Monday, January 30, 2023


Mike Wayne (Kirk Douglas) is a one-time big-shot Hollywood producer who can no longer get hired, but he desperately needs money, partly due to paying medical bills for his young (in her late teens) daughter January who has been in a Swiss medical clinic for months, recovering from a serious motorcycle crash (which I assume killed the handsome man who was driving). She returns home happy to be with her dad, but not happy that he has married heiress Deidre Granger. Deidre is very pleasant and very rich, but January intuits that this is a marriage of convenience and does not approve. (In fact, despite having been married four times, the love of Deidre's life is a reclusive retired actress named Karla.) January gets a job as an assistant to Linda, editor of a popular women’s magazine and a promiscuous man-lover. One night, Linda puts the moves (a little desperately) on beefy, hypermasculine author Tom Colt, but he is more interested in January. January is quite interested in him, in part because, as becomes crystal clear, she has major daddy issues. When Linda confronts her by saying, "It would be a lot healthier if you just got it over with and went to bed with your father," January doesn't seem all that shocked. Tom's little secret is his impotence, which of course January manages to cure. Mike discovers January in bed with Tom and beats him up, and soon January has to make a choice between Tom and Dad, just as Mike has to decide if his pride is too great to keep him with Deidre. There are not happy endings in store for anyone.

When I started this blog twenty years ago, I considered any movie before 1960 to be appropriate for review. At some point, I began allowing myself to include movies through the 60s, figuring that most of them feel like period pieces to a 21st century audience in the same way that movies of the 30s and 40s felt to me in the 1970s. As time moved on, I loosened my self-imposed strictures, delving into some early 1970s movies now and again. I guess the time has come to open up my blog to the entire decade. One advantage to this is that I now have an excuse to revisit movies like this that I haven't seen since their initial release. This soap opera melodrama is based on a novel by Jacqueline Susann about the sexual trials and tribulations of the rich and unhappy, and like its predecessor VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, it hasn't aged terribly well, but if you're in the right mood, it's still watchable. With a star like Kirk Douglas (so-so in the role), I expected this to be the story of Mike Wayne, but really it's the story of his daughter, played by Deborah Raffin. In the beginning, it feels like Raffin is trying too hard, but by the middle, I realized that she was going all in for the melodrama; she's more believable than Barbara Parkins was in DOLLS. Alexis Smith is perfect as Deidre (supposedly based on Barbara Hutton), David Janssen is not quite as bombastic as he should have been playing a stand-in for Norman Mailer though he's got the hairy chest for the role (pictured with Raffin above), and Brenda Vaccaro got an Oscar nomination as Linda—she's fun, largely because of her dialogue ("I happen to like screwing," she says matter of factly), but the performance feels a little lightweight. George Hamilton is a playboy who briefly woos Raffin, and poor Gary Conway is given a throwaway role as an astronaut who now lives the simple life of a beachcomber on David Janssen's beach. I thought he was being presented as a healthy alternative for Raffin, somewhere between Janssen and Hamilton, but the filmmakers weren't thinking that hard. Too bad, because Conway is very good in his few scenes. Melina Mercouri is underwhelming in her one scene as Karla (a stand-in for Greta Garbo). Fun for an evening of indulging in nostalgia for forgotten movies of the 1970s. [Criterion Channel]

Thursday, January 26, 2023


Davey Gordon is pacing around Penn Station; as he narrates his story in flashback, we cut to him pacing in his small apartment. Still a young man, he is considered old by the standards of his profession, boxing, his career having been "one long promise without fulfillment." His uncle in Seattle has offered to let him stay with him for a while, and he's considering it. Across the courtyard, he can see into the window of Gloria, a worker at the Pleasure Land dance hall. Though the two see each other frequently, they don't know each other. That evening, he has what may be his last bout, with an up-and-comer named Kid Rodriguez. As Davey gets pummeled in the ring, Gloria is pawed at by her boss Vinnie, a slimy small-time gangster as they watch the match on television (with Vinnie getting rather excited by the violence). Later in the night, Davey hears her screams as Vinnie assaults her, and he races across the rooftops to her room which scares Vinnie away. The two share their backgrounds, and we find out that Gloria had a sister who was a ballet dancer who killed herself just after Gloria accused her of not loving their recently deceased father. They spend the next day together in the city, and, declaring love, they decide to leave for Seattle together. Unfortunately, that may not be easy for Gloria; when she goes to Vinnie to quit and collect her last paycheck, he becomes jealous and sets in motion a plan to squelch their happiness.

Stanley Kubrick's second film, this is a fairly stark black & white semi-noir thriller, shot mostly on location in a fairly plain straightforward style with some nice stylistic touches here and there that nevertheless don't draw a lot of attention to themselves—the opening shots of Davey pacing in two different places, a very cool climactic fight scene in a warehouse filled with mannequins. The B-movie feel extends to the acting, which is not meant as a criticism; it feels naturalistic but a bit under rehearsed. I quite liked both leads: Jamie Smith (pictured with mannequin hands) as Davey, and Irene Kane as Gloria (Kane gave up acting and became Chris Chase, a successful journalist who has a cameo as a film critic in ALL THAT JAZZ). They are a bit unpolished but they feel real. Frank Silvera, the only member of the cast to sustain a substantial acting career, is nicely menacing as Vinnie. Virtually all the dialogue was obviously post-dubbed which hurts the atmosphere. It may not be indicative of where Kubrick was headed, but it's certainly watchable (and short, definitely not where Kubrick was headed). [DVD]

Monday, January 23, 2023


We first see popular radio singer Jane Merrick (Lola Lane) as she broadcasts her last show before a long vacation, though there seems to be something a little mysterious about her departure; no one is clear when she'll be returning, and her producer (and would-be fiancĂ©) Jim worries that someone is threatening her and that the show will lose its sponsor if she stays away too long. That night, a police call comes in about a prowler outside of Jane's apartment, and a young woman named Barbara (Claudia Dell) is arrested. At the night court, handsome cocky reporter Jerry (Richard Hemingway, pictured) feels sorry for her and, hoping to get a good story, tells the judge that she's his fiancĂ©e and has a history of playing practical jokes. The judge releases her into Jerry's custody, then insists on marrying them in the courtroom. They share a pleasant dinner before she sneaks off to Jane's place again, this time getting in through a window. She sees a mysterious man with a foreign accent apparently blackmailing her, and after the man leaves, a shot rings out, killing Jane. Barbara is caught by the police with the gun in her hand, and still won't explain herself, so Jerry goes all out to clear her name. He winds up tracking the foreign-accented man to a private sanitarium. To reveal much more would be too spoilery—suffice to say that not everyone is who or what they seem, and eventually there's a ghost (maybe).

This pre-Code melodrama is cheaply made and has a rickety plot, but I like the way things wrap up in the end, though it does involve a bit of a surprise trick and some suspension of disbelief. It bothered me that it was never made clear why Barbara was skulking around Jane's apartment in the first place. Claudia Dell is fine as Barbara; she made some 40 movies in the 1930s, mostly B-films, then retired. Busy character actor Mischa Auer (he was in 60 movies between 1930 and 1934) is the mysterious man with the foreign accent. Jason Robards Sr. is Jim and Louise Beavers has a small role as Jane's maid. The big find here is Richard Hemingway as Jerry. A Golden Gloves winning boxer in his youth, Hemingway (apparently no relation to Ernest) only made nine movies, some in bit parts, before he retired from acting in 1936. That's a shame because here, he displays a promising talent as a Jimmy Stewart type. Despite Dell getting top billing, Hemingway is really the star of the movie. The director, Dorothy Davenport, is billed as, and better known as, Mrs. Wallace Reid, widow of a silent film star who died young from morphine addiction. She's best known as a silent movie actress—over 100 short films—and for directing a couple of anti-drug films (including THE ROAD TO RUIN and seems to have retired from show business after this film. If you adjust your expectations to Poverty Row level, you’ll enjoy this. [Criterion Channel]

Friday, January 20, 2023


Considering I have a Bachelor's degree and a Master's Degree in English (and I am A.B.D to boot, having passed my Ph.D orals without finishing a dissertation), I am at sea when it comes to the ancient Greek playwrights. Though I have read several of the classic plays (Oedipus Rex, Antigone, The Bacchae), I don't really know my Sophocles from my Aristophanes. This film by Michael Cacoyannis is based on a play by Euripides set after the fall of Troy (see Homer's Iliad for backstory), centered on the fates of the women left behind after their city was burned and their men captured or killed. Filmed outdoors (on location in Spain), the movie has a realistic look but in terms of acting, it's very stagy, consisting largely of fairly static scenes with the main characters loudly proclaiming their grief and frustration to a chorus of sympathetic women. The story focuses on Hecuba, former Queen of Troy (Katherine Hepburn, pictured), who is waiting on word from the Greek king about the fate of her family. Her husband is dead; her daughter Cassandra (Genevieve Bujold), a prophet who has gone mad, is slated to become a royal concubine; Andromache (Vanessa Redgrave) the wife of Hecuba's slain son Hector, fears that her young son will be put to death so no legitimate line of royal lineage will exist. Meanwhile, Helen of Troy (Irene Papas), whom the other women blame for the war, is being held prisoner. In the best scene of the movie, Helen claims that the gods are at fault, but Hecuba rebuts her, holding her responsible for her own actions. In the end, only Hecuba is left as the last of Troy is burned, wailing with the nameless chorus of women over their future enslavement. The tension between realism in setting and theatricality in delivery never resolves itself, so all the moaning and declaiming is highlighted, remaining artificial and melodramatic. Had this been filmed as a staged play on a proscenium set, it might have worked. Bujold gets short shrift here, in a relatively small role that is mostly a tepid mad scene. Redgrave is OK, but Hepburn, being Hepburn, manages to shine, reining in the histrionics more than her fellow actors. Her scene mentioned above with Papas is riveting. Unfortunately, little else in the film rises to that height. The only males in the cast are Brian Blessed and Patrick Magee who are fine. The concept of the chorus of women works fairly well. The director claims that this was meant primarily as an anti-war statement, but partly because all the war scenes occur before the action of the film, that sentiment is not effectively delivered. I would recommend this only to classicists, Hepburn fans, or viewers looking for a novelty. [DVD]

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


Band leader Louis Jarvis is called away from his hit radio show to see his dying father Schyler. Also called for a final visit is Honey Carter, the daughter of the late singer Lovey Linn. In a flashback, we see that Schyler discovered Lovey in New Orleans and brought her to New York City to sing in a show with him. They fell in love but Lovey's mother married her off to a wealthy man named Carter. To his dying day, Schyler never forgot Lovey, and he wants her daughter to marry his son. His somewhat convoluted way of accomplishing this is to make a will that insists that, to get Schyler's money, Louis must marry a woman of particular measurements, those of Honey, and do it in four weeks. Schyler dies before Louis or Honey get to see him, and his conniving lawyer Talbot secretly changes the measurements in the will to those of his secretary Rusty, and he works it out so if Louis fails to marry the woman, the money defaults to Talbot. Louis thinks the whole thing is crazy, and he's not at all interested in Rusty, but he needs an infusion of money for a show he's about to put on, so in the process of holding auditions for a leading lady, he agrees to have all the women measured. Honey shows up and, though she doesn't measure up, she and Lous hit it off. At the end of the four weeks, Schyler's valet shows up with a secret letter given to him by Schyler that might just make everything right. 

That’s a lot of plot for a 67-minute Poverty Row movie in which the first eight minutes consist of songs, and another 25 minutes or so of songs are presented before the end. Well known swing bandleader Louis Jordan (pictured, who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influencer) plays both Louis and Schyler and, let's just say that there's a reason he never took another dramatic part in a movie. Honestly, however, few of the actors here are really "actors," and many never made any other films. June Richmond, who plays Honey's pal June, was better known for singing with Jimmy Dorsey's band and sustained a solid career as a jazz singer in Europe. She's also better than everyone else here. They all seem pretty amateurish, but she's enthusiastic and probably could have forged an acting career if she'd been interested, or, more to the point, if she could have gotten any roles. This is what was called a "race film" with an all-Black cast. The only cast member with a substantial career was Lorenzo Tucker (Talbot). The music is the main reason for the film's existence; some of it is fine, some is dated, but the dancing is strictly amateur all the way. During "Let the Good Times Roll," performed with Jordan's band the Tympany Five, Jordan refers to himself as "Mr. Jordan" rather than "Mr. Jarvis." The plot point about the female measurements just felt mind-numbingly dumb to me—it never even comes off as racy or funny. Good viewing as a novelty. [TCM]

Friday, January 13, 2023


Arthur Cartwright is angry at his neighbors the Foleys over the incessant howling of their German shepherd. He goes to attorney Perry Mason (Warren William), not to complain about the dog, but to draw up a new will because he thinks the howling dog is an omen of death. Oddly, though Cartwright is married, he wants to leave everything to Evelyn Foley, the wife of his neighbor, whom he says is not actually Foley's wife. Mason goes to investigate and can't find evidence that the dog was howling—the only other witness is Foley's nearly deaf maid. But he notes that Foley is having a new garage built on his property, a detail that may become important later. Next, Mason is told that Cartwright has run off with Evelyn, and that Evelyn was actually Cartwright's wife all along. Then Bessie Foley, Foley's real wife arrives. She is seen arriving at Foley's house; she argues with Foley, the dog attacks her, and it appears that she shoots and kills both the dog and Foley, though our view of the incident is not clear. And, as if things hadn't already been complicated, they get even more so from here as Mason, despite the evidence, decides to take Bessie on as a client, and tries to get to the bottom of the Cartwright/Foley tangle.

This is the first of six Perry Mason movies made by Warner Bros. in the 1930s. I've reviewed a few others in the past including The Case of the Stuttering Bishop and The Case of the Curious Bride, so I won't rehash the background of the movies and the TV show. Suffice to say that William plays him as suave and stylish, and somewhat surprisingly, with a loose sense of morality, especially in terms of the outcome of the case, an ending that I'm surprised made it past the Code censors (the Code had become the "law," so to speak, just a couple of months before this movie was released). Helen Trenholme, who only made two movies, is fine as his attractive secretary Della Street who gets to play investigator briefly. Mary Astor is OK if a bit bland as Bessie, a relatively small but important part; she could have used a bit of the jolt she gives Bridget O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. Grant Mitchell is the D.A., Gordon Westcott is Cartwright, and Dorothy Tree is a character named Lucy Benton who is Foley's maid, or is she? It’s fun to see Allen Jenkins with a mustache (which completely changes his look) as a cop, pictured at left with William. Mason's firm is depicted in the opening scene as a huge and apparently wildly successful operation with a dozen or more lawyers and investigators working for him, and Mason himself has a big and well appointed office. I have to admit that the plot got a bit too complex for me, and at the end I wasn't 100% sure of what happened, but nevertheless it was a satisfying ending. [TCM]

Tuesday, January 10, 2023


On an island off the west coast of Scotland is a small British naval base where secret experiments are being conducted involving a new kind of torpedo (don’t worry, it's just a McGuffin). The last two tests have resulted in deaths—there is some problem with the torpedo exploding as soon as it's released from the sub, killing all aboard. Lt. Bradville (Gene Kelly) has been called in from the States to investigate, bringing with him his assistants Butch and Shorty. There is some internal tension among the handful of volunteer sailors on the island, but they bond in their resentment of the intruding Americans, and the situation worsens when Badger, one of the British sailors, discovers that Butch is the Yank who stole his girl away during the war. Eventually, relations soften between the two sides, and when the British lieutenant Wharton (John Justin) figures out a possible solution to the torpedo problem, Bradville insists on being on the test sub, not knowing for sure what the outcome will be. This is based on a hit British play called Seagulls Over Sorrento (also the British name for the film)—the sailors jokingly refer to the barren island as Sorrento, an Italian resort town. Frankly, it's an odd duck of a movie. Its stage origins are obvious, and it actually works best during those scenes as we get to know the sailors and their conflicts, serious and humorous. Attempts at opening up the movie are weak, and part of the problem is Gene Kelly. It seems strange that after the one-two punch of An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain, MGM would assign him to this drab B-movie. He seems listless and bored, and his role winds up being relatively small, not getting much more screen time than anyone else. Justin, as the British officer, is OK and the supporting cast is strong, including the handsome Jeff Richards as Butch, Fredd Wayne as Shorty, and Bernard Lee and Sidney James as British sailors. Exteriors were shot on the Channel Islands and are effective. Not a bad movie, but a bit disappointing, and not a must-see even for Kelly fans—though Jeff Richards fans may feel differently. Pictured from left are Fredd Wayne (who later was known for his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin in a one-man stage show), Sidney James and Jeff Richards. [DVD]

Friday, January 06, 2023


In 1871, six escapees from a Carson City prison are on the run through the Sierra Nevadas in the middle of a blizzard. Overcome by the storm, the posse chasing them turns back, assuming that the men will die in the mountains. One of the older men does die, but the others struggle on, trying to reach a small village at Lake Monte Diablo where the men believe that one of their own, Canfield (Glenn Ford), has hidden money never recovered from a robbery. Canfield insists he was not part of the robbery—though his reasons for wanting to stop at the village are not made clear. When they arrive, they find only women; their menfolk have gone off prospecting for silver. The women, seeing manacles on the men's legs, realize they are convicts but decide to let them use an empty cabin until the storm ends—though first, village matriarch Granny (Ethel Barrymore) has the women collect up all the guns in the village to keep them away from the men. Tension remains strong but some of the women begin to take pity on the men, and Canfield becomes attracted to Marcia (Gene Tierney), who is to be married to Rudy, one of the prospectors. It turns out that Canfield has come to the village to get revenge against Rudy, whose false testimony led to his imprisonment, and who probably has the stolen money hidden in the village. When the prospectors return, trouble is in store. This B-western was shown on the Criterion Channel as part of a themed collection of Snowy Westerns. It’s not the kind of movie that Criterion usually features, but it's enjoyable enough. Despite its outdoors setting, it feels very stagy, playing out like a series of conversations and confrontations in rooms or limited areas. The plot is predictable but we're in the hands of old pros. Ford and Tierney are fine in the leads, Barrymore is a solid matriarch figure, and Zachary Scott is a scenestealer as Canfield's main antagonist. Ann Dvorak and Ruth Donnelly are standouts in the supporting cast, and it's fun to see British actor Cyril Cusack as one of the prisoners. Though the village looks like a soundstage, the opening scenes in the snow are pulled off quite well. The ending is satisfying if a little surprising, given the Code strictures of the time. There actually is a place called Convict Lake and this is supposed to be the story of how it got its name, but it's fiction. Pictured at left are Dvorak and Scott. [Criterion Channel]

Tuesday, January 03, 2023


In a nicely stylistic opening set in a courtroom, the camera pans across the faces of a judge, a jury, members of the press, and the people in the gallery as Ethel Saxton testifies that she didn't mean to kill her husband, that it was a crime of passion. But when jury foreman Edward Weldon (O.P. Heggie) asks her if she took money from him before or after the shooting, she admits it was after. In the gallery, Weldon's daughter Stella (Sidney Fox) gets to chatting with charming gangster Gar Boni (Humphrey Bogart). She thinks it may well have been a crime of passion, and Gar replies, "That jury doesn't know what passion is." As it happens, in the jury room, Weldon says that he has a doubt that it was an unpremeditated murder, and soon, despite public opinion running in her favor, the jury finds her guilty of first-degree murder, with death as the punishment. Weldon is soon being vilified as the person who was most responsible for the verdict and on the night of Ethel's execution, the press is gathered outside his house. Among those inside are Weldon, his wife, his daughter Stella, her now-boyfriend Gar (who is about to leave town for a while, much to Stella's dismay), and Weldon's unemployed son-in-law Joe who has allowed Nolan (Henry Hull), a undercover reporter, to visit in order to get a scoop on Weldon's reaction at midnight, the moment of Ethel's death. Gar leaves to catch his train and a distraught Stella goes after him. Moral issues involving the Saxton case are discussed, and we occasionally cut to the preparations for her execution. Weldon remains confident in his decision to vote guilty, but things change suddenly when, at the stroke of midnight, as Ethel is put to death, Stella apparently shoots Gar to death in a car as he goes to leave. Weldon, of course, has a change of heart and calls the DA to his home, hoping that there might be a reason to classify this as a "legitimate" crime of passion.

Based on a play, this rather stagy melodrama is interesting if not as compelling as it could have been. Director Chester Erskine manages to give the film some nice visual jolts here and there—the courtroom opening, the juxtaposition of Ethel's execution with the shooting of Gar, lots of shots of people's hands. Some of the acting is quite good, in particular Fox, Bogart, Hull, and Moffatt Johnson (pictured), a British stage actor in his single film role as the DA. The characters of Joe, his wife, and his son Arthur (Richard Whorf, who eventually became a movie and TV director) are barely sketched in, leaving a little too much screen time to O.P. Heggie who is adequate but no more as Weldon. Spoilers are inevitable here, as discussing the ending is necessary to evaluating the film. Ultimately, the DA decides that, based on some flimsy physical evidence, it wasn't Stella who shot Gar but a gangland associate. The climactic actions are left murky, as are the points about justice and morality. We know that Gar is carrying a gun, but when he is shot, all we see is an isolated shot of a gun surrounded by darkness, so it seem possible that Stella, who is in a mental haze about what happened, didn't actually kill Gar, and if she did, it indeed does seem like an unpremeditated crime of passion. The ending is really one of the more interesting ones of the pre-Code period, and I'm curious how it was received in 1934. The New York Times review at the time doesn't express shock or concern about the potentially controversial ending, which I would think is still controversial today. A reviewer at notes that the film feels a little like a parlor game designed to start discussion rather than a satisfying narrative. At any rate, the ending still shocks a bit, and between that and the acting, I would recommend this, with the caveat that it is a B-movie with fairly skimpy production values. An alternate title, Call It Murder, was used when the film was re-released in the 40s with Bogart, who was in the middle of the cast list in 1934, then put up at the top after he reached stardom. His role is pivotal, but indeed he doesn't have a lot of screen time. [Blu-ray]