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Four Star Playhouse: The Contest (1954)
Mainly A Matter of Taste
I suspect an entry like this is mainly a matter of taste. There's some suspense as we wonder who killed Lisa's (Chapman) former boyfriend, rich guy Beecher, whom she now hates. Detective chief Dan (Powell) is Lisa's current fiance; so, ironically he has to question her as a prime suspect since he finds her glove at the the murder scene. Then too, they're not getting along too well in private, sort of a clash of social classes: he a self-made man, she a born debutante. Thus, their conversations are loaded with barbs making me wonder how they could have ever romanced. But underlying it all is who killed Beecher if Lisa didn't as she emphatically asserts. Unfortunately, I found the eventual upshot rather weak
It's strictly a two person episode, filled with unfriendly talk, so don't look for much action or change of scenery. Nonetheless, the performances are solid, with Chapman showing why she was nick-named Slugger and Powell in usual professional form. All in all, you might give the half-hour a try, especially if you like barbed banter.
Loan Shark (1952)
Solid Crime Drama
Good little crime drama at a time when TV and Technicolor were shoving B-flicks off the marquee. Raft may be along in years (51) for his romantic clinches, but he sure as heck continues as one of Hollywood's premier tough guys. Then too, he's in rough company with two of the industry's best no-nonsense supporting actors, Hoyt and Stewart. Together the three create a solid core of tough-guy menace that carries the storyline.
Seems Joe (Raft) is just out of prison and wants to go straight, but his sister's husband has been killed by loan sharks whose ruinous effect on working people he soon learns about. So he decides to to expose the criminal organization by going undercover and using his savvy tough-guy skills to disrupt their operation. Those scenes of him undercover in an actual tire factory are riveting and heighten the movie's general sense of menace, almost like a mechanical version of hell. On the other hand, too bad the producers used empty studio sets for supposed city streets that disrupt that general sense of realism. Also, the shootout could use less clumsy staging. Nonetheless, be sure to catch the naughty innuendo between Vince (Hoyt) and his cheap blonde mistress (Dean) - yeah, censorship's deadening 20-year grip is loosening.
Anyway, the flick's got a solid core of drama and suspense that also rewards fans of the inimitable George Raft, so don't pass it up.
The Rifleman: End of a Young Gun (1958)
Spotlight's on Landon
The spotlight's on Landon here, already an up-and-comer in TV westerns. Of course, that engaging smile doesn't go with a bad guy, even though Will (Landon) and his brother's gang are fleeing from a posse after robbing a bank. But Will shows his basically good heart by risking capture while stopping to rescue Mark from a cliff's edge, even as his uncaring gang rides away. The rescue, however, injures Will's leg causing him to go with Mark to the McCain ranch where he hopes to recover. But, once there, can Will trust Lucas not to turn him in; at the same time, can Lucas trust Will to continue being a good guy while he recovers. Also, what will happen if the gang and Will's brother return to get their loot from Will who has it. That's the nub of the drama.
And it's a moderately good one, except for the one poorly staged shooting event. Then too, did they have to make Ann (Craig) - a supposed frontier gal - so like a 1950's malt-shop girl. Then too, casting the likable Landon as Will sort of tips off the ending despite the narrative's clever construction. My favorite part is showing the grunt work - chopping wood, repairing wagon axles - necessary to keeping a working ranch working. Usually this kind of sweat work was avoided in westerns of the day. All in all, the episode may not be among series best, but for fans of Landon, it should remain a retro treat.
Hollywood Boulevard (1976)
Lunacy with a Sneaky Subtext
The flick doesn't so much satirize or parody drive-in cheapos as it mocks them. And what movie series is easier to mock than the rubber monsters, cheezy sets, and sloppy directing from the 50's. In fact those earlier flicks pretty much made fun of themselves, and I can imagine what went on behind those set-ups. Here, those behind-the-scenes come to imagined life and add up to the flick's goofy core. But no teen of that era cared what critics thought, including myself. Then too, I really liked the drive-in crowd scene here, where anything goes including make-out teens on car fenders and wholesome 50's type families who actually watch the screen.
Anyhow, the action never stops after the first part. It's all explosions, gunfire, and production crew misfires, and shouldn't overlook the many topless actresses who are anything but misfires. Speaking of actresses, Rialson and Woronov's characters Candy and Mary are not mocked, being more abused by the quickie industry than lampooned. In fact the opening scenes of the stage-struck Candy getting taken-in by fast-talking operators like Walter (Miller) strike a more somber and realistic note than the movie's goofy remainder. In fact, despite the overlying lunacy, there's a somber subtext: namely, that Hollywood exploits the heck out of young women, making them readily dispensable like Jill and Mary. Perhaps that's not a surprising reality to most of us, but a worthwhile under-current to the tom-foolery, nevertheless.
On a lighter note, good to see real veterans of Roger Corman's drive-in empire getting lead roles here - I'll bet they had fun mocking their past. Anyway, brace yourself for an hour-plus of nonstop action and lots of laughs from a nutzoid look at good-times past at the beloved drive-in.
Slam-Bang and Not just the Dynamite!
One thing for sure, a wild flick like this won't tax the brain. When the two slinky gals, Candy and Ellie Jo, aren't robbing banks in bra-less outfits, they're seducing random guys, or racing somebody's car, or blowing up whatever gets in their way. Need a cup of coffee, just get some dynamite and find a bank. Yeah, this is early women's lib where the girls give orders, not take them-- so move over John Wayne. And guys, you can expect a hormonal surge from the many bed, body, and nude scenes that for sure ain't the 1950's. Speaking of the 50's, is that little Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman (1958-63), now all grown up and playing Slim one of the girls' chosen male desperados. Good to see him picking up a payday. Anyway, things do move along as the production turns LA's San Fernando Valley into a plausible version of rural Texas, especially the back-roads. And brace yourself for a defiant ending that should have those censors of movies past turning in their graves. But I doubt the ending would have been audience accepted even in the '70's had the dynamiters been two guys instead of two nutty gals.
A movie like this is hard to rate since it only compares awkwardly with more conventional types. But for guys especially, the 90-minutes amounts to a slam-bang time passer, while the slam-bang isn't just limited to dynamite or cars.
The Doughgirls (1944)
Talky, But With Humorous Cast
Gird your loins because that opening scene threatens to crush viewers under a mob of stampeding hotel room seekers. Looks like hotel rooms were really hard to find during the war years, and that scary scene almost put me under the bed. Anyhow, it's not really a scary movie, rather, a romance comedy where three couples try to figure out who's married to whom or if they're even married at all. And if they don't work it out, guess what- they lose the room and get to spend their honeymoons on city streets. Now, there's one to tell the kids about.
Aside from the opening scene, the production has its work cut out. After all, it's an adaptation of a stage play that has basically only one set to work with, and 90-some minutes to fill. So how to keep audience eyes glued even when the snappy dialogue keeps ears entertained. Looks like Warner Bros brought in about all their comedic supporting players, from Mowbray and Carson (in a rare leading man role), to Eve Arden, who'll make you wonder how the Russians could possibly have lost WWII. Then there're the two statuesque goddesses Sheridan and Smith, decked out in the fashion period's finest, but looking more like ice queens with snappily humorous lines. And how about Jane Wyman in the lead, a long way from her usual dramatic roles. Here, she's never been more cute or cuddlesome, even if on the dumb side, and close to Jack Benny's description as Hollywood's embodiment of Minnie Mouse. And lastly, catch the two uniformed Army officers- that's Craig Stevens (later, TV's Peter Gunn), and Mark Stevens (later, a leading man in his own right). Thus, the studio's overall remedy for stage adaptation is to keep the character focus shifting quickly even when the single backdrop scene doesn't.
All in all, the flick's a little too talky, crowded, and over-extended to rate a top side rank. Still, it's an colorful cast with a number of chuckles, so check it out, though I'm still trying to figure out the title.
Rhythm in the Clouds (1937)
Nifty Little Screwball
Cute little screwball comedy. Sure, it's not going to set funny bones on-fire, but the Republic programmer shows what a no-name cast and a cleverly nutty script can do for cheap entertainment. So can desperate Judy Walker (Ellis) manage a musical career by hammering on neighbor's walls, insulting her musical soul-mate, and pretending all sorts of screwball things-- stay tuned! Anyway, B-movie director Aurer keeps things moving and the humor in focus, showing again that even Hollywood no-names can deliver when proper elements converge. So give the little flick a try, even for a not-so-slow evening.
This frenetic mess just proves that 'more' doesn't mean 'better', and 'faster' doesn't mean 'funnier'. Too bad there's no let up to the goofy slapstick or Mostel's relentless mugging anywhere in the 99-minutes. No pause, that is, where we can enjoy those funny moments that do pop-up now and again. It's like Lester and company dread possible moments of viewer reflection. Anyway, at least the production furnished a payday for a cast of over-the-hill vaudevillians, especially the legendary Keaton. But after so many close-ups of the ugly guys, I couldn't wait for the parade of half-clothed nubile girls. At least the production knew what they were doing in that regard. Then too, they got their money's worth filming in low-cost Spain, since the flick certainly succeeds more as spectacle than anything else. All in all, it's an unfortunate parody of talent; but one thing for sure- I won't be knocking three times on a bedroom door anytime soon!
I Met My Love Again (1938)
No need to recap the tangled plot.
No surprise to me that the clunky soap opera has generated so few reviews despite headliners like Bennett and Fonda. The various entanglements, both romantic and attitudinal, mount up without really developing, creating a crowded field for a comparatively short runtime. Likely, the jumbled storyline results from not one, but three directors, each likely with his own preferences. Certainly, someone liked big close-ups of the lovely Bennett who dolls up the otherwise drab proceedings. Unfortunately, Fonda's role as a stodgy professor doesn't help the lacklustre romantic appeal, and is a long way from his usual compelling charm. Then too, the cheap creek-side sets distanced me right away from their intended romantic setting. Clearly, it's an overall cheap and jumbled production that I expect both stars preferred to forget. Fortunately, both went on to bigger and much better things. No need for me to go on, except to say skip it unless you're a die-hard Bennett fan.
Delightfully Dangerous (1945)
A Powell Whirl-Wind
Plug Powell's bouncy effervescence into a generator and the sky would light up. At times she's a little much, but as an aspiring teenage singer, she really lights up the screen. Now, if she can just get the vocal career she wants and turn sister Moore from a burlesque queen into a legitimate stage performer, she'll be happy. Meanwhile, big-time stage producer Bellamy gets to stand around and look handsomely important. All together, they make an engaging threesome.
For sure, director Lubin keeps things moving, while the choreographed musical numbers are imaginative eye-catchers. Too bad the songs are forgettable even with the renowned Morton Gould conducting. Note the fringe presence of all the lively servicemen as the big war winds down in the production year of 1944. And for those interested in ladies' fashions of the time, there's plenty, especially with the stately Moore modeling. Then too, is that the great W. C. Fields doing a quick grab-by in the rolling record scene. It passes quickly, but see what you think.
Anyway, it's a fast moving, if not particularly memorable musical, that showcases a teenage Powell clearly on her way up the movie ladder.
The Rifleman: Home Ranch (1958)
Setting Up The Series
The episode appears to set up a key premise for the rest of the series. Lucas McCain and son Mark are going to hold steadfast to their little cabin on the prairie no matter what. In fact Lucas explains his inspiration from the Bible's story of Job's dedication to strength and commitment, thereby setting up the core of McCain's character, while Mark shows his ability to withstand difficulty with gutsy good humor.
The bad guys here are trying to drive the McCain's off their land to replace them with a cattle herd owned by a cattle baron. Actually, they're not really such bad guys, just a couple of regular sorts doing their job, even though they burn down the McCain cabin. In fact this drift leads up to a rather unexpected conclusion not typical of the oaters of the day. So we know an unusual cowboy series in the offing. So stay tuned.
Absence of Malice (1981)
Challenging, but Worthwhile
No need to recap the storyline intrigues, which are complex to say the least.
Ace peformances by both Newman and Fields. However, if you're looking for the usual charming Newman smile, forget it- I stopped at zero. The actor's about as understated here as he comes, and certainly a big departure from Hud and his usual winning style. But then his stoical appearance is perfectly in keeping with Gallagher's (Newman) calculating motivations once he realizes he's been used. Fields, on the other hand, is all charming grins and girlish moves as her reporter Megan chases down stories to prove her professional worth. And that's regardless of whom she insensitively (absence of malice) harms in the process. Surprisingly, given the two big stars, there's really no one to root for in what amounts to a cynical albeit thought-provoking script. All in all, it's a flick that should be shown in jounalism schools everywhere. Anyway, here's my little salute to both performers for going against their professional images in pursuit of a worthy issue.
Salome, Where She Danced (1945)
At Least DeCarlo Survived
Weird pastiche that comes across more like a collection of movie scraps than a coherent storyline. Certainly Wanger and Universal spared no expense in glamorizing Salome (DeCarlo), or mobbing up the crowd scenes, or spreading on the Technicolor. Nonetheless, the screenplay makes no sense except as a vehicle for the modestly talented, black-haired beauty. As I recall, few movie plots I've suffered through are as hopelessly broken as this one. Then too, if the pointless narrative weren't enough, where did they recruit the lame David Bruce as Salome's love interest; he's about as expressive as a guy with face in a freezer. Too bad sexy Salome's romantic clinches couldn't inject some life into him. Small wonder his career went nowhere. No need to go on. Some take the lame results as camp; I take it as a plain bad movie. Good thing DeCarlo not only survived, but flourished.
The House Across the Bay (1940)
Swimming To Alcatraz
The flick's a Bennett showcase. The other top-cast members (Raft, Pidgeon, Nolan) sort of drop in and out as needed, while Bennett's struggling single woman carries the storyline. Despite Raft's presence as an underworld entrepreneur, the plot has more to do with Bennett's romantic mishaps than with the sinister Raft. So what suspense there is has mostly to do with which suitor she'll end up with rather than Raft's underworld intrigue. Nonetheless, note that clever plot twist where, for his own protection, Bennett gets Raft sent to the slammer for what she thinks is only a year, only to watch it backfire in more ways than one. It's also an ironical move that sets up the rather surprising climax.
Anyway, kudos to wonderful A-list actress Bennett who's both gorgeous and convincing in what's a fairly demanding role. Her steely reserve alternates convincingly with the more tender moments. Also, a big nod to the always understated Lloyd Nolan as the sly lawyer man, along with Raft who manages to unbend more than usual, his occasional hard-eyed stare still managing to send me under the bed. To me, the movie's high point, however, are the scenes between the sassy Gladys George and Bennett who still manages to hold her own against tough gal competition. Between them, there's a lot of memorable chemistry and snappy dialogue.
All in all, it's more a movie of outstanding cast-members than gripping plot. Nonetheless, the 90-minutes will keep the viewer eye tuned in.
Step on It (1936)
Better Than Expected
Okay, I admit it': I was pleasantly surprised by this bottom-budget 1936 flick, only 57-minutes long. But the action hardly lets up as hijackers use an inside man to grab gasoline tankers, while our hero, ex-patrolman Talmadge, tries to out-smart them. And catch those rickety old two lane highways they race down, along with the drabby filling stations, and hopped-up motorcycles. And how about those bulging oil tanks they circle around ; one explosion and the whole city goes up. It sure ain't the LA of Hollywood and Vine or even studio back-lots. Then too, reviewer JH Reid's right: where else can we get such graphic views of the past than these vintage flicks, especially the cheepos. And how about stuntman Talmadge's many acrobatic stunts done with such amazing ease, though his fist fights with four guys are about as plausible as my dance-work. Also, too bad sweetie Wilde's presence fades with the second half. I really liked her imaginative way of sidling up to handsome patrolman Talmadge, though it costs Dad a load of money. Sure, the flick's about the last word in movie obscurity, plus being a distance from a sleeper. Still, the camera-work and overall energy show that even bottom barrel budgets can vibrate with life and roadsides past.
The Crystal Ball (1943)
Good, But Not First-Rate
Zany wartime madcap from Paramount. Seems Texas girl Toni (Goddard) has designs on handsome city attorney Brad (Milland) but has to out-compete sophisticated rival Jo (Field) for his affections. But don't worry, she's a dead-shot with a rifle and can fake a good crystal ball when she has to. Plenty of chuckles and mild innuendo, throughout, along with nifty scene-ending touches that work as comedic embroidery. Okay, the storyline would flunk a logic course, but who cares, since it's the humor that counts. All in all, the flick's a Goddard showcase that includes snappy support from a Johnny-on-the-spot Bill Bendix, a brassy Iris Adrian, and a fumbling Sig Arno who won't be table-waiting the President anytime soon. Then too, note that the ladies goody gowns are from Hollywood's premier fashion designers Edith Head and Adrian- I wonder if they did the gown that gets ripped off poor Toni.
Trouble is chuckles tail off toward the end when things serious up a bit. Also, Milland's fine for Brad's serious side, but adds little to Brad's lighter side. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining 80-minutes that gives Mussolini I good kick in the butt. So catch up with it despite the obscurity.
Beware of Ladies (1936)
Cheapo That Has Some Good Points
Okay B-movie drama from budget-minded Republic Pictures. The plot concerns political intrigue between a naive reform-minded Martin for city DA, and a corrupt incumbent faction seeking to undo Martin's candidacy. At first the bad guys needn't bother since Martin's campaign is too passive to worry about. But then forceful female reporter White sees Martin's potential and helps develop his untapped skills. Alarmed now, the corrupt faction quickly takes action.
It's a no-name cast that performs ably enough with the exception of Judith Allen as reporter White. In short, she's quite effective as Martin's take-charge mentor, reminding me a bit of a feisty Barbara Stanwyck. Note too the unusual womanly subtext that shows White finally lifting Martin beyond listlessness to her level of skill and initiative. And guess what happens as a result. Also, get a load of the 30's style tin-lizzies then crowding the streets, so reflective of the era.
On the downside are the rapid-fire shenanigans between the opposing factions in an over-crowded 64-minute storyline. Too bad ace director Pichel-just then getting started-adds little to the mix. Still the pacing never lags, though the many characters keep ducking in and out; so, a scorecard might be needed. All in all, you might give the programmer a try, especially for the unusual Martin-White matchup and the political lessons that go with it.
(In passing- Maybe you can spot Perry Mason's favorite TV investigator, the handsome William Hopper, in a side role as a reporter. Too bad that I missed him.)
Where's My Detention
Well, I guess I asked for it. I don't know what I was expecting except for some skin and laughs. What I got was plenty of skin and a few laughs. Trouble is there was no let-up to the goofiness, sort of like a flood that eventually overwhelms you. I wish there were a few slower moments, less packed with repetition, so I might enjoy the the more memorable ones. But no, it's like the film-makers couldn't stop piling it on, like a cup of sugar and spice pouring into an open mouth. After all, there are only so many instances of girls playing with wieners or humping their butts before amusement weakens. And that's too bad, because there're touches of imaginative humor, especially the first part with the Detention segment or the verbally constipated French teacher. Anyway, don't expect a high school diploma after viewing, otherwise you too may end up in detention with all the bra-less girls that go with it. Now please, how can I get put into that strip-tease detention!
Truck Stop Women (1974)
A Full-Service Stop
Don't expect this sleazy Drive-in gem to show up at a high-brow awards ceremony. Nonetheless, it's got everything needed for a camp classic: naked women, non-stop action, monster trucks, some high-speed fornication, and even a few surprises. And, wow, where did actress Dressler (Anna) come from. Her gargoyle boss-woman dominates the screen like none of the many ugly guys, and kept me wishing for more of Jennings' lovely eye relief. And how about all that dry New Mexico scenery with its ghost-town from heck- I sure hope the crew took a canteen with them. So, will Anna be able to keep her truck-stop brothel locally owned or will the eastern Mafia gobble it up. After all the long-haul guys do need occasional relief. More importantly, which side will Rose, Anna's rebellious daughter, end up taking, now that she's charmed by a snazzy eastern suit. Anyway, I didn't see the ending coming and a provocative one it is. In my little book, a zany flick like this is hard to rate, but if you're in the mood to dodge monster trucks, duck flying bullets, shower with naked girls, and follow a pacing that never drags, then give it a try.
Lady in a Cage (1964)
A Squandered Opportunity
It's a promising premise unfortunately squandered by a pack of nonsensical performances, and no clear idea of how to handle the storyline. DeHavilland's aging wealthy widow is partially crippled, and left alone in her house. As a result, she must depend on a caged lift to move between floors. Then one day she's trapped in the lift between floors due to a series of unfortunate power mishaps. Alone, she tries to no avail to signal for help, while cars pass steadily by her house front. What will she do.
Now, this is a gripping premise, made more so by award winning actress DeHavilland's obvious talent. Trouble is the gravitas is soon squandered by a series of caricatured performances: the clownish hobo Corey; the idiotic gangster Campos; and the moronic vixen Billingsley. Together or separately, they distract in cartoonish ways from the caged woman's desparate plight, even as they supposedly menace her as house-breaking thieves. On the other hand are the straight players: the studly Brando-like Caan, and the stuggling strumpet Sothern. Too bad their efforts mainly serve to heighten the caricatures of their co-players. All in all, it'a weird casting mix.
On a brief positive side is the ordinary neighborhood in which the filming is done, along with a subtext of a generally unfeeling public, as symbolized by the cars that blithely bypass the mournfully dead street dog. However, that meaningful subtext is too scattered and under-developed to really score. It's like the writer and the director had no clear idea of where to go with their premise. To me, the overall result is that of a wasted opportunity and a wasted DeHavilland. Too bad.
The Rifleman: The Sharpshooter (1958)
Fine Combination of Cast and Writer
Off-beat first episode from the 1950's Western series. The ending's not predictable and builds some suspense as we wonder who'll win the target shooting match, McCain or Vernon. Then too, McCain and son need the prize money for down payment on their hoped for little ranch. So it's not just a question of who's the better marksman. Also, pairing the brawny, hulking Connors with small, super-clean Hopper presents quite a contrast. Then too, Hopper's a long way from his usual hairy hipster. The script's by Sam Peckinpah just getting his foot in the industry door, which likely accounts for the creative plotline. There were dozens of westerns on TV during that period. Connors, however, creates a visual contrast to the usual heroes, looking more like a villian than the usual good-looking good guys. With his gimlet eyes and etched face, he's quite a contrast to the usual heroes. And I suspect that winsome little son, Johnny Crawford, was added to soften Connors's tough guy image. Anyway, it's a nifty first entry that sets up the rest of the series, so give it a try.
Swing Hostess (1944)
Entertaining Despite The Crowded Plot
Plot- a talented songstress tries to break into the business, but is hampered by mishaps and a connaiving rival.
Okay, I'm a sucker for low-budget quickies, hoping for the occasional over-achiever. Happily, this is one of them. The flick's really more a comedy with a complex plot than a musical. But the pacing's snappy, the acting's colorful, and Tilton's such a sweetheart. Sure, it's the sassy Adrian and the scheming Brodel who get the acting and screentime, still, songstress Tilton's lovely voice carried me away. I just wish she had more numbers uncrowded by the screenplay. On the other hand, I'd never seen the feisty Brodel before. Too bad she didn't opt for a longer career since her talent for villianry is darkly clear. At the same time, I was hoping for some swing dancing with the flaring skirts so popular at the time, but maybe the budget didn't allow it. Anyway, the pacing never drags, while the sticky plot's happily softened by a supporting cast of humorous oldsters. So give it a look-see, especially for the "liltin' Martha Tilton".
In the Wake of the Assassins (2007)
More About Alabama's Governor Patterson Than About Phenix City
All in all, the documentary does not lend itself to a ratings score.
If you're tuning in for a lengthy documentary on Phenix City's infamous corruption scandal and its exposure in 1954, you may be disappointed. Instead, only about the first fifteen minutes has directly to do with the notorious scandal that captured headlines nationally, including my own small town in Colorado. Instead the docu's mainly about the career of John Patterson, initially Attorney General, and then Governor of Alabama until 1966. As Att. Gen., he was instrumental in tackling mob control of the city, following his father's assassination in '54 when he too tried cleaning up the city as Alabama's earlier chief attorney. Tellingly, mob control started when city fathers started up casino gambling as a needed source of revenue -- (How Ironic). Then too, note FBI Hoover's terse response to Patterson's request for federal help against the mob! Also touched on is the conflict-ridden Freedom Bus Riders during the state's volatile desegregation period. Anyway, that early part's a dramatic send-off that pretty much invites interest even for the remaining hour or so that tracks Patterson's controversial career as Ala. Governor.
On the whole, the screen time is peopled by brief comments from a variety of interviewees, but mainly from an aged Patterson himself. These cameos flow by quickly as topics progress, so be prepared. Nonetheless, the documentary's slickly produced including vintage clips from the 50's and 60's, and is certainly informative about the life and career of Patterson, even if the details of the City's notorious scandals receive less attention.
All in all, the documentary touches on a number of interesting topics, so you may want to give it a try.
Squanders Todd and a Promising Plot
For Todd fans the first part showcases her lively appeal. Here, she's cast as a pampered debutante used to getting her own way. Then she meets football hero Morris who's self-disciplined down to his toes, and surprisingly rejects her romantic overtures. Unfortunately, Todd's stellar role soon recedes as the murky storyline with Morris's hijacking scheme takes over. Too bad for Todd fans.
The film's pre-Code 1931, but here there's surprisingly little innuendo to reflect those pre-censorship years. Still, there remains the lingering drama of Prohibition, and that's what the plot turns on, as Morris is out to prove that he's as effective at becoming rich as Todd's ruthless Wall Street father, Steve. The rivalry's set up when Morris refuses, as an employee in Steve's brokerage, to bilk an unfortunate old lady at Steve's command. Morris's heated exchange with his boss amounts to a telling snapshot of a time when stock markets were crashing and Wall Street needed money no matter how ruthlessly gotten. Thus football hero Morris shows his principled core despite the desperate tenor of the times. But how will he prove that his ethical approach to riches is as effective as Steve's unprincipled methods like bilking an old lady.
Here the story turns a couple of twists, as arrogant Steve bootlegs for needed money by running an offshore smuggling operation, while the ethical Morris surprisingly hijacks that operation with his gunboat, the Corsair. So it looks like the steely Morris has turned to a form of crime in order to compete with rival, Steve. So what's going on with the film's apparent hero. Has he lost his sense of right and wrong by becoming a hijacker even if it is for illegal booze.
Anyway, that's the nub of a good plot. Trouble is that on screen it plays out in fuzzy, dispersed fashion that fails to generate much suspense or involvement. In short, the story's potential is squandered along with actress Todd. Nor does it help that Kohler, the chubby gang boss Big John, mugs-it-up to a clownish distractive degree . All in all, the flick's no tribute to ace director West or to those who fleshed out the screenplay. Still, there are memories of the incandescent Todd shortly before her tragic death. Too bad she didn't get the screen time here that she so richly deserved.
Carnal Knowledge (1971)
Cutting Edge Then, Dull Edge Now
If you can sit still for 90-minutes of endless talk, meaningless close-ups, no action, and just five speaking parts, you might enjoy this downer. Okay, so maybe there's a meaningful subtext hidden somewhere inside all the anxiety, but I was too bored by the one-note characters to care. Instead, I'll leave serious digging to those folks who somehow got interested. At the same time, there's Nicholson's frequent mugging coupled with Garfunkle's bland disinterest, that show up as unhelpful indulgence on somebody's part. On the other hand, the sexy girls come across better both visually and performance-wise, thank goodness.
So why was the bummer so celebrated at the time. My guess is that the results got attention because they broke so many 1930's Production Code taboos that lingered into the early 70's. In short, the flick was cutting-edge for its time. No need to recount the movie's no-no's here, but they are pretty explicit, even for now. Anyway, I don't remember being so bored by a sexually laden film in my many years of viewing. Maybe the lesson is that tasty spices don't substitute for an empty meal. Too bad.