Warner Archive: The Girl in the Empty Grave (1977)

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Are you a fan of crazy weird 1970s made-for-TV movies? Then have I got a doozy for you: The Girl in the Empty Grave. What you need to know about this film before you even think about watching it is that Empty Grave was intended as a pilot for a new series starring Andy Griffith, a series possibly meant to be titled “Abel,” after Griffith’s character. The series didn’t take off, but here’s the thing: it didn’t take off all the other times it had been attempted over the previous few years, either. This all began in 1974, when Griffith appeared as Sam McNeill, sheriff of a rural lakeside town in a made-for-TV movie Winter Kill. Airing exactly forty years ago on April 15, 1974, Winter Kill was packed to the gills with TV movie stalwarts, like Joyce Van Patten, Sheree North, John Calvin, Lawrence Pressman, and even a young Nick Nolte. Intended as a pilot, Winter Kill did well enough in its ABC Movie of the Week slot — no surprise, considering it was written by John Michael Hayes — but ABC declined to turn it into a series. But Winter Kill had been based on producer-writer Lane Slate’s They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), released theatrically by MGM and starring James Garner as small-town sheriff Abel Marsh. Slate picked up the idea and tried again, not before changing the main character’s name once more — this time to Sam Adams — and removing some of the seedier aspects … Continue reading

Roadblock (1951)

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There’s probably not such a thing as a nice, quiet little film noir, but Roadblock is as close as you can get. It’s likely that director Harold Daniels just stumbled in to this low-key style that works so nicely within the genre — Daniels was known for very little except television and those terrible horror flicks that inevitably starred a Chaney or a Carradine — but we’re all thankful, however he arrived at it, because Roadblock is a real gem of a film. Spiffy credits!   Joe Peters and Harry Miller are two hard-hitting insurance investigators, the old-fashioned P.I. type that became a staple of the noir genre in the late 1940s, who aren’t just partners but pals. When flying home after a job, Joe (Charles McGraw) finds himself as a patsy for the beautiful Diane (Joan Dixon), who uses him to get a discount married rate — and to have another name — on her plane ticket. Irritated but intrigued, Joe lets himself fall for Diane after the plane is forced to land in a small town, where poor Canadian actor John Butler as the hotel manager tries for a down-home Southern Missouri accent but achieves some weird dialect that sounds like Appalachia by way of Brooklyn. Even after Diane tells him that she’s looking for a man with money, the kind of guy who will set her up in a nice place with nice clothes, Joe can’t get her out of his mind. Days later, as Joe follows … Continue reading

Glickman (2013)

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Described as the first jock turned broadcaster in history, Marty Glickman began what would become an exceptional sports career while attending high school in Brooklyn. The HBO documentary Glickman (2013), now out from Warner Archive, traces Marty’s path from his difficult childhood to becoming a New York City phenomenon known as the “Flatbush Flash,” for his phenomenal performance in track and field, setting speed records and winning state and national sprinting events. 17-year-old Marty Glickman in 1935.   Marty’s successes in sports were important not just to him and his family, but to the entire community, especially other Jewish kids in New York City. Actor/comedian Jerry Stiller speaks of how Glickman became almost a superhero, a claim borne out by the host of newspaper articles and stories written to capitalize on his popularity. With his amazing ability, it was no surprise Glickman made it to the 1936 Summer Olympics, on the same team as Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Sam Stoller, among others. But tensions were high at the Berlin Olympics that year, and the United States almost didn’t attend following protests from a variety of groups concerned that the event would give Adolph Hitler international legitimacy. Apparently most concerned that Jews were not allowed on the German Olympic teams, the U.S. was pacified when a token Jewish athlete was added; once the U.S. agreed to participate, the Jewish athlete was removed from Germany’s roster before the games officially began. During the games, Jesse Owens won three gold medals. Hitler … Continue reading

U Want Me 2 Kill Him? (2013)

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U Want Me 2 Kill Him? ★★★★☆ Dir: Andrew Douglas Tribeca Films 92 minutes Released in select theaters March 14, 2014. VOD available on February 25, 2014.   U Want Me 2 Kill Him? opens with a date: June 29, 2003. This date is not merely an indicator of the real life events that inspired it, but to anchor the film to a certain moment in culture, a time when society was still in the early stages of learning to live with a constant, low-level fear after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the kind of paranoia many had hoped were shaken off permanently at the end of the Cold War. This paranoia is heightened by both the spectre of constant surveillance and its actuality, namely in the CCTV cameras that clutter the London landscape, recording every move. That 16-year-old Mark chooses to stay home is no surprise; what is a surprise is Mark’s willingness to leave his own webcam on constantly, allowing all those he chats with online to watch him as he just walks around his room or does a few sit-ups. Mark never notices that he’s the only one in the conversations with a webcam on. Even though Mark (Jamie Blackley) has his share of hook-ups, the dames in the world of U Want Me 2 Kill Him? are nothing but trouble, and his true affections are saved for the lovely Rachel, a young blonde he only knows through an internet chat room. Night after night, Rachel talks … Continue reading

The Truth About Emanuel (2013)

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The Truth About Emanuel ★★☆☆☆ Dir: Francesca Gregorini Tribeca Films 96 minutes Released in select theaters January 10, 2014. DVD available on February 5, 2014. – “I’m just a girl,” Emanuel tells us in the opening narration, “a murderer without a motive.” This troubled teen (Kaya Scodelario) has grown up with the strange guilt of knowing her mother died in childbirth, and now finds herself in an uncomfortable house with her father (Alfred Molina) and Janice, her goofy new stepmother (Frances O’Connor). When the beautiful Linda (Jessica Biel) and her newborn move in next door, Emanuel finds herself drawn to the woman, who resembles her own long-dead mother, but soon she discovers Linda is living an almost inexplicable lie. The world of The Truth About Emanuel is a frightening one, a place where both the concept and reality of motherhood is an emotional horror show; the terror comes not from the creation of a child but after the birth, which is refreshing to see, in an admittedly bizarre kind of way. This universe, framed in the kind of unnaturally peaceful suburban neighborhoods used to such effect in films like Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Halloween (1978) offers a real promise in building toward a nasty sociocultural claustrophobia. It’s a tight, quiet, all-white suburban world, literally every woman in the film ensconced in a picture-perfect house that masks a host of medical and emotional issues attached to their sexuality and fertility. The extremity of this situation works best when presented … Continue reading

S#x Acts (2012)

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S#x Acts (a.k.a. Six Acts) ★★☆☆☆ Dir: Jonathan Gurfinkel Tribeca Films 96 minutes North American release in select theaters on December 6, 2013. Available via On Demand and iTunes.   Gili (Sivan Levy) is a pretty, dark-haired teen who has just transferred to a new high school, and is already showing a healthy interest in the popular and handsome Tomer (Roy Nik). Just a quick text and selfie later, she finds herself on a hill overlooking the mall, giving Tomer an inexpert but ultimately effective hand job. He has no real interest in Gili, however, and quickly passes her on to his smarmy friend Omri (Eviatar Mor). That Gili goes along with this seems, at first, merely unfortunate, but her expected revelation that she’s being used never arrives. She brags to a group of popular girls that she is the one exploiting the boys, not the other way around, and for a while, it seems that she might be telling the truth. Then Shabat (Niv Zilberberg) enters the picture, a chubby teenage boy existing on the outskirts of the cool, upper class world of Omri and Tomer, and the full extent of Gili’s exploitation becomes clear. S#x Acts, the debut outing from Israeli director Jonathan Gurfinkel, is brutal and fragmented, a meditation on modern day teen culture and the too-common casual disregard of basic boundaries and respect. The teens in this film are almost all affluent, living in palatial homes, owning their own large SUVs and nightclubs, and notably have … Continue reading

The Monster and the Ape #8: Those Wonderful Monsters Out There in the Dark

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The Monster and the Ape #8 Death in the Dark   Previously! Everyone finally figured out Ernst was disguised as Dr. Draper all along! Ken gets smug about it! A giant gorilla tosses Babs around a little! And that’s about it! For those of you playing The Monster and the Ape home game, this episode starts about 2:24:25 on the OV Guide version. Just gonna get this out of the way: There is no death in this episode.   We learn in the recap that Babs was left alone while Ken and Prof. Arnold go to the police with that film showing Ernst was the one who attacked Dr. Draper. Also in the recap, we see Babs clearly hears something going on in the lab, but for whatever reason, doesn’t do anything about it. The henchmen send Thor the gorilla into the lab, apparently without realizing Babs is in there. Thor tosses her around a bit, but once they hear her screams, the henchmen run in and pry Thor off of her. They direct him instead toward the Metalogen Man, which he was supposed to pick up and load into their unmarked van of criminality, before he got distracted by a girl in the lab. Take note: This moment where the gorilla is fumbling with an obvious cardboard shell of a robot is the first time the Monster and the Ape are seen together. Thrill! to this action packed episode! Speaking of the robot: The thrilling publicity material which shows … Continue reading

The Monster and the Ape #7: I Have No Monkey, and I Must Scream

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The Monster and the Ape #7: A Scream in the Night For those playing The Monster and the Ape home game, this episode should begin at about 2:06:30 in the OV Guide version. And again, my apologies for missing last week and being late this week; anyone who has been watching along has every right to be irritated with me, because who watches these things unless there’s some kind of benefit from it? Especially this episode… but I get ahead of myself. We don’t get to see “the monster” all that much, but when we do, he is kinda creepy. It’s those lightbulb eyes, I think. Remember how, after The Amityville Horror, those dark sunglasses with single small LED red lights in the middle of them were so popular? So any punk with $1.99 to spare could grab a pair and walk around at night scaring the shit out of people? That’s what M-Bot’s beady little eyes remind me of. Over footage of another delicious Monster And Ape Brand Fistfight ™ located in what is apparently an abandoned paint factory, our excitable recap narrator informs us that this factory is closed because of the ongoing war. Handy to know, but it raises more questions, primarily, “Why does a paint factory that is closed for the duration still have an enormous stone pit full of mystery flammable fluids, which have neither been drained out during the hiatus, nor have evaporated, nor have caused the building to be uninhabitable due to fumes?” … Continue reading

The Last Films Blogathon: Douglas Shearer and Her Twelve Men (1954)

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This is the SBBN entry for The Late Films Blogathon, hosted by David Cairns at Shadowplay. Check out all the other terrific entries here! *** Given that one can’t discuss Norma Shearer’s career without the word “nepotism” being uttered at least once, it’s no surprise that her brother Douglas suffers the same fate. His career as the chief sound engineer for Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios was a distinguished one, helping to develop some of the first sound systems for films and ultimately being nominated for an astonishing 21 Academy Awards, winning seven of the statuettes. Yet very little is known about Douglas Shearer, whose career was almost entirely overshadowed by that of his younger sister Norma. Douglas and Norma examining a state-of-the-art sound camera, circa 1931. Did Norma ever appear in a photo in the 1930s where her hands weren’t on her hips? I submit to you that she did not.   It’s not that MGM publicity didn’t try to set Douglas apart from his more famous sibling. In 1931, author and screenwriter Donald Henderson Clarke was deployed to write a brief bio that began with a lament that Douglas was actually hindered by his better-known sibling. Still, even gossip columnists mentioned the Shearer family business, often under faux positive guise of “the building of dynasties”, a way of saying “nepotism” without getting Louis B’s boys breathing down your neck. Douglas Shearer was born in 1899, and by the mid 1920s, had joined his mother and Norma in Hollywood, where … Continue reading

Regis Toomey for The What A Character! Blogathon

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This is the SBBN entry for The What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and today’s host Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club. There are a ton of terrific articles spanning the three-day ‘thon, so please check them all out! ***   It’s difficult to imagine a more steadfast, hardworking, solid character actor than Regis Toomey. Cast as a policeman in more films than most actors in the Golden Age of Hollywood could list on their entire resume, Toomey worked in Hollywood and on the small screen for five decades, and had one of the most recognizable faces in the business, even if most people never knew his name. Regis Toomey was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the neighborhood of Lawrenceville, in 1898. As a teen, he attended the University of Pittsburgh, pursuing a degree in history and philosophy with an eye toward a law degree, but ultimately pursued a degree in theater. He graduated from Pitt in 1921 and then enrolled in Carnegie Tech’s theater department; in Mary Ellen Stelling’s semi-fictitious memoir A Place to Call Home, she claims Regis, a family friend, “put himself through Carnegie Tech by moonlighting as a traveling salesman.” Given his father was a lawyer and the Toomey family included as their friends at least one sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice, it’s unlikely he needed to moonlight at any job at all. After graduating, he had a successful run on stage in musical comedies. Several sources claim he made … Continue reading