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Silver Lode

Some Thoughts About "Silver Lode"
The real star of the 1954 movie "Silver Lode" is the movie's writer, Karen DeWolf, who had to have known that her Hollywood movie career was going to end as she was being investigated for being a Communist sympathizer. So DeWolf wrote this Western which has a villainous U. S. Marshal named McCarty - read McCarthy - arresting a prosperous rancher on his wedding day, which also happens to be Independence Day. DeWolf had originally gone to Hollywood to be an actress but wound up marrying cinematographer Conrad Wells in 1926. She split with him and then she started writing spec scripts, Her determination got her steady work in many studio "B" pictures for 20 years. This last movie script of hers has to be one of her best. "Silver Lode" has great talent in front of and behind the camera but it was made real cheap.

John Payne stolidly plays rancher Dan Ballard but you never see either his ranch or his large herd, 2,000 cattle. Besides claustrophobic interiors, much of the action takes place on a set that has offices and stores on all four sides of the block. In the chase scene at the end, when Ballard is running away from the townspeople looking for him, with bad intentions, there is never more than 30 or 40 feet between Ballard and the groups looking for him. That represents quite a change from the start of the movie, when everyone was Ballard's friend, when residents refused to cooperate willingly with McCarty. In DeWolf's version of the west, life was cheap and trusting authority got you shot. Something Ballard suspected all along.

Dan Duryea does his normal sleazy but tough job as Marshal McCarty. Lizabeth Scott, playing the potential bride, does not have to do much but look upset. Scott's movie career was going nowhere, Paramount had cut her from the studio payroll and this movie was just a payday. Dolores Moran, who plays saloon girl Dolly, has probably the best role of her career. John Alton was the director of photography and he made Moran look dazzling.

"Silver Lode" was Moran's last movie, she married the movie's producer after filming was done. In a twist ending completely unexpected, she is the one who saves Ballard from lynching. There is a real life twist to Moran's career. Moran had been under contract to Warner Bros. And she was to be co-star of 1944's "To Have and Have Not," with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The movie, directed by Howard Hawks, had finished shooting and Moran had a big co-starring role. Then, IMHO, someone made a call and the movie went back into production. Moran's part was cut to ribbons and Bacall's part made much larger. The movie no longer made any sense with all the new footage and, even more incredibly, why would penny pincher Jack Warner allow such spendthrift production spending. Someone in the East, probably a Wall Street friend of Bacall's family, gave the orders. Hawks was busy banging zoftig 18 year-old Moran during production but he did nothing when his girlfriend got shafted.

Now here is another connection to real life. DeWolf had been married to cinematographer Conrad Wells. On Thursday, January 2, 1930, Wells was a cameraman filming scenes from an airplane for the movie "Such Men Are Dangerous." Wikipedia. Two planes were being used and they both collided, killing all ten men aboard both planes. Among the dead was director Kenneth Hawks, Howard's brother. So, in "Silver Lode," you had both DeWolf and Moran - Howard's one time girlfriend - with personal links to that 1930 fatal air accident; with ten dead the worst in Hollywood history.

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter

Captain Kronos Kills Hammer Films
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (made in 1972) was one of five movies Hammer Films released in 1974, the year Hammer pretty much collapsed. Captain Kronos's writer-director, Brian Clemens said on the Blu-ray commentary track that he helped arrange the $400,000 bank financing for this movie.

Hammer thought so little of this movie that they put it on as the bottom half of the double bill release with Frankenstein from the Monster from Hell, the final Hammer film directed by Terence Fisher.

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is a crummy movie that is cheaply made, has a miscast lead character whose German-accented voice was totally dubbed in and which, in the form of Kronos's humpbacked assistant Grost, has one of the worst hero sidekicks ever. The sword duel scene at the end of the movie is long and terribly executed, amateur night. The whole mess looks like a TV movie, down to the flat lighting throughout. Cinematographer Jack Asher, where are you now that we need you?

Cadaveri eccellenti

"Illustrious Corpses" Does Not Have Much Going For It
Unlike earlier reviews, I watched "Illustrious Corpses" from the recent Blu-ray release of this movie, which was made using a 4K scan of the two best preservation prints available.

Assuming the blu-ray distributor, KL Studio Classics, did a good job in manufacturing this disc from the 4K scan digital file, this movie as originally filmed is a technical disaster. The cinematography is all over the place, lacking sharpness through much of the movie. The scenes at the end by the museum staircase are murky as all get out. "Illustrious Corpses" looks like a low budget movie. Where the image is clear, it often has the flat lighting of an old television series. Maybe cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis filmed most interior sets dark to hide their cheapness. But why was star Lino Ventura filmed so badly? Ventura's "face was his fortune," but you couldn't say that from this movie. In 1975's "The French Detective," Lino Ventura also starred as a police inspector who also goes against a corrupt political system. Then, Ventura's character is investigating the murders of a fellow cop and a political campaign worker. Ventura looked younger and had a real personality in the 1975 movie, shown when he talks about lamb stew with his partner.

"Illustrious Corpses" is a long, drawn out movie that goes nowhere. The chief murder suspect of the judges, Cres the chemist, is never seen. Even photos including him have his face cut out. The police mug shot card for Cres is missing his photo. What does this all mean? Your guess. In this movie, the Italian government must be on as tight a budget as this movie's director, Francesco Rosi. Ventura's detective, Amerigo Rogas, often takes long bus rides instead of driving during his investigation. I still can't figure out why the targeted judges were not put in protective custody. Rogas, not a political figure, gets a secret meeting with the head of the Communist Party in Italy (who doesn't use a bodyguard even though there are riots in the street) through the intercession of an old friend who is a top party member. How insane is that?

The American distributor, United Artists, never gave this movie much of a release in the United States. UA wasn't throwing good money after bad. For all of the detective's investigating, he proves little and accomplishes nothing. Considering the general incompetence most people assign to civil service employees, that end result is realistic. I still can't get over how the blind man sitting on a park bench had his German shepherd guide dog trained so it could go over to where Rogas was having a confidential conversation, stop and then stay there as the mini radio microphone around the dog's neck transmitted the conversation to the Chief Judge in his office a distance away.

I'll stop here.

Reign of Terror

"Reign Of Terror" Is Hollywood Movie-Making At Its Peak
1949's "Reign Of Terror" (a.k.a. "The Black Book") should hold a special place in movie history, since it upset the applecart concerning the Pablum movies Hollywood had been mostly turning out since the start of rigid enforcement of the motion picture code in July 1934. Director Anthony Mann's take on showing movie violence and also the cynical romance between the two leads, both enemies of Robespierre during the French Revolution, was new in 1949. MGM movie studio took note of Mann's work in this film-noir suspense drama; the studio hired Mann to be the second-unit director for "Quo Vadis" for four weeks. The official version is that Mann was just in charge of the burning of Rome sequence. I think that Mann also handled the chariot race sequence, with its ultra-violent killing of one of the chariot drivers chasing Robert Taylor's character on the Appian Way. The same sort of violence Mann inserted in Robespierre's soldiers chasing Robert Cummings character's carriage in "Reign of Terror." "Quo Vadis" was a giant world-wide hit that rescued the MGM studio. In 1950, Mann directed "Winchester '73," the number one box-office attraction for the year, AFAIK. A giant movie hit that set the pattern for James Stewart's later career starring in Westerns, including my favorite, "The Naked Spur." "Reign of Terror" was a production of Eagle-Lion Films, a short-lived "Poverty Row" studio that pretty much shut down by 1950. But before then, the studio and the movie's producer, Walter Wanger, made "Reign of Terror" on left-over movie sets of old Paris built for 1948's "Joan of Arc, which Wanger also produced. If you want to watch "Reign of Terror" in 1080p Blu-ray quality, you have to get the "Noir Archive" Volume 1:1944-1954 (9-Film Collection), where this great movie is bunched in with movies released by Columbia Pictures. In my opinion, "Reign of Terror" is a one-of-a-kind great movie, the type of original movie that only rarely came along from Hollywood.

Split Second

Nothing To See Here But Rutger Hauer And Kim Cattrall
As Great Britain endures a 2021 winter of record cold weather, we now have under the microscope the 1992 science fiction/horror movie "Split Second," set in the flooded London of 2008. Quoting master contractor Michael Holmes of the home improvement series "Holmes on Homes," this movie is crap. Nothing about the movie plot makes any sense. Rutger Hauer as a detective with a big gun fetish tries his best but Hauer is stymied by a near-zero visual effects budget and bad, flat TV lighting throughout. Kim Cattrall is along for the ride but I can't remember one line of dialogue she has. Another actor, Alastair Duncan, plays Hauer's new partner, an educated posh type, and he is totally out of place. Looking funny carrying a giant mini-gun. Duncan seems to have lately been in movies only as a voice actor, a career move he should have made before appearing in "Split Second." I watched this movie as a video, it cost nothing, so I am only out my time. The late Rutger Hauer does his best but he the odds are against him: bad direction, cluttered crowd scenes and a pretty repugnant story. Kim Cattrall, really fine in 2010's "The Ghost Writer," seems totally out of place in the grimy surroundings of this sci-fi turkey. I have read that Kim is a fan of Clint Walker. So am I, so I feel really bad for her for being in "Split Second," even if this movie gives her a chance to co-star with Rutger Hauer.

A Healthy You & Carol Alt

"A Healthy You" Was An Interesting Cable News Show On Health And Medicine
Always smiling supermodel Carol Alt somehow got the late Roger Ailes to greenlight her cable talk show "A Healthy You." I only saw a few episodes and the guests all knew their medical and health specialities. Unlike most other network news shows, guests like Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez and dentist Vesilin Shumantov did not mindlessly parrot the current mantras on disease and health. Dr. Gonzalez was an expert on treating pancreatic cancer with coffee enemas, a procedure that I am against, I am not a coffee drinker. Dr. Shumantov uses zirconium dental implants, not titanium implants, for reasons that I am interested in, having a front tooth cap break off. Carol even took us on a visit to her home on Long Island's East End, where she replaced her swimming pool filtration system with an ultra-violet water sanitizer. UV lights are in the news lately, using strong UV radiation to kill the gene-spliced CV-19 virion. On a barebones set, with crummy chairs and a budget of near zero, Carol interviewed guests who had an alternate take on medicine and heath. So naturally, "A Health You" got canceled, knowledge is the enemy of our controllers.

Pleins feux sur l'assassin

Passable Murder Mystery Helped Greatly By Fine Cast
"Spotlight On A Murderer" is a second rate detective story with a first rate French cast. The story deals with a count whose only asset seems to be his massive stone castle. Top billed Pierre Brasseur plays the count and he has a hit and run part, appearing for a total of maybe three minutes and not doing much besides taking a seat in a concealed room and dying.

For me, the big plus of this movie is Dany Saval's performance as the girlfriend of one of the potential heirs of the count. She has a real personality. Maurice Jarre composed the music for this movie and the score is blah, no match to his score for 1964's "Weekend at Dunkirk". Jarre later married Saval, in 1965 and, when they split two years later, he gave her the rights to his movie score for "Doctor Zhivago" as a divorce settlement. A great deal for her.

As to this movie, I watched the Arrow Blu-ray disc of the movie, a Gaumont restoration that has excellent image quality. At the end, when the killer is on the run across across the castle grounds, Edwige (Marianne Koch) tells Saval's movie boyfriend to shoot the killer in the leg. A shot through a high tower window to a moving target at least 150 feet away using a smooth bore single shot antique pistol. With a crowd of visitors to the castle next to the target. Naturally, the shot hits the killer in the leg.

If your time is limited, try to see "Weekend At Dunkirk" instead of this run of the mill mystery. Maurice Jarre's score for that movie is great and director Henri Verneuil was on a roll in the 1960s directing movies, hitting his peak with 1969's "The Sicilian Clan".

Cent mille dollars au soleil

French Truck Drivers Battle Over Mysterious Cargo In The Sahara Desert
"Greed In The Sun" is a 1964 movie that is a time capsule, a view of a world long gone, where expatriate French nationals live and work in a heavily Arabic North African country. This movie was filmed in part in Marrakesh, Morocco, where at one point the camera pans across the primitive tanneries in that city as the characters walk to their destination. In the movie, the city is identified as Le Moussorah, a name that exists only on the hotel sign and mile markers made as set dressing for this movie. The movie itself deals with the truck drivers who transport goods through the desert and over mountainous terrain . Those drivers include Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura, playing buddies who work for Gert Frobe's trucking company.

Gert Frobe's character has the best lines in the movie, but he vanishes after arranging for a newly hired driver to take a mysterious shipment of goods to Salem. Rocco, Belmondo's character, steals the truck and Frobe pays Marec (Lino Ventura) to recover the truck. Marec is not very good at that job, another company truck driver, Mitch- Mitch, helps him out three separate times when Marec has problems. Why Frobe did not hire the more competent Mitch-Mitch for the job is anyone's guess.

In "Greed In The Sun", the female characters are treated as second-class humans, dummies good for sex and not much else. The Arab characters are treated worse, lackeys there to serve their European masters. For that matter, the drivers don't come out looking very good either. Marec is a thug who demolishes a roadside store and Rocco is a greedy pig.

In France, there is on sale a Blu-ray version of "Greed In The Sun", a new restoration where the black and white photography looks crystal clear. French only though, and no optional English subtitles. For one scene at the end, there are large, old fashioned hard coded French subtitles, which indicates to me that the original camera negative is missing. Otherwise, we would have new subtitles for this short segment.

The American DVD release of "Greed In The Sun" is a disaster, using an older print, having large white hard coded English subtitles. The subtitles themselves leave out stuff and have errors. I made subtitles using English subtitles from an Internet site where the subs had exact timing but the translation and grammar were off.

The 1960s were the peak decade for director Henri Verneuil, a decade he ended with his great crime film, "The Sicilian Clan", a movie that also starred Lino Ventura. Thanks to computer technology, I was able to make a DVD of "Greed In The Sun" that combined the Blu-ray movie with optional on-off English subtitles in a nicer font, subs that I edited.

In this movie, the scenes that stand out for me are when the trucks drive through the center of the city identified as Le Moussorah. You see swarms of people walking all over the plaza with cars parked in a group on one side. 1964 and the location unit filming here showed how crowded this Southern Algeria city already was. The place looked really depressing, a giant flea market look to it, baking under the sun. No wonder people who live in crowded places like that look to migrate to nicer locations.

Gunsmoke: The Cabin
Episode 24, Season 3

Marshal Matt Dillon Finds Himself In Hell
Trapped in a blizzard traveling on horseback from Hays City to Dodge City, Marshal Dillon attempts to take shelter in a cabin. Only in the cabin are two psychopathic killers and their hostage, the woman whose cabin it is. Dillon finds himself a prisoner as well, constantly with a double-barreled shotgun pointed at him by one of the killers, played by a grimly smiling Claude Akins. John Meston wrote the script for this TV episode and also for the original radio episode of this story. The radio episode ends with Dillon leaving the cabin and, as he rides back to Dodge, commenting on how there was not a sign of life around, that the blizzard had left a barren wasteland. So in this episode Dillon is like a hero from mythology who travels through the Valley of Death and rescues a woman from monsters, then he moves on. The fact that the terrible experience has radically changed the woman's view on life shows that writer Meston does not believe that life tragedies will always wind up for the best. Only Marshal Dillon manages to escape unscathed from a TV version of an encounter with monsters from hell.


"Blindfold" Disappoints On All Levels
Aside from all too few location scenes of Manhattan in 1964, the movie "Blindfold" is a low-budget affair that wastes the acting talents of all involved in this movie. One scene stands out for me, as Rock Hudson's character is talking to the general, played by Jack Warden. They are supposedly flying in a turboprop airplane, yet their seats face each other, the window is covered by a long curtain and you see no one else, not even the pilot. Just a studio set, Universal wouldn't spring for filming in a mock up of a real plane or even in a real small plane. As usual throughout this movie, director Philip Dunne does an abysmal job staging the scene. What is surprising to me is that Joseph MacDonald, the director of photography, does such as bad job lighting up this scene and most of the movie outside of the scenes in Central Park. DP MacDonald usually was aces, as in westerns like "Rio Conchos" and "Alvarez Kelly."

The less said about the story, the better. This movie was co-writer Dunne's last screenplay and he quit while he was at the bottom. I still can't figure out why everyone made such a big deal about kidnapping the scientist, there is no explanation of what he was working on. Beautiful Claudia Cardinale wanders about the movie looking upset. In a chase scene at the end through a swamp, she wears a tight blouse that the director makes sure never gets wet, don't want to show too much of her assets.

The one word that describes this movie is "tired." No one wanted to do more then turn out about ten reels of film. Flat lighting, cheap sets, badly edited chase scenes and dull characters. Rock Hudson as a famous psychiatrist who has a problem with his girlfriend? This movie was a good way for Hudson to prepare for his later career on his series "McMillan & Wife," where cheap production values, bad lighting and shoddy writing were the norm for that 1970s series.

Except for the fine actors in this movie, I can't think of one positive thing to say about "Blindfold."

The Mystery of Mr. X

Movie Director Edgar Selwyn At His Peak
"The Mystery Of Mr. X" is the last movie directed by Edgar Selwyn, who had a career in theater and movies that could never be duplicated again. This movie is full of details that are more typical of a Broadway play than a movie. At the end, when the news photographers want to take a picture of Revel (Robert Montgomery) with Miss Frensham, he hesitates getting next to her and she pulls him closer. Earlier, after the police surround Mr. X, he tells superintendent Connor, "I hate you Connor! I hate you." The earlier part of the story shows that Connor justifies that low opinion, searching Revel's apartment without a search warrant, lying to Sir Christopher Marche and trying to solve the policeman murders by assuming the Drayton diamond thief is also the murderer. Throughout the movie, the dialog between Revel and Miss Frensham is literate and delineates the characters in an amusing and cheerful way.

Of course, there is no way this movie could ever be a stage play, since much of the action involves taxi rides, walking down foggy streets and other outdoors activities. This movie must have been a tough shoot, between the constant dialog (1,830 numbered subtitle segments in the closed captions) and the tracking shots for the studio lot scenes. The showdown in the warehouse building set at the end of the movie must have been really hard to stage and film, but Selwyn and company do a fine job at it.

I saw this movie on TCM and the print shown was worn, had frame damage in parts and looked like a 16MM dupe print. Not the best way to watch a movie that has many scenes shot in shadowed settings. IMDb reports that MGM shot a new ending after preview audiences disapproved of the original ending. Director Selwyn, in New York already, did not want to re-shoot the ending. I am guessing that Selwyn had his fill of working so hard to make this movie a great example of the MGM studio system at work. So Selwyn bows out as a movie director on the top, with a movie that should have been better known but got lost in the shuffle when the 1934 Production Code went into full force.

The Warner Archive should find a way to get "The Mystery Of Mr. X" out as a Blu-ray release using better print material that is given a makeover by the LOC Packard Campus.

The Hoodlum Saint

Really Great Cast In A Really Bad Movie
TCM had "The Hoodlum Saint" on August 8, 2016, the first of a series of movies starring Esther Williams. Williams was 24 when she co-starred in this movie and she looked great. Star William Powell looked like he was just earning a paycheck, he had the most script lines and this script was a disaster area, completely unreal. This movie had fine stars and character actors at every turn: James Gleason, Frank McHugh, Angela Lansbury, Rags Ragland. All try hard but who is really interested in a story that revolves in part on the story of Saint Dismas, the good thief in the New Testament who becomes the "hoodlum saint." Greenlighting movies like this turkey paved the way for MGM production head Louis B. Mayer's dismissal.

Cliff Reid was the producer of this movie, his first and last for MGM. Reid had worked as a producer or assistant producer at RKO from 1934 to 1942, according to IMDb. If the movie was low budget, like RKO movies starring Lee Tracy, Reid was the producer. These RKO movies are mostly unwatchable, badly written and with bad production values. For a bigger budget movie like "Bringing Up Baby," Reid was the associate producer. Reid is the one who deserves all the blame for how bad "The Hoodlum Saint" is, it has a low budget script tagged to the high production values MGM gave its movies.

Further, William Powell was miscast as the star, he sleep walked through most of the movie. You have Esther Williams full of vitality playing against a very dull William Powell. Producer Cliff Reid imbued this movie with "B" movie values. You know, MGM would have been better off making this movie starring Lee Tracy in William Powell's role as a former newspaperman who sells out at first to get rich on Wall Street before the crash.

Supernatural: The Vessel
Episode 14, Season 11

"Supernatural" Season 11 Best Episode So Far
This episode of "Supernatural" is the best so far of this 11th season and the credit goes to director John Badham, writer Robert Berens, submarine technical adviser Robert Mackay and the production design crew. That crew must have gone way over budget to design the interior sets on this episode. For this episode, there is plenty of attention to detail. In one scene in the Winchester's hideaway, there are a bunch of documents and maps and such covering a long wooden desk. Someone took a lot of time to create these colorful prop documents, all clearly shown. Director Badham also worked as a movie director, where you can have great attention to detail, to make a film set look authentic. That concern with making things look authentic extends to the acting in this episode where you don't see anyone eating up the scenery with overacting and making faces to look serious or important. A low key approach, the story is bizarre enough as is, what with time travel and the all powerful wooden Hand of God, along with a knockout actress as a "Man of Letters." Now, if they could only show the Winchesters' high quality printer in action.

Supernatural: Just My Imagination
Episode 8, Season 11

"Supernatural" Hits Rock Bottom
Even for a TV series that has run out of ideas for the past five years, this episode of "Supernatural" takes the prize as the worst of the worst. "Supernatural" has gone from head chopping to torture and now to pedophilia. The story for this episode is senseless, the explanation for the events in part that you can in Romania find all sorts of magical goodies. The mopish ending must have been hard to film for the actor playing Sully, dressed in strange duds and reciting lines that were a mixture of bathos and stupidity. As for Dean and Sam Winchester, it is past tiresome to watch them frown sometimes, then look serious and finally make deep and intellectual observations like "huh!" This episode of the now failed series can best be watched as a bad example, of what happens when you mix a showrunner on drugs, actors who are bored and writers limited to copying badly story lines from other movies. The only remaining question is what happened to Sam's forehead, how did it get dented?


"Rage" Is All Bad Writing And Incompetent Direction
The movie "Rage" starts with a few minutes of filler, a traveling helicopter shot of hilly grasslands and then a truck driving down a dirt road. The background music is really bad, vacuous. Lalo Shifrin gets the credit for composing this score. One demerit. I saw this movie on TCM as part of a full day of movies featuring George C. Scott. Bob Osborne said that as director, Scott bought this movie in a week early and under budget. Scott should have spent some more money, especially on lighting. Except for some scenes of violence at the end, "Rage" has the crummy photography, the long build-up and the shoddy writing you expect from a TV movie.

Over 50 minutes pass before Scott's lunkhead character realizes something is amiss. I mean, at the start, he drives by sheep dead on his property, blood coming out of their noses. A normal person would think, what could have killed his sheep. Not Scott, though. As he drives to a hospital, he passes by a neighbor to drop his dog off. Does Scott phone the hospital from the neighbor's place to let them know of his major medical problem and all those dead sheep? Of course not. It was nice to see actor John Dierkes as the neighbor, an actor who was super in an earlier movie, 1959's "The Hanging Tree," where he co-starred with Scott.

"Rage" is a collection of scenes, with a story that is totally unreal. There is a pretty good scene where Scott stops by a gun store to buy an automatic rifle that he puts together by the gun counter. A copy of a similar type scene in a Sergio Leone movie where Eli Wallach's Tuco assembles a handgun from different guns. Only the Leone movie is done way better. More typical of this movie is where the Army officers meet to discuss how to handle their problem. The actors look like they were reading their lines from a teleprompter.

Looking at the movie in total, as I do now, you come to the conclusion that this movie has enough story to fill a 30 minute TV show. Everywhere there is padding, with dialogue serving as filler like in a TV soap opera series. If the military had done the normal thing, tell Scott's character what the situation was and put him in isolation, there would be no movie. In real life, the dead sheep lying out in the open on the range land would have been a dead giveaway to the other ranchers and TV reporters.

I added one star to my rating because of the appearance of John Dierkes. If this movie ever returns to TCM, avoid it.

Bits of Life

Great Talent In A Vanished Movie
"Bits of Life" is a lost movie, an anthology film was based in part on a Thomas McMorrow short story. McMorrow was a writer who wrote regularly for the Saturday Evening Post in the teens and twenties. According to IMDb, this movie is his only credit. Some 65 years after the release of this movie, McMorrow's son, working at the New York Daily News, phoned up a co-worker of mine at the New York State division I worked at then, asking about a garment firm we were checking into, for something, probably to do with distributing industrial homework. Tom McMorrow came up empty, the co-worker had instructions not to talk to the press.

The movie's cast includes Lon Chaney playing a Chinaman and Dorothy Mackaill in her first full length movie made in Hollywood. The cast also includes Anna May Wong, who could play an Asian without using much make-up, unlike Chaney. Mackaill would later star in 1931's "Safe In Hell," a true pre-Code movie where Mackaill plays a call girl on the run. Call girls are in the news again in New York (refer to New York Governor Spitzer's affairs in 2008).

Producer Marshal Neilan seems to have worked fast. The short story "The Man Who Heard Everything" was in The Smart Set magazine in April 1921 and this movie was out in September of that same year. Like Mackaill, Neilan's Hollywood career was on life support in the mid-30s before he directed one last movie in Britain in 1937. Mackaill last starring role was in 1937's "Bulldog Drummond at Bay," made in Britain.

Both pretty much vanished from sight thereafter, their movie careers over. Mackaill did have a stage career but around 1955, after her mother passed away, she left New York City to live in Honolulu, where she had her last credit, in an "Hawaii Five-0" episode. I sometimes wonder how old time Hollywood talent like Mackaill and Neilan supported themselves when their movie careers were over, their pay may have been good when they were working, much better than most in the pinch penny 1920s and Depression 1930s but, like now again for most workers, they had no pensions. Note: Neilan was very well paid but he lost most of his money on a bad investment in Edendale real estate.

Fame for most vanishes fast with the passage of time. If someone finds a copy of "Bits of Life" in their attic or stored in mislabeled film reels in some European archive, that should temporarily revive interest in these two mostly forgotten talents, who ended their careers playing bit parts. (Edited from a 2008 posting in the now pretty much defunct group alt.movies.silent)

Le corps de mon ennemi

"Body Of My Enemy" Is A Train Wreck
Plenty of great movie talent worked on "Body Of My Enemy." For all their efforts, this movie is the worst of the movies that paired Jean-Paul Belmondo with director Henri Verneuil. The plot of this movie makes no sense, dealing with an interloper, Belmondo playing a social climber, Francois Leclerq, who gets involved with the super rich and influential family that controls the textile industry in his town. The movie starts off with Belmondo's character getting off a train at the Cournai station, just out of prison, where he served 7 years for a double murder he did not commit.

This opening scene was masterfully photographed by Jean Penzer, as is the entire movie. Marie-France Piser, who plays the rich man's daughter, never looked better, her beauty luminous thanks to DP Penzer. "Body Of My Enemy" was the fourth and last movie in a row that Penzer photographed for Belmondo's Cerito Films. The next movie Penzer worked on as DP was "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs,' directed by Bertrand Blier, the son of Bernard Blier - who played the head of the rich Liégard family in "Body Of My Enemy." The production values of this Belmondo star vehicle, the fine cast and the effort made in finding exterior locations just right for the story cannot compensate for a movie that is overloaded with flashbacks that vitiate the story. "Disjointed" is one word that you can use to describe this movie. As I watched this movie, I started to think that Leclerq, Belmondo's character, is a really unappealing sort, an egocentric guy quick to join the rich crowd.

I just saw this movie on a StudioCanal DVD (in French only), using the English .srt subtitles someone finally posted for this movie on the Internet. The DVD played fine but the movie not so good, a pretentious look at how rich people live. Still, that Marie-France Pisier. At about the 50 minute point, in a bathrobe, she gives a quick salute to Belmondo before the scene cuts. What a looker, what a personality!

Perry Mason: The Case of the Potted Planter
Episode 27, Season 6

Great Perry Mason Episode
This Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Potted Planter," is one of the best in the series. It starts off with one character, teenager Melinda Tarr, riding a motor scooter down a dimly lit road, wearing a party dress. From there, the episode zips along in Robert Dennis's great script. One character is played by Diane Brewster, who looks so good wearing large wide brimmed circular hats that she wears two styles of such hats during her court appearances. I thought courts told people in the room to remove their hats. I have all the Perry Mason episodes on DVD and I transferred them to XviD avi format, to watch them using my media player. Until two days ago, I never got around to watching this episode. This episode has plenty of rotten characters, most of them concerned with money. At one point, Perry says about his client, that he stands to lose his $29,000 investment spent buying a big share of a radio station. Those were the days, when a dollar was a dollar. Robert Hager was the DP for this episode and, boy, did he like photographing Diane Brewster and the shadows her big hats cast on her cheekbones. With several day for night scenes, this episode is one that would look good when Paramount releases Perry Mason on Blu-ray. Assuming Viacom doesn't spin off its Paramount subsidiary, now that parent company Viacom is falling apart (in April 2015). Even in DVD format, "The Case of the Potted Palm" is recommended viewing from one of television's finest series.

The Last Command

Great Hollywood Movie About Movie Making In Hollywood
"The Last Command" is a story about a Russian general's reversal of fortune, who in ten years goes from leading the Czar's army in World War One to being picked to play the role of an extra in a movie directed by former "revolutionist" Lev Andreyev (William Powell), who now rules a Hollywood sound stage. While Emil Jannings got the Academy Award for playing the general, it is my opinion that Powell's performance as Andreyev is what drives this movie forward. Director Andreyev plucks the general from obscurity in the present, a Hollywood extra, and gives him a small movie role as a general. In this movie, Powell plays his part in a deadly serious manner. Not one smile, no snippy comments. But then you think, why did he hire the former general, who ten years earlier as as a real general had arrested Andreyev, belted him with a riding crop for being insolent and then had him locked up. The only answer is in the phrase "turnabout is fair play." Andreyev's plan to degrade the general went awry when he saw that the general stayed true to character, defending Russia to the end, even in a fictional battle on a Hollywood sound stage. Ten years after the fall of Czarist Russia, Hollywood made this movie that deals in the human wreckage left by the Russian Revolution. Andreyev, the former Kiev theater director, survived the revolution and prospered but his fellow conspirator and possible main squeeze Natalia died in a train wreck. Powell played the part right, he had grim memories of the revolution. His "joke," casting the former (and destitute) general as a Hollywood general, had not turned out the way he thought it would. "The Last Command" is an example of Hollywood professionals using a fictional story to make a movie that casts a spotlight on the real world. A spotlight helped by the details tossed in showing the movie's version of present day Hollywood: the crowd of extras scrabbling at the studio window to pick up their uniforms; the assistant directors hovering over movie director Andreyev and trying to be the one to light his cigarette; the camera in the final scene panning back from the sound stage to show the movie cameras set up to film the movie within a movie. William Powell's role is the thread that links the events in this movie, as the director and, in the long flashback, as the revolutionist whose partner Natalia hooks up with the general. These days, Hollywood stays away from movies like "The Last Command," way too serious and cynical.

Jack Irish: Dead Point

"Jack Irish: Dead Point" Is Pointless
"Jack Irish: Dead Point" starring Guy Pearce as the title character, is a well photographed movie and has pretty good production values. In one scene, there is a nice special effect showing a helicopter blade whizz by Jack Irish. Those are the only positive things I can say about this badly written crime story that makes no sense at all. Jack Irish is a criminal lawyer who works as an investigator. He seems to be independently wealthy and likes jogging. He also does woodwork. This movie exists in a bubble world where drug dealers leave their drugs in the boot of a fancy sports car stored in an intermodal container on the dock, not in a locker aboard the cargo ship. With rare exception, the police are all honest and they all know Jack. Jack meets and knows all types of people, from elderly pub patrons to elderly gamblers as he tools around in his Studebaker. Most important for this story is that crime does not pay, that anyone involved in the drug trade must die. This movie was a waste of my time, right down to the cop out ending where Jack's client, a judge, comes out unscathed.

After Office Hours

"After Office Hours" Is Junk
"After Office Hours" is a movie that, for its time in 1935, is insane. It starts off with Constance Bennett's character being dropped off by her chauffeur driven limousine in front of her new workplace, a newspaper, in the afternoon. Soon thereafter, the paper's editor, played by Clark Gable wearing a beanie type cap, is listening to Stuart Erwin's character explain that he only had a two day drunk in Brooklyn, not three days. Then Gable the editor reads a concert review Bennett the writer just turned in. He blasts it as mean-spirited, then fires Bennett and tells her to pick up her pay, including an extra two weeks' sudden termination pay. From there, the movie becomes even more unreal. Another posting here about the movie state that MGM made this movie in response to the tremendous success of "It Happened One Night." That sounds right. Even so, only MGM production chief Louis B. Mayer could a approve a movie like this, one that exists in a parallel universe where the lead characters go to parties in tuxedos, where one character drives his speed boat into a parking space in the living room of his country house and where Constance Bennett wears strange neck pieces made of dead animals. "Screwball comedy" is one phrase that describes what this movie wants to be. Only like most screwball comedies, including "It Happened One Night," "After Office Hours" is not funny and it plays more like propaganda for the masses. I have read that the work of this movie's director, Robert Z. Leonard, is now undergoing reappraisal, that he may be a better director than he gets credit for. In "After Office Hours," Leonard does a fine job directing furniture but that is all. Constance Bennett was a beauty who usually lit up the screen. Not in this movie, though, with her strange attire worn in flat lighting.

I can only imaging what film goers thought seeing this Gable and Bennett star vehicle crash and burn in 1935. This movie escaped to Loew's theaters on February 22, 1935. It may have been playing at second run theaters on April 14, 1935, Black Sunday, when the worst of the Dust Bowl storms unleashed black rollers from the Midwest east across the country.

In 1935, 85,000 people left the Midwest and their homes and buried farms to trek to California to escape the black blizzards. More immigrants to California than during the 1849 Gold Rush. I wonder what it must have been like to be in a movie theater in Kansas in 1935, watching this movie as the sky outside turned pitch black from rollers transporting the topsoil from the moviegoers' farms east to the Atlantic Ocean.

MGM knew how to make realistic movies, just look at the exceedingly grim 1932 movie "Night Court." Thanks to the 1934 Production Code, Hollywood stopped producing movies that were taken from the headlines. Production Code Administrator Joe Breen, the Hitler of Hollywood, censored all scripts to remove negative subjects like drug addiction, corruption, extramarital affairs and hard times for poor Americans, black or white.

Seeing "After Office Hours" on Turner Classic Movies in 2014, I can only wonder what the audiences said after paying their hard earned money to see this crackpot movie in the Depression year of 1935. I can only say this movie gets a 4 from me and I saw it for not much, TCM is included in my FiOS triple play.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge Of Tomorrow Senselessly Violent Science Fiction Film
Watching "Edge Of Tomorrow," you realize the contempt Hollywood media conglomerates have for their audience. The central character of this movie, Major Cage, spends most of his time getting killed. According to the idiotic premise of this movie, because he was dowsed with an alien creature's blood the first time he died in battle, Cage will now time loop back to an earlier time whenever he is killed. So, like a gamer playing a video shooter game, Cage goes back to the start of the game if the enemy finishes him off. On and on, Cage gets killed, getting more proficient at avoiding wipe out as the movie progresses.

The reason Cage is in battle is bizarre. He is an American major handling PR who tells a UDF general that he is an American officer and he will he not follow UDF orders to land with soldiers attacking the Micmics, the alien enemies. When Cage says he will make life hard on the general if he tries to send Cage into battle, naturally, the UDF general reduces Cage's rank to private, falsifies records to show Cage is an attempted deserter, kidnaps Cage and sends Cage into battle as cannon fodder.

Co-star Emily Blount plays a character called the "Angel of Verdun." That's it for her character development. J squad, the unit Cage joins just before the attack, is made up of the necessary social representatives: a woman, a black guy, a fat guy, some whites including one who looks Hispanic. The less said about Bill Paxton's Master Sergeant Farell, the better. All put on spiffy mechanical exo-skeletons before being sent to battle.

Comparing this movie to 1997's "Starship Troopers" shows how far Hollywood has sunk in its creative abilities. True, Edge's director Doug Liman doesn't hold a candle to Starship's director, Paul Verhoeven. More than that, though, is how "Starship Troopers" showed a team effort, no single character being Superman, and how Verhoeven and his writers threw in an anti-military subtext.

"Edge Of Tomorrow" is an ugly and unreal movie that glorifies fictional soldiers getting obliterated in battle, repeatedly. This movie has no heart and it makes no sense. I've read that Brad Pitt turned down an offer to star in Edge. After starring in "World War Z," a really ugly and stupid movie, I can understand why Pitt did not want to double down with another junk science fiction movie. Tom Cruise's previous movie "Oblivion" is Shakespeare compared to "Edge of Tomorrow." As you may have guessed, I am no fan of "Edge of Tomorrow."

So duk

The White Storm: More A Video Game Than A Crime Story Movie
"The White Storm" is a totally unreal movie about three Hong Kong narcotics cops trying to bring down a big time drug dealer. Director and co-writer Benny Chan should stick to directing. Chan's previous movie, 2011's "Shaolin," was a very well made movie that held your interest throughout. "The White Storm" is mainly a series of gunfights, very well choreographed but totally unreal. More a video game shoot-em up than a movie. In the middle of the movie, the HK cops are in Thailand to trap the drug lord. During an ensuing gun battle, the bad guys bring in a helicopter fitted with a mini-gun that blasts away at everything. For me, that was the high point of the movie, just mindless destruction with no shallow dialog from the three buddy cops. Benny Chan does a much better job as director when he works with Jackie Chan. For his next movie, Benny Chan should team up again with Jack Chan and leave the writing to others.

The Sixties: The Assassination of President Kennedy
Episode 3, Season 1

The Assassination of President Kennedy A Great Time Capsule
"The Assassination of President Kennedy" documentary that CNN aired over the 50th anniversary of the shooting of JFK is technically great, a combination of great editing and superior film and videotape restoration. The video clips of TV broadcasts from 50 years ago look just super. The Zapruder 8MM color film sparkles, looking better than I have ever seen it before. The closing credits show that this documentary was a co-production of companies that usually work on motion pictures, not TV documentaries. That must be why so much effort has been put into obtaining archival footage of TV news broadcasts shown in the aftermath of Kennedy's murder. American network TV stations nowadays would never put so much effort and expense into a documentary like this one. Unlike 20 years ago, when quality came first at network news operations, with magazine news shows like PrimeTime Live and the real Dateline NBC.

Almost nothing is perfect and this JFK documentary has one major flaw: the presence of Vincent Bugliosi, whose leaden comments defending the Warren Commission are completely out of place. Bugliosi's "expert" testimony consists of opinions from a boring former prosecutor. Instead of his talking head shots, I would have like more footage from regular folk who were in Dallas that day, comparable to the lady who told a reporter who asked that the CIA was behind the shooting. In other words, get a picture of the times from more eyewitnesses. One more eyewitness interview could have been James Tague, the car salesman who was watching the Kennedy motorcade pass by when he was struck slightly in the face by the ricochet of a bullet that missed Kennedy's vehicle and then bounced off the pavement at him.

Still and all, "The Sixties: The Assassination of President Kennedy" does a great job showing events in the aftermath of this murder of a president.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Anne
Episode 1, Season 3

Peak Production Values For This "Buffy" Episode
For the first episode of season three of "Buffy," Joss Whedon spared no expense. Great cinematography, loads of stunt work and great set design. (Too bad that IMDb does not post budget information on individual TV episodes, this episode must have gone way over budget to get in those hellfire factory action scenes.) Plus there is the main plot line, a story as grim as any shown on a broadcast TV series. I edited out the scenes set in Sunnyvale, leaving just the scenes involving Buffy and her encounter with an evil group that preys on runaways. In the 32 minutes running time of my version, Buffy goes from a downcast waitress in a diner to a demon killing machine. I have seen nothing like this "Buffy" on TV since, this episode is made like a big budget mini-movie.

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