Saturday, December 30, 2023


During the last week of each year, I usually try to review a classic-era Christmas movie but I think after 22 years of blogging, I've run out of them. But TCM showed these two rarely-shown films during December. They're not traditional holiday films with Santa and magic and angels; actually, one is a film noir and the other is noir-adjacent, but they were both interesting discoveries.. MIRACLE is a low-key melodrama which starts by introducing two couples. Wealthy suburbanite Walter Abel marries Jean Brooks on Christmas Eve. We leave them behind to follow Margo, a cooch dancer at a carnival attraction called the Streets of Cairo, and her husband (Lyle Talbot), who runs the show. When Talbot gets busted for selling a cop liquor, he punches out the cop and goes on the run. Margo is stuck with trying to pay rent for their apartment. Her kindly landlady (Jane Darwell), lets her slide a bit, but lets her know she'll need to find a legit job. At church on Christmas Eve, Margo finds an abandoned baby in the church creche and takes it home, uncertain of her future. Some time passes. Margo is barely getting by with some sewing jobs, and goes out to Pepito's restaurant go ask for a job as a dancer. She doesn't get it, but she meets Abel, drinking alone because his wife has left him. Sparks start to fly and soon he gets her a job designing clothes and wants her to move in with him. With Talbot still on the loose, she can’t entertain the idea of divorcing him. Eventually, Talbot does return and wants Margo to ask Abel for $500 to flee to South America. Complications ensue. This is practically an archetypal B-picture: cheap sets, second-class actors, a script with plotholes. But it’s classed up with some interesting visual flare (an early shot at the carnival travels from the outside through the interior and backstage in one shot). Margo is fine and Abel gives an understated performance which is miles away from his hyper role as the agent in HOLIDAY INN. Two Christmases bookend the narrative (and the ending is a bit rushed) though the holiday is still a fairly minor part of the story. Jane Darwell is fine as the landlady, and Wynne Gibson and Veda Ann Borg provide comic relief as two other dancing girls. Pictured are Abel and Margo.

I WOULDN’T BE IN YOUR SHOES takes place in more solidly noir territory. Don Castle (pictured at left) and Elyse Knox are married dancers just getting by. One night, a frustrated Castle throws a tap shoe of his out the window to silence a yowling cat. The next morning, an old miserly neighbor is found dead outside, with Castle's shoe print in the mud next to him. Castle, not knowing about the murder, finds a wallet stuffed with cash and he and Knox decide to spend some of it. Unfortunately, the cash is all old bills that can easily be traced to the old man, and Castle is picked up for murder. Regis Toomey is a cop assigned to the case who has a bit of a crush on Knox—she calls him Santa Claus for all the little gifts he's brought her at the dance club. Castle is found guilty and has an execution date set. Desperate to clear Castle, Knox impulsively tells Toomey that she'll marry him if he can find evidence that will get Castle released. That's all I can say without spoilers. Christmas is a fairly small part of this movie, but if airing it on TCM's Noir Alley in December helps get it attention, that's fine with me. Don Castle was a busy B-lead in the 40s (LIGHTHOUSE, MADONNA OF THE DESERT) and he's very good here, even if he has little to do in the last half. Knox (leading lady of THE MUMMY'S TOMB) does a good job with what is mostly a one-note role as a desperate wife. Toomey, a very busy character actor, is surprisingly good as the cop who we come to realize is a little too obsessed with Knox for his own good. It's short and moves quickly and is based on a story by Cornell Woolrich who wrote the story Rear Window was based on. It's too late to watch these for this holiday, but if TCM runs them again next year, you should give them both a shot. [TCM]

Friday, December 29, 2023


In London (which looks a lot like Bucharest where this was filmed), Haley Lloyd is the daughter of wealthy businesswoman Leona Lloyd, but she likes to stay out of the spotlight by running a charity organization called the Hope Chest which sells used and donated items. Meanwhile, Don, the head of the start-up ad agency Blue Skies, and his two best buddies/assistants, Claude and Ben, have snuck into a Lloyd Company event and managed to schedule an appointment to pitch a campaign for a perfume to Leona. This is a make-or-break deal for them and they're certain they've got a winner, but the obnoxious but handsome and more polished Niles is angling for the campaign, too. Haley is volunteering at the event and meets Claude (more shaggy/cute than handsome). She is charmed by him and, as she's manning a hot chocolate stand, she doesn't tell him her real identity, calling herself Haley Logan; she's tired of guys coming onto her because she comes from money and wants to see how things go with a guy who doesn't know her family baggage. Well, things go very well—he particularly likes how honest she is—until he snaps a cute candid shot of her sitting in the snow and adds it to an ad for the perfume campaign. When Leona sees it, she blows up thinking he was deliberately using her daughter to get the account; for his part, Claude feels used, and thinks of Haley as dishonest. Leona turns Blue Skies down, Claude breaks up with Haley, and the ad agency may not survive the debacle. But it’s Christmas, a time for miracles, especially in made-to-TV movies!

The publicity for this Great American Family movie promotes its connection to Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing to give this fairly average Christmas romance some cultural cachet. As in the play, there are mistaken assumptions causing problems. The names of the protagonists, Claude and Haley, are based on Claudio and Hero. A more direct tie to the play is the comic relief secondary romance between Ben (Benedict) and Haley's friend Beatrice (Beatrice). But you don't need to know Shakespeare to get what's going on here, which is just another variation on the crossed signals Christmas romance. Susie Abromeit as Haley is fine at first, but her alternating of smiles and grimaces got weary after a while; conversely, I didn't care for floppy-haired Torrance Coombs (Claude) at first, but he grew on me. Even better are James Rottger as Ben and Sakura Sykes as Beatrice. I would like to have seen their stories fleshed out more; it's implied that they had a past romance that fell apart, but it's not delved into. The Bucharest exteriors are gorgeous—it's nice to see a non-Canadian setting for a change. The Christmas trappings were also among the best I've seen in a holiday TV-move. The ad agency is called Blue Skies in the dialogue, but their in-office signage just says Blue Sky. Aside from the visual style, this was mostly just about average. [GAF]

Wednesday, December 27, 2023


Mark (Brant Daugherty) is a star reporter, known as Moody Mark by his colleagues for his seriousness about his profession. Lea (Jaicy Elliot) is a copyeditor at the same paper who yearns to write her own feature story. She soon gets her chance (and I'm a little fuzzy on the details here, as this is a slightly more elaborate background story than usual for Hallmark, so bear with me). She is intrigued by an old painting in a local museum done by an anonymous French painter only known by "F," of a woman in the snow walking through a French Christmas market. At an antique store, Lea buys a music box which contains a sketch done in the same style as the painting, and pages from a journal by someone named Francois. The journal seems to tell a magical love story of F and a woman named Ana who met at a Christmas market in Rouen, France in the mid 50s. The painting is of Ana, but the last pages of the journal are missing, so Lea proposes to her editor, who is desperately searching for a lead holiday story, that she go to France to try and find out what happened to this couple. The editor says yes, but makes her pair up with Mark, who sees the story as beneath his talent. The two don't exactly hit it off—she's powered by instinct, whereas he privileges fact-gathering; she's green and he, as has been established, is moody. At their hotel, a charming little girl named Sophie starts to soften up Mark by telling him stories about magical Christmas gnomes, and Lea begins to see the advantages of using hard research to get her story. There is a legend that the Christmas market brings lovers together, and Lea hopes her story will bear that out. But as they track the movements of Francois and Ana through the village, their story becomes less magical. The trail leads to a church where the two were supposed to meet and elope, but Mark finds evidence that Ana stood Francois up, so Lea's big story winds up with an unhappy ending. At first, Mark hides this from Lea so as not to disappoint her, but when she finds out the truth, she feels angry and disrespected. Can any good come of this situation?

Hypocritical confession time. I often complain that Hallmark Christmas movies are all the same. This one is, as others I've reviewed recently, different (if not necessarily original) and my first reaction to it was negative. I am a big fan of the handsome Brant Daugherty who is unfailingly appealing and charming, but his romantic opposite, Jaicy Elliot, breaks the mold of the Christmas female lead: she is plump and short and plain-looking, and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that her physical qualities put me off at first. She seems more like the best friend than the heroine; her dialogue delivery is drab and monotone, and there is little chemistry between the two leads. But eventually, I came to realize that this might be part of the point of the movie. Romantic sparks, which usually start flying by the 15-minute mark, never really happened. Until the last 10 minutes, there is no real indication that these two will or should get together. When they do get together, it seems more like a lazy way to meet the genre expectations. If you approach it as a story not of romance but of mutual education (she learns about reporting, he learns that intuition can be useful), it works better. I found their eventual last-minute kiss to be unrealistic, in part because the requisite sparks never flew. Having said all that, I'd still recommend this. Daugherty is always welcome in my home; there is a minor random Black gay character (Michael Obiora) who is fun for the 2 minutes of screen time he has; the bulk of the film's exteriors appear to have been shot on location in France which adds to the atmosphere; the music box magically plays a nice role in the conclusion. Brant and his wife Kimberly wrote the script, which I think is better than the overall execution it gets, though as I noted above, the backstory, which is basically the McGuffin, is a little convoluted. Give it a chance—the parts start working together pretty well by the halfway point. [Hallmark]

Sunday, December 24, 2023


In 1947, Harold Balaban's studio made a Christmas movie called "His Merry Wife!" In 2023, the studio, now run by Harold's grandson Michael, is about to remake it, but Lucy, the screenwriter (Bethany Joy Lenz), has given the new version a downbeat ending and Michael does not approve. Since the original movie was shot at the famous Biltmore estate in North Carolina, the boss decides to send Lucy there for a few days to soak up the atmosphere and get inspired. While on a tour of the main house, Lucy is enamored with a large hourglass that was used as a prop in the movie. At one point when Lucy is in the room by herself, the hourglass gets knocked over and Lucy finds herself transported to 1947 as the film is being shot. Pretending to be an extra, Lucy gets to know the stars: the debonair Claude Lancaster, the lovely Ava Hayward, and the handsome newcomer, Jack Huston (Kristoffer Polaha). Ava is hoping this will be a comeback for her after being declared box-office poison (Lucy knows it will) and Jack is hoping for a career boost (Lucy knows he gets good reviews but dies on Christmas of 1948). Lucy stays in the past for only one hour, and when the sands have run through the glass, she returns to 2023. With the help of an enthusiastic "Merry Wife" fan also staying at the Biltmore, Lucy decides to go back and forth in time (even appearing in a scene as an extra) and soon discovers that there was an alternate ending. While trying to find it, she accidentally breaks the hourglass and is stuck in the past until the propmaster can fix it. Finding herself falling in love with Jack, she starts to wonder if she really wants to go back.

This is one of the best Hallmark Christmas movies of the past few years, mostly because it's a little bit different from the model: there's a fantasy element, location shooting at the Biltmore, a bunch of clever movie references, and of course the presence of Polaha, one of the best members of the Hallmark repertory company. Fans of the classic Christmas movie The Bishop's Wife will love this as His Merry Wife, which we see black & white clips of, is based closely on that, with Polaha in the Cary Grant role of an angel—though he channels equal parts Grant and James Stewart, as there is at least one plot echo of It's a Wonderful Life. Polaha and Lenz are great together, and there's a strong supporting cast: Colton Little as Lancaster, Annabelle Borke as Hayward, Jonathan Frakes (Riker from the Star Trek universe) as the Biltmore manager, and Robert Picardo (the holographic doctor from the Star Trek universe) as Harold Balaban. There is a fun reference to Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Channel. When Lucy's friend is worried that Lucy won't fit in in 1947, she replies, "I've seen His Girl Friday—I'll just throw around a lot of "busters" and "fellas." When Lucy poses in the past as an extra named Sandra, she says her last name is Bullock. The plot is perhaps a bit overstuffed with incident, leading to some minor plotholes (for example, I was a little confused by the rules of time travel via hourglass), but overall, this is quite enjoyable. Yay to Hallmark for their breaks from the norm (even the opening is different—no drone shot of a city, and the title doesn't appear until after the first scene). [Hallmark]

Thursday, December 21, 2023

#XMAS (2022)

In a small town in Oregon, Jen runs Jen.uine, a design business specializing in clothing restoration. Needing some publicity and encouraged by her sister and business partner Ali, Jen enters a social media contest on the Hygge at Home podcast to find a hot new design influencer. With help from her incredibly handsome platonic best friend Max, a photographer, Jen and Ali make a video featuring a fake persona, claiming to have a husband (Max) and a new baby (Ali's new baby). The contest's judges, married couple Charlie and Zoe, choose her as one of the finalists and spring a surprise on her: they're coming to Oregon to spend a couple of days with her. Panicked, Jen gets Max and Ali to play along to present a picture of domestic bliss. Of course, things start to snowball from there: she gets thousands of new followers who want to see her life unfold; her mother, ecstatic that Jen has married her best friend, comes to spend Christmas with her; and long-buried feelings between Jen and Max, who briefly dated many years ago, come to the surface. But we soon learn that Jen isn't the only faker: Charlie and Zoe are secretly separated and contemplating a divorce. Will Christmas day bring happy endings for all? As Hallmark Christmas movies go, this is about par for the course. The pluses: it’s a fairly clever reworking of the classic film Christmas in Connecticut (with social media standing in for a magazine), right down to the borrowed baby; Brant Daugherty (Max, pictured) always improves a movie; the actress playing Ali, Anna Van Hooft, is a breath of fresh air and needs her own Christmas movie to shine in; the Hygge couple's plotline is good. The minuses: Clare Bowen (Jen) is a little disappointing, partly because she's too whiny and teary; the Christmas element is not highlighted enough—this could have been set at any time of year; the ending feels a bit rushed. This has a rating of 6 out of 10 on IMDb and that feels right. But Brant makes it worth watching. [Hallmark]

Wednesday, December 20, 2023


If you can get past the dumb title, you’ll find a Hallmark Christmas movie that is somewhat original and a bit more ambitious than the average holiday romance. Its main premise, that Santa Claus is real and his handsome son is taking over the business, is not especially new, but it's carried off with more style than one might predict. Avery (Italia Ricci) is about to get her first chance at doing the weekend morning news at the Dayton channel where she works—the movie opens with a shot her apparently reading the local news on TV, but we discover really she's just practicing. When she gets home that night, she finds a hunky man who has apparently broken into her house. She thinks he's the 'Santa thief' who's been in the news lately, but he insists that he is Chris (Luke Macfarlane), the son of Santa, on his first solo Christmas Eve flight. She ties him up with surprisingly strong strings of Christmas lights (see picture at left) but slowly she comes to believe him and the two go off hunting for the real thief who has absconded with a jump drive that belongs to—well, it's just the MacGuffin that gives them an excuse to bond, and for her to break a big story about local political corruption that might lead to her getting a permanent spot on the news. The writing here is a notch above average, and the director (Bradley Walsh) even gets to show off some visual flair now and again. The supporting cast includes a helpful elf named Dylan, a villainous mayor, a best friend, an acting troupe having a midnight celebration in Dickens garb (with a 7-foot guy as Tiny Tim), and Chris' dad, and there is clever use of a light therapy mask (I didn’t know such a thing actually existed). I liked that there is no jealous conflict that rears its head at the 90 minute mark as is the norm for these films. Ricci and Macfarlane are good together, though Macfarlane is so hot, I'd forgive him anything—he seems to have kept the muscles he displayed last year in the feature film BROS. It’s all very cute and Hallmark should be rewarded for trying something a little different. [Hallmark]

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


Addy works for a tech company and spends all her time creating Christmas content, the latest example of which is a Christmas Wish app with a ho-ho-ho-ing Santa who pops up on her phone daily. Ironically, her one time of year to get away from the holiday spirit is at Christmas which she spends in the Maldives. This year, however, her brother Connor asks her to come home for Christmas because he's going to propose to his longtime girlfriend Sienna in front of the whole family, so she agrees to postpone the tropical trip until the 26th. (Is that really a thing, proposing in front of the whole family??) She is upset by pressure from her mom to come home more often, and by her father's distant manner (he feels shut out of her life), and even some pressure after a sorta meet-cute with Hunter, an auto repair guy. She makes a wish by her Christmas wish app that there was no such thing as Christmas. Moments later, she's in a minor car accident and when Hunter stops to help her, she discovers that the whole world has gone black & white. She thinks it's a visual injury, but when she gets home, she realizes that her wish has come true: Christmas and all its trimmings are gone. Her mission now is to get people to remember Christmas by sparking holiday memories in them, at which point they turn back to color.

To its credit, Hallmark keeps trying slightly different things. The film is a cross between Pleasantville (mix of black & white and color) and It's a Wonderful Life, with some of the short story Christmas Every Day (or its opposite) sprinkled in. The mix of color with black & white is technically handled quite well and makes for enchanting moments when color comes seeping back into people and backgrounds. The characters, however, are plucked from the same templates as always: Addy (Lyndsy Fonesca) is the woman with big city business pressures, Hunter (Michael Rady) is the grounded small-town guy who works with his hands, and the parents are there to provide both conflict and support. Fonesca is fine though Rady seems to be a little burned out on holiday movies. The handsome Andrew David Bridges shines as the brother, and should get his own Hallmark lead role soon. My favorite moment is a meta-moment that is rare in Hallmark films: in the black & white town, Addy prods her mother to remember the Christmas movie marathons they used to sit through, and Mom replies that, no, it's New Year's movies that are all the rage, and they even start running them in June! [Hallmark]

Monday, December 18, 2023


Ally (Jessica Lowndes) is an ER doctor who has just gotten a big promotion to hospital administration, to start just after Christmas. Much loved by all in the ER, she is given a big farewell party, but she just can't quite let go, telling her best friend Dawn that she's looking to get an ER shift on Christmas Eve. Ally's not really a Christmas fan, but she's also forgotten that she told her longtime boyfriend Josh (David Reale), an ad man, that she'd spend the holiday with him and his parents. During a dinner at which Josh planned to ask her to marry him, their tensions spill out. He wishes she could see that there's more life than a job, and she wishes he could see that sometimes a job is more than just a job. They split up, but not before their respective wishes trigger magical auras around two angel decorations in the restaurant. Next thing we know, we meet Maureen (Jane Luk) and Gabe (Chad Michael Murray, pictured), two angels sent to help folks during the holiday season. Gabe is working as a barista at a coffee shop Ally frequents and soon the two are hitting it off like best buds as Gabe softens her heart toward the holiday. Similarly, Maureen gets a temp job with Josh's company and she gets him to see that maybe jobs can be fulfilling—the ad job pays well but he's always wanted to be a teacher. Soon, however, Gabe starts to fall for Ally and gives some thought to sticking around on earth, even though, as Maureen warns him, he'll lose his powers (the only supernatural power we see him exhibit is to stop the snow from falling to accommodate a wish of Ally's). But have no fear; everything turns out for the best by Christmas Eve.

Not all TV Christmas romance movies are created equal. Hallmark is still the gold standard, with Lifetime and Netflix sharing second place—what sets their movies apart from Hallmark's is a bit more diversity in casting (though Hallmark is catching up) and some occasional stretching beyond the norm in plotting. This movie was made for Great American Family, a cable network that has only recently entered the Christmas movie field, and based on this film, they are still struggling to find their niche. "Faith and family" is their slogan, which is coded language for, among other things, no premarital sex and no same-sex couples. This is an uncredited remake of the Cary Grant classic The Bishop's Wife (an angel comes to earth at Christmas to help someone through a crisis and is tempted by romantic feelings to give up his angel status). I have to start with Chad Michael Murray, because many of the reviewers on IMDb dislike his performance, calling it cold and robotic. He does indeed give an unusual performance, though it's not really robotic. He's playing a character who hasn’t felt human emotions in years and he's a little blindsided when he starts to fall in love. But I get why some viewers missed this—the character is underwritten and we get virtually no backstory for either of the angels. I liked Murray in this (though I think even he would admit that he's no Cary Grant) and Lowndes is fine as well, even if no real chemistry develops between them. The problem with Josh is also weak characterization and lack of chemistry with the leading lady. Honestly, I had a hard time caring who Ally wound up with, and I blame that more on the writers than the actors. There are some odd editing glitches that indicate a rush job in finishing things up. At one point, Ally orders a latte at a cash register and suddenly there’s almost a smash cut to her sitting down and being served. That’s shoddy work to me. Even the holiday set decorations feel second-rate. I give it points for trying something a little different plotwise, but ultimately it seems to have been beyond the reach of the filmmakers. [GAF]

Thursday, December 14, 2023


At an Army hospital, Gordon MacRae (pictured) is undergoing a series of back surgeries. His buddy Edmond O'Brien comes to visit and talk about their plans to buy and run a ranch, but MacRae's nurse (Virginia Mayo) warns O'Brien that MacRae may not be up for physical labor for a long time. Later, around Christmas, MacRae undergoes his last surgery and expresses concern that he hasn't heard from O'Brien in a while. On Christmas Eve, a mysterious woman with a foreign accent enters his room, telling him that O'Brien is in bad shape and needs his help. Groggy from his pain meds, MacRae agrees to visit him, but the next day, the doctor, trying to calm MacRae down, suggests that the woman was a hallucination. He gets a telegram from O'Brien, saying he’s OK, but when he's released, MacRae discovers that O'Brien is the chief suspect in a murder case. The victim was a big-time gambler, and the two were supposedly fighting over $40,000. MacRae starts investigating in earnest, moving into a hotel room that O'Brien had been using and getting help from Mayo, now his girlfriend. Following a lead, MacRae winds up at a mortuary which is run by Dane Clark, an old Army buddy of both men who knew O'Brien as a washed-up boxer. As he keeps investigating, MacRae soon realizes that he may not have really known O'Brien all that well, but he keeps digging and soon places a mysterious gambler named Lou at the center of the circumstances that have O'Brien either in hiding or in captivity. Finally he meets up with his mysterious midnight visitor (Viveca Lindfors) and more of the puzzle pieces start to fall in place.

This unsung film noir, if not a masterpiece, is solidly entertaining. It pulls an interesting narrative trick as it seems in the beginning to be setting up O'Brien as the main character, until his vanishing act makes MacRae our focus. Much of the backstory is filled in via flashbacks as MacRae and Mayo investigate. I've never really been a big fan of MacRae’s (best known for musicals like Oklahoma! and Carousel) as he always seems a bit plastic, but he's good here, as are Mayo, O’Brien and Lindfors, and Ed Begley is fine as the police inspector on the case. But stealing the show, in a relatively small role, is Dane Clark (whose screen persona makes me think of him a B-movie or supporting-part John Garfield) who went on to a very busy TV career in the 60s and 70s. He is frequently the bright spot in an otherwise so-so film. This is better than so-so, but Clark is still a bright spot. I saw this as part of the Criterion Channel’s Holiday Noir lineup, and though I'm not sure this has enough holiday oomph for me to classify it as a Christmas movie, it does take place over the holidays. Recommended. [Criterion Channel]

Tuesday, December 12, 2023


Flint Dawson (Lionel Atwill), one of the head honchos of a steel company, tries to put the kibosh on a merger with another steel company that the board of directors wants to go through. He fears that the workers, most of whom own stock, will be harmed. Even though Flint is a manager, he still has lunch with the men on the construction sites and is a much beloved figure. One night, when Flint shows up to help the night shift workers, Joe, a crane operator who has just been reprimanded for drinking on the job, spills molten steel on Flint, who ends up losing both his legs. (Jim, Flint's associate, who is pro-merger, had subtly put the idea of revenge in Joe's mind, and after the accident, Joe falls to his death from the crane.) From his hospital bed, Flint gives his wife Vivian power of attorney and instructs her to vote against the merger. What he doesn't know is that Vivian is having an affair with Jim, so she sides with Jim in the vote, then takes off for England with Jim and her young daughter. The wheelchair-bound Flint winds up on the streets, selling business pamphlets, but when he meets Marchant, a blind beggar who plays the accordion for money, Flint gets an idea. The two start a movement to sort of unionize the city's beggars, trading their ability to spy on underworld figures for legit peddler's licenses, and getting the beggars to donate to a common pot to help each other out. Years later, Flint, who has been presumed missing or dead, returns to public life when Jim begins acting to cheat the workers out of their stock. 

By the last half-hour, this has become a very Capraesque story, looking forward to the plots and tones of movies like Meet John Doe and You Can't Take It With You, though to my mind, it doesn't match those movies in style (though it also mostly avoids the sappiness that some viewers associate with Frank Capra). Flint and his beggar buddies take action to stop Jim's devious plan, leading to a David vs. Goliath showdown and a moment that would probably not have gotten past the Production Code folks a few months later. There is a side plot romance between Flint's daughter (Betty Furness) and Jim's son (James Bush) but not a lot of screenwriting effort was put into that. Also, lest the specter of socialism raise its ugly head, it's made clear that all the down-and-out in Atwill's union are disabled—if you are of sound mind and body, you can't join up. The best thing about the movie is Lionel Atwill. Normally, he would play someone like the character of Jim here who may be respectable on the outside but villainous inside. Atwill is quite good in the role, and it's a bit of a shame that he rarely got to play a similar role. Recommended as something a little different, unless you are allergic to Capracorn. Pictured are Bush, Atwill and Furness. [TCM]

Friday, December 08, 2023


An Egyptologist named Ragheeb is getting his eyes examined by a substitute doctor named Sloan. Ragheeb is nervous, understandably, as it turns out that Sloan is no eye doctor—he kills Ragheeb, takes off the man's glasses, and finds a bit of microfilm hidden in the frame with a message in hieroglyphics. Sloan then approaches Prof. David Pollock (Gregory Peck), a hieroglyphics expert, asks him to meet with his boss, Arab shipping magnate Beshraavi. David declines, but is later shanghaied into a car by Arabian prime minister Hassan who asks him to go through with the meeting to find out what dastardly plan Beshraavi is up to. Beshraavi, living in a mansion owned by his mistress Yasmin (Sophia Loren), wants David to translate the hieroglyphic message. But Yasmin meets with David in secret and tells him she is sure the message is a deadly one, so David takes the message and 'abducts' Yasmin (who is appears to be being held a prisoner in her own home), beginning a wild chase involving assassination and betrayal and ambiguous identity. Many critics deride this film, a mid-career effort from Stanley Donen, as convoluted (I agree) and poorly acted (I disagree). It actually added to my enjoyment of the film to hear in the TCM introduction that the movie was written with Cary Grant in mind, and that Gregory Peck had doubts that he could pull off the mix of charming humor and deadly action. There are times when you can tell that a particular line would have been perfect for Grant ("If I could find my head, I'd go get it examined!") but Peck generally pulls it off well. The lovely Loren is also quite good as the woman who may or may not be a femme fatale. The supporting actors tend to get overshadowed by the heat of the leads; for the record, Alan Badel and John Merivale are fine as the chief villains. The movie is stylishly shot, like a lesser Hitchcock effort (though frankly, I'd rather sit through this again than the slogfest of the master's North By Northwest). My favorite exchange: Peck, to a cab driver: "Follow that car!"; the driver: "All my life I've been waiting for someone to say that." [TCM]

Wednesday, December 06, 2023


Notorious criminal Bull Weed pulls off a bank robbery with the aid of explosives. A falling-down drunk is a witness and Bull takes him back to his hideout. It turns out the guy is a failed lawyer, and when Bull rescues him from being humiliated by Bull's rival, Buck Mulligan, he nicknames him Rolls Royce and brings him into his gang as a sort of valet. At the Dreamland CafĂ©, Rolls meets Feathers, Bull's moll. Rolls claims not to be interested in women, but a slow-burn attraction develops anyway. Rolls is soon taking an active part in planning Bull's activities, and one night, at the underworld's annual armistice ball (where all the crooks get along for a few hours), Buck tries to assault Feathers and Bull kills him. When Bull is sentenced to death, Rolls plans a breakout attempt, but Feathers thinks that Bull's death will give her and Rolls a new start together. In the meantime, on the eve of his scheduled hanging, Bull breaks out of prison, fueled by rumors he has heard about Rolls and Feathers, and is determined to get revenge. This silent crime melodrama is directed by Josef von Sternberg and is every bit as visually stunning as his 1930s sound films with Marlene Dietrich (THE SCARLET EMPRESS, MOROCCO. If it wasn't silent, it would feel like the first modern sound crime film, looking ahead to movies like SCARFACE and LITTLE CAESAR and beyond to film noir. The script was apparently based on the life of a real gangster. George Bancroft (Bull) and Clive Brook (Rolls) carry the movie with strong performances as what would become clichĂ© characters—the tough guy gangster and the former straight-and-narrow fellow who gets sucked into the criminal world. Evelyn Brent is OK as Feathers. As other viewers have noted, the narrative is more about the romantic triangle relationship than crime, though you can't really call it a romance, and there is a certain psychological interest presented primarily in the character of Rolls, who is truly torn between his passion for Feathers and his loyalty to Bull. Memorable line, not of dialogue but of title-card narration during the gangsters' ball: "The brutal din of cheap music, booze, hate, lust, made a devil’s carnival." Pictured are Brent and Brook. [DVD]

Friday, December 01, 2023


Barton MacLane and Ann Sheridan are old racetrack gambling buddies. When his losses pile up, Sheridan offers to take him out for dinner—she seems to have a thing for him though he is oblivious to it. But he feels like he's hit bottom and he hops a train for the small town of Barrowville to make a new start. He befriends Dick Purcell, another down-on-his-luck gambler and helps Purcell make his rent, so Purcell talks his family into taking MacLane in as a boarder. Even though Purcell's sister (Peggy Bates) is against gambling, she falls for MacLane and turns aside her longtime boyfriend (Walter Cassell) to marry MacLane, who gets a legitimate but boring job as a night clerk at a fleabag hotel. Soon, bored with the job, he starts gambling again, and gets a job taking care of horses at a new racetrack in California. When he promises to stay away from betting, Peggy agrees to move out west with him, but temptation is too great (as is the lure of becoming friendly with Sheridan again) and when MacLane starts gambling, Peggy, newly pregnant, moves back to Barrowville. Eighteen months pass and MacLane, down on his luck again, passes through Barrowville. He discovers that Peggy's baby has died and, though she's never gotten a divorce, she's hooked back up with Cassell. MacLane sticks around, discovers that Purcell is indulging in illegal off-track gambling, and brings home an injured racehorse to nurse back to health. By this time, I had no idea what would constitute a happy ending here. I just knew that second-billed Ann Sheridan (though not as big a star as she would become in a couple of years) would show up again, though who MacLane would wind up was a toss-up. This B-melodrama has tragic-ish overtones but stays fairly light. Constant outlandish plot twists aside, the weakest thing about this is Barton MacLane. I can tolerate him in supporting roles as a cop or a gangster, but he doesn't have the looks or charisma for a lead role, especially opposite someone as lively as Ann Sheridan. Dick Purcell is more interesting here, but even he has a hard time holding interest. Despite the plot machinations, this winds up being pretty rough to get through. Pictured are MacLane and Sheridan. [TCM]