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Mr. & Mrs. North: Climax (1954)
Season 2, Episode 18
Farewell to a Memorable Pairing
20 September 2018
Last episode of the series. Being the last, I wish there were more of Pam and Jerry since this is their sign-off. But actually it's a Steve Brodie showcase. That fine actor gets to go through a lot of emotions while storming his way to find the killer of his navy buddy, Doug (Conway). In fact, he's almost more than Jerry or Weigand can handle. Close behind performance-wise is veteran loony Paul Richards. Seems he's angry at the navy and kills off navy men for no other reason. The actor specialized in this kind of role he was so good at. And catch that same dark alley where much of the action occurs-- (saves on both lighting and set expense). Anyway, thanks Pam and Jerry. The stories may not have been special, but your pairing remains a very special delight.
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Flawed, But With A Point Of Interest
17 September 2018
Perhaps the most unusual part of this WWII occupation film is Nazi Maj. Von Keller (Slezak). Viewers, I believe, are used to seeing Nazis portrayed as being one and all remorselessly brutal killers. So when a Third Reich officer is in charge of a country or a town, brutal methods are expected. Here, however, we're shown how a Nazi Major uses finesse (mostly) instead of violence as he solidifies Nazi control of an occupied European town. Surprisingly, he's more a slick politician than the typical Nazi slave driver. On the whole, he makes deals rather than corpses (mostly), which puts town folk on the spot and makes for some interesting conflicts. At the same time, Slezak aces the part.

On the whole, however, the narrative tracks meek and mild Lori's (Laughton) transition from scaredy-cat schoolteacher to patriotic town hero. It's a shrinkingly subdued Laughton as seldom seen, one I'm afraid his scaredy-cat mugging in the early part over-does to a near comical extent. But, at least, his subdued courtroom speech later on makes the words and not the delivery the needed focus. That's because over time the craven mother's boy has absorbed the strength of democratic ideals, and now strengthened, he imparts these ideals to the community. Thus, resistance to Nazi occupation will mushroom, thanks to Lori's character transformation.

On the other hand, I'm afraid the luminously beautiful O'Hara looks a little too Hollywoodish for her common folks role. Nonetheless, supporting cast performers like O'Connor (a mother from heck), Smith (more animated than usual), and Sanders (more conflicted than usual), lend strong support. Then too, the action sequences, like the chase across rooftops and the one through rail yards, are movie highlights and expertly done.

Anyway, despite its drawbacks, the movie has points of interest in the unusual presence of a friendly Nazi and the problems that makes for the captive peoples.
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Saleslady (1938)
Flat Programmer
16 September 2018
All in all, it's a bland Monogram programmer. There's no real plot or suspense; instead the screenplay simply unwinds. The main aspect amounts to whether newly weds Nagel and Heyburn can make enough money to afford his free spending for her sake. After a persistent courtship, they marry. What Heyburn doesn't know is that Nagel's an heiress with a wealthy grandpa, but she's bored by the wealthy lifestyle. So, incognito, she gets a job in a new city, meets Heyburn, and embarks on a more routine lifestyle they can't really afford. So, will the struggling couple somehow manage or will Nagel finally seek help from wealthy grandpa.

Fortunately, the two leads inject personality into their roles that helps compensate the lack of their under-dramatized plight. Then too, I wonder how much Depression Era audiences sympathized with Nagel's rejection of a wealthy lifestyle they could only dream about. But then I guess her true love is supposed to compensate. As an old movie buff, I'd never seen or heard of Heyburn. He seems to have had an "uncredited" career. From here it looks like he deserved better. Anyway, look for cowboy star Don (Red) Barry in a bit part as a salesman of all things. All in all, the leads are better than the material or the flat direction. Otherwise it's an utterly forgettable sixty minutes.
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Lively Oater
14 September 2018
Fast-moving Steele oater. I'd like to have a nickel for every time Bob bounces off a horse here-- I'd be rich. He's energetic as heck in this otherwise routine horse opera. For example, catch how he puts a little extra oomph into his actions, as though he has oomph to spare. At the same time, the oft-used Alabama Hills make an eye-catching backdrop, though why they call the jutting rock spires "hills" is still a mystery to me. The plot's the usual- a ranch-stealing land grabber. Trouble is Bob gets blamed for a murder the grabber masterminds, so our fugitive cowboy gets help from charming Mexican rogue (Alvarado). Meanwhile, sweet blonde ingénue, Shea, gets to mostly stand around looking sweet, while Mexican siren Laroux adds personality. Nothing special here, but director Hill does keep things moving, so there's no visual sag. And watch out for when Steele almost leaps face-first through the screen, a most unusual touch for a programmer. All in all, the diminutive Steele shows throughout the hour why big is not necessarily better.
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Mr. & Mrs. North: Mask of Hate (1954)
Season 2, Episode 17
Good Guessing Game
13 September 2018
Above average entry. The plot's a good one that doesn't tip off where it's going. Gordon (Bouchey) is a bed-ridden, wealthy husband, while wife Marion (Miller) is a conniving little vixen with a lover, Barry (Lauter). Seems the estranged pair are plotting against each other, and neither's sympathetic. Thus, it's hard to tell how things will turn out. Meanwhile, Jerry and Pam get involved through Jerry's publishing business.

Fine acting from both TV veteran Bouchey and newcomer Miller helps rivet interest. But I did have to look twice when veteran TV cowboy Lauter turns up in a spiffy suit. Also, DeSales gets screen time as his Lt. Weigand investigates. Two crabby notes-- the entry deserves better than an abruptly contrived ending; plus, I think the screenplay makes a mistake tipping its hand early on with Gordon's condition. Better to keep us guessing even more. Anyhow, it's a generally suspenseful half-hour from 1950's Northland.
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Story Prevails Over Star-Power and Flag-Waving
3 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Behind the WWII patriotics lies an important moral, good for most any age. Namely, that behind a grandiose image may lie a contrary and sneaky reality. In short, a manufactured image may be created in order to keep a difficult truth away from the public. That's especially true, of course, in the political world. In the movie, it's the reality of fascist sentiments lying behind war hero Forrest's national image that's being hidden. As a result, these are ready for use in edging US policy in a direction favorable to European fascists. It's only after reporter Tracy's persistent digging that he discovers the truth that finally comes from Forrest's conflicted wife Hepburn. She's torn between protecting image for the nation's sake, and knowing the reality that means propping up a lie. Fortunately, Tracy's search and Hepburn's ambiguous response rivet audience interest despite the dated context.

The flick's expertly directed by ace MGM director Cukor. And even though scenes never leave the studio, the outdoor sets are atmospherically designed. In their non-romantic parts, Tracy and Hepburn get to show that story can come first. He's low-key the whole way (count his smiles, I stopped at 1). Also, the often stagy Hepburn manages to keep her emoting under control, even that last extended confession. Thus, it's the story's message more than the celebrated actors that remains uppermost. And that's understandable, given the likely 1942 production date. Note too, how the screenplay ultimately relies on ability of American citizens to deal with the harsh truth about Forrest rather than the comforting image. That's certainly an affirmative message for a fraught time.

Anyway, the 100-minutes is dated in many ways, but the dramatic alert about political images and harsh reality remains as timely now as ever.
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Better Than Expected
2 September 2018
Though overlong with an unimaginative ending, the movie's still an ace thriller. It's basically a one-note plot-- can sweetheart Powers escape the deadly fanaticism of an aging Bankhead who presides tyrannically over servants and nitwit Sutherland in a remote English mansion. Poor Powers, she's guilty of no more than having wanted to marry Bankhead's son before he died unexpectedly. Now she visits the old lady's mansion to express condolence, not knowing the loony old mom's got a twisted sense of religious purification. Seems she suspects Powers is no virgin and must be cleansed before knifing her off to the upper reaches to join her virginal son. Now she keeps the defenseless girl prisoner, and no matter what Powers does to escape, it doesn't work. Boy, is the sweet girl in a sweaty pickle.

The movie was made at a time when aging divas were starring in blood-fests that introduced old-time stars to youthful 60's audiences (e.g. Bette Davis in "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" {1964}). Thus the suspenser is really a vehicle for diva Bankhead's re-emergence. She performs in scary enough fashion. Trouble is it's basically a one-note portrayal of the loony Mom. And that allows the sweet-faced Powers to steal the show with an expertly nuanced portrayal of a girl in danger. Catch how her steady politeness gives way as the danger grows. This really draws viewers into the screen thereby dissolving the usual separation. No wonder the pretty lady has had such a long and successful career. Something should also be said about actress Yootha Joyce's strong turn as Anna that adds real impact. And how about Sutherland's nitwit galoot whose mere presence commands a ton of scary shudders.

Kudos too to director Narrizano who blends the elements into pretty much a seamless whole, with good attention to detail like the lingering bloodstains on Powers' change of dresses. Except for the drawn-out runtime and clunky ending, this could have been a real sleeper. As it stands, the movie remains a heckuva good suspenser.
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Man Wanted (1932)
A Francis Showcase
1 September 2018
Moderately amusing romantic comedy, stolen by a dazzling Kay Francis. Her commanding presence just about out-shines everything else, including even the scene-stealing Merkel. The story's about upper-class folks trying to get their love life sorted out. Manners is drawn to Francis, but she's married to Thompson who philanders with Dodd, while an aggressive Merkel chases after Manners as a brawny Devine looks on. Worse, they've only got an hour to sort things out. The B-flick's well mounted with a good look at early 30's high fashion. There's some good snappy dialogue, and even though infidelity is treated casually, there's not much pre-Code innuendo. Note too how the script elevates Francis as the competent chief executive of a large firm. In fact, there's something of a subtle feminist thread running through the screenplay. In my book, the movie's main drawback lies with Dieterle's pedestrian direction that lacks the spark needed to blend the parts into a memorable whole.. Anyway, for fans of Francis, it's a showcase, showing again why she's become a cult legend.
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Mama's Family (1983–1990)
Funny and Feisty
30 August 2018
Funny, funny show. I especially liked the second supporting cast, neighbor Iola and nephew Bubba. The first version, with an expanded cast, was okay, but maybe too unwieldy to really gel. I think the producers were wise to re-tool after that first year.

A really big salute to Lawrence for making feisty Thelma not just funny, but also fairly likable despite her often cutting remarks. In fact sarcasm was Thelma's shtick and the show's premise. Kudos also to Berry's affable Vinton and Lyman's hot pants Naomi. Seems like the two never leave the bedroom, at least figuratively. Then too, Kayser's Bubba charges around like a young bull, always after some high school cutie. At the same time, spinster Iola serves as Thelma's nosy neighbor. .

And catch Raytown where they all live for better or worse. It's small town USA. I like the way Vinton and Naomi have unglamorous jobs, the sort that keep the country running. Typically, episodes involve some goings on in town where Thelma has to confront a minor challenge, like the PTA Board. Most folks would use tact and diplomacy, but not Thelma. In a sense she's too honest to fake things, even if her remarks are sarcastically funny. Fortunately, this is where Lawrence's skills are indispensible and really shine.

Anyway, the second version happily gels and remains a consistent laugh-getter thanks to not-everyone's-grandmother.
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Safe in Hell (1931)
Pre-Code, For Sure
27 August 2018
Plot-- A prostitute thinks she killed her cunning corrupter and flees to a Caribbean island to escape extradition, but not before marrying her departing sailor true love. Trouble is the island's full of lecherous men bent on nailing her, the island's only white woman. So should she risk staying or risk leaving.

That opening scene's a grabber that fairly shouts 'prostitute'. If it didn't help bring down Production Code censorship (1934), I don't know what would. Except for the goofy antics of the unshaven oglers, this 1931 cheapo almost amounts to a sleeper. Actress Mackail delivers the tough gal with soul, in spades. Too bad she's so obscure, her acting career mainly in silents. Here, she fends off the many lecherous men in convincing Joan Blondell style. And catch Charles Middleton in a surprisingly nuanced role; that is, a few years before his Ming The Merciless menaced Flash Gordon's serial universe. The movie's also distinguished by a surprise ending. But keep in mind that the subtext is about crime and redemption, along with true love. These themes are interwoven in subtle fashion such that the conclusion may prompt some thought.

Anyway, it's one of legendary director Wellman's early talkies, which in characteristic fashion he doesn't sentimentalize. And, oh yes, maybe my favorite scene is when the true lovers conduct their spooning through a fortunate crack in a shipping crate. Good thing she could get out before the cranes came. Note too, that the lovers' marriage is conducted without benefit of presiding cleric or official marriage certificate. Yet the couple treat their enduring love as all the ceremony they need. Thus church and government are bypassed as unnecessary despite long tradition and heavy legalisms. No wonder the screenplay is pre-Code. All in all, the 70-minutes is definitely meaningful and worth thinking about. So catch up with it despite the long ago era.
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A Glimpse from Far Away
26 August 2018
No need to echo consensus points. I saw the docu-drama as a kid in a little Colorado mountain town about as far from the hurley-burley streets of NYC as possible. It sure was a revelation to me. The crowded walk-ways, the soaring sky-scrapers, the skeletal els, a whole new world opened up that stayed with me for years. It's a compelling movie trying to break the Hollywood mold with a docu-drama type approach. For the most part, it works, though I take the folksy Fitzgerald as a gesture to popular tastes. And how about that towering top-of-the-world climax. I'll bet Cagney saw that. Also, be sure to catch IMDB's Trivia to find out how the crew made sure street crowds were not alerted to the filming. After all, heads turned the wrong way would have undercut the required effect. Anyway, it's a heckuva flick, with a peek into late 40's urban life and styles. And thanks Mr. Hellinger for bringing a glimpse of city life to us distant kids amidst our own towering splendor.
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Kind of Weird
25 August 2018
Fast-moving Steele programmer. Then too, what other oater of that time or any time features a hog farm, "entomologists", and girls in wooden barrels. Okay, maybe it's not the best Steele entry, but it does have its points. Then again, maybe you can figure out the plot, something about bug fanciers and girl smugglers, but who cares. Good guys, bad guys, and a cute girl are enough for front-row geezers like me. Here it's the sweet-faced Harley Wood giving us a break from the ugly guys. There's lots of hard riding and flying fists, but little fast shooting but that's okay since nobody aims anyway. Then too the action never leaves LA's really un-scenic scrublands. But please, Mr. Producer, bring back Gabby Hayes or even Andy Devine because the comic relief is from a guy, Don Barclay, who's about as funny as a lump of coal that he somehow resembles. Now Steele may not be an iconic Wayne or Eastwood, but his small frame's about as energetic and convincing as the bigger guys. Too bad we don't get more of his hard-eyed stares here. I think he could go toe-to-toe with Eastwood in a steely stare down, any time. All in all, the hour's a decent programmer that has its oddities and never drags, so give it a try.
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Mr. & Mrs. North: The Suspected (1954)
Season 2, Episode 16
Average Entry
23 August 2018
On the whole, the entry is nothing special. Nonetheless, there is a good hook that grabs when a woman at night runs in front of Pam and Jerry's slow-moving car. Feeling sorry for the attempted suicide, the big-hearted North's take the woman into their apartment as a helper. Trouble is the lady has a past and a scheming family. So our sweeties get more then they bargained for. Actress Woodell makes the lady likable, otherwise the acting is fairly routine. I wish our headliners got more chance to do their charming stuff, but at least they're here. There's one good tussel beside the high-rise window furnishing some suspense. Otherwise, it's a strictly average entry.
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Early R&R and Girls in Swishy Skirts
20 August 2018
An early rock musical, now mainly of historical interest. Except for Chuck Berry, most of the musical performers have since faded into recordings of that time. Frankly, I was hoping for more recognizable hits from the period, but I'd be hard pressed to name one. But then, I'm no R&R afficianado. Those swishy big skirts the highschool girls wear did take me back 60 years to my own teenage years. They worked really well for the movie's dance numbers that conveyed the raw teen energy that R&R ignited in an otherwise sedate decade. The story line taking up the middle third is more complicated than expected, but reflects a period when higjh school proms were a really big deal. Fortunately, a captivating 12-year old (!) Weld comes off like an acting pro. I doubt that anyone before or since brought off cute little vixens more charmingly than the unfortunately named Tuesday, (critics of the time refused to take her seriously because of her "silly" name). Here, however, she plays a strictly good girl, who unfortunately does need a tutorial in 2+2. Anyway, it's hard to slap a rating number on a production like this. On the whole, I suspect it's appeal is mainly to fans of early R&R and sentimental oldsters like me. So, for dedicated viewers-- "Take It Away, Mr. Freed!"
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It's All In The Stars
19 August 2018
Wacky programmer that fails for the most part. Looks like WB was trying to rival Charlie Chan with the much prettier Anna Mae Wong, except Mei Lei (Wong) uses astrology to crack cases instead of logic. Well that is a different approach, for sure, and the script's not shy about reinforcing Mei Lei's star-gazing powers. To make their premise go down easier, science is treated as supplementary to Libra, Taurus, et al, and not in conflict with the mystical signs. I wonder how that goes down with Sherlock Holmes, never mind Cal Tech or MIT.

Wong is the best thing about the 65-minutes, treating a troublesome part with genuine authority. It's really she who deserves top billing even though Lindsey and Lane furnish abundant eye candy. Maybe my planets are in the wrong house, but I found the whodunit a messy bore. There's not much action, while the talkfest seldom leaves interior sets. All in all, I can see why there were no movie sequels, at the same time the ladies went on to bigger and better things. Anyway it's an oddball idea even for adventurous WB. (In passing-- Watch for Clayton Moore, TV's Lone Ranger {1949-57}, in a minor part as Ass't DA, but don't look for the mask or Tonto.)
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A Bad B-Movie
18 August 2018
A Warning To Parents: be sure to nurture your kids otherwise your outstanding high schooler may fall into the hands of criminals and busty blondes. This is one of those campy alerts of the 30's & 40's. You know, where a puff of weed would turn the smoker into a raving idiot, or too much flirting would turn a nice girl into a professional. At least those bizarro's were good for a laugh. Trouble is there's really too little silliness here to qualify as compelling camp. Instead, the hour runtime plays more like a bad B-movie. It's mainly just a lot of head scratching as the script moves from one stretch to the next. I mean having a nightclub toughie like Mary Beth Hughes falling for an emotional blank like highschooler Jimmy really snaps the rubber band. Too bad poor Lowell looks lost in what's really a difficult role. I hope he found more agreeable work after an understandably brief stage career. But what grabs me is that this is 1943, the height of WWII. Yet there's no mention of the war, nor more importantly is Jimmy even facing conscription after graduation, which would solve his home problems. I suspect wartime audiences balked at the glaring lack of topicality. Anyway, some folks may get a chuckle from the stretches. As for me, I just got a wasted hour and a weird desire for the unvarnished lunacy of a Reefer Madness (1936).
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Screen Directors Playhouse: Prima Donna (1956)
Season 1, Episode 17
Amusing Half-Hour
16 August 2018
The plot's a cute mix-up-- will little Johnny become a ball player or an opera singer. With a dad like Leo (the Lip) Durocher don't bet against a baseball uniform. Actually the real draw is the cast. It's Jeanette Mac Donald sans Nelson Eddy in her TV debut. Her role here is mostly subdued until, that is, she sings. Then, oddly, there's the lady-like Laraine Day along with her real-life uncouth hubby Durocher. The latter are one of the unlikeliest marital pairings in an industry full of the unlikely. Something about opposites attracting, I guess. Actually Leo the Lip is a surprisingly good actor, legendary for his bluster as a baseball Hall Of Fame head coach. Also, shouldn't forget ace supporting players Cowan and Darwell, making this a cast of players worth catching up with. Also: IMDB doesn't indicate whether young Caiazza's expert singing was dubbed or not. Either way, it's compelling. Nonetheless, I can't help mentioning I was a bit put-off by the brief, rather romantic duet between a middle-age MacDonald and the youthful Caiazza. Anyway, it's a chance to catch a rather novel assemblage of players blending into an amusing musical trifle.
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Number 17 (1932)
Early Hitch Makes Strong Visual Impression
12 August 2018
Hitch may have thought the movie was "terrible" (IMDB), but thanks to his visual imagination and technical skills, it's interesting to watch. The hour's really two halves. The first part is confined to a creepy upstairs house. Here Hitch's creative camera and lighting turn a static setting and bad comedy into a visual feast that thankfully entertains even as Lion's lame efforts at laughs flop. The second half is action filled. The on-rushing locomotive and heck-bent bus are bound to meet a bad end, but again Hitch's skills carry over to really novel effects. Then too, I could spot only one instance of process screen being used in an action sequence. The plot's negligible-something about a stolen necklace and who gets it first, cops or robbers. Actually, the main interest here is who are the cops and who are the robbers. It's not too clear til the end. All in all, the movie's an early preview of Hitch's mastery, even when saddled with a murky script and a lame comic. Also, his frequent collaborator, wife Alma, has a big hand in the results, and I would suspect, especially in the rapid editing.
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Thud !
11 August 2018
Only reason to catch this soft-core sleaze is Lenny Bruce in a tough guy role. No effort here for the controversial comedian to be funny. Instead, he's sort of a third-rate George Raft. The dreadful effort at laughs comes instead from a guy mugging it up like Jerry Lewis's brain dead brother. I expect this barrel bottom showed in a grind house or two on the coasts, and may have made back it's dollar-seventy budget. It's like three unadorned sets and a dirty alley are there to confine viewers, along with the bare backs of well-fed "dance hall" girls. Just as skimpy is a plot having something to do with diamond smuggling run by the dance hall owner. But don't expect anything like suspense or even interest. No need to keep beating a dead horse. People don't watch such a title for artistic excellence. Apparently, this is what passed for skid-row titillation, 1953 style. So where was Ed Wood when we needed him.
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Dragnet: The Big TV (1955)
Season 4, Episode 23
A Wrenching Episode
9 August 2018
I sure hope actor Montgomery (Laznik) didn't have to do more than one take for his gobble-down-the-pie scene. Otherwise he'd probably have enough bloat to float off the set. Apparently Webb liked the effect since it's extended long after we've gotten the idea. At the same time, the bad manners add a little levity to what's otherwise a really poignant entry. A young mother has disappeared with her baby son, and now her imperious mother-in-law wants the baby found, but doesn't seem to care about the mother. Plus, where is the serviceman father. Now Friday and Smith have to untangle the disappearance, made more so by the baby's bloodied garments.

Some fine acting, especially from the missing mother's sister (Howell, I believe), helps make this one of the more moving stories of the entire series. Note how W and S stand awkwardly by as the sister completes her emotional account. We all feel a need to comfort her, but as professionals, the cops must remain undemonstrative even though moved by a strong sympathetic urge. It's a subtle but revealing moment. All in all, the half-hour amounts to human interest raised to an intense degree and without a sappy undercurrent thanks to Webb and Co. So, catch it if you can.

(In passing-note a headline in the newspaper at the entry's beginning spotlighting UFO's {Unidentified Flying Objects}, a popular fascination of the time. That may ring a bell for many older viewers, especially.)
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Life and Death Hollywood Style
6 August 2018
A must for old movie fans. It's packed with colorful footage from several key decades of celebrity movie-making. There's Valentino from the 20's, Fields from the 30's, Power from the 40's, and a host of famous stars from the 50's. Clips from the celebrity's best-known film features are included and make up the bulk of the footage. The ones from Fields' comedies are a particular hoot, including the notorious dentist's chair sequence. Lives of the subjects are also capsulized including background, marriage(s) and unusual death. It's the latter that establishes the documentary's common thread. Naturally, the star's particular appeal is emphasized, but the footage doesn't shy away from controversial aspects, such as Hudson's homosexuality, Lugosi's drug use, or the mysterious deaths of Wood and Reeves. And though the script could easily descend into errant gossip, I don't believe it does, relying on reputable fact instead. Understandably, Monroe receives the most footage. From the clips, it appears neither her plaintive appeal nor tragic life story has diminished by passing years. Then there's Dean's spooky premonition of death in his road safety interview with Gig Young shortly before the actual event. Anyway, old movie fan or not, it's still a fascinating overview of Hollywood human interest expertly gleaned from several decades of movie-making.
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Not Exactly a Vacation Getaway
5 August 2018
Catch that inferno consuming the lodge; it's an unexpectedly somber note inside the usual Blondie amusement. Must be stock footage since it's too real for a budget series. Seems our favorite movie family is taking a vacation lakeside. Trouble is the inn they're staying at is almost vacant and about to be foreclosed by a mean guy who owns the lodge across the lake. When B & D find out, they pitch in to help the old couple who are about to lose their livelihood. Meanwhile, Baby Dumpling and Daisy go missing. Oh my, what will Mom and Dad do now.

There's more action here than usual with more cast extras. Still the Bumstead antics are funny as usual, especially Daisy the dog who steals the show. Too bad they don't give canine Oscars. Daisy deserves one for her flawlessly natural silliness. Then too, shouldn't overlook MacBride (Morton) who was such a good meanie. Here his clashes with Dagwood are little gems. And what about Donald Meek, he looks meek but is he. But whatever you do, don't let Dagwood fix your vacuum cleaner unless you want to visit the moon. Anyway, it's solid Bumstead fun, again showing what a perfect pairing they were.
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Dragnet: The Big Lift (1955)
Season 5, Episode 4
When A Loaf Isn't A Loaf
2 August 2018
Nothing special here, as reviewer Hafer points out. Still, it's a tribute to the production crew that the narrative compels even though it's all talk and no action. Seems a tricky burglar has unsettled a neighborhood with his sneaky m.o. that includes a misleading grocery bag. The cops have come up with nothing despite best efforts. So will Joe and Frank succeed where others draw a blank.

Catch that counterman where Joe and Frank try to eat. He mugs it up like there's no tomorrow. I'm surprised director Webb didn't smooth him out since underplaying was a series trademark. Maybe Webb wanted an eye-catching opener for a hook. Nonetheless, there's real humor when housewife Richman mocks 1950's husbands and household work savers. Sounds like it was a common feeling of the time. Too bad actress Richman died so young; she was a beguiling presence as the episode shows. Though nothing special here, it's still an entertaining half-hour, Dragnet style.
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Where's Ed Wood When We Need Him
30 July 2018
Get a load of the 'Maniac'. Nothing there that a good face wash and a painful dental visit wouldn't fix, if, that is, 5-years were spent on it. On the whole, it looks like the movie throws a bit of everything into the pot. Trouble is the drop-in ingredients-- horror, whodunit, romance, news-hound-- don't blend well.

Anyway, the plot's main question amounts to who's killing the Rineharts. It should be the Maniac, but we know it's not, though he does prey on necking couples; that is, when he's not hiding out in the bushes ready for his next close-up. An even bigger question is just what Lugosi's sinister Degar is supposed to be. That's a big a mystery too. Is he a house attendant from heck or maybe a dark agent from late night TV. What with his graveyard manner and sepulcher voice, at least he would keep unwanted guests away. Too bad the writers weren't sure what to do with their headliner, but it does get Lugosi's name on the marquee.

Then there's the comedy relief. Probably the movie was never a front rank choice on TCM, since it's a black man doing the embarrassing 'feets-don't-fail-me-now' brand of racial humor. And, for his humiliation, the actor's not even included in the credit list (IMDB). On the whole, however, the supporting cast performs ably, especially the women and the Rineharts.

All in all, the flick's a different kind of fright effort that unfortunately scatters impact. At least that's so until the finale, which is unexpected and cleverly thought out. There's also the completely novel "breaking of the fourth wall" by the Maniac, a real rarity, I would think, for its time. Too bad that the programmer's not good enough to really register, and not bad enough to make it as laughable camp. So where's Ed Wood when I could use a good chuckle.
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Not One Of The Better Cagney's
29 July 2018
I guess Cagney took the "lion" part literally since he roars all the way through. Unfortunately, it does get tiresome. That along with a brash behavior competes with plot development muddying overall impact. Perhaps Cagney saw a need to out-bluster award winning Broderick Crawford in 1950's thematically similar All The King's Men. Don't get me wrong-I'm a long time Cagney fan, but his turn here amounts almost to a caricature of his usual dynamic persona.

The movie itself lacks impact, mainly because of a screenplay that fails to concentrate Hank's (Cagney) trickery into a central focus. Instead, the story veers around in rather murky fashion, particularly with the political conniving that leads to Hank's downfall. For example, see if you can sort out the Castleberry, Polli, Beach, Rector, roles leading to Hank's downfall. Or figure out the clumsily developed Jeb Brown legal proceedings. To me, the script badly needed a re-write. Also, the casting of the women's roles requires a stretch. Hale's Verity appears much too refined for loud-mouth Hank, while Francis's Flamingo(!) appears about 20-years too young. These appear aimed at reinforcing Hank's blustery charisma. Anyway, I did like the 'one for all' bonding of the sharecroppers, especially when they transform Hank's shack into a bright bungalow. Also, the way the gin mill cheats is enlightening and I expect really happened to cotton growers. So there are compensations. However, the movie itself strikes me as one of Cagney's lessers and shows why it's seldom included in his iconic canon.
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