Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Wrong Man (1956)

Broke Musician Manny (Henry Fonda) tries to borrow against his wife’s life insurance policy to pay for her dental work and is mistakenly identified as an armed robber. Other eyewitnesses positively identify him as the assailant and his handwriting matches the notes. His world swirls down the crapper while his hot wife (Vera Miles) goes off the rails.

Manny is an aw shucks nice and honest man. Kind to his mother, patient to his wife and child. We know this because Hitch beats us over the head with it. Repeatedly and to the point that it  longer than the hour forty five run time. Also, have I pointed out that he was THE WRONG MAN? Oh, we did? Good. Sometimes suspense comes at the expense of subtly.

Not one of Hitchcock’s top films, in fact I judge it pretty low on his list. Maybe lowest if his post war work, be he had done so many it’s hard to say. Not that it is tragically flawed. Not compared to Rope and Strangers on a Train, which were less boring. Fonda’s Manny is two dimensional and uninteresting. Also at 50 he was 24 years older than wife Vera Miles. Creepier still, they had an eight year old boy. Maybe the most interesting part is Miles’ performance in the third act. She played the standard dutiful wife up to that point before the stress really takes its toll.

Only Hitchcock film for Fonda but Vera will also star in Psycho. Least interesting of the post-war Hitchcock (so far), but still manages an AMRU 3.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Return of Doctor X (1939)

A reporter scores an interview with beautiful star of the stage Angela, but when he arrives he finds her dead. Stabbed in the heart and everything. Rather than call the police, he runs a sensationalist news story. When she shows up at the newspaper very much alive and threatening to sue, our hero finds himself out of a job. He starts pestering his hunky doctor friend to find out if someone could survive such a wound. Lucky for our heroes, hunky doctor is asked to identify the body of a man who died in exactly the same way. The trail leads to artificial blood and the hunky Doctor’s boss’ creepy assistant (Humphrey Bogart).

Wait, what? Yes, you heard that right. Humphrey Bogart plays the creepy Doctor X. The studio naturally wanted Boris Karloff for the role but couldn’t get him. So instead they enlisted WB bit actor Bogart, who was none too pleased. Still, he did a better than fair job in his only horror role. Ostensibly a sequel to the 1932 film it shares no similarity save for a character called Doctor X. Different backstory, different first name, and, of course, different actor.

Not much horror in this one unless you count the way our hunky doctor practically orders a pretty nurse to go on a date with him, then leaves her in the car while he runs around trying to solve his little mystery. I guess you do what you must to keep your job.

The Return of Doctor X has a fair amount of atmosphere with a little sci-fi thrown in, and Bogie was rather creepy in the role, even if he felt his unfamous self too good to do genre movies. Was being a gangster thug so much better? Nice and short, you may find it worth your time. I did. AMRU 3.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Berlin Express (1948)

An American, a Russian, a German, and an Englishman walk into a bar. I mean a train. Going to Berlin. Post-war Germany is divided by the three main allied powers. Or four, I don’t know. Anyhow a German professor is working to reunite Germany for peace, so he gets blown up. Because the allied authorities are just rounding people up for questioning and nothing else, our band of multi-ethnic heroes investigate. Turns out there are these Germans who aren’t too keen on this whole ‘peace’ idea.

Enigmatic Merle Oberon played the German professor’s faithful helper. She mostly appeared in period costume dramas which is why I haven’t visited her before. Jacques Tourneur is one of those directors who could have been a big name given different circumstances. This is the sixth of his film that I’ve seen and the least interesting.

Berlin Express bares a certain resemblance to The Third Man. Actually filmed in Germany (the first US film to do so after the war) we see the war’s aftermath and the consequences the people must face. But Berlin Express isn’t quite the film. Story, acting, script, and cinematography, it pales in comparison. I don’t mean to imply that it is a bad film. The Third Man is a masterpiece, and this was, well, made by RKO. Berlin Express is quite watchable if you step clear of the comparison. It holds your interest if not your memory.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Having burned his way out of town, Orson Welles focused on the stage. In order to get his stage musical financed he promised to make a traditional, Hollywood, action thriller. What he actually made was a two and a half hour mess. He wanted voice level to be almost too low to hear and blast the audience away with sound effects. Because EvErYboDy lOvEs ThAt! Fortunately, studio meddling turned it into something watchable.

Our hero is poor Michael O’Hara who is actually Orson Welles with an Irish Accent. He earns a job on a rich lawyer’s yacht by hitting on his hot young wife (Rita Hayworth). And by saving her from thugs. There he continues his infatuation with hot Elsa and gets caught up in what we here are referring to as ‘intrigue’.

Hayworth was Welles estranged wife at the time, fun fun. He had her hair cut and bleached, which was a no-no back in the day. Rita’s strawberry blond hair was her trademark and you just don’t go messing with studio property. Were you to film in Fenway park you don’t go and paint the Green Monster blue. Welles was his own worst enemy.

I refrain from spoiling the story but in actuality the viewer has no clue where it's going for the majority of the runtime anyhow. Even Welles' O'Hara seems to have a dumbfounded expression on his face throughout the film. Studio boss Harry Cohen said he'd never hire the same man to produce, direct, and star in a film because he could never fire him. But, you know, Cohen was an ass.

Film purists will defend Welles artistic vision, but that’s not what he promised the studio. Maybe his version would have been a masterpiece, but he hadn't earned the right to make it. Not from Hollywood's perspective, at least. What we got was an interesting, weird as hell, and watchable hour and a half long film. AMRU 3.5.
“George, that’s the first time anyone ever thought enough of you to call you a shark. If you were a good lawyer you’d be flattered.”

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Tony (Ray Milland) discovers that his rich hot wife (Grace Kelly) is having an affair, so he arranges for a complicated hit on her. When that doesn’t pan out, he tries to frame her for a murder. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Whenever you plot to kill the hot, hot Grace Kelly, you cannot be the protagonist, but Milland almost pulls it off. He gets the bulk of the screen time, is charming almost to a fault, and you can almost see his point of view. Almost. Ex-tennis pro Tony is a manipulator. If the rich Margot divorces him he loses his means to a comfy lifestyle. If she dies, he takes it all. He manipulates the would-be assassin with surgical precision. When things go awry he tries to engineer his way out of things, manipulating Margot in the process. A true master at work.

Ray Milland was a better actor than his reputation. He did a bunch of forgettable light rom-coms but his better work (The Lost Weekend) proves his ability. Dial M for Murder is a better work. Cary Grant was considered for the role but Cary must always play nice guy.

Filmed almost entirely in one room, the studio decided to make it 3D. Hitch had no interest in even making the movie, but he was contractually obligated. Not exactly a recipe for success but this is Hitchcock we are talking about. It was a great stage play and Hitch’s tenacity made it an excellent film. Then he made Rear Window.

Dial M for Murder is a smart, charming story. It is very wordy in a good way and the crime plan is very well thought out. There is no real mystery except to see how it all plays out. It’s Hitchcock at the top of his game. In his top five, for sure. Mom would have loved it. AMRU 4.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Being There (1979)

Chance (Peter Sellers) is a simple man who tends the garden for an old rich man. When the old man dies in his sleep, he is forced to leave the estate for the first time. He is injured by a parking car owned by a rich industrialist and DC power broker. Fearing he will sue, they take him in and mistake his simple speech for deep insights. Simpleton Chance the gardener becomes Chauncy Gardiner, philosophical guru.

Peter Sellers was nuts. He became so engrossed with the characters he play that he didn’t know who he was between projects. Panther director Blake Edwards thought him mentally ill with no real personality of his own. Friends would be confused when they would see him after a significant absence and find him to be a different person. There are so many weird stories about his life that I am surprised a biopic hasn’t been made.

Once inside the fancy Rand estate, Chauncy befriends another sick old man Benjamin (Melvyn Douglas), who is a close friend of the president (Jack Warden). He also attracts the affection of Ben’s wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). Chauncy likes to watch.

Most of Being There is people interpreting Chance’s words as insightful or clever, filling in the gaps themselves as a sort of conversational Rorschach test. In one scene Chance is in an elevator, sitting in a wheelchair, chatting with the man helping him to his room. Chance says he’s never been in “one of these before”, meaning the elevator and the man assumes he means a wheelchair. They continue conversing without knowing they are talking about different things. It’s a masterful scene.

Being There is a unique film and Sellers was brilliantly understated in his role. Nominated for an Oscar, he very well may have deserved it. He was nuts, but he was also a genius. AMRU 4.
“I have no claim. I don't even know what one looks like.”

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Little Caesar (1931)

The rise and fall of an underworld crime thug (Edward G. Robinson). See The Public Enemy and Scarface. Rinse and repeat.

Little Caesar was a big hit and made Robinson a star and became the gangster stereotype, see? His full name is Caesar Enrico Bandello, or Rico for short. Or Little Caesar because he is short. His buddy is played by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. not to be confused with his far more talented silent screen star father. Well, at least Junior made it past 60. Junior’s Joe wants out because he falls in love with his dancing partner (Glenda Farrell) in one of the most unconvincing and chemistry-less scenes imaginable. Still, the love and dancing makes Rico think Joe is soft, see?

Pre-code films had to play a game. In order to show the sex and violence that audiences craved they pretended to offer a cautionary tale. See the evils if good men are not diligent? Few were fooled but it was enough to keep the censors at bay.

So, was Rico gay? Hear me through. Joe is soft, Rico thinks, because he loves a woman. Rico acts almost jealous, like a spurned lover. And when he is first on the lamb, where does he hold out? A fruit store. Reading too much into this, am I? Of course I am.

Somewhat entertaining and historically significant, Little Caesar codified the sounds and mannerisms of the prohibition gangster. And don’t think that the racketeer Influenced and corrupt organizations act name was just a coincidence. AMRU 3.
“Well, that was white of him alright.”