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The Lady AND the Tiger
2 May 2008
There is an alternative version of this done in the 1950's which I have been unable to locate a second time.Still,I think the ingenious solution is worth sharing with the readers.

It seems that,in the revised and greatly extended account, the King is Herod the Great,the Princess is his stepdaughter, Salome,and the other woman is Miriam,daughter of the High Priest.

Well,with Salome in the lead role there doesn't seem much doubt(despite her fleeting good intentions) that her boyfriend is headed for the tiger.But,as it develops t she and her lover prove a genuinely well matched pair.

He pulls both doors open simultaneously and beats it to safety while the tiger devours the innocent maiden.

However,Herod is so outraged at this lack of good sportsmanship that he decrees the cad be forthwith to taken Calvary and crucified alongside a second malefactor and Jesus of Nazarath.
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Playhouse 90: The Mystery of Thirteen (1957)
Season 2, Episode 7
A Great ,Never Repeated,Night before the English Bar
20 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
If this still exists,bring it back!

A splendid night for Jack Lemmon, who was as wonderfully feckless -and hapless-as he was in "Mr.Roberts" and "Fire Down Below".Now the Brits will definitely complain(if they ever get a chance to view this show) that Jack is not Brit enough,nor old enough ,to be Palmer; but he is seconded by a wonderful cast,notably Gladys Cooper as his randy mother and Margaret O'Brian as his suicidal child bride,that should hold all but the most acidulous of viewers.

While the director is very careful to never show us what really happened,none of us,any more than the elder Mrs.Palmer could believe that our boy did anything like poison thirteen people.

The catch in the story is that while Billy has(if believed) what is an ironclad alibi for the time of the crime,the twenty-something witness is having an affair with Billy's indomitnatable seventy-five year old mother.That is how he happened to be roaming around the Palmer premise at the quite late hour when he saw Billy's carriage pulling in.

Under cross-examination he is driven to tell one wilder lie after another to explain why he was able to witness anything. And with each of his answers the hapless witness further undoes the absolutely excellent forensic defense that nobody at all was intentionally poisoned.(Palmer actually did call sixteen of the better scientists of their day to prove that Cooke,the main victim, died of natural causes.)

As it stood,the defense had to put Mrs. Palmer(also the mother of a clergyman and a college professor) to back up the alibi and explain she had a taste for men forty years her juniors. Billy elects not to do so and he is (this being the eighteen-fifties)publicly hanged.

I still remember these forty years a tremendous final shot of Gladys Cooper frantically pacing her library with the mob screaming outside.There is a sudden hush--and she gazes (without a tear or a whimper) curiously and silently at us.
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Breaking Links in the Chain
30 December 2005
None of the reviewers at this site or elsewhere have noted that there are four, not three, filmed versions of this unique and haunting novel.The fourth appeared on American television between October,l957,and January,l958. It was probably a Hallmark production ,obviously has never replayed,and is not listed in this data base.

This is all the more disconcerting as it is the only dramatized version(The silent version is unobtainable and exists in only one known copy)which in any way remained faithful to the spirit and much of the text of the original.Wilder's book calls to be read aloud and the three leading actresses in this particular production did everything possible with the essential sound values.

The key role of the Marquesa was taken by Judith Anderson(of "Medea" and "Hamlet" fame) and she literally almost breached the saving boundary between make believe and reality.Unlike the recent version there is nothing funny about this woman.Her daughter certainly does not visit her in Latin America.Like King Lear ,she has been exiled from Spain at her daughter's request.And not without good reason.The Marquesa is a terrifying and vicious old drunk who is positively guaranteed to disrupt any social occasion which she attends. On the other hand,in exile,and smashing bottles in the audience's collective face,she,the most terrifying of mothers,writes epistles on her genuinely frustrated love which will go down in the history of Spanish literature.Finally she meets a teenager who is

emotionally abused,and, as emotionally abusive, as the great lady herself;

and so the pair scream and claw till they eventually reach a truly loving accord.It seems both women now,for the only time in their lives,will have something to live for.But that entails first crossing the Bridge of San Luis Rey.

If we have any present day American actress,aside from Julie Harris,who could have recreated this part it is Kathy Bates.She must have jumped at the chance to do it.Unfortunately the incredibly uncomprehending adaptation defeats her.As it does the wonderfully gifted Polish brothers.They are literally left speechless.

Similarly the fifties version ended with a great hymn to love from the Mother Superior(played by Eva LaGallienne) to the broken actress (Vivica Lindfors)who has lost(half-driven) mentor,lover, and child to the abyss.The new version gives us anti-Catholic propaganda with the woefully miscast DeNiro and Byrne struggling with materials they were not born to enunciate.

Our catastrophe ridden neo-Babylonian society could use a good new production of "The Bridge" right now.Too bad that it didn't get it.If the fifties version still exists, may be this letter will be an incentive for someone to dig it from the archives. Lindfors,La Gallienne,Judith Anderson,you should be living at this hour.
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"If you're gonna stand by me ,don't stand too close"
6 July 2005
The above line is from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" but a few more like it would have considerably enlivened this sometimes slow but in fact worthy post Civil War drama. However,there are at least two other real winners in the genuine mean style,and even more of the same could have raised this movie to an eight rather than a faltering seven. For example:

Exultant Wife:You'll always remember this day!

Husband:As long as you live I will.


Idealist Jonson:I joined this war because no man should be hated for the color of his skin.

Confederate:It isn't about the color of anyone's skin, I hate the color of the pants you wore when you came down here against us.

Jonson:This thing was really about the color of my pants?

Unfortunately,the overall mood of the film is continuously uncertain.At times it is genuinely reflective and well timed ,at others it verges on the maudlin.Eleanor Parker or young Katherine Hepburn would have made a lot more of a hullabaloo with the same unchallenging script;Janet Leigh is simply too sweet and wholesome for words.

Still despite a couple of ridiculous brief musical spurts,there are a whole troop of fine character actors,including Thomas Mitchel,Marshal Thompson(particularly good in the climatic scene) and my old acquaintance the inimitable O.Z. Whitehead. Moreover,Van Jonson,for once,is not studio typecast and does a fine job throughout,particularly with his barn musicale and in the final scene.

All told, not the gem that it could have been but deserving of a lot better than it has ever yet been credited with.Definitely worth a look for any post Civil war buff or a family looking for a good clean afternoon's entertainment that has something to say.

The director here is man of all work Roy Rowlands.And the reason that I am doing this review is that Rowlands previously directed "Our Vines Have Tender Grapes",one of the high points of American family drama. He apparently never remotely reached such heights again.

The script derives from a story by Pulitzer Prize winner McKinley Kantor,a writer who more than once received less than he deserved by Hollywood.
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Historical Drama At Its Best
1 May 2003
How fleeting are the glories of the mighty!This is the theme of the film, but likewise,apparently, the moral of the production.After all this film(which ran in the States as The Magnificent Concubine) took a Cannes award and features what is possibly the finest and certainly the most voluptuous performance of Li Li Hua. Miss Hua(who gets only one listing at present on IMDb,a quite inferior vehicle called "China Doll") is to Chinese cinema what Barbara Stanwyck was to thirties and forties Hollywood.Show business was in her blood and even with her worst scripts(many of them) one always knew there was more to the lady than what the moguls were giving her to do. This time she has one of the greatest love stories of all time,the fatal passion of an aged emperor for a frivolous young woman, who matures too late into a truly great lady.It was previously done by Mizoguchi with the exquisite Machiko Kyo as the ill fated Lady Yang.Both versions are worthy of repeated watchings and both feature the collaboration of film mogul Run Run Shaw. This really deserves a reissue.
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Johnny Bago (1993)
Classic Lunatic Comedy
4 April 2003
I just had a wonderful surprise.I thought I would be the only Johnny Bago fan and find there is an entire society out there,each member of which believes that he is the only one that was crazy over Johnny and his pals.

I came in, by pure chance,half way through the Big Top episode.But managed to tape the four remaining sequels.The Elvis Caper which is definitely a classic(I do not throw the word around lightly) of fantastic comedy;the Marrow Madonna;Trapped in the Mine shaft(after viewing this it is difficult to ever again take this subgenre seriously);and a strip poker game in an atomic lab which is just about to explode.There are apparently six in all.

Right now my collection is in storage but within six weeks it should be available and I would be happy to exchange my episodes for the pilot and a complete copy of the Big Top episode,if anyone has them.

I understand how my fellow Bagoites feel.I have never personally met anyone who knew that this series existed.However,nearly everyone with whom I have shared my tapes has asked for their own copies.

A public reissue is definitely in order.
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Lamarr's Night of Nights
4 September 2002
Hedy Lamarr was not generally as fortunate in her scripts or her directors as most of the great leading ladies of her day.Yet this now almost forgotten film may ,in fact, be her most perfect vehicle. "Samson and Delilah" appears the only alternative possibility ;still the gentler less garish approach here serves to better accentuate Miss Lamarr's exquisite beauty and muted, perfectly timed, performance.

The part of the half-caste Manon seems written for her (an excellent Ben Hecht script); the photography deserved its Oscar nomination and makes us ask for what do we need technicolor? Furthermore,Lamarr is ably seconded by then newcomer Gloria Franklin as another gentle victim of the Saigon love game.And can Miss Franklin handle a heartbreaking rhythm. Why did America fail to take this delicate chanteuse to its heart?

The main flaw in this work,which otherwise would deserve a nine or ten rating, is the casting of an already hardening Robert Taylor as the enraptured playboy.It is patent,considering the obvious parallels with "Camille, why Taylor was hired. He even goes through some almost identical motions a second time in the death scene here. And that is exactly the problem.Taylor has left romanticism behind him by the time this film was shot. His best notes here are quiet desperation. Francis Lederer would have been great for the role(remember him with Louise Brooks?),but, under the Hollywood casting system ,there was no chance he could have gotten the part.

Flawed as it is, it is flawless Lamarr.And as every romantic believes ,there must still be audiences of unknowing lovers out there who will want to see it again-and again.
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The Medium (1951)
Performances of a lifetime
7 May 2002
This film certainly did not lack for admirers in its own day.It took the Cannes Award for best lyrical drama(lyrical is not exactly the best word to describe what is going on)and received BAFTA and Oscar nominations.It was a conversation piece for years after."Were you ever able to see it?" and later,"Whatever happened to Marie Powers?","Wasn't that Leo Coleman flitting through the Fellini movie?" And ,sorrowfully , it was. For this film brought together three dynamic performers, who had no where better to go cinematically. Marie Powers ,an expatriate American married to a respected but uninfluential Italian opera conductor,had a reputation as a Wagnerian interpreter among Italians who preferred Germanic opera. I have never been able to find a recording from her Italian heyday in the USA.Maybe this is not such a loss. Ms.Powers must be seen to be believed ,and this film offers the only opportunity that either the majority of her contemporaries or all of posterity has to do so.In the very late fifties or early sixties,this reviewer wandered into a lower New York Church and found he had accidentally caught the unviewable Powers live.She was playing Noah's Wife and doing it to the hilt.She could handle religious folk comedy as lightly as she had swept us along the road to damnation with Madame Flora and the hapless Romany boy,Toby.And there were perhaps two hundred locals in the audience, to whom she was giving all that the role could take.I have seen Maria Callas live and Licia Albanese.There is no question Powers stands in that world class of great singer actresses. How many such are there in any century? The two youthful co-stars give equally impressive and perfectly integrated performances.With Powers it is our loss that there simply never are enough good dramatic roles for powerhouse actresses who first come on at age fifty. The young people had different problems.Both reached the apogee of their unforgettable talents at ages fifteen and twenty-eight in their first major roles.Leo Coleman has to be seen to believed,particularly as he plays a mute to a pair of hyper-dramatic women leads.Their five minute ensemble,"Why weeps my child unborn?"must have had Val Lewton gnashing his teeth that he hadn't thought of it first.For this is great story telling as well as compelling music.In fact the script is so good I can hear some disgruntled Gothic fan complaining ,"Why did they want to slow it down with all the singing?" Composer-writer-director-photographer Menotti on this occasion assumed the Orson Welles persona very credibly.To my knowledge it would be nearly thirty years before he tried anything as ambitious a second time,a haunting televised version of his script "Vanessa " during the late seventies.But that's quite all right.It is what the last Romantics are about.
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A splendid book but one of the worst adaptations ever filmed
30 April 2002
"The Burning Court" may be the most fascinating detective story ever written.After reading it,W.B. Yeats called Carr,the James Joyce of mystery writers.(Remember Yeats had very ambiguous feelings about Joyce's art.) Understandably, Carr never tried to repeat his structural technique a second time. He had done something which once done could not be repeated and ,furthermore ,did not readily lend itself to adaptation in any other media form.

The book opens with a quotation from Shakespeare,"There was a young man who lived by a churchyard;but that's an unfinished story," and accordingly ends in mid-sentence,most of three hundred pages later.In some editions the last words{"Defense attorneys already claiming newly discovered evidence...")are deliberately run into the end of the page.Carr intentionally conned his readers into believing the last page was deleted.

Long,long afterwards,comes the sudden flash ,and the belated certainty. that we ,like the ever more frenzied characters, have been utterly deceived.

Carr sets his diabolical puzzle within an extremely formal five part structure."Indictment","Prosecution","Defense","Summing-Up" and "Verdict".Each of the first four sections builds to a logical climax at the end of which all the expectations which the author have previously built up(four times in turn!) are once again successively destroyed. The author's primary ploy is that we are never to be quite certain whether he is telling us a detective story masquerading as a horror story or a horror story masquerading as a problem in logic.In the latter case,we have no right to expect a rational solution and the identity of the reincarnated witch becomes increasingly obvious. However,every alleged supernatural event and every supposed pre-natal memory,is,at some subsequent point or other,given a perfectly rational and satisfying explanation...except that these belated witnesses (in their turn) may be,likewise, either inaccurate or mendacious.

By the way,Carr always insisted that he had very subtly inserted the solution to all this in one phrase casually inserted between a pair of commas but apparently went to his grave without informing posterity between which two commas the true answer could be found.

The question of what compelled Duvivier, an often splendid director,(and in many other instances a still shamefully underrated artist)to film this work is another mystery which was, mercifully,carried to his grave.He began by scrapping the structure(a little like taking a stream of consciousness novel and shooting it in chronological sequence)and moving the locale from jazz age Philadelphia to country France!And it goes down from there. Whatever the correct solution to Carr's riddle,we can be sure that this isn't it. There has been nothing this bad in cinema literary massacre since another great master of mystery,Alfred Hitchcock,decided to improve O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock".

To make matters worse,at approximately the same time that Duvivier launched his ill-starred version,a husband and wife team succeeded,despite the formidable structural difficulties,in winning the Emmy with their adaptation of the same work.Unfortunately it does not appear in the IMDb and has, apparently, never been re-shown.If it survives,it must be worth a close look.
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Volpone (1941)
One of the best foreign adaptations of an English text ever filmed
30 April 2002
Virtually none of Maurice Tourneur's work is generally available in the late twentieth English speaking world.This has been thus far posterity's loss. The present writer, after extensive efforts,has only been able to view three of his films scattered over a twenty-five year period.It is enough to state there is a treasure trove awaiting excavation out there.His son Jacques is justly admired for what he could do with often seemingly intractable material and actors of ordinarily limited interpretive ability.Obviously he learned most every trick in the book for his adroit father but rarely had as literate materials as the senior Tourneur.The son's massive fan following should be fighting to see more of the father's work. M.Tourneur worked many years in Hollywood silents. The two available to me(both literary adaptations)show an incredible awareness of the auditory riches the audience cannot share and the duty of the director to convey as much of this in another media as humanly possible.When he later chose to shoot "Volpone" for a French audience, he was somewhat equipped for a herculean task.The script is by the best Elizabethan writer,apart from Shakespeare(whoever he was);but iit is a play which is more admired than loved and rarely performed, even on the English stage. Tourneur romps through it. Two of the best acors of their time,Harry Baur and Louis Jouvet,perform as if the play were originally written for Frechmen.The costuming and the photography in glorious black-and-white is what the word style is all about.But why go on?Ignore author Ben Jonson's advice and look on the picture,not the book.Then demand a Maurice Tourneur festival from somebody out there.
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A piece truly deserving of revival
12 April 2002
I shall never forget my excitement at first viewing this probably never revived film. Scott Marlowe and Lola Albright were both excellent.There was a general feeling around New York that we were seeing the birth of a new star in Scott Marlowe and that Lola Albright was definitely moving out of TV detective films into a much higher bracket.Instead the director moved into a lifetime of steady but highly inconsistent popular TV productions and Marlowe made only one more film, which had virtually no distribution, before disappearing for over a decade.

I admit this low budget effort,at times,strives too hard for slice of life realism. There is a really awful scene with Albright, her older boyfriend and a neighbor where everybody tries so hard to make it look as if they were not acting that they don't.

But that is neither here nor there.I can not remember a Spring-September romance that carried more impact.That the gritty protagonists are an Italian-American street kid and a stripper adds to the incredible and unexpected poignancy of the situation.Too bad Marlowe and Albright weren't allowed to shoot five more when they were on a hot winning streak but they needed only one such performance to insure that some younger generation will feel the answering cord.This should do really well on DVD reissue and high time.
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