Father is a Bachelor (Dir: Norman Foster & Abby Berlin, 1950).
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Framed aka Paula (Dir: Richard Wallis, 1947).
Glenn Ford gets mixed up with a deadly dame and a shady banker in this taut film noir from Columbia Pictures.
Out of work and out of luck mining engineer Mike Lambert (Ford) lands in a heap of trouble when he crashes his truck into a small mining town on the outskirts of the Arizona desert. Bailed out on a trumped up charge of reckless driving by barroom waitress Paula (Janis Carter), lonely Mike finally thinks he has found an ally in the beautiful blonde. Unbeknownst to Mike, Paula is in cahoots with Vice President of the Empire Trust and Savings Bank, Steve Price (Barry Sullivan). Having embezzled $250,000 of the bank's money, Paula and Steve plan to murder Mike, faking the banker's own death in the process and absconding with the cash. Framed for murder is Mike's only friend and prospective employer Jeff (Edgar Buchanan).
One of many B-movie crime thrillers released by Columbia Pictures in the 1940/50s. What distinguishes Framed from the other second features is a decent production which belies its low budget and some terrific performances from its principle players.
Ford is great as the taciturn Mike, one of his many portrayals of weak willed, easily manipulated manhood. Janice Carter, as archetypal femme fatale Paula, makes the part of the sultry blonde her own. Whether welding a wrench with or lacing a beverage with poison, she does so with sadistic glee and a malevolent glint in her eye. Carter showed great promise as a leading lady and it is to Columbia's detriment that they kept her in B pictures. Rounding out the decent cast is top character actor Edgar Buchanan. The role of Jeff doesn't exactly stretch his acting talents, but he is a welcome presence who benefits any movie he appears in.
With its themes of suburban adulatory and felony, Framed is somewhat reminiscent of James M Cain's novel and subsequent movie adaptation Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944). Richard Wallis directs at a rattling pace; from the opening shot of Mike's truck careening down a mountain path and through busy small town Main Street, the audience is at the heart of the action. The movie then breathlessly races to its climax a brief 80 minutes later.
Despite its obvious qualities and the presence of Glenn Ford, Columbia seems to have had little faith in the movie, renaming it Paula in an attempt to cash-in on Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946), the studio's hit from a year earlier which also starred Ford. While the movie isn't quite in the same league as that classic, it is an entertaining, exciting feature in its own right. If you are a fan of film noir you will find much to enjoy in this cracking crime flick.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Broadway Melody of 1940 (Dir: Norman Taurog, 1940).
Fred Astaire is in tiptop form in this MGM song and dance spectacular from the golden age of movie musicals.
The fourth and final entry in the narratively unrelated Broadway Melody series; this one concerns struggling dancer Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire) accidentally passed over in a lead dancing role for his less talented partner King Shaw (George Murphy). The rose between two thorns is Shaw's new partner Clare Bennett (Eleanor Powell) who quickly realises the wrong half of the double act has been engaged as her new collaborator. Hot headed, party loving Shaw is soon spending more time nursing his hangovers than practicing his routines, so Fred steps up and - Okay, no spoilers, although it is pretty obvious in which direction the plot is heading and who is gonna get the girl come curtain call. But with the wonderful stars and a clutch of top songs by Cole Porter, who really cares about the plot? What we are here for is the dancing and in this department Broadway Melody of 1940 doesn't disappoint.
Astaire was rarely more suave, more elegant or more engaging as he is here. His solo number I've Got My Eyes on You is an obvious highlight. But Fred is not the only hoofer present. George Murphy had considerable talent as a song and dance man. He doesn't quite possess the grace and poise of Astaire, but honestly, who else does? As Fred's first onscreen male dancing partner he particularly shines in the opener Please Don't Monkey with Broadway, the first of the film's numerous standout routines. Matching Fred toe to toe is the wonderful Eleanor Powell; possibly Astaire’s most talented dance partner and one of the finest dancers to grace the silver screen. Powell's athletic style - part tap, part gymnastics - is used to great effect in the jaw-dropping All Ashore, a Navy themed number with perhaps the highest high kicks ever filmed!
There is genuine movie magic in the outstanding finale which finds Powell and Astaire dressed head to toe in white on a black set with a mirrored floor. The pair are the epitome of class as the shimmy across the screen to Porter's classic Begin the Beguine. The routine ranks among the the greatest dance numbers ever committed to celluloid. Little else like it has been seen in Hollywood for 80 years and alone makes the movie worth watching.
A couple of novelty acts feel a little shoehorned in and while they undoubtedly have a curiosity value, they do nothing to further the plot. Their placement within an otherwise conventional narrative structure seems frankly odd and mean that Broadway Melody of 1940 cannot quite be considered among the top tier of MGM's output. But it comes pretty darned close.
While it may lack a little polish in the story department, this final Broadway Melody is, nonetheless, a sparking diamond among movie musicals and the best of the popular series. An absolute gem well worth making a song and dance about.
Monday, May 3, 2021
Underground (Dir: Anthony Asquith, 1928).
Rightly regarded as a milestone in British cinema, Anthony Asquith's silent romantic drama Underground offers a fascinating view of the London Underground almost a century ago.
Detailing the lives of four metropolitans whose lives and loves intertwine on the sublevel transportation network; clean-cut porter Bill (Brian Aherne) and creepy power station employee Bert (Cyril McLaglen) are rivals for the affection of shop assistant Nell (Elissa Landi). After their 'meet cute' over a lost pair of gloves on the steps of a station elevator, Nell, of course, succumbs to the charms of Bill rather than the unwanted attentions of brash Burt, and for 20 odd minutes viewers would be forgiven for thinking they were engaging in a lighthearted romcom. However, a marked shift in tone occurs with the introduction of Kate (Norah Baring), a lovelorn seamstress in a dead-end relationships with Burt. Desperate to win the hand of Nell, Burt coerces Kate with the promise of marriage into blackening Bill's reputation. What follows is a dark, yet engrossing thriller of sexual obsession and embittered revenge; culminating in an exciting climax which takes us from the rooftop of the Lots Road power station before descending into the darkness of the Northern Line.
While early experiments in sound cinema are often marred by static camera work, this movie from the tail-end of the silent era has no such limitations. From the opening driver's eye view of a tube train emerging from the dark of the tunnel to a crowded platform - a scene mirrored in the film's closing - Underground has a visceral modernity, thanks to the tight direction of Anthony Asquith and the artful cinematography of Stanley Rodwell.
Asquith was to become a key figure in British filmmaking, later helming classics such as Pygmalion (A Asquith, 1938) and The Way to the Stars (A Asquith, 1945). Astonishingly, Underground was only his second directorial credit. The movie is expertly crafted, displaying the influence of German Expressionism and Soviet Montage cinema, evidenced vividly in a rapidly edited pub punch-up culminating with the distorted reflection of the perpetrators in the broken barroom mirror. There is palpable sense of the bustling metropolis in scenes of claustrophobic cramped carriages and crowded platforms, familiar to anyone who has ever experienced the Tube at rush hour.
Silent cinema is often associated with over-expressive performances, yet, as an early example of British cinema's long association with realism, the actors are suitably naturalistic. With only four main characters, the movie is particularly dependent upon the cast and all acquit themselves well, especially Norah Baring, who lends a particularly affecting vulnerability to the role of unlucky in love Kate.
Almost a century after release, Underground the movie is as sleek and stylish as the famed Edward Johnson designed London Underground roundel. The movie is as equally impressive as its more acclaimed contemporary talkie Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock, 1929), with Asquith proving as adept in his knowledge of the language of cinema as Hitchcock himself. With fascinating footage of the Tube, public transport freaks and British movie geeks alike will find much to enjoy in this hugely entertaining and highly recommended classic.
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Angels in the Endzone (Dir: Gary Nadeau, 1997).
More spiritual shenanigans with the heavenly bodies last seen in Angels in the Outfield (William Dear, 1994); on hand here to help out failing football team the Westfield Angels. Unlike its predecessor this, the first of two sequels to Walt Disney Pictures' modest box office hit, bypassed cinemas; instead premiering on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney TV series in autumn 1994.
Following the untimely death of his father, promising player Jesse (Matthew Lawrence) quits his high school football team to hang with a bad crowd. Little brother Kevin (David Gallagher) prays to the heavenly angels to aid the ailing Westfield Angels, in the hope that their success will inspire Jess to return to the team. Industrial strength schmaltz is applied liberally to a predictable plot in which the only real surprise was that I made it to the end credits.
Perhaps I am being a little harsh on Angels in the Endzone. The lazy cultural stereotypes, forced slapstick and stodgy sentiment is something that will likely bother its intended young audience far less than it does a jaded, so-called movie reviewer like myself. It is by no means difficult to watch, but I do find the mix of saccharin and spiritualism a bit of an acquired taste.
In its favour is a likeable cast. Returning from the first movie is Christopher Lloyd as head angel Al, doing his lovable eccentric bit as a kind of divine Doc Brown. It is certainly no stretch for the star but he makes more of an impression here than in ...Outfield and shares some nice scenes with youngster David Gallagher. Veteran Paul Dooley also impresses as weather beaten Coach Buck; so good is his performance that it is a shame it is not in a better movie. As it is, Dooley and Lloyd are easily the best reason for watching.
To say Angels in the Endzone is a better movie than the first is not saying much. But a less cloying concept, thankfully free of orphans, and a darker second half ultimately makes for more palatable viewing than its predecessor. Following the same narrative beats as Angels in the Outfield, it is fair to assume that if you liked that movie you will enjoy this one too. Angels were definitely smiling on fans of the franchise as a third movie Angels in the Infield (Robert King, 2000) inexplicably followed. None of the series is, as yet, available on the Disney+ streaming service, perhaps giving some indication of their limited appeal. By all means give them a look if you stumble upon them but I wouldn't necessarily recommend tracking them down.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Angels in the Outfield (Dir: William Dear, 1994).
Walt Disney animation was enjoying a long awaited renaissance in the 1990s, with features such as Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise, 1991) and Aladdin (Ron Clements & John Musker, 1993) achieving popular and critical success on a scale little seen since the golden age of the 1930s/40s. Over at Disney's live-action department it was a different story. Formulaic comedy and kid's sports movies dominated a release schedule only occasionally punctuated by big hits such as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (Joe Johnston, 1989) and Cool Runnings (Jon Turteltaub, 1993). Fantasy baseball movie Angels in the Outfield was the studios' attempt to hit a home run in the busy summer blockbuster season of 1994.
With his mother dead, young Roger (Joseph Gorden Levitt) is already residing in a foster care home when estranged dad (Dermot Mulroney) tells the boy they will only be a family again when no-hoper baseball team the Angels win the pennant. Roger's prayers are answered when a group of angels, lead by Christopher Lloyd, intervene to secure the team their most successful season. Team manager George Knox (Danny Glover), while skeptical about the heavenly help, befriends the kid, becoming a surrogate father of sorts to the abandoned boy. No spoilers are necessary in this review, as the movie's outcome is obvious long before the final inning.
A remake of a vintage MGM production, also titled Angels in the Outfield (Clarence Brown, 1951), Disney's take adds kid appeal by way of an extra dollop of saccharine, making an already sticky concept even gooier. Indeed, the combination of angels, orphans and cloying sentiment is a little hard to swallow and may leave a lump in your throat for the wrong reasons. The cliches come quicker than a fastball in a movie photographed through a soft-lens golden hue as if it were perpetual sundown, while some laboured comedy and a predictable plot would have seemed out of date when the original version was released.
What makes the picture watchable is the surprisingly starry cast. Pre-stardom Joseph Gordon Levitt, Adrien Brody and Matthew McConaughey appear alongside veterans Danny Glover, Brenda Fricker, Christopher Lloyd and Ben Johnson. TV sitcom star Tony Danza contributes a sensitive performance as a washed-up ballplayer while, as the beleaguered boss, Glover invests an earnestness into his performance that the picture really doesn't deserve.
The fantasy baseball movie had become something a sub-genre of its own by the mid '90s; in the previous decade both The Natural (Barry Levinson, 1984) and Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989) achieved considerable artistic and commercial success. While a moderate box office hit, Angels in the Outfield was almost universally panned by critics and three decades later is an almost entirely forgotten entry in the Walt Disney Pictures canon. It did, however, spawn a mini-franchise of sorts, with sequels Angles in the Endzone (Gary Nadeau, 1997) and Angles in the Infield (Robert King, 2000) debuting on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney television series.
With an unexpected subject matter from a company that largely avoids spiritual symbolism in its product, the movie is, perhaps tellingly, one of only a few 90's Disney movies yet to make it to the Disney+ streaming service. Its talented cast means that Angels... is not entirely unwatchable and it has a undeniable weird appeal. Check it out if you must, but be wary that a strong stomach is needed to digest all that sugary sentiment.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Battleship Potemkin is a dramatic reconstruction of the mutiny of the Imperial Russian Navy ship Potemkin and events surrounding the 1905 Russian Revolution. Commissioned by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the incident, the movie is an early example of film as political propaganda. So powerful was director Eisenstein's film that it was banned by governments, including the UK, in fear of evoking similar protests among the proletariat.
To claim Battleship Potemkin is possibly the most influential movie of all time is no exaggeration. Through use of dramatic editing, Eisenstein pioneered the technique of montage most notable in the scenes of maggoty meat, the much imitated Odessa steps sequence and, my personal favourite, the symbolic awakening stone lion.
Almost a century after its initial release, Battleship Potemkin is still an incredibly powerful piece of movie making. The juxtaposing of images to create dramatic tension feels palpably modernist and literally changed film editing forever. Pioneering the docu-drama before the term 'documentary' had been coined; its influence on the British film industry and the subsequent realist movement is immeasurable.
Battleship Potemkin arguably rivals the likes of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) and Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) for the title of Greatest Movie Ever Made. It is a monumental motion picture that should be cornerstone viewing for those with even the slightest interest in film. If you have seen it, you know what I am talking about. If you haven't I recommend you cancel all further engagements and watch it immediately. Once you have done that I suggest you seek out the writings of a proper film historian who can offer an appropriate appraisal of this masterpiece.
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Sometimes you forget how powerful a storytelling medium film can be until you watch a truly great movie. Such is the case with Alan J Pakula’s masterpiece All the President’s Men. Goodness knows why it has taken me 45 years to finally watch it.
Recent events in US politics, and indeed the years leading up to them, may have de-sensitised some to political corruption or at least ruined their appetite for movies about political corruption. Fret thee not as All the President’s Men is less a film about politics, rather the investigative journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal which eventually led to the impeachment of 37th US president Richard Nixon.
Based upon Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's non-fiction book of the same name, the movie cast Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein and Robert Redford as Woodward as they doggedly probe the murky details surrounding the 1972 break-in and burglary of the Democratic Nation Committee headquarters in the Washington DC's Watergate complex. Risking their careers and their lives to expose the perpetrators of the felony, tracing it all the way back to the main man himself, president Nixon.
There is surprisingly little action in All The President's Men, indeed much of the 'action' is made up of two guys on the telephone. Yet it is as taut and tense as any thriller you have seen, with Pakula’s steady direction a masterclass in pacing. As you would expect, the cast is flawless. Much of the movie is shot in closeup and the intensity of the performances is right up on the screen in the faces of Redford and Hoffman; the movie proving an acting showcase for two of Hollywood's most enduring and appealing leading men. Excellent support comes from Jack Warden, Martin Balsam and Jason Robards as the Post editors and a short but scene stealing appearance from Ned Beatty, similar in tone to his brief role in the same year's Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976). Special mention must be made to the late Hal Holbrook who is especially effective in the small but important role as the shady informant Deep Throat.
What could have been a dry account of worthy journalistic endeavor is, instead an enthralling and exciting masterpiece. All the President's Men wholly lives up to it reputation as one the most important films of its era and arguably the greatest political film of all time. Highly recommended for even those with no interest in politics and journalism.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Rock & Rule (Dir: Clive A Smith, 1983).
Monday, January 18, 2021
Following the success of The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963), producer Walter Mirisch would attempt to repeat its success with other WWII themed movies including 633 Squadron (Walter E Gruman, 1963), Submarine X-1 (William Graham, 1968) and this cheap and cheerful effort.
Inspired by the real life Operation Chariot, a raid on the German occupied French port St Nazire, Attack on the Iron Coast details an mission to destroy a Nazi stronghold, lead by hardheaded Canadian army Major Jamie Wilson (Lloyd Bridges) and dissonant British navy Captain Franklin (Andrew Keir).
Herman Hoffman's screenplay is a cliched affair, with narrative tropes familiar to anyone who has ever watched a WWII movie. Add to this the unimaginative direction of Paul Wendkos and some overwrought performances from its cast of B movie regulars and we have a well meaning but somewhat ham-fisted actioner. The use of stock footage in battle scenes and obvious model work in the effects sequences only accentuate the movie’s low budget.
Top billed is Lloyd Bridges, an amiable leading man who always seemed more comfortable on the small screens than in movies. He gives a decent performance as commando leader Major Wilson, tormented by the thought of sending his squad on the deadly duty. More effective is co-star Andrew Keir as the stoic Captain Franklin, at loggerheads with Wilson after his own son was lost on one of the Major's previous missions.
Fascinatingly much of the movie was shot in London’s St Katherine Dock, after it functioned as a dock and before redevelopment saw it transformed into a leisure and tourist destination. To be honest, this and the presence of Mr Keir were my main reasons for watching this particular feature film. If this peeks your interest then it is well worth seeking out. If not there are many WWII movies far more competently made than this.
Ultimately, Attack on the Iron Coast is the movie equivalent of a Commando comic book. While it is no cinematic masterpiece, it is a perfectly entertaining way to pass 90 minutes of your time; I imagine the movie was met with appreciation by many a young lad on the second half of a matinee double bill back in '68.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Escape in the Fog (Dir: Oscar Boetticher Jr, 1945).
The evocatively titled Escape in the Fog is a B-movie thriller from Columbia Pictures; directed by Budd Boetticher, billed here, as on all his early movies, as Oscar Boetticher Jr.
Wartime nurse Eileen Carr (Nina Foch) has a nightmare about the attempted murder of friendly neighbourhood G-Man Barry Malcolm (William Wright). The premonition proves prophetic and on this preposterous premise is hung a convoluted plot involving smuggled documents, kidnapping and Nazi bad guys.
Sometimes regarded as film noir, Escape in the Fog has noir-ish elements but is, instead, a fairly routine wartime espionage thriller. At least it would be routine, but for the incredulous plot. Set in San Francisco. but featuring little of the city’s famous landmarks, it was obviously shot on the studio backlot on a fairly meagre budget. That said, it makes decent use of its budgetary constraints; with fog cloaked exteriors both adding atmosphere and obscuring the lack of outdoor locales and elaborate sets.
Otto Kruger receives top billing as uncover agent Paul Devon, but the real leads are William Wright and Nina Foch. A leading man who never made it out of B-pictures, Wright is a little too bland to fully convince as the hero. Better is Foch as the mystic medic; although sadly underused, she is nonetheless as watchable as ever and is probably the best reason to seek out this particular movie. Together the pair have little onscreen chemistry, thus making the romantic subplot feel a little forced.
Boetticher was often dismissive of his early work, including Escape in the Fog. It is a little undistinguished but not without entertainment value. At just shy of 65 minutes it is short and moves at a fair pace but, ultimately, the movie is scuppered by a convoluted plot and the implausible narrative device of premonition It is worth a watch, especially for fans of the era and of Foch, but the plot is just a bit too silly to really take seriously.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Major Barbara (Dir: Gabriel Pascal, 1941)
An impressive array of British acting talent headline Gabriel Pascal’s feature film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s acclaimed 1905 satirical play. Receiving an Assistant in Direction credit, it is widely acknowledged that Major Barbara was almost solely directed by the great David Lean with some help from stage director Harold French. Producer Gabriel Pascal owned the film rights and took onscreen director credit.
Wendy Hiller stars as the titular Salvation Army major and estranged daughter of weapons manufacturer Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley). Rex Harrison is the Greek philosophy professor Adolphus, who sparks romantic interest from the major and business interest from her father as a possible heir to his ammunition enterprise.
It is hard to recall a movie of its era with a more impressive cast than Major Barbara. Fresh from her performance in Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard, 1938), Wendy Hiller gives an enormously characteristic performance as the headstrong idealist at odds with her father’s legacy. Rex Harrison, who incidentally would later star in Pygmalion musical adaptation My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964), is her equal, giving evidence of his stature as one of Britain’s top stars. Add to this some deliciously ripe hamming from Robert Morley and Robert Newton and early appearances from future stars Deborah Kerr and Stanley Holloway and you have a veritable who’s who of Brit actors.
A hack amateur movie reviewer, such as myself, is in no position to criticise a great writer such as Mr Bernard Shaw. Indeed, there is little to criticise. Shaw’s satire is still sharp over a century after the play was first performed. The dialogue sparkles and Lean’s direction can’t be faulted; the movie is rightly regarded a classic. However, I feel the capitalism sympathetic climax sits somewhat uneasy with the rest of the feature. I appreciate it is satirising both sides of the capitalist coin, but the ending really did trip me up. For me it was the movie’s only real weakness; although I guess it is only a weakness depending on where you sit on the political spectrum.
In all other respects Major Barbara is top tier entertainment from the golden age of British cinema and is highly recommended viewing.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (Dir: R Winer & B Mahon, 1972).
If you are looking for alternative Christmas viewing it doesn’t get much more alternative than this, frankly weird, no-budget effort from indie production company R & S Films, Inc.
Santa (Jay Clark) touches down in sunny Florida and gets his sleigh stuck in the sand. Using his powers of telepathy(!), Ol’ Saint Nick summons the help of some local kids including, for reasons unexplained, Mark Twain’s literary Tom and Huck. The kids employe an assortment of animals, gorilla included, to shift the sleigh to no avail, until the appearance of the titular rabbit who, despite co-star billing, doesn’t appear until the final moments of the movie. When he does finally make an entrance he is inexplicably driving a fire truck, not an ice cream van as you might expect. Really this Santa and Bunny business is just a framing device as Santa settles down to tell the kids the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, which takes up the bulk of the movie’s runtime.
Portions of a movie’s musical score being played on kazoo is generally a good indicator that it was made on a low budget. Actually there are many indicators that Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny was made on a low budget: amateurish performances and camerawork, shoddy sets and witless songs are just a few.
With a disjointed and often nonsensical narrative the movie has a hazy, dreamlike quality that may leave you wondering if you actually watched it or imagined it. Yet, for all that, it does have a certain slapdash charm.
I seriously doubt if Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny ever appealed to kids, even back in ‘72. It is difficult to see it appealing to young’uns today, unless they have a particular penchant for kitsch movies.
In the public domain and easy to access via streaming, by all means give it a watch, as there is little else like it around. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it as much as endured it. But it was weirdly watchable and cheaper than drugs.