dougdoepke

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Father Knows Best: Always Plan Ahead
(1958)
Episode 6, Season 5

A Good Blend
Mom's overloaded with housework. Then Betty comes in, needing Mom's immediate help; then Bud comes in needing more immediate help; finally Kathy comes in, and guess what. Poor Mom, life's impossible. So then the kids tackle Dad who's overwhelmed with office work. So he confronts them with the obvious- why don't you guys learn to plan ahead and give us a break! But they fob him off, so he decides to teach the kids a hard object lesson, and Mom agrees. But Dad's plan leads to all sorts of twists and turns, so now, how will things eventually turn out.

Actors Young and Wyatt get the spotlight in an episode that's as poignant as it is amusing. Nonetheless, the crew blends these two effects in slick fashion of the sort that distinguish the series as a whole. So catch it if you haven't already for both entertainment and a good practical lesson.

Father Knows Best: Voice from the Past
(1958)
Episode 4, Season 5

Bud Gets An Idea
Poor Bud. People seem to ignore him, especially when popular Dad is around. But then unhappy Bud gets elected Homecoming Chairman at school. So now he can prove himself with his clever idea for Homecoming - a space suit and a bikini clad girl, (I'll sure be there!). But Dad thinks that's disrespectful to the school's founder. So what's Bud going to do now.

The main laughs come at the end. Up til then it's kind of a coflict between age and tradition vs youth and newness, with Bud and Dad getting the spotlight. So how will it end. Tune in for a nifty little surprise for Dad and see.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(1975)

An Ordinary Viewer's Response
As a mostly conventional guy I can't really rate the movie, since its wild, trans-sexual format is too extraordinary for my usual frame of reference. Nonetheless, I'm glad I stumbled across it -- now I have a glimpse of conventions other than my own, even if the fiIck sometimes conveys them in off-putting fashion. And how about Riff-Raff (O'Brien), with his pinched face, skinny frame, and a hunched back - a character I'll long remember with a real shudder. And a feminist Oscar to risk-taking actress Susa Sarandon for breaking the Hollywood mold, even if she didn't read the script first. Anyway, kudoes to the producers for risking box-office poison among those of us more accustomed to SNL than to Divine.

Hidalgo
(2004)

A Revealing Love Story
Man loves horse; horse loves man. The flick takes me back to those horsey cowboy matinees of the 50's that I so enjoyed as a kid. Except here, the passing decades show up in the changing mores of the storyline. It's 1890 and cavalry man Hopkins (Mortensen) is haunted by the indirect role he played in the cavalry's infamous massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee. Thus, unlike my matinee flicks, Indians are no longer portrayed as unfeeling savages. Instead, Hopkins sees their humanity in their community setting, but as a fellow cavalryman he must stand by as the massacre continues, losing his self-respect, however, in the process. Alienated now from both his country and himself because of his cavalry role, Hopkins leaves home and takes his beloved horse to Arabia there to compete in a cross-desert horse race. Maybe then he can redeem himself through his extraordinary ability as a rider.

It's a heckuva scenic spectacular, filmed mainly in desert Morocco. Those never-ending dry flats topped by an enveloping sky are simply stunning to the eye. Never mind the stretch we have to make as hundreds of competitors lope along in boiling desert heat seemingly minus much food or water -- apparently, realism here isn't foremost. Hopkins' problem, beside the searing elements, are some of his Arab compeitors conspiring against him. They don't want a non-Arab to possibly win and show that he and his non-Arabian horse are superior on their home turf. These in-and-outs of intrigue make up the bulk of the storyline, that also includes a horse-owning European rich guy and his heavily costumed daughter who also work against him.

The producers spared no expense with a budget of 100-million (IMDB) and it shows, especially in the expansive crowd scenes and spectacular photography. Nonetheless, to me there is a downside. For one, the race is interrupted too often with subplots that too often pad the storyline and the run-time. Moreover, the interruptions weaken the race's intensity which should be foremost. Then too, some sloppy editing doesn't help. But then, this is a big budgeted spectacular that's expected to run 2-hours plus, so they better fill the time no matter what.

On the upside - beside the stunning scenery - are Mortensen's and Sharif's fine understated performances. In a pivotal role that could easily have gone over the top, Mort shows the kind of quiet inward intensity that makes his character totally believable. Plus, we root for him and Hidalgo, his horse, despite the ex-cavalryman's wayward loyalties. At the same time, Sharif's conflicted Arab Sheik makes the potentate's ultimate resolution also believable. For example, catch his culminating scene with Hopkins, the handshake of which means more than simple mutual respect. Happily, the movie's ending, though over-extended, is one of the most unusual and appropriate to a love story that I've seen.

All in all, the flick is mainly an arduous morality tale of one man regaining self-respect. There is a hint of a political undertone, especially with the cavalry and Indians. Nonetheless, I still remember the matinees of my youth fondly. So, despite the movie's flaws, give it a try - I can guarantee a bag full of eye-candy and a few thought-provoking notes that may stay with you as they did me.

When a Stranger Calls
(1979)

Can I Come Out From Hiding Now?
I'm still reluctant to answer the phone after 90-minutes of this chiller-thriller. Pity sweet teen baby-sitter Carol Kane, alone in a big house with two toddler kids asleep upstairs. Then the phone rings. It's a voice from the grave: 'Check the kids', it says. She shrugs it off, but the calls continue with the same creepy sound and ominous message before going to dead air. Now alarmed she calls the cops, only to find out the calls are coming from inside the house. Oh my gosh, who could it be? Suddenly I'm under the couch - especially when the kids are found bloody murdered. All in all, for this fan of the genre, it's one of the most chilling and compelling openings in horror movies that I've seen.

Following the first part, events shift after seven movie years to rotund ex-cop Clifford (Durning), now on the trail of escaped lunatic Duncan (Beckley) who he believes is the kids killer. But is he. After all, things remain too murky to tell. Fleeing from the relentless ex-cop, the suspect's trail is up trashy alleys and down grungy streets along LA's skid row. The mood itself remains bleakly uncertain. For example, we see the supposed loony Duncan act sensitively toward over-age bar-fly Tracy (Dewhurst, in a superbly cryptic performance). Still, Duncan does seem a bit unstable, (made more realistic by actor Beckley's declining health shortly before unfortunately passing away). All in all, this mid-section sustains the suspense in moody and compelling fashion, heightened by the slow tracking shots up and down the dismal hallways and alley-ways of the pursuit.

The ending too, doesn't disappoint as Kane reappears, now seven years older and married, ominously with two kids of her own. So hold on, for one of the best sustained suspense thrillers of that time or any time. Anyway, the wife's happy now that I'm bold enough to answer the phone. At least, I am for now.

Millionaire Playboy
(1940)

Flops, Hiccups or Not
After seeing the movie, I didn't kiss the wife for a week; call it Fear of the Hiccups and her good luck. Poor Zany, every time a girl kisses him, his throat goes wild. So now, to cure him, Dad sends the goofus to a remote lodge filled with young women who Zany believes are in their 60's but benefitting from youthful face-lifts. Obviously, hiccups aren't his only problem! Then too, Dad's got secret designs on forcing the owners to sell the lodge to him at a cut-rate price. One thing for sure, this ain't your typical plot-line, even for a goofy knock-about.

Too bad Penner and the script don't pull off the wacky potential, particularly the hiccups and the many cute girls. Instead, Penner comes across as a repetitious, third-rate cross between Jerry Lewis and Lou Costello, with a schtick that soon gets one-note and tiresome. Then too, the script lets him dominate events, while the main chuckles come from supporting players, like Feld and Kennedy. Also, the attempt at sight gags, like the poorly edited run-away boat, fail to raise the laugh level.

Anyway, whatever Penner's earlier comedic accomplishments, it's not surprising that this entry has been assigned to movie oblivion, and that's despite TMC's worthy effort of giving even the most obscure one more try. So, thanks TCM, even for the losers.

Father Knows Best: Kathy's Romance
(1958)
Episode 3, Season 5

An Ace Episode
The 30-minutes is a Kathy (Chapin) showcase. She really gets to show her cutesy chops as she brings young Burgess(!) home to meet the family as her first boyfriend. Except for Bud, they welcome him. But with a name like 'Burgess' he ain't your typical kid. In fact he's very precocious, preferring microscopes to about everything else. And when he tells Kathy what beautiful yeast cells she has, I was really wondering. Anyway, for some reason, he latches on to Father, asking him all sorts of presumptuous personal questions, like details about his work. Now Kathy's been shoved aside in the process and Dad's being hounded. So what's going on, and how will Dad's dilemma be resolved since he doesn't want to hurt Kathy.

First part is cute and amusing with Chapin at her best . In fact, the whole episode is expertly performed. On other hand, the second part becomes poignant with an appropriate upshot to complement the first part. So don't miss it.

Stagecoach
(1939)

Wayne Goes Up The Ladder
No need to recap the plot following 400+ reviews.

Beautifully crafted Ford western, from the magnificent landscapes, to the fine ensemble acting, to the colorfully edgy screenplay. No wonder the 96-minutes is considered a screen classic. It certainly shot Wayne up the industry ladder from his usual B-movie cowboy flicks. Here, he shows a soft side along with usual tough-guy determination. In short, it's the actor showing an emotional range that later iconic roles unfortunately diminished. All in all, as his Ringo shows, he was a better actor than usually given a chance to prove.

Even though Wayne is best remembered, it's really an ensemble cast with no central character, unless maybe Trevor as a tarnished hooker shunned by respectable folks. And what a collection of engaging characters they are, so nicely interwoven by director Ford, and contributing greatly to the film's iconic status. Though Mitchell's eternally tipsy drunk is sometimes over-the-top, he's a really colorful presence that helps spice-up the entertainment. I guess if there's an overall story moral, it's about the Importance of strength and determination in getting you where you need to go, like the passengers on their way to Lordsburg (check out that name!).

Anyway, several notes in passing. Note the only really dislikable character among the traveling ensemble is imperious banker Gatewood, probably a reflection of the Depression era 1930's. Note too the attention to detail by actually blowing a wind on the stagecoach passengers, their hats struggling even while tied down. That's a realistic detail usually ignored by westerns of the time. But most of all, I could never understand why the hard-riding Indians didn't just shoot the stagecoach horses instead of paralleling them as sitting ducks for stagecoach shooters. Heck, you don't have to go to West Point to understand that tactic. But then, if the Indians did, how many cowboy flicks would have bitten the dust.

All in all, for this former front-row kid turned geezer, it'a heckova Ford triumph along with a Wayne as seldom seen, and that remains so even though times have changed.

Outlaw Women
(1952)

Wacko, Before It Relents
It's a wacky premise that unfortunately settles into the conventional following a promising start. So, can women actually run an old-West town and keep the men subdued -- talk about reversing the usual gender roles and in a western, no less! Now, If anybody can put the women on top, it's the likes of the great Marie Windsor as Iron Mae McLeod. That name tells you the rest. Then too, was any actress better at foiling men than the imposing Windsor, what with her knowing eyes and sly demeanor. I'll never forget her ruthless put-down of a hapless Elisha Cook Jr In that great 50's heist flick, The Killing. Here, she does her job, but I get the feeling that for whatever reasons she's only going through the motions in a role with so much Windsor potential.

Anyway, once the action leaves Iron Mae's saloon to concentrate on a bank heist, the men take over and the engaging battle of the sexes fades. Maybe the writers weren't sure where to go with their touchy premise. Nonetheless, for laughs, there's bartender Uncle Barney (Billy House) always ready to sell any dry throat his ugly patent medicine instead of a whiskey. On the other hand, for the guys there's plenty of eye candy in a saloon that looks more like modern Vegas than a dry western gulch. But who cares, what with all the bare legs and fancy costuming.

All in all, I'm disappointed the screenplay didn't follow through with that promising premise that still has relevance, given the modern women's movement. And, oh yes, if you're feeling coldish and a funny looking, fat guy offers you a miracle tonic called Blackfoot Balm, don't take it. Please, don't take it.

Calendar Girl
(1947)

Tries To Do Too Much
Overcrowded and generally undistinguished Republic musical. Nonetheless, it does have its moments, like the opening hook with Frazee frazzling the boys, or McLaglen's feisty fireman spicing up the screen. Too bad the rather frantic musical scenes don't reach highlight status; after all, the flick has its hopes as a musical. And what's with the many distracting characters just popping in and out without any set-up -- I wish we got to know some better. Then too, what's the big deal between Boston and New York that takes up too much dialogue time. After all, there are many other states sitting among audiences then and now.

The plot itself turns on which guy Frazee will end up with, Ellison or Marshall. Frazee is aptly lively and sweet, but her two suitors are on the forgettably bland side. (Good thing Ellison went on to matinee cowboy movies.) And get a look at the fully-clothed calendar girl so scandalous for 1900; a Playboy version it ain't, but then styles and mores do change.

Anyway, I think the screenplay could have used a lot of sorting-out and a better musical score, if that were possible given scheduling demands. As is, the flick's overall obscurity is not surprsing. All in all, it's not surprising that Republic specialized in cheap cowboy flicks during this same period. So, "Hi-Yo, Silver"!

The Phantom of the Opera
(1925)

I'll Attend This Scary Opera
No need to recap the plot following so many other reviews.

A ton of visual imagination, along with the iconic Chaney and the underrated Philbin, help lift this silent horror piece to classic status. Hard to believe the whole thing was shot on a single stage at Universal, (IMDB). What with the huge musical platform, surrounding galleries, and jagged Paris tower, the crews must have worked triple overtime. Sure, Chaney's monster mug is scary as heck, but note the earlier humorous touches, along with the twirling cuties that offer unexpected touches to what follows. Anyway, if you see only one silent, this is an outstanding one to catch. The version I saw (TCM) was visually quite clear and easy to watch.

(In passing - growing up in Chaney's home town of Colorado Springs in the 50's, my dad and I used to pass what was said to be the former Chaney home on the near west side, a modest one-story abode and a long way from Beverley Hills. Apparently, his parents were deaf and dumb, while the Springs, at the time, had one of only two Deaf-and-Dumb schools in the country. Looks like the son learned a lot more with his parents than just silently communicating with them. Thanks Mom and Dad, and especially, Lon.)

Road to Bali
(1952)

On The Road To Nutty-ville
It's on the road to Madcap with funsters Hope and Crosby. They're escaping to Pacific island Bali from an angry girlfriend chasing Hope, but for them it's like going from frying pan to fire. The island may have the luciously sweet Lamour as princess, but it also has lustful gorillas, an angry volcano, and hungry cannibals. So what are our two refugees from Hollywood to do. Worse, which silly Lothario is going to win Lamour's marital affections and stop clobbering the other in the process.

Wow!- the flick's lushly produced in vivid Technicolor with hundreds of extras, all of whose effects surprisingly never leave greater LA. It's Hollywood magic the whole way with plenty of chuckles, especially when the flower bedecked girl gorilla carries off a panicked Hope - (I wonder if censors wanted a marriage ceremony first). Then too, the boys never let us forget that it's all really just a movie -- with many quips from the guys toward the camera, even saying it's time for a popcorn break, down to the hilarious final caption that's like nothing I've seen.

Note too, the absence of camera close-ups, showing medium shots the whole way. I wonder if there was a reason for the departure. Then too, there's that exploding volcano that looks like a stab at 3-D which came along the following year (1953). On the meagre downside are several highly forgettable songs, which at least don't carry over. All in all, I suspect the showy production was Paramount's effort at revitalizing the popular series in face of that new rival -- Television.

Anyway, it's a fun-filled south seas adventure featuring the usual Hope-Crosby knockabout, this time on a lushly filled canvas that's bound to impress, even after all these years.

Blithe Spirit
(1945)

Needs a Cary Grant
Too bad Cary Grant declined (IMDB) the role of flummoxed husband Charles impishly taunted by his ghostly ex-wife in this comedy flick. Grant could have given the role the comedic nuances needed to complement nut-cases Rutherford and Hammond. Instead, there's Harrison in the role, a fine dramatic actor in his own right, but here a listless backdrop doing nothing to broaden the comedy canvas. His casting suggests that writer Coward had great sway over the production (IMDB), wanting the outcome to amount to little more than a filmed stage play. But what makes for a humorously enclosed stage play with sophisticated dialogue doesn't necessarily translate into an equally funny movie. And I think that's what happened here, even though director Lean defied Coward with that humorously apt ending. Good!

Anyway, the flick does have its moments, especially with the greenified Hammond, whose unbidden spectral presence sort of comes and goes. Moreover, her ghostly hold on beleaguered Charles is perfectly embodied by that impish expression. But then she is his ex-wife with grudges to bear. Then, of course, there's Rutherford who hell-raises from both above and below. Her relentlessly boisterous mugging does fuel the dialogue with needed life and laughs, but also gets tiresome through sheer repetition. Still, I marvel at the ungainly 53-year old's ability to manage athletic-type antics. Good for her.

All in all, the premise of a ghostly ex-wife teasing her re-married hubby is loaded with comedic potential. Maybe I shouldn't say it, but I think Hollywood and a first-rate comedy director could have handled the movie much better than Coward and the put-upon Lean. The prestigious playwrite may have impressed the literati with his learned dialogue; but the fact that the movie was box-office flop (IMDB) suggests that appeal didn't carry over to a broader audience. All in all, I'm not surprised, even if Rutherford fans find it a rollicking feast. So, 'Ab-ra Ca-dab-ra', Madame Arcati.

Dracula
(1931)

I'm Keeping My Windows Shut!
What can I say after 9-decades of praise for this horror masterpiece. After seeing it for the first time since I was a kid and having never opened windows as a result, I can only say the praise is well deserved. It shows today's horror makers that blood, non-stop action, and grisly color are not the only way to create gruesome effects. Here it's other-worldly effects of b&w that create a sinisterly enveloping world where something like Dracula can rule. And how about those great studio sets that intensify an atmosphere where evil can thrive, especially that grand staircase near movie's end, unlike anything I've seen before or since.

Then too, Lugosi so perfectly embodies the role, it may have typecast him for the rest of his career, but it also thrust his frozen features into Hollywood's pantheon of horror icons. To me, the flick's not without flaws: Manners' Harker is much too bland for the intensity, while storyline and dialogue seem choppy at times, perhaps because of the many edits the original has gone through in 90-years (IMDB).

Nonetheless, framing the incomparable Lugosi against such visuals guarantees a lasting power only few films manage, attesting also to the enduring power of b&w imagination. So sit back and shudder, while modern filmmakers should maybe take note.

Suspense: The Doors on the Thirteenth Floor
(1949)
Episode 12, Season 1

Darn That Door!
Sally is such a sweet huggable young woman. Trouble is she lives on the 13th floor (note the number) amid neighbors like grouchy Crane, unstable George, mean Andy, and Sally's elderly aunt Agatha. We're rooting for Sally, everybody's girl-next-door. But then one day, aunt Agatha's doesn't answer her door, and someone locks Sally in her own room and she can't get out. In fact, it looks like she's trapped. So what's going on, who's responsible, and how dire is her situation.

I agree with reviewer Hefilm - the entry's a superior set-up, but with an unfortunately weaker conclusion. Nonetheless, the suspense from the first part kept me riveted. So give this 1949 entry from a really durable series a look-see.

The Flying Deuces
(1939)

I Hope They Were Paid By The Head Bump
Now I know why there's no more French Foreign Legion - after all, who could survive our comic duo's peerless antics. Just give skinny Stan a sloped ceiling and you'll get more headbutts than the Pittsburgh Steelers, or give them a bi-plane and they'll do more stunts than a flock of magpies. So who's surprised that after 75-minutes of the nutty twosome, the Legion will never be the same.

The silly antics fly thick and fast. Sure it's repetitive physical humor that can get predictable, but the set-ups here are cleverly done. And catch Ollie's glances at the camera after the latest misfire, as if to say 'Can you believe it'. No, Ollie, I can't, but then humor is one of the few things that transcends logic. And, oh my gosh, who's that chief legionire chasing the guys. Why, it's none other than Ming The Merciless (Charles Middleton), and I still haven't come out from under the bed following those Flash Gordon serials of yesteryear. So, better run faster guys or that evil voice from the crypt will catch you. But thank goodness for the lovely Jean Parker who's real eye-relief from all those ugly guys, especially, when I needed some.

Anyway, for me it was a lively laugh-fest, while even the wife came in wondering what all my cackling was about. Then too, there's an ending that's both unexpected and a final laugh. So, if you haven't seen the flick, do! Especially, if you like your humor on the knock-about side.

Monster from the Ocean Floor
(1954)

Better Than Expected
Plot - Legend has it that a one-eyed monster lurks off Mexican shores, though most non-hispanics don't believe it's real. Despite her science-imbued male friends, adventurous Miss Kimbell believes the legend and attempts to seek it out, along with boy friend Ward in his real-life one man submarine. So who will win out, woman or beast.

Seeing the name Corman as producer, I naturally expected a cheeze fest, having spent my teens imbibing his silly drive-in roasts. Surprisingly, that's not the case here. In fact, the undersea monster gets only a couple of cameo appearances and are not that badly done. It may be that an exceptionally cheapo 28-grand budget limited the effects, along with a storyline that takes place almost entirely along the LA area coast. Though limited in area, these scenes from both top and bottom of the Pacific, are well-done and keep viewer interest alive amid a skimpy script.

Of course, it helps guy viewers that the curvaceous Kimbell, gets a lot of screentime in a goody swimsuit. Plus, she's quite a good actress, in an unfortunately brief acting career. In fact, the script delivery amid the five principals is much better than the usual Corman brand. Then too, the science vs nature comments make up something of an unusual Corman subtext, along with the female hero, a move in advance of its time.

Despite the comic book title and skimpy budget limitations, the flick almost amounts to a respectable B-movie rating. Clearly Corman is feeling his way along at career's outset; that is, before he found riches serving up fun-filled late-nighters to drive-in freaks like me. I'm glad that as of 2021, he's still with us. Good.

I Walk the Line
(1970)

Slow, But With Revealing Location Photography
There's a good movie buried somewhere inside the rather aimless screenplay. Unfortunately, the results look more like a frozen-face Peck showcase than an engaging narrative, and one I doubt that he treasured.

Anyway, what's going on with stiff-backed southern sheriff Tawes (Peck). Clearly, he's bored with a dutiful wife, a routine family life, and an unexpectedly quiet professional life. Maybe it's also because of the remote and church-going southern county he officiates over. But then he meets Alma (Weld), daughter of the county's only law-bender, the illegal whiskey-making McCain family. Now he happily sees a way out of boredom.

Pairing an aging, expressionless Peck with the likes of teeny-bopper, sex-kitten Weld does remain a stretch. But then it is the immensely cuddlesome Weld who's wrapping her arms and puckering her lips, so what guy could resist, even a repressed Sheriff Tawes. Now, the nub of a good plot is whether Alma's just using the uptight sheriff despite her apparently sincere behavior. After all, her father's an illegal whiskey distiller in a shack where she lives with her dependent brothers. So, is Alma merely conaiving to use the smitten Tawes to overlook her family's illegal behavior. Unfortunately, the 90-minutes fails to play up this promising kernel, while actress Weld shrewdly gives no indication of hidden motives. But instead of this attention-getter, the screenplay gives us a lot of scenic roaming around the hills, while hot cars bullet roar around the back roads. That helps, but doesn't compensate.

What the flick does have is a good look at the impoverished shacks and countryside of the rural South, about as far from Hollywood Blvd as you can get. There may be a studio set somewhere in the mix, but I sure couldn't spot it - good for director Frankenheimer.

Anyway, except for die-hard fans of Peck, and hormonal-driven fans of Weld like me, there's little reason to catch up with this 1970 Columbia entry, despite the talent involved. Too bad.

Party Girl
(1930)

For Old Flick Fans
That scene of the big old car rolling onto the penthouse party floor as though it's an everyday occurrence really grabbed me. Then too, the guests acting like it's an everyday occurrence surprised me even more. Seems as though building elevators were big enough to lift any such cargo in those days. Plot-wise, the flick's got plenty of innuendo and filmy dresses, but never goes beyond that suggestive stage. Looks like even pre-Code had its unwritten limits.

Anyway, the interweaving of sexual scheming and big business likely pleased Depression-era audiences already made cynical by the Wall Street crash of '29. Fairbanks is the hormonal pidgeon of sexy Barrie's plotting, even though he likes the virginal Lott more. Nonetheless, there's riches to be made once the party girls expedite big money deals. So guys and gals do party-on. Meanwhile, Fairbanks' movie dad, St. Polis, makes a fittingly imperious business kingpin, lording it over his listless son. How the various schemes play out makes up the often ragged storyline.

Anyhow, the party girls are all richly upholstered and do well, unlike Fairbanks Jr who appears too bland to score beyond his illustrious family name. Overall, it's a revealing flick at a time when the free-wheeling 1920's were coming to an inglorious end.

(In Passing - on a more somber note: too bad actresses Barrie and Prevost had such sad early ends, {IMDB}. Happily, their contributions live on.)

Twilight
(1998)

Echoes of Noir
The mystery plot harkens back to the noirish 40's, minus the cussing and sex, of course. Newman's a retired cop and ex-PI out to help his deathly ill buddy Hackman, who's helped him by letting Newman stay in his family's house. But then, Newman sort of takes over family duties by cuddling up with buddy Hackman's wife (Sarandon) and daughter (Witherspoon). But how unhappy in reality is the husband; surprisingly, it's not clear. Then in a seemingly ordinary request Hackman sends his buddy to deliver a package to a stranger, and the thread soon tangles into a bloody and mysterious web. So how will things play out, since people and events are not always as they seem.

Good payday for aging actors Hackman, Garner and Newman. In fact, it's the latter as seldom seen. Instead, the usual Newman charm gives way to a relentlessly morose, unsmiling expression, revealing little of his character's inner thoughts which is as it should be. Meanwhile, Sarandon shows some understated chops and bare skin in a sneaky role. But don't expect a lot of action, though guns do pop off from time to time. Still, Newman and peers are a little too senior to be seen throwing around the usual detective story punches. All in all, there's enough basic interest to keep viewer attention, though the story (told in Newman's retrospect) does get difficult at times. And that's along with good skyline photography and some early-on skinny dipping. Anyway, for us old-timers, it's an especially good chance to catch up with Hud, Maverick, and Popeye Doyle in their balding years, together in a movie with just the right title.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
(1982)

It Ain't The 1950's
Oh my, there's enough lively bounce and constant sex play to keep Las Vegas lit up for a week. Credit the movie-makers with keeping character alive during all the teen hijinks, especially Sean Penn's wacked out Spicoli. Worse, Penn looks like he's really living the part, too spaced out to care about rules anytime or anywhere. Add to the character color old-timer Ray Walston as Mr. Hand, the prison warden history teacher, and Judge Reinhold as Brad who can't hold a Burger King type job, especially when duded out as a pirate. Together they shine through the teenage mayhem, a real acting challenge. And shouldn't forget the two sweeties Leigh and Backer whose searching innocence harkens back to earlier times. As teens, it's their uncertain sense of self-worth that gets the flick to serious-up at times.

Speaking of earlier times, for this high-schooler of the 1950's an uncensored flick like this is hard to imagine, standard adolescent fare of that time being Ozzie and Harriet. So this was quite an updated education for slow seniors like myself. No doubt, spoofing elements do exaggerate this lively concoction, still there's enough common teen experience to undergird the spicy flavor with genuine substance .

Anyhow, it's a fun flick, realistic f-words included, though I expect many of my peers might be put off by the straight talk and absence of matrimonial concerns. So I don't expect the wacky exercise to be included at my next high school reunion. Too bad.

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas
(1931)

Light From Afar
Hard to rate this exceptional slice of silent cinema with today's features. Nonetheless, it's a perfect contrast to our current spate of special-effect extravaganzas, too often over-produced and padded with big name casts.

Instead, Tabu is filmed entirely in the spectacular south sea islands with an almost totally native cast, and tells the tale of a forbidden romance between a native couple as they happily roam the island. All would be well except Reri, the girl, has been chosen as an iconic religious maiden; now she must be separated from the crowd and can't be touched, especially by boy-friend Matahi. Needless to say, this poses problems for the romance. Thus, the question now is how will the loving couple deal with forced separation, especially in light of the tribal god Tabu that curses any believer who violates its dictums.

Wow, the flick's first part generates enough physical movement to light-up LA. The native boys must be born acrobats as they clamber over everything that moves or reaches the sky. Their abilities are impressive as heck. The acting also remains compelling, especially 17-year old sweetheart Reri who you want to both hug and root for. Then too there's skinny old man Hitu, the frozen-faced priestly enforcer, who's unblinking enough to scare Jack the Ripper.

On a deeper note, catch how the boy Matahi's unfamiliarity with a money economy when he goes to get a boat ticket produces story altering problems. The remote island natives may have a crude share-the-natural-abundance type economy, but that abundance appears to establish a harmonious society of lively spirits. We can only wonder what will happen as money-economy Europeans, already present as traders, gain a firmer foothold. Then too, note the decidedly non-Hollywood ending that remains, I think, something of a surprise.

Anyway, it's a great little movie and change of pace that shouldn't be passed up because of its age or lack of dialogue. So give it a try, whatever misgivings there might be.

Pride of the Bowery
(1940)

Gorcey's Pugnacious Showcase
Plot - Along with the guys, Gorcey gets sent to a forestry camp where he comes to exercise both his pugnacious boxing skills and a better inner self.

Oh my, only one skirt in the whole 60-minutes, and she doesn't show up until minute 35. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining Bowery Boys entry, giving Gorcey a real chance to parade his talents, especially his swagger. The plot's more dramatic than most, probably because there's no Huntz Hall for Gorcey to trade comedic swats with. Nonetheless, the rest of the gang's all there, this time as members of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), a government program meant to employ idled city boys into rural betterment projects.

Here the guys work in para-military fashion on forrest projects, giving them a chance to improve their skills for later employment, that is, if Roosevelt's New Deal programs can revive the larger Depression Era economy. In fact, the movie's first part gives us a flavor of what those camps were like. Importantly, such look-sees provide a lingering advantage for old-movie fans like me.

Anyhow, the entry may be short on BB's usual slap-happy antics, but it still keeps eyes glued, thanks also to director Lewis's fast-moving camera. All in all, the flick shows how Gorcey's many talents have been unfortunately ignored by critics too often absorbed with good looks and bigger productions. Too bad. Then again, I can always hope.

Stella Dallas
(1937)

Oddball Soaper
Please tune in to Stella Dallas, my mother always did, leaving me with vivid memories of the old radio soap opera. The movie that started the series is excellent of its kind, and I'm glad to have finally caught up with it. Fortunately, the flick only gets weepie toward the end along with a memorable moment of triumph. Meanwhile, Stanwyck delivers an ace performance that should have pushed her way up the Hollywood ladder, and that's along with an ultra-sweet Anne Shirley, a dignified John Boles, and a boisterously obnoxious Allen Hale.

So can working class Stella boost loving daughter Lolly (Shirley) into a better life now that Mom and Dad (Boles) have separated. After all, Dad's now into a luxurious professional life with a new-found pardner (O'Neill), while mom Stella struggles with dipso Munn (Hale) in a life apparently going nowhere. But then, maybe Dad and Mom can re-unite after all. At the same time, the ending appears kind of surprising, given conventions of the day.

All in all, it's a slickly done production that never drags despite the parlor room thematics. And I really wanted to hug poignant teenager Shirley who does a fine job going through the early growing-up years. Note too how cleverly the writers dodge Boles-O'Neill suggestive live-in arrangement. After all, it's three years into Hollywood's Production Code. Anyhow, the 90-minutes amounts to an emotionally rewarding little flick that should have pleased my mother as it did me. So give it a look-see.

Four Star Playhouse: The Contest
(1954)
Episode 6, Season 3

Mainly A Matter of Taste
I suspect an entry like this is mainly a matter of taste. There's some suspense as we wonder who killed Lisa's (Chapman) former boyfriend, rich guy Beecher, whom she now hates. Detective chief Dan (Powell) is Lisa's current fiance; so, ironically he has to question her as a prime suspect since he finds her glove at the the murder scene. Then too, they're not getting along too well in private, sort of a clash of social classes: he's a self-made man, she's a born debutante. Thus, their conversations are loaded with barbs making me wonder how they could have ever romanced. But underlying it all is who killed Beecher if Lisa didn't as she emphatically asserts. Unfortunately, I found the eventual upshot rather weak

It's strictly a two person episode, filled with unfriendly talk, so don't look for much action or change of scenery. Nonetheless, the performances are solid, with Chapman showing why she was nick-named Slugger and Powell in usual professional form. All in all, you might give the half-hour a try, especially if you like barbed banter.

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