Saturday, December 29, 2018

Holiday Inn (1942)

A song and dance team breaks up because Jim (Bing Crosby) wants to run a country inn in Connecticut. Lila and Ted (Fred Astaire) decide not to retire along with him because they are in love. Jim’s plan for his inn is to be open only on holidays. Thus, Holiday Inn.

Lila goes off and marries a millionaire so Ted shows up drunk at the Inn and sees his future dance and maybe love partner performing. But sneaky Bing … I mean Jim tries to keep her secret and all to himself, so let the conniving begin.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was written for the movie and fast became the number 1 selling single of all time. Bing would sing it in a Christmas musical two more times. Director Mark Sandrich called it the ABC of American musical comedies: Astaire, Berlin, and Crosby. All three were and would continue to be on quite a tare.

The characters say that there are fifteen holidays but they show only eight or nine. But it’s Lincoln’s Birthday that garnished the most praise. No, praise isn’t the right word. What do you call it when white people sing in black face? Whatever that is, it garnished the most of it. To be fair the intent was to be respectful and it made sense in context. The scene is frequently removed from TV airings but TCM showed it uncut.

The song and dance numbers could be tedious and the story is paper thin, but the charming on-screen chemistry and witty banter pulled it through. If the musical numbers are your thing, then you’ll love it. AMRU 3.5. Oh, and yea. The hotel chain stole their name from this.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Man who Came to Dinner (1942)

Unpleasant lecturer Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) is to have dinner with a rich, industrialist family when he slips on ice and hurts his back. He is forced to stay there for weeks and makes their life miserable. Whiteside’s life becomes complicated when his personal assistant Maggie (Bette Davis) takes a fancy to a local reporter and flirts with the idea of moving on from her thankless job. Let the conniving begin.

Films from plays can occasionally be quite entertaining. Clever, fast paced dialog that sometimes skirts the Code, when done right, they can be a joy. Spoiler alert, this one was.

As the Whiteside character hobnobs with celebrities, there is a large amount of playful name dropping throughout the film. They mention Cary Grant and the Barrymores. John Barrymore and Grant both were considered for the Whiteside role (talk about casting a wide net) but Davis objected to Grant and Barrymore was barely able to function at that time, dying just after the film’s premiere. Jimmy Durante played a vaudeville style movie comedian based mostly on Harpo Marx. I wonder if he approved of the caricature.

Ann Sheridan plays the high maintenance actress Lorraine Sheldon. Apparently she was quite popular in films I don’t care for, as I’ve never seen her in anything. The gossamer dress she wore in the film really, ahem, stood out. Towards the end of a very successful career, cancer would take her at age 51. I used to be 51.

I quibble with aspects of the ending but The Man who Came to Dinner really is a joy to watch. Solid script, tight performances, and a well done production. AMRU 4.
“Nobody's home! The Stanleys have all been arrested for peddling dope! Go away!”

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Holiday Affair (1949)

Hot war widow Connie (Janet Leigh) is a ‘comparison shopper’, meaning someone who buys items for examination by a competing department store, and then returns them. She is caught by hunky Steve (Robert Mitchum) who must ban her from the store, effectively costing her the job. But he shows compassion and doesn’t report her, costing him HIS job. They keep accidentally meeting up causing friction with her safe and boring boyfriend/fiance Carl (Wendell Corey). Guess who gets the girl? Good money is on Steal-yo-girl Mitchum.

Good old Corey was Jim/Jeff’s cop buddy from Rear Window. He was ready for a long, successful career in Hollywood, and what’s better than that? Booze, that’s what. Wendell Corey, dead at age 54. His last few films include such gems as Cyborg 2087, The Astro-Zombies, and Women of the Prehistoric Planet. I'm not ashamed to say I kinda want to check them out. Hey, look! It’s Colonel Potter himself, Harry Morgan! As a cop no less!

Hot hot Janet Leigh was charming as the hard working widow trying to do right by her son, although at 22 maybe a little too young for the role. She was fourteen years older than little Timmy. We don’t feel too sorry for poor Carl. He isn’t made out to be a bad person but clearly not right for our Miss Leigh. And he may have been a little too understanding.

Holiday Affair is a decent little Christmas story but otherwise unspectacular. Wasn’t a success upon release but apparently is remembered well thanks to TCM. It was on my list to watch with Mom and I think she would have loved it. AMRU 3.
“Carl isn't the real threat to me. Maybe I'm not to him. This isn't two fellows and a girl, you know. This is two fellows, a girl and her husband. I can't fight a shadow - I tried - competition's too tough. You were even going to play it safe and settle for someone you didn't love so you wouldn't be unfaithful to your husband.”

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

Three wealthy old businessmen, who apparently live together, have no plans for Christmas dinner, so they each decide to throw a wallet into the street containing their business card and ten dollars. Whomever returns the wallets will be invited to stay for dinner. Pretty Jean (Jean) and folksy Jim Houston (Richard Carlson) do the right thing, aw shucks. Jim Houston is from Texas, because of course he is. I sure hope those two fall in love.

Old friends will remember Richard Carlson from Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space (at a deadly pace), and quite a few other films. Pretty young Jean Parker had a minor career playing pretty young women. Also here is enigmatic Maria Ouspenskaya (ten thousand points in scrabble). Need an eastern European gypsy or Russian countess? Maria was your woman.

What started with a fair enough premise degrades into a bit of a mess of a film. Cloyingly saccharine, we see our two love birds drift apart after the rich cronies (ahem) exit the scene. Jimbo becomes a famous singer and is pursued by a soulless harpy. That never ends well. Of course we have a happy enough of an ending thanks to Deus ex Machina, but I had already lost interest. This is another case of accidentally caught the movie at the beginning and decided to sit it out, but with lesser success. The film was touted by TCM because it was included in a book they are hard-selling. When asked what movie didn’t make the cut the author mentions It Happened on Fifth Avenue, which is far superior. That’s just insulting.

Cheap looking sets, mediocre acting, and muddled story, Beyond Tomorrow is skippable. AMRU 2.5.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Two Smart People (1946)

Con artist Ace Connors (John Hodiak) tries to sell a scam wildcat oil well to a rich rube, but is thwarted by pretty art dealer Ricki (Lucille Ball). So he returns the favor by thwarting her attempt to pass off a forgery to the same rube. When Ace’s former partners decide they want the bonds he took, he decides to take a plea deal and spend five years in the slammer. It was a good run. But first he wants to spend his last five days of freedom in style, and along for the ride he brings the retiring cop who had been trying to catch him. But pretty Ricki has been enlisted by the gang to follow him and get hold of those bonds. Will love bloom?

It does. Love blooms. There is never any doubt about that.

We spend much of the time on a train and a couple stops along the way, each of our three leads keeping secrets from the others. Ace appears to have all the angles covered, could he actually intend on going through with turning himself in? Is Ricki following her heart or following orders? And buddy Bob the cop, what’s up his sleeve? Nothing? Are you sure? Oh, you are? Well, you might be right.

John Hodiak is good as the charming con artist character. A couple years earlier he was seen in a Lifeboat. He had a fair career in Hollywood and it would have been longer had he not dropped dead at 41. Hey, look, there’s Elisha Cook Jr. Man, that dude was in everything.

I had never seen Lucy in a feature film and knew her early Hollywood career didn’t pan out well. Two Smart People lost pretty big at the box office and she never proved herself a draw. But better luck and better scripts could have made her a screwball comedy giant. As funny and charming as Barbara Stanwyck and prettier, the right vehicles and promotion could have pushed her over the top. But instead she switched to television and the rest is history.

Lucille Ball film career never took off but Two Smart People is a better than fair comic caper. I expected her to be funnier because, you know, she's Lucy, but the film is was it is. Apparently Lucy couldn’t play pretty (and she was very pretty) and funny at the same time. Still, this film is very much worth watching. AMRU 3.5.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Petrified Forest (1936)

Prettish Gabrielle (Bette Davis) works her father’s remote desert diner with old gramps and a simple hired hand. Jock hired hand professes his love for prettish Gabby but she finds herself enamored with the penniless wanderer-artist Alan (Leslie Howard). Things become complicated when the ruthless gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) arrives and holds the group hostage while drama unfolds.

This is the film that gave Bogart his big break. The weight of the world visibly rests on the shoulders of Bogart’s Duke. He seethed danger and desperation in what otherwise could have been a very stock character. Howard insisted on the casting of Bogart over Edward G. Robinson allowing the world to see what Bogart was capable of. Bogart named his second child with Lauren Bacall after Leslie. Luckily, she was a girl.

The Petrified Forest is a case study character. Bette is the star but our three foils (you can have three!) are Alan, empty-headed jock, and Duke. Each, through their words and actions show what kind of person they are, what motivates them (respect, a woman), and what they are willing to sacrifice. Slowly their character is revealed: Talkers, doers, pretenders, and desperadoes. Duke speaks fairly little and Alan quite a bit. And the Petrified Forest itself becomes a symbol for all three men. What they are afraid of, what they will become.

I had skipped over this film because the description doesn’t do it justice. I could not have been more wrong. It’s a very wordy film (Alan won’t shut up for a second) but I found every minute of it charming. Great acting, excellent dialog, and directorial restraint not seen much today. AMRU 4.5.
"Let there be killing. All this evening I've had a feeling of destiny closing in."

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Death Race 2000 (1975)

It’s the futuristic year 2000 and America is obsessed with a violent cross country race. The rules are clear, not really. The first team to get across the country, or racks up the most points, wins. Something. Oh, and you get points by running people down.

Our hero is the mysterious Frankenstein (David Carradine) and his biggest rival is Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone). There are five contestants in all and each have a navigator/mechanic/prostitute. Oh, and there’s a group of revolutionaries trying to sabotage the race. I hope they don’t insert a spy/saboteur into one of the cars.

Death Race 2000 is a fun, stupid, sometimes raunchy party of a movie. The race announcers sound right out of MTV or TMZ. The question isn’t are the performances over the top. It’s are they over the top enough. Looking for social commentary? You’ll be beaten over the head with it. Think Hunger Games but less subtly and more boobies.

That all said, it’s a pleasure to watch, ridiculous dialog and all. AMRU 4.
“A hand grenade”.

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Day at the Races (1937)

Pretty Judy (Maureen O’Sullivan) runs a Sanitarium that is short on cash. The bad guys are trying to buy her out so they can open a casino to go with the horse track next door. Her singer boyfriend blew all his cash on a racehorse, so he’s no help. Tony (Chico) tries to convince rich inmate (Margaret Dumont) to invest but she is obsessed with a doctor Hackenbush (Groucho) she saw in Florida. So Tony (Chico) sends a telegram inviting Hackenbush (Groucho) to visit. He does but unbeknownst to everyone, he’s a horse doctor. Harpo (Stuffy) is also there but he doesn’t have much to say.

Much of the manic tone and unconventional style of their earlier work is toned down for A Day at the Races. Groucho behaved less like a psychotic disconnected with what’s going on around him and more like a real person. He knows he’s a fraud and cares what happens to Judy. The end result is more importance felt for the situation Judy finds herself in and the comedic bits feel that much funnier. I can’t be sure if this tonal shift is due to Hollywood slowly reining the brothers in or if maturity was creeping in. Either way, it is a welcome change.

The most manic scene is where Hackenbush (Groucho) is forced to examine Mrs. Upjohn (Dumont) by an actual physician and he stalls with the help of Tony (Chico) and Stuffy (Harpo). It’s absolute insanity and it wouldn’t have had the same impact had the stakes not been high.

For me, this is the best Marx Brothers film so far. Producer Irving Thalberg died tragically at age 37 before filming wrapped and Groucho stated that he lost interest in making movies. I hope this doesn't bode ominously for the remaining films, but I already know a couple are stinkers. AMRU 4.
"If you're looking for my fingerprints, you're a little early!"

Friday, November 9, 2018

Strangler of the Swamp (1946)

The ghost of the bayou ferryman, executed for a murder he did not commit, haunts the swamp. Before he died he cursed everyone responsible and their descendants. When people turn up strangled, the old wives know who is responsible. Pretty and strong willed Maria, grand daughter of a strangled, returns to her old town to take the now vacant job of ferry-person. She doesn’t buy into any of this superstitious nonsense. Know who else doesn’t? Young Chris (Blake Edwards - Yes, THAT Blake Edwards) who also returns to town and strikes up a fancy for pretty and strong willed Maria.

The entirety of this no-budget thriller takes place in three locations: The ferryman’s cabin, the ferry itself, and rich Chris’ rich dad’s fancy house. They spoke of other places, but we don’t get to see them. Sets cost cash, you know. Blake Edwards used to be an actor, apparently. He did a lot of uncredited background work before becoming one of the best writers in history. Charles the Merciless Middleton played the haunted ferryman.

Short and atmospheric, Strangler of the Swamp isn’t bad for what it is. What it is, however, is somewhat dull and predictable. AMRU 2.5.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Walking Dead (1936)

A judge who convicted a gangster is murdered, and a simple ex-con (Boris Karloff) is framed for it. Testimony from two young lab assistance could exonerate him, but they come forward seconds too late. So their scientist-boss (Edmund Gwenn) gets custody of the body (all you need to do is ask, apparently) and brings him back to life. Seems revived Boris knows things that pre-dead Boris didn’t. Santa is anxious to learn how.

This Warner Brothers gangster/horror film was directed by Michael Curtiz who directed a dozen films a year from the early teens until he dropped dead, of exhaustion I presume. Karloff is fantastic as the understated simpleton raised from the dead. Santa was Santa as always.

The studio was clearly banking on the Frankenstein associations. Karloff Frankensteined his way after the gangsters and Gwenn even gave a “He’s Alive” upon his revival. The gothic trappings were not present (well, there is that one graveyard scene) but studios know how to sacrifice originality for ticket sales. But don't judge them too harshly. Karloff was something of a phenomenon at the time and money is money.

All in all, The Walking Dead is a plus horror film. There is a bit more going on than risen-monster-seeks-revenge. There are a few elements at play and Karloff showed some unexpected range. Make no mistake, it's still a B picture, but a well done one. AMRU 3.5.
“The Lord thy God is a jealous God!”

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Astounding She-Monster (1957)

A rich socialite is kidnapped by a band of misfit criminals and taken to a cabin in the woods where a hunky geologist lives. But unbeknownst to them, a glowing hot chick from space with outrageous makeup is stalking them. Yea, that just about sums this one up.

I was no more than ten minutes into this film before I realized that I was in for a treat. No, not treat. The opposite. Torture? Yea, lets go with that. For starters is the smarmy narration and clearly dubbed voices. I thought I was watching the second coming of the film which mustn’t be named. I was somewhat relieved when it progressed to actual dialog. Somewhat.

This low budget release is mostly six actors in one location. The dog, actually, is one of the actors actual dog. Apparently our glowing dominatrix ripped her costume in the back and had to walk backwards out of some scenes because they couldn’t fix it. Her costume was supposed to make her appear naked for sexually frustrated 1950’s audiences. Sadly for sexually frustrated modern audiences, the effect wasn’t very successful. She just slowly walks around, appears out of nowhere when the plot requires it, and kills with one touch of her glowing, radioactive hand.

Not original, poorly acted, not terribly interesting, and ladened with high-minded exposition. The lack of budget and creativity is apparent in every frame. A definite skipper. AMRU 2.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Black Room (1935)

Family history has it that the de Berghmann family started when twins were born and the older murdered the younger in The Black Room. Consequently, the family would end the same way. For this reason the Black Room is sealed up. Enter Gregor and Anton.

The evil Baron Gregor (Boris Karloff) is much despised by his people. Something about young women disappearing, although that is never fully explained. Good brother Anton returns (also Boris Karloff, but with a paralyzed right arm) and ties to mend old grudges. Grumpy Gregor has his eye on hot young Thea. When another young woman disappears the townspeople storm the castle for Gregor’s head. Instead Gregor abdicates his position to gentile Anton, whom everybody loves. And everyone lives happily ever after, and there is definitely no comeuppance, prophecy be damned.

While the split screen effects were not extensive, they were very well handled, especially considering the year. And whomever played the back side of Karloff’s head while talking to him definitely looked the part. Low budget horror is rife with examples of poor stand-in choices (I'm looking at you, Plan 9!). Also, Karloff was enough of an actor to pull off two characters.

The movie plays like a costume period piece with horror overtones. Predictable but atmospheric and short, and is one of Karloffs highest rated thrillers. Better than the prior two, but still AMRU 3.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Some rich dude (Christopher Lee) and his buddy Rex discover that a young friend has joined a satanic cult. Our hero uses every method illegal to save him from a fate worse than freedom of religion. He calls up all sorts of arcane knowledge and artifacts to rescue him. And some chick.

Seldom did Lee play the hero (although I’d argue he was the hero of The Wicker Man) and here I could argue he was the villain playing a confidence game convincing his dim-witted friends and relatives of a non-existent danger. He asserts with authority how every action and object is part of satanic activity without providing much evidence, and bullies the doubters. Of course Satan IS at work. Hammer isn’t that deep, but for a while I was tempted to doubt the premise.

Renamed “The Devil’s Bride” for American audiences so we wouldn’t think it was a Western. Here as the lead satanist is Charles Gray who also played Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever (1971) and a Criminologist in some other film.

The Devil Rides Out was released at the start of a satanic panic that spanned the 1970’s and 80’s. Fanatical Christians went crazy seeing the work of the devil behind every activity, starting baseless lawsuits and ruining reputations. Mediocre films like this fed into the nonsense that sometimes rears its ugly head today.

But to be fair, it’s not a terrible film. It had a larger budget than most Hammers and Lee’s favorite of his films. But it is very two dimensional story-wise. Bad guy is bad, good guy is good, and the action is moved forward by the other characters being stupid. Also, they are menaced by a spider that is translucent in the wide shots. In the tight shots they did a close up of a tarantula crawling on a miniature set, which looked exactly like a close up of a tarantula crawling on a miniature set. Sometimes it’s better to forgo the effect if it doesn’t work.

Not scary, not terribly interesting. Just passable by my standards. AMRU 3.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Countess Dracula (1971)

The aging Countess Elizabeth (Ingrid Pitt) gets the hots for a young soldier at her husband’s funeral. Soon she discovers that the blood of a virgin girl makes her skin look young again (by apparently washing away her silly-putty makeup) so she decides to impersonate her own daughter and woo the young man. Complications arise when she learns she must frequently re-apply the virgin-girl-blood, which villagers aren’t very keen about. They weren’t fond of her to begin with.

The main conflict resolves around General Dobi, who loves Elizabeth as she is (rich), the young soldier Imre Toth, who loves who he thinks is the Countess’ daughter, and Elizabeth herself, obsessed with youth and sexy-time. Toth is the closest thing we have to a protagonist so we kinda root for him. But Dobi, cruel and self serving as he is, isn’t without virtue. And we can even relate to Elizabeth’s obsession. Also, sexy-time.

Most of your Hammer Horror weapons are at play here, most notably copious blood and the flashing of cleavage. What doesn’t work are the set which look like that of a stage play, and the makeup and costumes, which are about as convincing as your average Monty Python skit. At one point I could see the tape holding a character’s beard on. And while the 30-something Pitt was quite fetching, I don’t think anyone would mistake her for a nineteen year old. See The Vampire Lovers for context.

Our Countess Elizabeth is a version of the historical Elizabeth B├íthory from Hungary and not related to Dracula nor a vampire at all. Much like Pitt’s previous film, it reads like a mediocre costume drama with minor horror elements and brief nudity. By no means a waste of time, but between the two, Vampire Lovers is slightly better, and I’d rewatch neither. AMRU 3.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Night of Terror (1933)

A maniac is killing people with a comically large knife and the police are hapless to stop him. Not a typo. Now the killer is near the Rinehart estate where lots of other things are going on.

Old man Rinehart has a strong willed daughter who insists on going the the theater with random newspaper reporters despite the presence of a killer in the neighborhood, and a nephew Arthur who is working on a groundbreaking discovery that save countless lives. A serum that will allow someone to live without oxygen for several hours without harm. He has an experiment planned where he is buried in a coffin for eight hours to prove it works. Also, nephew and daughter are engaged. #FAMILYSECRETS.

Well, our friendly neighborhood maniac offs good ‘oll dad and random-other-guy and the police come in for more comic relief. Once finished bumbling, Artie goes on with the experiment. That very night! No need for grief to wreck your plans. Enter the household is dad’s brother and niece, heirs to the Rinehart estate. Also we learn that the house servants are included in the will, making them suspects. First is the fearful stereotype chauffeur, whom we can dismiss because of his fearfulness. Also are Degar (Bela Lugosi) and Sika who seem not to have a role to play except to behave strangely. The Bela Lugosi character is particularly suspect because he’s played by Bela Lugosi.

But we don't seem to need another suspect. We see the maniac murder people, seemingly out of the sheer love of murder, but we know that there is. The reporter, would be love interest, and sexual assault perp (I calls them as I sees them!) is played by Wallace Ford, whom old friends may remember as a clown in Freaks (1932). Ingenue Sally Blane played ingenue Mary Rinehart. Mr. Maniac is played by Edwin Maxwell, mostly, maybe, we think. Seems that nobody is entirely sure.

Early in the sound era audio equipment wasn’t all that great and the quickie B pictures like this didn’t get to use the best the studio had. As such the actors had to annunciate at the top of their vocal range just to be picked up, and we get a fairly difficult to watch film. The scratchiness of the print made matters worse.

What partially saves Night of Terror is the better than fair ending. Everything is bundled up nice and neat. Plus we have Lugosi near the top of his game. AMRU 3.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Charlie (Joseph Cotten) is being followed by investigators, so he skips town and visits his sister’s family. They are thrilled to have him visit until his niece (also Charlie) starts to suspect that he isn’t the man everyone believes him to be.

The Doubt I was to have a Shadow of was removed by the streaming services description of the movie. I know it’s seventy five years old, but shame on Amazon. There’s no excuse for it. Anyhow, the movie is set and filmed in a small California town as young Charlie slowly pieces together the clues to Uncle Charlie’s past. Teresa Wright was downright charming as the small town girl. Young, naive, but strong. Hume Cronyn was also there. So there’s that.

This drama unfolding in idealistic small town America is not short on atmosphere. Director Alfred Hitchcock called it his favorite of his films, and Shadow of a Doubt has a lot to offer. Hitch's first fully Hollywood production, it feels more polished than some of his earlier work. It’s not my favorite of his, but it is in the top five. My mom would have loved it. AMRU 4.
“Forty thousand dollars is no joke, not to him, I bet. It's a joke to me. The whole world's a joke to me.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)

The Villain Bat Haines plays two ranches off each other so he can rustle cattle from both sides. Oh, and everybody are dwarfs.

This low budget exploitation flic was inspired when the producer overheard someone saying "if this economy doesn't turn around, we'll have to start making pictures with midgets." The result is a film with little value beyond this novelty.

Many little people in films of this era sport thick Austrian accents. Hollywood apparently put out word that they were hiring and they didn't need much encouragement what with racial purity being on the march.

While the majority of the cast lacked acting talent, our hero (Billy Curtis) had better than fair horsemanship skills. His physicality was noticeable compared to the rest of the cast, who had difficulty with the full sized set. They rode ponies and Curtis being tall for a dwarf (4’2”) seemed over sized on his mount. His love interest, if IMDb is to be believed, celebrated her 101st birthday in January.

I felt a few of the actors appeared to be children, and I discovered that I wasn’t too far off. Fern Formica (that cannot possibly be her real name) would have been thirteen when the film was released, making her randy barroom song all that more inappropriate.

Poor acting, throw-away story, and bad diction. Other than the actors short stature and the films short run time, The Terror of Tiny Town has little to offer. AMRU 2.5.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Woman in Green (1945)

Young women of London are being killed and mutilated (had a finger cut off) and Scotland Yard (or whoever) has yet to find a single clue. Not one single clue! So, quite predictably, they turn to Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone), and to a lesser extent, Watson (Nigel Bruce).

A significant plot point was spoiled by the TCM description and I hid this from the son that watched it with me. I won’t pay it forward. There is no reason for this to happen. This is the only one of the original Holmes films to fall into the public domain, which may explain the noticeably poorer audio and video quality.

Here again the studio used the same actors in different roles. Our titular Hillary Brooke, Henry Daniell, and Paul Cavanagh each appeared in two other episodes. This may have helped in keeping a consistent tone and quality.

The Woman in Green is not much of a mystery, isn’t as funny as the others, and has a less interesting story. Son and I both agreed it was the the worst of these so far. The poor audio quality likely didn’t help. I started these with my mom early last year and after brief hiatus when my boys went to camp for the summer, then got a few more in last fall. I had wanted to see the rest with her but fate didn’t allow it. Bowing to my completionist instincts, I’ll watch the rest. Not sure if my boys will bother. So, we were supposed to know that her gray dress was actually green? AMRU 3.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Meet Boston Blackie (1941)

Reformed jewel thief Boston Blackie (whitey Chester Morris) returns from abroad and is under close watch by Inspector Faraday who would love to pin a pearl heist on him. He tries to catch the eye of a pretty blonde by defending her from a rude man. Later that rude man turns up dead in Blackie’s cabin and he now has to solve the mystery to clear his name.

Smarmy and wise cracking, Blackie is helped by his trusty servant “the runt” without any explanation why. Much of the story revolves around a carnival, because why not. Pretty blond vaguely outlines part of the drama he stepped into in the tunnel of love. Will love last? Hey, here’s Schlitze! Old friends will remember him from Freaks (1932). Here he plays a pinhead.

Meet Boston Blackie is a paper-thin mystery with cheesy-ass dialog. But it’s short run time (61 minutes) and upbeat tone made for a pleasant watch. They did fourteen of these things in nine years and I’ll see at least one more. Thin Man it’s not, but enjoyable nevertheless. AMRU 3.5.
“We’ve got Faraday in a cage for you. Just like a canary. Come on, maybe he’ll sing for us.”

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)

The services of a proper English man-servant Ruggles (Charles Laughton) are won in a poker game by a course American couple, and he is headed to Red Gap, Washington. Hilarity ensues.

Husband Egbert (Charles Ruggles - no relation) is a fish out of water in 1909 Paris what with his checkered suits and outlandish olde-timey mustache. His social climbing wife Effie is trying to bring civility to him and her frontier hometown. Once back on the range it’s Ruggles (not Charles) that’s the fish out of water, what with his understanding of his status in society. Problem is, Egbert introduces him around using the honorary title Colonel and people take it literally. Ruggles becomes a society hit, and a problem for Effie and her equally ambitious brother-in-law.

Ruggles of Red Gap hits on a couple themes, primarily the equality of men in America compared to polite, aristocratic English society (in Paris). Filmed in slapstick style by Duck Soup director Leo McCarey, the understated Laughton and super-understated Roland Young stand in comedic contrast to all the hootin’ and a-hollerin’. It also, however, does not shy from more poignant moments like when Laughton recites the Gettysburg Address, something he’d do frequently in life.

ZaSu Pitts has a small but important role as an American servant that catches the Colonel’s eye, but the filmmakers stop short of giving her enough screen time to do something truly memorable. Similarly with old friend Leila Hyams, who's job here is to be pretty and desirable. Remember from Island of Lost Souls and Freaks.

Not laugh out loud funny but amusing with some clever bits, Ruggles of Red Gap is a fairly charming light comedy. We overlook the deep south stylings of our Red Gap friends from the Pacific Northwest. All we care is that they are uncouth ‘mericans for us to identify with. So, mission accomplished there. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Mr. Big carefully plans a bank heist, recruiting three desperate criminals (Jack Elam, Neville Brand, and Lee Van Cleef) to do the heavy lifting. They all wear masks so that no one can rat out the others. They each carry a torn King playing card as identification. Things go well except that an ex-con (John Payne) takes the fall and his life is in tatters. He goes looking for the men who set him up.

Film-Noir of the 50’s was much grittier than the more stylistic films of the 40’s. Here no femme fatal, no European director, and no Bogart-esque dialog. Not as much, anyhow. Jack Elam is the crazy-eyed character actor from so many westerns. Here as a young man he was quirky and amusing. Lee Van Cleef is best remembered as the Bad, with his buddies Good and Ugly. Still have to see that film. Our hunky hero Payne was the romantic lead in Miracle on 34th Street. He eked out a better than fair career with such roles.

With the exception of the heist and immediate aftermath, very little of the film is set in Kansas City. In fact with the exception of the opening establishing shot of the city (likely taken from stock footage) not a single frame was shot there.

Clearly not a high budget production. In one scene our hero is walking near some fake shrubbery when it moves before he reaches it. I backed up the film and rewatched and realized that the camera man must have brushed by them. This happened a second time later in the film. The filmmakers failed to renew the copyright and it lapsed into the public domain. Lucky for me because my DVR choked for three minutes and I missed a critical scene. I paused, jumped into YouTube, and watched the section before continuing. Ah, technology.

Maybe not very high on my favorites for Noir but Kansas City Confidential is still quite enjoyable. The end provided a nice twist and it will withstand rewatching. AMRU 3.5.
“It don't take no big thinking to figure a couple of guys like us ain't in this bananaville on a vacation!”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ball of Fire (1941)

Nightclub singer Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) must hide out until the heat is off her gangster boyfriend (Dana Andrews). She stumbles upon a group of professors (NNNNNERRRRRDSSSSS!!) working on an encyclopedia, and they want her help studying modern slang. The cops would never think to look for her there. Will love bloom?

Much of the story makes no sense but it doesn’t matter. It is just a framework for the fish out of water to fall in love with the head nerd … I mean professor (Gary Cooper). The seven other professors are modeled after the seven dwarfs, presumably with Stanwyck as Snow White and Cooper as the prince. Billy Wilder wrote the story prior to the release of the Disney movie and in one shot a marquee can be seen showing the Disney flick.

Because the plot revolves around our nerds … I mean professors trying to learn modern slang, the dialog is chuck full of exaggerated or completely made up terms, sounding silly or awkward. This is to heighten the sense of the other fish being out of the other water. Unfortunately our two leads didn’t show much on-screen chemistry. Maybe because their characters were from such different universes or maybe because Cooper acts with all the panache of an uncooked potato. Plus, the 40ish never-been-kissed Cooper looked old enough to be 34ish year old Stanwyck’s dad.

Some prolific character actors make up the the seven dwarfs, most notably S.Z. Sakall from Casablanca and most recently Christmas in Connecticut. Also here is the prolific Charles Lane, whose career spanned from the early 30’s until the mid 90’s. If ever you needed a grumpy lawyer, he was your man. His docket is even longer than Ian Wolf’s, whom I detailed recently. Between the two they appeared in almost 700 movies and TV shows, with only a half dozen titles in common, maybe because they played similar character types.

I wanted to like this film a bit more but I simply didn’t buy either character actually falling for the other. There were funny parts and Stanwyck was as charming as ever, but I have yet to see Cooper in something I liked. That said, mom would have enjoyed it. AMRU 3.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Blade Runner (1982)

It’s 2019 and replicants (you know, andys) are used as slave labor on off-world colonies. Six escaped during an uprising and head to earth. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought out of his retirement to retire them. With a gun. He retires them by shooting them.

Way back in 1982 a fifteen year old me saw Blade Runner in theaters. Somewhat impressed, it somewhat stuck with me. Though I wanted to see it again, especially after the new cuts came out, I never did. When a historic theater presented the Final Cut, I collected my boys and had a night out. Wow, what a difference thirty-five years makes.

I don’t know if it was intentional by Ridley Scott or a problem with theater’s audio equipment, but the rain and trippy-ass soundtrack drowned out the dialog, making it hard to follow the story. I don’t know if that mattered much in the end. It’s not really a dialog-driven film, but still.

There are quite a few versions of Blade Runner floating around. The initial US release was severely tampered with by the studio to make more sense to a dim-witted US audience (a dim-witted fifteen year old me appreciated it), and then were different edits for various releases around the world. Scott’s original edit was found in the ‘90s and erroneously called the director’s cut. Back in aught seven Scott made a real director’s cut and is considered the definitive version.

Blade Runner is an immerse experience. Not all details of this world are explained onscreen and it would have been a terrible idea had they tried. The principle question it asks is what does it mean to be human. That's not as straight forward as it might seem as Deckard meets a replicant (Sean Young) that does not know what she is. And we have reason to believe Deckard himself may also be a replicant.

The case for this is somewhat tenuous. Deckard has a unicorn flashback and Gaff makes an origami unicorn to apparently tease him, implying it’s an implanted memory. Others have theorized that the Unicorn represents the replicants: real but not real. Director Ridley Scott was vague and mysterious about the question saying “He is definitely a replicant”, so take that for what it’s worth. I haven't seen 2049 yet, so NO SPOILERS!

The Blade Runner world is amazing. Expansive, expressive, familiar but not really. Neo-noir at it’s finest. It just may find its way into my library. AMRU 4.5.
“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die.”

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Rings on her Fingers (1942)

A pretty shop girl (Gene Tierney) is enticed into working for a pair of con artists. She uses her womanly wiles to lure rich prey into their traps. One such is millionaire John Wheeler (Henry Fonda) who is convinced to buy a boat that they don’t own. Turns out he’s really a working stiff and has lost his life savings. He only led on that he was rich because she was, gosh, just so pretty. Her con friends want her to move to a new mark but she’s actually in love.

It was strange to see Tierney in the Barbara Stanwyck-esque role in what amounts to a slight retelling of the somewhat better Lady Eve, but she did a fine job. It was a departure for her and she was absolutely charming, as always. Fonda was basically the same character as in Eve.

Rings on her Fingers is a nice screwball comedy material, but nothing terribly original or surprising. Fonda and Tierney had good chemistry and I suppose that’s all that matters. The story clunked from time to time, but I think my mom would have liked it. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)

A crippled pianist is murdered after it is learned that his will was changed so that his nurse will inherit the bulk of his estate. As the will is being contested, it appears his disembodied hand is trying to kill again.

Creepy mansion? Check. Old time setting? Check. References to the occult? Check. The Beast with Five Fingers takes itself fairly seriously, even if its audience doesn’t. It’s a fairly atmospheric throw-away horror film that successfully gets the viewer an hour and a half older in a not unpleasant manner. The filmmakers wanted Paul Henreid (Casablanca) for a key role, but he wisely declined. Sources disagree what role he was to play but IMdB says Peter Lorre but I'm guessing it was the Robert Alda part.

Not too much to say. Some mystery, a love triangle, decent special effects for the day, and good atmosphere. Just don’t expect to be wow’d. AMRU 3.

Monday, January 15, 2018

42nd Street (1933)

Tried and overworked stage director Julian (Warner Baxter) decides, against his doctor’s recommendation, to produce one final show. It is financed by a creepy old rich Guy (Kibbee) on condition that the lead is given to the girl (Bebe Daniels), who has also agreed to touch his wiener for the honor. This is pre-code, mind you. Comedic mayhem ensues.

When sound movies became a thing, studios crammed as many musicals into theaters as possible, regardless of quality. By 1933, the genre was declared dead. Never-the-less, financially struggling Warner Brothers decided to produce 42nd Street, and it turned out to be a critical and financial success. Lucky thing for the Bro’s.

42nd Street resolves around the drama of getting the show on and the complication of our lead, her sugar daddy, and her actual boyfriend. It also featured ingenue Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in their first pairing. They would go on to star together in a string of light-hearted musical romantic comedies, like Gold Diggers of 1933. Dick would have a fairly long (57 feature films) Hollywood career and fairly short life (58 years). Ruby the opposite (14ish films, 83 years). 

Charming, amusing, and risque for its day, 42nd street is well worth watching. Ginger Rogers is charmingly amusing in a fairly small role. This is just prior to her pairing with Fred Astaire. AMRU 3.5.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 Retrospective

Early in 2016 it occurred to me that I should be watching movies with my mom. My dad passed away just over a year prior and I wanted to keep her company. And she, unlike most people in my life, really liked old films. I bought her a blu-ray player and arrived almost every Friday with movie and dinner in hand. This became my favorite ritual. I wish I started a year earlier.

I focused on movies I thought she would like. She had no interest in westerns and war films. Horror was ok so long as they weren’t violent. But mostly she loved mysteries, especially Hitchcock and Sherlock Holmes. We watched many movies new to me and I had the opportunity to introduce her to films I loved. I treasure those times.

On December 30, sometime before noon, Lymphoma finally took my mother. In the almost four years since her (and my father’s) diagnosis, death has been a constant companion. We all know that the time we get is all we ever have, but we kid ourselves it will be a bit longer. I was determined to not leave things unsaid and feelings unexpressed, like I had with my father, but death is a hard thing to stare down. I did my best.

I quickly checked my blog of films we saw together and counted exactly 100. I know I missed a few, but I like that number. The last movie I saw in my childhood home was The Red Shoes (1948), the last new film for the blog was Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and the last overall was A Christmas Carol (1951), which we saw in a rehab facility just prior to going back into the VA. I thought maybe to host old films for residents of her elderly living facility but she wasn’t there long.

Death made his presence very apparent in late 2017. In late October I said goodbye to a childhood neighbor who was very much like an aunt. In November we said goodbye to my father in law’s cousin. And just before Thanksgiving, to my father in law. This holiday season has been very unkind.

I do not know why anyone would want to be a nurse, but thank god they do. I owe a huge thanks to so many people whose names I do not remember or never learned, at the VA and with Hospice. Cancer is a bitch and death leaves little room for dignity, but I have immense gratitude for the people who did their best to ease her and my family through this transition.

My mom led an active and interesting life, especially for someone from a small town in Texas. By her own account, a good life. She was proud of her military service, saw the world, and lived long enough to see her grandchildren grow into fine adults. She said she enjoyed every movie I brought, but I know we both thought Cat People (1982) was a stinker. I will think of her with every movie from this time forward and consider if she would have liked it. And every time I order hot wieners. Every holiday. Really, every day of my life. I will always miss you, mom.