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Who Is Safe? (1925)
3/10
Madame Girard
27 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is an eight-minute instructional film that introduces the concept of jiu-jitsu to the modern woman, who needs protection from the 'carnival of crime' apparently sweeping the nation in the mid 1920s. It is a pretty dull eight minutes, most of which consists of slow motion footage of a woman taking down a male assailant and of self-defense expert Mme. Girard teaching her techniques to the same woman. Of interest only to those of us pursuing the vain quest of seeing every extant silent film.
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4/10
Chicken and egg
27 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Which came first, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923, starring Lon Chaney) or The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923, starring no one)? My guess is that the latter was an attempt to cash in on the former, and some patrons must have been incredibly disappointed when they discovered they'd paid to see a 10-minute poverty row one-reeler instead of the big budget epic they were anticipating. Quasimodo's hunch isn't even as notable as the one sported by Lon Chaney: in this version, it's more of a gentle swell than a major promontory. What had been a cast of thousands is here reduced to a cast of about two dozen, and the action takes place on no more than four sets. All that aside, I wish we knew more about this film - the credits don't even list a director!
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6/10
Family feud
22 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Time was when ethnic comedies were popular, and here's a really obscure one from the Weiss Brothers. The Goldbergs live across the hall from the O'Connors, and though Jews and Irish shouldn't really mix, their young adult children are making eyes at each other. The comedy is broad and things move along at a rapid clip, but the primary reason to watch Ham and Herring are the two female leads, Elfie Fay and Margery Meadows. As the O'Connor matriarch, the rail-thin Fay gurns brilliantly, crosses her eyes with aplomb, and looks considerably older than she actually was - perhaps unsurprising, as she was already dying of tuberculosis during production. Meadows, on the other hand, is a kewpie doll cutie who can roll her eyes and a pair of stockings with the best of them. Can true love overcome ethnic differences? Probably, but true love is not the focus of this amusing two-reeler.
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5/10
Time to hang 'em up
21 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Rudolph's Revenge was the last of eleven Hairbreadth Harry comedies, and it's clear that the energy and inventiveness had run out. The film also features a completely new cast in its three lead roles, with only the lovely Wanda Sibald delivering the goods as Beautiful Belinda. Vincent Brownell replaced Ear McCarthy, and brings none of the golly gee whiz insouciance of his predecessor, instead presenting the character as a self-assured hunk, and Jimmy Aubrey is completely inadequate as the villainous Rudolph: whereas previous Rudolph John J. Richardson brought a lanky looseness to the character, Aubrey is simply a chunky lump of malevolence. Nonetheless, there's still sufficient fun here to make this worthwhile for slapstick enthusiasts.
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6/10
Nyah ah ah
21 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
How did I live the previous 54 years of my life without being aware of Hairbreadth Harry? This delightful series of two-reel comedies (well represented on VCI's 'Weiss-O-Rama' double DVD set) relate the comic misadventures of Harry (Earl McCarthy, apparently felled by a heart attack at age 26!), a young man perpetually tasked with rescuing Beautiful Belinda (Charlotte Merriam) from the grasping clutches of villain Relentless Rudolph (John J. Richardson). These broad satires of the movies and of 1920s mores (witness this film's focus on all things Hawaiian) are hilarious in their absurdity, crude special effects, and over-the-top physical comedy. The moustache-twirling, top-hat and spats wearing Rudolph surely served as a source of inspiration for Jay Ward's Snidely Whiplash, and Richardson clearly relished the role, absolutely devouring the scenery in between intertitles of him screaming 'CURSES!'. Withal, any movie fan worth their salt will get a kick out of the series, of which Fearless Harry is the first entry.
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5/10
No Diamonds, some Dana
25 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This Italian crime flick deserves to be better known, and probably would be if its cast included any of the now popular stars of so-called 'Eurotrash' or 'Eurocult' cinema. Alas, all it has is Dana Andrews as a jewelry salesman with some cursed gee-gaws in his possession. Instead of the bankable Edwige Fenech, Janine Reynaud or Delphine Seyrig in the title role, Ursula is played by the unheralded French actress Jeanne Valérie (previously seen to better effect in 1965's Espionage In Lisbon), who spends the film wearing an ill-fitting wig and making little impression. The film benefits from a lush theme song crooned by Alida Chelli and looks nice enough (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Something Weird Video's VHS is in reasonably good condition, though it's pan and scanned). Not so much an overlooked gem as a pleasant surprise.
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8/10
Sci-fi with a difference
28 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Several years before Star Wars, there was Alexander Kluge's The Big Mess. Though the films are entirely different artistically, it's hard not to see some surprising parallels: both focus on an evil empire (in The Big Mess, a corporate one called the Suez Canal Company that is buying up as much of the galaxy as possible as quickly as it can), and both feature a group of rebels trying to escape its clutches. Each film includes impressive fleets of huge space ships, though the one's in Kluge's film are distinctly low-budget and low-tech in comparison to those in George Lucas's space opera. And that is about where the similarities end: whereas Lucas was trying to emulate the chapter-plays of old, Kluge seems to have been aiming for something more modern and outre. His film features bold and unusual color schemes, crude animation, intertitles galore, and was surely influenced more by late '60s counterculture, Perry Rhodan, and Fritz Lang than by Flash Gordon. Highly recommended, though it will be a hard slog for fans of 'traditional' sci-fi.
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6/10
Above average spy flick
28 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
With apologies to contributor 'petropolisy', It Means That Much to Me is overdue for another review. Here it is. This is an above average Eddie Constantine effort, with the handsome expatriate once again channeling his Lemmy Caution character (a trench-coat wearing ladies man) as journalist Eddie McAvoy, here mixed up in government subterfuge involving top secret photographs. Constantine was a limited actor, but like other limited actors (Clint Eastwood, Jason Statham) he wisely stuck to the template throughout his career and made it work; he's as enjoyable here as ever. With a big assist from cinematographer Michel Kelber, Director Pierre Grimblat shows flair behind the camera and there's a decent score by Michel Legrand. All of Constantine's '50s and '60s films are worth watching, and all are badly in need of digital upgrades, but even if you can only scope this one out on VHS you won't be disappointed.
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5/10
The Confusion
27 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This bizarre short subject could easily be mistaken for a Kenneth Anger film. A young man is about to assume the throne of an unidentified and apparently ancient kingdom and must complete a series of rituals beforehand (I think). His subjects seem to play volleyball (or is that a severed head they're bouncing back and forth?), and immediately prior to the Big Event a group of men and women in modern garb show up and disrupt things. A mute woman (or man?) in a frightwig is also involved. Perhaps The Coronation would make more sense if a good print were available, but alas the copy I screened was pretty washed out (or perhaps the original film was overexposed). A unique oddity.
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5/10
Frankly, I'm puzzled
25 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Why does Thunder In Carolina score a paltry 1.9 rating on IMDb? I'm absolutely puzzled, because while the film is no Citizen Kane it is a million miles better (and better made) than your average Doris Wishman or Al Adamson pic. Heck, it's much better than your average Howco International production - though admittedly that's setting the bar pretty low! Well directed by Paul Helmick, the film features a strong cast (Rory Calhoun, Alan Hale Jr., Connie Hines) in its tale of injured stock car driver Mitch Cooper (Calhoun) living vicariously through grease monkey and aspiring pro racer Les York (John Gentry). Shot in vibrant color by Joseph C. Brun (Who Killed Teddy Bear), this is an entertaining 'B' picture and a solid example of old-time regional filmmaking. You don't need to see it, but you also won't regret watching it.
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5/10
Go straight to the commentary
10 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
As film historian Richard M. Roberts opines on the commentary track for Yesterday and Today (which is actually a compilation of two different British-made film compilations), there is simply no explanation for George Jessel's career - or at least, there isn't for anyone who didn't see him on Broadway in The Jazz Singer back in the roaring twenties. The rest of us grew up watching him being mildly droll on TV talk and game shows, and I too can remember being absolutely baffled by his apparent prominence and fame. Yet here he is in 1953, narrating (rather badly) this 'movies are your best entertainment value' puff piece masquerading as a tribute to the early days of cinema. Some of the clips are familiar, but quite a few are not (or at least, were not to me!), and may only exist in part right here - which, of course, renders this a rather important little film in itself. Trust me, though: go straight to Roberts' commentary and skip Jessel's terrible MST3K-style commentary and lip-synced rendition of Toot Toot Tootsie.
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Incident (2007)
7/10
All the fun of the fair
16 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This marvelous short subject follows the adventures of a young woman as she takes in the sights and sounds of the long since closed Battersea Pleasure Gardens: the Ferris wheel, the dodgems, the toffee apples, and the eligible bachelors. Shot in 1959 but not completed until 2007, this was Norman J. Warren's first film, and it certainly suggested that he - along with cinematographer Brian Tufano, who apparently shot Incident on two different kinds of film stock (one grainier than the other, which may explain why the film remained unfinished for so long) - was a talent to watch. This is no nostalgia trip, though, coming with a sting in the tail that belies the beauty of Mt Davidson's contemporary score. A really pleasant little surprise.
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The Pit (1962)
8/10
Pendulum, too
3 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
If you've never seen this British Film Institute-produced short subject, hasten thee worthwith to BFI's Schalken the Painter disc, where it resides as a very special extra. Based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum, this is a brilliantly realised film rich in atmosphere and dread; one of the best pure horror films I've ever seen and (almost) completely dialogue free. Brian Peck (whose remarkable resume includes everything from Twisted Nerve to 'Z' Cars) stars as a prisoner condemned by black clad monks to 'the pit', where he's subjected to a series of exquisitely cruel tortures designed, it seems, to drive him to madness. Brilliantly shot in black and white by Gus Coma - whose other work seems to consist primarily of industrial films and softcore pornos - The Pit is as atmospheric as the best Riccardo Freda Gothic horror. Consigned to obscurity because of its 28-minute running time, this is a classic waiting to be discovered.
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5/10
It's no Godfather
23 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
With a title like The Horse Without a Head, you might anticipate all sorts of criminal thuggery, but no - this is actually a long forgotten Wonderful World of Disney episode. Set in France but (for reasons unknown) shot in Britain, the story revolves around petty criminal and traveling salesman Roublot (Help! and Rumpole of the Bailey's Leo McKern) and his bankrobbing entanglements with big time crime lord Schiapa (Herbert Lom, in top form). Jean-Pierre Aumont adds a genuine Gallic touch as Inspector Sinnet, the policeman in charge of the Schiapa case, and 12-year old Pamela Franklin (The Innocents) is here to provide young viewers with an identifiable adolescent. It all adds up to pretty typical fare for early sixties youngsters; adequate in its time but strictly a trip down memory lane now. Look for Peter Vaughan in a small role as a police sergeant.
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4/10
The modern West
11 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not much of a fan of westerns of the non-spaghetti variety, but when this very rare Universal second feature popped up on television a few months ago I couldn't ignore it - especially as there were no IMDb reviews. So here I go, galloping into uncharted and generally unfriendly territory.

Buck Jones was, I gather, a minor star of the oater genre, and this is indeed billed as 'A Buck Jones Production'. Though the film has a western setting, it is not the 'old' West, but the West of the 1930s, where women wear contemporary fashions and the sheriff works in a modern office. Buck plays the absurdly monickered 'Alamo Bowie', a Wells Fargo employee assigned to bust a New Mexico cattle rustling ring. He doesn't want the assignment but changes his mind when he discovers he'll get to spend time near vaguely attractive Betty Golden (Noel Francis).

There is little if anything in this film to set it apart from a thousand other b-westerns. Disinterestedly directed by Lesley Selander, the film has been well preserved and looks terrific. If you're a Buck Jones fan, you'll want to watch for it on Encore Westerns. If you're not...well, I just saved you from wasting 62 minutes of your life.
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9/10
One of a kind
2 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Having experienced The Movie Orgy on July 1 2017 at San Francisco's Roxie Theater, I can report that it is every bit the special experience I anticipated. Filled to the brim with movie clips, commercials, excerpts from TV shows, educational films, and much more audiovisual ephemera, it is a near perfect summation of mid-20th century American cultural mores. Amongst the highlights: the completely bizarre segments from 'Andy's Gang', the wacko kids show hosted by actor Andy Devine; the shockingly insensitive Bufferin commercials that no longer exist except as part of this film; and the hilarious and carefully selected scenes from 1959's JD epic Speed Crazy. Any complaints are minor: the film leans a little too heavily on Albert Zugsmith's College Confidential (though its integration with Nixon's Checkers Speech is brilliant), and at only 4 1/2 hours in length I yearned to see the original 7 hours plus version. Regardless, if you ever have an opportunity to see The Movie Orgy, you simply must take advantage of it. Shockingly, the Roxie was no more than half full for what will probably be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don't make the same mistake hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents made!
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Adieu, Babylone! (1993 TV Movie)
4/10
Incomprehensible
1 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Wow. It's always exciting to find a film on IMDb without a review, so here I am to fill the void. If only I had something good to say about Adieu, Babylone!, but alas - this is one of the most pointless, incomprehensible films I've ever seen (and I've seen a LOT). Directed by the erratic and unpredictable Fernando Arrabal and shot on video, the 'film' blends excerpts from earlier Arrabal flicks with contemporaneous 1992 footage of a young New Yorker named Lelia Fischer who likes to read Rimbaud, kiss fish, and put make-up on men. All of this is accompanied by the sort of overly flowery narration you would expect from the artiest of French art-house pics. There are some interesting shots of the Big Apple right on the cusp of its transition to a playground for the rich and unexpected appearances by Melvin Van Peebles and the young Spike Lee, but on balance this is a mess you can miss.
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3/10
Embarrassing for all concerned
28 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
There is a limit to my '60s nostalgia, and it's reached in Every Day's a Holiday (or as it's known in the US, Seaside Swingers). The bottom of the barrel is scraped early on when John Leyton is seen in blackface, 'emulating' Nat King Cole by turning his Unforgettable into a grotesque parody of Al Jolson. This is an unpleasant reminder of a time long past when The Black and White Minstrels were considered wholesome family entertainment, and it sets the tone for the balance of the film, which is irredeemably awful and burdened with terrible songs and dance numbers. The only exception are The Mojos, who mime effectively and whose music at least has a bit more edge than (gag) Freddie and the Dreamers and Mike Sarne. And let's not overlook an all too brief appearance by Patrick Newell! Yes, I'm grasping at straws. This is a terrible film.
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5/10
Tattooed Pan and Scan Man
25 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This obscure yakuza flick was released on VHS in 1987 by an outfit called 'Fox Hills Video'. I suppose we should be grateful, because otherwise English speakers would have no way of appreciating Tattooed Hit Man, but it must be said that the folks at Fox Hills did a particularly crummy job. In addition to being horribly pan-and-scanned, the print is compressed in order to squeeze more image into the 1.33:1 box, and the result is ugly to say the least. It's a shame, because Yamaguchi-gumi gaiden: Kyushu shinko-sakusen seems to be an above average piece of hardboiled crime cinema deserving of a much better fate. Yet here we are in 2017, and there's still no DVD or Blu-ray in sight: for those who caught this one in a Times Square grindhouse back in the day, your memories will have to suffice.
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5/10
Trucker's wardrobe
25 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A rare example of the 'corruption in the trucking industry' genre, this shot in South Carolina indie includes most everything you'd expect from a '70s drive-in circuit cheapie. There's risible dialogue ("something's not copacetic"), hideous wardrobe (star Michael Hawkins sports a tacky white two-piece), unbelievable hair (as modeled by co-star Mary Cannon), a splash of nudity, lots of country music, and a memorable performance by a drunken Doodles Weaver. The story revolves around Kelly (Hawkins), an independently-inclined trucker not willing to cooperate with the crooked guys running the local terminal. Naturally, trouble ensues when he and pal Ben (Weaver) set out to establish their own terminal. There's lots of footage of roadside attractions like the Flaming Pit Restaurant and, of course, the every classy Ramada Inn, and look for the waitress's uniform that shows up again 20 minutes later as a maid's uniform!
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4/10
Cuidado!
13 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This film isn't available in English (or with English subtitles), so this review will be somewhat hampered by my lack of Spanish fluency. However, I can tell you that the first word spoken in the film is 'cuidado' (watch out), which is followed by a sudden Wages of Sin/Sorcerer-style truck chase in a remote mountainous region. One of the trucks goes off the road and the driver makes a narrow escape. Then...well, then, there's a really strange musical number in which women in peacock outfits sing and dance with ballet dancers adorned in what appear to be devil costumes (thought I could be wrong on this point - the print isn't terribly clear). Regardless, it's one of those crazy nightclub acts that screams 'we're trying for Busby Berkeley on a Sam Katzman budget', but the audience seems suitably impressed.

Backstage, one of the dancers is given a pearl necklace by her boyfriend, who looks like a bit of a sleazeball. Moments later, he gets into a fistfight. Only then - 15 minutes into the film - do we get to the luchadore action, which is pretty much everything you want it to be, after which Santo (wearing a bright red sweater offset by mauve pants and matching mask) gets briefed by the police about something going on in Panama. And so it goes...in short, this is a delightfully goofy mish-mash that you can enjoy without much knowledge of Spanish.
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4/10
Fly or Flying?
27 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Though the video art for this film insists its title is Flying From the Hawk, once you pop the tape into your player you quickly discover it's actually entitled Fly From the Hawk. In the context of the film,I'm not sure this title makes any more sense, but it does suggest that no one took a great deal of care when converting its ZIV syndication print for VHS production. As for the story, it's completely absurd: a young boy with a speech impediment runs away from his parents (John Ireland and Diane McBain, who were surely on a European vacation when they shot this cheapie) somewhere in Spain because a shopkeeper made a wisecrack about his disability. This wafer thin plot device - barely sufficient to take up a half hour TV episode - is somehow padded out to fill 87 minutes (thankfully, much shorter than the 110 minutes printed on the tape label!). That said, there's something strangely engaging about the film - despite the fact that, yes, the boy's voice was clearly dubbed by a woman. It might even entertain a few 8 or 9 year-olds who will empathize with the poor lad.
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6/10
Hey, fish eyes!
31 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
No reviews for a film...not even an external one? I'm always up for challenges of this kind! American Autobahn is (as you might have guessed) a road movie about German immigrant Rudi (or is it Otto?) (Michael von der Goltz) and his attempts to 'make it' in America as a journalist. Instead he gets mixed up in Central American smuggling which takes him across country, traveling from the still decrepit New York City of the early '80s to San Francisco. When his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, he meets cute with tomboy auto mechanic Mary (Jan Jalenak) and the two become entangled in a web of love and (mild) intrigue. Jim Jarmusch (before, after or during Stranger Than Paradise?) has a small but memorable role as a film director who specializes in sado-masochistic pornography, and the film also benefits from an excellent soundtrack encompassing everything from 1920s jazz to Miserlou, Hank Williams, and Kraftwerk. This low, low budget indie is ambitious but a bit disjointed: there's enough here to suggest writer-director Andre Degas was capable of quite a bit more. What happened?
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Hide and Seek (1972)
7/10
Deptford Fun City
30 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to imagine a film being made today opening with the superscript 'DEPTFORD London', but in 1972 the Children's Film Foundation took the plunge and set this production in one of the Big Smoke's least tourist-familiar neighbourhoods. Hide and Seek stars future Spandau Ballet singer Gary Kemp as Keith, a streetwise youngster helping Chris Barker (Peter Newby), a runaway schoolboy who's been dubbed 'The Deptford Dodger' by local media in honour of his shoplifting feats. This being a CFF film there is, of course, a backstory that makes it clear that young Chris is the unfortunate victim of society. Also on hand are Robin Askwith as a phony PC and Roy Dotrice as a rather crusty old man in desperate need of a bath. All in all, a delightful time capsule of an early '70s London that has long since disappeared.
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6/10
Stall on Salvador
25 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
What an odd little film this is. Stall on Salvador (the title of which actually appears as Stall on Salvator on Facets subtitled print) is a brief, 78-minute examination of the Polish resistance of World War II. David Hemmings look-a-like Janusz Gajos stars as Michal, a shaggy haired member of the resistance who wanders through the film's bleak, black-and-white setting. There are short looks at German mistreatment of Polish prisoners, but at first I wasn't even sure the film was about World War II: in fact, I'm still not entirely convinced. Stall on Salvador's few Germans remain distinctly indistinct; they're little more than generic bad guys representative of an evil authoritarian government. Was that an intentional decision by director Pawel Komorowski, a possible nod to Cold War era dissidents? I have no idea, and there's virtually nothing on the internet to prove or disprove my theory. Facets bare bones DVD includes a print formatted at 1.85:1; despite IMDb's assertion that the film was shot in 2.35:1 the compositions on the disc seem correct. The print is not in the best shape, with some mild damage, reel change markers, and numerous digital artifacts. Nonetheless, you probably won't have another opportunity to see this film, and the presentation will certainly be good enough for all but the pickiest Polish cinema enthusiasts.
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