Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Saigon in 1952 during the Indochinese War is an unsettled place. There are constant skirmishes between the French colonial rulers and the Communists, and the Cai-Dao religious sect seems to be positioning itself as a "third force" in the conflict. A British reporter named Fowler (Michael Redgrave) and his Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Giorgia Moll) become friendly with a new arrival to the city, a fresh-faced young man whom we only come to know as the American (Audie Murphy), a representative from a humanitarian aid organization. He seems a bit naïve but well-intentioned, though soon, Fowler begins to suspect that the American may actually be part of a secret subversive group. When explosions rock a street demonstration, Fowler is led to believe by others that some plastics the American has imported have been used to make the bombs. Meanwhile, the American becomes infatuated with Phuong, who is waiting for Fowler to ask his wife back in England for a divorce, but he won't make a move on her as long as Fowler is in the picture. When the wife refuses to divorce for religious reasons, Fowler lies to the two of them and claims that a divorce decree is imminent. Eventually, Fowler's paper reassigns him to England; his bluff is called and Phuong makes plans to marry the American. Certain that the American is up to no good, and jealous that Phuong is leaving him, Fowler betrays the American to a Communist spy who plans to take decisive action against the meddling American. But when the truth comes out, it appears that Fowler has misread the political situation.

It's not a spoiler to note that the American winds up dead—the film begins with Fowler being asked to identify his body, found on a river bank at night during New Year celebrations. The story, told in flashback, concerns itself with the how and why of his death, and the moral decline of the reporter. Readers of the Graham Greene novel this film is based on complain that the film softens the book's political stance against American involvement in Vietnam, and to some degree, this is true. But the movie doesn’t exactly let anyone off scot free—not Fowler, not the American, not the Communists, not Phuong, and not even the sly and friendly-seeming Dominguez (Fred Sadoff), a associate of Fowler's who is not as harmless as he appears. If you're not a Greene purist, I would highly recommend this film. At times, it feels like it could have been made recently (there was a remake in 2002 with Michael Caine of which I only have a vague memory, but it apparently does stick closer to the novel). It's a period film and it was shot in classy-looking black & white so its look hasn't aged much. The politics of the situation are downplayed so this is basically a love triangle melodrama told through the frame of a murder mystery. Redgrave is excellent as the reporter as is the Italian actress Giorgia Moll who never comes off as a caricature—I was quite surprised to discover that she was not Asian. Audie Murphy, a famous WWII hero in real life who mostly acted in B-westerns, is surprisingly good. Some critics find him a bit too lightweight, but I think he does a great job keeping viewers off-balance as to what motivates his character. He's baby-faced handsome but with a slightly cynical, even decadent, cast about him at times, like an overgrown Boy Scout that you can't quite trust. Solid direction from Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Cleopatra). Highly recommended. Pictured top right is Murphy; below are Redgrave and Sadoff. [TCM]

Thursday, July 25, 2019


In a Swedish courtroom, Anna Holm (Joan Crawford) is on trial for murder. As a small group of people testify, we piece together her story. At a rustic tavern in the woods, a regular patron, the once wealthy Torsten Barring (Conrad Veidt), is hosting a small party, but when the time comes to pay up, he is told that they can no longer extend him credit. Torsten has a private conversation with Anna, who tries but fails to hide her scarred face (suffered as a child in a house fire that her drunken father set). However, he barely seems to notice her disfigurement; they hit it off and she extends him credit. We find out that Anna is the leader of a blackmail ring involving the workers at the tavern; Torsten, whom Anna has fallen for, becomes a partner in crime. He gives her a packet of love letters he filched from a married woman, Vera, to her lover. Anna goes to Vera's house to ask for money for the letters, but the sudden arrival of Vera's husband Gustaf (Melvyn Douglas) causes a glitch. He happens to be a plastic surgeon and he whisks her off to the country to use some radical techniques to cure her. Weeks later, when the bandages come off, Anna is beautiful and has a new lease on life. When Anna returns (taking a new name, Ingrid), she gets involved in Torsten's plot to get his hands on a sizeable inheritance. The sticking point: a four-year old stands in his way. Anna reluctantly agrees to become part of a murder plot by becoming governess to the child, and eventually killing him in a staged accident. But when Gustaf shows up (still married to his cheating wife), Anna gets cold feet, and an entanglement begins that ends in the death that Anna is accused of causing.

This is a grand entry in the women's melodrama genre so popular in the 1940s, the genre in which Joan Crawford excelled (HUMORESQUE, MILDRED PIERCE). And though Crawford is fine in the role, what makes this movie fun for me is the supporting cast, primarily the trio of con artists working with Crawford: Connie Gilchrist, who went on to a long career playing cooks and housekeepers—most notably as Norah Muldoon in AUNTIE MAME—gets a role here a bit bigger and juicier than usual; Donald Meek and Reginald Owen round out the group. Sadly, though the three get quite a bit of screen time early on, by the time Crawford loses her scars she also loses her gang. Marjorie Main is delightful as a housekeeper—physically, she's unrecognizable, but she can’t hide her voice. Veidt, of course, is always wonderful as the man you love to hate—and he has a great scene with Crawford before the climactic party scene (which leads to a nice nighttime sleigh chase)—but he rather overpowers Douglas, ostensibly the male lead. Osa Massen is good as Douglas's cheating wife, and other welcome faces include Albert Basserman, Henry Daniell and George Zucco. Recommended. Pictured are Crawford and Douglas. [TCM]

Monday, July 22, 2019


As WWII winds to an end, Alice (Georgia Lee) is anxiously waiting for her fiancé Jim Vaus (Bill Williams) to come home. He's stationed stateside but keeps getting transfers from one place to another and can't seem to get a furlough to come home. As we find out, the truth is that Jim is in a military jail for stealing equipment and has his letters to Alice smuggled out to be mailed from various locations. But after V-J Day, Jim is pardoned and given a lecture by a chaplain who knows about Jim's letters and urges him to tell Alice the truth when he gets home—but when he's face to face with her, he can't bring himself to do so. Still, their reunion is happy and he goes into business as an electrical engineering consultant. Business is quite slow at first, but when he performs a minor repair job for a lawyer named Rumsden, he discovers by accident that Rumsden's house is bugged. It turns out that Rumsden is a lawyer for gangsters, and he quickly hires Jim to do a wiretapping job for him on a woman trying to muscle into the local prostitution ring. The cops catch him doing it, but because the tap provides enough info to jail the madam, they turn a blind eye. Soon, Jim is working for other shady characters, his "business" becomes a success, and he and Alice (whom he keeps in the dark about his clients as long as he can) get married. Eventually, he tells Alice about his past and she's forgiving, but as his jobs become more numerous, he neglects his wife, even missing the birth of their first child. After pulling off a scam in which Jim delays the ticker-tape results of horse races to fix some bets, Jim wants to leave the rackets, especially with Alice pregnant again, but he finds that difficult to do—until Alice drags him into a Billy Graham revival tent.

Bet you weren’t expecting Billy Graham as a deus ex machina at the climax. I wasn't either, and it doesn't play very well, even though this movie is based on a memoir by the real Jim Vaus, so perhaps that's what really happened. Up to that point, religion has barely been mentioned, making the ending feel even stranger. Overall, it's a so-so B-crime movie with film noir elements—primarily the conflicted hero—but with nothing interesting going on in terms of style or acting. Bill Williams is fine in the lead, and Ric Roman (as a gangster) and Stanley Clements (as a lesser thug) are good in support. But Georgia Lee is pretty terrible as the wife, accentuating Alice's whiny clinginess and squeaky-clean personality, giving the character no shadings at all. As far as the issue of the noir hero, Jim has been cutting moral corners all his life, but Williams plays him as a pleasant and not terribly thoughtful person, not really all that conflicted about how he makes a living. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, the film was originally shown at churches and at revivals, but it did eventually receive a theatrical release. Mostly recommended to fans of 50s B-movies; it's competently made and hardly painful viewing but it’s also not all that memorable . . . until Billy Graham appears. [YouTube]

Thursday, July 18, 2019


This rom-com has a meet-cute opening: at the opera, Dot (Lucille Ball) and her working-class family are occupying the box seats of wealthy Stephen (Edmond O'Brien) and his snooty fiancée Cecilia. Dot has the tickets in hand and after some fuss, Stephen's party angrily leaves, after which Dot finds out that her brother had actually found the tickets which Stephen had lost and used them for his family. The next day, Dot is assigned as a temp worker to, you guessed it, Stephen. Meanwhile, we meet Dot's boyfriend, the "gob" (sailor) of the title, Claudius J. Cup, who goes by Coffee Cup; he's a friendly, rambunctious guy who fits right in with Dot's eccentric family. When Dot, Stephen and Coffee Cup wind up together on a streetcorner, they get in the middle of a brawl; Stephen is knocked out and is taken back to Dot's family's apartment where he recovers. Our trio becomes downright chummy, even as Dot feels romantic conflict: she genuinely likes Coffee Cup even as she begins having feelings for the buttoned-up Stephen who seems to be enjoying becoming a little more carefree. If you think this sounds a little like a Frank Capra film (specifically, You Can't Take It With You), you'd be right, though this is less sentimental and much less polished than the average Capra work. One thing I liked about this is that I couldn't quite predict whether it would be the Guy or the Gob that the Girl would up with. Both are likeable and neither does anything to make Dot angry. Sometimes you can tell by the billing—in this case, that would mean first-billed George Murphy. Sometimes you can tell by looks—in this case, O'Brien is the more handsome man. All three leads are fine: Murphy's full of piss and vinegar, O'Brien is distractedly dazzled by Ball and her family, and Ball gives one of her best movie performances. Henry Travers gives fine support as a business partner of O'Brien's, and Franklin Pangborn is fun in the small role of a nervous pet shop owner. Harold Lloyd produced the film which includes a couple of rowdy slapstick scenes. Not quite a classic but very entertaining. Pictured are O'Brien, Ball and Murphy. [TCM]

Monday, July 15, 2019


Kirk Douglas is a former hot-shot actor who has spent some time in a sanitarium after a breakdown, and is offered a role in a movie being shot in Italy by his former friend and director (Edward G. Robinson). Their relationship is fraught, to say the least, by past complications, and when Douglas arrives in Rome, he finds the part is no longer available. But the movie has to be finished in two weeks or the producer will take the film away from Robinson, so Douglas is hired to supervise the dialogue dubbing sessions. Further complications ensue. For starters, Douglas begins dating Dahlia Lavi, unaware that the movie’s young and sullen leading man (George Hamilton) is also interested in her. Douglas' ex-wife (Cyd Charisse) also happens to be in town and wants Douglas to sleep with her despite her marriage to a Greek tycoon. Robinson is carrying on a fling with a younger woman, and his wife (Claire Trevor) is infuriated that news the affair has been leaked to the press. Then Robinson has a heart attack and Douglas finishes the film, for which Robinson ends up resenting him. The climax comes when a manic Douglas takes Charisse on a wild, almost suicidal nighttime car ride around Rome. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, this melodramatic film has become a minor cult classic thanks to its soap opera plot and wild overacting by almost everyone (especially Claire Trevor who shrieks so often, you want someone to tie her up and gag her and send her to another movie). Douglas is OK, and Hamilton is interesting in a very un-Hamilton-like role. The films sure looks good, however, with beautiful sets and costumes, and some nice behind-the-scenes shots of moviemaking. There's a weird Italian pop song that seems to be about Dracula in the backorund of one scene. Often considered to be a sequel to Minnelli's THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, a 1952 movie about moviemaking with Douglas, but there is no real story connection. Pictured are Trevor and Robinson. [DVD]

Friday, July 12, 2019


It may be unfair to compare this historical romance-melodrama set in 17th century England to Gone with the Wind, but if the shoe fits… Like GWTW, this is based on a best-selling novel set in the past, has a woman at the center of the story who develops a somewhat unhealthy romantic obsession for a man, works herself up in society over a period of years, and loses the love of her life in the end. In 1644, with a civil war raging against King Charles I, an orphaned infant girl is left with a Puritan family. Years later, after the monarchy is restored, young Amber, now an attractive teenager (Linda Darnell), grows restless with her situation—about to be married off to a poor farmer whom she doesn't love. She rebels by wishing for better, but her father threatens to whip her, saying, "Vanity is Satan at work in the female soul." When a band of cavaliers, having successfully fought to put King Charles II on the throne, pass through her village on the way to see the King in London, Amber falls for the dashing Bruce Carlton (Cornel Wilde) and runs off, hoping he'll take her with him. He doesn't though his buddy Lord Harry (Richard Greene) is quite taken with her. Bruce has a mistress in London, but she is also a mistress to the King, so there are problems. When Amber follows the men on her own, Bruce finally gives into her charms, but eventually leaves her to go on another privateering mission. She vows to climb the class ladder so eventually Bruce will marry her for her position, but long before that can happen, Amber undergoes a series of trials: joining a robbery gang, spending time in prison, giving birth to Bruce's son, and getting swindled out of what money has managed to get. But like Scarlett O'Hara, Amber is not inclined to give up and she marries for convenience and even becomes a mistress to the King (George Sanders) before meeting up with Bruce again who, unfortunately, is married and ready to head to America.

This is not as long as Gone with the Wind, and nor as well acted, but it's shot in gorgeous Technicolor which has been beautifully restored, so it's always a treat to look at. It's also very episodic, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it makes it feel a bit like an adventure serial, albeit a high-budget one. There was a big search for an actress to play Amber, and while Darnell (pictured above) is a colorful beauty, she's not an especially versatile actor and she plays Amber without any substantial character development except for the changes in her surroundings. I'm not a fan of Cornel Wilde, but he acquits himself well here, and Richard Greene is likable as his friend. Of course, George Sanders is fun as the king, though he doesn't get much of a chance to chew the scenery. Otto Preminger's direction is workmanlike but the film never feels as spirited as it should and instead of becoming a bigger-than-life figure like Scarlett O'Hara, Amber winds up a soap opera anti-heroine. I'm glad to have seen this once, but it probably won’t need a second viewing. [TCM]

Monday, July 08, 2019


I suspect that this French/Italian production was among the earliest to ride the big coattails of James Bond. Coming in the first wave of imitators, it's not aiming for parody or comedy (like Our Man Flint or the Matt Helm movies), but seems to be trying to establish its main character as a franchise. There were four more movies with the character Francis Coplan (who was based on the lead in a series of novels and comic books) but each had a different leading man and none made a splash in the States. There are lots of problems with this movie, though if you stick with it to the halfway point, it moves fast enough that you can just go with the flow. The first problem is the poor dubbing. The second problem is the character's name; in print and in the IMDb credits, it’s Francis Coplan, but throughout the film, he is called something that sounds like Cavty or Crabtree. And then there's the incoherent plot, which eventually gets easier to follow.  The summary that follows involves some guesswork on my part.

A man loads a poisoned dart into a cigarette and uses it to kill an artist who apparently has a microfilm copy of some secret American rocket plans. The good guys (La Vieux and his associate whom we mostly see sitting at desks and on the phone) send a young operative named Murphy out to investigate. But the bad guys (led by Noreau and Barter) kill him, throw his body in a barrel, fill it with cement, and send him to the bottom of the sea. La Vieux manages to pull his best man, Coplan, FX-18 (though I don’t think I ever heard him called that in the movie), away from what looks like a getaway with a sex kitten, to sort things out. He's accompanied by Morvil and Alphonso, two cheery, beefy guys who function largely as mild comic relief or as rescuers when Coplan gets in too deep. They’re off to Majorca where Noreau and his baddie buddies are on a yacht, sending spy information to the Russians via a satellite link-up. A beautiful blonde is also on the yacht, and Morvil and Alphonso play up to her to get invited on the yacht. At some point, the microfilm shows up. So does a dark-haired woman. And Coplan is hanging out with Patricia, a spy posing as his wife. Eventually the plotholes recede when the action heats up: asses are kicked, people are killed, a busty woman is tortured, a yacht is blown up, and Coplan races on foot and catches up with a prop plane filled with baddies. The good guys win, of course, though I'm not sure what the prize is.

I admit the reason I sought this out in the first place was the presence of the hunky Ken Clark, who was busy in B-movies throughout the 60s (including 12 TO THE MOON and DESERT COMMANDOS, but whose big moment in the sun may have been as Stewpot, a tall, hairy, shirtless sailor in SOUTH PACIFIC. He's perfectly fine here, with a blond Marlboro Man look and an athletic build, and the two sidekicks (Jean-Pierre Laverne and Lorenzo Robledo) are fun. Everyone else is forgettable and/or interchangeable. The men (good and bad) all look like nondescript European guys in business suits; the women have different hair color but similar curvaceous bodies. Names like Mazzerac and Rodriguez are thrown around but I was never sure who they were. Clark is introduced (shirtless) briefly at the beginning, but then he vanishes from the film for half an hour, and it isn't until then that the movie finally picks up. Early on, there’s a fist fight set to a honky-tonk piano soundtrack, and someone refers to white wine as "workingman's whisky." If you choose to accept this mission, the print on YouTube (a dub of a Something Weird video) is the way to go over the Amazon Prime version. It was filmed in widescreen and the YouTube film is presented pan-and-scan, but the Prime film is stretched artificially to seem letterboxed, and it's atrocious. Of course, unless you're a fan of Ken Clark or Euro B-films of the 60s, you should probably not worry about it at all. The top picture of Ken Clark is from the movie; I don't know if the second picture is, but who cares. [YouTube]

Friday, July 05, 2019


Pine Island Inn is a small resort hotel on a private New England island. It's seen better days, but the current owner, Bart Hunter (Arthur Kennedy), has let debts pile up and let the building and grounds go to pot. His wife Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) is about at the end of her rope as she tries to keep the resort going through the summer months with help from a small staff and their son Johnny (Troy Donahue). Bart is unhappy to hear that Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan) has made reservations for the summer for his family. Ken used to be a lowly summer lifeguard on the island, in the employ of the Hunters, but he is now a wealthy research chemist, and Bart is sure that he is coming just to show off his good fortune. But Sylvia is happy to hear the news, partly because of the money they'll get, but also because Ken was her first boyfriend all those years ago and it seems she's always held a bit of a torch for him. For his part, Ken's wife Helen (Constance Ford) is a frigid shrew who is doing everything she can to de-sex their teenage daughter Molly (Sandra Dee). All the elements for a soap opera are in place and very soon, Sylvia is running off to the boathouse for midnight make-out sessions with Ken, and Johnny is having a nice time squiring Molly around the island doing some making out of their own. Eventually, after much anguish, divorces occur and Sylvia marries Ken. That fall and winter, Helen does all she can to keep Molly away from Johnny, but of course, that only makes the two work harder for some time together. Throw in the fact that they are now siblings by marriage and the stage is set for a second act focused on these star-crossed lovers.

I guess this was hot stuff in the late 50s when the Production Code was weakening. Had this been made just a few years earlier, the pre- and extra-marital sex would have either been less explicit or there would have to have been a tragic ending. Of course, I use the word "explicit" here not to refer to actual sex scenes, of which there are none, but just to the fact that we know illicit sex is occurring. What was titillating in 1959 is not now, and I suspect that this movie is much more known for its theme, which was a #1 hit for Percy Faith, than for any avid following the story itself has. Still, this remains watchable, mostly for some of the performances. The actor who is the most fun to watch is Constance Ford who gets to be bitchy and judgmental throughout, and also gets to spit out the word "harlot" at Dorothy McGuire a couple of times. McGuire plays a bit against her goody-goody type here; yes, she has an affair, but she remains a mostly demure and gentle presence. This was Troy Donahue's big breakout role, and his appeal remains a bit mysterious to me. He's attractive but also has the look of dissolution around him, even here at the age of 23. His acting is a bit wooden but he and Dee (both pictured above) have chemistry and their characters remain sympathetic. Egan and Kennedy are acceptable if not exceptional. For a movie with the word "summer" in its title, it doesn't have the feel of a summer film. Most of the first half is indeed set in that season, but the focus for much of that time is the relationship between Egan and McGuire. Once that gets settled and the seasons turn, the focus shifts to the younger people, though we only make it back to summer in the last minute or so of the movie. All the best lines are given to Constance Ford, whose advice to her daughter is, "You have to play a man like a fish." [TCM]

Wednesday, July 03, 2019


On what looks like a pleasant spring day in an Eastern European country, young John Johnson (an everyman figure, ya think?) is chatting with a friend about how wonderful life is, and one reason is that he is about to marry young Maria. But suddenly, war is declared and civil defense workers are passing out radiation suits (basically hooded ponchos) for people to wear in case of fallout. John's suit is defective (as, of course, all of them would be against radiation), and when planes come roaring overhead, everyone in the town square drops to the ground, but the planes turn out to be friendly. We soon meet Maria and her family, including her cousin Jack who is very sensitive and faints at talk of bombs falling. John assures everyone that even if there is war, atomic weapons won't be used, and the wedding begins, but bombs start falling all around them. Maria, understandably upset, says, "Everything has changed! The world is horrible! We might die!" to which her level-headed new husband says, "We're in love—it's impossible to die!" The next thing we know, John and Jack are pulled off the streets and conscripted into the army. They are given useless training—lots of finger exercises for firing guns, which the drill instructor says that even a "serious moron" can do—and soon the sensitive Jack drops dead. During an air raid, John winds up in the same shelter as Maria and her family. The army announces that they are going to use atomic weapons against the enemy; John gets involved in an anti-war group, and gets arrested and charged with treason. Suddenly, peace is declared but John is still not off the hook, though he and Maria manage to escape. In the last moments of the film, we discover that the enemy has launched their atomic weapons, so it’s only a matter of time for our loving couple, dirty and tattered and hiding in the ruins.

This Yugoslavian social message film (its original title is "Rat," which means "war") is interesting, if never quite fully involving. There's a bit of a tone problem. At times, it reminded me of the gloomy 80s nuclear war movies like The Day After or Testament, but it has a comically satirical edge that those films didn't, such as the ludicrously extended scene of people practicing pulling their parka hoods on and off and on and off, or the military gun finger exercises, or the fainting cousin, or the hapless optimism of John throughout. The result is that all the expressed emotions feel artificial and we are kept at a distance from the characters, which robs the film's potentially devastating ending of some of its power. But it’s worth seeing as a document of the times. Pictured are Ewa Krzyzewska as Maria and Antun Vrdoljak as John. [YouTube]

Monday, July 01, 2019


On Christmas Eve 1941, the crew of the submarine Copperfish learn from their captain (Cary Grant) that they'll be leaving San Francisco the next day on a secret mission in the Pacific. When Grant opens his sealed orders the next day, he discovers that they are to head up to the Aleutian Islands where they will pick up John Ridgely, a meteorologist, and deliver him right into Tokyo Bay. Ridgely's mission: to take weather readings in preparation for the upcoming Doolittle raid on Tokyo. The rest of the film covers their successful trip to Tokyo and their tense journey back home. We get to know several of the men: the bragging womanizer (John Garfield), the short feisty Greek (Dane Clark), the cook (Alan Hale), the pharmacist (William Prince), and the new kid (Robert Hutton). Along the way, the crew plays a tense game of hide-and-seek with Japanese ships, navigates carefully through a mine field, is attacked with depth charges, and engages with enemy planes. The new kid even has an attack of appendicitis and the pharmacist has to play amateur surgeon to save his life (something inspired by a real life incident, as was the sub's mission). At two hours and fifteen minutes, this is overlong, and it's the action scenes that feel the most padded out—something current superhero movies suffer from. But some real tension is built up in a few scenes, notably when the crew is trying to keep quiet while enemy ships float above them. As far as I know, this is Cary Grant's only war action movie and he does a nice job, as do all the actors. Other familiar faces in the supporting cast include Warner Anderson, Whit Bissell, Tom Tully, and John Forsythe. The stereotyping present in most WWII movies is kept to a minimum, and fewer men die than you might expect. The three on the left in the photo are Garfield, Hutton, and Clark. [DVD]