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Eli Wallach's character in The Holiday (2006) describes it thusly: "Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in and both go to the same men's pajama department. The man says to the salesman 'Ted, I just need bottoms,' and the woman says, 'I just need a top.' They look at each other and that's the meet cute."
An exceptional scene with Billy Miller and Elizabeth Hendrickson highlights a conspicuously down-to-earth episode
The launch for the new Jabot line begins well as Jack and Lauren field questions from the press, and Michael supports his wife. Jill is an old pro at the launch even as she grieves for her son losing the custody battle. Abby decides to come after all. Sofia arrives fashionably late. George Kotsiopoulos, Shiva Rose and Christina McLarty are in attendance. Meanwhile, Billy attempts to see Delia, but Chloe refuses to allow it. Victoria tries to call her mother at rehab, not realizing how late it is. Tucker is released from the hospital, but Ashley tries to talk him out of making an appearance at the launch.
No one watching the show for the first time would guess from this episode that, like all current soap operas, it is clotted with silliness. Recently the series has been sloppy enough to have two back-from-the-dead story-lines going on simultaneously. The story involving Cane Ashby is by far the worse of the two because - unlike the one with Sharon Newman, in which we were let in from the beginning on the secret that she was still alive - it tries to take back what can't be plausibly taken back. An exceptionally stupid, tedious explanation involving an evil twin makes us wonder if the soaps shouldn't have died back in the radio days.
But here are down-to-earth matters. It's all pretty good until we get to the confrontation between the crumbling Billy (Billy Miller) and a steadfast but heartsick Chloe (Elizabeth Hendrickson), which is exceptionally well written and well played. It's the kind of thing this show used to do well and which most soaps used to do well; but now the bizarre plots involving amnesia, evil twins, resurrections, doubles created through plastic surgery and such that used to add spice are the whole meal on most shows, while scenes like this are scraps fallen from the table.
Thriller: Child's Play (1960)
Somewhat static episode still has intelligent dialogue and tense scenes
An 11-year-old boy (Tommy Nolan) neglected by his father (Frank Overton) gets so caught up in his fantasy world that he takes a real rifle to hunt down his made-up enemy, the evil Black Bart. This early episode, which according to the other reviews is atypical of the series, is probably a bit too static. Much of the screen time is given over to the mother (Bethel Leslie) and father having a domestic quarrel in their summer cabin. As a magazine writer, his job takes him mentally and often physically away from his family, and the wife yearns for him even while asking him for a separation. Still, I couldn't help but enjoy the heightened, intelligent dialogue of a kind that is only heard in the old TV dramas of the day. The director (Arthur Hiller) and writer (Robert Dozier) do a pretty good job of punctuating the talk with tense scenes of the boy putting himself, and eventually a poor fisherman he mistakes for his quarry, in danger.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Fabulous nonsense, superior to all the previous Roger Moore Bonds, with an unforgettable villain
James Bond (Roger Moore) teams with a sexy Russian agent (Barbara Bach) to stop a web-fingered megalomaniac (Curd Jürgens) from destroying the world and rebuilding it as a new Atlantis.
"The Spy Who Loved Me" is fabulous nonsense, superior to all the previous Roger Moore Bonds, even with the obvious model shots, process shots and the occasionally corny background music by Marvin Hamlisch, who also wrote the music for the theme song, "Nobody Does It Better." (It's popular, but you can have it.) The gadgets, sets, stunts and one-liners are more outrageous than ever. Jürgens makes a good villain, and so does the shark he unleashes on traitors; but the bad guy everyone remembers is Jaws—not another shark, but a metal-mouthed giant played by Richard Kiel. He is Jürgens's best henchman—not good enough to outmatch Bond, but enough to survive for the next Bond adventure.
Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973)
A marriage falls apart in Ingmar Bergman's intimate portrait of two people who love and hate each other; a rich experience
Ingmar Bergman provides us with a very intimate portrait of two people in a marriage that dissolves into bitterness and hatred; and yet ultimately they both love each other and come to understand each other in a way they might never have done were it not for the divorce. Liv Ullmann, an extraordinarily captivating presence, plays a woman who can be irritatingly passive at times; but I was mainly on her side, even though it becomes clear eventually that her passivity masks her aggressive manipulation. Erland Josephson, with his rodent-like features, is harder to like, especially since his character is vain and petty. He's the one who leaves her for another, younger woman. I spent much of the movie hating and despising him, but by the end, I came to understand him and understand that Ullmann was as much responsible for the dissolution of the marriage as he.
"Scenes from a Marriage" is a very, very rich experience in its original form as a 299-minute miniseries. I've yet to see the 168-minute theatrical version.
Lorna Doone (1922)
Graceful photography and strong acting make for a fine film; the 2001 score is nice at first but too repetitive
In 17th-century England, the outlaw Doone clan kidnaps a young girl, who grows up among them. The farm boy who met her just before the kidnapping eventually rescues her, and they fall in love.
I wasn't familiar with this story, having neither read the novel nor seen the various movie and TV adaptations. The bare bones of this boy-meets-girl tale are, of course, familiar to anyone; but (in this version, at least) it is fleshed out in a particularly engaging way. The graceful photography of Henry Sharp, under Maurice Tourneur's direction, is the movie's main asset. Both leads (Madge Bellamy in the title role and John Bowers as the hero) are strong. Frank Keenan, as the elderly leader of the outlaw clan and Lorna's protector, gives a fascinatingly florid performance (an improvement over his equally striking, but ridiculously slow-motion, acting in "The Coward" from 1915). Charles Hatton, who plays the hero as a boy, has a strong screen presence: it's disappointing to see from his IMDb filmography that he only made a few films and then disappeared.
The 2001 presentations of this film has a lovely background music by Mari Iijima; but unfortunately, Iijima didn't exactly score the film so much as write a few pieces for it, which are repeated without variation throughout the movie. The repetitiveness is a defect.
The Cell (2000)
The heavy stamp of self-seriousness can't obscure the virtues of this unpleasant, but surprisingly compassionate, thriller
An FBI agent (Vince Vaughn) persuades a social worker (Jennifer Lopez), who is adept with a new experimental technology, to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio) in order to learn where he has hidden his latest kidnap victim.
The director, Tarsem Singh, presides over a movie whose raison d'être is a series of garish but arresting dream sequences, which make use of a wide variety of old and new cinematic techniques. Sickening images, both in and out of the dreams, make the movie unpleasant; while the heavy stamp of self-seriousness makes it occasionally silly. But I really liked Jennifer Lopez, who is touchingly sincere; and I liked the movie's relative lack of cynicism. The grotesquerie has a point. We're challenged to have compassion for a man we might expect to hate comfortably; but in order to play fair, the movie has to show us just how sick he is.
The House Across the Lake (1954)
James M. Cain rip-off is more engaging than most of the films in VCI's "Hammer Noir" collection
An American writer (Alex Nicol), down on his luck, meets his rich neighbors who also live by the lake. He befriends the ailing husband (Sid James) and falls in love with the duplicitous wife (Hillary Brooke).
Ken Hughes directed "The House Across the Lake" (with the irrelevant American title of "Heat Wave") from his own screenplay based on his own novel. I guess he is the only one to blame for the story's blatant rip-off of James M. Cain (particularly "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemnity"). But at least he rips off the best, which means this crime thriller is more engaging than most of the films included in VCI's "Hammer Noir" DVD collection.
Gambler and the Lady (1952)
Typically weak attempt by the Hammer studio to replicate American crime films; climax is mildly exciting
A social-climbing American (Dane Clark) with a business in illegal gambling falls in love with a blue blood (Naomi Chance), but gangsters and a jealous ex-girlfriend (Kathleen Byron) stand in the way of happiness.
"The Gambler and the Lady" is a typically weak attempt by the Hammer studio to replicate American crime films. A mildly exciting climax (part of which is shown at the beginning) is the only thing that livens up this dull affair. I would have liked to see more of Percy Marmont, who was so good as Col. Burgoyne in Alfred Hitchcock's "Young and Innocent." Here he only gets a brief part as Chance's father.
Monogram Pictures manages to crank out a tough, exciting action picture which strains at its tiny budget but provides good entertainment
The bargain-basement movie studio, Monogram Pictures, managed to crank out a tough, exciting action picture based (very loosely) on the life of John Dillinger and made a sensation out of its star, Laurence Tierney, who at one point turns to the audience and fires his gun (shades of the 1903 shocker, "The Great Train Robbery"). Looking into Tierney's cold, cruel eyes, we don't doubt he could have done it to us for real. "Dillinger" strains hard against its tiny budget, taking a lot of obvious short-cuts, including the liberal use of stock footage, but we nevertheless get a well-told story with plenty of action and violence. 1945 movies couldn't be as explicit as today's, but lots of horrible things take place just off camera. Meanwhile, good things take place on camera. Anne Jeffreys, as the blonde femme fatale, did a lot of low-budget stuff, but she's very good. Dillinger's gang includes the top-notch character actors, Edmund Lowe, Elisha Cook Jr., Eduardo Ciannelli and Marc Lawrence.
A Delicate Balance (1973)
The slightly elliptical nature of this material is more annoying than fascinating, but it still has three great roles
In Connecticut, Agnes and Tobias (Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield) are an upper-class married couple whose relationship has been uneasy for many years, since at least the time their son died; but they've managed to find a certain comfortable pattern of uneasiness. Agnes's sister, Claire (Kate Reid), lives with them and insists that her perpetual drinking is not alcoholism but willfulness. Their daughter, Julia (Lee Remick), poised to have her fourth divorce, has come back home. Unexpectedly, her room has been taken over by Harry and Edna (Joseph Cotten and Betsy Blair), best friends of Tobias and Agnes. Seized by a nameless terror that propelled them out of their own house, Harry and Edna have decided to stay.
The slightly elliptical nature of this material is more annoying than fascinating, but there's still plenty of interest and plenty of opportunity for a team of terrific actors to do their thing. Yet another great Katharine Hepburn performance preserved on film is yet another reason for us to be grateful, but Paul Scofield and Kate Reid have left fewer of their performances for posterity; and so it's nice we have this film, which gives each a fully realized character to play.
"A Delicate Balance" is a play by Edward Albee, produced by the American Film Theatre with no alterations and no foolish attempts to open it up. Alfred Hitchcock proved several times that a limited space can be an asset to a movie; and while the film making here is not at his level, Tony Richardson does a nice job at directing our eye and staying out of the play's way.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
This animated Batman flick looks great, but the "acting" of the characters is fairly poor, however excellent the character designs are
Batman, the costumed crime-fighter who prowls the night skies in Gotham City, soon finds there's another vigilante in town knocking off prominent mob figures. Despite the scythe-like blade for a hand, a mechanical voice and the cloud of smoke that follows the figure wherever it goes, the police and outraged officials mistake the homicidal crusader for Batman himself and demand that the city's longtime hero be brought to justice. Meanwhile, Andrea Beaumont returns to town. She is the lost love of Bruce Wayne, the billionaire playboy who is Batman's alter ego, and was an integral part of Wayne's decision ten years earlier to don the cape and cowl. Now, she is back in his life and is no less a disruption than the return of his old archenemy, The Joker, who has a stake in seeing the annihilation of this new vigilante, whoever it proves to be.
"Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" is an entertaining animated flick that comes from the same team that brought us the 1990s TV cartoon series starring Batman. Certainly the series and this film, in terms of visual artistry, is leaps and bounds ahead of any previous superhero fare on TV. You'd have to go back to the Max Fleischer "Superman" short subjects of the 1940s, which helped to inspire the background and character designs here, to find any comparison. The plot, characterizations and dialogue are also far superior, but that's not saying much. This film, though, holds its own next to the average action movie. In fact, being an animated cartoon helps us to accept clichés and conventions that might be more irritating in a live-action film.
My biggest complaint is with the animation itself. The character designs are excellent, but the "acting" of the characters is fairly poor and prevents us from becoming more involved in their emotional lives than we otherwise might. The music score is good, but the pompous chorus that opens and closes the movie is yet another sign that superhero movies, since at least Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989), take themselves way too seriously.
The Homecoming (1973)
Harold Pinter's play of ugly psychological warfare within a family proves to be excellent movie material
Max (Paul Rogers) is a surly pensioner who alternately venerates and vilifies his dead wife. Sam (Cyril Cusack), his brother, is a supercilious chauffeur. Lenny (Ian Holm) is a smiling, snake-like pimp. Joey (Terence Rigby) is a thick-witted, would-be boxer. These four men live together in a North London flat, the site of their perpetual sadomasochistic battle of words and sometimes physical violence. And then after nine years, Max's third son, Teddy (Michael Jayston), a philosophy professor living in California, comes back home for a visit. He brings his wife, Ruth (Vivien Merchant). She is immediately drawn in to the family's ugly psychological games and quickly proves a worthy opponent. Soon, the game involves both of Teddy's brothers taking extreme liberties with Ruth, as the coiled Teddy obstinately refuses to spoil the malicious fun by objecting.
At first the dialogue in Harold Pinter's play, little changed for this American Film Theatre production, seems arbitrarily elliptical and the characters' behavior perversely unmotivated, but the thing is so compelling that we realize there must be something more. There is a mad method to the characters' madness. The actors know what their characters are up to. Pinter knows what they're up to. They just don't hand us all the answers on a platter. Maybe Pinter is saying something about families and maybe he's saying something about women, but I think he simply created a set of very real characters and let them do their thing without bothering with a lot of explanations.
The director, Peter Hall, does a good job at staying out of the play's way. His camera does a few clumsy things that draw attention to itself, but mainly he gives the play the space to be what it is. This movie proves yet again that the confined space of a play can often be an advantage on the screen and doesn't necessarily need to be opened up.
The Fury (1978)
Terrific supernatural thriller with a regrettable postscript
Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) is a secret government agent whose son (Andrew Stevens) has extraordinary psychic gifts, which make the young man the target of a kidnapping plot hatched by Peter's duplicitous colleague, Ben Childress (John Cassavetes). Peter spends eleven months in a desperate search for his son, while cleverly evading Childress, who wants him dead. In that time, Childress and team have done their best to harness the psychic teenager's powers; but giving him luxuries, and even an elegant doctor (Fiona Lewis) as a mistress, have only turned him into a mercurial egomaniac with a violent temper. Meanwhile, another teenager with psychic gifts (Amy Irving) takes part in a two-week study at a psi research center, where she comes to the attention Peter's lover (Carrie Snodgress), who also acts as his mole. Childress learns of this young woman, too, and is eager to take control of a second extraordinary talent.
Brian De Palma, working with a script adapted by John Farris from his own novel, directs a terrific supernatural thriller. Kirk Douglas, in a typically urgent and larger-than-life performance, helps to pull us into the story and lead us to care about the outcome. De Palma's vivid techniques draw us in further, for once, rather than call attention to themselves, until a slightly regrettable slow-motion sequence (one of his signature tricks with an uneven success rate) and a very regrettable gross-out postscript, which is so silly and cynical that it almost seems to mock us for having given a damn about the characters.
Superman II (2006)
Entertaining enough, especially thanks to the relationship between Superman and Lois; but the humor is laid on with a trowel and the special effects scenes are mainly a bore
Before Krypton exploded and Jor-El (Marlon Brando) put his baby son, Kal-El, in a rocket ship to Earth, the benevolent ruler was forced to banish three irredeemable criminals to another dimension called The Phantom Zone. The trio's leader, General Zod (Terence Stamp), vowed revenge. Later, of course, Kal-El grew up to become Superman (Christopher Reeve), Earth's mighty champion. A battle with the criminal mastermind, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), ends with Superman hurling a nuclear warhead into space where it explodes, but not harmlessly. Instead, it frees the Kryptonian threesome from their other-dimensional prison. They soon discover they have almost unlimited power (the same powers, in fact, as Superman), which they use to take over the Earth. Meanwhile, the intrepid reporter, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), learns that her bumbling colleague, Clark Kent, is really Superman, a revelation that leads to him bringing her to his frozen Fortress of Solitude and renouncing his powers in order to make love to her. It is only when Superman and Lois return to civilization that they learn of the three Kryptonians and how Lex Luthor has joined forces with them. Now, Superman must reverse the irreversible and regain his powers in order to save mankind.
In 1980, Richard Donner was replaced with Richard Lester as director of "Superman II." It wasn't until 2006 that Donner's version was, more or less, pieced back together and released on DVD. This version includes rediscovered footage that was cut from the original release and even material that was recovered only from screen tests.
I haven't seen the Lester version, but this one is entertaining enough. The implausibilities stack up a little too high, even for a superhero movie. The humor is laid on with a trowel. Lex Luthor, in particular, is presented as an irritating buffoon: his pomposity is in full view but his supposed genius is nowhere in sight. The special effects scenes, which include a lot of buildings, weapons and vehicles getting thrown about and destroyed, are mainly a bore.
What I really liked, though, was how the relationship between Superman and Lois was explored. In one marvelous scene, Lois throws herself out of the window of a tall building in front of Clark in order to prove that he is Superman. These scenes were very enjoyable for me and made the movie worth seeing. The rest of it ranges from mildly amusing to mildly irritating.
Exhausting, exasperating and tedious adaptation of Ionesco filled with room-wrecking slapstick
A hungover Stanley (Gene Wilder) meets his pompous and condescending best friend, John (Zero Mostel), at a restaurant. John's inevitable criticisms about Stanley's drinking and dishevelment are interrupted by a rhinoceros charging through the street outside. This provides the staff and the patrons some amusement until the creature charges through the restaurant and destroys everything. At the office, Stanley arrives late as the boss and the other workers are having an argument about the absurd news reports regarding these animals. The attractive but not overly bright Daisy (Karen Black) insists she saw the rhinoceros with her own eyes. Stanley says the same thing, but it's not until a coworker on the street below changes into a rhinoceros before their eyes that they grasp the importance, and absurdity, of what is happening. Soon, everyone is becoming a rhinoceros, and Stanley is feeling the pressure to conform.
"What you are about to see," reads the introductory title card, "could never take place. Several eminent scientists have assured us of this fact, for, as they are quick to point out... the world is flat."
Are they? That dismal attempt at irony is an omen for the rest of the movie. Whatever value Eugène Ionesco's absurdist play may have had on stage, this film adaptation is a leaden allegory, filled with room-wrecking slapstick, that is exhausting, exasperating and tedious. Zero Mostel, who won a Tony for playing the same role on Broadway in 1961, has a transformation scene that is fascinating for its sweaty excess, but his antics can be better appreciated in "The Producers" (1968) in which he and Gene Wilder are actually funny. In this film, the two play off each other just as well, but it doesn't come to much.
No rhinoceroses appear, which might sound like admirable restraint (if not an impoverished budget), but the movie already opened up the play considerably and added a dream sequence and a lot of Keystone Comedy antics. Not showing us rhinoceroses just seems irritatingly coy.
The Furies (1950)
Two big, bold brash characters clash, making for fascinating entertainment in this gorgeously photographed B&W western directed by Anthony Mann
Vance (Barbara Stanwyck) is a firebrand, and that's the way her equally iron-willed father, T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston), likes her. Certainly the tyrannical cattle rancher cares more for his daughter than his seemingly weak-willed son (John Bromfield), whose wedding is only the ostensible reason for him to end his San Francisco trip earlier than expected and return to The Furies. T.C. needs money, and being something like a feudal lord of the 1870s, all he has to do is print some up: his own money, paper bills called TCs. He also has enough power to drive off the Mexican squatters from his land, but Vance insists he leave the Herrera family alone. She is close friends with the family's eldest son, Juan (John Bromfield), who is in love with her. Vance is in love with nobody until she meets Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), a flinty gambler who wants back the piece of land he believes rightfully belongs to him. Predictably, father and daughter clash over Rip, but their lively relationship doesn't turn ugly until T.C., who hasn't been serious about a woman since his wife had the effrontery to die, meets an attractive widow (Judith Anderson) who schemes to take control of The Furies herself.
Anthony Mann directed this gorgeously photographed black-and-white western with his usual skill at bringing out the psychological complexities of a story and its characters. The big, bold, brash characters zestfully played by Stanwyck and Huston (in his last role) are handled deftly enough to be fascinating without being campy, despite the roiling undercurrent of an incestuous attraction between them. The screenplay is based on a novel by Niven Busch who also wrote the book that became "Duel in the Sun": to see how silly this movie could have been, watch that one.
My only complaint is with Franz Waxman, whose score reveals that he either didn't understand the material or was deliberately trying to undermine it. When Vance gives her father a back rub, we're not having the whimsical thoughts Waxman tries to put in our heads.
Wonderful piece of Disney whimsy with the charming Albert Sharpe
Darby O'Gill (Albert Sharpe) seems to be as full of blarney as any old codger in Ireland, but the stories of leprechauns he tells at the pub are true. In fact, he and the tiny King Brian (Jimmy O'Dea), ruler of the little people, are friendly adversaries, continually out-foxing each other. Darby needs a bit of magical help from the wily king when Lord Fitzpatrick (Walter Fitzgerald) replaces him as caretaker with the handsome, strapping young Michael (Sean Connery) from Dublin. Michael falls in love with Darby's beautiful daughter, Katie (Janet Munro), which is all right with Darby; but the lad has a rival in a local ruffian (Kieron Moore), the son of a devious widow (Estelle Winwood) who wants her boy to be the caretaker. King Brian's supernatural assistance is necessary to make everything come out all right, but the sneaky leprechaun won't play matchmaker without a fight. Finally, real trouble comes in the form of the Banshee, and Darby will need all his quick wits to save his daughter from the wicked spirit.
This wonderful piece of whimsy from Walt Disney is brightened by marvelous special effects and supreme film making craftsmanship, helmed by Robert Stevenson, whose name is on most of the best live-action films from the Disney Studios. In his films, major technical challenges and small moments between actors are handled with equal deftness. Today's moviegoers will enjoy seeing Sean Connery before he was James Bond and even hearing him sing (though no one would wish his brief solo a minute longer). Of course, the real star is Albert Sharpe, who didn't make many movies, but whose thoroughly Irish charm is preserved for as long as this movie lasts.
Evelyn Prentice (1934)
The strong performances distract us from the occasional creaks and groans in the plot and make this courtroom melodrama worth seeing
Evelyn Prentice (Myrna Loy) is the neglected wife of a prominent lawyer (William Powell) who briefly takes up with his beautiful client (Rosalind Russell). When Evelyn finds out, she does her own dallying with a conniving poet and playwright (Harvey Stephens) who has a jealous girlfriend (Isabel Jewell). Evelyn's ditsy friend and house guest (Una Merkel) acts as confidant when the dalliance turns disastrous and Evelyn finds herself involved in blackmail and murder. Now, her marriage and the future happiness of her little daughter (Cora Sue Collins) are in jeopardy.
This courtroom mystery could have stood fewer melodramatic contrivances, especially toward the end, but the dialogue and characterizations are strong. Far stronger, however, are the remarkable performances from everyone involved. Myrna Loy's quiet desperation is utterly convincing. Powell, good throughout, is especially deft after discovering a stunning secret during the climactic courtroom trial: without a trace of ham, he genuinely looks as if he is about to keel over from shock, as he is forced to go on. Isabel Jewell, eschewing all phony theatrics, is remarkably good during her testimony at the end. Cora Sue is charming as the little girl. These performances distract us from the occasional creaks and groans in the plot and make the movie worth seeing.
The New Neighbor (1953)
Jack Hannah directs a very funny Donald Duck cartoon, in which the comic situation is expertly built up to a crashing finish
As the new neighbor on the block, Donald Duck tries to be courteous to Pete, the inconsiderate slob living next door. But there's only so much a guy can take. Pete dumps his garbage in Donald's flower bed, mooches every scrap of food from his refrigerator, steals all his dishes, tricks him into tasting his dog's food, borrows all his gardening tools, leaves the tools out in the rain, and more. Muncey, the dog who buries his bones in Donald's yard, is a co-conspirator in Pete's game of making Donald's life hell. Finally, the roiling conflict erupts into an all-out feud. The television news covers it like a sporting event as the neighbors gather on the roofs to watch and cheer them on.
Donald has a deserved reputation as a hothead, but no jury would convict him of being quick tempered in this cartoon, in which he does his level best to suffer Pete's rudeness, until it all becomes too much. Jack Hannah directs a very funny film, in which the comic situation is expertly built up to a crashing finish.
Pink Panzer (1965)
The Pink Panther takes on the ill-fitting role of a feuding suburbanite neighbor in this weak morality play
The next-door neighbor neglects to return the Pink Panther's lawn mower, an oversight the sinister off-screen narrator is only too happy to point out to the peaceful feline suburbanite. The insinuating voice pours poison into the neighbor's ear as well, and soon the two home owners are feuding over some hedge clippers and a tree limb hanging over the property line. Finally, the Pink Panther builds a brick wall to separate himself from his one-time friend, an act the neighbor considers to be a declaration of war.
At the end, the two neighbors are donning combat helmets and exchanging cannon fire, but not even the interpolation of live-action stock footage, featuring real soldiers and tanks, adds much life to this tepidly comic morality play. The Pink Panther is ill-suited to this material. The feuding neighbor storyline has been handled better elsewhere, notably in the Donald Duck short, "The New Neighbor" (1953).
The Alley Cat (1941)
Sub-"Tom and Jerry" antics fill out this obese nine-and-a-half minute cartoon
A penthouse-dwelling society kitty finds herself attracted to the black cat serenading her from the alley. The pompous butler sends the bulldog after him, but the cat is too tricky and the dog is too easily intimidated. The alley cat eventually makes his way into the apartment where he and the rich feline dance to "La cucaracha" on the radio. The bulldog returns to continue the battle, resulting in the complete destruction of the apartment.
The animation is typically lush for this Hugh Harman production, but the story, gags and characterizations are also typically weak. Any short piece of this film would make it look sprightly and amusing, but the plot has no momentum and the whole thing is an obese nine-and-a-half minutes, when cartoon short subjects of the day were typically six to seven minutes. The alley cat has an annoying Donald Duck-like voice, which the society cat, for some reason, adopts at odd times. The film looks especially weak next to the "Tom and Jerry" series, which was just about to begin officially. "Tom and Jerry," in fact, did variations on this particular story several times, and each time did it far better.
Love Crazy (1941)
Delightful screwball comedy is solid and laugh-filled enough to please anyone; and it features the "lip flubby"
Stephen Ireland (William Powell) has been deliriously happy with his wife, Susan (Myrna Loy), for four years, but a series of misunderstandings begin on their fourth anniversary, involving a stalled elevator, Steve's old flame (who has just moved in downstairs) and a forgotten taxi cab. They end with Susan leaving Steve and taking up with the neighboring apartment dweller (Jack Carson), an expert archer who works best in his undershirt. Susan's mother (Florence Bates) is thrilled with this new choice, but Steve is out to win back his wife despite all obstacles. He pretends to be mad in order to delay the divorce, but winds up in an insane asylum. He escapes but is forced to dress as a woman and pretend to be his own sister in order to evade the police and win back his wife.
This delightful screwball comedy is solid and laugh-filled enough to please anyone, but hasn't got quite enough zest to rank with the best in the genre. Powell and Loy together guarantee good entertainment. And if they aren't enough this film is bursting at the seams with familiar character actors.
By the way, you know that thing people do when they mimic insanity, the thing that provides a running gag in this film? It involves running one's index finger up and down over one's lips to make a noise that sounds like "beedeebeedeebeedeebee." A friend of mine has coined a term for this bit of business: the "lip flubby." We need a term for this thing, so please help spread it.
Music Box (1989)
Quietly effective and touching courtroom thriller with very good performances
Jessica Lange is very good as Ann Talbot, a lawyer who takes up the task of defending her father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) against charges of Nazi war crimes. The charges are ridiculous to her at first, but she slowly begins to realize they might be true. Lukas Haas, giving an exceptionally bright-eyed and intelligent performance, plays Ann's 12-year-old son, who believes unquestioningly that his beloved grandfather is innocent.
Roger Ebert wrote that the father, while very well-played by Mueller-Stahl, does not devote enough time to helping us to understand his character, but I don't know that any film could do that for such a person. Mueller-Stahl and the script at least offer suggestions and let our imaginations do the rest.
I found this film, scripted by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Costa-Gavras, to be a quietly effective courtroom thriller (even though the idea of a lawyer defending her own father in this situation requires a high suspension of disbelief) and found the central drama of a woman discovering her father is, or at least was, a monster to be moving.
Murder by Contract (1958)
Quirky crime film has the usual symptoms of a low budget and tight shooting schedule; but much of it works very well
Claude (Vince Edwards) is a young man with a regular job, no history of trouble with the law and no chance of making any real money. He also has the brains and emotional detachment to make the big bucks as a hit man, and that becomes his new job title. A string of successful hits gets him sent to Los Angeles for his latest job. There he is accompanied by two goons: one who is perpetually nervous and the other who quickly worships the young man as a hero. The cold, ruthless hit man finally becomes unglued when he finds out that his latest target is a woman. She's a witness, set to testify against his boss, and guarded day and night by the police. It's her femininity that worries Claude: women are unpredictable, they don't do what you expect. Claude eventually proves that he is the unpredictable one and his own worst enemy.
This quirky crime film has the usual symptoms of a low budget and a tight shooting schedule: some poorly written scenes, poorly acted scenes and plot holes. But much of it works very well, especially the opening sequences depicting Claude's unusual job interview and his initial series of hits. I especially liked how the barber shop murder was handled. Vince Edwards is good in the lead, though he's better when he's not forced to mouth pretentious monologues that lay on the irony a bit too thick. (At one point I was reminded of Charlie Chaplin's fatuous comments about murderers versus soldiers in "Monsieur Verdoux.") The spare electric guitar score is effective. It's worth watching, especially since Martin Scorsese has acknowledged it as an influence on his films, notably "Taxi Driver."
The Lineup (1958)
Don Siegel does a bang-up job directing this explosive crime thriller with Eli Wallach as a psychopathic gangster
In San Francisco, two police inspectors (Marshall Reed and Emile Meyer) are on the case when a rogue taxi driver, with the help of a rogue porter, manages to steal the suitcase of an antiques collector before running down a cop, whose dying gesture is to shoot the cabbie dead. The inspectors discover that a statuette in the suitcase contains heroin. Meanwhile, a psychopathic gangster (Eli Wallach), his malignant mentor (Robert Keith) and their dipsomaniac driver (Richard Jaeckel) have the job of picking up the other heroin shipments, hidden in the luggage of unsuspecting travelers. All goes well until they attempt to retrieve the heroin stuffed in a Japanese doll. A little girl and her young mother (Cheryl Callaway and Mary LaRoche) have the doll, but when the crooks take possession of it, they find that the heroin has mysteriously vanished.
Don Siegel, working from a script by Stirling Silliphant, does a bang-up job directing this explosive crime thriller, which is filled with violent action, surprise plot twists, a spectacular murder in an indoor ice rink and a great climactic car chase. The characters of the police inspectors are carried over from the same-titled TV series, but unlike the show, the movie is mainly concerned with the criminals. Wallach is the star, brilliantly portraying a dangerous man who can be calm, even genial, but reveals his true nature when others try to push him around. The cadaverous Keith is properly ghoulish, especially while taking note of the day's victims' dying words. Callaway proves to be a very adept child actress, while her lovely screen mother, LaRoche (who also had trouble with her daughter's doll in a "Twilight Zone" episode), ably performs the difficult task of remaining in a perpetual state of panic.
The plot requires a fairly high suspension of disbelief, especially considering the general air of realism, but few will gripe about plausibility in this exciting action drama.