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Something Wild (1961)
Edgy, groundbreaking, even scenic
This film is set and filmed on location in New York City, and you get a real sense of what NYC was like then, especially the less glamourous areas of it. There are lots of scenes of actual New York brownstone apartments, bridges, parks, gritty streets with funny little stores, subway stations, things like that. The on-location NYC shooting was one of the best things about this film.
l actually saw this film for the first time on TV when I was about ten, so I didn't really understand what was going on, but I did remember it because it somewhat traumatized me. I saw it again for the second time on TCM a few years back. Actually, moving into a dangerous part of town, going into a weird guy's apartment, etc. is a known part of PTSD as it is experienced by rape victims. They often do risky things, repeatedly, looking for a different outcome than what happened in their rape. This was documented in the book "Lucky" by Alice Sebold who was raped by a complete stranger and deliberately moved to very sketchy parts of New York City years later. She had no idea why she was doing this sort of thing at the time.
However, if this wasn't really known until 1990 by mental health professionals, I'd like to know if director Jack Garfein had any insight into the behavior of rape victims when he made this film, or if he was just trying to be edgy. I also wonder if the baby Baker's character was having was weirdo husband's or if it was the rapist's. It was not clear to me which was the case.
I will say this. It was refreshing to see rape handled as something that really traumatizes the victim and effects the choices that they make versus rape being portrayed as it is in "Anatomy of A Murder" just two years before where Lee Remick describes what happened to her as though she is describing how she had a one car accident that resulted in her running over a stop sign.
One Night at Susie's (1930)
A movie full of melodramatic tropes and fascinating photography and art design
This film is just full of tired movie tropes - the tough - in this case older - retired gun moll with a heart of gold (Helen Ware as Susie) and the foster son who is everything to her who becomes the unjustly imprisoned man (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Dick), the girl who loves the convict and does what she must to keep his soul alive (Billie Dove as Mary), etc. If that was all there was to it I'd say don't bother.
However, the photography is to die for. Cinematographer Ernest Haller includes shots of elevators shafts that actually express dread and a nightmarish courtroom scene in which a judge presides from a giant bench and its shadow is cast upon the defendant who looks tiny in comparison. The two women in his life sit in individual chairs in the darkened room and look on. No lighting, no lawyers, no spectators. A giant modified lady justice sits behind the judge, blindfold off sword drawn. Absolutely breathtaking.
I don't know why Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is second billed here, because he is barely a supporting player. Instead this is the tale of two women. First there is Susie - Fairbanks' foster mom and apparent widow of a gangster who helps gangsters she knows settle their differences and go straight. BUT she is not absolutely religious about the straight part. The gangs live in a tough world with tough realities, and she realizes sometimes bad apples must be dealt with by meting out the ultimate penalty. After all lady justice is not blind, as signified in the courtroom scene. The other woman is Mary, the chorus girl that John loves and via her profession doesn't run into the most honorable guys around.
There is some unintentionally fun stuff here courtesy of early talking Warner Brothers. For one, there are some scenes that WB is just too small yet to handle. They don't have the cash to show big theatre scenes, and they do their best, but the lack of budget shows. Then there is the choreography. These are bored chorines. They basically look like they are playing a continuous game of Hopscotch. Paging Busby Berkeley! Finally there are the gangsters. I have to give WB credit, they did come up with some "mugs" for the parts, but none of them leave a lasting individual impression. Not exactly Bogart or Cagney. But it's a good start.
Finally the precode material. On the serious side, the aftermath of a rape. On the humorous side tough bird Susie trying to get into an evening gown assisted by...her butler??? You won't see THAT after the production code era begins!
And finally, what really makes this film stay with me. How DID that last act that the screen does not show but is relayed via a telephone call get done? Are the gangsters and Susie telepathic or something? She never did call them and tell them to do anything. Perhaps it was something that the usually lax production code insisted upon. Watch and see what you think.
Live Fast, Die Young (1958)
Directed by who????...
.... that would be Paul Henreid. Yes, THAT Paul Henreid of "Casablanca" and "Now Voyager" and all things Warner Brothers in the 1940s. But that was then, this is the 1950s.
Our heroine isn't going to be stuck at home with her drunkard father like her "good" older sister, so she sticks out her thumb and heads for a life of crime, small-time at first emptying wallets in a clip joint, but she quickly graduates to grand theft auto and books to the west coast. She joins a gang led by movie tough guy Troy Donahue and becomes part of a caper to rob the local post office of a shipment of diamonds. The gang all get jobs with this federal agency without any identification except their nice white bread faces and busily prepare for the big day. The "good" sister arrives and tries to intervene, but it all goes south and the teenage vermin are dealt with accordingly, probably something minimum-security because of those nice white faces. It's full of bad dialogue and teenage posturing.
a very sleazy, graphic, uncomfortable psycho-killer flick
It's a showcase for sweaty character actor Joe Spinell, who appeared in a lot of major films (The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver) in small roles, and larger roles in more dubious fare (Starcrash). The story was inspired by the Son of Sam killings, with Spinell as the ranting, depraved killer. The film was notorious for its (at the time) very graphic killings, featuring the work of make up FX legend Tom Savini.
The movie's appeal will be limited, but if one enjoys that particular brand of late-70's/early-80's NYC grime and sleaze, it's a must-see. Director William Lustig made several other genre films (Vigilante, Maniac Cop) before starting the Blue Underground home video company, who are the prime source for Italian genre films on disc (horror, giallo, spaghetti westerns, crime thrillers, etc.).
Four Wives (1939)
An agreeable sequel...
... with more domestic drama and romance in this follow-up to Four Daughters (1938).
This film takes up where the first film left off, with two of the Lemp sisters married, and Kay in a romance with a research doctor (Eddie Albert) trying to figure out what is killing the loggers on the other side of town.
Ann Lemp (Priscilla Lane) is still the main character here, as her short consolation marriage to Mickey (John Garfield) ended in his suicide, figuring his wife would be better off without him. How could WB have known that Garfield would be one of their great charismatic finds of the late 30s and thus not have written the script to make dust be his destiny?
So, unbelievably as in the first film, Ann is back with Felix (Jeffrey Lynn), planning to marry. Even without Garfield in the competition I'm just not buying it. But then Ann finds out that her consolation marriage with Mickey has left behind a consolation prize - she is pregnant. The pregnancy, along with Mickey's ghost - it is not hard to believe that a woman preferring Jeffrey Lynn romantically would raise the dead, and Ann's melancholy over her dead husband's tragic life, make it difficult for her to move on.
The one big annoyance here is Aunt Etta (May Robson) is in overdrive here, constantly babbling on about Ann and Mickey's baby. Breathe, Aunt Etta, Breathe! I guess I should just be in wonder that Robson, 81 at the time, added such energy to the part. Mildly recommended, in particular if you want to see how the melodrama in the first film in the series plays out in the second.
Calling Dr. Kildare (1939)
Good fun Kildare film with a dash of noir
This Kildare film is a bit different from the others. Just the second in the series, Kildare is trying to find his footing in Blair hospital when he has a run in with Dr. Gillespie that could end their working relationship. But Kildare decides to stay at Blair and finish what he has started, so he begins working at one of the hospital's clinics. Somebody comes to the clinic at closing time and convinces Kildare to come with him, that somebody is very ill and can't get to the clinic. Kildare finds a guy in an abandoned building with a bullet wound. The guy's sister (Lana Turner as Rosalie) convinces Kildare that her brother has done nothing wrong and not to call the police but help her brother. Kildare relents on principle, and Rosalie's big saucer eyes and long legs can't hurt either. And then the next day he reads that a hood has been murdered and that the suspect is the guy he patched up the night before. Complications ensue.
This is where there is an implied changing of the guard as far as Kildare's love life. Remember Kildare had a "girl next door" pseudo fiancee in the first film, now there is this gun moll, and then there is the introduction of nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day) who looks like she could be in Kildare's future.
I liked all of the films in this series, but I think I liked this one the least because Kildare does not have a good head on his shoulders in the decisions he makes. Fortunately for him, he has friends who do. That is how it is noir like. You have a solid citizen in the person of Kildare who has temptation in the form of a good looking girl who throws some attention his way, and this causes him to go down the wrong path, all the while justifying his actions to himself. Though Eddie Muller would probably disagree with me completely on describing it as somewhat like a noir.
Young Dr. Kildare (1938)
A young doctor's dreams and HIPPA hijinks
People, if they remember Dr. Kildare of the 30s and 40s at all, tend to think of this series of films. Most people don't know that there was a film before this series, Internes Can't Take Money, starring Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck made over at Paramount in 1937.
This was the first of the Dr. Kildare series of movies which segued into the Dr. Gillespie series of films after Lew Ayres left to serve as a medic in WWII. Lew Ayres plays Dr. James Kildare, fresh out of medical school. His father, Dr. Stephen Kildare (Samuel S. Hinds), as well as his mother, (Emma Dunn) think that he is going to practice in their small town, and they've bought a plaque with his name on it and set up an office for him in their parlor. The girl next door - literally - seems ready to pick out her wedding dress.
But James has other ideas. He wants to practice medicine in a big hospital because he's not sure what specialty he is interested in, and has already accepted an internship at Blair Hospital in New York City. How this leaves James and the girl next door is left in limbo.
In New York Kildare meets the famed Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) who seems to immediately dislike him, he gets blamed for negligence that caused the death of a famous politician that was not his fault, AND he has a clue as to why a wealthy family's grown daughter tried to commit suicide. The hospital wants him to say what he knows, but he feels what he was told by her was in confidence and faces being fired for insubordination because he stays mum, figuring he can figure out the mystery himself and maybe save the girl's mind and spare her any embarrassment. It's funny how the hospital, the girl's family, and the specialist all feel like they have a right to discuss confidential medical information about the grown woman, but never bother to discuss it with her. Kildare is decades ahead of his time, seemingly, in medical ethics.
Not many supporting cast members that were staples of the later films are brought in here, with the exception of the telephone operator and Nat Pendleton's orderly and their long running low key romance.
MGM does something unusual at the end. There is a small segment tacked on where Lionel Barrymore and Lew Ayres mention that this film is the first of a series that will be made.
The Kildare films are especially slick and entertaining for a set of B films- the very genesis of the med-centric programming that has ruled network TV for decades. In fact, if you compare this series with early 2000's TV series "Scrubs", there seem to be lots of comparisons and even direct character-to-character correlations between the two. And with the studio system at full throttle, MGM could throw their stable of talent in as individual "guest stars" in each entry. Barrymore is just terrific in these films as the irascible and somewhat omniscient Gillespie . I'd recommend them as a great time passer. And remember that the key to enjoying these films is to not play 21st century armchair physician here, just sit back and let the drama unfold.
Love, American Style: Love and the Big Leap/Love and the Good Deal/Love and the Former Marriage (1969)
A glimpse at what might have been...
... and by that I mean Harrison Ford was offered the part of Michael Stivic (Meathead) on All In The Family and turned it down. So the part went to Rob Reiner. Note that this review is only about the segment "Love and the Former Marriage".
Here, Ford plays the rather beta betrothed of the only daughter of a man (Carl Betz) and his recently divorced and remarried wife (Dana Wynter). Betz is called in the middle of the night because his 18 year old daughter Julie is missing. It turns out she is out with Ford and they are eloping for Vegas. Ford plays a 21 year old humanities major who, after listening to the now divorced couple fight as his fiancee packs, thinks that maybe marriage is not such a good idea after all.
So this is an opportunity to see how Ford might have played the role of Michael in All In the Family if he had taken the role. I'm sure after All In the Family took off that Ford probably beat himself up about turning down the part. But, I just wonder if, in 1976, when George Lucas was casting Star Wars, if he would have cast Ford in the part of Han Solo if America had spent the better part of six years listening to him being called "meathead" by his father-in-law and basically being pushed around and disrespected in general. I mean, can you visualize a young Rob Reiner in the role? I didn't think so. It is funny how things sometimes work out.
The studio got it so wrong...
In the first place, this movie was originally made to compete with the Universal Horror films, as though these human beings who are the titular "freaks" are not human. Director Tod Browning was still reeling from the loss of his big star, Lon Chaney, to cancer, and thought this would be a good follow up to his previous horror films without Chaney. And after all, he had just finished directing Dracula.
Actually, it paints a very sympathetic picture of the disabled and deformed circus performers, who, at this time of limited medical knowledge and abounding prejudice, were very limited in what they could do in life. They have a very deep camaraderie that is shown through such events as the birth of a child to the bearded lady and the engagement of one of the conjoined twins. Since the other twin is already married, there is much arguing over what the logistics are going to be in these two marriages.
The actual "monsters" in this film are the acrobat "Cleopatra" (Olga Baclanova), and strong man Hercules (Henry Victor), who are having an affair. Two physical specimens with monstrous morality. When the dwarf Hans is captivated by Cleopatra's beauty, she at first teases him by leading him on. But then he starts giving her expensive jewelry and she decides to keep up the ruse. When Freida, Hans' dwarf girlfriend, comes to Cleopatra and asks her to stop teasing him, she accidentally tips off Cleo to the fact that Hans has inherited a great fortune. Hercules and Cleo then plan to get Hans to marry Cleo and then poison him so she can inherit his money. But the two don't realize the close strong bond that the circus performers have with one another and that they are literally each others eyes and ears. Complications ensue.
The film was originally set to run at 90 minutes, but test audiences were so revolted that 30 minutes were cut out so that the remaining film only runs at an hour. Then a scene was tacked on at the end to show Hans' grief over what has ultimately happened. MGM would often add an end scene that really didn't fit the mood of the rest the film during Irving Thalberg's reign there to wrap things up.
This film pretty much finished the career of director Browning as afterwards he only directed a farcical sound remake of a silent film he had made at MGM and one other film and then retired. This was a good late role for Olga Baclanova. She had a very thick Russian accent and had some great late silent roles at Paramount, but talking film had not been kind to her career. This really gave her one last great role where her accent really fit into the plot, plus this was not a film where lots of dialogue was called for, and she was very good at using gestures and expressions to convey emotion.
In the 1960s this film got a fresh look, and today is widely celebrated as having been ahead of its time. The horror is implied and left up to your imagination as to just HOW it happened, and the empathy shown the circus performers is profound. It even got a separate DVD release with commentary.
The Beguiled (2017)
Stylish if lethargic remake of the 1971 film of the same name
In Civil War Virginia, wounded Union soldier McBurney (Colin Farrell) seeks shelter in the plantation house of Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) who runs a school for young women. The war has reduced the student body to a handful of young girls and teenagers, and only one remaining teacher, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). Vowing to nurse the injured man back to health before turning him in to the Confederate authorities, Miss Martha and the other girls all become enamored of the handsome soldier, with dire consequences.
Director Sofia Coppola seems to be striving for a Barry Lyndon-esque natural light look, with no artificial lighting used at all, resulting in lots of gloomy and shadows during the evening scenes. The sound design also goes for an antiquated natural quiet, with the sounds of crickets and wind moving through the trees dominating, adding to a sleepy, dreamy atmosphere. The performers are all fine, and I even thought Farrell fit the manipulative soldier role better than Clint Eastwood did in the previous film. The three central women characters are noticeably different, though, and I felt they were each less compelling than those in the earlier movie (Kidman = Geraldine Page, Kirstin Dunst = Elizabeth Hartman, and Elle Fanning = Jo Ann Harris). This isn't a terrible film, but there's not a lot to recommend going out of your way for it, either.
The Unsuspected (1947)
A great noirish crime drama ...
... with elements of "Mystery of Edwin Drood", "Sudden Fear" and "Laura" all mixed together.
Claude Rains is wonderful as the villain, but at first, you have no idea what he is up to. An apparently wealthy successful radio host (Raines) who kills his own secretary in his own house and makes it look like suicide just to have material for his crime mystery radio show? Is he nuts? Well, it is more complex than that, and I like how what Claude is really up to is gradually introduced to the audience, along with all of the characters and their various motivations. This is NOT a mystery. You know who the villain is up front. The question is are there other villains at work here besides Rains' character.
Audrey Totter plays Rains' niece who married her husband (Hurd Hatfield) just to spite Rains' ward (Joan Caufield) who was his fiancee - because she is so angry that she is penniless. OK, great shades of "Born to Kill" here too, except Audrey now has a drunken husband whom she doesn't love AND she is still the poor relation. As usual, Totter is terrific as the taut reptilian temptress. If Totter had starred in Leave Her to Heaven, she would have been filing her nails while Darryl Hickman drowned, and then grabbed an oar and whacked him when he doesn't go down fast enough because the lake air is frizzing her hair and she simply has other things to do.
Constance Bennett is not given that much to do here but seem ambiguous and look terrific, and she is great at it. She plays Rains' replacement secretary after the original one is offed in the first part of the film.
It's wonderfully shot with shadows and blind slits and fabulous Warner Bros. sets with sweeping staircases and pocket doors. So why is this film just an 8 and not a 9 or 10/10? I'd say that it is the key romantic couple in the film played by Joan Caufield and Michael North. Caufield comes across like a sexually deflated and somewhat drugged Lana Turner, and Michael North greatly resembles Brad Pitt without the charisma. And together their relationship just bores me, and that is probably because the interpretation of their characters bores me. They are entirely competent and nothing more. How interesting that this film's credits say "Introducing Michael North" and yet this is the last film he ever made before transitioning to being an agent.
I'd highly recommend it for the great plot, gloomy brooding atmosphere, and fabulous acting minus Caufield and North.
The Uninvited (1944)
Great stylish old ghost film with some interesting twists
The film stars Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey as Rick and Pamela Fitzgerald, brother and sister who, for the day, at their ages believe it or not, were headed towards old bachelorhood and spinsterhood respectively, and buy a seaside mansion in Cornwall, Windward House, at a cheap price. But soon they find out that the home is haunted.
The granddaughter of the original owner of the house, Stella (Gail Russell), is drawn to the house, but some ghostly spirit there keeps compelling her to run and fall to her death from the cliff, as her mother did when Stella was an infant.
From there the values get rather weird for the times. Apparently it is OK to be a home wrecker if the wife in the family whose home you wrecked "rejects motherhood". Odd footnote in the production code I guess, but I digress. The spirit is sometimes comforting and sometime icy cold. The local doctor (Alan Napier as Dr. Scott) also tries to help solve the mystery of the haunting.
Rick starts to fall for Stella, and this probably propels Rick forward to delve into the source of the haunting more than he would if Stella looked like Zasu Pitts. There is "the unexpected" in The Uninvited, including the head of an insane asylum with a Mrs. Danvers vibe who turns out to be crazy herself, still in love with Stella's mother twenty years after her death who is reduced to talking to her ancient portrait. And Stella's grandfather, who is overprotective when it comes to keeping Stella away from the old mansion that was her parents' home, is apparently completely fine with committing her to the crazy lady's institution. Not exactly family values.
With sharp dialogue, a great score, and the creepy yet livable atmosphere of Windward house itself, and the unexpected twist at the end, it really is unique for its time.
It's good to see John happy again...
... about something that doesn't involve a waste treatment plant!
So the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is the subject of this episode, taking up nearly the entire running time. John said that normally receiving 20 simultaneous texts from family and friends on Saturday saying "It's over" would alert him to the onset of the apocalypse, but in this case he knew what had happened - the race had been called for Biden.
In a previous episode John had pretty much predicted what would happen - early results, which would mainly be "same day" votes, would favor Trump, and then the mailed ballots would be counted which would probably favor Biden. And all of that counting took four days to obtain a result with ballots still being counted. Alaska has been glacially slow, but nobody seems to care.
At any rate, "angry John" seems to be gone, and we get more fun stuff than we have gotten since the pandemic began. We get a picture of a racoon inside a racoon shaped cookie jar, and John shows the Biden victory street celebrations in DC - only 30 seconds of it - while he talks about interesting octopus facts. But most interesting, John showed a screenshot of his phone and I finally get to see that his phone background is a hamster in a speedo doing weight lifting. I honestly was not surprised.
Four Daughters (1938)
Pretty good for a production code era pre WWII sentimental journey...
...usually I find such films icky sweet, but this one I would give an 8/10 if not for one particularly impossible thing we are expected to believe. But I'll get back to that later.
Often I'll run across a film I didn't expect to amount to much and be pleasantly surprised, and this is one of them. Then I see the director is Michael Curtiz who was saddled with directing such diverse films - and quite frankly challenged plots and actors - during his Warner Brothers career, and some of the mystery is unraveled.
The film is about the family of Adam Lemp (Claude Rains), Dean of the Briarwood Music Foundation (nice work if you can get it during the Depression), who apparently makes so much money that he can afford a house that would go for half a million these days, can support four grown daughters, and his sister who never married (May Robson as Aunt Etta). In fact Rains is thirty years younger than Robson, so that would be some age difference for siblings, and what is an esteemed music foundation doing out in Pleasantville, USA?...but I digress.
So the film goes into the relationship between the four sisters - actually three of them ARE sisters - in particular, Emma (Gail Page) and Ann (Priscilla Lane). They vow to be "old maids" together and seem to have a very strong bond. But then enters upbeat composer Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn) into their lives, along with his downbeat friend Mickey Borden (John Garfield), who is doing orchestration for him. That impossible thing we are expected to believe? That Ann falls head over heals for Lynn's character when he projects all of the romantic appeal of a workboot. She seems to feel like Mickey is a work in progress as she tries to lift his IMHO justified downbeat view on life, particularly, his life. So I am expected to believe a vibrant young woman would prefer Lynn's scarecrow like demeanor over the dark brooding Garfield? Well, this was Garfield's first film, so who knew what kind of charisma he would have.
Mickey falls for Ann, Emma falls for Felix (again, why??), and then on the day of her wedding to Felix, Ann finds out Emma loves Felix. Complications ensue.
This film is saved by some really good warm moments between the characters, and Robson always entertains, although it does waste the talents of one of the great actors of the 20th century, Claude Rains. Anybody could have played this part as little as he has to do. It does give you an idea of the kind of burden women had before the 1970s - that it was only acceptable to first live with your parents and then a husband, and if you never married you are forever fifth wheel and housekeeper in your brother's household, and if you temporarily have a career it has to be in something "lady like". How would this film have turned out if the girls had wanted to put on a hard hat and design buildings rather than sing and play instruments? You'll have to wait until the 1970s for THAT kind of film!
Recommended and well acted in spite of it all. And why are the top three billed actors in a film entitled "Four Daughters" all men? Inquiring minds want to know.
The Lazarus Effect (2015)
science fiction/horror thriller seems like a mash-up of Flatliners and Lucy
TA group of scientists led by romantic couple Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde are working on a project to briefly restore brain function in clinically dead patients in hopes of allowing medical professionals longer time to work on critical patients. Their experiments seem to work better than expected when a revived dog continues to live long after the effect of its treatment should have worn off. When a laboratory accident electrocutes one of their own, the others decide to use the technique on the deceased, with seeming success. But they soon realize that something is not quite right with their colleague.
The movie has some style, and some creepy moments, but it works better when the story flirts with how guilt and religion can effect one's psyche in positive and negative ways. The cast is fine, although it was odd seeing the usually funny Duplass in a straight-faced role.
Teddy the Rough Rider (1940)
I hope your bubble doesn't burst when you find out Teddy said "America First!"...
... more than a century before the current controversy.
This two reel short focuses on Teddy Roosevelt's public life from 1895 through his presidency, and the fact that he lost a son in WWI. Sidney Blackmer made a cottage industry out of the Roosevelt family, between playing Teddy Roosevelt in several feature films and this short, to costarring in "The President's Mystery", the only film to have a screenplay written by a sitting president - FDR.
This just popped up on Turner Classic Movies one night between films, so I thought I'd give it a go since I'd never seen it. As over the top patriotic as it is, I figured it was made during World War II - they even bothered to film it in Technicolor! - but I was wrong. It was actually made in 1940 and won best two reel short of that year at the Academy Awards. If you look at the records, patriotic shorts began winning that award in 1938 and continued doing so until the middle of WWII. Also, Warner Brothers was unique among the studios for making films either directly or indirectly about the threats overseas at a time when American audiences were still very much anti-war.
The short goes into detail about Teddy's trust busting, and his work against graft in government, since that was something common people just coming out of the Great Depression could understand and appreciate - helping the little guy. But then in the middle, the short is not just a sequence about Roosevelt's place in the Spanish American war, but a speech with him warning other cabinet members, when he was asst. secretary of the Navy, that America needs a strong defense. As the others feel he is exaggerating the threat, word comes in that the Maine has been sunk. The point being that isolationism can rock you into complacency and find you unprepared,, with an obvious comparison to what was going on in Europe at the time.
It's interesting how the short doesn't mention, what is to me, one of Roosevelt's biggest accomplishments - the founding of several national parks and his work in conservation. It also doesn't mention that Roosevelt played Ross Perot to successor Taft's George H.W. Bush, causing a Republican split and allowing Woodrow Wilson to become president. But then they only had 20 minutes!
Although undoubtedly one of our best presidents, Roosevelt would probably get no love from his fellow Republicans today given his very progressive policies. If this short makes you more curious about Teddy Roosevelt, then it probably has done its job.
Sudden Fear (1952)
Joan Crawford thinks she's Ayn Rand when in fact she's the object of a murder planned
Well, close enough. At least the title rhymes.
Joan Crawford is playwright Myra Hudson. She has great independent wealth, but she likes the satisfaction of creating her written works and the appreciation and accolades that it brings her. Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is auditioning for the lead in one of her plays when Myra uses her veto power because she just doesn't see him as the romantic type. Lester doesn't take this too well, and tells her off.
Later, on her way back to San Francisco, she sees Lester on the train home and ironically he woos her in a whirlwind courtship. Now there is something that happens before they get married that lets you know that Lester is manipulating her, but you can't be sure if it is because he truly loves her and wants her to feel like she is losing him or he just wants to marry a rich woman. It's door number two.
So the two have a romantic honeymoon, and Myra thinks everything is fine. For that matter, so does the audience. But a girl (Gloria Grahame as Irene) that Lester knew before he met Myra shows up at a party of Myra's as a date of one of her lawyers, Junior Kearney. It can't be a good sign when the perennial bad girl of the noirs shows up accidentally on purpose with Mannix as her date. If you are under sixty you likely have no idea who Mannix is, but I digress.
So it turns out Lester was a con man pre-Myra, but it looks like he is OK with just being the kept husband of a rich wife until Irene shows up looking for a piece of the action. The two resume their affair and soon they are planning to kill Myra.
How does Myra find this out? There is a clever plot device introduced earlier in the film that leaves no doubt as to what is going on in Myra's mind. But she is the only person who is witness to it. The two plan to kill her sometime during the next three days - that is when she is signing a new will. She is naturally revolted and terrified at what Lester is up to, but she is also a playwright, and so she conceives a cunning plan to murder the murderers first. So why didn't she just use her great wealth to, I dunno, take the train to Seattle and then contact her lawyer and divorce the guy? I guess because there would be no film?
Actually Myra's plan has a couple of huge plot holes in it which I won't divulge. But among the more long running of the plot holes is that if New York is the city that never sleeps, then in 1952, San Francisco is the city that is fast asleep at 10PM and also everybody is stone deaf after sundown. Mayberry didn't roll up their sidewalks as tight as Frisco in this film. If you want to see what I mean, watch and find out. The film is neatly divided into two parts. The part before Myra finds out what is going on and is chuck full of dialogue - the first 45 minutes. And then the last 45 minutes where Myra has discovered what is going on and is trying to keep from being killed. The second half is practically a silent film, but the tension never lets up.
There is really some good acting going on in this film, especially by leads Crawford and Palance. Very subtle in that you can tell what they are thinking by just their facial expressions and body language in many cases. Joan Crawford was unlucky to be tied to MGM for 17 years and only be free when MGM fired her in 1942. The studio really did put her in some dreck especially in the late 30s and then blamed her when things didn't pan out. Her1940s and 1950s work was in much better quality films and this is one of them. I highly recommend it.
No Marriage Ties (1933)
This guy is insufferable!...
...That being Dix' character Bruce Foster. As in "Lost her and OK with that". In fact, Foster loses lots of things. In the beginning he is on what apparently is one of his frequent benders and loses his job as writer at a newspaper because he is a no show at the fight he is covering. I did some research and apparently this was the Dempsey-Tunney fight at Soldier Field in Chicago in September 1927. A very big deal and a very big egg to lay as a writer to not turn in a story on that event. But on that bender he picks up an out of work artist (Elizabeth Allan as Peggy Wilson), who seems to be on the verge of becoming a prostitute with a John who has all of the charm and looks of Jabba the Hut. It is implied that they begin living together with "no marriage ties" and no hope of any.
This is where things get somewhat outrageous. On another bender Dix is drinking next to a couple of ad men. He comes up with the slogan they've been looking for and ... gets a partnership in the ad firm??? Allan Dinehart plays the other partner who hired him, and it is weird seeing him be the rather dull voice of morality after watching him play shady flamboyant characters over at Warner Bros. Dix plays the guy who will sell anything to anybody using fear as a motivation - "Buy a home before you lose a job!". The movie makes this out as a scandalous thing, but I scratch my head over this one. Foster is not lying to anybody. He is just using proven ad techniques. He gets homeless and hungry Peggy a job as an artist at the firm. He gives a no strings loan of five hundred dollars - a princely sum in 1933 - to an employee whose wife keeps having babies. Doesn't the employee understand how to make this stop? In other words, Foster is personally a generous guy with lots of humanity. He just has this personal motto of "no marriage ties", and as a result, a tragedy ensues.
So if Foster is honest with women - to the extent he is capable - about not wanting to marry, and the worst thing you can say about him is that he expects the consumer and the producer of products to be responsible, how is he insufferable? Mainly because he makes ridiculous headstrong decisions and is the most obnoxious drunk in the history of the world. Dix' drunk routine here is awful. I'm actually surprised RKO would put Dix in this very pedestrian B programmer since he was one of their biggest stars at the time.
The best thing about the film - to me - is the last scene. Is it real or a drunken delusion of what Foster wants to happen? Watch and see what you think.
The main hoopla over this is to see Clara Bow in her final film performance...
.... and afterwards she retired to married life with western star Rex Bell.
When I watched this film this morning, the storyline did seem somewhat familiar to me - Man in a profession that requires lots of traveling and has lots of seedy characters spurns his mistress when a green young relative (in this case a son) shows up because he does not want her bad influence on him (it takes two to tango is apparently NOT in his vocabulary). The spurned mistress seeks revenge by paying a friend to vamp the green young relative, but the scheme backfires when the two actually fall in love. The original man/hypocrite in traveling profession rejects everybody involved and eventually hits the skids and ultimately eats humble pie.
That other movie was made the year before this -"The Crowd Roars" with James Cagney, Joan Blondell, and Ann Dvorak. I know this film is a sound remake of 1928's "The Barker", and I wonder if Warner Bros. didn't somewhat copy this material and make the Cagney film the year before. There are so many similarities. But I digress.
In this case the hypocrite is a carnival barker (Preston Foster as Nifty) who doesn't like that his grown but green son is spending time between college semesters (Richard Cromwell as Chris) by visiting him at the carnival. First Nifty kicks his long time mistress (Minna Gombell as Carrie) out of their mutual sleeping quarters because he doesn't want his son to get the right idea, and then when everybody in the carnival train is sharing a bottle of whiskey, Chris has some and passes out. That is when Nifty gives Carrie the boot as far as their relationship. Like it was her turn to watch the world's tallest infant.
Carrie decides to get even by paying fellow dancing girl Lou (Clara Bow) one hundred dollars to vamp "the kid". Lou works her stuff like a pro but falls in love in the process. Chris wants to marry Lou, but she wonders if she will just weigh down Chris in his quest for a legal career. And if Nifty would stop insulting them both long enough he might see that Lou is not as bad as he thinks she is. Complications ensue.
The screenplay really has nothing to recommend it that you probably haven't seen before. Maybe circus/carnival films were such a big thing when sound first came in because for the first time the audience could hear as well as see the excitement of the midway. Clara Bow still has "It" in this, her last film performance. And there are some good precode moments including a girl in the carnival sewing up the pants of a guy in the carnival. In thanks he says "I'll do the same for you some time." And then there is a fight that breaks out over the dancing girls that seems to encompass the entire carnival. I'm not even sure what the point of that scene was, but Depression era Fox pre-receivership did some strange things in their films. Keep an eye out for James Gleason towards the end of the film in a cameo role. Gleason was famous by this time and I'm not sure what he is doing here. But like receiving a delicious stuffed mushroom that you didn't order along with the proletariat hamburger that you did, it was a delightful if unexpected surprise.
Recommended for people who want to see Clara go out on top.
John makes his closing argument...
... as to the 2020 presidential election. This episode was about 2/3 Coronavirus, but it was all about making a closing argument against Trump for a second term, as though he was that bulldog of a prosecutor Jack McCoy from Law and Order, making his closing arguments before the jury.
And exhibit A in why Donald Trump should not be reelected in John's argument is how he handled the Coronavirus and how nothing is going to be different in a second term. It might even be worse - if you can conceive of such a thing - because Trump has had Covid and considers himself immune.
The last 10-15 minutes of the episode is about Attorney General Bill Barr and how Trump and Barr have found in each other their "dream partner". Barr has finally found a president who dares be that authoritarian and Trump has found an attorney general who is willing to do anything on his behalf. John took time out to criticize Jeff Sessions who had the job first, but I have to say I think that is unfair. If Barr is the blueprint of what Trump wanted in an AG, I think Sessions resisted Trump's worst instincts pretty well. He lost his job and lost what would have been a lifetime Senate seat had he stayed where he was. Maybe not a profile in courage, but at least a man with a spine.
Funny bits in this episode - John is back on the subject of local news with excerpts of news anchors dressing up for Halloween. And he has film of Bill Barr playing the bagpipes. He promises if he ever gets his hands on film of any member of the Trump administration playing the bagpipes he's playing it regardless of how hard it is on the ears. I believe him.
In a horror movie you make bad decisions, it's what you do...
... or so some insurance commercial says. And this great little forgotten British film is exhibit A. Ellen Garth is a thin fiftyish woman of extreme wealth and business acumen. Georgina Cookson plays her and gives her character the eery look of a cross between a mannequin and a female impersonator. Ellen is very wealthy, and her bad decision is to think that money can buy her anything - love in the case of her younger husband Raymond (Gary Merrill) and loyalty in the case of her employee Richard (Neil McCallum), on whom she has evidence of an attempted embezzlement. What it is really buying her is duty sex from Raymond and indentured servitude from her employee. And they commiserate when alone as to how much they'd love to be rid of her. Now Raymond can take being a kept man and boy toy until Ellen's beautiful niece, Alice (Jane Merrow) arrives for a visit all grown up. Suddenly Raymond realizes what he's been missing out on. Or to put it bluntly... boing!!.
When the niece reciprocates Raymond's affection, suddenly it is homicide blueprint time between Raymond and Richard. They plan to murder Ellen in England, have an actress impersonate Ellen in Italy - she had planned a trip there without Raymond - and then murder the actress and make it look like Ellen's tendency to speed finally got the best of her when she dies in a fiery crash in the Italian hills. There are a few kinks in the plan, but it basically looks like it has worked out EXCEPT...Raymond must live in the cottage where he killed his wife for the rest of his life or forfeit his inheritance. And suddenly there are bumps in the night that make it appear Raymond's wife is still alive.
Now why would Raymond think this? Ellen was the follower of some unnamed Eastern religion that believed in coming back from the dead and plus she had the ability when living to put herself in a trance whenever her unspecified hip injury got to be too painful. Was she just in a trance when Raymond thought he killed her? Is somebody trying to run Raymond out of the cottage so he forfeits his inheritance? Something else entirely? Watch and find out.
This is a low budget film as so many British films were for the first twenty years after WWII, but it scares the audience very effectively with what they do not see and what they don't know. I highly recommend this little thriller.
Doctor X (1932)
Fay Wray shrieks at the sight of her dad while in Gotham there lurks a fiend that is mad...
...Seriously! This girl (Fay Wray) needs some heavy duty nerve tonic! Dad on a ladder in the library frightens her but a stranger found ransacking her bedroom is subject to catty teasing remarks? Somebody lecture this woman on stranger danger. But I'll get back to that later. First some background on the film.
This and "Mystery of the Wax Museum" were made as horror movies because Warner Brothers was on the hook to the Technicolor corporation to make two more two strip technicolor films. These were planned to be musicals, but with musicals out of favor, they decided to make them horror films instead. Wax Museum was pretty good, but this film turned out neither scary nor suspenseful.
The "moon killer" is killing somebody by the light of the full moon every full moon. The victims have all been strangled and had a surgical instrument inserted at the base of the skull. The latest victim has been cannibalized. Apparently, after the sixth victim six months into this, the police decide to get serious about this spree. Why now? Why not after the third victim three months ago? Question never asked or answered. The police have traced the surgical instrument involved in the murders down as something only sold to and used at Dr. Xavier's (Lionel Atwill's) research institute, thus somebody at the institute must be the murderer. Dr. Xavier doesn't want any publicity, so he gets the police to...agree to let him do the investigation??? And why did they let somebody who they already suspect - Dr. Xavier - autopsy the sixth victim? What kind of police department is this? But I digress.
Meanwhile there is a fast talking reporter (Lee Tracy) investigating this without Tracy's trademark finesse and rapid fire delivery which he develops later in his career. He actually goofs up quite a bit and isn't the wily fellow he is in "Blessed Event" or "Bombshell". And what is his obsession with that hand buzzer of his?
The good things about this film - Lionel Atwill is always scary and ambiguous in these old horror films even if the film itself is not. The art design is very good considering Warner Brothers was just a poverty row outfit five years before. Michael Curtiz' crisp direction goes a long way given the mediocre plot line he is given to work with. But maybe a plot where looking into the night sky lit up by the moon is a key part of several scenes was a bad idea when that sky can only look slimy green given the technology of the time.
Probably worth a look for Lee Tracy fans, and who isn't one?
The Ape Man (1943)
The worst Lugosi film that wasn't trying to be a comedy?
This may not be the worst Lugosi film I've ever seen -- I've seen *The Gorilla* and *Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla* and *Mother Riley Meets the Vampire** -- but it may be the worst one that wasn't trying to be a comedy.
We begin with screaming newspaper headlines: SCIENTIST MISSING! Must have been a slow news day. Some reporters are waiting for the arrival of the missing man's sister from Europe by ship. (They ignore the fact that World War Two is going on, a fact which is confirmed later by the hero stating that the reason he isn't in the military is because he's 4-F.) A sort of goofy-looking guy is hanging around, edging the reporters on to talk to her. Keep your eye on this character, who keeps popping up for no reason, because he's the key to this movie's insane ending.
The sister (who is some sort of psychic or medium, a fact which has nothing at all to do with the story) meets the missing man's assistant, who soon gives us our absurd backstory. It seems the scientist gave himself injections of gorilla spinal fluid. (We are never told why.) As they arrive at the hiding place of the scientist (Lugosi), we see that he has been transformed into an APE MAN!
Well, he actually looks more like an Amish farmer with back pain. Lugosi's make-up consists of shaggy hair and beard. He conveys his simian nature by walking slightly bent over. We first see him locked up in the same cage as a gorilla (or a guy in a bad gorilla suit.) This is later explained when Lugosi says that sometimes he loses his human rationality and the animal side takes control. There is not the slightest evidence later in the film to confirm this. Lugosi continues to act like nothing more than the world's hairiest mad scientist.
It seems the cure for being an ape man is human spinal fluid. The only source, of course, is freshly killed humans, so Lugosi and the gorilla go on a killing spree. When he gets a shot of the spinal fluid, the only change is that he can walk upright. Don't expect any kind of transformation scene in this movie.
The heroes are a spunky reporter (the 4-F guy) and a photographer named Billie. Attempted comedy ensues when the reporter finds out that Billie is a woman. While all of this nonsense is going on, the goofy-looking guy is shown peeking into the window of Lugosi's hiding place. In the very last scene of the movie, the heroes confront the goofy-looking guy and find out his confounding identity.
This is probably one of the worst films with Lugosi in it where he is just unable to raise the overall rating.
The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
Bela Lugosi makes it worthwhile
*The Corpse Vanishes* doesn't waste any time getting down to business. Just about the first thing we see is a bride at her wedding dropping dead during the ceremony. The next thing we know, her body has been stolen away in the wrong hearse. (Important safety tip: When having cadavers taken away by hearses, ask to see the driver's identification.)
Amazingly, it turns out that this is only the latest in a series of such macabre incidents. I don't know about you, but if I were about to be married in a city where this was going on, I would probably delay my wedding (or at least hold it in another city.)
We soon learn that the dead brides are being used by Bela Lugosi as a source of something-or-other that he draws out of them with a nasty-looking syringe. This stuff then gets injected into his wife to restore her beauty; she's apparently suffering from some rapid aging disease or something.
A Spunky Girl Reporter (boy, they had a lot of them back then) finds out that all the dead brides had been given a rare orchid just before the ceremony. She then discovers that the local expert on this plant is (you guessed it) Lugosi. She winds up as an not-very-welcome guest of Bela and his wife. Their servants are an older woman and her two sons, one a dwarf and one a mute hunchback who likes to fondle the hair of the dead brides. (There's some speculation at one point that the brides are only in suspended animation, but this question is never resolved.)
*The Corpse Vanishes* is a wild bit of Grand Guignol, with all kinds of spooky stuff thrown in. We find out that Bela and his wife like to sleep in coffins. There is no explanation for this, except for the fact that they find them more comfortable. (This whole household makes the Addams Family look like the Brady Bunch.)
A couple of familiar faces other than Bela show up in this thing. The dwarf is played by Angelo Rossitto, who played various little people in everything from *Freaks* to *Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome*. Bela's wife is played by Elizabeth Russell. Fans of classic horror may best remember her as the woman who calls Simone Simon "Moia sestra" ("My sister") in *Cat People*. She's a striking and exotic woman, who manages the remarkable task of being more sinister than Bela.
This film is short on plot logic (surely there must be an easier way to obtain the bodies of young women than at their weddings) but it delivers more than enough in the way of creepy thrills. And of course there is the insinuation that Bela needs the glandular fluid of a virgin and a really big assumption - even in 1942 - that brides are virgins. How do you know they are virgins? Because, in the words of Fonzie of Happy Days fame - "Virgins never lie about these things."
I give it a five out of ten just because of the old world charm and mystery Bela brings to any role, no matter how low budget the film.
From Hell It Came (1957)
Judging on a so bad it is good scale
This has always been a guilty pleasure. The film starts in a Pacific Island setting with Kimo, son of the chief, being tried (why is he tied to the ground?) for killing his father when in fact it was the medicine man, Tano, who poisoned the old guy, so that Maranka could be the new Chief. Kimo's wife lies and accuses Kimo, because she and Maranka have a thing going, and it is a quick way to be the chief's wife. So she thinks.
Kimo swears he will return from the grave and have revenge right before he is executed with a knife through the heart. So apparently, although people are tried lying down in this culture, they are buried standing up in a vertically placed coffin.
Next we switch to the encampment of the American doctors. Apparently they came there because fallout was carried from one of those pesky atomic bomb tests to this island, but instead they found plague among the natives and are working on that instead.
Eventually, a tree grows up - rather quickly - right through Kimo's grave. With a pulsing heart and a knife in that heart. The natives are rightly afraid of "The Tabanga" - some vengeful tree from beyond the grave - but the Americans make the same mistake as all Americans do in horror movies as their curiosity gets the best of them. They dig up the Tabanga and take it to their lab to study it and, I dunno, give it Miracle Gro or something? The natives rightly so have a collective face palm over this, and of course the Tabanga escapes and goes to avenge Kimo. Complications ensue.
Where do I begin? First there are the chickens pecking around Kimo as he lies on the ground during the trial. Why are they there? Plus these Polynesian islanders sure seem to have been influenced by Hollywood B-movie African tribal customs. And the natives girls' dance looks like a cross between the hand jive and the hula.
There are two non-native women in the film. One is a middle aged English woman who keeps outliving husbands and proves the maxim that a woman of 40 (or 50) will never look 30 flirting like she is 20. The other woman is apparently the true love of one of the doctors on the island, and isn't it a coincidence this is her next big assignment. Cue rather silly walks through the jungle with annoying sappy happy love talk to pad out the plot.
When the Tabanga attacks it can only shuffle in that paper mache outfit of his, yet it always manages to outrun its prey - athletic people in the prime of life. If the makers of this film were going for the Tabanga as sympathetic figure, it loses that when it attacks people Kimo never knew and never did anything to him.
With a cast so anonymous I wonder why they even bothered to give their characters names different from their own, and completely wooden acting, it's no wonder nobody in the cast ever had a career branch out.
Recommended for the silliness of it all, and at 70 minutes it does not wear out its welcome.