Friday, January 8, 2021

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944)

 


Bogart is broke in wartime Martinique and so must accept a hire for his fishing boat from some Free French partisans even though it will run him into trouble with the Sûreté Gestapo. Things get complicated by the arrival of ex-pat Lauren Bacall.

Someone on one of my threads on Facebook referred to this brand of film as a "hang-out" movie. That's a flick where you follow an ensemble cast through events that take place over a short period of time with an emphasis on character relationships over plot. Like its close cousin the "road movie," these character-driven efforts often come to a fizzle with meandering storylines and tired personalities.



But the undisputed master of the hang-out flick is Howard Hawks. In films like this one, RIO BRAVO, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, AIR FORCE, BRINGING UP BABY, EL DORADO and others, he created films that had rich environments populated with vivid characters interacting seamlessly as a way to draw in the viewer and make them feel like they were part of the action.

What aided Hawks in this was his approach to story. For his entire career, Hawks worked hard to warp and waft the standard Hollywood model of filmmaking. His process always included hiring more than one writer for any project. Most of the time he hired as disparate a pair of writers as he could to assure that the script was being approached differently by each. The starkest example of this was hiring literary lion William Faulkner and teaming him with a young female pulp writer named Leigh Brackett. Once each had worked out a draft. he worked closely with them to bring together the best parts of each other's efforts. The writers were involved in each project as it went along, constantly be called upon to tweak each scene and each exchange of dialogue. Hawk's most frequent question to his writers was always, "Is this the best way to say this?"




Hawks' other concern was making each movie feel like an experience, a slice of life with all the unpredictability that comes with that. His movies were seldom about what they appeared to be about. Rather than relying on simple plot advancement, he used the viewers interest and involvement with each character to keep the audience engaged. Hawks, almost more than any other filmmaker I can think of, understood that movie audiences were sophisticated in the language of film. He relied on that level of fluency to stretch the artform and continuously delight and amuse moviegoers and generations of TV watchers.

Film historian David Thomson once wrote that he would choose Howard Hawks’ filmography for his own “desert island” list were he forced to choose. I cannot argue with that. For escapism, intelligence and sheer entertainment muscle, Hawks is hard to beat.




All that said, TO HAVE AND TO HAVE NOT might just be Hawks’ signature piece. The plotline is a simple one, a cat and mouse game between Bogie and the oppressive tyrants seeking to thwart him. But the plot is obscured to never invisibility under Bogie’s complex relationship with alcoholic sidekick played to twitchy perfection by Walter Brennan and the introduction of Lauren Bacall and the hot-then-cold-then-hot-again relationship she has with the lead. And there’s various sub-plots like the dishonest client out to cheat Bogie of the fee for renting his boat or the wife of a resistance fighter who falls hard for Bogie even as he’s falling for Bacall.

All of it is propelled by arch dialogue and sharp performances and even a few musical numbers by Hoagy Carmichael that, while very much of their time, still feel fresh today. Even casual film fans can quote entire exchanges from this movie. This includes bits that have been lifted more times than I can count like:

 

Slim: Who was the girl, Steve?


Steve: Who was what girl?


Slim: The one who left you with such a high opinion of women.

 

And, of course, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?”

I watched this one for the umpteenth time last night with my wife. She knew the film but had never seen it in its entirety. When it was over, she said, “What was that movie about?”

I said, “Exactly.”




Monday, September 28, 2020

You want Movie Reviews?

 CRAWL (2019)

It's on Amazon Prime, folks.

A young girl braves a Cat-5 hurricane to look for her dad. She not only finds him, alive but injured, in the crawl space under their house but a hungry gator swept in by the storm surge.
This is a creature feature with ALL the goodies. A cast you grow to care about, a scary threat, rising stakes, a ticking clock and touches of very dark humor. It packs loads of edge-of-seat moments into a tidy 89 minutes and smart writing. In my book,this one rises to the top of the sub-genre of dangerous critter horror flicks.




FARMAGEDDON (2020)

You can watch this on Netflix.
Shaun the Sheep has his hooves full when a runaway alien arrives on the farm with the government close on its heels.
I'm an enormous fan of Aardman Productions in, in particular, their clay animation efforts over their CGI work. This one is a solid outing with plenty of funny moments in a tight running time. All the barnyard characters are here and given time in the story. It's silly, fast-paced and has a heart without resorting to sentiment. And there's lots of references to SF classics the best of which is a nod to Dr Who.
And, as always, the miniature sets and cast of characters are jaw-dropping both in detail and inspiration.




IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019)

Identical crimes occurring nine years apart set a Philadelphia cop on a hunt for a murderer who may already be dead.
After a promising start this slickly produced SF thriller goes swiftly off the rails in a series of imponderables and nonsensical events. It basically takes the premise of THE TWELVE MONKEYS and combines it with a two-part story arc I wrote in Detective Comics
(#s 714-715) and then throws in a truckload of coincidence and contrivance all strung together with the weak cheese of sentiment and ambiguity. You'll be asking yourself the same question I did before it's over. Someone needed to go to time travel school or perhaps asked Bob Gale or myself to explain to them how these stories work.
It's on Netflix.




THE CAMERAMAN (1928)

Buster Keaton falls for the pretty receptionist at a newsreel company and becomes determined to win her love by filming a scoop.
This amazing entry by Keaton would prove to be his ultimate undoing. This is the first movie produced under his contract with MGM and, though it was critically and commercially successful, they would not allow Keaton to have his own film unit as he had as an independent. Instead, they consigned him to roles in forgettable comedies in which he still shined even though they mostly were churned-out programmers.
Despite that bittersweet history, this movie belongs near the top of the list of Keaton's many great features. The romance angle works and the string of comedy set-pieces and dangerous stunts are all top-drawer Buster. The classic Tong war sequence alone is worth seeing this for as well as the astonishing boat accident sequence at the end of the film. Buster is ably abetted, and ultimately redeemed by Josephine, the hardest working monkey in cinema history.




SPITE MARRIAGE (1929)

A pants presser borrows his clients' clothes to attend Broadway shows night after night to worship a lead actress. When she's jilted by her boyfriend she marries her biggest fan in order to make the guy jealous and, in the ensuing mayhem, the pants presser does his best to win her hand for real.
Buster Keaton's last silent feature and second film made under his regrettable MGM contract. There's some fine moments with Buster's impeccable timing and gag sense on display. But here, he's just a contract player and not in full charge of the production as he was when he was an indie. The studio even barred him from doing some of the more dangerous stunts himself. A real trooper, he does his best. But, while watchable and often funny, is not prime Buster.
MGM would call Buster back after firing him (for reasons that could have provided the plot line for a classic Keaton comedy) to re-work some of the bits from this movie for the Marx Brothers' A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. As Keaton said, the hardest part of a Marx Brothers production was getting all three brothers in the same place at the same time. He would also help with the remake of this movie as the Red Skelton vehicle I DOOD IT. Keaton would continue to work un-credited on Skelton movies throughout that comic's MGM contract. The two had a mutual affinity with Red recognizing Buster's genius and Buster believing that Red was the best comic actor working.




SAMURAI MARATHON (2019)

An opponent of the shogun's policies toward foreigners proposes a 36 mile race to test the mettle and dedication of his loyal samurai retainers. When this news reaches Edo castle, the shogun decides to take advantage of the situation and send a crew of assassins disguised as bandits.
The most unusual chambara film I've ever seen as it doesn't follow any of the usual plot forms of the genre yet still checks all the boxes to be a thrilling sword drama.
Simply gorgeous scenery throughout and a cast that delivers in a tapestry of interwoven sub-plots and character arcs that all serve to propel the story forward.




THE RIDER (2017)

A rodeo rider suffers a severe head trauma on a bronc ride. Now he must adjust to a new life in which the things he loves most might kill him.
Mike Baron recommended (read: strongly insisted) that I watch this movie and I'm glad he did. This movie is astonishing and I do not use that term lightly. Writer and director Chloé Zhao met the principals in this movie and, after hearing their story, cast them to play themselves in the story of bronc rider Brady Jandreau and the path he follows after a life-altering tragedy. There was no other way to make a movie like this. You could never teach an actor to do what these characters do. In the film's most incredible sequence we watch Jandreau break a wild horse over the course of a day. I mean we literally watch him tame a recalcitrant, dangerous beast that's ten times his weight over the course of a long day. Until you've seen it you cannot imagine the poignancy of this scene as well as the real skills on display.
Despite its genesis and use of a real-life cast, the movie never feels like a documentary. It plays out as a drama and the acting, especially Jandreau, is uniformly effective and, at times, heartbreaking. The script is subtle, the dialogue natural and, I suspect, often improvised. It's all a rare and moving experience as these folks let us into their lives to share their pain, love and inspiration.




HARPER (1966)

Private detective Lew Harper is hired to find a missing millionaire who may, or may not, have been kidnapped.
A fine LA-based PI mystery ala Raymond Chandler that's elevated to superior entertainment by Paul Newman's quirky, charming and dry portrayal of Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer. (the name was changed at the request of Newman as his three previous hits began with the letter H) He's supported by Lauren Bacall, Robert Wagner, Pamela Tiffin, Strother Martin and Robert Webber as various California lowlifes. Wagner in particular, often given lightweight roles, turns in an effective performance that, in many ways, twits the kind of roles he was always typecast in. Of course, William Goldman's sharp script helps immensely with plenty of wonderfully constructed scenes and a series of top drawer wiseguy lines deliveed with perfection by Newman. This is good stuff and an admirable entry into the genre painlessly updated for the 60's.




THE DROWNING POOL (1975)

Lew Archer is hired by an old flame to come to New Orleans to look for her missing husband. What he uncovers is an ugly conspiracy of conflicting lowlifes out to ruin one another.
That rarity of rarities, the worthy cinema sequel. I remember this movie getting trashed bty critics upon its release but, for the life of me, I can't see why. Paul Newman is just as tough, cool and funny in this outing as he was in the original film. He's aided here by three top screenwriters, Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzao Semple Jr. and Walter Hill, who manage to maintain the level of quailty establ;ished by William Goldman. Once again, a strong cast of 'nawlins bottomfeeders with Richard Jaekel, Tony Franciosa, Murray Hamilton, Andy Robinson and a young Melanie Griffith.
The movie also features a perfectly constructed extended suspense scenario for the climax of the film. It's nail-biting stuff drawn out to a excruciating degree and ending with a satisfactory conclusion. It's a sequence that needs to be better known.
Best exchange:
Mavis: It's not nice to look up lady's dresses.
Lew Harper: Everyone's got to look somewhere.




TWILIGHT (1998)

It's on Amazon Prime.
Paul Newman is a private eye reduced to living as a guest in the house of a Hollywood power couple. His insatiable curiosity leads him from an easy bagman job to re-opening a cold case that might just bring his whole world crashing down.
A few of here on FB recommended this one and I appreciate it. I never saw this film and had entirely forgotten about it. Though the character has a different name, this could easily be Lew Harper from Newman's earlier films. Just like those movies,. the cast is strong, the dialogue sharp and the mystery baffling. A solid private eye thriller that fits Newman like the pink shirt that causes so many problems in the story.




AGENTS SECRET (2004)

Vincent Cassel and Monica Belucci are spies on a dangerous mission for the French secret service. They're tasked with sinking a ship in a Moroccan port that's loaded with arms bound for an African civil war. Their success leads to one betrayal after another and each mjust do what they must to survive.
Slick, violent entertainment that draws you in and keeps you. Both leads are tragic figures but never descend to whining or sentiment. Some well done suspense scenes and any number of surprises as things go from bad to worse to très, très mauvais in very short order.




THE PLAGUES OF BRESLAU (2019)

It's on Netflix.
A serial killer, inspired by a tactic used by Frederik Barbarossa to bring the city of Breslau to heel, is on a six day murder spree. They're killing some of the city's highest and lowest citizens through arcane torture methods while the police race to find a commonality between the victims to avert further bloodshed.
Think of it as a Polish version of SE7EN. It's dour, nasty and quite gross in places. This might be the most burnt-out cast of cops I've ever seen in a movie and I really hope this movie is not an accurate representation of the national mood of Poland. I mean, these folks are damaged.
The plot rolls out (play on words intended as you'll see if you watch the film) with quite a few surprises and some major stings in its tail. But I have to warn you, it just gets grimmer as it races for the finish line. Another intended play on words. Sorry.




HANNIBAL BROOKS (1969)

Prisoner of war Oliver Brooks is tasked with taking a zoo elephant to safety from allied bombing raids. Instead, he plans to cross the Alps to Switzerland and freedom.
And oddball movie that works against all conventional wisdom. What would be produced as a family film today is a violent war flick with a big body count and "adult" situations. I think this is the only time I've ever seen Oliver Reed play someone affable and he makes it work. He still looks like a guy who could beat someone to death with a beer bottle but is managing to hold it in. Michael C. Pollard is cast as the gung-ho war lover making one wonder if the two leads didn't switch roles somewhere along the way. It's a fun flick with some real suspense moments and the amazing backdrop of Bavaria and the Alps. And I think that elephant really did come to like Oliver Reed. They share a real chemistry.




THE WRONG MISSY (2020)

It's on Netflix.
David Spade is a lonely guy who accidentally invites the psycho girl he met on a blind date to a corporate retreat in Hawaii. Mayhem ensues.
Okay, it's late and you're looking for something to watch. A dumb comedy would fit the bill, right? But not THIS dumb!
A mercifully short excursion into scatology in which no one manages to garner sympathy let alone laughs. There's little effort at a story and zero effort at making anything these characters do make sense. So, though it's obviously intended as a comedy of embarrassment, the only one embarrassed will be you for watching this kind of crap.
I guess we can blame the Farrelley brothers for introducing this brand of cringe comedy. But the Farrelley's always remembered to have an actual plot in their movies. Rising stakes, real suspense, three-dimensional characters and lots of heart. Here we have one contrivance after another peppered with obscenities, moral bankruptcy and perversion for cheap laughs all because the filmmakers are at least wise enough to know that their base material is weak.




GENERATION WAR (2013)

It's on Amazon Prime.
A three-part series that follows five young Berliners through the horrors of war from 1941-1945.
While this was all familiar territory to me I think many viewers will find this series as instructive as it is disturbing. It's a warts and all view of the war from the German perspective. Heartbreaking and often terrifying. Like any good war drama, the best and worst of humanity are on display here. Mostly the worst though.
The battle scenes are expertly staged and suspenseful. The production is densely detailed and painstakingly accurate which was a kick for an ordnance geek like me. The cast is simply terrific throughout especially at portraying the physical toll their horrific experiences have taken on them.
And I'm willing to excuse the Dickensian liberties they take with coincidence because this story is as much an allegory as it is a straight-up narrative.
My wife asked me why the Germans would produce something that placed them is so negative a light. I can only answer that perhaps the Germans think it's important that they tell their own story. In any case, I have to admire the honesty. If nothing else, this effort is further evidence that we should know and remember our histories, the good and the bad.




THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS (2001)

The scion of a family of child prodigies becomes estranged from his wife and children for 22 years. But, stone broke and homeless, he schemes to work his way back into their home and hearts.
This is Wes Anderson's third film and the one that firmly sets in place the template he uses to this day. Like this and every movie to come after it in his oeuvre, this is like an issue of a New Yorker magazine come to life complete with the cartoons. The characters are quirky and the humor droll. As in his later work, set direction is as important as the storyline here.
It's intermittently funny. But when it is funny it's very funny. Mostly thanks to the performance of Gene Hackman who, honest to God, can make even the most difficult material his own. Check out his bang-on performance in David Mamet's HEIST. Hackman's delivery makes Mamet's mannered dialogue sound natural.
Anderson regulars Owen and Luke Wilson and Bill Murray are along for a story of oddball individuals' mawkish attempts to make their family work.
I enjoyed this a lot more upon a second viewing. But, as my wife said before she left the room halfway through, "This is the kind of movie you have to be in the mood for." That's the keenest summation of Anderson's work I've ever heard.




THE WILD GEESE (1978)

A team of mercenaries is hired by some industrialists to rescue the leader of an African nation from captivity. Doublecrosses and betrayals leave them to fight their way out or die trying.
After a painfully slow beginning, the movie picks up speed once the cast is on the ground in Africa. There's lots of action from there on but marred by indifferent direction by Andrew McLagen. Still, it's a decent enough shoot-em-up but I couldn't help thinking I'd rather be watching DOGS OF WAR again which is a much better version of practically same story. The same actor plays the imprisoned African leader in both!




TRANSPECOS (2016)

It's on Amazon Prime.
Three border agents find themselves targets of a powerful drug cartel and must use their wits to find their way out of what appears to be inevitable doom.
Well acted by a small cast and filmed entirely outdoors, this drama ratchets the tension to the breaking point in a tidy 86 minutes. The stakes are high and the characters perfectly delineated as everything goes from bad to worse and then to hell.




DRUGSTORE COWBOY (1989)

You can see it on Amazon Prime.
Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch are junkies in 1970's Seattle making their way along by stealing from pharmacies until their fortune runs out.
This portrait of drug addicts from Gus VanSant rings true on every level and provides a voyeuristic look into the half-life of the habitual user. The result is sometimes tragic and often darkly humorous though, after seeing this film several times, I'm not sure if VanSant intended so many of thses scenes to be funny. The cast of four addicts lives by luck and their limited wits to supply themselves with pills and dope while eluding the law. Their sole purpose in life is stealing dope and taking dope. The Dillon character attacks this purpose with a level of obsession and dedication that, if applied to any other venture, would have made him an actual success in life. Instead, he's a cowardly predator, parasitic vermin in the wainscoting of society, taking what he needs and only thinking of himself. There's a reason they tell recorvering addicts to take it "one day at a time." It's because that's the lifestyle they're accustomed to.
The late night, pointless conversations and cheap philosophizing in the film bring to life the Raymond Chandler quote that inspired the title of this movie, "Those drugstore cowboys have all the answers."
The cast is excellent including real-life junkie poet laureate William S. Burroughs in a small but pivotal role.




A SERIOUS MAN (2009)

I'm not going into the plot of this movie as it would lead to countless spoilers. Suffice it to say that it's about a college professor facing a serious mid-life crisis not of his own making that forces him into a moral quandary with devastating consequences.
While the above sounds about as exciting as popping bubble wrap, it's a Coen brothers film and, in my opinion, those boys mine gold every time.
This is one of those Coens that I didn't really get at first viewing. That's sometimes he case for me with their work. I didn't understand their intention with THE BIG LEBOWSKI until my second viewing. BARTON FINK took three. I was pleased that I got INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS the first time.
The cast here is perfection and, while there's many funny scenes in the film, it's all leavened by the sense of rising dread established in the opening scene which, oddly, is funny in itself.




THE LAST VALLEY (1971)

The horrors of plague and war pass by a remote Alpine valley until the arrival of Michael Caine and a ragtag band of mercenaries looking to escape the battlefield.
Movies about the Thirty Years war are rare. I can't think of a single other example that touches on this era. I bet the Swedes made a few as Gustavus Adolphus, the boy king, is a national hero there.
James Clavell wrote and directed this dour historical drama that's a bit uneven and hardly a swashbuckler. Clavell's disdain for the human race, so often on display in his novels, is present here in a cast fo venal, violent and petty characters reduced to no other motive than survival. And interesting, if ultimately unpleasant, movie.




MARLOWE (1969)

Private eye James Garner refuses a missing persons case but that doesn't quell his curiosity about a runaway from the heartland and just why no one wants him to find the kid.
Based on Raymond Chandler's THE LITTLE SISTER, Sterling Silliphant's script retains the complicated plot and colorful gab of the original Phil Marlowe stories. Garner fits the role like a glove playing an even more world weary version of his Rockford persona.
I enjoyed this recent viewing more than the previous times I've seen this. Maybe I've gotten over my aversion to Chandler stories not done in period.
Bruce Lee famously makes a brief but memorable appearance leading to a frankly ludicrous exit scene for him. Carroll O'Connor gets a chance to remind us what a terrific actor he was before he turned to playing caricatures. And Ken Tobey's always welcome presence in a small role that offers him a few great moments.





THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

The Germans put all their "rotten eggs in one basket" in a prison camp built to keep a small army of escape artists inside the wire.
I've lost count how many times I've seen this movie since the first time at a Saturday matinee on its initial release. The movie established Steve McQueen as a superstar and launched James Garner's movie career.
This is top drawer entertainment providing one indelibly classic scene after another. Plenty of suspense, action and humor all delivered with verve and heart.
I did more reading on this production before viewing it and was not surprised to learn that a dozen screenwriters worked on this often working on set to create scenes. Director John Sturges even shut down filimng for two weeks while new scenes for McQueen's character could be written. The end result is clear as the obvious through-story fo the escape serves as a foundation for what are, essentially, a series of vignettes. Most times, this kind of creative process film is a total disaster. But here, it served to create a classic piece of entertainment that works juts as well today as it did for a couple hundred screaming kids at the Waverly Theater .
Side note: This movie led to countless skinned knees as every kid I know ran home for the theater to try and recreate McQueen's motorcycle stunt on their Schwinn. It also affected my choice of baseball gloves as I wanted one just like Virgil Hilts.




THE BIG HEAT (1953)

Glenn Ford is a homicide cop with a low tolerance for crooks and corruption. When his latest case brings violence to his family's home he hands in his badge to take down a criminal conspuracy all on his own.
Fritz Lang directs from a lean script by Sideney Boehm based on the William McGivern which is, far as I know, the first rogue cop story on film. At least it presents the tropes we've all come to be familiar with over time.
Ford is solid as always and brings real depth to what could have been a one-dimensional role. Lee Marvin gets his first big bad guy role and delivers big on every level. What a crumb he plays! But it's Gloria Grahame who is the real standout here as the sometimes ditzy sometimes vulnerable galpal to Marvin's gangster.
Everything about this movie clicks from the fast pace, effective performances, suspenseful action and crowd-pleasing ending. And Lang's usual attention to detail and supporting characters is on display here. His subtle hand is everywhere in the way the camera moves to the small moments that lift what might have a standard police thriller to classic status.




THE MAN ON THE ROOF (1976)

Someone has a vendetta against the police. This someone owns a stockpile of weapons and a strong desire for revenge. But can a team of detectives work out the pieces before he strikes again.
Based on a Martin Beck novel, this Swedish police procedural perfectly captures the pace and tone of these world-renowned mysteries. The opening murder is brutal and leads into a slow burn, meticulously portrayed investigation and finally to a standout stand-off between a rooftop sniper and a police force caught unprepared for this suspect's level of violence. The extended action scene that climaxes the film is edge of the seat stuff presented without histrionics or melodrama.
I only wish they'd continued through the series with sequels. I'd love to see a good adaption of ROSEANNA or THE LOCKED ROOM.










Sunday, September 27, 2020

MOVIE REVIEW BONANZA

 DOOMSDAY (2008) Scotland is walled off for the second time in history to contain a virulent plague pandemic. Thirty years later, the same disease shows up in London and Rhona Mitra is sent over the wall to find a cure in what has become a lawless land ruled by cannibalistic gangs.

This action (and cruelty) packed apocalyptic thriller would be well at home in the pages of 2000AD. Borrowing liberally from other sources like 28 DAYS LATER, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and ROAD WARRIOR, Neil Marshal cobbles together a mean yet fun action thriller that I'll bet anything was from an idea he had in film school.

While engaging enough, it all feels a bit hollow as the motivations of the bad guy David O'Hara seem unclear. It also stretches credulity that any civilized society could fall quite this far in a single generation. But it has its moments. " If you're hungry, have a piece of your friend."



THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS (1972)
A doberman pinscher is the main suspect in the murder of a local woman until chief of police James Garner uncovers evidence pointing to a man rather than man's best friend.
Solid whodunnit loaded with "shock" elements that are now common even in children's programming. A kind of sexual mores time capsule with Garner trying on his Jim Rockford persona. He's ably abetted by a gang of TV and movie regulars like Arthur O'Connell, Chris Connolly, Ann Rutherford, Hal Holbrook, Harry Guardino and even Art Metrano! Kathrine Ross is on board as the love interest and it all goes by easy and breezy with dashes of humor, action and a pretty decent car chase.



DANGER WITHIN (1959)
British prisoners in an Italian POW camp must devise a way to escape before the Germans arrive to take over. Standing in their way is a sadistic camp commandant and a traitor hiding among them.
This movie works as a kind of dry-run for THE GREAT ESCAPE which would be released four years later. Drawing it's inspiration from real-life events, it portrays a lot of the same kind of events as the later film and contains touches of humor as the Sturges version did. But this one is a pure suspense, programmer, part murder mystery, part boy's own adventure.
Richard Todd and Richard Attenborough lead a cast of familiar Brit actors in this fast-paced story that draws you in with a kind of locked room whodunnit leading to a nail-biting escape sequence. Ripping stuff.




SAVAGE GUNS (1961)
Drifter Richard Basehart wanders into a battle between ranchers in Sonora, Mexico and is forced to choose sides.
Standard western actioner with the historical significance of being the first western filmed in Almeria, Spain where hundreds of Euro-westerns would be filmed over the next decade and a half. The print I watched was terrible but I imagine the movie would be far more enjoyable given a decent transfer. There's loads of action and fights in a tight running time though the story comes to frequent screaming halts for what we, as kids, called "kissin' scenes." Some of these are rather creepy as Basehart is a good twenty or more years older than his teenage love interest. The movie also offers a twist I rarely see in action flicks; a change in villains halfway through.
Miring the whole thing down is having Basehart in the lead. He's a fine actor and does his best here. But he's no one's idea of a western hero and lacks the physicality and the appearance of an iconic gunslinger. And his theater trained voice sounds unnatural coupled with Randolph Scott style dialogue. It doesn't help that he's one of the shorter members of the cast. I have to wonder why they didn't cast him as the troubled ranch owner played by Don Taylor and cast either Taylor or Alex Nicol (also in the cast as a vile, cowardly gunhand) in the lead.



DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968)
John Phillip Law as the supercriminal Diabolik and Marisa Mell as Eva, his always faithful lover and partner-in-crime. Diabolik plagues the police of Europe with a series of daring heists.
Never been a big Mario Bava fan but this one is fun to watch as a time capsule of 1960's Euro cinema. The action is wild and the heists as unworkable as they are insane. But that's part of the fun as the movie leans hard on its comic book roots for pacing, sets and action. The filmmakers also liberally borrow from James Bond and the 1966 Batman. Adolfo Celli (Largo from THUNDERBALL) is along as a vile mafioso. And Terry-Thomas has two memorable cameos doing what he does best, wheedle and bluster. The Ennio Morricone score is not one of his best with a horrid theme song meant to mimic a James Bond song over a cheapjack imitation of a Maurice Binder Bond credit sequence.




TOO MANY CROOKS (1959)
Crooked businessman and all-around bounder Terry-Thomas sees a way out of his troubles when his wife is kidnapped. All he has to do is not pay the ransom and he's rid of her. But he doesn't count on the ineptitude of abductors or his wife's desire for revenge.
Fast-paced comedy with an ensemble cast that delivers frequent laughs. Of course, Terry-Thomas is the the lead in his patented egotistical cad role delivered with his usual oiliness and always impeccable timing. Brit comedy treasure George Cole is here as Fingers, the spineless leader of the gang. A classic English comedy in a period where Peter Sellers, Ian Carmichael and others were in top form.
If you think this plot sounds awfully similar to the 1986 feature RUTHLESS PEOPLE, you're not far off the mark. That movie lifts the plot of this Brit comedy wholesale and without credit.




HOME SWEET HOMICIDE (1946) When their next-door neighbor is murdered, three precocious kids, inspired by their mystery novelist mom, try to find the killer themselves.
A close adaption of the popular novel by prolific mystery writer Craig Rice (actually Georgiana Craig) made into a brisk and breezy entertainment with the help of a terrific cast. Randolph Scott is his usual manly self playing a homicide detective with as much authority as he did a cowboy. He is more than ably abetted by James Gleason as his partner. Gleason is one of those "oh, THAT guy" character actors who specialized in playing put-upon policemen and sarcastic New Yawkers in well over a hundred features.
The three kids are the core of the film and carry the story with ease. Peggy Ann Carter and Connie Marshall are the older sisters and are perfectly suited to the kind of overly-articulate smartypants characters that typified the portrayal of adolescent girls in the 40's. But Dean Stockwell (yeah, the guy from QUANTUM LEAP and BLUE VELVET) steals the show as the pesky little brother.




SWING HIGH, SWING LOW (1937) You can find it on YouTube.
Soldier Fred MacMurray meets down-on-her-luck Carole Lombard on his last day of service on the Panama Canal. But will Fred put aside his drinking and gambling ways so their whirlwind romance can last a lifetime?
A more classic example of the kind of boy-meets-girl film made in the 1930s would be hard to find. Snappy dialogue enhanced by easygoing MacMurray and the irresistible Lombard. Sure, it's corny and schmaltzy but the performances, including a cameo from Anthony Quinn, and the very real depth of the pathos help make it all work. MacMurray in particular excels in the third act as he descends into a drunken depression. And, if you are familiar with this genre, as movie audiences in the Thirties were, you know there's no guarantee of a happy ending.
I've seen any number of these kind of "romance" movies only to be shocked by a downbeat ending. Robert Montgomery specialized in playing charming rogues in stories that started out breezy and light before gradually descending into degradation, illness or death.
Sidenote: Unfortunately, this movie is in public domain. That means you can find crappy copies of it all over the internet. That also means that Paramount probably has no interest in ever restoring it. A pity.



YOUNG WALLANDER (2020) It's on Netflix.
This six part series is a reboot of Henning Mankell's extremely popular Kurt Wallander police mysteries.
I am a huge fan of both Swedish-produced series featuring this character and was looking forward to seeing this. I guess I'll just have to be happy with the original TV movies because this fails on almost every point.
The first, and biggest problem, is setting this "origin" story in present day. It should have been set in the 60's or 80's to match wither of the original series' timelines. There's an excellent BBC series called ENDEAVOUR featuring the early years of Inspector Morse that is properly set in early 60's Oxford. In this series we're left to imagine this rookie cop growing up to fight crime in some imaginary future.
I suppose this decision was made to make the production less expensive and, mostly, to allow for all the diversity the law will allow. Diversity and political correctness are the main point of this exercise as the agenda-driven storyline strives to present an alternate version of Sweden that Swedes would probably not recognize. That might explain way, oddly, the production is shot in English and there is not even a Swedish language option offered by Netflix. Turkish? Yes. Swedish? No.
All of that might be excusable if the story was worthwhile. But what we get is a sloppily constructed "mystery" cobbled together from coincidence, contrivance, convenience and clues a blind man could find but no one sees but the hero. In fact, this story is constructed much like a Scooby Doo mystery. You know, the kind of plot where there's only one possible suspect and you know who the villain is the very first time they appear in the story. It's that obvious and that bad.


THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997)
Garrulous Bill Murray shows up in London on his birthday to surprise his brother Peter Gallagher hours before a dinner party that Gallagher needs to go well in order to advance his career. Desperate to get rid of his goofy big brother, Gallagher buys Murray tickets to a street theater "experience" that goes disastrously wrong as Murray becomes embroiled in a real, deadly game of spies that he believes to be all "part of the act."
Basically, this is Bill Murray and company recreating the kind of comedy that Bob Hope specialized in, the hapless boob thrown into a dangerous situation that only bluster will help him escape from. The twist on this one is Murray's total obliviousness to the constant danger that he's in as well as the reaction of the cast of killers and a knaves to his outrageous (and seemingly fearless) behavior.
It all ramps up quite nicely with Murray and co-conspirator Joanne Whalley escaping from one cliffhanger scenario after another all with Bill thinking he's in an elaborate improv. Lots of funny scenes with Murray unleashed to play his ugly American character, a more witless, version of his John Winger role in STRIPES.




ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953)
Tough, by-the-book cavalry captain William Holden faces a double threat from the Confederate prisoners in his charge and the Mescalero Apaches on the loose all around the remote Fort Bravo.
Manly, cavalry western ably directed by Jon Sturges with enough action, intrigue and romance to keep you engaged until the suspenseful standoff that takes up much of the film's third act.
It's solid boots and saddle stuff with outnumbered troopers and relentless Apaches all spiced up with the presence of captive rebels always ready to make trouble for the damn Yankees.
My only peeve is with costuming. There was this kind of standard outfit for US Cavalry troopers in Hollywood productions throughout the 50s that bears no relation to how troopers dressed in the period. It always looks too clean, too fussy, too tailored and too uniform with the white gloves and those big, silly, white Stetsons.




BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)
A replicant blade runner, while on a hunt, comes across a mystery that made lead to a tectonic shift in the development of artificial lifeforms.
I was reluctant to watch this as I felt it was the most unnecessary sequel since THE ODD COUPLE 2. I was half right. The story, much like the original film, is a classic Los Angeles private eye story transposed to a dystopic alternate future. Unlike the original, there's really nothing new here storywise.
The film is, like a replicant, is attractive and interesting on the surface but ultimately soulless. That said, what's on the surface has a lot to recommend it. The performances are excellent with Ryan Gosling investing himself totally in the role of K, a replicant with a sense of duty and perhaps more going on behind his deadman eyes. This guy can do a whole lot while appearing to do very little. It's always clear what's on his mind even without dialogue and that includes some deeply emotional moments of loss, anger and frustration. Harrison Ford also offers his best performance in many years as the older, "open-ended lifespan, Deckard.
The revelation here though is the performance of Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a replicant who turns out to be way more than a personal experience. She steals every scene she's in as a hyper-efficient operative for a powerful oligarch. Hoeks plays the role like a petulant child trapped in an adult body and the results are often frightening.
The other star of the film is, of course, the visuals. Roger Deakins cinematographer combined with what looks to be a natural technological evolution from the first film. Often stunning, sometimes imponderable and always utterly convincing. The incredible work of the set and production designers elevate what would have been a ho-hum story to a fascinating visit to a parallel world.
On a side note, I have to wonder when this script was written. It snows in LA in this future and every area beyond the vast urban blight is turned over to agriculture and massive solar farms. It looks like the fantasy future promoted by radical environmentalists in the 80's. You know, back when global cooling was a concern.




PARADISE ALLEY (1978)
Cosmo Carboni seeks fame and fortune for himself and his two brothers in New York's Lower East Side just after WWII. This leads him to urge his slow-witted little brother into the nasty world of all-in wrestling.
This is Sylvester Stallone's sophomore effort as a writer/director and the follow-up to his "overnight" success with ROCKY. Like many second films from creators, this one has a large degree of the self-indulgence allowed by big studios hoping to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.
Unlike so many of those "I got this idea in film school" projects, this one has plenty of heart and an earnest desire to entertain. It is certainly a movie rich in period detail, diverse characters and a mix of humor and pathos that converges at the end for a suspenseful climax.
Sly casts himself as a brash fast-talking wiseass with a gift for gab and a slippery set of morals. In other words, the polar opposite of Rocky Balboa. Not hard to see that his idea was not to get typecast as a stolid macho palooka. And he certainly succeeds. His Cosmo is a charming opportunist who never sees the consequences of his actions until he finally understands that others are paying the price for his scheming.
The story owes its inspiration to Damon Runyon and the earlier Dead End Kids movies. There's a reference to the Bogart classic ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. The whole film has that feel of a Warner Brothers back alley drama. And that atmosphere is bolstered by shooting on location in Manhattan and planting the camera to catch the parts of the skyline that were unchanged from the 1940's. Though this was a Universal film there's not a single scene shot at that studio's well-known city street backlot. I can hear Sly digging his heels in and refusing to shoot any of the film on those familiar sets. Good choice.
This movie failed to find an audience at the time and the reasons are obvious. After the phenomenal success of ROCKY, audiences weren't ready to accept Sly as a conniving user. He would never play a character this morally compromised again. Another reason this suffered at the box office is, that while entertaining throughout, the movie waits far too long to introduce its through story of the "little" brother entering the wrestling game.




REBELLES (2019)
Former beauty pagent winner turned stripper Cécile de France returns home to Boulogne-sur-Mer to escape a failed relationship. She takes a job at a fish cannery where trouble ensues involving a castrated corpse and a bag stuffed with Euros.
Fast-paced. funny and suspenseful, this first feature from director Allan Mauduit is an entertaining, and violent, farce from beginning to end. Shot with an attention to detail and a fine cast of actors playing the comedy with a straight face. And, unlike most American attempts at this kind of comedy, it manages to present a lowbrow comedy without resorting to scatological tangents for cheap laughs.




HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951)
Robert Mitchum is a gambler wooed down to an exclusive island resort off the Mexican coast with a promise of easy cash. But his benefactors have a sinister fate for him that Mitchum must uncover if he means to survive his paid vacation.
This is one of those movies where the backstory of the film is as rich as what you'll see on screen. Apparently, the director lost interest in this project halfway through and walked off. I guess Mitchum agreed with him that the story was a dud and took over the production as writer and director. The actors worked from handwritten re-writes by Bob that turned the entire third act climax into an extended, multi-layer action sequence. The movie's running time went over two hours with these editions in a time when a programmer like this would usually clock in at less than ninety minutes.
The results are a cinematic tour de force as the movie takes a screaming turn halfway through its running time when Mitch cranks everything up to eleven. The action is divided between Mitchum trapped on a yacht with a murderous gangster Raymond Burr and an ex-Nazi doctor(!) and Vincent Price(!) on shore in a gun battle with goon Charles McGraw and a small army of hoods. Price steals the second half of the film as Mitchum unleashes him to play, with all his gusto, a ham actor with a tenuous hold on reality. Both parts of the action are terrific but the standout is Mitchum's solo battle in the claustrophobic confines below decks which is filmed with real verve and edge of the chair suspense.
This film also features what I think is Jane Russell's best performance. The actress often came off somewhat wooden. But here she's charming, funny and more nuanced than we're used to seeing her.
The movie is a Howard Hughes production which may explain its genesis and wild production history.




BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL (2017)
A ronin samurai is cursed with eternal life when a witch's spell inhabits his body with mystical worms who refuse to allow their host to die.
Takashi Miike's gonzo samurai chop-fest starts with a one-against-all sword battle and never lets up after that with multiple fights, attacks, chases, betrayals and confrontations leading to a climatic two-against-all sword battle. There's honestly not much more plot than that.
While it delivers on action, the film fails to deliver on story. One major problem is putting the best fight in the film at the beginning in which the hero kills HUNDREDS of armed men and survives. And this is BEFORE he becomes unkillable. It's hard to work up any real tension or concern after that. A young girl seeking revenge is inserted into the story to give us someone to care about but, while she's certainly placed in danger, there's not a lot of effort made to make us believe she's in actual jeopardy.
Not to say that, as an action film, this isn't a treat. My only qualm is that it could have been a lot more than a simple progression of blade clashes.




Le gendarme se marie/THE TROOPS GET MARRIED (1968)
Louis De Funès is a by-the-book cop in the resort town of San Tropez. When the mobs of vacationers descend on the town at the beginning of summer the widow of a police colonel is among them and the attraction between widower Louis and widow Claude Gensac is immediate. But how will Louis' teenage daughter react?
The second sequel in this popular series of farces about bumbling flics in the Riviera. It all moves briskly with the funniest scenes involving Louis' reaction to the unanticipated changes brought to his life with his whirlwind romance with the elegant Gensac.




PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962)
Ray Milland is on a camping vacation with his wife and kids when Los Angeles (and much of the rest of the world) comes under attack with atomic weapons. He and his, now post-nuclear, family must now survive in a new world where it's every man for himself.
Made at the absolute zenith of the nuclear war scare, this movie portrayed what was literally on everyone's mind at the time. With the Cuban missile crisis still in the headlines, there wasn't anyone not thinking about what might very well lie ahead for civilization.
The movie is low budget and seems very dated now though many of the situations are still effective. In its day it must have been a shocker with stolid Hollywood actor Ray Milland and teen idol Frankie Avalon beating and gunning down their fellow citizens to get what they need to survive. A double-bill cheapie, this movie nonetheless is groundbreaking as it mines the zeitgeist to create the first survivalist drama long before the zombies took over the genre.




THE EAGLE (2009)
The Ninth Legion vanishes in the wilds of the northern reaches of the British Isles. Twenty years later, the son of the commander of the Ninth arrives in Britain to find the lost eagle standard and clear his father's name.
A more serious approach to the sword and scandal genre with kudos for period accuracy on weaponry and armor and attitudes. Though I think they took some liberties with the "Seal people." I don't think the ancient Celts were quite THAT much like native Americans. Here they are more akin to the Apache than any Irishman or Scot I've ever met.
It's brisk adventure stuff with a lot of suspenseful moments. Sadly, for me, the best part of the film was the beginning with two very well blocked out and exciting legions on barbarian action scenes.
Based on the excellent novel The Eagle Of The Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, this film seems to suffer from producer tinkering at the end but that doesn't spoil what is, essentially, a rousing period melodrama.



THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970)
In what is presented as the "real" story of Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective and Dr. Watson embark from London to Scotland to solve a mystery involving silent monks, a troupe of acrobatic midgets and the Loch Ness monster!
Billy Wilder created this gorgeously produced pastiche that really needed to be MORE of a pastiche rather than less. The actors are excellent and the welcome touches of humor dry. The major flaw of the film is in its structure. Wheil Wilder captures the tone and pace of a classic Holmes tale to perfection, he makes the mistake of solving the mystery too early in the film and then fails to add the complications, surprises and action that myself (and probably everyone else watching) expected to see. With a properly wild and hair-raising climax, this film would have been a classic. I can't believe I'm saying this, But this move would have been helped immensely by a Blake Edwards kind of conclusion.




THE BIG STEAL (1949)
Robert Mitchum is both the hunted and the hunter down in Mexico. Falsely accused of stealing an army payroll, he's after the real crook. But William Bendix is on his trail and won't stop until Mitchum is dead and the payroll returned.
Don Siegel delivers another taut programmer in a tidy 71 minutes. As always, Siegel takes full advantage of location shooting with Vera Cruz and the Yucatan making for a compelling background for this cat and mouse story peppered with chases, fights, shoot-outs and some great wise-ass badinage between Mitchum and leading lady Jane Greer. Mitch made a string of these second bill films (often with Jane Russell) for RKO in this period and they are uniformly excellent.