic and lively in any role, whether in his countless movies or in the original Superman TV series. He always adds spark to a movie with his brisk dramatic style of acting. Ultra dignified Stanley Andrews and kindly Mary Gordon are also excellent in supporting roles.
"Borrowed Hero" has some good criminal and lawyer action and although hurriedly filmed at times including attempts at charming humor that don't always work, overall this is a watchable and lively little obscure movie.
Mysterious Intruder (1946)
Entertaining, feasible noir
On December 2, 1889 Thomas Edison made some wax cylinders of Johannes Brahms personally playing his compositions on the piano. These went underground somewhere for 48 years until resurfacing, and were given to the Berlin State Library in 1937. They miraculously survived WWII, resurfaced again and still exist in Germany. In recent years modern state of the art digital methods have produced recordings derived from the original cylinders. Edison and others made recordings of extremely famous 19th century individuals, cylinders that either have been discovered or are waiting to be found. So the basic premise of "Mysterious Intruder" is feasible and broadly based on historical fact: the existence of lost cylinders.
Richard Dix does a good job in "Mysterious Intruder" as a sleazy private eye out to grab some lost cylinders of a famous singer from the 1880's. It is a tight script and well made, released by Columbia Pictures in 1946. It moves briskly and is filmed with stark noir-style lighting.
Another thing I find interesting about this movie is its use of some talented and now totally obscure actresses, namely Nina Vale, Helen Mowery and Pamela Blake (no, not Amanda Blake). Who? They are unknown but worth your time to discover here, wherein we luckily find all three featured in the same movie. The very solid actor Barton MacLane (Maltese Falcon '41) also is a great asset portraying a police detective.
This movie has a unique story and is one of Dix's better performances (not great acting, but good for Dix) and is directed by William Castle. I find it to be both entertaining and interesting in its own b-movie sort of way.
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
"Forgotten Man" is magnificent
I give this movie a 10 rating because it includes one of the most powerful and effective few minutes ever committed to celluloid- "Forgotten Man". Its ironic that a 1930's pre-code musical would have a sequence that can sock you in the face and make you think with every viewing, but it does. Consider this bluesy number whenever you hear about the current Veterans Administration hospital outrages and you will realize that this small piece of film is absolutely timeless.
Otherwise Gold Diggers of 1933 is a good musical with some fine dance numbers including the amazing "Neon Violins" that is as off the wall inventive as it is beautiful.
This Hollywood movie-factory production is possibly one of the very few films that really affected you when you first saw it, thanks to "The Forgotten Man".
The Colossus of New York (1958)
Excellent ideas but stiff direction
Excellent science-fiction ideas and high moral purpose with classy actors- what could be better? A lot could be better- its too static, a general stasis pervades most of the scenes.
A brilliant scientist is artificially trapped in a Stephen Hawking-esque existence. The film largely takes place in an eerie dark mansion that contains a laboratory with the usual oscilloscopes, and (since this was entering the modern era) a tape-drive computer console, yet another movie brain-in-a-tank sequence and other sci-fi components, all nicely done for the 1950's.
Veteran stars of film and the New York stage with impressive acting credentials such as Otto Kruger and Mala Powers give solid performances, and fine actor Ross Martin is very good, both as a human and in his Hawking-esque voice only mode. I only mention Dr. Hawking out of respect, to illustrate how far ahead of its time the film's basic concept was.
The actors at times have a curious lack of cohesion interacting with each other, a situation that is clearly the fault of the director, as is the slow pace, and in fact I would place all the blame for every fault of this film squarely in the lap of the director, who in my opinion seriously bungled what is otherwise a potentially very fine film. A reviewer here mentions the scene of a crowd just standing while being zapped- such stasis in scenes is inexcusable. And I agree with reviewers who decry the lack of a "rampage"- a good monster menace should ideally rampage around the city a little but this one doesn't (he moves around the city some while hidden in a clever way, but the result is: no rampage).
I will give "The Colossus of New York" 5 stars out of 10 but wish I could give it a higher rating. Just can't do it.
Overly ambitious episode highlighted by good cast
This is a very dramatic episode and it makes you really admire the extremely hard work that was often done by actors and producers in the old TV days. The hard work in this case was necessitated partly due to the episode's over-reach to what is probably the limits of concept and story that can be accomplished via weekly TV. You either will buy into the "live and die by the play" persona of Jerome Cowan's character or you won't, but Cowan does bring stature and gravitas to his pivotal role. He portrays a playwright and the episode is partly a sort of homage to Shakespeare who is quoted by the characters including lawyers in court. Heady stuff, a very ambitious TV concept and as I say maybe an over-reach.
The cast is terrific and they accomplish a dramatic ending, with skilled acting by TV perennial David Lewis. Lewis was around for many decades on television as well as having good parts in notable films such as the classic "The Apartment". He was highly respected in his era but is not very well known nowadays.
This episode was written by the distinguished Hollywood scriptwriter and literary editor Milton Krims. His participation is an indication that this episode of "Perry Mason" was in fact intended to be a really serious and high concept TV production but I didn't know that when I first saw the name "Krims" on the screen. I thought this must be a joke or a nom de plume- "Krims" spelled backwards is "Smirk", but now I realize who he was and that this is his real name.
Intensity and a heavy tone with little or no relief or levity is tricky to do in a series TV episode, yet this one does manage to elevate to a high standard in my opinion despite the limitations of the genre.