Thursday, April 30, 2009


Ann, the new girl at high school, hangs out with Eve, a pretty blonde who seems friendly and wholesome but who soon drags Ann down a very unwholesome path involving reading racy novels, smoking, drinking, and engaging in heavy petting with boyfriends. Eve's mother is so trampy, she's dating men even though she's not officially divorced; Ann's mom is a dowdy homemaker, but her pop is carrying on an extramarital affair. With such bad role models, who can blame poor Ann for taking a one-way trip down the road to ruin? Tommy seems like a cute kid, but one makeout session on a riverbank ends up with Ann losing her virginity to him. Later, Ralph, a dirty old man, steals Ann away from Tommy. The girls attend a wild pool party, complete with a strip poker game, some midnight skinny-dipping, and a police raid. Eve winds up with syphilis and manages to get medical treatment, but poor Ann winds up pregnant. Ralph insists she get an abortion, but the back-alley doc botches things, and Ann’s road to ruin ends in an untimely death.

Sex gets the Reefer Madness treatment here in a low-budget exploitation film. This doesn't really work as camp because the actors are a bit too sincere. Still, on its own terms, it's not a bad movie. There's a nice feeling of freshness and spontaneity to many of the early scenes. Helen Foster as Ann is OK though she never truly seems down and dirty enough for the trouble she gets in; Nell O'Day is better as Eve, downplaying the trashiness and playing Eve as a smart cookie gone bad. Also fine is Glen Boles as Tommy (pictured), who seems like a nice kid who gets in over his head, not like the usual slimy Lothario type these films usually feature. None of the kids have bad intentions here, though practically all the adults do--in one very funny scene, the pool party neighbors peer voyeuristically out the window before calling the cops, the husband in particular enjoying his eyeful of bad behavior. The movie was co-directed by Dorothy Davenport, or as she's officially billed, "Mrs. Wallace Reid"; Reid was a silent movie star who died at the age of 31 from alcoholism and morphine addiction, and his widow made a number of movies which preached against sinful vices. The preaching here is dated, but it's still a fairly enjoyable trip into B-movie moralizing, spiced with some actual nudity in the pool scene. [TCM]

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Trevor Howard (left) is an associate police commissioner in the British territory of Sierra Leone in West Africa during WWII. He is unhappily married to Elizabeth Allan, who is herself unhappy being stuck in a backwater colony, and she's even more unhappy when Howard is passed over for a promotion and doesn't make a fuss about it. She is flirting with, and maybe having an affair with, Denholm Elliott, who though young and handsome seems a bit seedy and decadent. The Catholic Howard is disturbed when another officer hangs himself, and he and a priest (Peter Finch) have an angry dialogue about whether or not suicide is the one sin that God cannot forgive. Soon, Howard is in trouble on a couple of fronts: in order to get money for his wife to take a vacation to South Africa, he takes out a loan from a notorious criminal (Gerard Oury), which complicates his association with a diamond smuggling case the police have been working on. At the same time, he gets involved in a passionate affair with a young widowed Austrian refugee (Maria Schell). When the wife returns and the police get suspicious about his relationship with Oury, things start to fall apart for Howard.

I haven't read much Graham Greene, but I wouldn't think that his books about Catholic faith and marital problems would be movie bait; nevertheless, much of his work (Catholic-centered and otherwise) has been adapted for the screen, and successfully. Even more interesting is that what are arguably two of the best Greene films were done in the 50's, though they seem more akin to recent indie films in their indirect and slow-building narrative arcs. (The other film is the 1956 THE END OF THE AFFAIR.) Howard is excellent as a man unmoored, even from his god. The entire cast is top-drawer, especially Oury who went on to make a name as a director in the 60's and 70's. The ending is apparently different from that of the novel, but is almost as bleak. As a long-lapsed Catholic boy, I still find films and novels about Catholics interesting, and this is certainly among the best. [TCM]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Puff cigarettes sponsors a radio contest looking for the most average U.S. citizen based on usage of popular products; small-town guy Jack Haley is announced as the winner, but when PR men Adolphe Menjou and Jack Oakie discover that Haley’s choices matched up 100% with the national averages, they drum up an excuse to disqualify him. Their plan: to keep him under watch and see if his product choices and opinions on public issues can predict those of the populace. Sure enough, the PR company is able to perfectly chart up-and-coming trends based on Haley’s picks, but their luck may not hold when they try to stymie Haley’s romance with his hometown girlfriend Arlene Wheelen, who is chosen Miss World’s Fair; they’re afraid that Haley will lose his common touch. This second-feature satire starts off well, but loses energy in the last half, despite an amusing sequence in which, in order to gauge Haley’s opinions on isolationism, they infect him with a bad case of poison ivy (see picture) and sequester him in a hotel room while convincing him that war is about to break out. The three male stars are fine, as is Binnie Barnes as a PR assistant. Tony Martin sings occasionally for no particular reason. Haley, best known as Oz’s Tin Man, is a charming light comic leading man (see ONE BODY TOO MANY ; it’s a shame he never really hit it big beyond OZ. [FMC]

Friday, April 17, 2009


A drab generic title hides a sweet comedy about a larcenous family that reforms its ways. We first see the Carleton family in operation on the French Riveria. Patriarch Roland Young claims to be a ex-colonel with the British Army in India and calls himself Sahib--in reality, his "title" comes from a play he and his wife (Billie Burke) did in their youth about the Bengal Lancers. While he fleeces folks at the gambling tables, his son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., is about to marry a rich woman while daughter Janet Gaynor is flirting with a young Scotsman of promise (Richard Carlson). However, they're caught in the their scamming ways and are ordered out of the country. On a train to England, they befriend a lonely old woman (Minnie Dupree) who has recently come into a great deal of money. They help her out when she's injured during a train derailment and she insists they come to live with her in her mansion. Smelling a shot at getting into the old lady's will, they agree. Carlson returns and threatens to expose them, but when they insist they are serious about reforming, he calls their bluff, beginning with getting Young honest employment with the Flying Wombat car company (sounds a little Monty Pythonish, doesn’t it?). The rest of the film follows the gradual change in all of them: Fairbanks gets a menial job at an engineering firm and falls in love with his boss (Paulette Goddard), and Gaynor warms to the attentions of Carlson. But we don't know for sure how far the family has come until Dupree does indeed put them in her will, then becomes seriously ill; the family finds out that her estate is almost bankrupt. Will they stick around for Dupree's sake or return to their con artist ways? The first half of this film is quite charming; the family members are all allowed to be unrepentant rogues, and even the usually curdly-sweet Gaynor seems to be having fun being bad. Once they start getting serious about being honest, some of the fun goes out of the proceedings. All the actors are fine, with Young and Burke standouts; I kept being scared that Carlson's heavy artificial Scottish accent would slip, but he does a pretty good job with it. [DVD]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This little-known pre-Code melodrama, about the effects of family and finances on romance and ambition, works surprisingly well for most of its running time, until its rather sudden happy wrap-up. Charles Farrell and Marian Nixon (pictured) are a cute young couple who want to get married but have lots of obstacles in their way. Farrell, who is desperate for a raise at work, is something of a mama's boy and his mother (Josephine Hull) is a nagging shrew who refuses to agree to move in with the couple so they could marry and he wouldn't have to keep paying her rent. Nixon's mother (Minna Gombell) is a nagging shrew to her husband (William Collier Sr.), a sweet older guy whose insurance business is faltering. Gombell, who has always wanted a better life and a more ambitious husband, is having an affair with their boarder who, on the verge of a big business deal, embezzles money from his firm. Everyone here has frustrated dreams; the title comes from a song that Farrell and Nixon sing to each other about being happy "after tomorrow comes." Eventually, Farrell's better job comes through and they plan their wedding, but the day before, Gombell leaves town with the boarder and her already ill husband has a heart attack. The young couple uses the money they'd saved for the wedding for Collier's doctor bills. Six months later, with Hull still a whining albatross around Farrell's neck, Gombell returns just as Collier is getting back on his feet, not to reconcile but to give him a thousand dollars to give to the couple. He's too proud to take it, but rather suddenly, a "deus ex machina" solution springs up out of nowhere, involving Hull and a character we've heard about but never seen, and the last shot shows Farrell and Nixon at Niagara Falls, married at last.

Because this was made before the Production Code restrictions, it feels a little more realistic than later films of its kind. Though Farrell and Nixon seem chaste, at one point we see them engage in a playful wrestling match that winds up with the two of them on the floor looking like theyr’re ready to move to the bedroom (until his mom enters). Later, Farrell proposes flat out a weekend "holiday" purely as a sexual outlet, though Nixon nips that in the bud. Gombell's affair is presented plainly and, in a development that would not be possible under the Code where her adulterous behavior would have to be punished, she winds up happy and satisfied. The best acting here is in the supporting roles, especially Gombell and Collier—Gombell has a great scene in which she snaps and tells Nixon that she was a mistake and was never wanted.. The lanky and handsome Farrell was never exactly a powerhouse; he's believable here as a nice but passive guy who lets everyone walk all over him, but isn't aware that's what he's doing. Hull only made five movies, but you'll recognize her as a dotty old lady from ARSENIC AND OLD LACE and HARVEY. There are several good lines of dialogue. When Gombell complains, "Anybody would think I'm just the cook around here," Collier replies, "Not after a couple of your meals, dear." When someone confronts Hull about her constant bitching, she says, "A sharp tongue is the penalty of a keen brain." Today, this material would be more suited for a TV sitcom, but it's kind of refreshing to see this more serious Depression-era portrayal of how the pressures of money and family wear down a young couple. [DVD]

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Van Heflin, a successful Broadway producer, sees his wife (Gene Tierney) off to visit her sick mother, then reluctantly attends a boring cocktail party given by Ginger Rogers, the star of his latest hit show. At the party, he befriends a depressed young lady (Peggy Ann Garner) who has been struggling to make a living as a writer--she's told by one editor that it's OK to write like Somerset Maugham or Truman Capote, but not like both at the same time. When she complains that her current living conditions down in the Village aren't conducive to her writing, he agrees to let her use his luxury apartment during the day while he's gone. This goes on for a few weeks without incident, but on the day that Tierney returns, Garner is found dead in the bathroom, an apparent suicide. Based on evidence provided by Garner's roommate (Virginia Leith), the assumption is made that she killed herself over an affair with Heflin which had gone wrong, but then the police find out that she was strangled (and pregnant) and Heflin, despite his insistence that he was not involved in her life, is the prime suspect. He spends the rest of the film trying to clear himself, and soon discovers that Garner was not quite the naïve innocent she seemed to be.

This film has been released as part of Fox's Noir series, and the basic plotline (an innocent man, in the wrong place and time accused of murder, and a potential femme fatale or two) is certainly a stalwart noir device. But stylistically, this is far from noir: this film is in bright color and Cinemascope, and though it's set in the big city, virtually none of the action takes place on city streets, but in well-appointed apartments in high-rise buildings (except for the atmospheric Village garret where a couple of scenes are set). Structurally, the film is a mess: it's narrated once in a while by Heflin, and an awkward flashback sequence is shoved in during the first half-hour to give some background about Garner. In the service of providing some red herrings, there are plot details tantalizingly presented then dropped or not developed, such as Garner's romance with Leith's brother (Skip Homeier), who seems to be living in the garret. The supporting cast includes Reginald Gardiner as Rogers' weak, older husband, Otto Kruger as Garner's uncle, and Cathleen Nesbit as Heflin's maid. Bea Benedaret and Mabel Albertson, both of whom you'll recognize from TV shows, have small roles. In addition to a problematic script, the acting is weak. Heflin is virtually the only one to escape unscathed. Rogers, trying for a bitchy diva like Margo Channing in ALL ABOUT EVE, can't quite cut it and gives a TV-scale performance in a widescreen film. Tierney has little to do in an underwritten part. Gardiner and Kruger are OK, though neither is a great fit for his role. It's worth seeing, especially if you're in the mood for a (predictable) mystery movie, but I think it would have worked better as a lower-budget, black & white noir. [DVD]

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


A delightful little wartime thriller with comedy, romance, and at least one surprisingly explicit death. In the Scottish countryside, Leslie Banks, an eccentric inventor, and his wife let a rather scampish Cockney evacuee boy (George Cole, pictured) stay at their country estate; already in the house are a mysterious boarder (Alastair Sim) and a wounded pilot (John Mills). Banks is working on a new bomb sight for the RAF, but insists on staying at his home to do the work rather than working from London. Fearful that spies are leaking invention info to the Germans, Scotland Yard is keeping an eye on things, but we are kept off guard as no one is quite whom he or she seems to be on the surface. In addition to the house guests, there's also Banks' nerdish assistant (Michael Wilding) who might be a traitor, a butler who might be a cop, a maid who quits rather suddenly, and Banks' daughter (Carla Lehman) who falls for Mills. Young Cole, a Sherlock Holmes fan, figures out who's who and plays an important part in the elaborate climactic sequence, in which he and Banks are kidnapped on the day of the village bazaar.

This was based on a stage play and, though it retains that feel, being mostly set in the house, there are crucial scenes which are opened up into the outdoors. The laboratory set is particularly well done. All the actors are good, with the young Cole (who went on to play Scrooge's nephew in the Alastair Sim CHRISTMAS CAROL), Mills, and Sim standouts. One character (I can't tell you who) gets a memorable death scene, involving a tortured scream and a lunge at the camera, right at the end of the film. This is not a widely seen movie in the States, but watch Turner Classic's schedule for it. One amusing quote: Sim says, "I'm a romantic sentimentalist"; Lehman's reply: "How uncomfortable for you." [TCM]

Saturday, April 04, 2009


This is a seriously weird, probably one-of-a-kind movie. Imagine the Our Gang kids or the Bowery Boys making an antiwar movie, like All Quiet on the Western Front, but within the narrative framework of West Side Story (without the romance). Set in Hungary after the first World War, the film is essentially about a turf war between two gangs of boys: The Paul Street Boys, who look to be around 11 or 12 years old, and the Red Shirts, who all look at least 16. Though we get virtually no information about their family lives, I think, as in West Side Story, we're to assume that these kids have too much free time on their hands and not enough places to spend that free time. There is one last vacant plot of land in their neighborhood, an abandoned lumber yard, and the Paul Streeters spend their time defending the land from the marauding Red Shirters. Like The Jets in West Side Story, the Red Shirters remain individually anonymous except for their leader, Frankie Darro, who is dead serious and never cracks a smile. The Paul Street Boys are led by Jimmy Butler and Jackie Searl, but the central character of the film is sickly little George Breakston who is the only one of his gang who isn't an "officer," remaining always a private; he doesn't even have a military cap like everyone else does.

Darro (pictured above) sneaks into the lumber yard and steals the Paul Street flag, and the rest of the film follows the war that develops (both gangs portrayed rather heavy-handedly as "armies"), with Breakston trying constantly to prove his worth to Butler. At one point, Searl becomes a spy for the Red Shirts, but Breakston catches him and he is eventually welcomed back to the Paul Streeters. Breakston catches a cold and refuses to rest up, and by the end it has developed into a potentially fatal disease. When the final battle occurs, the sick little boy, who has finally gotten a soldier's cap of his own, leaves his bed to participate and tragedy strikes, and the finale has the feel of the last scene of West Side Story. The biggest problem here is that the movie never finds a consistent tone. It's mostly serious, with an occasional touch of humor, though it's all the weirder that the threat of real physical danger is rarely present. The disparity in ages between the two groups is also strange; maybe that's part of the anti-war allegorizing that's going on here, but for me it was a frustrating distraction from taking the movie as seriously as it wanted to be taken. The director, Frank Borzage, gets good performances out of all the boys, especially Breakston. Darro, one of the best and most underrated child actors of the 30's (see WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD, now on DVD as part of the new Forbidden Hollywood boxed set), looks menacing but never gets a chance to really act. Though these kids are clearly standing in for adult soldiers in Borzage's war allegory, it's difficult to take the battle seriously, especially when, as online critic Goatdog points out, the final battle looks like a lot of fun, and obviously no one is in danger of real injury. A weird movie; if TCM ever airs this rarely-seen Columbia film again, catch it to believe it. [TCM]

Friday, April 03, 2009


One of the wonderful things about Tigger…, I mean, about DVDs, is that movies that haven't seen the light of day (or the dark of theaters) in years are surfacing as companies search deeper and deeper for more material to satisfy the thirst of audiences for anything on that small silver disc. I'd never heard of this film until someone mentioned it on a classic movie e-mail list I belong to. It's a weird one that's fun for a while, but wears out its welcome halfway through. Handsome sailor Mathieu Carriere arrives on leave in his home town and is approached by two men who tell him it’s his destiny to come with them. He tries to ignore them, sees his sister (Susan Hampshire) on the street, and follows her to a red light district where he gets roughed up in a bar brawl and wakes up the next morning in the family mansion called Malpertuis, surrounded by servants and relatives who are all waiting for the sick family patriarch (Orson Welles, looking the part) to die. Welles tells the assembled group, who all seem a bit on the seedy, enervated side, that in order to receive their money, they must live forever within the confines of the estate. One relative, the lovely and mysterious Euryale (also Susan Hampshire), avoids direct eye contact with Carriere and sits with Welles, helping him to die. Among the assorted characters: a scruffy ill-treated man (Jean-Pierre Cassel) who lives under the stairs, a taxidermist who's been experimenting with creating new life, and three strange sisters (one of whom is, yes, Susan Hampshire) who are always together. There is a secret which makes everything make sense, and it's a good one (too good to reveal here), but it's not executed well, and it's revealed a bit too late in the film to be much fun for the viewer. The cinematography and sets are effective, though Carriere (who, in his white sailor suit, looks like a blond, androgynous Brad Davis from QUERELLE) is not the most charismatic lead actor; Hampshire, however, is quite good in her multiple roles. At best, this is a diverting oddity, too long and tedious to be truly compelling. [DVD]