Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
One Touch of Venus (1948)
Strictly for department store freaks
This is, arguably, the worst of the major Ava Gardner films. Yes, she is gorgeous. But that can wear thin over time, especially after the corny and predictable movie ending.
In this turkey, Robert Walker has to pretend that he's Eddie Bracken (which surely embarrassed him). Olga San Juan plays the Jane Powell (golly, gee) part. Dick Haymes plays a sort of dim sidekick (!), and Eve Arden plays Helen Broderick (and a host of other wise-cracking female semi-comedians). Yes, the film contains a major popular song, "Speak Low." But check out the other, entirely forgettable, pieces. Dick Haymes sings very well, of course, and so does the uncredited vocalist dubbing for Ava.
The sets are cheap, the script is filled with clichés and failed humor, and Tom Conway looks as though he has been battling with liquor (as indeed he was). In short, if you want to see Ava in her prime, buy a photo and stay well clear of this movie.
Age of Consent (1969)
To get another Powell movie, I had to purchase this film, which is not in the Maltin guide. I've long been a James Mason film, and have admired Helen Mirrin's many appearances in more recent years on PBS and in such excellent films as "When the Whales Came." I was stunned to see before me a certified turkey.
The whole point of the movie, it appears, was to show 23-year-old Mirrin in the buff. It takes an hour to get to that point, and when it arrives it's quite embarrassing. Ms. Mirrin was one of that rare species of starlets who looked better in clothes than without them. And so she prances about and swims and....but what is a film like this doing in 1969? A decade earlier it might have seemed oh-so-exciting, but not smack in the middle of a deluge of post-censorship porn and near porn flicks.
The Australian scenery is nice and well photographed. Mason knows how to act. And that's it! The script is particularly awful. And wait until you see the villain grandma. Perhaps this will become a cult classic. It's certainly bad enough.
It Started with Eve (1941)
This little heralded musical comedy is Deanna Durbin's best film and is arguably the finest film of its kind ever produced by Universal studio. It is a gem from start to finish, featuring first-rate acting by Durbin, Cummings, and Laughton (who comes close to stealing the entire movie), good music, and an excellent script. One thinks of what Durbin might have made had she worked for MGM. Still, even though Universal was part of "poverty row," the movie enjoyed a decent budget, providing sets and outdoor scenes of a first class quality. Deanna was only 20, and her youth and exuberant singing and piano playing reach heights rarely seen on the screen. You do not want to miss this one. These days it is usually encountered as part of the Deanna Durbin "Sweetheart Pack," which is well worth the money.
His Butler's Sister (1943)
Not Deanna's best
One can't blame Deanna Durbin for the low quality of some of her films. Beautiful and with a lovely voice, she got stuck at Universal Studios, in "poverty row," a company that made few memorable musicals. This film is a case in point. Check out the clearly artificial urban landscape scenes, the lousy script, and skinny, smirking Francot Tone as the love interest. My guess is that Universal made the film in a couple of weeks and quickly shipped it to theaters. In one scene, about 70 percent through the film, Durbin is dancing with Tone in a (what else?)night club. One can see clearly that her wedding ring has been covered with flesh-colored tape. If that were not bad enough, the camera focuses in on the hand while the two dancers who are blathering about the woman's desire to get into show biz. In short, this is a Durbin film to skip. And it's not her fault. She could act and sing rings around a large number of famous actresses in better studios.
On Our Merry Way (1948)
There is a mystery here somewhere: Why was this film made? It is a terrible embarrassment for fans of all the otherwise great actors involved. I saw it the other night on TCM and could not believe my eyes. The "comic" scene between Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart is surely one of the weaker moments in Hollywood history! Fonda playing drunk and Stewart with an apple stuck in his mouth are not exactly hilarious. As for the babe supposedly playing trumpet (it was, of course, Harry James really playing), someone might at least have told her that the mouthpiece smears one's lipstick. At the conclusion of this scene, the Harry James band files off the stand--quickly. One can understand why! Burgess Meredith and Hugh Herbert are not at all amusing. And as for Dorothy Lamour, well, she should have stuck with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. On her own she best belongs in a small town chorus. You get the picture: At all cost avoid this movie.
Why was it made? In one shot we see written on a wall: "Kilroy Was Here." Explain that in 1948! In fact, explain anything about this production.
The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939)
Comedy from a golden year
What was there about 1939 that helped produce so many excellent Hollywood films? Well, whatever it was, the magic may also be found in this Columbia picture. It's a long forgotten screwball comedy that Turner Classic Movies has begun to show. (Maltin's movie book does not contain it.) In nearly every department, Amazing Mr. Williams is a jewel.
It's the story of a first-rate police detective who can never find the time to marry his intended. As the wedding bells are about to ring, he gets called to the scene of a murder. The lady in question has to learn the hard way not only to enjoy the pursuit of criminals but to belong to the police force. There are a lot of laughs in the process.
Melvyn Douglas proved again that he had few peers in light comedy. Joan Blondell was at the peak of her career and is a delight. Edward Brophy and Donald McBride are hilarious.
The film goes on a bit too long, but who cares? The screwball comedies are always able to entertain, and this film belongs right in there with the best.
Too Many Husbands (1940)
This delightful comedy falls just short of being one of the classic screwball comedies of the era. It's a story of a woman whose husband disappears in a boating accident and is presumed to be dead. The woman then marries her late husband's business partner. When the first husband turns up alive after a year on a desert island, the woman has two legal husbands. The plot evolves around the woman's decision about which husband to keep. Jean Arthur is a delight, as always, and McMurray and Douglas could hardly be better.
It's a stage-bound film, however, clearly a filmed version of a play. There are really only six characters, including the butler. Columbia didn't want to spend much money on the production. In one scene, upstairs in the woman's family home, you can twice see the set walls shake when doors are shut. Still, the movie is great fun and should not be missed by serious students of film.
Raising Flagg (2006)
Offbeat and upbeat
This is a most unusual art film. It is not for kids, eager for action and gore, nor is it a chick flick, although there are overtones of such sentiment. It's a believable film, beautifully filmed in Oregon, about a stubborn old man whose pride, eccentricity, and self-pity shake up his family and his small town. The movie is billed as a comedy, but there are few laughs. The genius of the film is in its acting and photography. Arkin is just one of the superb actors who make matters almost look like reality television. The shots of rural and small town Oregon (north of Portland along the Columbia) are memorable. The story begins slowly (after 20 minutes I couldn't make out what was going on) and then, in due course, reveals the dimensions of the plot. How could such a distinguished film be made in this era of crass pandering to the majority? I'm sure that it lost money. (Filmed in 2003, it was released three years later.) But serious students of film do not want to miss this little gem.
The Big Sky (1952)
Slightly above average
This western features lovely scenery (alas, in black and white), a fairly good chase story, impressive music, and some excellent props and sets. On the other hand, some of the dialog is ludicrous, the ending is predictable, and at times the acting is ridiculously bad. Smirking Kirk Douglas and ever smooth-shaved Dewey Martin, with his impeccable conk and very tight leather pants, are not at all convincing as rough and tough frontiersmen. The female parts, like the Indian and black roles, are stereotypical and far from politically correct. The movie is very long (141 minutes), but the action and suspense generally hold one's interest.
Weak Abbott and Costello
This is a curious film. Abbott and Costello were only a bit beyond their prime, ready to do the first year of their still beloved television series. Someone, apparently at Warner Brothers, suggested this movie, a low-budget musical comedy filmed in a wretched color process that all but killed the project in itself. Hiring Charles Laughton to do slapstick and Hillary Brooke, quite a talent in herself, must have taken more of the budget than anticipated. The toy ships, the cheap sets, the dreadful choreography, and the forgettable music do little to enhance the low comedy. What an interesting choice for the singing lead: big band singer Fran Warren. She couldn't act worth a lick, but oh those pipes! The song "Speak to me of the Tall Pines" is actually not bad. Her romantic relationship in the film with the totally forgettable tenor is awkward at best. Still, three cheers for Laughton. He steals every scene he's in. But in this crummy film, that isn't saying much.
A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)
End of the Screwball era
The wonderful series of screwball comedies that sparkled from 1934 through 1943 came an end with this witless, unfunny movie. Jean Arthur had been in several of the classic films and had just finished the wonderful "The More The Merrier." Somebody came up with the idea of putting screwball in a western setting, and who better to hire than veteran actor John Wayne. The concept might have jelled if the script had been adequate. Instead, it left Arthur to carry the full load and depend upon sight gags to get laughs. Wayne drinks, smokes, grunts, and gets into a bar fight. Arthur is reduced to copying the hitch-hiking scene from "It Happened One Night" and running about in the western wilds with makeup fully intact and her clothes unruffled, speaking lines worthy of Monogram pictures. Several scenes are simply embarrassing, including the crowded bus bit at the beginning (with Phil Silvers) and a campfire gag that seems to go on for half an hour without a laugh. Charles Wenniger is reduced to playing Gabby Hayes. In short, this film is a flop and heartily deserves its obscurity.
Used People (1992)
After seeing this film, still not available on DVD, one wants to say, "How did this movie ever get made?" It is funny, intelligent, sensitive, and perceptive. No exploding cars. No teens making out. No monsters from outer space. Used People is just excellent and thoughtful entertainment of a sort that makes one want to cheer. The script is unusually good, and the acting is outstanding. The leads, Marcello Mastronini and Shirley McLaine, could not have been selected and directed with greater care. Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, and Marcia Gay Harden are terrific. The photography is outstanding, and the sets recreate the 1940s and late 1960s very believably. The contrast between Jewish and Italian families in New York is most amusing. Why were no academy awards lavished on this film? Perhaps because it is out of step with contemporary cultural norms and deals essentially with seniors, i.e. people who have lived through much and have a measure of wisdom. Don't miss it.
Flower Drum Song (1961)
A lesser Hollywood musical
This film is finally out on DVD. The quality of the picture and sound is excellent, and so is the packaging. Unfortunately, the movie isn't much. It's far too long, the script is consistently weak, the dance numbers make you think you're watching the "Carol Burnett Show," the acting is mediocre, and the music, with a couple of exceptions, is forgettable. That "I Enjoy Being A Girl" is touted as the masterpiece of the production, says much. Yes, the musical numbers are lavish, and a lot of money was spent on such items as a Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco. But where is the wit? And where is the beauty? Even when the music is passable, it seems to be imitating "Oklahoma" and "South Pacific." (Unlike in the filmed version of the latter, Juanita Hall is allowed to sing her role here. Several of the other voices seem to be dubbed.) By far the most believable performer in the production is Myoshi Umeki. Believable because she actually seems to be Chinese and can show a range of emotions that no one else in the cast apparently can. All in all, this is a weak way to spend two hours and twelve minutes, unless you're a musical historian interested to know how far the talents of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II have slipped by 1961.
MGM's curious flop
How do you make a turkey with a cast that includes Jean Harlow, William Powell, and Franchot Tone, and has music by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein? It happened, in 1935, with Reckless, an unfunny, almost incomprehensibly bad melodrama from MGM. The script is terrible; we don't even know why Harlow starts the film in jail. Powell plays a drunk who is in love with Harlow, spouting gibberish for long, embarrassing scenes. Harlow struts her stuff in a couple of awkward dance numbers. (Even Ruby Keeler was a better dancer.) The music is just awful. There is no comic relief. No wit anywhere. What was the director thinking? How did the best studio in the golden age of movies produce something this dreadful? Leonard Maltin gave it two stars out of four. He was far too generous.
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
Experiment that didn't work
You have to give Carl Reiner and Steve Martin some credit: They tried to make a "film noir" that would be funny and incorporate film clips from famous movies as though they were part of the story. Despite their best effort, this doesn't come off. The film quality is never duplicated, the doubles in the Martin scenes are unconvincing, and the hopelessly complex story is obviously designed to include names used in the old movies. Worst of all, the movie just isn't funny. Oh, there are a few good lines, but most of the humor is junior high sexual banter about "feeling up" and grabbing breasts and the like. The Nazi villains are so tediously predictable and trite that the film's conclusion just comes apart of itself. Rachel Ward is gorgeous. Martin does a competent job. But this is not a good film, in large part because it is not amusing.
Man of the Moment (1935)
We owe Turner Classic Movies yet another debt for showing, for the first time in 2007 a remastered version of this fine screwball comedy from Warner Brothers. I didn't know that screwballs were made in England during their heyday in the United States. The film is a little light on laughs, but it is pleasant throughout, and the acting is exceptional. Here are 29-year-old Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and 31-year-old Laura La Plante playing roles that would expect from, say, Melvin Douglas and Jean Arthur. Laura was at the end of her 87-movie career, and her performance in this film reveals what an excellent actress she was. I'm saving the film for my collection, as an example of how good even "B" films could be in the golden age of movies.
The Wings of the Dove (1997)
A very long weeper
This long, long soap opera is not at all worth the academy award accolades one sees on the film box. It is boring, predictable, and oh-so-arty. Yes, the acting is good, especially if one doesn't mind watching Helena Bonham Carter perpetually whimpering and simpering with one of her three facial expressions. The costumes were lavish, and there was a lot of money spent on making the film appear to be authentically 1910. The much-touted scenes of Venice are nothing special. The most beautiful scenes are on screen for only seconds, and then it's back to the set. The sex scene near the film's conclusion is pretty gross; this is the most liberal definition of "R" I've seen in some time. All in all, this is for soap opera fans exclusively. A four hankie job.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
This screwball comedy is notable not for Alfred Hitchcock; his presence is virtually invisible. The film has any merit at all because of the fine acting of Carol Lombard and Robert Montgomery. They do about all anyone could with a mediocre script by Norman Krasna. The film just isn't very funny. The quarreling couple bit wears thin very quickly, especially when you know that the two major characters will reconcile at the end. Perhaps the film needed an amusing subplot, featuring a comic sidekick or two. Gene Raymond has to play the Ralph Bellamy part as the third man, and it is far from amusing. Lombard, a great screwball comedienne and a first-rate actress, deserved a better film. She had only one more to make before her tragic death.
Local Hero (1983)
This is a wry, gentle, eccentric comedy about an attempt by a Houston oil company to buy an entire coastal village in northern Scotland. The acting is first-rate, as is the directing. The Scottish scenery is breathtaking. The film begins very slowly, and one wonders what, if anything, is going to happen. The corporate head, played by Burt Lancaster, is encountering a nutty psychologist who favors personal abuse as a tool of his craft. A young executive is being ordered, along with an aide, to travel to the Scottish site and along the way the pair runs over a rabbit. The inn-keeper at their destination seems primarily interested in having sex with the young female owner of the establishment. The aide becomes fascinated with a beautiful young scientist who seems always to be in the water during research--and has webbed feet. But it all makes sense, in time, and the film turns out to be a total delight. The movie is recommended especially for Anglophiles, the sort of people who enjoy Whiskey Galore and the Secret of Roan Inish.
The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)
Delightful and beautiful fantasy
This is truly one of the great films of our time. It's a fantasy, set in the glories of Western Ireland and involves the story of a little girl who is sent from the city to her grandparents in the isles. Once there, she learns of a mysterious lady who came into the family having once been a seal. The disappearance at sea of the girl's little brother leads the girl to the ancestral home on the island of Roan Inish. There, in time, and only after the family decides to move back to Roan Inish, the child is found, mysteriously cared for the seals. The movie is filled with glorious photography, splendid acting, and a story that should appeal to all sensitive people. John Sayles was responsible for the writing, directing, and editing. It is a tribute to his genius.
Bedtime Story (1941)
I caught this on Turner Classic Movies, at a time when most of the truly different and interesting films are shown: in the middle of the night. This movie is about as good a light comedy as you'll ever see. The writing is exceptional, keeping the pace flowing and featuring often sparkling dialog. The acting is superb. Loretta Young again shows her broad dimensions as an actress, here being sophisticated, worldly, and wise. Not the farmer's daughter. Frederic March is perfect as the actor-playwright who is constantly devising plans to persuade his wife to end her retirement and star in his new play. And the character actors are just right, especially Eve Arden. Even Robert Benchley fits in well here. The director deserved an Academy Award for his flawless control of the story. In short, this is a delightful film that adults won't want to miss. In a just world, this would out in DVD.
On the Avenue (1937)
A weak entry
This is one of the weakest musicals in the golden age of films. The script is absolutely leaden. The music is very mediocre. The dancing (Michael Kidd was apparently still learning his craft)is only so-so. The comedy is practically non-existent. A scene in a small diner, featuring Billy Gilbert, Madeleine Carroll, and Dick Powell, is one of the most embarrassing comedy bits of the era. Cora Witherspoon, playing the Charlotte Greenwood stereotype, adds not a single laugh to this labored musical. Dick Powell does his best, but the plot keeps him from doing anything more than he did in Dames and the other Warner Brothers musicals of the time. Alice Faye isn't given much to do but pout and sing some forgettable songs. The Ritz Brothers are simply pathetic. Yes, they can dance a bit, but they fail, as ever, to be even remotely comical. All in all, this film does not contribute to Zanuck's reputation. The DVD version, by the way, is fine. Now if only the movie was enjoyable.
My Gal Sal (1942)
A Zanuck bomb
Zanuck made some fine films, of course, but he had a penchant for producing weak musicals. Here is a prime example. The script is extraordinarily weak. Wait until you see how the Indians cleaned up Victor Mature after a tar-and-feathering job administered by angry town folk! Aside from the film's title, the music is utterly forgettable. Wait until you see Victor Mature "playing" two pianos at once! Rita Hayworth is lovely and in her prime; this is the year of "You Were Never Lovelier." But she's given little of interest to do here. Her singing is obviously dubbed. The dancing is only average (Hermes Pan was a partner in one scene). Carol Landis is wasted entirely. No wonder Alice Faye turned down a chance to be in this film. It is a bomb. "My Gal Sal" is generally unavailable to the public. Lucky public.
The Talk of the Town (1942)
The IMDb description of the film is flawed. This is not really a film about two men vying for the attention of a woman. It's a much deeper film about justice, mobs, the law, and freedom. There are comedy touches, and they include, at the end of the film, a wry competition for the lady's hand. The directing is superb. The script is unpredictable and always entertaining. The casting is perfect. This gem is now available on DVD in the Cary Grant box set. There are a few film flaws in a couple of scenes, but otherwise the movie looks brand new. Anyone interested in the films of these years, or anyone just interested in a Hollywood classic, will enjoy Talk Of The Town. Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, Jean Arthur...superb actors in a first class film.
Three Girls About Town (1941)
Failed Screwball Comedy
This film should have succeeded. The cast is exceptional, and Columbia Pictures had been on a winning streak at the time. But the script is dreadful and illustrates the truth that good screwball comedy is rare and requires more than good actors. In this movie, people are running around frantically (poor Eric Blore), screaming lines (poor Joan Blondell and Binny Barnes), and trying on-so-hard to be wild and wacky. And it doesn't come off. The plot is tedious and unconvincing. And if you can find more than three laughs in the film, you deserve an award for credulity or inattention. In short, this is a dud. And the era of screwball comedy was just about over. Three Girls About Town is unavailable on DVD or VHS. (I bought a bad copy on e-Bay, probably taken off of television.) Few film buffs or comedy fans should cry for its reappearance.