Monday, June 30, 2014


Joan Fontaine arrives at the fancy San Francisco apartment of Joan Leslie; Leslie’s boss, a publisher, has asked Leslie to take Fontaine (his niece) in while she attends business school. An orphan, Fontaine was raised by a maiden aunt and comes across to everyone in the big city as wide-eyed, innocent, and a little scared, but as we soon find out, nothing could be further from the truth: her sweet, shy girlish exterior hides an ambitious, conniving woman. First, she toys with Robert Ryan, a Hemingwayesque author—he falls for her but also catches on to her wiles fairly quickly, observing that she has two sides: the realistic young lady and the fictional personality who wants what she knows she cannot have. Later he says to her, "If you ever draw an honest breath, I want to be there to see it." Despite all this, he still lusts for her, calling it just a "sex attraction." But after a short affair with Ryan, she moves on to Leslie's millionaire fiancé (Zachery Scott). Fontaine plants the seeds of doubt in Scott's mind that Leslie may want him only for his money, and next thing you know, Scott marries Fontaine, though she still tries to keep Ryan as a lover. He's tempted but demurs, telling her "I'm not cut out to be a back street boy" [insert pop music pun here]. Nevertheless, soon the two are at it again. You know it's only a matter of time before her cheating ways are exposed, and when they are, it makes for a satisfying climax.

Though sometimes referred to as a film noir, this is really a romantic melodrama and a very enjoyable one. I'm not a big Fontaine fan; she's OK here, giving her phony simpering an edge, but I couldn't help imagine how much better someone like Lauren Bacall or Audrey Totter or Lana Turner would have been. But the supporting cast is a great one. Ryan, in potentially dangerous good guy/bad guy mode, is at his most appealing, not just physically but as a character. He seemed too smart to let himself be used by Fontaine the way he is, but he's also the heart of the movie. Even if you've not been a fan of Ryan's in the past, I think you'll like him here. Scott is almost as good as the nice-guy millionaire who can't quite figure out what’s going on. I also enjoyed Mel Ferrer as Gobby, a bohemian artist who is friends with everyone, who paints a portrait of Fontaine, and is also the only one who knows what's going on all the time. The character is coded (fairly openly) as gay, so he winds up as the passive observer who, in an amusing scene at the end, is the only one to get anything good out of his relationship with Fontaine. Virginia Farmer has a small but crucial role as Fontaine's Aunt Clara. Well acted, nicely shot, this feels like a low-rent ALL ABOUT EVE—not a slam, but actually a compliment. One last detail: it seems like there are more kiss-clinches in this movie than I can remember in any non-romance film I've ever seen; I hope Fontaine and her leading men had lots of breath mints handy. [TCM]

Friday, June 27, 2014


Judy (Gloria Swanson), an American in London visiting Lord Portleigh, an old family friend, falls for the handsome Nick (Lawrence Olivier); he throws over Stephanie for Judy and they agree to marry. That night, the cook sees her husband, the butler, kissing the maid and stabs her (superficially, as it turns out). This makes Judy afraid of jealousy in marriage, and she insists that she and Nick sign this pledge: "Never be husband and wife, but lover and mistress; above everything else, to remain individual." They marry and have a wonderful honeymoon period traveling all over Europe, but eventually Nick agrees to join friends George and Kitty (and, unknown to him, Stephanie) at Cannes while Judy goes to London to prepare their home. Nick enters a contest in which the men get drunk and race speedboats and in the process is injured. He recuperates at Stephanie's place and winds up engaging in a night of ill-considered passion with her. When he sees Judy he confesses and despite their pledge, she's consumed with jealousy. She goes to commiserate with old friend Ivan (John Halliday), a famous explorer who has been nursing an affection for her for some time. He's leaving on a trip the next day and asks her to join him. She has a long dark night of the soul, walking the streets of London thinking things over, and decides not go, but the note she writes Ivan in appreciation of the evening is found by Nick and misinterpreted; when she denies an affair, he slaps her and leaves. Soon Judy is pregnant, but as she and Nick are on the verge of reconciling, he suddenly suspects that the child might be Ivan's and leaves again. Of course, as this a comedy, things eventually get worked—in the divorce court.

This is one of several movies from the pre-Code days that took as a subject the search for a better kind of marriage, one that wouldn’t degrade either partner and would allow a certain amount of freedom in matters of work and play. Of course, the real subject is, a better kind of marriage is poppycock and traditional marriage still works best. The plot is predictable and the dialogue no better than it needs to be, but the movie is worth seeing for its two stars. Silent star Swanson (pictured with Olivier) only made a handful of talkies after this one, but she's fine here, as is Olivier who wasn't terribly self-important yet. He's quite handsome and a little bit scrawny as we see in the Cannes beach scenes. Halliday adopts a thick accent and it seems to hamper his acting a bit. Swanson's real-life husband Michael Farmer plays George, and despite the overwhelming critical consensus that he can't act, I thought he was OK. Nora Swinburne is Stephanie and Nigel Playfair has some fun as Lord Portleigh. The director, Cyril Gardner, gives the movie some nice stylistic touches—long tracking shots, montages, interesting shots—but the background music is almost never-ending and occasionally got on my nerves. Future director Michael Powell wrote the screenplay. [TCM]

Thursday, June 26, 2014



In 1550s Scotland, Martha Gunt is being burned as a witch; she goes to her death proclaiming that the presiding judge, Parrish, is getting revenge against her because she wouldn’t sleep with him and she as she dies, she curses the village, specifically the very ground she is burned on. One hundred years later, a gnarled tree has grown at the spot of her death; the curse causes girls from the town to hang themselves from the tree, which then blooms after their deaths. A descendent of the witch, also named Martha, has arrived in town to marry her boyfriend Charley and spend their honeymoon in the old Gunt castle, but when the villagers get wind of this, they grab their torches and head to the castle to kill Martha, hoping this will lift the curse.

Up to now, this has been a standard 60s horror film as ground out by Hammer Films or American International. But suddenly, who should show up in the middle of the night but Maciste, the Italian muscular, shirtless action hero, riding a horse and ready to kick some torch-wielding villager ass. He saves Martha and Charley from death, but cannot stop the officials from carting her off to jail, where she's to be burned as a witch the next day unless Maciste can break the curse. He heads off to the witch's tree, uproots it enough to go down into the ground beneath it, and enters Hell itself where he looks for the old witch Martha to try and convince her to call off the curse.

There is something almost charming about this odd sloppy hybrid. They don't even try to explain what the Hercules-era Maciste from Italy is doing in 17th century Scotland. The moment when the loinclothed hunk comes riding out of the night to save Martha is jolting in a fun way. The first shots of Hell, with dozens of underdressed people writhing in torture, are impressive, though as Maciste travels on, Hell feels rather sparsely populated. He runs across the old witch Martha who, in a nice touch, is hanging around with Judge Parrish, the man who put her to death. Among his hellish adventures: he meets Prometheus who has his intestines eternally pecked at by an eagle; gets his hands badly burned, then healed by a mysterious lovely lady; loses his memory then has it restored by looking into a magic pool to see his exploits of the past—by way of scenes from previous Maciste movies; and has to deal with an avalanche and some stampeding bulls. Kirk Morris—actually, an Italian actor named Adriano Bellini (pictured)—is likeable and boyishly cute in addition to being lithely hunky. And while I’m on the subject, Angelo Zanolli is quite handsome as Charley, who stands by his new bride even to the extent of climbing up to the stake with her as she's about to be burned. Something a little different for horror and/or peplum fans. [DVD]

Wednesday, June 25, 2014



This WWII fiction film about French railway workers who became part of the Resistance by sabotaging rail traffic in the occupied zone is unusual in a few ways: It's not a documentary, though it often feels like one—and it is rumored that some actual footage of sabotage missions made it into the final film; many of the actors were non-professionals; and, perhaps in the service of verisimilitude, none of the characters is developed, and only one, the chief guy in the office who is also directing the resistance efforts, is in enough scenes to  become familiar to us. Instead of a narrative, the film is structured in chronological episodes just before, during and after D-Day, ending with the liberation of the town of St. Andre. In the beginning, we see small acts of smuggling—of packages and people—followed by the fairly subtle delaying of the arrival of trains packed with German soldiers. As the narrator tells us, the railmen's acts of sabotage were "grains of sand" to make grit in the Nazi war machine. The film does build to a climax of sorts when the railroad workers hear about the Allied landing; the last part of the movie follows the huge concerted effort to stop soldiers, tanks and weapons from reaching Normandy; the French get some help from an RAF air raid.

Even though we don't get to know any of the characters (who also remain mostly nameless), we do feel for them as individuals working against the evil of the Nazis. One remarkably well-done sequence occurs fairly early in the film; after some trains have been blown up, the Nazis, unable to pin down any saboteurs, take several workers hostage and eventually line them to be killed by a firing squad. The camera looks down the row of men facing a wall (pictured), as one by one they are picked off. Another notable scene near the end shows a train derailment that looks very real. This is an early work by director Rene Clement (FORBIDDEN GAMES, PURPLE NOON); his style is solid and assured, perhaps because he had shot a number of actual documentary films before this one. The print on the DVD from Facets is not in the best shape, and some of the subtitles are a little off when it comes to translating idioms; "Bon appétit" is shown as "Good appetite," and later odd phrases include "Ain't that a lark!" and "I like to realize…" But this is an oddity worth seeing. [DVD]

Monday, June 23, 2014


Police sergeant Velis (James Burke) boards a train to New York; he is escorting Reese, a suspect in the murder of Dutch jewel merchant Van Dorn and they're handcuffed together. Also on board are the very Germanic Heinrich (Sig Ruman) and his henchman who manage to knock Velis out and get Reese away from him, at which point they throw Reese off the train to his death. As it happens, Ellery Queen (William Gargan) and his secretary Nikki (Margaret Lindsay) are also on the train and when Velis is fired by the chief inspector (Charley Grapewin) who is also Queen's father, Queen agrees to help Velis get his job back by digging into the mystery. It winds up involving a mummy case imported from Cairo which has diamonds in it that are being smuggled away from the Nazis by Van Dorn's widow (Gale Sondergaard), and that's what Heinrich and his men are after. I like Gargan but there is so much going on and so many characters that he winds up fading into the background. Even the scene-stealing Sondergaard doesn't get much of a chance to shine. Familiar faces include Gilbert Roland as the mysterious Mr. Gillette, Minor Watson as Commodore Lang, an old friend of the Queens, and James Seay as a Marine who is handy with his fists and who helps Queen out in the fisticuffs-filled finale. This works better as a spy thriller (or a wartime propaganda piece) than as a detective series entry, as there is little to make this seem distinctively an Ellery Queen story.  (YouTube)

Friday, June 20, 2014


This low-budget TV movie is a remake of 1956 low-budget horror film THE SHE-CREATURE, which, while it had an interesting plotline, was no great shakes itself. In this version, the sinister looking (because of his goatee) Les Tremayne performs a show at a seaside resort in which his lovely assistant (Pat Delaney) helps him read minds and make predictions. One night, he predicts that there will be a murder on the beach—and there is. There are more predictions and more murders, and the resulting publicity winds up being good for the resort, so the owner (Neil Fletcher) enters into a business deal with Tremayne—who insists he's a real psychic—publishing a quickie book about the situation. However, the cops (led by Roger Ready—yes, that is the actor's name) get a handsome Air Force officer (Aron Kincaid) who just happens to be an expert on parapsychology to help them investigate. It turns out that Tremayne puts Delaney into a past-life regression trance which triggers the appearance of one of her prehistoric selves, a googly-eyed sea monster which goes on a beachside killing orgy.

Even by TV-movie standards, this is cheap and mostly lame. It wasn't a major network production, but a quickie from American International which needed a few new films to flesh out its syndication package, and though it's a few steps above Ed Wood, don't expect much out of this. The saving grace is Les Tremayne who had a lengthy career in movies, radio and TV, working regularly up to 1990. Though he may be a bit embarrassed about the production around him, he gives a nicely understated performance, sinister but not histrionic. Kincaid (pictured) was pleasant enough as beach movie eye candy, but here he just seems wooden, and his character, who would seem to be the hero, mostly just observes and predicts bad things—and the fact that all his dialogue is post-dubbed doesn't help. The monster itself is a very bad knock-off of the Creature from the Black Lagoon with ping-pong balls for eyes. Most of the night scenes are clearly cloudy-afternoon scenes with no attempt made to darken them. For trash connoisseurs and fans of wooden hunks only. [DVD]

Thursday, June 19, 2014



Drug enforcement agent Conrad Nagel is re-assigned to Immigration and sent to Los Angeles to stop a ring of smugglers who are bringing in "Asiatics" illegally. The suspicion is that some bigwig Hollywood type might be behind it, and sure enough, Nagel immediately suspects the owners of Globe Productions, a new company whose big boss, a guy named Brace, is elusive, and whose only director (Jack La Rue) isn't doing much directing. To get an in, Nagel's cover story is that he's a Broadway actor looking for work so has a good reason to hang around Globe's offices. Also suspicious is reporter Eleanor Hunt who, along with her bumbling cameraman (Vince Barnett), haunts Globe's offices trying to get an interview with anyone—she reasons that studios always want publicity, and when one doesn't, it's as newsworthy as "man bites dog." It turns out that Globe is, in fact, a front for the smugglers: they take a small boatload of extras dressed in Chinese garb out to a nearby island to shoot a scene, send the extras back on a commercial boat, and bring the illegal immigrants back on their private boat, seeming to be the same extras that went over. Nagel disguises himself as an extra to investigate, the same day that Hunt and Barnett hide on the island to get pictures. What could go wrong?

This Poverty Row B-movie is a little better than average, partly due to the interesting storyline—though as usual with these cheapies, there are some plotholes here and there to ignore.  Nagel, who had a long career as a supporting player and B-star, is fine—he played the same character, Alan O'Connor, in three other movies. La Rue and Barnett are familiar faces to the classic movie fan; La Rue (pictured above with the gun) was very busy, mostly as a villain, credited in more than 50 movies just between 1933 and 1940. I could have done with a little less comic relief from Barnett, and Hunt seems almost like an amateur, but overall this is a fun hour. One highlight is a little girl in the Globe waiting room who wants to know what Shirley Temple has that she doesn't. The movie's director, Crane Wilbur, plays Brace, the head of the ring. [DVD]

Monday, June 16, 2014


17-year-old Vito (Scott Marlowe) does odd jobs over the summer for his father, the superintendant of an apartment building. One sweltering August day, he goes up to fix the air conditioning unit in Iris' apartment. Iris (Lola Albright), an attractive woman in her 30s, is being kept—so we assume—by her friend Juley (Herschel Bernardi). She's retired from the stripping business but has agreed to do a favor for her ex-husband by taking a strip tease job for a week in a club where he supplies the talent. But when she starts flirting with Vito, he doesn’t know any of this—he just knows that she's hot and interested, and he’s young and horny. Nothing happens until the next day when she answers the door braless, in a clinging blouse and tight shiny pants. Then something happens, and briefly, the two are a happy, sexy couple until real life catches up to them, climaxing (so to speak) when he catches her stripping act, is revolted, and calls her a whore.

To us today, this psychodrama is average soap opera material, but in its day, this was probably somewhat daring material. Iris has problems but because of the times, they are not explicitly explained—Juley seems to have been her lover at one time, but they are platonic friends now, even though that frustrates him. It’s not clear if she's what would have been called a "nymphomaniac," or if she has just been, shall we say, underserved by men in the past, and Vito serves her just fine. Of course, a happy ending is not in the cards here, but neither is a tragic ending. Marlowe was almost 30 when the movie was made, but he makes a fairly convincing teenager, all gangly twitchiness and puppy-dog attitude. I was thinking he would have made a good Tony in WEST SIDE STORY. Albright, best known as the sexy singer in the Peter Gunn TV series, takes her character seriously (even if she doesn't get much help from the screenplay) and creates someone likeable rather than evil or perverted—and of course, today, she'd just be considered a healthy "cougar." The low-budget black & white look of the film gives it a nicely gritty feel. [DVD]

Friday, June 13, 2014


Charles Holland's brother David (Anthony Steel) was reported dead in action in North Africa during the war; years later, a claim for native reparations with his name on it comes to the attention of Charles (Donald Sinden) who heads off to the desert to find the Bedouin tribe that presented the claim. In flashback, we get David's story: in 1942, badly wounded in a skirmish with the Germans, David made his way to a Bedouin camp and collapsed. The men of the group, tying to stay neutral, are a little nervous but young Mabrouka, daughter of Sheik Salem ben Yussff, tends to him and as he recovers, a romantic attraction develops about which the Sheik is not pleased as she is already promised to another Bedouin. When a German patrol arrives, Mabrouka hides David in some nearby ruins. The man to whom Mabrouka is engaged winds up betraying David, and the Sheik eventually sides with David to fight off a Nazi patrol. He gives his daughter to David in marriage and soon Mabrouka is pregnant, but when David finds out that British troops are near, he feels compelled to join them. On the way, he sacrifices himself to save the Sheik. Back in the present day, as Charles learns the truth, he tries to talk Mabrouka into letting him take their light-skinned child back to England to claim his inheritance.

An odd little film; not a war movie as implied by the poster, but a romantic melodrama set against a war background, and an action movie fan would not find much excitement here. The whole idea of the Anglo falling for the Exotic Other and going native is hardly new—this was the basis of many romance films from Valentino's THE SHIEK onward—nevertheless, the plot is just different enough to hold interest. I've just recently discovered the minor pleasures of Anthony Steel as a B-movie leading man, and he is good in this, though Andre Morrell may be better as the Sheik who actually grows and changes during the film (as do both Holland brothers, leading to an ending which is predictable but satisfying). A young Donald Pleasance with a duskied-up face has a small role. Not bad for a second-feature melodrama. [Netflix streaming]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


When the matriarch of the Harper family dies, young Ann (Loretta Young) is left the bulk of her estate, but the disposition of all the property is reliant on two things: Ann must first get married—with the approval of her aunts and uncles—and the family must not allow a bit of scandal to appear in the papers before the marriage. Pissed off about the restrictions, Ann puts an ad in the paper for a young, good-looking and "unscrupulous" man, hoping to create a scandal even at the cost of her money. Gil (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), a handsome professional gigolo who admits to his fellow gigolo roommates that he thinks he's not really good at his business, answers the ad. She plans to get caught with him in a compromising position, but (this being a Hollywood romantic comedy) they fall in love instead. However (this being a pre-Code romantic comedy) there are still some risqué touches: at their first meeting, Ann needs to get her maid to give her advice on how to create a scandal (the maid says plainly that they need to get his clothes off, and when the aunts arrive, he ducks out the window wearing one of Ann's furry nightgowns--see picture at right). Ann, Gil, the aunts, and Gil's roomies all end up that evening at a racy speakeasy, the Circus Café: Ann looking for Gil, Gil there on assignment, the aunts trying to stop any scandal, and the roomies looking for business. The aunts wind up escorted by the gigolos and get quite drunk as the evening goes along, and in the end, Ann threatens to expose the aunts to scandal for their drunken behavior unless they agree to let her marry Gil.

This is a cute comedy, helped immensely by the attractive and likeable duo of Young and Fairbanks; she's sexy and fizzy, he's handsome and charming. The two largely vanish during the long speakeasy sequence at the end as the aunts and gigolos take over, to good comic effect. Fine support is given by Louise Fazenda (Aunt Sarah) who sounds like the Wicked Witch of the West when she shrieks at Young, "You purple woman! You lavender woman! ... You rainbow!!" I also liked cute Eddie Nugent as Andy, one of the gigolos, whom we first see lolling naked in the bathtub. Though this may not be top-drawer pre-Code material—the story is thin and predictable—it is a lot of fun. [TCM]

Sunday, June 08, 2014


This musical concerning the romantic misadventures of a hotel bandleader is remembered today not for its stars, Gene Raymond and Delores del Rio, but for a pair of supporting players who soon would get top billing in their movies: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. At a Miami hotel, Gene Raymond is the flirtatious bandleader (Astaire and Rogers are part of the band) whose shenanigans have gotten him in trouble before, and now he has been strictly warned not to fraternize with any guests. Unfortunately, Brazilian hottie Del Rio arrives and, even though she's engaged, she sets off sparks with Raymond and the band winds up unemployed—but not for long. They get a job at a hotel in Rio, but complications ensue: the hotel, the target of a hostile takeover, is owned by Del Rio's father, and her intended is an old friend of Raymond's. It’s nice to see Astaire and Rogers shine in their comic relief roles, and whenever there's music, Astaire can't resist the rhythm, like he was born to dance. Their production number together, "The Carioca," is fun, though the best sequence in the film, seemingly inspired by Busby Berkeley, is near the end when chorus girls perform strapped onto the wings of a biplane. Raymond is handsome and charming, though Del Rio is flat and listless. Great supporting players Eric Blore and Franklin Pangborn appear all too briefly in the Miami scenes. A pre-Code movie, there are some risqué elements here and there: Rogers wears a very revealing dress in her first song, and the clothes of the girls on the plane blow off. Fun line, in reaction to Del Rio's sex appeal: "What have these South Americans got below the equator that we haven't?" A fun movie that gets sparkles whenever Astaire and Rogers are front and center. [DVD]

Thursday, June 05, 2014


The Amazons rule a land in which all men are considered inferior and raised as slaves. The Black Queen—who is indeed black—is told by their blond glittery oracle that a strong man will soon arrive and threaten her land. Meanwhile, Princess Tamar and her little brother have set a trap to catch a marauding tiger but instead catch muscleman Thor. She tells him that her village was destroyed by the Amazons, who enslave the men and turn the captured women into "gladiatrices" to fight each other to the death in the arena. The Queen and her forces find Thor who is injured by a poisoned bolo and falls off a cliff, but is caught and saved by his black buddy Ubaratutu. They take Tamar off to train her for the arena. In a hidden cave, Ubaratutu nurses Thor back to health (which involves some mildly homoerotic leg massage and other physical contact) and the two head off to free Tamar. They arrive as the Queen’s former husband is about to be killed, and she decides to take Ubaratutu has her new mate, which he thinks is kinda cool for a few minutes. Ultimately, Tamar discovers that there is a conspiracy afoot against the Queen, and she and Thor are able to harness these folks to rebel. Thor gets his requisite torture scene, survives, and leads the battle to do away with the evil Queen.

This is pretty much bottom-of-the-barrel peplum. Of course, it doesn’t help that the print I saw was in lousy shape, not just panned-and-scanned, but jaggedly chopped up, sometimes by accident, but on occasion seemingly on purpose—most of the death scenes here are obviously truncated, probably for play on American TV. Joe Robinson, who was a wrestler and not a bodybuilder, makes for a disappointing Thor—who, BTW, seems not be at all related to the Norse god; in the original Italian, his name is Taur. Susy Andersen is a little too much of a 60s blond for her role as Tamar, though Janine Hendy is effective, despite her blue eye shadow, as the Queen (pictured at left), as is Harry Baird as Thor’s friend (pictured above with Robinson). There is a subplot about the gladiatorices getting 21 arm bracelets put on, and with each victory, they get one taken off, and some tension is set up when a main character (whom I believe is called Gabbleghor) is down to just two bracelets and fears that the royal-blooded Tamar will best her. But mostly this is MST3K fodder: the Amazon women chant something that sounds like, "Elf! Elf! Elf!" at various points to no particular purpose; Thor suggests that Amazon rule is unnatural because women were not intended to use physical force and be in command of people; it was apparently quite cold where they filmed  (Yugoslavia) as you can see the breath of the actors in several scenes, which is more distracting than you would think. If Robinson was hunkier, this would at least have some eye candy potential, but sad to say, I was ready to check out after half-an-hour. I stuck with it for the integrity of my blog. But unless you're a peplum completist, you don’t have to bother. [DVD]

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


Brooks Mason (Robert Young) is a beloved movie star who is so pawed at by his fans that he winds up in the hospital every time he makes a public appearance. George Smith (also Young) is a visiting Hawaiian pineapple plantation owner who looks exactly like Mason, enough so that Smith gets mobbed at the premiere of Mason's newest movie. Mason asks Smith to swap places with him so he can go to Hawaii and enjoy a peaceful vacation; meanwhile, Smith gets to hobnob with Hollywood movie stars. So they do, leading to some predictable shenanigans. In Hawaii, George’s fiancée Cecilia (Rita Johnson) finds him to have become a much more interesting kisser, but Mason-as-George also gets tangled up with Dorothy (Eleanor Powell), a dancer who Mason flirted with on the ship to Hawaii. Back in the States, George-as-Mason bonds with Mason’s agent (George Burns) and is reluctant to end his little "vacation" as a movie star.

Though no timeless classic, this is a small-scale delight. Young does a very nice job in both roles (pictured above), even if the characters of Mason and Smith aren't really all that different. Powell is perfectly charming, as is Gracie Allen as her sidekick. Normally when Gracie was in a movie with her real-life husband George Burns, the two were paired in their patented "dumb bunny" comic routines, but here they don't meet until the end and their brief bit is not nearly as funny as Allen's earlier shtick—and Burns himself has little to do as the agent. Rita Johnson is amusing, especially since she sounds a bit like Madeline Kahn. Also with Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson as a butler and Ruth Hussey as an actress in Mason's latest movie (she’s in the first 2 minutes and then vanishes). There's a cute production number at a costume party where guests come as their favorite movie star—Gracie Allen appears as Mae West with Marx Brothers imitators, including two Grouchos. My favorite comedic moment comes from Rochester who tries to multiply 6 times 8; after some thought, he says drily, "Let’s call it 30." There’s a silly plotline involving Smith owing money to his fiancée's father (Clarence Kolb) but you can ignore that. The rest is fun. [Warner Archive streaming]

Monday, June 02, 2014


When a flight to Johannesburg is cancelled and passengers are shuttled to a hotel for the night, a group of them charter a small cargo plane. There is some concern that with six passengers, the plane is too heavy, but things go well until they run into a huge airborne swarm of locusts that forces them to crash land in the desert. The co-pilot is killed and the survivors decide to try to trek to civilization but stop to take refuge near caves where a band of baboons live. With little food or water, tensions flare and some leave or are exiled: the pilot (Nigel Davenport) tries to force himself on the one sole female (Susannah York), then goes off to look for water; big-game hunter Stuart Whitman goes a little crazy, forcing the doctor (Theodore Bikel) to leave the group, then tries to wipe out the baboons who he sees as rivals for food—and maybe power. Who, if anyone, will survive? I always get this movie mixed up with another plane crash/desert survival film from the same year, FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, the main difference being that the survivors in that film stay with the plane and try to get it flying again. The other difference is running time: this film is a bit too long at 2 hours, but PHOENIX was way too long at almost 2 ½ hours. If I had to watch one of them a second time, it would be this one. It moves more quickly, the tension rarely slacks, and the acting is better. Whitman (pictured) begins in a low-key fashion, but his descent into madness is carried off well. The rest of the cast is first-rate, with special attention going to Bikel and to Stanley Baker as an alcoholic. The film builds particularly well to the final sequence with Whitman, York and Baker. Favorite line (because it's a little silly): "Are we only lost here in the desert, or were we lost in a different way in our own lives?" I also like that at one point, the bored survivors gather around to watch the fire they've built, as though they were watching TV. Worth seeing. [DVD]