Friday, April 28, 2023


Edie Adams is a psychology professor; Carol Lynley, her niece, is in Adams' class on marriage. Lynley and her boyfriend (Dean Jones) are fighting their natural desires to have sex, and she is fighting his urge to get married—as they make out under a tree on campus, she says to him, "I won’t be lobbied into marriage by overstimulated glands!" So Lynley has an idea: she wants to move in with Jones on a strictly platonic basis to see how compatible they are before they jump into marriage. As it happens, Adams is moving out of her apartment complex where she has been involved in a casual affair with the scuzzy landlord (Jack Lemmon), who only rents to single beautiful girls. Lynley takes the place and Lemmon is ready for another conquest, but when he discovers Jones' presence, he becomes even more determined to have Lynley. What follows is a series of scenes alternating between Jones being horny and frustrated; Jones and Lynley arguing; and Lemmon trying to sneak a peek inside to make sure they're still platonic, encouraging Jones to do things like throw himself into athletic activity to channel his carnal desires. Finally, the stage is set for the climax, if you will, in which Jones brings home some mescal for a romantic dinner so he can get Lynley drunk and consummate their relationship—but not if Lemmon can stop it.

You may be able to tell from my summary that this is a one-note sex comedy with a laser focus on "will they or won’t they?" Actually, that's not quite accurate. Had it been only that situation, the movie might have been a little more bearable. But Jack Lemmon's sour, unsympathetic, reprehensible character sinks the movie for me. Lynley and Jones make for an attractive and likable pair of horny kids, though the teasing that Lynley does (in theory without realizing it) is a bit much. Adams is fine, and the comic pairing of Imogene Coca and Paul Lynde as a married couple who do work around the complex is fine. But Jack Lemmon's occasional tendency to chew the scenery is indulged constantly, and by 45 minutes in, I was tempted to bail. There is nothing sympathetic about his character, and had Jones killed him in cold blood, I would have called that a happy ending. Robert Lansing plays Adams' current beau, and a very young Bill Bixby has a one-minute part. The title, which is never spoken but may refer to the tree under which we see Lynley and Jones kissing in the beginning, comes from a one-time reference Lemmon makes to sex as "yum-yum." The sets are stagy but nice; I especially love the apartments of Lynley (spacious and modern and multi-level) and Lemmon (lurid and deep red). I realize that in a sex farce, character development is not primary, but I had a hard time buying the Adams and Lemmon relationship—she seems way too brainy to be attracted to him. I would recommend this as a 60s period piece, reflecting the changing morality of the times, and for the lively performances of Lynley and Jones (pictured). Also for the appearance of Orangey, the famous and well-trained movie cat known best for his important role in Breakfast at Tiffany's. [DVD]

Monday, April 24, 2023


Harvard educated Danny (Rudy Vallee) and small-time talent agent Mike (Richard Lane) are standing at the bar of the Zodiac Club critiquing singer Frances Lewis (Rosemary Lane). Danny thinks he can help her become a better singer and Mike, who has a crush on her, thinks he can build her into a headliner, so the two join forces and do exactly that, with Frances becoming the first name in the roster of the talent agency they form. Frances becomes a star and marries a millionaire, leaving lovesick Mike behind. Years later, Frances, now divorced and looking to make a comeback, looks Mike up and re-ignites their romance, hoping that she can be the star of a new TV extravaganza that Mike and Danny are producing. But Danny has promised up-and-coming singer Kitty Brown (Ann Miller, pictured at left), former maid to Frances, that the show, with a big Hollywood agent in attendance, will be a showcase for her. Danny, irritated by Frances' demands, tries to sabotage her chances, and when Mike finds out, they split up. Can anything get these two friends back together? And will Kitty get the break she deserves?

The basic plot of this B-musical is right out of the 1930s (42nd Street, the Gold Diggers movies) though the narrative is gossamer thin, with the emphasis here on music and comedy. On that level, this works pretty well. Ann Miller dances up her usual storm to "A-Twiddlin' My Thumbs," singer Joan Merrill (playing herself) does a nice rendition of the title tune, and the musical highlight is "The Boogie Woogie Man," a mini-Busby Berkeley number sung by Pee Wee Hunt. One of my favorite supporting players of the classic era, Allen Jenkins, plays a pianist and gets a rare chance to dance and sing (with Ann Miller), and does a fine job. Vallee is a little too low-key but Lane has some good energy and the two work together well. The Three Stooges are present, and though I do not count myself as a fan, they were enjoyable here in small doses. At one point as they're trying to pose as bad guys, someone asks, "These men are gangsters?" and Vallee replies, "They're not even men." I also quite enjoyed the comic duo of Cobina and Brenda, two wacky secretaries played by Elvia Allman (who had recurring roles on Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies) and Blanche Stewart. The character names come from two famous socialites of the day, and while their humor is not subtle, I found it quite funny, though others may not (lots of face-pulling and man-hungry attitude). In the land of 40s B-musicals, this is a nice standout. [DVD]

Thursday, April 20, 2023


Lord Farnsworth and his wife are awakened in the night by odd sounds. Lady Farnsworth thinks it's frogs croaking outside but when she investigates, she sees it's actually a man in a frog mask breaking into their safe and getting away with her jewels. Inspector Hedge of Scotland Yard is stymied so his cocky American nephew Richard Gordon (Joachim Fuchsberger) decides he might be of service, but Hedge is relying on one of his men, Higgins, who has infiltrated the large underworld gang that follows the orders of The Frog; unfortunately, Higgins is found out and disposed of. The Frog has ordered his men to keep an eye on the children of John Bennett, Ray and Ella, and they are told to kill anyone who hangs around Ella too much. Eventually, stray clues in the case bring Richard to visit the Bennetts and, sure enough, as he strolls with Ella, he gets shot at but escapes injury and kicks the attacker's ass. The would-be killer has the stamp of the Frog on his wrist, and is carted off to prison, though he feels certain that an Frog gang member on the inside that he identifies as Number Seven will spring him. Indeed, a trusted policeman turns out to be a Frog spy and frees him. The plot machinations are just beginning to churn: Ray Bennett, a useless would-be playboy, gets a job at the Lolita nightclub and cozies up to Lolita herself; a blind beggar just happens to be around when Frog gang events are happening; someone creeps into Ella's room and freaks her out; Richard suspects that Harry Lime is involved—yes, that seems to the villainous Harry Lime who is played by Orson Welles in the noir classic THE THIRD MAN; there's a death by gassing, a kidnapping, and a gun fight or two before the Frog is unmasked.

I've become a fan of these German krimi films despite (or maybe a little bit because of) their overstuffed and confusing plots, their large casts of characters, and the constant red herrings thrown in our path. Some viewers go so far as to call this film a bit surreal, though I wouldn't go that far. Unlike some other krimi films, this one is less like a gothic melodrama and more like an urban crime movie. Even when I got lost in the wild and wooly incidents, I could still keep some semblance of order in my head about the main plot. Usually considered the first in the krimi genre, this also established Joachim Fuchsberger as the reliable but unexciting hero. I like him very much, and though he plays different characters in each film, he has the same look and same traits in each movie, and as a fairly calm center in the storm of twists and turns, he helps ground the story a bit. Good old reliable Eddi Arent is the sidekick, and supporting cast standouts include Walter Wilz as Ray, Erwin Strahl as a cop named Barclay, and Eva Pflug as Lolita. The damsels in distress are pretty interchangeable in these movies, and Eva Anthese is a little colorless as Ella. Recommend because it's kooky fun. Pictured are Fuchsberger and Arent. Also known as Fellowship of the Frog. [YouTube]

Monday, April 17, 2023


Eric brings his new wife Jenni to his family estate which has been shut up for a couple of years, though it has been kept up by the gardener, Mickey, a mentally handicapped young man. The newlyweds have both gone through rough times: Eric's first wife Marion died during a storm by slipping on a wet leaf, hitting her head and drowning in a pond on the estate; Jenni was a witness to both her parents drowning in a boating accident and she had a breakdown, winding up in an asylum for a time. Eric fears she's still a little fragile and enlists the help of his friend and neighbor the Reverend Snow and his wife to help keep an eye on her. A couple of complicating bits of backstory: Eric's first wife Marion was wealthy—the estate belonged to her—and Jenni also comes from money; Mickey the gardener was particularly close to Marion and has never really accepted that she's dead. Despite the best efforts of Eric and the Snows, Jenni starts freaking out pretty quickly: 1) she's certain that she hears Marion's ghost wandering the house at night; 2) she's disturbed by a huge portrait of Marion that still hangs in the house; 3) the unearthly cries of the peacocks who live on the estate startle her. Then a creepy skull, that others don't seem to see, starts cropping up in weird places.

This B-thriller will remind you at various times of movies like REBECCA (the possibly sinister influence of the first wife) and GASLIGHT (is Mickey, resentful of the new mistress of the house, trying to drive Jenny back to the asylum?). Though there is promise in the plot, the low budget, sloppy writing, and variable acting work against it. The big house has almost no furniture—it's all supposedly still in storage—which makes me think the producers just found a big empty house to use, but actually the sparse settings wind up working well. The character of Mickey (played by the film's director Alex Nicol) is poorly conceived and not terribly well acted. John Hudson (as Eric), Russ Conway (Rev. Snow) and Toni Johnson (Mrs. Snow; the actor's name is misspelled in the credits) are pretty good, but Peggy Webber as Jenni gives a disappointing two-note performance—she's either on the verge of going crazy or she's blandly passive. The title skull is not very scary. We expect there to be rational explanations for the haunting, and there are, but at the climax things take an odd turn toward the supernatural, which in a better written script might have worked well. This American International release opens with a William Castle-like gimmick, offering to pay for the coffin of any who dies of shock during the movie. Not gonna happen. Pictured are Hudson and Webber. [DVD]

Friday, April 14, 2023


In 1904, on a dark Paris street, a 16-year old girl named Corysande, known as Chiffon by her family, loses a shoe while dashing about in the rain. The Duc d'Aubières, a colonel considerably older than Chiffon, is taken with her and, in a nod to the Cinderella story, grabs her shoe out of the street, apparently intending to return it and begin a relationship. He begins courting her, much to the delight of her mother, as he is an aristocrat, but Chiffon is taken with the younger De Bray, a head-in-the-clouds dreamer who is trying to build his own biplane, and who is her uncle (by marriage, as is constantly pointed out, as he is the brother of Chiffon's stepfather). This turns into a mildly risqué romantic comedy of manners where, despite the proto-feminist feelings of Chiffon and much talk of immorality (Chiffon playfully confesses to an "affair" with the Colonel, though nothing untoward actually happens between them), things remain fairly traditional and the ending is never in doubt. Directed by Claude Autant-Lara during the German occupation, this is high-class escapist fare, set in what was the recent past and  untroubled by the shadows of the war. It's competently made with some mild stylistic touches here and there—perhaps inspired by the comedies of Ernst Lubitsch. Odette Joueux, who was almost 30, plays Chiffon and does a nice job, though perhaps thankfully she's nothing like a teenager; that might be too creepy for today's viewers. I enjoyed the performance of Jacques Dumesnil as De Bray—he comes off as clueless and sort of accidentally charming. André Luguet is fine as the Colonel. I saw this on a Saturday afternoon and by Sunday evening, it had largely left my mind, but that's what we sometimes want on a Saturday afternoon. Pictured are Joyeux and Dumesnil. [DVD]

Tuesday, April 11, 2023


Usually when I review an original film and a remake, I consider the original the basic beginning point and reference the remake from that film, but in this case, I saw LURE first and SWAMP a few days later, so since LURE feels like the base to me, I’ll start with that. In 1910 in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, Ben (Jeffrey Hunter) and his father Zack (Tom Tully) are part of a search party looking for two trappers who disappeared into the dangerous swamp, full of alligators and cottonmouth snakes. Ben's hunting dog Careless jumps out of the canoe and into the swamp, and that night, against his father's orders, Ben takes off into the swamp to look for the dog. He finds the dog, but is then knocked unconscious. When Ben comes to, he finds he is being held prisoner by fugitive Jim Harper (Walter Brennan), who has been in hiding in the swamp because of a murder rap from years ago, and his daughter Laurie (Jean Peters). Laurie wants to kill Ben to prevent him from bringing the law in after them, but Ben promises he won't. Jim insists that one of the killings was in self-defense, but the other one was committed by the lowlife Longden brothers. Ben stays with them for a whole and, despite Laurie's attitude, Jim can see that an attraction might develop. Taking their side, Ben decides to do some trapping with Jim, and sell the pelts in town to raise money for a lawyer for Jim. But when Ben gets back to town, things get complicated: Zack kicks him out of the house, and Ben winds up torn between his gal Noreen and his swamp gal Laurie. The Longden brothers figure out what's going on and pile on Ben, practically drowning him in the river until Zack saves him and son and father are reconciled. But when Jim and Laurie start to doubt Ben's intentions, it's unclear if justice will be done or if Ben and Laurie can make it together in civilization. Pictured are Peters and Hunter.

Though no masterpiece, this is an enjoyable backwoods melodrama, with nice use of Technicolor and effective location shooting in and around the swamp. The outrageously handsome Jeffrey Hunter, who might seem too lightweight for the lead, is quite good, and given that he is in almost every scene, carries the film well. Brennan doesn't stray far from his rural persona, Peters is a bit on the bland side but works well with Hunter, and the rest of the cast more or less fades into the background, with Jack Elam recognizable as one of the brutal Longden brothers. The 1941 version, from acclaimed director Jean Renoir, is visually more artfully done, in moody black & white, and features Walter Brennan as the same character (named Tom here). A young Dana Andrews is Ben—he's not as good-looking or as confident as Hunter but he's fine. Anne Baxter bests Jean Peters as the daughter (named Julie), though the character is presented differently; here, she has not gone into the swamp with her father, but instead lives in town, taken care of by the general store owner. Walter Huston delivers his usual commanding performance as Ben's father, with their reconciliation scene carrying a bit more emotional weight here. Ward Bond and Guinn Williams are effective as the villainous brothers. There was apparently some location shooting in the Okefenokee for this version. Here, the dog's name is Trouble, and there is a melodramatic subplot involving John Carradine as a slimy fellow who is out to court Huston's wife. Parts of LURE are shot-for-shot reproductions of scenes in SWAMP WATER, and SWAMP is definitely the more atmospheric film, but LURE has its considerable pleasures. Pictured at left is Andrews entering the swamp. [Criterion Channel]

Friday, April 07, 2023


Rhodes, the reform-minded candidate for mayor (Gene Lockhart) comes to see private eye D.L Trees (Jerome Cowan), partly because he's not well-known (and consequently not busy). Rhodes wants Trees to track down a talking crow—great hook for the plot, huh? Here goes: Rhodes is engaged to Dorothy, sister to ex-con Fred Molnar, but she doesn't know that he spent time in jail, and Rhodes helped hide that from her. Now, Molnar is trying to blackmail Rhodes or else he'll spill the beans about his own past. Apparently worried that Rhodes might try to have him killed (because Rhodes, in a moment of anger, threatened exactly that), Molnar has trained his pet crow to say "Don’t kill me, Rhodes!" Rhodes knows that Molnar has plenty of enemies and if he winds up dead, Rhodes will be fingered. Trees takes the goofy case, and when he goes to see Molnar, Molnar is already dead, in a room with a camera on a tripod and a broken flash bulb near the body. A small cast of suspicious characters soon presents itself: a bookie named Page whom Molnar cheated out of $30,000; Hickey, Molnar's bodyguard, who was found unconscious in the kitchen; Molnar's hotsy-totsy mistress who may have been involved with the blackmail scheme; Molnar's lawyer who may be awfully cozy with the mistress. There's also the cops and Trees' secretary who is desperate for her back pay, and let's not forget Jimmy the Crow, who has his own little secret.

Like most Warner Bros. B-movies of the era, this has good production values, a fairly strong cast, and a short running time. It also has an overstuffed plot that starts to fall apart as soon as you give it any thought, though I must admit I liked the final reveal about the crow. But the fast pace doesn't give you much time to reflect on the plotting, and the light tone allows you to sit back and enjoy the shenanigans. Cowan, the short-lived Miles Archer in THE MALTESE FALCON and the unpopular prosecutor in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, didn't get many leads but he's fine here and he has a good rapport with Lockhart, one of Hollywood's best character actors (and who played the judge opposite Cowan's lawyer in MIRACLE). Faye Emerson gets second billing as the mistress, but Marjorie Hoshelle as Pandora, Trees' secretary and possible love interest, should have had second billing. John Harmon and Robert Kent deserve mention as the bodyguard and the lawyer. Pictured are Cowan, Kent and Lockhart. [DVD]

Wednesday, April 05, 2023


In rural England, a storm has caused dangerous flooding, and people are trudging uphill to take refuge at Our Lady of Rheims hospital and convent. Sister Mary Bonaventure (Claudette Colbert) is in charge and, though generally well-respected, at least one woman, Nurse Phillips, feels she is too rule-bound, and holds her responsible for the suicide of Sister Mary's sister (a plot point that is never really clarified). Among the refugees is Isabel Jeffreys, the fragile wife of Dr. Edward Jeffreys, and Valerie Carns, a prisoner being transported to her execution after being found guilty of killing her brother. She is alternately sad and bitter and her complicated backstory comes out. Her brother Jason led a dissolute life and suffered a stroke at a young age. Under the care of Dr. Jeffreys, he lingered for some time before his death when poison was administered to him in his medicine. Valerie had access to his medicine and had voiced the opinion that Jason would be better off dead. With everyone stuck on the hill until the flood waters recede, Sister Mary, feeling a certain empathy with Valerie (blamed for the death of a loved one), discovers newspaper articles about the case and begins to think that Valerie might indeed be innocent. Over the course of the night, hidden secrets are revealed and Sister Mary finds herself targeted by someone who might be the guilty party.

An early Dougas Sirk movie, this is an enjoyable melodrama with a nice Gothic feel. Colbert is not my favorite classic-era actress—she always strikes me as a bit of a cold fish. Here, that feeling could work for the character, but she seems to fight it, as though unwilling to have Sister Mary come off as too unsympathetic. Ann Blyth is a bit too shallow as Valerie, trying on a variety of actorly styles to keep us uncertain as to how we should feel about the character. But neither performance detracts too much from the film, partly because there are several very good supporting performances here. The fabulous Gladys Cooper is the Mother Superior; Phyllis Stanley is bracing as the unpleasant Nurse Phillips; Robert Douglas is very good as Dr. Jeffreys, and Anne Crawford is suitably nervous (and unreadable) as his wife. The always welcome Connie Gilchrist has a small but important role, and Norma Varden, Michael Pate. Philip Friend and John Abbott fill out other small roles nicely. The film's visual style definitely conjures up a Gothic atmosphere, and William Daniels' cinematography is splendid. Things build slowly to a dramatic climax and a satisfying ending. Pictured are Blyth and Colbert. [Criterion Channel]

Monday, April 03, 2023


This western, filmed in Oklahoma, is the only known silent movie made with an all Native American cast, featuring members of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes. It centers on a traditional love triangle (actually involving four people) The title character is the daughter of the Kiowa chief. It's time for her to marry, and Black Wolf, a bit of a shady character but considered a good catch as he has many horses, asks the chief for her hand. But the chief wants to allow her to pick her own husband and she is in love with White Eagle, less well off but more wholesome. The fourth figure is Red Wing who has a thing for Black Wolf, even though he ignores her. White Eagle clearly has the inside track, as we see when he and Daughter of Dawn take a romantic moonlight canoe ride, watched jealously by both Black Wolf and Red Wing. The chief soon sets up a courage test: to win Daughter of Dawn, the two men must jump from the top of a hill with the survivor winning. White Eagle leaps and is injured but survives; Black Wolf chickens out of the jump and is expelled from the tribe. Meanwhile, a group of Comanches is plotting to steal Kiowa horses and to eventually raid the Kiowa village. Guess who betrays his people by helping in the raid? Direction by Norbert A. Myles (who later settled into a career as a Hollywood make-up artist) is serviceable, as is the acting, with White Parker the standout as White Eagle. What was interesting to me was how much the actors used their fingers and hands in addition to speech in communicating with each other, which I assume was a hallmark of the way the tribes actually communicated. The actors provided their own costumes and settings. I don’t know how realistic the storyline was, but the ending is nicely melodramatic in a traditional Hollywood fashion. At 80 minutes, the pace drags occasionally but this is worth a viewing. Pictured are White Parker (White Eagle) and Esther LeBarre (Daughter of Dawn). [Criterion Channel]