Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CAUGHT (1949)

Working class girl Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes) dreams of marrying a rich man and living in comfort. She goes to charm school where she learns how to act in social situations, how to make conversation, and generally how to be charming. After she gets a job as a department store model, she is approached by a slimy fellow named Franzi (Curt Bois) who is on the prowl for good-time girls for his boss, millionaire Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan). She is invited to a party on Ohlrig's yacht and hits it off with him, though we are privy to sessions with his psychiatrist in which we learn that Ohlrig has anxiety attacks he gets whenever he doesn’t get his way. He is full of self-pity, wants to destroy anyone who gets in his way, and believes that no one would love him except for his money. After a whirlwind courtship, the two marry but she quickly becomes bored and restless when Ohlrig constantly puts business first, ignoring and humiliating her, leaving her alone every evening with only the company of Franzi (coded gay because he flits instead of walks and calls everyone, women and men, "darlings"). Soon she leaves him, rents a shabby little apartment, and gets a job as a receptionist for the handsome Dr. Quinada (James Mason). He falls for her but she disappears one night to go back and give Ohlrig one more chance. They sleep together but it doesn't last and she returns to Quinada, but soon discovers she is pregnant by Ohlrig. Her husband agrees to give her a divorce but only if she gives him sole custody of the child. Leonora indeed finds herself "caught."

Director Max Ophuls uses gliding camerawork and noir shadows to give this melodrama some visual interest—there are occasional stylistic echoes of CITIZEN KANE. The character of Ohlrig is based on Howard Hughes, and Ryan gives a very good performance, capturing the neurotic darkness of the character. Even though he is the villain, he is the only character I really cared about here. Bel Geddes is fine, but I never felt there was much there beneath the unthinking desire for comfort and money. Mason is also good, but he hasn’t much to do until a confrontation scene between the three near the end. A movie with a pessimistic view of people and their motives in establishing relationships, marred a bit by an unrealistically pat and happy ending. [TCM]

Monday, February 27, 2012


Commissioners Peters (retiring) and Connors (his replacement) watch the coronation of Melmendi, new queen of the Ashuba tribe. Peters is proud of having kept gin and guns out the hands of the natives, but there are problems on the horizon: Bulam, a rival tribe's king, wants to marry Melmendi but she refuses him, and there are gunrunners sniffing around, notably escaped prisoner Radijeck and his buddies. Tarzan hears about Radijeck's presence from his animal pals and warns the commissioners, but Peters and Connors are both caught off guard and killed by the gunrunners. Bulam is buying guns from Radijeck in order to wage war on the Ashuba, and Melmendi is kidnapped, leaving Tarzan to single-handedly save the day, which he does, climaxing in a brutal knife fight with Bulam. But even after the queen and her people are saved, there’s trouble: Radijeck finds Jane and holds her at gunpoint. Can Tarzan save the day twice in one day?

For Lex Barker's third round as Tarzan, coming after TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL, a substantial amount of the film was actually shot in Africa, though it's difficult to say what, as we still get the soundstage treehouse and vine-swinging scenes. Barker is fine, but the new Jane (Virginia Huston) is not; with an oddly kicky hairdo, she looks like a suburban mom , or like Jane Wyatt doing a pilot episode of Tarzan Knows Best. George Macready (the bad guy from GILDA) is good as Radijeck, as are Douglas Fowley and Glenn Anders as his cohorts; a little echo of TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE can be sensed in the plotline involving the bad guys' bad behavior toward each other. The legendary Dorothy Dandridge, who later played Bess in the film of Porgy and Bess, is wasted as the queen, but it's nice to see her as she only appeared in a handful of film roles in her career. Alan Napier (Adam West's Alfred in Batman) is Peters. The first half is a little slow with too much exposition trotted out in long dialogue scenes, but the action picks up nicely in the last half. [TCM]

Friday, February 24, 2012

I’LL GET BY (1950)

William Lundigan is a song plugger who has written his own song that his boss won't publish; when he's assigned to deliver a record of the new hit "Chattanooga Choo Choo" to a radio station, he accidentally breaks it and instead tries to palm off a copy of his song on DJ Steve Allen. The ploy doesn’t work and Lundigan is fired so he starts his own song publishing company and Texan Dennis Day sells him "Deep in the Heart of Texas." It doesn’t sell either, but the two become partners and soon Greenwich Village pianist Danny Davenport sells them a song called "I'll Get By." When a sister act (June Haver and Gloria DeHaven) who sing with Harry James' orchestra records it, it becomes a hit. Lundigan and Day become successful and date the sisters, though a misunderstanding over who gets to sing a newly discovered Gershwin song leads to a falling-out between Lundigan and Haver. The boys get drafted, the girls sign up to do USO shows, and just as Lundigan and Day are about to be shipped overseas, Haver forgives Lundigan—and the Germans surrender on the same day.

This Fox musical is a remake of the earlier TIN PAN ALLEY with John Payne and Alice Faye. Both movies use real songs from an era (the first film from the teens, this film from the 30s & 40s) in the service of a fictional story. We get to hear songs like "Taking a Chance on Love," "McNamara's Band," and "I've Got the World on a String," and indeed the musical numbers are the best moments in the otherwise bland and predictable film. I like Lundigan, but he's not called upon to do much here. The Irish tenor Day, known for his radio and TV work as sidekick to Jack Benny, comes off much better since his character is allowed to have a personality. Thelma Ritter has a supporting role as a secretary, and there are cameos from Reginald Gardiner, Dan Dailey, and Jeanne Crain, all of whom play themselves. The Gershwin song that Haver loses to Crain, "Yankee Doodle Blues," is absolutely ridiculous, but most of the other tunes are fine. [FMC]

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


A group of sex researchers (the chief is named Chapman, but think Kinsey) arrive in a California town to conduct anonymous interviews with women about their sex lives. That framework is the excuse to present in-depth stories of the sex lives of four of the women, told in bits and pieces throughout the film. The main plotline involves the widow of a war hero (Jane Fonda) who is working on editing the manuscript of the memoir he left behind. Her little secret is that she is frigid; she never consummated her relationship with her late husband. While being interviewed (by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., behind a screen to ensure privacy), she breaks down and leaves in tears, accidentally leaving her purse behind. Zimbalist, intrigued, ignores medical ethics and takes the purse to her house. At first, Fonda is angry, but she slowly warms up to him, and when the two begin dating, Zimbalist tries to get to the root of her problem. Is it because she's a prude? Or does it have to do with her domineering father?

The other stories: Claire Bloom plays a young divorcee who is a nymphomaniac; when her husband discovered her affairs, he broke down and cried, though Zimbalist theorizes that she really wanted to be punished. When she somewhat reluctantly hooks up with a sexy jazz musician (Corey Allen), she spirals further down into self-destructive degradation. Shelley Winters is a housewife who has an affair with a community theater director (Ray Danton, pictured at left with Winters); to her, he's worth leaving her husband for, but to him, she's just a fling. Finally, for comic relief, Glynis Johns, a flighty high society matron, is titillated by a young hunk (Ty Hardin) she sees horsing around with his pals on the beach. Her attempts at seduction go over his dumb-jock head until she talks him into posing naked for her. In the end, the heavy-handed message from the sexologists is "statistics don’t make morality" and the only cure for what ails you is love.

This was probably hot stuff in its day and though it's TV-tame now (you don't hear terms like "frigid" and "nymphomania" much these days, let alone get scandalized by them), there are still some nice frissons to be had for today's viewers. To their credit, the actors throw themselves into their roles, with mixed results. Bloom comes off best as a smoldering but depressed woman trapped by her feelings, and Johns is delightful in her light comic turn. Winters mostly underdoes her part (except when she doesn't) and the time we spend with her character seems interminable. Fonda fares the worst, going cringingly over the top every chance she gets—this may be the director’s fault; classic-era director George Cukor was at the helm, and though this style worked for comic performers like Rosalind Russell in THE WOMEN and Katherine Hepburn in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, it makes Fonda's character laughable. For me, the most interesting aspect of the movie is that men are made to be the object of the sexual gaze of the female, a rarity in films back then (and even fairly rare today), so we see hunky men like Hardin (above, shirtless throughout, with Johns), Danton and Allen sexualized to a degree that was rare back then. Zimbalist suffers a bit, playing a cross between a stuffed shirt and a knight in shining armor, and seeming a bit at sea. [TCM]

Friday, February 17, 2012


During World War II, we are told in voiceover, refugees were trying escaping the "medieval darkness" of Europe. Some made it to America, some didn't. Many refugees were dumped on the Caribbean island of Guadalupe, and one is the brooding, mute stranger known as El Hombre. When he gets drunk, he plays piano, quite beautifully. Unfortunately, he's also gone a little crazy and one night, after reading a notice about "murder boats," operations that promise to take desperate refugees away but actually take their money and kill them, he goes out and sets fire to the boat of his friends Angelo and Luigi, legitimate sailors who brought him to the island in the first place. Angelo tries to be understanding, but Luigi is out for blood. Meanwhile, across the street from El Hombre's shabby apartment lies a young woman, Marya, dying of pneumonia, and her caretakers Dr. Hoffman and Anna. When they hear the piano music of El Hombre, it reminds them of Marya's husband, a concert pianist named Jan Volny who has disappeared. Of course, a long flashback shows us that El Hombre is Jan Volny. At a concert in Prague after the Nazi invasion, Volny plays Smetana's "The Moldau," a much-loved nationalistic piece, in direct defiance of Nazi orders. He makes plans to leave the country that night and to meet his wife in Paris later, but the Gestapo snags him and in the middle of an interrogation, the Nazi von Neubach smashes a lamp against Volny's head, leaving him with a serious brain injury. Still, while being transported to a concentration camp, Volny manages to escape and is taken in by Luigi and Marco and taken to Guadalupe, with no memory of who he is. Back in the present, the question is, will Jan and Marya, right across the street from each other, ever see each other again?

[Spoiler!] I fully expected a teary deathbed reunion, but no such luck: Marya recognizes his playing and heads out to find him, but she collapses in the street and dies before he finds her. The gloomy ending is perfectly in tune with the mood of the movie, which is grim from the get-go. The direction, slow and stately by Arthur Ripley, and the shadowy cinematography give the movie its intense feel, which is a plus, but the pace of the narrative is slow and the two main characters aren't fleshed out very well, despite good performances from Francis Lederer (pictured) and Sigrid Gurie (who at times resembles Vivian Leigh). Actually, it's the sailor brothers who steal their scenes—Alexander Granach as the nice one (Angelo) and the great character actor J. Carroll Naish as the mean one (Luigi)—and the two of them play an important part at the climax. Another fine character actor who goes by the initial "J," J. Edward Bromberg, plays the doctor. Someone named Howard Johnson is credited as Capt. von Neubach, who I assume is the Gestapo interrogator and he's quite good in his small role. As a mood piece, this film works well, but it's not for action fans or romantics who want easy redemption. [TCM]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Radio network UBC calls itself "The Voice of the People" and owner Reynolds wants Scott, his manager (Humphrey Bogart), to lighten up on his higher aspirations for programming (like operas) and go back to UBC's old muckraking style. They decide to air a radio serial based on a 15-year-old scandal involving Gloria Pembroke's murder of her husband. She was acquitted based on self-defense, but Reynolds thinks the whole unsavory stew will be a ratings grabber. Scott disagrees but is forced to go along with it. They discover that Pembroke is now Mrs. Carstairs, with a young daughter, Edith, about to get married to Malcolm, a rich young man, and they send writer named Leavenworth to their apartment to get some info. The Carstairs find out about the coming show and try to stop it—they’ve never told Edith about the case—but they mistake Leavenworth for a minister's assistant and spill all the beans about their current situation to him, leading to further unwanted publicity. Malcolm's parents demand that the Carstairs stop the wedding; instead, the Carstairs kill themselves. The grief-stricken Edith heads down to UBC headquarters with a gun to confront Reynolds and Scott.

This is a B-movie remake of 1931's FIVE STAR FINAL which featured Edward G. Robinson as the Bogart character. The earlier film, an Oscar nominee for best picture, was set at a newspaper but the two are essentially identical as far as plot, characters, and outcome. The first film is better, but this one, a half-hour shorter, isn't bad. It's fun to see a pre-superstar Bogart in a different kind of role; he's the main character though he doesn't get much more screen time than anyone else. He does simmering moral outrage fairly well—the character is against the radio serial and lets everyone know but isn't brave enough to take a strong stand until after the double suicide. Beverly Roberts, as a secretary who sides with Bogart, is given star billing but has little to do. The real acting honors here go to Helen MacKellar and Henry O'Neill as the Carstairs who go through a full range of emotions, from happiness at their daughter's upcoming wedding, to sadness that she might find out about her mother's past, to outrage, and finally to resignation that they can't stop UBC. Harry Hayden is also good as the slimy radio writer. The lovely Claire Dodd has a small part. This airs on TCM under its alternate title ONE FATAL HOUR. [TCM]

Monday, February 13, 2012


This is a quickly-made WWII propaganda piece from Alexander Korda; it is technically a fictional narrative film, but most of its 76 minutes are taken up with narrated newsreel and stock footage (including quick shots from earlier Korda films, including Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth from FIRE OVER ENGLAND) about noble England and how the Royal Air Force is carrying on the grand tradition of defending the Empire. Of course, that the was the whole point of the film, made in one month, September 1939, the month when England and Germany went to war, and I'm sure the film was effective enough in its day and with its audience. But it hasn't worn well over the years, certainly not as well as the Frank Capra "Why We Fight" propaganda films which were straightforward documentaries that didn’t have to fuss with a plot and characters. There is almost a half-hour of narrated glorification of the RAF (and, rather defensively, the masculinity of British men who were not, in case you thought so, a bunch of unathletic sissies) before we get into a storyline involving a wing commander (Ralph Richardson), his wife (Merle Oberon), their Canadian relative (an RAF pilot) and his girlfriend. Nothing really happens to these people except they are happy, outraged, confident, and brave as the circumstances dictate. There are negative depictions of the Germans and some interesting air footage, but this was a real chore to sit through. I'd only recommend it to folks studying wartime propaganda. [TCM]

Friday, February 10, 2012


A group of people show up one stormy night at the isolated house of the Richmonds, on an island attached to the mainstream by a causeway, invited for a ghost-hunting party. Folklore has it that years ago the island was a pirate hideaway, and one night the lighthouse malfunctioned and a boatload of pirates were killed in a wreck; supposedly a pirate ghost appears down at the wreck at midnight. Among the guests are Josh and his lovely sister Ann; the squabbling, recently divorced couple Sylvia and David; Sylvia's twin sister Cynthia; and some guy named Homer. But the guests are all surprised to find out that the Richmonds didn't actually send out the invitations; since they're all there, they make the best of it, have cocktails, and go out to see the ghost. First though, they hear a radio report that a Dr. Dexter is on the loose, having stolen some radium from a local hospital. Then they are joined by a guy named Blair, a mechanic who brought Josh and Ann over when their car broke down. We know he's not really a mechanic however, and we see him disable all the other cars so everyone will have to stay overnight. At the site of the wreck, they see a ghostly figure rise from the mist and Sylvia faints away. But she's not scared, she's dead. She's also only the first to die before the mysteries of who is who and who done what & why are solved.

This is a Republic B-thriller in the "old dark house" mode complete with ghosts and storms and secret passages, and as such, a passable entry. It's a little too obvious who's nice and who's naughty here, so the playing-out of the tangled relationships has few surprises. Peter Cookson as Blair is B-hero handsome so you know he's a good guy, and Lorna Gray (Ann) is fine as the good girl that he flirts with. Kirk Alyn, the first live-action Superman, is effective as Josh; B-film queen Veda Ann Borg has the dual role of the twin sisters. In more Superman trivia, John Hamilton (Perry White in the Superman TV series) is Richmond, and Roy Barcroft (who guested on a Superman episode) is David. Willie Best is ill-used as the scared black butler. There are plotholes best not thought about, but overall this hour-long mystery is mostly fun. [Netflix]

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


This stunning looking black & white movie opens with long lovely tracking shots of the ceilings and walls and ornamentation of an elegant, sprawling, palatial hotel as a man’s spoken narrative (along the lines of “I walk on, down these corridors, in this hotel, corridor after endless corridor…”) is repeated five times. Eventually we see an audience of well-dressed, wealthy people gathered in a hotel auditorium watching a play (to which the narration may or may not belong). We hear snatches of conversation, people walking about and sometimes freezing in place. A plot seems to be introduced: Giorgio Albertazzi approaches the lovely but distant Delphine Seyrig (pictured below) and mentions having met her last year at a similar hotel in Frederiksbad or Marienbad or somewhere, and engaging in an affair with her. She claims not to remember, then does, then doesn’t. He spins different versions of their meeting and we eventually see what might be flashbacks (or fantasies or alternate timelines). We also meet Sascha Pitoeff, a gaunt man in a dark suit, apparently the woman’s husband, who figures in some of the flashbacks. There may have been a rape, or a violent attack by Pitoeff, or no contact at all. Albertazzi and Seyrig wander around the hotel grounds and its starkly beautiful gardens with perfectly triangular hedges and large marble statues. Often the dialogue or narration does not match up with what’s happening on screen. In the end, Seyrig agrees to go off with Albertazzi, but they simply blend in with the crowd in the garden (as in The Prisoner, perhaps, no one gets out of the Village).

This is indeed beautiful to behold: the stark sets, the slow tracking and swirling of the camera, the beautiful but empty people posing against beautiful but empty backgrounds—if you’ve seen Calvin Klein ads from the past 20 years, or in fact any number of high fashion ad campaigns, you’ve seen something influenced by this film, directed by Alain Resnais and written by French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet. In its time, the movie was controversial, mostly met with disdain by filmgoers not used to fragmented and inconclusive narratives (though readers of Virginia Woolf or James Joyce or Gertrude Stein would not have been quite so confused). Now, with Kubrick’s languorous pacing, David Lynch’s ambiguous and dreamlike stylings, and even the alternate narratives of TV’s Lost, current-day viewers won’t be caught quite so off-guard. Still, it’s not for everyone’s taste. The only excitement here is mental. If you can put up with a movie that plays out like a game with few rules and no conclusion, this might be for you. And if you can’t, then just turn the sound off and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous camerawork. [DVD]

Sunday, February 05, 2012

FLIGHT (1929)

Lefty (Ralph Graves) is a college football player who becomes infamous for losing a game by running the wrong the way down the field. After the game, Panama (Jack Holt), a marine sergeant, befriends him (in a men's room!) and soon Lefty has joined the Marines, Panama is his flight teacher, and both men fall in love with a nurse (Lila Lee). Lefty shows promise, but on his first solo flight, he freezes up and can't get his plane off the ground so he's grounded. When the Marines are called into Nicaragua to deal with some murderous bandits, Panama takes Lefty along as his mechanic, and when Lee shows up, the two men fight over her. During a raid on the bandits, the plane Lefty's riding on doesn’t return to the base, and Panama, despite his anger, flies out into dangerous territory to find him. In the rescue, Panama is wounded; will Lefty be able to overcome his fear and fly himself and Panama out of peril?

This very early Frank Capra sound film has a plot that, if it wasn’t cliché at this point (military buddies who become romantic rivals), soon would be, especially during the first rush of patriotic WWII films. Capra's style is energetic but erratic, with some awkwardly shot scenes (even a couple out of focus) which probably should have been re-shot--though they do give the film a certain rough-edged appeal. With a plot like this, the chemistry between the lead actors is important, and though Lee is a zero, Holt and Graves (who co-wrote the screenplay with Capra) are good. There's an odd scene with an improvised feel in which, during a mock fight in their tent, Holt flips Graves over and spanks him. Between that and the men meeting cute in a bathroom, I'd like to give this a gay reading, but I'm not sure it would hold up. There is some good aerial footage, and some bad use of miniatures (and a surprising line of vulgar dialogue: "Cut the crap!"); overall, interesting as a relic but not crucial viewing. [TCM]

Friday, February 03, 2012


The aging King Karl VII of Karlsberg greets his nephew, the crown prince Karl Heinrich, a mere child who has arrived to begin the proper schooling and training for a future king. The hundreds of people lining the street to catch a glimpse of him all doff their hats in unison, and cannon shots fired in his honor scare the boy, who longs to be allowed to play with the other children outside the palace gates. His tutor, Dr, Juttner, sympathizes with the boy and helps him to have fun as he teaches him. Years later, Karl passes his exams (barely) and is sent with his tutor to study at the university in Old Heidelberg. He stays at a humble inn and falls for Kathi, the lively barmaid and favorite of all the students who congregate to drink and sing in the inn's courtyard. She tells Karl she's engaged "but not so terribly" so, and even though he has had a bride picked out for him by his uncle, the two begin a springtime affair. He also becomes good friends with some fellow students who don't know he's the crown prince. Eventually, however, his fling with "normal" life comes to an end when the old king gets sick and Karl must return to the palace. Both the King and the tutor die, and before being crowned king, Karl decides to take one last visit to Old Heidelberg where he learns that you cannot recapture the past.

This is a charming romantic comedy, despite its inevitable bittersweet ending, based on a play but better known as an operetta by Sigmund Romberg, who wrote the music to several Jeanette McDonald & Nelson Eddy musicals. The 1927 version is a silent film, so there are no songs, though you can see where they would fit—and indeed there is one song "sung" by Norma Shearer, as Kathi, with its lyrics presented on title cards. The wonderful score for the version shown on Turner Classic by Carl Davis makes up for the lack of songs. Shearer is delightful as the barmaid and Ramon Novarro is just as good as the prince, torn between his love for Shearer and the student life, and his duty to become king. Jean Hersholt is fine as the friendly tutor. Ernst Lubitsch directs with a light touch and adds several stylish flourishes, the best being a lovely scene between Novarro and Shearer in a windy starlit meadow. With the high spirits and good performances, one doesn't miss spoken dialogue at all.

The 50s version is a color musical with most of the Romberg music, but somehow it's not as fun as the silent film. The entire segment with the prince as a child is missing here, and there's a silly rivalry between two of the student groups that takes up too much screen time. The prince is played by the handsome but generally lifeless Edmund Purdom (who does a nice job lip-syncing the songs, recorded by opera singer Mario Lanza), and Kathi is Ann Blyth, who works a little too hard at being charming; they have very little chemistry. Edmund Gwenn is fine as the tutor, Louis Calhern is the old king, and S. Z. Sakall is Kathi's father, a part that has been beefed up a bit here. If you have to pick just one version, I would recommend the silent one. [TCM]