Tuesday, September 28, 2021


Test pilot Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards) has taken off on an experimental flight in the small rocket Y-12 to see how man will fare as he heads for outer space. He hits the ionosphere and is told by the mission director, his older brother Chuck (Marshall Thompson), to return to earth, but Dan is a bit giddy at his accomplishment and continues further to where he can see the stars. On his way down, his plane destabilizes and he has to be talked through the emergency by Chuck. Once on the ground, instead of being debriefed at the base, Dan trots off to make out with his girlfriend Tia (Marla Landi), which further angers his brother, even though he finds out later that Tia is actually a very competent assistant to senior researcher Dr. von Essen. Despite Chuck's reservations, Dan is assigned to the next flight, Y-13, and again, Dan disobeys orders to return to earth, excited to be the first man into space at 250 miles high. This time, his disorientation is more pronounced and he loses control as a cloud of cosmic dust envelopes his craft. The rocket comes crashing to earth, but Dan is not found and so is assumed to be dead. But actually, he has been turned into a blood-seeking monster, coated in a strange glittery protective glaze from the cosmic dust. Soon, when cattle are found dead and unexplained murders with blood-drained bodies begin piling up, Chuck figures out what's happened and, with help from Tia and Dr. von Essen, lays out a plan to trap Dan and try to help him. 

By the late 1950s, it became clear that eventually man would go into space. It didn't actually happen until Yuri Gagarin did it in 1961, but that didn’t stop Hollywood, mostly B-movie producers, from producing sci-fi films about the topic. Some were hopeful, but many were not. This one is not, turning from speculative sci-fi to old-fashioned horror, of the "monster on the loose" variety. The most interesting thing about it is that the monster does in fact retain some part of his humanity and memories, though [Spoiler!] that does not save him in the end. The story takes a turn toward the “tampering in God’s domain” trope and Dan dies seeming to regret his hubris at needing to be the first man into space--though his real problem is not so much that he was first, but that he was cocky and reckless. Edwards is a bit colorless in the title role, though Marshall Thompson (as his brother) is the real lead--and he gets his dead brother's girlfriend in the end. Some sources say that stock footage of one of Chuck Yeager's test flights is used early on. The effects are not great, though the cosmic dust scene works well. The monster is basically a man in a baggy space suit covered with glittery gunk and doesn't seem as scary as it should be. Chiller Theater fun, though I'm not sure how this wound up getting a video release from the Criterion Collection. Pictured are Landi and Thompson. [DVD]

Thursday, September 23, 2021


Gaspar is a frustrated journalist; he is in debt, is regularly reprimanded for his sloppy work habits, and doesn't get the assignments he wants--he got into reporting for adventure and heroics. A friend tells him his problem is that he has a blind will for submission, always seeking to be on a mission for someone. We also learn, by his reaction while watching a war movie, that he has some kind of war-related trauma, exacerbated by his relationship with his stern, hawkish father. One night, after what seems to he unfulfilling sex with his girlfriend, he winds up at a bar chatting with a fellow reporter, and gets what looks like a come-hither cruising look from the bartender, Liudas. But what Liudas recognizes in Gaspar is a need for a better life. Luidas, a former editor (and smuggler), gets Gaspar to lend his expertise to a get-rich scheme involving the setting up of a correspondence journalism school; they'll mass-produce articles to sell to poor suckers who think they'll really get a usable education. When Liudas mentions that he is trying to raise money to being his oldest son over from war-ravaged Europe, Gaspar, recalling his friend's words, decides that his mission should be to help the son, so he offers Liudas three-fourths of the firm's money until the son is brought over. Luidas is grateful, but one night, Gaspar overhears Luidas imply to a woman that there is no son, that he is bilking Gaspar. Acting on impulse, Gaspar plots to take Luidas on an overnight visit to Gaspar's mother’s home in the country and kill him. Complications ensue.

This long-lost Argentinian film noir, directed by Fernando Ayala and also known as BITTER STEMS, was brought back into circulation thanks to the efforts of Eddie Muller of Turner Classic Movies. It's a goodie, and it could serve as a dictionary definition of noir: moral ambiguity, a conflicted antihero, lots of shadowy nighttime scenes, some striking stylistic touches, and, of course, a murder that doesn't quite go as planned. Carlos Cores (pictured) is note-perfect as Gaspar; the character is a bit like Fred McMurray's character in Double Indemnity--he's attractive in a rumpled kind of way and, on the surface, likable (he's good to his mother and sister), but also weak and makes bad decisions. It's not a femme fatale that leads him to crime, but his own inner demons. (There are women in the movie, but they are strictly in support of the two leading men.) Vassili Lambrinos is just as good as Liudas; he does a nice job of keeping us a little off balance as far as his motivations--in real life, Lambrinos was a dancer and choreographer, though he had a featured role as a prince in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Aida Luz and Pablo Moret are standouts in relatively small but important roles. There is a surreal dream sequence right out of Hitchcock's Spellbound and spectacularly discordant jazz music is an effective background for a disturbing nightclub scene. The noir atmosphere is beautifully conjured visually by cinematographer Ricardo Younis. Still difficult to see, I've heard that it's due for a Blu-Ray release soon. Catch it if you can, especially fans of genuine noir. [TCM]

Monday, September 20, 2021

HER MAN (1930)

Annie, a frowsy middle-aged woman of ill repute, has tried to leave Havana but has been sent back by the authorities. She goes back to the Thalia, a combination saloon and dancehall and whorehouse, where she is protected from the laughing scorn of other shady dames by young Frankie (Helen Twelvetrees), who works for the Thalia's owner Johnnie (Ricardo Cortez) as a "B-girl," someone who gloms onto visiting tourists or sailors, gets them to buy drinks, and sometimes steals their wallets. Annie feels similarly protective of Frankie, but when a drunk patron named Red catches Frankie trying to steal his money and makes a ruckus, it's Johnnie who takes care of things by staging a barfight as a distraction, then throwing a knife into the poor schlub's back when no one is paying attention. Frankie seems to want to leave her current life, but tells one man, "How far would I get? I ain't no man!" (though it turns out that this line is just part of the spiel she gives unsuspecting men before she picks their pockets). She sets her sights on a handsome young sailor named Dan (Phillips Holmes) as her next target, but softens and the two slowly develop a relationship which does not please Johnnie. Will Dan take Frankie with him when he leaves town, or will Johnnie’s plot to get rid of Dan pay off?

Director Tay Garnett makes this early talkie visually compelling all the way through with lots of panning or moving shots; especially notable is the scene in which Johnnie throws a knife clear across the bar to kill Red. The storyline, loosely based on the old ballad of Frankie and Johnny, is predictable--coming from the pre-Code era allows some sins to be forgiven in the end. The acting is all over the place. Helen Twelevetrees has the right look and attitude for a world-weary woman of loose morals, but too often she's either pouting or glowering. The reliable Ricardo Cortez is fine as the villainous Johnnie. Phillips Holmes, of lithe build and curly blond hair, has the right mixture of innocence and worldliness as Dan. One of my favorite character actors, James Gleason, is present, but he and Harry Sweet are around only for comic relief, and while their drunken antics with a slot machine and men's hats are funny the first couple of times, they're repeated way too often to remain effective. Marjorie Rambeau is fine but underused as wise old Annie. Franklin Pangborn, who usually plays effeminate parts, is amusing as part of the drunken comic bits. The recently restored print shown on TCM is stunning looking, though the clarity and freshness of the image bring an unfortunate focus to the occasional melodramatic overacting now and again. Still, recommended. Pictured are Holmes and Twelvetrees. [TCM]

Friday, September 17, 2021


State Department bureaucrat Sam Putnam (Ray Bolger) sends an invitation to Ethel Barrymore to a prestigious arts festival in Paris, but the invitation winds up sent to chorus girl Ethel Jackson (Doris Day), stage name 'Dynamite.' Sam is mortified and tries to fix the situation but his boss (whose daughter Sam is engaged to) decides it's a good idea. On the ship to Paris, Ethel clashes with many of the stuffy men on board but delights Philippe (Claude Dauphin), an entertainer who is broke due to owing taxes in America and is working as a waiter on the ship. Philippe, realizing that Sam has rather improbably fallen for Ethel, hopes to egg him on at a big drunken party the night before landing. He succeeds too well--Sam and Ethel decide to get the ship's captain to marry them that night. The marriage occurs, but Philippe learns that the man they thought was the captain was actually a cabin boy, so he spends the night trying to stop them from enjoying conjugal bliss. The next day, in Paris, things get more complicated when Sam's boss arrives with his daughter in tow. But, of course, in Hollywood (or Hollywood's idea of Paris) love conquers all. This musical farce starts out well but wears out its welcome before the end. The biggest problem is the odd mismatch between Bolger and Day. I could buy them as best buddies, maybe, but not as a true love match. I kept expecting them to realize that it would never work out, but the plot doesn't go that way. The music is not terribly memorable, though "I’m Gonna Ring the Bell Tonight" is a very cute Day/Bolger dance number. Dauphin is charming as Philippe, and the rest of the cast is serviceable. This won’t make you a Doris Day fan, but it's a pleasant time-passer. [TCM]

Wednesday, September 08, 2021


Claudelle is the teenage daughter of tenant farmer Clyde and his wife Jessie who work for property owner S.T. Crawford. Crawford, a widower, leers nastily at Claudelle and hints to her parents that he would take good care of her if she would be his wife, but Claudelle isn't interested in a man thirty years older than her. Clyde refuses to consider Crawford's wishes, but Jessie, a sexually frustrated woman worn beyond her years and tired of Clyde's promises of better times, is ready to pimp her daughter out to a rich man, and if Claudelle isn't interested, Jessie might like a little Crawford on the side. Meanwhile, Claudelle falls hard for high school senior Linn Varner who heads off to the Army but tells Claudelle he wants to marry her when his stint is over. To clinch the deal, they have sex under the night sky and the rustling tree branches. But months later, Linn writes with the news that he's getting married to someone else. This leads Claudelle to tramp herself up and sleep with a string of men. Dennis, the grocer's son, is first; young Charles, an assistant at the grocery store, is next, with studly, slightly older Rip not far behind. Even Dennis’ dad wants his turn. Jessie eventually leaves to stay with Crawford, and melodrama turns to tragedy when two of the studs fight, leaving one dead. Claudelle and her dad decide to try and pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, but fate may have other plans.

In its day, I imagine this was seen as racy and serious, but now it's easier to appreciate either as a period piece or high camp. Romantic teen melodramas were all the rage in the late 50s and early 60s, from the cheap B-films of American International to the high gloss productions of Warner Bros., which is what this film is. Diane McBain had a supporting role in an earlier Warners melodrama, PARRISH and was given the lead here. She's actually pretty good, giving some weight to her character who becomes promiscuous because of her rejection by Linn (a very young and handsome Chad Everett). Her bevy of studs were pulled from the ranks of the young Warner Bros. contract players, most of whom would become better known on TV: Will Hutchins (from the western series Sugarfoot) as Dennis, Robert Logan (briefly Edd Byrne's replacement on 77 Sunset Strip) as Charles, and Robert Colbert (The Time Tunnel). All of them are attractive and convey various tones of rural boy horniness with conviction. Arthur Kennedy brings some gravitas to the role of the beleaguered father, but Constance Ford is awfully one-note as the mother. To reinforce the glossy teen romance connection, the main theme of the movie recalls the famous hit theme to A SUMMER PLACE from a couple of years earlier--Kennedy and Ford were also in that movie. Approached on a camp level, and with appreciation for male eye candy, this was quite watchable. Pictured are McBain and Hutchins. [TCM]

Thursday, September 02, 2021


As a boy, Willie Smith is always in trouble with his parents and his teachers, and as he grows up, he continues to chafe against society, wanting to be someone different or special. He holds a string of jobs, winding up in a tobacco shop in South Africa where he meets Mary Blayne, a British admiral's daughter who is set to marry an older, rather stuffy nobleman named Jimmy. Willie has become an aspiring playwright and soon Mary is reading a draft of his play as the two begin spending intimate time together. A friend of her family, an officer named Jeffrey, intuits what's going on and warns Mary's parents. Their solution is to have her mother spirit her away to England on the pretext of visiting a sick relative, where she will, they hope, be happy to settle down with Jimmy. Jeffrey, despite being responsible for their parting, soon feels sorry for Mary and even goes so far to suggest that, after a couple years of marriage, she could pursue an extramarital affair. But before the wedding can happen, Willie moves to London, living a pauper's existence as he works on his play. Soon, Mary finds him and, despite Mary being cut off from any money by her father, they marry. The "courageous" part of the title, I guess, comes as they try to make it together in the cold hard world of London.

This is a fairly average romantic melodrama, perhaps pulled off with a lighter touch than most, but it's also very predictable, especially in its last third as she pawns her belongings and he steals food to stay alive. Eventually, Willie goes to the Admiral and asks him to take her back, by herself; Mary lies in bed and begins to waste away until, voila, Willie's play is accepted for production and a happy ending is finally in store. I run hot and cold on Robert Montgomery (Willie), but I do tend to like his earlier movies, and he's in pretty charming form here. Madge Evans (pictured with Montgomery), star of the 30s who married a playwright and left the business, is fine as Mary. Roland Young is excellent in one of his typical sympathetic uncle roles (the epitome of which is Uncle Willie in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) and Reginald Owen is Jimmy, who is a little likable even though we're not supposed to like him--the character is drab, not evil. At times, especially when the two lovers say farewell before Mary leaves for England, the dialogue sounds quite stagy, perhaps because the screenplay is by playwright Frederick Lonsdale. [TCM]