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****** Hackneyed Hyperbole
17 August 2019
That may sound like a harsh judgment, especially since I thought the film was likable and had some appeal. It's just that the theme has been done thousands of times in thousands of movies; good guys vs bad guys, forces of evil working against a naive subject, government to the rescue, etc.. But I think when you're watching the situation for the first time the movie goes down easier. Now it's 80 years later and you can almost write the script for yourself, complete with odd coincidences and facilitated circumstances that are harder in real life.

That said, there are good acting turns here for Bruce Cabot and Ward Bond, who may have had his only starring role, and a host of movie supporting actors, including John Hamilton, who gets to preachify against subversive groups "wherever they may be found". The KKK threat may have subsided but it was more of a current topic to audiences in 1936. And it's only 65 minutes long, just enough for easy viewing. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

****** 6/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Broadway Babies
15 August 2019
Mildly interesting story of 3 friends who are showgirls in the evening and party girls late at night, which inevitably turns into morning. They are from different backgrounds; Bennett, a seasoned veteran of the after-hours scene, O'Neil a naive newcomer, and Crawford, a 'decent' girl trying to stay virtuous. O'Neil is appealing in this seedy story of flaming youth of the 20's, who dance, party and dance some more.

The picture holds your interest but the underlying message, that finding some guy with deep pockets can really augment a meager salary, does not speak well for the lack of a sense of morality and decency, which are apparently needed to get with the 'in crowd'. I imagine it was a popular film in its time. Movie veteran Henry Kolker stands out among the supporting cast. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome NY, 8/19.

***** 5/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Noir Prototype?
15 August 2019
Probably not, but it has a certain cachet to it that is reminiscent of the genre that was yet to come. Good folk and gangsters, an unsuspecting someone caught in a web of dishonesty and murder, and all with the shadows and photographic effects normally associated with film noir. It is also an early Dr. Kildare film with Joel McCrea as the good doctor.

Nutshell: Kildare comes across Barbara Stanwyck, who is destitute and desperate. She is looking for her lost child and she is broke and just released from prison, apparently framed for aiding and abetting her husband. Kildare tries to help, with the aid of a gangster (Lloyd Nolan) on whom he has done emergency surgery (in the back of a barroom!) and who now feels he owes Kildare a favor.

The cast is excellent, headed by Stanwyck who never gives a bad performance. McCrea is his usual understated self and Stanley Ridges is very effective as a seedy, slimy villain. This is a very underrated film and was shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

******** 8/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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**** Musicians Needed
15 August 2019
Print material accompanying this musical short states that it was never released theatrically, and it is easy to understand why. The music is somewhat tuneless and the singers are unattractive and don't sing well, particularly Margaret Nearing who has a high pitched, scratchy voice. It is mercifully short at 18 minutes, its best feature.

Love the Film Festival but didn't care for this entry. I thought it's fair game for criticism since 85 years has elapsed and no one will be left with hurt feelings. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.
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******* 30's Romance
15 August 2019
Odd title for a movie, especially a title which is as nebulous as this one. All things considered it is pretty funny and finds the pair in several comical situations. All in all, a breezy and entertaining trifle of a movie. It plays like a second feature but has an A feature cast with Joel McCrea and Andrea Leeds.

Nutshell; Leeds wants to find a husband and get married, but McCrea has no interest - he wants to ship out as a seaman and see the world. Both end up working for the same department store when they meet. As stated, there are some good instances of humor as well as illogical unexplained circumstances - a staple feature of 30's movies. It's easy to take and it's 75 minutes pass quickly. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

******* 7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Caught (1931)
******* Calamity Jane
13 August 2019
"Caught" is not so much a western actioner as a character study, and I'll bet much to the chagrin of 30's audiences. The star of the piece is old-time actress Louise Dresser. Virtually forgotten by modern audiences, she had a wide acting range and played a variety of parts, almost never as the star. Here she should have had perhaps her only chance above the title, but the star of the film was probably Richard Arlen. She is a hypnotic figure as Calamity Jane and is in nearly every scene. She does an excellent job and is the main reason for my rating.

"Caught" is slow moving and lacks any noteworthy action. Frances Dee is miscast as a dance hall wannabe and Arlen is his usual competent self. But to see Louise Dresser become Calamity Jane is worth a long look. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

******* 7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Ben Blair (1916)
Early Western
13 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"Ben Blair" is another technological triumph for the Library Of Congress. It was restored from the only known existing print which was found in the garage of an old-time actor. It is a story of revenge and romance in the not-so-old west, which seems to take place around the turn of the 20th century.

Nutshell: Ben searches for his no-account father who burned down their shack with his mother still in it. Adopted by a good family, he falls in love with their daughter, who eventually leaves to find a better life in a big city. Of course, he follows after avenging his mother's death.

When he finds her, the viewer is in for a huge shock; He gives her an ultimatum: come home with me or I'll kill your fiancee. As he counts down from 10, she cheerfully agrees and goes home with him! This probably sets the Womens Rights movement back to the Stone Age. This colossal restoration achievement by the LOC was shown at Capitolfest, Rome,NY, 8/19.

***** 5/10 - Website no longer prints mt star rating.
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The Unseen (1945)
******* The Unexplained
13 August 2019
This picture has been on TV but I hadn't seen it before. I disagree with some reviewers and I thought it was a first-rate mystery but which was marred by a confusing ending. There was a rush to explain motivations and circumstances, all of which left me further in the dark than before.

The cast was just fine and the tragic Gail Russell was lovely to look at, although lacking some depth as an actress. The dependable Herbert Marshall lends strong support and Joel McCrea is his usual stalwart self. There is a lot to like here until you get to the last 5 minutes; hasty contrivances and omitted rationale are always annoying. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

******* 7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Captain Blood (1924)
******Still Life
13 August 2019
Actually, it wasn't as static as I'm making it out. I think I've been spoiled by the 1935 Errol Flynn version - now, there was an action picture. This one concentrates on character development rather than excitement, at least that's how I interpreted it. This silent version is also a tribute to the hard work done by the unsung heroes at the Library of Congress to restore old movies in need of restoration. This one had been cannibalized by Warner Bros. for their remake , having removed many battle scenes, except for a rousing one at the end of the picture.

This restoration is clear and with hardly any flaws in the print. It has a cast of long forgotten actors, and, truth be told, is just not as interesting as the later version. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

****** 6/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Pathos
12 August 2019
Old-fashioned soaper ala "Stella Dallas", which was made previously and remade a few years after this film. In this case, a mother is forced to give up her child then searches for her years later, in this case after getting out of prison. She was unjustly accused of aiding her husband in a robbery, and spends a great deal of time looking for her daughter. The picture stars Wynne Gibson in the title role, Pat O'Brien as her husband and Dudly Digges as the (semi) helpful detective.

The acting is the best part of the film as all three actors are superb, especially Gibson. She never became a top star in Hollywood and which seemed to suit her, as she was primarily a stage actress. It's dated, of course, so you watch it as a museum piece without relevance these days, except for the 'crime does not pay' angle. And do people still go to prison for 15 years at hard labor for such a crime? It was shown at Capitolfest, Rome, N.Y., 8/19.

******* 7/10 - Website does not print my star rating.
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Reverse Pygmalion
11 August 2019
In this comedy/ drama played mostly for laughs, right off the bat lovely Lois Moran is hoodwinked by a conman/ playboy she is meeting in a rendezvous on the French Riviera. They planned to marry as he has told her her loves her. She is swept off her feet. She wakes up in the morning and he has vanished without a trace, and has robbed her of her valuables. Now she is broke and has nowhere to turn.

Charles Bickford plays a retired gangster who stops at the same hotel. They hit it off, and he tells her he will pay her bill if she will accompany him to Paris and help him to become a gentleman. The result is a funny and rewarding film written by Robert Riskin in his inimitable intelligently jocose style. I didn't think I would like it as much as I did, especially after Bickford's initial over-the-top introduction scene as the bootlegger "Flash". This is a quick, easy-to-take 70 minutes of the kind of picture Hollywood no longer makes.
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****** Tedious Programmer
11 August 2019
Apparently this picture had some importance at the time (1931), but today it plays as a 'B' programmer. George Bancroft was a big star at the time and this was a vehicle for him to bring in the audience and to accrue accolades for Paramount Pictures. It was also to showcase Frances Dee, whom they hoped would be their next big star.

Nutshell; Bancroft is a"Captain of Industry" and the owner of a big shipbuilding company and Dee is his devoted and neglected daughter. The light of his life was his son, who died at an early age. Both stars are very competent and much of the film is devoted to the conflict between father and daughter. As I stated it must have played better at the time because now it is a museum piece that is not as compelling or as interesting as Paramount had hoped. This played at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

****** 6/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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The Nightingale (I) (2018)
****** Long Trudge
7 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Most of this film consists of an extended slog through the forests of Tasmania as our heroine tries to hunt down her tormentor, with the help of an aborigine tracker. I wanted to like this movie much more than I did, mainly because I despair of anything worthwhile from Hollywood and indies are the only hope. The actors strive admirably and give good performances but are handicapped by the sluggish pace and extended periods when nothing of import seems to happen.

Aisling Franciosi does a good job as our heroine and Sam Claflin is a dastardly villain, even if the screenplay pushes him over the top at times. And the climax - or anticlimax - was unsettling and lacks a payoff for the viewer. Good work by the photographer, set and costume designers who recreated the atmosphere and ambience of the period. Just needed a heavier hand from the editor and an extra writing help for the director.

****** 6/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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The Rounder (1930)
Early Benny
2 August 2019
Was surprised to see Jack Benny as a young man and showing more energy and vitality than in his later years on his TV show. On TV he is more stationary and lethargic, although still funny. Here his droll sense of humor is more effective as he strides easily around the set and flops into a chair, for example. His is not the comedy of the Marx Bros. or Laurel and Hardy - he is subtle and you listen to him more than watch what he does. I thought he was very funny and entertaining in this short, which has been given short shrift by previous reviewers.
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The King (1930)
Pretty Funny
2 August 2019
There are some pretty funny moments in "The King" that save it from a lower rating. Speaking of which, this is funnier than the low rating it now sports. I haven't seen a lot of Langdon's shorts but he plays the same character in the ones I've seen, a shy, childish innocent beleaguered by circumstances beyond his control. Here he is aided by Thelma Todd, one of the best of the early comediennes.

If you ever have a chance to see this one, do it. Langdon was funny, often better than the material he's working with, and, come on - how bad can it be? It's a film short.

6/10 ****** - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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******* Strange Topic
30 July 2019
Mariana wants to direct a street show for the public depicting Romania's hand in the genocide of Romanian Jews during WWII. Her mentor and backer questions whether it is necessary, and maybe play up the heroics of the Romanian army in the war. That is the gist of the movie with the enormously long title.

The question is, why such a controversial theme? The Holocaust as illustrated in this picture will not play well here in a city with the largest Jewish population in the country. There is no question the Romanians have mastered the art of filmmaking; in fact, Lincoln Center hosted a Romanian Film Festival a few years ago. Noteworthy in this picture is an interesting back-and-forth between the two principals as they argue the philosophical and ethical pros and cons of the show, with some interesting historical references. As always, the actors are very natural and their competence is a feature of Romanian films.

It is worth your time and the ending packs an unexpected punch. It is not for everybody but it is the type of superior filmmaking you can expect in Romanian films.

7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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******** Caught Laughing
29 July 2019
This may be one of the best of the Wheeler&Woolsey comedies. Their particular brand of broad comedy has regrettably gone out of style in the 21st century and their movies are seldom shown nowadays - except on good old reliable TCM. Like their other films it is loaded with puns and outlandish circumstances and you have to be a fan of that genre, or at least a fan of W&W.

No need to recap the plot, such as it is. It's the usual improbable scenario, this one about coming to the aid of an old lady with a failing drug store and turning it into a howling success. It features Jason Robards Sr. as the villain, who has an uncanny resemblance to his son, especially the voice and mannerisms. there are even a couple of tuneful but long forgotten songs. Whether you're a fan or not this is a good comedy in any era.

******** - Website no longer prints my star ratings.
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*******War Escapism
29 July 2019
A WWII rouser designed to bolster the spirits of wartime audiences - and I'll bet it succeeded. It also does wonders for modern audiences weary of waiting for a good movie to come along. It plays like a movie serial which were popular in the 30's and 40's and with the same flaws in design and lack of attention to detail How long can guys who are knocked out stay unconscious? and how do uniforms stay crisp after a week or so's wear? And it's always fun to find out how amazingly stupid Nazis were.

But this is a flag waver, and the good guys do what good guys do. Don't ask questions or wonder about plot contrivances, just go with it. It's a hoot and not to be taken too seriously. After all, the principals (Reagan, Flynn, Kennedy and Hale) don't.

7/10 ******* - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Rojo (2018)
********Late Developing
15 July 2019
Summer movie season has arrived in NYC. I can always tell by the higher quality of the foreign films that come to town (you can bet none of the Hollywood films are of high quality). "Rojo" is the best film I've seen since at least the winter and I can't remember which one that was. This one features good acting and camera work and with some thought-provoking allegory and symbolism.

Nutshell: An influential lawyer is slowly losing his ethical footing after a confrontation with an unbalanced patron at a restaurant, leading to a visit from an amateur detective investigating the disappearance of the patron. Give it a chance, because it is slow to get underway. But if you appreciate superior filmmaking there is always a reward with a good motion picture, and this is one example.

******** 8/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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*** "I Just Require Clarity"
1 July 2019
One of the characters makes this declaration early on, and I couldn't agree more. Clarity is in short supply in "Killers Anonymous", a dreadful indie misfire with a not-half-bad cast of unknown actors apart from Gray Oldman , who should be thoroughly embarrassed. Who wrote this mess? It's hard to determine which is worse, the plot or the script.

A group of killers meets in a sort of an Al-Anon for killers. Someone has tried to assassinate the American President on a visit to London, when suddenly, he staggers into the meeting wounded. I'm not going any further because it gets worse. Of the unlucky cast the only standouts are Tommy Flanagan and Rhyon Nicole Brown. The rest should try to have this film deleted from their list of credits. Gary Oldman escapes intact since his part is so small.

A truly awful movie.

3/10 *** - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Great Doc *********
11 June 2019
I normally avoid documentaries because they often, by their nature, are too subjective. But "The Spy Behind Home Plate" is different in that it seems more objective than most (I think I'm confusing myself). By this I mean it treats its subject almost like part of a larger story, a story part baseball, war and travelogue. It was interesting, absorbing, rewarding, informative - all those adjectives and any others you can add. This movie is the best kept secret in or out of Hollywood in some time.

Added bonus: Contained in this picture is one of the best musical scores in years. Do you like 30's and 40's tunes? This one is loaded with background songs By Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Astaire/Rogers musicals and lots of others. This picture is worth your time - the music alone is worth the price of admission.

9/10* - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Booksmart (2019)
Smutty Confusion
3 June 2019
Every so often I try to sample a contemporary Hollywood movie, hoping for an entertaining reward. Invariably, I am disappointed. Today I went to see "Booksmart" because it got a good rating from our website indicating good value. I have to report that Hollywood's artistic descent continues unchecked.

Where to start? The screenplay and script were amateurish beyond belief, and the acting not far behind. The script in particular is laced with every vulgarity and foul-mouthed expression extant. I can't imagine Beanie Feldstein has a future in movies, although I was wrong about Jonah Hill. What were the producers of this mess thinking? My rating reflects the thinking of a moviegoer over 21. I deserve what I got.

3 out of 10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.
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Unknown Gem
27 May 2019
Good little 'B' musical with some pluses going for it, mainly Grace Bradley. Vivacious and very pretty, she brightens every scene she appears in. And she can sing, in addition to her other assets. Had never heard of this picture before, and as someone noted, it was most likely the bottom half of a double feature.

"Sitting On The Moon" just goes to show you; you never can tell where or when a good movie will pop up - even tiny Republic Studios could ring the bell once in a while. I especially liked the closing number, "Lost in My Dreams", a song never heard nowadays.
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Non-Fiction (2018)
Breaktime
26 May 2019
As in 'give me a break'. A French picture with no highs or lows and told in one tone of voice tends to result in a film festooned with tedium and monotony. It is about French book publishers fretting over a transition from printed books to e-books or kindles. Additionally, an author whose time is up and can no longer find a publisher for his works. If these don't sound like interesting scenarios, you are right.

Acting was good but the plot desperately needed 'punching up', and the result was a nearly two hour slog through the underbrush, although it seemed longer.
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******* Underrated
26 April 2019
Thoroughly enjoyed "Higher and Higher", adapted from the Broadway stage with new songs by Jimmy McHugh. Never heard the originals, but the ones here are now old standards, like "I Couldn't Sleep A Wink Last Night", "The Music Stopped", and "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening", and the lesser known "I Saw You First". The storyline is just silly fun, about broke ex-millionaire who tries to marry his maid off to a wealthy man to pay the bills. Leon Errol, one of Hollywood's funniest men, is the ex-rich man and the maid is Michelle Morgan. Victor Borge is the new rich man who turns out to be a phony. Good cast includes Frank Sinatra, who gets to sing all the good songs, Jack Haley and Mel Torme in a small part. There is a lot to like here, which brings into question the very undeserved low rating.

8/10 - Website no longer prints my star ratings.
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