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The King of Kings (1927)
DeMille's finest production
Cecil B. DeMille produced this masterpiece over 80 years ago and it still retains its great power and reverence. Everyone associated with the production put their heart and soul into this work and it certainly shows on screen. The photography and background music score are to be particularly commended. By the way, any on-screen violence during the scourging and crucifixion sequences were kept to a minimum. Parents can view this film with their children and have no concerns. For some reason, this has very limited play on television in the United States. TCM plays the film twice a year during Easter and Christmas. That cable channel seems to be the only place to watch this wonderful film. The Kino video tape and Criterion DVD release remain available for purchase. The DVD offers the original premiere cut and the shorter sound reissue. Some important sequences are shown in the uncut 155 minute version ( such as Peter's denial of Jesus). The sound reissue version is missing slightly less than 30 minutes and this is the one most people have seen throughout the years. Both versions are superb in their own way. This film will truly touch your heart. By all means, seek it out. A true silent classic.
Sea Raiders (1941)
Average Universal serial
Some good action sequences in this otherwise routine Universal serial. Fans of the "Dead End Kids" will get a kick out of it, especially all the ad-libbing. The Rossini classical music tracks heard periodically are wildly inappropriate.
One of the best religious films of the Fifties
Beautiful work by all concerned. Sincere performances by Susan Whitney, Sherry Jackson, Sammy Ogg and veteran character actor Gilbert Roland help tremendously. This will probably be restored by Warner Bros. so be on the lookout for it when released on DVD.
The Indians Are Coming (1930)
"The First All-Talking Universal Serial"
Quite popular back in 1930, it is a now a very dated curio. Some of the acting is so melodramatic that it provokes laughter. The camerawork is impressive ( especially for a serial ). However, most people will have to put up with a lot of nonsense in order to enjoy this one. We did like Pal the dog though.
Rustlers of Red Dog (1935)
Above average Universal serial
Frankly, this one was a surprise. This vintage serial was loaded with action sequences - especially in the first four chapters. Brown, Miller and Hatton are a great trio. You will have to put up with some awfully contrived dialogue, especially Miller's constant referral to gambling and cards when talking about anything. However, there is a great deal of entertainment here for the cliffhanger fans out there.
Ancient sound remake
Even for old movie buffs, this one is tough to sit through. Very dated stuff. Stock footage is utilized from the 1927 silent version to help stretch the budget. Dimitri Tiomkin fans may be interested in hearing one of his earliest music scores. Overall, a big disappointment.
One Million B.C. (1940)
Memorable cave man saga
This film must have been quite a show for moviegoers in 1940. Reportedly it did not do very well at the box office. But, it is remembered fondly by youngsters who saw this movie on television back in the 50s and 60s. Today we have to forgive the very silly story and over the top acting. Production-wise though, the photography, art direction and musical score are all quite good. Special effects are fairly impressive. Indeed, the dinosaur and volcano eruption sequences show up later in many low-budget films of the 40s and 50s so don't be surprised if they look familiar. Give it a shot - it's worth a look ! Footnote: For years, this circulated around under different titles and variable quality prints. Hal Roach Studios went back to the original 35MM elements and produced a very nice video transfer for television broadcast.
Postal Inspector (1936)
Tolerable Universal musical drama
This was Bela Lugosi's last film on his first contract with Universal. As such, it is not too bad. The Actman-Loesser songs are silly but certainly not hard to listen to. There is evidence of some post-production editing on this one - it barely clocks in at an hour. The familiar background score by Clifford Vaughan was reused many times by Universal as stock music for the next 7 years. Worth looking at once if only to see Bela !
Four Days Wonder (1936)
Silly murder mystery
A comedy mystery from the Charles R. Rogers - Universal period. Film plays well enough for young children but adults will become a bit restless with some of the nonsense. Dante is a charming lead but her career never really took off. Look for Harry Davenport in a tiny role.
Classic Universal "B" movie
A film with a lot of action and a tongue-in-cheek script. Stock footage from "East of Java" and "East of Borneo" is used effectively. Even some of the background music is borrowed from such flicks as "Bombay Mail" and "Son of Frankenstein". A treat for old-time adventure film fans !
Pretty good Universal serial
Enjoyable chapterplay from producer Henry MacRae. A bit slow in spots but overall a nice job by everyone. Interesting young cast includes Jean ( "Dale Arden" ) Rogers and Carla Laemmle. The last few chapters are the best with a good use of Universal features stock music in the background.
The Little Match Girl (1937)
Beautiful Oscar-nominated cartoon treasure
Animated classic with a tremendous emotional impact. I saw this film in a theatre way back in the 1970s and many people were crying at the end. Very touching film from the Columbia cartoon folks. Hopefully, it will be available some day on tape or DVD.
Bedtime for Sniffles (1940)
Well-remembered Christmas cartoon
Among the many Warner Bros. cartoons shown on television, this particular short is one that all the baby-boomers remember. The story tells of Sniffles the mouse who is trying to stay awake to see Santa Claus. An expert blend of comedy and sentiment with Carl Stalling's musical adaptations and score most effective. Watch this with your little ones (especially if it is their first viewing).
Tim Tyler's Luck (1937)
One of Universal's best serials
Along with "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers", this chapterplay rates high with fans of Universal's serials. Everyone in the cast seems to enjoy their roles, in particular Frankie Thomas as Tim Tyler. Moves at a good clip with some great cliffhanger endings. Some excellent music cues ( from various Universal features ) are an added bonus.
Perils of Pauline (1933)
Action-packed Universal serial
An enjoyable cliffhanger from Universal's early sound serial period with a good cast and storyline. Somewhat dated production hurts it a bit but overall an admirable effort from producer Henry MacRae and director Ray Taylor.
Passage to Marseille (1944)
Good but not great war film
It must be a problem for first-time viewers to watch this flashback within a flashback within a flashback film. There is also the urge to compare this with "Casablanca". It cannot hold a candle to that masterpiece. On its own, it has some good qualities. The production is first-rate. The cast do excellent work considering the limits of the cliche-ridden script. The Devil's Island sequence is particularly well executed. So we have a film that may disappoint considering the talent but is hard to dismiss.
The Man Who Cried Wolf (1937)
Good Universal mystery
A truly interesting plot elevates this low budget mystery to a B-movie classic. Stone confesses to crimes he did not commit. Then he murders an old enemy he suspects was responsible for his wife's death. He confesses to this crime and the police do not believe him. Familiar 30s actors all over this one. Nice job by everyone.
Mutiny in the Arctic (1941)
Universal action flick
This film owes a lot to the 1933 Universal release "S.O.S. ICEBERG". A lot of impressive stock footage was used from that movie. As such, a good way to spend a little over an hour's time. Good action and flavorful music keep this one above average.
Scouts to the Rescue (1939)
OK Universal serial
Serial aimed squarely at little kids. It is a little bit much to take today with our sophisticated society. It does promote the Scouts which can only do the most good for our kids today. But it is all so innocent and naive. Production values are good. Re-recorded music from earlier Universal features (such as "STORMY") are an added plus.
The Mummy (1999)
A horror/action flick that is always moving. Great fun. Not really a remake of 1932 classic as it is a different kind of film. Good cast, solid script and direction, and fine musical score. And the effects are dazzling!
Man Made Monster (1941)
A prime example of how to make a good movie on a low budget. Excellent photography, solid script, great cast (including Chaney in his first Universal horror flick), and that now very familiar but still exciting Salter-Skinner-Henderson music score. Fondly remembered little movie.
The Crosby Case (1934)
This oldie plays real well today. Good script with a treasure trove of 1930s character actors having a good time. Only a hour long but worth a look.
Good horse story from Universal
This one was worth the time to seek out. A good strong story and capable cast. Roemheld score is very good and was reused in other Universal films. Many Universal films of this period are hard to find or "lost". If you find it, it will be most entertaining for the whole family.
Air Mail (1932)
Universal John Ford classic
A film that belies its age. There are some corny bits of dialogue and cheesy special effects, but Ford created a good low-key drama utilizing an excellent cast. Strong story written partly by Frank Wead. Could not believe this was made in 1932 and at UNIVERSAL!