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The Black Widow

Slightly Important Serial with Forgotten Performance by Cult Figure
This is the very first serial I can ever recall seeing on a Sunday afternoon. I remembered (and still remember) only bits and pieces of it, most especially the evil Sombra's always calling up the spirit of her even more evil father, who really looks like he belongs in a Three Stooges two-reeler.

Move up in time to 1956. On the late night Steve Allen Show, Steve introduced a comedian named simply "Theodore", who was quite simply hilarious in a monolog that lasted about 8 minutes. Theodore gave "concerts" of what was called "disconcerting humor", and a very short time after the Allen appearance, a friend and I went to see a complete show of his at, of all places, Town Hall, in Manhttan. To this day, I have never laughed harder than I did for the near-two hours he held the stage, a phantasmagorical presence who scared you and made you double over with laughter at the same time. He was billed under the simply name 'Theodore'. Later, however, he added to it and became "Brother Theodore", leading a back-to-nature movement at his concerts, which in time became NYC coffee house presentations on Saturday nights at midnight. We went to some of those, too.

During all of this time, I never even knew his last name, and then another friend, watching this 1947 serial, told us that the villain in the show, played by one Theodore Gottlieb, was actually the current local coffee house favorite, Brother Theodore. Around this time, I was living at the Ansonia, and one day I got onto an elevator with - who else? - Brother Theodore (he could never be misidentified; nobody looked or sounded like Brother Theodore). I spoke to him for a moment and he seemed rather disturbed to have been recognized at all, so I retreated quickly and never got to ask him about his pre-Theodore acting career. Looking at it now, he seems to have appeared in a number of films (good ones, too, like THE STRANGER and THE THIRD MAN) but always in little more than walk-ons. His role in THE BLACK WIDOW is by far the most substantial one he ever essayed in Hollywood. And now I've learned that that Steve Allen appearance may have been his first-ever TV appearance, but that he later - in the 1970s and 1980s, appeared many times on the Letterman show, with Johnny Carson, etc., yet I never heard of him again after that Ansonia elevator meeting.

Just putting this in to remind everyone how strange an interest in actors can be, when I can remember the same actor from two entirely different periods in his career, both very meaningful to me at the time, and never have realized (for a good 30 years or more) that my recollections of what I thought were two memorable performances were simply recollections of the same performer in two separate stages of a career, neither of which I could possibly have associated with the other.

Anyway, there was an LP out in the late 1950s recorded at that Town Hall "Concert of Disconcerting Humor", and if you ever see it (maybe it's come out on CD), don't pass it up. It is unique, as indeed was Brother Theodore. His motto was, "As long as there is death, there is hope!" Now, just how unique can a comedian get?


A Masterpiece Takes a Special Place With Only Two Other Films I Can Think Of
This film is magnificently reflective of the Late Victorian Era in England. I may never have seen it better recreated, but at least there are competitors. I'm going to concentrate, therefore, on what makes this film so special to a movie-lover who also loves all kinds of classical music, but most especially Opera. There have been untold numbers of what might be called "backstage" films, and many of them work quite well - think of ALL ABOUT EVE, THE GREAT CARUSO and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, (even CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA works well!), but counting this film, I now know of only three that quite literally give you the smell, the aroma, and the excitement of backstage anywhere in the performing arts. The greatest of these is probably THE RED SHOES. I am not a ballet fan (although I love the music), but I recall the first time I saw this wonderful film, at about 18 or so years of age, and I thought that, had I seen it at a particular time in my development, I might have become quite a ballet fan and developed interests in that line. I didn't, but every time I see the film I feel like I am part of a great ballet company and am watching the premier artists of that art, including choreographers, directors, musicians, etc. It reeks of atmosphere. The second of these films, one which had an immense effect on my subsequent life, may surprise the reader. It was the 1943 Claude Rains version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I was only 8 when I first saw it, but I started loving Opera and everything having to do with Opera at that time, although I didn't become fully appreciative of the singing aspects of Opera until THE GREAT CARUSO came along. But that film has, again, the smell and aroma of a great opera company, and the most fantastic backstage sets I've ever seen in a film on Opera. It also has the most wonderful 'overnight sensation discovery' scene of any film I've ever seen, ten times better than Warner Baxter telling Ruby Keeler that she was going to go out on that stage and come back a star. Okay, now we come to Gilbert and Sullivan. An excellent film of their relationship was made in the early 1950s, with Maurice Evans and Robert Morley as the composer and his librettist. But although it was an excellent film, and peopled with star singers from the then current D'Oyle Carte Company, it did not draw me into it, nor give me an immediate love for G&S. That had to wait 7 or 8 years, and came through the medium of recordings. But if I had seen THIS film back then, my adventures along the G&S trail would have commenced at that moment. There is hardly anything covered in this film that I didn't already know to a large extent, yet I sat there mesmerized by it throughout, most especially by Gilbert's direction of the singers in the THE MIKADO. The characters of the two men are beautifully drawn, but perhaps the film had come along (in 1999) too late to appeal to young people whose musical senses these days are usually pummeled into submission by rock and roll, heavy metal, hip-hop and what have you by the time they start school. The picture, from beginning to end, is a thing of absolute beauty. Amazingly, all the actors seem to be doing their own singing and they do very well at it, although that superb actor Timothy Spall, who plays Richard Temple, does not sound like a baritone who had also sung Verdi and Mozart. But it's good enough, and his reaction to having his big solo number cut is almost truly tragic in scale, that's how great an actor he is. My only complaint: This is a film that I would love kids to see, just to find out if the music heard might have any hold on them, but near the beginning of the film we see Sullivan in what I assume is a brothel, with some nude women seeming to make out with each other. The scene is somewhat superfluous, if not gratuitous, but it is enough to deny the film the rating that would let unaccompanied-by-an-adult children in to see it, and that is unfortunate. (As I said, I saw PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at 8, and went to see it all by myself!) Other than that, though, an absolute masterpiece! Bravo, Mike Leigh.

Music in My Heart

Hayworth is Fine, but This is Tony Martin's Film from Beginning to End
Back around 1958 or 1959, this film was shown on either The Late Show or The Late Late Show. I had only recently gotten a tape recorder, and I recorded all the musical numbers, and then played them over and over again for about the next ten years. Although Martin had some pretty good opportunities in movies over a few decades, this is the one that catches him, and especially that glorious voice, at his absolute best throughout. Although he never sang opera (except a couple of "doctored" pieces in later films), I've always thought that this was a voice that, with a change in the direction of his voice training, could have served very well in opera, and as a tenor, not a baritone! (I have an unpublished Victor of him doing "E lucevan le stelle" from TOSCA, and he sings it very well indeed.) Anyway, he is showcased here in several very good numbers - "It's a Blue World" (an Academy Award nominated song), "Poor Punchinello" (which would be heard in the background, especially in carnival settings, of many more Columbia films of the 1940s), and most especially the title song of the film, "Music in My Heart", which he sings in the closing moments of the film and which is downright thrilling in its vocal freedom, so much so that although I collected his records at least through the mid-1950s (there's a great DESERT SONG on Victor with Kathryn Grayson who had just filmed the Romberg operetta with Gordon MacRae), I never heard him sound any better than in this film's concluding moments; indeed, I can't think of a single non-classical singer who ever sounded as good in a movie as does Tony Martin here. And the film itself is really an enjoyable piece of fluff from beginning to end, and maybe your only chance to ever see Andre Kostelanetz on the screen. (If you don't remember him, in addition to his huge classical output, he was issuing albums of "Opera for Orchestra" and loads and loads of top-selling LPs devoted to the great American songwriters from the late 1940s into the mid-1960s, all for Columbia Records, and was also married to diva Lily Pons for about two decades.)

Green Dolphin Street

Unjustly Forgotten Near-Masterpiece With Grand Performances by Everyone
I saw this film when it came out in 1947, for either $.12 or $.15 (that's cents, folks!) at the old Nassau Theater in Brooklyn. I must have gone to see the accompanying feature, as at that age I had no interest in great romantic stories or films. How wrong I must have been, for that was 74 years ago, and although I had not seen it again until last night, there are at least five scenes in the movie that I have never forgotten, and if an 8-year-old kid can be impressed enough by a film to have a vague recollection of even one scene three-quarters of a century later, it had to be a great movie, or at least a memorable one. . Watching last night, I was convinced that it was both great and memorable and that I must have been quite advanced for my age to have enjoyed it so much at such a tender age.. I've gone considerably downhill since. Anyway, those five scenes were:

1. Frank Morgan's death and his son's tearful reaction to it.

2. Gladys Cooper's deathbed confession to her husband and daughter.

3. The shock i got almost immediately following Gladys Cooper's passing to hear the priest tell her daughter than her father had joined her mother in death.

4. The great earthquake and subsequent tidal wave scene.

5. The sight of a refined young English girl crawling for dear life up the inside of a cave to the top of a cliff to avoid an incoming tide.

None of those five points are hidden from the viewer as the story progresses, so that they do not constitute spoilers.

And I had also remembered in a more general way that the Richard Hart character had ended up marrying the wrong woman due to his drunkenly addressing his marriage proposal letter to the wrong sister.

What I may not have totally appreciated then were the superb performances of both the lead and supporting actors. I'm absolutely amazed that this film is not listed among the Hollywood classics. It should be.

Arthur Godfrey and His Friends

More Thoughts On An Amazingly Forgotten Radio/TV Personality
The only review here is good, but doesn't go far enough. Arthur Godfrey was an amazingly important radio, and then TV, personality from the end of World War II through about 1960. It was his voice that the world heard over CBS radio in 1945 narrating the funeral of FDR as the procession went forward. His radio show, TALENT SCOUTS, was not intended to provide 'discoveries' for his reputation, but many important stars came out of it. It was a Monday night radio fixture on CBS in the late 1940s, then one of the earliest radio shows to be simulcast on TV. Each show had 3 or 4 entertainers competing against each other; all of them were serious professional entertainers just looking for the big break. They were never amateurs (as was always the case with Major Bowes' and Ted Mack's ORIGINAL AMATEUR HOUR). Around this time, Godfrey also had a 90-minute radio show every morning, from 10am to 11:30am, which I believe also was simulcast for a period of time. It was really the same show that he did for one hour on Wednesday nights and included all (as he called them) "the Little Godfreys". The winner of the TALENT SCOUTS program usually then appeared on the morning show for the next week. A lot of great exposure. My best friend and I attended many of those morning shows during the summer while school was out, and they were delightful. In time, the 8pm Wednesday show (which ARTHUR GODFREY AND HIS FRIENDS is taken from) totally replaced the morning show, as the latter was just too much work for the Godfrey clan, but it took several years for that to happen. Back to TALENT SCOUTS. I recall one particular episode where a very young Black mezzo-soprano sang "O don fatale" from Verdi's DON CARLO. Godfrey was so astounded by her performance that he immediately pulled her out of the competition right on the air. I'm not certain whether or not she then appeared on his morning radio show for the next week, as the winner of each TALENT SCOUTS contest was always determined by the level and length of audience applause, but that 17 or 18 year old singer went on to become arguably the greatest Black American mezzo-soprano of her time - Grace Bumbry! Only Marilyn Horne was greater during that period, but she and Bumbry sang little of the same repertoire. The reviewer mentions that Godfrey Jack Paar and Dave Garroway could be 'mean'. Maybe so, but I do not recall Paar ever being so, and he was my favorite TV performer of my entire life, even down to this day.. But Godfrey certainly could be and there were two movies made in the late 1950s, the protagonist of each reputedly based on Arthur Godfrey - the first was A FACE IN THE CROWD, starring Andy Griffith, which documented a good old boy rising from nothing to become a major TV star while simultaneously developing a somewhat fascistic personality. The other was THE GREAT MAN, which starred Jose Ferrer as a writer investigating a recently-deceased TV star (the Godfrey-inspired character) and learning that he had gone through his career in a most fascistic manner, ruining the lives of so many people with whom he came into contact. The very fact that it was thought by experts that these two films were based on Godfrey says much, none of it good, about this most popular of male stars of the late 1940s and 1950s radio and TV eras. I haven't seen ARTHUR GODFREY AND HIS FRIENDS here, but am giving it a high rating anyway, because it could not be anything other than greatly interesting, based on my hundreds of hours of exposure to these shows, both on TV and in-person.

Call Me Madam

I Wonder Whatever Became of Irving Berlin?
Not a review, just a comment. In 5 full pages of IMDB's credits for this great show and film, does anyone realize that the musical genius who created it, Irving Berlin, is not even mentioned? Nowhere! A glitch in the system, no doubt, but it's like covering CITIZEN KANE and leaving out the name of Orson Welles.

Oops, discount all of the above. I just found Irving Berlin listed as writer on each of about a dozen different songs at the bottom of the first page. But when you go into the Big Credits - film score, cinematography, that kind of thing - he is nowhere to be found, although the ubiquitous Alfred Newman is. Sorry about that! Mea culpa!

Thirty Day Princess

Typecasting Can Be a Curse to Natural Tragediennes!
I've always loved Sylvia Sidney. I started going to the movies the year her last leading lady performance (LOVE FROM A STRANGER) was made, but I didn't see it then and it was only in revivals in the 1950s and occasional showings of some of her 1930s films on TV that I discovered her. I was amazed at how good she was even when only 21 or 22 years of age, and I thought she was just about the prettiest actress in the world at the time. Problem is, time didn't treat that prettiness too well, and when you saw her after the age of, say, 45 or so, it was hard to see even a trace of that prettiness. No problem, though, for she was a great actress and, I think with proper allowances in casting, she might today be one of the true legends of Hollywood's 1930s era. Well, we'll just have to settle for talent. I'm writing this, though, to say that one is never too old to learn. Although Sidney could be hilariously tough and ballsy in her later years, I had not known she had ever made even one comedy in her starring Hollywood years. And now, after 70-plus years of rather intense movie watching, I have finally seen THIRTY DAY PRINCESS, with a performance by her that is all charm and fun and light and prettiness personified. I can't imagine anyone, not even Colbert or Lombard or Stanwyck, could have done it any better. Truly, I have had her so associated with tragedy and poverty and murder and all the other good things of Hollywood Melodramatic Life, that I kept expecting someone to stab her or toss her down a flight of stairs, but nobody ever did. So, I learned that Sylvia could do comedy at a time when just about nobody would let her, and I am a better-informed movie-lover for it today. As for the film itself, she and Cary Grant and Edward Arnold give it exactly what it needs, and it should be far better known today than it is. She was a wonderful actress and, lest I forget to say it one more time, so damned pretty - not beautiful, just so damned pretty.

Satan Met a Lady

The Film is Stolen By the Least Important Character in the Plot
Just a quick general comment first. I read through the other 30 or more reviews here and my reaction was the same as it always is when doing such a mass reading: Why does almost everyone insist on giving us the entire plot of the film once again before getting on to his or her comments? When there are more than a few reviews of a film, surely the plot has already been covered to the nth degree, so why repeat it? If there is something special to note that others haven't, that's another case, but there almost never is. Just get on with what you want to say about the movie! Which reminds me that I want to say this -

1) It seems to have escaped the notice of some of the more literal reviewers that this film is a comedy, it was intended to be a comedy, it had no other reason for existing than to be a comedy, and everybody in it acts like they were doing a comedy (as in a murder mystery with Abbott and Costello or Bob Hope). As a comedy, shorn of any extraneous expectations engendered by the first or third versions of the story, it works extremely well. Much of it is on the silly side, but it is intended to be silly.

2) Since the prior version was only five years old, and the title of that version extremely famous in both book and movie form, it is understandable that Warner Brothers would change the characters' names as well as that of the movie in order to entice a new audience into the theaters. That, dear reviewers, is why these characters are Shane instead of Spade. and maybe even Murgatroyd instead of Perine.

3. Some seem not to know that Warren William was just one rung under being a major star during the entire period of the 1930s. Yes, he was something like the poorer man's William Powell, but not for acting ability, just for not having quite the charisma that Powell possessed. They could easily have exchanged places in most of their films with no serious detriment to the film itself. And Powell did play a number of rather underhanded characters when not doing Nick Charles, but wasn't as natural at it as was William. William's health suffered from the early 1940s and he made only a handful of films after THE WOLF MAN. Powell's health suffered a great deal more in the late 1930s, but he survived and managed almost two more decades in films before bowing out after MISTER ROBERTS, and then managed to live to 91. But William was a fine actor on his own, and occasionally, as in THE MATCH KING or CLEOPATRA, a mesmerizing one.

4. Everybody in this film is good, but for me the star of it is Marie Wilson as the very ditzy Effie. Every scene she's in delights, and it must be remembered that she had only turned 20 when this film was made, and had already made the acting of the stereotypical dumb blonde into a mini-art form. I used to listen to her every week on the radio when I was about 9 or 10 years of age, as the title character in MY FRIEND IRMA, and she was a constant delight, as she was in the two IRMA films she did almost 15 years after SATAN MET A LADY. She is very pretty, sexy, lovable, ditzy, dumb, and downright hilarious, holding her own with everyone in the cast - at 20! If I had been Shane, I would have married her in a minute instead of going after less appealing fare like Bette Davis!

4) We've made comedies of classic Sherlock Holmes stories, Agatha Christie novels, Gunga Din, etc., etc., so why not THE MALTESE FALCON? I think this one works extraordinarily well for what it is, which is exactly what it was supposed to be and nothing more. .

The Ape Man

I'm Afraid it Really is Awful, but It's Also a Lot of Fun in a Perverse Way. Read On!
When the ultimate history of Film is written, if films are listed in order of excellence, this one will not make it into the first 30,000 or so, but it is something of a joy for REAL film lovers to watch and savor. This was the first movie I ever saw on television, all the way back in 1948 or early 1949. I had just seen it on a Sunday afternoon kiddie bill, and liked it more than for any other reason because of the music (I can't say why now, but at 9 this kind of music appealed to an incipient classical music and opera lover), even if it did sound like it was being played by a ten-piece orchestra with delusions of grandeur. Anyway, within a month or two my family was invited over to one of my mother's school chums' apartment to see her new TV (remember, this is 1948, and Cattie was the first person we knew who had one) and we were thrilled, I especially so because they were showing THE APE MAN on it, so I got to see it a second time. Even at 9, I knew it was awful, but I still enjoyed it, and now having just watched it again for the first time in maybe 20 years, I recognize even more what's wrong with it, but love it even more. There isn't much to say about a film that is truly so bad that it is good, so I'll just mention a few comments I saw in these reviews. One commenter basically calls Wallace Ford and Louise Currie lousy actors. Ms. Currie, who died only recently at the age of 101, apparently lived long enough not to care (although I found nothing at all wrong with her), but my God, don't some of these reviewers know anything about acting and the history of same? Wallace Ford was an occasional leading man in the 1930s, but more often a character actor who gave uniformly superb performances from his lead in FREAKS (1932) all the way up to his last film, A PATCH OF BLUE (1965), along the way appearing memorably in John Ford films like THE LOST PATROL and THE INFORMER (he is the IRA leader who is betrayed to the English by Victor McLaglan's title character), as the best thing in two of Universal's MUMMY films, and in at least one Hitchcock film (SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and who created the role of "George" (played by Burgess Meredith in the film version) in OF MICE AND MEN on the Broadway stage. Another reviewer thinks that the crazy character who mysteriously appears throughout the movie is Jack Mluhall, and even claims that he gave himself roles in every film he wrote or directed. Well, Jack Mulhall (that's the correct spelling) never wrote or directed a film in his life, but acted in some 450 of them(!). He does not play the role that reviewer ascribes to him here (quite honestly, I don't know who does, as his name isn't in the IMDB cast list), but simply one of the reporters shown early on in the film. One reviewer intelligently asks why a character with a name like Jim Brewster is being played by an actor with a heavy Hungarian accent, especially since his sister appears to have been educated at Bryn Mawr, and I've had that same question in my head since I was 9. But he and I should remember that Lugosi played several roles where his name was either VERY American or VERY English (remember DEVIL BAT?), and nobody ever bothered to change the character's name in those, either. Maybe the films were so cheap that nobody even noticed, or maybe it might have cost $25 or so for somebody to search through each script and change those characters' names, and when it came to PRC and Monogram, do not doubt that $25 was considered real money. Anyway, awful as it is, I still love this film, but can't bring myself to give it more than a '6' rating. Other things to consider: it gave both Minerva Urecal and Henry Hall probably the most substantial roles they had in their Hollywood careers, especially Urecal, who was mostly playing loud-ish landladies or Italian restaurant owners (as in THE GREAT CARUSO), and here actually plays a kind woman of some breeding and intelligence. And then there is that near-starvation orchestra playing the background music that I still like, even if I had progressed to Bruckner and Mahler by the time I was 12 or 13. You really cannot take the boy out of the man, I guess. (They do a lot of filming in my neighborhood, and I often see vans lined up for two blocks, 70 or 80 film technicians bouncing about, a food wagon, a director's chair on the sidewalk, and a couple of actors walking down a street or up a stoop - which is all they are filming with that caravan of film makers, and it occurs to me that it probably costs modern film producers more to film that walk down the street or climbing of a stoop than it cost to make all 64 minutes of THE APE MAN - and then I remember that Lugosi died broke! OY!!!)

That's My Boy

Robert Warwick: "I Wonder Whatever Happened to Me?"
This is really not a review, just a note that, amazingly, the third or fourth major role in this movie, and arguably the one that gets the best performance, is that of the heroine's father, but the actor is not listed in these credits. He is, of course, Robert Warwick, who had a long career and was still appearing on TV dramas in the early 1960s, when past 80. This is actually one of his best performances on film. It might also be noted that although it seemed a very long time before he was recognized as the excellent actor he was (mainly through John Ford) and was often playing little more than walk-ons all through the 1930s, Ward Bond, here seen at 29, is excellent in a single-but-telling scene as semi-washed up ex-football player who puts the Richard Cromwell character on to the way his college and football team are using him to feather their own nests while he gets nothing out of it. (Cromwell was limited, perhaps because of his ever-boyish looks, but gives a very credible performance here.) But one does wonder why it took until the late 1940s before Bond received recognition for the fine character actor he was and always had been.

The other review appearing here is very misleading, as John Wayne does not play a sportsman, but an athlete, in this film, has no lines that I could hear, and is simply in a few football scenes, none of them calling any kind of attention to him. If he wasn't identified in the credits, you wouldn't even know he'd been in it, ditto Buster Crabbe.

The Boy with Green Hair

Underrated Upon Release, Overrated by Posterity
When this film came out in 1948, my Roman Catholic Sunday School class was urged to see it, and we got the impression it was distinctly anti-Communist. I saw it, didn't care all that much for it, noticed no anti-Communist message in it, and thought it rather dull. I was, of course, 9. Seeing it now, for the first time in 71 years, I no longer find it dull, but I also don't find it any kind of forgotten masterpiece. The tale is well-told for 1948, and the credits, music and general feel of the film are of a fairy tale (forgetting the green hair business), but as charming as the relationship between Peter and Grandpa is, that to me is the only real selling point of the film. Indeed, all the performances are excellent, but if Losey's reason for making the film was to encourage peace and an end to war because, you know, it hurts children, in that it fails totally, and it is not what I took away in 1948 any more than it is what I take away from it today. Seeing a school poster with Stalin and a hammer and sickle, and another one with the word "Jewish" in it may have meant more in 1948 than they would now, but they are not followed up upon, and this was after THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT, so they couldn't have counted for much even then. The message is not exactly hammered home by Peter's encounter with the actual children from some other school posters, and nothing the kids have to say to him is very meaningful, although they give him a reason to practically run through the streets recommending peace to people who've just gone through World War II. The fault, I fear, is in the screenplay; it just doesn't carry through on whatever intentions it may have been intended to convey. And it is not really the adults, but the other children who initially try to forcibly give Peter a haircut he no longer wants. It is muddled in that respect, right up to the end. HOWEVER, it is still a vey nice and gentle story to watch, and Dean Stockwell, who was far and away the best male child actor of his (and maybe any other) time - Rooney didn't really come into his own until he was 15, which is a bit long in the tooth for a 'child' actor - is superb throughout, as good or better than he was in THE SECRET GARDEN, which was my all-time hallmark for fine child acting. Stockwell is that rarest of child actors (Natalie Wood was another, but she died too early) who had a totally unimpeded acting career from the age of about 8 until he hit his 70s. O'Brien, an amazingly underrated actor for one of his stardom and enduring fame, is excellent as Grandpa, but is actually too young for the role. I am assuming that Ryan took this extraordinarily insignificant part due to his belief in the film's message (he was a very liberal actor even before that was trendy), and Barbara Hale is similarly wasted. But they do their jobs well. Lastly, I must have actually seen this movie before Nat "King" Cole's recording of "Nature Boy" hit the charts, because I had no recollection at all that the song was from this film, and of course we all remember the song to this day thanks to Mr. Cole. I give it a 7 because of the performances and the general 'nice' feel of the piece, but if this was supposed to be a propaganda film for peace, it certainly didn't work very well, and I doubt that any of Mr. Losey's subsequent problems with blacklisting and the like had anything to do with this particular episode in his sporadic film career. It's hard to believe that this film and, say, THE SERVANT, could have come from the same director.

Thunder in the Pines

Remembered for Seventy Years? It Must Have Something!
I originally saw this film when it came out in 1948. I was nine years old, but even in those pre-TV days, I knew who both Ralph Byrd and George Reeves were, since I was a two-year veteran movie-goer (yes, little kids could go to movies unaccompanied in those days, and the admission was between $.09 and $.20, according to the theater and the day of the week), and knew Byrd from his Dick Tracy serial and Reeves as the villain of the first Jungle Jim film. I did not see it again for almost 70 years, but never forgot it, because it was such a good-humored adventure film, and everyone in it was first rate. Imagine my surprise when, the next year, M-G-M "introduced" Denise Darcel to America, yet I had seen her in this film the year before, and very good she was, too. Anyway, just as he himself felt about his career, I always thought that the role of Superman rather ruined Reeves's chances at better things in the movies, as he was a good leading man and a really first-rate comedy actor with a laid-back and breezy style that should have matured nicely (he used it as Clark Kent, too, but it was rather wasted on the kids). The Reeves and Byrd characters here are very much in the tradition of Lowe and McLaglen as Quint and Flagg in WHAT PRICE GLORY? or Abbott and Costello in almost all their films, with the smarter of each pair (Reeves, Lowe and Abbott) always taking advantage of his best pal, but with all of them there is never any real doubt that they are bosom buddies at heart, and forgiveness from the dumber of the two is a given. Considering the intelligence Byrd showed in roles like Dick Tracy and as the hero in some serials, his convincing dumb act here comes off as very good acting. Lyle Talbot makes a wonderfully semi-comic and more-than-slightly-bent villain, and his comeuppance is very funny even if you do sympathize just a little with his oily self. Marion Martin, a truly underrated femme fatale who was destined to, and expert at, playing lower- or upper-class ladies of extraordinarily easy virtue. some goodhearted, others downright vicious (the total opposite of her non-screen life, where she was very active in all kinds of religious activities, charities and good works) has one of her best roles here. A 'B" film, yes, and not to be confused with high quality film making, yet it is a totally enjoyable 70 or so minutes of fluff and good-natured adventure, both for kids and adults. Why else would I have remembered it so fondly for over 70 years now?


Thoughts, Corrections, and Commentary on ZAZA
I have not seen this film, and likely never will, but the three comments I have read here (occasioned on my part by a recent viewing of the Claudette Colbert 1938 version) need some thought and at least one correction. 1) Why should it be a 'stretch' for Swanson or any other actress to play a French woman, especially in a silent film?, 2) Is the second reviewer so removed from music that he does not know that "Plaisir d'amour" was one of the most famous love songs ever written (by Padre Martini, a sometime-priest)?, that it was well over 100 years old at the time of the play's setting (1898), and close to 200 years old when it was somewhat destroyed in order to become the Presley hit, "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You"?; also that it had been recorded by several dozen of the greatest (mostly) classical singers of the 20th century long before Elvis the Pelvis laid eyes upon it?, 3) While it is not inconceivable that Sarah Bernhardt might come to mind in connection with the character of Zaza, it should be noted that Zaza is a music hall star, while Bernhardt was arguably the most famous and most respected serious actress of her time, that time being the last third of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th (even though she always acted in French, even in America), and that her position then might be roughly analogous to Meryl Streep's today rather than to, say, Lady Gaga's! Also, in 1898 Bernhardt was hardly in her 'prime', being 54 years old (a lot older then than it would be now!) and a very famous star actress for 30 years. And, in 1898 I doubt that two respected French playwrights would have insulted their country's leading actress by writing a play about some of the less savory aspects of her life. Not to mention that in 1898 much of that information was hardly available to them or to the general public. I point out the unlikelihood of such an assumption rather than its absolute falsity, for we will never know for sure. The story was filmed 3 times before 1940, and twice during Bernhardt's lifetime, but outside the outstanding stage success Mrs. Leslie Carter achieved in the role in America, to this day the role is mostly associated with the American opera star, Geraldine Farrar, who achieved great success in it as her last new role at the Met, this in Leoncavallo's operatic version of the play. It does seem that, after Leoncavallo's death (1919) and Farrar's retirement from Opera (1922), ZAZA lost considerable ground. In fact, the only time most of us have heard of it since then was when Claudette Colbert filmed it in 1938 (and she was apparently a last-minute replacement for Isa Miranda, thus giving it a star imprimatur it would not otherwise have enjoyed), and in very occasional operatic revivals since the end of the Second World War.

Werewolf of London

The Grand Daddy of All Werewolf Films
There are loads of reviews here already, both good and bad, some well-informed and others not so. But I wanted to throw in a few good words here for the cast, especially Henry Hull, upon whom many reviewers have descended with just about everything but the proverbial stake. Hull was a major American character actor whose specialty, despite a really quite gorgeous speaking voice, was very feisty and grizzled American characters, such as the newspaper editor in JESSE JAMES and, quite major, the role of Jeeter Lester in the original Broadway production of TOBACCO ROAD. WEREWOLF was his second talking film, but he had been on the Broadway stage since 1911. In any case, assigning him the role of Dr. Glendon in this opus was akin to assigning the role of Henry VIII to Andy Griffith, but dammit, it worked, and he plays it beautifully. If you don't like his character, then he has done his job, because the script is written in such a way that he is supposed to be a standoff-ish, unemotional prig, but not an inherently evil man. Interestingly, for this essentially British horror film, I think he and Spring Byington are the only Americans in the lead cast. Warner Oland is, I think, simply great as Dr. Yogami. He is the more sympathetic of the two werewolves because although it is he who afflicts Hull's character with the curse, he does so under the same compulsion that Dr. Glendon is subject to when he goes out and murders people. The difference is that Yogami is searching for the antidote at all times, does not want to be a killer, tries to inveigle Glendon into something of a partnership in searching out the effects of the marifesa plant (Glendon doesn't even want to know him!), etc. Yogami even goes to the police to warn them of the danger in their midst. Oland, of course, was Swedish, but played almost nothing but Chinese and Japanese characters in his movie career because, even without make-up, he simply looked Oriental (even in 1929's THE STUDIO MURDER MYSTERY, when he plays a Hollywood studio head named Borka, one keeps being surprised that there was a Chinese studio head in Hollywood at that time!). Valerie Hobson, one of the classiest of English actresses, was only 17 when this film was being shot, but, just as in the same year's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, sounds a dozen years more mature, and properly upper-class and commanding. By the time she did KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS some 14 years later, she was only then arriving at the age of most of the characters she played; she retired from acting at 38, after having done (and recorded) the original London stage production of THE KING AND I (with Herbert Lom), to marry the later-scandal-plagued John Profumo. The three ditzy ladies are rather in the style of James Whale's ditzy ladies; if you don't like them, fine, but if you do like them, they are hilarious. For that matter, was Spring Byington even capable of not turning in a first-rate performance? This film is always being compared with THE WOLF MAN, but nobody points out that the same actor, J. M. Kerrigan, played one of the more important supporting roles in each film - Glendon's assistant in his botany laboratory in this, and Evelyn Ankers' father in THE WOLF MAN. Also, I find the make-up for the lycanthropes here much more realistic than in the Chaney film. You can still see that it is Hull and Oland under the wolf make-up, whereas Chaney is totally unrecognizable. And the characters here remain at least reasonably human, walking on two feet, whereas in the Chaney film, while he does walk on two feet, Talbot is still recognizably human whereas the creature who bit him - Bela the Gypsy - was a pure out-and-out wolf (or maybe a German shepherd masquerading as one!). And these guys wear clothing, and even put on overcoats and hats when they go out to kill; Chaney's Talbot would not appear to, even though the first manifestation of his inner wolf shows him running around the woods in a dark shirt, whereas when he experienced the change, he was wearing a white dress shirt. No such inconsistencies in the 1935 version. Lastly, the musical score is great in THE WOLF MAN, and totally original, but the one for WEREWOLF OF LONDON, is made up of new music and old classical chestnuts, like Brahms' "Sapphische Ode" (also used in THE BLACK CAT). It is effective enough, but not the equal of the Previn-Salter-Skinner score for the Chaney opus. I grew up on, and loved, both of these films in their constant movie revivals throughout the late 1940s and 1950s (until Shock Theater and/or Chiller Theater brought them to TV starting in 1957), so anything I say critical of them is said through affection rather than disappointment or pique, but I think I actually like the Hull film just a little bit more than the Chaney one. Still, there is much to be said for any film that gives us even 7 or 8 minutes worth of Maria Ouspenskaya, so maybe we should just call it a draw.

Peter Pan

One of the Great Performances on TV or Anywhere Else
Somehow or other, although I was around for all of them, I had never seen one of the Broadway productions, nor any of the three Mary Martin TV productions, of PETER PAN until two nights back. Younger readers may not recall that Mary Martin was considered a titan of the musical theater from the late 1930s to at least the mid-1960s, fully on an equal footing with the great Ethel Merman. In a day when almost nobody knows the names of most Broadway stars who are not also movie and TV luminaries, it is astounding to think of just how famous the Broadway stars of those days were all over the world - think not only of Martin and Merman, but of Alfred Drake, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Katherine Cornell, Dennis King, and so many others who rarely or never appeared in films. Whenever I have seen Mary Martin on TV, even just on kinescopes (this one is not a kinescope), she exudes a kind of all-encompassing professionalism and joy, along with a charisma, that nobody today can match. Maybe that comes from going out onto a real stage and performing for real theater audiences 7 or 8 times a week, I don't know, but whatever it was, nobody else had it in this superabundance. This PETER PAN is the epitome, I think, of her style, and I do wish I had seen her 'live' on stage. As I say, I was around to have done so, but never did. And that's all I'll say about her or about this production, but there is still more to say.

More than one reviewer has complained that Peter Pan is being played by a woman here, and they are obviously sorely deficient in knowledge of the history of musical theater in the 20th century. Peter Pan, in the approximate 115 years it has now been on the stage, has ALWAYS been played by a woman, usually one as petite as possible in order to appear credible as a boy of ten (well, let's say, ten; I'm not sure his age is stipulated). There probably isn't a child, boy or girl, of that age who could possibly encompass the acting range and other abilities needed for the role. Perhaps the 14- or 15-year old Mickey Rooney (thinking of Puck, in his MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM of 1935) might have been able to pull it off, but that just about ends the possibilities. The first Peter Pan (and the author's choice) was Maude Adams, who when she died in 1952 at the age of 80, was still remembered by people like my mother, because she had been the Peter Pan for a whole generation of kids from 1905 up to about 1930. That was in the straight play version, of course, not in a musical. She was succeeded in it by one of America's greatest actresses, Eva La Galliene, and by America's reigning female Broadway star of the 1920s and early 1930s, Marilyn Miller. Came 1950, and the great Jean Arthur (52 at the time) did it on Broadway, to the Captain Hook of Boris Karloff. Now, THAT must have been something to see! I'm writing only of Broadway here, but the role was played by myriad actresses all over the English-speaking world. When the musical came into being in 1954, it was, of course, Mary Martin who did it on Broadway, and then three separate times on TV. Thank God she did, for this is one of the very few famous Broadway performances pre-1965 or so to have been preserved in any form for posterity. Since Mary Martin, the musical has also been done on Broadway by Sandy Duncan and, of course, by Cathy Rigby. First essaying it in 1981, the last time Rigby appeared on Broadway in the role was in 2013, when she was 61 years of age! Being less than five feet tall, a famous gymnast, and, of course, appearing on stage at a good distance from the audience, she could still pull it off. But Mary Martin is well over five feet tall and is appearing here in close-up, yet she still exudes both youth and boyhood, a considerable achievement when you think that her previous great success on Broadway was as leading lady to Ezio Pinza in SOUTH PACIFIC, and that at the same time this TV show was in production, she was playing Maria (how old? 18? 19?) in THE SOUND OF MUSIC 8 times a week. For anyone to complain that a boy isn't playing Peter Pan betrays some ignorance of show business history and a total unwillingness to suspend disbelief for a mere 90 minutes. I'm amazed that people who find fault with this aren't also upset that the Darlings' dog isn't really a canine, and that the alligator who ate up Captain Hook's arm isn't real, either. (By the way, lest we forget, the tape also preserves the wonderful Captain Hook of Cyril Ritchard, a great stage star and director of his time, but pretty much forgotten today, although he starred in and/or directed some two dozen plays on Broadway, and played stage roles there that were then taken in films by talents as diverse as Fred Astaire and Jerry Lewis! And during the time his various Hook performances were taking place, he also directed 4 productions for the Metropolitan Opera, in one of which, Offenbach's LA PERICHOLE, he appeared as co-star some 4 dozen times. THAT is what a Man of the Theater is supposed to be, and he was! His obscurity today doesn't quite rise to the level of tragedy, but it should!)

Time Without Pity

It May Be Over The Top, But How Else Could It Be Done?
I found this film so mesmerizing that when it ended, I put it on again and watched it a second time. There are complaints galore voiced by reviewers here, and almost without exception I don't understand them. They say the film is overacted. That it is incoherent. That the musical score is terrible. That the police should have easily identified the killer. And on we go. I admit to being a performance-driven viewer, and except for, of all things, a Walter Huston-Claudette Colbert film from 1929, I don't think I've seen a new (to me) movie in at least a year (and I sometimes watch three or four a night) that was as excitingly acted as was this one. This is not a spoiler, but I will list it as such, just in case, as seems to be the case here, some people didn't watch the opening of the film. It starts with the murder - somewhat accidental - of a beautiful girl by an enraged Leo McKern. There, everybody knows this from the first 30 seconds (even before the credits appear), so you should, too. Right from that scene, and in every other one in which he appears, McKern is shown to be something of a nut job. He flies off the handle at anybody and everybody with what may be the loudest voice in the British Theater. His wife is afraid of him, his son seems to be terrified of him, and at all times he acts like someone who could go off the deep end in about 15 seconds. This is the character as written! Leo McKern does not OVERACT it. When someone asks why the police didn't cotton on to him as the potential murderer, the answer is simple: he has an alibi for the time of the killing, and being the wealthy head of a large and successful company, it is obvious that he can keep his terrible temper under control when in professional or non-family settings. Besides which, the victim's boyfriend got drunk with her, and then when found the next morning, could not recall the prior night's events, and never claims absolute innocence because he's not certain he didn't kill her. Enter his father, as magnificently played by Michael Redgrave. With all the great roles he played on screen from THE LADY VANISHES on to DEAD OF NIGHT and THE BROWNING VERSION, I think this is the best acting job of his screen career. He is a severe alcoholic who has just spent two years in a Canadian sanitarium, divorced by his doctors from just about any contact with the outside world, even to the confiscation of newspapers and magazines, and upon release he finds that his son is about to be executed for murder. Arriving in London by plane, he looks right from the start like an extremely troubled and vulnerable man who may, even in the absence of his son's problems, be exerting only a tenuous hold on his sanity and emotions. Redgrave goes through the entire film in the most incredibly complex gradations of the character we first see, and how he was able to keep those gradations going so well, scene to scene, over what must have been at least a few weeks of filming is damn near awe-inspiring. Think of his ventriloquist character in DEAD OF NIGHT, take the insanity out and put paranoia, fear, guilt and a sense of impending doom in its place, and that is the person Redgrave plays so perfectly through every second of the entire film. It is a great performance, as good or better than anything else he did on the screen. Also to be mentioned here is an actor I did not previously know, Paul Daneman, as McKern's son. A handsome young man, Daneman looks uncomfortable, frightened, squeamish, and near suicidal throughout a good portion of the film, and as you get to know Dad, you understand why, but it is perhaps the only one of the lead performances that might be termed 'underacted'. I will see more of his work. And Ann Todd is excellent, and very beautiful (more so than in many earlier films), at, for the 1950s, the relatively late age of 48. The three other ladies in the film, Lois Maxwell (in an unusual role for her as a femme fatale), Renee Houston (magnificently coarse and blowsy as Lois's mother) and, if you can believe it, Joan Plowright as a cheapish chorus girl are excellent. In any large cast that incudes Peter Cushing, and where Cushing is rather pushed into the shade by the other actors, you know you are getting a textbook lesson in the art of acting, even if a lot of it is over-the-top. But there's good over-the-top (think John Barrymore) and not so good over-the-top (think Bela Lugosi, at least on occasion), and while it is really Redgrave who holds the film together (except when he takes his trench coat off to try to wave down a racing car driven by McKern, and then at the very end for a different reason, he is dressed in that trench coat, indoors and outdoors, for the entire film, as the time he has to save his son's life is so compressed that he never seems to spend more than a few minutes in any one place), over-the-top honors belong to Mr. McKern every step of the way. And given that the story is based on an Emlyn Williams play, they must have opened it up considerably for the film, as it seems to take place all over London, instead of in one or two stage settings. I think the copy I've seen is the cut one mentioned elsewhere, as there are a couple of scenes that are rather sprung upon the viewer with no real lead-up - how did McKern end up in that pub drinking and lamenting the loneliness of his life with Redgrave (who would seem to be, in comparison, the loneliest man on the planet)? how was it decided that McKern would drive Redgrave anywhere at all? how did Ann Todd go from having her hair piled on high to having it down on her shoulders if a good slap from McKern did not effect the change? But we see none of this. Doesn't matter, though, since I'm not recommending this as one of the great mysteries (we know who did it, but how will everybody else find out?), or noirs, or even as containing the most sensible of cast characterizations. I'm simply recommending it for the acting and the pure visceral excitement that can be garnered from watching great British actors acting greatly, and especially under the masterful direction of Joseph Losey. (And the finale is a killer - in more ways than one!)

The Adventures of Sir Galahad

And George Reeves Thought Superman Should Not Be a Career-Defining Role!
I have to admit that I'm writing this review after having seen only the first two chapters. However, 70 years ago, it was my little 10-year-old body in the American Theater (Greenpoint, Brooklyn) cheering on these heroic knights and dastardly villains. I already knew who George Reeves was from his surprising villainy in the original Jungle Jim film (he tried to push Johnny Weissmuller off a cliff in that one) and from his co-starring effort with Ralph Byrd (of Dick Tracy fame) in a really delightful little comedy adventure called THUNDER IN THE PINES (which introduced Denise Darcel two years before M-G-M decided to 'introduce' Denise all over again). Anyway, I liked this at the time, but watching it last night, what impressed me most is how squashed and dumpy George Reeves looked in his Medieval outfit. We see him only once in these two chapters without his face and/or head covered by a helmet right out of the Columbia prop room. George was in his mid-30s, good looking, and in good physical shape, but you'd never know it from these first two chapters, where he and Charlie King are virtually indistinguishable when their face protectors are down. Everybody else except Nelson Leigh as Arthur sounds like they just resigned from a cattle-rustling gang, but Charlie sounds like he's still in it. William Fawcett as Merlin has an American twang, too, and despite the fact that he is wearing long white hair to make him look older, veteran serial fans and film-goers will know that he looked even more ancient when he just appeared as himself sans make-up. Reeves's Prince Valiant hair does his appearance no favors, either. The three ladies - Guinevere, Morgan Le Fey, and the Lady of the Lake are very attractive, but were hardly ever seen in anything again where you could recognize them as the three girls in this serial. The Lady of the Lake is particularly fetching (well, if she lives in a lake, she should look fetching - sorry about that) and if I'd been as smart at 10 as I am at 80, I would have loved to take her home to mother. Anyway, watching Medieval England taking place on Columbia's standard Western sets (I think I actually knew some of the boulders by name!) is fun, and these two episodes, as truly awful as they are, were fun, too. Another reviewer commented that with just about every serial ever made, if you watch the first two chapters and the last two chapters, you've pretty much seen the entire four- or five-hour serial, because nothing much ever happens in the middle episodes (and usually they are recapitulated in the next-to-last or last chapter, so you really don't miss much). Interestingly, though, I could still recall from 70 years ago what I just saw again last night, so the serial must have had the effect Sam Katzman intended it to have - to embed itself into the hearts and minds of ten-year-old boys until the Dark Fellow with the Scythe arrives to get you out of all this. And the budget? Let's just say than when King Ulric tries to conquer England early on, he does so with an army of about ten men, and no matter how many of them Galahad outduels, there still seems to be an approximate ten-man army gathered around to do nasty business to Camelot. Very enjoyable, and even if George Reeves was unhappy to always be associated with Superman, it would have been far worse for his career and legend (well, if he has a legend) to be forever associated with Sir Galahad.

Against the Wind

I Loved This Film and Can't Understand Why Everybody Else Didn't as Well
I got this as one of a number of recent acquisitions and kept putting off watching it because war films have to be very good to hold my interest and I wasn't all that interested in a British war film that would be starring Simone Signoret and Robert Beatty, expecting some kind of wartime mishmash of a love story accompanied by London blackouts. Boy, was I wrong! I found this an absolutely first-rate film all the way, and I cannot understand some of the negative reviews seen here, unless they are mainly from younger reviewers who want shoot-'em-up action before all else. And several of the reviews don't even get the story right while still nastily including 'spoilers' (one of which does not include a warning). This has to be just about the earliest film to include a crash course in the techniques of wartime infiltration and espionage, and we are given full measure of this by being walked through various training and laboratory facilities and seeing just how ingenious some of these things are and just how conscienceless even potential heroes are expected to be. The laboratory part of it, much involved in explosives of kinds most normal and upstanding people can't even imagine, is reminiscent of later tours through the latest inventions 007 will be given and made familiar with in order to accomplish his own missions. And Peter Illing makes a marvelous and quite lengthy speech to the potential spies and infiltrators, the main point of which is that they must never let their emotions interfere with their duty - which is, of course, to accomplish the mission and/or avoid being caught. If you have to sacrifice a comrade, even a good friend, you do so, because by doing so you will save many more lives than his or hers. And you WILL take that suicide pill if you are caught; your death is as unimportant as your friend's as long as the mission is served. That's a rather heady set of instructions to hear back in 1948, when Great Britain and all the rest of Europe were but three years' distant from the worst and most humanly costly war in history. And that's just for a start. In the course of the film, you will see how this training plays out, and in some cases, the least-likely characters, portrayed by the least-likely actors (considering stardom or sympathetic characterizations) are so suddenly gone from the scene or so brutally betrayed by circumstances that it is a considerable shock to the viewer to even realize what is going on before their eyes. I agree with a couple of reviewers that the Signoret-Gordon Jackson romance seems unrealistic, but that is not Jackson's fault (he is always an excellent actor), just a mistake of casting. Yet there is only two years' difference in their ages, but Signoret seems so much more mature. But when considering such duos, it is well to remember that Margaret Leighton was six years older than Laurence Harvey, and that Elizabeth Taylor, while four years younger than Eddie Fisher, was about a thousand years older than he was in experience. I mention these mundane comparisons to show that surely such pairings were not necessarily so unusual, maybe especially so in wartime, as to invalidate their inclusion in this particular storyline. Anyway, there was not a performance in the film that I didn't consider somewhere between excellent and superb, most especially those of Signoret, Illing, Beatty, Warner and Justice (what actor ever had more easy authority than Mr. Justice?). As for the reviewer who has up to this moment scored an amazing 0 - 21 where agreements with his assessment of the film are concerned, it should be noted that Mr. Warner, 54 at the time the film was made, could easily have been a decade younger in his character, and that being overweight (Mr. Warner was always overweight) is not necessarily an impediment to being in overall excellent physical condition. After all, he didn't even make his first movie until he was 48, stuck around in films for another 35 years, had a hit TV series wherein he played a policeman until he was just past 80 years of age, and died at 85. I think he was in good enough shape to be a soldier during World War Two, don't you? (Another similarly porky fellow, Ernest Borgnine, spent ten years in the U.S. Navy, lived to be 95, and made five films in the last year of his life!) All in all, I thought this a superb film, and I can't imagine why I never heard of it before recently picking it up.

The Lady Lies

Amazingly Solid 1929 Entry Into the Talking Film Era
I'll stick to the performances and the filming here, rather than to the storyline. First of all, I don't think I have ever seen a film from 1929 that is better and more naturally acted, with the microphone picking up every little vocal nuance in a way that we did not get used to entirely until at least, say, 1933 or 1934. The scenes are rarely visually static, but this is basically a filmed play, so there isn't much camera action necessary. Every one of the actors is better, or at least more natural-sounding and -looking, than in almost any other 1929 film I've seen, and there are never any of those pregnant pauses or moments when the cameraman doesn't seem to know what to do to extricate his camera from one scene and go on to the next. Maybe the actor playing the Puritanical relative is a bit on the old-fashioned side where speaking is concerned, but the man he is playing is something of a social-religious fanatic, so he gets away with it. But all four leads, plus the children (especially Tom Brown as the son) are superb throughout. I expected this of Colbert, Huston and Ruggles, but was really surprised at just HOW GOOD they were. Add to them, the not-much-seen Betty Garde as Ruggles' illicit paramour and Joyce's best friend, and it is just a wonderful quartet. Garde, whose major career was on stage, radio and early television (I seemed to see her every time I turned on the TV back then), wasn't really attractive enough for film and far too tall for most leading men at 5'10", and my only real recollection of her in movies is from two decades later, when she played the mother-dominated nurse who helps villain Richard Conte escape from his hospital confinement in CRY OF THE CITY, a vivid performance of a hopelessly unhappy large and older woman. But, here, she is just delightful as a floozie with both brains and heart, and one whom we are sure will end up snagging Charlie Ruggles for good after our part of the story ends. Ruggles is superb, but wasn't he always? Huston, who to me was one of America's five or six greatest STAR character actors of the first half of the last century (the others being Muni, Tracy, March, and the Barrymore brothers) is fine here, although his role is not quite as demanding as many others he essayed in the early talkies. But the standout is Colbert, who is simply born to act on the screen, so natural is her delivery and appearance at every moment. She has a near-cello voice and it is captured beautifully in 1929, while some other very fine actresses were still semi-screeching to be heard properly. If anything - and this is really quite amazing for 1929 - the film is underacted by all but perhaps Tom Brown, but hey the kid was only 16 and would be around for another 50 years. Yes, the story is old-fashioned, but it is not maudlin. I was very happy with, and admittedly surprised by, just how well this whole film came over, as it is superior to the vast majority of films from this very confined era that are better-remembered today.

House of Darkness

Great Debut for Harvey
Everybody seems to be down on Lawrence Harvey for playing not just this cad, but many others, so that they find him dislikeable. But if one is going to play cads, one should very definitely come over as dislikeable. For the record, and for those who don't go far enough back, when Harvey became a world star, and during his years in the U.S., he appeared on any number of talk shows (including Jack Paar's and Johnny Carson's) and he was always an absolutely delightful and very loquacious guest, who could give Robert Morley a run for his money when it came to story-telling and general commentary. Indeed, I remember Paar once commenting (I think while going for a commercial break) something like, "Well, we certainly don't want to interrupt you - not that it's likely we ever could!", so Harvey put on a good act on the screen. Anyway, this is really a quite amazing film debut for an actor who was only 19 at the time, and while everyone else is quite good (and Ms. Osmond, whom I cannot recall seeing before, is absolutely gorgeous in the same way that the young Patricia Medina was), it is Harvey's performance as a man certainly a decade older than the actor who really holds the film up and keeps it going. Shades of the precocious Orson Welles, but even Orson was well over 19 when he got into film. Actually, the only thing really wrong with the movie is the God-awful opening and closing sequences with George Melachrino, surely amongst the most gratuitous scenes ever filmed for a movie like this one. The film isn't as creepy as some have indicated, but the scene with Harvey playing a demonic piano while a shadow on the wall plays an equally demonic violin should stay in the memory.


Enjoyable Film Based On An Unexplained and Unreasonable Action
I found this pretty enjoyable from beginning to end, fairly lighthearted in its journalism aspects, and solid enough dramatically in its more serious moments. However, I have an important question that no other reviewer seems to have thought about (and no spoilers here, as the viewing audience knows everything right from the beginning) and it is this: Why in heaven's name does the villain Paul Grayson shoot the victim? She had a pistol, he easily disarmed her in the presence of another female visitor, and then, when she had fallen to the floor and is a threat to no one, he stands over her, still in the presence of his visitor, and shoots her twice in the stomach. Why? We never hear a word out of him in explanation or justification, the action will ruin his life, he has a witness to his crime, and up to that point he appears a charming and friendly fellow. Later, from the police, we find that the woman he shot was pregnant and had expected marriage, but that hardly seems reason enough to shoot her in front of a witness he has no plans to also kill. Come to think of it, other than being a friend of the witness, we learn just about nothing of his past or his character for the rest of the film. It is the only narrative problem for me in the movie and could probably have been completely covered in about one minute of explanation, but it never is. Still, it's a very enjoyable film with lots of good performances, not the least of which is that given by William Hartnell.

Ladies Should Listen

Nydia Westman Steals It, but Cary Grant Isn't Exactly Chopped Liver, Either!
I can't quite figure out why so many reviewers here don't think this is much of a film. To me, never having seen it (or, quite honestly, heard of it) before, I found it a delightful time-waster and I was surprised at just how good Cary Grant was at comedy this early in the game. The story is fluff and really doesn't make much sense, but you can say that about THE BIG SLEEP (and everyone does) while still enjoying it. Anyway, any film with Edward Everett Horton in his prime is worth seeing, and to have the two of actors together is icing on the cake. (One might want to read the great Christopher Plummer's autobiography just to learn in what awe he held Horton when acting with him in the 1950s.) Frances Drake is also delightful (although I am more used to seeing her in thrillers like MAD LOVE and THE INVISIBLE RAY) and shows a gift for comedy. But the truly inspired performance in this film, which no words can adequately describe - you really have to see it - is Nydia Westman's. She is just a delight as a cute, pliant, headstrong ditz (no other word will suffice). Again, I've never seen anything like it except maybe Marie Wilson's lovably weird secretary to Warren William in SATAN MET A LADY. The performances are not alike, they are just weirdly different from anything you could possibly expect. Watch this and you'll see what I mean. Of course, the film depends totally on the performers - as a viable screenplay it may have a lot of words but it hardly exists - and they come through. Besides, who ever went to see a Cary Grant film for the screenplay? And Westman delivers lines like little lightning bolts from another planet. I thought the whole thing delightful.

Queen of Burlesque

For a Change, Evelyn Ankers Makes Others Scream
I have been watching Evelyn Ankers in Universal horror films for about 70 years now, yet not until I watched this film last night did I realize that the lady had legs - and very good ones, too. She is the most unlikely actress short of Edith Evans to play a burlesque queen, but what she and all the other lovelies in this film do is hardly burlesque anyway (this was 1946 and Hollywood was having none of that; there isn't anything in this film that couldn't be seen in a Freddy Stewart-June Preisser production of the same period, and certainly nothing like what my best friend and I used to see when we took the bus over to New Jersey to see real burlesque at the Hudson Theater there, as it was banned in New York!), but she does put on a semi-lower class line delivery that is believable enough if you have never seen her being menaced all over England and Middle Europe by the likes of George Zucco, Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi. A couple more films after this, and then she retired to Hawaii with husband Richard Denning. I think this is the only time I've ever seen Carleton Young as a leading man, but I recall him a bit later than here in the radio series THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, which was introduced by the Bacchus music from Delibes' SYLVIA and gave me my start toward a lifetime of loving classical music, so thank you Carleton. Anyway, people are getting murdered all over the place in this one and, unhappily, for no good reason that is adequately explained at the end. The film is actually pretty enjoyable if you have an hour to waste and don't mind B-film budgets peopled mostly with C-film actors, all of whom are pretty good for what this is. But that is the question: What is it?

Meet the Wildcat

A Wonderful But Greatly Underappreciated Actress
Margaret Lindsay was ubiquitous throughout the 1930s and pretty busy until at least the late 1950s, and therefore taken for granted, but if one watches her in this film and in the HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES, both released in 1940, you will see an actress run damn near the gamut of acting we usually associate with Bette Davis (except that Davis wasn't nearly as good a semi-farceur as was Lindsay). Lindsay played so many B-film love interests, bright and bushy-tailed secretaries, second leads, etc., that one tended to take her for granted. I find her absolutely hilarious in this film, although she is basically doing a kind of Torchy Blane role; her delivery of lines, especially throw-away funny ones, is on a par with anybody's, and her speaking voice is richer than that of most other actresses of the period. But when you see her as this ditzy character, and then go over to the SEVEN GABLES film, the difference is startling. There, she plays a young and innocent 19th century love interest who, over the course of two decades while her lover is in prison for a murder she knows he didn't commit, turns from an eager young maiden into an embittered middle-aged woman, and does things with her speaking voice that are quite astounding. Then you go back to this film and say, "Nah, it can't be the same actress". But it is. She was so very underrated, and I recall James Cagney, in his autobiography, fairly hating her guts, she was so lah-de-dah uppity he claimed. I think maybe he just didn't like her cultured speaking voice and, more likely, her lifestyle (she was supposedly a totally open lesbian at a time when people strove to hide such things). But you'd never know that from either of these films; she is about as feminine as they come, as funny as they come, as ditzy as they come, and (where appropriate) as tragic as they come. This film really has nothing much going for it except its attitude, and the three leads - Lindsay, Ralph Bellamy and Allen Jenkins - are responsible for that attitude. A truly good natured sixty minutes or so, with occasional laugh-out-loud lines, almost always delivered by Lindsay. Even Frank Puglia's police inspector is funny, and I have NEVER seen Frank Puglia being funny before. Joseph Schildkraut must have wondered what he was doing in the same film with these people, except even Joe is (ominously) funny.

A Dangerous Woman

A Major Talent Seen in the Wrong Language and Medium
Olga Baclanova was a fairly major star of the legendary Moscow Art Theater (MAT), and the people she worked with there should have ensured a lifetime of acting success. However, when the MAT visited New York City in 1925, Olga jumped ship, so to speak, and remained here. While this may have been a great move for the quality of her personal life, it was something of a disaster for her career, and even for her reputation, as an actress. Since her early talking films, of which this is the worst I've seen, evidence a decided lack of familiarity with the English language, she did not 'catch on' in the era of other European imports like Garbo, Velez and Bergman, and would be totally forgotten today if not for her extraordinary performance in FREAKS (1932), in which her English is better but hardly in the Garbo class. Anyway, she was apparently supposed to be the reason to see this film, but there was really no good reason to see this film except for its very early talkie status, and that is the only reason it might hold a viewer's attention today. Everybody overacts here, except maybe Clyde Cook as a guy who has "gone native". The other four white characters are pretty miserable in their surroundings, so that Baclanova becomes their sole interest. But, and I'm sorry to say this, Olga was 36 when she made this, but could easily pass for 45 or 50 (which was a lot older then than it is now). Also, she seems to be a good 20 to 25 pounds overweight. Nothing wrong with that, but in 1929 Hollywood it was definitely not the thing to be. She looks more like a healthy middle-aged opera singer (of Leonie Rysanek proportions) than a jungle femme fatale. (In FREAKS she seems to have slimmed down some, but still, the thought of her as a trapeze artist is laughable, unless the catcher was Victor McLaglen or Arnold Schwarzenegger). Clive Brook gives his standard stiff-upper-lip performance, but is not as embarrassing as that good actor Neil Hamilton or that even better one Leslie Fenton. Fenton played some pretty strong characters later on (like Nails Nathan in PUBLIC ENEMY or the Chinese two-timer in THE HATCHET MAN), but here he is a weakling who has one (pretty awful) scene at the beginning of the film before he runs off to shoot himself, possibly in a successful effort to extricate himself from the film. I would never have thought this of Fenton, but he looks like he might have worked out beautifully as Renfield had Dwight Frye not been available for DRACULA. Oy! The only redeeming part of the film is when Baclanova sings - if, indeed, she is doing her own singing, but I think she is - for she gives out with a very strong mezzo-contralto with the kind of chest tones made famous by her great predecessors in Russian song, Varya Panina and Vialtseva. It's worth the price of the film to hear her, if not to see her. There's a bit of a twist ending that satisfies, but one must suffer for over an hour to get to it. Brook gave about 220,000 similar performances before they dragged him back to England, Hamilton stayed around until the Batman TV series, and Fenton turned into a pretty decent director. Cook stuck around for years as the ideal good-natured Cockney, and pretty much reprised this particular role in the Laughton-Lombard WHITE WOMAN, but that was a much better picture than this one. Still, it's worth a look just to see people complaining about the sun and the stifling heat and then dressing for dinner (served near a grand piano, just what every African hut of the era needed!).

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