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Three's a Crowd (1927)
Simply Put, Langdon's Masterpiece
Contrary to many nay-sayers, and that includes quite a few noted film historians, "Three's A Crowd", Harry Langdon's first directorial effort, is a hidden masterpiece. Now in full control of his screen character, Langdon attempts to take it in a new direction in this stunningly-photographed (kudos to Frank Evans and Elgin Lessley), UFA-like tragicomedy about loneliness and desperation (indeed, at times it looks as if it could have been filmed in Germany).
Unfourtunately, the public was not ready to accept Langdon at this level, and left him hanging. It can be safe to assume that had Langdon made his cinematic debut in "Three's A Crowd", he would have moved ahead of Lloyd in his place among "Comedy's Big Four", possibly as co-equal with Keaton.
So, whether you are a Langdon buff or not, "Three's A Crowd" should be watched on its own merits. At the same time, it stands as a sad harbinger of what could have been.
Chaplin's Art of Comedy (1968)
Great Score Saves Otherwise Ordinary Compilation
In the wake of Robert Youngson's successful compilations of the fifties and sixties, imitators flooded the market with these low-cost, easy-to-do features. Some of them were disasters ("The Sound of Laughter", "The Crazy World of Laurel and Hardy"). Others, such as Irwin Pizor and Samuel M. Sherman's "Chaplin's Art of Comedy" came close to beating Youngson at his own game.
What makes this film near-extraordinary is the musical score. Youngson's musical backdrops, which seemed to emphasize muted trumpets too much of the time, could be a bit hokey, and hard to take (not to mention those echo-laden slide-whistles). On the other hand, Elias Breeskin's score, played by a string quartet and piano is magnificent. Particularly worthwhile is the theme played during the first part of "The Bank".
The picture's only drawback is the opening prologue which seems to serve no purpose other than to pad out the running time. Full of extraneous stock footage and drawn-out narration, this sequence is a bit off-putting for impatient viewers.
To sum up, "Chaplin's Art of Comedy" is a wonderful sampler of Chaplin's Essanay shorts for those who do not want to fully invest in his full Essanay period as yet. Once satisfied though, only the complete shorts will do, but save this disc anyway, if only for the wonderful score!
Minaccia d'amore (1988)
One of the Most Beautiful Women in Pictures in Recent Years, Wasted in This Trash
I admit, I was taken in by the provocative stills of Charlotte Lewis from this film, as well as a comment on the IMDb message board devoted to her, calling this picture a "great underrated film". And so I got, with great difficulty, my own copy of "Dial Help".
What a waste.
Nothing but a cheaply-made blood and gore movie with a ridiculous premise which I'm not even going to repeat, with several telegraphed sequences (for instance, when we see Lewis lovingly feeding her fish, we know right away what's going to happen to them later). Not even Lewis, with her beautiful raven hair, large and luminous brown eyes, full and pouty lips, and stunning figure, can save this film. Lewis fans would be better off with "Bare Essentials", "Sketch Artist", or even "Golden Child".
Sherlock Holmes (1954)
Why Just One Season?
While Sherlockians and other Baker Street Irregulars might balk at the liberties taken, this "Sherlock Holmes" series is quite enjoyable, a perfect companion on cold rainy weekends. Ronald Howard is quite affable as the sleuthing tenant of 221B Baker Street, while H. Marion Crawford plays Dr. Watson as nature (read Conan Doyle) intended. The fact that this series was filmed in Paris is suggested in several ways: London Bobbies silently salute Inspector Lestrade, indicating that they were probably portrayed by Frenchmen, Conan Doyle's "The Greek Interpreter" is transformed into "The French Interpreter", and of course there's the inevitable "As long as we're in Paris, we might as well have a story taking place at the Eiffle Tower" episode. One can only imagine what the series would have been like had it been filmed in Rome with Cinecitta at their command. The theme music, more or less a variation on "Gone With the Wind" is interesting, but even more superb in a one-off episode played on a Roger Williams-style piano. Incidentally, the company credited with sound equipment, Poste-Parisien, was a leading commercial radio station in France before the French government declared a broadcasting monopoly after World War II. To sum up, and to paraphrase some other former Baker Street tenants (as in The Apple Boutique) "a splendid time is guaranteed for all!"
Ellis Island (1936)
A "Shoeshine" In Reverse, This.
"Ellis Island" was the last picture to be released by the Invincible end of the Chesterfield-Invincible combine, perhaps the greatest producers of B-movies in the 30's (and whose name, as you can see, lives on in mine). The first three-quarters of the film are typical Chesterfield: dim lighting, few retakes (look for some actors to steal glimpses at the camera), and scenes shot on claustrophobic, indoor sets. Then for the climax, the film suddenly shifts outdoors, like a breath of fresh air. This to me is the exact opposite of what happened in the Italian classic "Shoeshine" to be made a decade later. Yes, the film's title might disappoint those who were expecting a rags-to-riches immigrant's tale. But no Chesterfield fan should be without this one. And if you are one of those who are just beginning to discover the wonderfully entertaining canon of Chesterfield-Invincible, "Ellis Island" is one of the films to start with. Enjoy!