Spikeopath

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Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Zuni Zest! Trilogy of Terror is directed by Dan Curtis and written by Richard Matheson and William Nolan. A 1975 American TV movie, pic has Karen Black in three stories playing different women who each venture to the world of horror.

TV Horror Movies from the 1970s have long since proven to give fond memories to many of us who viewed them through youthful eyes back in that decade. Of course when revisiting them now with mature frame of mind etc, they mostly prove to be a little cornball, cheap, and just not very good in the grand scheme of things. Mostly that is, for there are a few exceptions that still has one just a little bit edgy as we remember how we felt when first catching a sneaky chiller. For sure we don't find ourselves hiding behind the pillows this time, but we still feel a wave of nostalgic terror coursing through our veins.

Trilogy of Terror is one such film that holds up for most of a certain age. No getting away from it, it's all down to the "famous" third segment in the trilogy, which finds Black menaced by a cursed Zuni fetish doll. Anyone with a fear of inanimate toys/ dolls etc coming to life was terrified by what Dan Curtis and his team managed to achieve on the screen - and yes even today the fear factor can still gnaw away at the senses. The other two stories were not about terror, choosing to side with a more Twilight Zone approach, which is no surprise with the great Richard Matheson on pen duties, but these are actually better appreciated by a more mature audience as they show some depth to the story telling.

With the much missed Black on terrific form closing out the deal, Trilogy of Terror deserves the love and respect it garners even today. 8/10

Lightning Jack (1994)

Is this Kane able? Lightning Jack is directed by Simon Wincer and written by Paul Hogan. Hogan stars as the title character and he's supported by Cuba Gooding Jr., Beverly D'Angelo, Pat Hingle and L.Q. Jones. Music is by Bruce Rowland and cinematography by David Eggby.

Having burst onto the scene in movie world with Crocodile Dundee in 1986, Paul Hogan it seemed was set for a tilt at being a fully fledged film star. As it transpired, in spite of the first Dundee sequel proving popular, Hogan didn't have much of a film career at all. So it's with great interest to revisit his non Dundee films.

Lightning Jack is a comedy Western that pitches Hogan as outlaw Lightning Jack Kane, an Australian in the Old Wild West of America. He hankers to be more well known, to be wanted with a big reward on his head, so after (mis)fortune pairs him up with mute Ben Doyle (Gooding Jr.), they promptly go on an adventure of becoming criminally well known.

It's really as simple as that, and if we break it down to the bare facts, it's really just a chance for Hogan to play Hogan in a Wild West setting. But this is harmless comedy fare produced by an engaging comedy actor, okay so it may not be uproarious or have the fresh comedy finesse of Crocodile Dundee, but did it really deserve the scorn it got from critics?

Well it's very thin on plot leaving us with a film that's more a stitched together job of funny set-ups (your comedy barometer needs setting at amiable), but it is fun and likable due to Hogan and Gooding being easy to engage with. It also boasts gorgeous scenery, the locales sparkling thanks to smart work by Eggby (Mad Max/Quigley Down Under).

D'Angelo gets to be more than a token hooker with a heart, and is lovely into the bargain. Elsewhere, the presence of L.Q. Jones (Ride the High Country/Major Dundee) and Pat Hingle (Nevada Smith/Hang 'Em High) gives some Western solidification, and interesting cameo appearances by Roger Daltrey and Roger Clemens remind us that it's just a bit of amusement after all.

Not up to the standard of the criminally under valued Almost An Angel, and of course the first two Dundee movies are on a different plane to this. But it has its moments and is a decent time waster for genre fans in need of a gentle perk me up. 6/10

The Street with No Name (1948)

Central City Confidential The Street With No Name is directed by William Keighley and adapted to screenplay by Samuel Engel and Harry Kleiner. It Stars Mark Stevens, Richard Widmark, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Lawrence and Ed Begley. Music is by Lionel Newman and cinematography by Joseph MacDonald.

Undercover FBI agent Gene Cordell (Stevens) infiltrates a crime gang led by Alec Stiles (Widmark).

Produced in the good old semi-documentary style that suits cops and robbers noir pieces, The Street With No Name is all about showing how great the FBI is - and how dangerous their jobs are. Tight with its procedurals and investigative science, its thematic elements have high interest factors. Whilst the thrills come with the peril Cordell faces as he runs the risk of being unmasked by suspicious gang members and, naturally, there's a stoolie in the mix as well.

Stevens makes Cordell as the all American hero type, the kind the FBI want up front and personal as the face of its organisation. Widmark, fresh from prime psycho duties in Kiss of Death, again brings the nasty, only here with sly rational villainy in abundance. The polar opposites work well, while the characterisations of not only the principal players, but others as well, has that delightful ambiguity and personal quirky traits that would often drive film noir on.

Joseph MacDonald (The Dark Corner/ Call Northside 777) cloaks it in suitably noirish photography, ensuring the fictional Central City comes off as a place in danger of being corruptible to the core. Dialogue is hard enough to land a punch, the script thus managing to offset Stiles being under written, and even though the plot is thin, cast are good enough to keep it as above average noir fare for discernible types. 7/10

Footnote: It would be reimaged as House of Bamboo in 1955 with Samuel Fuller directing (MacDonald on photography duty there as well). Interesting to compare the two from a noir perspective.

Heat (1986)

The showgirls have moustaches and the waitresses can rip the phone book in half! This Burt Reynolds starrer had a very troubled production, with punches thrown and inevitable walk outs, it's no surprise to find this is hardly a great film. However, it's not as some would have you believe, a chaotic turd either.

The password is later!

Plot has Reynolds as Nick Escalante, he's an ex-mercenary working out of Las Vegas as a bodyguard for hire - amongst other things. When a lady of the night who he has paternal regard for is brutally beaten and sexually dehumanised, it brings Nick into conflict with a young gangster pretender with organised crime connections. All this as Nick battles his gambling addiction whilst trying to achieve his goal of moving to Venice, Italy, for his five year plan.

You're a peach of a guy. You're "A" number one. You're a swell fella.

Adapted by William Goldman from his own novel of the same name, Heat often threatens to be a very good picture. The characterisations are rich and interesting, the setting ripe for dark deeds and dream shattering, and Reynolds is in fine form. Reynolds was still a star, even if the films he was starting to make in the 80s didn't come close to matching his status. He is badly let down by some very creaky and daft action sequences here, why the director (Dick Richards/Jerry Jameson) didn't just do real time man to man combat is as mysterious as the resultant offering is daft.

I made $7 million dollars on my 28th birthday. Don't call me kid.

Whilst the screenplay lacks action (do not enter this one expecting an action fest), the script does have some weighty merit where Nick's interactions with others is concerned, none more so than with Peter MacNicol's (superb) Cyrus Kinnick. He's afraid of being afraid, enlisting Nick to give him a crash course in bravery. They are an odd pairing, but crucial to each other, they give the film its deft slices of humour, and simultaneously holding the key as to why Heat is not a bad film at all.

Michael Gibbs layers some smart sultry jazz music over proceedings, befitting the Vegas setting, while James Contner's cinematography is also tonally compliant to the sort of desperation feeling permeating the plot. Howard Hesseman and Diana Scarwid aren't given enough time to impact greatly, but at least Karen Young as Holly (lady of the night) strikes the right chords. Unfortunately Neill Barry as chief villain Danny DeMarco is implausibly poor and irritating into the bargain.

Enjoyment of Heat possibly hangs on if you happen to be a Reynolds fan, to get entertainment from watching him hold court. Viewed as a strong character piece with Reynolds front and center it passes muster, but if looking for something more then you could end up - like many already have- disappointed. 7/10

San Antonio (1945)

This town looks as if it's full of men who step on baby chickens. San Antonio is directed by David Butler and written by Alan Le May and W. R. Burnett. It stars Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, Paul Kelly, S.Z. Sakall, Florence Bates and Victor Francen. Music is by Max Steiner and cinematography by Bert Glennon.

It's always interesting to compare Errol Flynn's Westerns, his work in a genre he was not overly fond of. Depending on your Western genre proclivities of course, there's a mix of the old fashioned type, where Errol flirts and is heroic, or the more serious ones where his heroism is underplayed. San Antonio is the former.

Plot has Flynn as Clay Hardin, who is the man who can prove that town impresario Roy Stuart (Kelly) is the man responsible for the rampant cattle rustling going on in the state. There's agendas gnawing away in the plot, romantic dalliances that bring the delightful Alexis Smith into prominence, and of course there's frothy comedy light relief - the proviso here is if Sakall and Bates' thing doesn't irritate you?

Flynn is ace, athletic with a handsomeness that's rarely been bettered in Hollywood, to which here he's on lovable rascal form, playing off of Smith with appealing skill. Smith is a strong foil for her leading man, holding her end up in both stern characteristics and comedy angles. While it's always great to find Kelly in a villain role, here getting his teeth into it for much viewing reward.

Unfortunately this really could have done with a better director, the blend of drama and comedy seemingly uneasy in Butler's hands. The big denouement between hero and villain is a damp squib, which is a shame as we are in the ruins of The Alamo, a poignant piece of architecture that positively demands a more extended and vigorous finale. Elsewhere, Glennon's photography is pleasing if lacking in exterior splendours, and Steiner's score will sound familiar to anyone already familiar with his work.

Gloriously pretty, vibrant and colourful, it's well weighted with good production values and a solid cast, but as fun as it is it does lack some urgency ingredients to be great. 7/10

Without Honor (1949)

The Hour Of Twilight. Without Honor is directed by Irving Pichel and written by James Pope. It stars Dane Clark, Laraine Day, Franchot Tone and Agnes Moorehead. Music is by Max Steiner and cinematography by Lionel Lindon.

A mixed bag on offer in this one, where a broth of "sins" is stirred suitably in predominantly one location. Set-up bares a striking resemblance to Hitchcock's Rope released the previous year, where a group of characters are thrust together in one living room deconstructing their sins, shattered dreams and ulterior motives - all while a supposed dead body lays prone in one of the bedrooms.

The thematics at work are prime film noir, adultery, suicide attempt, sexual aggression, jealous agenda, duping and etc, all of which only comes to life half way through the piece. Here in is the problem, the pic asks for a lot of patience from the viewer before really getting going, which although the character group dynamic is pungent with an unsavoury odour, it never fully gets out of first gear.

Things aren't helped by the flat visual look of the piece, where with the story set in daytime, we yearn for a bit of noir flourish from one of the ace noir photographers of the time. Then there's Steiner's score, which is a cracker, ebullience in abundance, only it's in the wrong film! Moorehead is wasted in what is ultimately a walk on passive role, but at least Clark and Day nail the traits of their respective characters.

No hidden gem here, and noir hunters should be advised this is only noir from a plot perspective, but enough damaged human conditioning here to make it above average. 6.5/10

The Unknown (1946)

My poor poor baby. The Unknown is directed by Henry Levin and adapted to screenplay by Charles O'Neal and Dwight Babcock from the radio play written by Malcolm Boylan and Julian Harmon. It stars Karen Morley, Jim Bannon and Jeff Donnell. Music is by Alexander Steinert and cinematography by Henry Freulich.

A wonderfully good old fashioned spooky house mystery finds a group of relatives arrive at a big mansion estate for the reading of a will. Pretty soon strange occurrences and accidents are the order of the night.

Clocking in at just seventy minutes in run time, Levin's picture doesn't have time to bore or bother with pointless filler. Standard creepy house rules apply here, shadows dominate the visuals (Freulich's photography excellent), which accentuate uneasy atmosphere as characters trawl through secret passageways, barely lit corridors, the ominous staircase and even a mausoleum that sits next to the house.

The sound mix is important because you have to have creaks and groans, and the unnerving cry of a child in the night, all is spot on there. While the characters are a ripe blend of eccentrics, suspicious suspects,intrepid investigators and a dainty dame. The mystery element holds strong throughout, and while the resolution is hardly a bolt from the blue, it pays off well enough to round out a good time spent with the viewing. 6.5/10

Gojira tai Mekagojira (1974)

Okinawa Oblivion. Gojira tai Mekagojira is directed by Jun Fukuda and Fukuda co-writes the screenplay with Hiroyasu Yamamura. It stars Masaaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama, Akihiko Hirata and Hiroshi Koizumi. Music is by Masaru Sato and cinematography by Yuzuru Aizawa.

Toho introduce us to Mechagodzilla for the first time, a giant robotic Godzilla fashioned by aliens, cue monster smack-downs and the Earth in peril wrapped in a completely bonkers story.

Godzilla's 20th anniversary celebrations brought us this venture, a strange affair, where it's very easy to warm to and enjoyable for sure, if a tad too cheap and cheesy to be a high point of the original series wave. The human aspects plays like an odd ball spy caper, one that comes with glorious prophecies of monster doom for mankind. Sure enough, it's not long before chaos is brought down upon the city of Okinawa.

Along with the two titular Godzilla's of the title, we also get a bit of Angorus, whose actions and part in the story is a great set up, and here's a newbie joining the fray, King Caesar. Caesar is Okinawa's monster God, officially from Komainu lore in features, but actually looking like some rabid nuclear canine, but it's still great fun as Caesar and Godzilla try and repel the might of the supremely cool and lethal Mechagodzilla.

Sato's musical score is not for me, it's too cartoon like in patches and feels at odds with the peril sci-fi vibe so associated with the series. The artwork is a mixed bag as usual, where most annoying is that the Godzilla costume looks dreadfully cheap, but elsewhere great and nifty model and camera work exude a love for the series that's rather warming.

The ending by way of story wrapping sort of fizzles out, a shame since the pyrotechnics of the final battle are glorious. Which leaves us with a Godzilla film that sits somewhere in the middle tier of the rankings. But if only for introducing us to the awesome Mecahgodzilla for the first time it earns mighty respect. 6.5/10

Run (1991)

Run of the mill? Run is directed by Geoff Burrowes and written by Dennis Shryack and Michael Blodgett. It stars Patrick Dempsey and Kelly Preston. Music is by Phil Marshall and cinematography by Bruce Surtess.

Patrick Dempsey just prior to making Run was making a marker in Rom-Com territories, so it was a surprise to many upon its release to find Dempsey the central figure in a chase thriller. Though ordinary in the grand scheme of things, it's a very tidy picture. Sprinkled with quality chase sections and nifty action work, so it's easy to forgive the lack of likable characters on show. This includes Dempsey's Charlie Farrow, who is just a little too smug and full of himself to initially get us rooting for his survival.

Narrative encompasses dirty cops pandering to the mobsters calls, the latters henchmen annoyingly one note, while Preston's sultry babe act is vastly under nourished in context to Farrow's situation. Naturally there's a good cop as well, there has to be of course, but by and large Charlie is on his own and up against it, where a whole town is hell bent on handing him into the mob boss (Ken Pogue) who wrongly blames him for the death of his bully boy son (Alan C. Peterson).

Come the somewhat disappointing finale, where the final face off is all too brief, you hopefully should feel entertained enough for time spent watching. It's not brilliant or remotely original, but enough twists, action, suspense and even comedy mark it out as above average fare. 6.5/10

Kid (1990)

Hey do you believe in the bogeyman? Kid is directed by John Mark Robinson and written by Leslie Bohem. It stars C. Thomas Howell, Sarah Trigger, Brian Austin Green, R. Lee Ermey and Dale Dye. Music is by Tim Truman and cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman.

Come 1990 C. Thomas Howell had already showed himself to be flexible in his acting wiles, here he fronts up for some straight moody seriousness as The Kid of the title. The Kid is all about revenge, returning to his home town of his youth to enact retribution on those who murdered is mother and father.

It has strong resemblance to a whole host of previous movies that operate along the same formula straight, only difference is is that's it's pitched more to a young adult audience. Some of the dialogue is crass speak, the musical score in keeping with the decade this had just left behind, and away from Howell, Ermey and Dye (the latter two doing their rough and tough acts), the acting is cringe inducing, however, this is no dead loss.

A revenge movie is easy to buy into if you can get on board with the protagonist/antagonist, and Howell manages to do this. Kid is a person of few words, instead choosing to say more by brooding and using serio visual ticks, his intensity in the role rewarding. It's quite refreshing in light of Ermey and Dye's barnstorming approach to one dimensional villainy.

The ending somewhat peters out, sadly not daring to go the whole mile for complete devine retributional closure, which marks this out as not being a must see revenge pic. Yet it has enough strengths for the undemanding viewer, I mean if only for death by tennis ball this should be marked above average.

A decent revenge movie very much of its time that's worth a look. 6.5/10

Little Big Man (1970)

There is an endless supply of white men. There has always been a limited number of human beings. Little Big Man is directed by Arthur Penn and written by Calder Willingham. It stars Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Martin Balsam, Chief Dan George and Richard Mulligan.

Arthur Penn's Little Big Man is tagged with many filmic sayings, be it revisionist or anti Western etc, it's a picture much cherished for its oddly quirky slyness. Allegorical movies are now in this day and age ten a penny, but back in 1970, with the Vietnam War in vivid focus, that wasn't the case. Marking this out as a provocative and ambitious venture.

Penn has fun debunking and poking fun at the myths of the Old West via an array of pungent characters that Jack Crabb (Hoffman) meets in his lifetime. All of which leads to the question hanging in the air, that of is Jack Crabb the sole white man survivor of Custer's last stand at Little Big Horn?

The portrayal of the Indians, here the Cheyenne, is superlative by way of the fact that they are the sensible spiritual race, the whites on the other hand are emotionally corrupt in comparison. It gets a little heavy handed at times and really half an hour could have been shaved off the running time and still the pic would have had the same effect. But great performances, the quirks and the potent thematics make for a fine piece of film making. 7/10

Five Guns to Tombstone (1960)

I sorta figure blood is thicker than good resolutions... Five Guns to Tombstone is directed by Edward L. Cahn and collectively written by Ricahrd Schayer, Jack De Witt and Arthur Orloff. It stars James Brown, Walter Coy, Robert Karness and Willis Bouchey. Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter share composing duties and Maury Gertsman provides the cinematography.

Not a lot to write home about here, where the plot treads familiar ground as reformed outlaw gets roped into bad ways again, and his brother is involved in the mess that follows. As some Western fans have rightly spotted, this is a remake of Ray Nazarro's Gun Belt from 1953. Itself not a great film, it is however the one to seek out in preference to this offering.

Though made in 1960 this actually feels more like a 1940s Western, where an air of serial sogginess hangs over proceedings. Cahn appears to be one of those jobbing directors who studios turned to to haul a pic in on time. Everything is competently staged, the action etc, and the landscapes pleasing, but excitement is in short supply and the finale doesn't pay off for time invested in viewing. 4/10

Wetlands (2017)

Neo-Noir fans can find much to admire, and much to be angry with here. At the time of writing, Wetlands has only two amateur reviews on site, something which on first glance paints a damning picture. Yet purveyors of film noir and its kindred spirits should at the least take a look at this grim portrayal of lost souls functioning in Atlantic City all while a devilish storm heads towards them.

Plot is by the numbers from the noir 101 playbook. Police officer (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is a recovering addict who battles his past demons whilst trying to save his loved ones from unlawful scumbags. And that's pretty much it, the impending storm is a sort of metaphor for the turmoil going on in the lives of everyone involved in the story. The script is hardly high quality either, and anyone looking for an emotional investment in the characters will eventually start throwing objects at the screen. Yet rewards are here for fans of the noir form.

Characterisations are pungent with a bleakness that holds court. Corruption, sexual kinks, addictions, infidelity, dark deeds, bohemian excess, sexual blackmail, and on it goes. That these black thunders jostle with our chief protagonist's honourable intentions makes for compelling viewing for those in the frame of mind for genre bulldozing.

Then there's Barry Markowitz' cinematography. The film is big on atmosphere as opposed to physical action, and Markowitz' photography is a key player. If it's not turning down the filters for grim texture, it's offering up pronounced primaries for a magnetic beauty that offers up hope in what seems to be a forlorn venture, very haunting in its beauty. Great work in a strong decade for neo-noir photography.

However, it's not a very good film by any stretch of the imagination, the performances are very uneven, and as the script and plotting screams for better thought, the resolution also comes off as rushed and unfulfilling. But it's no dead loss, and enough here for noir heads to savour. 6.5/10

Rocky Mountain (1950)

There never was any other way. We just put it off awhile. Rocky Mountain is directed by William Keighley and written by Winston Miller and Alan Le May. It stars Errol Flynn, Patrice Wymore, Scott Forbes, Guinn Williams, Dick Jones, Howard Petrie and Slim Pickens. Music is by Max Steiner and cinematography by Ted McCord.

Tell you what's funny, I was all set to write the prologue to this film as an opener to the review. Taken from a marker that sits at the foot of the actual Rocky Mountain (AKA: Ghost Mountain), it tells us of the noble fact that forms the basis of the story - whist also telling us of the outcome! Couple this with a narration device by our Errol, then you have two rather annoying things that stop this from being high echelon Western film making. As it is, it's a great film regardless.

Plot has Flynn leading a small group of Confederates into California to hopefully curry favour from Cole Smith (Petrie). Smith has a considerable army of outlaws that the Southern Confederates could use in the hope of staving off defeat to the Union forces. Fate, circumstance and matters of honour are set to play their hands.

It was to be Errol Flynn's last Western venture, the last of his work in a genre he was not particularly fond of. How strange to find then that it's actually his best Western film performance. Paired with a director clearly able to tap into something more than being a flirtatious good looking hero, Flynn gives Captain Lafe Barstow a dignified elegance, becoming a leader of men of some considerable substance - and crucially he has screenwriters and producers willing to give us a sombre story.

Filmed out in New Mexico, the surrounds magnificent, it's brilliant how Keighley and McCord cloak the story in a claustrophobic aura. There's a sense of strife as a constant, even as heroic posturing asks us to thump the chest and shout rah rah rah. Flynn's men are a great bunch, lovable tough boy rogues each with their own fallible core, while the mystery element of Cole Smith's involvement in proceedings, and that of the looming Indian War, keeps the narrative interesting.

Wymore would soon become the next in line of Flynn's wives, but there's no hint of it here, the production team writing the characters apart in strong and believable fashion. Wymore's performance is merely ok, but it's not a token job and with so much machismo about it speaks volumes that Wymore and her character are welcome and crucial to the story's soul. Comic relief is kept to an absolute minimum, rightly so, the only jovial sightings here are that when the canine of the piece is in flight, where Steiner steps away from moody Civil War flavours for a bit of jolification.

It is however with the ending where the film could have died on its own sword or thrive, having asked us to invest greatly in Barstow's own - Magnificent Seven - Wild Bunch - The Professionals etc, we need to care about the outcome, to feel it. And we do. The action excites, the stunts and speedy set plays hold court, then the heroism and chest pushed out bravery of it all pays us off - capped off by a character order that tingles the senses as Steiner gives us a "Dixie" lament.

This may not have the bluster of Flynn's other more well known Westerns, and certainly it's not one to be picking up if one is after a mood lifter. It is however a must for those who believe those critics who even today still write of him being a plastic actor, because given the right director, the right material on the page, then Flynn had substance in his locker. It's also one for Western fans to seek out who want more than just your hooray glossy frontage. 8/10

Drango (1957)

Reconstruction Reckoning. Drango is directed by Hall Bartlett and Jules Bricken and Bartlett writes the screenplay. It stars Jeff Chandler, Joanne Dru, Julie London, Donald Crisp and John Lupton. Music is by Elmer Berstein and cinematography by James Wong Howe.

In the months that followed the War between the States, the South lay in pitiable desolation. Within the people, a fire still smouldered. proud, unbowed, they watched with ominous foreboding as the hated Yankees again rode down upon their land ... this time as military governors.

Drango offers up two genuine delights for fans of Westerns and Civil War pieces. Firstly it further adds weight to the pro argument case for Jeff Chandler being under valued as an actor, secondly is that the theme of the reconstruction period at the end of the Civil War simply doesn't have enough cinematic ventures. Here in plot we have Chandler as Major Drango, sent into Kennesaw, Georgia, to help rebuild a town that as part of Sherman's March he helped destroy. He is up against it since nobody trusts him and certain factions want to continue the war.

Tone is magnificently set by Wong Howe's (Pursued/Hud) monochrome photography, visually sombre as it portents troubles ahead, this is at one with Major Drango's battle to not only win over the town, but also to exorcise his demons. The bitterness left over from the war is evident, strikingly born out by some scenes that stir the emotional heart, while the political machinations on offer are deftly played into the narrative. The two ladies of the piece are most important, each offering up a different side of the political divide, with both Dru and London competent in their acting turns. Action is played well enough in a film that has more to say in characterisations than blood stirring for sake's sake, all while the great Elmer Bernstein provides a score that tantalises the tonal flow of the narrative.

The whole thing is anchored by Chandler's strong performance, for even when he is not delivering potent dialogue from a thought provoking script, he exudes pained anguish via visual touches, believably so.

The absence of black characters has rightly been noted across the review spectrum, the area where the story is set and the period of reconstruction at the film's heart demands more insight there. And yes! it can be argued that there's a little bias in the writing. But this holds up as a most intriguing pic, it's well performed, with technical merit as well, whilst simultaneously reminding us all that the end of wars doesn't mean work isn't still to be done. 7/10

Bad Company (1972)

Say, how'd that Jane Eyre turn out? Bad Company is directed by Robert Benton and Benton co-writes the screenplay with David Newman. It stars Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown, Jim Davis, David Huddleston and John Savage. Music is by Harvey Schmidt and cinematography by Gordon Willis.

Young men dodging the Union Army draft for the Civil War escape to the West in the hope of finding fortune and freedom. What actually awaits them is something completely different.

The 1970s saw a slew of Westerns released that were a far cry from the golden frothy production line of the 1950s. Film makers big into the genre were quick to latch onto more sombre stories or quirky non conformist pieces. The climate of the World was changing and so directors and writers were comfortable in portraying the Wild West as not being romantic or heroic at all. One such gem is Bad Company.

Benton's film quickly sets out its stall with its opening salvo, as Union soldiers round up young boys in child snatching fashion, all that is missing is big chins and lollipops. Enter one young man named Drew Dixon (Brown), a God fearing youngster packed off by his Mum to the West to start a richer life. Soon enough he is falling in with bad company, company fronted by Jake Rumsey (Bridges), the main man for a ragtag band of young thieves.

The West painted here is a dour place, Rumsey's gang think nothing of robbing young children of their pocket money, or tormenting a feral feline. We are often throughout the picture reminded that folk come West for fame and fortune etc, but have found nothing but misery. A man quickly spies an opportunity to solicit his wife out to the young gang for $10 a pop, an elder gang think nothing of robbing the younger upstarts. Weapons have to be traded just for a meal (slop really...), and of course there is no honour among thieves, doing each other over will come naturally. And naturally pain, death and rude awakening are just a heartbeat away.

And yet the pic is not without humour, much needed humour as it bears out the naivety of youth, or misplaced cockiness, or just in fighting camaraderie. There are laughs to be had here, some choice dialogue or a put-down, but given the nature of the story, a shock or heartache scene is never far away.

A Technicolor production, the colours are however stripped down to autumnal filters, this perfectly aids the naturalistic flavours of this particular Western broth. Schmidt offers up a range of piano dirges, flitting between perky and morose as per the scene it accompanies. Cast are great, Bridges and Brown hold court in believable fashion, the other youngsters guided well by their director. Big Joe's (Huddleston excellent) gang consists of reliable character actors who Western fans will be pleased to see, such as Geoffrey Lewis (The Culpepper Cattle Co. High Plains Drifter), Charles Tyner (Jeremiah Johnson, The Outlaw Josey Wales) and Ed Lauter (Breakhart Pass, Dirty Little Billy).

Myths of the West debunked, Bad Company is a must see for Western fans seeking the more earthy approach to Western story telling. 8/10

Westward the Women (1951)

Caravan of graft, guile and stoicism. Westward the Women is directed by William Wellman and adapted to screen by Charles Schnee from a story written by Frank Capra. It stars Robert Taylor, Denise Darcel, John McIntire, Hope Emerson, Julie Bishop and Henry Nakamura. Music is by Jeff Alexander and cinematography by William Mellor.

A most important Western, one that demands to be seen by lovers of the genre. Plot finds Taylor tasked with escorting over 100 women from Chicago to California, their goal is to find marital harmony at Whitman Valley. They must overcome extreme conditions, from that of the natural terrain, hostile invasions, and inner fightings via passions and suspicions. This is a wagon train of some difference.

The key issue here is that this MGM production puts up front and centre the fact that women played a key part in the shaping of the frontiers. It manages to have the expected cute and funny scenarios, but not at the expense of viable assertive drama, nothing denigrates how strong, brave and driven these women were.

Some of the gender politics look a touch suspect today, and occasionally some of the framing devices for the women are over staged. There's also the irritant of stereotyping Nakamura's Asian character, but these are small quibbles all told. For this is a unique and fascinating Western, something of a banner movie for telling a side of the "West" we hardly have ever see on film. 7/10

Lone Star (1952)

I'm frightened. For the first time in my life, I am frightened for the future of the United States. 1845 Texas, Independent, survived Alamo, Goliad and San Jacinto ... But Annexation?

Quite often the joy in being a fan of genre film making, in this case Westerns/Southerns et al, is that a pic can coerce you into reading up on real instances. Thus making this particular picture a requisite requirement for literature delving.

Directed by Vincent Sherman and written by Borden Chase (who would supposedly be irked by the depiction of his writing) and Howard Estabrook, Lone Star comes off as an "A" list film given "B" list production values. Nothing wrong with cast performances, Gable still has charisma in his fifties, Gardner oozes sexuality and Crawford dominates like a great presence should. However, it looks stagy, is overly talky as the makers try to make a politico pot boiler out of a sow's behind, while the action - in spite of a grandiose battering ram finale - just doesn't have an oomph factor.

Romantic love triangle feels pointless in the context of such historical filmic tellings, but this is off set by the Sam Houston and Native American splinter of the narrative. Rendering this as a frustrating whole, not without merits, and above average for sure, but difficult to recommend as one to seek out as a must. 6/10

The Keeping Room (2014)

There are many kind of monsters in the world. The Keeping Room is directed by Daniel Barber and written by Julia Hart. It stars Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller. Music is by Martin Phipp and cinematography by Martin Ruhe.

It's the back end of the American Civil War and 3 women fight to defend their home from 2 Union Army "Bummers"...

Uncle Billy is coming!

As genres go, the Western (Re: Southerns - Civil Wars) are primarily male dominated, but just occasionally female led pictures from this ilk come forth to shine bright. It's refreshing that in this modern era of film making, genre film makers are not afraid to pitch the female angle to remind all that women had a key part in the shaping of the frontiers all those years ago. Or as is the case here, they were not merely token fodder, but often women of strength prepared to take up the fight to protect themselves when under duress.

Daniel Barber and Julia Hart have crafted a magnetic piece, that aside from a daft misstep at pic's finale booms with feminist wiles. Opening with a burst of shocking violence and sexual assault inference, this is merely an attention grabbing appertiser as the pic then settles into a languid realm. The makers are in no hurry here, those expecting an action fuelled piece are in for great disappointment. Not to say further jolts to the system are not forthcoming, they exist and are truly throat grabbing, but tone is set at earthy realism, the sparse locations sidling up nicely with the lives of the women functioning while their loved ones are lost to the war that rages on the edge of the frame.

Performances are top end, the girls superb, the boys frighteningly on the boil for the dark side that the war would bore out. As for the look as per tech credits? With the pic being shot in Romania it is natural to approach this thinking it will lack for period flavours, yet it very much does come up trumps there. Anyone familiar with the Barber and Ruhe collaboration Harry Brown 2009, and liked its aesthetical look, will appreciate the craft on show here, more so as Phipps' musical score compliments like some sort of edgy spectre. Barber has an eye for stunning shots, here with such things as a burning carriage in flight post crime committed, or our heroine on white horse in flight through a lonely tree laden pathway, there is beauty here in a world containing monsters.

*SPOILER*

Resolution of the play is frustrating and rewarding in equal measure, the women strong and correctly earning our admiration - that they have to dress as men to escape the horrors of war just doesn't strike the right chord in a play with such a strong feminine bent - but that could just be me being picky...

Not one for those lacking patience, or misogynistic geezers who expect women in Westerns to be token fodder or punch bags, The Keeping Room has much to offer genre fans embracing this sort of story telling as a whole. 8/10

Johnny Angel (1945)

Gustafson Goings On. Johnny Angel is directed by Edwin L. Marin and adapted to screenplay by Frank Gruber and Steve Fisher from Mr. Angel Comes Aboard written by Charles Gordon Booth. It stars George Raft, Claire Trevor, Signe Hasso and Hoagy Carmichael. Music is by Leigh Harline and cinematography by Harry J. Wild.

Merchant sailor Johnny Angel (Raft) returns from duty to seek out who was responsible for his Father's death...

Fans of film noir as a film making style will get much from this, in fact the story has enough about it for fans of the form to enjoy. Yet peeking through the wonderful fogs and shadows, you find a pretty unadventerous narrative, a routine job where Raft is on auto-pilot and Trevor has you hankering for her other (great) noir endeavours. Still, what do us amateur reviewers know? Film made money at the box office!

Noir shadings in look and narrative twists, Johnny Angel is however lacking in thrills and surprises. 6/10

Flatliners (2017)

Line of flatness for fans of the original - for others not so much. Strictly on a personal level, I always felt that the original Flatliners was average at best. A missed opportunity to use the premise for frightening results, to unnerve, unhinge, whilst intelligently examining the life after death question. So when news of this 2017 remake broke I wasn't in the least bit surprised, the idea at the narrative core was ripe for further filmic delvings.

Niels Arden Oplev's 2017 version is itself problematic, and a long way from being all the things I so wanted from the original film, but at least it has its own twists, a supernatural slant for scares. The makers are also to be applauded for making a truly bold decision in the story, rendering complaints about this not offering anything new as being redundant. Chances are that if you are a fan of the original film you will hate this, if like me you have no affinity to it then this is an ok time waster. While for those not familiar with the 1990 pic can go in for some mild shock and afterlife dalliances. 6/10

Dirty Little Billy (1972)

Pre fame mud and rags telling of Billy The Kid. Directed by Stan Dragoti, co-written by Dragoti and Charles Moss, and starring Michael J. Pollard, Richard Evans and Lee Purcell. Music is by Sascha Burland and cinematography by Ralph Woolsey.

Dirty Little Billy firmly de-glamourises the Billy The Kid legend, well sort of. This is a portrayal of the infamous outlaw before he became just that. Film is telling of what he was before he made his first kill, his weak standing in society, his turbulent family life, and is tentative steps to making friends - where he is clingy extreme. The backdrop is one of mud and rags, there is no showy Wild West here, it very much operates as an Anti-Western, an independent picture firmly offering up a flip side to some of the legends printed as fact. Technically it is just ok, where things are strongly hindered by Pollard simply being too old. Asking a 33 year old man to play a teenager is a stretch, it is with much credit that Pollard gives it his all and nails at the least the village idiot side of Billy pre his fame.

Not a hidden gem by any stretch of the imagination, it does however show up a side to Billy The Kid not often told in the history of film and literature. Worth seeking out for that point of reference, but as entertainment or a viable Western film of note? I'm not sure. 5/10

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

If a man is fool enough to get into business with a woman, she ain't going to think much of him. McCabe and Mrs Miller is directed by Robert Altman and Altman co-adapts the screenplay with Brian McKay. It's adapted from the novel McCabe written by Edmund Naughton. It stars Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, John Schuck, Keith Carradine, Rene Auberjonois and Bert Remson. Music is by Leonard Cohen and cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond.

A gambler and a prostitute become business partners in the remote mining town of Presbyterian Church, as their enterprise booms it comes to the attention of a large mining corporation who want to buy the action.

Altman's grim and dirty slice of the Old West (Northwestern here to be precise) is a divisive picture in Western fan circles. In fact it's been said that it's more beloved by none Western fans and Altman acolytes than actual Western lovers. Put up as a flag bearer for the Anti-Western splinter, a mud and rags Oater for terminology purpose, there is no denying the quality on show across the board.

Set in bleak winter time, Altman and his crew pour on the atmospherics in practically every frame, with the director using his familiar film making trademarks (overlap conversations, realistic movement of characters in framing shots etc) for maximum impact. With Cohen warbling his plaintive tunes at each story juncture, there's a haunting beauty on offer that belies the narrative thrust fronted by losers and dreamers. While Zsigmond brilliantly photographs the extreme difference between the homely feel of the interiors, with that of the cold snowy wilderness outside the doors, where the muted colours ooze period flavour.

Purposely built for the film, the town of Presbyterian Church is a sea of mud, snow and timber, where the weather is perpetually dank, the surroundings enveloping chief protagonist McCabe like an unearthly portent. There are no great pyrotechnics here, and the story is being told in slow and deliberate time, which goes a long way to explaining why it is a divisive film, so any newcomers should be forewarned of this. Beatty and Christie in the title roles are superb, both defrocked of their star status beauty, they perform skilfully for realistic portrayals.

Not an easy watch, but always riveting and fascinating, it for sure is a piece of art. A picture worthy of revisits when the mood is set for total immersion. 8/10

The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)

I'm no good for any man for any longer than a kiss! The File on Thelma Jordon is directed by Robert Siodmak and written by Ketti Frings and Marty Holland. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly, Joan Tetzel, Stanley Ridges and Richard Rober. Music is by Victor Young and cinematography by George Barnes.

Assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Corey) falls for Thelma Jordon (Stanwyck) after she seeks help solving a problem with prowlers and burglars. But is there more to Thelma than meets the eye?

Probably due to availability issues in home viewing formats, this appears to be one of film noir legends Siodmak and Stanwyck's under seen pictures. Which is a shame, for although it is often tagged as something of a lesser value Double Indemnity, it's a noir that noir lovers can get great rewards from.

As we are in noirville the plot isn't at all surprising. Stanwyck fronts up for what we expect is femme fatale duty, Corey looks to be on course for being a hapless loser dude, Kelly is up for some tough copper portrayal, while Rober stalks the edges of the frame as bad news bloke. A despicable crime is at the core of the story, and characterisations are straight out of the dark alleyway (Thelma has murky secrets and ideals, Wendell is unhappily married with a drink problem). Running at 100 minutes in length, the pic does feel a touch too long, especially given that the first thirty minutes is focused on building the principal players, where they are at in their life and the build up of their relationship. This asks for faith in staying with the piece, in hope it rewards for the following hour plus. Thankfully it does.

As the crime arrives, we are treated to noir nirvana as per style of film making. It's the middle of the night in a house menaced by shadows as the wind bashes an open window shutter. For a good twenty minutes, prior to - during - and post the crime, the house is a scary monstrous place, perfect for a dark deed to be enacted. The great Siodmak (The Killers, The Spiral Staircase, Criss Cross) is in his element on this, where aided by the superb photographic skills of Barnes (Rebecca, Force of Evil), the staging of scenes and the visuals enhance the moody machinations of the plot. As does Young's dramatic musical score. So with acting performances comfortably on par for the good, the tech credits are high.

Irks come with that drawn out first third of film, and the ending poses some question marks as well. Personally I would have liked it to have finished five minutes earlier, but as it stands there's a sort of double whammy with the finale. Some will find it contrived, others will applaud the ultimate outcome since it doesn't cop out. Either way, this is a noir film worthy of seeking out for the like minded purveyors of such things. 7/10

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Joyously Bonkers! It is what it is, a nutty premise made in nutty fashion, but for the undemanding horror fan there's a good time to be had here. Action choreography is of a very good standard, as is, perhaps surprisingly, the CGI. The history aspects of the story, one Abraham Lincoln's accent into justifiable legendary status, are of course a mixture of the based on fact and chaotic popcorn, but it's always interesting, exciting and bloody!

I imagine most horror fans have seen it by now, but if like me you are late to it, and like me you go in with low expectation levels, you could well find yourself having a blast and not hating yourself in the morning . All that and Rufus Sewell looks suspiciously like Adam Ant! 7/10

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