Thursday, May 26, 2022


There is an area of the Caribbean popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle, where over the years, hundreds of people have mysteriously vanished while at sea. One day, Coast Guard rescue pilots Doug McClure and Michael Conrad fly a helicopter out to answer a Mayday call. The two are buddies but a little antagonistic—Conrad is conservative and religious and McClure is young and hedonistic. McClure even has Conrad lower the copter so he can ogle a topless sunbather on a boat. When they get to the schooner in distress, the first thing they see is a dead body hanging from the mast. McClure is dropped onto the boat and finds two more dead bodies, one looking like it's hanging suspended in the air. The only survivor is Kim Novak who seems rather fragile (but also, occasionally, rather flirtatious). With bad weather threatening and his fuel running low, Conrad heads back to base and says he'll return with more back-up the next morning. Novak then settles in with McClure and tells the story of her ill-fated fishing trip. An already tense situation existed as Jim Davis, recklessly trying to outdo his brother by catching a big fish, clashed with the crew and captain (Ed Lauter) who were trying to keep everyone safe. They rescue a priest (Alejandro Rey) found floating on some wreckage and the local sailors desert the ship, saying that with a priest on board in the Triangle, they will be tested by the devil. As soon as they leave, weird weather kicks up, people start dying (it's the priest who is hanging from the mast, having gone up to set off a signal flare), and Novak is now certain that she and McClure are similarly doomed by evil forces. McClure manages to come up with rational explanations for all the deaths, even the levitating body. Novak and McClure (pictured at left) have sex that night. The next morning, Conrad returns with a rescue team and both are taken up in a helicopter. Everything’s fine? Well, not exactly…

This TV-movie is no gem, but by the standards of 1970s TV-movies, it works, with the last ten minutes being particularly effective (no spoilers here). Novak's character seems a little vague and off-kilter, but that’s more or less explained by the ending. Novak, the star of A-movies, works well with McClure, a B-adventure movie guy, and they both get to do some scenery chewing at the end—both get to exhibit very creepy smiles. Some viewers on IMDb find the ending silly but I like it. Rey does a nice job as the somewhat mysterious priest, and Conrad (best known as the desk sergeant on Hill Street Blues) is fine in a relatively small role. The storm scene, shot in daylight in blurred focus, is a letdown. If you're not already a fan of 70s TV-movies, you may not find this your cup of tea, but those of us who were teenagers back then should enjoy it. Pictured are Novak and McClure. [YouTube]

Tuesday, May 24, 2022


The first Peyton Place movie, based on a racy bestseller, is about the scandals and hypocrisies of a small New England town. If you haven't seen it, the only thing you really need to know to follow the events of this sequel, set several years later, is that Selena Cross (played here by Tuesday Weld) was raped by her stepfather whom she later killed in self-defense. This film begins as Alison McKenzie (Carol Lynley) learns that a novel she has written based on life in Peyton Place, and in particular on what happened to Selena and how badly the townspeople treated her, has been accepted for publication by publisher Lewis Jackman (Jeff Chandler), who asks her to come to New York City so he can help her get the book into shape. She does, falling in love with Jackman, a married man. Alison's mother Constance (Eleanor Parker) worries that she will wind up pregnant, as she herself did with Alison's father, though by now, Constance is quite respectable, married to Mike Rossi, the high school principal. Alison and Lewis work together many long nights; it's unclear how much more they get into, though we do see them kiss romantically at least once (pictured at right). When it's published, the book is a hit, even in Peyton Place where, though most people don't like it, everyone reads it. When mean rich lady Roberta Carter (Mary Astor) takes exception to it, she uses her power as a school board member to get the book pulled from the shelves of the high school library. Principal Rossi reinstates it, gets fired, and goes to the town council to get his job back, leading to a climactic town hall meeting pitting Mrs. Carter against Mike and Alison.

This sequel didn't do anywhere near the business that the original did (either book or film), perhaps because the secrets here are not as scandalous as those in the original. Surely the ambiguity that clouds the Alison/Lewis relationship didn't help. Also, the first movie edged near camp whereas this one is played a bit straighter. In addition to the main plot outlined above, this has a secondary story involving Mrs. Carter and her son Ted (Brett Halsey, at left), the character who actually "returns" to set up a law practice. He brings home his new pregnant Italian wife Raffaella (Luciana Paluzzi, who was married to Halsey in real life), and his mother tries her damndest to split them up. At one point, Raffaella basically accuses Mrs. Carter of having an unnatural love for her son, and later she deliberately skis down a dangerous ski slope in an attempt to cause a miscarriage—unless I missed something, we never know the outcome of the attempt. Selena gets her own somewhat pointless plotline where she falls for a Swedish ski instructor (Gunnar Hellstrom, who is moderately attractive but no big blond fantasy Swede) but that goes nowhere. 

Actingwise, the movie belongs to Mary Astor who does a good job slightly underplaying the big bad mother. Frankly, I could have used a bit more "jungle red" melodrama in her performance, but she's still very good. Halsey (he of the puppydog eyes) and Paluzzi are fine, and though I'm not a Jeff Chandler fan, he's good here as the publisher whose intentions vis a vis his author are never quite clear. Lynley, who wasn't 20 yet,  doesn't have a strong enough presence to blend in the cast—she sometimes seems just whiny as opposed to seriously conflicted. Tuesday Weld and Eleanor Parker aren't around long enough to register much but they're fine, as is Robert Sterling as Rossi. The uncredited guy who plays the friendly heckler at the town meeting (Tim Durant, maybe?) is good as is Jennifer Howard as Jackman's wife—both have short scenes but they stand out. Generally enjoyable 60s soap opera fluff. [DVD]

Thursday, May 19, 2022


Jane and Cathy are two young British women on a vacation, bicycling through the picturesque French countryside. At a sidewalk café, they notice a scruffily handsome man who is noticing them. When they leave, he follows them on his motor scooter. In a small village, they notice him again and seem caught between interest and fear. After a rest stop in some woods, a drowsy Cathy wants to stay and nap in the sun, while the more practical Jane wants to get going. In a bit of a huff, Jane bikes on to another small village where a local tells her that the road has a dangerous reputation as a girl had been raped and killed there some time ago. When Cathy doesn't show up, Jane rides back and finds only her camera in the clearing. The mysterious scooter rider, Paul, also shows up and offers to help look for Cathy, but Jane isn't sure she should trust him, even after he claims to be a detective who had, in fact, worked on the past murder along the road. Various villagers are introduced (a restaurant owner, a cop and his deaf father, a British teacher), all seeming a little off-kilter. Just because Paul seems the most suspicious, it seems like he can't be a rapist and killer—or can he?

Advertised as a horror movie, this is more a slow burn thriller though it partakes of the "big city vs. rural village" genre of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But there is very little here to draw horror fans. Even though it's only 100 minutes, it feels too long, as once it's established that Cathy is gone, the action, such as it is, is repetitious and mostly involves building up red herring situations. The ending is satisfying but it should have arrived in under 90 minutes. Michele Dotrice, sister of Karen who played Jane Banks in MARY POPPINS, is fine as the somewhat sensuous Cathy—there is in her character at least a smidge of the old stereotype of the sexy girl who is asking for trouble. Pamela Franklin (LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) is very good as Jane. Sandor Elès (COUNTESS DRACULA), pictured, is good at maintaining ambiguity about his character and his motivations right to the end. The bright sunlit locations make an interesting background to the tense proceedings. Certainly watchable if not especially memorable. [Streaming]

Monday, May 16, 2022


In 1850s Glasgow, the Smith family is about to buy a home in the city, and the older daughter Madeleine (Ann Todd) is particularly taken with a basement bedroom which has a barred window looking out onto the sidewalk and the feet of passersby. When they're moved in, she shares the room (which looks like it was intended to be servants' quarters) with her younger sister, and we soon see what appealed to her about the room: her illicit lover Emile (Ivan Desny) walks past, tapping his walking cane against the bars and dropping love notes into the window. Her autocratic father (Leslie Banks) is insisting that she marry the respectable William Minnoch, but has allowed her not to set an engagement date yet, so she continues seeing Emile who is more handsome and exciting, but also struggling to get by. Soon, Madeleine presses Emile to elope with her, but he needs her money and so insists that they get married properly. She finally agrees to marry William, but Emile threatens to use her love letters to blackmail her. Eventually, Emile is found dead of arsenic poisoning in what is assumed to be a suicide, but a friend of Emil's takes Madeleine's letters to her father, and evidence comes out that Madeleine had set up a secret meeting with Emile the night before he died. When it is discovered that she had a bottle of arsenic in her possession, she is put on trial for murder.

[Spoilers follow] This David Lean film is based on a real case that ended in a "not proven" verdict, which is somewhere between guilty and not guilty. This ambiguous ending is actually fairly satisfying, with the last shot lingering on Madeleine's face as she leaves the courtroom, a tiny smile just about to break out. But what I found not satisfying is the portrayal of the fateful night before Emile's death. We are given brief glimpses of Emile heading for the basement window during a storm, and of Madeleine waiting for him, but we never actually see if they meet or not. Her story is that he never showed up. More confusion occurs involving what seems to have been an earlier poisoning attempt by Madeleine, but again, what we see is inconclusive. In prose, this kind of ambiguity would go down better, but in visuals, it's frustrating. Performances are fine. Todd was married to David Lean and he did the movie for her, as she had played the role on stage, but he considers this to be his worst movie. Todd is good, however, as is Desny as her lover. Leslie Banks as the father isn't given enough screen time or enough scenery to chew. Norman Wooland does what he can with the underwritten role of Minnoch; he manages to make him fairly sympathetic, as though he knows he is caught between the father and the daughter in a game that no one can win. The movie has the look of a film noir, and there is some fun to be had with the camera's focus on a phallic cane that Emile carries and twirls and thrusts, and at least once has yanked out of his hands by Madeleine. Despite the unsatisfying last third, it's worth seeing. Pictured are Desny and Todd. [TCM]

Friday, May 13, 2022

Z (1969)

This film set in an unnamed country begins with a message that any resemblance to real people and events is intentional—though based on a novel, the plot closely follows events that unfolded in Greece in 1963, and though most of the characters are based on specific people, no names are used in the film. We first see a lecture on getting rid of mildew in vineyards, and the general in charge of the security police (Pierre Dux) uses this as a political metaphor for getting rid of the "ideological malady" of various "-isms" in society. More specifically, he is hoping for "healthy antibodies" to show up to demonstrate against an upcoming anti-government conference of pacifists, led by a doctor (Yves Montand). After various venue changes forced by the government, the rally is held in a small union hall with large groups of demonstrators from both sides outside, with chants of "Disarmament!" met by chants of "Long live the bomb!" Montand is hit on the head by a hooligan but is able to go on with his speech. Afterwards, as he leaves the building, a man driving a small three-wheel delivery vehicle clubs him on the head. Montand collapses and dies a couple of days later. His death is blamed on a drunk driver, but a crusading journalist (Jacques Perrin) who is adept at snapping candid photos digs into the case and begins to uncover the truth, and helps a government appointed magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant, pictured) untangle the devious webs of the guilty parties. 

This is the movie that put Greek director Costa-Gravas in the international spotlight. It was the first film nominated for both Best Film and Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (it won the latter award). Though it is heavily political, it is easy to understand the clashing ideologies, and the tone of the film is much closer to a police procedural thriller than to a didactic story of politics. The acting is solid all around, from the lead roles to the smaller supporting parts, though second-billed Irene Papas, playing Montand's wife, has little screen time and almost no dialogue. Stylewise, the film alternates between fairly static dialogue-heavy scenes and action sequences with loud background music and off-kilter angles. This is surely an inappropriate response, but the constant repetition of bad guys coshing good guys over the head became almost comic. The title is a reference, not explained until the end, of Greek graffiti featuring the letter 'Z', the first letter of the Greek phrase meaning "He lives," used when the real-life doctor, Grigoris Lambrakis, was murdered. Very popular in its day, the movie's reputation seems to have gone into eclipse a bit, and though it's a little slow in places, it's well worth watching. [TCM]

Wednesday, May 11, 2022


A Midwestern city that has become infested with crime assigns academic John Conroy (Edmond O'Brien) as a special prosecutor with the specific chore of bringing down the sprawling crime syndicate of Neil Eichelberger (Ed Begley) who is, to the public, the respectable head of a trucking company. John has brought with him Amanda Waycross (Alexis Smith) whom he describes as his "Girl Friday and spiritual advisor." John's old friend Jerry McKibbon (William Holden), now a reporter, stops by John's office and questions him about his motives for taking on this job, worrying that he has misplaced political ambitions, (which John insists he does not have) and worries that John will wind up being a fall guy for the powers that be. Jerry also is clearly smitten with Amanda, and eventually she with him. When John asks his father Matt (Tom Tully), a cop, to be a lead investigator, Matt tries to turn him down, much to everyone's surprise. Jerry gets suspicious, especially since John has made it clear that he wants to get rid of bad cops just as much as gangsters, and soon discovers that Matt is indeed on Eichelberger's payroll, for having borrowed money from him years ago. Eichelberger assigns Matt to get hold of an old incriminating police file; Matt gets it but photocopies it so it will stay in the files. When Eichelberger discovers the double cross, Matt's days are numbered, and John and Jerry will face danger as well.

There is much more to the plot but I won't spoil the pleasures of seeing how it all plays out. This is an overlooked gem of noir/crime films that Eddie Muller of TCM has brought attention to, and it's well worth seeing—it doesn’t appear to be on a region 1 DVD but it's available for rental on Amazon Prime. I'm not sure it really deserves the noir label, as none of the three major characters (John, Jerry and Amanda) are exactly morally conflicted, though there is a strong urban feel to several scenes; at heart, it's a crime crusade movie, but noir fans should enjoy it. Holden, O'Brien and Smith are all great, though I wish Smith had a little more to do. Begley is nicely slimy as the bad guy, especially in his courtroom scene. The revelation here is Tom Tully, a familiar character actor. The scene in which he explains his moral dilemma to Holden is a standout and should have gotten him an Oscar nomination, as it is every bit as strong as the short scene that got Beatrice Straight a nod in NETWORK. (Tully did get a nomination for THE CAINE MUTINY a couple years later). Holden's first attempt at flirtation with Smith, whom he considers mostly a mindless socialite, consists of him saying, "Will you please sit down so I can throw myself at your feet?" Recommended. Pictured are Holden and Smith. [TCM]

Wednesday, May 04, 2022


Frankie Bono is a mid-level hitman from Cleveland who has gone to New York City during Christmas week to arrange a hit on a mobster named Troiano. He is warned to stay out of sight and get the job done by New Year's Eve. In a bar, he meets Pete, an old friend, and his sister Laurie who was Frankie's girlfriend in the past. Frankie thinks he maybe has a second chance with Laurie, but when he makes his move, which turns into a near-assault, she stops him. A fat slob of a guy named Ralph, who keeps rats as pets, is supposed to supply Frankie with a gun with a silencer, but Ralph stalls, asking for more money. Tracking Troiano, Frankie follows him to a beatnik club where the married gangster spends time with his mistress. Then things start to fall apart: Ralph finds out who Frankie's target is and threatens Frankie with blackmail; Frankie goes to Laurie's apartment hoping to restart their relationship but discovers she has a live-in boyfriend; when Frankie tries to get out of finishing the job, his employers threaten him: "A killer who doesn't kill gets killed." What’s a confused, depressed hitman to do?

This B-noir starts off rather fatalistically with narration about the birth of Frankie as the camera slowly moves through a tunnel in an expressionistic approximation of childbirth, and comes bursting out onto a train track into New York City, as though Frankie was predetermined to meet his fate there. The narration, in the second person by Lionel Stander, continues and adds to the existential noir feeling of the movie. Though cheap looking, the movie has urban atmosphere to burn, having been shot on New York streets. Its Christmas setting adds another element to the film's tone—noir expert Eddie Muller claims this is one of his favorite Christmas movies which he might have meant somewhat in jest. The scene of Frankie walking robotically past the decked-out Rockefeller Center is memorable. Allen Baron, who plays Frankie (and occasionally looks like a B-movie George C. Scott), went on to a long career as a television director, but never acted again. I wouldn't make grandiose claims for his acting talents, but he's fine here with a nice haunted, hunted look throughout. Larry Tucker as Ralph is memorable in a disgusting way, and Molly McCarthy as Laurie is very good as the passive but not weak woman who is confused by Frankie's actions. Not a polished classic (though it has gotten a Criterion Collection release) but a nice, tough example of late-period film noir. [TCM]

Monday, May 02, 2022


In 1902 London, Philip (Charles Laughton), worker in a tobacco shop, is stuck in an unhappy marriage to his unstable wife Cora (Rosaline Ivan) who, in a fit of rage, has just torn up pages and pages of their son John's work. John moves out and Philip moves into his room. At work, he strikes up a friendly relationship with an unemployed secretary named Mary (Ella Raines) who is looking for a job. There's no opening at Philip's place, but quite taken with the woman, Philip helps her find another job and begins going out with her (and, we assume, having an affair with her). A parallel plotline develops as Philip becomes aware of the troubled marriage of his neighbor Gilbert (Henry Daniell), an alcoholic who beats his wife. Cora learns of Philip's affair but refuses to give him a divorce, and threatens to have Mary fired from her job. On Christmas day, Philip kills her by throwing her down the stairs and claiming she fell. Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges) suspects Philip and indeed lays out an elaborate description of how Philip might have done it, though he can't prove it. Philip marries Mary and seems to be in the clear until Gilbert acts on his suspicions and tries to blackmail Philip. Then things quickly fall to pieces. Charles Laughton is good at playing weak men caught up in bad circumstances. Sometimes he buckles (PAYMENT DEFERRED) and sometimes he finds strength to do the right thing (THIS LAND IS MINE). Here, he manages to do both. He gives in to his violent impulses by killing his wife, but in the end, he redeems himself, to some degree, by acting out of sympathy for an innocent person who is in peril because of him. The scene where the inspector lays out for Philip how he thinks the murder of Cora could have happened is nicely tense, as is a later scene between Philip and Gilbert (no spoiler here). The whole cast is solid and the dark look of the movie adds to the tension. Pictured are Laughton and Dean Harens as his son. [TCM]