Friday, June 28, 2024


A suited-up Tarzan (Mike Henry) is dropped off by helicopter, gets on a plane, and lands in Mexico where a driver shows up to take him to see an old friend who has summoned him to help search for a kidnapped boy. But we've seen the real driver killed and a bad guy substitutes for him, taking Tarzan to an empty soccer stadium. The driver tries to kill him but Tarzan quickly gets the best of him. A sniper pops up in the upper reaches of the stadium and, in a scene that has to be one of the top 5 moments in any Tarzan movie, Tarzan kills him by using a gigantic Coca Cola bottle used as advertising in the stadium. By the twenty-minute mark, Tarzan finally jettisons the suit and puts his loincloth back on and enlists a leopard, a lion and a chimp to track down Ramel, the boy who has been taken by the evil Augustus Vinero (David Opatoshu), who actually isn't too far from a Goldfinger type of villain. The details remained a bit vague to me, but apparently Ramel got lost and wandered out of his hidden village, rumored to be an ancient Aztec city with a fortune in gold (hence the Valley of Gold of the title). Vinero kidnapped the boy to get him to lead the way to the valley to get the gold. Tarzan manages to get Ramel (and Vinero's mistress Sophia) and the film becomes a race between Tarzan and Vinero to get the valley. When they do, Tarzan is disappointed that the pacifist Aztecs won't fight back against Vinero, and in fact, they imprison Tarzan so he won't use violence either. But this is, after all, a Tarzan movie so eventually he comes out on top and Vinero faces an ironic defeat he brings on himself.

In the Tarzan movie canon (1930s to the late 60s), Johnny Weissmuller, with twelve films to his credit, is the most famous Tarzan. Jock Mahoney, Gordon Scott and Lex Barker, most having gone beyond Weissmuller's grunts in terms of dialogue, are fine, but for my money, Mike Henry is the platonic Tarzan thanks to his muscled body and his dark looks. Long before I saw any of his movies, photos of Henry in all his loinclothed glory fed my teenage fantasies for years. Luckily, his movies are among the better ones, certainly heads and shoulders above the later Weissmuller ones. Most reviewers note how this one begins like a 60s spy movie, and it does. But that element is fun and things eventually revert back to the classic tropes. There is no Jane figure here—Nancy Kovack, as Sophia, is along for the ride but there are no hints of romance between them. There is also no "Boy," though there is a young lad in peril, a plotline in several of the 60s Tarzan movies that I find tiresome. I suppose that element is there to give the young male audience members someone to identify with. There is also no Cheetah, and the animals that are present are mostly used well, not as comic relief. Opatoshu is a good villain who, as befitting the era, has a spy movie gimmick of giving people exploding jewelry; he tries to kill his mistress by locking explosives around her neck. I like that Tarzan uses a machine gun in a cave to shoot stalactites so they'll fall and kill some of the bad guys. The pacifist angle of the Aztecs makes for an interesting plot development. This is the best of the three Mike Henry Tarzan films, though the earlier Mahoney and Scott movies deserve to be seen. [DVD]

Wednesday, June 26, 2024


We see 17-year-old Jamie (Barry Evans, at right), a grocery store delivery boy, biking around a London suburb, speaking an interior monologue out loud, all about the "carnal fancying" that is plaguing him. He wants to lose his virginity, but despite being attractive and relatively charming, he's having a hard time doing so. (Pun intended, inspired by a line in the movie from when he bumps into a girl on his bike. She says, "No hard feelings" and his interior reply is, "That’s what you think.") He's in love with Mary whom he sees as unobtainable, but he thinks Linda might be a more realistic target, though he frequently refers to her as "runny old Linda," apparently a reference to her class. He takes up briefly with Paula who ropes him into helping put on a church bazaar and dressing up as the King of the Fairies for a skit. Next up is Caroline (whose response to everything is a softly-drawled "super…") who invites Jamie to spend the weekend at the family home where her eccentric wine-drunk dad is sneaking around the house having an affair with the maid, though Caroline herself passes out before Jamie can make a move. At a giant make-out party, Jamie gets in some time with Audrey but is tempted away when Mary seems interested. The two go skinny-dipping and finally consummate their brief relationship (after an intrusive dog butts in), but when Jamie finds out that Mary is sexually experienced, he is turned off. We're left with Jamie, a sadder but wiser non-virgin who looks forward to further adventures at college.

This is very much a period piece, and is sometimes compared to ALFIE (Michael Caine's 1966 breakout film), another movie about a British man hung up on sex. Both celebrate the openness with which one could deal with sex in movies at the time. But this is less serious, and Jamie ends up in a better place than Alfie. With none of the female characters getting any kind of real development (and the few male characters getting even less), your enjoyment of this will depend on how you take to Barry Evans, who was in his mid-20s but easily passes for a teenager with his spritely almost impish good looks and energy. I liked Evans quite a bit (I remember him as a cast member in the British sitcom Doctor in the House) and found he made the more unlikable aspects of his character—he's a bit of a chauvinistic user—easier to take. Denholm Elliott is wasted in the small role of Caroline's drunken father. The women, who are mostly on and off the screen in a few minutes, are a bit of a blur, with only Judy Geeson (Mary) and Angela Scouler (Caroline) standing out. We seem to be left with a lesson that it's OK for men to sow their wild oats but women should not. Of course, most of the comedy is in the idea that Jamie never gets to do much sowing, and I honestly was sometimes confused as to whether or not his sexual adventures were successful. I had assumed that he was no longer virgin by the time he finally got to Mary, but based on the narrative's drive, he apparently was. There are songs by the Spencer Davis Group, and Traffic sings the title song. (Trivia note: Steve Winwood was in the Spencer Davis Group before he joined Traffic.) A bit of a novelty for fans of 60s cinema, but not a must-see. [TCM]

Monday, June 24, 2024


We first see young Rudi (James MacArthur, pictured) at the top of the Citadel, a formidable mountain in the Alps, planting a red flag, an old shirt of his father's, to memorialize his father's death on the mountain years ago. Then we realize that this scene is just a daydream—Rudi is looking out the windows at the mountains while washing dishes in a hotel kitchen which is run by Teo, a former climbing guide. Rudi wants to be the first man to climb to the top of the Citadel, and while Teo sympathizes with him, he tries to keep the boy grounded to his circumstances. But Rudi sneaks out to go climbing anyway, and while on a glacier, runs across a man stuck in a deep crevasse. He helps the man out and discovers he has just saved famed climber Captain Winter (Michael Rennie) who is visiting the village. He wants to climb the Citadel with Rudi's uncle Franz as his guide, and with Rudi as a porter, but Franz wants no part of the climb, and forbids Rudi to go as well. Eventually, Winter gets Emil (Herbert Lom), a guide from a nearby city, to go up with him. Rudi's town has a long history of rivalry with Emil's town, so Rudi sees this as a chance to be his town's man on the mountain so he lies to Winter and says that his uncle has given him permission to go up the Citadel. Of course, he hasn't, and there's trouble when the townsfolk see the climbers heading up. There are weather problems and near the top, both Winter and Emil are injured. When it’s clear that Emil shouldn't be left alone, Rudi must decide if he will stay and help the unfriendly rival Emil or head up with Winter and plant his father's red shirt as he did in his daydreams.

This Disney film was shot largely on location in the Swiss Alps, on the Matterhorn (which later became a ride at Disneyland) and in the village of Zermatt. It's claimed that the cast had to take weeks of mountain climbing training, and though there are definitely some shots of the cast members on real mountains, there are also several process shots done in a studio. But those shots are mostly worked in without a loss of believability and as an adventure film, this works fairly well. MacArthur, son of Helen Hayes, was only 21 at the time of shooting and, though his performance is toned down a bit by Disneyfication, he makes a fine hero and even manages to shine next to the more experienced Rennie and Lom. The requisite romance with Lizbeth (Janet Munro from THE CRAWLING EYE and DARBY O'GILL) is bland, though supporting actors like Lawrence Naismith as Teo, Lee Patterson as a rival of Rudi's for Lizbeth’s attentions, and James Donald as Franz bring some nice background color (as, of course, do the locations). The understanding Lizabeth has to deliver a line that kinda reeks of toxic masculinity: "A man must do what he feels he must or he isn't a man." However, Rudi does step up and do the right thing at the end, even if it's not exactly what he wants to do. At two hours, it's a smidge long but it's an enjoyable film overall. [Disney+]

Thursday, June 20, 2024


We see insurance investigators Joe (Charles McGraw) and Harry (Louis Jean Heydt) wrap up a case in a Cincinnati hotel. At the airport, as Joe waits for his flight, a young woman named Diane tells the clerk that she’s Joe's wife so she can get half off on her fare. Next to him on the plane she confesses her plan and Joe lets it slide. When the plane has to make an overnight emergency landing, they are booked into one hotel suite. He flirts with her but she says she has ambitions beyond someone like him. (Can you catch the film noir femme fatale scent yet?) Later, in Los Angeles at Christmas, Joe and Harry are assigned to investigate Kendall Webb, a wealthy but shady man who is thought to be the mastermind behind a big fur robbery. Webb’s mistress turns out to be Diane who, despite having been given two furs by him recently, is sure that Webb is not who they're looking for. Thrown back together, sparks fly between Joe and Diane, so much so that he goes crooked. He lets Webb know about a big cash delivery that his company is protecting, and helps him to get the cash in exchange for a part of the booty so he can treat Diane in the manner to which she has become accustomed. The robbery is a success but a postal clerk is killed so the heat is on. Joe and Harry are called on to investigate, and thanks to Double Indemnity, we know how it all will turn out.

Shown as part of the Criterion Channel's Holiday Noir series, the holiday scenes are minimal, but the noir content is solid. Joe is a likable nice guy, led astray by a greedy woman, and has to hide his double life from his partner Harry who is ultimately instrumental in bringing Joe down. Peopled with lesser-known B-actors, the cast is still quite strong. McGraw had a lengthy career, often playing a gangster, and here his gruff quality works well in keeping us on our toes about his behavior: he's a good guy but it seems obvious from early on that he will let lust blind him to his morality. Joan Dixon (Diane) excels as a golddigger who is a bit gruff herself, but seems genuine later when she tries to stop Joe from helping to pull the job. This is the most screen time I've ever seen given to Louis Jean Heydt, who is recognizable in Gone With the Wind, The Big Sleep, Commandos Strike at Dawn, and The Great McGinty, among dozens of other small roles. Milburn Stone is a detective tracking Joe. The last car chase is a good one, shot in the Los Angeles river culvert which is familiar from Grease, Cleopatra Jones and Them! It’s nice to see a movie marketed as a film noir that actually is. Pictured are Dixon and McGraw. [Criterion Channel]

Monday, June 17, 2024


Suzanne is an aspiring singer who can't get a job. At her last failed audition, she meets up with Victor, a hammy comic actor who is always underemployed, though he shows Suzanne many pictures of himself in famous roles. Currently, he does a drag act under the name Victoria, but he's suffering mightily from a head cold, so he convinces Suzanne to go on in his place—a woman pretending to be a man dressing up and performing as a woman. Suzanne does a comic number as Victoria, then pulls off her wig and drops her voice to a low growl to show that she's a man. An agent signs her to a contract and a success montage follows as she performs and splits her take with Victor. In London, Suzanne (as Victor/Victoria) impresses three friends at a nightclub: handsome playboy Robert, the older Lord Douglas, and Elinor, the woman both men flirt with, though technically she's with Lord Douglas. Robert is taken with Victoria and overhears a private conversation in which it becomes clear that Victor/Suzanne is actually a woman, but he decides to play along with the charade for a while. Meanwhile Elinor seeks out Victor/Suzanne for a date. There is a bar brawl, a proposal for a duel (which is resolved in song), and the threat of Suzanne's trick being discovered, but all is righted in the end.

This German film was the inspiration for 1983's Victor/Victoria with Julie Andrews as the cross-cross dressing title character. As that is one of my favorite comedies, it's difficult not to compare the two versions. Not only are the plots similar, but both feature a song by Victoria about a Spanish lady (from Seville in 1983, from Madrid in 1933) and both end with an incident in which the female barely avoids discovery of her trickery. The later film is far queerer in feel than this one. In 1983, the male mentor (played by Robert Preston) is openly gay and his relationships with men are part of the narrative arc. Also, for a brief time, Victoria's male pursuer (James Garner) is a bit unsettled when he thinks he is attracted to a man. Here, the male mentor (Hermann Thimig) is straight, though he is a drag performer, and the male pursuer (Anton Walbrook) finds out quickly that Victor is a woman so there's no real ambiguity about his feelings. Renate Muller (Suzanne) passes as a man much more realistically than Julie Andrews did, but Andrews is, of course, more fabulous than Muller. This film is more of a traditional musical in that characters pop out in song, and often in rhyming dialogue, during the action of the film, whereas in the 1983 film, all the songs are sung as stage performances. This will never eclipse the Julie Andrews film, and it's got less to think about thematically, but it’s a fun watch. Aka VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA. There is also a British version from 1935, FIRST A GIRL, which is worth seeing. Pictured are Muller and Walbrook. [Criterion Channel; also on Kino Lorber DVD]

Friday, June 14, 2024


This film opens with a dedication to those who manage to escape their "Hell’s kitchen" neighborhoods. Harry Carey is a good-natured cop who is on hand for the release of his son (Bruce Cabot) from prison. Carey is friendly and sympathetic but also determined to keep Cabot on the straight and narrow, but Cabot has a chip on his shoulder against society. His former girlfriend (Julie Bishop) connects with him and they attend a dance together, but afterwards, a shady character approaches Cabot and gets him to join up with a gang run by a Ma Barker-type (Wynne Gibson). She asks him to get a job through his father in the police radio room, so that when her gang pulls off their next robbery, he can short circuit the radio transmitters and delay by two minutes the call for police to arrive at the scene, enough time for the crooks to get away. Cabot agrees to do it, and the crooks get away, but not before Carey is wounded. When the heat gets too much for Gibson, she leaves Cabot on his own when suspicion falls on him, and when he kills the mother of an old friend who could rat him out, we know he's not redeemable. An average B-crime movie of the era, enlivened a bit by Carey, playing a bit against type as kindly instead of gruff. The young Glenn Ford, in one of his first movies, is good; his role as the old friend of Cabot's whose mom is killed is fairly small but important. Cabot is fine, Bishop (credited as Jacqueline Wells) is unmemorable; Edgar Buchanan is a bartender and Bruce Bennet has a small part as a crook. The scene of Ford's mother getting killed isn't shown, just mentioned, which dissipates the strength of that plot point. At one hour, it's well paced and doesn't wear out its welcome. Pictured are Cabot and Ford. [TCM]

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

WHAT A WAY TO GO! (1964)

Rich widow Shirley MacLaine wants to give her entire fortune, 211 million dollars, to the government and the government thinks she's crazy, so we see her tell her story in flashback to psychiatrist Bob Cummings. It turns out she's been widowed four times in her life, and all four husbands wound up with huge fortunes that were left to her. As a young girl in the small town of Crawleyville, her mother encourages her to marry a member of the rich Crawley family (Dean Martin) but instead she marries simple and unambitious merchant Dick Van Dyke, who soon builds his rustic little store into a booming business. He becomes a workaholic and drops dead of exhaustion. Next, while visiting Paris, MacLaine falls for cab driver and struggling artist Paul Newman. After they marry, he invents a huge mechanical device that automatically paints abstract images on large canvases, becomes famous, and winds up dead at the hands of his malfunctioning machine. When she misses a flight back to the States, business tycoon Robert Mitchum takes her back in his private jet—they marry and she convinces him to retire to a quiet life on a farm, but when he tries to milk a bull, he dies from getting kicked in the head by the bull. Finally, she meets small-time entertainer Gene Kelly who works at a local steakhouse. He wears clown makeup and uses goofy novelties and is generally ignored by patrons, but when MacLaine suggests he pare his act down to his real talent for singing and dancing, he becomes massively popular, buys a mansion and has it all painted pink. He too dies an early death. Will our poor rich widow ever find lasting happiness?

The goofy opening sets the tone for this farcical comedy: Shirley MacLaine, in her widow’s weeds, leaves her pink mansion as pallbearers drop the coffin containing Kelly which careens out of control. There isn't much of a story here, or even any real lessons to be learned, but as a revue-type entertainment, it's fun. During the flashbacks, each relationship is portrayed briefly in a fantasy sequence like a Hollywood movie: with Van Dyke, it's a slapstick silent film; with Newman, a French art film; with Mitchum, a glossy melodrama during which MacLaine changes into elaborate gowns with each new scene; and with Kelly, a musical (of course). These are fantasy scenes set in a movie that is all glossy Technicolor fantasy, so the risk of overload is always present, but mostly the viewer remains engaged, if only to see how each marriage will go sideways—MacLaine is often unhappy with her husbands' changes but the marriages themselves never really fracture until the husbands die. Of course, the death aspect would lead one to believe that this is mostly dark comedy, but the surface performances and cotton-candy visuals steer us away from too much gloomy contemplation of the various widowhoods. You can't really judge acting here, just the ability of the performers to entertain without going too far over the top or woodenly missing the mark. MacLaine is perfect, and Van Dyke and Newman both come close to matching her. Mitchum is a bit on the wooden side, and Kelly seems lost, like he didn't quite get the joke (though of course his dancing with MacLaine is very nice indeed). It's fun to see Margaret Dumont, grand straight woman to the Marx Brothers, in a small role as MacLaine's mother. When MacLaine is disappointed that Van Dyke has put off their vacation to Rome, he tells her, "Get yourself a couple of art books and a box of spaghetti." In the Hollywood epic scene, Robert Mitchum asks, "What are you doing after the orgy?" one of a few jokey references to Fox's Cleopatra from the year before. I liked this one, and even when it started feeling a bit long, the costumes and visuals were always a treat. Pictured are Mitchum and MacLaine in a gigantic glass of champagne. [TCM]

Monday, June 10, 2024


Deborah Clark (Ida Lupino, at right), looking scared, is driving recklessly at night when her car goes off the road and lands in the river. Emergency workers search for her body to no avail. That's because she's alive up in a wooded area, watching all the fuss. We learn that Deborah was on her honeymoon with Selden Clark (Stephen McNally), but feared that he was plotting to kill her. In an extended flashback, we learn that Deborah's father John Chandler (John Litel) owns a mill which is managed by Selden, a handsome but brutish young man who has his eyes on Deborah, mostly because she's the boss’s daughter. They date but not seriously until one day when Deborah's father falls to his death at the mill in what seems to be a tragic accident. On the day of the funeral, Selden proposes and Deborah accepts. When they arrive at a honeymoon cabin in the woods, who should greet them but Selden's out of town ex-mistress Patricia, who lives in Raleigh and implies that, in the past, she has spent canoodling time with Selden in the cabin. She also plants a seed suggesting that Selden had a hand in the death of Chandler. Deborah decides to leave him and have their marriage annulled, but Selden warns her that he married her to get ahold of the mill and will do anything to do so. That night, in a tense well-done scene, Deborah sneaks out of the cabin and into the car, then discovers on the road that the brakes have been cut. Which brings us back to the start of the film, with Deborah assumed dead but on the run, and Selden suspicious that she is still alive.

The second half of the film centers on Deborah trying to get to Raleigh to find Patricia whom she hopes will tell her story to the authorities. While on the road, Deborah meets up with ex-soldier Keith Ramsey (Howard Duff) who wants to help this clearly distraught woman. Meanwhile, Selden, after Deborah's body was never found, puts ads in newspapers asking for help to find her. The well-meaning Keith contacts Selden who comes to Raleigh determined to have her sent off to an asylum. Deborah does find Patricia, and the climax is a chase scene at the mill involving all four principals, with Selden wanting to kill Deborah like he killed her father. Advertised as noir, this is more a crime melodrama with little visual style (from journeyman Michael Gordon) but good plot twists and performances. The tension is effectively sustained throughout. Lupino is fine as the damsel in constant distress, and Duff is quite effective as her would-be rescuer; they have good chemistry and the two were married in real life a couple years later. Peggy Dow is fine in the small but important role of Patricia. Unexceptional but solid entertainment. [Criterion Channel]

Friday, June 07, 2024


One night, young Emile is left sulking when he is sent to his bedroom so he puts on his white scarf and sneaks out his window, winding up at a nearby train station. A man befriends him and as they walk down a sidewalk, the man notices a sad looking woman walking toward them. He takes Emile's scarf and casually strangles her. Years later, a grown-up Emile (Jacques Perrin, pictured) has taken up murdering lonely women (or women he thinks are lonely) with his white scarf. Inspector Dangret, posing as a reporter, goes on TV to appeal to the killer to come forward and talk to him. Anna, a young woman who has just gone through a breakup, volunteers herself as bait for Dangret. Finally, a young ruffian follows Emile about and, after the murders, robs the victim. Often referred to as a giallo, this does have that look and feel, but it has very little sex or explicit violence. It's not horror and it's not a whodunnit. I think the director, Paul Vecchiali, thinks it's a psychological thriller (a whydunnit), though there is very little insight into why any of the characters do what they do here. The movie reminds me of PEEPING TOM which also has the central character of a man who kills women because of a childhood trauma. But TOM has an intensity, with scenes of almost unbearable tension, that this film completely lacks. Some viewers have given this film a queer reading as Emile's killings don't give him a sexual thrill, and his relationship with the cop is the strongest bond in the movie, but I have yet to see a truly coherent theory of its queerness put forward. It may be there but it doesn't have much impact on the narrative or on audience reception unless we want to buy the 'homosexual as villain' trope. For the record, Julien Guiomar is Dangret, Eva Simonet is Anna, and Paul Barge is the thief. The visual style is probably the most appealing thing about the movie. I also must mention a strange scene in a beatnik club where a bad singer (deliberately bad, I have to assume) sings a bad song while chorus girls drape themselves over the club tables. It makes quite a tableau. [Criterion Channel]

Tuesday, June 04, 2024


At work in a big city bank, we see two tellers: John Hanson, who is also studying law and playing the stock market, and his friend Phil Wilson, a bit of a flirt and probably a cad. At the dock, Hanson meets his Swedish girlfriend, Helga Larson, arriving in America for the first time. He has arranged for her to rent a room in the same boarding house where he lives. John and Helga seem happy as they wait for John to pass the bar exam before they marry, but soon Helga gets tired of sitting around doing nothing while John studies, so Phil starts to take her out to social events, with John's blessing. The landlady sees no good coming from this, but John insists that Phil is his friend and would not take advantage of his time with Helga. Wrong. Phil and Helga begin some serious canoodling while poor John, desperate to make a down payment on a house, embezzles some money from the bank, specifically from Wilson's drawer. Wilson is arrested and tried for embezzlement, while Hanson keeps his mouth shut and Helga reluctantly marries him. How long will it take for Hanson's conscience to prod him into confessing? As it happens, quite a while, and that's the story twist that turns this movie into an unsatisfying downer. Frankly, none of the three is admirable, but also none of the three is particularly interesting, or evil, or even sociopathic. The ending feels like it might have been concocted by committee, but it's also mostly predictable if you know films of this era. The acting is serviceable; Conrad Nagel as John, Betty Compson as Helga, Robert Ames as Phil, Robert Emmett O’Connor as a cop. No one stands out, though Compson might be the weak link as she never truly seems all that engaged by either of the men. Pictured is Conrad Nagel. [TCM]