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I also write for Influx Magazine--where many of my opinions and reviews are also posted.
I'd possibly place this in the top 100 of the best vampire disco porno movies that I've ever seen!
"Nocturna" is a disco porno vampire story that came out the same year "Love at First Bite", though despite a few similarities, no one could even confuse the two films! One is an artless mess with boobies, the other an amiable comedy.
Nocturna is the granddaughter of Count Dracula (John Carradine) and she wants to get married and settle down....an odd thing for a vampire. But grandpa is not thrilled when she tells him that she's fallen in love with a human (Antony Hamilton). Soon, she and her lover Jimmy (Hamilton) are on their way from Transylvania to New York City....with TONS of disco music along the way. What you also get is some very gratuitous skin, as it turns out this movie I found on YouTube is a soft-core porno flick...which surprised me.
This film is very bad but not 100% bad. Gloria Gaynor provides the opening song (much of the budget was spent on that one song). Additionally, very competent music by Vickie Sue Robinson and Moment of Truth make the movie sound pretty good....though dated since it's all disco.
As far as the rest of the film goes, well, it's bad. Despite having Carradine and Yvonne De Carlo in the movie, they aren't used very much and so much of the film rests on the acting (such as it is) of Nai Bonet as Nocturna. Much of the acting consists of her dancing about in various outfits as well as a hilarious nude scene where you hear her voice-over as well as that of peeping Tom, Theodore. It's so funny you have to see and hear it...and while it's supposed to be sexy, you can't help but laugh. I literally laughed out loud several times during this scene! I also laughed at the transformation scene as the vampires turned into bats....using bad 70s animation which cost about $3.75 to make! And, seeing a vampire pimp with his bevy of 'ladies'...well, that was a hoot.
Overall, this is a very low-budgeted film with terrible writing and a lot of questionable acting...and tons of disco! The only reason it even achieved a 2 is that at least when the women kept getting naked, they didn't have to act and most of the music wasn't bad at all.
By the way, as I watched, I was saddened to see Antony Hamilton...who I remember from the "Mission: Impossible" TV reboot. This incredibly handsome star and dancer died way too young due to complications from AIDS back in 1995.
Bar 20 Rides Again (1935)
If you think about it, Hoppy really didn't achieve all that much in this one.
I was surprised when I searched on YouTube for Hopalong Cassidy films. This is because in the 1950s, his films and those of many other famous B-western stars were hacked to pieces in order to get them to 54 minutes....the perfect length for a one-hour TV time slot. My surprise is that the films posted are the restored original versions in most cases...not the pared down TV ones. This is a blessing, as too many of Roy Rogers' pictures, for example, are only available now in the shortened versions.
As far as Hopalong Cassidy films go, "Bar 20 Rides Again" is a bit of a disappointment. Mostly this is because although Hoppy goes under cover to discover who the evil 'Nevada' is, this cattle rustling boss isn't really taken down by Cassidy at all. Instead, Hoppy mostly just hangs out undercover on this baddie's ranch until ultimately a posse of mad ranch hands arrive to stop Nevada once and for all. The only big plus is that in this film Cassidy meets Windy (George 'Gabby' Hayes) for the first time. Apart from this, a bit of a disappointment.
The Four Just Men (1939)
Taking diplomatic relations into their own hands.
"The Four Just Men" is a film which has two versions. Apparently, shortly after its first release WWII began and a new epilogue was stuck onto the end of the movie. There, it's shows the Nazis--the enemies of the British Empire. In the original version, the filmmakers never mentioned Germany and the enemy was of an unnamed nation. In fact, even in this newer version, the characters never talk about this either...just the epilogue.
The Four Just Men is an organization which works to preserve the British Empire against enemy nations. So, instead of letting the British government take care of this or getting its hands dirty, these four do it on behalf of the nation! In essence, these are private spies working for the nation's good. In the course of the film, they get their hands dirty often....and were not above killing enemy agents or politicians who are working against the UK.
This is mildly exciting stuff....not the best of spy films but a solid and enjoyable one. If you do want to see it, you can currently find it on YouTube.
The Girl in Black Stockings (1957)
I found the location more interesting than the mystery.
"The Girl in Black Stockings" is an unusual murder mystery, mostly because of where it was filmed. The Parry Lodge (which is still operating) in Kanab, Utah, hosted this movie shoot. It's not far from Zion National Park and is a lovely part of the country. Too bad you didn't get to see more of the countryside in this film.
The story begins with the body of a woman found at the resort. She'd been stabbed repeatedly and the filmmakers were not timid about applying blood to the 'corpse' in this scene. Because the policeman investigating (John Dehner) assumes a guest of the hotel did it, he orders everyone to stay there. And, soon, bodies start piling up! The identity of the killer is, of course, revealed at the end and it's a bit of a surprise.
Aside from the locale, I never found this film all that exciting. Now I am not saying it's bad in any way, but more of a time-passer. And, by the way, on the poster currently on IMDB, you see mostly Mamie Van Doren on it...but she's not a major character in the film. I think they were just trying to capitalize on her...um....assets.
The Young Doctors (1961)
Passing the flame.
While "The Young Doctors" is not a famous film by any standard, it is an amazingly good movie...mostly because of it's incredibly impressive cast as well as the writing. It really has held up well over time and is well worth seeing.
Speaking of cast, the film stars Frederic March, Ben Gazzara, Ina Balin, Eddie Albert, Aline MacMahon, Edward Andrews and Arthur Hill--all actors who weren't necessarily mega-stars but all amazingly solid and dependable. In other words, it's a who's who of fine character actors of the day. The only seemingly weak link, and he was actually fine here, was sticking the inexperienced Dick Clark into the film as one of the doctors.
The film is naturally set at a hospital. A relatively young but very capable doctor, Dr. Coleman (Gazzara) has just arrived for his first day of work with the pathology department. The chief pathologist, Dr. Pearson (March), obviously did not want Coleman in his department....and it soon becomes obvious this is because he's afraid this new hot-shot doctor will take over or make too many changes. And, change is definitely something Coleman brings...which brings him into a confrontation of Pearson. Along the way, a couple challenging cases are brought to them...and it's make or break for the new versus the old way of doing things.
The film simply is extremely well written and acted. Sure, it's only a hospital drama...but it's also an exceptional one. Well worth seeing and like a textbook example of fine, realistic acting and writing.
Another Chance (1989)
This really could have been so much better.
"Another Chance" is an odd film. On one hand, it claims to be a film about the joys of monogamy and commitment. But, on the other, the story is also unabashedly trashy and filled with sex and nudity. In other words, the film wants it BOTH ways!
John (Bruce Greenwood) is a sexaholic actor. His life seems to revolve around bedding women and he is an expert manipulator and liar. The story loses some believably when he meets Jackie (Vanessa Angel) and he suddenly is in love. You know he's in love because there is a lengthy montage...followed quickly by John jumping into bed with (or, more like yanked into bed with) a sexy woman (who might just be a demon). Not surprisingly, his dream girl, Jackie, walks in and their relationship is over. To get over this sad breakup, John quickly beds other girls. Is there any redemption or change in John before the end of this picture?
In many ways, this film is like the Blake Edwards film "Skin Deep"....but with a lot less depth....and because of this, it's a lot less interesting. While I love Bruce Greenwood (he was brilliant in the short-lived TV series, "Nowhere Man"), here he isn't given a lot to do other than look pretty and bed women. The biggest problem is that the 'relationship' with Jackie seemingly impacted on John so much only took a few minutes in the film. You see them meet and him trying to manipulate her...but the actual relationship itself seemed unimportant to show in any detail (other than that montage)...and showing WHY he cared about her (at least to the ability this character COULD love anyone) isn't really in the film. The same could be said about his fall from grace...which happened way too quickly as well. And, don't even get me started about the ultra-cheesy meeting with St. Peter near the end!!
As you can probably tell by now, I was not bowled over by this movie. While the idea was good, the execution seemed cheap and unconvincing. I cannot understand the glowing reviews I just read about this film and think the overall score (a paltry 4.6) is more like what you should expect.
The Catman of Paris (1946)
Did he or didn't he?
With "The Catman of Paris", Republic Pictures takes on the horror genre--making a film which seemed like a bit of a ripoff of the RKO film "Cat People"....as well as bit of Universal's "Werewolf of London". And, like a few other horror films Republic made (such as "Valley of the Zombies"), the results are second-rate.
"The Catman of Paris" is set in Paris (or course) in 1895. Charles has returned to the city after time abroad and after following a serious illness. Soon, folks around him start dying and the police begin to suspect Charles is some sort of Catman thingie who kills. As for Charles, because he has memory lapses following his illness, he starts to suspect that he MIGHT actually be the killer. As for the truth...well, it's somewhere in the middle.
The film is watchable. But it's odd that half the actors speak with French accents, half simply don't. And, as for the story, frankly, it's a bit goofy and silly...and the makeup they use for this 'Catman' is poor. Overall, it really wasn't a very good or exciting film...and hardly one to make RKO or Universal scared of the competition.
Crazy like a fox!
"Borderland" is the most unusual Hopalong Cassidy film I've seen...though I must admit I still have quite a few more of his movies to watch. In nearly all his films, Hoppy is a nice guy who is beloved by everyone. However, in this film, in order to get to the bottom of a gang, he pretends to go bad....and treats those around him like dirt.
The story begins in Mexico. Mexican officials are hosting some American officials and the Mexicans complain that they are sick of incursions into their country by an American gang lead by an unknown character referred to as 'The Fox'. So, they ask Hopalong to help find the guy...but he knows he cannot find him if everyone thinks Hoppy is a do-gooder. He then orchestrates a fight with the authorities and word is leaked he's been helping cattle rustlers! And, as friends reach out to him and try to help, he treats them horribly. The only one who seems to like him now is 'Loco'...one of the most politically incorrect characters you could imagine! How so? Well, he's a guy who is pretending to be addle-brained...but really he is....well, you can guess!
I am pretty sure William Boyd (Cassidy) liked this change of pace. After all, he's a nasty, cold jerk during much of the movie...not the usual sweet guy with a heart of gold. Playing a nice guy was lucrative...but probably a bit boring. This new Hoppy sure isn't boring!! In some ways, he reminds me of the Lighting Bill Carson films with Tim McCoy, where in order to investigate crime, Bill Carson poses as a Mexican bandit! Both portrayals are fun to watch...though I must admit that the hero pretending to go bad isn't exactly unique. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry also played similar types on rare occasions.
So is this any good? Well, yes. I liked the change of pace as well as the more leisurely pace, with a run time of 82 minutes...making it the longest Hopalong Cassidy film. Overall, one of his better efforts and a nice change of pace.
Call of the Prairie (1936)
Gabby is a bad guy?! So it ain't so, Hoppy!
In the late 1940s, William Boyd (the real name for Hopalong Cassidy) made a brilliant deal. He bought the rights to all his films and edited them down in order to make a weekly TV show...one that brought tons of marketing money for Hoppy merchandise and kids of the day loved him. But what about the original unedited films? Well, Cassidy apparently kept them and these newly restored originals were recently posted to YouTube. "Call of the Prairie" is just one of many I have found on this site.
As I watched "Call of the Prairie", I felt very confused. Johnny (James Ellison) is a jerk...much more than his usual not exactly bright persona in the Hopalong Cassidy films. But if that wasn't enough, I was shocked when I saw familiar Gabby Hayes....who made many Hopalong Cassidy films...playing a villain, not the lovable coot Windy!!! In fact, it's been a long time since I ever saw Hayes play a baddie. Now I know he did in his earlier westerns...such as a few of John Wayne's B-westerns. But in those earlier westerns, he wore his teeth and played rather dapper villains. In other words, in these pictures, George Hayes isn't playing his Gabby (or Windy) persona at all. By 1936 he was a dependable lovable coot sidekick sort....and casting him as this villain was quite shocking in "Call of the Prairie"! I mean...it's hard to imagine that Gabby had gone bad!
The film begins as Hoppy arrives back at the ranch after selling his boss' stock. Now the boss has a lot of money and Johnny begs him for some. But Buck refuses, as Johnny has been gambling and hanging with jerks....and behaving like a jerk himself. After storming off, Johnny tells his ne'er do well friends about this...and they get him drunk and pump him for information. With this information, they try to rob Buck and end up beating him up in the process AND framing Johnny for it! Now everyone seems to think Johnny is more than a big dummy but also a crook! Naturally, it comes to Hoppy investigating and learning the truth.
I would imagine that many serial B-western fans would dislike "Call of the Prairie" because the trio of Boyd, Ellison and Hayes was familiar and beloved...but here the trio isn't exactly lovable. Hoppy is Hoppy, Johnny is even dumber and much more annoying than usual (he was often headstrong) and Windy (Gabby) is scum!! Of course, I could also imagine a few fans liking this as it prevented the films from all looking the same....and this certainly is a departure in style!
So is it any good in my opinion? Yes, though having Johnny behave this foolishly seems a bit limp. And, despite being a Hopalong Cassidy film, he's really just a secondary character...and Johnny is the lead. Having a weak character playing the lead isn't a great thing...especially because repeatedly Johnny make really foolish choices...even AFTER he realizes his new friends are all crooks. Not a great film but still enjoyable and worth seeing if you like old B-westerns. More Hoppy and less Johnny would have probably made for a better story.
By the way, in an interesting bit of casting, Chester Conklin was cast as a sheriff. Conklin originally gained fame by being in many Mack Sennett films...including his Keystone Kops.
And, finally, early in the film someone calls Hayes 'an old Sour Dough'. This term was used to denote that he was an old, experienced prospector...I looked it up, as I had no idea what it meant.
Heart of Arizona (1938)
Not one of the better written Hopalong Cassidy flicks.
In the 1950s, many old series B-westerns were chopped down to a length that would allow them to be placed in a one-hour time slot. Because of this, it's common to find multiple versions of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy films. The version of "Heart of Arizona" I saw on YouTube is the recently restored one that returns the picture to its original 68 minute run time.
The story does what MANY series westerns did back in the day...it uses the name of a real life western figure but completely fictionalizes them. In this case, early in the story, a deputy is manhandling Belle Starr following her release from prison. Hoppy witnesses this and like you'd expect, he stands up for her...decking the deputy and freeing her.
Later, after Belle arrives at her ranch, she realizes she has a problem...someone has been stealing her cattle. But how will she and Hoppy find out who's behind all this wickedness?
"Heart of Arizona" is enjoyable but not especially well written. Not only does it fictionalize Starr, but there are some serious logical problems with the script. In one case, a 9 or 10 year-old boy is given a gun and told to guard a prisoner....and this happens two different times!! The worst, however, was near the end when the sheriff is about to make an arrest on the gang who is rustling. He approaches this group of criminals alone...no backup whatsoever!! Take a WILD guess what happens next?!?! The writers just were a bit lazy in this one.
Hoppy Serves a Writ (1943)
A better than expected cast helps this one.
"Hoppy Serves a Writ" is an interesting Hopalong Cassidy film because of its cast. Victor Jory, George Reeves and Robert Mitchum all star as members of a gang of crooks...though, sadly, Mitchum (in his first film) has barely a line of dialog.
This version of "Hoppy Serves a Writ" is a nice because it's 65 minutes and isn't one of those chopped down to about 54 minutes back in the 1950s. This was done to allow the film to be shown in a one hour time slot back in the day. But apparently, the excised portions of Hopalong Cassidy's films were saved and were recently restored. These nice restored prints recently showed up on YouTube...and are well worth seeing. Unlike many B cowboys, Cassidy is no pretty boy nor is her a singer...just a hard-fighting do-gooer.
The film begins with a stage coach being robbed in Texas. However, the baddies run off to the Oklahoma Territory...out of the jurisdiction of Texas authorities. So, Hoppy and his sidekicks, Johnny and California, head there and go undercover. They need to find the loot and the crooks that stole it...but it doesn't look very easy in this lawless land.
This is pretty much a standard sort of Hopalong Cassidy film...well made and enjoyable.
By the way, in one scene Hoppy has a brutal fight with Tom Jordan (Victor Jory). In real life, Jory probably would have won that one as he used to be the champion wrestler and boxer in the Coast Guard.
Hop-a-Long Cassidy (1935)
If you love old B-westerns, then this one is a must!
"Hop-a-Long Cassidy" is the first appearance of this western hero. In all, William Boyd made 66 of these films and they tended to be among the better B-series films of the era.
When the story begins, there's some tension between two ranchers...to the point that you know sooner or later violence is going to break out and someone's going to get killed. Into this mess arrives Hopalong who has been summoned by one of the ranchers to help deal with this situation. What no one realizes is that one of the foremen is deliberately stoking fires on both sides...and while the ranches are fighting each other, the foreman and his henchmen are rustling their cattle! Fortunately, Hoppy is NOT a guy to jump headfirst into the problem and his slow, cautious approach is bound to bring answers.
This film is quite different from films from the likes of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. This is no singing cowboy picture and it also is a good bit more violent than most of them as well...with a hanging, plenty of shootings and more! It all makes for a very exciting and more realistic sort of B-western. And, like a B, it runs at about one hour and is relatively low-budgeted...though it does sport an amazingly good cast for such an effort.
Santa Fe Marshal (1940)
"Me play a guitar?! This is one cowboy who never played a guitar and never will!"
In the late 1940s and early 50s, many old series B-westerns were chopped to pieces in order to fit them into one hour time slots on TV. Unfortunately, in some cases, the original longer versions were lost. Fortunately, in the case of Hopalong Cassidy's film, the original excised footage was saved and recently restored. Fortunately, the copy of "Law of the Pampas" that I just saw on YouTube is one of the restored ones...running at 71 minutes instead of the much shorter 54 minutes.
When the story begins, a town out west is being terrorized by criminals. The local sheriff is ineffective in stopping them and soon you learn why...he doesn't realize that his own mother, the sweet Ma Burton, is the gang leader! Because of all the crime, a US Marshall is being sent there from Santa Fe...and that Marshall is Hoppy. But he doesn't want to arrive in town as a lawman....and instead poses as a member of a traveling medicine show. To help Hoppy is Lucky...who, once again, is often more a hindrance than a help! In fact, in most of the films I've seen with Lucky, he's been anything but lucky for Hoppy! A better nickname might be 'Blabber-mouth'!
This B-western is a bit better than average because I really loved the villain--Ma was very intelligently written and well acted by Marjorie Rambeau. Well worth seeing.
Law of the Pampas (1939)
A nice change of scenery...so to speak.
Back in the late 1940s and early 50s, many old series B-westerns were chopped to pieces in order to fit them into one hour time slots on TV. Unfortunately, in some cases, the original longer versions were lost. Fortunately, in the case of Hopalong Cassidy's film, the original excised footage was saved and recently restored. Fortunately, the copy of "Law of the Pampas" that I just saw on YouTube is one of the restored ones...running at 71 minutes instead of the much shorter 50-55 minutes.
When the story begins, Hoppy meets Mr. Valdez, a rich rancher from South America who is visiting the United States. Not surprisingly, Valdez likes Hoppy...after all, good people always love him! At first, Hopalong isn't interested in bringing cattle to Valdez in Argentina, but after his suspicions are raised concerning the 'accidental deaths' in the Valdez family, he agrees to go...along with his somewhat blabber-mouthy friend, Lucky. Once there, it becomes increasingly obvious that the deaths were not mere accidents and Valdez's own son-in-law might just be behind all this!
Considering that this is a B-western, it probably will come as no surprise to learn that it was filmed in California, not Argentina. But the look of the film with the Sierras was a nice substitution. Plus, Paramount seemed to do an excellent job in replicating the look of South America--with bolos, gauchos and folks drinking mate out of a bombilla. In other words, they tried to get the right look...which is a bit unusual. Also, I appreciated how these 'South Americans' were not bad stereotypes and were very decent folk...a very sensitive portrayal for the times. Overall, very enjoyable and a wonderful change of pace.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
A most un-Disney sort of cartoon.
When "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" begins, you can tell is certainly is NOT going to be a traditional full-length picture from DIsney. Much of the opening animation was done with computers...much more than you'd have seen in 1990s Disney films. At the time, it must have wowed audiences, but since it was 19 years ago, it looks unbelievably dated now...perhaps even bad. What follows is again, most unlike most previous Disney films. There is no Disney princess and the story is much more geared towards teens and adults and gone are the usual songs. Clearly Disney was trying to make a more mature sort of animated film. But this film and their subsequent "Treasure Planet" did not do very well as the box office...an Disney returned to more traditional style movies.
The story is about an expedition to find the lost city of Atlantis. A linguist named Milo is obsessed with finding this lost city...and most people just think he's a nut. But a rich plutocrat inexplicably bankrolls just such an expedition...but my guy reaction was 'this is too good to be true...I suspect something is amiss'. Well, there is...and you should see the movie to learn what it is.
So why was I rather cold about this film? Well, it wasn't the style, more significant use of CGI or the more adult plot that left me cold...it was the characters. While the film is clearly going for a most mature look and style, several of the characters are NOT mature nor even well thought out at all. Mole and Cookie, for examples, are just terrible...completely unrealistic and dare I say it...annoying! Yes, annoying. The plot, also, is a bit obvious. With a minor re-write, the picture would have worked much better for me. I think the adultness of the film isn't the problem...just the writing.
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
More psychological trauma from Roald Dahl!
"James and the Giant Peach" is a neat film...one I enjoyed watching. However, I strongly recommend you think twice about letting younger kids watch it...or, perhaps you should watch it with them. Why? Because the film is pure nightmare fuel, thanks to a script by the master of childhood trauma, Roald Dahl! And, if you aren't sure, see the film yourself first and then judge whether or not it's appropriate for your kids.
The story is a combination of live action and stop-motion, done, according to IMDB to cut costs as stop-motion is quite expensive. The introduction is very sweet and shows James with his loving parents. Then, out of the blue, you're told that he's now an orphan as a giant sky rhino ate them!! And, as a result, he goes to live with two aunts who make Harry Potter's family, the Dursleys, look like candidates for sainthood!
There is an escape from this hellish existence when a giant (and I am talking BIG) peach grows on the aunts' property. It turns out to be a magical one...infested with nice hugs who accompany James across the ocean to New York City!! Along the way, there are a lot of songs and brushes with death...or near-death!
So is it any good? Well, the stop-motion animation is gorgeous and it's not surprising since it was directed by Henry Selick, the guy responsible for "THe Nightmare Before Christmas" was well as the wonderful films from Laika Studios (such as "Coraline" and "The Box Trolls").
Overall, a wonderful adventure film with only two problems. The film is closed captioned EXCEPT for the songs. There are no captions at all for the songs...which is crazy since it's a musical!! Additionally, as I mentioned above, the film is incredibly scary...you just have to see it to see what I mean. Had it been a tad less trauma-inducing, I could have scored this one a 9 or possibly a 10!
Tarnished Angel (1938)
I might have given it a 9...but the ending was a tad disappointing.
There's a context to "Tarnished Angel" that many folks today might miss. In the 1920s, the biggest traveling evangelist was Aimee Semple McPherson. She was HUGE but ultimately many folks came to doubt her sincerity and allegations of all sorts of naughty behaviors reduced much of her fame and public adoration. As a result, a few years later, Frank Capra and Barbara Stanwyck made "The Miracle Woman" (1931)...an exposee of a lady evangelist who was in reality a fake. It was obviously modeled after McPherson, but for legal reasons they denied it was a veiled biography of her and her work.
In addition to this influence, I think the early Claude Rains film, "The Clairvoyant" (1935) must have influenced the writing of "Tarnished Angel". Rains plays a fake mentalist who, inexplicably, develops the real ability to tell the future...which horrified him when he saw death in some of his patrons! This sort of revelation is important to "Tarnished Angel".
"Tarnished Angel" begins with a police raid on a gambling clip joint. Carol (Sally Eilers) manages to escape and the man behind the raid is intent on catching her one day, as she is a crook. Later, Carol attends an evangelistic meeting just for the free food. After all, she is really down and out. But the meeting gives her the idea to reinvent herself....posing as a fake miracle worker who can heal the sick. Not surprisingly, she pays shills to pretend to be disabled and in the meetings she 'heals' them! But 'Sister Connie' is no dummy and soon is able to gain respectability...and even admits in one of her meetings that she was once a 'bad girl' named Carol! This fake sincerity act works like a charm....and soon all sorts of people believe in her and her cause....except for that cop who knows what sort she really is. Where does all this go next? See the film.
While the film did pull its punches at the end, this is an excellent B-movie. While the budget was relatively low, the actors mostly second-tier and the running time just over an hour (all hallmarks of a B), it is far better than you'd expect. It also is rather timeless, as the story, sadly, isn't so unusual today with some very famous fake faith healers being exposed in recent years.
By the way, the word 'cripple' is used a lot. Of course it's not politically correct to say that...but crooks would use words like that, so it added to the realism.
Paris, Texas (1984)
Despite it being a classic, it's NOT a film for many people...perhaps most people.
"Paris, Texas" is an artsy film from German director Wim Wenders. And, it's the stort of movie that critics generally adore and the common folk generally find long and confusing. Now I am not saying either view is wrong...in fact, I could easily see both sides of this. So you need to ask yourself before watching it, "Am I the sort of person who loves very, very, very long and slow films?". If not, please don't bother watching it. And, if so, you may love it or find that the payoff just isn't worth it. As for me, I just wish the film had more energy and had been trimmed a tad....it would have, at least for me, made the film watching experience enjoyable.
The story begins at some grubby clinic in the middle of nowhere. You never really know where this is...perhaps Mexico, perhaps somewhere in the American Southwest. Regardless, Walt (Dean Stockwell) gets a phone call from a doctor at the clinic telling him they found his brother, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), wandering in the desert...dazed and mute. Walt takes the long trip to get him and Travis is, at least for the first 30 or so minutes of the film, a bit of a zombie. How he got there and what had happened to him isn't discussed and the trip back is long and strange.
After about half an hour, Travis begins to open up...just a bit. But again, how he got into the middle of the desert and why he was gone for four years....well, that isn't addressed in any way until very late in the story. Slowly, very slowly, you learn that his wife also disappeared about the same time....and their son has been living with Walt and his wife for some time. Later, rather out of the blue, Travis and his boy take off from California (where Walt lives) and they head to Texas to look for Jane (Nastassja Kinski)--Travis' wife and the boy's mother.
While the movie is about two and a half hours long, it feels like at least three or four due to the very slow and deliberate pacing...as well as the emotionally muted acting. No one (in particular Travis) has any energy and although you'd think Walt and the others would scream and yell at Travis for just dropping off the face of the earth....they never do. Because of that, the movie felt very artificial to me...very much like a movie and not real life...which is odd, as Wenders seems to be trying to make the film look more like real life.. A bit more energy sure would have worked for me! But, what do I know? After all, the film is considered by many to be a classic and the movie is in IMDB's Top 250....and is critically adored.
Overall, a film that is NOT for everyone...heck, it's probably not for MOST people. All I know is that the cinematography looked good and the acting, at times, was quite good...but at least for some folks it would have worked so much better had the film been tighter and the characters less zombie-like. I did like the evocative film score.
By the way, I know that Nastassja Kinski was a popular actress for a brief period in American films in 1984, but it seemed strange to cast her and then ask her to do a Texas accent. She did a good job of it....I am not complaining. But it is a confusing choice. Perhaps she and Wenders were friends or knew each other.
Embraceable You (1948)
Good...but toss believability out the window!
Eddie (Dane Clark) is a crook...but, oddly, a surprisingly decent one. When the story begins, he's waiting in the car for one of his hood friends. Suddenly, the friend comes running...he just killed someone! Eddie is so scared the car he's driving loses control and he sideswipes a lady. While his friend doesn't care, Eddie cannot live with himself and soon goes to the hospital to check on her. There he sees that Marie (Geraldine Brooks) looks pretty good despite the accident, though the doctor later confides in him that there is a good chance she won't survive for long. It seems she has some sort of Hollywood film injury and might die at a moment's notice. Eddie decides to hock everything he has to make Marie's final days good ones.
The acting is terrific in this film. Dane Clark, though hardly a household name, is simply terrific as Eddie. Also, on hand to give the film some color is the wonderful character actor, Cuddles Sakall. The writing is also generally good, though contrived. The whole mystery illness (they called it an aneurysm but it clearly wasn't) was a silly gimmick in an otherwise excellent film starring some second-tier actors at Warner Brothers. Well worth seeing...just try not to think about the plot too much.
Trail Dust (1936)
One of the better B-westerns.
Like many of the series B-westerns of the 1930s and 40s, in the 1950s Hopalong Cassidy's movies were chopped down for television. The same is true of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry's movies...and sometimes you can find two versions of their films...an abbreviated one that runs about 50-55 minutes and the longer versions, usually about 65-70 minutes long. In the case of "Trail Dust", it was chopped down as well but I managed to find the original 76 minute version on YouTube. And, surprisingly, the quality of the print is terrific.
The plot of "Trail Dust" is very simple. Hoppy and his friends Windy (Gabby Hayes) and Dusty (James Ellison) are driving much needed cattle to a part of the country that is hungry and desperately in need of food. But scattered among the men are some jerks who are trying to prevent the cowboys from reaching their destination. In addition, folks outside the cattle drive also do their best to interrupt them from their duty. Can Hoppy and his friends manage to stop these baddies and save the day?
This is a very good B-western. Much of it is because the story is simple and not cluttered with too much plot nor distractions. I also appreciated how good the camerawork was in this one...Paramount Pictures wasn't trying to make a bargain basement western here! I also loved the scene with Hayes and Ellison where Gabby was trying to teach him how to woo a woman! Hilarious! All in all, an enjoyable western....one that also surprised me at how tough it was. Hoppy had to shoot several baddies in this one....and not always with those non-life threatening shots you too often see in this sort of thing.
Ridin' on a Rainbow (1941)
Gene Autry...spending much of the film on a showboat instead of on his horse!
After watching "Ridin' on a Rainbow" , I felt a bit disappointed. While I liked the change of venue you get in the film, I felt there were just too many songs and the female lead a bit hard to understand. Perhaps it's just me...but I wasn't very impressed by this one.
The story begins with some crooks robbing a bank and killing the bank president. They did this during a show being put on by a showboat and they chose this time for their villainy because so many people in town were at the event. Their accomplice is Pop Evans...and because he lives on the showboat, they give him the money to hold. As for Gene (Gene Autry), he nearly catches the two killers. But he's not going to give up an he decides to join the showboat in order to keep an eye on Evans' annoying daughter (Mary Lee)...as it's obvious she knows more than she's admitting.
There were two major problems with the film. While I enjoy listening to Gene Autry sing, there were just to many other songs by folks on the showboat...such that it felt more like a musical than a western. Second, Mary Lee was often very good in these films (she made quite a few with Autry), here she is confusing....acting petulant and annoying when her father was responsible for a lot of misery. Making her a bit of a sociopath was, in hindsight, a mistake. Overall, not a bad film but clearly a second or third-rate film from Gene...watchable but disappointing.
Sioux City Sue (1946)
A sort of behind the scenes look at how B-westerns are made...sort of!
When the story begins, Gene is on his way back home from the war and a couple talent scouts are out looking for a singing cowboy for the movies. After an exhaustive search with no positive results, they stumble upon Gene...who is very reluctant to be in movies! But, his ranch is in financial straits and so he agrees to go to Hollywood...and the rest is history. Or, so you'd suspect...but Gene is NOT happy with the end result of his work on the film. See the movie to see why.
This is the first film Gene Autry made after quite a few years serving as a pilot and flight instructor in WWII. So, making a film about him becoming a singing cowboy seems pretty natural. What isn't so natural is the absence, somewhat, of a sidekick. Gene's familiar partner, Smiley Burnette, had retired from the series and Pat Buttram, his next regular sidekick, was still in the future. So, they have Sterling Holloway in the film for comic relief...but he isn't Gene's friend or sidekick. This is odd....not a 'deal breaker'....but odd considering the usual Autry formula.
So is it any good? Well, the print currently on the Shout Factory Channel (on the Roku or Amazon Fire), is nearly perfect....which is unusual. Most old B-westerns are in terrible shape an often have been cut apart for TV...but this one is fortunately in excellent condition. As for the story and acting, it's pretty much what you'd expect...pleasant and undemanding entertainment. My only regret is that I love Gene's singing and while he sings quite a bit, they're not among his best songs. This actually surprised me, as you'd think after four years absence from films they'd offer up something a bit more memorable. Perhaps Republic Pictures had used their better songs for the new king of the studio during Gene's absence, Roy Rogers. Still, Autry should have been proud, as the film is every bit as good as his pre-war pics.
By the way, the Sue in the movie was played by Lynne Roberts--the daughter of the 1910s-20s vamp (the first actually), Theda Bara!
The Little Death (2014)
Good but highly uneven...
"The Little Death" is a strange film about sexual fantasies...the sorts of fantasies most people in this movie have great difficulty discussing with their partners. If couples saw this film together, perhaps it would be a great way to get them to open up and discuss their darker or stranger desires....so "The Little Death" might be great to share with someone you love. However, I have a few caveats...mostly because the film never is exactly a comedy nor a dark and disturbing picture...it's both. So, for every wonderful and interesting story, there is another that is far more difficult and problematic...and some of them are actually pretty violent and disturbing. I really wish the film had kept a slightly more positive and funny mood...especially at the end, where you have a wonderful segment involving a deaf man and his interpreter....and only moments later, two other people brutally die! The juxtaposition of the funny with the dark is not something I loved. Now having dark fantasies isn't the problem...one lady in the film does have a very common but dark fantasy....it's that the film is funny, tragic and sad all at the same time...an I can imagine that instead of opening up a dialog or leading to a very passionate night, the film might just achieve the opposite because of the strange and ever-changing mood in the movie....too much so to make it a great film but still enjoyable enough that you might enjoy the story overall despite its flaws.
By the way, if you normally use closed captions, you might want to turn them off in the final segment involving the sign language interpreter. This is because the film's open captions and the closed captions added later get transposed and you see words to the song being played and not the interpretation of the conversation in Australian sign language. I mention Australian, because I am reasonably fluent in American sign language but cannot fully comprehend what they are saying and needed these captions...especially since Australian 'dirty' signs (signs for sex) are often not the same as the American ones!
Probably a lot more truth than fiction! And, it might help to be high when you watch it! I sure wish I had been!!
If you watch "The Dali and the Cooper", you'll probably think that it's all fiction....very, very strange and warped fiction. However, I've seen some documentaries on Salvador Dali and heard Alice Cooper talk about their meeting....and so the weirdness of this short film doesn't come as any surprise. In the documentaries, I heard Cooper describe Dali as 'the strangest person I've ever met'....and that's saying a lot!! Combine this with Surrealism and you've got a weird confection!
The story stars British comedian Noel Fielding as Alice Cooper. It's rather funny to listen to Fielding trying out an American accent. And, Dali is played by David Suchet...the man most familiar for playing Hercule Poirot...a man about as different from Dali as I could imagine! There also is Cooper's manager (Paul Kaye) and Gala's dominatrix-like wife, Gala (Sheila Hancock)...and Gala was one interesting lady!
As I watched, my wife exclaimed "What IS this?!"....and I can only assume MOST people would react this way. The film is NOT for the average viewer and is incredibly bizarre and confusing...because Dali and his wife were incredibly bizarre and confusing!
Overall, it's like being a fly on the wall during one of the strangest collaborations in history. Hard to describe but a must-see for folks who admire Dali. And, if you do watch, understand that they way they portray Gala is probably a lot nicer than the real-life Gala! Also, throughout the film, you see 'Cooper' drinking beer almost constantly, which was the case with him back in the days before he embraced sobriety.
Gaucho Serenade (1940)
The Runaway Bride Meets Little Lord Fauntleroy!
"Gaucho Serenade" is a very enjoyable Gene Autry film that is, believe it or not, much like "Runaway Bride" and "Little Lord Fauntleroy" combined. However, oddly, there's nothing about Gauchos in the film and it all takes place in the States....thousands and thousands away from the Gauchos in Argentina an Uruguay! So, no...Gene does NOT head to South American and the closest thing to a Gaucho was Duncan Renaldo...a guy originally from Romania but who played Hispanic characters (such as The Cisco Kid).
When the story begins, some crooks are worried that Frederick Willoughby will talk. Willoughby is in San Quentin for a crime he didn't commit...and there's a huge incentive for him to tell the authorities what he knows about the crooks. So, to stop him, they meet his son's boat when it arrives from the UK and plan to kidnap the kid. As for Ronnie Willoughby, he pretty much does a Freddie Bartholomew impersonation...complete with the patrician British accent! But instead of him being kidnapped, he accidentally gets in Gene and Smiley's car...and the pair feel sorry for him and take him out west. But the kid is a bit of a dope...and tells them he wants to meet his dad at Rancho San Quentin!
Soon after hooking up with the kid, Gene and Smiley come upon two sisters, (June Story and Mary Lee...each of which made almost a dozen films with Autry over the years). The older sister is running away from a marriage she doesn't want...and soon the five of them are headed west to California. But eventually the kid is bound to learn that his father is in prison AND crooks will catch up to them.
This is an enjoyable time passer. But I cannot give it a higher score for one reason...the music is pretty dull compared to many Gene Autry movies. Not a memorable song in this one...and, unlike most singing, I really like Autry's tunes and missed his better and more familiar melodies.