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The Virginian (1923)
7/10
Hard to judge on its own merits, but I enjoyed it nonetheless
2 June 2011
It's hard for me to judge this version of the classic Western tale on its own merits, since I've seen the 1929 version so often and loved it so much. I would say that Kenneth Harlan in the titular role certainly looks the part and handles himself well, as does Florence Vidor as the school marm who wins his heart. Raymond Hatton turns in a fine performance full of pathos as Shorty. He's a good and simple cow hand whose dream is just to accumulate enough of a poke to buy a squeeze box, but he is led to his doom by the evil of others. I think the role of Steve is understated in this version compared to the others and the novel itself. His short time on the screen doesn't give Pat O'Malley much time to develop the character. Russell Simpson gives the role of Trampas a good shot, but Walter Huston owns that role, as far as I am concerned.
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7/10
Yakima Canutt in a rare lead role
2 June 2011
Hell Hounds of the Plains (1926) stars Yakima Canutt as Deputy Yak Hammond with the fetching Neva Gerba as his romantic interest. Yak was in the lead role rather than a stuntman and/or supporting character that he later specialized in. Supposedly he had voice problems that kept him from playing the lead in talkies. It is a fair oater, with Yak busting up a gang of horse thieves led by his girlfriend's brother, much to the chagrin of her upstanding paw when the varmint's identity was revealed at the end of the movie. Double irony, as the prospective father-in-law had made catching the gang's leader a precondition to giving Yak his daughter's hand in marriage. Features a great knock-down drag-out fist fight between Yak and the villain, and Yak was the man who invented the realistic movie slug fest. The film also offers a fine performance by Yak's mount, Boy the Wonder Horse, who scrambles down ravine walls, jumps off cliffs and dives into the water with or without Yak aboard.
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The Barbarian (1921)
7/10
City slickers try to dupe Canadian backwoodsman out of his patrimony
19 November 2006
This rather creaky old film is the distant ancestor of both Tarzan's New York Adventure and Crocodile Dundee. What charm and appeal it possesses comes from the titular barbarian's (played by Monroe Salisbury) native intellect and superior character in contrast with the superficial, spoiled and dishonest citizens of civilization. The leading man (Salisbury) overacts with all the dramatic gestures and rolling eyes of stage-trained actors of the early silents. As the romantic female lead, Jane Novak is winsome and appealing and considerably less a slice of ham than Salisbury. Alan Hale is effective and suitably oily as the shady villain trying to steal the backwoodsman's land. Donald Crisp's direction of the film can mainly be faulted for his failure to reign in Salisbury and produce a more realistic, less stagy performance. But it was a Monroe Salisbury Production, so the leading man who was also the head of the production company might not have been amenable to direction. This film is worth watching for its historical interest as a forerunner of other Noble Savage films and for Miss Novak's performance.
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3/10
The Mounties are out to break up a bootlegging ring
16 July 2006
There isn't enough left of this film to really judge it fairly. Only about 15 minutes remain of the original 30 to 45 minute run time. The film is the product of the husband and wife team of John Lowell (actor) and Lillian Case Russell (writer and supervisor). The plot revolves around two members of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police going undercover to break up a bootlegging ring. Lowell, in his recurring Big Dan Marvin role, has some of the same rugged sincerity as William S. Hart. Dakota Lawrence as Jean, the romantic lead, is winsome, but not much of her screen time remains. Kitty Edwards as Idaho Ida is one of the least attractive femme fatales imaginable. The idea that Allan Colebrooke (played by George Crosman)would betray the Mounties and throw over the attractive young Jean for the dumpy and homely Idaho Ida is unbelievable. What's left of this film is not really for the general viewer and will be of interest only to film buffs and film historians.
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5/10
Mounties versus opium smugglers with a bit of romance on the side
16 July 2006
John Lowell plays Big Dan Marvin, a stalwart of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police on the trail of opium smugglers operating between the United States and Canada. Ruth Gibson's (played by Dakota Lawrence)dying father sent her out west to stay with an old friend, hotelier and mine owner Calgary Smith (played by Charles Robbins). Bob-Cat Gordon (played by Robert Hamilton), one of the smugglers, was Ruth's childhood playmate. When they meet again, romance blooms and he resolves to go straight for the sake of the woman he loves. Big Dan is also attracted to Ruth. Filmed in New York by the independent Blazed Trail Productions, this short film will be of interest primarily to film students, historians and people who want to see what films were like before and outside of Hollywood.
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6/10
Wiseacre reporter, sidekick and girlfriend stowaway on ocean liner to catch a murderer
14 April 2006
The very interesting cast makes this otherwise fairly ordinary ace-reporter-cum-detective story worth watching. Lloyd Nolan is serviceable in the role of reporter Dan Miller, but I found myself thinking how Clark Gable or Lee Tracy would have handled it. Nancy Carroll is at the beginning of the end of her career in this picture, but was still bright and lovely as Helen Murdock, Miller's love interest. Silent comedy giant Harry Langdon plays the dim, amiable and always hungry photographer/sidekick Snapper McGillicuddy. Dwight Frye, best remembered for his role as the bug-eating Renfield in Dracula (1931) is along for the ride as one of the crooks. E.E. Clive, known for his many turns as Bulldog Drummond's butler Tenny Tennison, brightens up the film as one of the ship's officers who doesn't quite grasp the American sense of humor. The plot is about what you would expect from a newspaper mystery/comedy of the period. Miller, Murdock and Snapper track the D.A.'s murderer on board the SS Gigantic and somehow forget to get off before she sails. In addition to the murderer, rival gangs of jewel thieves are aboard, and general comic mayhem ensues. It's not Gone With the Wind, it's not even The Front Page, but it is a pleasant way to spend 68 minutes, especially if you like the actors in the cast.
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7/10
This PRC poverty-row programmer has it all!
14 January 2006
This Producers Releasing Corporation distribution straight from poverty row has just about everything you could imagine or want to see and hear in a B picture second biller: barroom brawls, sunken treasure, a treasure map, an underwater grotto, double-crosses, fist fights, hold ups, restless natives, menacing drums, a big storm, and a flashlight-wielding marionette in a diving suit. But wait, there's more: classical music, torch songs, island ballads, synchronized swimming, beautiful girls wearing sarongs, Gale Sondergaard and above all, Sidney Toler naked to the waist and dripping wet in a bathing suit. If you have a taste for B movies, this is truly must see entertainment!
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7/10
The amazing Douglas Fairbanks swings into action once more.
31 December 2005
In a prologue, Douglas Fairbanks tells us that this is the first film produced by the new United Artists studio, so the film has greater historic significance than it might command on its merits. This film is simply a vehicle for Fairbanks to do what he does best: run, jump, leap, dash, bolt and generally bounce around like a rubber ball. The plot, such as it is, revolves around Bill Brooks, a kidnapped European prince raised in luxury in America without any knowledge of who he is or where his lavish support comes from. Not having to work for a living, he spends his time seeking adrenaline rushes as an amateur firefighter and policeman. One of the best sequences in the film is when Fairbanks swings back and forth from the balcony of an adjacent building to a burning tenement to rescue a trapped family and their cat. He then toddles off to Mexico and captures Poncho Villa, just for an afternoon's diversion. All of this is but an excuse to see Fairbanks do his stuff and serves as a prologue to the real story. Traitors and foreign spies are inciting the population of the kingdom to revolt against the aging king (Sam Sothern). The prince is summoned to return home and save the kingdom. Prince Bill outwits the plotters, summons the cavalry and rides to the rescue. What were you expecting? Shakespeare? Tennessee Williams? Anyway, Fairbanks is always worth watching, plot or not plot. If you like Doug Fairbanks (and who doesn't?) you will enjoy this photoplay.
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In Wrong (1919)
7/10
The town's sweetheart loves him anyway
30 December 2005
Jack Pickford plays Johnny Spivins, a character not unlike himself, in this light romantic comedy. He's immature, lazy and generally unreliable. His boss at the grocery store where he clerks puts up with him for a lot longer than I would have. Everything that he does seems to turn out wrong, but it is hard to have much sympathy for him because he is such a lout. But for some unfathomable reason, Millie Fields, the town's sweetheart (played by Marguerite De La Motte) loves him anyway. City slicker Morgan Coleman (George Dromgold) shows up to make Johnny jealous, but everyone, except maybe Johnny, knows that Millie really loves him. Towards the end of the movie, Johnny finally does one thing right (I won't spoil it for you by saying what), and all is forgiven. The film also features a remarkable mongrel dog with a crippled left foreleg, who, despite his handicap, can do amazing things like walk on his hind legs and close doors and drive a buggy with the reins in his teeth. All told, this photo play is a pleasant evening's diversion.
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7/10
Leaving a life of crime behind is easier said than done
28 December 2005
This story of a family trying to escape its criminal past is highlighted by a fine, expressive performance by Norma Talmadge. Ralph Lewis is solid in his performance of a locksmith, turned safe cracker, turned ex-convict turned successful businessman. But if you have never seen Eugene Palette in a film of this vintage, you will be most surprised by his performance as a career criminal. Palette is slim and trim, and only his eyes are recognizable to fans of his later films. His performance as the career criminal who tries to drag the family back into a life of crime is riveting. The actor usually known for his genial performances as a doting father racks up theft, assault, blackmail, breaking and entering, Faginism, attempted rape, attempted murder and the near murder of a child along the way. There are several good fight scenes, including a brawl and shootout between a criminal gang and the police that would do credit to a small war. This is a fine film for its vintage and well-worth watching for Talmadge's and Palette's performances alone.
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5/10
Totally soporific! The cure for insomnia.
23 June 2004
I kept waiting for something to happen. I kept waiting for the movie to develop. It never did. The film is filled with long, lingering shots of Bob Harris (Bill Murray) looking bored and bewildered and Charlotte (Scartlett Johansson) looking wistful and winsome (Johansson is easier to look at for extended periods of time). There are several scenes in which Japanese people speak to Murray's character in Japanese, which he doesn't understand, and scenes in which he speaks to non-English speaking Japanese in English. In these scenes, there was no translation for anything to be lost in. Bob Harris' inability to care about the new carpet that his wife is fixated on is a heavy handed metaphor demonstrating that you don't have to be separated by the lack of a common language to lose things in translation. The movie also seems to want to convey the message that anyone who is happy and upbeat about life (the cabaret singer, John and Kelly for example) is a moron, and that truly sensitive people have to be miserable and bored, whether they understand the language or not. My wife left to weed the garden about halfway through this movie, but I stayed to the end because I was determined to get my $2 worth from the video rental.
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10/10
An example of how to scare off a prospective step-father.
11 June 2004
This is one of the funniest silent shorts I have ever seen. Mr. Wattles (Max Davidson) is courting a Jewish dowager played by Lillian Elliot, and matrimony looms on the horizon. The lady's two sons have a strong disinclination to acquire a new step-father, so they decided to scare him off. In the funniest sequence, Mr. Wattles is left seated in the parlor while his inamorata prepares some refreshments. The sons perform a series of visual gags in the open doorway that is totally bizarre, funny and original. At the wedding, the sons crash the ceremony disguised as an outraged father and his dishonored daughter whom Mr. Wattles got with child and abandoned. Unfortunately for the schemers, the only baby they could borrow for the ensemble happened to be the wrong color. They put make-up on the child's face and hands, but when the diaper slips down exposing the child's undoctored posterior the jig is up. If you are into being politically correct and are offended by ethnic humor, you won't like this comedy classic (or any other Max Davidson shorts for that matter). If you have an open mind and love visual comedy, this is the silent short for you.
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8/10
Is this where Lucy got the idea?
1 June 2004
Raymond Griffith only made one talkie because his vocal chords were damaged in childhood and he couldn't talk above a whisper. In this comedy short, he plays a man with a bad respiratory infection who has lost his voice. The doctor prescribes plenty of fresh air, including sleeping on an open porch at a house in the country. Griffith's character just wants to stay warm and comfortable, but his loving wife is adamant that he must follow the doctor's instructions to the letter, despite the fact that it is snowing heavily. Unbeknownst to the wife, a friend from the city comes by and Griffith's character persuades him to pretend to be a burglar to scare his wife into letting him sleep inside. Meanwhile, a desperate criminal escapes from a nearby prison and breaks into the house via the sleeping porch. Griffith's character mistakes the convict for his friend with generally hilarious results. There is an episode of I Love Lucy in which a fake burglary turns into the real thing. I wonder if this is where they got the idea? This is a funny and entertaining short that isn't shown very often. Don't miss it, if you get the opportunity to see it.
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5/10
Union spy penetrates Confederate telegraphy office but falls for Southern belle.
25 July 2003
This creaky old espionage flick is based on a play by William Gillette, who also wrote the popular Sherlock Holmes play. Richard Dix is suitably stoic in the lead role as the Union spy masquerading as a Confederate artillery officer from Texas. The movie is surprisingly gritty for the time. An innocent black man is hanged for spying and Dix's character's brother shoots himself to maintain Dix's cover. The racial stereotypes are broad and offensive, and the phony southern accents are thick enough to cut with a knife. Gavin Gordon, as the ruthless confederate spymaster, steals the show. William Gillette isn't Ian Fleming and Richard Dix isn't Sean Connery. This movie would be of interest primarily to those interested in William Gillette or to the fans of Richard Dix.
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Love and Lies (1981)
8/10
Russian Romeo and Juliet plus essays on love
18 January 2003
At first glance, this seems like a simple retelling of Romeo and Juliet with teenage lovers frustrated by the machinations of their families.

Tatyana Aksyuta is well-cast as the waif-like Katya who seems in danger of being consumed by her passion for the son of her mother's old boyfriend. Likewise, Nikita Mikhajlovsky, gives probably the best performance of his short, tragic career as Roman, whose pure, boundless love for Katya triumphs over the scheming of his mother and grandmother.

But there is more to the story which seems intent on examining all the different ways that love can grow, change, thrive or die.

Tanechka, the sympathetic teacher longs for the pure, romantic love of literature and is unsatisfied with the attentions of her rather crass lover. Searching for perfection, she seems certain to live her life alone and unfulfilled.

Katya's mother seems finally to have found contentment with her second husband after a failed teenage romance with Roman's father and a failed first marriage to Katya's father.

Roman's father's lingering love for Katya's mother makes him seem like a fool, but, because he is in love, he doesn't care.

Roman's mother's love for his father and for Roman finds expression only in jealousy, bitterness and manipulation.

This is a pretty story, well-portrayed by appealing actors. And unlike Shakespeare, it has a happy ending.
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Navajo Kid (1945)
6/10
Bob Steele meets the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras Co.
1 January 2003
This is an enjoyable oater that borrows Mark Twain's short story about a bull frog full of buckshot as a sub-plot.

Bob Steele is in top form and shows off his athletic build in a shirtless wrestling match at the beginning of the movie.

If you like B Westerns, this one is enjoyable, standard fare as Steele (the Navajo Kid) looks for the varmints that robbed and murdered his paw and finds romance along the way.
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6/10
Strictly for Valentino fans.
27 December 2001
This is a really creaky film that will be of interest only to hardcore Rudolph Valentino fans. The plotline is so full of inconsistencies that keeping track of them ceases to amuse after a while. Valentino is the only point of interest in an this primitive film with a maddeningly inconsistent plot. The irony of Valentino's casting in this film as a man who never gets to consummate his marriage with his virgin wife is heavy in view of his unconsummated marriage to Jean Acker in real life.
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Bad Bascomb (1946)
7/10
With Beery, O'Brien and Maine, who needs a plot?
13 December 2001
Sure, this is just another horse opera, but who cares?

Wallace Beery is more entertaining just being Wallace Beery than most actors are with sparkling dialogue and auteur direction.

Magararet O'Brien: Shirley Temple she ain't! When people talk about child stars, they usually mention Jackie Coogan and Jackie Cooper; Mickey Rooney and Dickie Moore; Baby Peggy and Hailie Mills. Give me Margaret O'Brien any day.

Marjorie Main could lick her weight in Marie Dresslers, any day.

Pure entertainment!
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6/10
Flashes of brilliance, but it just doesn't jell.
22 August 2000
Robert Ryan, Charles Bickford, and Joan Bennett all give fine performances, but the parts never quite add up to a proper sum.

Why does Bennett's character, the nymphomaniac wife who blinded her artist husband (Bickford) seduce young men inside a derelict wreck on the beach? Aren't there any motels?

Why does Bickford's character, the blinded sadistic artist keep throwing young men at his wife only to become resentful when she catches them? Why does he continue to believe that Ryan's character is his friend even after he pushes him over a cliff and tries to drown him in a storm at sea?

Why does Ryan's character, a Coast Guard Lieutenant, spend all of his time riding around on a horse? Is he in the Coast Guard, or the Cavalry?

What was meant by the ambiguous ending? Did any of the principals wind up with each other, or are they all three finally free of their obsessions?
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Twin Beds (1942)
5/10
George Brent was never meant for screwball comedy
20 August 2000
Despite the support of some great comedic character actors (Mischa Auer, Una Merkel), the leaden presence of George Brent sinks any chances of this movie being very funny.

Joan Bennett is cute and funny, but she can't carry the whole load on her petite shoulders.

Stiff, wooden, and uncharismatic, Mr. Brent was extremely adequate in a number of fine dramas. For comedy, his presence in the cast is the kiss of death.
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6/10
Over the top melodrama drags on far too long.
8 August 2000
Mary Pickford is worth watching even if the melodramatic plot wears a bit thin toward the end. But this movie isn't one of her finest hours.

A bucolic Italian light house keeper (Pickford) rescues an "American" sailor from the sea after he is "shipwrecked." She should have known that he wasn't American because he can speak more than one language.

During the course of this movie, set in the time of the First World War, Pickford's character looses both her brothers in the war (one through her own actions), falls in love with and marries a German spy who commits suicide after she turns him in, goes insane, gives birth and has her baby stolen by her best friend, and welcomes home her old boyfriend who has been blinded in the war. She is not having a good day.

If you liked "Sophie's Choice", you might like this movie. For me, it was just too much contrived melodrama. The moral that war destroys, not just the soldiers at the front, but the lives of their friends, family, and loved ones at home, is a valid one. It just isn't conveyed with much subtlety by this movie.
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Playmates (1941)
6/10
Swing and Shakespeare; Kyser and Barrymore don't mix.
30 June 2000
I would have had a much more positive view of this movie if I didn't know and admire John Barrymore.

On the surface of it, this is as good as any of the rest of Kay Kyser's ouevre. If you like him (he is, admittedly, an acquired taste), you will probably like this movie. Lupe Velez and Patsy Kelly add their talents to the usual mix of corn and Swing supplied by Kay, Harry Babbitt, and Ish Kabibble (the true inventor of the Beatle haircut).

What keeps me from truly enjoying this film is the presence of the great John Barrymore in a role more suited to Edgar Kennedy. In his last screen appearance, Barrymore grimaces and cavorts like a Stooge and is obviously reading his lines from cards because he can't remember them anymore. Whether or not the tears in his eyes and on his cheeks are real as he mumbles through Hamlet's soliloquy one last time, mine were real enough.

If you don't reverence Barrymore, and you are a student of the Kollege of Musical Knowledge, this will be your cup of tea. If either of the above isn't true, give it a miss.
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Red Salute (1935)
6/10
Spoiled general's daughter spurns leftist politics for humble dogface.
17 June 2000
Barbara Stanwyck portrays Drue van Allen, the spoiled college brat daughter of General van Allen. Drue dabbles in leftist politics, sponsoring the commie lecturer, Arner (played by Hardie Albright), chiefly for the agitation value it has for her father. Robert Young plays Jeff, a red-blooded young American soldier who can't seem to stay out of the guard house. General van Allen (Purnell Pratt) encourages Jeff's interest in Drue despite his less than perfect military record in an effort to steer her clear of the foreign leftists under whose sway she has fallen. In a series of misadventures, Jeff goes AWOL and he and Drue wind up in Mexico via a stolen travel trailer. Romance ensues and Drue and Jeff put aside their political differences. They return to the USA, Jeff returns to duty, the commies are routed, and everybody lives happily ever after, at least until WWII.

In several ways this simple little film seems to presage "The Way We Were." It won't make anybody's all-time favorites list, but Stanwyck and Young go well together and are pleasant to watch.
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Saigon (1948)
8/10
Army friendships are thicker than water in Ladd and Lake's last liaison
16 June 2000
This last and least successful teaming of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake is still highly watchable for the sizzling chemistry between them and the Byzantine, if predictable, plot twists and dagger wielding bad guys behind the curtains. Alan Ladd's character has decided to kick around the Far East waiting for his terminally ill army buddy to die, rather than return home to normalcy after WWII. The various plot-lines involving smugglers and murderers is of less interest than the screen presence of the two headliners.
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7/10
Brainy, butch A.B. rules the company but longs for love.
16 June 2000
Leatrice Joy (Mrs. John Gilbert) portrays efficient, brainy, but loveless A.B. She is the brains and the power in the Bancroft paint company, but longs for a more feminine role. Unfortunately, all the men around her (maybe all men everywhere), are hopeless chowderheads, including the boss' grandson (portrayed with suitably sloping forehead by Tom Moore). Grandmother Bancroft does a major makeover on her and A.B. and grandson promptly fall in love (without his realizing that she is the notorious A.B. who fired him). Snitz Edwards turns in his usual sterling performance as comic relief, not that the film is in particular need of it. Despite her feminine re-tooling and being taught how to vamp by Grandma, A.B. is still the only one with any brains in the outfit and has to save grandson from a swindler and Grandpa from his own stupidity. This is an enjoyable little film chronicling one more skirmish in the war of the sexes.
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