As the detectives tell wrongly accused bass player Manny Balestero (Henry Fonda) (picked up for holding up an insurance office at gunpoint) that if he's innocent he has nothing to fear, you realize that once placed in the criminal justice system, he has everything to fear, especially the prospect of losing his wife and family who adore him. Unlike Marnie (Tippie Hedrin) or Marian Crane (Janet Leigh's part in Psycho), who actually did take the money, Fonda is so completely innocent that that aspect is what provides this film with its most compelling force. How could such a decent guy be thrown into such an impersonal and seemingly coldhearted system, as he's arrested, fingerprinted, jailed, transported in a paddy wagon with other felons to his arraignment, and a lot more, all done during a bleak looking New York winter in vintage 1950s black and white, set to a Bernard Hermann score that fits perfectly the mood. Not your typical Hitchcock film, but an excellent role for Henry Fonda.
Marnie (1964)maybe the fake look is part of the style
15 November 2017
Attractive accountant Marnie (Tippie Hedrin) moves from post to post, gaining enough of the confidence of her employers to rob them of the cash in the office safes. She assumes new identities with fake social security cards and hair dye. The heart of the film is an exploration into why she does this. "Marnie" is a bit of a masterpiece in style and the way it uncovers why she steals from her employers. Set in a set made out to be Baltimore, the film may look fake, which could be intentional just for the purposes of distinctive styling, because at this point in Alfred Hitchcock's career (1964) it would be safe to assume that what you see on the screen must have been what he intended, and, nevertheless, the photography by Robert Burks is some of the best, as is Bernard Hermann's score. This basically turns out to be the master's sleeper classic, mixing a story of sex and criminality, not too unlike what Hitchcock did with Psycho. Attractive women rob their employers in both films, and both masterfully explore the lingering and smouldering sexual hang-ups.
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)population of 2,000, all maniacs
8 November 2017
Two thousand people live in the town of Pleasant Valley, an out-of- the-way place on a back road, somewhere on the way to Atlanta. All of them are maniacs, which is a decent premise for a film, and which illustrates Hershel G. Lewis's talent for what it takes to make a memorable exploitation film. Rather than being Confederate sympathizers these folks are like the ghosts of the town, which had been the scene of a Union (or Yankee) massacre exactly 100 years to the day on which all the action occurs. It's a film whose premise is a borderline sickening vengeance the maniacs inflict on four northerners (two young couples) who are detoured by two of Pleasant Valley's leading citizens, into its trap to make them the town's special guests for its one-hundred year anniversary of the massacre. Things get increasingly gory, in a kind of gratuitous way, but the storyline is almost substantial enough to hold it all together. Lewis also did the cinematography, which has many Confederate-flag drenched scenes to go along with bright red blood and a pretty blue sky.
Comanche Station (1960)Randolph Scott's never-ending search for wife taken by Comanches
15 October 2017
After Comanches took his wife away years ago, Randolph Scott's character spends his time tracking down stories of white women abducted by Comanches in hopes of rescuing his wife from captivity. How many white women under Comanche captivity he has come across is unknown, but the one he barters for in Comanche Station (Nancy Gates) also turns out not to be his wife. Even though he strikes out again in his own search, the fact that he is going to return Gates to her family forms a compelling storyline. Scott and Gates travel to a stage coach stop known as Comanche Station where Claude Akins and two young associates, Richard Rust and Skip Homier, await the stage coach's arrival to rob it. Needless to say the coach doesn't get there, but Akins knows Gates's husband has promised to pay $5,000 for her return, a detail of which Scott apparently was unaware. Thus the five ride off on the journey to return Gates, Akins intent on killing Scott, whom he knew before, in order to collect the reward for Gates, who is very beautiful. There is excellent acting along the journey, thanks to a stand out script by Burt Kennedy and direction by Scott's famous partner in westerns Budd Boetticher.
The Conformist (1970)a survivor
3 October 2017
In 1938 fascist Italy a newly married man takes his bride on a honeymoon to Paris. He's the son of intellectuals, his father is in an insane asylum, while his bride is middle class bourgeois. The situation sums up his predicament, that he's a bit of a sensitive intellectual who is caught up in Mussolini's violent political culture with a pretty new bride who seems oblivious to it all. It appears he joins the Fascists to get ahead in society but his allegiance is put to the test after he's given the assignment to assassinate on of his ex- professors, a disaffected intellectual who moved to Paris to escape the fascists. Thus the honeymoon takes a turn to the ominous side. The story in Paris unfolds, leading to the event taking place on a snowy winter afternoon in a forest. His target and the target's wife suspected him all along but befriended him, with the ex-prof's wife even seducing him. Thus the title refers to those who lived under fascism without necessarily embracing it, merely going along with the current in order to try to succeed within a brutal system and not be arrested, with the system testing this individual's commitment to the cause. Mussolini is overthrown towards the end of the film, and the protagonist leaves his apartment to watch the regime's fall and try to switch over to the non-fascists who comb the streets looking for collaborators to execute. Bertolucci explores Italy's fascist past by portraying how it played out with a classic cowardly non- protagonist who fails to rise to the occasion.
Man Without a Star (1955)he actually had a star
25 September 2017
Kirk Douglas plays a Texas cowboy who follows a star northward to Wyoming's open range. He has left behind the barbed wire of Texas only to get caught up in a brewing conflict between one large rancher and a number of smaller ones because the open range doesn't have enough grass on it to feed everyone's cattle. Along the way he meets William Campbell as a young aspiring cowboy from Kansas City. After teaching him the ropes Campbell becomes fast enough on the draw to work for the big landowner, a non-absentee Easterner cattle ranch owner played by Jeanne Crain. She also hires Texas cattle hands led by Richard Boone, who are good with guns in order to keep the Wyoming range open for her 15,000 head of cattle by either killing or scaring off the smaller ranchers who wish to install barbed wire to protect whatever remaining grass there is, even though they don't actually own the land they're fencing off. In fact no one in this movie owns any of the land they graze their cattle on. The story is half-way decent, Kirk Douglas excels, literally torn over which to hate more, the barbed wire the smaller ranchers are putting up to protect the food supply for their herds, or Jeanne Craine's greedy policy of taking all the grass for her herd. She even seduces Douglas in order to win him over. It may be that Campbell had the best role, going from greenhorn to a fast-on-the-draw gunman facing a moral crisis after killing a cowboy in the town's saloon. The scenery isn't as captivating as some westerns, but King Vidor's direction succeeds in bringing out the story's underlying drama.
seedy underworld gang kidnaps British heiress
21 September 2017
A young British heiress (Patricia Franklin) is kidnapped at an airport in Paris in this rather tough existentialist crime drama featuring Marlon Brando as the nominal leader of the gang of morally flexible criminals that include his drug addicted girlfriend played by Rita Moreno, her pickpocket brother (Jess Hahn) and Richard Boone at his most menacing as a pimp named Leer. They hold her in an isolated house on a desolate looking beach but discover a French police officer who likes to fish coincidentally happens to live nearby. The entire affair is heavy going with a group who thinks they can pull off this caper and avoid the underlying violence. Interesting tension develops between bad Boone and not-so-bad Brando, with Jess Hahn sort of stealing the show as a kind of non- violent pickpocket desperate just to get the money. In addition it's a pretty far way from where Rita Moreno was in West Side Story.
The Organization (1971)Virgil Tibbs, San Francisco detective
2 September 2017
Virgil Tibbs apparently left his detective post in Philadelphia for one in San Francisco, where he shows up investigating a robbery of furniture company that's actually a front for The Organization, a group of businessmen dedicated to the sale of heroin. A Mod Squad of locals orchestrates the robbery as the film opens, stealing four million dollars worth of smack, not to sell it, but to keep it off the streets. Since they're not hardened drug dealers, they're not much of a match for the well-portrayed hit men of the Organization, leaving it up to Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) to try to protect them while working to break the heroin ring. The outdoor locations are great, with one car chase that succeeds quite well, but overall it mostly resembles one of those made-for-TV movies of that era.
Ms .45 (1981)from prey to predator
27 August 2017
After being raped twice in the same afternoon, a mute seamstress in one of New York's fashion houses (Zoe Lund), obtains a 45 caliber pistol with which she metes out justice on any future potential threat from the city's sex-obsessed male population. They all seem to be standing around on corners hustling her as she passes by. But that's not really the character of this film so much as the transformation Lund's character undergoes from meek mute to sympathetic while utterly ruthless serial killer, from prey to predator, which reaches its apex when she arrives at a Halloween party that concludes the film dressed as a sexy nun with her 45 strapped to her leg. By this point the body count has risen substantially, accompanied by an other-worldly lounge jazz film score, with each victim drawn out just enough to show his sleaziest side by the great director Abel Ferrara, of whom this film must be considered among his absolute best efforts.
Straight Time (1978)good luck going straight
3 August 2017
"Straight Time" portrays the difficulties facing a parolee in readjusting to society after serving time in prison. It's basically a no-win situation from the get-go. Dustin Hoffman (believable ex-con) has a meeting with sleaze-ball Parole Officer (M Emit Walsh) leading to inevitable return to life of crime with fellow mal-adjusted friends played well by Harry Dean Stanton and Gary Busey. Before slipping back full-time into the criminal underworld, Hoffman meets young Theresa Russell, a secretary at an employment agency, who's along for the ride as long as it's enjoyable. Directed by Ulu Grosbard, the focus is on the limitations of trying to live a straight life in a society offering such meager rewards (see the dump Busey shares with his kid and young Cathy Bates) which makes the possibility of prison a risk worth taking. Hoffman tries his best to make it, but easily returns to his acquaintances and the bars where they hang out, where the film really excels as an example of a gritty 70s crime drama.
The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)gunfighters looking to cement their reputations
24 June 2017
Glen Ford plays the owner of a general store in a small town in the West who is exceedingly good with a gun without being an actual gunfighter. He's so good he has to keep it a secret or real gunfighters will seek him out so that they can claim they're better. A bit of a lame premise, done in many a cinematic tale of the West, but Broderick Crawford and two of his associates who are on the run from a posse after robbing a bank in another town, arrive in this town looking for fresh horses when Crawford, who plays a moderately famous gunfighter looking to cement his reputation, finds out about Ford's superior skills and threatens to burn the town down unless Ford consents to a showdown on the town's main dusty dirt road. The showdown itself, the lead-up to it and the actual gunfight make this more or less worth watching if you can sit through the rest of it.
Winchester '73 (1950)a man out to reclaim what's rightfully his
23 June 2017
After winning the most desired rifle of all time, a Winchester '73, in a shooting contest in fabled Dodge City, James Stewart promptly loses it, setting up the film's main premise, a man out to reclaim what's rightfully his and in doing so settle scores along the way. I have to say the opening hour or so seemed a bit conventional, but there's a noticeable improvement in the final 30 or so minutes, shot by ace cinematographer William Daniels under the direction of film noir icon Anthony Mann. Stephen McNally is Stewart's main opponent but Dan Duryea is in vintage form as gunslinger Waco Johnny Dean for the limited amount of time he takes up on screen. McNally is classic as well. You could see Stewart coming into form as Mann's main character in a string of following westerns, but none of them turns out to be as good as this.
The Arnelo Affair (1947)pretty classic film noir
22 June 2017
The story of a woman (Frances Gifford) whose marriage to a successful attorney (George Murphy) leaves her feeling under-appreciated. When she catches the eye of a client who owns an upscale night club (John Hodiak) and, as a means of getting to know her on more intimate terms, offers her a job to redo the interior decorating on his apartment, she eventually accepts, seemingly knowing what this would lead to. Married with a cute son (Dean Stockwell), she realizes she has everything to lose in the Arnelo Affair, especially when Tony Arnelo turns out to be a womanizer who is not above knocking off an interfering ex-lover, the evidence of which points to Gifford, thus adding considerably to her already heightened sense of anxiety, which seems to put her in a state of semi-shock. The affair goes on within her social circle which is captured in a great scene in Arnelo's night club after the murder, with Eve Arden, who is Gifford's friend, noticing something going on between Arnelo and Gifford. Murphy is pretty good as Gifford's husband who realizes she went astray due to his lack of attention. Gifford is worth seeing for her part as she gives in to her desire for Arnelo all the while racked with doubt and guilt and then fear of losing everything dear to her over doing so. And Hodiak turns in a great role as Arnelo, with exceeding smoothness and subtlety.
Shadow in the Sky (1952)cloudy with a chance of rain
25 May 2017
Ralph Meeker plays a Marine veteran of the famous battle for Gualdalcanal. The experience left him with PTSD. His condition arises from the memory of carrying a wounded Marine (James Whitmore, who plays Meeker's brother-in-law married to Meeker's sister played by Nancy Davis (Reagan) to safety during a rainstorm as the battle raged on. While Hollywood made the fierce fight for Guadalcanal famous, this pic attempts to illustrate the longterm fallout of the battle on one Marine's psyche. It's pretty good, though it leaves you wondering why Meeker is so traumatized since he actually rescued his future bro-in-law rather than letting him die. If he had done that he might have really been traumatized by crippling guilt. But since he actually rescued him and only feels guilty about considering the possibility of just leaving him in the mud, the whole PTSD premise seems a little far-fetched. In any event, the acting is great between Meeker, Whitmore, Davis, and Jean Hagen, who is in love with Meeker. The weather forecast plays a pivotal role, especially if there's a chance of rain.
The Zodiac Killer (1971)good for connoisseurs of films like this
3 May 2017
A cheapo expose on the Zodiac murders that occurred in the San Francisco Bay area in 1968 and 1969 that benefits from its year of release in 1971, not too far removed, the stringent budget which lends the project a degree of authenticity, as well as the focus on who the film portrays as the killer, a postal clerk who loves rabbits, and buries one that died near a cross, in a strikingly bizarre scene. Compared with the film that came out in 2007, this one stands up pretty well, especially for connoisseurs of films like this, no-budget but an eye for creativity. It made it on to the TCM Underground films, a wise decision by the program director.
Autumn Leaves (1956)quite a storyline
25 April 2017
Joan Crawford plays a lonely typist who works out of her LA bungalow. After she encounters Cliff Robertson as a younger man, and the two fall in love, she notices signs of mental instability in Robertson's character. The film hints at the answer to the question it raises over the reasons that underlie the younger-man-older-woman romance. Robertson had been previously married to the character played by Vera Miles's. Later the film introduces Robertson's father, played by Lorne Greene. It's within the triangular relationship between Robertson, his father Lorne Greene, and his ex-wife Vera Miles that the film reveals, a storyline that takes the viewer into a pretty interesting gutter. This is heightened by the absence of Robertson's mother, Greene's ex-wife, who died but left behind an inheritance. When Crawford's character is added into the mix in one of her more neurotic roles (even the psychiatrist in the film notices her neuroses) and Robert Aldrich directing, this film achieves some epic moments.
Torch Song (1953)bizarre Joan Crawford pic
29 March 2017
Joan Crawford plays a high-strung Broadway star who makes life miserable for all of her co-stars, directors, and musicians who work with her. Though Crawford isn't much of a dancer and all the songs are dubbed, she succeeds well at portraying demanding neurotic characters like the one she plays in this movie. Since a lot of this film takes place on the stage, it is bizarre watching Joan Crawford play at being a star dancer and singer when she can't really do either of them well. That is a part of what gives this film its appeal for Crawford fans. Her wardrobe is at times spectacular and she does one number in black face that has to be seen to be believed. Other than that, which is substantial to watch, the romance with the blind pianist played by Michael Wilding seems meant to balance out the high-end camp taking place on the stage.
13 West Street (1962)Alan Ladd near the end
16 March 2017
Alan Ladd plays an aerospace engineer on his way home from a late night at the office when his car runs out of gas on a dark street and he encounters a group of high school teenagers. The encounter leads to his being beaten up pretty badly and sets in motion his quest for either justice or revenge. Rod Steiger as a police detective represents the justice part, but the wheels move too slowly for Ladd, who engages in his own investigation to avenge his humiliating experience. This sets up a conflict with the law, the school system, which leads to several consequences. The film's proximity to the end of Ladd's career and life seems to be a major factor and makes it difficult to conclude whether his role either detracted from or added something to a film that is, in any event, still definitely worth watching IMHO.
To Each His Own (1946)To Each Her Own
8 March 2017
A successful cosmetics tycoon (Olivia de Havilland) goes on a flashback of her life story as she mans her assigned post during a bombing raid in 1944 London. This trip takes us to her youthful days as the beautiful daughter working in her father's pharmacy in small-town New York state where she's the prize for a couple of suitors, but falls for a barnstorming WWI pilot (John Lund) and ends up having a son out of wedlock. The prevailing morals make keeping the child out of the question, but her love for her son is at the center of the film, as is her emerging success as a businesswoman which allows her financial independence which opens more doors for her character. This role won de Havilland the Oscar for best actress and it is a great part which shows a woman taking on her times and succeeding in doing so.
A Quiet Place in the Country (1968)classic late 1960's Italian film
21 February 2017
Franco Nero plays a Milan painter whose work is currently quite popular with collectors and commands high prices. His agent, played by Vanessa Redgrave, is also his lover. Thus you have a mix of artistic talent and its value as a monetary commodity that runs like a current through the movie. His obsession with soft-porn magazines reveals other aspects that result in the character of an artist driven by the kinds of internal forces that exert the edgy influences over his art that collectors find irresistible. The idea to find a quiet place in the country in which to produce more art appeals to him, as well as Redgrave, but for apparently entirely different reasons. The place they eventually decide upon is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a beautiful woman who was killed during an air raid in WW2. In a shocking weird seance scene we see or even feel, thanks to the talent of the director and all the other talent involved, her vaguely dangerous ghostly presence. Nero's insanity becomes increasingly clear as he moves psychologically further into the Italian villa with its ghost. On one level the movie is a disturbing look into his soul, but it also an analysis of the interaction of the commercial forces in the market for contemporary art and the troubled artist.
Boomerang! (1947)sterling courtroom drama
7 February 2017
As dusk settles on a small Connecticut city someone approaches a well-liked priest who is out for a walk and shoots him in the head.The act of violence occurs as the city is under the leadership of a reform city government which comes under fire from the local press for ineptitude for not arresting someone right away. When they do, of course it's the wrong guy, a World War 2 veteran of the Pacific campaign, sort of a drifter looking for a new start. Dana Andrews plays the prosecutor who resists a strong current of opinion that this guy must be convicted in order to project the right image whether or not he's actually guilty. His wife is played by Jane Wyatt in a pretty good role, but the actual stars of this well-done courtroom drama are the ones who play the eye-witnesses and Andrews himself, who is stellar, as usual. The actors and script by Richard Murphy mesh well together, each side brings out the best in the other, thanks most likely to Elia Kazan the director. For a ninety minute film it contains quite a bit of well-drawn out angles.
These Thousand Hills (1959)from cowboy to politician
17 January 2017
A western about a cowboy who rises up the social ladder to become a respected rancher and later a Montana politician, who seems to become more of a hypocrite with each step up. Don Murray, who plays the lead role, dumps Lee Remick as a saloon girl for Patricia Owens who plays the wholesome daughter of one of the town's prominent leaders. Dumping Remick for Owens seems to signify Murray's embrace of and acceptance into the town's Christian and social establishment, and his abandonment of his cowboy social outcast pal played by Stuart Whitman. Richard Egan occupies the film's bad guy role as Remick's abusive ex-boyfriend, and unscrupulous rancher. A classic example of a 1950s western with modern themes set amongst the beauty of the old West.
The Confession (1970)1970 Cold War expose
13 October 2016
I got dragged into this movie like the protagonist got dragged into the brutal, endless interrogation. Given the overall vapidity of most of today's films, this is a real diversion into the power that really lies beneath the surface of movies, the acting, the writing, directing, and most important the mood. The mood of this film drags you like it does the character played by Yves Montand, as he endures a two year interrogation by the people's republic. It's real historic as well, full of details about Titoists, Trotskyites, and anarchists and paranoia over the struggle to control the communist revolution. But Montand looks great as he endures an impressive variety of interrogation techniques.
Devil's Doorway (1950)sleeper Anthony Mann western
1 August 2016
A decorated veteran of the American Civil War who is also a Shoshone Indian returns to Wyoming where he finds significantly more white settlers who are keenly interested in his prime valley land. Robert Taylor may not have been your first choice as the Shoshone. Whatever, because Taylor did a remarkable portrayal of a complex character with allegiances to his Shoshone people as well as the United States, for which he bravely fought to preserve the Union and emancipate the slaves in the Civil War. This film relates his fight for the Shoshone cause as he finds his identity as citizen of the United States stripped from him and thus his legal rights to what was his own land. Directed by Anthony Mann and filmed by Mann's legendary cinematographer John Alton in black and white, this turns out to be a western superior perhaps even to Mann's classic Winchester 73.
Best of the Badmen (1951)Robert Ryan and the Quantrill Raiders
6 June 2016
Jeff Clanton (Robert Ryan) a major in the Union army, captures the remnants of the Quantrill Raiders which include the James brothers as well as the Youngers. Clanton is disposed to let them all go if they take an oath of allegiance, but Mathew Fowler (Robert Preston), the head of the Fowler Detective Agency, a private law enforcement outfit that protects the moneyed interests, has his eyes set on the impressive rewards each of the "badmen" has accrued, setting up what looks to be a pretty good story when Ryan is arrested and faces hanging. He sides with the "badmen" against Fowler, who seems to represent the emerging new order. Claire Trevor, who is supposed to be a saloon girl, is actually married to Fowler, but falls for Clanton. Her character makes zero sense and the movie makes less and less sense as it goes along, a disturbing trend which even the great Robert Preston can't turn around, though he's always worth watching.