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UFO: Target Earth (1974)
UFO: Target Boredom
Someone has logically asked how as movie as bad as UFO: Target Earth could get financing. The answer may be that it was a college drama class production, one of those where everyone in it paid to be in it. Why else would college professors and a college graduate student be portrayed as so noble and wise? No one but themselves would think so. As someone who lived in a college town for 25 years, yours truly got to know them intimately. Literally, even dated a couple of the fem variety during desperate streaks. Never noticed any college professors having any of the aforementioned good qualities. The only things most college professors are good at is acting pompous, cussing, and consuming gargantuan quantities of alcoholic beverages. In the 1970's grad students were thought to be fonts of knowledge -- by themselves that is. They and their old drama class matron would make a movie like this.
The best thing about UFO: Target Earth is its title, which promises a good old alien invasion movie. Instead it delivers a boring, confused mishmash of UFO sighting lore, ESP pseudoscience, and New Age philosophy. Avoid this stinker of a movie. UFO: Target Earth is not even suitable for the most desperate of insomniacs. If watching this turkey is the only alternative to tossing and turning in bed, choose the tossing and turning.
Doctor Blah Mysteries
It may not be fair to judge a television series by the first episode, but the first of the Doctor Blake Mysteries, Still Waters shows little promise. The series is supposedly set in the 1950's, but other than some old cars and blaring rock 'n' roll music, little is done to create the effect of the period. The exterior of the doctor's house looks like a 1980's style, and his own style is as politically correct as your most woodenly doctrinaire feminist school teacher. None of the actors, the director, or the script writers have any feel for the period.
Leading man Craig McLachlan in particular is not up to the role of Doctor Blake. He is supposed to be a WWII veteran, who was interned in a Japanese prison camp and has also suffered the loss of his wife and child in the war. But pretty boy, male model type McLachlan is simply too much the soft and comfortable looking Gen-X yuppie for us to believe he has ever had it rough. He doesn't really have much help the way his character is written. Doctor Blake is an insufferable prig, way ahead of his time and, oh, so superior to the other men of his association in his modernist views.. In fact the entire show is eaten up with socialist politically correct viewpoint. Director and writer should have heeded Louis B. Mayer's warning, "If you have a message, call Western Union."
The mystery itself is so elementary that even the greenest tyro at watching mysteries will easily deduce who done it. Especially since the culprit is broadly tar-brushed with the most one-dimensional unsympathetic treatment. Doctor Blake has only to be a little smarter than the dumbest of the cops to solve this one.
The Doctor Blake Mysteries: Still Waters is draggy, uninspired, sappy, heavy-handed, and unfaithful to its period setting, Only for the most desperate of insomniacs, zonked-out Gen-Xers, and brain-dead Millennials. Others should avoid it as if it were a kid with chicken pox.
Turks & Caicos (2014)
It's hard to imagine a worse movie than Worriker: Turks & Caicos. It has replaced Mesa Of Lost Women (1953) (see my review) as the worst picture I have ever watched all the way to the bitter end. Admittedly I've been living a sheltered life by rarely ever watching a movie released after the early 1960's. While I have found most of the British and French televisions mysteries of the 'eighties and 'nineties very good, I wasn't prepared for how bad current movies can be.
Turks & Caicos is a two-hour exercise in boredom. Most of the running time is taken up by a gaggle of over-the-hill actors sitting around in a luxury hotel supposedly on a West Indies island just talking. Or better described as droning -- spilling out one long run of expository dialogue after another. Most of the time they face the camera rather than each other when talking. Perhaps this was to facilitate seeing the idiot cards they seemed to be reading their lines from. Millions of dollars and a number of moral issues are at stake in what they are droning on about, but no one ever shows any emotion. When they weren't babbling to each other, they were talking on the telephone. Is the modern generation so addicted to their cell phones they get a thrill just by watching someone in a movie using a phone? Praise God and pass the ranch dressing!
Bill Nighy is what passes as a leading man in this overpriced turkey. His leading lady Helena Bonham Carter was 47 at the filming date, but Nighy looks like her grandfather, poor old thing. He is supposed to appear the morally superior being in this silly overbaked, thrill-less political thriller because he looks sensitive-like around the eye wrinkles, and he buys lobsters for a little black kid. All tear ducts please squirt on cue!
The only reason I bought the Worriker miniseries with Turks & Caicos is that I once long ago spent a year and a month on Grand Turk Island and was hoping to see some familiar shots of the place. There were a couple of brief scenes of Nighy alone walking down a street that could have been at Grand Turk or elsewhere in the British West Indies. But mostly they just sat in chairs in the hotel that could have been anywhere, or on a beach that could have been anywhere. At least one beach scene had obvious back-projection suspiciously looking more like the English Chanel than West Indian waters..
Turks & Caicos Is poorly acted, prolix, humorless, and utterly boring. It lacks an intelligent story or even the slightest hint of dramatic engagement. Not a shred of wit can be dug out of the copious dialogue. This movie is a serious stinker. If you must watch a movie about a West Indies island, try King Of The Zombies (1941). It's not all that good either, but at least it is not pretentious like Turks & Caicos, and Mantan Moreland was at his worst a better actor than anyone in Turks and Caicos showed to be. Unless you derive a masochistic pleasure from being bored, avoid Turks & Caicos as you would swimming is shark-infested waters.
Golden Salamander (1950)
Great Movie, No Goof
The Golden Salamander is a thoroughly engaging, high-powered entertainment from the beginning to the end. Other reviews have made this clear.
One point I should like to clear up. Since yours truly has found it impossible to navigate the trivia section to correct misinformation there, I have taken the oblique path of a review. The "Goofs" section incorrectly states that a flock of seagulls is shown to be making noise around a "body floating on top of the water", then we see that the body is actually discovered weighted at the bottom of the shallow water near the shore. In fact it not a body at the top of the water around which the seagulls were flocking, but merely the coat which had come off the body and floated to the top.
Perhaps someone better at navigating (probably intentionally) difficult sites will see this and wedge a correction though.
Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
The Gone With The Wind Of Frankenstein Movies
I must add my own two-cents worth to those others who regard Frankenstein: The True Story as the most satisfying film version of of Mary Shelly's 1818 classic. Though it is not a literal translation of the story, it captures the philosophical nature, melancholy mood and epic scope of Mrs. Shelly's novel better than any other celluloid rendition. While keeping the bare bones (no pun intended) of the novel's plot, it dances all around the original story, pulling off plot elements here and there, then sticking them back on elsewhere. For instance, Henri, in the original merely Victor Frankenstein's concerned best friend, is transformed into a mad doctor who gives Victor the monster-making knowledge. In the book Elizabeth was the ward of Victor's father, but Vic is the ward of Liz's dad in True Story. The Dr. Polidori character, played by James Mason oozing evil from every pore, was a brilliant touch, but no such character appears in the novel. Yet, there was a real-life Polidori in Mary Shelly's orbit. He was Shelly friend Lord Byron's personal physician, confidant, and dope supplier. A brilliant young man, who had already published several medical books, he tragically took his own life at age 21 -- according to some, because of his unrequited love for Mary Shelly!
True Story owes little to previous movie versions, neither the mossy old 1930's and 'forties Universal Frankenstein series or Hammer's 1950's/'60's revivals, but is a completely fresh approach. The brilliant script by Isherwood and Bachardy is almost as literary as Mrs. Shelly novel, yet even more exciting and stimulating. True Story is a splendid production, probably one of the most handsomely turned out made-for-TV numbers of all time. Period (1797 and following) sets and costumes are exquisite. The cinematography is beautiful, belying its TV origins every step of the way. Unlike most TV movies of the time and practically all current theatrical movies, it disdains the shot-a-second montage method in favor of the mise-en-scene approach -- every scene starts with a precisely composed long shot, which gradually pans in to close-up. This classic style of cinematography complements the beautiful sets, enhances the melancholy mood, and displays the humanity of the characters better than montage. Here it is used brilliantly by director of photography Arthur Ibbetson and director Jack Smight.
Frankenstein: The True Story is expertly acted by Mason, Leonard Whiting (Victor), Nicole Padget (Elizabeth), Michael Sarrizan (Creature), Jane Seymour (female creature) and the rest of a fine cast. It is dramatically engaging, thoroughly engrossing for its entire three hours, intellectually stimulating, and gorgeously filmed. A delight from beginning to end. Even Old Hollywood would have been proud to have turned out such a complete motion picture.
P.S. -- Those who are interested in learning more about that early 19th century femme fa-tale and the origin of her famous monster story would do well to read Miranda Seymour's superbly researched, highly readable biography of Mary Shelly (Grove Press, NY, 2000).
The Gentleman from Texas (1946)
Better Than Average But Incredibly Violent Johny Mack Brown Opus
No better example that Johny Mack Brown's rugged Westerns were not made for children exists than The Gentleman From Texas. This one is astonishingly violent even for one of his shoot'em-up, punch'em-down numbers. In the 55 minute running time there must be at least 30 characters killed, or approximately one every one-and-a-half minutes. Nor are the usual furniture-smashing saloon fist fights forgotten. Though Brown's and other low-budget Westerns of the 1930's and 'forties were actually aimed at uncomplicated rural adults, they were always seen and enjoyed by children -- unfortunately. Even realizing that those little snot-nosed bundles of fallen nature are born loving violence, that doesn't mean it should be encouraged in them.
That being said, this is surely one of John Mack's better efforts. Certainly not because of the unfortunate costuming choice which had him wearing the same distractingly loud checked shirt though the entire picture. Partly because of a refreshing absence of the sometimes irritating B-Western comedy relief. But mostly because of the excellent performance (both acting and singing) of beautiful, curvaceous femme fa-tale Claudia Drake, as a shady saloon girl who seems to be stuck on both her criminal boss (Tristam Coffin) and marshal Johny Mack. Likewise good support comes from Christine McIntire, as a rival floozy, and the always colorful Raymond Hatton. Charaterization is better than the average for a low-budget oater, the action scenes well brought off, and editing on the button. Well done by veteran director Lambert Hillyer.
This is a good one for those of you geezers who like yours truly will watch any Western. But don't let your grandchildren watch it!
Private Hell 36 (1954)
Waiting For This Picture To End Is The Private Hell
A standard movie critic's cliché is "Good cast tries hard but can't overcome the material." That is the case with bland 1954 cop drama Private Hell 36, but with the added debacle of Ida Lupino struggling to overcome her own lousy script! The dialog is particularly bad. What may have been a misguided attempt at give the characters' lines an every-day realism succeeds so well it is downright boring. Director Don Seigel blamed it on drinking and other misbehavior on the set by Lupino, her co-screenwriter and ex-husband Collier Young, who also produced, and dissipated co-star Steve Cochran. For all that it doesn't seem much worse to yours truly than Seigel's average output, which except for his magnum opus Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956), never rose much above mediocrity.
Don Seigel has a worshipful following amongst devotees of the auteur philosophy that seems all out of proportion to his modest accomplishments. He was an auteur for whatever that's worth all right in the sense that the pictures he directed show his imprint. Unfortunately that imprint is boring, predicable, and lacking in artistry. Which describes Private Hell 36.
With no sure direction the unusually competent actors founder. Cocharan sleepwalks through it. Conversely Howard Duff overacts to the blood vessel popping point. Poor Lupino seems to get more and more hysterical as the doings progress without her finding a line of her own writing into which she can infuse any drama. Beautiful, talented Dorothy Malone, miscast as cop Duff's drab housewife, stumbles through the proceeding with a "what am I doing here?" look. Only ever-reliable Dean Jagger, as the Police Captain, shows any life, and the picture perks up only when he's on screen. Even the cinematography by Burnett Guffey, who had just won an Accademy Award for his camera work in From Here To Eternity (1953), is bland and lacking artistry. Guffey and Seigel show little imagination in using the wide screen, simply centering the characters in the 1.85:1 frame or overusing giant closeups of faces.
Others liked this picture, but yours truly and the grouchy old wife can't figure out why. She bailed out before the halfway point. Unfortunately oldblackandwhite is one of those self-flagellating types who has to watch on the the bitter end no matter how bad. Private Hell 36 is lifeless, draggy, talky, predicable and just plain bad. An awful waste of a talented cast and also a waste of whiskey if drinking a lot of same on the set is what Ida and her pals believed was the key to movie-making. Only for die-hard fans of Ida Lupino and rock-hard, desperate insomniacs. Others should avoid it as if it were and amateur barber friend with a new set of clippers.
Raft Is One Tough Mamma's Boy In Polished 'Forties Thriller
Nocturne is an atmospheric, entertaining noir/mystery thriller starring taciturn George Raft as a suspended Los Angeles police detective obsessed with proving an apparent suicide was actually a murder. During the course of his investigation, he gets to check out a covey of beautiful dames, as the murder victim was a Lothario par excellence. Even with the list narrowed down, figuring out which babe is the real femme-fa-tale may be the key to the mystery. Was it beautiful, buxom Lynn Bari, leggy, glamorous singer Virginia Huston, or some other honey -- you can't even trust the cleaning lady in this one! Wise-cracking, live-in maid Myrna Dell may have been more and known more than she lets on. Never mind the detective lives with his mother. He probably couldn't have supported the old bingo babe in the style she wasn't accustomed with separate digs on his salary. Mamma's boy or not, he's tough enough for the physical and emotional poundings he will have to go though before he gets to the bottom of this convoluted mystery.
Nocturne is stylishly directed and sensuously filmed by all-purpose director Edwin L. Marin and veteran cinematographer Harry J. Wild with classic noir atmosphere so thick they could have bottled it. Top screen writer and sometimes mystery novelist Jonathan Latimer provides crackling, tough dialog while managing all the taut twists and turns of the Frank Fenton/Rowland Brown story. Marin was equally at home directing mystery thrillers like this, Ann Sothern's light comedies, or some of Randolph Scott's better westerns -- see my review of Fort Worth (1951). Nocturne is one of several collaborations between Marin and Raft, and they seemed to bring out the best in each other. The dark, intense, scene with Raft at the window curtains of the photographer's house is a text book example of noir cinema.
Much ink -- far too much in fact -- has been spilled on this forum labeling George Raft a stiff, even a bad actor. All unfairly. Raft was a stone face to a certain extent all right, but that fit the characters he played -- and his fans liked. Nevertheless he said a lot with his eyes, inflections of his slightly nasal Lower-East Side Manhattan voice, and an enigmatic half-smile. Such a stoic style was admired in men of the 1940's, who regarded "wearing your emotions on your lapel" as unmanly, self-centered, and ill-mannered. This is of course a concept alien to the typically self-absorbed Baby Boomers and their strange hatchlings Gen-Xers, who spend practically every evening examining their navels then all the next day spilling their guts about it to whomever will listen.
George Raft was actually a pretty good actor. And Nocturne is an excellent noir/mystery -- atmospheric, thrilling, dramatically engaging, dark, mysterious, exotic, and ultimately satisfying. Top drawer entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era.
Rod Cameron Dodges Hot Lead, Flying Fists, Stampeding Cattle, Even Dynamite, But Not....
...Gale Storm's size 5 pointy-toe boots on the shin, Ouch! All this in Allied Artist's rock'em-sock'em 1949 western Stampede. Allied Artists, not to be confused with United Artists, was an outgrowth of cheap movie font Monogram, a new label for the modest production company's more expensive pictures. While the budget for Stampede was no doubt comfortably below that of the $1,200,000 layout for the company's critical and financial hit of 1947, It Happened On Fifth Avenue, this highly entertaining western nevertheless qualified as a medium or "B-plus" production. But director Lesley Selander and producer Blake Edwards, who also co-scripted, were a pair who knew how to make every available dollar count. Selander was a veteran of dozens,(eventually over a hundred) B-grade westerns and other programmers starring the likes of Tim Holt, William Boyd, and Gene Autry, while Edwards would later gain fame and considerable fortune with the popular Peter Gunn television show and the fabulously successful Pink Panther series of feature pictures. No wonder Stampede comes off a tightly-knit, impressively filmed, dramatically engaging, outdoor picture of the type highly satisfying to the western aficionado.
The plot, cattlemen versus homesteaders, could be labeled western scenario #6, but who cares -- there hasn't been a new story since 33 A.D. It's the treatment that counts, and it is very well done here with a number of intriguing twists and some unexpected turns. Tall, raw-boned Cameron plays a cattle baron, so hard-nosed in resisting the homesteaders who have legally bought land he had regarded as his range, that he comes off almost an antihero in the opening reels. Diminutive Gale Storm plays the feisty homesteader tomboy who provides his formidable opposition, and of course his eventual love interest. Good support comes from Johny Mack Brown as a sure-shot sheriff friendly to the cattleman, Don Castle as Cameron's happy-go-lucky brother, Jonathan Hale as the cattleman's fair-minded attorney, with John Miljan, Donald Curtis, and John Eldridge as a trio of shady land dealers stirring up trouble.
Much of the considerable entertainment value of this modest western come from the intelligent script by Edwards and John C. Champion, with well-developed characters and lots of snappy, colorful dialog, especially the sharp exchanges between Storm and the two cattlemen brothers. Black and white cinematography by Harry Neumann is first rate. The brutal fist fight segueing into a gunfight and back again to a fist fight inside a dark stable qualifies as a minor masterpiece of action filming. The starkly lighted, obliquely angled shots in this an other night scenes demonstrates how what is now known as the film noir style, all the rage in the late 1940's, filtered down even to unpretentious westerns.
Stampede is an action packed, dramatically engaging, beautifully filmed, smoothly edited western. Top notch entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era.
The Dawn Trail (1930)
Well Turned Out "B" Western
In well-mounted early talkie "B" Western, Dawn Trail, Buck Jones plays a good-natured sheriff caught between mutually hostile and well-armed camps of cattlemen and sheepherders. The lawman's situation becomes even stickier when he has to arrest the boozy brother of his pretty fiancé (Miriam Seegar) for the murder of a sheepherder. The big rancher father of fiancé and brother, played by stalwart character actor Erville Anderson, marshals a small army of cowhands to break the bad boy out of jail. All the while a showdown over water rights between the hell-bent cattlemen and the equally obstreperous sheepherders is coming to a boil.
Dawn Trail is very serviceable little Western in spite of being plagued by all the creakiness of early sound movies, such as the hum of the sound camera's motor heard in the background and players having to speak unnaturally distinctly for the benefit of the primitive microphones. There is lots of action, but with a minimum of bloodshed and other violence. Characterization is quite good. As with all good stories, the well-developed characters drive the plot, rather than being manipulated by the plot, as in cheap potboilers. No doubt this picture was produced on a relatively small budget, but it was well used. Costumes are colorful and authentic-looking, though Jones' hat is about the size of a beach umbrella, and some the the women's outfits betray the influence of the late flapper era in which the picture was produced. Sets are likewise well-turned, especially the rancher's Victorian house. Credit prolific director Christy Cabanne and a solid cast for acting above the usual low standard for little Westerns. Tall, muscular, masculine and mild-mannered, Buck Jones was a handsome cowboy hero. Obviously an expert horseman, he once had his own Wild West show, and he even knew how to shoe a horse!
Dawn Trail is an exciting, dramatically engaging, and colorful Western. Not a great one, but solidly entertaining. Lots of little atmospheric touches. Get an eyeful of the saloon floozy's dance in the opening scene! If you love Westerns from the classic, era you will eventually run out of "A" Westerns you haven't seen. There is, however, a huge trove of little "B" programmers to draw from, and Buck Jones' pictures are a cut above the rest.
Flight to Mars (1951)
Flight To Mars Has Only Six Things Going For It
...Marguerite Chapman's legs, Lucille Barkley's legs, Virginia Huston's legs. Sexy space tootsies provide the principle interest in slow, talky space opera Flight To Mars. Unfortunately the first half of the running time is spent on the space flight itself before we get to see the shapely Chapman in the sexiest space babe outfit this side of Devil Girl From Mars (1954 -- see my review). She and her fellow Martian honeys seem to be what keeps the dying Red Planet alive, along with a phony element that has a goofy name sounding something like Congoleum.
The rocketship crew, which crash-lands on Mars, is led by the ever earnest Arthur Franz and an embarrassed looking John Litel. Cameron Mitchell plays a reporter along to observe the expedition, but he mostly just observes the comely Ms. Huston. Almost as soon as contact is made with the underground-dwelling Martians, the dull, unromantic Franz surprisingly becomes the love object of hot, hot, hot Marguerite Chapman. The Martian leadership headed by the formidable Morris Ankrum, later a Perry Mason judge, helps rebuild the spaceship, supposedly so the earthlings can return home, but the Martians all along plan to seize the rocket when it is finished. But nothing much in the way of action comes of this plot -- just talk, talk, talk. They missed a wonderful opportunity to have what could have been a swell cat fight, when Barkley, suspecting Chapman had joined the earthlings, followed her down he hallway to spy on her. Instead of tackling the leggy Chapman herself, Barkley calls for a couple of burly male Mars henchmen to nab her. Oh, well, Barkley wouldn't have stood much of a chance anyway, as Chapman was much bigger and had showed herself to be one heck of a mean, tough femme fa-tale in Mr. District Attorney (1947).
But I'm making this turkey sound like more fun than it is. In fact Flight To Mars is cheap, tacky, prolix, and boring. Only for geeky students of 1950's Si-Fi, fans of the under-appreciated Marguerite Chapman (which obviously includes yours truly), and desperate insomniacs. Others should avoid this picture as if it were a hypochondriac friend wanting to tell you about her latest medical procedure.
Stiff Upper Lip From Beginning To End
Many thanks to the other reviewers who have clued us in that Maxwell Reed, leading man of Blackout, was attempting to put on an American accent. Yours truly and the grouchy old wife were speculating on what nationality he was -- perhaps Canadian. His lingo didn't sound like any of the usual British accents, yet he certainly did not sound like an American of any known species. Actually there is no one "American" accent, but at least two dozen distinct dialects. My home state of Texas can account no less than six regional variations on the "Taxsun" dialect, which some people think should be regarded as a separate language -- especially damn Yankees who have recently relocated here. But I digress. Reed's attempt to sound like an American, if that is really what he was trying to do for whatever reason, was quite pathetic. He just sounded like and Irishman with a bad head cold.
No one would ever mistake Maxwell Reed or any other Britisher for an American. Yours truly and the grouchy old lady, as we watch these quota quickies and other British productions, always marvel at how this bunch speaks English, yet is no more like us Americans than Italians or Spaniards or Croats. There can't be any other race anywhere as wooden as the British. Stiff upper lip? They're stiff from head to toe! You have to wonder how they know when it's time to bury one of them. And Maxwell Reed was surely one of the stiffest of the stiff! In no scene of Blackout can he be detected moving any of his facial muscles more than one sixteenth of an inch. Leading lady of Blackout, Dinah Sheridan was not far behind. How does a director direct them to act when none of them would show any more emotion for a hurricane than for a hangnail? Not to say that there were not excellent British actors. But most of them, such as Ronald Coleman, David Niven, Merle Oberon, Greer Garson and Herbert Marshall, were usually to be found in Hollywood. If Reed and Ms. Sheridan had ever relocated to that land of big productions and high salary, it is unlikely either would have ever risen much above the level of bit player.
Not that we don't enjoy the occasional product of fair Albion's cinema. For all its shabby production values and bland acting, Blackout was not such a bad little crime thriller. Pacing was a bit of a problem. Everything rolled along at a continuous breakneck speed with no chance to catch your breath or reflect on the doings. Perhaps they were afraid of running out of film. The score was just background music which did little to enhance the drama or action and was quite irritating at times. However, the cinematography, as with most of these Brit pence-pinchers, was very decent, while the story and the action kept your attention. Enjoyable if you are in the right mood -- and keep a stiff upper lip!
Fingerprints Don't Lie (1951)
Cheap Production Values Don't Lie
Which is not to say that entertaining, even good-looking pictures couldn't be made economically during the Classic Era. But there is a level below which the cheapness of production will betray even the best of stories and a solid cast. Fingerprints Don't Lie sinks as far below that point of no return as possible. Not to imply that a good story or a competent cast was around for the atrocious production values to betray. This astonishingly awful picture features one of the most ignominious displays of tacky sets peopled by seedy actors in the history of cinema.
Richard Travis, the tenth magnitude star of this Z-grade cops-and-robbers programmer was a wooden actor at his best. Here, under the inept direction of Sam Newfield, Travis and rest of the cast turn into a virtual petrified forest. Cimematogaphy, as well as direction, is remarkably bad. A single camera simply follows the actors around the small, shabby sets, or sits still as they stand stiff as manikins blankly reciting the dull dialog. Instead of springing for a decent orchestral score , cheap, tightwad producer Sigmund Neufeld settled for a weird, screechy, and very irritating organ accompaniment, which at times when there was no dialog made it seem like watching a silent movie -- a very, very bad one. Speaking of irritating, Sid Melton in what was presumed to be comedy relief, was excruciatingly irritating as he pulled the same unfunny camera gag over and over.
Not even the presence of veteran character actor, Lyle Talbot could save this turkey. Nor could frequent shots of a certain buxom, Swiss model and Burlesque queen in a two-piece bathing suit. Oldblackandwhite is too much the gentleman of the old school to blacken the names of any of the lady players by connecting them in print to such a shamefully awful picture as Fingerprints Don't Lie.
Cheap, dull, slow-moving, lifeless, even stupid, this movie is a serious stinker! Not recommended even for the most abysmally desperate insomniacs or even those peculiar old ladies who will watch practically any mystery. All involved in this wretched production from producer and director down to prop man and gofer should be ashamed of it. Come to think of it, why am I reviewing it, when I should be ashamed of watching it? Uhg!!!!
Fury at Furnace Creek (1948)
Forgotten 'Forties Western Stylish And Entertaining
Fury At Furnace Creek is a richly textured Western from 1948 starring charming second-tier leads Victor Mature and Coleen Gray. The mid to late 1940's, the Golden Era of Hollywood movies, produced such Western Classics as Red River (1948), My Darling Clementine (1946), and San Antonio (1945) (see my review). While not in a league with those blockbusters, this picture reaps the benefits of a big studio industry that was at the absolute peak of movie-making artistry. Though a medium budget picture, it gets the same glossy production values as any top-dollar 20th Century Fox number.
Mature and second lead Glenn Langan play long-estranged brothers uneasily reunited in a effort to clear their late Army General father of charges he caused an Indian massacre. Ms. Gray, as a pretty, but spunky diner waitress whose enlisted man father died in the massacre, makes a lovely romantic interest for the appealingly laid-back Mature. Formidable villainy is provided by Albert Dekker as a suave crime boss with henchmen Roy Roberts, Fred Clark, and the ever sinister Charles Stevens. Stevens, who claimed to be the grandson of Geronimo, was an asset to any Western. With his beady eyes, his weathered ferret-like face, and his wiry, stooped physique, he seemed the quintessential Western villain. Reginald Gardiner plays a pivotal supporting role as an alcoholic retired Army captain possibly involved in a conspiracy to frame the General.
Though director Bruce Humberstone directed only two other Westerns, he nevertheless shows a nice touch for the genre here, getting fine performances out of a diverse cast and brilliantly setting up the scenes for some dazzling cinematography. He and film editor Robert L. Simpson move along the critically acclaimed Charles Booth/David Garth story with silky smooth scene transitions and nary a wasted camera shot in a lean 88-minute running time. The colorful score, credited in the movie's opening graphics to Alfred Newman, not David Raksin as IMDb indicates, consists mostly of pervasive period honky-tonk music but works quiet effectively. Sets are lavishly detailed and costumes are colorful and authentic looking. All of which along with intelligent, colorful dialog, and Harry Jackson's stylish cinematography creates a rich, layered, ambiance. The style of Jackson's atmospheric cinematography, abounding with night scenes and starkly shadowed, obliquely angled camera shots, shows the influence of the dark, Gothic crime melodrama, now known as film noir, which was all the rage of the late 1940's. Look for some some real knock-out camera work in this modest Western, particularly the following: 1) a lengthy sequence of panicked Garder stalked through, dark streets, boardwalks, and alleys by Stevens -- 2) a shot of Mature descending a stairway viewed between the silhouetted hats of the two villains watching him -- 3) in the final reel horseback chase a pose of villains galloping across the top of a rugged cliff while the two fleeing brothers ride parallel to them at the bottom of the cliff, all in the same frame. And surely the climatic shoot-out scene in the ruins of the old fort accompanied by whistling wind, tumbling tumbleweeds, and screeching gate hinges, has served endless inspiration for a later generation of Spaghetti Western directors.
If you are a Western fan, or just a fan of classic movies, don't miss this one. Fury At Furnace Creek is a skillful blend of drama, intrigue, and action, exciting, atmospheric, and engaging from beginning to end. First-rate Western entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Years.
Le monachine (1963)
Lost Italian Comedy Needs Rediscovery
The Little Nuns is a delightfully funny comedy, one of the best and brightest from Italy's golden age of comedy, the 1960's. Unfortunately it seems to be almost unknown now, at least in the English-speaking world.
The nuns in a rural Italian convent are being driven to distraction by the noisy commercial jet aircraft flying overhead, disrupting the classes in their orphans school. The vibrations are even damaging the ancient fresco of their patron saint. When it is discovered the convent owns a single share of stock in the offending airline, two nuns are dispatched to the airline's next stockholder's meeting in Rome. The naive sisters may not understand the worldly ways of the city, but they have very decided notions about the way things should be. Their innocent misadventures make life hilariously miserable for the sophisticated CEO of the airline (Amedeo Nazzari) just as effectively as if they had really intended it. International beauty Catherine Spaak, uncharacteristically well covered in a traditional nun's habit, shines as the formidable Sister Celeste. Nazzari, who seems to have been in every other Italian movie of this period, though in his fifties, was still a robust, handsome man with a remarkable resemblance to Errol Flynn. His suave, urbane demeanor made him the perfect straight man for this genteel farce.
I caught The Little Nuns a couple of times back in the 1980'a on something like the Late, Late, Late, Desperate Night Owl Theater. There appears to be no DVD of this minor classic, and that's a shame. The Little Nuns is a delightful, lively, charming, little madcap comedy from an Italian cinema industry which was turning out first class entertainment at a time when Hollywood had almost forgotten how.
Fly Away Baby (1937)
Around The World In 30 Minutes -- Courtesy Warner Bros B-Unit
Back in Jules Verne's steam-powered 19th Century, a trip around the World in only 80 days was considered astounding. In 1924 two U. S. Army aviators managed it in a new world record of 15 days, 11 hours. But that was nothing! In 1937 Warner Brothers second feature Fly-Away Baby, Glenda Farrell as irrepressible, smart-girl reporter Torchy Blane zips around the world in less than 30 minutes, using only the final half of the fast-moving, action-packed one-hour movie. All done with stock footage of the vehicles used and still pictures or footage of the various cities Torchy passes through, the mood for each locale set with appropriate regional music. All the while, a bold line meanders across a map of the Pacific Ocean, Asia, and Europe with the shadow of an airplane following along, motors humming. Lengthy scenes in Honolulu and Stuttgart are economically but artfully dispatched with small sets and back-projection. You may be so swept away by this Old Hollywood magic, and so absorbed into this engrossing, lightning-paced mystery pot-boiler, you will feel as if you've actually been to San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Suttgart with Torchy. And wow! what a window into time! You get to see file footage of a huge China Clipper taking off from a choppy sea, a gigantic Zepplin majestically gliding though the clouds, and a shot of the yet unfinished Golden Gate Bridge -- not to mention the usual swarms of square-top, spoke-wheel automobiles to be seen careening about the streets of 1930's motion pictures.
The Torchy Blane series was a chance for reliable Warner supporting players Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane to strut their stuff in lead roles for a change. And they both shine! He's Torchy's tough cop boy friend Steve McBride, who needs her help to dope out the cases he's not sharp enough for. At least that's the way she tells it. Fly-Away Baby has the crime-solving duo after a diamond thief/murderer. The main suspect (Gordon Oliver), who is a columnist of a newspaper rival to Torchy's, is making an around-the-world promotional trip. Torchy and Steve suspect the crook will try to sell the hot diamonds somewhere along the way, so Torchy convinces her own newspaper publisher (Henry Davenport) to spring for her to follow along in what is promoted as an "around the world race." Hugh O'Connell provides sophisticated comedy relief as another reporter in the so-called race. A dandy with a rich wife, he's always bragging to his no-class cronies about spending her money and playing around on her. Little does he know his suspicious spouse has hired Steve's muddled, philosophical driver Gahagan (Tom Kennedy) to tag along and keep an eye on him. Steve joins Torchy in Stuttgart, where another murder takes place, then they take off aboard the Zepplin for the final leg of the journey and the exciting denouement. The airship scenes are very impressive for a B-movie.
Fly-Away Baby is not quite so good as the first in the Torchy series, Smart Blonde (1937) (see my review). But Smart Blonde was something special, really a tough act to follow, and Fly-Away Baby is still wonderful. Fast-talking, fast-moving, breezy, funny, engaging, exciting, beautifully filmed, and expertly acted, especially by the two charming leads -- a delight from beginning to end. All handsomely wrapped up in polished production values only a slice below what you would expect from one of Warner Brothers' top "A" pictures. Director Frank McDonald, a career B-picture specialist, and film editor Doug Gould pack so much action into sixty minutes of running time, it's like five gallons of slick, smooth Classic Hollywood entertainment concentrated into a half-pint movie!
It's never ceases to amaze how the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out these minor masterpieces while bringing to bear only a fraction of their available resources.
Find the Blackmailer (1943)
Muddled 3rd Rate Detective Yarn Hard To Resist
Like the Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers "B" detective thriller Find The Blackmailer involves a search for a black bird. Here the resemblance ends. In this case the black bird, rather than a jewel-encrusted statuette, is absurdly a talking crow, which can put the finger on the detective's client for a murder. Honestly! Not as bad as it sounds, but not Golden Era Hollywood at its best either.
The principle attractions of this picture are the unusual and charming casting of Jerome Cowan in the lead role as the tough if somewhat bumbling detective and some stylish noir cinematography by James Van Trees. Cowan is ably supported by the ever reliable Gene Lockhart as his blackmailed politician client, Margorie Hoshelle as his breezy, underpaid secretary, and second-billed Faye Emerson as a nasty femme fa-tale. The script is muddled, ridiculous, and padded out with a lot of meandering, unnecessary action. It looks as if director D. Ross Lederman was struggling to squeeze out the required 55-minute running time. If his picture had been tightly edited, it could have easily run only 40 minutes without losing anything. Dialog is cliché-ridden, but fun. Just about every wise-crack and every colorful slang term from every detective, mystery, cops-and-robbers picture from the previous decade as been gathered for recycling in Find The Blackmailer. Surly this picture was meant to be a spoof. Big hint -- the detective's name is Trees, same as the cinematographer. Or does that just mean they were making up the script as they went along? This suspicion will creep in from time to time as you watch the strange proceedings. Never mind, just relax and enjoy. You can't be expected to figure it out if it doesn't make sense. And it most assuredly does not. Cowan's character is more humorous that tough. Cowan didn't have a muscle in his body, but he still manages to get tough when needed by keeping his hand on the .32 automatic in his coat pocket. But mostly he just cracks wise and grins through his trademark pencil-line mustache.
But not so bad for all that. As yours truly has stated elsewhere about other, better second features, the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out good-looking, entertaining pictures while only half-way trying. In Find The Blackmailer it looks as if they didn't try much at all, yet it still turned out a watchable, even enjoyable picture -- if you're in the right mood.
Smart Blonde (1937)
Little Programer Packs A Big Punch
Dynamite comes in small packages. Which describes both short "B" second feature Smart Blonde and its cute, perky star Glenda Farrel as Torchy Blane. Initial entry in the highly successful Torchy Blane series, Smart Blonde runs on open throttle for its entire 59 minutes. It is smart, tough, breezy, lightning paced, with funny, snappy dialog delivered incredibly fast. This picture is nothing if not fast-talking. Glenda Farrell reportedly could speak 390 words per minute, and she demonstrates it throughout. But co-star Barton MacLane, who plays her tough cop boy friend Steve McBride, may actually have surpassed her in the motor mouth department in a couple of scenes. Most of the other Runyonesque characters in this entertaining mystery do likewise. If all the dialog in this movie had been delivered at a normal cadence, the running time would have been at least twenty minutes longer. This picture along with other Warner Brothers gangster movies of the 1930's makes you wonder if the studio had a course in fast talking for its stock players.
Stock players were exactly what Farrell and MacLane were. Usually in supporting parts, she the hard-boiled broad, he the burly, loud-mouthed gangster or cop. But the Torchy series gave both a chance to use their special talents in leading roles, and both made the best of it. The pair had crackling chemistry together, with cozy affectionate interludes only occasionally breaking their constant rat-a-tat wise-cracking. Torchy is a smart girl reporter who solves the cases Steve isn't sharp enough to dope out on his own. At least that's the way she sees it.
Farrell and MacLane get solid support from a crew of other Warner Brothers stock players, especially Addison Richards as a shady, but on-the-level night club/race track operator around whom the murder mystery swirls, Wini Shaw as the beautiful singer who loves him, and Charlotte Wynters as the high class dame he loves. This role as a tough, but likable borderline hoodlum was a real change of pace for Richards. In 400 movie and television appearances from the 1930' to the 1960's the tall, lanky actor rarely played other than judges, district attorneys, doctors, high ranking army officers, and other dignified types. MacLane may have showed good chemistry with the pretty, vivacious Farrell, but it was Charlotte Wynters who became Mrs. Barton MacLane about a year after Smart Blonde's release.
Smart Blonde is a delightful, stimulating little mystery potboiler, full of plot twists, intrigues, and explosive bursts of action. Characterization is colorful and well developed. As a big studio "B" picture, the sets and cinematography are nearly as good as in one of Warner Brothers' top productions. Director Frank McDonald, a life-long "B" picture specialist, keeps all on target throughout. To compress all that happens in the story into less than an hour running time, even considering the machine gun dialog delivery, should rate as a masterpiece of film editing for Frank MaGee. Acting was first rate all around but especially from the two likable leads.
An enduring example of how the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out good looking, entertaining pictures when only half-way trying.
The Bad Man of Brimstone (1937)
Stew Of Soap And Horse Opera Cooks Up Top Notch Beery Western
It may be that women will like The Bad Man Of Brimstone markedly better than men, as indicated by the IMDb user ratings. Not the least because the plot is so sudsy a contemporary New York Times review called it "the Madame X of horse operas." That doesn't mean that old tough guys, such as yours truly, will not like it as well. One of the few Class-A westerns of the 1930's, this handsomely turned out Wallace Berry vehicle is an action-packed, gritty, authentic, adult oater with top-notch production values.
Ruthless outlaw Trigger Bill (Beery) is just getting set to ventilate young itinerant prize fighter/tax collector Dennis O'Keefe for having the unmitigated gall of standing up to him, when he discovers by one of those unlikely but charming Hollywood coincidences that the young man is the son he abandoned many years ago. From here on the tough outlaw leader goes out of his way and very much out of character to protect his son both from the bullets of his own gang and from finding out his father is such a bad man. Many plot complications and much gun smoke ensue before the inevitable resolution.
Beery gets expert support from top MGM character player Lewis Stone as a formerly upright lawyer who falls in with the outlaws; gorgeous and talented Virginia Bruce as Stone's feisty daughter and O'Keefe's love interest; Joseph Calleia as Beery's loyal, easy-going sidekick Portuguese Ben; Guy Kibbe as O'Keefe's manager; and the ubiquitous Bruce Cabot in one of his stock cold-blooded gunman portrayals. Director J. Walter Ruben, who also had a hand in the intelligent, engrossing story, guides all with a sure hand. Dialog is crisp and colorful. The black and white cinematography by Clyde DeVinna is straight-forward but aesthetically pleasing. Editing is smooth with a couple of stylish montage sequences. The all important pacing provides a well-timed rhythm of action and melodrama, both driven along at the appropriate speed by Dr. William Axt's flavorful original score. Production values are first rate with authentic, colorful sets and costumes and outdoor scenes filmed on several scenic locations in Utah, Arizona, and California. The climatic shoot-out is big enough and violent enough to do credit to a later Italian Western, but more realistic and artistically staged than one of theirs.
But Beery, as always, is the main attraction here. And he is at his absolute menacing, snarling, mugging, smarmy, conniving, crude, gross, horrible yet fascinating, likable scoundrel best. Like any of his vehicles, this picture is at times corny, sentimental, and generally overdone, but nevertheless tremendously enjoyable all the way though. Leonard Maltin's condescending review says it's only for Beery fans, but yours truly and the grouchy old wife say, how could anyone not be one!
The Bad Man Of Brimstone is exciting, dramatically engaging, amusing, charming, beautifully filmed, top-notch Old Hollywood Western entertainment.
Denver and Rio Grande (1952)
Rival Railroads Collide Head-On -- Literally And Figuratively
Denver & Rio Grande is one of those entertaining 1950's "B-plus" Westerns -- that is a "B" picture cast but top-notch "A" production values. This Technicolor oater about a right-away shooting war between rival railway companies actually qualifies as a minor classic of the genre. Not for the dramatic acting or Frank Gruber's average screen play, but because of high powered action sequences in, on, and around authentic 19th Century railroad rolling stock, all enveloped in gloriously scenic Colorado Rocky Mountain locations.
Unlikely leading man Edmond O'Brien is one of yours truly's favorite actors, whether he is in a lead or a supporting role. But Eddy looks somewhat uncomfortable in his Western togs, even a little peaked at times, as if all that Rocky Mountain sunshine and fresh air disagreed with his constitution. Could be he was wishing to be back in one of those dimly lighted, smoke-filled, noir bars which were his more typical cinema habitat. A much more familiar face to the celluloid Western environment, tall, stiff actor Sterling Hayden is cast against type here as the ruthless leader of the bad guys. You may have thought Hayden was stiff in his more typical heroic roles, but as a villain in Denver & Rio Grande, he's so wooden it's difficult to distinguish him from one of the telegraph poles. Dean Jagger, as real-life railroad builder General William J. Palmer, adds a touch of class to the cast, but doesn't have much to do. He looks like he's about to go to sleep through most of the picture, but as always, he has his moments. On the other hand leading lady Laura Elliot (aka Kasey Rogers), best known for her role in popular TV sitcom Bewitched, shows a little spark as the General's pretty secretary with a grudge against O'Brien. The ever reliable J. Carrol Naish, often seen as a gangster or a cynical cop, refreshingly gets a sympathetic, clean-cut role as the nattily attired railroad construction engineer. But never mind, the real stars of this picture are gorgeous Rocky Mountain scenery and the thrilling, nostalgic steam locomotives.
If the dramatic acting of the fine cast did not seem up to par, you can blame flabby direction by director Byron Haskin, who was more of a special effects technician than a director anyway. But once the action sequences start, Haskin is in his element. Denver & Rio Grande is nothing if not action-packed, and isn't that what we all love in Westerns? When the two railroad companies get serious about going after each other, they employ military tactics along with prolific volleys of (mostly inaccurate) gunfire from railroad cars to take and re-take miles of track and telegraph stations. One of the top action scenes is the actual "head-on collision of two bull locomotives", as it was heavily advertised at the time of the picture's 1952 release. The result is not disappointing, though Haskin cheated a bit with a dynamite explosion at the point of impact to make the shock of collision more spectacular. He really had to. Those old locomotives were such solidly constructed masses of steel, they could have just bounced apart without showing much apparent damage or the desired boiler explosions. By the way, as a minor point, this much ballyhooed train wreck does not happen at the climax of the movie, as stated by Leonard Maltin and others. It is one of the events building toward the climax, and it occurs quite some time before the end of the picture.
Denver & Rio Grande is a nicely turned out Western. The sets are very good, though most of the scenes are filmed in the great outdoors. Costumes are true to the time, place, and occupation of the characters. Particularly impressive were the authentic looking six-gun leather and the colorful variety of hats. The chubby O'Brien liked to foster an everyman image, and he did little to improve his unglamorous looks. Here his rough working man outfit includes a floppy black hat which looks as if it has been roundly stomped on by a couple of overweight saloon floozies. But it is the trains steaming around the mountains, the water tanks, stations, piles of cross-ties, telegraphs, and other supporting railroad equipment that really grab the eye. The excellent train sound effects made all of this as stimulating to hear as to see.
For all its flaws this is a highly entertaining picture. If you are a fan of exciting, flavorful Western action with chugging, puffing, hissing, clanging, whistling, steaming, smoke-belching, greasy, sooty, oil-dripping, jerking, screeching, cinder-flinging Nineteenth Century trains -- and how could anyone not be -- Denver & Rio Grande will take you where you can find it!
Day-Time Wife (1939)
Charming Bedroom Farce With Sweet Sixteen Linda Darnell
We could even say sixteen going on twenty-six, but the ever gorgeous Linda Darnell, does look achingly sweet and innocent in minor 20th Century Fox comedy Day-Time Wife. Nevertheless she convincingly plays the sophisticated wife of well-off businessman Tyrone Power, married long enough for the cad to be already fooling around with his no-class floozy of a secretary (Wendy Barrie). Only the second picture for the teenage actress, young Linda gives a remarkable performance, especially since she has to more or less carry the movie, being on screen in practically every scene. She holds her own with great poise and verve in the presence of veteran actresses Barrie, Binnie Barns, Joan Davis, and Joan Valerie. Nor does she seem the least bit overawed by the formidable screen presences of dashing leading man Power and old smoothie Warren William. William, always fun to watch, has a field day as a lecherous architect whose secretary Linda becomes in hope of learning what makes men so attracted to their curvaceous dictation takers. But once you have seen Day-Time Wife, you will not be likely to remember any of the cast better than pretty, perky Miss Darnell.
This picture is not a screwball comedy, as some others have labeled it. Just isn't screwy enough, and lacks most of the typical elements of that type. See my review of Go West, Young Man (1936) for a definition of screwball comedy. Day Time-Wife is a species of a genre known as bedroom farce. Hopefully this term will not lead crude types out there to expect naked men and women chasing each other around beds. Bedroom farce is simply the Hollywood trade name for a comedy which involves married people having problems staying married. Day-Time Wife also falls into a category known in the trade as "white telephone movies". Back in those days only the most affluent had a telephones any color or style other than utilitarian black. Thus a white telephone movie is about rich guys and rich dolls hanging out in their plush apartments or palatial mansions, going out to swanky night clubs, sailing on their swell yachts, and gabbing on their white telephones.
Day-Time Wife is ably directed by Gregory Ratoff, who also directed Miss Darnell in her first picture Hotel For Women (1939), with the glossy black and white cinematography, plush sets, and swank costumes for which 20th Century Fox was famous during the halcyon days of the big studios. Editing is silky smooth, as in any big studio picture form this era. The story offers little in the way of originality, but no matter, there hasn't been a new story since 33 A. D. The script by Art Arthur and Robert Harari is reasonably subtle and intelligent for one of this genre, the dialog crisp, engaging, and witty. Day-Time Wife is an amusing little comedy, very funny, especially in the climatic segment. It is a pleasure to watch if only for the knockout production values and the charming cast, led by the very young, very beautiful and very talented Miss Linda Darnell.
A load of slick, smooth entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era packed into an hour and twelve minutes.
Ambush is a gripping, authentic, action-packed, dramatically compelling picture of the United States Cavalry in the 1870's Arizona territory. It was producer/director Sam Wood's final movie, filmed shortly before his sudden death in September 1949 and released in January 1950. For top star Robert Taylor, now in his early forties, weathered but gracefully aged, it was an auspicious beginning to what would be a close association with the Western genre for the rest of his career.
While there is plenty of action in Ambush, its intense, nuanced character studies are what sets this dynamic Western apart from the crowd. Taylor plays a tough, savvy civilian scout at odds with by the book Army captain John Hodiack, both over campaign strategy and the affections of gorgeous Arlene Dahl, a late general's daughter hoping the cavalry can rescue her sister from Apache captivity. As if one love triangle were not enough for a dusty, little Army post, the first lieutenant Don Taylor is madly and hopelessly in love with the beautiful Irish laundress (Jean Hagen), the loyal Catholic wife to a drunken lout of an enlisted man (Bruce Cowling), who frequently socks her around. When a disabling injury to the major in command of the post (Leon Ames) puts the spit-and-polish captain temporarily in charge, everything comes to a boil. Not as soapy as it sounds but sensitively directed by Wood and perfectly acted by all concerned. The scenes of poignant longing tinged with guilt between Don Taylor and Ms. Hagen nearly steal the show. The rich supporting cast includes, as well as Ames and Cowling, John McIntire as an older scout, Pat Moriarity as the top sergeant, and also Charles Stevens, who claimed descent from Geronimo, as the vicious, resourceful Apache leader Diablito.
The script by Marguerite Roberts from a Luke Short story is intelligent and engaging with clever, brisk, colorful dialog. Harold Lipstein's moody black and white cinematography and Rudolph G. Kopp's textured score enhance the gritty, realistic, yet slightly nostalgic ambiance. Editing is silky smooth, as in almost any big studio picture of this era. The all important pacing is perfect. The compact 89-minute running time moves along at a brisk pace, building suspense, never dragging, but taking enough breathers to build character and create atmosphere. Costumes and sets are first-rate and authentic. Real-life western Army forts during the Indian War era did not have palisade walls, and, refreshingly, neither does the one in this handsomely turned out Western. More importantly, the characters act like nineteenth century people, with the social attitudes of the time, yet without seeming stiff.
With apologies to John Ford fans, which includes yours truly, Ambush is the best of its type. Whereas Ford, who liked to portray everything bigger than life, tended to make the cavalry too grand and romantic, Wood gives us the real Old West Army -- long-service soldiers serving loyally but thanklessly at dusty, out of the way posts neither finding nor expecting much in the way of comfort or glory.
Ambush is a thrilling, dramatic, atmospheric, authentic adult Western, engaging, charming, and entertaining from beginning to end. The opening and closing scenes of this picture are both real knockouts! This is an unappreciated classic. Top-notch entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era.
The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939)
Classy Karloff Elevates Low-Budget Monogram Mysteries
Having a popular, first-rate actor like Boris Karloff in the title role of its Mr. Wong mystery series added an unaccustomed touch of class to poverty row studio Monogram's usual low-budget lineup of undistinguished programmers. The portrayal of the genteel Chinese detective must have likewise been a nice change of pace for the refined Englishman from the run of monsters and other sinister types he had been typically cast. Okay, so Karloff looked about as much like a Percheron ice wagon horse as a Chinaman. Let's just assume he was one of a those half-British Hong Kong Wongs. In any case he manages to project a convincing Oriental ambiance with only a minimum of makeup, while showing the maximum of sophisticated acting talent his fans have come to expect. Monogram seems to have responded by giving the Mr. Wong series the best staff and the biggest budget the financially disadvantaged studio could scrape together to support Karloff, who was a bigger name than they were used to having around.
The Mystery Of Mr. Wong, second in the series, is immeasurably better produced than the first entry. Nice sets, both interior and exterior, smart, well-lighted cinematography and tight editing complement William Nigh's sharp direction. A full-bodied, original score by Edward J. Kay enhances the drama, action, and suspense while setting the just-right mysterious, exotic, and sometimes spooky atmosphere. The Scott Darling screenplay is complex and intelligent with engaging, at times even snappy, dialog. It presents a classic drawing room style mystery. The principle murder victim is a cad hated by all, which makes practically every character a suspect. Clues appear and disappear, sometimes even falling out of pictures on the wall. Karloff gets a competent supporting cast including elegant, if not so well-known leading lady Dorothy Tree, polished, oft-seen character actor Holmes Herbert, and stalwart Grant Withers in his reoccurring role as tough cop Captain Street. The police in this one are portrayed as less overbearing and bumbling than in the previous entry -- perhaps there were complaints from the policemen's benevolent associations. It's a mixed blessing. While the cops here are more efficient and less disruptive to the cagey Mr. Wong's efforts to solve the case, they are inevitably and sadly less humorous. While those of the politically correct persuasion may complain about an Occidental playing the Chinese detective, these little movies nevertheless gave good employment to a number of Oriental supporting actors, notably in this one Lotus Long, as a maid who knows more than she should about the mystery, Chester Gan as the no-nonsense butler who tries to help the police, and Lee Tung Foo in a reoccurring role as Mr. Wong's efficient manservant. The producers of the series gave pretty Ms. Long parts in two other Mr. Wong numbers, including the leading lady role in Phantom Of Chinatown (1940).
The Mystery of Mr. Wong nimbly belies its cheap origins all the way through -- so well put together, intriguing, smoothly paced, and entertaining, it seems almost like an "A" picture, or at least a big studio a "B" production. Karloff is a delight. Viewing the first two movies in the set, has made the fifteen bucks I sprang for VCI's well restored two-disk album of all six Mr. Wong movies look like the shopping coup of the season. If you like off-beat little mystery potboilers that pack a load of entertainment into a short running time, then Mr. Wong is wight for you! Sorry, I couldn't resist.
A Night to Remember (1942)
Wickedly Funny Mystery Spoof
If we may get a couple misconceptions about A Night To Remember out of the way --
1) In spite of what a gaggle of monkey-read-monkey-write critics have said, A Night To Remember bears little resemblance to The Thin Man series. The couple in this picture are not rich like Nick and Nora Charles, but of modest means at best. They are renting a seedy basement flat in Greenwich Viliage, not plush Park Avenue digs like the Charleses. They are not alcoholics like Nick and Nora. They do not have a dog. Nick was boozy, but not bumbling like the amateur sleuth here. He was an ex-cop, and a tough and very competent one, not a wimpy mystery writer playing detective.
2) Those who ordered a DVD of this picture thinking it was going to be the 1958 British docudrama about the Titanic disaster of the same title perhaps need a reading comprehension course as much as a writing course before embarking on the perilous path of spinning movie reviews. No doubt it would likewise be helpful if such persons would limit their consumption of alcoholic beverages while ordering DVD's.
A Night To Remember is a sparkling screwball comedy/mystery with the requisite goofy hero and goofy heroine, played with brilliant incompetence by Brian Aherne and Loretta Young. The goofy cops are led by a de-Orientalized Sidney Toler sporting the same Chan dead-pan, a ridiculously wide Fedora, and a wise-cracking, trigger-happy Donald McBride as number one assistant. The supporting cast rounds up the usual suspects of nicely sinister supporting players, including Gale Sondergaard, Cy Kendall, and Blanche Yurka. Expertly directed by Richard Wallace with perfect pacing and timing, beautifully filmed by Joseph Walker, cleverly scored by Werner R. Heymann, and wonderfully acted by the entire cast. Aherne and Ms. Young both had a fine touch for comedy in spite of what the wags have said. Be aware that the effete left-wing literati and their film class graduate toadies who dominate movie reviews on this site and elsewhere have it out for Loretta Young because of her good Catholic girl conservatism. They will unfairly denigrate her performances and her pictures at every chance.
Witty, breezy, glossy, hilarious, engaging, entertaining, and perfectly charming, a delight from beginning to end, A Night To Remember represents Old Hollywood Comedy in peak form.
Paris Underground (1945)
Solid World War II Intrigue Picture
Paris Underground (aka: Madame Pimpernell) is a solid British entry in the war/intrigue genre produced immediately after cessation of hostilities with Germany in 1945 by aging, but still glamorous, American star Constance Bennett and distributed in the United States by United Artists.
Ms. Bennett, a somewhat flighty American married to a French foreign office official, and her middle-age spinster pal Gracie Fields, while fleeing the city during the fall of Paris in 1940, find themselves by happenstance carrying a downed British aviator in the trunk of their automobile. Turned back to Paris by a German road bock, they have to take the flier back to hiding in Gracie's apartment. One of the best and most suspenseful scenes occurs when the girls have a flat with the pilot in the car's rear, and a Nazi officer stops to assist them! By hook and crook they eventually manage to smuggle the young aviator to Free France. Delighted with their success, they establish and underground railroad that eventually gets hundreds of allied airmen back to their bases. With a combination of American audacity and British pluck, these two brave and resourceful women cause the occupying Germans a big headache.
Sharply directed by Gregory Ratoff and atmospherically photographed by Lee Garmes, Paris Underground is tense, exciting, and believable. Acting by the two female leads is first rate with good support coming from Argentine actor George Rigaud as Ms. Bennett's husband, Kurt Kreuger as a suave but cruel Gestapo captain who would like to be more than friends with the ripely beautiful Ms. Bennett, and Eily Malyon as the grouchy concierge of Ms. Field's hotel. Editing is a little untidy in places, with some scenes taking too long to unfold. However, the story is never draggy, but engaging and exciting from beginning to end. Alexander Tansman's florid but stirring score, which drew an Academey Award nomination, drives the action along at a gallop.
This picture bears some resemblance to glitzier Joan Crawford vehicle Reunion In France (1942). While not up to competing head-up with that big hitter in the entertainment department, the more staid Paris Underground is somehow more believable and is an enjoyable, inspiring little potboiler in its own right for fans of the war/intrigue thriller.