Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Does Disney hire boring directors or does their process make directors boring?
...because this film is rather dull, and the direction is certainly dull, and 10 years ago I would not have called Tim Burton a boring director. He's certainly working with two of his "regulars" - DeVito, who has not lost a step in all these years and next to CGI Dumbo is the best thing about the film.
And then there is Burton's other "regular" - Michael Keaton, as the rich villain. How weird for Disney to make a film with a guy who could be Walt Disney as the villain! "Dreamland" is certainly an allegory for "Disneyland".
The worst thing about the film? The child actors. They are that bad and deliver their lines in a kind of drugged monotone. Not since Larry Mathews played Ritchie Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show has a child actor dragged everybody else down with them every time they appear like these kids did.
I actually liked the CGI Dumbo - the little guy was very expressive in a way that 1941's animated Dumbo could not be. Ultimately there is probably a 50/50 chance you are going to like this.
Dancing Lady (1933)
What a train wreck!
After about 10 minutes it became abundantly clear that David O. Selznick and MGM simply wanted to outshine 42nd Street but missed by a country mile. First of all, has anybody ever noticed that Joan Crawford simply CANNOT DANCE. I don't care if she started out as a "dancer" prior to making it big -- all she ever does is flail around and look like she is doing some bad variation of the Charleston. So very painful to watch. Also, didn't anyone realize she was a bit old (almost 30 when the film was made) to be playing the young hopeful??? MGM certainly surrounded her with talent -- Gable, Astaire, Tone, Robson and the sets and costumes were grand but nothing and nobody could fix this mess. And, just when you thought it could not get any worse, Ted Healy and the Three Stooges kept popping up.
It was good to see Fred Astaire in his first film role in which he has such a small part he is simply called "Fred". It is also good to have hard evidence that Ted Healy cutting the Stooges loose was probably the best thing that ever happened to them. I find Healy insufferable. I generally love Joan, especially in her 1940s and early 1950s roles, but MGM certainly did her no favors in putting her in this.
They Drive by Night (1940)
Before and after...
... as in the two male leads - 4th billed Humphrey Bogart as Paul Fabrini, and top billed George Raft as his brother Joe. This film is a (very) loose remake of 1935's "Bordertown", and it is much better IMHO, because the plot at least makes some sense. Plus Warner Brothers is all over these working class melodramas - the truck drivers pushing their bodies to the point of disaster - as in falling asleep at the wheel, the hash joints, the bosses that won't pay up, the rough and tumble along the way. Paul and Joe are partnered in truck driving, and decide to leave behind a boss that cheated them for an old friend with a trucking business - Alan Hale as Ed Carlsen. But there is trouble brewing. Ed's wife, Lana (Ida Lupino), has been carrying a torch for Joe all of these years she was married to Ed, and yet she has the dexterity to simultaneously do some serious scenery chewing. Ed can't see he disgusts her, and Joe is blind to her true feelings for him until it is too late. I won't go into all the details, let's just say nobody does a 1940 working class Lady Macbeth like Ms. Lupino. She outshines Bette Davis' performance in the 1935 film.
Why my title? Before and After? Because this is a fork in the road for Bogart and Raft. They are great in their parts here, and at least Jack Warner lets Bogart do something here in his long apprenticeship with Warner's other than play Duke Mantee AGAIN. But the winds of fortune are about to change for Bogie exactly because Raft made some very bad career decisions. He turned down "High Sierra", "The Maltese Falcon", AND "Casablanca". Bogart got the parts instead and by the time they were released he was on his way to being Hollywood legend. Raft, unfortunately, was on the road to obscurity. He would never return to the heights of his 30s career. Raft made other mistakes along the way - let's just say I read his autobiography and the alternate title should be "Don't Let This Happen To You". He picked the wrong girl to marry who then wouldn't divorce him and left him on the hook for 46 years of alimony ( they were only really married one night!). And when he wanted out of his contract with WB Jack Warner named a figure and Raft thought that HE was supposed to pay WB! Jack did not correct Raft's impression!
But hey, nobody does the tough guy who knows the score who yet has a moral core like Raft and I always enjoy his films. This one is highly recommended.
Furry Vengeance (2010)
Great for recovering from a nervous breakdown...
... and if you expect anything else than Brendon Fraser behaving goofily , cute little animals doing things that are impossible outside of a Warner Brothers Road Runner cartoon, and a generous helping of gross-out jokes that seem to have no lasting consequences, then you are in the wrong place.
I feel I need to defend this film. A 3.8 current rating? Seriously? And a 23 Metascore rating? And yet "Funny Games" (1997) about home invaders torturing members of a household gets a 7.6 rating and a 69 Metascore? And a Criterion release? And, no, I can't think of any circumstances under which I would want to be "challenged" by such material.
I have had a rough week. I had three refrigerators delivered to my house before I finally got one that worked, after one that was only two years old died. And my garbage disposal is broken and leaking. This was just the film to cheer me up. Because of all the gross-out jokes I don't think I would want kids to see this, and that must have hurt box office because I think kids might have been part of the target audience, but it hit the spot for this adult.
Citizen Kane it isn't, but if you just want to laugh and put your brain on hold I don't think another film could do a better job.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)
No clever transformation in this early version
The 1920 version has John Barrymore transforming and twisting himself before your eyes, Lon Chaney style. The 1931 version had an on-screen transformation using a technique that turned out to be simple yet brilliant, and director Rouben Mamoulian kept the secret until his deathbed. But such secrecy would not be needed here, because Jekyll merely drinks the potion grabs his throat and poof! The film jumps and the same actor has now transformed into Hyde complete with makeup and different colored hair. Apparently in this version blonde = good Dr. Jekyll, brunette = evil Hyde.
There are intertitles that tell you what is going on, but even though you can see the actors speaking to one another there are no dialogue intertitles.
There is no "woman of the street" that Hyde is molesting in this version. And although he does cane somebody to death, the only other evil thing that he is shown doing is knocking down a toddler on the sidewalk! Oh, and Dr. Jekyll does not name his evil self Hyde. From the intertitles we are told that this is what the people of the village have dubbed Jekyll's evil self.
The title role is played by James Cruze, early silent actor and later a director into the talking picture era. He was later married to Betty Compson, the hardest working actress of the early talking era. But here one of the extras is Marguerite Snow, his first wife and mother of his only child.
Chico and the Man (1974)
An unlikely comedy team...
That being of 67 year old Jack Albertson as the cranky old garage owner Ed Brown and 20 year old fresh face Freddie Prinze playing a young Latino mechanic - Chico - in search of a job. Prior shows had united characters on screen coming from different points of view - Archie and "Meathead" on All In the Family, and Sanford and Son in, well, Sanford and Son. But these were two unrelated characters coming from entirely two different places in life. Chico is the poor Mexican American kid with everything in life ahead of him. His boss, Ed, is worn down by life, missing his late wife, missing the way the neighborhood used to be it is - East LA is now heavily Latino, and drinking heavily to deal with all of this, believing everything is behind him. And yet these two very different people become friends as well as coleagues. I am having to rely on a 41 year old memory here, but I THINK when Ed admits to a young ward that Chico is dead he actually weeps.
My rating of 8/10 is for how fresh it was in 1974, utilizing great talents Scatman Crothers and Della Reese as supporting characters. But you know, one character really sticks out in my memory. That would be the mail lady Mabel played by Barbara Boland. The reason for this is that every time she delivers the mail she has some tawdry tale about her love life, and yet she looked pretty homely to be getting all of that male attention! She was only on six episodes, and this site says she has had no filmed roles since, and yet she is still alive at 75 as I am writing this. I wonder what she's been doing all of these years.
The show had one of the great TV theme songs, written and performed by Jose Feliciano, at a time when several TV shows had great theme songs - it was rather a golden era for them. It was a real soul tickler.
So why is this TV show so obscure? It has only had one DVD release and that was with six disjointed episodes by Warner Brothers. Apparently it did not sell well, and I guess that meant no complete series release. I'd think at least it would warrant a "burn on demand" Warner Archive release. The ancient "Medical Center" is even in the Warner Archive!
Unhand that duck sir!
Gus Visser is probably somewhat unique in the annals of film history in that 100% of his credited film appearances are not lost and on DVD. What puts this fellow in the same company as Cary Grant? A simple Lee DeForest Phonofilm short meant to demonstrate Dr. Lee DeForest's work at being able to synchronize the spoken word with film is Gus Visser's only film appearance. And yet it is on DVD from multiple sources.
Visser sings "Ma He's Making Eyes at Me" while the Duck quacks every time Visser hits the word "Ma". The reason this happens is that he is squeezing the duck's rear every time he hits that word. And yet this film survives and Warner Brothers' box office hit "Gold Diggers of Broadway" from 1929 is lost. Oh the cruelty of fate.
Murder in Texas (1981)
The marrying man
I mean seriously, Dr. John Robert Hill seemed addicted to marriage didn't he? I am not going to dispute whether this account is true in all of its points, or that some points are a matter of record, some points are conjecture, and some points are complete hooey. However, let me just state that this film is based entirely on the book of Ann Kurth, second wife of Dr. John Robert Hill, and that it does not line up with everything that was known by 1981, when this film was made. But it makes a better film than the other more objective book on the subject, "Blood and Money".
As for the film: Joan Robinson Hill (Farrah Fawcett) is a socialite and skilled equestrian, unhappily married to plastic surgeon Dr. John Robert Hill (Sam Elliott). She seems to love him, but his love has grown cold. Maybe it is because he seems as married to Joan's dad Ash Robinson (Andy Griffith) as Joan, as Ash is always inserting himself into every situation, and John did not sign up for a trio. Ash is a self made oil man and a man with a straightforward rough manner.
Dr. Hill falls in love with divorcee Ann Kurth (Katherine Ross), has an affair with her, and wants to marry her. But Ash says there will be a nasty court battle if that happens, that the doctor will wind up with none of the Robinson money, and that Ash will involve Kurth in the case and have Hill ostracized from Houston society meaning his practice will dry up too. So Doctor John stays with Joan, and tells Ann to wait.
But then Joan falls suddenly ill with a stomach flu after practically being hand fed French pastry by her husband, and over a period of a few days grows gravely ill and dies in a hospital that was not the closest, plus it did not have an ICU - a hospital to which her husband decided to take her knowing of the better option. After the shortest possible respectable waiting period, Doctor John marries Ann and moves her into his big mansion, the former home of the doc and Joan. How convenient for the doctor, the sudden death of the unwanted wife.
Ash is sure that his ex son in law killed his daughter, and goes about trying to get the law to investigate. But meanwhile weird things are happening inside the Hill mansion and inside the new Hill marriage. What weird things? Watch and find out.
Everybody played their parts with excellence. Farrah Fawcett finally got some credit for some range as the spoiled daddy's girl who is used to him getting her all that she wants, but dad can't get her husband to love her. If you only thought of Andy Griffith as affable sheriff Andy Taylor in 1981, he shows a meaner more determined side here. Special honors have to go to Sam Elliott here. This is maybe the best role of his career. In spite of that genuine Texas sounding twang, he is just a creepy scary guy throughout the film, always playing his cards close to his vest.
Part of my love for this film is for how genuinely Texan it is. For example, an old fashioned evangelical Hell and Brimstone preaching church sits in the shadows of the glass and steel high rises of Houston, people can eat outside in cafes at Christmastime because it is 70 degrees, and a man can name his son "Boot" and yet hold his head up.
True Detective (2014)
I'm reviewing season three, and all I can say is...
... Is there ANYTHING that Mahershala Ali cannot do? In "Moonlight" he is a drug dealer with a heart that takes a bullied young boy under his wing, disappears about 30 minutes in, and I miss him for the rest of the film. In "Green Book" he gives a nuanced performance as a pianist during the civil rights era, and here he is a Vietnam vet born before the civil rights era, but it is now 1980 and he is a detective with the Arkansas state police at probably the earliest point in American history where that could happen.
In 1980 detective Wayne Hays is about 35, 12 years with the state police, when a boy and girl - the Purcell children - go missing shortly after Halloween in a poor white rural Arkansas town. Ten years before he would have been the suspect, but here he is assisting local police. On the surface, the witnesses are cooperative - "yes sir", "no sir". But push just a little too hard or too far for their tastes and That Word That Shall Not be Named comes rolling trippingly off of their tongues.
The same with African American Amelia Reardon. Also born before the Civil Rights era, she is now probably late 20s, went to college, went to San Francisco and was part of the hippie movement, but ultimately came home to teach poor white kids in public school at probably the earliest point in time that this could happen. She was missing girl Julie Purcell's teacher, and Wayne meets her as part of the investigation.
Sadly, the boy is found dead soon after the two kids go missing. But the trail goes cold on Julie Purcell. However, new leads spring up in 1990, and interest in the case in Wayne's part in it resurfaces in 2015, and a now 70 year old Wayne, facing the beginnings of dementia, wants to ultimately solve this case. Ali is particularly poignant as elderly Wayne - he disappears into the part.
Why did I add a spoiler warning to this? Two qualms I have with this. One is with Amelia's and Wayne's romance. Wayne makes a decision to protect Amelia and it costs him not his job, but his position as detective. Amelia comes to his house to confront him about his suddenly vacating their relationship. Wayne dumps her possessions in a box, hands them to her, and then proceeds to dump all of his frustrations on her. I can't say they are entirely undeserved. At the end she comes to him at the VFW bar and says "You know, I don't just let anybody talk to me the way you did"...AND YET HERE YOU ARE!!! I just don't believe such a proud woman would do that nor do I believe Wayne's ultimate reaction.
My final and very spoilerish remark. I mean it! If that woman at the end is supposed to be 45 year old Julie Purcell, then I served lemonade to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. She looks early 30s tops.
I Wake Up Screaming (1941)
I'd wake up screaming too if I saw ...
... Laird Cregar sitting next to my bed in the middle of the night!
I'm not spoiling this one completely, but I am going to say enough that I thought I should put a spoiler warning on this. This would be a great creepy mystery if it wasn't for one scene that was shot, towards the beginning, that gives the entire thing away. It is a flashback, and it gives everything away as far as motive and murderer.
The set-up is that Victor Mature (Frankie Christopher) is a professional "promoter". I'm still not sure EXACTLY what that means - agent maybe? He spots Vicki Lynn (Carol Landis), a pretty blonde, working as a waitress in a restaurant and bets his colleagues he can build her into a celebrity. He does just that. But Vicki turns out to be a greedy climber. She dumps Frankie romantically and professionally when she gets a chance at a Hollywood career. But before she can make the train to Hollywood she is found murdered in her apartment.
Did Frankie kill her for dumping him? Did the agents who stole Vicki from Frankie kill her because she was using them too? Did the sister (Betty Grable) do it because she loves Frankie in secret - maybe doesn't even admit this to herself yet - and hates how Vicki just walked all over him. Is it some other weird person I haven't mentioned? Watch and find out.
This film has some of the worst police interrogation scenes in the history of the world. "We know you did it." "You'll fry for this for sure!" oddly do not get cooperation out of the subject. So they say, "be a pal, we only want the truth." Oh yeah, I'd believe those guys! Maybe our current criminal justice system is too lax, but I don't think I want to go back to the days of hot lights and sleep deprivation as suspect interrogation techniques.
The atmosphere and score are very good, but if you expect me to believe that Victor Mature is an agent with great connections, then you would expect me to believe that rowdy Robert Ryan could play Ed Sullivan. On second thought, maybe he could!
The Key (1934)
Edna is not at her best here...
... although I enjoy to some degree just about everything William Powell was ever in. He saves this from being a 4 or 5 star movie for me. Edna Best was a well respected actress of the stage, but she just did not impress on screen. The story is about a British intelligence officer (Colin Clive) and his wife (Edna Best) who is stuck on some old boyfriend (William Powell as another British officer and stuckee). To complicate matters, Powell and Clive are best friends from before either of them knew Edna, and now Clive and Edna are billeted in the apartment just below Powell.
The setting is weird for a Depression era Warner's film. In terrain usually traversed by Paramount or MGM, here is WB in the middle of a period piece romance/drama involving the Irish rebellion and the sinn fein.
The art design and attention to detail is very good here, with the actors even having the - by American standards - rather weird British means of saluting down pat. Michael Curtiz' direction is impressive, and he tries to make the film more interesting with some of his famous genius with the camera, but he just can't save this script or Best's shrill performance or lack of chemistry with either one of the leading men. I would expect the leading men to be more likely to chuck it all and go off together than to have either one of them win Best's final affection or want it in the first place.
Maybe the irony in all of this is that "The Key" was William Powell's final film at Warner Brothers, who was not that happy with the roles he was getting there. And what is the first film he does after arriving at MGM? The equally sappy "Manhattan Melodrama" in which we are expected to believe that Mickey Rooney grows up to be Clark Gable! Oh well, after this rough patch there are much better things ahead in film for William Powell.
Hollywood: End of an Era (1980)
My favorite documentary about my favorite period in film history
If David Gill and Kevin Brownlow never did anything else but this 13 episode documentary on the silent era in film, their contribution would always be remembered. In fact they did much more. And to cap it all, they produced probably the penultimate documentary on the transition to sound in film.
If you have "The Jazz Singer" DVD set from 2007, then you have a museum in a box on the subject, but it is largely Warner and Vitaphone centric. The opening of the documentary makes it clear that sound was never a problem with the movies - they had "sound effects men" for gun shots, creaking doors, etc. and orchestras accompanying films for music. A musical number from Warner Brothers' "So This is Paris" (1926) saliently makes that point. What the movies could not do was supply sound synchronized to the spoken word.
All of the efforts at sound film starting with Edison in about 1910 and going forward are discussed. The problem was not as easy to solve as Edison initially thought, and although solutions were found by the 1920s, the major studios weren't biting. Some solutions had problems with adequate amplification, others had problems with requiring a static camera. All of the studios save two took the pledge to keep sound out. William Fox adopted Ted Case's method of sound on film and had movietone newsreels as early as 1927, but kept films silent. It was little Warner Brothers, always the runt of the litter, that decided to adopt Vitaphone in their feature films and ultimately change the industry and their own financial fortunes.
As much as The Jazz Singer is famous, though, it was the second sound film Al Jolson did for Warner Brothers a year later - "The Singng Fool" - that caused the other studios to realize that the era of silent film had come to a close. And that is ironic, because in the words of RIchard Barrios on "Fool" - "What is this film that makes The Jazz Singer look like Ibsen?".
There is much about how the transition was so uncertain. Actors and actresses, in their 20s and 30s at the time, found it hard to believe that they had become dinosaurs overnight. Many acting in Hollywood could barely speak English, and they returned to their home countries. Emil Jannings did so after winning the first Academy Award for best actor in a silent performance. However, many passed their "sound tests" with the studios only to be rejected by audiences five or so years into the transition in favor of new faces that had arrived on the scene.
The interviews with people who lived through the transition and even succeeded for a few years are included - Mary Astor, Frank Capra, George Cukor, Allan Dwan, Bessie Love, Lillian Gish, Ben Lyon - all have their humorous and personal stories to tell. Viola Dana - Buster Keaton's first true love, but that's another story - has a humorous tale to tell about Edison's Kinetophone. And Charles Buddy Rogers talks about how he, Dick Arlen, and Gary Cooper over at Paramount were so relieved to pass their sound tests. Rogers, looking healthy and hale here in his 70s, has an ironic contribution. He passed the sound test, even did some successful film work for a few years, but was one of those actors ultimately crowded out by the new faces.
The saddest tales were of the unnamed people in industries that became extinct. There were 32K orchestra musicians employed in the film industry in theaters throughout America in 1928. Just four years later there were only four thousand. The title writers are not mentioned, but they probably met a similar fate.
The closing of the episode uses the final scene from Douglas Fairbanks' "The Iron Mask" to poignantly illustrate the end of the silent era. I'd be surprised if it doesn't choke you up a bit.
A bittersweet love story...
... because there is no silver lining, no sappy happy ending in this tale of poverty, love, and bureaucracy. Claudine lives in Harlem and has six children ranging in age from about 17 to about 4. She works as a maid, but has to keep it a secret or else she risks losing welfare for herself and AFDC (Aid for Dependent Children) for her kids. The paltry sums distributed by both make this lying lifestyle necessary. Rupert is a garbage man who picks up the trash where Claudine works. These two find each other in mid life (he is 40 she is 36) and it turns romantic quickly.
Now most men would run not walk when confronted with Claudine's six rambunctious and rather hostile children, but Rupert doesn't. Talk eventually drifts towards marriage, but the paperwork involved with the welfare people would basically strip Rupert of his manhood. He is told that if he were to lose his job he would be required to apply for welfare because, somehow, otherwise, he would be defrauding AFDC. On top of that, Rupert gets a notice his meager paycheck is being heavily garnished because of "willful neglect" of nonpayment of child support for his own children.
He tells Claudine that if they married she would eventually come to resent him for his lack of ability to monetarily contribute, she denies it, but I wonder. Time has a way of making bad circumstances stick out. Add to this that Claudine's two oldest children are into adolescence, and that has its own troubles separate from mom having a boyfriend.
This was featured on Turner Classic Movies' "The Essentials" tonight, and I really enjoyed it. I had never seen it before, but I imagine it was a realistic portrayal of what African Americans had to go through in that era. I'm older myself, and it is tough when the right one comes along after just living life has saddled you with so much baggage that it makes it tough to start over.
This film has two big things going for it - the acting, which is top notch, and the reality of the situation in contrast to some of the silly blaxploitation films of the era. Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, later of "Welcome Back Kotter", plays the oldest son who thinks that revolution is the solution. Tamu Blackwell is Charlene, Claudine's oldest daughter, who mom worries about making some of the same mistakes she did. Mom would not be wrong. Elisa Loti is the patronizing welfare case worker.
The Lion King (2019)
Had this just been a nature film, it would be great!
The animals are well photographed and you have some great shots of them, but then if I wanted that I would watch a David Attenborough documentary and learn something in the process.So you basically have dialogue over well shot animals who do not convey the emotions called for in the script, so the entire production is pretty boring.
This is what you lose when you take The Lion King OUT of animation and into live action. The original 1994 version of Lion King was illustrated by artists who actually watched real animals - yes and lions - move, and they tried to capture that motion in their drawings along with the emotions that the animals were feeling. I saw the original in theatres and I think that they succeeded brilliantly.
Disney has obviously got the technical end of movie making down. What they can't seem to do in the last ten years is capture an audience with narrative and acting. First they buy a bunch of franchises - Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and have been failing with them. Now they are trashing their own legacy. Even Michael Eisner, an untrustworthy suit and bean counter, knew how to deliver when it came to entertainment when he was in charge of Disney.
The Sealed Room (1909)
Look ma, no dialogue intertitles!
There are a few title cards saying what is happening, but the actors do everything by pantomime. There is no dialogue transmitted to the audience. The credits talk about a count and countess, but the opening title says it is a king preparing a room for his "favored one", I assumed mistress. The initial room has windows, and the king has the masons brick in the windows, and yet the mistress seems thrilled. Why no windows?
The next title says "after the festivities", with no clue as to what those festivities are. The mistress is quite brazen. She is flirting with the minstrel when the king and a bunch of witnesses are in the room. When he discovers them together in the room he bricked in for her, the king brings in three of the quietest masons in the history of the world, because as the mistress and minstrel are carrying on in her special room, he has them brick in the only exit and yet they hear nothing. Then the king does something weird. He has the masons executed. It is rather like the slaves who carried the princess to her tomb in "The Mummy" being killed so they could never say where the tomb was.
The dying scene has got to be seen to be believed. The mistress and minstrel discover that they are trapped and in a matter of minutes are dying of asphyxiation. The minstrel dies last, gulping like a fish. So they are both dead even though the candle that they brought into the room is still burning, so there IS oxygen in there!
You'd never guess that the director of this, D.W. Griffith, would direct Birth of a Nation just a few years later and revolutionize the film industry. But then we all have to start somewhere. The only actor of note today is probably Henry B. Walthall as the minstrel, who had a career into the talking picture era. There are a couple of legends among the extras. There is Mack Sennett, producer of early comedies, as well as Mary Pickford, and her future husband Owen Moore.
On costume design - the king's mistress has a dress on that is similar to contemporary styles of the time, rather than the medieval dress that the men are wearing. You can certainly spend some time going through this and looking at the art design. I'd recommend it.
Footlight Parade (1933)
A great ensemble effort by the talent over at Warner Brothers
This is one of the great three films with choreography by Busby Berkeley made in 1933 over at Warner Brothers that got filmed musicals out of the dog house with audiences after about three years of exile.
Dick Powell took ill prior to the making of this film so, although he does have a supporting role in this film and it features his singing, the lead player is the energetic James Cagney who always considered himself more of a dancer than an actor, and here he gets to do both.
Cagney plays Chester Kent, a designer of musical comedies who is out of a job after talking film takes over Hollywood and kills vaudeville. His gold digger wife leaves him upon the news that the gravy train is at an end. Chester may be down but not out. He gets an idea when he sees a musical prologue playing prior to the beginning of one of the talking films - why not produce musical prologues in volume, and thus at a discount, to play around the country? His old bosses are sold and Kent is back in business. But unfortunately, there is a spy in his employ who is leaking Kent's ideas to a competitor.
The rest of the film is just an excuse for some great precode fun. There is Joan Blondell as Cagney's assistant who loves him in secret while Cagney takes up with the wrong girl again (Claire Dodd). Powell plays the boy toy of Mrs. Gould (Ruth Donnely) , wife of the big boss. Ruby Keeler plays a brainy office worker who is initially quite plain and dowdy. I said initially. Guy Kibbee and Arthur Hoyl are the bosses who are fixing the books and making Kent believe that all profits are being fed back into production costs. And Frank McHugh plays against type as a nervous hypochondriac dance director.
The one liners are fast and furious, there are three great musical numbers that comprise the finale, and yes I know you would have to be hanging from the ceiling to appreciate them, but just go with it. Then there are the chorines changing their clothes in a bus with the lights on between theatres, and enjoy the view while you can because the production code will take little scenes like that away for 30 years starting in 1934. Highly recommended.
Great visuals but the moral of the story beats me
Liliom is the non-musical version of the later and much more famous "Carousel" by Fox in the 1950s. The stories are basically the same. A peasant girl, Julie (Rose Hobart), is in love with Liliom (Charles Farrell), barker at carousel. Liliom is a womanizer, a man who takes money from women and then dumps them, and he is seemingly the "kept" man of Mme. Muscat (Estelle Taylor) who puts up with all of this as long as she has possession of Liliom as much as anybody could.
They take just one walk together and apparently get married. Liliom loses his job at the carousel because of taking up with Julie, and just sleeps all day while Julie waits on him hand and foot. She never reproaches him, but his aunt does plenty, as she sees him as just a loafer. I can't say that there is anything wrong with her vision.
When Liliom finds out Julie is pregnant he decides to take up his low-life friend's (Lee Tracy's) plan to rob the paymaster of a nearby factory. But this easy job turns nasty when the paymaster has a gun and fights back. Instead of being captured by the police and getting ten years in prison, Liliom chooses to kill himself and plunges a knife into his heart.
Now the "after death" scenes with Liliom and the magistrate of death are the best scenes in the film. Played with great aplomb by H.B. Warner, it is probably the best role he had in talking film. Liliom wants a chance to return to earth to do a good deed for his wife and child. H.B Warner - and myself for that matter - wonder why he didn't do that good deed when he was alive. Actually Liliom fascinates the magistrate, and he allows him to go back to earth ONLY after he completes ten years in hell. Funny how that sentence is the same length as the prison sentence he would have had if he had just given up to the police during the robbery, but at least he would still be alive.
The ending is quite unsatisfactory, with some nonsense about how some people can beat you and beat you and it not hurt a bit. Julie's words, and she is STILL turning down the steady and kind carpenter after all of these years. Buried in this film somewhere is a moral about blind deep love for someone who may be no good versus picking a mate like you are picking out a pair of sensible shoes - those shoes would be the carpenter.
Charles Farrell is really miscast as Liliom. His voice is just too high for me to take him seriously as the lazy womanizing ruffian. He was one of the many casualties of talking film, as Fox tried to make use of their contract players from the silent era, and some of them worked out and others did not.
Now some good words. The art design is amazing. The train that picks up the dead, the train to hell, the passengers on the train of the dead with the upper class dead complaining about having to mingle with the working class like they are still alive and have their money is all fabulous. So is the score, which is unusual for a 1930 film. The film industry overreacted for a couple of years to the anti musical backlash of audiences and completely removed scores from their films, but this one remains intact. Lee Tracy as the wise cracking petty thief is really good here. You can see glimmers of the greatness that is to come over at Warner Brothers.
I'd mildly recommend this film, because it is odd to see director Frank Borzage make a misfire, but this is one of them. Borzage liked to make films about relationships, about how some relationships are only seen in their true form by the people that are actually in them - Liliom tells the magistrate he really did love Julie. But this final business about beatings being OK is just bizarre.
All My Sons (1948)
An oddly constructed noir...
... in that in most noirs you see the dilemma up front in its compexity and completion. And then you watch the protagonist stumble through a series of decisions in which the noose just tightens.
Here the opening scenes are middle class and almost mundane and so post war. A son (Burt Lancaster) has returned from war and is planning to marry the girl of his dead brother, killed in the war. The living son's mother can't deal with the fact that her dead son is indeed dead - he died on an aerial mission and his body was never recovered. And thus she is not very supportive of this prospective union.
But this film turns out not to be about war and remembrance and the new middle class at all. Instead it is about a deed past done, and apparently the perpetrator has gotten away with it, and only as the film wears on are all of the secrets revealed, as well as the real reason the mother cannot accept her son's death.
Edward G. Robinson is terrific as the father who is living the American dream after being set out on the sidewalks by his own family since the age of ten. Lancaster with his beaming smile and his head full of bushy hair would look at home in a collegiate letter jacket, and this is a good early showcase for his talents. Harry Morgan appears in a minor role as one of the fathers of the ongoing baby boom.
I haven't said much here about what is really the conflict in this film, because I don't want to give anything away. However, it is a great film about moral conflict versus friend and family and even patriotic obligations, and it is a shame it is so obscure.
Painted Faces (1929)
Accent on Joe E. Brown...
... as in I have no idea why Joe E. Brown plays his part with a (German?) accent here. It just makes him harder to understand and adds nothing to his character.
At first it looks like you are going to get two maudlin melodramas for the price of one. The first maudlin melodrama starts as an entertainment team enter a vaudeville house where they are going to be working and discover that a man who hit on the female half of the team is playing there too. Her partner - they are planning to get married - threatens to kill the guy if he touches her again.
So predictably, one night, the lethario performer is found dead in his dressing room with the man who threatened to kill him standing over him holding the gun that shot him. Now here the poverty row roots yield a little humor. The dead man's dressing room looks more like a utility closet. Oh, and you never see the actual dead man's face when he was alive. The accused claims he picked up the gun and found the man dead, and that he is innocent.
Fast forward to the trial, actually the end of it. Since when is the girlfriend of the accused allowed to sit at the defense table? And why is the judge doing the prosecutor's job for him, with jury instructions that sound like he is telling the jury to convict the guy?
So the bulk of the film is in the jury room - and kudos to the makers of the film for including women on the jury. Almost 30 years later it is still "12 Angry Men" after all. Eleven of the jurors vote guilty on the first ballot. The holdout is of course Joe E. Brown's character. He has no real reason for his objection other than he believes the circumstantial evidence claim by the defense and is adamant in his objection. This goes on for five days. When the foreman says he has had enough and is going to tell the judge that they are hopelessly deadlocked, Brown makes a deal with the jury. He says he wants to tell them a story about circumstantial evidence that will change their minds. If it does not, he says, he will vote guilty with the rest of them.
This must be some story, but all I can say is watch and find out. I will tell you that before this last part of the film I was going to give it a 4/10. This last part raises it to a 6/10. It is very interesting seeing Joe E. Brown so early in his film career. This is right before he begins his six year career with Warner Brothers and makes some of his best films. I think he had the kind of comic career there that Buster Keaton could have had in talking films if only Buster had been lucky enough to join up with an outfit that understood his talents as well as Warner Brothers seemed to get Brown.
I'd recommend this one for those interested in both the comic and dramatic talents of Joe E. Brown.
The World Gone Mad (1933)
Oh the (lack of) horror!...
... and that seems to be what lots of people complain about with this film, all because Mill Creek inappropriately included it in a public domain pack of 50 horror films when this is actually a crime/newspaper caper film. But don't take it out on Pat O'Brien, Neil Hamilton, Louis Calhern and company, because that was a decision made 75 years after this film was made!
The title is probably what got it included, and the title itself is a bit of a mystery for there is nothing of cosmos or craziness in this film. Instead it is about the murder and set up for disgrace of an honest DA (Wallis Clark) by gangsters, and how his newspaper columnist friend (Pat O'Brien) tries to solve the crime and redeem the name of his deceased pal, if for nothing else than for the sake of his widow and son.
The acting of the well known names here is very good. Little Majestic Pictures must have shot the works as far as budget to get so many relatively big names. But the screenplay is another matter. Sure, the plot as a whole makes sense, but there are holes in the plot that make no sense! Pat O'Brien's character seems to be psychic as far as figuring out almost immediately who the trigger man is. How? This is never explained. When the DA's good name is smeared the janitor at the rooming house where his body is found has a whole story about how the DA came there regularly for months to shack up with a lady not his wife and drink heavily. OK, so the janitor is lying. But if he is lying, why not lie completely? Instead he gives a totally accurate description of the girl who was one of the co-conspirators in the DA's murder. Why? You never see this janitor again, so maybe for doing such a bad job of lying for them, the mobsters fit him for a cement overcoat. We'll never know. There are lots of other plot holes too, but these are two big examples.
There is lots of precode naughtiness here, including language and sexual inuendos, and one almost graphic sex scene for the day of two unwed people in bed together. However, the total darkness and the fact that the scene is almost too prolonged takes away from its punch.
Overall, not a bad way to spend 70 minutes.
Don't Bet on Love (1933)
Lew Ayres as a punting profligate plumber...
... talk about playing against type! Of course this was before he was known for his roles as sympathetic physicians, but still it is a bit of a shock seeing Ayres play what is basically a very deplorable person.
The film tries to soft peddle it with an opening montage of stockbrokers selling bad stocks, bankers saying their banks are on solid ground, a man pretending to be blind and begging, and a common purse snatcher, I guess, the lesson being, that everybody has a racket and is on the take, but it didn't soften the blow for me.
Ayres plays Bill McCaffery, the son in McCaffery and Sons Plumbing. His dad tries to warn him against continuing to play the horses, and his best girl (Ginger Rogers as Molly) says she won't marry him until he stops playing the horses, yet he continues on. First he turns five dollars into 250 dollars, then he turns fifty dollars into 1500. When Molly says she is done with him because of his gambling, Bill takes the train to Saratoga and turns what was to be their honeymoon into a month long horse betting jag. He returns to New York with fifty thousand dollars after making all of the columns in the papers. 50K would be roughly a million dollars in today's money.
Dad and Molly stand their ground. And the law of gravity says what goes up must come down, but Bill is unswayed and thinks his luck will run forever, and complications ensue.
The film has some funny anecdotes that don't make you think any better of your fellow man. One involves a gold digger and the other involves Bill pulling a ruse that could land him in the penitentiary or even in the grave when he crosses a gangster.
I guess the funniest part (unintentional I am sure) of the film is when Bill is at a nightspot in Saratoga and out comes the floor show. They are actually rather pudgy girls in two piece outfits with stripes that make them look like convicts. Their dance routine is basically sitting down, crossing and uncrossing their legs, and then standing up again. Rinse and repeat. Talk about your all talking all singing all dancing convicts! Busby Berkeley this is not!
Lew Ayres and Ginger Rogers, who were married for six years, met making this film. It was probably a bad omen that, although in love and engaged, they spend most of the film feuding and apart.
I'd mildly recommend this, because it is a rare case of an existing Universal that is a straight precode in the Warner Brothers tradition. If you are a film history buff I would definitely recommend it.
The Mortal Storm (1940)
MGM enters the fray with a pre-war film about the dangers of fascism
This film was a powerful indictment of the growing Nazi menace designed as a warning to wake up a complacent America which was steeped in isolationism at the time. MGM had been avoiding making such films, although Warner Brothers had made several that overtly criticized fascism by 1940.
The film opens with the 60th birthday party of an imminent German professor. His wife, two stepsons, and his son and daughter are at the table. This happy family moment is meant to contrast with the rest of the film, which is a downhill slide into intolerance and fear from that point forward, as Adolph Hitler is named chancellor of Germany that very night.
Margaret Sullavan plays the professor's grown daughter, engaged to Robert Young who turns out to be a fanatical party member who sees obeying as a duty above all else. James Stewart is the family friend and geeky guy who loves Sullavan's character from afar and also loves democracy and hates bullies - things that will get you in trouble in 1930s Germany. The role of the Jewish college professor who refuses to bend his teaching to suit government beliefs is probably the best of Frank Morgan's career. It's a good serious role for someone so often relegated to the comic relief at MGM.
Other people have said that the word "Germany" is never used, but I am almost sure I heard it. For sure, everything else said certainly indicates without doubt that this is the country that is being talked about. The one thing the film does not do is mention the Jews specifically and the danger that they are in under the new regime. The closest the film comes is Sullavan's character talking to Robert Young about "her people".
The film is a powerful one, and includes a good but brief supporting role for Maria Ouspenskaya as the mother of James Stewart's character. She is no frail old woman - she knows what is at stake and what she is up against. You get the feeling she has seen authoritarian governments come and go before.
Highly recommended - it packs a powerful and heart rending punch.
Cold Turkey (1971)
Almost a who's who of 60s and 70s TV...
... and that is really no surprise since this film was written and directed by Norman Lear, architect of so many hit TV shows in the 1970s.
Bob Newhart plays Merwin Wren, a tobacco executive who pitches the idea of giving 25 million dollars to any town that gives up tobacco for one month. He figures this will redeem the image of the tobacco industry, and what town could get every smoker to give up smoking for a month?
Enter tiny town of four thousand, Eagle Rock, Iowa. It lost a major employer and people are leaving town. The military has said that Eagle Rock is at the top of the list to receive a new missile manufacturing plant, but they have to spruce up the town's infrastructure first. But how, with a diminishing tax base? So, encouraged by the town's preacher, Clayton Brooks, the town takes the pledge.
Wren's job is on the line if Eagle Rock succeeds, so he goes to the town to try and get just one smoker's foot to slip. Meanwhile, tobacco withdrawal hits the entire town hard with comic results. If you've ever watched a loved one go through such withdrawal, this will look familiar to you. The first half of the film is about the comic attempt to stop smoking. The second half is about how easy it is for greed to set in once the town becomes famous and is making just about as much money from tourism as it hopes to make from the tobacco company if it succeeds.
The film is classic Lear as he lampoons just about everything - men of the cloth, men of medicine - they were all men back then, marriage, big business, right ring groups that see Communism everywhere but really just want to be authoritarians themselves, and news anchors back when they were actually respectable and weren't just talking heads.
The billing of the cast is really odd in retrospect. As expected, Dick Van Dyke is top billed. But second billed is...Pippa Scott? She doesn't even have that big a role in the film! And Bob Newhart, who was really great at playing the slimy little weasel here is bottom billed!
I'd highly recommend it. It is certainly one of Dick Van Dyke's better film roles and you get to see Norman Lear at work just as he was becoming famous.
The Tattooed Stranger (1950)
CSI New York 1950
This was last week's entry of "Noir Alley" on Turner Classic Movies. Without host Eddie Muller's detailed wrap around comments, I might have given it a six. But his comments on what is bad about this film as well as about what is good about it raised my rating to a seven.
The producer was given only 125K with which to make this little crime film. The title comes from the victim - a girl is found in the passenger seat of a stolen car left in Central Park with her face blasted off. Her only identifying mark is a tattoo that indicates either she or a significant other was in the Navy. The police are shown going through their crime scene investigation, as it existed in 1950 - dusting for prints, taking photos, etc. The girl has never been fingerprinted, so they don't know who the victim is, much less anything about suspects. They find some samples of grass in the car that did not come from the park, and the medical examiner says the girl's arches have almost completely given way, which indicates she may have spent lots of time standing. Her fingers are stained with cheap purple ink which is often used on menus. So perhaps the girl is a waitress. And from this the detectives have to find not only who the killer is, but who is this victim.
So what is good or interesting about this film? The cast is almost completely anonymous in the world of feature films. For many it was the only feature film role that they ever had. However, many of the cast had lengthy careers on television, and this film feels like an episode of whodunnit TV 50s or 60s style, so that is no surprise. Also, the film was shot on location in New York City, so it is "practically a travelogue of mid century New York", to quote Eddie. You see the beaneries, the boarding houses, and the Bowery as they existed in 1950, when New York was home to lots of working class people and not a tony address affordable to just a few.
What is bad about it? I'd say the rather contrived romance between a botanist, brought in to identify the unique foliage found in the stolen car, and the "college boy" detective, as his partner keeps calling him. When you first meet the botanist she is in a lab coat and glasses, suitable for her profession. But after that, in spite of the fact that she is wading through high grass in empty lots, she has on pumps, some stylish dress, and is awkwardly carrying a purse! Plus background music that sounds like it is from "Leave it To Beaver" plays as opposed to the more "Dragnet" style score that accompanies the rest of the film. It is all so nauseatingly endearing.
What is funny about this film? Originally the script called for the girl's face - which you never see - to be blown off by a sawed off shotgun. But the censors objected and the weapon had to be changed, only because it was illegal to modify a shotgun in such a way. Like murder was not illegal? Head censor Joe Breen's warped logic just slays me.
Coffins on Wheels (1941)
Did people actually trust used car salesmen in 1941?
Maybe. It was a less cynical time. Plus the idea of a used car was relatively new. Ordinary people could only afford a car once the Model T's started coming off the line in 1908, and cars were built to last in those times.
So this episode in MGM's "Crime Does Not Pay" series is about racketeering used car salesmen. By racketeering I think that they just meant completely dishonest, because there seems to be no mob involvement. It opens with the dishonest salesman closing the deal on a car to an older fellow who needs the car to make deliveries and hold his job. The car breaks down shortly thereafter, and when the dealership tells him to get lost he goes to the police. Odd how the police department would have time to go over a bad used car with a consumer, but apparently here they do. The police mechanics tell the owner that the car was a former taxi and probably has over 200K miles on it. Examinations of the sales contract and the bill of sale don't hold any guarantees, so the police can do nothing in this case.
But then there are a couple of kids right out of an MGM family film screenplay that buy one of the lemon cars, and you just know this is going to end badly in a way that will get the criminals on the hook. You'd be right or else this would not be a "Crime Does Not Pay" entry.
A couple of things I took away from this. The introduction does not say that this scenario is exactly true. It is probably just representative of a number of actual cases. Also, why is everybody being raised by their grandparents in this short? The salesman who has a little daughter and buys the first lemon car looks like he is at least 50. The man who is the father of the teen who buys the second lemon car looks at least 60. Maybe the decade long depression the country had just come out of aged people badly, but it is very noticeable.
Still, a worthy entry in the MGM series if you are a fan.