dougdoepke

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The House Across the Bay
(1940)

Swimming To Alcatraz
The flick's a Bennett showcase. The other top-cast members (Raft, Pidgeon, Nolan) sort of drop in and out as needed, while Bennett's struggling single woman carries the storyline. Despite Raft's presence as an underworld entrepreneur, the plot has more to do with Bennett's romantic mishaps than with the sinister Raft. So what suspense there is has mostly to do with which suitor she'll end up with rather than Raft's underworld intrigue. Nonetheless, note that clever plot twist where Bennett gets Raft sent to the slammer for what she thinks is a only year for his own protection, only to watch it backfire in more ways than one. It's also a move that sets up the surprising climax.

Anyway, kudos to that wonderful A-list actress who's both gorgeous and convincing in what's a fairly demanding role. Her steely reserve alternates convincingly with the more tender moments. Also, a big nod to the always understated Lloyd Nolan as the sly lawyer man, along with Raft who manages to unbend more than usual, his occasional hard-eyed stare still managing to send me under the bed. To me, the movie's high point, however, are the scenes between the sassy Gladys George and Bennett who still manages to hold her own against tough gal competition. Between them, there's a lot of memorable chemistry and snappy dialogue.

All in all, it's more a movie of outstanding cast-members than gripping plot. Nonetheless, the 90-minutes will keep the viewer eye tuned in.

Step on It
(1936)

Better Than Expected
Okay, I admit it': I was pleasantly surprised by this bottom-budget 1936 flick, only 57-minutes long. But the action hardly lets up as hijackers use an inside man to grab gasoline tankers, while our hero, ex-patrolman Talmadge, tries to out-smart them. And catch those rickety old two lane highways they race down, along with the drabby filling stations, and hopped-up motorcycles. And how about those bulging oil tanks they circle around ; one explosion and the whole city goes up. It sure ain't the LA of Hollywood and Vine or even studio back-lots. Then too, reviewer JH Reid's right: where else can we get such graphic views of the past than these vintage flicks, especially the cheepos. And how about stuntman Talmadge's many acrobatic stunts done with such amazing ease, though his fist fights with four guys are about as plausible as my dance-work. Also, too bad sweetie Wilde's presence fades with the second half. I really liked her imaginative way of sidling up to handsome patrolman Talmadge, though it costs Dad a load of money. Sure, the flick's about the last word in movie obscurity, plus being a distance from a sleeper. Still, the camera-work and overall energy show that even bottom barrel budgets can vibrate with life and roadsides past.

The Crystal Ball
(1943)

Good, But Not First-Rate
Zany wartime madcap from Paramount. Seems Texas girl Toni (Goddard) has designs on handsome city attorney Brad (Milland) but has to out-compete sophisticated rival Jo (Field) for his affections. But don't worry, she's a dead-shot with a rifle and can fake a good crystal ball when she has to. Plenty of chuckles and mild innuendo, throughout, along with nifty scene-ending touches that work as comedic embroidery. Okay, the storyline would flunk a logic course, but who cares, since it's the humor that counts. All in all, the flick's a Goddard showcase that includes snappy support from a Johnny-on-the-spot Bill Bendix, a brassy Iris Adrian, and a fumbling Sig Arno who won't be table-waiting the President anytime soon. Then too, note that the ladies goody gowns are from Hollywood's premier fashion designers Edith Head and Adrian- I wonder if they did the gown that gets ripped off poor Toni.

Trouble is chuckles tail off toward the end when things serious up a bit. Also, Milland's fine for Brad's serious side, but adds little to Brad's lighter side. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining 80-minutes that gives Mussolini I good kick in the butt. So catch up with it despite the obscurity.

Beware of Ladies
(1936)

Cheapo That Has Some Good Points
Okay B-movie drama from budget-minded Republic Pictures. The plot concerns political intrigue between a naive reform-minded Martin for city DA, and a corrupt incumbent faction seeking to undo Martin's candidacy. At first the bad guys needn't bother since Martin's campaign is too passive to worry about. But then forceful female reporter White sees Martin's potential and helps develop his untapped skills. Alarmed now, the corrupt faction quickly takes action.

It's a no-name cast that performs ably enough with the exception of Judith Allen as reporter White. In short, she's quite effective as Martin's take-charge mentor, reminding me a bit of a feisty Barbara Stanwyck. Note too the unusual womanly subtext that shows White finally lifting Martin beyond listlessness to her level of skill and initiative. And guess what happens as a result. Also, get a load of the 30's style tin-lizzies then crowding the streets, so reflective of the era.

On the downside are the rapid-fire shenanigans between the opposing factions in an over-crowded 64-minute storyline. Too bad ace director Pichel-just then getting started-adds little to the mix. Still the pacing never lags, though the many characters keep ducking in and out; so, a scorecard might be needed. All in all, you might give the programmer a try, especially for the unusual Martin-White matchup and the political lessons that go with it.

(In passing- Maybe you can spot Perry Mason's favorite TV investigator, the handsome William Hopper, in a side role as a reporter. Too bad that I missed him.)

Screwballs
(1983)

Where's My Detention
Well, I guess I asked for it. I don't know what I was expecting except for some skin and laughs. What I got was plenty of skin and a few laughs. Trouble is there was no let-up to the goofiness, sort of like a flood that eventually overwhelms you. I wish there were a few slower moments, less packed with repetition, so I might enjoy the the more memorable ones. But no, it's like the film-makers couldn't stop piling it on, like a cup of sugar and spice pouring into an open mouth. After all, there are only so many instances of girls playing with wieners or humping their butts before amusement weakens. And that's too bad, because there're touches of imaginative humor, especially the first part with the Detention segment or the verbally constipated French teacher. Anyway, don't expect a high school diploma after viewing, otherwise you too may end up in detention with all the bra-less girls that go with it. Now please, how can I get put into that strip-tease detention!

Truck Stop Women
(1974)

A Full-Service Stop
Don't expect this sleazy Drive-in gem to show up at a high-brow awards ceremony. Nonetheless, it's got everything needed for a camp classic: naked women, non-stop action, monster trucks, some high-speed fornication, and even a few surprises. And, wow, where did actress Dressler (Anna) come from. Her gargoyle boss-woman dominates the screen like none of the many ugly guys, and kept me wishing for more of Jennings' lovely eye relief. And how about all that dry New Mexico scenery with its ghost-town from heck- I sure hope the crew took a canteen with them. So, will Anna be able to keep her truck-stop brothel locally owned or will the eastern Mafia gobble it up. After all the long-haul guys do need occasional relief. More importantly, which side will Rose, Anna's rebellious daughter, end up taking, now that she's charmed by a snazzy eastern suit. Anyway, I didn't see the ending coming and a provocative one it is. In my little book, a zany flick like this is hard to rate, but if you're in the mood to dodge monster trucks, duck flying bullets, shower with naked girls, and follow a pacing that never drags, then give it a try.

Lady in a Cage
(1964)

A Squandered Opportunity
It's a promising premise unfortunately squandered by a pack of nonsensical performances, and no clear idea of how to handle the storyline. DeHavilland's aging wealthy widow is partially crippled, and left alone in her house. As a result, she must depend on a caged lift to move between floors. Then one day she's trapped in the lift between floors due to a series of unfortunate power mishaps. Alone, she tries to no avail to signal for help, while cars pass steadily by her house front. What will she do.

Now, this is a gripping premise, made more so by award winning actress DeHavilland's obvious talent. Trouble is the gravitas is soon squandered by a series of caricatured performances: the clownish hobo Corey; the idiotic gangster Campos; and the moronic vixen Billingsley. Together or separately, they distract in cartoonish ways from the caged woman's desparate plight, even as they supposedly menace her as house-breaking thieves. On the other hand are the straight players: the studly Brando-like Caan, and the stuggling strumpet Sothern. Too bad their efforts mainly serve to heighten the caricatures of their co-players. All in all, it'a weird casting mix.

On a brief positive side is the ordinary neighborhood in which the filming is done, along with a subtext of a generally unfeeling public, as symbolized by the cars that blithely bypass the mournfully dead street dog. However, that meaningful subtext is too scattered and under-developed to really score. It's like the writer and the director had no clear idea of where to go with their premise. To me, the overall result is that of a wasted opportunity and a wasted DeHavilland. Too bad.

The Rifleman: The Sharpshooter
(1958)
Episode 1, Season 1

Fine Combination of Cast and Writer
Off-beat first episode from the 1950's Western series. The ending's not predictable and builds some suspense as we wonder who'll win the target shooting match, McCain or Vernon. Then too, McCain and son need the prize money for down payment on their hoped for little ranch. So it's not just a question of who's the better marksman. Also, pairing the brawny, hulking Connors with small, super-clean Hopper presents quite a contrast. Then too, Hopper's a long way from his usual hairy hipster. The script's by Sam Peckinpah just getting his foot in the industry door, which likely accounts for the creative plotline. There were dozens of westerns on TV during that period. Connors, however, creates a visual contrast to the usual heroes, looking more like a villian than the usual good-looking good guys. With his gimlet eyes and etched face, he's quite a contrast to the usual heroes. And I suspect that winsome little son, Johnny Crawford, was added to soften Connors's tough guy image. Anyway, it's a nifty first entry that sets up the rest of the series, so give it a try.

Swing Hostess
(1944)

Entertaining Despite The Crowded Plot
Plot- a talented songstress tries to break into the business, but is hampered by mishaps and a connaiving rival.

Okay, I'm a sucker for low-budget quickies, hoping for the occasional over-achiever. Happily, this is one of them. The flick's really more a comedy with a complex plot than a musical. But the pacing's snappy, the acting's colorful, and Tilton's such a sweetheart. Sure, it's the sassy Adrian and the scheming Brodel who get the acting and screentime, still, songstress Tilton's lovely voice carried me away. I just wish she had more numbers uncrowded by the screenplay. On the other hand, I'd never seen the feisty Brodel before. Too bad she didn't opt for a longer career since her talent for villianry is darkly clear. At the same time, I was hoping for some swing dancing with the flaring skirts so popular at the time, but maybe the budget didn't allow it. Anyway, the pacing never drags, while the sticky plot's happily softened by a supporting cast of humorous oldsters. So give it a look-see, especially for the "liltin' Martha Tilton".

In the Wake of the Assassins
(2007)

More About Alabama's Governor Patterson Than About Phenix City
All in all, the documentary does not lend itself to a ratings score.

If you're tuning in for a lengthy documentary on Phenix City's infamous corruption scandal and its exposure in 1954, you may be disappointed. Instead, only about the first fifteen minutes has directly to do with the notorious scandal that captured headlines nationally, including my own small town in Colorado. Instead the docu's mainly about the career of John Patterson, initially Attorney General, and then Governor of Alabama until 1966. As Att. Gen., he was instrumental in tackling mob control of the city, following his father's assassination in '54 when he too tried cleaning up the city as Alabama's earlier chief attorney. Tellingly, mob control started when city fathers started up casino gambling as a needed source of revenue -- (How Ironic). Then too, note FBI Hoover's terse response to Patterson's request for federal help against the mob! Also touched on is the conflict-ridden Freedom Bus Riders during the state's volatile desegregation period. Anyway, that early part's a dramatic send-off that pretty much invites interest even for the remaining hour or so that tracks Patterson's controversial career as Ala. Governor.

On the whole, the screen time is peopled by brief comments from a variety of interviewees, but mainly from an aged Patterson himself. These cameos flow by quickly as topics progress, so be prepared. Nonetheless, the documentary's slickly produced including vintage clips from the 50's and 60's, and is certainly informative about the life and career of Patterson, even if the details of the City's notorious scandals receive less attention.

All in all, the documentary touches on a number of interesting topics, so you may want to give it a try.

Corsair
(1931)

Squanders Todd and a Promising Plot
For Todd fans the first part showcases her lively appeal. Here, she's cast as a pampered debutante used to getting her own way. Then she meets football hero Morris who's self-disciplined down to his toes, and surprisingly rejects her romantic overtures. Unfortunately, Todd's stellar role soon recedes as the murky storyline with Morris's hijacking scheme takes over. Too bad for Todd fans.

The film's pre-Code 1931, but here there's surprisingly little innuendo to reflect those pre-censorship years. Still, there remains the lingering drama of Prohibition, and that's what the plot turns on, as Morris is out to prove that he's as effective at becoming rich as Todd's ruthless Wall Street father, Steve. The rivalry's set up when Morris refuses, as an employee in Steve's brokerage, to bilk an unfortunate old lady at Steve's command. Morris's heated exchange with his boss amounts to a telling snapshot of a time when stock markets were crashing and Wall Street needed money no matter how ruthlessly gotten. Thus football hero Morris shows his principled core despite the desperate tenor of the times. But how will he prove that his ethical approach to riches is as effective as Steve's unprincipled methods like bilking an old lady.

Here the story turns a couple of twists, as arrogant Steve bootlegs for needed money by running an offshore smuggling operation, while the ethical Morris surprisingly hijacks that operation with his gunboat, the Corsair. So it looks like the steely Morris has turned to a form of crime in order to compete with rival, Steve. So what's going on with the film's apparent hero. Has he lost his sense of right and wrong by becoming a hijacker even if it is for illegal booze.

Anyway, that's the nub of a good plot. Trouble is that on screen it plays out in fuzzy, dispersed fashion that fails to generate much suspense or involvement. In short, the story's potential is squandered along with actress Todd. Nor does it help that Kohler, the chubby gang boss Big John, mugs-it-up to a clownish distractive degree . All in all, the flick's no tribute to ace director West or to those who fleshed out the screenplay. Still, there are memories of the incandescent Todd shortly before her tragic death. Too bad she didn't get the screen time here that she so richly deserved.

Carnal Knowledge
(1971)

Cutting Edge Then, Dull Edge Now
If you can sit still for 90-minutes of endless talk, meaningless close-ups, no action, and just five speaking parts, you might enjoy this downer. Okay, so maybe there's a meaningful subtext hidden somewhere inside all the anxiety, but I was too bored by the one-note characters to care. Instead, I'll leave serious digging to those folks who somehow got interested. At the same time, there's Nicholson's frequent mugging coupled with Garfunkle's bland disinterest, that show up as unhelpful indulgence on somebody's part. On the other hand, the sexy girls come across better both visually and performance-wise, thank goodness.

So why was the bummer so celebrated at the time. My guess is that the results got attention because they broke so many 1930's Production Code taboos that lingered into the early 70's. In short, the flick was cutting-edge for its time. No need to recount the movie's no-no's here, but they are pretty explicit, even for now. Anyway, I don't remember being so bored by a sexually laden film in my many years of viewing. Maybe the lesson is that tasty spices don't substitute for an empty meal. Too bad.

Decoy: The Showplace
(1958)
Episode 21, Season 1

A Whiskey And A Girl, Please
Solid episode. Casey goes undercover in a clip-joint bar where girls get guys to buy them watered drinks for a percentage of the cost. Trouble is one of the bar girls is gruesomely strangled in a neighboring alley, and Casey has to find out who did it and why. Wow, certainly can't say the flick showcases good looks. Between ugly bartender Al (Polan) and homely owner Ben (Charles), their many close-ups had me hungering for the lovely Garland for relief. There's some plot suspense, but the story's more about character than mystery. And I like the twist ending that unexpectedly pivots on character. Anyway, for 1950's TV, the series's shows its unusual nature by taking on tricky subject matter, like scarcely veiled hookers in a low-life bar. So give the entry a look see, along with the series as a whole.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?
(1972)

A Winters Showcase
Grotesque hijinks aside, the 90-minutes really amounts to a Winters showcase. But it's not the bitchy, brazen type role she was so good at. Instead, she's sweetly cunning, hiding her demented obsession with a dead daughter behind a smiling, generous concern for local orphans. If Aunti Roo is a witch, it's hiding somewhere deep inside. The flick itself builds toward the end, but is otherwise mainly a series of mild episodes strung out inside the mysterious mansion. The acting's good enough; instead, the difficulty's with a screenplay which appears unsure how to fill out the run-time. So we get side-episodes like Albie's phony seance, which is okay in itself, but unfortunately does little to drive the plot or overall suspense. Clearly, the real suspense revolves around the two vulnerable kids, Katy and Chris. Aside from the white-knuckle ending, it's that aspect that needs more suspenseful development, including more tension-building camera close-ups. Anyway, even in its lesser status, the film reminds me of two horror classics: Night of the Hunter (1955) where a innocent-seeming pastor menaces two kids, and Psycho (1960) where another obsessed nut-case preserves his dead mother in skeletal form.

Anyway, the horror flick's a decent time passer, but something of a disappointment given the talent involved.

A Star Is Born
(1954)

Over-Stretched, Despite Lively Garland
Over-done, over-long victim of 1950's big budget efforts to lure audiences away from their livingroom little screens. Then too, short runtimes were the stuff of little budgets, not big audience ones. Thus, WB spared no expense with lavish sets, stage productions and big-screen photography. All in all, it's a great film to look at. Too bad the runtime is so heavily padded with over-extended and unnecessary scenes, long after we've gotten the point. At the same time, the sparkly Garland shines in her usual effortless way, while a miscast Mason does his best to overcome usual villian-type roles. However, his drab romantic scenes with Garland fail to spark the dramatic part's core.

To me, the high points are several of Garland's hypnotic ballads where the songs are spotlighted rather than the ones having her sing while bouncing around a distractive set. Also of interest are the many behind-the-scenes look at studio movie-making, especially the elaboate set-ups. I've long wondered how crews filmed ocean scenes, and here we get an edifying look.

Anyway, the basic story idea is a good one, and I can see why it's been remade so many times. Here, however, the over-stretch undercuts both the story and Garland's featured vocals. Too bad, but then production is from the movie embattled 1950', when bigger and longer automatically meant 'better'.

Mr. & Mrs. North: Nosed Out
(1952)
Episode 6, Season 1

Pam Dominates Cute Half-Hour
A race track jockey is murdered and his body turns up, guess where- in Pam and Jerry's new car. So now they've got their own track to pursue.

Next time I go to the races, Pam's going to do my betting for me. What with her mastery of crazy math, I can't lose. Cute episode, more a crime theme than a mystery since we know early on who the killer is. But just give Pam a bag of groceries with some tea leaves and her big-eyed, psychic self will kick in, and crime solved. Then too, with a bag full of tomatoes our girl hardly needs a gun. The spotlight's on Britton here, with Jerry only putting in occasional appearances. So not much cuddling for the romantic twosome. But catch classic blonde vixen Veda Ann Borg in one of her patented trampy roles. Hope she got a good payday. Anyway, there's always something to get your attention, like a script that casually drops in a highbrow word like 'alliteration'! So be sure to catch up with our favorite TV couple as they come back from the track. Now where's my dictionary?

Fargo
(1996)

Maybe I Can Take Off My Parka Now!
No need to recap the narrative, what with all the bungled schemes that no character, no matter how screwy or smart, can seem to get right.

Ace flick. To me, it's the weirdo characters that make the 90-minutes unforgettable. They're sort of amusing one minute and bloody violent the next. Take Buscemi's nutty crook Carl. He looks like some girl's nightmare date, when not all bloodied up one minute or messing up someone's criminal scheme the next; or Storemare's Grimsrud whose inert face resembles a rock with about that much human feeling; or Macy's scheming car salesman who can't seem to get anything right, including his own driver's license; or finally McDormand's chief cop with her fluttery smile and big eyes-- but don't let her fool you, because behind that girlish expression and sagging birth pouch lies one clever cop, even if she does resemble Jane Fonda's older sister. Together, the main cast is about as entertaining an ensemble as this film freak has seen.

Plus, great credit to the screenwriting Coens that the contrasting elements of violence, amusement, and romance are blended as skillfully as they are. To me, that's about as tough a writing and directing assignment as the movies can dish out. Anyway, maybe I can take off my coat now that the snowy Minnesota scenes have passed. And wow!- what was it like to film in the unHollywood clime amidst all that cold white stuff. I don't think I'll be spending my next winter vacation there. But I will be cranking up the flick again for another round of chuckles and shudders. Thanks Coen's., cast, and crew. See you later.

The Bashful Bachelor
(1942)

Fun on a Dime
Better than expected. Okay, it's no knee-slapper, but the chuckles keep coming as the two cornpone dimwits manage to stumble their way from one silly misfire to the next. What grabbed me most is how un-telegenic the cast is. It sure ain't Hollywood's usual glamor crowd. Good thing there's the lovely Currie to soften my eyes after all the un-lovelies, especially Lauck (Lum) who looks like me when I forget to shave and the wife threatens to leave. Nonetheless, the pacing's good, the antics non-stop, while the train bearing down on the camera gave me a real jolt. To me, it was a fun look at the past, especially when dimwit Abner looks into the phone receiver instead of talking into it and says to a puzzled Lum, "I've got to see who I'm talking to". Top that cell-phone Hollywood.

Fahrenheit 11/9
(2018)

Flawed, But Still Worth Viewing
Too much of the rapid-fire documentary meanders without sharpening into lasting focus. All in all, a sharper editing job of the many scenes is, I think, really needed. At the same time, that's not to overlook the fairly distinct segments the footage divides into- Trump's unexpected election; Flint's criminal water crisis; labor unrest, along with teachers' strikes; the Florida school shooting; among several others. What, I gather, they all add up to is the generally deteriorating state of America's liberal democracy, symbolized by Trump's right-wing victory and our mounting wealth inequality.

Now these are worthy topics, to be sure. However, as presented, the elements simply gather into a succession rather than sharpening into developmental points. Thus, connections between segments or their individual significance are too often lost amid the rapid flow of scenes. Then too, Moore spends more time on the Flint water crisis than I think is proportionally warranted, likely because as a native of the city he feels a personal relationship. Also, I wish Moore had interviewed a typical Trump voter for better insight into why Trump unexpectedly overcame expert predictions. This is very much an important ommission.

Overall, it's a generally worthwhile documentary despite the shortcomings, and is really not as partisan as many critics think- consider the unexpected segment on Obama, for one. So, for those who care about the general state of the union, give it a try.

The Panic Is On: The Great American Depression as Seen by the Common Man
(2009)

Well Worth Watching
Unfortunately, I can't rate the 2-hour production since I've seen little comparable to compare it with. Nonetheless, all three segments are well worth watching.

The total time divides into three film components. The first and longest consists of documentary footage of Depression Era ravages. It's something of an overview concentrating on the generally impoverished conditions of a broad segment of the American people. Those long lines of bedraggled, unemployed men summarize the harsh state of the economy and leave a lasting impression. The second segment, about a half-hour, are excerpts from the 1934 film, Our Daily Bread, and dramatize how unemployed drifters can pool their talents to form a working farm and a harmonious way of life. I take it as an ode to a cooperative type alternative economy, an idea popular at the time. The third segment, also about a half-hour, shows how electrification of rural farms, thanks to the government sponsored ERA, greatly improved farm life over the older, more laborious, daily tasks, especially for women's work which was rather neglected by the first two segments. (Also, I now have a new appreciation of the convenient electric lamp next to me.)

Together these three segments make up the overall production. At first I thought the second and third segments were unnecessary since they were more or less staged unlike the real life documentary part. But, on second thought, they do personalize the economic ravages that the documentary overview of the first part cannot. And in that sense, they help establish a more complete illustration of the time.

Several highlights to watch for. Note the documentary comments from the Zuni Indian chieftain, who notes that the economic collapse was ironically brought on by the norms of those who now suffer its consequences. At the same time he implies that less competitive, more harmonious, societal norms would avoid the problem. Note too, in the Our Daily Bread segment how the newly formed cooperative members unanimously acclaim one man as "Boss" of the outfit, an odd delegation of power among presumed equals. Also, rather surprisingly, none of the acrimonious politics of the era appears anywhere among the two hours. Given the churning politics of the time, that omission appears intentional. And how about those loony dance marathons that could go on in unfeeling fashion for hours, days, weeks, and maybe even months, the zombified couples barely moving with only stage-side cots to rest on. I guess it was something for the idled masses to do; I just hope there was big prize money in the offing.

All in all, the unfortunately obscure production is well worth watching, not only for historical value, but for its lessons for today. So give it a try.

Four Star Playhouse: The Adolescent
(1954)
Episode 5, Season 3

Illustrative of Its Time
So what is it young Phillip (Arthur) is trying to hide from school disciplinarian Miss Coberly (Lupino). He fesses up to drinking more than a few beers at a neighborhood tavern, but the astute Coberly senses something more. But what could it be; he's such an innocent looking kid with a wealthy, if over-bearing, father, and a promising future. On the other hand, I'm not sure I buy the awkward upshot given the build-up. Still the suspense is unusual since nothing sinister appears involved. So what the heck is the kid hiding.

Note the neat touch with the trampy blonde leaving the apartment door as the repectable Coberly passes by; it only takes a second but right away we know Coberly's now in a rough part of town. Also, the theme, I think, fits in neatly with teenage norms of the time when passing quickly into adulthood was prized. Anyway, as expected Lupino carries things in what amounts to an unusual entry in this outstanding series..

Hold That Woman!
(1940)

Where's My Radio
Lively PRC action flick revolving around stolen jewels and two skip-tracing agents trying to recover a portable radio, of all things. All in all, it's a light touch all the way through, as much for amusement as suspense. I guess you have to be a geezer like me to recall how important radios were back in the movie's 1940's. Instead of families splitting up into cell phone users or computer live-streaming, folks gathered around radios for evening entertainment. It was good for the imagination if not for spectacle.

Lead actor Dunn really bounces around, maybe too much, while trying to recover the modest radio after the owner's non-payment. Plus, he's got to compete with premier skip-tracer Dave O'Brien who's on break from his usual six-guns and saddles. Then too why are gangsters so interested in getting hold of that same radio, come heck or high water. There has to be something special about it, but what?

Up to then, I'd never heard of 'skip-tracers' but now I know they're agents privately employed to track down deadbeats. Anyway, the plot's pretty crowded so you may need a scorecard to keep track. Nonetheless, the pacing never drags, along with a delightful Frances Gifford as Dunn's sweetie. All in all, the hour amounts to another slice of easy entertainment, B-movie style, without being anything special.

'Neath Brooklyn Bridge
(1942)

Solid Entry
Solid Kids knock-about. So can the guys clear their buddy Danny (Jordan) from the cops who're mistakenly holding him as a killer. Good thing the Kids have Navy man Butch (Beery) on their side, especially since he knows Morse Code. The antics fly fast and furious in typical Kids style, from Glimpy's fractured English, to Mug's 'pop-em' style leadership, to Scruno's big-eyed run-around. And catch lovely actress Gillis' sweetly demure Sylvia and the way she emotes with subtle eye shadings. Too bad she didn't have a bigger career. Then too, note the great supporting cast of Hollywood vets: Lawrence as the coldly mastermind McGaffey, O'Brien taking a day off from saddle and six-gun as a cop, and Robinson as the officious chief cop. It's also a good look at fashions from that early war-year of 1942, along with crowded studio streets not expected from these low budget productions. And, oh yes, one more note: over time I've gleaned that any time I see a purported city street blocked off at one end, it's really a studio street, as it is here.

Nonetheless, the Monogram production amounts to an ace hour of nutty entertainment from a crew of guys who deserve a lot more than Hollywood obscurity. So catch up with it if you haven't already.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
(1977)

A Riveting Central Core
Not a movie to catch if you're feeling down. Those scenes in the dayroom where the afflicted patients mingle are almost scary. Each woman acts out her own version of mental derangement, from hollering, to yelling in-your-face, to grabbing and shoving. Looks to me like the Pittsburgh Steelers are needed to keep order. In fact, I can't understand why therapeutic science would allow such intermingling among the psychologically afflicted. Just what the therapeutic effects might be is beyond me. Actually the tormented images brought back similar ones from the 1948 flick, The Snake Pit, that scared the heck out of me as a kid, except this 1977 epic should maybe be called The Demon Pit. I guess this movie's ironic title was so as not to scare off prospective viewers.

Actually what holds the movie together are outstanding performances by the two leading actresses, Quinlan and Andersson. I don't think I've seen a more emotionally affecting turn than Quinlan's, as her teenage Deborah poignantly struggles with inner demons she imagines as some kind of tyrannical barbarians. Aside from that inner struggle, we unfortunately know little about her or why she has lost her grip. Or for that matter do we know much about any of the many characters roaming the halls. Coming to Debbie's aid is psychiatrist Dr. Fried portrayed winningly by Swedish actress Andersson. She's low-key in her methods and between the two there's a growing magnetism that brings us back from the scenes of torment. To me, Quinlan at least deserved an Oscar nomination as I don't think I've been so moved in 70 years of movie watching as by her huggable presence. Also, it's good to see vintage actress Sylvia Sydney picking up a payday. Forty years earlier and that fine soulful actress could have succeeded as the poignant young Deborah.

(In Passing: Though it passes by quickly, note Deborah's unconventionally hairy armpit, showing her rejection of a significant gender norm. It also shows production's careful attention to minor detail.)

All in all, the movie's too exotic for me to rate on the usual scale. But, despite the histrionics and foggy chairacter backgrounds, you may want to catch its engagingly sensitive core.

How to Make a Monster
(1958)

Promising Start That Soon Flattens Out
Plot- a souless eastern movie studio takes over an old Hollywood monster-making studio and fires the production employees. But they haven't foreseen make-up artist Harris' 25-year devotion to his craft or his secret formula that turns his fake monsters into killers. So Harris ain't leaving his job easily.

Clever premise that unfortunately flattens out with too many pointless scenes between story-driving episodes. Those early studio scenes behind a movie shoot are grabbers for old flick fans, as is the power grab by arrogant magnates taking over the old studio. I especially liked the skimpy forest set-up that sort of covers a monster lurking behind. No wonder those old movies I am addicted to were such cheapos. Trouble is these revealing episodes soon give way to a spot-lighted Harris showcase, along with too much drab police procedure. Unfortunately neither does much to build suspense. Still, it's good to see movie stalwart Morris Ankrum picking up a payday in his usual authoritative role. Anyway, I could have definitely used more eye candy in place of Harris's endless close-ups.

All in all, it's an imaginative premise that fails to develop its unusual potential. Too bad an efffective re-write didn't exploit that potential. Nonetheless, I've got to admit that any flick that headlines two such unknowns as Harris and Brinegar merits some kind of recognition.

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