Friday, April 30, 2021


We see random shots of people in a hotel: one man puts a bag over his head in a suicide attempt; a couple engage in sexy talk while listening to their neighbors; in a third, a man ties up a prostitute and pulls some knives out of his luggage. This man is Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignat), an executive at a chicken processing company. He and his rich wife Anna (Gina Lollabrigida) run an industrial chicken farm, but labor troubles (they have fired most of the workers) have left them with their hands full. Living with them is Anna's young cousin Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin) who serves as their secretary. Though she has a boyfriend, a PR man named Mondaini, she is having an affair with Marco--and might be ripe for a fling with Anna--and neither woman knows about Marco's possibly deadly S&M sessions. From here, the plot goes off in a few directions. To save money, the financially strapped company is attempting to breed headless chickens--and they succeed, though Marco is horrified at the outcome. Gabrielle and Mondaini are plotting to get their hands on Anna's fortune. Anna is sent an anonymous letter hinting at her husband's dealings with hookers and she determines to disguise herself as a whore and get hired by Marco to see what’s going on. To summarize any more would get into too many spoilers.

The summary details of this movie (whores, knives, headless chickens) make it sound gory and nonsensical, but it's neither. There is little explicit blood, and the chicken subplot--we do see the awful mutations--doesn't really go anywhere. Which leaves us with a nifty giallo (Italian-made sexy mystery-horror films made famous by Mario Bava and Dario Argento) filled with good looking people and fun plot twists that you don't see coming. As I approached the last 20 minutes, I wrote in my moviewatching notes that the plot was falling apart, but actually, it tightens up and finally makes sense (mostly) leaving us with a satisfying ending. The movie was rated X initially in the States, more for mood and themes than for any explicit sex or violence. The title is most unfortunate: it sounds like a goofy comedy (it was first titled Plucked, which is worse) and I passed this one over for that reason the first time it came up as a recommendation. The central trio are all quite good. I remember Gina Lollabrigada's name from my childhood; she was sort of famous for being famous. I've only seen one other movie of hers (GO NAKED IN THE WORLD) and it's terrible so I was glad to see that she actually is talented in addition to being beautiful and buxom. There's a bizarre 60s scene involving a couples-swapping game (ultimately like the headless chicken, a red herring plotline) and a dreadful discordant musical score. Favorite line, from Marco: "So we tumble into our dreams--so helpless and so full of desire." (True dat.) Highly recommended for fans of mysteries or giallo movies or 60s cinema. Pictured are Trintignat, Lollabrigada and Aulin. [Amazon Prime]

Tuesday, April 27, 2021


Spunky chorus girl Curly Flagg (Miriam Hopkins) is dancing up a storm at a nightclub when a mob hit takes place right in front of her. Fearing both the crooks (who don't want her to squeal) and the cops (who might keep her in protective custody until a trial is held), she flees, with only her sparkly abbreviated costume, to the campus of Princeton where she gets student Paul Lawton (Bing Crosby) to let her into his room. Paul, a medical student and aspiring songwriter (who is currently working on songs for the upcoming spring talent show), enlists the help of his upstairs neighbor Buzz, whom we meet tap dancing while writing a class paper. They cut her hair and dress her like a boy, and agree to hide her in their rooms. Buzz contacts his dad, head of Supersound Studios, to try and get her a job in the movies. Paul contacts his dad, who, outraged that he's living with a girl, sends a telegram to the dean complaining of the campus' loose moral code. Paul goes to visit the dean and gets the dean's daughter Midge (Kilty Carlisle) to help him waylay the telegram, and the two promptly fall for each other. But the dean has already been told the telegram's message over the phone and threatens to expel Paul and Buzz. After this, a string of slapstick events leads to Paul's fiancee breaking their engagement--clearing the way for Paul and Midge to canoodle while singing together--and Curly getting a big publicity buildup from Supersound. The gangsters, the cops, and the Princeton student body all get involved before the happy ending, with Curly a star, the students reinstated, and Paul and Midge officially becoming an item.

This feels like an early stab at screwball comedy, though only somewhat successful. The situations fly by, one after another, with appropriate speed, but things rarely feel even remotely real, partly due to uneven acting. Hopkins, for whom this part was something of an outlier (she would thrive in melodramas and more sophisticated comedy), overdoes her brassiness to the point of irritation, though it is fun to see her throw herself wholeheartedly into her opening dance. Crosby, young but a little dumpy, underdoes his role, though he and Kitty Carlisle do work up a little chemistry. Edward Nugent as Buzz gets lost in the wild proceedings; Warren Hymer as the gangster and Henry Stephenson as the dean are fun. There are several songs, pleasant if not memorable, including "Love in Bloom" which became a #1 radio hit for Crosby and was nominated for a Best Song Oscar. Harmless early Crosby fun with a lot of energy if not a lot of coherence. Pictured are Crosby and Carlisle. [DVD]

Saturday, April 24, 2021


At an embassy ball in Paris, the suave Zurta sneaks into a darkened room, opens a safe, and steals a diary that contains potentially explosive information (it's a complete and utter McGuffin--we don't care, or ever learn, what's in it, only that people want it). He shoots a butler dead on the way out and tosses the diary out the window to his accomplice Karl, then meets his lady friend Valya. The next day, Karl is supposed to hand over the diary, but he double-crosses Zurta and Valya, taking off on the Orient Express (under the name Poole) to sell the diary for himself. Zurta and Valya board the train and find themselves involved with several other passengers, including a married divorce lawyer and mistress, an American G.I. who gets stuck chatting with a man who lectures on birds, the son of a train company executive who has decided to shadow the train's chef in hopes of learning the ropes; an obnoxious author named McBain and his long-suffering secretary, Mills; and an obtuse and talkative Brit named Bishop who has no idea what a pain in the neck he is to everyone else. On top of all this, a famous French detective named Jolif arrives at the last minute. Poole keeps trying and failing to get a compartment to himself; the adulterous couple keep debating their future; and McBain winds up, at least for a while, with the diary, which he wants to use for his own purposes. 

This B-movie train thriller is a little convoluted setting up its characters and motivations, and halfway through, I realized it's based directly on 1932's ROME EXPRESS, sharing not only character types and plot points (and some narrative confusion), but even some names (Poole, McBain, Bishop). I could practically have copied over my ROME EXPRESS review here. This movie is definitely the lesser of the two, but once all the characters settle in and the narrative flow clears up a bit (in the original, the McGuffin is a painting and there's a movie star on board), this is enjoyable enough. The acting here is definitely of a lesser par. The original had the incomparable Conrad Veidt as Zurta and Cedric Hardwicke as McBain (spelled McBane in the 1932 film); here, we get Albert Lieven and Finlay Currie, both of whom are fine but come in second to the originals. David Tomlinson is quite amusing as Bishop, and I liked Bonar Colleano (pictured) as the American soldier. Eventually there is a murder, and a particularly startling death near the end. Other reviewers have noted that there isn't really a hero here (Jolif is an fairly ineffective cop), or even a main good guy we can unreservedly respect, and that's not really a problem. Because of the messy narrative, I was ready to give up on this at the 20 minute mark, but I'm glad I stuck with it. [YouTube]

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


Eighteen-year old Susan has just been released from a three-year stay at a convent/asylum after the trauma of finding her mother Jessica dead in a mysterious bedroom fire--she suffers from partial amnesia about that night. Her father Edward has brought her home where she must adjust to her former nanny Francene now being her stepmother. Jessica's will left everything to Susan--unless she dies or is found incompetent before her 25th birthday, in which case it goes to her father. Francene is hoping that Susan will not fully recover and wind up having to be re-committed, and in fact, Susan begins having hallucinations that her mother has returned. If nothing else, Francene is determined to find a missing, very valuable necklace that belonged to Jessica, which she thinks Susan pinched, and which Francene schemes to find with the help of her former lover Anthony, Jessica's brother and current caretaker of the house, whose face was badly scarred in an attempt to save Jessica from the fire. Soon, an Electra complex theme enters the picture when we realize that young Susan was jealous of her mother because she wanted to be Daddy's girl all by herself. Where's the necklace? Did Susan actually kill her mother? And how far will Francene go to get her hands on the family money?

In some ways, this feels like an attempt to make a "scream queens" movie with a male lead (Don Ameche as Edward) instead of Bette Davis (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) or Talullah Bankhead (Die! Die! My Darling). With its brightly lit, modern mansion sets--some location shooting was done at the Doheny estate in Beverly Hills--this isn't as baroque or Gothic as those movies. But it's still a B-movie thriller dressed up with the presence of Ameche and Zsa Zsa Gabor (pictured above) as Jessica. B-director Bert I. Gordon cast his own daughter Susan as Susan; she was OK a few years before in Gordon's Tormented, but she was only 10 back then. At 17, it's clear that acting is not her strong suit, and because she's the lead and has more screen time than Ameche or Gabor, she drags the proceedings down fairly often. Ameche is fine in what is basically a supporting role; Martha Hyer is also fine as Francene. The movie verges on camp now and again, especially in a scene where Gordan tears at her mother's portrait so fiercely, her fingertips leave bloodstains. If you care to look, you can see some Hitchcock influences--The Birds, Vertigo, Psycho, Dial M for Murder, and even Rebecca in the mother/nanny/caretaker triangle. The ending throws a couple of surprises at us, and the last shot in particular is nicely creepy, and a shade ambiguous in terms of what the future holds for a couple of the characters. Not a gem but worth seeing. [TCM]

Thursday, April 15, 2021


For some, we are told in opening titles, dancing is pleasure--or business--or life. For hunky Bill Cleaver (Grant Withers), dancing seems to be life. Looking to be in his mid-20s, he still lives with his parents and works as a soda jerk, and seems to live only for the madcap evenings he spends at Hoffman's Dance Palace, winning dance contest trophies which he proudly displays on his folks' mantle. His usual partner is a brassy blonde who goes by Jazzbo, and his rival is a slick oily type named Needles. But one night, Bill is captivated by the more wholesome looking Molly (Sue Carol) who is dancing with Needles. Chatting with her, he discovers they both love dancing and both chafe under the parental yolk. He steals her for the climactic waltz contest which they win. When a couple who had won a newlywed contest for a furnished apartment split up before they can claim the prize, Bill and Molly are talked into a quickie wedding so they can win the prize. A month later, the bloom is off the rose; Bill is tired of entertaining boring relatives of Molly's and one night, after telling Molly he has to visit a sick relative, he sneaks out to enter a dance contest with Jazzbo. They win and Molly hears the announcement over the radio. They split up, going back to their families, but months later, they see each other at the dance hall where Molly is dancing with Needles, and sparks fly again.

This is an odd little B-romantic comedy from Warner Brothers, like a comic take on THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY, the grueling period piece from 1969 about the marathon dancers of the Depression. But the Depression isn't bothering anyone here--these crazy but mostly wholesome kids just wanna dance the latest fads to the latest tunes and compete for cheap loving cups. One might think that a major plot point would be the comic incompatibility of our "wed in haste" lead couple, but their first month together is portrayed as happy, until Bill's dancing feet get the best of him. A happy ending is never in doubt. The last shot is a clever comeuppance scene in which Needles and his wife are walking through the park with their baby in a carriage, and come upon Bill and Molly--with two babies! Withers is handsome and cocky, but occasionally seems like he's working a little too hard to be carefree. He does have good chemistry with Sue Carol who never quite got off the ground as a leading lady and left the business just a few years later, and eventually married Alan Ladd. Edna Murphy certainly looks the part of the hardened Jazzbo, and Eddie Phillips is a nice surprise as Needles--he's handsome and funny and serves as a good "man you love to hate," though honestly his character isn't all that bad. My favorite bit is Withers continually calling Carol's mom "Mother" in a misguided attempt to be ingratiating. Pictured from left to right: Murphy, Phillips, Carol and Withers. [TCM]

Monday, April 12, 2021


This Poverty Row-level film noir, which plays out in essentially real time in a low-rent traveling carnival, begins with a number of vaguely nightmarish shots of people (like homely hoochy-koochy dancers and the sweaty men watching them) and things (a life-size mechanical clown, laughing maniacally). The somewhat halting exposition, which took me a while to piece together, involves a crusading newspaper editor named Marsh who was found dead. The chief suspect is reporter Bill Martin who had been working on a vice exposĂ© involving the carnival but who was recently fired by Marsh. Bill and his girlfriend Janet turn up at the carnival, and on their trail are some cops and a local political bigshot named Clay Reeves. The cops are intimidated by Reeves but don't seem to like him. In hiding, Bill gets a job as a boxer in a fixed fight contest and Janet is hired as a dancer; though she looks a little more comely than the other girls, she can’t dance for shit. We meet the carnival owner, a dwarf named Blake, and the den mother of the dancing girls, a hard-nosed but good-hearted woman named Lil. Janet believes that Reeves is actually behind the murder as she saw him leave Marsh's office not long before he was found dead. After an ineptly staged fight scene (fists swing wildly, coming nowhere near jaws) and a couple of equally awkward gun battles, all is solved and Bill and Janet can live happily ever after.

I suspect that this passed for adults-only entertainment back in 1953. It's only an hour long, but easily half of the running time is taken up by the plot grinding to a halt so we can watch scantily-clad women dance and act like they're going to strip, though they don't get very far. The best-looking and most talented dancer is Renee De Milo, given an "introducing" credit in the film, though she never made another movie. The plot is serviceable if poorly developed. Richard Coogan, who was the original Captain Video on TV, is OK as Martin. He seems to be one of the few professionals in the movie, the other being Frank Albertson (Sam Wainwright in It's a Wonderful Life, the drunken rich guy in the beginning of Psycho) who plays Hank, the carny worker who runs the rigged boxing matches. It's not much of a role, but as far as acting, he outshines everyone else. Charles Bollender, the dwarf actor who plays Blake, is also quite good. He muffs a couple of line readings (as do a few other folks) but he seems to be making an effort to create a rounded character. Edith King, as Lil, is likable but has the unfortunate duty of getting shot in the shoulder and left to sit around grasping her wound for the last fifteen minutes of the movie while action goes on around her. I half-admire the attempt at a real-time crime story, but this just doesn’t work very well. Still, I liked that the irritating mechanical clown laugh is heard throughout the entire climax. Steve McQueen is visible briefly as an extra who plays the Strength Hammer game. Pictured are Coogan and Bollender. [DVD]

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

SLAVES (1969)

In the South in 1850, we see Holland, a slave trader, buying up pregnant women and "bucks" to sell as breeding stock. Stillwell is a "nice" slave owner and is opposed to such traffic but because of crushing debt, and because of a legal loophole by which Holland still technically holds selling rights to Stillwell's slaves, Stillwell is forced to sell Luke, his most trusted slave who was going to be set free soon. Taken from his wife, Holland sends Luke (and Jericho, another slave) to Mississippi where they are sold to MacKay, a Northerner who prides himself on knowing African history and who does not believe in the inferiority of the slave, but who nevertheless holds many slaves and treats them cruelly more or less as a power exercise. Cassy, a house slave of MacKay's, is his mistress; she has plenty of jewelry and nice clothes, but she drowned the only baby she's ever had and has been drinking and living in almost a trance state ever since. At one point when he insists on having sex, she reacts in anger, and he replies, "It can be anger as long as you're lively for a change." When MacKay refuses to call for medical help for a slave birthing a baby, Luke takes the baby under his wing when the mother dies, and soon he and Jericho are planning an escape with the baby and another young slave. One night, Cassy attempts to stab a passed-out MacKay, but Luke stops her and offers to help her escape as well. The escape is attempted, with planted evidence showing that Luke, the girl, the baby, and Cassy have crossed the river, though they have remained hiding in the house. MacKay offers Luke his freedom if he will turn over Cassy, but Luke refuses, leading to his martyrdom which ignites a revolt among the slaves who burn down MacKay's cotton barns.

At first, this put me in mind of a movie like MANDINGO which has a reputation of being a sleazy slave sex-and-torture exploitation film (though it's actually better than that). But this ultimately has little sex or torture (the sex is not sexy and the torture is relatively restrained). It tries to be a character-driven drama, and you can feel the actors reaching to achieve that, but the filmmaking itself lets them down. The direction is haphazard and the production values feel almost amateurish at times. Ossie Davis is one-note low-key as Luke. Stephen Boyd as MacKay (pictured at right) makes a fairly good villain--at times he seems conflicted about what he's doing, but he can’t give up that feeling of total power over other human beings, and he's not afraid to make the character slimy enough that we don’t develop any empathy with him. Singer Dionne Warwick (pictured with Davis top left) in her first acting role, is Cassy--many critics point to her presence as problematic, and it's true that she comes off as too modern, in looks and attitude--she occasionally looks very 1960s--but nevertheless I think she gives a fine performance, giving some dimension to her character. A bigger problem is when one character refers to "hauling ass to freedom," which must certainly be an anachronism. Warwick sings as least one song in character and one as background, and the theme music reminded me of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." David Huddleston, the "Aww, prairie shit!" guy in Blazing Saddles, is the slave trader, and classic-era actors Gale Sondergaard and Shepperd Strudwick have small roles. Generally, an interesting failure. [YouTube]

Saturday, April 03, 2021


Phil Richards (Ricardo Cortez) has sold his nightclub to a man from Boston named Kilpatrick, and the club has shut down for a farewell party for the employees, at which singer Dixie Way (Nan Wynn) sings a cute novelty number in the boss' honor to the tune of "I’m Just Wild About Harry." But not everyone is wild about Phil: Shaffer, a local hotheaded big shot, is angry that his higher bid for the club wasn't taken, and Clare, Richards' former mistress, is so mad that she pulls a gun in him in his office to try and stop him. Reporter Pete Kennedy (William Lundigan) goes to the airport to meet Kilpatrick to get his side of the story, but Kilpatrick is shot dead, and Pete joins up with policeman Bill Ryder to investigate. Complication: Both Pete and Bill are sweet on singer Dixie. Another complication: Helen Armstrong, Phil's fiancĂ©e, and her brother Roger. They both seem a little fishy, but Roger is beat up in his apartment, and a handkerchief with the initials "A.M.”" is found there--could it belong to Al Martin, an associate of Phil's? One more complication: Clare is found dead and it looks like Phil was the culprit, but Pete doesn't think so. 

The climax of this mystery involves a nice car chase with a fiery crash, though the final wrap-up is limited to expository dialogue and didn't make too much sense to me. Still, this is an enjoyable hour-long B-movie done by a studio (Warner Bros.), a director (William McGann) and a cast who were all fairly expert at this kind of thing. William Lundigan is always an appealing "lanky lug" kind of guy and Ricardo Cortez is good at keeping us off guard as to whether he's a good guy or a bad guy, or somewhere in between. Nan Wynn is unmemorable but she gets a couple of songs along the way. Regis Toomey is fine as the cop. The tone is light and fluffy, and the rivalry between Lundigan (pictured above) and Toomey is good-natured. Despite a botched ending, this is worth watching. [TCM]

Thursday, April 01, 2021


Fay lost her wealthy husband Arthur in a plane crash and she hasn't quite recovered from the shock. She has fallen under the spell of Dr. Portman, who claims to be a spiritualist working on contacting Arthur from the great beyond.  Every so often, Fay hears the sound of an airplane (though we know these sounds are coming from an audio device in the house) and Portman has to calm her. Fay's sister Eve, who we know had indulged in a fling with the husband, is worried about Portman's influence--and with good reason, as he is trying to get power of attorney from Fay. With help from Lane, the family lawyer, Eve sets out to hire a magic act, the Great La Salle and his mind reader Madame Marvel, to hold a seance and expose Portman. But La Salle is having his own problems. The young and sexy Marvel (real name Lottie) is trying to use her influence to get rid of Tillie, a sad-sack stage assistant. Lottie causes Tillie to mess up the act one night, but the prank backfires and La Salle fires Lottie instead. Lane goes backstage and hires the group (including Bill, another assistant) to come out to Fay's estate and expose Portman. They rig up a plane accident on the estate so the trio will be invited into the house. La Salle has Tillie act as medium, and the ruse works for a while until Tillie seems to go into a real trance and suggests that Arthur's plane crash was not an accident but murder, probably committed by someone in the house. Is Portman behind the death? Lane? Eve's husband? Or Eve herself?

Zasu Pitts is largely forgotten today but in her time, she was a beloved comic actress, known for her fidgety, flighty persona. I prefer her in supporting roles because when she's a lead, her shtick can get a little grating. But as Tillie, she's fine here, partly because although she is first billed, other actors are focused on almost as much: William Gaxton as La Salle, Slim Summerville as Bill, Bruce Cabot (pictured) as Lane, Ralph Morgan as Portman, and Kay Johnson as Eve all get attention and all are good. I especially liked seeing Gaxton, a well-known vaudeville performer and stage actor who only made a handful of movies. Cabot, best known as Fay Wray's protector in King Kong, is at his handsomest and slickest here. Though some of the plot twists are predictable, some are not, and the mystery overtakes the comedy in the last 15 minutes. Generally quite fun. Best line: when someone asks Summerville what happened to the fired Lottie, he replies, "She's out on her astral plane." [TCM]