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Le voyage du père

Made in the mellow style of the middlebrow French cinema of the '60s, 'Le voyage …' gave to its lead an apposite character, and Fernandel makes a great role as a Jura villager who travels by train to Lyon, from the Gex station, to see whether his elder daughter does have the life from the women's magazines like 'Elle'; Fernandel's Quantin is one of the best characters of the French cinema that I know, and it's a complex role, very unusual also, not only one to boost the lead, but a true and unusual role, convincingly rendered by the player. The rest of the cast deserves being thanked.

Lilli Palmer was a distinguished lady, and here she plays Fernandel's wife, a very lifelike character, her too a complex part, and endearing.

Madeleine Robinson has a small part as the brothel's manager.

Michel Auclair is well-known, and not very likable.

Terzieff is great as the village teacher and Fernandel's sidekick; he belongs, in a very general typology, to Trintignant's type, and both, to J. Dean's, each of them, having, of course, his own peculiar style transcending what they all do have in common, anyway the rapprochement may be made. Noiret has a bit part, as the leftist malcontent, and by '66 he was already memorable.

The unusual fact is this: Fernandel could play a good man. And here, the good man was wisely thought-out and written. The story has a moral standpoint, that of the common sense. And this stance is plausible because the story isn't contrived, but takes facts such as they could be really found in the common people's lives.

People talk about De Gaulle, Mao, Vietnam, napalm, Hiroshima.

'Le voyage …' is stylish and thoughtful, the performances match the undeniable thrill of the story. We understand that La Patellière knew his trade, and that trade was, by then, despised and trashed by the New Wave (the New Wave theorists disliked such movies made for the lead's sake), yet it was much more than common craft, though in that epoch the mellowness was taken for granted, and disposable. If we term it craft, it was craft in the best sense. Seen one Saturday afternoon, this movie made me happy. This refreshing movie has common sense even in being heartrending, the script is thoughtful and the smoothness of La Patellière's style delights. I liked the atmosphere, the thrill of the quest in Lyon, those buildings and streets …. There are delightful _cityscapes of Lyon by evening and by daylight, a nice railway station in Gex, landscapes of Jura. And the main joy are Fernandel and Lilli Palmer.

Fernandel's character isn't just any person; on the contrary, he is the best person alive, as his wife is aware. This makes the movie one about an unusual character. And the lead knew how to be up to his task, and for him too it was an unusual opportunity, which he seized.

'Le voyage …' means much of what the New Wave directors and theorists disliked: centered on a beloved lead, directed by a craftsman, La Patellière, and having a _commonsensical conservative moral standpoint. Its beauty comes from being such a lavish movie, such an unusually lavish movie so carefully made, having a great lead, a great cast (Fernandel, Lilli Palmer, Terzieff who makes a trustworthy sidekick), an experienced director, a great story, an ethical standpoint with cautionary common sense, and great shows (Lyon, the mountains …); and being a movie about goodness (about loss, naivety, fashion, society, etc., but mainly about kindness), and an astounding one at that, makes it very unusual. You sense also that this very great player, Fernandel, wasn't ashamed of playing with a straight face his villager, he felt that his role was enormously demanding, exigent, and he proved to be the one who did it.

The President's Man

This is an old-fashioned movie, although the technology has a role: the satellite used to track the Columbian facility, otherwise there are '80s rock, a Vietnamese officer and memories of the Vietnamese war, fights in the Columbian forest …. The 1st scene is of Norris teaching about Bushido and the samurai's behavior. He has a daughter who's half Vietnamese. He meets again his Vietnamese enemy, the killer of his wife, in the Columbian forest; and maybe this unexpected encounter with an aged enemy is the decisive moment in the samurai's life that Norris was teaching about in the opening. The movie makes much of the training of the next man of the president, which is bland enough that even the few funny moments seem genuinely humorous. A president's man is assigned missions like rescuing the president's wife, or a congressman's daughter held hostage by a creepy cult, or a scientist kidnapped by the drugs cartel.

These assignments take the warrior in Rio, in Columbia, and even Vietnam is somewhat brought in the Columbian forest …. A silly script, lackluster and clumsy storytelling, and a bland role for Norris, here as a martial arts teacher, and what he has to do is look like a walking sphinx; and the story takes a very chaste view: sexless characters, no blooming romance, with the new trustee choosing the job, not, as one might of expected, an idyll with the Vietnamese liaison.

Like many of the '30s cowboys, like many of the '80s fighters, Norris wasn't an actor, but a showman. Fortunately, he doesn't try to act. So, if you enjoy his generic character, you will also enjoy his roles.

One may ask whether Norris didn't deserve a career's twilight more like Wayne's, i.e., more dignified. But did Bronson, or others, got one? This movie, with its crass pompous militarism, has been made for children. The fights are bloodless, the movie is enjoyable (if you need to see another movie with Norris, or are an unpretentious kid) and mostly mediocre; the dialogues, stilted and sometimes mindless, as when Norris attributes his disciple's indiscipline on his … survival instinct, when it was heroic impulsiveness.

I liked it for what it is, a modest unintelligent militarist show, a 3rd hand version of the Republican creed, the fights are exciting though ordinary.

Law of the Lash

'Law of the Lash' holds at least a double primacy: for being my favorite PRC movie ever, and for being my favorite B western; it is craftily directed, it has a reasonable and smooth storytelling, it is graceful and lively, and its lead was the wonder of this humblest genre.

The legendary St John was not so much LaRue's sidekick, as a 2nd lead, and as a player he was able of a consummate self-emptying in the humbling delivery of lowbrow slapstick, but this movie seizes the decency of his job. And each of them has been given room to display his craft. LaRue was cool also in his acting style, and he possessed one.

Ray Taylor and his two players crafted this exquisite, ideal B western. It means a staple of masterful storytelling, my idea of how a graceful western should be; it may seem ordinary, but it's flawless. Perhaps it was almost the twilight of the unpretentious B westerns, as they were about to be replaced, not dethroned, but given a new chance by the TV. Some quirkier TV westerns of the late '50s and early '60s are anticipated here.

The director was a toiler who never became famous enough to gain a bad name, or a derisive moniker, like some of his colleagues.

If to some such movies are primarily childhood memories, to me they are a grownup's leisure. I have grown up with westerns from the '50s-'70s, and these earlier movies are new to me.

Perhaps by the time this movie has been shot, the pressure of both silliness and didactic-ism had decreased, the carelessness and sloppiness of the '30s, hence the freshness. Yet 'Law of the Lash' is far better than more famous westerns of the '40s, and it means to the B westerns what some action movies from the '80s mean to their genre.


A honorable movie set in the aftermath of a fratricide war, an enjoyable B movie with a budget probably bigger than usually, scoring even a mild attempt at looking epic, it uses the same device of the conspiracy and spying, here dealing with the malcontents' attempt to declare an independent state in the West. All characters are cardboard, the plot seems trite, but some craft went into the movie-making. And I liked the wind in the evening scenes, its suggestion of refreshment.

In terms of the humble fun, the movie is as accomplished as could be expected; it seems a pastiche of A westerns.

Steele was a likable player: usually and not only at his best; here, he's a Northern cavalry officer, and it has been the effort of the player's father to establish him as a good guy, while his look would of indicated another type of roles.

There are black people, to whom belongs the 1st of the couple of songs, and Natives in a village, grateful to the administration and loyal if bribed.

The legendary President is a silhouette on a wall; which is simultaneously awkward and charming.

Some takes on these '30s kids' movies omit the fact that many of the plots relied on typical pulp tropes: conspiracies, disguises, treated in a childish and careless way. Many B westerns from the '30s were silly not because of their tropes, but because they used them clumsily, awkwardly, because they underused them though they thronged them. With the advent of the sound movies, new opportunities seem to have appeared for shameless hacks, who made countless graceless movies. But also some who had distinguished themselves during the silent era devolved in the '30s, and suddenly seemed outworn and sloppy, almost unworthy of the prestige they previously gained; in the '30s, the western almost abjured his nobleness, because of the tempting new market opened by the sound movie.

Not all the genre cinema regressed during the '30s; but the westerns did, and were devitalized, and nowadays knowledgeable buffs remark that directors and players seemed to become lackluster and clumsy.

Father Brown

a unique opportunity for a literary character: Ignatius Brown meets Flambeau
Flambeau reminded me of Lupin, and this movie is like a witty, graceful adaptation of a Lupin tale; the French inspiration is acknowledged. For me, it's one of the masterpieces of the free adaptations, on a pair with a few French works.

What it has is a delightful style, a consummate craft. This graceful movie has the plot of a Fantômas or Lupin yarn. Perhaps it might appeal to those who search for stylish renderings of such stories. It also suggests how would world look like from the standpoint of a priest, who evaluates without severity or identification, with a critical sympathy; the human world, and also the world of objects, caressed by Guinness' hands. The perspective on the human affairs is blessedly naive, appealing and endearingly fanciful. It originates in a highly intelligent recluse's reverie. Beyond it, one feels the political and social utopia of the revered storyteller and thinker. And I guess he would of enjoyed this movie.

Flambeau is awesomely played by a handsome Peter Finch. And as a priest, he looked a bit like De Niro.

As played by Guinness, Fr Brown resembles more the storyteller, the author, than the authored priest. Anyway, the priest being unexpectedly attacked by his sparing partner might of been an inspiration on the Pink Panther gag, with Cato's surprise attacks on his master.

A movie with Guinness, Peter Finch, Oury, it opposes a priest and a freelancer of the underworld, Flambeau, who, disguised as a priest, quotes the Bible but forgets to fast.

What is called playful means sometimes graceful; others, silly. Here, it is the 1st meaning.

Appointment with Death

lackluster mediocrity and subdued mastery
The cast was good: Ustinov, Gielgud, Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, Piper Laurie as the matriarch Boynton. Jenny Seagrove overacts annoyingly and should be counted among the least professional players here. I thought David Soul made a good role as Jefferson, he reminded me of Widmark. And it was heartrending and very unlikely to see Poirot quoting Gide.

I believe neither Cannon nor the director had a knack for this kind of puzzle plot, or for the social satire of a bygone foreign world. This wasn't something they could master.

The movie seemed to me devoid of excitement. While Gielgud was decorative (as much as he could afford …), the other oldsters have been subverted by the director's silly storytelling. Carrie F. delivers the only convincing performance, and here, as a passionate woman, she looked well in a Mimi Rogers way; usually, in these adaptations, the romance is indigestible, but here the passionate lady was believable.

The two breakdown meetings orchestrated by Poirot are undermined by the silly behavior of the suspects, who hug affectionately when reassured, etc., in a carefree joyful atmosphere; the phony confessions are annoying.

A mediocre movie, with uninspired direction and uninteresting characters, very unlike the literature it rips off. These strong, thoughtful stories would need equally strong directors, and this is why so many masterpieces of popular literature become mediocre movies. But such movies also give an idea of what most consumers do perceive. The movie makers represent a slice of the audience; many in the audience do not care for what is missing, the movie is faithful to what they understand, this is how much they get, and they are pleased with the movie.

It was made in '88 by Cannon.

Fragment of Fear

the thighs
A movie with Hemmings, Gayle Hunnicutt, Adolfo Celi (a serviceable supporting player), W. H. White, about insanity, severe delusions, grief, very accomplished unpretentious craftsmanship, it's not artsy, but stylish, lavish, colorful; the style is a European synthesis, not only British, but continental as well ….

Very suspenseful, one of the most accomplished genre movies, of an ineffable freshness; the sense of creepiness is as efficient as nuanced and sober. It has an undertone of distorted sexuality, the predilection for aged women, Bunface and the schoolgirls, the eerie but certain appeal of the aged ladies, those kisses; the focus is on eyes, mouths, thighs in their shameless bare luxuriance. Tim Brett's flat gives a very suggestive sense of the place.

The young women appear as naked thighs, and so does the seductress in the train, the temptress who knows the writer's address. Also, the leading character's 1st shot shows his legs.

Those thighs symbolize the access, not as much denied (by the women), as repellent. He feels threatened by the walk, by the bride's walk …. The male characters, beginning with the copper who visits him, are paternal symbols. They are burly. The women's thighs are viscous. The women are cold, tempting, indifferent, desired. The writer resents them. Force, desire, dream, deceit; he feels deceived, and resents health, the insanity proves a stronger temptation than the drugs he used to take.

In its depiction of the insanity, the movie shows the feverish phony cleverness of the delusion, with its crippling mistrust; and it's not a moralizing stance, but a clinical one, the twilight of a mind, clinically depicted. The addiction is a _crippleness, and the leading character ends in a wheelchair, i. e. denying himself almost everything, deprived of walk and deprived of rest, unable to walk, unable to rest, dominated by his wife, defeated. The puzzling plot has been meant to be dreamlike. The eerie, spooky story-line from the standpoint of insanity had a worthy career in the cinema, and occasioned other movies as well.

Both leads give apposite performances. It's impressive how both of them understood the requirements of their roles.

Gayle Hunnicutt is decorative, and her role required a bland act, she had to be a decorative doll. Hemmings made me think of a plumper and more urbane Dean; what might seem like overacting actually suits his part, suggesting the behavior of a psychotic, the feverish, sometimes frenzied behavior.

Maciste contro i cacciatori di teste

This Maciste installment is consciously goofy, occasionally macabre, and has beautiful landscapes and lowbrow quirkiness. This movie's cheerful goofiness was usual in the Italian Z genre cinema. It boosted not only such Z Peplums, but also westerns, horrors, etc., and if in some movies it's wry, in others it's simply unnerving and shameless. Here, it could of been used for comedy instead of laughable phoniness.

The degree of popularity the Maciste series had once pertains to the sociology of taste. It's a fact to be accounted for in sociological terms. Being at once so shamelessly silly and lively ingratiated it to certain audiences, and there are people for whom this suffices, is enough; similarly, some '60s westerns were no revisionist enterprises, but displays of lowbrow goofiness, disheartening to some but cheered by a naturally forgetful crowd, so that they have been sentenced to oblivion or disrepute by the very nature of their ephemeral breakthrough, the kind of grateful audience they had is always absolutely forgetful, yet movies are made for them too.

The direction has ease, perhaps by the very shamelessness of the job, which led to dis-inhibition, the script is better than the players, who are appalling. There could of been occasions for chilling weirdness and sensational appeal, like the village of the headhunters and then the ruined castle with the imprisoned king. It seems that terrorism isn't enough, and the headhunters' chief still needs political recognition from the old prisoner.

The cast seems cheerful and insouciant. The characters are islanders, the girls wear swimsuits, there are totems and painted fighters whose leader craves for political recognition, and the princess' tent has bright ornaments; the fights look wimpy, despite the few graphic quirks and macabre effects like the impaled heads in the warriors' village and the mummies in the ruined castle, that could of been rescued from the joyful silliness, but have been merely added, piled in '30s fashion. The insouciant goofiness may be epitomized in the ritual dance belonging to the wedding celebration.

The landscapes, yet, are beautiful, and worthy of a smarter movie.

The acting, if it can be termed that, is crassly bad, though the princess is awesomely cute and even has a sword-fight scene; she has a carefree behavior and an occasional consenting air which are delightful; but the whole cast seems merrily indifferent to the requirements of the script, and this can seem amusing, or disheartening, if one finds self-complacent, placid silliness, offensive.

La battaglia di Maratona

Why is this epic so good? Because it has J. Tourneur as its director, thus even in a genre movie the director still makes a great difference. This lavish epic is one of the best of its genre, doubtlessly because it has been directed by J. Tourneur, whose consummate knowledge and intelligent subtlety shows, and who restored here the glamour of the genre, somewhat irrespective of the actual script, as if a less schematic, more dramatic script was required, the one he got is passable, the political turmoil is well conveyed (dissensions between Athenians, between Greeks, the Persian threat), but a bit schematic; thus we verify the principle that the director makes the movie, because he makes everything come together and gives it style, even in the unpretentious genre cinema, where a good director is still needed, is still indispensable.

'Marathon''s style is very smooth, J. Tourneur taking the script as an occasion for displaying his mastery, thus giving it an almost generic and refined feel, very suitable for an eminently classical story, and highly representative for how the French generally feel the classical age. The evening scene, when Philippides visits the courtesan while the Athenian girls gather at an altar, is refreshing. Prior to the battles, the plowman has two fight scenes, one with a wrestler, another with the henchmen sent to stop his travel to Sparta. This might be the one s & s movie that, by its smoothness and elegance, doesn't resemble structurally the '30s B movies, like most other s & s installments do.

The travel, the messaging are a running theme. The leading character is Philippides, and the story ends with his triumph. The lavishness gives poignancy to the landscapes and the sea views.

The surreal look of the underwater scenes was ably emphasized.

Here Daniela Rocca reminded me of Stefania Sandrelli's look, perhaps the same youthful plumpness.

The leading bodybuilders of the '50s and '50s genre cinema were handsome, unlike many of those of the '80s and '90s; even Ursus looked like Dudikoff. The fashion and trend of having athletes and bodybuilders in suitable movies did begin in the '50s, but has been preceded by kindred fashionable movies, like the early epics and some jungle yarns, therefore something else was needed other than showing undressed bodybuilders to begin a trend and a fashion, and one could wonder why the '20s and '30s athletes didn't start this trend ….

There are avoidable anachronisms, like the style of Philippides' country home. Also, it seems likely that the director believed less in this movie, which results in it having the look of a trailer, of a video, until the Persians arrive, then the battle scenes, either on ground or on sea, are unrivaled.

Il gladiatore di Roma

watch for Piero Lulli and Ombretta Colli
Typologically, this is an adult s & s movie, carefully plotted, here the story resembles the 19th century novels about the Early Church and the persecuted believers, perhaps it's a 'Quo Vadis' rip-off, set during Caracalla's reign, with several subplots (two slaves of Cilician origin, their disinherited former master, a general dressed in black who's ambassador of the Cilician king, a dissenter who criticizes Caracalla's deeds). The Cilician general is named Astarte, and makes an awesome entrance, with his black outfits and authoritarian swagger.

Well written movie, nicely scored, and a willingness to deliver thrills. It's also atmospheric, with taverns, an inn, the aftermath of a hunt, and earlier an oldster drinking fresh water on his way to the countryside. A few players are remarkable: the general who tracks the enslaved princess, the woman in love with Marcus, both roles that give flavor to these movies when one happens to meet them.

Scott has been given a sidekick for humorous relief.

The fight scenes are the most exciting: the Praetorians' raids, the attempted getaway, the gladiators' training, the battle at the river; also, the violence is more accentuated, with the imprisoned Cilician princess being flogged repeatedly. The actress playing her seems believable in this role because she looks like an ordinary girl in distress and severely manhandled.

The floggings might though be misinterpreted, these movies have a traditional standpoint, and the cruelty's popular appeal was freely acknowledged, so these outbursts weren't consciously perverse but uncensored, just delivering what would impress the audience. The jealousy and sadism of the lady who owns the two Cilician slaves add to this impression of folksy truthfulness.

There's also an indisputable structural resemblance with the '30s B movies, also by its lowbrow, unpretentious sense of fun, one can sense that this movie-making has been informed by the '30s genre movies, and that style is here enhanced, boosted, exaggerated.

And it's actually a bit of a shame that Scott hasn't been given here a larger role, as he was indeed good, more than a bodybuilder, he elicits sympathy as a player.


a spectral passenger
A drama with Angela Lansbury as an adventuress, very typecast as a heartless girl, and by far the best of the cast, as she gives her role a very believable glimmer of sleaze; M. Stevens plays the righteous captain, and he's handsome and reasonably at ease, Knowles plays the renegade, and he's quite withered and outworn, drained, , his character doesn't as much choose honor, as he chooses to get rid of the poison ivy, and this newfound disgust should of been more gradual. Ankrum has a bit part. But for '52, when this movie has been released, this was certainly a 2nd rate cast. Fortunately, its plot is very unconventional and surprising, being written by Yordan, and the story is intriguing without being very deep, and as often with this director there's no depth of the sentiments, there are a few Z movies from the '40s and '50s, with seamen, that have much more dramatic depth, and in Dmytryk's movie the misfire was perhaps Knowles' unrequited passion, the director seems to have lacked sense for its human dimension, he was a mediocre craftsman who had learned the basics of the Hollywoodian show, and he misfires here like elsewhere.

Angela Lansbury has a great scene as she joins the pirates, when they discover the gold. She's billed 2nd and makes the most of her role, her strength being obvious in how she dominates the movie and makes it suit her performance. Her character is concomitantly spectral and freakish, like from 'The Master of Ballantrae'.

Gene Evans does a good role as a foment-er of mutiny. These are movie pirates, but colorful enough, check out the one who gets promoted 2nd mate after the mutiny. While Knowles is credible as a tormented guy, gloomy and unprincipled, he wasn't the best choice for this movie; if his character has the requisite bitterness, it's not only that I would of liked him otherwise, but it leaves an aftertaste of mediocrity. The renegade's awakening is somewhat subdued; but perhaps the player achieves a kind of resigned, unappealing dignity. Given the result, the director seems to haven't been kin on the sea dimension, and also to have been uninspired or mediocre with the drama; neglecting one, and clumsy with the other.

This is a refined and stylish movie, written by Yordan, scored by Tiomkin, directed by Dmytryk, who was artistically an old-believer; I write about him and his movies now and then. I think he gained his fame more by political option, than by his craft, which was fair but very conventional.

For some time, one might expect a dirty dozen story, with the assembling of a crew of scoundrels who are thus offered a 2nd chance, yet the story is very grim and quite sordid, and the sea doesn't really play any special role, it's just a sleazy tale well filmed; it's not the lavish epic promised by the poster, but a tale of betrayal and violence, with insufficiently deepened characters and a plot that's surprising because it contradicts the usual stock events and hints at sleaze and has a certain violence and rough characters, with their bare vehemence (and the motley crew is uniformly made of wicked hoodlums), not because it's inventive or striking. The sea isn't more than the set for the drama, until the use of the submersible, which occasioned the best scene of the movie; I return to the poster, with its promise of a sea epic, the film does look beautiful, but as a creepy drama, in another genre altogether …. But the director, whatever one might think of him, isn't everything, and especially not in a genre movie, and 'Mutiny' does give pleasure, and the director's craft should also be acknowledged, I liked this movie, and I believe it valuable for what it is, and it was refreshing to see the actress (the only woman in the movie, save for three partying girls at the beginning) in one of her early roles. She looks spectral, unearthly, spooky, in those uncanny evening scenes. But she gains her authority by overplaying what must of been a schematically written character: a shocking one, but without dramatic resources.

I enjoyed the underwater photography of the submersible. It was very pleasing for the mind, and I would of liked it to be way longer.

There's a sword-fight scene towards the denouement.

Dmytryk, though a radical in his politics, was very conservative and even old-fashioned in his movie-making.

La regina delle Amazzoni

dynamo Rod Taylor in a witty satire
A comedy with Rod Taylor, Ed Fury, Gianna Maria Canale and Daniela Rocca, it's slapstick delivered in an inspired style, lighthearted, witty and good-_natured; though the English title markets this as a Colossus movie, it ain't that. The witty script, the Aussie lead, the modern score give it its flavor, and complement the director's obvious craftsmanship.

Rod Taylor was a remarkable comedy player, and here seems to enjoy very much his role, and is deliciously at ease. Ignazio Leone has a supporting part as the funny Egyptian who once appears rolled in a carpet … Ed Fury resembles more Dudikoff than Eastwood. Here, Fury struggles with a chained bear, which somehow forebodes his future trilogy.

Gianna Maria Canale had indeed a queenly beauty. Marilù Tolo has a bit part, and the feminine cast is an almanac of '60s starlets. The amazons are worshipers of Tanith.

The movie is actually better plotted than one with Ursus, way more carefully plotted; there's also a subplot with pirates. You will see that the interplay of the genders isn't absurd, and the amazons behave often simply like the girls. The idea of women's dominions, of the matriarchy existed before in the cinema.

I recognized the waterfall from a couple of kindred movies I have seen these days, one with St Constantine, the other with Ursus. Also, the tournament seems to have suited a somewhat zany idea of Antiquity …; this is the 2nd movie with tournaments from Antiquity that I see this summer, after the one with Ursus, where they put warriors from Antiquity to meet in tournaments.

Ursus nella terra di fuoco

a Wallach lookalike: Adriano Micantoni
A fairy-tale flavored adventure movie with Ed Fury and A. Micantoni. What I believe to be the worthiest of mention are Hamilan the usurper's role and the spooky score. Also the tournament, and then Ursus enslaved.

Micantoni, who plays the usurper, reminded me of Wallach, and made the best of his scenes; he has one of the couple of the best one-liners of the movie: his comes after he has killed his wife, who refused divorcing him. The 2nd belongs to Ursus, when he thanks one of the guards for his advice.

The setup reminded me of the political westerns that were being made in the same decade, with the social awareness: here, a village of shepherds being attacked by the soldiers from across a lake, in a fight for resources, then a military coup, almost like one of those very fashionable for a time political westerns made in Europe …; but these are also from the fairy tales. Anyway, the story is well handled (though Ursus' idea of avenging the peaceful shepherds is to defy single-handed and challenge the new king, which promptly results in his arrest; the fact being that Ursus doesn't have a plan for avenging his people, but entrusts himself to a whirlpool of events, his single plan might of been of course to defeat the king in the arena, supposing that the sovereign would of taken up the challenge). The cast has a lot of clergymen, more pious and cautious than just, and a prophet; anyway, the high priest proves of some help to the insurgents.

The landscape is mainly dreadful, but I think I recognized the waterfalls from another s & s movie.

By the early '60s, the European kids seem to have got a peculiar education by movies like this, which is a fact perhaps less analyzed sociologically.

Costantino il grande

An epic with Cornel Wilde, Belinda Lee, Fausto Tozzi, and directed by Lionello de Felice.

It belongs to the dramas, or the dramatically ambitious yarns with an international cast, not all the movies from this genre were fantasy for the kids, and it has an effective score. Cornel Wilde has been born to play a tribune of the Empire, his handsomeness was in the classical style, that of Marechal, Mature, R. Harrison, and here he delivered indeed a hallmark role.

This romance has a few violent scenes: massacres on the battleground or in arena, tortures in the dungeons, with the aftermath of rapes, battle scenes. At least some of that world came to life, mostly by means of the scenes of violence, but also by the subplot of the centurion's romance, while the political intrigue seems more generic, and the Praetorians make a stronger impression than the senators. (My two s & s movies of predilection are '60s works by Leone and Siodmak; the 1st I have seen in a movie theater, perhaps 27 yrs ago, in another hot summer, the 2nd, set during Justinian's reign, I have seen twice on TV, and liked it both times. While I usually don't believe in non-American westerns, I also don't believe in non-European movies of this genre, because they naturally lack the sense of the events and atmosphere.) It's also an endearingly Pre-Conciliar movie, with legitimate Christian pride, and that standpoint has been carried on by the Italian TV biopics; also endearing is the 2nd leads' romance, of the Christian woman and the strongman Fausto Tozzi (Livia and Hadrian). The religious principles upheld by some of the characters suit apparently paradoxically the physical nature of the story. In other words, it's well to see that religious standpoint upheld in such a physical story.

As a character, Constantine is very occidental, the action takes place in Germany, in Rome, and on the way between them.

The violence is poignant. I liked the countryside scenes of Hadrian's tendering, Constantine's jump in front of the lion, the evening encounter of the Emperor with the usurper on the bridge; the battle at the river, after the meeting on the bridge followed by the vision, is intriguing and, like the whole movie, suspenseful. Some of the supporting roles are very good, such as the Christian girl, the Eastern usurper ….

This movie means an enjoyable experience, and a possibility for the human eagerness. I felt glad that the lead has been given this role, that he played a Roman general and then Emperor (later canonized in the East), he deserved the opportunity and also proved worthy of it, regardless of whether the movie has been successful at the box office, or not. Movies like this should be analyzed without being untrue to the experience as given, without being unfair to it and tear it.

The Fat Spy

somewhat mangled spoof, refreshing summertime show
This summertime musical comedy with Jayne Mansfield as the daughter of a tycoon played by Donlevy can be enjoyed on its own terms; by which I mean that its idea of fun was right, and otherwise belonged to its decade's trend, and the pop band was a honorable one. I laughed a few times. What's spoofed here is the trendy spy movies, and perhaps even their already released spoofs, and not the summer party musicals. The spoof, gathering pop songs (some gentle, other rebellious), summertime beach footage of partying youth, and an idea of a race for an elixir, a quest of youth (the oldsters search for youth, while the partying young people search for a treasure …), is anarchic and zany, even occasionally glamorous (the leading starlet), but overall opportunistic and meager, and not very inspired. Though, one feels good watching it. Why can the slapdash be lovable in a non-dismissive way, without contempt? Because what's human made conveys much more than can be subjected to an abstract ideal of art, it conveys qualities that can be effective even if those involved might of been absolutely unaware of their worth. On the other hand, this isn't a misinterpreted and unacknowledged masterpiece, but simply a comedy better than deemed.

The many songs aren't spoofed, or only incidentally so. Some of them are good, others passable.

Suitably, the spoof of a plot has been entrusted to the handful of proved actors; perhaps Donlevy's role didn't excite his sense of fun and ease as much as expect-ably, anyway he has both indoors and sea scenes, and Jayne Mansfield was actually glamorous in this slightly bizarre comedy. I liked the use of the cards. The few events happen in the 2nd half of July. Phyllis Diller's humor is even more lowbrow than Leonard's. While the comic principle was fancy, advisable and trendy, and remained fashionable and has proved sustainable for another almost two decades, the resulting show is opportunistic and slapdash. A new comic trend had dawned by the late '50s, it was anarchic and quirky, and it could suit subtle as well as very lowbrow comedy.

Each will have to decide whether the songs or the gags are the topping.


This timeless masterpiece is a sweeping epic drama, played by Donlevy (here resembling Gabin or Lancaster) and Ella Raines. The supporting players are exquisite: especially Ch. Coburn as the shrewd Quincy, and Anna May Wong as the witness who went into hiding and is unwilling to testify. Ph. Ahn has a bit part. The movie shows its audiences bourgeois life, small town life, and courtroom drama, even some tasteful Chinatown atmosphere, and everything with a sovereign neutrality and impartiality; and it has enough of everything. The occasional humor is suitable and authentically funny. And the scene of the crash looks awesome. In movies such as this, you can see that the late '40s style was indeed the '30s style come of age. Also, this one has no fistfights, no gun-play, nothing coarse, raw or bizarre.

Ch. Coburn's role delights endlessly, and his stylish performance made me eager to see him show up again.

As the runaway victim of a murder attempt, then as the mechanic, Donlevy finds that breathtaking style that Gabin mastered. He resembles Gabin, and also Lancaster.

Ella Raines has the highest class.

The players honored a movie that in its turn honored them. This one has been made in a spirit of magnanimity.


An indie drama with Franchot Tone and Jean Wallace, and I would say that their acting was unexpected, not as in whimsical, but as in refined, inspired, refreshing and suiting the movie; she has an appealing dynamism, and is very gracious in a scene when she talks with the conspirators.

Franchot Tone looks somewhat like J. Depp (but plays way subtler). After Barbara was killed, Malloy seems a bit heartless, a bit insensitive and indifferent. One of the politicians had defined him as a tough guy, and indeed he does a fight scene, with an intruder whose knuckles he takes and then shows to the providential and populist angel of politics.

I think it looks like an indie movie. I enjoyed it. It's experimental movie-making not only because of the cameos, but also in its style, an intelligent and quirky one: dry, unadorned, effective and graceful.

It also suggests a comparison with European '70s crime dramas.

Anyway, the plot seems vague, the opposite of a '30s crime movie about sinister conspiracies, etc.; the style is ironic and well mastered. This aloofness, the distancing are deliberate, achieving a comic book atmosphere. Tone's performance is vivid, but all the characters, the prosecutor included, are made to seem cryptic. The indoors scenes have a smoldering appeal: the rooms, then the museum.

The countless cameos are red herrings, and serve in fact to suggest mirrors, a play of mirrors.

Even today, it's misinterpreted by many, and it deserves a reappraisal; it requires a taste for starkness, for unadorned movie-making (this, despite the misleading offering of cameos). And it makes a welcome treat for those curious to see the leading player in such a role.

Its dismissal is due to the audiences' bad habits (of dismissing what they have been told to); one can question its aesthetics, but not without acknowledging that it certainly has one, as it was not an assemblage of cameos, but an experimental work.


sensational, breathtaking performance by Burr
A crime drama with Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Burr (who got billed 4th, but plays the 2nd lead as a psychotic detective), and directed by Toth, and the foremost highlight is the style in which the leading character is played, an acting style which very much grounds the events and balances the story; the character's initial sloth doesn't involve despair and hopelessness, so that the two types of characters, the settled bourgeois and the feverish oddballs (the mistress and the detective) don't reach each other _innerly. But this isn't inadvertent and also suits the plot's realism, as the nascent liaison is crippled, disrupted, repressed, almost like stillborn. Burr provides an astonishing performance (that makes Mitchum's otherwise deservedly celebrated pair of kindred roles seem childish and harmless by comparison).

Acknowledging the awesomeness of Toth's crime movie, the decisiveness of Burr's input has to be championed as well; his performance earns him a special merit. He makes this movie what it is. His handsomeness benefited of intelligence, burliness and glamour. He takes part in making this movie a masterpiece from the standpoint of enjoyment.

The movie has a small cast, and the characters define each other: how Burr and Powell are defined by the woman, how she's defined by the detective. The characters are defined mutually: the weird detective, by the woman; the leading character, also by her. And she's defined by the detective. The actors' interplay has been as challenging as it's enthralling.

Powell reminded me of B. Willis, with his playful, amused, lightly ironic behavior, as in the family breakfast scene, or the evening reading; he brings his ease so that the character seems good-_natured rather than bored, he makes an almost cheerful bourgeois, more impassible than resigned (his avowal that he lacks ease would of suited more a character played by Stewart or G. Peck or someone abler of gloom). The acting styles are highly contrasting: Powell's initial calm and temperate sloth, then his indecisiveness, irresoluteness after wishing to confess that he has a family, and Lizabeth Scott and Burr's feverishness, his with that sharp artistic intelligence that made meaningful each role he has ever got. Here, his role is quite large.

The direction is masterly, and gives the movie its timelessness; Toth was one of the masters of the B cinema, revered by some, and his movies are the reward of the true movie buffs. The highlight scene to me is the lovers' meeting after he has recovered from the blows and she has found out that he has a family, that scene is so reasonably treated.

The cast choice proved refreshing, mainly by the unconventional lead. The romance seems a whim rather than a doomed liaison. The plot may seem a bourgeois misadventure, like in 'Cape Fear', with a bourgeois confronting the underworld, meeting and facing the disinherited, and indeed the romance remains crippled in a nascent phase, begins and is stifled, gets crippled, crushed, repressed, and perhaps this makes the emotional drive so true and effective.

Phone Call from a Stranger

A tearjerker directed in a lavish, leisured style by Negulesco, it has one of Shelley Winters' most playful and appealing roles. The flashback at the Carr Club, when Evelyn Varden remembers how her son's wife left home, is riveting comedy.

Gary Merrill, who plays the runaway husband, reminded me a bit of Mitică Popescu's resigned, calm style. He was the kind of man who would marry an intelligent woman.

Shelley Winters, Beatrice Straight and Bette Davis are wonderful.

Bette Davis is breathtaking as the bedridden widow. There's also a hint that her heartrending story was as embellished as the counselor's owns.

Keenan Wynn delivers a colorful performance.

Binky, Hoke, Fortness' widow are delightful characters.

The movie has a healing effectiveness, first of all because of its decent and likable characters, and is, indeed, a pinnacle of old school craft; therefore, it seems to have disappointed the leading American reviewers, but was a success at the Venice Festival. Crowther's quibbling, curmudgeon review shows that even experienced critics had came to object to flawless craftsmanship, and to be disappointed by goodness .

I have enjoyed it enormously, and felt restored. I have found it believable as drama, and reasonably classy.

The Judge

unnerving and scary art-house starkness
A drama with M. Stone (who again reminded me of both Wayne and Lemmon, with a distinctive trait of intelligence and lucidity), directed by Clifton, in the new austere style that has been taken up in the late '40s, and in fact it resembles many other tiny budget movies made in the late '40s and '50s, including the quirky script and gritty tone. It's also like a 'Twilight Zone' episode. The atmosphere is suitably boosted by an eerie score.

The movie is breathtakingly compelling; given its presumably tiny budget, it's an extravaganza in terms of ideas, with existentialist overtones like the scene of the straitjacket and the roulette (the red herring had been the previous suggestion that the lawyer planned to murder his unfaithful wife).

Stone plays a successful lawyer who has his own burden of a wrecked life; I was reminded of his supporting role in a drama made a decade earlier, about a merciless attorney. The other highlight is the bleak and unusual script, worthy of 'Twilight Zone', much more adult than M. Douglas rebelling in an exploitative early '90s movie once much acclaimed. This one isn't about a crisis, but about bleakness and nihilism. I liked the way Martin Strang dismissed his wife's explaining in the flashback scene.

There are some freakish traits of what some would call exploitation: the unfortunate boy, the serum, the killers themselves, the gambling.

The actress, De Mille's daughter, had the unflattering distinction of being chosen for her uncanny look.


roller-coaster romance
It has to be its lighthearted style that makes it so lovable. It begins as a drama, with the impressive presences of the trio of players, Burr's swagger, in that early scene when the undercover policewoman shoots the smuggler, then it switches to an action comedy, there's a humorous overtone throughout, even before and during the dramatic setup, with her attempts at luring the smugglers and gaining their confidence, at 1st the undercover copper plays 2nd lead to her, and then it's her turn to play 2nd lead to him, anyway the romance, late screwball, was masterly handled by players and director. It's a 'mission movie', also a 'chase movie' (undercover coppers being chased by the smugglers), which implies both road movie and buddy movie, and it has the asset of starting with the policewoman in the lead. The action doesn't rely on stunts, but on cheerfulness.

She was a very refined actress, and all three players come across as believable. Burr also was sharply nuanced, even in a character role like this one. He resembled a bit M. Sheen, and had Scott's robustness and vitality, but also his own _insightfulness, and a commendable dedication to the trade.

By the late '40s, many crime movies began depending on the Mexican exoticism. Here, the funniest Mexican gag is the Hispanic sheriff's household, mainly his daughter and the phone.

The distilled action comedy requires nothing but style, and a serviceable one; here, there are very careful shots, and a respectable cast. A clever script would of been an extra bonus. An idea of a delightful movie, unpretentious and charming, fun for an evening, with a conventional script, but with the right way of blending crime movie and comedy, as the '30s odd insouciance had been forgotten. It has the simplest script.

Desperate Cargo

an athlete
An action movie about a hijack, with Byrd foreboding something of Willis' outline, but in a dissimilar role, and Jolley making a sharp mastermind, though the hijackers' plans are relatively easily foiled; it's also very unlike later disaster movies, and as such it's not really more than a heralding of certain elements of a much later genre, here the plot is a bit meager, and most of the story-line is a romance, with a virtuous purser and a reluctant swindler girl. What this movie has is some sympathy for its characters, a feel for them, which is nicely mirrored and boosted by a delightful cast: Byrd, Mulhall, Julie Duncan (who deservedly got the leading lady), Jolley, Harlan, Edwards, Hagney, H. Depp. Blanca Vischer and Vallin have bit parts. For the two 3rd s of romance, the leading man was perhaps less glamorous than required, but then again the movie's style has a predilection for ordinary people, and this everyday look of the lead may serve it; I like him, but am fonder of other nowadays unjustly underrated action players of the '30s.

Young (the purser, the two girls, the racketeer) and older (the newspaperman, the dignified captain) players, and good character actors.

The few passengers are cordially nettled for their blunders.

The liveliest character is Ann, who tries to disarm a brute and is assaulted by him. And the actress' performance has a refreshing quality.

An otherwise knowledgeable reviewer contributed a goofy review; the player who takes down his coat and shirt, and 'strips down to his undershirt', is Byrd, not Mulhall. The newspaperman is played by Mulhall, not by Byrd. The cheerful Edwards is Thornton, not Thomas. And the henchman ought to be a match for Byrd, not for the mild Mulhall.

The undisclosed secret might be that this movie was aimed at an audience of women. The only convincing menace is the rape. The heist takes place on a plane that is hijacked and then set afloat, so there's no disaster impending, and no fright of the passengers because of an insecure flight; it might of been in a stagecoach or on a train, or in a railway station. Yet, there is an use of the sets, of the space, which gives this caper a modern look, more akin to '80s and '90s hostages dramas, than to '70s disaster thrillers …; the floating plane is filmed more like a building would be, with rooms, empty corridors …. But the gangsters, and with them the movie's director, seem to handle the heist clumsily, a bit loosely, a bit carelessly, like it had been an afterthought; instead of being the core, it's telegraphed, sketched, in what is mainly a romance (and I understand why this could be a woman's idea of a disaster movie, as the thing seems directed to a female audience). To viewers accustomed to 75 more yrs of heist movies, capers and hostages dramas, the heist plot seems somewhat silly. Is this all, the lead strips a bit and then swims near the floating plane? The thrust obviously was the romance, and not this reel of action. And the shocking brutality, if it may be called so, belonged to the rape attempt, not to the manly fights. The long setup isn't only a setup, but a romance.

I expected to like this movie much more than I actually did (but the more I think about this movie as a romance, the more I like it). But if you don't misinterpret it as an action movie, as the misleading title prompts you to, there is a romance, quite charming and subdued beneath the screwball.

The Return of the Whistler

runaway widow in distress
A melodramatic crime movie about deceit, imposture, greed, its asset is the plot, coming from a revered writer, and it takes us through rain, an inn, a mansion, a hospice, its direction is somewhat impersonal but reasonably skilled, mostly serviceable, the director being one of the labourers of that age, here he followed the age's new trend, the new style (I felt grateful for being spared of the allegedly humorous moments that plagued crime movies made a decade earlier …), in his rendering is defined by a light sobriety, and I think his movie would prove of interest to the writer's buffs, with the necessary caveat that it's more of an impersonal crime movie, than of a faithful transposition of a work, it has the plot, but not the writer's very peculiar atmosphere; I sympathized with the detective, I disliked the psychiatrist, and the leading actor reminded me of a C. Grant impersonator.

A shocking moment is the attack of the watchdog.

This movie could of been much more; the opportunity has been wasted. The feverishness of the writer's ideas has been mitigated, stumped, dimmed, blunted. Notwithstanding, the storytelling is suspenseful and dynamic.

The moments of artistic truth or at least authentic craftsmanship were expect-ably few; in the '30s, many directors preferred to crowd the tropes, to throng them, than to make good use of a few, they practically left them unused, and if here the writer's universe seems impoverished, it's because the director had this mindset. On the other hand, the tone here was sober. It already had been a radio program, a few yrs later it would of made a cool TV series.

Confessions of a Vice Baron

wickedness, whorehouses, late romance, repentance
The vice czar Lombardo, the dreaded king of the red lights, with his physiognomy of hypocritical scoundrel, resembles Heffernan from 'King of Queens', as he seems on the brink of laughter during his last evening on earth, more mischievous than repentant. This makes his repentance seem funny. Anyway, the player made a career in the trade, and this is his moment of acknowledged _classicalness.

The vignettes are starkly effective. The whorehouse where is imprisoned Judy has an unnerving look. A chilling glimpse of the whorehouse trade, which means at least some of these social dramas fulfilled their aim. That bare stone-brick labyrinth, and the procurer's resoluteness.

You will see also a starlet of the vice movies, Fay McKenzie, as a schoolgirl, lured by a procurer.

Lombardo was believable enough as a crook, less as a gang chief, and not at all as a mustached repentant convict trying to warn the audience. He wasn't even the guy to wear that mustache. Anyway, he claims to be a Balkan aristocrat of royal descent; be it as it may, the player looked streetwise enough.

If you have already seen the sampled movies, the samples may seem meager. E. g., one won't get here an impression of the unnerving _lividness in the movie about the gigolo. If the storytelling was sensationalist and lurid, it didn't make the vices appealing. I can't imagine why anyone would join a racket and start making a living from the white slavery after seeing this. The movie is a 'best of W. Kent'. It works like a promotional teaser for reissues of the sampled movies.

Not only vice movies, but all cautionary tales can have an overtone of meanness, something scary, necessary to threaten, to shock. Classic sermons for penitents, for penance, did have one. Where those sermons exploitative?

The Road to Ruin

Both this drama and 'The Murder …' are movies directed by Shyer, produced by W. Kent, and released in the spring of '34.

Shyer was the classiest of the directors who made movies produced by W. Kent; in that whirlpool of careers, the director has been given these humbler assignments, but he gave them dignity. One can identify his leisurely style, his predilection for showing people partying and for contrasting the parties of the young people with those of their irresponsible parents, the misguided joy of the young and the disgraceful hedonism of the aged. As in other vice movies, the adults are blamed for their carelessness. The parties he filmed have an overtone of sadness, perhaps foreboding trends in the '50s, '60s, and even an Italian master, yes, him to, in the dizziness of the parties he featured.

Here, the protagonist, Ann, has a much more emancipated friend, the vixen Eve, played by Nell O'Day. Paul Page plays the unscrupulous seducer, the lead's 2nd lover. Ann has something enigmatic, as symbolized by Helen Foster's silent movie style rendering, which was already anachronistic by then; the actress' style has a symbolic and inner liveliness, as required by the silent cinema, and comes across as effective in its own way, nowadays her emoting may seem anachronistic to some, but it testifies to an acting style shaped by the '20s, when the silent had other requirements, and one can often see in early '30s movies such casts, in which some of the players' emoting suits the silent's needs, while others' suits already the sound cinema. The satire has been entrusted mostly to the neighbors who are scandalized by the swimming party and to R. Tucker, Ann's neglectful father.

I enjoyed it very much.

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