The magnificent Marlene Dietrich unabashedly flirts with every Navy man in uniform and even dons Navy whites herself in "Seven Sinners," an entertaining piece of romantic fluff. Teamed with handsome John Wayne as Dan, a Naval officer with Admirals in his pedigree, Dietrich is a show in herself. Given some fine songs like "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," she plays Bijou, a notorious nightclub singer of uncertain origin, who has been deported from numerous islands throughout he South China Sea for inciting mayhem wherever she sings.
Although Bijou's luggage includes several suitcases, the fabulous wardrobe and outrageous hats that she pulls from them were designed by Irene and are nothing short of dazzling; Dietrich sashays along crowded streets incongruously garbed as a movie star among extras posing as Southeast Asian coolies on a fictional island. Dietrich glitters with rhinestones, is shaded by wide-brimmed floppy hats, smiles behind black lace, displays her famous legs in form-fitting sheaths, and sings "The Man's in the Navy" dressed in a white Naval uniform. While the young John Wayne is handsome and winning, his part is definitely secondary. Dietrich deserved a top drawer supporting cast, and she was rewarded with a grizzled Albert Dekker as a ship's doctor, a dim Broderick Crawford as Bijou's husky bodyguard, a sly Mischa Auer as a larcenous magician, a chubby Billy Gilbert as a loveable bar owner, a shady Oskar Homolka as a mobster, and a debonair Reginald Denny as a Naval commander.
Beyond Dietrich and the stellar supporting cast, "Seven Sinners" has other assets. The shadowy black-and-white cinematography by Rudolph Mate throws patterns across faces and turns dark rooms into geometric plays of light and shadow through the use of blinds and shutters. While the story is slight and, despite a slightly surprising ending, predictable, action and music abound. Director Tay Garnett opens and closes the film with a barroom brawl that illustrates Bijou's effect on her male audiences. Ultimately, the film's appeal rests on Marlene Dietrich. Devotees of Dietrich will relish every flirtatious glance, every song, and every close-up; many will go wild over her cross dressing for "The Man in the Navy" number; however, followers of John Wayne may be disappointed by his non-western secondary role as the femme fatale's romantic interest. Dietrich fans rejoice, Wayne fans beware.
A lady who attracts suitors like flies meets a man who has women circling around him like bees to honey. Molly Truesdale, a young woman from Manhattan, takes a 14-day bus tour of the American West, where a rodeo cowboy is flipped from his horse and lands on her. Talk about meeting cute, and talk about offbeat casting. Pert and pretty comedienne, Jean Arthur, is the lady swatting away unwelcome men, while tall and tough John Wayne is Duke Hudkins, who wants to remain unattached and play the field. Actually, the two unlikely co-stars work quite well together, and Wayne's charm and Arthur's delightful voice and personality hold "A Lady Takes a Chance" together.
Burdened with a generic title that does not relate to the story, the film also suffers from Robert Ardrey's predictable screenplay, adapted from a Jo Swerling story. Despite a relatively short running time, the plot droops from time to time, and needless repetition in a hitchhiking sequence, reminiscent of "It Happened One Night," feels like padding. A few detours into a night sleeping outdoors on the prairie, the diagnosis and treatment of a sick horse, and a home-made dinner in a motel fall flat; howling coyotes are stale, horse pneumonia is boring, and the qualities of lamb chops irrelevant. However, Phil Silvers as Smiley Lambert, an overly enthusiastic tour guide on the bus, is a bright spot, although he has only two brief sequences. Silvers is much missed when off screen, and his presence would have enlivened the film immensely. Charles Winniger as Waco, Duke's sidekick, is diverting, as is Mary Field, a gossipy fellow tourist on the bus. Molly's trio of suitors, Grady Sutton, Hans Conried, and Grant Withers, illustrate why the unfortunate lady needs a long trip away from New York.
"A Lady Takes a Chance" depends too heavily on the chemistry and talents of the two unlikely co-stars. While the film is fitfully amusing, audience interest will depend on their desire to see John Wayne or Jean Arthur or the two together; fans of either or both will not be disappointed, but others who are looking for a hilarious screwball comedy may be disappointed.
Fans of classic and not-so-classic films could ask themselves: did Barbara Stanwyck ever give a bad performance, even in the worst vehicles? The 1953 tear-jerker, "All I Desire" is far from her worst film, although the generic title suggests a lurid melodrama far racier than what is on the screen. Set in the early 20th century, Stanwyck is Naomi Murdoch, a stage actress on the way down. Years earlier, she left husband, family, and a lover behind in a small town to pursue the Broadway lights, but she now has fallen to playing follow-up to trained dog acts. Her family knows nothing of her life or failures, and, when her stage-struck daughter lures her back to attend the young girl's debut in a senior-year theatrical production, Naomi invests her savings in a new wardrobe to impress and returns to her roots.
Faced with rejection by some, curiosity by others, and warmth by a few, Naomi struggles with her fabricated past, rekindled emotions, and an uncertain future. Sounds like the makings of a Ross Hunter-Douglas Sirk melodrama, which it most definitely is. Stanwyck is always credible and fascinating to watch, and she stands out amidst a less than stellar supporting cast. A bland Richard Carlson plays Naomi's abandoned husband, a dull school principal, and lovely Maureen O'Sullivan is wasted in a non-demanding part as Carlson's girlfriend, patiently awaiting matrimony. Based on a 1951 novel, the story is awash in emotion as Naomi meets children she never knew, an aggressive lover she wants to forget, and a homebody husband she still loves.
Carl Guthrie's shadowy black-and-white cinematography is outstanding, and some of the landscapes resemble etchings. The photography also captures the lush interior of a comfortable middle-class home, complete with housekeeper, that isolates the family from any inconveniences other than the unexpected appearance of their mother. Thanks to a fine performance by Stanwyck, a glossy production, and steady direction by Sirk, "All I Desire" is vastly entertaining, a warm comfortable movie for a rainy afternoon.
Despite an excellent cast and production team, "There's Always Tomorrow" is little more than a classy sudser. Saddled with a title reminiscent of a daytime soap opera, the familiar tale of neglected husband, distracted family, and the appearance of an old flame does not warrant the talent lavished upon it. Produced by Ross Hunter and directed by Douglas Sirk, the film has the expected gloss and emotional turmoil of Hunter-Sirk collaborations. Fred MacMurray, a successful toy manufacturer, has been married to Joan Bennett for twenty years, and the couple has three nearly-grown children. Barbara Stanwyck, a fashion designer from New York, arrives unexpectedly, and the embers of an old romance between her and MacMurray rekindles. When MacMurray's son accidentally sights his father with Stanwyck at a hotel, suspicions and tensions rise, and Stanwyck's classy nature prevails.
Stanwyck's Norma Vale is a lonely woman behind her business-like demeanor, and she carries an old photo of MacMurray in her purse that hints of an ulterior motive to her visit. MacMurray portrays Clifford Groves, a good husband and father, who is thoughtlessly brushed aside by a wife preoccupied with her children and by children distracted by dance recitals, boyfriends, and impending marriage. Unfortunately, the neglect leaves MacMurray's character open and vulnerable to unsolicited romantic attention. Both Stanwyck and MacMurray are outstanding and convincingly rise above their roles. Joan Bennet is fine as well, although her undemanding part of the busy housewife has little depth. Jane Darwell sparkles in a small part as Mrs. Rogers, the wise and knowing housekeeper. Because Stanwyck plays a fashion designer, the costumes by Jay a Morley, Jr., are worth a mention, especially an improbable harlequin blouse that Stanwyck wears to the office and a stylish evening gown modeled by Bennett.
Photographed in crisp black and white by veteran Russell Metty, the production looks first rate. The comfortable upper-middle-class 1950's existence is well captured. Isolated from reality, essential discussions of basketball players as suitable boyfriends or shrimp for dinner are elevated in importance, while politics, economics, and social issues are non-existent; a sprained ankle that might derail ballet is the most serious health problem. The Hunter-Sirk film illustrates life in the midst of the Eisenhower years, which many consider America's Golden Age, well, for rich white folks at least. Perhaps as a time capsule and a look back at a glossy lifestyle that most Americans never lived, "There's Always Tomorrow" succeeds; problems are all surface-deep and easily resolved. Perhaps the fairy tale existence on display will be too much for those reared on gritty realism, but the performances by Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray alone make the film worthwhile.
Hope and Goddard Re-Unite for Funny Spooky "Canary" Follow-Up
For Paramount, lightning did strike twice in 1940. After the successful comedy-thriller "The Cat and the Canary" in 1939, the studio re-teamed Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in "Ghost Breakers," an adaptation of a 1909 play written by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard. Unlike the first film that inserted comedy into a serious stage play, the second movie was based on a farce that well suited the comedic talents of Hope and Willie Best, who played Hope's valet, Alex. Goddard as lovely Mary Carter inherits Castillo Maldito on Black Island off the coast of Cuba. For reasons unknown, mysterious attempts are made to purchase the castle and to scare Mary from visiting Cuba. Meanwhile, Hope, as a radio broadcaster with links to gangsters, thinks he has inadvertently killed one of the thugs, while he is coincidentally on the hotel floor where Mary is staying. In screwball-comedy mode, Hope and Goddard become entangled in some funny and scary situations that send them aboard a ship bound for Cuba and into the creepy castle in search of secret treasure. Ghosts and zombies and gangsters intermingle; secret passages and medieval armor and dusty pipe organs hide secrets; ancestral portraits and glass coffins and steamer trunks provide clues.
Hope is excellent as expected; his wisecracks are sharp and well delivered, although a few may be outdated for modern audiences. As in her previous film with Hope, Goddard seems too intelligent to fall for some of the attempted dupes and too self sufficient to need Hope for defense and rescue. African-American actor Willie Best is the third lead in the film. A gifted comedian, Best has some good lines, which are well delivered, and he works smoothly with Hope. While Best is saddled with a character stereotype typical of the period, his contributions to the film's success should not be underrated. Such familiar faces as Paul Lukas, Richard Carlson, and Anthony Quinn provide solid support to the leading trio.
Charles Lang's black-and-white cinematography captures the eerie castle chambers, the foggy sea passage to Cuba, and the dark streets of New York; like his work on "The Cat and the Canary," Lang's images substantially enhance the film. Not often does Hollywood produce a successful follow-up film. However, re-teaming Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard and bringing back writer Walter DeLeon and cinematographer Charles Lang resulted in a movie as funny, spooky, and atmospheric as its predecessor. "Ghost Breakers" and "The Cat and the Canary" is a perfect double bill for Halloween night with the family.
In 1939, Paramount resurrected a spooky 1922 stage play by John Willard, which had been previously filmed as a silent in 1927. The studio dusted off the cobwebs, added sound, and splashed the dialogue with a touch of comedy. Casting Bob Hope in an important role, Paramount had a major hit with "The Cat and the Canary," a successful blend of mystery and comedy. Well-worn plot gimmicks such as a gathering of relatives to hear the reading of a will, an isolated old mansion with a sinister housekeeper, and an escaped maniac loose in a house with myriad secret panels are effectively utilized. Charles Lang's shadowy black-and-white cinematography makes the most of moonlit bayous, silhouettes down dark passageways, and high chambers with heavy drapes, cobwebs, and book-laden shelves.
Perhaps a little too intelligent to fall for some of the plot mechanics thrown at her, Paulette Goddard is nonetheless an effective and beautiful heroine, a convincing romantic object for the three lead males, Hope, John Beal, and Douglass Montgomery. Elizabeth Patterson and Nydia Westman are fun as two old-maid pretenders to the family fortune, while George Zucco is appropriately ambiguous as the lawyer, who may or may not be conspiring to take the inheritance for himself. In a "Mrs. Danvers" role, Gale Sondergaard is excellent as Miss Lu, the deceased's housekeeper, who has stayed on for a decade to keep the house exactly as her dead employer left it. In a role written into the play for him, Bob Hope is his wise-cracking self, which means generally quite funny and attractive enough to be a convincing love interest for Miss Goddard.
Director Elliott Nugent maintains a steady pace with the "Agatha Christie" type story and favors suspense over shock. He allows an occasional quip from Hope to intrude and lighten the proceedings, although the film is effective both in its spookiness and its comedy. The 1939 version of "The Cat and the Canary" is short and briskly paced. Both the obvious plot elements and the added cracks by Hope mix well, and, with lights flickering, black cats scampering, and corpses falling from closets, the movie would make an excellent Halloween treat for the family.
A classic war-time weepie begins on the cusp of World War II, but quickly flashes back to World War I, where a whirl-wind romance begins on London's Waterloo Bridge. When air-raid sirens sound over the city, a radiant Vivien Leigh as Myra, a young ballet student, drops her purse while hurrying from the bridge to seek shelter with her classmates. A handsome British officer, Robert Taylor as Roy Cronin, helps Myra gather her things, and together they head for the Underground, where chemistry takes its course. Based on a play by Robert E. Sherwood, which was previously filmed in 1931, "Waterloo Bridge" remains surprisingly engaging. The air raid over, circumstances of war soon part Myra and Roy, and Myra falls on hard times. Although the Production Code forbade explicit mention of Myra's wartime occupation, director Mervyn LeRoy and the three credited writers make her employment clear through costumes and make-up, oblique references and innuendo, and Leigh's performance and body language.
Vivien Leigh is fresh and ravishing as Myra and, although photographed in black and white, still as beautiful as she was the prior year in "Gone with the Wind." Sporting a dark mustache, Robert Taylor is a suitable love interest for Myra, but he is no Rhett Butler. The supporting cast is excellent, headed by the quintessential Englishman, C. Aubrey Smith as the Duke. The wonderfully gruff Maria Ouspenskaya is the hardline ballet teacher, Madame Olga, while Lucille Watson is appropriately understanding as Roy's mother Lady Margaret.
With a first-class cast drawn from MGM's stable of stars, "Waterloo Bridge" was lavished with the studio's best production values as well, especially the memorable cinematography. Thick fog envelopes London, dark shadows drape seedy stairways, and light filters through the trees of a country estate in Joseph Ruttenberg's Oscar-nominated cinematography; silhouetted figures set against white-foggy backdrops evoke etchings in a gallery, while the halls and staircases of Myra's boarding house rank with the best of film-noir. A "woman's picture"in the best sense, produced by a leading studio of the Golden Era, "Waterloo Bridge" has a literate script, stars who were stars, and fine production values. A classic for some, a wallow for others, but who can resist Vivien Leigh at her loveliest.
At age 35, gunfighter Jimmy Ringo is a tired man; his reputation as fast on the draw precedes him, and he is challenged by every cocky wise-ass kid determined to out-draw him. Having reluctantly just killed one such youth in a bar, Ringo leaves town pursued by the kid's three vengeful brothers and rides to Cayenne, where he left his girl and the son he has never met. Henry King's "The Gunfighter" is a taut, lean, and literate western that stands with the best. The Oscar-nominated screenplay by William Bowers and William Sellers is spare and focused on Ringo's regrets and longing for what he has missed in life. Ringo's feelings flash across his face during a short scene at the bar in Cayenne, when a young rancher talks enthusiastically about his wife, his livestock and spread, and his future plans. The crisp black-and-white cinematography by Arthur C. Miller captures the gunfighter's isolation, hunched alone at a corner table, draped in shadows, awaiting the inevitable, yet hopeful for renewal.
While Gregory Peck may strike some as too genteel for a weary gunslinger, his performance as Ringo is among his best. His verbal duels with two fast-draw wannabes, played by Richard Jaeckel and Skip Homeier, carry a weariness behind the sharp rebukes, a man who has played these scenes too many times before and already knows the outcome. In Cayenne, Ringo reunites with Millard Mitchell as Marshall Strett, a personal friend and former colleague, who successfully managed the difficult transition from gunman to lawman. Strett must now get his old friend out of town to save Ringo's life and to save his own job and reputation. As Mac, Karl Malden plays a bartender, who, like many others, has briefly touched Ringo's life in the past. While Mac left no impression on Ringo, the bartender has an indelible memory of the gunslinger that will inspire countless stories for anyone who will listen. Verna Felton and Ellen Corby as the aptly named Mrs. Pennyfeather and Mrs. Devlin are amusing as two busybody ladies. The veteran actresses berate the Marshall and, unknowingly, Ringo himself about harboring a murderer in town. The film has few imperfections, but Helen Westcott, who plays Peggy Walsh, the love of Ringo's life, is bland and fails to make an impression.
While director Henry King made only a few westerns during his 30-year career, "The Gunfighter" is among King's best films and among the genre's finest as well. With an excellent Peck performance, good support from Mitchell and Malden, an outstanding script, and superb cinematography, this thoughtful film may be low on action, but high on intelligence and craft; an adult western, it easily ranks among the best of the genre ever produced.
Nebraska-Pacific Trains are being derailed, and the wrecks looted of cargo. Whispering Smith, a well-known railroad detective is on the case, and he suspects that his old friend and romantic rival, Murray, is involved. Alan Ladd is "Whispering Smith," a kissing cousin to "Shane;" handsome, mild tempered, and popular with the ladies, Smith is fast with a gun and quick to charm with a toothy grin. Based on a 1906 novel by Frank H. Spearman, the story was twice filmed in the silent era before Paramount produced this 1948 version, which was Alan Ladd's first color western. Alan Ladd looks great in Technicolor, and two-time Oscar winner Ray Rennahan's camera perfectly captures and flatters the star's blonde good looks.
Smith's crooked friend, Murray, played by Robert Preston, is a showier part than Ladd's, and Preston shades the character as basically decent. However, Murray has been corrupted by temptation and lured astray by Donald Crisp as Rebstock, leader of the bandit gang. Icy cool Brenda Marshall is Preston's wife, Marian, who has a past with Smith that she has never shaken; unfortunately, glycerin tears fall on her high cheekbones and fail to evoke any hint of genuine emotion that might mar her makeup. William Demarest and Fay Holden are welcome support as the amiable Dansings, loyal friends to both Smith and Marian. Sporting a long white-blonde wig, an almost unrecognizable Frank Faylen chews scenery as the dastardly Whitey Du Sang, a cruel and cunning henchman for Rebstock.
A former actor turned director, Leslie Fenton helmed a few well-regarded westerns during his career, and "Whispering Smith" is a fairly good film that climaxes with an action-filled chase and shoot-out. The romantic triangle is kept to a minimalist subplot, and the focus is fixed on the relationship between Smith and Murray and on bringing the bad guys to justice, Old West style. Fans of Alan Ladd will not want to miss him at his physical best in this entertaining Technicolor western.
Molly, an Eastern school marm, travels west to Montana to teach a semester and immediately becomes the romantic focus of two handsome cowpokes, Steve and the Virginian. Long on talk and spooning and short on action, unless a cattle stampede qualifies, "The Virginian" was based on a 1902 novel by Owen Wister. The popular book was adapted for the stage, filmed four times as a theatrical movie, made once as a TV movie, and became the basis for a television series. The romantic triangle at the story's core takes place against a backdrop of cattle rustling and the harsh realities of maintaining order on the frontier.
Not the most expressive actor, Joel McCrea is amiable as the titular Virginian opposite the ever- smiling Sonny Tufts as Steve, his competition for Barbara Britton's affections. McCrea seems too mild and gentlemanly for the deeds he ostensibly does, and Tufts appears a bit simple minded and assured that his grin and charm will always get him off the hook. Garbed head to foot in inky black, complete with black hat and black gloves, Brian Donlevy as Trampas, the head rustler, shouts "villain" before his first sneer or mustache twirl. Britton has little more expression than McCrea, and the romance lacks credibility. Despite good looks, little in either Steve's or the Virginian's character or personalities justifies any interest an educated school teacher might have in the two unpolished cowboys. Evidently, Britton was misinformed about the wild west, because she packed her finest to teach on the frontier; her Edith-Head-designed wardrobe dazzles, even when she goes riding in the wilderness. Despite the incongruity, her costumes, coiffures, and complexion are stunningly captured by Harry Hallenberger's Technicolor cinematography.
This 1946 version of "The Virginian" is more an adult romance on the range than a matinee oater. McCrea has appeared to better effect in other westerns, and director Stuart Gilmore was likely more suited to film editing, for which he received three Oscar nominations, than he was for directing. Despite the flaws, the film is pleasant enough with sumptuous color and attractive stars. However, western fans seeking action-filled entertainment need look elsewhere.
A fast paced and often light-hearted film that purports to tell the story of the infamous Dalton gang, "When the Daltons Rode" boasts a fine cast of stalwart western actors under the sure direction of veteran George Marshall. Tod Jackson, a lawyer, stops in Kansas en route to Oklahoma to visit his childhood friends, the Dalton family. Convinced to stay long enough for a good visit, Jackson is smitten with the local telegraph operator and becomes involved in the Daltons' problems with a corrupt land-development company. The exciting action swings from a humorous melee in a courtroom to a wild shootout on the streets to robberies aboard speeding trains, although the film climaxes in a too-tidy finale.
Western icon Randolph Scott has top billing as Jackson, but he is often off screen, and Broderick Crawford, Brian Donlevy, George Bancroft, and Andy Devine all have nearly equal roles. A romantic-triangle subplot features Kay Francis, and Mary Gordon plays Ma Dalton, matriarch to the unruly Dalton brood. Devine is the comedy relief, and he has some good moments, although both he and Crawford ostensibly perform stunts that neither of the beefy actors could convincingly accomplish. However, the film's stunt team should take a bow for their outstanding work with a slide under a racing stagecoach, with leaps from rocky cliffs onto moving rail cars, and with jumps from a speeding train while on horseback. A behind-the-camera asset is Hal Mohr's fine black-and-white cinematography, which beautifully captures the action and the western landscapes.
If your Saturday matinees featured posses and gunfights, brawls and chases, laconic cowboys and pretty school marms, "When the Daltons Rode" will bring back fond memories of popcorn, Milk Duds, and 25-cent movie tickets. Lots of action, a smidgen of humor, and a touch of romance, Marshall's film may not be among the classic or even best-remembered westerns, but all the elements of a solid oater are present and in top form for an entertaining afternoon at the movies.
Great Photography Enhances Solid Cold War Thriller
An above-average Cold War thriller, "The Secret Ways" was produced by its star, Richard Widmark. An American for pay, Michael Reynolds, is hired to go behind the Iron Curtain and bring out Professor Jansci, a scientist and member of the Hungarian resistance. Reluctantly teamed with the professor's daughter, Reynolds poses as a writer and crosses the border from Vienna to Budapest, where a few surprises await. Despite a leisurely beginning, the film holds interest and builds to an exciting climax.
Widmark as Reynolds is largely on target as the mercenary without a personal life; unfortunately, he teeters on an unconvincing edge when he mocks Communist authorities and when he staggers through a staged drunken scene. German actress Sonja Ziemann as Julia, Jancsi's daughter, is effective, although her character creates unnecessary complications, and she seems more a token love interest than key player.
The award-caliber cinematography by Mutz Greenbaum captures the dark side of Vienna and locations that pass for Budapest in strikingly-lit black-and-white images. The Baroque architecture, deep passageways, cobble-stone streets, wrought-iron staircases, and lingering vestiges of World War II damage are captured in shadowy night scenes. The lines etched in Widmark's face complement the textures of rough brick facades, stretched barbed wire, and walls of peeling paint. The inky photography creates an eery atmosphere that enhances the suspense as silhouetted figures are chased through dark back alleys and down starkly-lit stairways. At times tilted at an angle, Greenbaum's camera infused Vienna with a mystery and menace not seen since "The Third Man."
Directed by Phil Karlson and based on an Alistair MacLean novel, "The Secret Ways" has a slow pace initially, which may deter viewers accustomed to James Bond and Jason Bourne. However, the film is similar to other 1960's thrillers such as "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and requires patience to appreciate. Sensational photography, a solid Widmark performance, and a backward glimpse at Cold War intrigue in the early 1960's make the film worth catching.
Tight entertaining crime drama about a decades-long relationship between a cop and a criminal, "Six Bridges to Cross" has an engrossing story and a solid cast. While fleeing a petty crime, young Jerry Florea is shot and wounded by Edward Gallagher, a Boston policeman. Florea's injury prevents him from ever having children, and, feeling remorse, Gallagher visits the kid in the hospital, where their bonding begins. However, despite Gallagher's encouragement to reform, Florea continues to mastermind and carry out various crimes, which include one major heist that nets $2.5 million.
The excellent cast features Sal Mineo as the tough young Florea, a smart kid and natural leader of his gang of delinquents. Mineo matures into Tony Curtis as the adult delinquent, who invests in a chain of service stations, while he perseveres in crime despite a string of arrests and incarcerations. Intentionally naive to Florea's false promises and duplicitous nature, George Nader as Gallagher is sturdy as the overly patient, overly loyal cop; having made a moral bargain with himself, Gallagher is willing to turn a blind eye in exchange for Florea's inside information on other criminals. As Gallagher's wife, Julie Adams is equally blind to Florea's true nature and assumes that "settling down" will solve everything, a quaint 1950's concept. However, a tough J.C. Flippen as Concannon, Gallagher's superior, appears more objective. Unfortunately, Curtis maintains a smirk throughout that undercuts any credibility in his character's words and any believability that Gallagher could trust him.
After a needless and insipid Henry Mancini title song mercifully concludes, the fine black-and-white wide-screen cinematography by William H. Daniels opens on the film's Boston street locations, which include the six bridges of the title. Directed by Joseph Pevney, a contract director at Universal Studios, from a screenplay by Sydney Boehm, "Six Bridges to Cross" is an engrossing well-acted crime drama that features a capable cast. The film's flaws slip by, Curtis's charms are apparent, and two hours pleasantly pass.
Preachy moralizing on a downbeat subject, "An Act of Murder" is somewhat redeemed by outstanding performances by Frederic March and his actress wife, Florence Eldridge. A strict judge is faced with a moral dilemma, when his wife of 20 years is struck with a fatal disease that is incurable and increasingly painful. Most of the film's running time deals with the judge's home and work life, his daughter's relationship with an attorney the judge dislikes, and visits to a doctor, who is a personal friend of the couple.
Movies about terminal illness are often cloying TV fodder and difficult to endure; few are entertaining and tolerable like "Dark Victory," in which Bette Davis overcame a dire prognosis by sheer force of her personality. Directed by Michael Gordon and adapted from a novel by Ernst Lothar, this low-budget film does avoid maudlin moments and is no tearjerker. Eldridge as Catherine Cooke faces her crisis with courage and dignity, even while her symptoms worsen and her health declines. March's Judge Calvin Cooke stoically witnesses his wife's pain and addresses the imminent loss of his partner without self pity. However, the story reaches tedious sermonizing during a climactic courtroom scene. Edmund O'Brien, who plays the daughter's improbable love interest, steps into the court proceedings to make a point, after which a judge, portrayed by John McIntire, delivers a lesson about heart in the law, and March closes the film by declaring himself a changed man.
To say that "An Act of Murder" is entertaining is a bit of a stretch given the subject matter. To say that the film's moral teaching is groundbreaking would be untrue for most people. However, the sensitive portrayal of a loving couple facing loss after twenty years of marriage acted out by a loving couple after twenty years of their own marriage is reason enough to endure the sermonizing.
Three buddies, who are commercial pilots based in Calcutta, regularly fly cargo across the Himalayas between India and China. When one of them is murdered, the other two set out to find the killer. Beginning with a suspicious bank deposit and a carved diamond pendant, the pair uncover the victim's mysterious fiancé, a suitcase full of jewels, and another murder. Set in an exotic location on Paramount Studio's back lot, director John Farrow's "Calcutta" looks fabulous and has a competent cast, but the story is little more than a routine whodunnit, highlighted by John F. Seitz's rich black-and-white cinematography. Despite a few colorful supporting characters along the way, the plot develops without surprises, and viewers will guess the villain and the outcome long before the hero does.
Not the most expressive of actors, Alan Ladd plays Alan Ladd in the guise of Neale Gordon, the pilot who investigates the murder of his friend; Gordon, who is already involved with a Russian singer, becomes intrigued by his buddy's fiancé, played by Gail Russell. Gail Russell is not all that expressive either, and Pedro Blake, the third pilot, is William Bendix as William Bendix. Fortunately, the parts are undemanding, and the emphasis is on action and unraveling the plot.
Nominated for seven Academy Awards over his career, Seitz lensed such classics as "Sunset Boulevard," " The Lost Weekend," and "Double Indemnity." Seitz made movie stars glow like movie stars, and, in this film, he lavished his attention on Alan Ladd's blonde good looks and, to a lesser extent, on Gail Russell's dark beauty. Ladd even whips off his shirt to give audiences a look at his trim abs, although he radiates his handsome best while dressed in a white dinner jacket. Fans of Alan Ladd will relish "Calcutta" and savor the opportunity to freeze-frame several glamor shots of the star that are literally breath taking. While the film is not bad, just predictable, "Calcutta" is passably entertaining and a sturdy vehicle for Paramount's reigning star of the 1940's, Alan Ladd.
After a strange needless introduction and a slow start, "The Sleeping City" takes off in its final third, when the investigation into the murder of a troubled young intern gains traction. Set in New York City's Bellevue Hospital, the film opens with actor Richard Conte as himself in a short publicity promotion for the hospital; unfortunately, the film's premise, undercover cops posing as doctors, undercuts any confidence potential patients might have to undergo medical treatment at Bellevue. Once viewers swallow the premise that a major hospital would allow cops to falsify credentials, don medical attire, make rounds of the wards, diagnose patients, and administer medicine, then they can get on with the story. Evidently shot on a low budget, the film effectively uses the hospital and the surrounding neighborhood as locations; William Miller's crisp black-and-white cinematography captures the institution and a gritty New York at mid-20th-century in beautiful period shots.
Once Richard Conte dispenses with his preamble, he assumes the role of Detective Fred Rowan and then quickly steps into the role of Doctor Fred Gilbert to investigate the murder. Conte's performance is credible, although his appearance as himself in the intro makes his transition to fictional character jarring. The rest of the cast can be described as adequate, with Coleen Gray icy and cool as a nurse, Richard Taber crafty as an elevator operator, and Alex Nicol restless as a bitter and broke young doctor. Once Conte's preposterous impersonation and the depiction of doctors as underpaid and futureless are accepted, Jo Eisenger's script takes awhile to get up steam, but comes alive when the hospital's mysteries are uncovered. Skills largely honed on westerns, director George Sherman quickens his initially-slow pace after a second murder inspires Conte to accept an offer from a seemingly over-generous employee.
Miller's exceptional photography and the street scenes of 1950's New York City are "The Sleeping City's" prime assets; although portrayed in an unflattering light, some may even relish shots of the corridors, operating rooms, and wards of Bellevue Hospital, although, by current standards, no one would want to end up there for medical attention. The performances are adequate, the plot somewhat engaging, and the film passably entertaining. However, those who are not fans of Conte and Bellevue Hospital may find "The Sleeping City" a bit of a slog.
A back-alley craps game goes bad, and a woman is punched and left lying bruised on the ground. When she is wheeled into the hospital, a man accosts the seemingly indifferent doctor and asks why he is not immediately attending to her. After the doctor mumbles something about her being just another undesirable, the man identifies himself as the woman's husband and proceeds to relate her story in flashback to the physician. The film's rather bland title, "The Lady Gambles," gives the story away, although Robert Preston as David Boothe takes 99 minutes to relate the tale of his wife's descent into addictive gambling. In another fine performance, the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck portrays Joan Boothe, a woman torn between a loving husband, a possessive sister, and a handsome, but crooked casino owner. Joan's gambling starts small during a trip to Las Vegas, but once bitten, she steals, pawns, and borrows to feed her compulsion. Stephen McNally as Horace Corrigan, the shady casino owner, encourages, aids, and abets her addiction, while she spirals downward amid poker games, craps shoots, and horse racing.
Superbly photographed by Russell Metty, the film is beautifully illuminated with backlit characters and deep shadows, typical of film noir. From the casinos to the race track, from the neon-lit Vegas streets to Hoover Dam, from hospital corridors to back-room poker games, Metty captures the black-and-white images like the master that he was. Director Michael Gordon honed his skills on "B" crime flix, and he maintains a a steady pace, although the film runs too long, and viewers may commiserate with the doctor, who suffers through Boothe's tale of his marriage and his wife's woes. Of course, how Boothe knows the details of events that took place when he was not present is not explained.
Beyond Stanwyck's performance, which runs the gamut of emotions, the three other leading actors are also quite good. Mustachioed Robert Preston reminds viewers what a handsome and competent film actor he was, before he turned to Broadway in the 1950's. Slick and greasy, Stephen McNally ably plays the man who knows Joan's weaknesses and tempts her with money and adulterous sex. Plain-Jane Edith Barrett as Joan's clinging sister is effective at dishing out guilt and inserting herself between husband and wife. While "The Lady Gambles" may over-stay its welcome and need a catchier title, the performances, especially Stanwyck's, and the Russell Metty cinematography are enough to warrant seeking out this title.
A young woman arrives in an unnamed town in search of her missing sister, whom she discovers in the morgue registered as a "Jane Doe" and an evident suicide. An investigative reporter befriends her, and together, while they seek the sister's illegitimate child, the pair uncover an illegal baby brokering ring. A taut, well-paced mystery, "Abandoned" features a voice-over reminiscent of television's "Dragnet" and superb black-and-white cinematography by William H. Daniels. Daniels wraps characters in deep shadows, creates striped abstracts from starkly-lit stairways, and cubic patterns that penetrate deep inky corridors. While Irwin Gielgud's screenplay holds attention and builds in suspense, Daniels's captivating images often compete with the plot for attention.
Gale Storm, better known for her comedic talents on early television shows, plays Paula Considine, the sister in search; unfortunately, the role is generic and undemanding, and Storm makes little impression. However, Dennis O'Keefe as Mark Sitko, the aggressive reporter, hits the right notes as a tough relentless investigator. Often enshrouded in William H. Daniel's shadows, burly Raymond Burr is memorable as Kerric, a corrupt private eye, whose only loyalty is to himself. A third-billed Jeff Chandler is effective as the district attorney, and Marjorie Rambeau is appropriately sinister as the two-faced ringleader.
Despite an obviously low budget, "Abandoned" benefits from location filming, which adds a documentary touch, enhanced by narration that implies some truth to the story. A fine cast of "B" players, memorable photography, and steady direction by Joe Newman, a veteran of modestly budgeted second features, together produced an entertaining, engaging film noir that is well worth catching.
Three Hot to Trot Ladies in Pursuit of One Cold Guy
Film buffs who relish movies about movies will appreciate "The Female Animal." However, this low-budget effort is no "Sunset Boulevard," "The Bad and the Beautiful," or even "The Carpetbaggers," although the writer and director most likely aimed for something akin to the last-named picture. Unfortunately, writer Robert Hill's screenplay, which attempts to coin some deliciously bad dialog, comes up short, and whatever aspirations to cult status were intended, the film misses the mark. The concept is appropriately pulp fiction; three predatory women mark a handsome movie extra for conquest and set out to trap and seduce him. A beautiful aging star, her alcoholic daughter, and a faded actress compete for the same prey, an athletic wannabe actor, whose best prospect is co-star to a giant orchid in a Mexican horror flic.
In her final film role, Hedy Lamarr was still lovely in her mid-40's as the aging star Vanessa Windsor, who is rescued from a swinging arc light by an extra and rewards him with a job as caretaker of her beach house. Lamarr is cooly adequate in the role, but neither credible enough to be good, nor inept enough to be camp. However, in a break from her goodie-goodie roles in MGM musicals, Jane Powell is quite good as Penny Windsor, Vanessa's neglected daughter, a sex kitten on the make; Powell is quite a dish and should have displayed her gifts for these roles more often. The third female animal is Jan Sterling as Lily Frayne, an over-the-hill actress who has taken to consorting with gigolos. The tall good-looking extra, Chris Farley, is played by George Nader, whose appeal to the three women, beyond lots of hair and rippling muscles, remains a mystery. Nader's performance is just short of wooden, and no heat or chemistry is discernable between him and any of the three man-hunters. However, viewers familiar with Nader's closeted personal life will understand the actor's evident lack of interest in his female co-stars.
Among the film's major assets is Russell Metty's velvety black-and-white cinematography, which flatters Lamarr and makes Powell glow, while creating shadowy film sets, desolate beaches, and cozy interiors worthy of film noir. Director Harry Keller, a veteran of westerns and television episodes, lacked the sensitivity to raise this Hollywood potboiler to the trashy excess necessary for a cult camp classic. Some of the lines come close, such as Sterling's comment that her men are "scallopini with sideburns," but most of the dialog is flat and unmemorable. Casting Lamarr could have paid off if she had over-played the part instead of her nearly expressionless take, which rivals Nader's low-key performance for blandness. Not good enough to join the classics and not trashy enough for camp, "The Female Animal" just plays out as a passable curiosity in between.
Moderately entertaining B picture, "The Price of Fear" embodies several noir elements, but plays as little more than a made-for-television crime drama. A hit and run sets off a chain of events that include murder, blackmail, double-cross, bribery, and theft. A late-career Merle Oberon stars as Jessica Warren, a successful financial advisor who makes a fatal mistake. While an unexpected turn offers her the opportunity to blame someone else, by implicating another, she inadvertently provides an alibi for murder. In her mid-40's, Oberon retains her beauty, although her confidence must have been faltering, because the other characters are obliged to throw compliments her way. Casting the eight-years-younger former Tarzan, Lex Barker, as her love interest, was even more flattery to an aging star. Barker's character is not the brightest bulb, and the 6'4" blonde hunk falls for Oberon's icy charms and easily into her duplicitous trap.
Engaging a voice-over introduction and employing Irving Glassberg's crisp black-and-white cinematography, director Abner Biberman and writer Robert Tallman construct a decent, if unexceptional, mid-1950's film noir. Oberon and Barker are ably supported by Warren Stevens and Phillip Pine as gangsters and Charles Drake as a police sergeant. While the roles are undemanding, the cast is creditable for the material.
Fast moving and relatively taut, "The Price of Fear" has the usual plot holes and an unconvincing romantic angle that seems to develop overnight. However, the twists are enough to keep viewers' attention and provide 80 minutes of entertainment for fans of Oberon and Barker and for less-demanding film-noir enthusiasts.
Wildly improbable, often overwrought, and hopelessly melodramatic, Douglas Sirk's "Thunder on the Hill" is nevertheless an engrossing whodunnit. On a dark and stormy night, a dike is about to burst, the waters are rising, and people are crowding into a convent hospital for shelter. Among the arrivals is a convicted murderess en route to her execution, who is accompanied by a male and female constable. One of the sisters befriends the condemned woman, and, quickly convinced of the her innocence, the sister investigates the court case through old newspapers that were used to line pantry shelves. Based on a play by Charlotte Hastings, unraveling the murder mystery uncovers a lilac-saturated letter, a duplicate set of keys, and two aspirin in a bottle of prescription medicine. Although the action is largely confined to the convent, Sirk opens the story up enough to avoid claustrophobia and maintains a steady pace that builds to a suspenseful conclusion.
As Sister Mary Bonaventure, Claudette Colbert may not be everyone's idea of a nun, but she is steady and convincing in her determination to solve the case. Lovely Ann Blyth is Valerie Carns, a young woman facing the noose, and Blyth is likely the best dressed, best coiffed, best made-up woman to ever face execution. Perhaps in England, the condemned carry their make-up case with them to the gallows. Once again, Gladys Cooper plays a no-nonsense Mother Superior, and her performance here recalls the actress's similar role in "The Song of Bernadette" eight years earlier. Character actress Connie Gilchrist is Sister Josephine, whose hoarding of newspapers and string aid Colbert in her research into the murder. The four actresses dominate the film, while the male support is somewhat colorless.
The rich black-and-white cinematography by William H. Daniels is a major asset; the convent's shadowy halls and stairways, a mist enshrouded waterway, the inky black streets of the nearby town illustrate what the visuals of fine film noir are all about. "Thunder on the Hill" is far from perfect; the plot has more holes than Swiss cheese, the immaculately made-up Blyth over emotes at times, and the resolution is too quickly and easily guessed. However, over its well-paced 84-minute running time, the flaws pass too quickly to note, and viewers will be drawn into a slick little mystery that is vastly entertaining.
Passably entertaining, but often unconvincing, silly, and down-right hokey, Leo McCarey's film of Pearl S. Buck's original screenplay "China Story," "Satan Never Sleeps" takes place during the Communist takeover of China in the late 1940's. Possibly seeking to replicate his success with the Oscar-winning "Going My Way," McCarey tackles the story of a younger priest sent to relieve an aging priest at a remote Chinese mission. However, the charming conflict between Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald is beyond the reach of William Holden and Clifton Webb. Although Webb, in his final screen role, is quite good as crusty Father Bovard, Holden as Father O'Banion is uneven, and neither actor benefits from France Nuyen's annoying presence. The French-Vietnamese Nuyen's Siu Lan, a young Chinese girl with an obsession for Holden, mugs and grins like a schoolgirl in a childish performance that undercuts the film's moral core. Not only does Siu Lan moon over a man obviously twice her age, but she ignores his priestly vows and even suggests he switch religions to attain her goal. The lack of candor between O'Banion and Bovard with regard to Siu Lan's intentions is puzzling, given that the elder priest would have been O'Banion's confessor, and the entire situation could have been cleared at the outset.
The script by Claude Binyon and McCarey himself simplifies Communism and the Chinese Civil War; rather than explore issues and motivations in historical context, the film uses blatant propaganda to paint a good-versus-evil, black-and-white portrait of the period. The propagandist approach was likely Buck's, because she had been refused entry to China during this period. Helming his last film, McCarey directs with a heavy hand and cannot decide between light comedy, tragedy, and political drama; the film abruptly weaves between various moods and succeeds at none. Although poor rear projection and obvious painted backdrops mark the image, Oswald Morris's impressive cinematography captures the Welsh locations that convincingly stand in for rural China.
Marred by a simplistic political backdrop, an unconvincing dynamic between the two priests, and a performance by France Nuyen that grates like fingernails on a blackboard, "Satan Never Sleeps" is not worthy to be the swan song of two cinematic talents: Leo McCarey and Clifton Webb. Both are better remembered for their classics from the 1930's and 1940's. While Holden survived the film to give some remarkable performances in the following decades, Nuyen was relegated to minor roles, principally in television series. Unfortunately, this film is not a high point on any participant's resume.
Forty years before angels wandered through Berlin in Wim Wenders's "Wings of Desire" and three years before Clarence arrived to aid James Stewart in Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," a handsome angel was sent to provide guidance to a bishop, whose resolve to construct a gigantic cathedral led him to moral compromise and the neglect of his family. Based on a novel by Robert Nathan, Samuel Goldwyn's "The Bishop's Wife" has an abundance of charm and a minimum of sentimentality, among the film's many virtues. As Dudley, the heavenly visitor, Cary Grant displays a calm demeanor that enchants the ladies and most of the men, save the bishop. Grant hires himself as assistant to David Niven as Bishop Brougham, the only human who knows Dudley's true nature. While Brougham is distracted by his efforts to raise funds and construct the cathedral, he resents Dudley's efforts to entertain his wife Julia, a glowing Loretta Young, and the couple's young daughter.
The film takes place in the days preceding Christmas, which offers opportunities for boys' choirs, Christmas trees, holiday shopping, ice skating, and the usual pleasantries. The three leads are sterling performers, and the supporting cast includes several gems as well. The full-bearded Monty Wooley is a professor with researcher's cramp, James Gleason plays a genial taxi driver who is rusty on skates, and Sara Hadden is a plain-jane no-nonsense secretary to the bishop. Elsa Lanchester as Matilda, the family maid, lights up every time Dudley looks at her, and Gladys Cooper plays the wealthy Mrs. Hamilton, who holds the purse strings for the cathedral and a secret locked in an ornamental box. Dudley touches them all in a positive manner without overly cloying sentimentality.
The stunning art direction by Perry Ferguson and George Jenkins created a cozy clutter for the professor, a homey Gothic interior for the Brougham family, and a cavernous richly-decorated drawing room for Mrs. Hamilton. The incomparable Gregg Toland's cinematography captured the shadowy streets, the chambers lit by flickering fireplaces, and the movie-star faces of the Golden-Age cast in crisp black-and-white images. Henry Koster's direction maintains a steady pace, and a few amusing "miracles" evoke a chuckle, but are never overplayed: a sherry bottle always remains full, locked doors open, file cards alphabetize themselves, and a Christmas tree self-decorates. "The Bishop's Wife" may have been intended as a Christmas movie and may play best around the holidays. However, angels work throughout the year, and, like any true classic, the film would be welcome entertainment during any season.
Unconvincing Interracial Love Story in War Torn China
The forbidden romance between a Chinese warlord and an American missionary lies at the heart of Frank Capra's unusual film, "The Bitter Tea of General Yen." Interracial relations were still scandalous in the 1930's, and the couple portrayed do not even kiss, even though General Yen is played by Danish actor Nils Asther, whose exaggerated fake Asian eyes are distracting throughout. D.W.Griffith's 1919 "Broken Blossoms" trod similar territory, depicting the delicate love between a Chinese immigrant from London's Limehouse district and an abused girl played by Lillian Gish; as in Capra's film, the actor who portrayed the "Yellow Man' was not Asian, but rather an American, Richard Barthelmess.
A young American woman, Megan, arrives in Shanghai to marry a Christian missionary. Played by Barbara Stanwyck, Megan and her intended abruptly delay the ceremony to rescue orphans caught up in the turmoil. However, Megan is separated from her fiancé and subsequently rescued by General Yen, who takes her to his sumptuous palace. Indulged in luxury, the young woman is both attracted and repelled by the handsome, sometimes gentle, and, at times, cruel warlord; awakening to the sound of a firing squad outside your window is not generally endearing. Despite a less than credible script and the politically incorrect casting, Asther is quite good as General Yen, and the 25-year-old Stanwyck was already an outstanding actress. Veteran actor Walter Connolly provides solid support as Jones, financial advisor to the General. Set in China, the film is almost devoid of Asian performers, although Japanese actress Toshia Mori and Richard Loo, Hawaiian born of Chinese ancestry, are on hand in key roles.
Director Frank Capra returned to Asia five years later with his adaptation of James Hilton's "Lost Horizon," and the director opens this film with scenes of panicked crowds, fire, and confusion in a chaotic Shanghai that is similar to the initial scenes in "Lost Horizon." The striking black-and-white cinematography by Joseph Walker, who shot several Capra classics, also resembles the cameraman's later work on "Lost Horizon," and, like the Hilton adaptation, the production design celebrates Hollywood's concept of China over any authenticity. Perhaps a faux China is a suitable backdrop for an unconvincing love story that is passably entertaining, thanks primarily to the leading players.
Tight, ingenious, well-written World War II thriller, "Five Graves to Cairo" stars Franchot Tone as a British soldier, the lone survivor of a tank crew, who is lost in the Sahara Desert. As Corporal Bramble, Tone wanders into a desolate town, where he stumbles into the rundown Empress of Britain Hotel, run by Akim Tamiroff as Farid. Despite protests from the hotel's French maid, Mouche, played by Anne Baxter, Farid hides Bramble from the German troops that arrive under the command of Peter Van Eyck as Lieutenant Schwegler. Meanwhile, Bramble escapes from his hiding place and assumes the identity of the hotel waiter, Paul Davos, who was recently killed in a German air raid. When Field Marshall Rommel arrives at the hotel, the fun begins, the plot thickens, and revelations and more arrivals complicate already complex situations.
Based on a play by Lajos Biro, the screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder revels in complexity, and Billy Wilder's direction maintains an exciting pace throughout. John F. Seitz's Oscar-nominated black-and-white cinematography is a masterful display of light and shadow, wind patterns in sand, light through slats that creates abstracts in deep black interiors. During one memorable scene, the beam of a flashlight shines into the camera, while the sounds of a desperate struggle are the only sounds from the obscure background. Miklos Rozsa's stirring score adds further dimension to the thrills and suspense. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Erich von Stroheim as Rommel an especial delight.
Nominated for three Academy Awards, "Five Graves to Cairo" is an outstanding war film with few flaws. Perhaps the Italian General, played by Fortunio Bonanova, is too buffoonish and stereotyped, perhaps Bramble spouts a bit too much propaganda, perhaps the tank battle epilog runs too long, but these are easily forgiven quibbles. The film quickly grips the viewer and involves the audience in an exciting entertaining thriller that has barely dated since release.