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Something to Sing About (1937)
"Please, don't do as I say, say as I do!"
Whenever I see Cagney in a film like this I'm reminded of just how versatile an actor he was. He could do it all - act, sing and dance, and with virtually limitless energy as demonstrated by that high kicking, spirited number he performed in this film. It goes without saying he's one of my favorite actors, and one of the few I've tried to catch in every picture he ever made.
It was by this time in his career that Cagney was feeling pretty good about himself and confident as a performer. I got a kick out of his character Terry Rooney (by way of Thaddeus McGillicuddy) offering a challenge to Clark Gable in a profile contest. It was at that point that Terry found out he was about to head out to Hollywood to make the jump from band leader and hoofer to the big screen. Upon arrival, great pains were taken to point out that his hair, clothes and diction were all wrong for the big time, but the brash newcomer decided he was going to do things his way. Which included getting married to girlfriend Rita Wyatt (Evelyn Daw), much to the consternation of Galor Studio boss Regan (Gene Lockhart) and talent agent Hank Meyers (William Frawley). It's all kept under wraps for a while, until the movie rags link Terry with a co-star from his next movie.
Back in the Thirties I guess a celebrity could still get away with some degree of anonymity by taking a honeymoon cruise before hitting the big time. By the time the 'McGillicuddy's' make it back home, Terry will have to fend off rumors of an engagement to another woman. Well, there's something that hasn't changed with the passage of time. That Hollywood merry-go-round keeps getting a constant workout.
The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
"Find out what your destiny is, and the river will carry you."
In the tradition of all your best Catch 22's, this film's major thrust is to illustrate the absurd by being absurd. It does a pretty good job of it too, offering all kinds of circular reasoning and almost coherent sounding psycho-babble. Riffing on concepts laid out in "Star Wars", the military takes an interest in using psychic powers to take out the enemy, and forms a super soldier unit to develop the Jedi like potential certain individuals seem to possess. Clooney is hilarious in the story, at his best demonstrating the myriad capabilities of an object that looks like a can opener, but having a hundred uses, each of which can incapacitate an enemy - "It has warrior capacities, and it looks a little bit funny". His character, Lyn 'Skip' Cassady, does it all with a straight face too, at times impressing and at others infuriating reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who tags along hoping to earn the scoop of the century if they can only figure out where they are.
The film has a fairly formidable cast with Clooney, McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, with Bridges in a role that he parlayed into virtually repeat performances as wildly different characters in the same year's "Crazy Heart" (for which he won a Best Actor Oscar), and the following year's "Rooster Cogburn" (where he might have gotten robbed of the same award). That this movie itself wasn't a nominee is understandable, it's not that long and played mostly for grins, and let's face it - staring at goats can only be done for so long before it becomes monotonous. But if you enjoy quirky satire, this fills the bill with it's goofiness and dead pan deliveries by the principals. I'd love to see the outtakes from this picture, the guys making it must have had a blast.
Nothing Sacred (1937)
"She's doing very well for her last few weeks!"
Imagine that - fake news in 1937! Who would have thought?
Well, I didn't seem to catch the hysterical humor that a lot of other reviewers on this site seemed to have gotten out of the picture. Nor did I note any detectable romantic chemistry between Miss Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard) and Morning Star reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March). Even when he was proclaiming his undying love for her, it didn't seem like Wally was entirely convinced, as if he were trying to assure himself of the fact as well as Hazel. The wrestlers at Madison Square Garden came across as more realistic. Maybe March wasn't the right guy to cast opposite Miss Lombard; William Powell or Cary Grant might have been better choices, March seemed just a bit too disengaged in the role.
A couple of things that grabbed my attention didn't even have anything to do with the story per se. An opening scene of Times Square revealed that Coca-Cola was placing their logo in movie scenes as far back as the Thirties, whereas today, almost every modern movie you're liable to see will contain some reference to Coke, it's almost a hundred percent guarantee. And then there was that scene from inside the plane that Wally Cook and Hazel Flagg were flying in. They were able to read the sky-written message stating 'Hello Hazel' welcoming her to New York, but it would have been viewed backwards to anyone on the ground below, the presumed audience for it.
Another huh? moment occurred for me when the name of the Morning Star publisher was revealed, it was Oliver Stone! Not that the name was so unusual, but being the same as a controversial and legendary modern day film maker caught me off guard. Not shy about conspiracy theories, the Oliver Stone of today might have been able to do something with the radium poisoning business at the center of this story if he'd been born earlier. I don't know how I come up with these things, I just do.
Don't take my review as a total put-down of the picture. There are some funny moments, the main one being the bedroom punch-out between Wally and Hazel, but it was too little and too late to ensure this film's status as a screwball classic. Oh yeah, and if you were paying attention, it was pretty obvious to me that the Lady Godiva character in the stage show was giving the audience the finger. How did they ever get away with that?
Johnny Belinda (1948)
"It's hard to get born and it's hard to die."
As good as the story was, I had a difficult time with one aspect of it. At no time following the rape of Belinda McDonald (Jane Wyman) was it ever explained to her how it was possible for her to have a baby. I know, she was an adult that should have known about the birds and the bees, but the story took extra pains to portray her as a 'dummy', and both her father and aunt for the longest time treated her as less than a full human being capable of learning and understanding. Actually, that was another problem I had with the story as well. It didn't take long for Doc Richardson (Lew Ayres) to demonstrate to Black McDonald (Charles Bickford) that Belinda was a sensitive person who could learn to sign, understand the alphabet and write on her own. But all prior to that time, father McDonald treated his daughter like a second class citizen and an employee of the household. His sudden turn when first called 'father' by Belinda seemed like too sudden a change of character for someone who harbored such severe feelings for so long.
Be that as it may, the story is one of courage and compassion, and one which could have been made maudlin in the hands of a less skillful director. Many reviewers call Ms. Wyman's performance here as the best of her career, and though I haven't seen that many of her pictures, I would agree that she did a remarkable job here. Her capability with signing, along with Lew Ayres, added a much needed degree of plausibility to make the story a credible one. What perhaps was a bit too coincidental for things to work out satisfactorily was the shooting death of Locky McCormick (Stephen McNally), who was never called to account for the horrific rape of Belinda. If his wife Stella (Jan Sterling) had not 'cracked' at the trial, both the lives of Belinda and the doctor would have been irreparably damaged. That was as far as the story would go to admit that Stella had been in love with Doctor Richardson the entire time he lived in Cape Breton.
The Bishop's Wife (1947)
"This Dudley is no mortal man like the rest of us!"
"The Bishop's Wife" may not be a Christmas movie per se, but it's got the spirit of Christmas spirit going for it all throughout. The story itself could have unfolded during any season, though the setting around the Christmas holidays makes it an inspiring film to remind us all what life and love are all about. I tried to picture David Niven and Cary Grant if their roles in the film were reversed as originally intended, and I don't think it would have worked as well as it finally did. Grant had an exceptional comedic timing in all of his lighter films, and his portrayal of the angel Dudley here was perfect for what he was sent to Earth to accomplish. His minor little miracles sprinkled throughout the movie were creatively done, and some, like knowing everyone's name he came across without an introduction, were well under the radar to escape the attention of even his closest acquaintances in the story.
My favorite 'angel' characterization that Dudley pulled off was when, like the Biblical story of Christ feeding a crowd with five loaves and two fishes, he summoned the boys' choir together for a wonderful hymn when only two boys were present from the start. Another occurred at the dour widow Hamilton's (Gladys Cooper) home when he turned in a performance on a harp, recalling one's traditional view of angels in heaven. And then there was that one moment that one would easily consider a 'miracle' when the Reverend Henry Brougham (Niven) got stuck in the chair, but that was explained as the result of a recent varnishing. So the writers had a fun way of keeping the viewer guessing with situations like that.
For her part, Loretta Young was radiant as 'the bishop's wife', loyal to her husband but stressed by the family's financial situation and the Reverend's overwhelming concerns for his parish. The story veers awfully close to suggesting a romantic relationship between Julia (Young) and Dudley, but to it's credit, never crosses that line. For sheer joy, catch the entire skating sequence involving Grant, Young and James Gleason as the cab driver who's faith is restored in humanity. Whoever stood in for Gleason for the ice skating 'tricks' was exceptionally well coordinated to stay on his feet when any number of times it looked like he should have been flat on his back!
J. Edgar (2011)
"Sometimes you need to bend the rules a little in order to keep your country safe, right?"
While alive, J. Edgar Hoover had a ubiquitous presence on the national consciousness during a career that spanned fifty years and eight presidencies. As director of the FBI, presidents put up with him because of his legendary secret files, never knowing what dirt he might have accumulated on them, some with very good reason. With a life and legend as vast as Hoover's a two hour film wasn't going to do his legacy much justice, though the story here probably encapsulates as best as possible the highlights from his career and personal life. Told in non-linear fashion, the picture jumps around quite frequently between Hoover's (Leonardo DiCaprio) early years, and his final days during Richard Nixon's administration. Some may find the technique challenging though the juxtaposition of scenes are effective in demonstrating the parallels between Hoover's early days at the Bureau and the manner in which he took control of an agency that put fear into the hearts of criminals and politicians alike. I have to agree with most viewers about the terrible makeup jobs of the aging characters, Hoover, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts). The first time I saw this picture, and then again the other night, when Armie Hammer first appeared as the older Tolson, I thought it looked like his face was put together with melting wax, just horrible. I can't imagine how director Eastwood let that pass. Ms. Gandy's appearance was somewhat better, but only DiCaprio managed to age in appearance with some semblance of normalcy. The one particular scene I had to shake my head over was that brawl all over the floor between Hoover and Tolson over actress Dorothy Lamour. All the while I couldn't help thinking that it would have been more appropriate in a Hope/Crosby 'Road' picture.
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
"Everything's going wrong."
I got quite the education on the life of Billie Holiday by reading what some of the reviewers for this film had to say, most of which were derogatory about the story and Diana Ross's portrayal. I would not have known otherwise how far apart the picture was from reality. On the face of it, Ms. Ross did an outstanding job for a first time acting appearance, so much so that I thought the actress in the role of the teenage Eleanora Fagan was someone else altogether. The scenes in which Billie succumbs to the throes of her heroin addiction offer another view of Ms. Ross's range, leaving one quite impressed with her ability. Obviously that wasn't enough for diehard Billie Holiday fans who are much more invested in her career that spanned thirty years, only a fraction of which is dealt with in this story. My summary line was spoken by Billie upon the sudden news of her mother's death while attempting to score another line of heroin, but in hindsight, might be the most accurate reaction one has to a movie that seems to have done little justice to the life and legend of Billie Holiday.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
"No one gets out and comes back without repercussions."
No doubt about it, "John Wick: Chapter 2" is a slick action thriller, but man, oh man, how can any one person absorb that kind of punishment? John (Keanu Reeves) gets shot, stabbed and hit by cars multiple times and postures a limp now and then to indicate he might have gotten just a little bit hurt. Besides that, he almost never makes a wrong move when hunted by dozens of assassins all at the same time. Okay, I get it, Reeves is the star of the picture and has to come out on top, but I'd like a little more credibility put into these kinds of stories. But I guess that's the whole point, suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours and just go with all of the over the top action the film makers can put together.
I do have to say that the opening scene of the brightly lit downtown Manhattan cityscape was about the finest cinematography you can hope to come up with just about anywhere. The picture maintained that same high level of consistency with the sleek settings and the richly detailed environs of The Continental. I also like the entire idea of this particular mob having a code that's inviolate, even for someone like Wick who crossed the line by taking out Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) on Continental grounds. Ian McShane's Winston had a nice way of putting things in perspective for Wick to show him that the repercussions weren't going to be personal. After all, rules are rules.
My favorite scene was the hit on Gianna D'Antonio (Claudia Gerini), not so much for the bullet to her head, but for the way she took control to demonstrate she would die on her own terms and not her brother's. That was really quite a remarkable and original scene that makes the film more memorable for me than it otherwise might have been.
Anyway, for a film with a cast of thousands who are either hit men or getting killed themselves, this is quite the adrenaline rush. Again, I emphasize that if that's what you want when you come to a picture like this, then Wick Two delivers in spades. And with the unequivocal ending, Wick 3 ought to escalate the body count exponentially.
Lost in Alaska (1952)
"If you think two million dollars is gonna make any difference to me..., I think so."
I'll have to go with the consensus of reviewers here on IMDb and agree this was not one of Abbott and Costello's finer efforts. And yet, and yet, when I add this title to the list of A&C movies I've watched and reviewed, and sort them in IMDb rating order, it comes out #14 out of thirty one films (so far). So a little bit of a contradiction there, which might mean only the critical viewers showed up to make comments.
The story is better in the first half with it's set up of George Bell (Costello) and Tom Watson (Abbott) hooking up with a sullen Nugget Joe McDermott (Tom Ewell) contemplating suicide over a saloon gal (Mitzi Green) he can't win over to marry him. But there's plenty of takers who want to kill him themselves up in Skagway, where Joe put away a whole slew of outlaws when he was a former sheriff. When it's revealed that Joe has a two million dollar inheritance in gold besides, it ups the ante for the number of gunmen who want to see him dead.
There are a few good bits here, like Bud's tampering with an alarm clock to get some extra sleep time at his partner's expense, and the roulette wheel scene in which Lou wins and loses a fortune without ever knowing it. But there's also a recycled routine using a plate of water-squirting whale blubber. Movie fans of the era must have gotten delight out of goofy stuff like that, as the boys used a similar bit in 1947's "The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap" using a frog in a soup bowl, and later replacing the frog with a fish in 1950's "Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion". It must have worked for a while, but by this time it comes across as pretty corny.
Looking for a way out of the story, the film makers ended things kind of abruptly with a huge question mark. When all of Nugget Joe's gold sinks on a dog sled, baddie Jake Stillman (Bruce Cabot) winds up throwing a big wedding party for Joe and Rosette, who Jake tried to conspire with to take Joe out of the picture from the outset. With a little thought I think the writers could have come up with something that made more sense, but it appears they didn't even try.
One saving grace, and only because he's a personal favorite, Iron Eyes Cody makes an appearance in the story as Mukaluk Eskimo chief Canook. He looked the part, as he always did portraying a Native American in Western movies, but did you know he was really Italian? Yet he devoted his life to Native American causes, living his own life in all respects as an American Indian. I know, I found it hard to believe too.
Comin' Round the Mountain (1951)
"Granny's right. From now on, let's have a peaceful feud!"
Of all the odd situations Abbott and Costello found themselves in, this one includes hillbillies and a mountain witch! The sequence with Wilbert Smith (Lou Costello) and Wicked Witch of the West, Aunt Huddy (Margaret Hamilton) is probably the funniest, as they stick pins in make-shift voodoo dolls of each other. Aunt Huddy was called upon to create a love potion for Wilbert that he could trick Dorothy McCoy (Dorothy Shay) into falling in love and marrying him. You probably don't even have to watch the film to guess what happens. The potion gets passed around and the intended matches all wind up pining for someone else. There's just the hint of a creepy element in the story when it's mentioned that hillbilly gal Matt has a super crush on Wilbert, and it's revealed that she's fourteen years old! The actress, who isn't mentioned in the movie's credits here on IMDb (something I'll try to correct), looked to be in her twenties, so the gag didn't seem all that realistic. Nor did the grease pencil dots all over her face, one can only ask why?
The premise of the story positions Lou's character as a potentially long lost McCoy family member who stands to inherit a pile of treasure chest gold if he marries into the family. I guess that could have been creepy too, if Squeeze Box McCoy and Dorothy wound up married, but they weren't really related. Dorothy's beau turns out to be TV's future "Sky King", Kirby Grant, so it was kind of cool seeing him show up here. Other notable cast members include A&C regular Joe Sawyer as Kalem McCoy, and Glenn Strange as leader of the feuding Winfield clan, Devil Dan. In case you didn't know, it was Strange who put on the monster outfit for "Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein", which remains my favorite Abbott and Costello film to this day.
The oddest thing about this picture is that actress Dorothy Shay almost co-opts the film from the boys, at least in the early going. It was her first acting gig, capitalizing on a singing voice that brought her notice when she released a rube novelty song. She does a handful in this story, and I'm glad she didn't continue the embarrassing mugging with her eyes and mouth that occurred with her first tune. She was actually quite attractive, and made for a handsome couple hooked up with Kirby Grant.
"Things have been awfully dead around here tonight."
The movie was a little disappointing for this fan of both Abbott and Costello and Boris Karloff. I've held off watching it for the longest time but with great anticipation regarding the title, wondering how dastardly Karloff would be in this one, and it turns out he's not a killer at all. OK, I guess one could point to a dubious acquittal Swami Talpur received some time before the story opens, but that's almost lost once things get under way. The Swami is at his best in that sequence where he tries to get Freddie Phillips (Costello) to commit suicide, but as literal as Lou's character is, things just never work out. Fortunately so, I might add. Say, did you notice how the Swami used the old Jedi mind trick on Freddie at one point? Maybe that's where Obi Wan Kenobi got the idea from.
The story, taking place at an out of the way hotel, is loaded with murder victims and even more suspects, a lot like the Charlie Chan films of an earlier era. Even bumbling hotel bellboy Freddie becomes a suspect, but not a very credible one. Bud Abbott plays the hotel detective Casey Edwards here, and isn't nearly as antagonistic to Lou as he'd been in other movies. In fact, he's Freddie's strongest ally, helping him dispose of dead bodies that keep popping up after the one that initially got the investigation going.
Well after a number of false leads and red herrings, the murderer is eventually revealed. Of all the reviews I read here on this site, no one seems to have mentioned who he was, so I'll just drop the hint that it was hotel manager Melton (Alan Mowbray). Just to give you an idea how inconsequential that was, the reason for him knocking off his victims was mentioned and I can't even remember why.
Something that I've been curious curious about - Boris Karloff was mentioned by name in a couple movies back in his heyday in which he appeared, but not as himself. They were "Charlie Chan at the Opera" in 1936, and "Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome" from 1947. Here his name shows up right in the title, so I always thought that was kind of cool. Speaking of dropping names, I also thought it was cool when Costello mentioned fellow actor and comedian Red Skelton by name in the story. It came up when the comic duo was looking for a 'skelton' key.
Mexican Hayride (1948)
"Go out there like a toreador, face him like a picador, and fight him like a matador!"
I saw this movie when I was a kid back in the Fifties, and even though I was familiar with the bullfighting terms in my summary line, I didn't know what Joe Bascom (Lou Costello) meant when he said "And they'll carry me out like a cuspidor"! Now that I know what a cuspidor is I have to think to myself, gee, that was kind of icky, wasn't it? Oh, well.
This picture falls into the lower tier of Abbott and Costello's comedies but it still has it's share of laughs. Bud is at it again with one of his shyster schemes as con man Harry Lambert, this time selling shares of stock in a phony silver mine, with Joe entangled in the mess and on the run from a pair of Iowa cops portrayed by Tom Powers and Lou's older brother, Pat Costello. For Pat, this was his biggest on screen role; usually he wound up doubling for Lou in a bunch of the A&C films.
I liked Sid Fields in the picture as the newspaper reporter who wouldn't let Joe Bascom get a word in edgewise. He had a similar role in "Little Giant", taking some of the heat off of Bud as a mean spirited partner to Lou. Even so, Bud's Lambert does his best to snooker Joe with all the illegal stuff to make him look like the crook.
After watching this film I clicked on the trailer to see how the movie was advertised back in the day. It was captioned in both English and Spanish, with the foreign title listed as "Sangre y Harina". The literal translation for that in English is "Blood and Flour", which made no sense to me at all. It was the working title of the picture in Chile, but I can't imagine how that title would have brought customers into the theater. Something else that seemed kind of icky.
The Time of Their Lives (1946)
"Oh fine, a ghost to ghost broadcast!"
Odds bodkins and spotty widgeons! Just as in the Abbott and Costello movie that was released prior to this one, "Little Giant", Bud and Lou do not appear together as a team, and quite coincidentally, Bud shows up as two different characters once again with opposite personalities. One's a mean spirited cad who wants to steal Horatio Prim's (Costello) girl, and later in the modern day setting of the story, someone who's willing to help the ghost of Horatio and Melody Allen (Marjorie Reynolds) clear their names of being accused as traitors to the American Revolutionary cause.
Not following the formula of the very early A&C comedies seems to have worked well for the boys. Personally, I enjoy the stories with the repeated gags and song offerings, but when I plug this title into my list of already viewed Abbott and Costello films (twenty seven to date), and rank them in IMDb rating order, this one comes out Number #1. I don't know if that will remain the case as I try to make my way through all their films, but we'll see.
This picture reminded me a lot of another Forties movie I watched just recently titled "I Married a Witch". Both used a similar ghostly theme spanning the decades from well in the past to a present day era, and both were positioned as comedies. This one begins during America's Revolutionary War period, with treachery afoot when Thomas Danbury (Jess Barker) conspires with Benedict Arnold to hand over West Point to the British. Horatio and Melody Allen find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and are mistaken for associates of Danbury, chased by patriot Major Putnam (Robert Barrat), and shot! Their bodies wind up at the bottom of a well, with a curse that leaves some wiggle room for the pair's ghosts to claim their innocence. What will provide that proof is a personal letter from George Washington that would exonerate Horatio as a loyal patriot.
It's not until the story fast forwards that the hunt begins for the long lost document. Positioned as a ghost story, one expects all the various sight gags and pratfalls that come with a couple of invisible protagonists. On the human side, actress Gale Sondergaard does her best to conjure of the spirits of Horatio and Melody as a psychic medium. With an additional twist, the Washington letter is eventually retrieved, allowing Horatio to reunite with his girlfriend from the past (Ann Gillis) in a finale that's both happy and somewhat bittersweet. Even heaven winds up closed for Washington's Birthday!
The only thing that bothered me about the story is something I'm still thinking about. Wouldn't it have made more sense, if Horatio and Melody had to become ghosts, to have them killed by the Tories loyal to the British instead of soldiers fighting for the patriots? There's any number of ways the writers could have pulled that off using the mistaken identity plot. I wonder why they didn't think of that.
Little Giant (1946)
"I penetrate people's brains, and leave my mind blank."
What one notices right off hand is that Abbott and Costello aren't the usual sidekicks to each other in this picture. Abbott portrays two different characters who are cousins, one mean spirited and one who takes to Costello's character as the story progresses. Lou is generally funny as ever, but with an often disconcerting mood of sadness and poignancy to his persona. At times, even he's unaware of it, as in the diner scene when his co-workers at the Hercules Vacuum Company give him the business about reading minds and have a good laugh at his expense.
There are a few bits that caught my attention in the picture relative to prior A&C projects. The 'seven times thirteen equals twenty eight' bit got a workout here, first seen in "In The Navy". I also got a chuckle out of the road sign directing Benny Miller (Costello) to 'Anaheim, Asuza, and Cucamonga', a railroad station gag that got some mileage on the old Jack Benny TV program courtesy of Mel Blanc. My recollection also says the bit appeared in one of those old Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny; it was the pronunciation of 'Cucamonga' that always had me roaring.
Even with some of the darker aspects the story touches on, Lou still comes out a winner at the end of the movie, having been named vacuum cleaner salesman of the year and winning the heart and hand of his girlfriend back home (Elena Verdugo). What I still can't figure out is how his commission on the sale of nine vacuum cleaners contributed to a ten thousand dollar bonus. A stand up vacuum cleaner in the Forties with a 'powerful brush motor' would set you back a whole forty dollars, so for Hercules to break even at a fifty percent profit, they'd have to sell about five hundred!
Though some of the reviews for the film here on IMDb consider it one of the weaker Abbott and Costello entries, I didn't find it to be too bad. It may have deviated from the usual formula of their early stories, but sometimes a change in style isn't the worst thing for a film series. As for the pathos that some fans aren't comfortable with, the one A&C picture that really disappoints is their very last one with Bud and Lou completely out of character, with a muddled story line that includes gangsters and a murder. It's called "Dance With Me, Henry", and though not terrible, it's just not very entertaining.
*** Trivia note for "Little Giant" - During the railroad car scene, when the train porter asks Benny Miller what his berth is, Benny begins to reply March 6th before he gets cut off. Lou Costello's birthday was March 6th, 1906.
"Extraordinary how people try to keep their little secrets which can never be kept."
I don't know if there's another actor as consistently excellent as Claude Rains, so much so that he has a way of elevating a story that otherwise might be considered merely average, if not downright terrible. In this picture, his character is Alexander Hellonious, who's outsized ego is complemented by a razor sharp tongue that he uses to particular advantage in his relationship as former mentor and music teacher to Christine 'Schatzi' Radcliffe (Bette Davis). The scene that really enthralled (and frustrated) me was that restaurant sequence in which he changed his mind about a wine selection and dinner entrée at least a dozen times, eventually deciding on the saddle of venison after contemplating trout and partridge, yet ruminating about the woodcock on his way out the door when the evening was over. You could tell that even the maitre'd and waitstaff were exasperated over his flamboyant behavior.
Paul Henried is almost reduced to a second string character in this picture, reunited with Ms. Radcliffe after being long presumed dead, and now a thorn in the side of Hellonious, who's unspoken past included more than a working relationship with Christine Radcliffe. More than most films, one has to read between the lines of each character's behavior and dialog, though it's apparent soon enough that the triangle one is presented with will be destined for some unfortunate ending. The whirlwind marriage of Karel Novak (Henried) and Ms. Radcliffe actually surprised me a bit, particularly after his extreme possessiveness and obsessive jealousy turned into a choke hold upon their very first meeting. You would think there would be some second thoughts there.
As intriguing and mysterious as all the machinations of Hellonious's devious mind were, I do have to say that Ms. Radcliffe, now Mrs. Novak, looked somewhat ridiculous in that exaggerated, square shouldered stole she wore to a final confrontation with her former benefactor. What I'm curious about is how the film makers got away with allowing Christine to walk off screen with no accountability for the shooting of Hellonious. The dubious ending suggested that she might actually get away with murder, even though the Hays Motion Picture Code was still a long way off from being rendered ineffective.
I Married a Witch (1942)
"I'm afraid you have rather a romantic mind."
I wonder how many guys who pick up this film are inspired by the title and how it might apply to their own situation. Now, now, it's just a thought that crossed my mind, let's not get carried away.
This was my first glimpse of Veronica Lake in a comedy role and she made it work quite nicely. She's every bit as sultry as her portrayals in "This Gun For Hire" and "The Blue Dahlia", and was a worthy successor to Jean Harlow as a talented comic actress. Too bad she was paired against Fredric March in this light comedy, as their chemistry wasn't readily apparent, due in no small measure to their real life discord. I tried picturing Cary Grant in the Wooley role but he would have towered over Lake. Don't laugh, but Bob Hope might have been a good choice to go opposite Lake in this one. He became a legitimate leading man in 1939's "The Cat and the Canary" with Paulette Goddard, and did a nice job opposite Martha Raye in "Never Say Die". So it might have worked.
Anyway, you have a quickly paced story here with a curious premise, as a fifteenth century witch (Lake) and her father (Cecil Kellaway) return to life after being imprisoned in the roots of a tree and set free by a lightning strike. The Wooley curse backfires when a potion designed to make gubernatorial candidate Wallace Wooley (March) fall in love with Jennifer has the opposite effect when she drinks the potion instead. Some of what occurs in the story does come across as rather nonsensical, but things move along in a whimsical vein with humor provided by Kellaway and Robert Benchley as Dudley White, Wooley's flustered campaign manager. The actress who got the short end of the stick here was Susan Hayward, cast as Wooley's bride to be and then ditched at the altar, but with her mean spirited temper and overbearing father (Robert Warwick), she's easily overlooked in the proceedings.
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
"Don't you realize I'm a terribly sick woman?"
I can tell an actor or actress has done a good job if their performance irritates me beyond measure. Such was the case with Barbara Stanwyck, who's character Leona Cotterell Stevenson managed to bother me so much that by the end of the story, I was about ready to strangle her myself. Not that hubby Henry (Burt Lancaster) was any kind of angel himself, though he did eventually manage to control himself around his wife, which is more than I can say for myself while watching the picture.
With all the flashbacks occurring in the story, sometimes one within another, one does well to pay attention but it's really not that hard to follow. The guy I felt sorry for was poor, old Waldo Evans (Harold Vermilyea), sucked into a scheme designed by Henry Stevenson to make some chemical alterations to the drug formulas he was developing, rendering them ineffective. I don't get what the big deal was to concoct a plan like that because essentially, Henry, Waldo and third party Morano (William Conrad) were stealing the drugs to sell illegally. Without an accurate inventory system, why go through the trouble?
I was thinking about this film's description as being part of the noir genre, and at first it didn't seem to fit because Stanwyck's character is not your classic femme fatale. But if you consider that the story depicts Leona Stevenson's world as a dangerous or depressing place where someone suffers, especially because of the greed or cruelty of others, then I think you have some basis for that judgment. The person who's a real question mark in the story would be Sally Lord (Ann Richards), Henry's old flame who's willing to jump through all those hoops to keep tabs on her own husband as he pursues his investigation into the Morano operation. The obvious explanation is that she never got over her relationship with Henry, but she took some awful chances of being discovered any number of times. As for her husband Fred (Leif Erickson), why wouldn't he just take his business calls away from prying ears?
All told, the picture does hit quite a few suspenseful moments, and that final scene with the gloved hand putting Leona's phone back on the receiver was perfect, only topped by the hidden person's response to Henry on the other end - "Sorry, wrong number". By that time, Henry had a wrong number of his own to deal with.
This Gun for Hire (1942)
"Will ya take it easy? You only got one life."
What's not to like about "This Gun For HIre" if you're a noir fan. It's the film that 'introduced' Alan Ladd to moviegoers, even if he did have a couple dozen uncredited film appearances by this time. You'd probably consider Ladd's character The Raven as pretty one dimensional; it would be hard to find another bad guy as cold blooded as The Raven, and he maintained that persona throughout. I almost believed he was going to gun down that crippled little girl on the steps until he thought better of it. He didn't even break character when Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) put her hand on his thigh in that one scene. Me, my knees went wobbly at the thought.
The funny thing about Veronica Lake is that depending on the lighting and the angle of her face, it's sometimes difficult to say whether she's a looker or not. In this picture the nod goes to the looker aspect of her character. You would think the men in the story would have been more head over heels for her, but it wasn't totally her show. As for Robert Preston, this could have been a no-show on his part for all that he was required to do. And getting top billing at that. Nice gig if you can get it.
It's funny too how you can take a story about a poison gas formula being sold to the Japanese and raise it to the level of intrigue as done here. The Charlie Chan flicks used that formula three times without nearly the same results (Murder Over New York, The Jade Mask, Docks of New Orleans), but then again, they never had Ladd, Lake or Laird Cregar on board. Man, you could just feel the sweat pouring off Cregar's character, Willard Gates. What a slime ball.
You know, I like Alan Ladd and I'm glad he got his shot here. In fact, "Shane' is one of my favorite Westerns, but consider what a real bad guy like Robert Mitchum might have done with the role of The Raven. I think he would have done the hit on the little girl.
This Land Is Mine (1943)
"My only defense is the truth."
I usually cringe when the term 'propaganda' is used to describe a film, like so many reviewers do here for "This Land is Mine". When used in a negative connotation, the word implies information delivered in a biased or misleading way. I didn't find anything misleading in the way the story came around to defend an individual and community's right to stand up for themselves against bigotry and oppression. If anything, the propaganda would have been supplied by Nazi Major von Keller (Walter Slezak), insinuating that things would be hunky-dory under German rule if the citizens of the occupied town would go along to get along. Eventually, even collaborator George Lambert (George Sanders) couldn't reconcile himself to the German message, committing suicide after stating that "If there's anything I can't stand it's hypocrisy". If one's being hypocritical and trying to be honest at the same time, something has to give.
As usual, Charles Laughton is a wonder to behold in this film. His impassioned court speech is delivered with just the right nuance and emotion guaranteeing a non-guilty verdict for the murder of Lambert, but I didn't find it so convincing that the jury wouldn't even break for deliberation before delivering that message. What was up with that? That's about the time the prosecuting attorney should have really stood up to object. Even the judge looked stunned by the verdict, though you could see he was moved during Albert Lory's (Laughton) finely delivered speech.
The only thing I might have changed if I was directing this picture was the character of Mrs. Lory (Una O'Connor). My God, she was an absolute lunatic. I doubled over during that scene when son Albert grabbed her by the hand to run across the rail yard and she moved like a sprinter doing a hundred yard dash. Laughton's character looked pretty nimble footed too, which doubtless suggests both were replaced by stunt persons for that scene. Upon completion of that bit of exercise, Mrs. Lory was back to using her cane to stand up. For director Jean Renoir, that was undoubtedly an unforced error.
"And we will persevere, because that's what Kennedys do."
The thing that impressed me most about this film was the way the film makers refrained from taking an ideological stance on the Chappaquiddick incident while sticking as close as possible to the known facts concerning Ted Kennedy's role in the accident and it's aftermath. It would have been extremely easy to imply that Kennedy wasn't sober, and that he might have had a personal relationship going on with Mary Jo Kopechne, but they wisely allowed for the viewer to consider what happened and make up their own mind. Of course if you were around in 1968 when this all happened, you couldn't help but be inundated with the news coverage surrounding Kennedy with all of the attendant rumor mongering and implied innuendo.
Jason Clarke seemed to have been an uncannily good choice to portray Senator Kennedy. He resembled the man to a remarkable degree, and it was almost like watching Ted Kennedy himself. I thought there would have been more of a background briefing on the real Mary Jo Kopechne, as the events leading up to the accident occurred very early in the picture, and then it became an exercise in spinning a story that would minimize the potential damage to the Senator's career. Kate Mara appeared credible in the role of Ms. Kopechne, but the one casting decision that surprised me was that of Jim Gaffiigan as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. I love Gaffigan as a comedian and the decision to have him take on a serious role had to come from somewhere, and I'd really like to know how that all came about.
In keeping with the historical facts, I thought the film makers did a good job of detailing the machinations involved with the attempt to exert damage control for Senator Kennedy. It was rather incongruent to hear Kennedy on the phone with his attorney Dun Gifford asking him to handle the matter with integrity when he didn't really mean it. Kennedy adopted cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) probably summed things up best during all the stealthy maneuvering to downplay the horrible accident that took a woman's life when he pointedly remarked to the Senator at one point - "You're not a victim, Ted."
Back to Bataan (1945)
"In this kind of war, you got to believe in what you're fighting for."
Notwithstanding the presence of The Duke and my propensity for World War II movies, this was a rather simplistic film that seemed to bear little resemblance to the reality of wartime. For one thing, the soldiers shown released from a prison camp in an opening scene, and those viewed during the Bataan Death March didn't resemble fighting men who'd been imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese. The film makers did take the opportunity to showcase some of the real soldiers who fought in the Philippines, so that was commendable; I would like to have seen some of their experiences related in the picture. What the story does convey well was the courage and conviction shown by the Philippine people to resist indoctrination by the Japanese and side with their American counterparts to achieve their own freedom and independence.
One of the things that bothers me about war films in general is when a romance between principal characters is introduced. This film has one as well, though the relationship between Captain Andrés Bonifácio (Anthony Quinn) and Dalisay Delgado (Fely Franquelli) is kept intentionally ambiguous for the first half of the story. However when it was revealed that she wasn't a Filipino version of Tokyo Rose, I had to wonder how she managed to keep her allegiance a secret from the Japanese for as long as she did. Her reuniting with Bonifácio was just one of the numerous coincidences that occurred over the course of the picture which relied on many. A bigger one was when Bonifácio himself was observed by Colonel Madden's (Wayne) men over the course of the Bataan Death March. One man among the seventy thousand or so men forced to endure the hellacious trek for over sixty miles - what were the odds?
I don't mean to be so harsh on the picture, but for this viewer it just didn't seem to be as credible a war film as it could have been. A better one featuring John Wayne in a lead role also taking place in the Pacific Theater was "Sands of Iwo Jima", which also paid tribute to soldiers of that conflict with the appearance of three survivors of that battle during the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi. Made a few years after World War II ended, the film seemed more effective in conveying the harsh realities of war and the battlefield concept of trading men for real estate.
As an aside, I'm almost certain that the actor credited in the cast list portraying the cook Bindle Jackson is not Paul Fix. Fix did appear in the story a couple of times as an unnamed character in conversation with fellow soldiers, but I don't recognize the actor portraying Jackson. I wish I could be more helpful on his identity, but can't recall the actor in any other role.
À bout de souffle (1960)
"I shouldn't be thinking of her, but I can't help it."
If I had any idea ahead of time how many times Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) was going to ask Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) to sleep with him, I would have kept count. That's all the movie seemed to be about, aside from the fact that Michel was wanted by French authorities for killing a motorcycle cop, and he didn't seem to be concerned about it all that much. You can say all you want about director Jean-Luc Godard's New Wave breakthrough that occurred with this film, but today, watching it is an exercise in extreme patience if not outright futility. I was going to mention how the editing was disjointed with all the abrupt jump cuts, but more knowledgeable viewers on this board stated that they were actually done on purpose. I can only marvel.
I would have spent more time on this review if I had the initiative, but after reading the comments posted by 'Lechuguilla', (on the IMDb main page for this film as I write this), I would direct you those observations because they pretty much echo my own feelings about the picture. I know, it's a cheap way out, but Godard just wore me out. My definition of 'breathless' would have required a little bit more in the way of suspense, tension, and excitement, and this movie doesn't approach any of those criteria.
Dr. No (1962)
"We can't all be geniuses, can we?"
With a great deal of hindsight this was a great movie, but boy oh boy, it sure hasn't aged well. Can you even imagine that the Sean Connery of today is the same guy who appeared in this, the very first film of the long running James Bond series? He certainly looked the part and played it well, and if I had to place my bets, Connery would have been my favorite Bond of all. But the early films are certainly dated and don't translate very well today. At least in this one, Bond seems a bit more competent than he did in "Goldfinger", where he got captured by the bad guys more than once, and looked rather awkward and clumsy fighting villain Oddjob. I was also taken aback for a second when Cape Canaveral was mentioned, but here it was 1962 and John F. Kennedy was still alive, so it hadn't yet been renamed for a decade before returning to it's prior designation.
The thing is, if you think about it, if this wasn't a James Bond film, it probably wouldn't enjoy the same status that it does for all the devoted fans who love the series. Consider James Coburn's 1966 film "Our Man Flint" as an example of what I'm saying. That one rates a 6.5 rating as I write this compared to a 7.3 for "Dr. No"; not that much of a difference really, but if Connery had headlined 'Flint' as Double O-7, that flick would probably rate a lot higher. I guess what I'm saying is that times change and tastes change, and what was once considered monumental looks a whole lot different in the present day.
But you know what? I guess it doesn't really matter. Bond saves the day for the American space program and winds up getting the girl, and to be quite honest, Ursula Andress would have been a catch in any era. Her characterization by the way is another one that wouldn't pass muster today for the obvious reasons, but at least she didn't have a name like Pussy Galore. But what's the deal with a guy named Puss Feller?
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
"Tell him about the dance-off to save the universe."
Compared to the first two Avengers movies, I've rated this one a solid '9' against a pair of '7's' for the other two. The prequels felt more like getting the most out of all the destruction that the super-heroes could inflict on their cosmic adversaries. That formula's still at work here but it seemed a lot fresher with the team-up between The Guardians and The Avengers, while Thanos (Josh Brolin) brought a decidedly different dimension to his role as an intergalactic enforcer. Some might even call his mission honorable, in as much as he wants to save the universe with his philosophy that "If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist".
Fresh on the heels of "Thor:Ragnarok", the Marvel and Disney folks do well here to keep the humor in place while dramatic events unfold throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Thor (Chris Hemsworth)/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) dynamic was especially played well, and it was a hoot to see Thor accept Rabbit's, er..., Rocket's (voiced by Bradley Cooper) claim as captain of the Guardians.
Where the film loses a point for me has to do with the inconsistency with some of the principal characters. Depending on which prior movie you care to cite, Thor and Doctor Strange have been positioned as the most powerful entities in the Marvel universe. However here, they were dispatched rather handily in the early going by Thanos's minions. There's also the quite literal overkill that occurs near the end of the story with the disintegration of heroes like Black Panther, Doc Strange and Spidey, along with the entire Guardian team. You know they have to make a come back in the follow up sequel(s), so it seemed like an almost cheap attempt to elicit pathos from the audience. By my count, at least fourteen Marvel characters met their demise in the story if you include Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his partner in the after credits scene.
Once again, and I can't help it, but kudos to Stan Lee, Marvel comic writer and originator of many of these characters, for his bus driver cameo near the beginning of the picture. His one line was particularly apropos: "What's the matter with you kids? You never seen a spaceship before?"
And oh yes, don't want to forget this little tidbit. There have been any number of movies with scenes set in New York City in which the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are in prominent view prior to the events of 9/11, but in this flick, there's a quick glimpse offered of the new One World Trade Center rising from the city skyline. I thought that was very cool, and even better that it wasn't in the path of the New York City dust up.
Omnibus: Cream's Farewell Concert (1969)
"Forget the message, forget the lyrics, and just play."
Apparently most of the other reviewers for this concert documentary saw limited footage of the concert. Watching the eighty minute version one comes away with a decent sampling of most of Cream's better regarded and recorded output. It opens with 'Sunshine of Your Love' and proceeds to well improvised versions of 'White Room', 'Sittin' on Top of the World' and 'Spoonful' among about a half dozen other songs. Oddly, Eric Clapton doesn't merit as much screen time as fellow musicians Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, although all of them have brief interviews conducted by narrator Patrick Allen. Where I agree with the other comments for this film have to do with Allen's insipid interview style, asking such trivial questions of Ginger Baker as what would I have to do to learn to play the drums. But all of the performers were so young at the time they were probably appreciative for the attention. Jack Bruce best describes Cream's improvisational style, indicating that except for the opening and closing of their songs, virtually anything in between was subject to how the guys were feeling that night. In this case, they were feeling pretty good, as the concert was met with the enthusiastic applause of hundred of fans who filled London's Royal Albert Hall. The concert took place on November 26th, 1968, so in a few months (as I write this), the event be a half century old in the history books. For younger viewers who weren't around in the Sixties, the lava lamp and strobe effects about midway through may look rather bizarre, but they were a staple of rock band performances on TV variety programs of the era. My sympathies go out to the male fan in the audience who was so thoroughly into Cream's performance that he might possibly have whiplashed himself.