Tuesday, July 29, 2008


This drug propaganda film (aka The Pace That Kills) stands somewhere between REEFER MADNESS and MARIHUANA in overall quality. As an ultra low budget exploitation film it's cheap looking, but it does have a certain narrative heft that the others lack, making it a little too serious (and depressing) to have much camp value. Nick (Noel Madison), wanted for peddling dope to school kids, evades the cops at a roadside diner with the help of Jane (Lois January), a waitress who is dying to leave behind her rural life and live it up in the big city. He slips her some cocaine in the guise of a headache powder and it cheers her right up, so she runs off with him, but quickly realizes that, with no skills or money of her own, she has basically become enslaved to him. Her younger brother Eddie (Dean Benton) comes to town to find her, gets work at a drive-in restaurant, and falls in with friendly Fanny (Sheila Bromley) who turns *him* on to some "headache powder." The two wind up fired, living together in a skid row apartment, and she turns tricks to get him drug money. In a third plot strand, rich girl Dorothy (Lois Lindsay), described as someone who "quests" after men and boys, goes slumming at the Dead Rat night club, is kidnapped by Nick, and discovers that someone in her own family is head of the town's drug business. When Jane finds her brother in a daze in an opium den, she tells him that he can still escape the life, and go back to "the country and sunshine," but that it's different for girls. Indeed, Jane comes to a sad end, though Dorothy, whose boyfriend turns out to be an undercover cop, is saved and cured of her questing.

The acting here is pretty good for a non-studio affair; some of the actors had solid Hollywood careers, if mostly in small, often uncredited roles. Fay Holden, who later played Andy Hardy's mom, has a small role. January, Benton, and Bromley are all quite good and build up non-camp sympathy for their characters. Still, there are a few fun moments; in addition to the lines about "questing" and "sunshine," I got a kick out of Fanny telling Eddie she was going to take him "on a sleigh ride with some snowbirds." The plot stops cold for two fairly dreadful musical numbers at the Dead Rat (a hell of a name for a night club, BTW). We never actually see any cocaine, just little wrapped packets that make folks smile when they've been ingested offscreen. [TCM]

Monday, July 28, 2008


The director of this drug-scare propaganda film is Dwain Esper, a 30's edition of Ed Wood, who made a number of low-budget exploitation movies. Before this, I had seen his MANIAC, a movie that is quite bizarre and difficult to describe that you simply must see it to believe it, though don't take that as a recommendation. It is both kinkier and more amateurish than anything Ed Wood ever did, but some of Wood's movies hold up to repeat viewings, hence his cult. Esper's movies aren't really much fun and don't invite repeat viewings. This one starts with a scene of wild kids dancing the night away at a 5-cent beer joint. Of course, given the gateway theory of drug use (who know that theory was all the rage in the 30's?), this is the place to get the kids hooked on reefer, so slick dealer Tony buy beers for slumming rich girl Burma (great name!) and her pals, then invites them to use his beach house for a weenie roast at which joints get handed out, girls go crazy and go skinny-dipping, and Burma and her boyfriend Dick go all the way. The wages of sin? One girl gets too high and drowns, and Burma winds up pregnant. Dick works for Tony to make some money, but gets killed in a drug bust shootout. Burma gives up the baby for adoption and starts working for Tony, becoming "Queen of the Snow Peddlers" for her penchant for getting pot customers turned on to "H" and "C." As her life spirals further downward, she winds up kidnapping her sister's baby (who, of course, is actually her own child though she doesn't know it) before her inevitable early demise. The highlight of the film is the skinny-dipping scene, in which we actually see a gaggle of naked women running into the water. They could probably get away with almost this much nudity on TV today, but it's still startling to run across it in a 30's film. The title is a little misleading, as the dope smoking is secondary to the real problems here, using heroin and working for drug dealers. For fun times, stick with REEFER MADNESS. (aka Marihuana, the Devil's Weed) [TCM]

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Turner Classic ran a couple of anti-drug propaganda B-movies from the 30's on their TCM Underground series recently (MARIHUANA and THE COCAINE FIENDS) and I was moved to go back and re-watch this film, the granddaddy of all drug movies. Taken at face value, as a very low budget, non-studio exploitation film, it's nothing special--it's competently made and the acting is OK. It had the luck to be rediscovered in the 70's and presented as a camp entertainment, mostly due to scenes of the exaggerated effects of pot smoking: immediate jitters, maniacal giggling, darting eye movements, and occasionally the need to shoot someone. I first saw this movie when I was in college in the 70's and we were practically falling out of our chairs laughing at it. Thirty-some years later, I still had an occasional laugh, but watching it as an indie B-film, I was surprised how compelling it could be.

The main narrative unfolds as a story told by a high school principal at a PTA meeting, the purpose of which is to warn adults about the dangers of marijuana (the movie's original title was TELL YOUR CHILDREN). Mae, Jack, and Blanche run a meeting place for their druggie friends out of her apartment. Jack and his pal Ralph go trawling at the soda fountain after school to get fresh young customers hooked on reefer, though Mae thinks they should stick with adults. Young Jimmy takes the bait right away and ends up involved in a hit-and-run accident while high. Soon, Jimmy's wholesome friend Bill is hooked, and they start frequenting Mae's place where the dope smoking is accompanied by wild petting parties. While high, Jack has an unpleasant sexual encounter with Blanche, and Bill forces himself on his girlfriend Mary, who is shot to death by Ralph, who frames Bill for the death. There are happy endings for no one (Jack gets beaten to death, Ralph goes insane, Blanche throws herself out of a window) except Bill who learns a valuable lesson about the dangers of marijuana.

The best scenes in the movie are those with a hopped-up piano player who sneaks out for a toke and immediately starts grinning and shaking, and with Ralph who laughs for no reason and gets a great over-the-top insanity scene near the end. Dave O'Brien, who plays Ralph, had a thriving career as a supporting player in many films, and if you ever watch the Pete Smith comic shorts on TCM, you'll recognize him as the bumbling, harried subject of many of them. Now that I'm a little more versed in 30's B-films, I can appreciate this film for more than its current camp value. It's no gem, but for a Poverty Row melodrama, it's more than satisfactory, and it's more enjoyable than the other two anti-drug films I saw on TCM which I'll be reviewing soon. The 20th Century Fox disc contains a restored black and white print and a colorized version. Normally I don't improve of colorization in any way, shape, or form (except for the tinting of silent films which were "colorized" during their first release), but this one is surprisingly well done, and the reefer smoke is in bright psychedelic purples, pinks, and greens, depending on who's puffing. There is also an amusing commentary track by Mike Nelson of MST3K. [DVD]

Thursday, July 24, 2008


This is an entry in the Lone Wolf detective series, but it works pretty well as a stand-alone wartime spy thriller done with a very light touch. Warren William, in his last go-round as jewel thief-turned-detective Michael Lanyard, is in Egypt to meet Sir Roger (Frederick Worlock), but he's waylaid by a gang of Nazi spies who threaten to kill his faithful manservant (Eric Blore) if William doesn’t help them steal some secret British documents. William talks Worlock into playing along to see what they want, but actually they are sending him on a wild goose chase, planning on framing him for the theft of some Suez Canal plans, crucial to them for their plans to invade Turkey to get to Iranian oil. Much of the fun here is in the convoluted plot twists which I don't want to reveal, but there is equal fun in the exotic "dark streets" atmosphere and in the colorful supporting characters. Blore does his usual nervously droll manservant bit to good effect, and Sheldon Leonard is a hotel owner (think a B-movie Rick Blaine) who knows William from his old days. Robert Stanford is Blore's straight-arrow son and Ann Savage (the femme fatale from DETOUR) is Stanford’s less than straight-arrow fiancĂ©e who just might be a spy. Lloyd Bridges is one of the Nazis, and there are three shady characters named Cezanne, Rembrandt, and the Whistler. Despite being released well into the war, the film concentrates on action and humor over propaganda or inspiration, and doesn't feel like any Lone Wolf movie I’ve seen. By the end, it seems like the writers wrote themselves into a hole and just decided to end the movie, but it's still an enjoyable flick. [TCM]

Monday, July 21, 2008


Just the other day, a friend asked me if I thought I would ever run out of "old movies" to review on this blog. I said no. Why then, you might ask, am I reviewing a mid-60's ski-bunny teen comedy with no stars and very little comedy? I've run out of "real" classics? Dementia has set in? I could say that it was over 90 degrees yesterday and I needed a movie that might cool me down. I could say that I'm interested in the way genres get reworked, deconstructed, and received from generation to generation. Well, it was over 90 degrees and I am interested in genre theory, but the real reason I stuck with the movie to the bitter end: two handsome leading men. But you would have figured that out soon enough. Actually, as teen comedies of the era go, this one is perhaps a smidge better than the average beach party movie which it emulates. William Wellman Jr. (yes, son of the respected director of films such as The High and the Mighty and Battleground) has inherited a dilapidated ski lodge which he and his buddy, James Stacy, are determined to turn into a going concern. They hire a small group of attractive and energetic guys and gals to help out and are soon doing well, until an villainous local businessman hires two goons to break up the fun.

I have rarely stuck with a 60's beach movie to the end, I think because, despite the eye candy, the plots of most of them are ridiculous, with weird inventions, stolen gems, mistaken identities, and characters named Eric Von Zipper. This ski resort variation dumps most of that stuff and sticks with romantic maneuvers and a basic good guy/bad guy conflict. Wellman's secretary, Beverly Adams, pines away for him, Stacy pines away for any girl in a bikini (yes, they wear bikinis even in the snow), and a foreign-sounding rich lady, Jill Donohue, is stalking any man in a ski sweater, trying to forget her ex-boyfriend, who it turns out is one of the not-so-menacing thugs. There are songs, two written by Monkees songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and others by Norman Greenfield, who was Neil Sedaka's songwriting partner, which are just a tiny notch better than most beach movie songs; the catchy title track is by the Hondells, of "Little Honda" fame. There's a fun brawl, a midnight pajama "square dance," and a couple of tedious skiing scenes. Stacy is very cute in a clean-cut way, Wellman only a little less so (though he looks adorable in green velour); Nancy Czar, as the booty-shaking Jonesy, is very sexy; Adams only a little less so. There's a running joke about the bar only serving Cokes (early product placement?), and another one about an electric-eye device set to catch the horny Stacy when he tries to sneak into the women's rooms at night. The waitresses wear outfits that make each one look like Wonder Woman if she worked at Santa's Toyshop. The negatives: Stacy and Wellman, though adequate actors, don't have the chemistry or energy that would have made them a fun team; the chef (H.T. Tsaing) is an obnoxious Chinese stereotype; I didn't give a darn about any of the romantic pairings. Still, I did stick with it to the very end, a ski lodge wedding with "Here Comes the Bride" played as a surf instrumental, and I didn't feel too bad the next morning. [TCM]

Saturday, July 19, 2008


B-movie desert adventure which is nowhere near the 30's standards of GUNGA DIN or BEAU GESTE, but does have a few minor pleasures. At an isolated Foreign Legion post (is there any other kind?) in the Sahara Desert, the men are waiting for a band of relief troops who should be marching in any time now. The new commander (Ralph Meeker) arrives by helicopter but they soon find out that all the other men have been slaughtered by an Arab tribe led by El Zanal (Keith Larsen) and his hot sister Zara (Marla English). Larsen claims to be fighting for a "pan-Islamic Sahara" but it seems to be more important to him to seek revenge against the Legion for the murder of his father fifteen years ago--though we have seen that Arab wine merchant John Carradine is actually responsible. After we get to know a few of the ethnically diverse Legionnaires, Larsen and his tribe attack, killing several men and holding the rest hostage so they'll carry out his plan to kill the rescue band that the Legion has on its way. Meeker appears to go along with Larsen's plan, but actually carries forward a plot to thwart the slaughter. A budding romance between Meeker and English (who whips Meeker in the face the first time she sees him) complicates things. In the end, of course, Meeker and his men triumph.

I became a fan of Meeker, a medium-sized chunk of mild, mumbling American masculinity, after seeing him in KISS ME DEADLY, but sadly that movie seems to have been his career peak. He's fine here as a B-lead as he doesn't have to stretch past his acting limits. Larsen is far too much of a hunky California-type to be believable as an Arab, but his villainy is acceptable--undercut a bit in a scene in which he is dressed in an white Elvis jumpsuit; English is pretty much terrible all the way through. The supporting cast includes Ben Wright (the Nazi Zeller in Sound of Music), Philip Tonge (Mr. Shellhammer in Miracle on 34th Street) doing an outrageous Scottish accent, the always reliable J. Carroll Naish, Ron Randell, and blonde hunk John Smith as a Legionnaire from Texas. The only surprise in the predictable plot comes late in the day and involves Larsen's motives for the attack. Some of the dead bodies seen in the background are surprisingly bloody for a 50's movie, though given all the hot desert action, no one ever appears very sweaty. [TCM]

Friday, July 18, 2008

THE TRIP (1967)

Peter Fonda, a director of hip TV commercials, is in the midst of a divorce from Susan Strasberg. When smoking pot with his friends (including Dennis Hopper) at an incredibly psychedelic Haight/Ashbury house doesn't chill him out enough, Bruce Dern offers to be his guide for an acid trip, his main advice being a quote from Timothy Leary by way of the Beatles: "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream." The rest of the movie is Fonda's day-long trip; we shuttle back and forth between his visions and objective "real life." A pastoral stroll turns into a creepy chase through a medieval wood. A dip in Dern's very nifty pool (half inside, half outside) turns Fonda into a sobbing, naked mess. Hopper appears in his visions as an inquisitor, haranguing him about his commercials. He imagines making love to Strasberg as swirly light-show projections play over their bodies. He also freaks out about death and, later in the evening, Fonda has a vision of Dern lying dead in his living room, and he races out into the night for a series of minor adventures: he breaks into a suburban house and watches TV with a little girl, chats up a bemused woman at a laundromat, goes to a disco, and picks up a woman for more swirly, light-show sex. In an ambiguous finale, Fonda wakes up the next morning and claims that the trip was an insightful, positive experience, but at the final freeze frame, his image cracks like a broken mirror.

Since this film is a relic of the psychedelic era, I was expecting it to be a terribly dated, garish, and preachy experience that I would give up on halfway through. Surprisingly, it still holds up all these years later, albeit more as a novelty than as a truly gripping film, but an honorable novelty nonetheless. Corman dropped acid at least once to see what it was like before filming--I could make an educated guess that Fonda and Hopper already knew, though Dern was actually vehemently anti-drug. The most effective scenes are the sex scenes; the lights projected on bodies add an interesting texture to the proceedings. Fonda's "real life" interactions while he's high (especially the nighttime ones) ring truer than the "visions," which look like outtakes from some of Corman's Poe movies. The scene in which Dern preps Fonda for the trip comes off like a gay porn moment--a lot of tension building as Fonda says, "I'm nervous," and Dern replies, "Relax, man, you're beautiful." Hopper, shirtless, comes off like a genuine stoned blond surfer dude. The big Victorian psychedelic house is wildly cool but a little too crisply bright in its colors to seem real. Jack Nicholson wrote the screenplay, and the producers, apparently worried that the film portrayed an LSD trip too positively, forced Corman to add an opening disclaimer and the "mirror crack" shot at the end. Corman regulars Dick Miller, (A BUCKET OF BLOOD), Barboura Morris, Luana Anders, and Beach Dickerson (CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA) appear in small roles. The music, some by the Electric Flag, is disappointing; a bigger budget might have let them use Jefferson Airplane. Much easier to sit through than I would have thought, though I prefer Corman is his horror mode. [DVD]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


An old-dark-house, reading-of-the-will B-comedy, notable for featuring Jack Haley, Oz's Tin Man, in a rare starring role. He's a mild-mannered insurance salesman who has an appointment to sell insurance to an old eccentric millionaire named Rutherford who's a strong believer in the occult, but by the time he gets to the house, the old man is dead and the relatives have already gathered for the reading of the will, which has some bizarre requirements. Rutherford wants to be buried in a glass domed vault and the will stipulates that his guests must stay until he is interred, after which everyone learns who gets how much. In addition, if his burial wishes are not met, the will bequests will be reversed, so the person who would have gotten the least will get the most, and vice versa. This gimmick holds absolutely no water if you think about it for more than 10 seconds, so don't. When Haley arrives, he is mistaken for a private detective who has been hired to keep watch over the body until the burial, and when the bodyguard never shows up, Haley agrees to fill in, mostly because he finds himself with a crush on cute heiress Jean Parker, one of the few relatives that the old man actually liked, and one who seems to be in danger when a large stone falls from the top of an observatory and just misses her. There is a very funny scene in which Haley reads a spooky story out loud while spooky things are going on right behind him. Another highlight is when Haley hides in a coffin which is then carried out and tossed in a lake. The climax is well staged, hurt only the low budget. Bela Lugosi, who gets top billing, is a red herring mysterious butler who is always offering people coffee (which may or may not be poisoned); other recognizable names in the case include Lyle Talbot, Blanche Yurka, and Douglas Fowley. Good fun, if not quite in the same league as Bob Hope's similarly plotted CAT AND THE CANARY. [DVD]

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Decent romantic comedy; if it offers nothing new (it comes off as a watered-down version of the screwball classic THE AWFUL TRUTH), it still goes down smoothly with a good cast having a good time. Loretta Young is a famous actress who is about to announce her retirement from the stage to go live the easy life on a newly-bought Connecticut farm; however her husband, playwright Fredric March, refuses to give up the Broadway life, so he sells the farm without consulting with her and continues working on his play. She storms out in a huff, heading to Reno for a divorce until March plants a gossip item in the papers that he can't go on without her. She falls for it and returns to New York and the rest of the film consists of March's hijinks to get Young back, and her hijinks to make him suffer. One of March's stunts involves hiring a young actress (Eve Arden) to pose as Young's replacement in the play; in typical screwball fashion, Young arranges to marry a stuffed shirt, in this case, banker Allyn Joslyn—of course, we know he'll never do, just as we know that poor Ralph Bellamy won't do for Irene Dunne in AWFUL TRUTH (or, for that matter, won't do for Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY). There are more phony scenes, including a fun one in a hotel room that was probably inspired by the famous stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers NIGHT AT THE OPERA. Naturally, the couple finally compromise and make up, getting the farm back and putting on the play, and the movie ends with her announcement from the stage that she's pregnant (another "relationship problem" movie of the era that is resolved by biology). There is solid support not just from Arden but from Robert Benchley and Helen Westley (who has a funny drunk scene). March and Young try hard, but feel a little like second-string performers pinched into service. Bubbly and fun, if not quite in the top rank of screwball comedies. [TCM]

Thursday, July 10, 2008


It's a given that practically any Hollywood movie about LSD, hippies, and anything the least bit psychedelic is going to be lame. This one, however, is a notch above the average, more entertaining than the Roger Corman morality-tale downers of the era. James MacArthur and Susan Oliver, the oldest, squarest looking Haight-Ashbury residents ever, have been expelled from college for publishing an underground newspaper. English professor Richard Todd resigns in sympathy with them. They invite him to a Love-In and soon Todd is living, commune-style, with the kids on the Haight and preaching the psychedelic gospel to growing crowds. His slogan, "Be more, sense more, love more," clearly signals that he's a fictionalized version of Timothy Leary. After Oliver, who has started sleeping with Todd, has a bad trip, MacArthur becomes disenchanted, claiming that Todd's whole movement is a scheme for personal gain. Todd's fame grows, and on the eve of a major rally, Oliver tells Todd she's pregnant and he demands she get an abortion. She tries to kill herself; MacArthur saves her but can't save the baby, and heads off to Todd’s rally with a gun.

This is at heart an old-fashioned melodrama of love, sex, and ambition, dressed up in 60's drag. Though the film obviously doesn't take a pro-LSD stance, it also doesn't completely dismiss the hippies, either. Scenes of hippie bliss are disrupted by "straights," in one case a motorcycle gang and, more damagingly, a bunch of jocks pissed off that a hippie "sleep-in" demonstration in the park is interfering with their football game, and it's made clear that it's not the hippies who are being wrong. Oliver's bad trip scene is rather laughable; on a night club dance floor, while a band performs a song that references "Alice in Wonderland," she imagines that she's Alice in a bizarre Wonderland ballet. She seems to suffer no ill effects the next day, though later one young tripping man who thinks he can fly leaps out a window to his death during the street riot. There's also a subplot which goes nowhere about a father trying to get his daughter, who is living at the commune with her boyfriend, to come home. The father is made to look intolerant if not exactly ridiculous. Though Todd is clearly meant to be seen as an exploiter--we never see him take any drugs and his attitude toward Oliver is piggish, to say the least--he's not developed well enough as a character to come off as a real bad guy, and conversely MacArthur, the hero figure, seems largely motivated by jealousy; he's likable, yes, but that's not the same as being heroic. Todd sounds like Richard Burton and looks like the smarmy British English teacher in BYE BYE BIRDIE. Not a moment of the action along the Haight looks authentic and the ending, which should be suspenseful, is completely botched, in the writing and the action and the acting. Otherwise, it's not nearly as bad as it could have been. [TCM]

Monday, July 07, 2008


Both of these films are based on a 1920's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Craig's Wife" by George Kelly. The basic situation is the same in both, but there some plot differences. I saw the 1950 film first, so I'll use that as the basis for my summary. Joan Crawford is Harriet Craig, a woman who seems to have it all: a gorgeous house, servants, and a loving and successful husband, Walter (Wendell Corey). Childless, she has invested all her time and energy into taking care of her large, spotless house, with the help of servants whom she treats badly. While Harriet is out of town with her cousin Clare (K.T. Stevens) visiting her sick mother, she explains to Clare that a woman needs to carefully train and control her man. When they return unexpectedly early, Harriet is shocked to see the house in disarray from a party that Walter threw, and we discover that Harriet's meticulous ways have alienated most of Walter's old pals. She treats the house like a museum, and when an expensive Ming vase on the mantle is pointed out to us, we know it will wind up broken before the end of the movie. Clare takes a shine to a co-worker of Walter's, but Harriet does not approve and tries to subvert their relationship. We find out that Harriet has told people that Walter doesn't want kids, but in reality she has lied to him, telling him she can't have children--we also see her blatantly use sex as a bargaining tool. She's jealous of a widow neighbor whom Walter occasionally visits. The last straw occurs when Walter winds up in line for a promotion and Harriet, upset at the changes to her lifestyle that the new job might entail, lies to his boss, saying that Walter is an irresponsible gambler. Soon, Harriet's web of lies collapses and she is left alone, no husband, no relatives, no servants, and no friends, just the house. The icy, hard persona that Crawford had developed in her movie roles of the late 40's makes her the perfect match for the role. Corey is a washout as the husband, and the rest of the cast is overshadowed by Crawford, though Lucile Watson is quite good in a small but crucial role as Walter's boss' wife, and Allyn Joslyn is effective as a friend of Walter's.

The earlier film stars Rosalind Russell and, though the trajectory of the plot is the same, certain details are different (though I assume closer to the original play). There are still friends, neighbors, relatives, and servants to be abused by Harriet, and the Ming vase is still teetering on the mantle. But instead of a job promotion, a melodramatic crime plot is Harriet's downfall--because of Harriet's unfounded jealousy, Walter becomes a suspect in the death of a friend of his. In this version, an aunt and a female housekeeper, driven away by Harriet, leave together to travel the world--a quiet nod to lesbianism, perhaps, thanks to the director Dorothy Arzner? It is also stated directly here that Harriet believes that a woman can only achieve "emancipation" through a good marriage, and she has done so, with her house as the proof. Russell is different from Crawford but almost as good; she makes the character a bit more sympathetic and just a smidge less cold. John Boles as the husband is only marginally better than Wendell Corey; Billie Burke is the neighbor, and Jane Darwell and Raymond Walton are familiar faces in the cast. Both versions are well worth catching, though the Russell one is hard to find, not being on DVD yet. [DVD/VHS]

Sunday, July 06, 2008

This week on Turner Classic Movies:

One of my favorite Christmas movies of all time, THE BISHOP'S WIFE, will be on Monday the 7th at 2 p.m. It's a lovely fantasy appropriate for any season. Tuesday morning at 10 is CAPTAIN SINDBAD, a grand 60's fantasy adventure, as good if not better than Ray Harryhausen's JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS which will be on later that day. It's Rosalind Russell month on TCM and two of her best, HIS GIRL FRIDAY and THE WOMEN, have already aired, but this Tuesday night is CRAIG'S WIFE, a solid "woman's movie" melodrama which I'll be reviewing soon. Thursday night are two great all-time classics: THE AWFUL TRUTH, perhaps the best screwball comedy ever, at 10; and ALL ABOUT EVE, one of the best movies ever of any genre, at 11:45. Finally, a fun 60's camp movie called THE LOVE-INS is on TCM Underground Friday night/Saturday mornign at 3.45 a.m.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


A Poverty-Row mystery with a nifty twist. Someone has been killing stockbrokers, then stopping and asking a nearby witness for the time. At the site of the latest murder, the witness is a slightly drunk janitor (Luis Alberni) who pegs well-dressed, well-known philanthropist Lionel Atwill as the killer, but everyone knows that Atwill is a deaf-mute, who, as a doctor testifies at the trial, was born with paralyzed vocal cords and could not have asked for the time, so Atwill is exonerated. Reporter Theodore Newton has a hunch that somehow Atwill is indeed behind the string of killings, though Newton's girlfriend (Sheila Terry) is equally sure that it couldn't be such a nice guy. She begins visiting Atwill at his mansion to collect material for a story on his life, and he starts to fall for her. Newton tries to trick Atwill into showing that he can hear, but nothing works, though he does get a strange reaction out of the deaf-mute when Newton plunks at Atwill's piano. That piano turns out to be a key to the mystery, but will the solution come at the cost of Terry's life? Mystery fans will have no trouble figuring out what's going on, but the film is fun anyway, in spite of the low budget production (sparse sets--except for the opening office building hallway--little background music, sluggish pacing, a couple of Newton's blown lines left in). The basic idea for the movie is good but the script is weak; for example, there is no clear reason given for Newton to continue suspecting Atwill except that otherwise there'd be no movie. Atwill is always fun to watch in his villainous roles, though here he stumbles a bit; when he uses sign language, he flips his fingers around like a little kid playing at sign language. Luckily, his hands are kept mostly at the very edge of the camera range, so it's not too distracting. The Alpha DVD print is so-so. [DVD]

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


This romantic melodrama set during the Civil War is clearly a Gone With the Wind-wannabe, but it never even comes close, lacking sweep, grandeur, and interesting characters. In a small town in Indiana in 1859, Montgomery Clift is graduating from Pardee Academy and has plans to marry childhood sweetheart Eva Marie Saint. Though Clift is looked upon as a catch, he's also looked on as a bit of a misfit who believes in the existence of the mythical Chinese raintree, supposedly planted in the middle of the town swamp. The person who finds it will find the answer to the mystery of life, and Clift really seems to believe that someday he'll find it. One day, Southern belle Elizabeth Taylor arrives in town and sets her cap for Clift. They have a brief affair which ends up in a pregnancy, so Clift marries Taylor. On their honeymoon, she is shocked to find out that Clift is an abolitionist. Complicating this is some bizarre self-hatred on Taylor's part: she believes that her birth mother was her family's black maid. There's also some mystery about a house fire years ago, and, oh yeah, Taylor has a pathological attachment to her doll collection. When the war breaks out, she returns South and Clift joins the Union Army. Years later, he discovers she has gone certifiably mad. He frees her from an asylum and they make a stab at a new life together, but when he runs for Congress, she is convinced that she is holding him back, so she heads off to the swamp to find the raintree.

There is much more going on, and many more actors in supporting roles, including Lee Marvin, Rod Taylor, Agnes Moorehead, Walter Abel, and Tom Drake, but it all feels like an oddly empty three hours. There are visual echoes galore from GONE WITH THE WIND, including a riverboat honeymoon, a ballroom dancing scene, and a ruined Southern mansion, but oddly for a movie about miscegenation and the Civil War, there are virtually no major black characters. Taylor is fine, but Clift seems like an alien who was beamed onto a movie set and is incredibly uncomfortable there. Maybe he was a bit ahead of his time (I could imagine Sean Penn in a remake), or maybe it was the notorious car crash he was in during filming; his jaw was shattered and he had to have major reconstructive surgery. An oddity I can't really recommend. [TCM]