Simplistic, Sexist, and Silly Froth with Curtis and Leigh
The military men stationed at an Arctic radar base are bored, so a bright perky psychologist, a lieutenant in the U. S. Army, gets a bright idea. The men will dream up their perfect furlough and stage a raffle, the winner of which will go on the furlough, while the others enjoy it vicariously. The eager men devise "The Perfect Furlough" as three weeks in Paris with a sexy Hollywood movie star, Sandra Roca. Faced with daunting odds, one clever womanizer conspires to con his mates out of their chances and capture the prize for himself. The flimsy predictable screenplay hinges on extreme naivete and characters that do not listen to one another. A few simple questions and answers would quickly clear up the film's mildly comic complications.
Married to each other at the time, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh star as the fast-talking conniving Corporal Paul Hodges and the lovely psychologist Lieutenant Vicki Loren. Both actors are fine in undemanding roles and are ably supported by Keenan Wynn, Elaine Stritch, and Linda Cristal. Although no one in particular stands out, Curtis does a good job playing a character he has played elsewhere both before and after this film. Not surprising in a 1950's movie, sexism runs rampant, from an army officer crawling under his desk to look at a woman's legs, to a discussion of the domestic duties for a perfect wife, to the assumption that the movie star would offer sex as part of the furlough. Eyes will roll, even when the sexism is not overtly offensive.
Directed by Blake Edwards, who went on to direct far better films, and written by Stanley Shapiro, who subsequently had more success writing for Doris Day, "The Perfect Furlough" is a pleasant time killer, depending on a viewer's tolerance for sexist situations, admiration for Curtis's pretty-boy looks, and willingness to overlook silly simplistic situations.
After a career that stretched back to the silent era that included work with such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, George Stevens, and Preston Sturges, Joel McCrae turned almost exclusively to the western genre in the mid-1940's. Near the end of McCrae's prodigious output of modestly budgeted westerns, he played real life lawman, journalist, and gambler, Bat Masterson, in "The Gunfight at Dodge City." While the story treads familiar territory, McCrae and the movie will likely please most fans of the star in particular and horse-operas in general. As Masterson, a weathered Joel McCrae becomes the town sheriff after his brother, the former sheriff, is killed. Nothing new here; a kindly town doctor played by John McIntire; a lovely widowed saloon keeper, Nancy Gates; a preacher and his prim uptight daughter, James Westerfield and Julie Adams; a friendly townsman and his mentally-challenged brother, Walter Coy and Wright King; and the requisite bad guys, Richard Anderson and Don Haggerty. Besides McCrae, only John McIntire makes much of an impression among the supporting cast.
Director Joseph M. Newman mixes the cliched elements into an entertaining 82 minutes; a few gunfights, a daring rescue, a touch of romance, an attempted rape, fistfights, and the requisite standby, a showdown on the dusty main street of an old western town. "The Gunfight at Dodge City" is no classic of the genre, but rather a routine western that offers all the elements for an afternoon's entertainment, plus the opportunity to watch an iconic western star, Joel McCrae, at work doing what he loved and did exceptionally well.
Passably entertaining, producer-director-star Ray Milland's film, "Lisbon," deals with big-time smugglers and petty crooks in 1950's Portugal. A beautiful redhead, trophy wife of a wealthy industrialist, who has been held prisoner behind the Iron Curtain, enlists a Greek expatriate smuggler named Mavros to help her bribe the Communists and rescue her husband. Mavros subsequently hires a part-time smuggler with a fast boat, Captain Evans, to facilitate the rescue. Unfortunately, with a screenplay full of holes, awkward direction, and unconvincing romance, the Republic Pictures production fails on several counts.
The stellar cast, however, remains an asset, especially veteran character actor Claude Rains, who plays Aristide Mavros with conviction and authority gleaned from decades of accomplished performances. Fiery Maureen O'Hara as the duplicitous wife is also quite good, despite her transparent character. Producing, directing, and starring may have been one or two roles too many for Ray Milland, however. His direction is pedestrian, and his staging of the fight scenes is clumsy at best. Besides his limitations as a director, Milland is not everyone's idea of a romantic lead, and O'Hara's and 30-year-old Yvonne Furneaux's attraction to the nearly-50-year-old Milland stretches credibility to the breaking point. While Milland's character supposedly shows interest in his female co-stars, the actor lacks any chemistry with them, and their romantic scenes together are cold and lifeless.
Another asset is Jack Marta's color cinematography. Marta lensed the film on scenic locations in and around Lisbon, which looks glorious, and the film will entice some viewers to book a flight. But, despite the city's color and beauty, watching Milland and his co-stars stroll around the tourist spots adds nothing but padding to the thin predictable plot. Beyond Lisbon's attractions, O'Hara's beauty, and Raines's acting skill, "Lisbon" has little to offer other than a lazy way to pass 90 minutes with an undemanding, uninspiring movie.
More a domestic family drama than a Western, "Gun for a Coward" explores sibling rivalry among three cattle-rancher brothers. The three Keough brothers work the spread left by their deceased father, while jockeying for their widowed mother's affection and the love of a neighboring rancher's daughter. Directed by Abner Biberman, the film has little new, although an attractive cast offers passable entertainment.
In a rare Western role, Fred MacMurray is Will, the eldest son, who wrestles with his siblings for his mother's love, while procrastinating on intended marriage to Aud Niven, played by Janice Rule. The Keough matriarch, Josephine Hutchinson, is cold towards Will, but possessive and manipulative with blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter, who is mom's favorite son, Bless. Gentle, peaceable Bless does his own wrestling to break free from his mother's grip and to salvage his reputation as a coward. Dean Stockwell as the youngest Keough, Hade, has little screen time as the rebellious little brother. Add Chill Wills to the mix as Loving, a wizened ranch hand with a long family association, and the six central performances hold the film together.
Beyond a few brawls, a shooting or two, and some bronco riding, "Gun for a Coward" is short on action and long on drama, with overtones of "East of Eden;" Janice Rule has the Julie Harris role, promised to Will, but drawn to Bless. Fred MacMurray in the James Dean part seeks his mother's approval, but she spurns him and dotes on Bless. Poor Hade, meanwhile, is neglected all around. Not a great film, nor a particularly bad one, just fodder for a lazy afternoon and rewarding for fans of Fred MacMurray and Jeffrey Hunter.
Fairly Good Western Marred by Insipid Romantic Triangle
The U. S. cavalry violates a treaty with Native American tribes and incites the wrath of tribal chiefs in "Pillars of the Sky," a fair western that benefits from scenic Oregon locations lensed in Cinemascope and Technicolor. Director George Marshall makes good use of the wide screen and stretches the action across the horizon in some exciting, eye-filling scenes. Producer Robert Arthur assembled a solid cast of actors that include Jeff Chandler, Ward Bond, Keith Andes, Lee Marvin, Martin Milner, Sydney Chaplin, and Michael Ansara. Adapted from a 1956 novel by Will Henry, the screenplay unfortunately wanders from the core confrontation between cavalry and tribes and introduces a sappy romantic triangle that brings actress Dorothy Malone unnecessarily into the mix.
While Chandler, Bond, Andes, and Marvin confront Native American chiefs and warriors, Malone emerges from tribal captivity with her hair, make-up, and clothing intact. Losing no time, Malone as Calla Gaxton, wife of Cavalry Captain Tom Gaxton, played by Keith Andes, is intent on re-igniting her passionate affair with First Sergeant Emmett Bell, Jeff Chandler. Malone's character is a distraction to both viewers and soldiers throughout; she emotes, recites purple prose, and demands attention, while the soldiers are faced with death, injury, and worse.
Consistent with 1950's Hollywood, the Native Americans are portrayed by a Lebanese, a Latino, a Tennesseean, a New Yorker, and, gasp, one genuine Kickapoo. Supposedly, the tribes were converted to Christianity, and some of the film's moralizing will make eyes roll; burning a church; bad; violating a treaty; good; divorce and adultery; no problem. At times the situation and dialog are laughable, although when the film adheres to the action, "Pillars of the Sky" is quite entertaining. With the exception of hot-blooded Malone of the heaving bosoms and languid looks, the cast of veterans perform well under Marshall's assured direction and the fine cinematography of Harold Lipstein. Unfortunately, the story's unevenness will tire viewers, and the film will quickly fade from memory.
In a routine western about simmering conflict between settlers and landed cattlemen in Wyoming Territory, dazzling red-headed Maureen O'Hara gives "The Redhead from Wyoming" a feminist slant. Amidst a cast of rather colorless cowboys, O'Hara cuts a striking figure; her flaming hair captured by Winton C. Hoch's Technicolor camera, blazes over her striking costumes, designed by Edward Stevenson. O'Hara catches every eye with bare shoulders exposed by flamboyant garments in lavenders and yellows that are in sharp contrast to the earth tones favored by her male co-stars.
Unfortunately, the leading men are as lacking in color as their costumes. Tall blonde Alex Nicol as Sheriff Stan Blaine displays little emotion, except when his eyes cast an appreciative glance at O'Hara's barely concealed decolletage. William Bishop is passable as the duplicitous Jim Averell, who has history with O'Hara's character, the tough Kate Maxwell. Most of the cast is comprised of relative unknowns with the exceptions of Robert Strauss and Dennis Weaver in small roles.
The undistinguished screenplay, which deals with cattle rustling and a potential range war, is unworthy of O'Hara's talent and screen presence; the fiery Irish actress plays a smart business woman, who can ride and shoot with the boys, yet maintain her femininity. Kate Maxwell may be ruthless, but she is no tomboy, and her wardrobe bears no resemblance to those worn by Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck in their western roles. Kate is impeccably coiffed, made-up, and garbed, even when wielding a shotgun or riding a stallion. Other than an early portrayal of a strong woman in the Old West, "The Redhead from Wyoming" fails to rise above a fairly entertaining, if unmemorable, oater with an unforgettable star.
Short, tidy, and engrossing, "The Princess Comes Across" is an entertaining murder-mystery-comedy set aboard an ocean liner crossing from Le Havre to New York. The ship sails with an escaped murderer, a faux Swedish princess, a blackmailer, a Japanese detective, and a band leader with a past aboard. The second of four films co-starring Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray, this fast-paced whodunnit was well directed by William K. Howard, a veteran of silent films, from a screenplay attributed to at least six writers; fortunately, the over abundance of cooks did not spoil the broth this time out.
Lombard is a delight throughout and does her best Greta Garbo impersonation as the Swedish Princess Olga, who is en route to Hollywood to make a movie. Displaying a fine singing voice, MacMurray is the concertina-playing band leader, King Martell, whose path crosses that of the Princess with predictable results. Both the Princess and the King play off amusing sidekicks; Allison Skipworth as Lady Gertrude is the Princess's snooty companion, while William Frawley plays Martell's cynical aide. A cohort of further fine support is provided by veterans Sig Ruman, Porter Hall, Mischa Auer, and Douglas Dumbrille.
While the plot has plenty of holes, director Howard keeps the proceedings brisk, and obvious deceptions and red herrings slip past. Lombard and MacMurray worked well together, and this vehicle was among their best pairings. While the plot will hold viewers' attention, the outstanding cast is the film's prime asset. "The Princess Comes Across" is a little gem well worth seeking out and is essential viewing for Lombard fans in particular.
Beautiful Talented Lombard Amidst Silly Nonsense of the Idle Rich
Depression-era audiences evidently relished the foibles and follies of the idle rich as an escape from cold reality in the 1930's. However, the nonsense on display in "Love Before Breakfast" may have made a poor, but rational, daily existence preferable. Wacky Carole Lombard is engaged to Cesar Romero, but Romero's boss, Preston Foster, is after Lombard, while Foster's lady friend, a countess played by Betty Lawford, pursues Romero. Foster has unlimited funds and power to pursue his romantic interest, and he gets Romero out of the way by transferring him to Japan aboard a ship with the countess.
If viewers can overlook her character's behavior, Carole Lombard as Kay Colby is a delight to watch; her delivery is always spot on, and she manages to rise above the wreckage with her reputation intact. The rest of the cast, however, sink into silliness. Preston Foster as Scott Miller, the manipulative business tycoon, is passably handsome and passably competent in a role that begs for the self-confident swagger of a Clark Gable. A young Cesar Romero is wasted in a nothing role as Bill Wadsworth, Colby's supposed fiancé, whose name seems to mask an obvious Latin heritage. A passel of scene-stealing Pekinese dogs, an embarrassing stereotyped Japanese maid, and dated cringe-worthy lines like "I'm free, white, and twenty-one" pull the film further under. Richard Carle as Brinkerhoff, a geriatric bachelor who claims to know women, and Janet Beecher as Colby's mother, who claims with a straight face that she's "free, white, and in her early 40's," pile dated gender comments on the already antique premise that women are to be ruthlessly pursued by domineering men. At least seven writers labored to adapt the short story, Spinster Dinner, by Faith Baldwin, and the result provides a clear example of too many typewriters spoil the screenplay. Despite a writing assist by Preston Sturges, Lombard is the sole reason to seek out this silly screwball-comedy wannabe,"Love Before Breakfast."
Lombard and MacMurray Charm Enhances Minor Screwball Comedy
An amusing Depression-era comedy, "Hands Across the Table," like its intended audience, is focused on money and those who have it and those who want it. A young gold-digging manicurist, who looks to bag a wealthy husband, runs into a seemingly daffy young man hopscotching in a hotel corridor. However, the good-looking guy is from a family ruined by the Crash, and he is about to marry a rich woman and regain his life of leisure. Romance ensues between the unlikely pair with predictable results. With Carole Lombard as the manicurist and Fred MacMurray as Theodore Drew III, the routine screwball screenplay is enhanced by the star power and offers a few laughable moments and enough entertainment to fill the short 80 minute running time.
Pleasant, but bland, Ralph Bellamy is on hand as a wealthy wheel-chair-bound invalid smitten by Lombard to add a romantic triangle to the plot. Ruth Donnelly as the manager of the barbershop where Lombard works and William Demarest as another of Lombard's potential suitors both have brief, but memorable comic roles that add to the film's appeal. Under the direction of Mitchell Leisen, Lombard displays her comedic skill as Regi Allen, even if her talents as a manicurist leave poor Drew with bandaged fingers. At age 27, MacMurray was already leading-man handsome and, with a few beef-cake shots as a bonus, he well plays the dual comedy and romantic sides of his character.
Ted Tetzlaff's black and white cinematography is soft at times, but offers a few dramatically-lit scenes that stand out. Mix a sham cruise to Bermuda, a cringe-worthy sun-lamp session, and a funny if painful manicure session for a decent second-tier screwball comedy. However, Lombard and MacMurray are worth the price of admission, and the slick and likeable movie is a minor treasure, if only for the enduring charms of its stars.
If viewers can accept 40-year-old Fred Astaire and 37-year-old Burgess Meredith as college students, perennial or not, they may find a few scattered bits in "Second Chorus" to make the film worth their time. Strung together on a thin story line that involves Astaire and Meredith vying for the same lovely lass, Paulette Goddard, and seeking employment with band leader Artie Shaw, the sequences are short on Astaire's skillful dancing and long on his so-so singing. Early in the movie, Goddard does a fine job dancing with Astaire, and Fred does a playful solo disguised as a Russian near the finale, but, otherwise, Fred sings some painfully dull songs and indulges in some painfully dull humor. Depending on one's taste, the music of Artie Shaw is played to good advantage and is arguably the film's best asset.
Pairing the beautiful Goddard with the middle-age Astaire is a mismatch that even Shaw referring to Fred as a "young man" cannot overcome; Shaw was actually 11 years younger than Astaire at the time. The performers are engaging, with Meredith and Charles Butterworth offering amusing support. However, when not on the dance floor, Goddard and Astaire have no visible chemistry to buttress their supposed romance. Although fans of Astaire will want to see his every dance routine, and a second-rate Astaire film is better than none, "Second Chorus" is a slog at times to sit through; re-watch "Swing Time" or "Top Hat" instead.
The Stars May Be Forgotten, But the Comedy is Timeless
Fast paced, at times silly, but often funny, "It's in the Bag!" stars Fred Allen, a comedian who appeared on radio and in the early days of television. As Fred F. Trumble Floogle, Allen runs a flea circus, until his wealthy great uncle is murdered, and he inherits $12 million. Unfortunately, after he and his family have wildly spent his newly acquired riches, Fred learns that his uncle has squandered the fortune, and Fred has been left five chairs as his only legacy. However, he also discovers that his uncle has hidden $300,000 inside one of the chairs. Needless to say, the chairs have already been sold, and Fred must find the buyer of each in his pursuit of the hidden money. With a passing nod to The Twelve Chairs, a 1928 Russian novel, the film is a series of skits that feature Allen and a variety of comedians, actors, and personalities of the mid-1940's.
With Rudy Vallee, Don Ameche, William Bendix, Robert Benchley, Jerry Colonna, John Carradine, Victor Moore, Binnie Barnes, and Sidney Toler among others, the madcap proceedings are a Who's Who of familiar faces for audiences of a certain age, but total unknowns to younger audiences. Arguably, the best sequence involves Jack Benny as himself. Benny plays to his miserly reputation, and, with Fred posing as president of the Jack Benny Fan Club in a small New Jersey town, he muses on the club's tiny membership, charges Fred for the tie he is wearing, and rents him one of the missing chairs.
A veteran of comedy shorts for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach, director Richard Wallace keeps the action moving with sight gags, fast flying quips, and performers addressing the audience. An extended sequence in a packed movie theater that involves a frustrated Allen, Binnie Barnes as Mrs. Floogle, and several ushers and managers is particularly funny, especially when Fred asks for a refund because there are no seats. Although the large cast of bygone stars will be lost on most viewers, the humor remains largely intact. Some jokes and routines hit the mark, while others miss, but the pace is fast enough to overlook those bits that fall flat, because the next one is already on the way.
Dazzling Dance Number Sole Highlight of Nonsensical Musical
While Republic Pictures was not noted for its musicals, the low-budget studio did dabble in the genre. An uneven, but tuneful bit of nonsense, "Brazil" is a diverting Republic film that includes at least one show-stopping dance number amidst such questionable sequences as a chorus of singing gauchos on horseback, a ballad by Roy Rogers, and a stage number about coffee production. The author of a book denigrating Latin lovers, Nicky Henderson, played by lovely Virginia Bruce, arrives in Rio to research her next work, a travel book about the "real" Brazil. Allotting two weeks for an in-depth study of the vast country, Henderson hires a handsome charming guide, Miguel. Played by Mexican singer-actor Tito Guizar, Miguel is a composer with a deadline to write a song for the upcoming carnival. The predictable nonsensical plot involves Miguel playing his twin brother, clowning as a two-headed cousin, and displaying fine voice in a few songs. Edward Everett Horton is on hand as Miguel's best friend, a mismatched friendship if ever there was one.
The movie's highlight comes early, when Veloz and Yolanda, a husband and wife dance team, dazzle with their ballroom steps to "Brazil," written by Ary Barroso five years prior to the film. However, Barroso did pen the song "Rio de Janeiro" for this movie and won an Academy Award nomination for his efforts. The uninspired script offers little to challenge the performers, although Bruce holds her own and emerges with dignity unscathed. Despite his voice and charm, Guizar's performance is a broad caricature of a Latin man, while Horton plays Horton, the daffy effeminate comedy relief. Filmed on the Republic back lot, "Brazil's" Brazil is shown through stock footage and rear projection.
Director Joseph Santley maintains a steady pace that helps viewers slide through the ridiculous moments and focus on the few highlights. However, other than Roy Rogers completists, fans of the three principals, and buffs seeking forgotten musicals, "Brazil's" value lies in the Veloz and Yolanda dance number and, arguably, Guizar's rendition of "Rio de Janeiro." Others may want to pass on this one.
A passable, low-budget, historical curiosity from Republic Pictures, "Sabotage" offered an early warning about possible foreign sabotage of U.S. munitions factories, well before the country entered the second World War. After a saccharine romantic opening, the simplistic plot, the work of two writers no less, involves a machinist at an airplane factory. The seemingly innocent man is implicated in the deaths of several airmen, who are killed when faulty engines cause their planes to crash. Played with boyish charm by Gordon Oliver, Tommy Grayson, the machinist, is aided in clearing his name by Grayson's wily grandfather, Charley Grapewin, and by the grandfather's spry elderly friends from a local veteran's home.
Like most of the plot, the evidence against Oliver's character is flimsy at best, and the unmasking of the nest of saboteurs would hardly strain the mental acuity of the oldest ex-soldier in the group, a befuddled veteran of Gettysburg, who, in 1939, would have been at least 90, if he fought the battle at age 14. The cast of unknown and lesser-known character actors perform adequately for the material, with Grapewin the lone standout. The supposed leads, Oliver and Arleen Whelan as his fiancé, are squeaky clean and forgettable in stereotyped roles. The film even provides some antiquated dialog about men and their inadequacy in the kitchen and about women and their tarnished reputations after appearing on stage. The warning about foreign infiltrators is coupled with another about the dangers of gossip, perhaps intended as one message for men and one for women. However, the film's third warning about stepping outside gender stereotypes was intended for all Americans in the late 1930's.
A B picture intended as program filler with a message or messages, "Sabotage" probably does not warrant a serious review, because the film was likely made without any artistic intent other than filling time at the local Bijou. Throw in some dated stereotypes, a geeky unconvincing romance, and a pack of geezers out to nab some traitors and you have a Hollywood relic that was buried under the avalanche of classic films released in 1939, Hollywood's banner year. The antiquated film's primary interest is veteran actor Charley Grapewin, who offers a convincing and effective turn as an indomitable senior citizen.
Cast a glamorous International Oscar-winning beauty; wrap her in a dazzling designer wardrobe; involve her in a script by Peter Stone that has intrigue, action, and the search for a valuable object that is not what it seems; co-star a dashing handsome veteran actor; add a score by Henry Mancini; introduce the film with captivating titles by Maurice Binder; and stir with stylish direction by Stanley Donen. Voila! "Charade." Well, not quite. Although "Arabesque" has all the ingredients right, or at least almost right, the result is good, but no cigar. Donen's attempt to replicate the success of his classic Audrey Hepburn- Cary Grant hit misses the mark, but gets an "A" for effort.
No fault of Sophia Loren, who stars as Yasmin Azir, an exotic Arabian woman, who may or may not be who she says she is. Usually cast in heavy dramatic roles or lofty parts in historic epics, Loren is surprisingly good in a light role that relies on her beauty, her ability to wear clothes, and her talent to toss off lines with style. Unfortunately, Gregory Peck is no Cary Grant, in a film that needs one. While Peck is too fine an actor to be truly bad. Even though cast as a professor, he is uncomfortable delivering comic lines and stiff in his romantic clinches; if the film were a straightforward thriller, Peck would be ideal. While Binder's opening credits compare favorably with those he did for "Charade," Henry Mancini's score is not as memorable as his earlier work and lacks a hit title song. The script has the requisite elements, but lacks the trio of indelible bad guys and the ambiguous Walter Matthau character that made "Charade" so memorable. However, Alan Badel, masked behind dark glasses, snarls well and does make a suitably nasty villain.
Stanley Donen directs with his expected style. Clever camera angles, a fast pace, and attention to Loren's appearance and performance carry the film close to the finish line. Perhaps a second "Charade" was an unattainable goal, but worthy of the attempt. Despite the negative comparisons, "Arabesque" has its charms, particularly Loren, and offers a brisk and breezy two hours of entertainment.
Million Dollar Production Extravaganzas by Busby Berkeley
Glossy, colorful, and entertaining, "Million Dollar Mermaid" purports to relate the story of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman, but functions primarily as a star vehicle for MGM's reigning mermaid, Esther Williams. Disabled as a child, Annette wore braces until she took up swimming, which strengthened her legs, and she went on to become a professional swimmer and entertainer during the early 20th century. An MGM production, Mervyn LeRoy's film glosses over any impediments or unpleasantries and focuses on Kellerman's triumphs and romances. From Australia to London to Boston to New York, Kellerman's career rises with the help of an ambitious promoter, James Sullivan, played by Victor Mature. Sullivan manages to ignite her success with a 26-mile swim along the Thames and a hyped faux scandal involving a one-piece bathing suit on a Boston beach. The expected bumps eventually separate the pair, a new suitor appears in the guise of Hippodrome owner Alfred Harper, and an unexpected mishap challenges the performer's future; but nothing occurs that is serious enough to derail viewers from the fantasy world of the movies, and the film is entirely predictable.
Tthe focus is squarely on showmanship, and the glitzy extravaganzas that are purportedly staged at New York's Hippodrome are typical Busby Berkeley stagings that would never fit inside any theater. Fountains send jets of water into the air, a dozen swimmers dive from swings, a crown of sparklers emerges from the water atop William's head. The Berkeley sequences, which are familiar to anyone who has seen "That's Entertainment," are the film's highlights, and the movie is worth seeing just for them. Beyond Williams and Mature, the cast also includes Walter Pidgeon, David Brian, and Jesse White; while all are adequate, the film does not rest on acting laurels, but rather on a visual feast of period costumes by Walter Plunkett and Helen Rose, Busby Berkeley's geometric production numbers, and George Folsey's Oscar-nominated color cinematography.
While Victor Mature may not be everybody's idea of a romantic lead and Kellerman's biography has certainly been rewritten, the film has few other flaws that impede the entertainment, if viewers are not expecting more. Although the ending is sappy and probably fictional, the climactic production numbers are outstanding, and the film is a must see for Busby Berkeley enthusiasts. Of course, fans of Esther Williams will definitely want to see the film that inspired the title of her autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid.
Despite an iconic Golden Age star and breathtaking aerial photography, "Strategic Air Command" is improbable, saccharine, and hopelessly dated. Tall, lanky, middle-aged Dutch Holland is forced to leave a lucrative baseball career when the U.S. Air Force recalls him to active duty. The thinly plotted storyline follows Dutch as he accommodates himself to new planes, deals with a whiny intrusive wife, and faces a couple of death-defying moments. However the plot is only filler in the gaps between fetish-like images of bombers and soaring shots of airborne planes cruising above the clouds; Tom Tutwiler is credited with the stunning aerial photography, while veteran cinematography William Daniels evidently lensed the earth-bound scenes, which are colorful and sharp.
At age 47, gray-haired James Stewart appears too old to be a baseball player and too old to be a bomber pilot. However, the always amiable star plays both roles with his trademark good nature, and, even when faced with burning engines, dangerous weather, and a discontented wife, he never breaks a sweat. Nine years younger and one foot three inches shorter than Stewart, June Allyson plays Sally Holland, a woman in desperate need of something to do. She hangs around the ballpark while her husband plays, then she hangs around the air base while her husband flies. When together, Sally does a lot of hugging (around Stewart's waist), weeping, and complaining. Oddly, the aging married couple is referred to by Sally's mother as "young people;" the comment is even odder, because Rosemary DeCamp, who plays the mother, was two years younger than Allyson, her daughter. The supporting players include Frank Lovejoy, Jay C. Flippen, and Barry Sullivan, but the veteran actors have little to do beyond listening to Sally or Dutch and strutting around in uniform, baseball or military.
The Stewart-Allyson marriage is rooted in the 1950's. Stewart is the breadwinner, and he makes all the decisions without consulting his wife, while she frets about the house, attends to party giving, cooks, worries about the baby, and waits for hubbie's return; even with little to do, Sally has a nurse to care for the baby. Although characteristically chirpy, Allyson is annoying throughout, which is no fault of the actress, but the character as written. Sally's constant phone calls to her husband interrupt Stewart during a physical and while in group training; she even calls the General personally for trivial personal reasons, and she boldly confronts him in person. If the military spent as much time dealing with officers' wives as in this film, they would need a separate division just to handle the phone calls and unplanned intrusions. Unfortunately, unless viewers have a fetish for B-36 and B-47 bombers, are die-hard fans of James Stewart, or students of 1950's domesticity, "Strategic Air Command" will be a tough slog to sit through.
Republic Pictures dragged out the tired amnesia cliche for a low-budget mystery, "A Woman's Devotion," and wasted a good cast in the process. With a title better suited to a Douglas Sirk melodrama, the film involves a young American couple on holiday in Acapulco, Mexico. The husband is an accomplished artist, and, when a young waitress that he had asked to model for him is found murdered, the local police come calling. Filmed on location by Mexican cinematographer Jorge Stahl, Jr., the film is colorful both on the Acapulco streets and waterfront and in the brightly hued hotel interiors. A young and handsome Ralph Meeker plays Trevor Stevenson, the decorated veteran, whose uncle's bequest left him sufficient funds to pursue art. Lovely Janice Rule is Trevor's wife of one year, whose trust in her husband is challenged when his hidden past is revealed. Golden Age actor Paul Henreid not only stars as Captain Monteros, the local Mexican police officer, but also directed the film.
Meeker does his best with a strange role in which he wrestles with headaches caused by loud sounds that result in war-induced amnesia; possibly being groomed for hunk parts, Meeker doffs his shirt whenever possible. Rule also has a strange role as a wife who apparently knows little about her husband's past or medical history; despite professing belief in her husband's story, she is quick to seek an escape from the country. Henreid plays himself and sprinkles his Austrian accent with a few words of Spanish to pass as Mexican in an undemanding role. The film is also of note because two of the women guests at the hotel are evidently a same-sex couple, and their presence passes without comment. Unfortunately, Robert Hill's story and screenplay are undistinguished, cliched, and predictable. The three leads have all done better work both before and after; Meeker on Broadway and Television, Rule in Film, and Henreid both in classic Hollywood movies and as a director, notably for "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on Television. "A Woman's Devotion" is not a highlight on any of their resumes.
From "The Front Page" to "His Girl Friday," from "While the City Sleeps" to "All the President's Men," from "The Paper" to "The Post," movies about newspapers have made riveting entertainment that often carried a message. Written and directed by Richard Brooks, "Deadline - USA" is a taut, fast-paced drama that earns its place among those aforementioned classics. Brooks's film that takes place during the final days of "The Day," a newspaper about to be sold to a competitor by the heirs of its deceased founder. While the founder's wife and two daughters squabble and a contract with the competing newspaper is litigated in court, reporters working for The Day investigate the death of a young woman and her connections to a local gangster.
In one of his best roles, Humphrey Bogart is Ed Hutcheson, editor of the paper, who single handedly oversees the breaking investigation, attempts to save the paper from being sold and put out of business, and tries to coax his ex-wife back into marriage. The sterling cast of familiar faces includes four Oscar winners, including Bogart; Ethel Barrymore is the wise widow of the paper's founder, who retains loyalty to her deceased husband's goals; Kim Hunter plays Bogart's ex-wife, torn between a new beau and her still simmering affection for Ed; and Ed Begley as a tough veteran reporter. The solid support includes Martin Gabel as the gangster, and Warren Stevens, Jim Backus, and Paul Stewart in the newsroom.
Brooks keeps the pace sizzling, and his sharp script is lean and riveting; of course, Bogart delivers an inspiring speech about the importance of a free and independent press before fadeout, but his words are succinct, to the point, and still relevant. Milton Krasner's crisp black-and-white cinematography adds a newsreel touch to the story, some of which was shot in New York Daily News plants and offices. Bogart at his crusading best, Brooks in fine form, Krasner behind the camera, and a cast that includes Barrymore, Hunter, and Begley, "Deadline - USA" is an entertaining, top notch, "stop the presses" classic newspaper film.
If Only the Script Matched the Quality of the Images
Amnesia is not the most original plot gimmick in film. From "Random Harvest" and "Spellbound," from "36 Hours" to "Mirage," from "Memento" to "The Bourne Identity," characters have wrestled with memory loss and struggled to find out who they really were. World War II veteran Eddie Rice has a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain that has caused his loss of memory, and, once released from the hospital, Eddie heads to Los Angeles, where he hopes to find people who knew him in the past. Handsome John Payne is Eddie, the man in search of his identity in "The Crooked Way," a brilliantly photographed, but otherwise routine film noir. Adapted from a radio play, the derivative plot utilizes voice over to convey Eddie's thoughts and depends on improbable coincidences to bring characters together. Needless to say, Eddie quickly runs into his past, and what he finds plunges him into a murky underworld of gangsters, gunfights, and murder.
With his dark brooding looks, Payne is credible in the undemanding role, and he has solid support from Ellen Drew, the forgotten wife with a new life; Sonny Tufts, a tough gangster boss with a long memory; and Rhys Williams, a policeman who digs into Eddie's criminal past. However, the lazy plot and solid cast are enhanced by John Alton's masterful black-and-white cinematography, which evokes Martin Lewis etchings in its use of light and shadow. Deep black hallways and streets lead to glaring white lights, the slats of Venetian blinds throw bars of shadow across faces, heads are silhouetted while speaking, the lettering on a plate glass window casts words across an office wall, characters are lit from below, white-hot hanging lamps illuminate gaming tables. Alton's outstanding work demands to be studied for its composition, lighting, and focus. Although Alton won an Oscar for his color work on "An American in Paris," his images on any number of film noir and especially this one should have garnered him numerous nominations and wins. Alton's cinematography defines the best in film noir.
While the "Crooked Way" is often cliched and predictable, a solid cast and especially John Alton's images lift the film to essential viewing. John Payne fans should also be pleased, as well as aficionados of amnesia movies. Evidently, loss of memory is more prevalent among characters in Hollywood movies than among the general populace.
Based on a 1945 story, "Bitter Harvest" by Ramona Stewart that the author later expanded into a full-length novel, Desert Town, the Hal Wallis production "Desert Fury" was reportedly a cleaned-up adaptation for American audiences of the late 1940's. Deliciously trashy pulp fiction, the film always seems to be saying one thing, but obscuring or omitting something else. The melodramatic affairs of Chuckawalla, Nevada, involve Fritzi, a tough-talking casino owner played by Mary Astor, who retains a soft spot for her daughter, Paula. The rebellious Paula is as tough as her mother, but she is portrayed by Lizabeth Scott, who is too mature to be the 19-year-old character. The town's cop, bushy haired Tom, is an ex rodeo cowboy, whose injuries sidelined him; played by Burt Lancaster, Tom has an unrequited love for Paula. Enter Eddie Bendix and Johnny Ryan, a cheap racketeer and his sidekick; although a cloud of suspicion surrounds the death of Eddie's wife, Paula is immediately attracted to the handsome and dangerous con man, and she spurns both Tom's advances and her mother's warnings about Eddie.
However, the film's core relationship is between Eddie and Johnny, played by John Hodiak and Wendell Corey. While the story could be termed a romantic triangle, the complex entanglements are more a romantic pentagon. The dialog leaves little doubt about Eddie and Johnny; theirs is a marriage in which Paula is the interloper, and, given Johnny's flashes of jealousy, the nature of Eddie's wife's death is more than suspicious. Adding further fire, Fritzi and Eddie have history, which creates tension between mother and daughter and explains Fritizi's attempt to bribe Tom into marriage with Paula by offering him a well-stocked ranch. Hampered by the period's censorship, Robert Rossen's screenplay is too superficial to delve into the complexities that drive these five characters, and perhaps the Production Code would not have allowed their motivations to be played out in any case. A year later, Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" sidestepped a similar same-sex relationship that also involved murder.
The movie has several assets, among them the luscious cinematography by Edward Cronjager and Charles Lang, which captures the colorful Nevada landscapes in rich Technicolor hues. The closeups, especially of Scott and Hodiak, are breathtaking movie-star glamor shots. Unfortunately, the immaculate grooming of the cast works against their credibility as denizens of a small desert community. The film is marred by Scott's miscasting, and by a lack of explicitness about Eddie and Johnny. Fritzi's story also seems to lack honesty; she is too tough, commanding, and wealthy to be nothing but a casino owner in a small desert town. Her unexplained connection to the sheriff and a judge and her past relationship with Eddie imply more than what was disclosed. Perhaps a remake without Production Code censorship would reveal the steamy plot details that seem to have been excised from this adaptation. However, as it stands, the entertaining "Desert Fury" is well acted, stunningly photographed, and provocative, more for what it does not say, than for what it does.
Despite its poverty-row production budgets, Republic Pictures occasionally turned out an excellent product, and "House by the River" was among the studio's better pictures. An unsuccessful writer, Stephen Byrne, lusts after his wife's new maid and, during an attempted rape, he inadvertently strangles her. When his brother arrives moments after the murder, Byrne convinces him to help cover up the crime and throw the body into the river that flows past his home. Directed by Fritz Lang and photographed by Edward Cronjager, the taut thriller is effectively atmospheric; shadowy patterns, billowing tresses, wafting curtains, dark hallways, dim staircases, silhouetted driftwood, and flowing currents create an ambience ripe for intrigue, murder, and madness. Lang throws in the floating corpse of a cow, a black spider crawling across a sheet of paper, and the eerie croaking of frogs.
Louis Hayward plays Byrne slightly over the top, which emphasizes the man's growing deterioration and descent into madness. Hayward's creepy performance contrasts with the bland normality of Lee Bowman as Byrne's handicapped brother and of his neglected wife, Jane Wyatt. Good support is provided by Ann Shoemaker as a nosy neighbor and Jody Gilbert as an assertive housekeeper to Byrne's brother. Based on a 1921 novel by A.P. Herbert, the story is not a whodunnit, but rather a portrait of the killer's personality and a detailed look at his manipulation of the crime to implicate his brother, stimulate sales of his work, and write a novel about his misdeeds. Films from Republic Pictures are rarely considered classics and often fall below the radar of film buffs; however, "House by the River" deserves better as a well directed, beautifully photographed, effectively written, and competently acted movie.
Funny Black Comedy with MacMurray and Main in Fine Form
Amusing, often funny black comedy, "Murder, He Says" pits a pollster in search of his missing co-worker against a family of "tetched" hillbillies, who will let nothing stop them from finding a hidden stash of cash. Gifted in both drama and comedy, Fred MacMurray gives a fine comedic performance as Pete Marshall, the pollster who follows his missing comrade into the boonies both to locate the man and finish the poll. The ramshackle Fleagle House was the last known destination of his co-worker, and there Marshall encounters Marjorie Main as Mamie Fleagle and her murderous brood. Mamie and her twin boys are paying a visit to their dying Grandma Fleagle. Because Grandma knows the whereabouts of money stolen by another family member, Bonnie Fleagle, who is supposed to be in jail, Mamie and the boys are eager to send Grandma to her final reward, once she coughs up the clues.
Marjorie Main matches MacMurray in the comedy department with an over-the-top turn as a murderous matriarch. Peter Whitney is amusing in a dual role as the identical twins Mert and Bert, and Porter Hall is also quite funny as Mr. Johnson, Mamie's latest husband. The clever screenplay and director George Marshall keep the action fast, and even throw in an off hand plug for Paramount's earlier black comedy "The Ghost Breakers" with Bob Hope. A hysterical sequence with a revolving dining table, secret passages and glowing dogs, a nonsense rhyme and a needlepoint sampler, and a climactic scene with a baling machine add up to 90 minutes of solid fun and entertainment.
Sam Martin and his wino mate, Harvey, run fishing expeditions out of Key West. However, Sam has run into bad times, and, with mounting debt, he is threatened with losing his boat and, thus, his livelihood. When a seeming tourist named Hannagan with a Swedish blonde in tow hires Sam for a quick and illegal trip to Cuba, Sam needs the money and agrees, unaware of the true nature of the cruise. Adapted from Ernest Hermingway's novel, To Have and Have Not, which was previously filmed in 1944 with Humphrey Bogart, "The Gun Runners" is a tight, engaging B film directed by veteran action director Don Siegel.
While Audie Murphy as Sam is no Bogart, he is adequate in the part, although his romantic scenes with Patricia Owens as his wife are awkward and unconvincing. However, Eddie Albert as Hannagan, the duplicitous gun runner, is colorful, and his performance stands out. Everett Sloane as Harvey is also good. Hal Mohr's crisp black and white cinematography is another major asset, especially in razor-sharp close-ups of the principals.
While not on a par with the Bogart classic, "The Gun Runners" is closer to Hemingway and restores the Key West locale, although the action is updated to feature the Cuban Revolution. The relatively short low-budget feature is worth a look and should appeal to fans of Audie Murphy and, especially, to followers of Don Siegel's career.
A fair historical drama set during the British Raj in India, "Bengal Brigade" centers on Captain Jeffrey Claybourne, played by Rock Hudson, who disobeys an order during battle, is court-martialed, and resigns his position in the British army. Although the film is English-centric in its treatment of British rule in India, Hudson fails to convince as an English officer, not even offering a hint of an accent or a stereotypical word like "cheerio." While seeking to restore his reputation, Claybourne becomes unintentionally complicit in the insurgency plot of an Indian Rajah, is romantically involved with the British commander's daughter, and falls under the spell of a local Indian beauty. However, Rock is Rock, and he is a stalwart hero. Tall, dark, and handsome as the movie star he was, Rock is a leader among men, preaches brotherhood, and vanquishes his enemies, while winning the girl before the end titles roll.
Filmed in glorious Technicolor by Maury Gertsman on the Universal back lot and locations in Southern California, the movie is brightly hued and often lively during battles and raids. The photography captures the lustrous beauty and red hair of co-star Arlene Dahl as Vivian Morrow, the commander's daughter, and highlights the glistening raven hair of Hudson, who glows in his brilliant red officer's uniform. Based on the 1953 novel Bengal Tiger by Hall Hunter, the screenplay is concise and largely avoids the laughable dialog rampant in films such as this, although Rock's stoic expressions and deadpan delivery could have used some unintentional humor. However, some viewers may be amused by Rock's admission to Dahl; "I can't marry you." "I know what I am." Of course Dahl responds that she does not care. The fadeout exchange between Hudson and Dahl about thanking the gods will provide a titter or two as well.
Hardly a classic, "Bengal Brigade" is passably entertaining, especially for Rock Hudson fans, but viewers expecting any historical insight will be disappointed. Settle for two photogenic stars in an unconvincing romance, a few Caucasian actors in deep suntan makeup, and some Saturday matinee battles and heroics and 90 minutes will slip by painlessly.
Filmed on location in a faux Baghdad somewhere in a remote corner of the Universal backlot, "The Golden Blade" is colorful childish nonsense that makes the Jon Hall-Maria Montez epics look like David O. Selznick productions in comparison. Written and acted like a sophomore production of Ali Baba in high school, the film is often laughable and nearly critic-proof in its ineptness. Of course, being a studio production, there are a few positive attributes. The 28-year-old Rock Hudson, who plays Harun, an Arab out to avenge his father's death, has boyish charm and incredible good looks; his full head of hair, dazzling teeth, and tall physique are well rendered in the glory of Technicolor. Besides Hudson's physical assets, Maury Gertsman's camera captures the candy-colored sets and costumes of a Baghdad that exists only in the feverish brain of an art director who never opened a book about the Middle East. The flamboyant costumes are dazzling in color, but look as though pulled randomly from the racks in Universal's costume warehouse. The diversity of clothing styles is perhaps appropriate, because the action seems to take place anywhere in any period from the Thousand and One Nights through Arthurian England to an MGM musical or a night at a Las Vegas hotel.
Perhaps the movie is too easy a target and should be enjoyed for what it is, an innocent tale for pre-teens in the early 1950's. Sword fights and jousts, Viziers and Princesses, an Excalibur-like sword and a mysterious legend. However, contemporary sophisticated audiences will certainly roll their eyes at the dialog and wonder how such respected actors as Piper Laurie and George Macready could utter the lines with straight faces; "Have courage and use it like a woman;" "Yes, Oh cunning father." When Gene Evans as Hadi or Tall Son is named Caliph, he takes time out to fluff the golden pillows on this throne, which resembles an enormous bean bag. While most adults should probably overlook this routine programmer, fans of Rock Hudson will certainly delight in catching the star early in his career. While no Errol Flynn in a role that needs one, Hudson is nonetheless engaging and captures and holds the eye whenever he is on screen.