Wednesday, August 28, 2019


It's graduation time at Covina High School and Harold Teen, a grad from last year who has a job at the local paper as a cub reporter (and general errand runner), has been asked to give an inspirational speech to the new grads while they're having their class picture taken. He manages to double-talk his way through the speech, but he's really there to give his girlfriend Lillums Lovewell a bottle of perfume that he spent so much on, he's missed his car payment, and the car is repossessed right there at the school. Lillums loves the perfume, but she drops the bottle and it shatters in the gutter. In scenes at the local malt shop and other places in town, we meet the rest of the characters: his short buddy Shadow, his silver-tongued rival Lilacs, a fat guy named Tiny, and Lillums' folks, who are in danger of losing their house due to the closing of the bank. Enter new bank president H.H. Snatcher and his sex kitten daughter Mimi. Harold interviews Snatcher for the paper, but gets lightheaded from smoking a cigar that Snatcher offers him. For some reason, Snatcher takes a liking to the boy, and he takes more than a liking to Lillums, which disgusts Mimi—who herself makes a play for Harold. However, Pa Lovewell thinks it might be OK if Snatcher were to marry Lillums since the banker might save their mortgage. When Mimi starts up a local Junior Set social group to put on a summer show, she gets Broadway choreographer Ed Rathburn to help out—the very Ed Rathburn from whom Harold has been taking dancing lessons by mail. This sets the stage for Lillums to break up with Harold because of Mimi, then decide she wants him after all. The stage show climaxes with a "Collegiate Wedding" scene during which all is set right.

Harold Teen was a long-running comic strip centered on the title teenager, and as anyone with a passing knowledge of 20th century pop culture will figure out, Harold is a forerunner of Archie Andrews. Lillums is Betty, Shadow is Jughead, Mimi is Veronica, Lilacs is Reggie, Snatcher is Mr. Lodge (if Lodge had designs on Betty), and both strips have a malt shop owner named Pops. This movie is an interesting novelty, combining small-town teen shenanigans with musical numbers influenced by Busby Berkeley, and the two elaborate production numbers are the high points of the film. The finale wedding number is fine, but an earlier song at the malt shop ("How Do I Know It's Sunday?") is even better. There is cute use of period teen slang: calling a pretty girl "lamb’s lettuce," referring to a friend as "palsy-walsy," and using the all-around brush off, "Aw, go peel a banana!" I also enjoyed some clever dialogue. Clumsy dancing boy to his irritated partner: "Honey, who's gonna take you home tonight?" Partner: "The undertaker if you don't stop squeezing me!" Another dancing boy: "Do you like to dance with French heels?" Girl: "I've never met any!" And the general observation, "Girls with pep give me the jitters!"

The acting is just as good as it needs to be. Hal Le Roy, as Harold (top left), was a tall, skinny Broadway dancer whose movie career never took off, but he's fine here; not too handsome, not too smart, but sweet enough to win Lillums' heart by the end. Shadow is played by Eddie Tamblyn, pictured with Le Roy, father of Russ Tamblyn (Riff in West Side Story). Familiar supporting players include Chick Chandler as Lilacs, Douglas Dumbrille as Snatcher, Guy Kibbee and Clara Blandick as the Lovewells, and an understated Hugh Herbert as Rathbrun. This is sprightly B-budget fun. A sequel might have worked, except the film ends with Harold and Lillums getting married for real: imagine the Archie comic books continuing with Archie married to Betty. Best not to go there. [DVD]

Saturday, August 24, 2019

THE POWER (1968)

At a research center in California, George Hamilton is heading a space project looking into how much pain a man—potential astronauts—can stand. But during a committee meeting, it becomes clear that one of the committee members may well possess a strong mental power, strong enough to cause objects to move simply by force of mind. When one committee member is found dead, spun to death in a huge centrifuge, the idea comes up that the person with this power may be a kind of "superman" using his powers to disrupt the research. After another death, suspicion points to Hamilton, so he begins investigating to clear his own name. What begins as an interesting science-fiction story turns into a run-of-the-mill, episodic mystery/thriller, albeit with some odd touches here and there, like a scene in which toy soldiers appear to come to life. Director Byron Haskin give the film a nice 60s sheen. The acting is lackluster all around except for Hamilton and, in a small role as a menacing creep, Aldo Ray. Other players include Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Rennie, Richard Carlson and Gary Merrill. The editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Forrest J. Ackerman, has a cameo. Pictured is George Hamilton. [TCM]

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


Wealthy businessman Harvey Kirkland is engineering a merger with a company run by his old friend Craig Jordan. Jordan's not happy about it, and in fact is overheard making a veiled threat of violence against Kirkland, but he realizes he has to accept the offer.  Reporter Kenny Blake (Hugh Beaumont, at right), who has a kind of love-hate relationship with his editor, comes to the Kirkland residence hoping to get an interview and is rebuffed, but he winds up flirting with Toni (Ann Savage), a young woman whom Kenny assumes is Kirkland's daughter. After a one-afternoon stand, she tells him she's actually Kirkland’s wife, frustrated over being stuck in a bad marriage. The old man fights her attempts at divorce, so she tells Kenny she's decided to kill her husband, but she needs Kenny to help her. Initially shocked, Kenny soon warms to the idea and the two engineer an elaborate plan to kill him and making it look like his car went sliding off a treacherous mountain road. After some complications, the two pull it off, but when the police discover that there are no tire tracks and the ignition in the car was off, they suspect foul play. So does Kenny's editor.

Though it may not be crystal clear from that summary, you can tell by the 10-minute mark that this is an unauthorized remake of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, the classic film noir made the year before. Young totsy wants to get rid of frustrating husband, seduces lust-dumb guy into helping her, then more or less dumps him while his boss begins to put two and two together. Here, the dumping is more explicit—after the murder, Toni seduces a lawyer to help her get a better deal out of her dead husband's estate—and an innocent man (Kirkland’s caretaker) winds up being found guilty of the murder, putting more pressure on the typically decent Kenny to find a way out of the nightmare he's in. This film even copies the tic from the earlier film of having Kenny's boss lighting Kenny's cigarettes for him. Hugh Beaumont is a B-movie Fred MacMurray (and both men would find lasting fame playing sit-com dads on TV; Beaumont on Leave it to Beaver, MacMurray on My Three Sons. Oddly, in this movie, Beaumont’s editor is named Ward, which would be the name of Beaumont's character on Beaver.) At one hour, this moves fairly quickly, but the constant callbacks to Double Indemnity don't do this film any favors. Beaumont is OK, though Savage (known for her hardened femme fatale part in DETOUR) operates at half-strength, diminishing some of the impact of the film. It's kind of fun, but ultimately disappointing. [YouTube]

Monday, August 19, 2019


A couple of years after WWII, the young and lovely Alida Valli arrives in the small Swiss town of Kandermatt where her father, a famous mountain climber, died trying to climb a famously formidable mountain dubbed The White Tower. She is in town to attempt to climb it herself but her old friend (Oscar Homolka), a mountain guide, tries to talk her out of it, saying that she won't get enough locals to make up a good climbing team. But a group of men staying the same inn where Valli stays eventually agree to head up the mountain with her, some just to carry packs and stay at base camp, some to go all the way. The group includes a middle-aged writer (Claude Rains) and heavy drinker who is working on finishing a novel but whose wife constantly belittles him; an older scientist (Sir Cedric Hardwicke); an athletic German climber (Lloyd Bridges) whom we discover still subscribes to the Nazi ideology of the 'superman'; the faithful Homolka; and a handsome American bomber pilot (Glenn Ford) who was shot down over Switzerland during the war and has returned as something of a drifter. Of the group, Ford is the most reluctant, but he is attracted to Valli and decides to go because he's jealous of Bridges' attentions to Valli. Once they get going, however, various concerns (Rains' health and the booze he's brought along) and conflicts (American vs. Nazi—when they take a vote about slowing down their ascent, Bridges says dramatically, "To rest is not to conquer") weigh them down almost as much as the supplies they've brought. There is also fog and bad weather to contend with, not to mention the very dangerous final passage to the top.

I had avoided this film over the years because I run hot and cold on Glenn Ford; I tend to like him in his earlier films, but not so much later on. But this one, coming not long after his breakout role in GILDA, is one of his better performances. His character arc resembles that of Bogart's in CASABLANCA—at first, he seems passive, not caring much about others, or even much about himself, but the trip up the mountain changes him. Ford was in his early 30s when he made this, and he's about as attractive as he ever was in movies; both he and Alida Valli get lots of glamour close-ups throughout (she is billed as just Valli, like Garbo). The two make a nice pair, and the rest of the cast is strong, though Rains doesn’t get many opportunities to shine until his final scene. Bridges is especially good as the hunky Nazi. The movie looks great in Technicolor. There was quite a bit of location shooting in the French Alps, though it's clear that the shots of our cast while climbing were filmed in a Hollywood studio. Still, the mix of studio and location footage mostly works well. One online reviewer notes that some of the actors (Homolka and Rains in particular) look like they could barely climb a flight of stairs let alone a treacherous mountain, but we suspend our disbelief. Overall, an enjoyable if fairly predictable adventure melodrama—though the climax may take you a bit by surprise—worth watching, if for no other reason, for the scenery. Ford and Valli are pictured at top, and a glamour shot of Ford is at right. [TCM]

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


A space ship with a crew led by Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) has been sent from Earth to the planet Altair IV to check on a colony of scientists that landed there some twenty years ago. As they approach, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) contacts them by radio and warns them against landing, but Adams feels he must fulfill his mission. They discover that Morbius and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) are the only settlers left—aside from Robby, a robot built by Moribus as a butler, cook and assistant—the others having been killed by what Morbius describes as a "planetary force." Adams and his men decide they must stay until they get further instructions from Earth, so Morbius explains his research: he's discovered the science of a long extinct race called the Krell who reached a remarkably advanced stage in technology but were decimated by the same force that destroyed Morbius' fellow scientists. Altaira is fascinated by the men, as the men are by her, and soon she and Adams are something of an item. But some invisible being is slipping into Adams' ship at night, vandalizing and eventually killing a couple of crewmen. Does Morbius know more than he’s telling about the planet?

This is considered a sci-fi classic, and is one of the few big-budget science fiction films attempted by Hollywood until 1968 when the game-changing 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. The movie looks great, with intricate sets and colorful backgrounds, both on the exterior of the planet and in Morbius' house and lab. The ultimate explanation for the destructive force is interesting, and it's fun to find the similarities between this and Shakespeare's The Tempest (Moribus and Altaira = Prospero and Miranda, Robby the Robot = Ariel, etc.). But much of the movie is just plain boring; the middle third feels like particularly heavy padding until we get to the climax. The acting is lackluster; Nielsen isn't especially heroic and Pidgeon is wooden. The supporting players, including Richard Anderson and Earl Holliman, add little. But the lovely Anne Francis (pictured with Nielsen) does a nice job putting some life into her "naïve untouched girl" character. When the invisible force becomes visible, it looks disappointingly like a Disney cartoon character (at least one Disney animator was on the special effects crew). Instead of a conventional musical score, there are electronic bleeps and blops—it's effective for a while, but wears out its welcome by the end. Worth watching as a reminder of where later sci-fi came from, and for its visuals. [DVD]

Wednesday, August 07, 2019


Advertising executive L.B. Renner has promised a client that he'll find a sparkling new exotic singer for his radio show. Renner sends Dennis (Donald Woods) down to Mexico on a talent hunt. He has no luck until his car breaks down in the village of San Proximo and he has an encounter with a high-spirited singing waitress named Carmelita (Lupe Velez). She accidentally flings a lump of wet laundry at him, and when he flings it back, it knocks her into a fountain. When he goes to help her, she pushes him in, and, of course, we know that since they’ve "met cute," they'll soon be in love. But he has a snooty fiancée, Elizabeth, who lies to him and indulges in what we would now call "day drinking" with her high society buddies—we're not supposed to like them, but honestly, it seemed like they were having fun and I would have liked a couple more scenes with them. Dennis has promised Carmelita's family that he'll keep an eye on her back in the Big Apple, and he has her stay at his place, along with his Uncle Matt (Leon Errol), who bonds with Carmelita and takes her for a big day on the town out to ball games and wrestling matches. She enjoys herself so much, she cheers herself hoarse and fails the audition for the radio show, but she is hired as a singer by wrestler Mexican Pete for his club, and another client of Dennis's agency takes a liking to Carmelita, which makes Dennis realize that he's in love with her and not Elizabeth. But there are still a few more bumps on the road to bliss for Dennis and Carmelita.

This B-movie screwball romance became a surprise hit leading to the "Mexican Spitfire" series of movies centered on the married life of Dennis and Carmelita. Lupe Velez made a name for herself in these films, though the troubled actress committed suicide in 1944 at the age of 36. This movie, though enjoyable at times, does not make me want to see any of the other Spitfire films. A little of Velez goes a long way—she comes across like Lucille Ball on amphetamines. No one uses the word "spitfire" here, though she is referred to as a "firecracker" and a "pepper pot." Her outsized energy overwhelms poor Donald Woods playing her rather docile and naïve foil—he is reduced to standing around looking exasperated. Leon Errol is a little more able to stand up to Velez's antics, and indeed, he remained her co-star throughout the Spitfire series even as Woods was replaced after a couple of entries. My favorite line, from Velez: "Love makes your heart go bumpity-bumpity-bump, like a little baby falling down the stairs!" [TCM]

Tuesday, August 06, 2019


In the small town of Silver Creek, Vermont, Charles Winninger, worried that in these post-war days, people are beginning to hoard money, tells us a kind of "Our Town" narrative set in 1933 when hoarding was in fashion because of the Depression. Our characters include inn keeper Gene Lockhart; his socially conscious daughter (Marsha Hunt); a struggling artist (William Lundigan) on whom Hunt has a crush; rich widow Florence Bates who runs the local mills, most of which have been shut down; and down-on-his-luck lawyer Robert Shayne and his wife Gail Patrick. Everyone needs money. Lockhart owes the local grocer who threatens to cut off his supply of food for his restaurant; Lundigan owes Lockhart months of back rent; the grocer owes money to Bates; Shayne is about to lose his business due to lack of clients; Patrick has been having her portrait done by Lundigan as a surprise gift to Shayne but can no longer afford to pay for it. In the midst of all these troubles, a courier (Roscoe Karnes) arrives at the inn to deliver $1000 to a farmer who is supposed to pick it up but is delayed due to his wife giving birth. When Karnes decides to leave the money in the inn's safe for the day, the escapades begin. Lockhart finds the money and assumes it's Lundigan’s back payment, so he gives it to the grocer, who gives it to Bates, who gives it to Shayne, and so on. To say nothing of the two shady characters who spend the afternoon at the inn, one of whom is a safe cracker.

This is a cute little comedy which was intended as propaganda telling citizens that it's in everyone's best interest if money is kept in circulation through banks, not hoarded. This message is fairly heavy-handed—the director, Allan Dwan, is no Frank Capra when it comes to making message movies—but it can be ignored and the movie can be enjoyed as a fun character-driven comedy with elements of melodrama (one off-screen character commits suicide and an on-screen character seriously contemplates it) and farce (a husband tries to catch his wife in an adulterous situation, but it's not what it seems). The cast mostly consists of very able supporting actors. The best here are the older ones (Lockhart, Winninger, Bates); if the younger bunch (including Lundigan, Hunt and Patrick) don't shine as much, they still give respectable performances. Allen Jenkins is fun as a friendly gangster and Will Wright gives the grocer a welcome hard edge. One interesting thread given the era: it's the women who prove more able and have to give the men a hand to get through their rough times. This doesn't show up much but is worth looking out for. Pictured are Hunt and Lundigan. [TCM]

Thursday, August 01, 2019


Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover, or a movie by its title. This one is notorious for getting it wrong right at the start: the volcano Krakatoa, which famously erupted in 1883, killing over 30,000 people and affecting worldwide climate for years, is actually west of Java. Things mostly go downhill from that title, though viewers who hang around for the climax will be rewarded by some good disaster effects. The story on which the effects are hung has potential. Maximilian Schell is the captain of a salvage ship which is headed out from Java to find the wreck of a ship rumored to have been carrying a small fortune in pearls. Diane Baker, Schell's mistress, is the motivating force for the search: the pearls belonged to her estranged husband, and he and her son were also on the ship, and she'd like to know what happened. She's also recovering from a recent mental breakdown and is emotionally fragile. Along to help with the search: a father-son team of balloonists (Rossano Brazzi and Sal Mineo), a scientist (John Leyton), an aging deep sea diver (Brian Keith) with weakening lungs and an addiction to laudanum, his mistress, and four female Japanese pearl divers who are experienced in holding their breaths a long time. Last but not least, there's a group of convicts in chains whom Schell has been forced to accept and drop off on a prison island. One of the prisoners is a former crew member of Schell's and Schell gives him a certain amount of freedom, which, of course, he comes to regret. Of course, all the plot lines are disrupted by the explosion of Krakatoa.

This was a flop in its day and is rarely seen or discussed now, except to make fun of its erroneous title. To me, it feels very much like a dry run for the disaster movie boom of the 70s (The Poseidon Adventure, Airplane, The Towering Inferno). Like those films, it's got: a varied group of characters thrown together with bonding between some and friction between others; the group eventually in isolation; a build-up of warning signs of dangerous conditions ahead; a lengthy special effects-filled climax. What it doesn't have is an all-star roster of actors (no disrespect meant to the actors, but when your biggest names are Schell and Mineo, you're not in the same league as something like Inferno with Paul Newman, Fred Astaire, Faye Dunaway, and Steve McQueen). It also has a slow-moving, muddled plot with not enough interesting separate strands—very little is done with Keith's addiction, and I have no idea why Brazzi and Mineo's characters are present except for a 2-minute sequence of their balloon almost going down into the volcano. Schell, Keith and Mineo are good, the rest of the cast less so, and Keith provides some nice burly eye candy--he'll make you forget his Uncle Bill persona from the 60s TV show Family Affair. The pre-CGI-era volcano effects are pulled off well with an adequate amount of death and destruction. The version of this I saw on Amazon Prime was the edited reissue (titled Volcano), with almost 30 minutes cut, including what sounds like a jaw-droppingly bad musical number involving nuns and orphans. The movie was not terrible, but I'm not sure it's worth tracking down the full-length version just for that song. Pictured at top right are Mineo and Brazzi; below are Keith and Barbara Werle. [Amazon Prime]