Out of the Past (1947)

“The night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does.” Jorge Luis Borge, Labyrinths   “Unlike many of the frivolous noir semi-goddesses, Greer’s sexiness was derived from sheer cunning. She did not rely on the parodistic flirtations so common to the counterfeits of the genre — while entertaining actresses, they lacked the appeal and darkness of the authentic femme fatale. …She possessed the perfect on-screen persona of a post-war desolation angle.” – Michael Mills, Modern Times   “If ‘Out of the Past’ seems in some ways like a typical film noir, this is only because Tourneur’s constant preoccupations — the unreliability of appearances, the helplessness of people to resist their obsessions and avoid becoming the victims of an apparently impersonal fate — are also those of the genre.” — Chris Fujiwara and Martin Scorcese, The Cinema of Nightfall: Jacques Tourneur   “Kathie is a fascinating construct typical of the times. Like other of noir’s ‘deadly females’ …she embodies postwar fears that women, having contributed mightily to the war effort and moved into “men’s work,” might abandon the domestic sphere entirely, causing all manner of social mayhem. She’s the culmination of the self-consumed, anti-domestic, anti-social female…and even the most powerful men around her can’t comprehend or control the violent forces she represents.” — Gary Morris, Bright Lights Film   “Tourneur’s compositions and lighting schemes insistently involve the characters with their surroundings, creating a sense of human interaction as a tapestry.” — Chris Fujiwara and Martin Scorcese, The … Continue reading

The She-Creature (1956)

I discovered this movie in the most roundabout way possible. A few months ago I was on a quest to find everything I could about El Brendel and I stumbled across this film, which excited me more than it really should have. A bad 1950s B-movie with The Elster in it? Starring Chester Morris, the angry star of all those 1930s pre-code wonders? Available on DVD with another 1950s B-movie? Heaven! I must have this film! I ordered a copy and camped out by the mailbox waiting for Acme Delivery to arrive. After a day or so of leaning against the mailbox I started getting pity waves from the neighbors, thus decided I should finish waiting inside. Waiting involved watching “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, one of my favorite TV shows, so I grabbed a disk and read the label. The next MST3K episode in my pile to watch? “The She-Creature”. Oh. It was a season 8 episode of the show. A little more hunting online and I found nearly a dozen blogs who have already reviewed and summarized this film, probably a hell of a lot better than I’m going to. Oh. But as you know, I was in a film funk for a while, and I thought “The She-Creature” would be just the thing to snap me out of it. I love watching 1950s B-movies, the stuff that filled the programs in drive-ins across the country, and this is one of the more competent and fun B-films I’ve seen. … Continue reading

My Little Chickadee (1940)

“My Little Chickadee” is a light, unpretentious send-up of the American Western filled with one-liners and innuendo galore. Starring Mae West and W.C. Fields, would one expect anything else? The film opens with Flower Belle in a stagecoach heading to her Aunt Lou’s house in the Midwestern town of Little Bend. The wagon is held up by the Latino “Masked Bandit”, who makes off with both the gold and Flower Belle. One of the other wagon passengers, Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton) tells the sheriff what has happened and a posse is sent to rescue Flower Belle. That evening Flower Belle returns to her Aunt Lou’s house on her own, quipping that she “wriggled out” of trouble and escaped… with some of the gold, which she says the Bandit gave her for her trouble. Oh sure. She sashays upstairs to her room and her Aunt Lou follows. For some reason Aunt Lou, who had been walking and talking like a typical Midwesterner up until now, follows West while mimicking her exaggerated hip swaying. She does this again in the courthouse, where she’s also dressed like her niece. There is no explanation why. Aunt Lou helps Flower Belle get settled in to her room, and moments after she leaves, the Masked Bandit returns for more of Flower Belle’s, er, hospitality. Mrs. Gideon happens to be walking by the house and sees the Bandit through Flower Belle’s window. Flower Belle is taken to court the next day to explain herself and to reveal … Continue reading

The Big Trail (1930)

When “The Big Trail” (1930) arrived at the house a few weeks ago, it was the last of a long string of John Wayne films I’d decided to watch for what might be called “educational purposes”. To say Wayne is not my favorite actor is to understate the situation, yet I hadn’t given Wayne much of a chance recently. I figured if I was going to continue to publicly state my rather strong opinion about his films and his acting ability, I should do so with at least a couple dozen Wayne films under my belt. After viewing “The High and the Mighty”, “The Searchers” and “The Long Voyage Home”, the arrival of “The Big Trail” was no surprise to me, although by the time I popped it into the player, I had completely forgotten my original reason for wanting to see it: my hero, El Brendel. You’ve heard me say this before, and you’ll hear me say it again: “The Big Trail” is not a good film. John Wayne was young, tall, and beautiful — my gods, he was beautiful — but he couldn’t act his way out of a cool damp sack. He was clearly hired for his beefcakey attributes. This is made clear early in the film when he gets his hair wet and tousled and strikes an obvious pose for the camera. Not that I’m complaining, I’m just here to inform. This early talkie could be used as a checklist for all the techniques that had … Continue reading

Cabin in the Cotton (1932)

“Cabin in the Cotton” (1932) is the story of the struggle between wealthy landowners and their farming tenants in the rural South, and is most notable for Bette Davis’ supporting role as Madge Norwood, the beautiful blonde daughter of a landowner. The film begins with a written notice that the producers don’t intend to take sides in the conflict between the poor tenants and the rich landlords. During this introduction, we’re told that the tenants are known as “peckerwoods,” as though the term means “poor cotton picker”. As we all know, it means much more than that. I wondered through most of the film if I was supposed to take the use of the word as a crass insult or as a regional peculiarity; the IMDb trivia section indicates that director Michael Curtiz simply didn’t know what a “peckerwood” was, which may explain the confusion. The scene opens with Mr. Norwood, played aptly by Burton Churchill with the most accurate Southern accent I’ve yet heard on film, surveying the work of poor tenant workers picking cotton on his fields. This family of tenants is ragged and tired and the father has recently been sick. Norwood wants to know where their oldest boy is. Tom (the father) explains he’s in school, but Norwood demands the boy be taken out of school so he can pick cotton in Norwood’s fields. The boy is Marvin, played by Richard Barthelmess. He returns home after school to find his father resting after a hard day. … Continue reading

Casino Royale (1967)

“Critical judgements are irrelevant with a film like ‘Casino Royale.’ Robert Murphy considers it one of those films ‘which ought to be shipped to a desert island and screened continuously by those responsible for them.’” James Chapman, License to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films   “At one time or another, ‘Casino Royale’ undoubtedly had a shooting schedule, a script and a plot. If any one of the three ever turns up, it might be the making of a good movie. In the meantime, the present version is a definitive example of what can happen when everybody working on a film goes simultaneously berserk.” – Roger Ebert   “The guy who played Bond (David Niven) was so cheesy it was pathetic. I think it’s sad and almost ironic that you have this spectacular franchise and yet the first Fleming book, the beginning of the 007 legacy, was given such shabby treatment”. – Quentin Tarantino   “What do you think of the criticism that you’re not very good?” – Interviewer “We’re not.” – George Harrison   “The often criticized inconsistencies of the film’s multiple James Bonds, including the banal 007 of Terence Cooper, brought in to cover Sellers’s unfinished characterization, intentionally work to confuse the issue of Bond, to overwork the paradigm until it has no value… Here, the most unique icon of the era is intentionally made common — a fashion, a fad, a façade: the multiple Bonds are all copies of a first copy…” – Robert … Continue reading

Doll Face (1946)

“Doll Face” (1946) is a musical comedy written by Gypsy Rose Lee, based on her early-40s semi-autobiographical play “The Naked Genius”. It co-stars Dennis O’Keefe, Carmen Miranda and Perry Como in one of the only 4 film roles he ever appeared in. The musical acts in “Doll Face” are often cited as the film’s strong point, as is the zingy dialogue. However, the thin plot is only occasionally spruced up by snappy dialogue, and the sparsely populated dance numbers are far less entertaining than they were intended to be. The music is derivative and occasionally tasteless, which is surprising as the music was written by two important songwriters of the 1940s, Jimmy McHugh (music, “I’m in the Mood for Love”) and Harold Adamson (lyrics, “It’s a Wonderful World”). It’s hard not to notice the opening musical introduction sounds extremely similar to “The Five O’Clock Whistle,” more so than an original composition should. Further, the first song of the film is “Somebody’s Walking in My Dream”, written in 1946 for the film, but which again is suspiciously similar to the 1942 Otis Rene classic “Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat”. “Somebody’s Walking in My Dream” is the featured ballad and it appears at least three times during the film in what must have been a money-saving maneuver. “Doll Face” begins with a beautiful young singer, played by Vivian Blaine, and her manager Mike (Dennis O’Keefe) in the wings of a theater, anxiously awaiting a chance for her to audition in front of Broadway … Continue reading

Skidoo (between the 1 and 3 there is a 2)

The benevolent gods at TCM have decided to bestow a rare treat on us tomorrow night: the 1968 cult film “Skidoo”, directed by Otto Preminger and starring a couple dozen actors who must have wondered what the hell they were thinking. “Skidoo” is on at 2:00 AM Eastern, January 5th, which is late Friday or early Saturday, depending on how you swing. It’s part of TCM’s Underground series. UPDATE: I should note that some cable guides and Tivo are reporting incorrect airing information. Also, this will not be shown in letterbox; the cost of rights for the letterbox version was too prohibitive. I’ve seen the pan ‘n’ scan version and it’s still worthwhile. I won’t spoil it for you, but I thought I’d set the scene a bit. “Skidoo” is about Jackie Gleason, a legitimate business owner who finds himself in debt to the mob. He goes under cover as a prisoner to pay his debt back to the mob. Meanwhile his daughter falls for a hippie (John Phillip Law), drugs are consumed, and musical interludes involving asparagus and trash cans ensue. This is not a good movie, but it is fun. Lord, is it fun. It’s a product of an old school Hollywood system which didn’t — and couldn’t — have understood what the youth of the late 60s was really about, so they created caricatures which must have rung as false in 1968 as they do today. There’s lots of jokes about guys with long hair looking like … Continue reading

Fitzwilly (1967)

The holidays may be almost over, but there’s still time to talk about one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Fitzwilly.” As usual, this post contains spoilers. This probably won’t be a problem for you, though, as “Fitzwilly” is a notoriously difficult movie to find. Released briefly in 1998 on VHS, never on DVD, and only rarely shown on TCM, it’s likely you’ll never even see this film. And that’s a shame, too, because “Fitzwilly” is a charming light-hearted romantic comedy that never pretends to be anything else. It’s simple and refreshing, and probably one of the few “family friendly” movies I’ll ever review here. Charles Fitzwilliam is “Fitzwilly” (Dick Van Dyke), indispensable butler to the slightly batty, wealthy, philanthropic and elderly Miss Vicky (Dame Edith Evans). At first Fitzwilly seems like the perfect butler, but soon we realize there’s a layer of deception surrounding him. While ordering expensive silverware from a local luxury store, Fitzwilly dons a fake name and feigns a British accent — Van Dyke sounds just like Michael Caine here, with his accent much improved over the iffy accent he used in 1964’s “Mary Poppins” — and has the silver sent to a false address. He repeats this with different items in different shops, and his contacts in the mail rooms of all the largest department stores in New York happily intercept these packages and relabel them to be sent to the St. Dismas Thrift Shoppe, a fake thrift store that’s really storage for all the stolen … Continue reading

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

Like most of my film entries, this post contains spoilers. “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” is a science fiction adaptation of the Daniel Defoe classic. Set sometime in the future, it’s a surprisingly modern and compelling imagining of space travel between the Earth and Mars. The Criterion Collection DVD of this film was released in September; the previous laserdisc and VHS versions are long out of print. If the title and the subject didn’t already seem campy enough, the opening scene features Adam West and a trained monkey. Despite initial appearances, though, the film and set are quite understated. West plays Colonel Dan “Mac” McReady, the captain of a two man ship also occupied by Commander Christopher “Kit” Draper, played by Paul Mantee. Mantee is probably best known for his recurring role on “Cagney and Lacey” or his dozens of guest starring roles between the 1960s and 1990s. Mona, the monkey in a monkey-sized space suit, is their test subject, but Draper has become fond enough of her that he’s decided to take her back to Earth with them instead of leaving her behind on Mars as planned. The effects in “Crusoe” are quite good for the time. The minimalist interiors of the spaceship are extremely well-done, and avoid the temptation to crowd buttons and flashing lights into the scene to make everything look more “sciencey”. The grey paint on the ship even has a few wear spots and chips, making the ship look used. The exteriors of the ship and … Continue reading