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

Just Imagine (1930)

In July I participated in the 2007 Blogathon for charity. During the 24-hour Blogathon I “live blogged” two movies, one of which was “Just Imagine” (1930). I didn’t finish it that night, so I decided to finally do the film justice and finish it here. You can read my two Blogathon entries about “Just Imagine” here and here. The film is not available commercially, but it does show on Fox Movies occasionally. The copy I have is borrowed from a friend who taped it off the Fox Movie Channel a few years ago. “Just Imagine” is a unique American film. Made in 1930, it’s a romantic musical science fiction comedy set in the then-futuristic year of 1980. It was designed to be a vehicle for comedian El Brendel, as well as an entertaining, uplifting version of the future for audiences in the middle of the Depression and Prohibition. The problem with “Just Imagine” is that it pretty much fails as romance, musical, and comedy. It was a solid hit in its day — modern accounts that claim the film was a flop are simply incorrect — but Fox rightly realized that while El Brendel was popular, he certainly couldn’t carry a film as a leading man by himself. They took a risk using Brendel as the lead in such an expensive project, and it paid off this time; it probably wouldn’t pay off again. The film begins with one of its more interesting features: title cards. This holdback from the … Continue reading

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

“Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) is an unconventional comedy directed by Preston Sturges. Not a great hit in its day, the movie has since seen a renewal of interest and is considered by many to be one of Sturges’ greatest films. I, however, consider it to be a confusing mess. Like most of my movie posts, this entry contains spoilers. Let me say up front that I read a few things about this film before seeing it. As a film buff I knew this was a film I should have seen years ago; references to “O Brother Where Art Thou” and the character name “Mr. Smearcase” pop up in my little world with regularity. One of the first things I read said that this film was, in a way, Sturges’ attack on Capra-esque films where the everyday man overcomes personal adversity. Sure enough, one of the first things director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) says he wants to do is make a serious film, “something like Capra”. Sullivan is known for his comedies like “Ants in Your Pants of 1939”. Sullivan has decided he wants to film a socially-conscious movie based on a book called O Brother, Where Art Thou? — a title referenced by the Coen brothers for their 2000 film — that is to be an examination of the poor in this country and an “answer to Communism”. Studio executives tell Sullivan that he’s ill-equipped to explore the subject. Sullivan is a product of a rich family and Ivy-league education and … Continue reading

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon was, of course, a novel before it was a film. Written by Dashiell Hammett and published in 1930, the novel was used as the basis of a film three times between 1931 and 1941. The first film, “The Maltese Falcon” (1931), starred Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels, two mainstays of the silent era who managed to make a relatively smooth transition to talkies. The 1931 version of the movie was made in the pre-code days before the Hays office clamped down on so-called indecency, and therefore is notable for its many sexually suggestive scenes. Due to Hays code restrictions, the film could not be re-released until the 1960s except in edited form; when it was re-released, it was given the new title “Dangerous Female” to avoid confusion with the 1941 “Maltese Falcon” film. (The Warner Bros. DVD release of the film restores the original title.) Possibly because the 1931 film could not be re-released, Warner Bros. made a second version of the film in 1936, this time called “Satan Met a Lady”. Starring Bette Davis and Warren William, this second film based on the Hammett novel featured several plot changes, including a focus on humor rather than mystery and a ram’s horn instead of a falcon statuette; the film was a flop. In 1941, first-time director John Huston made “The Maltese Falcon”, again for Warner Bros. Starring Humphrey Bogart in a role that would define film noir detectives for decades, the film is considered an American classic. … Continue reading

Gloria Grahame

Much of my information on Gloria Grahame comes from the excellent book Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame by Vincent Curcio. I definitely recommend this book for fans of Grahame. It’s out of print, but used copies can be found online in several stores. Grahame was a beautiful, troubled actress with a unique style that made her perfect for the part of the femme fatale, a role she most famously played in “The Big Heat” (1953). In that film she plays Debby, the sarcastic, childish, narcissistic girl of mob henchman Vince Stone (Lee Marvin). After Vince scalds half of her face with boiling coffee, Debby seeks out revenge, nudged none-too-subtly by officer Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) who is also out for revenge. According to Suicide Blonde, director Fritz Lang was a tyrant on the set. He always needed a scapegoat to pick on during filming, and Gloria was the scapegoat on “The Big Heat”. Jocelyn Brando recounted that she was treated poorly, too, at one point being forced to do about 25 takes on a single short scene where she feeds her husband Dave a piece of dripping steak; Lang was never satisfied that Brando was dripping the juice just right. The stressful work environment may have actually helped Grahame flourish as an actress, as her characterization was well-received by most critics of the day. Curcio says of her performance, “One would have to look back to Jacobean revenge tragedies of the early seventeenth century to find a character … Continue reading

The Big Heat (1953)

The Big Heat (1953, dir. Fritz Lang) is the quintessential classic 1950s film noir. The film begins, as they say, at the beginning: The suicide of a police officer and his hard, greedy widow looking to cash in while the body is literally still warm. She reads the cop’s suicide note and calls crime boss Mike Legana. The dead man apparently was on Legana’s payroll, so the widow blackmails Legana with the note. Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is quick on the scene with the rest of the officers and a coroner. No one’s too concerned about the suicide, not until Bannion makes a stink. He interviews the widow and becomes more suspicious. Since the audience knows she’s up to no good, at first it doesn’t occur to us to wonder just why he is suspicious. We think perhaps he’s possessed of terrific instincts, or maybe this is a bit of a contrivance, and move along. Sure there’s something more to the suicide of a fellow cop, Bannion is excited when an unknown woman calls his home to tell him she knows something. He meets the woman, politely referred to as a “barfly”, and asks her hard, direct questions in front of a bar crowd that any experienced police officer would know is not friendly, not to him or to the woman. The barfly told Bannion that her boyfriend, the married cop who killed himself, had no reason to commit suicide. She’s sure was murdered. Bannion doesn’t trust the … Continue reading