Tuesday, May 30, 2023


As a woman sings a catchy bit of jazzy pop called "I Love You, Joe Walker," we see a long car chase that ends in violent fisticuffs between two men. But it turns out the two are American cop Joe Walker (Tony Kendell) and his beefy Interpol buddy Tom Rowland (Brad Harris), and we've just witnessed an elaborate training exercise. The two are friends but competitive and occasionally antagonistic, and both are in Yugoslavia for different reasons: Rowland is on vacation and Walker is helping a sexy purple-haired woman named Bobo hunt for her missing brother, a physicist. Soon, however, Rowland is assigned a case involving prominent businessmen who are getting blown up, and eventually the two cases meet with both men tracking down a mysterious villain named Goldfinger…er, I mean, Oberon, who has a hidden cache of radioactive gold, obtained through illegal arms deals, on a secret island hideaway. Both the disappearance of the physicist (to aid with handling the gold) and the businessman assassinations (getting rid of the men who are entitled to a cut of the gold) are the work of Oberon. He also has a small army of hypnotized blonde-wigged women—like Austin Powers' fembots—guarding his outpost. I took notes like mad while watching as I tried to keep up with the action, but after 30 minutes, I just gave up, relaxed, and enjoyed the wild antics.

This German-made film is part of the Eurospy genre of movies influenced by the international success of the James Bond movies. From what I can piece together, this is the first in a series of Kommissar X (that would be Joe Walker) movies, based loosely on books credited to a Paul F. Island (think Franklin W. Dixon, supposed author of the original Hardy Boys books which were actually written by a staff). At times, it feels like the filmmakers just shot a bunch of action scenes and fashioned a semi-coherent narrative later. But it is generally fun to watch. The two leads are handsome and confidently masculine, by which I mean they don't have to exaggerate or play down their butch qualities. Brad Harris is an American actor who found his niche in Europe, first in a couple of sword-and-sandal films (like GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS and then in spy films, crime films and westerns. Tony Kendall is an Italian actor (born Luciano Stella) who had a similar career trajectory to Harris's. Kendall is suave, Harris is hunky, and they have good team chemistry. They're almost like James Bond split in two: Joe is the unflappable ladies man, Tom is the brawny man of action, though in a nice comic twist at the end, it's a buff and shirtless Tom who is surrounded by non-fembot bikinied women. At least two of the female characters have fabulous purple hair. The film's budget is considerably lower than that of the Bond films, but they still manage to have some effective fight scenes and action stunts, especially one in which Harris leaps onto a moving boat. Certainly one of the better Bond rip-offs from the era. Pictured are Kendall and Harris. [YouTube]

Thursday, May 25, 2023


Cynthia Warren (Bebe Daniels) is a well-liked and well-paid illustrator who lives in a Manhattan penthouse and throws cocktail parties galore. We learn early on that she is dating Prince Philippe (Phil to his friends) but not exclusively, despite what he thinks. Phil, assuming Cynthia will marry him, has brought his mother, the Princess, to Cynthia's latest afternoon shindig to meet her, and Mom seems to realize what her son doesn't—that Cynthia will never marry him. After the party, Cynthia is on her way to the passenger liner that will take her to Europe for a vacation when she stops to chat with magazine editor Randy Morgan (Randolph Scott), with whom she shares a past. They have a discussion about the "rules of sex." He wants to marry her and have her revert back to the sweet Midwest girl she was when she came to the city, but she's not ready to settle down. He prankishly locks her in a closet to stop her from leaving, but she gets out and makes it to the ship to find that Phil and his mother have booked passage on the same ship. On the trip, Cynthia becomes great friends with the seemingly exotic Olga, who is actually Tessie from Topeka, and gets cozy with Bill Lawton (Sidney Blackmer). When the ship docks in London, Lawton admits that he's married, that his wife will be meeting him, and asks her not to make a fuss. Cynthia decides to cut things off with him. In Paris, Cynthia has to deal with Phil still hanging around, and running into Bill and his wife socially, when Randy pays a surprise visit. Things come to a head at a party where booze and hurt feelings lead to someone getting pushed out of a window.

This slight romantic melodrama is interesting, even if the somewhat rushed ending is not terribly satisfying. Cynthia begins as an independent woman who likes men and who engages in affairs but is in no rush to get married. Bebe Daniels plays her with a light touch and she remains sympathetic throughout. The situation with Prince Phil (Barry Norton) is mostly played for laughs until it's not. Jessie Ralph, as Phil's mom, is quite likable; she loves her son but knows full well that he's not likely to wind up with Cynthia, and it doesn't sour her on Cynthia. Muriel Kirkland is fizzy fun as Olga, and Sidney Blackmer is surprisingly charming as the caddish Bill—his character is portrayed mostly as misreading the "rules" of his affair with Cynthia. That leaves second-billed Randolph Scott in a throwaway role as Cynthia's "rescuerer," confined mostly to the beginning and end. Despite being a pre-Code film, Cynthia winds up learning her lesson and seemingly ready to settle for conventionality with Randy. More than watchable if perhaps a little less than memorable. Pictured are Norton, Daniels, and Blackmer. [TCM]

Friday, May 19, 2023


Rin Tin Tin was a canine superstar for much of the first half of the twentieth century, as big a star as Lassie became in the second half of the century. The original dog was a German shepherd who was rescued in World War I by an American soldier who brought him to the States where he became an unlikely silent movie star. He was featured in nearly thirty movies, mostly westerns and adventures, between 1922 and 1931, and is often considered something of a savior for Warner Bros. studios when they hit bad times. I remember seeing Rin Tin Tin adventures on television when I was young (in the early 1960s), but that was a different dog than the first one, who died in 1932. In fact, there were at least four dogs by that name who were featured in films, TV and publicity campaigns. This was Rinty's tenth outing so he was an old hand at acting by then. The title of this movie is a bit misleading as there is no clash whatsoever between wolves, though there is some culture clash, so to speak, between wolves and humans, and even the wolves are actually half-wolf, half-dog. 

A forest fire in the High Sierras forces a band of wolves down into the desert valley where they begin killing ranch animals, and their brave leader, Lobo (Rin Tin Tin), is targeted by the ranchers. New to town is self-described "lonely tenderfoot" Dave (Charles Farrell) who is prospecting for borax. May (June Marlowe), the daughter of a ranch owner, falls for Dave to the dismay of her father. Alkali Bill (Mack Sennett comic Charlie Conkln, credited here as Heinie Conklin) becomes a good buddy to Dave, but William Horton (Pat Hartigan), a borax appraiser, is actually a claim jumper, and when Dave brings a borax sample to Horton, he's determined to go out and find Dave's strike and take credit for it. Meanwhile, poor Lobo is injured and gets a thorn in his paw that hobbles him, and afraid of being a drag on the pack, goes off to die. Dave finds him and manages to extract the thorn, and Lobo instantly becomes domesticated. Alkali Bill uses a rubber band to put a fake bit of beard fuzz on Lobo's face so the ranchers won't get wise to his real identity, and Dave can take Lobo with him into town. The real clash in the movie is between Dave and Horton, who eventually does steal Dave's claim, and tries to steal May. But when Horton does his worst, loyal Lobo shows up and, in an effective climax, gets the wolf pack to hunt Horton down.

I'm not an expert on wolves (or dogs, for that matter), but I couldn’t believe that Lobo’s fake 'beard' could fool anyone, though it does here. But aside from that bit of silliness, the rest of the movie is enjoyable enough. The actors are all fine—Farrell does a nice job of coming off as sweet and a bit naïve but still manly and smart—but let's face it, this is Rinty’s movie all the way, and he's a damn fine animal actor (and you can plainly tell he's a he). When he's injured, he limps; when he's pissed off, he attacks; when he reunites with his mate, he's happy. His most impressive stunt occurs when he tries to climb up a slippery incline to save Dave from a sneak attack. Dave had put little lace-up boots on his paws so he wouldn't get any more thorns (see the above picture of Rinty with Farrell), but the boots make him slide down the incline, so he unlaces and shakes off his boots to effect the rescue. The story is nothing special, which I assume is the case for most of the Rin Tin Tin movies, but animal fans who don’t mind watching silent films will like this. [TCM]

Wednesday, May 17, 2023


In 9th century Wessex, Prince Alfred (David Hemmngs, pictured) has a vision of a united England, under one ruler and one law, written down for the first time, but wants nothing to do with governing. While Alfred is preparing to enter the priesthood, his weak brother, King Ethelred, is wounded while fighting the invading Danish Vikings and calls on Alfred for his assistance. Reluctantly, as he is against the act of killing, Alfred leads the battle and is victorious. He is pressured into a politically favorable marriage to Aelhswith (Prunella Ransome), daughter of the king of Mercia, but he refuses to sleep with her, assuming that sometime, he'll get back to the priesthood. But after Ethelred dies and Alfred is acclaimed the new king, he changes his mind and takes her by force. However, he remains opposed to killing on religious grounds, though he's not opposed to sending others into bloody battle to keep fighting the Danes. When the Danes, led by Guthrum (Michael York), get the upper hand, Alfred agrees to a truce with the Danes getting Mercia but agreeing to stay out of Wessex. They also trade hostages, and Guthrum asks for Aelhswith, who somewhat surprisingly puts up no fight. What she hasn't told Alfred is that she is pregnant, which means his heir will be brought up with the Danes. Eventually, Guthrum returns to fight in Wessex, and Alfred, who is living in the woods in a community of thieves, must decide if he will break his vow about killing in order to try and unify the lands.

This movie tries to be an epic along the lines of Lawrence of Arabia and a more intimate examination of politics, philosophy, and personal relationships, along the lines of The Lion in Winter, and though there are fine moments here and there, it doesn't come together as a satisfying whole. Ultimately, there was neither the budget nor the imagination to make the epic half come to life (though the final battle is well staged), so perhaps more focus on character and relationships would have worked to the movie's advantage. Hemmings gives a slightly eccentric performance in the title role; some critics call it campy, but it seems to me to be an exaggerated attempt to externalize Alfred's internal conflicts. I got used to him, but he's rarely presented as truly heroic or even particularly sympathetic. Michael York would seem miscast as the ruthless king of the Vikings but he is surprisingly effective. Prunella Ransome doesn't make much of an impression as Aelhswith; much better are supporting players Ian McKellen, Colin Blakely and Peter Vaughan. Ok for a one-time view, but not something I'd revisit. [YouTube]

Monday, May 15, 2023


Margaret (Brigitte Grothum) works as a messenger for a law firm run by Mr. Shaddle, but she is about to begin a new job as private secretary to the Countess Leonora. She's leaving an apartment she shares with a roommate named Lizzy to move into the Countess' mansion. In her last days with Lizzy, she begins to get anonymous phone calls from an apparent stalker (Klaus Kinski) who warns her she is spending her last "quiet nights on Earth." Her last task for Shaddle is to deliver some paperwork for the freeing of a prisoner named Mary Pinder, a murderer who was saved from execution many years ago because she was pregnant. One morning as she leaves her home, she is saved from a falling piece of concrete by the quick thinking of handsome Michael Dorn (Joachim Fuchsberger, pictured) who was apparently watching out for her. Later, when her car blows up, he's also there to help. Settling in with the Countess, she makes a number of new acquaintances: Selwyn is the Countess' whimsical son who fantasizes about being an actor; the distinguished Chesney is the family financial advisor; Addams is the scarred thuggish butler; Dr. Tappatt is the family physician who is also the supervisor of a nearby asylum. We soon discover that the stalker is an inmate at the asylum who makes frequent escapes. Other things we discover: Michael Dorn is a Scotland Yard man assigned to protect Margaret, and Margaret herself has some tie to the newly released Mary Pinder, who is coming to work for the Countess. Margaret may have gotten away from her stalker, but the Countess' mansion soon proves to be a very dangerous place.

This is an example of the German "krimi" genre, crime thrillers often based on the works of the prolific author Edgar Wallace, as this one is. The movie plays out a bit like an "old dark house" thriller though it's mostly brightly lit. It has clear gothic elements in its use of the main female character in a strange house, surrounded by, and perhaps menaced by, several shady people. The plot gets overly complicated but the central throughline remains easy to follow. Grothum is serviceable as the heroine and Kinski, whose role is relatively small, comes off a bit like Renfield in the Lugosi Dracula. The very handsome Fuchsberger played the hero in several of these films; he's quite good though perhaps a little less dashing than a "damsel in distress" hero should be. Eddi Arnet, who provides comic relief as Selwyn, was a popular German comedian and also a krimi regular. Lil Dagover (the Countess) is best known as the heroine of the original Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Atmospheric fun for gothic mystery buffs. [Prime Video]

Thursday, May 11, 2023


The Renner teak plantation in Burma is struggling, and the boss (Albert Basserman), an older blind man, relies on his two managers (Preston Foster and Robert Preston) to keep things going. They're low on funds to pay workers, leading to major delays in getting their logs shipped down the river to be sold. Foster and Preston go to Rangoon to see a banker (Frederick Worlock) about loaning them money, offering their shares of the business as collateral. In Rangoon, Preston falls for stranded nightclub singer Dorothy Lamour and brings her back to the plantation, passing her off as his bride so Basserman won't object. (Because of the Production Code, Preston and Lamour don't share a room, which leads to a humorous scene in which workers expect to see the "honeymooning" pair looking out the window of their room, but instead they see Preston and Foster, with Lamour a couple windows down.) Foster, who is dating Worlock's daughter (Doris Nolan), finds a growing attraction between him and Lamour, and when Nolan visits, she senses the love triangle. Meanwhile, Warlock schemes to take over the land by planting an employee (Addison Richards) to spread unrest, partly by scaring the workers with talk of "ghost tigers" in the jungle, then making fake tiger pawprints on the ground around the plantation. Foster and Preston catch on to the shenanigans, and the climax occurs during a rainstorm when the two managers must break a logjam on the river set up by Richards to stop the Renner logs from being delivered. This Paramount B-film is about on a level with the Warners B-films of the era, meaning it's got decent production values, an OK script, and good acting, even if almost every moment of it is predictable. The young Robert Preston is energetic and feisty and likable even though we're pretty sure he won’t get Lamour. Foster is stoic and a bit drab, but he and Preston work well together. I've never quite understood the appeal of Dorothy Lamour except as a visual symbol of exotic (even fairly vanilla) otherness, but she's fine here. Pictured above are Foster and Preston. [YouTube]

Tuesday, May 09, 2023


In Chicago, Bernice, a light-skinned Black woman, is watching her jazz musician brother Chuck get his big break at the Green Cat Club. She is harassed by a white man who assumes that she's white, and this is just the latest in a series of problems she's had all her life: feeling like she doesn’t fit in either a Black or a white social world. Though she's qualified for an office job, when the interviewer finds out she's Black, she's told the best they could do for her is as an elevator operator. Bernice tells her grandmother she's going to go to New York City and live a new life "passing" as white, even though her grandma warns her that people who pass are "living behind lies." Changing her name to Lila, she boards a plane for New York and gets chatted up by white businessman Rick Leyton. It's not quite a traditional meet-cute—he buys her a cocktail but she gets airsick. However, after she lands a job at an ad agency, she reconnects with him at a cocktail party. When he finds out she loves to dance, he rents a dance studio for an hour just for them. After lots of courting and kissing, he calls her at 3 a.m. to propose marriage. She's very happy at first, but decides to keep her racial background a secret, which leads to lots of lies that she tells Rick and his well-off parents who are dying to meet her family and don't understand why no one from her side will be at the wedding—the unlikely story that her folks are in Venezuela won't stand up forever. For a while, things are fine; her Black maid Bertha finds out her secret but tells no one, though eventually both Bertha and Bernice's white friend Sally encourage her to be honest with her husband. When Bernice gets pregnant, she fears the child will be black and starts to freak out. The ending is unhappy, if not exactly tragic, and leaves little hope that Bernice will ever find a place where she feels she belongs.

In its time, I imagine this was controversial, but it lacks power today. For starters, the woman playing Bernice, Sonya Wilde, was not Black (her grandfather was Cherokee, and she occasionally played Native American roles on TV). The blondish James Franciscus is about as white a white man as you could find, which does accentuate Wilde's slightly dark complexion. The two (pictured above) are OK and even work up some believable chemistry, though Wilde's bland performance feels amateurish at times—this was her first film and her career only lasted a couple more years. The handsome Franciscus is not especially light on his feet during their dance scene, but he's always nice eye candy. Isabel Cooley (the maid) and Patricia Michon (the friend) provide good support. The title would indicate that the film was intended as drive-in exploitation, but it's all very restrained and mild, except for two scenes involving Bernice's brother (Lon Ballantyne) in which fights break out over him paying too much attention to the assumedly white Bernice. I didn't know why Bernice spun such a web of lies about her family when the easier thing would have been to just say that her parents had passed away. Dialogue that caused me to laugh: Bernice, talking about her boss who always seems on the verge of sexually harassing his staff: "He's crazy for girls"; Rick: "What's wrong with that?"; Bernice: "Nothing." (YouTube)

Thursday, May 04, 2023


Mesa City, Arizona, has become overrun by lawless scoundrels who are given free rein by their buddy, the sheriff (Leon Ames). Schoolteacher Virginia Vale, fed up with the chaos in the streets and with Ames's unwanted attentions, leaves for Yuma. When Ames's masked men hold up the stagecoach, George O'Brien, a retired marshal from Red Valley, intercedes. The stagecoach turns back for repairs, and O'Brien (who retired after cleaning up Red Valley) gets friendly with Vale and she decides to give Mesa City another chance. O'Brien plans to leave but Vale asks him to join her at a dance that night, and when Ames tries to make trouble, O'Brien stays and the mayor appoints him marshal to deal with the hooligans. His first move is to enact an ordinance banning guns in public places except for law officers. Ames, sensing trouble, sends for an old gunslinger pal (Henry Brandon) to help him get rid of O'Brien, but Brandon surprises everyone by taking the marshal's side. O'Brien deputizes Brandon so he can legally carry his gun. The bad guys start plotting in earnest to keep their status in town, but O'Brien and Brandon keep the heat on until a climactic gunfight. This efficient hour-long B-western from RKO is apparently an unofficial remake of an earlier RKO film, THE ARIZONIAN. I found this to be a notch above the norm for a couple of reasons. First, the (for me) unexpected twist of the villainous hired gun turning good (a plot point mirrored with Mongo on BLAZING SADDLES), and second, for the solid acting. O'Brien was a well-regarded silent film star, best known now for SUNRISE, who became a top western star in the talkies, and though he doesn't have a lot of personality, he's solid and commanding without being stiff and boring. Vale is fine and Ames is nicely slimy as the chief bad guy. Mary Gordon, who plays Vale's landlady, is best known as Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of Sherlock Holmes in the Basil Rathbone film series. The climax is a major gunfight but it plays out quickly and in a thick fog of smoke, maybe due to budget limitations. Still, enjoyable. Pictured are O'Brien and Brandon. [TCM]

Monday, May 01, 2023


Import/export businessman Albert Raybold is working to help arm the Communists in China by sending them airplanes. He wears a jade ring that gives him cachet in Chinatown among important underworld figures, but the ring doesn't stop him from being murdered (with a fork in his chest) in a private booth at the Peking Café where he had just been given $70,000 dollars in cash for the airplanes. John Yee, owner of the café, finds him and steals the ring before the police arrive. Ted (Lyle Talbot) is an ex-cop who now drives a tourist bus around Chinatown, and he and a busload of folks are dining at the café when the murder occurs. He agrees to help Janet (Valerie Hobson), a woman who knew Raybold and was at the café; a day earlier, she had gotten a telegram saying Raybold had been murdered and was hoping to find some incriminating letters she had sent him. Ted includes her in his busload so she can leave the premises without police interference, but then Ted agrees to help his former cop buddies crack the case. When the cops stop the shipment of planes to China, it turns out that the planes were phony. Missing letters, missing money, and now fake weapons make this case rather sticky, but trust our cocky hero Ted to unravel all the knots and find the killer. I don't have much to say about this second-feature mystery. It's not exceptional in any way, but it satisfied my Saturday afternoon B-movie itch. Its exotic settings are used fairly well, though there are only a handful of Chinese characters and no Asian actors in the credited cast. I always like Talbot's breezy way as a B-lead and he's fine here. The British Hobson, best known as Dr. Frankenstein’s wife in Bride of Frankenstein, is OK, but Andy Devine, as Raybold's semi-comic relief secretary, got on my nerves. The cops bumble along, and Talbot outdoes them at each turn. Apparently in the 1960s this was part of Universal’s horror film package for TV but there is nothing even vaguely horrific about it; it's a light crime thriller all the way. Pictured are Talbot and Hobson. [YouTube]