Thursday, June 23, 2022

BEYOND ATLANTIS (1973)

Manuel, a Filipino fisherman, visits an island every couple of months where the beautiful but mysterious Syrene (Leigh Christian) trades pearls for supplies. When he takes one of the pearls to local pimp East Eddie (Sid Haig), Eddie recognizes it as a very rare and precious Tuscarawa pearl and he arranges a trip to the island with his sleazy buddy Logan (John Ashley) whose primary income seems to come from betting on cockfights. In turn, Logan gets clean-cut fisherman Mathias (Patrick Wayne) to pilot the expedition, saying they will split their haul three ways. Overhearing their conversation in a bar, Katherine (Lenore Stevens), a local anthropologist, wants to come along to test her theory about a lost tribe. Despite tensions between all four, they take off for the isolated island. They are cautiously welcomed by the islanders, goggle-eyed mutants who can stay underwater indefinitely, which is also where they prefer to have sex in the form of mini-water ballets. But Syrene and her father Nereus (George Nader), the ruler of the island, are not mutants, and we discover that Syrene is being pressured to mate with one of the guests in order to perpetuate their race. People dive and pearls are found and tensions keep growing. Eventually the handsome Mathias is more or less forced into an underwater mating with Syrene, but, as in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, greed rears its ugly head and threatens to tear our group apart and even destroy the islanders.

Most of the notorious 1970s B-movies shot in the Philippines mix elements of horror and exploitation, but this has a different mix. It's not horror as much as fantasy adventure, and the sex is toned down quite a bit; when Ashley, who produced the film, and director Eddie Romero hired Wayne (son of legend John Wayne), Wayne insisted on a PG-rated movie so there is no nudity or sex, except for the little water ballets and the mating with Syrene during which Mathias' diving suit stays on. The fantasy element comes from the islanders whom Katherine theorizes are descendants of a tribe of natives from the legendary sunken island Atlantis who eventually migrated to the area. She thinks the eyes may have been due to inbreeding ("Incest?!" says a shocked Mathias). The script is not strong. The film opens with a brief scene of the islanders putting to death a man who accidently came upon the island, but if they needed a non-mutant for Syrene, why not keep him alive and use him? Or maybe even the sailor Manuel? Granted neither one was as good-looking as Patrick Wayne, but still, any port in a storm would seem to apply here. Very little happens to our little group after, in an early scene, Eddie falls into a pit filled with attacking crabs, which are more a nuisance than a threat. It's never explained why the sexy blond Syrene and her Caucasian father, in a toga and with a beard that looks like the kind you see on Ancient Greek statues, escaped the goggle eyes, though it is established that Syrene can spend a long time underwater. I do like the satisfying ending which is somewhat like the ending of Sierra Madre except it's played more or less for laughs.

Sid Haig probably gives the best and most consistent performance as a rather likable bad guy. Ashley, with bad hair and scuzzy sideburns, is losing his looks—appropriate for the role, I suppose—and his villainy is a bit on the whiny side. Wayne is OK as the hero, though he never finds a suitable groove for the character; sometimes he's strong and confident, sometimes surprisingly passive. Leigh Christian is sexy and solid as Syrene, and Lenore Stevens is believable as a beautiful scientist. George Nader, in his last movie role before becoming a novelist, has little to do. Vic Diaz, a regular in Eddie Romero's films, is effective as Manuel, who plays an important role in the finale. The middle of the movie is mostly padding as pearls are gathered and relationships mostly remain static. The natives eye makeup is usually derided by critics, but I thought it worked OK, partly because we never see them in close-up—in one dialogue scene, we only see the speaking native from the back. Not a great movie, but I'm not sorry I watched it; if nothing else, it’s another John Ashley flick under my belt. Pictured at top right are Wayne and Ashley; at left are Stevens and Wayne. [YouTube]

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967)

Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) leaves her small New England town of Lawrenceville for New York City, signs up with a temp agency and gets a job as an assistant to a theatrical lawyer. Her first assignment is to get temperamental Broadway star Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) to sign some contracts. While at the theater, she meets a number of people who will be important to her over the next few years: Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke, at right), an up-and-coming musical star whom Lawson has dismissed from the show because she feels threatened by her; Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), a chorus girl who cozies up to a string of sugar daddies; Mel (Martin Milner), a PR man who's sweet on Neely; Lyon (Paul Burke), another entertainment lawyer. Over time, their paths cross frequently. Anne and Lyon begin an on-and-off personal relationship as Lyon and Neely begin a professional one—he gets her a spot on a national telethon which leads to records (she wins a special Grammy), Broadway and movies, but also to an addiction to "dolls," the uppers and downers she pops to keep up her arduous schedule. Jennifer marries lounge singer Tony Polar whose sister (Lee Grant) has an unusual hold on him. Neely marries the sweet-natured Mel, then has an affair with fashion designer Ted Casablanca. He is widely assumed by Hollywood to be gay, but Neely knows better: "Ted Casablanca is not a fag, and I'm the dame who can prove it!" She divorces Mel and marries Ted, has a breakdown, and goes through rehab. Lyon tries to get her career back on the rails with a role in a Broadway play (and she begins sleeping with Lyon as well), and soon Neely is turning into Helen Lawson, getting a younger star fired from the show. Happy endings are not in store for most of these folks.

Based on the wildly successful 60s novel by Jacqueline Susann (who has a cameo as a reporter), this is considered a great trash classic with lots of lines of dialogue that have entered the camp canon: "Sparkle, Neely, sparkle!"; "Boobies, boobies, boobies, nothin' but boobies!"; "Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope!"; "You know how bitchy fags can be"; and the Ted Casablanca quote above. Then there's the infamous women's room scene in which Neely tears off Helen's wig and throws it in the toilet. I'd seen the movie a couple of times in the past and was taken with it as camp or straight melodrama, but on this viewing, I rather enjoyed myself, taking a kind of middle ground. Overall, the movie is not quite as over-the-top as its reputation would have it. It's mostly Susan Hayward and Patty Duke who, overdoing the meanness and suffering, bear the brunt of the camp label. Despite that, I found Duke's performance often quite good, especially early on before the dolls kick in. Parkins underdoes her acting, tending to get overpowered by everyone else, but she's basically OK. This time through, I found Paul Burke and Lee Grant to be surprisingly good, both getting away without having to exaggerate their emotions. Tony Scotti (Tony Polar) went on to found the Scotti Brothers record label; I remember some of their 45s from my youth (Leif Garrett and Weird Al). Sharon Tate comes off the weakest, though she gets a good line in, referring to the French sex movies she's approached to do: "Subtitles over a bare bottom doesn't necessarily make it art." I make no claims for this as great art, but if you've dismissed it as trash, a second look might be edifying. [TCM]

Friday, June 17, 2022

MOTORCYCLE GANG (1957)

Randy (Steve Terrell) is out racing his motorcycle with friends when they engage two young women in a friendly chase in the outskirts of town. A cop comes after them and they manage to elude him, but Terry (Anne Neyland), one of the girls, hits a rock and falls. Randy helps her and the two hit it off. A bit of a rebellious rich girl, she's spending the summer with her elderly uncle while her parents visit Europe. Randy and Speed take Terry to the Blue Moon diner where their motorcycle club meets. They're a fairly clean-cut group of kids, and the club is run under strict rules enforced by a friendly cop who, aware of the earlier off-limits racing, lays down the law. Nick (John Ashley), a former friend of Randy's, returns from a year in jail, holding a grudge against Randy for it (a pedestrian death in which they were both involved). He also holds his old buddies in contempt for accepting the stodgy rules of the cops. He's a jerk, but he's slick and handsome, and Terry starts to date both him and Randy. Frustrated because he's tired of being just "average," Randy responds to taunts from Terry when she wants him to man up against Nick. The day before a sanctioned race (from which Nick is barred), Terry goads Randy into racing Nick across a railroad bridge. Realizing he's leaking oil, Nick doesn't fix it, hoping that Randy will slip on his oil track. Randy does, and falls off the bridge. He gets only minor injuries but is allowed to race the next day. When a drunken Nick and his buddies terrorize the Blue Moon, Randy gives up his first-place position in the race to go help the cops subdue the bad guys.

After DRAGSTRIP GIRL was a hit for American International, they shot this quickie with the same writer, director, and male stars, and it was released just six months later. If not exactly a remake, it was certainly inspired by the earlier film, featuring teenagers, vehicles, club hangouts, and a love triangle with an undecided woman in the middle. Also fisticuffs, comic relief (chiefly in the person of Carl Switzer, Alfalfa in the Our Gang movies who keeps using goofy slang, like calling a hot girl a "miger" for "mad tiger") and climactic road races. Terrell and Ashley play versions of their characters from Dragstrip Girl, not quite as convincingly as before but adequately. Russ Bender also repeats his role as the cop. Anne Neyland is fine as the gal in the middle. There's a cute scene with the Chinese owner of the Blue Moon playing Chinese guitar in a duet with Terry's uncle playing fiddle. Fine for fans of the genre. Pictured are Ashley and Terrell. [YouTube]

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

A WALK IN THE SUN (1945)

The plot of this World War II film can be summarized in just a few sentences: In 1943, a platoon of American soldiers makes a beach landing at Salerno, Italy, their mission to trudge five miles inland, occupy a farmhouse, and blow up a bridge. Over the course of one morning, from sunrise to noon, they carry out their task. Some men are killed in skirmishes, some are wounded and left behind for reinforcements to care for, and the leader, Sgt. Porter, who had to take command when their previous leader was mortally injured during the landing, has a meltdown and is left behind, crying and helpless. But much more happens here, even if little of it is exciting or consequential. Based on a novella, this is much more a character study of the soldiers, and a look at the reality of what everyday life was like for fighting men in WWII—lots of complaining, walking, digging, and bonding with men who might save your life eventually.

Lewis Milestone, director of the WWI classic All Quiet on the Western Front, made this movie on a relatively low budget, leading to only one full-scale battle scene at the film's climax and lots of intimate dialogue scenes consisting of 2 or 3 men in medium close-up. But for the most part, Milestone made his liabilities into assets; this is one of the more memorable and best-acted war movies of the 1940s. Dana Andrews takes center stage in a low-key way as the sergeant who has to step in and take control when Porter cracks up. Herbert Rudley is good as Porter who slowly and realistically comes apart over time. My favorites are Richard Conte (Rivera) and George Tyne (Friedman) as two buddies who chat, boast, insult each other and occasionally get philosophical. They have a scene, a minor marvel shot in one take, where they eat beans out of a can and keep talking the whole time. Sterling Holloway (later the voice of the Disney Pooh) is cast against his country bumpkin type as the medic, Norman Lloyd is a bellyacher whose refrain to the comments of others is "You kill me," and who is certain that by 1956, he'll be fighting the Battle of Tibet. John Ireland has the toughest role as a dreamer who is constantly, in his mind and occasionally out loud, writing letters home to his sister—he's good but the character never feels real. Lloyd Bridges, Huntz Hall and James Cardwell are standouts among the large supporting cast.

Though there is not a lot of action, the scenes of conflict (the climactic taking of the farmhouse and an earlier shorter scene of the ambush of a German armored car) are pulled off well. It feels like the Italian countryside even though it was shot on the Fox backlot in California—no beach, hence the beach landing at the beginning is not seen, only the men on the landing boat. The medium shots of men talking are interspersed with occasional horizontal panning shots of movement or action, which effectively varies the look of the film enough that things don't get too repetitious. "Nobody dies" is a refrain taken up by some of the men; though people do die here, we don't see dead bodies, just occasional hands thrusting up into the scene from below. We also never see a German face up close, though there is a short scene where the men meet two Italian soldiers (the Italian army has officially turned against the Germans at this point) who want to travel with the platoon. I’ve been running across a lot more poorly done audio commentaries—including editions of Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, Murder in the Blue Room, Return to Peyton Place, Drifting—but the commentary here in this 2022 DVD, done by Alan K. Rode, is quite good. The only strong negative I have about the film is the distracting use of a couple of war ballads sung off-camera; luckily it's not done too much. It can raise expectations unrealistically to highly praise a low-key film like this, but I do heartily recommend it for viewers looking for something a little different in a war movie. Pictured are Tyne and Conte. [DVD]

Monday, June 13, 2022

OVER-EXPOSED (1956)

We meet Lila Krenshka (Cleo Moore) as she's being arrested with a bunch of other women employed by a bar to get men drunk and roll them for their money (or, let's be honest, being a hooker). She insists she's new in town and didn't know what she was getting into, haughtily dressing down one of the cops by saying, "I don't like being hustled by the fat hands of the law!" She's ordered to leave town on the next bus, and she begs photographer Max West not to publish her picture. He agrees, and finding out that she has an interest in photography, he hires her to pose for swimsuit pictures. Turns out Max is a good guy, and he is soon teaching her the basics of commercial photography. Eventually, he sends her off to New York City, renaming her Lila Crane, and gives her some equipment so she can start a career. In the city, she tries to get a job at the Allied News Service and fails, but also meets reporter Russ Bassett (Richard Crenna) who takes a liking to her, though she is rather prickly to him. While trying to get newsworthy shots at a huge building fire, Russ saves her when a wall almost falls on her, but she remains stand-offish. Lila gets a steady job as a "flash girl" at the Club Bamba, snapping pictures of guests having fun to sell to them. She moves up in the world to the Club Coco where she becomes friendly with society matron Mrs. Grange (Isobel Elsom) who used to pose for Max West. When Max, down on his luck, comes to visit, Lila hires him as an assistant. Russ proposes to Lila and asks her to become his photographer as he takes a new job covering Europe, but she wants to remain independent. But soon, Lila gets in over her head when she accidentally snaps an incriminating photo of a crime boss wanted for murder and winds up involved in blackmail and another murder.

Despite this movie being part of a Bad Girls of Film Noir DVD package, it's really just an urban crime melodrama, but noir fans will probably like it. Cleo Moore had a reputation as a sexpot lead in B-crime and noir films of the 1950s. She made one more movie and retired, and that was probably not a great loss to film history—she seemed capable but not much more, kind of a slightly older version of Mamie Van Doren—but she carries the film nicely. More interesting is the young Richard Crenna in his first leading role after coming to fame in the TV show (and movie) Our Miss Brooks. As Russ, he's good at balancing youthful enthusiasm, romantic yearning (which takes a long time for Lila to return), and clear-eyed practicality. He was 30 years old at the time, but the close-ups that reveal a mildly pock-marked face make him look even younger. Isobel Elsom, a frequent portrayer of society ladies, is good as Mrs. Grange. The nighttime urban setting does give this a film noir look, but thematically it's not a good noir fit, essentially being a damsel in distress (albeit a strong and independent damsel) crime movie. Despite some feminist feel concerning the importance of a career for Lila, the "happy" ending [Spoiler!] involves her giving it all up for Russ. I do love the fact that Lila's name is the same as the Vera Miles' character in Psycho. Pictured are Moore and Crenna. [TCM]

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

LUMIERE D'ÉTÉ (1943)

In a mountain village in France near an active construction site where a dam is being built, Cri-Cri, a former ballerina, runs an isolated but gorgeous hotel called the Guardian Angel. Her lover Patrice, an aristocrat living in a mansion nearby, is getting tired of her clinginess but perks up when the young and lovely Michele arrives. She is meeting her lover Roland, an artist, who shows up a couple days later, melodramatically devastated by the failure of a show in Paris that he had designed. It's frustrating to see Michele passively acquiesce to Roland and his moody self-pitying fits, but we're not sure the attentions of Patrice are a good alternative for her. Then Julien, a young and handsome construction worker, shows up to complicate matters, sparking with Michele. Patrice offers Roland, who can't pay his hotel bill, a job and rooms at his mansion, obviously to keep Michele near him. The jealous Cri-Cri pushes Julien to "rescue" Michele from her two unsuitable suitors at the mansion. As Roland starts drinking and becomes more unbalanced, we discover that Patrice has killed someone in the past (accidentally, he claims but Cri-Cri knows better). Things build to a climax as all the characters gather when Patrice throws a huge masked ball at his mansion.  

Made by Jean Grémillon during the German occupation of France, this was widely interpreted as an attack on both the Nazis and the decadent French upper class and was quickly pulled from circulation. Separated from its original context, it holds up very well as both compelling melodrama—albeit with an admirably light touch—and social satire. The acting is fine all around: Madeleine Renaud is nicely but not overly world-weary as Cri-Cri, Paul Bernard is a perfect decadent ass as Patrice, Madeleine Robinson plays Michele as sometimes innocent and sometimes experienced, and Georges Marchal (pictured with Robinson) is charming and attractive as Julien. Pierre Brasseur (Roland) suffers the most by seeming like a symbol rather than a fleshed-out character—his defining line, delivered to Michele, is "Of course I love you, but I prefer myself"—but the other members of the romantic quadrangle feel real. The three main settings (the hotel, the mansion and the dam site) are grand. Some reviews refer to the Guardian Angel as a shimmering glass hotel, but that's not quite right. It’s a traditional building but with a long glass-enclosed eating area which is indeed shimmering and provides a lovely background for most of the hotel scenes. Despite all the romantic drama, the film has a generally light feel, due in part to some comic relief side characters. Recommended. Aka SUMMER LIGHT. [DVD]

Monday, June 06, 2022

CATALINA CAPER (1967)

Larry, a guy in a hat and large 'nerd' glasses, sneaks into a surprisingly ugly and unsecured museum and steals an ancient scroll worth millions. He takes it to his boss, Arthur Duval, who is spending the summer on a yacht near Catalina Island with his wife and teenage son. Duval is supposed to acquire the scroll for a dealer named Lakopolous, but his plan is to make a duplicate of the scroll and pawn that off, then return the original. But Lakopolous is suspicious, in addition to being as duplicitous as Duval, and steals the scroll only to have it wind up at the bottom of the bay. Then he hires two divers to find it. But this is only one plot thread. The other involves college students Don and Charlie; Don, from Arizona, has never seen the sea (Charlie calls him a "desert rat") and rich Charlie invites him to spend the summer with him at Catalina so they can do some diving, some dancing and some girl-watching. While blond studly Charlie has girls literally hanging on him 24/7, Don pines away for Katrina, a Swedish girl whose boyfriend is one of the divers working for Lakopolous. And so the two plotlines collide, leading to some very mild action and very tedious comedy.

Despite having a poster that proclaims "Wild adventure—International intrigue!," this is just a low-budget beach movie, a couple of notches below the level of the Frankie & Annette movies of the mid-60s from American International Pictures (AIP). Don is played by Tommy Kirk, a former Disney kid star who was let go for being gay and who was trying a forge a career in that awkward stage between teen and adult. He made a couple of beach movies for AIP, but in this one, for Crown International, he was pretty close to the bottom of the barrel. At 26, he could still pass for a student, but one verging on dissipation. His buddy Charlie (Brian Cutler) is not unattractive, but he has zero personality and it's a mystery why every single beach babe is hot for him. Robert Donner provides perhaps the worst comic relief in any professional movie as Fingers O'Toole, a slapsticky maladroit ass whose schtick consists entirely of falling (on sidewalks, on floors, into water). The one genuine chuckle I got: when two of the beach dudes realize their dates have run off to hang with Charlie, they start dancing with each other. Maybe the real problem here is the director, Lee Sholem, because most of the actors (including Kirk) seem like they are giving a first line reading in every scene. Lyle Waggoner (the handsome fellow on the Carol Burnett Show) has a small role as one of Duval's divers. The only other actor of note is Michael Blodgett (the stud in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) as a harbor security guy—he manages to give a professional performance, and he's credited as choreographer (though what we see of the dancing is mostly close-ups of boys' and girls' asses wiggling). The one high point: Little Richard performs a song called "Scuba Party" on the ferry boat over to the island. That happens fairly early on; you can safely grab a nap anytime after that. Pictured are Cutler and Kirk.[YouTube]

Thursday, June 02, 2022

WOLF CALL (1939)

Playboy Mike Vance (John Carroll) is on a drunken scavenger hunt with his girlfriend. One of the items on the list is a police dog, so Vance throws a brick through a pet shop window and takes a German shepherd that comes bounding out, tossing back enough cash to cover the dog and the damages. The next day, his father, upset with his ways, sends Mike on a mission to the Yukon to one of his properties, a radium mine named Radium City. Huge amounts of ore have to be shipped back to the States in order to produce just a small amount of radium, and Vance wants Mike to decide whether he should shut down the mine and sell the property or keep it going. Accompanied by the dog, which he has named Smokey, Mike arrives to discover a potential bad guy, Carson, the mine manger, whom we discover is working with Vinton, one of Vance's associates, to cheat him out of the property—they know that a scientist named McTavish has invented a formula that would allow them to process the ore cheaply right there in Canada, and they're working on a deal to acquire the mine for a corporate trust. Mike also meets a couple of good guys: McTavish, who is unaware of Carson's plans, and Father Devlin (Peter George Lynn), the area priest who senses that something bad is brewing. Mike meets and falls for Towana (Movita), the half-Indian daughter of MacTavish, at the same time that Smokey scouts out some territory for himself and strikes up a relationship with a wild dog while keeping clear of local wolf packs. Soon, back in the States, Vinton has convinced Vance that his son wants to keep the mine open just to hang with his local girl, so Vance is ready to sell. Can Mike get word to his father in time to stop the crooked deal?

This is supposedly based on a Jack London story, but no internet source out there has been able to track down which one. At any rate, the wolf and dog connection is a tenuous one, applied just to make this adventure melodrama stand out from the pack. This is a fairly enjoyable B-movie, largely due to John Carroll. He's known as the B-movie Clark Gable and that’s how he comes off here: handsome, masculine, in control, but less stoic than Gable. He even sings a little, including a kind of Nelson Eddy & Jeanette McDonald operetta bit with his leading lady Movita (who was married briefly to Marlon Brando in the 1960s). She's adequate in the role, but the romance plays out rather tepidly. More interesting is Lynn as the priest, though ultimately his role is underwritten. The rest of the cast is colorless. Loretta Young's sister Polly Ann Young plays the big city girlfriend who has little to do except realize at the end that Mike will be better off with Towana. Grey Shadow is the dog who plays Smokey and he's fine. There’s a very nice fisticuffs scene near the end as the bad guys attack Mike that is reminiscent of a cliffhanger in a serial chapter. Despite the misleading title (we only see wolves briefly), this is fun for B-movie fans. [YouTube]

Thursday, May 26, 2022

SATAN'S TRIANGLE (1975)

There is an area of the Caribbean popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle, where over the years, hundreds of people have mysteriously vanished while at sea. One day, Coast Guard rescue pilots Doug McClure and Michael Conrad fly a helicopter out to answer a Mayday call. The two are buddies but a little antagonistic—Conrad is conservative and religious and McClure is young and hedonistic. McClure even has Conrad lower the copter so he can ogle a topless sunbather on a boat. When they get to the schooner in distress, the first thing they see is a dead body hanging from the mast. McClure is dropped onto the boat and finds two more dead bodies, one looking like it's hanging suspended in the air. The only survivor is Kim Novak who seems rather fragile (but also, occasionally, rather flirtatious). With bad weather threatening and his fuel running low, Conrad heads back to base and says he'll return with more back-up the next morning. Novak then settles in with McClure and tells the story of her ill-fated fishing trip. An already tense situation existed as Jim Davis, recklessly trying to outdo his brother by catching a big fish, clashed with the crew and captain (Ed Lauter) who were trying to keep everyone safe. They rescue a priest (Alejandro Rey) found floating on some wreckage and the local sailors desert the ship, saying that with a priest on board in the Triangle, they will be tested by the devil. As soon as they leave, weird weather kicks up, people start dying (it's the priest who is hanging from the mast, having gone up to set off a signal flare), and Novak is now certain that she and McClure are similarly doomed by evil forces. McClure manages to come up with rational explanations for all the deaths, even the levitating body. Novak and McClure (pictured at left) have sex that night. The next morning, Conrad returns with a rescue team and both are taken up in a helicopter. Everything’s fine? Well, not exactly…

This TV-movie is no gem, but by the standards of 1970s TV-movies, it works, with the last ten minutes being particularly effective (no spoilers here). Novak's character seems a little vague and off-kilter, but that’s more or less explained by the ending. Novak, the star of A-movies, works well with McClure, a B-adventure movie guy, and they both get to do some scenery chewing at the end—both get to exhibit very creepy smiles. Some viewers on IMDb find the ending silly but I like it. Rey does a nice job as the somewhat mysterious priest, and Conrad (best known as the desk sergeant on Hill Street Blues) is fine in a relatively small role. The storm scene, shot in daylight in blurred focus, is a letdown. If you're not already a fan of 70s TV-movies, you may not find this your cup of tea, but those of us who were teenagers back then should enjoy it. Pictured are Novak and McClure. [YouTube]

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE (1961)

The first Peyton Place movie, based on a racy bestseller, is about the scandals and hypocrisies of a small New England town. If you haven't seen it, the only thing you really need to know to follow the events of this sequel, set several years later, is that Selena Cross (played here by Tuesday Weld) was raped by her stepfather whom she later killed in self-defense. This film begins as Alison McKenzie (Carol Lynley) learns that a novel she has written based on life in Peyton Place, and in particular on what happened to Selena and how badly the townspeople treated her, has been accepted for publication by publisher Lewis Jackman (Jeff Chandler), who asks her to come to New York City so he can help her get the book into shape. She does, falling in love with Jackman, a married man. Alison's mother Constance (Eleanor Parker) worries that she will wind up pregnant, as she herself did with Alison's father, though by now, Constance is quite respectable, married to Mike Rossi, the high school principal. Alison and Lewis work together many long nights; it's unclear how much more they get into, though we do see them kiss romantically at least once (pictured at right). When it's published, the book is a hit, even in Peyton Place where, though most people don't like it, everyone reads it. When mean rich lady Roberta Carter (Mary Astor) takes exception to it, she uses her power as a school board member to get the book pulled from the shelves of the high school library. Principal Rossi reinstates it, gets fired, and goes to the town council to get his job back, leading to a climactic town hall meeting pitting Mrs. Carter against Mike and Alison.

This sequel didn't do anywhere near the business that the original did (either book or film), perhaps because the secrets here are not as scandalous as those in the original. Surely the ambiguity that clouds the Alison/Lewis relationship didn't help. Also, the first movie edged near camp whereas this one is played a bit straighter. In addition to the main plot outlined above, this has a secondary story involving Mrs. Carter and her son Ted (Brett Halsey, at left), the character who actually "returns" to set up a law practice. He brings home his new pregnant Italian wife Raffaella (Luciana Paluzzi, who was married to Halsey in real life), and his mother tries her damndest to split them up. At one point, Raffaella basically accuses Mrs. Carter of having an unnatural love for her son, and later she deliberately skis down a dangerous ski slope in an attempt to cause a miscarriage—unless I missed something, we never know the outcome of the attempt. Selena gets her own somewhat pointless plotline where she falls for a Swedish ski instructor (Gunnar Hellstrom, who is moderately attractive but no big blond fantasy Swede) but that goes nowhere. 

Actingwise, the movie belongs to Mary Astor who does a good job slightly underplaying the big bad mother. Frankly, I could have used a bit more "jungle red" melodrama in her performance, but she's still very good. Halsey (he of the puppydog eyes) and Paluzzi are fine, and though I'm not a Jeff Chandler fan, he's good here as the publisher whose intentions vis a vis his author are never quite clear. Lynley, who wasn't 20 yet,  doesn't have a strong enough presence to blend in the cast—she sometimes seems just whiny as opposed to seriously conflicted. Tuesday Weld and Eleanor Parker aren't around long enough to register much but they're fine, as is Robert Sterling as Rossi. The uncredited guy who plays the friendly heckler at the town meeting (Tim Durant, maybe?) is good as is Jennifer Howard as Jackman's wife—both have short scenes but they stand out. Generally enjoyable 60s soap opera fluff. [DVD]