Wednesday, July 31, 2002

2000 MANIACS (1964)

Before I became devoted to classic Hollywood cinema, I was a fan of horror movies. In my youth, I read Famous Monsters of Filmland and worshipped its editor, Forrest J. Ackerman; it was the first magazine I ever had a subscription to, aside from Highlights for Children. I put together and collected those Aurora monster models based on the classic Universal creatures. My parents let me stay up on Friday nights to watch Chiller Theatre, a monster movie double feature--I inevitably fell asleep toward the end of the first one and woke up completely disoriented in the middle of the second. In fact, except for a couple of Disney movies, the first movie I remember watching all the way through on TV was the Lugosi DRACULA. Though I'm not really a fan of current horror, I do still have a soft spot for the older stuff. My partner and I make a point of watching a horror movie every Friday evening (or, if we're not quite in a horror mood, a noir or a mystery).

Recently, we watched the DVD of 2000 MANIACS, a mid-60's low-budget horror film, famous for its explicit blood and gore, which became a drive-in classic. It was made by the same director (H. G. Lewis) who did the earlier BLOOD FEAST, which I saw years ago. The print on the DVD was in absurdly good shape given the age of the movie and its cheap budget. The clarity and color of most scenes were so good, it almost looked like it had just been shot this year. Six couples driving through Georgia are tricked into following a detour that takes them into the small town of Pleasant Valley where a celebration of a Civil War centennial is being held. It turns out to be a slasher movie variation on BRIGADOON, where the town, which had been destroyed and the populace slaughtered by the Yankees, returns to life on the anniversary of the attack. They take these unsuspecting people and kill them off, one by one, in gory fashion. It seemed to me like the granddaddy of the 70's and 80's horror movies like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, where the main thrust of the story is to simply kill off as many people as possible with as much blood and guts as possible. Of course, MANIACS, though it does use a lot of blood, isn't nearly as explicit as the 80's movies got. Still, with one woman's arm cut off and barbecued on a spit, and another guy impaled on sharp spikes in a rolling barrel, it's not for the squeamish. The acting, mostly by non-professionals, is about what you'd expect. The commentary track, with Lewis and his producer, is very interesting and far more fun than lots of other commentaries I've suffered through, like, for example, Altman on NASHVILLE or Tim Burton on PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE.

Monday, July 29, 2002


I stumbled on this by accident the other afternoon just as it was starting on TCM and I decided to stick with it. Despite my complicated religious background (suffice to say I'm a gay lapsed Catholic agnostic who occasionally meditates and reads more than he should about religion and Catholicism), I find myself drawn to this kind of pleasant quasi-religious movie. Like GOING MY WAY, BELLS OF ST. MARY'S and COME TO THE STABLE, this is the kind of movie that makes priests and preachers seem both very ordinary and very special at the same time. The film follows the life of a Methodist minister, played by Fredric March, over some 20 years beginning around the turn of the century. Martha Scott is his wife, and even though she was fairly young at the time, she looks more convincing as she ages. Not much happens in the episodic plot: the family is called upon by the church to move frequently, which causes some friction between March and Scott; March is indoctrinated into the pleasures of motion pictures by his son (after having earlier scolded him for going the movies, as strict Methodist teaching called for); the last section of the movie concerns the building of a new church and the problems March has getting his flock to pay for it and to agree on how to build it--here it reminded me of one of my favorite quasi-religious movies, THE BISHOP'S WIFE, except there are no angels and the cast is nowhere near as charming as the cast of BISHOP, which included Cary Grant and Loretta Young. March is fine, although his abrupt conversion at the very beginning of the film was underdeveloped (the script's fault, not the actor's). The supporting cast was quite good, including Gene Lockhart and Harry Davenport, and especially Beulah Bondi in a role a bit like Gladys Cooper's in BISHOP'S WIFE, the rich old biddy whose support is needed to build the church. In this sequence, I liked the way March gets back at the "bad guys," even though it smacked of blackmail, and I had a hard time imagining his character would resort to that.

Sunday, July 28, 2002


The most famous version of this story is the 1948 John Ford film, with John Wayne in the lead, but some critics think this earlier version is better. I haven't seen the Wayne movie, but I was glad to finally see this one, being as I am a fan of both Chester Morris and of Christmas movies. Morris, Walter Brennan, and Lewis Stone are three bandits out to rob a bank at Christmas time in the Old West town of New Jerusalem (yes, there is some heavy-handed symbolism here and there in the film, especially in the final scene). Morris has a bad reputation in town, and an ex-lady friend (Irene Hervey) who, though engaged to someone else, seems like she still might be interested in Morris if he cleaned up his act and settled down. The three men are portrayed sympathetically despite their thieving ways. After the bank robbery (during which Morris shoots Hervey's fiance, who is dressed as Santa Claus), the three escape, but in the desert, they run across a dying woman who asks them to take care of her baby. Somewhat reluctantly, they do. The men wind up sacrificing much in order to get the baby to safety. The story could have gotten sappy but it doesn't. Morris, Stone, and especially Brennan are all very good and carry the movie. The finale, in church on Christmas day, teeters on the brink of sappiness, but does retain a bit of a hard edge.

Friday, July 26, 2002

TAXI! (1931)

An early James Cagney film, short and peppy and great fun; at a little longer than an hour, it is packed with chuckles and thrills and never stops moving. Cagney is a taxi driver who is caught up in a city-wide struggle between the independent operators and a big company (Consolidated) that is threatening to put the little guys out of business. Loretta Young is a waitress at the Fish Grotto (a wonderful looking restaurant!); her father, cabbie Guy Kibbee, is arrested in an altercation with the "bad" taxi company and dies in prison. Cagney vows revenge and romances Young at the same time. When Cagney's own brother also winds up a victim of the same people, revenge takes priority.

After the first 20 minutes, the taxi plot takes a back seat to revenge and romance, as Young tries to tame Cagney's quick temper. David Landau is the hotshot from Consolidated who, for some unstated reason, falls on hard times, and winds up on the run from Cagney in the end. A nice non-gangster part for Cagney, with a memorable opening scene in which Cagney carries on a conversation in Yiddish, much to an Irish cop's surprise. Despite some dark turns along the way, the movie stays fun. One line I won't forget: Lelia Bennett, playing one of those plucky sidekick gals that were omnipresent in 30's movies, tells her boyfriend, "I feel like being bored and you can do the job better than anyone I know!"

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Two Ronald Colman Historical Dramas:

Ronald Colman is a French poet and rogue who is arrested by King Louis XI. After he brags about what he could do if he were king, Louis makes him High Constable for a week. Of course, Colman makes good in his position, helping the king to defeat the forces of the Duke of Burgundy who have Paris surrounded. It's quite fun in that 30's historical movie way, with fancy sets and costumes and a little bit of larceny and swashbuckling. Frances Dee is an aristocratic lady who becomes Colman's love interest. Basil Rathbone is especially good (and completely unlike any other role I've seen him in) as Louis, with a shrill, nervous laugh and haughty manner--he reminds me a bit of Sam Jaffee doing similar character traits in THE SCARLET EMPRESS. The script is by Preston Sturges. Not great, but fun.

I've never read the Dickens novel, though I know the famous quotes. This lavish co-production of David Selznick and MGM is set during the French Revolution and stars Colman as a English lawyer who is smart but who is also drinking himself to an early old age. When a former French aristocrat (Donald Woods) who has disavowed his background and is now living in England is brought to court on trumped-up charges, Colman helps get him off and falls in love with Wood's fiancee (Elizabeth Allan). She admires Colman and thinks of him as a good friend, but marries Woods. Later, Woods is tricked into going back to Paris at the height of the Terror and is scheduled to be executed because of his family ties to the truly wicked Basil Rathbone. Colman, seeing no happy future for himself, sets out to save Woods even at the possible cost of his own life. Colman is fine in the role, but it's the supporting cast that is really fun to watch: Rathbone, though not on screen very long, is deliciously evil; Reginald Owen is fun as Colman's occasionally befuddled boss; Blanche Yurka is Madame LaFarge, a peasant woman who stands in for the lower classes who turned a righteous revolution into a bloody frenzy; she knits furiously as she watches the executions and plots the downfall of Woods. The best, not surprisingly, is Edna May Oliver as Miss Pross, maid to Allan, who is very protective of her and rather wary of Colman. Oliver and Yurka get the best scene in the whole movie, a fight to the death as Allan and Woods are escaping Paris. A well-acted, great looking movie that, while not as sweeping as the later Selznick & MGM movie GONE WITH THE WIND, is certainly worth watching.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002


This is a very good British film whch I'm surprised doesn't have a stronger reputation given its narrative structure that resembles RASHOMON, released the same year. A British actress I'd never heard of, Jean Kent, was quite good as a young and attractive woman with aspirations to work in show business but who makes a living as a fortune teller. When the film begins, she is found murdered in her home. The rest of the film consists of the police investigation. Each person the police talk to tells a different story about Kent, and we see a totally different side to her personality in each flashback. Kent gets to play the same character in several different ways and she does a great job. Hermione Baddeley is a standout as a nosy neighbor who thought of Kent as a real lady who had fallen on hard times. Dirk Bogarde, quite young and handsome, is an ex-love interest who she is actually more interested in for his show business connections than for him. Bogarde sees her in a much harsher light, quite the opposite of Baddeley. Charles Victor plays a neighboring pet shop owner, who acts as a handyman for Kent and dotes on her, seeing her as delicate and refined. There are other flashbacks as well, and the police have to figure out what's what to find the killer. It's not exactly Hitchcockian; the building of suspense is not as important here as the relatively light tone and the shifting picture we get of Kent. I found this one at the library and I'd highly recommend it.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Two Fairly Dreadful B-Comedies

This poorly executed screwball is almost worse than FOUR'S A CROWD, one of my least favorite movies of all time. Robert Young comes swooping in from overseas to snatch Ann Sothern out of her wedding so she can marry him. But he's rather suspicious of her vaudeville friends and the two grow distant until Sothern pulls a prank on Young that gets him in trouble with the law (or so it seems). Outside of the vaguely charming and promising first 15 minutes, Young and Sothern have very little chemistry and the traditional plot of irritation becomes incredibly irritating for the audience. Reginald Owen steals the show under a bizarrely elaborate beard (there's a throwaway reason for the beard involving smuggling silk), and a young Dean Jagger has a role (I didn't recognize him at all).

According to Halliwell, this dumb little MGM B-comedy was supposed to be the first in an Andy Hardy-type series with Frank Morgan as a father of three girls. Thank goodness it didn't go beyond this misguided film. Morgan meddles in his eldest daughter's (Ann Rutherford) love life, getting her hitched to car salesman John Shelton, a remarkably bland and untalented actor, outblanded only by the horrific Richard Travis (the newspaperman in MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER). I was hoping that Shelton's rival Dan Dailey (in a very early role) would come to Rutherford's rescue, but alas... Despite the presence of some usually reliable actors (Morgan, Gene Lockhart, Virginia Weidler, and Sara Haden), the whole thing had the frothiness of mud.

Sunday, July 21, 2002


There has been much written about this silent film, mostly concerning the supposed real-life affair between Greta Garbo and John Gilbert that was going on during the making of the movie, and it's true that, whatever their personal relationship, they do have a steamy chemistry on screen here. But I think the most interesting thing in the movie is the theme of homoerotic male bonding; the couple we are really supposed to root for is not Garbo and Gilbert, but Gilbert and his lifelong friend, Lars Hanson.

The narrative begins with the two men together in the German army. Gilbert seems to always be getting in trouble, and Hanson helps him escape punishment. Their relationship began in childhood, and we see a flashback of them taking a blood oath together on "The Isle of Friendship." Gilbert meets Garbo at a party; she is portrayed as a beautiful but wicked seducer, reveling in the pleasures of the flesh. The two have what seems to be a one-night stand, but while in their post-coital bliss, her husband interrupts--Garbo didn't tell Gilbert that she was married. A duel ensues which Gilbert wins, but to spare Garbo scandal, he agrees to the fiction that the disagreement was over cards; Gilbert is sent by the army to a remote post. While he's gone, he asks Hanson to watch over Garbo. He does so, falls in love, and marries her, all the time not knowing about Gilbert's love for her. (The two have little heat between them, with Garbo marrying Hanson so as to remain financially comfortable.) When Gilbert returns a few years later, the triangle strains the friendship of the two men and leads to another duel.

Garbo is indeed lovely and lusty; her most scandalous scene takes place during mass when a priest who knows the hidden relationship between Garbo and Gilbert delivers a hellfire sermon about the wickedness of woman, aimed at Garbo. She ignores it and proceeds to take communion along with both men, even turning the chalice deliberately so she can drink the wine from the exact spot where Gilbert's lips were. If anyone could make taking communion an erotic act, it's Garbo. It may be going a bit too far to think that the two men have a physical attraction, but they are frequently touching and hugging all through the film, and there is [SPOLIER!] the famous finale, where, just as Gilbert and Hanson are about to duel, Garbo falls through the ice to her death and both men feel a mystical frisson that tells them not to go through with it. They embrace, knowing supernaturally that Devil Woman is out of the way and they can be together in their manly but innocent love. Very lushly produced and photographed, with some lovely snow scenes; the shots of Garbo and Gilbert kissing in the dark are small masterpieces of light and shadow.

Saturday, July 20, 2002


This moderately enjoyable piece of fluff features Doris Day in her first leading role. I'm not much for Day, but I'm finding that I like her in her earlier films. They may not have the star power and budgets of her later work, but they are lighter and more frivolous--even a later frothy comedy like PILLOW TALK often feels labored. In this one, she plays a singer (living with her young son and an uncle) trying to establish a career in New York City. Jack Carson is an agent who is about to lose his meal ticket, singer Lee Bowman, who is striking out on his own. Carson discovers Day and takes her out to Hollywood to make her a star. He enlists the aid of friend Eve Arden--as usual, Arden is wonderful, but underused. Her delivery can make almost any tired line of dialogue seem fresh. Day gets romantically involved with Bowman, much to Carson's chagrin, and he tries to break them up. There's not much more to it than that. A couple of the songs are interesting. One, "Tic Tic Tic," is a peppy song about radioactivity and geiger counters! Another, a song sung for Day's little boy, is set to one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies. Bugs Bunny makes a cameo appearance in an animated dream sequence. S. Z. Sakall and Adolphe Menjou are also featured.

Friday, July 19, 2002


This remake of THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD, a 30's comedy with Joel McCrea and Miriam Hopkins, is a bland B-comedy with a totally second-string cast and several plot loopholes the size of Texas. Laraine Day is a rich woman, the head of a shipyard that is doing work for the military (made in 1944, the wartime setting is used but not as effectively as it could be). She is paranoid about her privacy and concerned about gold-digging men, and has a secretary (Marsha Hunt) go around at public functions pretending to be her. Hunt wants to quit and follow her new husband (Allyn Joslyn, who is fine in a thankless role) to Washington, so everyone around Day conspires to get her married off to a decent man as soon as possible. Army officer Alan Marshal enters the picture and falls for Day, thinking she is the secretary. But Day, who also falls for Marshal, rather stupidly decides to test him and she keeps pushing Marshal at Hunt and not telling him who is really who. Eventually, he gives in and sets his sights for Hunt, pissing off Day (and Joslyn). Hijinks and confusion ensue.

Day, Hunt, and Marshal cannot make the material come to life, and so the loopholes are especially irritating--we never get a strong sense of why Marshal suddenly decides he's in love with Hunt, and the last-minute changes in people's characters at the end are totally unmotivated. There is one funny slapstickish scene involving lawn sprinklers, and a pleasant surprise for me was Edgar Buchanan in a Charles Coburn-type role. I've only ever seen Buchanan as Uncle Joe in PETTICOAT JUNCTION, so I was pleased to see him shine in this role. Oddly, there is mention in the movie of an Uncle Joe, though it's not Buchanan's character!

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Two Virginia Weidler B-Movies: THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION (1943) and THE ROOKIE COP (1939)

Virginia Weidler was a child star, mostly remembered today as Dinah Lord in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Her performance in that film is remarkable, and sadly, at the age of 13, that appears to have been the peak of her short film career. She was fine in a handful of earlier films (MRS. WIGGS, THE WOMEN) but did not grow into teen parts well and she quit films altogether in 1943. THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION, from MGM, was her next-to-last film, and a rather drab second-feature affair it is. She plays the president of a high school autograph-hound club. Half of the movie concerns the club's attempts to get autographs and there are several star cameos: Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Greer Garson, Robert Taylor, and, in a don't-blink moment at the end, William Powell. The other half of the movie has Weidler thinking, mistakenly, that her father is cheating on her mother, so she gets a circus strongman to pretend to flirt with her mother to make her father jealous. Yep, it's about as dumb as it sounds. Aside from the fun cameos of Taylor and Garson, the only other notable thing here is Edward Arnold playing a benign father. I'm used to seeing him as a bad guy or a cold industrialist, so it was a bit weird to see him as basically a sitcom dad. Only three years after her career peak as Katharine Hepburn's kid sister, Weidler looks awfully plain and acts awkwardly; maybe she needed good direction, because I thought she was great in STORY. There's a cute reference to the Andy Hardy movies, when Weidler complains that her father isn't behaving very much like Judge Hardy, and Arnold yells back, "I'm NOT trying to act like Judge Hardy!!" Otherwise, totally forgettable.

I've also recently seen THE ROOKIE COP, another B-film that she did a couple of years before PHILADELPHIA STORY, this one for RKO. The real star of this oddity is Ace, the Wonder Dog. Tim Holt is a young policeman who is trying to get his chief to accept the use of dogs in police work. Of course, Holt thinks that his dog, Ace, would be a good candidate for such work and the whole movie consists of Holt getting into and out of trouble with Ace. Weidler plays Holt's kid sister; she is OK, and has a couple of cute bits. The very first scene involves Weidler being saved from an attack by Ace, and toward the end, she gets to shoot an water pistol filled with onion juice into the eyes of a bad guy. I enjoyed seeing a poster for another RKO B-movie, PACIFIC LINER with Chester Morris, prominently displayed in the background of an action scene.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002


I've never been wild about Barbra Streisand, but seeing FUNNY GIRL on the big screen, as I did this weekend, gave me a better sense of her performing strengths and helped me understand why she has such a big following. I saw this movie years ago on TV, pan & scanned and with ads, and didn't care for it. In a theater, it's a whole different experience. The action of the film covers the early life of singer and comedienne Fanny Brice (Streisand), and it's really at its best when it sticks with her career on the stage. Walter Pidgeon (looking quite ancient) is Flo Ziegfeld, who helped make her famous. Her scenes with Pidgeon as they engage in battles of will are very good. Various characters comment regularly on Brice's unusual looks, and she herself frets that she can't be presented on stage as a traditional Ziegfeld Girl beauty, but actually Streisand, though indeed not a traditional beauty, isn't quite "ugly" enough to really pull off the "ugly duckling" aspect of the plot. At what are supposed to be her most awkward and geeky moments, she is still the most striking looking woman on screen, despite the presence of Anne Francis and assorted Ziegfeld chorus girls in the background.

Brice meets Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif), a somewhat shady gambler, and they begin an romance that eventually becomes an affair and a marriage. While they are casually dating (he takes her out for an evening, then leaves the country for six months, then returns, takes her out, and leaves again...), the movie remains fun and interesting. When they get serious, about halfway through the film, the focus shifts to romantic melodrama and I think the movie suffers for it, partly because it turns predictable, and partly because we lose the sense of Brice's career: Did she leave the Follies for a time? Why did she return? Even the time frame for the last half is unclear--it could be taking place over two years or five years, or anywhere in between. But the musical numbers are always good; my favorite ones are "Don't Rain on My Parade" and the "Beautiful Bride" parody.

Streisand is front and center for most of the film--indeed, I can only think of a couple of very short scenes where she isn't present--and she holds the screen like a seasoned pro, even though this was her first movie. The only other performers who have a chance to register at all are Kay Medford, who does a nice job as her mother, and Mae Questel (who did the voices of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in the 30's and 40's) as a nosy neighbor lady. Lee Allen, who went on to do almost nothing else, is good in a small part as Brice's accompanist. Sharif is OK, but he is always overpowered by Streisand. This was the recently restored version; they spent three years restoring picture and sound and it looks great. The entire Panavision screen is used, which is why the pan & scan version destroys the movie. This may have been the first and last time that Streisand's full range as a performer was exploited to strong effect, though I admit that her STAR IS BORN is something of a guilty pleasure for me.

Sunday, July 14, 2002


This could have been an almost perfect Ernst Lubitsch movie except for the leads. The plot involves a girl going into service for a rich British family just before WWII and how she affects people there, especially the Czech patriot who has come to England to get away from the Nazis. (For a movie made immediately after the war, it seemed to take the wartime situation rather cavalierly.) The supporting cast was great: Reginald Owen is the stuffy patriarch, Peter Lawford is his calllow but well-meaning son whose idea of doing something about Hitler is writing a letter to the Times, Richard Haydn (Max from THE SOUND OF MUSIC) is a shy druggist, Una O'Connor is his mother who never has a line of dialogue but manages to steal at least one scene just by coughing and wheezing. Reginald Gardiner has a very funny bit in the very beginning, but sadly never returns. The same with C. Aubrey Smith, who was apparently around 80 when he made the movie, but seems at least 20 years younger. The leads, Jennifer Jones and Charles Boyer, are just too leaden. They don't fizz with each other. Even though Katharine Hepburn would probably have been too old, I could imagine someone like her, opposite someone like Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart, or even Don Ameche. That might have lifted this film from good to great.

Saturday, July 13, 2002


I came across this one at the library and the description made it sound interesting. It's directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, which is not necessarily a good sign for me; the only other movies by him I'd seen were 1900, which I liked, and LAST TANGO IN PARIS, which I did not. The plot was based loosely on a very short story by Borges, who I tend to like. A young man is called back to the Italian town where he grew up by his late father's mistress. His father has become a legendary figure in his hometown for his anti-Fascist activities in the 30's. He was murdered under mysterious circumstances; it's been assumed by the townspeople that Fascist forces were behind it. The mistress asks the son, who knew almost nothing about his father, to investigate the murder, 30 years after the fact. As the son talks to the townspeople (some of whom are not terribly willing to discuss the past) and reconstructs the events surrounding his father's death, it becomes clear that little is what it seems on the surface.

The actor who plays the son (Giulio Brogi) also plays the father, in flashbacks. The weird thing is that the other actors are not made to look younger in these flashback scenes, so there is always a bit of disorientation. You can usually tell what time period we're in because Brogi wears a brown jacket and a scarf when he's the father. But at least one scene deliberately distorts time, when the mistress seems to be talking to both the father and son at the same time. Metaphorically, the son is sort of becoming the father (and I think the mistress is trying to seduce the son) as he delves deeper into the mysteries of the past. The movies remains mostly realistic and the mystery is solved quite nicely, but the very last scene suddenly throws us off again, not in terms of the solution, but in terms of character and meaning, when metaphor seems to become reality. It's an ending that is certainly consistent with Borges. I liked it (the movie and the ending) a great deal, and a second viewing seems called for.

Thursday, July 11, 2002


I think my desire to watch this movie was a perverse one: I don't like Gene Kelly very much in non-musical roles, I'm generally not crazy about 50's movies (especially soap operas), and a couple of people I know (including my own mother) warned me away from this one. Nevertheless, I watched it and was pleasantly surprised. I agree with some of the bad press the movie's gotten over the years, but it held my attention for two hours and I think the first half is really pretty good. I hung out with theater people in college, and much of the atmosphere of the first hour rang very true to me. Natalie Wood is a Jewish college girl and an aspiring actress. During a stint as a summer camp counselor, she falls in love with Gene Kelly, the entertainment director who is known as a Lothario and who is attempting to write and stage a Broadway musical. Her parents aren't happy about Kelly's age or his lack of achievement, but the two begin a relationship that gets derailed when Kelly's hopes for a bright theater career are dashed.

Though his performance is not one of Kelly's career highlights, I think he's better in this than in his other films of the same general era, INHERIT THE WIND (a good movie he was bad in) and LES GIRLS (a total stinker). Kelly is supposed to be 33, although he was in his mid-40's at the time and pretty much looks it, but I do think he looks good enough that it's credible that an 18-year-old could fall for him. He is charming when he's supposed to be and a bit of a creep when he's supposed to be. I don't think Kelly and Wood had great chemistry--I never really understood why Wood would be any different from his other summer flings, why he would get serious about her.

Martin Milner was surprisingly good as the geeky friend, although I have to say that he almost comes off, at least in the first half, as cute and hunky with his crew-cut, tight t-shirt, and big arms! Carolyn Jones is good, too, in a sort of Joan Blondell-type role as Wood's best friend. Claire Trevor is nastily good as Wood's conniving mother and Everett Sloane is fine as her father. Ed Wynn has a fairly serious part as Wood's uncle, who gets to do a little vaudeville number at the resort, although why his character is in the movie at all is a mystery. Even Wood, of whom I'm not normally a big fan, is OK, though maybe a little bit out of her depth at that point in her career. I do think it odd that both Maltin and the Halliwell guide say the movie ends with Wood giving up her dreams to be a suburban housewife. That may be what happens in the book, but it's not a spoiler to say that it's certainly not what happens in the film. The movie's ending is left quite up the air, with no imminent sense of either suburbia or (necessarily) housewifery, or even marriage, for that matter. A surprisingly compelling guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002


This has been described by one critic as "women's noir." It's a long movie, nearly two hours, and for much of its running time, it is basically a romantic melodrama shot in a noir style, with the emphasis on city streets and shadows. Kent Smith is a somewhat mousy doctor with a wife and two kids, who lives a life of routines and ruts. Ann Sheridan, the title character, is a nightclub singer who is involved in a minor car accident outside Smith's office. He comes to her aid and a flirtation develops. Soon, he is having a full-fledged affair with her and his home and professional lives begin to suffer. The noir twist comes when an opportunity to leave his old life and start over with Sheridan crops up, involving switching identities with a dead man. Of course, if you've seen any noir (or read Cornell Woolrich or James Cain), you know this can lead to no good.

I won't give away the twists except to say that the title emphasis on Sheridan is, I think, rather misplaced. She's sexy and she's an adultress, but she's not really what I think of as the typical femme fatale. Leonard Maltin says that she ruins his life, but it seemed to me that Smith was the maker of his own downfall much more than Sheridan was responsible (unless you're the kind of misogynist who blames women for all of men's problems!). At any rate, it's worth seeing for its gloomy noir atmosphere and for the interesting twists it takes in the last half hour. It is, however, awfully slow getting to the climax. Smith and Sheridan are both quite good--she is about as sexy as I've ever seen her, and that's saying a lot. She also gets to sing a couple of songs in a nightclub setting, and though she is fine, the numbers feel like padding in an already somewhat bloated movie. John Ridgely, a handsome Warners supporting player whose career I tend to follow, has a small but crucial part in the proceedings--I didn't even recognize him at first.

Sunday, July 07, 2002


Back in the 60's, when I was 11 or 12 and was a big fan of horror movies, I saw a remake of OLD DARK HOUSE with Tom Poston. I remember thinking it was sort of funny, but also that as a kid, I didn't get a lot of the humor. The original movie, I discovered later, was considered to be a lost classic. Just a few years ago, I saw the Poston movie on TV and was surprised how terrible it was--I didn't even finish watching it. Then, the original was re-discovered and AMC showed it (back when they actually showed "classic" movies) on a Film Preservation weekend. It was an odd movie, to say the least: sort of funny, a little bit creepy, but mostly just weird. Afterward, I was left still not sure what this movie was all about. When I saw recently that it was on DVD, and supposedly in better shape than the print that AMC showed, I decided to give it another try.

The DVD print is in much better shape, although given that almost all of the action takes place in, yep, an old dark house, there were still some scenes without a lot of detail. The author of GOLDEN HORRORS calls this movie the only "flawless" horror movie of the 30's, but in many ways, I'd say that it isn't really a horror movie at all. Five travelers are stranded by very bad weather in an old, dark house inhabited by an eccentric (today, we'd say "dysfunctional") family, the Femms--since James Whale directed it and his buddy Ernest Thesiger plays a family member, I'm sure that puns on the family name were flying fast and furious during production. Thesiger is Horace, the nervous brother; Eva Moore is his sister Rebecca who is mostly deaf. Horace is disdainful of his sister's religion, a theme that crops up occasionally. There's a mute and scary butler (Boris Karloff who, though given top billing, really doesn't have much to do) who is frequently on the verge of being threatening; in one scene, he seems to try to rape a young woman, but he exhibits a tender side at the end. Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, and Gloria Stuart are among the stranded travelers--Stuart is especially effective as a "damsel in distress"--and a couple of other family members are hidden away upstairs to give us the frights. But aside from a couple of horror-movie scare moments, it's more a character-driven dark comedy, even if the characters don't ultimately come to much. It's a very odd film, in plot and tone, not really creepy or funny enough for me, though Thesiger's "Have a potato!" scene is memorable.

Saturday, July 06, 2002


This was shown recently on TCM as part of their "lady spy" series. Myrna Loy is a German counter-espionage agent (known as the shadowy "Fraulein Doktor," who was apparently a real historical figure) whose job is to find out if a certain Turkish officer is leaking secrets to the British. In an early scene, she warns her boss (Lionel Atwill) to do something about Mata Hari because she has fallen in love and will no longer be an effective spy. Of course, eventually the same thing happens to Loy. George Brent plays a medical student who accidently gets tangled up in her spy game and falls head over heels in love with Loy. The real problem with the movie is that the two have little chemistry. Loy treats Brent as a puppy-like irritation (and Brent, despite seeming a bit too old for the part, does play it with a certain puppy-love frivolity), then suddenly she is in love with him--we never see it happen, she just says she is, and I don't buy it for a minute. The scenes early in their relationship have a certain frothy quality that comes close to screwball as Brent tries to ingratiate himself to Loy. The latter part of the film gets melodramatic and predictable, and keeps some important plot action involving Brent off screen. I liked Atwill a lot; I always thought of him mostly as a supporting player in horror movies, but I've also liked him in THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN, THE MURDER MAN, and BALALAIKA. I have also been enjoying C. Henry Gordon, who played swarthy villains in MATA HARI and CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. Here he plays the treacherous Turk and adds life to all of his scenes. The off-kilter atmosphere and some major plot loopholes make this one difficult to recommend except to Brent and Loy fans.

Friday, July 05, 2002


Hawthorne's novel has been done a couple of times as a gloomy horror story, but it's really just an obliquely-told dysfunctional family melodrama and that's the treatment it gets here. The writers wisely flesh out the characters' backgrounds--what amounts to a briefly sketched "backstory" in the novel takes up the first half hour of the film. Vincent Price is trying to sell the family house to pay for debts run up by his dissolute brother, George Sanders, but when the father dies, Sanders manages to get Price accused of murder; he is tried and found guilty. 20 years later, Price gets his revenge, with some help from Dick Foran, a man he meets in prison who turns out to have a connection to the family. There's a curse thrown in for good measure, but surprisingly, it's not presented in as creepy a fashion as it is in the book, maybe because the studio was reluctant to show people bleeding from the mouth back then. Price and Sanders are both young and handsome, and have a lot of fun chewing the scenery, especially in the first part. I've seen the original house in Salem, and the movie house looks a lot like it, but the potential for gothic atmosphere is pretty much completely wasted. Still, worth catching especially for fans of Price and Sanders. Margaret Lindsay, Nan Gray, and Cecil Kellaway have supporting roles.

Thursday, July 04, 2002


This was a pleasant little surprise. It's a Poverty-Row "musical" from Monogram, but it's at least as good as some of the lesser Warner and RKO musicals of the 30's and 40's. Set at a music company where songs and radio jingles are recorded, the plot concerns a young jingle singer (Dona Drake, Bob Hope's girlfriend in ROAD TO MOROCCO) hoping to be discovered. A jingle writer (Robert Lowery) falls for her and tries to get her a recording gig with a big bandleader (Jerry Cooper, who I'm guessing was a real-life musician rather than an actor). The bandleader doesn't want a female singer (no canaries, as he says), so complications ensue.

Drake and Lowery are OK, nothing special. I'd never heard of Lowery, although IMDb shows him as having been in over 100 movies, mostly B-films. The main attraction here is Irene Ryan, who later played Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. She does a Gracie Allen-type character, playing a dithering secretary to the president of the company (her real-life husband Tim Ryan, who also co-wrote the movie). She's really pretty good doing the dumb act and taking some slapstick pratfalls, mostly involving running into walls. Sidney Miller, who played the Jewish kid in THE MAYOR OF HELL and did other Jewish juvenile parts for Warners in the 30's, plays Lowery's sidekick and is more personable than Lowery. Unlike in many other Monogram films, the sets look good and there are plenty of extras where needed. The songs are not memorable, but they're not bad, either; they're about on a par with most of the songs in the average Dennis Morgan/Jack Carson movie. The title is a bit misleading--it's definitely NOT a jazz musical--but overall it's worth catching, a late-night treat from TCM.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002


This little-known (and apparently little-seen) movie features two of my favorite leading women, Irene Dunne and Myrna Loy. It has an interesting premise, but it doesn't spend enough time developing it in the first half, then it dawdles through the second half. Dunne gets jilted by Lester Vail (apparently he does love Dunne and considers her his best friend, but he marries for money); Pat O'Brien is a reporter who is similarly jilted by Myrna Loy. Dunne and O'Brien meet and, since misery loves company, they hit it off. They obviously like each other, but the romantic spark isn't quite there; nevertheless, since they can't quite get over their lost loves, they decide to get married and have something like an "open" marriage, allowing straying if the opportunity should come up. Years later, they have a child and seem superficially happy, but both still pine for their ex-lovers. Coincidentally, both exes come back into their lives at the same time, and life-changing decisions have to be made.

The cast puts this over, despite some general plotting sloppiness. Toward the end, some changes of heart feel unmotivated or not well fleshed out. John Halliday (Seth Lord in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) is good as O'Brien's boss and best friend. Loy, though not having much to do except at the very beginning and very end, is dangerously beautiful as a flapper-type blond; she is really very striking, partly because she looks so unlike I've ever seen her look before. This pre-Code film, though not racy, could still probably not have done a few years later. Certainly I doubt they could have been as frank about the marriage arrangement.