Monday, November 29, 2021


This biopic about country music legend Hank Williams begins with Hank as a 12-year-old shoeshine boy who sings and plays guitar with his older Black mentor Teetot. Hank can even make up songs as he shines shoes. Teetot dies of a heart attack in front of Hank, and the next thing we see is a 20-year-old Hank (George Hamilton) making a living with a traveling medicine show. Audrey Williams (Susan Oliver) sees him singing and, impressed with his raw talent, steals him away to join her band, the Drifting Cowboys. While getting gigs at high schools and church socials, Audrey sends one of his songs to famous music publisher Fred Rose who locks him up in an office to write a song, to prove he's not stealing from others. He proceeds to write "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," so Rose agrees to publish his songs and gets the band a gig on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. We get a one-minute montage of newspaper headlines, and suddenly Hank is (relatively) rich and famous. He's married to Audrey, they live in a nice suburban house, and he's had a sting of hits. But he's also running into writer's block and has taken to sitting around the house in his sweaty underwear, getting drunk while trying to get inspired. Even if you know next to nothing about Hank Williams, you know the trajectory of the Hollywood biopic: humble beginnings, fame, romance, people hurt along the way, downfall, redemption (or not). That's what happens here. Hank starts arriving late to concerts or showing up drunk, gets picked up by the Grand Ole Opry, and later dropped because of his unreliability, and alienates his wife and friends. In the end, he goes through a sort of rehab process (offscreen) and winds up sober but weakened, and on the way to a New Year's gig, he stops at a diner where the people recognize him and ask him to play a song. As he begins, he looks out the window and sees the face of Teetot peering in at him. Sensing that death is at hand, he asks Teetot for one more song, which he sings. Later that night, his death is announced at the concert hall and the audience spontaneously stands and sings a gospel song of his, "I Saw the Light."

We all know that Hollywood biographies rarely stick to the truth, so I won’t even begin to tally up the factual problems here except to note two things. First, it hurts the movie that we don't really get to see Hank's rise--it all happens in that one-minute montage. Second, the real story of his death--he died being driven to a concert in an ice storm--is at least as interesting as the fiction presented here, though the shot of Teetot (Rex Ingram) at the end is touching. Most critics who dislike this film focus on George Hamilton's performance. He may not be perfect, but I found him believable as a charming but abrasive and self-destructive musician. His melodramatic acting style, undoubtedly coached along by director Gene Nelson, fit the times when the movie was made, and fits the larger-than-life image of Williams that MGM wanted to sell. Williams' first wife Audrey was a technical advisor and pulled some strings to get what she wanted, but she still comes off as, if not villainous, at least manipulative and generally unpleasant. We never see the two of them very happy with each other. Susan Oliver is fine in the part, as is Arthur O'Connell as Fred Rose. The songs are lip-synced by Hamilton to new recordings made by Hank Williams Jr., who was only 14 when he sang them, and they sound great. The more recent biopic, I Saw the Light, with Tom Hiddleston, is probably a bit truer to the historical record, but this is enjoyable enough for people who know who Williams was but aren't necessarily die-hard fans. [TCM]

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


During World War II, Ma Dibson seems to live a quiet life in a suburban home, in a town that has become an embarkation point for military men, but actually she is the head of a family of small-time crooks who steal the wallets of drunk sailors and soldiers. Her lazy, passive son Posey and teenage daughter Rosalie do what they can, but most successful are Ma's oldest son Lefty, who has just come home from a stretch in prison for armed robbery, and her sexy daughter-in-law Jessie who gets a little more intimate with the servicemen. (Lefty dismissively greets his wife with, "You back to the dime-a-dance grind?"; her sneering reply, "Somebody has to pay the rent.") The local cops are aware of their activities but have had a hard time pinning anything on them. Lt. Lorrigan even tries to put Lefty on the straight and narrow by offering him a job in a dairy, but Lefty has other ideas, and begins planning to hold up a bar owner when he makes his night deposit. When the military threatens to declare the town off limits to its soldiers, Lt. Lorrigan comes up with a plan to crack down on the Dibsons by marking cash with fluorescent paint that's invisible under normal conditions but glows under ultraviolet light. Between that and the night deposit robbery gone wrong, our outlaw family is soon in big trouble.

This hour-long B-crime movie is basically wartime propaganda, warning men of the military away from potential thieves, something that really was a problem on the homefront. With the exception of the hardened Lefty (Tom Trout), the other family members seem quite casual about their activities. Though we never actually see Jessie head back to a serviceman's room for some slap and tickle--all the robbing is done in a bar when the soldiers are a little drunk--I assume that she wasn't above more intimate activity. More interestingly, Posey (Dan Duryea) seems ripe for further development; he's not played as gay, exactly, but he is weak and passive, matching gay stereotypes of the time, and I wondered if he ever rolled a sailor up in his room. This is the first film role for Audrey Totter who would become a film noir icon, and she's quite good, though not as hard and steely as she would be in later movies like TENSION. Selena Royale, who usually played sweet sacrificing mothers, is fine as the hardened ma who still worries about her crook kids. Edward Arnold is the cop, and he often seems like he wandered in from a different movie, relaxed and confident versus the tense and occasionally bumbling Dibsons. In the end, we're left with an observation from Arnold along the lines of, why can't criminals just make an honest living? Pictured are Trout and Totter. [TCM]

Thursday, November 18, 2021


To the world, Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) is a wealthy art collector who occasionally auctions off valuable pieces and lives with his grown-up daughter Nicole (Audrey Hepburn) in Paris. But in reality he's a forger who no longer does it for the cash but for the challenge. The film opens with a Cezanne of his selling for a good deal of money, after which he goes home to work on a Van Gogh forgery. Nicole has learned to live with his criminal behavior--after all, as he explains, only the rich are getting fleeced. But when she finds out that her dad is allowing a Cellini statuette of Venus that her grandfather forged to be displayed at a museum, she tries to talk him out of it since any cursory examination will show it to be fake. That night, she catches a cat burglar named Simon (Peter O'Toole) in the house, apparently trying to make off with the Van Gogh (though what we see that she doesn't is that he has scraped off a piece of the painting and kept it). Afraid that calling the police will subject her father's illegal activities to scrutiny, and because some mild sparks fly between them, she lets him go, even driving him back to his hotel. A couple days later, she finds out that her father has signed a million dollar insurance policy with the museum for his Venus, contingent upon an examination by an art expert. Nicole realizes that this will expose the statuette as a fake, and asks Simon to help her steal the statuette, which is protected by a sophisticated anti-theft system, back from the museum before the examination. From here on, the film becomes a caper story with lovey-dovey feelings building between Nicole and Simon. But when it turns out that Simon isn't exactly who he seems to, will that affect their budding romance?

This is a frothy confection that, for the most part, works well. At a full two hours, it's too long, with the last half of the movie dragging a bit, but caper movie fans will love it. I'm not really an Audrey Hepburn fan, but she's OK here, and she has great chemistry with Peter O'Toole who (sort of) does a great Cary Grant without actually trying to impersonate him; he gets the Grant romantic rascal persona down well. It's largely a 2-person show--Griffith is good as the father, but other supporting actors, including Eli Wallach and, in what amounts to a cameo, Charles Boyer, don't get to make much of an impression. The Paris scenery and the fancy house and museum sets are nice to look at when you're not looking at the leads. The best part of the heist is the moment when O'Toole and Hepburn, locked up in a small supply closet, ingeniously use a magnet to get a key to get them out. Mid-60s fun all the way. [TCM]

Tuesday, November 16, 2021


From afar, we see a courtyard where a man on the ground floor sees a woman on the second floor. He goes upstairs and enters her room. Shots are fired, and the movie becomes a long flashback. We meet Julie (Doris Merrick), a factory worker who lives with her unpleasant family: the usual mom and dad who just don't understand, her alcoholic brother Fred who is clearly on his way into the gutter, and his pregnant wife Katie. Julie's parents don’t approve of her beau, a sweet-natured trumpet player named Ray (Eddie Quillan) who is about to start his own band. Julie, Ray, and Julie's friend Helen (who also has a thing for Ray) go out to the Black Cat and Julie makes eye contact with Danny (Robert Lowery), handsome but a little shady looking. The next night, Julie hooks up with Danny who takes her to the slightly classier Paradise Club where they meet two women who have past histories with Danny: Mae, a singer, and Irene, the manager. Julie starts putting Ray off, though the two get caught at an illegal gambling house. At night court, with the choice of 30 bucks or 30 days, Ray has to go to jail. Julie's dad pays her fine but orders her out of the house. Plot points start piling up: Julie moves in with Mae, thanks to Irene's guidance, and gets a job as a dancer as the Paradise Club; Danny leaves town for a spell; Ray, out of jail, lands a gig and wants Julie to be his singer; she turns him down and waits for Danny; when Danny comes back, he owes a gangster money he doesn't have. We can tell that the future looks bad for Julie and Danny, but we have to wait until the very end to discover who shoots whom.

This B-noir looks about as cheap as they come but it's watchable. The script feels like a Reader's Digest condensation of a longer work, with some plot lines (Julie's drunkard brother, Mae's later illness) going nowhere which makes the picture feel overstuffed with incident. Robert Lowery was starting to lose his looks; he's a little puffy and tired, which fits the character but not the lust that Julie feels immediately upon seeing him. I was unfamiliar with Doris Merrick but she does a nice job as a character who manages to stay unrealistically optimistic about her situation. The two other standouts in the cast are Constance Worth as the likable Irene and Maurice Murphy who makes the most of his short scenes of drunkenness as Fred. I liked the fact that, despite the chiched possibilities, jealousy doesn't rear its ugly head; Ray accepts the loss of Julie, and all three of Danny's women form a friendly bond. The ending is oddly abrupt and not terribly satisfying, but I guess it fits with the movie's noir atmosphere. The movie’s original title, Sensation Hunters, doesn’t fit the proceedings at all--if you come to this movie looking for partying and decadence and sex, you’ll be disappointed. Pictured are Merrick and Lowery. [YouTube]

Friday, November 12, 2021


If you're a classic movie buff, the first thing you need to know about this movie is that it feels nothing like a typical Bulldog Drummond film. The title character, a retired British officer who, for adventure, tangles with spies and crooks, often on behalf of Scotland Yard, was frequently on screen in the 1930s and 40s, most often in a series of B-movies. Many of those films begin with Drummond in the process of getting married to his sweetheart when some dangerous situation crops up that takes him (and his Dr. Watson-ish buddy Algy Longworth) away from the domestic scene. This one (a high-toned B-movie from MGM) has Bulldog and Algy and Scotland Yard, but is otherwise a fairly average crime film with none of the feel of the series films. It's not a bad movie, but if you’re expecting the usual Bulldog fare, you'll be disappointed.

Scotland Yard calls on Drummond because of his military background to help crash a burglary gang that pulls off their heists with military precision; hence, the thinking is that a former soldier may be the mastermind. A cover story is put out that Drummond, a popular man about town, has left London due to being caught cheating at cards, and poor Algy, who has not been made privy to Scotland Yard's plans, is left defending him to the members of their social club. Drummond (Walter Pidgeon) is paired with a female agent (Margaret Leighton) and they pose as notorious crooks who get chummy with the chief suspect (Robert Beatty) and soon join his gang, though it becomes clear that Beatty is taking orders from someone else. The first 45 minutes are fairly slow going, especially since Pidgeon is his usual drab self, though Leighton and Beatty are good. In the last stretch, David Tomlinson, as Algy, takes a major role in the proceedings, and an elaborate scene in a nightclub in which Beatty's moll (Peggy Evans) pulls off a nice identity scam is well played. Bernard Lee, better known later as M in the early James Bond movies, as a supporting role, as does busy character actor James Hayter. There is some witty repartee here and there, and as an average, lightly played crime drama, this is fine, but it's not really a Bulldog Drummond movie. Pictured is David Tomlinson as Algy. [TCM] (I see this is my third 1951 movie review in a row. Truly, this is not on purpose. I tend to post reviews at random from my backlog, so it's just coincidence)

Friday, November 05, 2021


A narrator introduces us to the small New Hampshire town of Eaton Falls which is going through some hard times. A shoe manufacturing plant recently closed down, putting a big chunk of locals out of work (charity events are periodically held for these folks) and silencing the work whistle which marked the beginning and end of the work day and could be heard all over town. The whistle is moved to the Doubleday Plastics plant, the only big industry left, but changes are coming there as well. In order to lower costs, Mr. Doubleday is bringing in new machines which will entail closing the plant briefly and bringing back only about half the men. Worker Brad Adams (Lloyd Bridges), liked by both union and management, is prompted to head of the union, and when Mr. Doubleday dies in a plane crash, the widow, knowing that union problems are about to break out, promotes Brad to head of the company, over general manager Dwight Hawkins. Bad blood boils all over. Brad cuts a bid for making Navy materials to the bone, hoping that could keep the company afloat, but he is underbid. Hawkins quits, joins another manufacturing company, and pushes his new company to buy Doubleday, a move that Brad knows will mean permanent layoffs. A major account is not renewed because Doubleday's cost to produce is too high. A couple of union troublemakers ignite a vote of no confidence among the rank and file against Brad. And nothing can stop the new machinery that's on its way.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of a handful of labor movies: On the Waterfront, Norma Rae, Blue Collar, and the musical The Pajama Game. Movies about labor problems may have dramatic potential, but, like stories about writing or inventing, they don't necessarily lend themselves to good cinema. This one is no exception. The narrative plods along predictably, a tragedy occurs, and there is a somewhat improbable happy-ish ending. The acting is the main reason to watch this. Bridges is fine, if unexciting, as the conflicted hero; a very young Murray Hamilton is better as the union hothead; Ernest Borgnine, in only his second film role, is good as an associate of Hamilton's; and young Carleton Carpenter, better known as a singer and dancer in 50s MGM musicals, is fine as a worker and artist who is instrumental in figuring out a way to cut costs. Dorothy Gish, younger sister of silent star Lillian Gish, is the widow, and other familiar faces include Arthur O'Connell, Dodo Merande, Russell Hardie, and the lovely Anne Francis who makes an impression even though she is underused. Interesting as a novelty. Pictured are Hamilton and Borgnine. [TCM]

Tuesday, November 02, 2021


With no theme music, the credits roll over a film noir-type shot of a darkened train station in New York in 1861, before the outbreak of the Civil War. We learn the trains are running slow due to unrest over the upcoming inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Police detective John Kennedy (Dick Powell) has discovered a plot, planned by a secret society, to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore (in Maryland, a slave state) on his way to Washington, but his bosses don't believe him, so he resigns from the force and takes it upon himself to protect Lincoln. Kennedy is supposed to get a ticket on Lincoln's train from an Inspector Riley, but he runs across Riley's dead body on the train, and a person claiming to be Kennedy has Kennedy's ticket and seat. After a bit of a ruckus, Army Colonel Jeffers (Adolphe Menjou) vouches for Kennedy. As the train chugs through the night, Kennedy has run-ins with a number of people, any of whom might be involved in the planned assassination: a brother and sister with Confederate sympathies, their Black maid, an abolitionist writer, and a mysterious woman who will be meeting her husband at a later stop. Even Jeffers, Kennedy's protector, may not be who he seems to be. As I have a soft spot for movies set on trains, I enjoyed this film which is set entirely on a train or in train stations. Though many critics call this film noir, it strikes me as just a historical crime drama, albeit set at night with a strong atmosphere (sometimes claustrophobic) of tension, even though we know that the assassination plot won't succeed. Powell is OK, though he and Menjou (who plays a character who may have a hidden agenda) have some nice scenes together. Standouts in the cast include Marshall Thompson as the slave owner, Ruby Dee as the slave, and Will Geer as the train conductor. A climactic fight scene between Powell and a bad guy is memorable. Jeff Richards, a favorite 50s hunk of mine (ISLAND OF LOST WOMEN) has a small role as a police officer. Pictured are Powell and Thompson. [TCM]