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Reviews

The Mark
(1961)

Gut Wrenching
I had never heard of this movie before I saw it. In fact, I almost didn't watch it at all. As the black and white opening credits rolled, it looked cheap, and the cast wasn't all that impressive, but I had some dead time and took a chance. I'm glad I did. The story revolves around a man, who in the midst of an emotional crisis, almost sexually assaults a 10 yr old child. He is so appalled by what he almost did, that he offers no defense and spends three years in prison. After release, he enters into group therapy, and eventually individual therapy to work through his doubts. The story picks up from there. With the help of the therapist he finds a job, gets a promotion, falls in love with a co-worker, and is about to get his life back together. But as in most movies, at some point, it all hits the fan. I won't go further into the storyline, because it turned out to be a nail biter for me, and I would like it to do the same for you. Instead, let me comment on the performances. Stuart Whitman plays the lead, and does he ever play it. He has never been an expressive actor, but he hits every emotion required here, and there are lots of them. Sadness, optimism, doubt, fear, guilt, love. He does it all. Maria Schell plays the love interest, and practically every gesture is a marvel. Just a quick example. In a very emotional scene, she pulls out a hanky, puts it to her nose and blows it - loudly. How many times have you seen a principal actress put a hanky to her nose and actually make a noise? Rod Steiger plays the shrink, and he does it so well, he made mine look like an amateur. This is a British production from 20th Century Fox, but most buffs will recognize most of the supporting cast. Every one a pro. This movie was released in 1961 and could have turned into an exploitation flick. In fact, that's what I was afraid of. But instead, it was a sensitive, gut wrenching glimpse into a subject most people would rather not deal with. Well done.

Detective Kitty O'Day
(1944)

Total Slapstick
I agree with a previous reviewer when he said he loves the old Monogram programmers. I do too. In fact, I took the time to track down and visit the address of the studio at the wrong end of Sunset Blvd some years ago. (The studio is now a PBS station and the offices are a take out chicken joint). But this attempt at putting together yet another amateur detective couple fizzled badly. Cross Torchy Blaine with The Mad Miss Manton, cut the budget in half, and give it to Bill "One Shot" Beaudine to direct, and there you are. The story isn't bad, but there are endless scenes of the the two sleuths creeping around dark rooms, tripping over furniture, and arguing with the dummy cops. We've seen it all before, and we've seen it done better.

Human Desire
(1954)

Emotion Locomotion
This is Fritz Lang, so one would expect lots of dark emotion, double crossing, and sexual tension. Well, you won't be disappointed. This one has it all. The story is hardly original. In fact, Emile Zola was given story credit. It is a love triangle with Broderick Crawford and Gloria Grahame as an unhappy couple, with Glenn Ford at his somnambulistic best, showing all the emotion of a turnip. Watching him try to generate the emotion required to be the catalyst in a love triangle was almost painful. In fact, he almost sinks this movie into cinematic obscurity. Thankfully, it is resurrected by the performances of his costars. I am always amazed at the on screen sexuality of Gloria Grahame. She is hardly your typical Hollywood beauty. Her features are somehow askew, but she absolutely exudes sex. The other redeeming performance is given by Broderick Crawford. He plays her jealous, out of control husband. He has a natural explosive persona, but in this movie I kept waiting for him to fly off the rails.

Speaking of rails. This is a train noir, if there is such a thing. It all takes place around, aboard, and about trains. Glenn Ford is an engineer and Crawford the yard boss. Train buffs will love it. There are numerous scenes of the engineer and passenger compartments, the rail yards, the roundhouse, and plenty of rambling track shots. It is all diesel in the '50's which I think most people would agree was the zenith of train travel in the US.

Despite it's predictability and some of it's shortcomings, I still found this movie extremely enjoyable. My only real complaint came at the end, which seemed to leave the viewer at loose ends and feeling somewhat bewildered. Still, if you like trains and dark drama, take a look. It hasn't been around much and the title is fairly generic, so it isn't easy to find, but it is certainly worth the effort.

Tight Spot
(1955)

Every cliché in the book
Full disclosure: I've never been a Ginger Rogers fan off the dance floor, but she hits a new low in this one. A modest 2nd feature entry from Columbia, it should have been a pleasant escape. Instead, I found myself almost twisting in pain every time Ginger Rogers opened her mouth. The story is simple. It takes place in NYC where the feds are trying to get the goods on a mafioso so they can ship him back where he came from. Ginger is the witness they need to get it done. Problem is, she is a street wise con who would rather play games with the cops. I don't know what kind of accent she tries to imitate, but it's unrecognizable. Her wisecracks fall flat. The jokes left me wincing. It was directed by Phil Karlson, a usually reliable director, and the story itself, though predictable, was generally interesting, but Ginger's performance had me wishing I had tuned into the Home Shopping Network instead. Miss it if you get the chance.

Expensive Women
(1931)

Ma Hat Ma Kane Jeeves
These depression era romantic romps served a real purpose. They took the audience out of their depressing existence into a world most of them would never know. They are frequently naughty and sexual innuendo and double entendres are everywhere - especially in pre-code entries like this one. In most of them, the male principals pretend to have some kind of vague position such as broker, banker, or sometimes they are just "in business", whatever that means. In this one, they don't even make the attempt. Nobody works. In fact, you rarely see the men in anything but tuxedos. They all live in swanky apartments, have country homes, use white telephones, and live on cocktails and snacks. Just like my well to do brother. Well, it's a short movie and ignoring all that annoying background saves a lot of time.

Still, it's a fascinating movie in it's own way. Pre-code allows the female lead, played by Dolores Costello to bounce from lover to lover without having to apologize for it. It also allows the irrepressible, outrageous, Polly Walters to get away with some of the snappiest, naughtiest dialog one could imagine. When she tells Warren Williams the taxi is waiting, he tells her to compensate him. She says: "I already compensated him - now he wants to be paid." Scrumptious. Another line worth noting. She tells him Bobby Brandon was evicted from a speakeasy for calling the doorman "a pansy". Pre-code also allowed Dolores Costello, by anybodies definition, a loose woman, to find happiness in the end - without paying a penalty.

As I watched this, I thought about how much talent went into this dialog. Compared to a lot of the visual filth we are subjected to today, it is amazing that anybody could have objected to the wit and humor that this movie and others like it gave us. Watch it with relish.

Tank Battalion
(1958)

Tank Battalion? More like Tank Squad
I don't know why I was so generous with my vote, except that anything lower would have had to be a home movie. This "movie" was produced by Viscount Pictures and distributed by those Masters of Movie Magic at AIP. It supposedly takes place during the Korean War, but there is no story to speak of other than some vague plan to launch "Phase Two" of some other vague plan. There are a few names you might recognize, like Frank Gorshin, Barbara Luna, and Leslie Parrish, but it mostly stars a collection of less than stellar performers. The headliner, believe it or not, is Edward G Robinson Jr. I'm sure they included the G to make sure the audience would make the connection. The set consists of a sort of an arc of shacks and tents all connected together by fences or shrubs. Kind of like the backdrop for a high school play. The compound in the center is about the size of a large play room - just big enough for a couple of jeeps. If you added up all the principal players and the extras, you couldn't put together a game of touch football. There seemed to be no reason to make this movie. As far as I could tell, it was mostly a lot of snappy dialog interspersed with stock combat footage. They did find time to create a little romance with a couple of handy nurses and Korean comfort woman. They even managed to squeeze in a little skinny dipping. Thank goodness we were saved from that wiggle and jiggle with a sneak attack by the North Koreans. There is this unforgettable scene inside the tank. You don't have to be a tanker to know that the inside of a tank is tangle of mechanical stuff. Cables, vents, dials, controls, guns, optical devices, ammo racks, etc. Aside from a view finder and gun stock, this one was practically empty. I swear it had cardboard walls. More than anything else, it reminded me of the cockpit scene in Plan 9 From Outer Space. The only thing missing was the shower curtain. I'd like to say see it for the laughs, but it wasn't funny.

The Man with Two Faces
(1934)

Make it a Double
Interesting and unusual movie. It seemed to start out as a routine backstage mystery, but as time went by, it got more and more convoluted. Edward G Robinson plays an actor about to star in a promising new play. Mary Astor is his actress sister about to make a comeback. It seems she was married to a Svengali named Stanley Vance, played by Louis Calhern. Mary was under his spell when he disappeared, until she hears that he died. She then goes to pieces. That sets the stage for the plot. It takes three years for her to recover, she falls in love with Ricardo Cortez, and when she is just about to make her breakthrough, he's back.

Now it gets bizarre. She immediately falls back under his spell - and I'm not kidding. She doesn't respond to anyone but him. Her eyes glaze over. She walks around in a trance. In fact, she acts a lot like the current crop of actors we have coming out of Hollywood today. Anyway, Vance doesn't really care about her, he just wants to cash in on her share of the profits from the play. The problem for Eddie is what to do about it. Well, I won't tell you, except to say it involves a complicated, and totally implausible plan. It really doesn't matter though. If you wouldn't watch this movie for any other reason, watch it for the unbelievable, robotic performance of Mary Astor. It was mesmerizing in it's own right, but it unintentionally bordered on laugh out loud funny. If I have a complaint, it would be that the Code was in full force in 1934. You or I could have come up with a better finale.

The House of Rothschild
(1934)

Money, money, money
A dramatic, inter-generational history of the House of Rothchild. Most people have a vague notion of the Rothchild banking dynasty, but like me, probably didn't know the history and pain that went with it. This story covers the origin and evolution of that dynasty and an explanation of it's motivation. The story centers around the elder brother, Nathan, played by George Arliss and his four brothers. I have to admit that I never saw the George Arliss magic until I saw this picture. He really was a major talent, although he was quite old when he did this. We see the family breaking out of "Jew Street" in Frankfurt, and establishing banks throughout Europe while struggling to overcome anti-semitic attitudes and actual pogroms. There are some personal vignettes involving Loretta Young as Nathan's daughter and her goy suitor played by Robert Young that tend to humanize the family but really don't amount to much. The real story is the family drive to help stabilize a war ravaged Europe and through it, command the respect of a deeply anti-semitic aristocratic European society. The picture paints a rather pastel version of what was probably a grueling battle for acceptance, but it managed to convey a feeling of warmth and respect for the underdog. There are some very nice touches. The family members all touch the mezuzah each time the enter or leave the house. Everybody kisses Mama, and George Arliss shows what appears to be a real tenderness whenever he interacts with Loretta Young. The brothers never appear to be avaricious, but rather an integrated force of will, determined to succeed, yet determined to play by the rules. All in all, an enjoyable and informative docu-drama. Well worth the 90 minutes.

Mister Roberts
(1955)

Class Warfare
I know this movie is a revered favorite of most film fans, but in my opinion, it has a fatal flaw. Although it tries very hard to blend pathos and humor, the humor seems to fall into two distinct categories. There is the witty, sometimes hilarious humor that we see between Mr Roberts, Ensign Pulver, Doc, and especially The Captain. Then there is the slob humor we get from the crew, as well as all other enlisted personnel in the movie. I was in the service, and I am certain that most of the morons depicted in this movie, would never be allowed to serve. I don't mind a little moronic humor (I even like the Bowery Boys), but this almost amounts to class warfare. I'm not totally knocking the movie. There are a number of genuinely touching scenes worth seeing, and some of the comedy is priceless, but I think they could have toned down the stereotypes and improved the product.

Johnny O'Clock
(1947)

Johnny O'Clock - and his Cousin Seven
This movie pretends to be a sophisticated drama, but it falls way short. A little too much snappy dialogue. Johnny says: "Come here" The girl says: "I've been there". Johnny says: "Who ordered these drinks? The waiter says: Did you ever eat here? Johnny: No. Waiter: You'll need them." What the hell is all that supposed to mean? Typical 40's fashions. Geez, they were awful. Mostly baggy suits and corny hats for the men, and outrageous spangles and hats for the girls. But most of all there's the title. Johnny O'Clock. Johnny Allegro, Johnny Angel, Johnny Guitar, Johnny Omelet, Johnny Sneakers, etc. A few years later they moved on to the Charlies.

There is not much of a story. Dick Powell plays Johnny, a full time gambling club owner. He sets his alarm for 9pm every night, and wanders around the nether world rubbing shoulders with the demi-monde. All the girls fall for him and the tough guys fear him. He plays tag with the cops while trying to solve a mystery that involves a suicide, a pocket watch, and a dead cop. Don't expect me to explain. I've had a tough day, and this one requires more concentration than I can muster. Since Mr O'Clock doesn't get up until Nine O'Clock, everything takes place in the dark. That's pretty much where the movie left me. In the dark. I shouldn't be knocking it too much. Some of the performances are halfway decent, but the writer and dialogue coach should have been fired.

The House Across the Bay
(1940)

So, Who is the Dirty Rat?
A George Raft movie I never saw? Impossible, but true. And I don't think many others have seen it either. The plot isn't much, but the movie does have a certain charm. George Raft elevated under acting to a fine art, but in this movie, he almost seems animated. I could tell because he raised his voice a half decibel, and he smiled.

He plays a hard boiled gangster who falls for his lucky charm played by Joan Bennett. He is so fixed on her he is blind to all the enemies around him. Joan sells him out to the IRS to keep him from being snuffed, and the Feds tuck him away in Alcatraz for ten years. But as we know, these things never work out. Don't pay too much attention to the plot. It's routine and predictable. Instead, watch the acting. None of the principals seem to deliver the performance you might expect. George Raft gets emotional and, at times, even seems a little vulnerable. Joan Bennett, who can be very seductive, seems schizophrenic and switches from light comedy to pure drama without warning. Walter Pigeon plays Walter Pigeon, but with less intensity and no mustache. I should give honorable mention to Lloyd Nolan in a supporting role as a rat. I always give Lloyd Nolan honorable mention. An amusing coincidence here. The movie takes place in San Francisco, which was Lloyd Nolan's home town. Also, Walter Pigeon's character is named Nolan, and it was curious to watch Lloyd Nolan talking to Mr Nolan. I kept watching his face to see if I could detect a wink or a nod of recognition, but he is too good an actor and never so much as blinked.

This may be a routine pot boiler, but some of the performances are worth watching, so tune in. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Girls of the Road
(1940)

Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? No? How about a nickel?
While it's true this movie is badly dated, I still think is worthwhile as a snapshot in time.

Made in 1940, it chronicles the experiences of a group of wandering hobo woman caught in the economic grinder of the depression. I think it's valuable, because most of us - even us ancianos - have little conception of how desperate and depressing things were back in those days.

The movie stars Ann Dvorak, Helen Mack, and Lola Lane, with a very competent supporting cast including Ann Doran and Mary Field. Ann Dvorak's performance especially stands out and reminds me of what an underrated actress she really was. While many of the others overact - I guess we can blame the director for a lot of that - her performance is understated and perfectly believable. But even though the production is theatrical and a little overdone, there are still nuggets of real emotion if you look for them. An expression, a tear in the eye, a quivering voice. Not what I would have expected in a melodrama like this.

This movie makes a sincere attempt to deal with, what was a real contemporary problem back when it was made, and although we have our own problems to deal with today, looking back in history is always a good way to keep from repeating it. Take a look.

Parole Girl
(1933)

Revenge vs Love? No contest
Parole Girl. I love that title. This is a forgotten little gem from Columbia, but really was a perfect fit for Warner's. Surprisingly directed by Eddie Cline, who was best known for his association (and patience) with WC Fields. He created some of the most memorable comedies on screen, but managed to put together an interesting and sympathetic effort in this movie.

It stars Mae Clarke, best known for getting a grapefruit in her mush by Jimmy Cagney in Public Enemy. Other than that her movies were mostly forgettable as far as I can tell. But she did a great job in this one. She plays a young girl lured into a series of schemes by an old family friend played to the hilt by Hale Hamilton. I have to admit, I wasn't familiar with his work, but he certainly performed here. When Mae is caught by a department store dick in an extortion scam, she is sent up the river for a year. She blames the department store manager, played by Ralph Bellamy, for the pinch and promises revenge. After her release she meets up with him, and through a complicated series of maneuvers,convinces him they married. Since he was already married, she threatens to ruin his life if he doesn't play ball. Her plan is to take him for everything he's got, but of course, it all backfires on her. I bet you will never guess what happens.

This was pre-code and there are a number of examples of that naughty dialog that we all loved so much. This is a B movie well worth watching. The entire cast does a credible job with a really stand out performance by Mae Clarke. She was appealing and sympathetic without being annoying. That is sometimes a fine line to walk, but she did it.

Nowhere to Go
(1958)

The Best Laid Plans
This is an offering from Michael Balcon at Ealing Studios which was probably not one of the premier British studios. That is one reason I was so surprised at the quality of the story and the production values. It was made during a period where the Brits tended to imitate most things American. The cars, the clothes, the movies, even the music. And then came Carnaby Street and the Beatles.

The story revolves around a American thief in London, played by George Nader, who was probably at the nadir of his career. I checked his credits and about this time he drifted into TV and then on to Germany and the rest of Europe, keeping busy in forgettable movies. His performance in this movie was low key, but really slick. He plays a professional who cons an old lady out of a valuable coin collection and spends the rest of the movie trying to cash it in and split. One by one his shady friends turn on him until he ends up a hunted man ducking for cover at every turn. He is eventually forced to rely on a virtual stranger he meets accidentally. She is played by a young and very interesting Maggie Smith. In fact I didn't even recognize her until the credits rolled.

This story was well written. Tight and tense. The performances were top notch, and the atmosphere had a very noir feel to it, even though a lot of it was shot in daylight. I don't know why George Nader's star waned. You couldn't predict it from his performance here.

Lost Lagoon
(1957)

Clarion Cay, Black Rum, and Calypso Magic
I never thought much about Jeffrey Lynn the actor. In fact, thinking back, I can only remember him in one obscure movie called: "Strange Bargain" with Richard Gaines. But this movie changed my opinion of him. He plays Charlie Walker, a loser lawyer who can't even pay his life insurance premiums. His wife takes him for granted, and his obnoxious brother in law pushes him around. A total schlub. As fate would have it, he gets caught in a storm during a fishing trip and ends up on an isolated island in the Bahamas, where he meets an enchanting girl who lives alone with a couple of servants. She owns a rundown shack and fishing pier, is about to lose it all. Charlie sees a chance to start a new life and decides move in and help her turn it into an island paradise. From here on it gets predictable, at least until the end. The scenery is breathtaking - even in black and white. The story is familiar but sweet. But the main reason I decided to comment on this movie was the odd confluence of circumstances I noticed. Jeffrey Lynn is listed as one of the writers and contributed additional dialogue. I wondered what his interest was in this movie. Leila Barry plays the love interest, but this was her only movie. I don't get it. She is a natural and her acting style was intriguing in an amateurish way. She leaves you wanting more. I'm not that much of a softy, but anybody with a heart, after watching this movie, would wish for a happy ending. I wish I could give you one. I wanted to finish this movie up feeling a warm glow. Instead I came away feeling a strange ambivalence.

Mystery Liner
(1934)

Hide and Seek - Monogram Style
This is the kind of low rent movie Monogram was justifiably famous for when they weren't making no budget westerns. Secret agents, secret passages, etc.

This one has to do with a government project to control ships at sea with a radio control device called S505. In order to test the device, the scientific team installs it in a cruise ship with the cooperation of the captain and his staff. This was 1934 and we didn't actually have an enemy, so Monogram created a "foreign power" as the antagonist, and installed a couple of agents aboard the ship to steal the main component of the device and sabotage the experiment. We spend the rest of the picture trying to figure out who is who - and there really are secret passages.

Monogram, as was their practice, cast this picture with fading stars and familiar character actors. This effort stars Noah Beery although he only shows up at the beginning and end of the show. The real "star" is Edwin Maxwell, supported by George Cleveland and Gustav Von Seyffertitz. You get the picture.

I won't go any further into the story. It is a pretty formulaic spy yarn you could find on any double bill in any cheap theater back in the old days. But there are those of us that really love them. In fact, although I live in New Mexico, I recently made a pilgrimage to Hollywood. Not for the usual reasons, but to track back the homes and locations of my favorite old time actors and the locations of all those Poverty Row studios of the day. I actually found the original office address of Monogram at the wrong end of Sunset Blvd. I'm afraid most devotees would be disappointed to find that the actual address is occupied by a take out chicken joint. The sound stages across the street are now occupied by what appears to be a television station. I didn't care. I was standing on hallowed ground. I could imagine "The Duke", (whose ranch location I also visited in Encino) driving through the gate in his Chrysler Phantom.

The movie has a predictable ending, but the trip there is still entertaining. I have a brother who probably wouldn't appreciate it because it doesn't have a message, it doesn't have a basso thematic orchestration with all the bells and gongs, and it doesn't excite the viewer with sweeping visual images. But for the rest of us peasants, it rounds out the weekend just like grilled bratwurst, potato salad and beer.

Tomorrow We Live
(1942)

Patriotic Cowboy Noir
Another PRC quickie from Edgar Ullmer, but he threw everything and the kitchen sink into this one. The story revolves around a character called "The Ghost" played to the hilt by Ricardo Cortez. It takes place at some lonesome outpost in the desert. The Ghost is a mysterious gangster from the east who opens a nightspot out west and begins to corrupt everything he touches. One of his victims is an old geezer played by Emmett Lynn, who once was charged with murder. The Ghost blackmails him into a black market tire scheme. (This was 1942 and tires were worth more than gold). He than sets his sights on the old timer's daughter played by an unremarkable Jean Parker, who is really in love with a soldier.

Then it gets weird. The Ghost is threatened by a rival gangster called "Big Charlie". You have to wonder, how many gangsters can they possibly have out in cactus country? Let's see; we have a big shoot out between The Ghost and his gang and Big Charlie and his gang. The Ghost escapes, comes to believe he is immortal, shoots the old geezer in cold blood, and THEN swears his undying love for the daughter and wants her to run away with him. I would call that bad timing. As this unlikely scene plays out, we come to find that The Ghost is as nutty as a Snickers Bar. Meanwhile, the old geezer rolls over, shoots The Ghost and croaks on cue. The daughter calls the sheriff, declares her love to her soldier boy, and we finish up with a huge military parade of trucks, jeeps, and assorted obsolete military equipment across the desert, right past the front door of the old geezers cafe.

Look, this is Edgar Ullmer. This is PRC. It was an amazing exercise. Can I say, they don't make them like this anymore. The one thing I would mention is the performance turned in by Ricardo Cortez. Most film buffs remember him as the suave gangster, the smooth operator of the 30's. This film was made slightly after his prime and, I think, he elected to, or was forced to, take another tack. In this film we initially see him in his traditional role as a rather elegant gangster. But as the film progresses, he gets loonier and loonier until, toward the end, he looks less like Ricardo Cortez and more like Zeppo Marx. This is one of a kind. Cowboy gangsters and a military parade in the same movie - and don't forget to buy your war bonds.

Drive a Crooked Road
(1954)

Mickey Rooney is Career Driven
I tuned into this movie expecting to see Mickey Rooney doing his impersonation of a dramatic role. I mean, Mickey Rooney. Has anybody ever seen him do anything on film that wasn't over the top? Well, tune into this movie. I think you'll be as surprised as I was.

The story has to do with a lonely, out of step guy who has a dream of racing in The Grand Prix. He's an accomplished mechanic, who races on weekends, but you know he'll never amount to anything. Along comes, long legged Dianne Foster. He falls hard, and she sucks him into a devious plot to rob a bank. What Mickey doesn't know is that she is in cahoots with a couple of classy mutts played by Kevin McCarthy and Jack Kelly. Foster lures the Mick into driving the getaway car so they'll have the money for him to race and they can live happily ever after. Not a chance. The plan all along is to ditch Mickey after the robbery, so she can run off with the mutts. Poor Mick never catches on on until the hammer drops, but by this time, the girls conscience gets the best of her and she spills the beans to Mickey. There is an explosive ending, but it does leave the viewer hanging a little.

This is a Columbia cheapo, but the story is tight and well written. More importantly, the acting is first rate. All the principals really perform, but it's Mickey movie. He underplays the part of Eddie the sap perfectly. I didn't think it was possible, but this was later in his career, and I wish he had done more like it. It proved to me that he had much more range than one would think. I have to wonder if his height held him back. Or maybe it was his earlier body of work. Either way, I know he had much more to offer than Hollywood ever asked of him. Keep an eye open for it. You won't be disappointed.

Safe in Hell
(1931)

Hell? Yes Safe? No
Robert Osborne talked about this being one of Wild Bill Wellman's pre-code classics, so naturally, it immediately got my attention. But I wasn't prepared for this. An amazing story of a hooker played by Dorothy Mackaill who is sucked into "the life" by one of the most vicious, but underrated movie villains ever on screen. The quirky, psycho, delicious Ralf Harolde.

The story is unusual. Gilda the hooker falls in love with a sailor. He accepts her warts and all. She gets into confrontation with Ralf Rotten and thinks she killed him. Her sailor boyfriend helps her lam out to an island to hide out. They marry in a private ceremony and he ships out. Meanwhile, she is left to fend for herself on this island, surrounded by a half dozen lecherous criminals. She holds her own until Ralf suddenly shows up by accident. It seems he didn't die after all, but had to lam out himself after pulling off a scam. In an ironic twist, he tries for a rematch and she actually does kill him. Up till now, the story was almost poetic, but the last twenty minutes had my head spinning. She is about to be found innocent when she finds the Jefe de Policia is going to frame her for another crime and ravish her in his prison. In order to be true to her "husband" she convinces the court that she, in fact, is guilty of murder so she can be hanged. Her line to El Jefe is something like: "The only time you will touch me is when you put the noose around my neck." I've seen lots of pre-code movies. Mostly WB, and they can be pretty raunchy, but this one leads the pack. Dorothy Mackaill puts in an "A" performance in a decidedly "B" movie. It has the feel of the movie "Rain", but it seems less stylized and more authentic. I recommend it for a lot of reasons, but keep your eyes open for Ralf Harolde. Once you've seen him, I think you are going to want more.

The Soul of a Monster
(1944)

Look Into My Empty Eyes
If I hadn't seen the opening credits, I would have sworn this was a Val Lewton classic. It has all the fascinating earmarks as well as much of the weirdness. The story is simple enough. A doctor about to die is saved by an evil spirit in the guise of a mysterious woman, but as we know, there is always a price to pay for undeserved immortality.

This was, without question, a "B" movie dressed up to be more stylistic than most. As in those Val Lewton movies, all the performances are understated. The principals drift into indecipherable monologues that leave you numb. Many of the scenes are shot in shadow and the whole atmosphere is spooky. There is no bloody violence to speak of, but there is enough heart stopping shock to satisfy the blood-lust in most of us.

George MacReady leads the cast. This should tell us something. He was a fine character actor, but only in a low budget thriller would he ever be given the lead. His evil muse is played by Rose Hobart. I have to admit I never heard of her until I saw this movie, but she did a more than adequate job. In fact, she was downright frightening. The rest of the cast is nameless, although I may have seen one or two of them in an old Dragnet episode, but not one of them let the story down.

This production is well worth watching - if you can find it. My only complaint is that it comes with a prologue and an epilogue. In fact, it comes with a testament to good over evil. I don't know, it was made in 1944. Maybe they had no choice.

A Walk in the Sun
(1945)

A Walk in the Sun? You'll get tired just watching them.
Considering the fact that this movie was made so closely to end of WW2, it is a little surprising that it wasn't more of a patriotic effort. In some ways you could consider it ahead of it's time. The characters have flaws, there is a reference to battle fatigue, and heroes die.

To be sure, the clichés abound, but they lay them out early in the introduction. A couple of wise guys from Brooklyn (and Jersey City), the yokel, the farmer, the poet, etc. But to their credit, they cast believable actors in the relevant parts. Interestingly, they cast Richard Conte as a wisecracking gunner, and Norman Lloyd as a scout. Both were Jersey City natives and added an air of authenticity to the production. I lived in Jersey City for a while and I can tell you that I could have met these guys at any gin mill in Journal Square and wouldn't have been surprised. Most of the rest of the cast was just as authentic.

To be sure, there are problems with the script, but most of them had to do with the constrictions of the times. "Hoist tail". Get it? "The loving army, the loving food, the loving etc". What do you want for 1945? Maybe it was even a little provocative for the times.

This movie was part of a transition from the standard WW2 propaganda efforts like Sands of Iwo Jima, Bataan, etc, to a more rational presentation of the horror of war. We hadn't yet progressed to the anti-war era of Platoon or Apocalypse Now, but we were getting there. Realism was creeping into the script.

I recommend this movie for it's originality, but be prepared for the routine - just don't let it ruin the movie for you.

Torpedo Run
(1958)

Hot, Straight, but Abnormal
Another submarine movie. This one is now a standard for the genre. All that tension. It makes you wonder why they can't all just get along. Even the best of friends seem to fall out when they get cooped up in a submarine. Glenn Ford and Ernie Borgnine are best buddies and Captain and Exec aboard the Greyfish. Best of buddies, of course, until Glenn Ford is forced to make a decision Ernie disagrees with - and here we go again. Cary Grant and Burt Lancaster, Ronald Reagan and Arthur Franz, Glenn and Ernie, etc. We never seem to get tired of the clichés. Let me make this one point though. For once, we don't have the usual cast of characters. No wise guy called Brooklyn, no homey coyoot called Texas, and no hayseed from Nebraska called, well Nebraska. Or maybe Junior. Remember him with the freckles and the cowlick?

There isn't much point in going into the story. You've seen it before. You've probably seen this movie before. It's no Das Boot, but for what it is, it holds it's own.

I never understood Glenn Ford. He really needed to lighten up. I don't think I ever saw the man smile - never mind laugh. He always seemed to be barely in control of some unexplained rage. I don't know what he was like personally, but if his acting was any reflection of the man, one might wonder why he never made the front page of The Hollywood Reporter.

Three Bad Sisters
(1956)

Should be One Bad Movie
We have to remember that the 50's were practically a blank slate when it came to movies. Hollywood was in transition from patriotic war movies, noir, two reel oaters, etc to movies with a message. We had Blackboard Jungle, On the Waterfront and so on. Some folks might think that was an improvement. I don't. Who was the mogul who said: If you want to send a message, call Western Union? He was right. These psychological thrillers are less entertainment than some kind of remote therapy.

This one is a pip. It's about three sisters trying to wrest control of their dead father's estate. One of them, maybe the only one worth redemption enlists the aid of the company pilot to help her keep the rest of the family at bay. He's initially in it for the bucks, but eventually falls for her. Meanwhile the rest of the family schemes to sabotage the romance. The results are predictable. You get a little bit of everything in this movie. Sexual tension between the sisters. A little subtle masochism. Hereditary insanity - if there is such a thing. We never get to meet the parents, but they must really have been screwed up The cast is practically unknown. One or two of the actors sound vaguely familiar. The acting is so bad it's hard to believe. It was released under the United Artists umbrella by a company called Bel-Air Productions. It was shot in and around LA mostly at night and probably without permits. The end was so bizarre that I thought it was a joke. It was as if they ran out of money and the producer decided to wrap it up in the middle of a scene.

I can't explain it - not even to myself - but I gave this pile of trash an 8/10. I'm familiar with the term "It's so bad it's good", but I don't think I ever ran into the phenomenon before. Well, maybe "Hot Rods to Hell", but this one certainly fits. You might want to try this if you love movies that seem like they were made in somebody's basement.

The Finger Points
(1931)

Forget the Finger, Gimme a Hand
It pays to watch a movie more than once. When I first saw "The Finger Points", I found it to be an enjoyable Warner Bros crime flick with few surprises. I just had the opportunity to see it again, and I found all kinds of interesting gimmicks.

A young reporter, played by Richard Barthalmess, migrates from Savannah, to the big city to make his mark. He is picked up by a tabloid and charged with exposing the political/criminal junta that runs the town. He falls in love with his coworker, played by a yummy Fay Wray, and in his quest to hit the big time, gets his hands dirty. He throws in with the mob, eventually double crosses them for love, and gets his in the end.

What is interesting about this movie, and what I never realized the first time I saw it, was that it was a tale ripped from the headlines of the day. After extorting money from the mob to bury the corruption, he is finally introduced to "Number One". We don't get to see his face, but he obviously represents Al Capone. The biggest scam of them all involves the mob moving in and taking over an entire city. They transform it into a mecca for gambling, bootleg liquor, speakeasies, and all manner of corruption. In the movie they call it Waverly, but it describes Capone's takeover of Cicero perfectly. Finally, the corrupt reporter with mob connections is gunned down in the street. I finally made the connection to a real life incident involving a reporter in Chicago named Jake Lingle. They even had a funeral procession down the main boulevard just as they did for Jake.

These details may not mean much to everybody, but they make for a realistic story that, left to the hack writers imagination, would probably not be nearly as good. The dialog is kind of stilted, and the likable Richard Barthalmess' performance is predictably wooden, but nothing is perfect. If you're a crime buff, this is a winner.

Note: In 1931, Clark Gable was just getting a toe hold in the business. In this movie he gets 4th billing as a gangster henchman.

The Slender Thread
(1965)

The Slender Thread
I remember seeing this movie some years ago and it stayed with me. When it popped up again on TCM I made it a point to record it so I could pay closer attention to it. I hate to say that I was a little disappointed. Some of the more obvious and unavoidable problems you can chalk up to the age of the movie. 1965 was rife with mop-haired nerds and white-booted chicks doing the jerk-agogo or whatever the hell we did back then. The whining, blues tainted horns of the Quincy Jones score seems dated as well.

A young wife, played to perfection by Anne Bancroft, has a dark secret. When her husband discovers her indiscretion, she begins to retreat into her own, dark, guilt-filled space. As time goes by, her husband becomes distant and judgmental while she plunges deeper and deeper into depression. She loses all hope of reconstructing her life, checks into a motel and chucks down a cocktail of pills.

This is when the movie gets interesting. She calls in to a crisis hot-line because she has no one else to talk to and doesn't want to die alone. As luck would have it, she reaches a student volunteer played by Sidney Poitier. The rest of the story is a frantic search to find her before the pills do the business. As she babbles on the phone, we are treated to flashback after flashback telling us her story.

The movie is a bumpy ride. While the director concentrates on those tense scenes where the rescue team is trying to trace the victim, we find our muscles tensing and our eyes tearing, wishing they knew what we know. At other times, we get to know the players oh so much more than we need to. There is a scene where we get to watch Anne Bancroft staring into a pool for what seems like forever. Very arty - but very boring. This is not an action flick, and I don't want to sound impatient, but a little less art and a little more action wouldn't hurt.

Anne Bancroft plays her part to perfection. At times she is seductive, confused, disturbed, and profoundly sad. She hit almost every emotion in the book, and hit the mark every time. On the other hand, Sidney Poitier seems to be angry, explosive, almost seething in his emotional display. I know it's heresy, but I just didn't think he was very good. I could envision any number of actors that would have been more believable. I don't know how much to blame him as opposed to Sidney Pollack who directed. It all depends on who had control, but the end result was disappointing. I accidentally gave this movie a 6. On reflection, I think I'll jack that up to an 8. Sidney Poitier aside, it was still a good movie.

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