Tuesday, August 30, 2022


I don't really have a bucket list of hard-to-find movies that I'm desperate to see. The ones I did have (the 1949 Great Gatsby, Alias Nick Beal, The Constant Nymph, the 1929 version of The Letter with Jeanne Eagels, the early Fu Manchu films with Warner Oland, etc.) I’ve managed to see. But this one comes close. It's one of those big-budget musicals from the 1965-1973 era that bombed rather spectacularly and led to big losses for studios. Some of these movies are indeed pretty bad and have become camp classics, like the infamous Lost Horizon musical which I've seen but haven't had the fortitude to review here yet; some, viewed without the bundle of expectations that existed at the time of their release, aren't all that bad (Darling Lili, Paint Your Wagon). This one falls somewhere between awful and OK. It's the story of the early life of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (Toralv Maurstad) from the time he was a young man, eager to begin a homegrown tradition of music apart from the German music that predominated in the mid-19th century. In the beginning, he's quite full of himself, but he can't get anyone important to take him seriously. His girlfriend Therese (Christina Schollin) comes from a family of money and power but her father is dead set against the couple. When Therese asks her father to anonymously sponsor a recital for Grieg, he agrees but stipulates that she must never see or communicate with Grieg again and must enter into an arranged marriage with a more suitable man. Eventually in Copenhagen, he meets up with his cousin Nina (Florence Henderson) and becomes best friends with Richard Nordraak (Frank Porretta), himself the composer of Norway's national anthem, who believes in Grieg's dream of a new national music. When Grieg gets a letter from Therese that her father is dead and her arranged marriage is off, it's too late—he is literally walking down the aisle marrying Nina. The rest of the film follows Grieg's ups and downs (including the untimely death of Nordraak from TB), and run-ins with folks like Henrik Ibsen and Hans Christian Andersen. The story ends just as Grieg is about to achieve fame. [Pictured at left are Porretta, Henderson and Maurstad)

As with most big flops with bad reputations, this isn't quite as bad as it’s made out to be. The pluses: beautiful photography of the lovely locations in Norway, some fun production numbers (all the music is based on Grieg), decent performances, especially from Porretta and Schollin, and a nice supporting turn from Edward G. Robinson. I'll even defy scads of critics and say that Florence Henderson is fine as Nina; I think her image as Mrs. Brady in TV's The Brady Bunch created unwarranted prejudice against her. The minuses: the story is repetitious as Grieg keeps getting disappointed, keeps reacting rather petulantly, and keeps relying on his friends to move him forward. In the first half, the sheer number of songs (mostly unmotivated) becomes numbing, and in the second half, there aren't enough. Porretta has way more charm and personality than Maurstad and I was sad when he mostly vanished from the narrative at the midway point. Maurstad is a little wooden and can’t sing very well. When you have more invested in the supporting player than the lead, something's wrong.

But honestly, the biggest problem is that it tries so hard and so unsuccessfully to be another Sound of Music. The poster art features the main trio romping across hills just like Julie Andrews did (see picture at right); the opening is a series of shots of Norway mountains and lakes; even though there are no children in the story, many of the production numbers are stuffed with children, foreground and background, whose only purpose is to remind us of "Do Re Mi"; as good as Henderson is, she's not Julie Andrews. To be sure, there are other problems and quirks. During an otherwise pleasant Christmas sequence (which includes a moment reminiscent of "Who Will Buy" from Oliver), we get a fantasy scene with some kids getting chased by animated trolls in real nature settings. The animation is fine, but why is it in the movie in the first place? No matter how hard the director, Andrew L. Stone, and the studio try to make this a family movie, it's not. It’s rated G but the themes and incidents are not ones likely to appeal to kids. I think my favorite moment in the movie is when Nordraak sings "Three There Were," a passionate ode to his dear friends Edvard and Nina—frankly, it sounds like he's describing a ménage a trois, and I would love to have seen that developed further. This can't be dismissed as bad camp but it also can't be hailed as a good movie. Basically, it's a watchable movie for musical fans. [DVD]

Friday, August 26, 2022


This film opens with a long single take of Valentine Xavier (Marlon Brando) in a courtroom explaining himself to a judge as he is about to be kicked out of New Orleans for some kind of unsavory behavior, perhaps in a whorehouse, though he claims he's just a relatively innocent guitar player. He does admit that turning thirty might be a good time to change his life, and he leaves the city, winding up on a stormy night in a small Mississippi town. Vee Talbot (Maureen Stapleton), the sheriff's wife, a woman with an artistic bent who seems a bit smothered by her husband, takes pity on him and lets him sleep in a jail cell. Next day, he's given a job at the general store, owned by the sickly Jabe Torrance (Victory Jory) and run by his younger wife, an Italian immigrant known as Lady (Anna Magnani). Jabe, returning home after a hospital stay to face a slow invalid decline covered in "death sweat," is still a mighty mean bastard, and Lady takes a liking to sexy Val. So does blond floozy Carol (Joanne Woodward), who thinks she remembers Val from New Orleans. And Vee still has a soft spot for him. But the town's menfolk aren't as happy to have him around, seeing him as a disruptive force. Eventually, Val and Lady have an affair and we discover that Lady's father, who owned a wine garden, died in a fire set by townspeople because he was selling wine to Black customers. Lady's dream is to open her own little sweet shop, and Val helps her put it together behind the general store. But things come to a head when 1) Lady winds up pregnant from Val, and 2) a jealous Jabe lets slip that he was an active participant in the fire that killed Lady's father. No happy endings are in store here.

We're in Tennessee Williams' Southern gothic territory here (based on his play Orpheus Descending), but overall this is not as engrossing as Streetcar Named Desire or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The biggest problem is the character of Valentine Xavier. He is supposed to be a wild partier, a member of the "fugitive kind," as the title would have it, but Brando underplays the part so much, he comes off as a rather tender, passive guy who reacts and observes more than takes direct action. I actually like his performance here (though it's a bit weird how much he sounds like Vito Corleone, especially in the opening scene) but the situations that swirl around him aren't terribly compelling. Magnani, with her heightened and artificial performance, acts like she's in a different movie, and for me, she and Brando have little chemistry. (Supposedly while making the movie, she had the hots for Brando but he didn't reciprocate.) Woodward, normally a spot-on actress, also overdoes the sleaziness of her character, and Stapleton, after giving a strong performance in the first 20 minutes, mostly vanishes from the story except for a strange moment near the end where she apparently suffers from hysterical blindness—it's an incident that seems to be present only to give the sheriff a reason to try and toss Val out of town. Jory is great as an intensely unlikable character. This odd movie is both overheated and underdone. Good line: when Val tells the sheriff that he is not a wanted man, the sheriff (R.G. Armstrong) replies, "Good lookin' boy like you is always wanted." Pictured are Brando and Magnani. [DVD]

Thursday, August 25, 2022


In the early 1900s, Prof. Aitken and his son Charles have charted Capt. Daniels' boat and a small crew to go searching for evidence of the legendary sunken city of Atlantis. The English father and son pair have brought along American engineer Greg Collinson (Doug McClure) and his invention, a diving bell, open at the bottom, that is lowered into the water by a cable. Greg and Charles go down in the bell, see some sights, get attacked by a prehistoric marine creature, and find a huge golden statue which is tied up and dragged up to the boat. The crew figures they won't get a cut of the treasure so they mutiny, overtaking the captain and wounding the professor, and cut the diving bell cable. But a gigantic octopus attacks both the bell and the ship and most everyone (except the professor and the innocent cabin boy) goes under the sea. Now things get a little vague. They all go through a cavern and wind up on a shore beneath the earth (which still somehow seems to have a sky and a sun). Greg and Charles don't realize that the crew members have mutinied, or that Capt. Daniels might be tempted to join them. In addition to faceless soldiers and sweaty slaves, they meet Atmir, a pretentious guy with a goofy bowl haircut, wearing a robe and what amounts to a sliver miniskirt. He tells them they have found Atlantis. Their plan is to make slaves of all sailors except Charles whose intellect they admire. What else? Oh, yeah, the ruling Atlantean class are from Mars, they've been meddling in human affairs for ages, they have a helmet which allows the wearer to see the future, and there's a big gross flappy-limbed creature (pictured) that will surely slaughter anyone who tries to escape back to the ocean surface.

Doug McClure starred in a couple of earlier fantasy/adventure films (including THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT) based on early 20th century stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is not based on Burroughs but one could be forgiven for thinking it was, as it plays out just like McClure's earlier movies. The critics are divided over the film, mostly arguing about the fairly cheap effects, but I found the octopus and the swamp monster (combinations of puppetry and stop-motion animation) rather charming, and when the octopus is tearing the boat apart, quite effective. The acting is as good as it has to be, with McClure in fairly hunky form, and Peter Gilmore and Shane Rimmer giving good support as Charles and the captain. Michael Gothard gives a nice otherworldly tone to the character of Atmir. There is a mild romantic interest for McClure in Lea Brodie, but nothing much comes of that. Surprisingly, dancer extraordinaire Cyd Chrisse has a featured role as the de facto Queen of Atlantis, but she's given little to do except speak stridently—she doesn't even get to do an exotic Atlantean or Martian dance. But if none of this makes you want to see this film, there is a young, almost handsome John Ratzenberger (Cliff the mailman on Cheers) as one of the treacherous crew members. He has Cliff's face and voice, which can be a bit distracting, but it was great fun to see him. In the final analysis, it’s no masterpiece, but with the menacing octopus, the old-fashioned monsters, the hunky hero, and the occasionally fabulous sets, this is worth seeing. Sadly, TCM broadcast this in a full screen, pan-and-scan version. Though it was shot in widescreen, there seems to be no widescreen print available in the United States. Someone should look into giving all the McClure fantasy adventure films a decent region 1 boxed set release. [TCM]

Monday, August 22, 2022

BIG CITY (1948)

In 1937 New York City, a cantor (Danny Thomas) discovers an abandoned baby on the street. Soon, a settlement house minister (Robert Preston) and an Irish Catholic cop (George Murphy) have come along to offer help. They leave the infant in the care of Thomas's mother and go off to talk a judge (Edward Arnold) into giving them joint custody of the child, named Midge. Arnold agrees, with the caveat that the first of the men to marry will take permanent custody of Midge. For ten years, the arrangement works well—Midge (Margaret O’Brien, pictured with Preston) is happy, the men are happy, and the cantor's mom is happy. Midge's only problem seems to be dealing with a classmate (Butch Jenkins) who picks on her at school, but only because he has a crush on her. When Midge's teacher (Karin Booth) finds out about the unusual three-father situation, she arranges a visit with the family and sees how well things are working out. Both Preston and Thomas fall for Booth, but only Preston has the gumption to do something about it. Meanwhile, Murphy falls for a brassy saloon singer (Betty Garrett)—she's a bit rough around the edges but she has a good heart and loves Midge, though a Coney Island trip they take together ends up with Midge getting sick from too much junk food (they call it a "Coney Island hangover"). When Murphy and Garrett elope, they plan to take Midge to live with them, but Preston and Thomas both rebel, disapproving of Garrett and claiming the elopement was too sudden. Bad blood builds between the men, and soon it's off to see the judge who will need the wisdom of Solomon to work things out.

This light melodrama had the best of intentions when it was released shortly after WWII, making a case for tolerance, though honestly, the differences between the Jew, the Catholic and the Protestant are barely skin-deep, and it's really only the Jewish cantor who stands out because we see him singing at his synagogue. Today, the lack of people of color or of other nationalities in a plot about diversity seems astounding. Things start out well, but by the last half-hour, some predictable tear-jerking elements arise, none of which actually made me teary but which slow the movie's pace down. Preston is the acting standout here, doing a nice job with the one character (the Protestant minister) who doesn't have an obvious stereotype attached to him. O'Brien, at the age of 10, four years after her star turn in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, does a nice job, and the two femme interest types (Garrett and Booth) are both good, though their interesting characters are underdeveloped. There are way too many songs in the film; nothing against Thomas and Garrett who shoulder most of them, but they generally stop the movie dead in its tracks. Irving Berlin’s "What'll I Do" is used effectively, but his "God Bless America" is dragged out way too often, serving almost as a musical theme for the movie, even though there is little here that suggests patriotic feelings (or, despite the title, urban themes, either). A fun highlight is little O'Brien putting on lipstick and imitating Garrett singing a fun novelty song called "Ok'l Baby Dok'l," though it gets her in big trouble. [TCM]

Wednesday, August 17, 2022


Helen is a very popular woman; she's the person who announces the time, every 15 seconds on the phone (a service which I remember, though the voice was recorded, but which I imagine isn't done much anymore). Men who love her voice call constantly. Her fiancé Johnny, a bank messenger hoping to be promoted soon to clerk, drops in on his way to deliver some financial papers to Peggy Norton. At Peggy's apartment, she gives him a box of jewels to take back to the bank, but later Peggy is found murdered and Johnny is arrested, as his fingerprints are found at the scene. (There is some folderol here about the correct time that loosely ties Helen into the story, and ends up being a clue to the mystery.) Meanwhile, reporter Barney (Michael Whalen), whom we first see playing "Love's Old Sweet Song" on a trombone, is being pestered by Margie (Gloria Stuart), a bill collector. His roommate Snapper (Chick Chandler), a photographer, has been calling Helen for the time over and over, and hears her voice break as she gives the time. Johnny smells a story and investigates, with Margie following along to make sure she gets her 15 dollars. The chief suspect is gangster Dutch Moran, a casual friend of Barney's who was paying some of Peggy's bills and was seen leaving her building the day of the murder. But Johnny's uncle, the bank president, was also involved with Peggy, and one of Dutch's thugs was seen in the vicinity of Peggy's building. Will Barney figure things out before things get too hot for him? And will Margie forget about the 15 dollars and become his girlfriend? This is the first of three Roving Reporter B-mysteries with Michael Whalen as Barney. It's nothing special, playing out like any number of other B-films that mix mystery and romantic comedy. It’s fairly well-paced and the supporting cast is solid, but Whalen is underwhelming as Barney. Gloria Stuart is fine, though she doesn't appear in the other two entries. Supporting actors who stand out are Ruth Hussey as Peggy, Douglas Fowley as Dutch, Robert Kellard as Johnny, and Jane Darwell as Helen's supervisor. For all the attention given early on to Helen and her job, she has little to do with the proceedings, though the time call gimmick does wind up tripping up the killer. Pictured are Whalen, Chandler and Stuart. [YouTube]

Monday, August 15, 2022


These two "sex hygiene" films warning against venereal disease have been issued on one disc by Kino Lorber, both in very good restored prints. Both are based on a 1901 play by Eugene Brieux which was later novelized by Upton Sinclair, but only the 1937 film officially credits the original source. The plots of the two movies are very similar, but the 1933 version, Damaged Lives, is far more interesting dramatically and as a film. Donald (Lyman Williams) is the son of a shipping magnate; he is impatient and hard-nosed but is learning the ropes of being a good boss with help from his father. His fiancée Joan (Diane Sinclair) is getting impatient to marry because she really, really wants a baby—which may be code for "really wants sex." Don Sr. encourages Don Jr. to break a date with Joan for a night on the town with a big shot client. When the drunken client winds up leaving with a hooker, Don takes Elise, the client's companion (Charlotte Merriam, pictured at left with Williams), back home where they have a one-night stand. Later, when his conscience is bothering him, he confesses the affair to Joan who, after a moment of umbrage, insists that the two get married right away by a justice of the peace. Soon, Elise summons Don to her room to tell him she has syphilis, then shoots herself. Worried, Don goes to a doctor who turns out to be a fly-by-night quack who tells Don he's fine then charges him a hundred bucks. But Don isn't fine, as he discovers when Joan gets pregnant and is diagnosed with syphilis, with a good chance that it will be passed on to the child. After the doc puts the fear of God into the couple by showing them pathetic cases of people crippled physically and mentally by the disease, he then tells them not to worry, that a 2-year course of medicine will wipe it out. But Joan isn't so sure, and she decides to turn on the gas and kill herself and her sleeping husband. At the last minute, Don struggles to awaken, but can he save Joan? This was directed by cult figure Edgar G. Ulmer, the year before he made his reputation with THE BLACK CAT. On its surface, it seems like an average early 30s melodrama, with the added attraction of some blatant educational footage showing the horrors of unattended venereal disease, but compared to the 1937 version, it's a minor masterpiece. Williams and Sinclair, in a B-movie way, actually make you care about their characters, and the final sequence as Joan prepares to turn on the gas is beautifully shot. Jason Robards Sr. plays the doctor and Charlotte Merriam is the tragic Elise. 

Damaged Goods, the 1937 film (also released as Forbidden Desire and Marriage Forbidden) which credits Upton Sinclair's novel as its source, is less artful and more to-the-point. It begins by connecting the story we are about to see with FDR's campaign of venereal disease education. As his friends jokingly play a funeral march at George's bachelor party, a group of young women arrive. George (Douglas Walton) chats with Margie (Phyllis Barry, both pictured at right). The two wind up having sex—symbolized by a broken champagne glass. Within six minutes of screen time, George discovers he has syphilis. Doctor Walker tells him that he can be cured but the treatment could take up to four years and advises him to delay the wedding. George tells his fiancée Henrietta (Arletta Duncan) that he has to postpone the wedding due to a lung condition. She and her congressman father find that a bit fishy, so George finds another doctor who claims he can cure him in a matter of months. George and Henrietta marry, have a child, and discover the infection is, of course, still active, though George keeps the news from his wife. There is an added subplot involving the baby seeming unhealthy and being taken to the country to stay with George's mother for a time. The wet nurse soon finds out what the baby's problem is and that she could in theory contract the disease from nursing the baby, and blackmail is in store. Ultimately this feels like a long propaganda movie, both warning people from having sex outside of marriage and trying to de-stigmatize the disease as a moral issue. The happy ending is that Henrietta's father decides to promote venereal disease education on a national level. The director, Phil Goldstone, filmed this in very workmanlike fashion and it has none of the style of the Ulmer movie. The acting is adequate, with the best performances coming from Greta Meyer as the wet nurse and Esther Dale as George's mother. The Kino Lorber disc includes educational shorts of the kind that might have accompanied screenings of these films (often for adult, sex-segregated audiences), where the films weren't banned by state censor boards. Both films have commentaries; I've only heard the one for the 1933 film and it’s mostly good although occasionally lapses into simplistic narration of the movie. [Blu-Ray]

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

DIMENSION 5 (1966)

Secret agent Justin Power (Jeffrey Hunter), on the run from enemy military police, gets out of a car driven by a woman, proceeds to punch the woman in the jaw, and escapes the police by touching a device on his belt which makes him dissolve into a pink mist. Actually, the device is a "time converter" which can send its user a few minutes or even days into the past or future. Back at Espionage Inc. headquarters, Justin's boss Cane (Donald Woods) gives him a new assignment: track down Big Buddah, the boss of the Dragons, a Chinese crime gang, who has threatened to destroy Los Angeles with a hydrogen bomb unless the United States takes all of its troops out of Southeast Asia. A Dragon agent named Chang is captured but is afraid to talk for fear of Dragon retaliation. In fact, at an airport, Chang is killed by one of the Dragons posing as a photographer, but Justin is able to flash back in time a few minutes and kill the killer, saving Chang. Justin gets an assistant, the lovely Asian agent Kitty (France Nuyen, pictured at left with Hunter), who has her own personal agenda that might clash with Justin's. When they find out that the H-bomb is being shipped into LA in pieces in three weeks, to be exploded on Christmas day, Justin and Kitty "convert" ahead three weeks at the shipping warehouse, hoping to catch the parts before the Dragons do.

This combo of the spy and science fiction genres is much maligned by critics, but seen in the proper context (colorful 60s B-movie with good-looking leads), I found it quite fun. More than one critic has noted that the time travel plotpoints are a bit half-hearted and could be excised to make a more coherent spy movie; I suppose that's true but it's the SF elements that give the movie a kick and provide a clever gimmick for the climactic sequence. Critics are split on the charms of the leads—some find Hunter bland and listless; others like him but find Nuyen bored and distracted. I like both of them. Hunter, in the middle of his career downturn (though he continued to make B-movies until right up to his untimely death in 1969 at the age of 42), is still handsome and charming, albeit with the occasional misogynist tone so prevalent in 1960s movies, especially spy and adventure films. Nuyen does have a somewhat detached feeling to her performance, but it ultimately ties into her character. The two seem an awkward fit at first, but their low-bubbling chemistry works OK. Harold Sakata (enshrined in movie history as Oddjob in Goldfinger) has the villainous presence down but gives a surprisingly low-key performance (his voice is dubbed by Paul Frees). I enjoyed seeing Donald Woods, a B-movie mainstay through the 30s and 40s, aging well as Cane, and Robert Ito (Jack Klugman's forensics assistant in the 70s TV show Quincy) is good but underused as one of the good guy agents. There's an odd subplot involving a Cantonese restaurant that Justin frequents (for some reason, he demands steak and potatoes instead of Chinese cuisine); one of its employees appears to have been a former lover of Justin's but may be currently in the employ of the Dragons. Some of the exposition is delivered drably, as is the background score, but the swingin' 60s sets are colorful. Despite my better self, I chuckled at the scenes of the trio of Espionage Inc. secretaries staring dreamily at Jeffery Hunter whenever he passed by. Not for all tastes, but fans of 60s B-movies will enjoy themselves. [DVD]

Monday, August 08, 2022


Struggling artist Marthe (Mary Astor) and her gal pal Gertie (Kitty Kelly) are down and out in Paris. Gertie has established a connection with a Frenchman, though neither speaks the other's language, but Marthe gets mistaken for a prostitute and is arrested. Dorval (John Halliday), an American gambler who witnesses the incident, pays her fine for her; she assumes he wants sex as a reward, but he says he prefers playing chess—with human beings. He grooms her, passing her off as a countess, to attract a successful gambler and horse owner named Johnny (Ricardo Cortez). The plan is for her to marry him for his money, but unknown to Marthe, Dorval and his buddy Farley are also out for revenge against Johnny for all the money that he's cost them. The two indeed hit it off, and when Johnny is called back to the States, he takes Marthe with him and they marry on the ship (accompanied by Gertie as her maid). Over time, Marthe comes to love Johnny, and when she runs into Dorval, she tells him so. But he tells her a tale of woe and poverty, so thinking she owes him something, she starts innocently feeding him tips on Johnny's horses. Dorval then has Farley bribe the jockeys to lose, causing Johnny to start losing money and Dorval to start winning. When Johnny finds out what's been going on, he thinks she's selling him out on purpose and walks out on her. Dorval and Farley then get a distraught Marthe to participate in one last scheme: feed one of his heavily favored horses poisoned sugar just before a race. She agrees, but will she go through with it?

Horse race movies always confuse me; despite having had a part-time summer job at a race track, the intricacies of the sport and the betting are beyond me. But the fun here is following the intricacies of the character entanglements. It's a pre-Code movie, but still there are ambiguities about the sexual relationships. Is Gertie sleeping with sugar daddies? Did Marthe share her favors with Dorval? Is Dorval gay? (There is a cute scene in a bar with the punchline being that an effeminate man says to the bartender, "I’ll have a chocolate parfait with gobs of whipped cream.") If the plot is a bit predictable, the acting is good, especially Astor and Cortez. Kitty Kelly strains a bit in delivering the comic relief. Passable entertainment for its era. Pictured are Astor and Halliday. [TCM]

Thursday, August 04, 2022

GOIN' TO TOWN (1935)

In an Old West town in the present day (that is, the 1930s), Cleo is a popular singer at a saloon (labeled a dance pavilion). When rich but feared Buck Gonzales, a notorious cattle rustler, rides into town, he wants to know when Cleo will finally give in and marry him. She loses to him in dice and agrees to marry him if he agrees to sign over his money and property to her. He does, but before they can marry, he's killed during a rustling expedition, so she gets his considerable property including a ranch and oil wells. As she takes over the daily operation of his various businesses, she falls for British engineer Edward Carrington, getting his attention by shooting his hat off his head. He's interested, but when he finds out that she has a bet on whether or not she can snare him, he rejects her and leaves for business in Buenos Aires. Cleo follows him with her horse Cactus, determined to win a horse racing prize, become a high society dame, and win Carrington over. It's a bumpy road, but she eventually gets everything she wants.

Most Mae West movies are very mannered affairs, star vehicles built on rickety stories and featuring weak characterization. Most W.C. Fields and Marx Brothers movies are like this as well—supporting players in these movies never really had a chance of making an impact because the spotlight was always on the star (Cary Grant in SHE DONE HIM WRONG being the exception). Before the creation of the Production Code in 1934, West was popular for her (somewhat exaggerated) sexiness and her naughty double-entendres, but by the time of this movie, she had to tone everything down to get her movies released. Fields and the Marxes managed to sustain their popularity—their narratives were just as weak as West's but their humor wasn't tied so much to sex as to anarchic wackiness—but West didn't. However, she can still elicit laughter with her dry readings. When an admirer says, "I didn't get your name," West replies, "It's not your fault; you tried hard enough." When a man tells her he is the "backbone of his family," she responds, "Your family ought to see a chiropractor." (My favorite line, to a Russian man, "Cigarette me, Cossack!") What she can't do is write a strong plot (like Fields, she wrote most of her movies) or play a three-dimensional character. The other characters are equally weak. Stodgy Paul Cavanagh can do nothing to make Carrington come to life, and he and West have no chemistry—she certainly never acts like she's really in love with him—and no one else gets much screen time. There are two Native American characters and one is fairly important to the plot, but neither has much dialogue. It's fairly short and not hard to watch, and the finale, which involves West singing an aria, which she does well, is OK, but overall disappointing. [Criterion Channel]

Tuesday, August 02, 2022


According to the Criterion Channel, cult figure Doris Wishman is known for being the most prolific American female director (some thirty movies made between 1960 and 2002), but she's not particularly celebrated in Hollywood history because the vast majority of them were nudist movies or sexploitation flicks (mostly soft-core). I was excited to finally run across one of her movies but disappointed to discover that women can make boring sexploitation movies just like men. Gigi Darlene (at left) plays Meg, a woman who wants her husband to stay home Saturday morning, but he has a big client he has to see. She lolls about, takes a shower, and leaves the apartment only to be assaulted in the hallway by the janitor. When he takes her back to his apartment to rape her, she manages to conk him over the head, killing him. She takes a bus from Boston to Manhattan (where the murder of the janitor is front page news) and meets a guy named Al on a park bench. He's sympathetic to her situation and takes her back to his place. She seems about to settle into being a maid/wife figure, but he's a mean drunk and he beats her with a belt and passes out. Next, she meets Della, a friendly lesbian who takes Meg to her place where they hang out in their underwear. Eventually they have consensual sex, but Meg knows this relationship isn't for her, so next she winds up renting a room from a married couple, but the husband attacks her, so Meg becomes a companion to an invalid. This seems like it might finally be the right place for Meg, but when the invalid's son turns out to be a cop working on the Boston janitor case…

In its day, this passed for soft-core porn, though now it would barely get an R rating. Aside from women in revealing lingerie, we see a little bit of bare ass and that's it in terms of exposed flesh. The sexual assaults are a bit rough but not exactly explicit. I don't remember hearing cussing. Any moral message this might carry is muddled: Is Meg a bad girl? Why? Just because she walks around in private in her underwear? Wishman wrote and directed this, but I don't see a point of view here that is either feminist or uniquely female. Gigi Darlene is attractive but seems like an amateur, though she made over 20 sexploitation films in the 1960s. The only actor of note here is Alan Feinstein who plays Meg's husband—he went on to a long career in TV, primarily soap operas (Edge of Night, Falcon Crest), and he stands out in his limited screen time as the only real pro here. The uncredited musical score is great fun. I noticed a number of religious icon artworks featured in the background (and occasionally seen in close-up) but I don't know if that is a thematic touch or just coincidence. I'm glad to have caught a Wishman movie but I think one may be enough. [Criterion Channel]