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Submarine Alert (1943)
No-nonsense spy movie
Well made and edited, this is a focused, no nonsense WWII spy movie that has a somewhat interesting technological foundation regarding radio transmission. Richard Arlen always had a wooden acting style but he is a bit less stiff than usual in this one and his capable action-star abilities are well used in the vigorous aspects of his role. Nils Asther, Marc Lawrence, Wendy Barrie and others provide solid performances and do excellent work.
If you can ignore the final two minutes that are spliced on for propaganda purposes and concentrate on the film itself, you will be rewarded with a solid, surprisingly well made action/spy flick. Surprising especially since it was only a quickly conceived WWII studio effort that was a product of the Hollywood switch to war themes following the sudden outbreak of the war. While obviously quickly made, "Submarine Alert" lacks any sloppiness, unnecessary padding or other b- quality attributes in its acting or overall results.
I consider my rating of "6" as being for the film itself, since it completely ends before the final add-on section.
Jump Into Hell (1955)
Jump into Colonialism
One of the Vietnamese characters, a troop on an airplane, pretty much sums up the overall issue in Indochina: they didn't want outsider Russians and Chinese, nor did they want the outsider French unless the French granted them some autonomy (he used the much-overused phrase "democracy"). Later, the vast majority of them didn't want the outsider Americans, either. After the departure of WWII Japanese occupiers, French Colonialists, anti-communist Americans, Russians and Chinese, and after fighting yet another border war with China after the Americans left, Vietnam finally became a sovereign nation. Whew, what a long slog they had.
Many heroic and brave French military and Foreign Legion troops were sacrificed in Indochina and the film properly credits their bravery, with some well done military depictions.
The Americans ended up seeming rather two-faced to everyone, having at one time sided with the Vietnamese nationalists during and after WWII only to drop them, later supporting the French because they were anti- communist, only to just simply abandon the French along with any and all representations expressly made or implied to them. I mention this mainly because some one-sided American cold war jingoism is used to an almost laughable extent throughout the movie.
Diplomacy is given lip service but actually played an important part in all of the Indochina conflicts. A Geneva conference is mentioned, and in fact a later Geneva Agreement reached by U.S. Ambassador Averill Harriman in 1961/62 effectively ham-stringed subsequent U.S. actions in the region. Constant conferences went on for decades regarding the Indochina situation.
The lessons of the conflict depicted in this film should not be forgotten but I believe it is a travesty that the word "Colonialism" is not emphasized in the film or in most reviews and discussions of it. I prefer to remember this film as a jump into Colonialism, which is was.
The Beat Generation (1959)
On one level this movie is sort of pop psychology trying to make a subtle distinction between the slippery slope of ordinary misogyny (non- violent here) and serial rapist (extreme brutality of course). The contrast between two men with these hang-ups in relation to women seems an odd basis for a film script, but then this whole movie is pretty odd.
The attempt at a psychological overall theme fails to rise above mere exploitation in this 1959 b-movie time capsule complete with Mamie Van Doren at her bleach blondest and flirtatious best. Also you have some beatniks who say "lets have a hootenanny". And dig these cats as they really do have a hootenanny. Its a crazy beat event as self-absorbed oddball characters endeavor to find nihilistic and existential new ways to waste their time and practice the fine art of hanging out. Watchable chaos ensues as a campy b-movie police manhunt goes on literally in its midst. This is 1959 b-movie heaven, complete with Louis Armstrong and an inexplicable role for Cathy Crosby that is so out of place it actually adds more camp to the camp.
Fay Spain carries the acting load as she did in numerous movie roles and countless fine and noticeable performances in TV dramas. She was a true acting talent. Steve Cochran, once one of those incredibly beautiful male actors who populated 1940's and 50's movies, is clearly aging here and gives a sort of disinterested, hangdog performance that is not among his best. Ray Danton, another movie stud of the era, is convincing as the psycho, but unfortunately is only allowed to perform at a strictly b-movie level.
Fay Spain is the real deal. Aside from her this is just a fast-paced psychological mumbo jumbo of a b-movie that is priceless as a time capsule of the age.
Cult of the Cobra (1955)
She who is a Snake
The beginning when the snake charmer offers to show us "She who is a snake" for 100 dollars, followed by a well done and costumed dance scene, is good. The ending is suspenseful and quite good. Unfortunately, everything in between is mush. An effective performance by Faith Domergue as a cult leader who has the instincts to be more humanistic (but doesn't quite know how) cannot overcome the blandly directed, badly lit, overly padded middle hour-plus of this movie. Unfortunately the producers are too cheap to show any cult activity or morphing scenes during the long middle, instead all is only shadow or off screen except at the beginning and the very end.
The five future TV stars who portray potential cult victims are all capable and watchable but their efforts are mostly swallowed up in the long dreary middle of the movie. Many familiar faces are also present such as first class actor Walter Coy (The Searchers '56), and also Bing Russell and Ed Platt.
I expected more from a Universal horror movie. This film suffers from lack of style, imagination or excitement but you will be pleased to see the talented and enjoyable cast.
The Renegade Ranger (1938)
Interesting for its stellar cast
This is a film basically about crooked land trickery in the old west, specifically Texas in this case. Such activities historically were well documented for a time along the Rio Grande on the far south Texas border rather than so specifically the Pecos River area of Texas which was mostly just empty desert, but do form a footnote in the five hundred year history of the Spanish Colonial New World and its later ex-colonies the Republic of Mexico and Republic of Texas (later to merge into the U.S. and become a State). The colorful border atmosphere is somewhat captured in this otherwise routine western movie.
Established star and real-life American hero George O'Brien is strong in the lead role and young buck Tim Holt is an unpredictable and mercurial kid Ranger and they are both fine in their roles, ordinary as the roles may be. Veteran actors do good work in support.
But now the reason for my review of this movie: stunning young Rita Hayworth. Her beauty and screen presence jump off the screen. She has obviously got "it". Her acting is forceful and her wardrobe ranges from pretty dresses to riding clothes that do not (or cannot) constrain certain parts of her upper torso. As a side note, I could mention that she does an impressive amount of her own horsemanship in this film. And if I was a rider in her vigilante justice group I would surely follow her to hell and back. Hayworth is a young actress giving a good performance here that sets her up for the launch of her soon to be mega-stardom, and deservedly so.
OK, its only an ordinary b-western. But the film's three starring performers elevate it well above what it otherwise would be.
Stage to Blue River (1951)
Monogram Pictures cranked out a number of good westerns. "Stage to Blue River" is one of those. It is lean, non-padded and moves along at a good pace with plenty of shootin' and action. The linear script is OK and uncomplicated, concerning movement of mail and passengers by stagecoach. Star Whip Wilson's whip is not used for show- only to advance the scenes.
Whip Wilson was a straight-ahead, no nonsense western actor who moves like a tough guy and looks like he could throw a punch in real life (although punches in Hollywood fights always look staged, he manages to include at least one impressive right in each of his movies). Phyllis Coates was one of the best western leading ladies and in addition to being very attractive she displays effective strength and determination in all her roles. The sidekick in this film is more subdued than most and mainly is used within the plot rather than as comedy padding.
"Stage to Blue River" is a no-gimmick, focused western movie that is well done all around.
Marie Antoinette (1938)
Probably the best word I can use to describe this film is "splendid". It was meant to be, and it is probably the most opulent and lavish film ever produced by Old Hollywood, and undoubtedly one of the most expensive. Incredibly, Norma Shearer manages to dazzle over and above the glittering jewels in an outstanding Oscar- winning performance. Tyrone Power is dashing and John Barrymore is great as aging monarch Louis XV. Robert Morley steals the show creating an unforgettable character as the Dauphin and later King whose reign ended tragically but inevitably in a bloody manner.
The history seems generally accurate although necessarily somewhat speculative and condensed because it spans two decades and a great number of events. It is of course impossible logically to feel any sympathy for the pampered remnants of a cruel old royal society. Nevertheless, everyone should view this film for Shearer and Morley and their tremendous acting accomplishments to see how logic can be overcome by emotion. This film is a classic Hollywood demonstration of how superb technique and style can soften and twist the ugly truths of aristocratic privilege into something more sympathetic, at least as far as empathy for individual characters in a script. Hollywood was very talented at such twisting of the optics of myth and did it frequently.
Models Inc. (1952)
Not a bad flick
With a 1940's type plot updated to the 1950's, "Models, Inc." moves along briskly in a neat, well-executed manner. This film is what it is, and doesn't pretend to be an a-level classic but that's OK.
A pseudo expose of the modeling business, it begins with a cheap gold-digger (Gray) who tries to go big time with a business owner (mature John Howard doing fine work as a square who should know better). Marjorie Reynolds gives a smooth, professional performance as his knowing secretary. When ex-con heel Howard Duff appears the movie swiftly proceeds from gold-digging into sleaze, and then into dark criminality. Duff gives a solid, forceful performance that dominates the film.
Gray's character sort of vacillates along as a tool for whatever the script requires at the moment, but overall is an adequate depiction of a noir type girl who must struggle to find the wherewithal to somehow go legit.
"Models, Inc." will probably hold your interest at least for the good work by a very fine cast. Its basically just an above-average little exploitation film but that is good enough for entertainment value.
The Man from Toronto (1933)
Small town England, of all places, is fun in "The Man from Toronto". It is well-paced and written in a charming, spirited manner. Jessie Matthews is lively, charismatic and shows why this film helped make her a star. Old thespian Frederic Kerr ("Frankenstein") is funny and extremely watchable as a curmudgeonly lawyer with certain responsibilities under an odd will. Ian Hunter's low-key acting style works well in this role. Hunter, often miscast in films, is OK here as he is understandably overshadowed by the powerhouse Matthews.
All of the cast is talented and the whole thing is just for fun, its a romantic comedy that works and never at any point really takes itself seriously. You are guaranteed to get a smile out of it.
Sea Hunt: Proof of Guilt (1959)
Good Adventure Episode
Its amazing how this series managed to cram first-rate adventure into a 30-minute television format. This episode has some nasty villains out to steal cultured pearls underwater, with Mike Nelson attempting to gather evidence to help the Hawaiian police. The usual fine underwater stunt work ensues.
And Nobu McCarthy is as stunning a sight as you could ever behold in episodic TV. The director has the camera linger longingly on her wearing swimsuits on boats and walking on the beach, with good reason- she is gorgeous. Her acting is good too and she went on to a long acting career on stage, in TV and in movie roles.
Speedboats, technology and fine production values enhance this excellent TV episode.