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Ladies of Leisure (1930)
Missy makes it
Adapted from a David Belasco play, so we already know the emotions are going to be over the top, "Ladies of Leisure" is a winning pre-Code melo that gave Barbara Stanwyck her best chance in pictures yet, and how dazzlingly she plays it. She's a good-time girl-probably a prostitute, the movie is somewhat timid in explicitly saying so-who becomes the model for Ralph Graves, a railroad tycoon's son who's trying to become his own man as an artist. Some of the best shots, and Joseph Walker's cinematography is truly beautiful, are simply close-ups of Stanwyck posing for him. On the sidelines are Lowell Sherman as Graves's best pal (why? It's not clear), a boozing playboy, and Marie Prevost as Stanwyck's roommate; she's sassy and lively, though rather too much is made of her slight weight problem. The logic of the thing doesn't always hold: If she's a party girl, what's going on on that boat that's so offensive that she has to row away? And if Graves's mother, well played by Nance O'Neil, has convinced Stanwyck, in a wonderful scene, that their backgrounds are so different that he'd eventually come to resent her (it's not a bad argument), then what's with the plot mechanics that grind into place to bring the lovers together by the end? Frank Capra was still learning how to pace talkies, and this one's a trifle slow. But it gives Missy Stanwyck so many opportunities to shine, and she shines so brightly, that nothing else matters much.
Emergency Hospital (1956)
Sort of a serious version of Carol Burnett's "Terminal Hospital" skits
No-budget indie clustering a bunch of plotlines into one "average" night at an L. A. hospital, this quick programmer is notable for, first, Margaret Lindsay, nicely underplaying the most efficient, caring doctor who ever lived, and, second, tackling some fairly adventurous subject matter for 1956. There's rape, unwed pregnancy, child abuse, alcoholism, guns in the wrong hands, terrible father-son dynamics, and a ringing endorsement of government-subsidized health care. Most of the plots are introduced and resolved disparately, and the dialog isn't what you'd call inspired. But for its time, it feels fairly frank, and there's the added plus of seeing a whole ensemble of actors you never heard of doing pretty good, understated work. Byron Palmer, the juvenile in Broadway's "Where's Charley?", takes a wildly different turn as a playboy race car driver who smashes up his $8,000 (!) Mercedes to avoid hitting a motorcyclist, and the hospital staff, while only as large as the budget will allow, is encouragingly multiethnic.
The Lady Gambles (1949)
Missy makes it
Not the subtlest or most penetrating examination of gambling addiction and its effects, but a juicy melodrama and a splendid feast to throw at Barbara Stanwyck, who plays it magnificently. She's.a Chicago housewife transported by journalist hubby Robert Preston to then-just-exploding Las Vegas, where some early luck at the tables proves her undoing. She also gets in bad with casino manager Stephen McNally, who, surprisingly, is hotter and more appealing than Preston here-his scenes with Stanny have real heat. The black-and-white footage of early Vegas is seductive, the lowlife gambling halls habited by Stanwyck convincing, and the dime-store psychology explaining her downfall-a silly subplot involving her and her troublesome older sister, Edith Barrett-not too intrusive. Michael Gordon, who'd just directed a couple of other heavy melodramas for Universal and was probably its top contract director at the time (he later did a 180 and handled things like "Pillow Talk"), doesn't stint on the seaminess and menace of the gambling underworld, and Tony Curtis has a noticeable bit as a bellboy. It doesn't wear out its welcome, and whatever's lacking the script about the psychology of the helpless gambler, Ms. Stanwyck provides with a rich, layered performance.
St. Louis Blues (1958)
Musically excellent, dramatically not so much
Biopic of W. C. Handy, only it can hardly be called that, not with the inaccuracies and one-dimensional conflicts and playing around with time it commits. The continuity is truly bonkers: Handy was born in 1873 and died in 1958, just when the movie was coming out. The picture opens in Memphis in about 1900 and Handy's a nine-year-old or so, secretly practicing on his trumpet despite his preacher father's insistence that if it isn't church music, it's the devil's music. That's the central conflict, and as Handy grows up into Nat King Cole, it feels increasingly trite and tiresome. The continuity's all over the place: Handy hooks up with a sultry saloon singer (Eartha Kitt), in what should be about 1910 but is dotted with 1920s and 1930s automobiles, and later ducks into a cafe where Ella Fitzgerald is singing, in what would be about 1929, when Ella wasn't even a teenager. Eventually the conflict is resolved when Handy, his dad, his Aunt Hagar (a game Pearl Bailey), and his longtime girlfriend (a quite wonderful Ruby Dee) witness Eartha's rendition of the title tune at Aeolian Hall, in a whitewashed Nelson Riddle orchestral arrangement that has nothing to do with St. Louis or the blues. The screenplay makes very little sense, but there are some grand musical moments along the way, including a rafter-raising Mahalia Jackson, and anything Nat King Cole plays or sings. Eartha's sultry and watchable, too, though, again, utterly out of period.
Meet Me at the Fair (1953)
Sirk biding his time
No grand Sirkian themes, no big production values, in fact Universal appears to have spent a pittance on this amiable nostalgia trip. But it's kind of delightful, a "Music Man"-esque.journey of a 1904 con man, Dan Dailey very much in his element, and his attempts to break open a corrupt orphans' home while rescuing an orphan boy (Chet Allen, of the sappy boy soprano) and discovering true love in the form of reformer Diana Lynn, who doesn't know her politician beau, a mustachioed Hugh O'Brian not looking much like Hugh O'Brian, is behind all the graft. It takes its time, supporting cast is unstarry (best: Scatman Crothers as Dailey's sidekick, and Carole Matthews as an old flame), and the songbook is strictly public domain. But as these 1950s nostalgia wallows go, it has ample charm, and it does make one wonder why Dailey never quite reached the top ranks.
The Velvet Touch (1948)
Oh, Roz! Less, less!
Rosalind Russell had just failed to win an expected Oscar for "Mourning Becomes Electra" when she wandered into this independently produced crime thriller, where she's a glamorous Broadway leading lady who inadvertently murders her producer-lover (a steadfast Leon Ames). Around the same time, she falls in love with architect Leo Genn, and that's quite a feat: He may be the dullest leading man she ever had. The murder gets pinned on jealous co-star Claire Trevor, who's by far the best thing in the picture, and gets investigated by Sydney Greenstreet, who doesn't show up until the second half but lends some authority to the flimsy proceedings. I love Roz in some things, but she's way over the top here, employing a phony upper-crust accent Tallulah Bankhead wouldn't have dared, over-indicating with her eyes and eyebrows, and failing to suggest in the play snippets that she'd be a decent Hedda Gabler, or even a decent light comedienne. The Broadway atmosphere is very appealing, with everybody calling everybody "darling" and lunching at Sardi's and reading Walter Winchell, and there's the usual good supporting work by Theresa Harris as yet another maid, and it isn't boring. But it's kind of ludicrous, and Roz had to wait five years to regain her footing, when she went back to Broadway and into "Wonderful Town."
George White's Scandals (1934)
Sort of "The Muppet Show" without the Muppets...
...because it's an onstage parade of musical numbers supported by a minimal plot of backstage intrigues. Supervised, directed, and starring the revue master George White (though other hands are rumored to havre helped with the direction), it's a rousing, vulgar string of so-so songs and scantily clad chorus girls, who are also called on to introduce the acts, and barely can negotiate their way through that. The top draw is a young Alice Faye, in her debut, basically playing as she did for her first few years there, a Fox version of Jean Harlow. She has only one song but it's a corker, "Oh, You Nasty Man," and she's immediately likable. She also pines for Rudy Vallee, in uninspiring form, while other backstage love stories involve Dixie Dunbar, Adrienne Ames, Jimmy Durante, and a game Cliff Edwards. Exuberant bad taste is all over the place-ethnic jokes, blackface, cheap-Scotsman jokes, breast-feeding jokes, pansy jokes-and this is the sort of 1934 release that may have hastened the instigation of the Production Code. It's not exactly good, but White is an amiable stand-in for Kermit the Frog, and some very long production numbers (when WILL that dog number stop repeating choruses) are at least eyefuls.
The Bowery (1933)
They Say Such Things and They Do Strange Things
Such are the title-song lyrics to this 1933 frolic, directed by Raoul Walsh to be modest in story but long on atmosphere. Made at 20th, it has something of an MGM cast: Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper had been such a hit in "The Champ" two years earlier, the studio must have been anxious to reteam them. Cooper was a good little actor, but here, as.an unsympathetic little ruffian in the Lower East Side of the Gay '90s, he's just marking time, and Beery, whom practically everybody who ever worked with him appears to have loathed, tries and fails to be a charmer. The story's that of Steve Brodie and his alleged jump off the Brooklyn Bridge (it was also the basis for "Kelly," a one-night 1965 musical that was, up till then, the biggest money-loser in Broadway history); it's not much of a story, but it does allow for some lively set pieces, and George Raft, as Brodie, has a part that suits him well. There's also Fay Wray, who's warm and appealing, and Pert Kelton, expertly knocking out one of the sassy broads she did so well back then. Marred by phony-looking process shots and plot implausibilities and non-clear things (I'm still not sure, did they throw a dummy off the bridge or not?), and off-the-charts non-PC by today's standards, it's nevertheless rollicking, and you can be sure that under Walsh's watch you'll get hard-hitting fights, atmosphere galore, rude insult humor, and a setting where, like the song goes, they do strange things.
Teacher's Pet (1958)
It wants to be "Libeled Lady" or "His Girl Friday" or "Blessed Event," but 1958 is a little late in the game for a screwball newspaper romance, and it's certainly late in the game for Clark Gable to be playing a hard-bitten managing editor who runs around chasing Doris Day and Mamie Van Doren. Day, maintaining her dignity while being forced to wiggle her bottom a lot, is a journalism teacher who's encouraging her prize pupil, a masquerading Gable, to quit his supposed job in wallpaper and pursue a news career. You want to say to her, look, he'll be retiring in a few years anyway. Their chemistry is nil, and the Fay and Michael Kanin screenplay, though Oscar-nominated, has some Act Three problems. Gig Young, who's quite funny as Day's other possible paramour, does some fine drunk scenes, but there's no reason to be believe that this rival for Day's affections would suddenly become a best bud to Gable, who's been terrible and devious to him. There are also some good ideas, like a debate on what's better for journalists, education or experience, and some lovely supporting work, especially by Nick Adams as a copy boy and Vivian Nathan as his worried mom.Mamie is quite decorative in her extended scene, and the black and white Vistavision canvas is appealing. But it's far from the classic it aims to be.
White Woman (1933)
Paramount does Red Dust
It's another steamy, lurid romp through the backlot jungle, this time in Malaysia, where poor Carole Lombard suffers from a one-two punch: Her husband committed suicide under suspect circumstances, and the local Brits despise her for working the only job she's allowed, singing sultry Gordon-Revel ballads in a mixed-race bar. (She's dubbed, I'm sure of it.) There she meets Charles Laughton, expertly playing years above his 34, a rubber plantation magnate who struts and revels in abusing his inferiors. Nevertheless she marries him, it's her only out, and journeys upriver to his sorry domain, which is where the Red Dust ripping off really begins. His overseer is Kent Taylor, and we know there's going to be a triangle, which expands into a quadrangle when new overseer Charles Bickford arrives, oozing testosterone and stirring up trouble. Wildly dated and decadent as it is, it's great pre-Code fun, with uprising, spears, native drums, decapitations, and Laughton looking like he's having a blast. Stuart Walker, a director of little note, ably keeps the pace brisk, and the atmosphere sweltering.
Sis Hopkins (1941)
Judy does her thing, and does it well
Once again, Ms. Canova is a hick-from-the-stix thrust into modern living, in this case going to live with her uncle Charles Butterworth, who's a decent sort, but whose wife and daughter, Katharine Alexander and Susan Hayward, no less, are conniving snobs. Judy and Susan wind up as roomies at college, and from there it more or less writes itself, with misunderstandings, a side trip to burlesque, and some less-than-scintillating specialty acts. Jerry Colonna does what he can with subpar material, and Bob Crosby, singing and conducting pleasantly, has the personality of a lox. Judy gets to sing some pretty good songs by an up-and-coming Frank Loesser and Jule Styne, as well as yodel, jitterbug, and even attempt "Sempre Libre," which unfortunately is rather beyond her. She's an amiable presence who deserved better than Republic could give her, and while this showcase for her talents is a slog when she isn't around, it gives her a nice workout.
Dead Ringer (1964)
What Ever Happened to Margaret De Lorca?
Fun, '40s-style Warner Brothers melo-thriller, with twin-sister Bette Davises conniving against one another and one ending up dead. Assuredly directed by her old cigarette-lighter, Paul Henreid, Bette essays the farfetched plot contrivances with style and snap, and she's helped by solid supporting work from Karl Malden, Jean Hagen, Phil Carey, Estelle Winwood, and Peter Lawford (third-billed, but he doesn't show up for well over an hour). Photographed by Ernest Haller, her favorite cameraman, she looks convincingly fortysomething, and the Los Angeles exteriors are a valuable time capsule. Also, wonderful work from Cyril Delevanti, as the wealthy Mrs. De Lorca's faithful butler-we don't realize just how faithful. Everything, from the Bette-as-twins device to Andre Previn's noisy Max Steiner score, seems to hark back to an earlier, happier Warner Brothers. But it's a hell of a good time.
Judy, Judy, Judy
Pleasant enough B musical from Republic, with country gal Judy Canova, played by Judy Canova, balancing proposals from the local doofus (Alan Hale Jr., and you see why he never became a leading man) and the city-slicker music publisher (Eddie Foy Jr., lost in an unappealing part) who wants to buy her song, which his company has already mistakenly published and recorded. Judy was an enthusiastic and boisterous comedienne with a fine contralto, and like other funny ladies-Martha Raye, Betty Hutton, Nancy Walker-she also did well by ballads. She gets a swell one here, and amid all the slapstick and action and rather dumb comedy (a completely extraneous number featuring ice cream man Fuzzy Knight), she remains feminine and appealing. There's a fairly exciting covered wagon race climax, and Claire Carleton does some good work as a femme fatale. It's all rather stupid, but it's fast, and a good Judy showcase.
Anna and the King of Siam (1946)
Oscar thanks you
After another viewing of this well-produced 1946 Fox effort, what I'm most struck by is how closely Oscar Hammerstein II adhered to the Talbot Jennings-Sally Benson screenplay in turning the material into "The King and I." There are marked differences: The death of Louis (a 10-second horseback accident scene, not much is made of it), the darker character and fate of Tuptim, the reduction of Lun Tha to a cameo. But so much fine character writing I'd attributed to Hammerstein originates here: the king's "et cetera," the evolving relationships of Anna with the king and the Kralahome, whole swatches of dialogue. The growing warm feeling between Anna and the king stops short of romance, depriving us of that thrilling moment in "Shall We Dance?" when forbidden love rears its head. Yes, it's a pretty much all-white cast, and Harrison exudes less heat than Yul Brynner, and much of the cast isn't even made up to look particularly Asian. But if you can step past the abiding racist casting of the day, you'll find a penetrating character study and an eye-filling production, and a touchingly illustrated dilemma in its monarch's struggle to embrace both science and tradition. Among the cast, Gale Sondergaard's dignified Lady Thiang stands out, and Lee J. Cobb's Kralahome exudes authority while negotiating a difficult character arc. Complain about the Western casting and European-superiority attitudes all you want, this is a fine movie.
Wanted to love this dutiful biopic of Jackie Robinson, but found it so damn by-the-numbers. Chadwick Boseman, a reasonable visual facsimile of the original, gets all the attitudes of MLB's put-upon first Black player, but he does not let us see into this tormented man's soul; the performance is, in a word, surfacey. He's equipped with a loving wife (Nicole Beharie, who has nothing interesting to do), a game Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, Andre Holland as the obliging reporter furthering Robinson's cause, a worshiping young baseball fan we just know is going to grow into the majors, and some appealing surroundings: Who doesn't love the cars, the clothes, Don Burgess's color cinematography. There's also terrific work from Alan Tudyk, not afraid to be hateful as the viciously racist Pirates manager, and good work from T.R. Knight and others. But as Robinson lopes around the bases to win the World Series, and Mark Isham's Max Steiner-ish score swells to syrupy heights, we'r'e left wanting. I like the story, of course, and was moved by the finish. But I'd have been a lot more satisfied if the movie did something, just once, to surprise me.
The Art of Love (1965)
Mildly amusing; we expect more of this bunch
Pretty mid-1960s sex comedy set in Paris, filmed on Universal's back lot, but extremely well faked. It's a rather dark-hearted farce about two buddies, an artist (Dick Van Dyke) and writer who doesn't write much (James Garner) who fake Van Dyke's death to raise the price of his paintings. That in itself is pretty tired satire, and it gets more tired when we're introduced to the two men's ladies, a suicidal local girl (Elke Sommer) and Van Dyke's wealthy fiancee (Angie Dickinson), who faints a lot and gets passed between the two guys like a soda. There's also a cabaret-owner-and-probable-madam (Ethel Merman in a series of bizarre wigs), a Jewish deli owner (Irving Jacobson), a fervent private investigator (Pierre Olaf), and a fair amount of slapstick. Van Dyke's expert and does some cute pratfalls; Garner, playing a real rotter, is atypically shrill and charmless. Dickinson hasn't much to offer but a series of eye-popping fashions, and Sommer is unaffected and delightful. A few laughs, but Carl Reiner and Norman Jewison, having recently delivered "The Thrill of It All," were capable of far better.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Like the New York Times capsule TV review used to say, "the American cinema at its peak"
John Steinbeck's epic novel of the poverty, dislocation, and injustices wrought by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was unfilmable as is; it's raunchier, more political, and more left-wing than what 20th Century Fox could put in a major release. All the same, what they achieved was a masterpiece. The fraught journey of the Joads was boiled down extremely effectively by screenwriter Nunally Johnson, and John Ford's direction and Gregg Toland's superb photography are, in a word, unflinching. They're not afraid to thrust the audience straight into the suffering of the Joads and so many like them, and those hungry kids clustered around Ma Joad's pot of fried dough don't look like Hollywood extras, they look like real, poor, hungry Depression kids. The violence and capitalistic greed visited upon the Okies aren't soft-peddled, they're real and frightening. And the ending, very different from the book, is the right ending for this journey, especially in Jane Darwell's unfussy, deservedly Oscar-winning delivery. So many of the actors give career-high performances: John Carradine's haunted Casy, John Qualen's blighted Muley, Grant Mitchell's fatherly camp supervisor (the one component that feels a little soft: "See, the government CAN do good"). Small scenes, like the one with Mae in the diner, have large resonance, and the have- and have-not verities that are with us still have never been more realistically and heartbreakingly portrayed. "Rebecca" won Best Picture that year-good flick, of course, but this one's magnificent.
Living Venus (1961)
Herschell Gordon Lewis's not-that-bad first time out
Cheap sexploitation, wallowing in its sleaze and punctuated by several not very relevant naked-lady sequences, this below-B epic has opportunist William Kerwin leaving his gig at a respectable wedding magazine to found a Playboy-like sex rag, aided by ace photographer Harvey Korman (!), and turning waitress Danica D'Hondt into a supermodel, who also turns improbably into a hopeless alcoholic when Kerwin rejects her. The main mystery in Gordon's and David Friedman's screenplay is what she, or his weepy prior fiancee, or anybody would see in him: He's ambitious, uncaring, shallow, and impatient, with a catchphrase of snapping his fingers and exhorting, "I guarantee it!" He also has a faithful secretary, Janette Leahy, who goes through over a bottle of scotch a day, which is supposed to be funny. Kerwin can't bring this rotter any charm, but Korman amiably plays an amiable shlub, and D'Hondt, despite her character's impossible character arc, is actually touching. Sleazy as it is, Lewis got sleazier, Still, as an indicator of what dirty old men and lewd young schoolboys thought was hot 60 years ago, it's interesting.
Her Private Affair (1929)
Anyway, a different look at Ann
I'm so fond of Ann Harding, one of the early talkies' most revered actresses at the time, and now, sadly, virtually forgotten. She had a certain stillness and contemplativeness rare for the time, and usually she's so subtle, yet so expressive. But not in this rickety filmed play, where, for the only time I've ever seen, she overacts. But then, Vera, her character, has so much to overact about. Facing marital discord with her eminent judge husband (Harry Bannister, married to Harding at the time), she went off to holiday in Italy and became involved, though not to the point of Doing It, with a rotter lothario. Now, back in Vienna, he wants blackmail money, and she ends up unintentionally murdering him. The contrivances and coincidences just pile up: She just happened to leave an opera ("Carmen," which we see a bit of; Pathe appears to have spent some money on this one) to see the rotter as some friends were trying to run into her during intermission, and the man accused of the murder just happens to have her husband as the judge, and she convinces her faithful lawyer friend (John Loder, rather dashing) to defend him (before his good friend the judge her husband), but he never suspects a thing, and she just happens to faint on hearing the verdict, and the cleared suspect just happens to be her waiter on New Year's Eve, and her husband just happens to overhear a vital conversation between her and the suspect, and on and on until the end. Fairly ridiculous, but entertaining, and while I prefer the subdued Ann Harding, this hyper one's fun to watch.
First a Girl (1935)
The premise-a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman-is the same, but Blake Edwards considerably revised the particulars for his 1982 version of this 1935 Jessie Matthews musical, which was in turn taken from a 1933 German romp. Matthews is a stagestruck clerk who loses her job and fills in, in a rather contrived plot development, for female impersonator Sonnie Hale, a would-be Shakespearean actor who's putting on a dress to earn a guinea or two. She triumphs, and soon she's touring a surprisingly location-shot Europe as Victor. Matthews is, as ever, charming, a pleasing singer and a marvelous dancer. But with her constant lipstick and eye shadow and plucked eyebrows, the notion that she could fool all of Europe with her gender is absurd, and the screenplay has to go through some strenuous contortions to correctly match her with the dashing Griffith Jones, whose fiancee, a platinum-blonde Anna Lee, winds up with Hale, who wraps up the movie by doing an elaborate production number in drag, and isn't as hilarious as he thinks he is. It's pretty jolly, lavish by 1930s British musical standards, and a bright showcase for Matthews, but I think I prefer Victor/Victoria, and I think I buy Julie Andrews as a boy more than I do Matthews.
The Good Companions (1957)
The World of Susie Wrong
Remake of a charming 1933 Jessie Matthews vehicle, in turn adapted from J.B. Priestley's then-current novella, this trifle about a traveling music hall troupe is inflated beyond its natural proportions and turned into a vehicle for up-and-coming Janette Scott, as Susie, the ambitious, supposedly wildly talented young thing pursuing fame while fighting off the advances of John Fraser, an unprepossessing juvenile. Some friendly people turn up-Joyce Grenfell, Celia Johnson, Eric Portman, Hugh Griffith, Anthony Newley-and the big musical numbers attempt a Hollywood-type lavishness. But the sad fact is, Janette Scott is neither much of a singer nor a dancer, and when you see the audience going mad for her modest warbling and stepping, you wonder why. She's sweet, with a Debbie Reynolds sort of innocence and chipperness, and she probably melted some British schoolboys' hearts. But she's nothing to mount a big musical around, and J. Lee Thompson, soon to inflict himself on Hollywood, is not a natural musical director. A couple of good sequences, and lots of touring-the-hinterlands atmosphere, but not much else.
A different kind of Fred and Ginger movie, and a good one
Their last for RKO is something of an anomaly, a biopic with an unusual seriousness and a shortage of show-stopping dances. They faithfully re-create some of the dances popularized by the Castles, and they play a credible love story. It's somber and even tragic, and you just don't expect roaring military sequences in a Fred and Ginger movie, nor is Fred the most convincing war pilot. There's not much of a supporting cast, either: Walter Brennan is Irene's faithful manservant (he was African-American in real life, and the deceit caused Irene to disown the movie), and Edna May Oliver is a character based on Elisabeth Marbury, a stage producer who also backed the famous Kern-Bolton-Wodehouse Princess Theatre musicals. (Marge Champion also turns up for an instant, with a line or two.) The score is mostly old standards, nicely orchestrated and nicely atmospheric, and the 1911-18 period is lovingly presented by H.C. Potter, an unshowy director who lets the material speak for itself. You won't get the highs of "Swing Time" or "Top Hat," but it's a very satisfying, low-key look at a legendary dance team, as played by their natural successors.
Heller in Pink Tights (1960)
Some tonal problems, but much to like
George Cukor said he'd always wanted to make a western, and this rollicking 1960 adaptation of a Louis L'Amour novel provided him with good material. It starts out tremendously, with creditors chasing Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren's ragtag theatrical troupe across state lines, and the credits, supported by Daniele Amfitheatrof's splendid scoring, promise a good time. What follows is a bit inconsistent; it's never sure if it wants to be a giddy theatrical comedy or a gritty western, and farce and violence don't mix well. Quinn seems miscast and devoid of personality, and Loren tries to overcompensate with some stilted line readings. She's gorgeous, of course, delectably costumed by Edith Head, and the rest of the troupe-Eileen Heckart, a fetchingly grown-up Margaret O'Brien, and a hammy Edmund Lowe-provide plenty of diversion. Steve Forrest ably plays a studly, surprisingly complex villain, and Ramon Novarro is an excellent villain. Few westerns carry such a beautiful color palette, and it moves swiftly and satisfyingly. Not quite the masterpiece it wants to be, but it's consistently entertaining, and great to look at.
Alan Pakula's followup to "Klute" and predecessor to "The Parallax View" and "All the President's Men," this picturesque mismatched romance is virtually a two-hander, one that doesn't make a great deal of sense. Timothy Bottoms, a surly college kid with an inferiority complex handed down to him by his Pulitzer Prize-winning father, can't get his life into motion, or doesn't want to, so he runs off to Spain and joins a tour where he's thrown up against prim thirtysomething Maggie Smith, a proper English lady with a dark secret. The character's a little like Deborah Kerr's repressed virgin in "Separate Tables," and while Maggie acts the hell out of her, it's not a romance we're particularly rooting for, or believe. The monosyllabic Bottoms does learn to love, but he doesn't learn anything else, he remains a jerk. The Spanish countryside, lovingly photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth, is quite gorgeous and atmospheric, the music's nice, and Pakula keeps the slender story moving along. But it remains a love story that's hard to love.
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)
Simple, methodical, darn good
Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr adored working together; you can see their mutual regard in "The Sundowners," and you can see it here, in this straightforward, somewhat sanitized adaptation of a wartime novel. He's a capable but. not-very-bright marine who washes up on a deserted South Pacific island, she's an Irish nun who's been living there alone since the recent death of her aged priest, and their adventures in subverting the arriving Japanese make for a beguiling "African Queen"-esque narrative. The locations are eye-filling, John Huston's direction is careful and unshowy, and who doesn't love watching these two. It's a somewhat familiar role for her, but she creates a full character, with limited dialogue. He's flat-out wonderful, carefully navigating this likable jerk's journey through bafflement, affection, self-pity, and nobility. Not, as many posters have noted, a well-remembered movie, but a very pleasurable and satisfying one to re-encounter.