Like I told your friend, never turn your back on anything... especially a girl!
Along Came Jones is directed by Stuart Heisler and adapted to screenplay by Nunnally Johnson from the Alan Le May novel The Useless Cowboy. It stars Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, Dan Duryea and William Demarest. Music is by Arthur Lange and cinematography by Milton R. Krasner.
Mild mannered Melody Jones (Cooper) and his friend George Fury (Demarest) wander into the town of Payneville. Because of the saddle on his horse having the initials M J, Jones is mistaken for being wanted outlaw Monte Jarrad (Duryea), something which brings him into conflict with the townsfolk - and Jarrad himself!
Monte Jarrad. Tall and skinny, mean tempered and extra fast with a gun - travels with half-wit uncle called Uncle Roscoe something.
Cooper for the first time enters the realm of producer and delivers a sly spoof of the Western genre that served him so well. Cooper as Jones is happy to laugh at himself, portraying him as an amiable buffoon. Initially it's not easy to accept such a laconic and mighty presence as being such a character, but Cooper quickly draws you in. Cooper is aided by professional turns from Young, Duryea and Demarest, who in turn get a sprightly script of fun dialogue to work from - which in a film of much chatter is crucial to make it work.
Elsewhere, what action scenes are forthcoming are moderately staged and Krasner's black and white photography is gorgeous in print form, but the locales and set designs just sort of sit there waiting to be elevated. The budget restriction in place is annoying, where we should have sweep and out of studio airiness, we instead have cheap tricks and crude back projection, this cast deserves better production value. Plotting is also thin and formulaic, the screenplay and Heisler's direction playing safe and not doing justice to the satirical beats trying to be heard.
It's fun and charming enough to be worth time spent on viewing, and Cooper and co are good company, but it should have been better and had better care afforded it from a technical standpoint. 6/10
Lady in the Lake is directed by Robert Montgomery and adapted to the screen by Steve Fisher from the novel The Lady in the Lake written by Raymond Chandler. It stars Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames and Jayne Meadows. Music is by David Snell and cinematography by Paul Vogel.
It's the Christmas Holidays and private detective and part time writer Phillip Marlowe (Montgomery) strolls into Kingsby Publications to submit his latest novel. Although he didn't know it at the time, his reason for being there is for different matters, and soon he is involved in missing persons and dead bodies...
Famous for being the film that used a first person gimmick (the camera is Marlowe for most of the picture), Lady in the Lake has a very divisive reputation for a number of reasons. Be it the gimmick or the portrayal of Marlowe (a much loved character to Chandler and film noir fans) by Montgomery, you will find for every person who likes the film greatly, the next person hates it. So with that you have to roll the dice and take your chance.
I have an allergy against getting mixed up with tricky females who want to knock off the boss's wife and marry him for themselves.
If able to leave aside Chandler's novel (and the writer's agitation about the film in general) , and to not let the camera as the active protagonist trick take you out of the story, then there's a good picture here. As is the Chandler way, there's a pot boiler at work as Marlowe tries to solve the cases at hand. He gets punched and slapped about, drops sarcasm quips a plenty, flirts roughly with Adrienne Fromsett (Totter) and jousts with the police as a course of nature. The mystery element is delightfully strong, suspicious behaviours and dubious motives are prominent, all of which reach a satisfying conclusion at pics end.
When it comes to women, does anybody really want the facts?
Montgomery's take on Marlowe isn't for everyone, and coming as it did just a year after Bogart had laid down a considerable marker in The Big Sleep, he was up against it. He actually does well in my book, stentorian like in delivery, wonderfully brusque of manner, and a filthy laugh to boot! His interactions with the yummy Totter and battle of wills with the cops are what make the picture worthwhile.
Perhaps you'd better go home and play with your fingerprint collection.
Unfortunately, with the gimmick in such loaded prominence, it does get a bit weary come the mid-point. The film also lacks some biting noir visuals, the story and its plotting screams out for dark shadow play and chilly chiaroscuro, but no joy in that department here. So some various irks for sure. It starts off with Christmas carols for the opening credits, and finishes on an un-noirish note, but everything in between - gimmick be damned - makes this an intriguing and entertaining Marlowe noir piece. 7/10
Class of 1984 is directed by Mark Lester and Lester co-writes the screenplay with Tom Holland and John Saxton. It stars Perry King, Roddy McDowall, Merrie Lynn Ross, Timothy Van Patten, Stefan Arngrim, Michael Fox, Roddy McDowall and Lisa Langlois. Music is by Lalo Schifrin and Alice Cooper and Cinematography by Albert J. Dunk.
New music teacher Andrew Norris (King) is shocked to find the pupils of Lincoln High rule the roost. Refusing to kowtow to Peter Stegman's (Patten) gang of thugs, he decides to fight back...
It's always tricky revisiting later in life films that have cemented themselves as cult favourites. Class of 1984 is one such cult favourite of many who eagerly digested it back in the early half of the 1980s, a time when censorship was rife and banning orders the order of the day. The word of mouth back then was that Lester's film pushed boundaries, a frightening vision of a future where education as we know it would be replaced by anarchy, the youths of the day running amok with violence, sexual aggression and copious amounts of drugs. was this an astute portent by Lester and his crew?...
Essentially this marks one of the turning points in the trashy filmic timeline of films dealing in educational establishments collapsing within via youth rebellion. Where the likes of Blackboard Jungle kicked things off with grim textures, Class of 1984 picks up the baton and urinates on it with a glint in its eye - for better or worse. As a whole the pic is given over to being ridiculous for the sake of shock value, yet it's strangely magnetic, managing to strike a nervous chord. Exploitation? No not really, that was just a marketing ploy that worked...
Viewing it these days it looks part of a tired formula, but that in no way should denigrate the importance of it, for it helped turn the tide in said formula. Ultimately it becomes a visceral revenge thriller, where some scenes are well constructed, others not so much, with the finale outrageously over the top. The acting from the younger cast members is mostly ok, though Patten is difficult to take serious as the gang leader. King is splendidly committed to the lead, garnering our support, while McDowall is the class act on show.
Lurid colours, eye splinter fashions and a rocky sound track round it out as a trashy "B" movie of much ebullience. One for the nostalgic amongst us for sure, but also for film historians interested in the sub-genre this sits in. 7/10
Victims of the Beyond (AKA: Sucker Money) is directed by Melville Shyer and Dorothy Davenport (as Dorothy Reid) and written by Willis Kent. It stars Mischa Auer, Phyllis Barrington, Earl McCarthy, Ralph Lewis and Mae Busch.
For the era it was made this deserves credit for being a fore runner to a splinter of films dealing with spiritualism - notably as a fake exercise. Unfortunately for dramatic worth it has nothing of note to offer. Plot essentially has fake medium Swami Yomurda (Auer) using his nefarious means to swindle persons of wealth out of money. Enter an undercover reporter who is intrepid in trying to unmask the scammers and save the day. The End!
It's all a bit creaky, the direction, the acting and the production as a whole really doesn't have much going for it. The premise at the core is interesting enough to hold attention for the short one hour run time - even if the first fifteen minutes drag and hardly entice one to stay through the rest of the play. Plenty of séance scenes are decently played, and thus rewards those into such shenanigans, but it becomes tiresome and the writing simply isn't good enough to drive home some thriller possibilities. 4/10
Across the Hall is directed by Alex Merkin and Merkin co-writes the screenplay with Jesse Mittelstadt and Julien Schwab. It is adapted from Merkin's short film of the same name that aired in 2005. It stars Mike Vogel, Brittany Murphy, Danny Pino, Natalie Smyka and Brad Greenquist. Music is by Bobby Tahouri and cinematography by Andrew Carranza.
The Riverview Hotel, and Terry (Pino) has rented the room opposite the room where he believes his fiancée June (Murphy) is cheating on him...
Alex Merkin clearly loves film noir and knows his noir onions, this is not in doubt due to the twisty story, characterisations and superb stylistics on offer here. And just in case anyone is in any doubt about this, the keen of noir eye will notice the film showing at the theatre next to the Riverview Hotel is Nightmare Alley, the brilliant Tyrone Power noir pic from 1947.
On the style front the production is top draw, Carranza's photography is both beautiful and ghostly, creating a brooding atmosphere befitting the plot machinations. The look is supplemented considerably by Tahouri's edgy pulse like musical score, while the Art Deco design of the Riverview is a splendid accompaniment to dark deeds unfolding.
As a story we are served up standard fare, the insertion of twisters and linear jumps not really lifting it out of its predictable trajectory. Which is a shame, because performances are solid and Merkin obviously has love for noir as a film making style. The resolution is expected but handled well enough to pay off the patient, but as a whole Across the Hall just about rises above average, but really this is more down to style than substance. 6/10
I have no affinity to Baseball as a sport, I'm British you see. I tried to get in to it when British cable networks began showing it, but it never grabbed me. My only contribution to any conversation about the sport is that I support The Cleveland Indians because of the film Major League, a film that continues to make me laugh to this day.
I was intrigued by Moneyball, synopsis tantalisingly offering up a sports success story based on an improbable blend of maths (something I hate with a passion), guile and perceived misfits as a team. Sure enough, after viewing Moneyball it has landed joyously onto a personal favourites list.
Unsurprisingly, when digging into the actual facts of the Oakland Athletics 2002 season at the core of the story, I found truths stretched, some character portrayals toyed with, and omissions to round out a better story. But crucially, the key element here is the moulding of a team for what in Baseball parlance is financial peanuts. This makes their 20 game wining run as being an outstanding achievement.
The mathematical aspects of the story are easily explained via the interactions of General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his economics right hand man Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Baseball operations behind the scenes are given fascinating clarity via the tremendous screenplay (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin). And ultimately the blend of on field action, family relationships and team assembling flows beautifully as one.
In turn punch the air brilliant with heart tugging worth, and brainy into the bargain, Moneyball most certainly a film non Baseball fans can watch and maybe love for bringing something new to the sports movie table. 9/10
Splice is a tricky picture to evaluate, for its ideas are superb. One could argue that it brings a new petri dish full of meddling scientists facing the consequences of their actions, while conversely it justifiably feels like a Cronenberg knock-off.
Psychological discord is in abundance, with its slants on skew-whiff parenting giving the pic a dark fascination, and as unpleasant as the male fantasy angle is, it does hold a morbid interest factor.
Yet come the final third the makers let things run away from them, the bonkers dangers of tampering with science giving way to daft schlock, even managing to be distasteful in the process - while the finale is a weak attempt at a "TBC" cliff hanger.
Lead cast members are turning in good perfs. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as the meddling science couple hold court well, and Delphine Chaneac as the Chimera splicer of the piece really nails all the various emotional strands required for a tricky role.
Director Vincenzo Natali has shown with Cube and Cypher he has something to offer the horror/sci-fi splinters of film, but this is a mixed bag. A film of great ideas let down by overheating the plot for shock values, while the levity inserted into the play is misguided and damaging for dramatic worth. 6/10
Guest in the House is directed by John Brahm and adapted to screen by Ketti Frings from the play written by Hagar Wilde, Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert. It stars Anne Baxter, Ralph Bellamy, Aline MacMahon, Ruth Warrick and Scott McKay. Music is by Werner Janssen and cinematography by Lee Garmes.
The Proctor family take on more than they bargained for when Evelyn Heath (Baxter) comes to stay with them.
Given the quality of cast and with the strength of Brahm and Garmes on the camera side of things, this really should have been a top tier psychological thriller. Sadly, in spite of much to keep it above average, it ends up as a melodramatic pot boiler that never quite comes to the boil.
Essentially the pic is framed around Baxter's troubled Evelyn, who is up to no good, where mischief making is the order of the day. Her motives are sketchy and her neurotic kinks are never fully formed except to give us some closure at pic's denouement. Things aren't helped by the fact Evelyn is just not a character to either sympathise with, or to even feel unnerved by since her shenanigans are not gripping and even come off as a little daft.
The male leads are poorly written, chauvinistic leanings boorish in the grand scheme of "outing" Evelyn as the sexual aggressor. While some of the histrionics on show from Baxter are hard to buy into. On the plus side the pic looks great, with Garmes (Nightmare Alley) managing to create moody ambiance in what is a stage bound play, and although I found Janssens' music score to be too jaunty at times, there's no denying the quality of arrangement (Oscar Nominated).
You have to look to the supporting players for quality (MacMahon and Warrick), and admire some technical craft for comfort. But ultimately it's a missed opportunity for potency, whilst some of the contrivances and character portrayals date the story badly. 6/10
The Hoodlum is directed by Max Nosseck and written by Sam Neuman and Nat Tanchuck. It stars Lawrence Tierney, Allene Roberts, Marjorie Riordan, Edward Tierney and Lisa Golm. Music is by Darrell Calker and cinematography by Clark Ramsey.
Career criminal Vincent Lubeck (L. Tierney) is paroled five years into a ten year stretch for armed robbery. Moving in with his Mother (Golm) and Brother Johnny (E. Tierney), he goes to work for Johnny pumping gas at the family gas station. Sure enough though, with a bank over the road from the gas station, it's not long before Vincent is up to his old tricks again.
"It's like a kid working in a candy factory. First he tastes everything that comes along, after a while the only thing he touches is the silver wrapped stuff. Then he's sick of that and he looks for something real special - like you!"
Real life tough guy Lawrence Tierney slots seamlessly into another portrayal of a remorseless thug, the actor and the characterisation at home in such a low budget short length (61 minutes) feature. Vincent doesn't care about who he tramples on, he is all about self preservation. Using family and women alike to further his ends, it's the character's traits that give the pic its edgy appeal.
In the mix is sexual menace, bolstered by Calker's imposing music which paints the picture for us. Suicide features, as of course does murder and robbery, so the makers get some good story strands into the hour long play, but they feel like vignettes, with so many promising ideas undeveloped.
Things aren't helped by the poor acting around L. Tierney, while crude back projection and old stock footage shots compound the cheap feel of it all. Ramsey's photography is suitably dark in filters, befitting the story of course, but the key robbery scene is poorly constructed by Nosseck to leave the viewer confused as well as disappointed.
There's still enough to enjoy here for fans of 50s crime or noir in tone pictures, and it's a must for fans of big bad Lawrence, even if ultimately it's just a short sharp shock type filler piece. 6/10
The Last Mile is directed by Samuel Bischoff and adapted to screenplay by Seton Miller from the John Wexley play of the same name. It stars Preston Foster, Howard Phillips, George Stone, Noel Madison and Adam Roscoe. Music is by Val Burton and cinematography by Arthur Edeson.
Interesting watching this pic these days to note just how much set in stone the formula is even today. All of the staples of the prison based dramas are right here in 1932, and of course the thematic beats of anti capital punishment still bang loud as much today as they did back then.
The Last Mile in production is very much of its time, the stage origins not really leaving us as this is essentially a one set production. The acting ranges from excitable overacting to non credible characterisations. It's also a touch irritating that the key element for our main man Dick Walters (Phillips), the flashback to why he was sentenced to death, is played too early in the piece. And yet there's a power in the drama that lures you in, keeps you right there in the confines of death row.
From a photographic stand point it looks terrific, Edeson's (They Drive by Night/Casablanca/The Maltese Falcon) monochrome lensing is perfectly moody. Holding court in the acting stakes is Foster, who is right at home playing the angry alpha male, it's the plum role and the one with the dramatic swagger. It was a busy year for Foster with 7 releases! Including the brilliant I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.
Not a great film but it's above average, and important in a number of ways as regards the history of genre cinema. While as a time capsule it remains a fascinating venture. 6/10
Gun Belt is directed by Ray Nazarro and written by Jack Dewitt, Richard Schayer and Arthur Orloff. It stars George Montgomery, Tab Hunter, William Bishop, Douglas Kennedy, John Dehner, James Millican, Hugh Sanders, Jack Elam and Helen Westcott.
Remade as 5 Guns to Tombstone in 1960, Gun Belt is for sure the much stronger film. Plot treads familiar ground as reformed outlaw gets roped into bad ways again via a frame up by his brother, and to compound matters his nephew is involved in the mess that follows. It essentially uses characters from the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral period of the Tombstone Law Versus Outlaws scheme of history. The makers retain some names, slightly change others, and of course add their own line of history.
It's a good old fashioned "B" Western that boasts a roll call of genre performers, and it's this what keeps Gun Belt from falling below average. Montgomery fronts up as the main man, a likeable presence in the genre, it's entertaining watching him weave his way through double cross after double cross. All of which culminates in a showdown where rat like trickery and bluffs form the denouement.
Nicely filmed in Technicolor, it's not a half bad production. When the story comes out of the town the Chatsworth scenery is very nice. Action scenes are competently staged as befitting a good old pro like Nazarro, with a pat on the back to the stunt workers who add perkiness to proceedings. As for the musical score, it's standard fare from Gertz. The acting is a mixed bag, and some such as Elam barely get anything to say or do, and Westcott's stock love interest character is barely in it. Leaving us with a decent but not great Western, one for the undemanding after a brisk and tidy time filler. 6/10
You walked out of that inquest like you were on your way to a cocktail party.
Affair in Trinidad is one of those pretend film noir movies that the public seem to love more than the critics, both back then on release and also now. I was personally hoping that as a big fan of Glenn Ford, and being an admirer of Rita Hayworth, I too would be thumbing my nose at the critics. Sadly not.
Directed by Vincent Sherman and with a screenplay by Berne Gilder and James Gunn, the story is set in Trinidad and pitches Hayworth as a recently widowed nightclub dancer and Ford as the deceased man's brother. The death is suspicious and as the law closes in (in the form of Torrin Thatcher) secrets will out and a bigger picture kind of emerges.
Ok! Lets not compare to Gilda and Notorious, for obvious reasons, and just accept Affair in Trinidad as its own entity. What transpires is a tired tropical exercise in romance and spy like intrigue. In fact it's a bit of a hack job coasting in on the two leading stars reputations, Ford as a genre presence and Hayworth as some sort of ogle feature. The plot is ridiculous where nothing much makes sense. Character's motivations are sketchy at best, and once the screenplay plays its hand for reveal purpose, you wonder just where are the villains from and what exactly are they up to?! Is that explained or did I have a power nap?...
It doesn't help that head weasel Max Fabian (Alexander Scourby) is so not threatening, and boring to boot, that it renders the intended dramatic oomph at pics finale as being akin to a damp squib. Hayworth goes through the motions in the acting scenes, only holding court with her two dance numbers (voice dubbed by Jo Ann Greer), and while Ford can brood with the best of them, his character is so poorly written it doesn't let the actor shine.
As for this remotely being film noir? Not a chance, neither visually, thematically or in characterisations does it work on that film making style. Consider me bloody annoyed. 5/10
Scandal Sheet is directed by Phil Karlson and adapted to screenplay by Eugene Ling, James Pope and Ted Sherdeman from the novel The Dark Page written by Samuel Fuller. It stars Broderick Crawford, Donna Reed and John Derek. Music is by George Duning and cinematography by Burnett Guffey.
Mark Chapman (Crawford) is the head of The New York Express, a newspaper given to sensationalising stories for sales and exposure. However, when a face from his past turns up it leads to an event that sees Chapman himself in the headlines...
Lets get it out the way first, this is not a Sam Fuller picture, in fact Fuller would be dissatisfied with the treatment of his written work, but neither of these things stop Scandal Sheet from being a super slice of film noir pie. There are a few film noir pictures that have a devilish core story element that sees the principal player effectively investigating themselves, this is one such piece. Mark Chapman, through a wicked turn of noir fate, finds himself as the figure most sought after in the manhunt headlines he sanctions at the newspaper he runs! Coupled with the fact that it is his protégé Steve McCleary (Derek) who is the hungry reporter on the case, then it's a minefield of carrot dangling suspense and intrigue.
The delving into the workings of big city newspaper is given credible thought (that would be Fuller given his own newspaper background), offering up the seedy side whilst nailing the hustle and bustle going on behind the scenes. Investigative journalism is front and centre, with Derek giving McCleary a youthful exuberance that's most becoming, and although the police procedural side of things is secondary to that of the newspaper people, the investigation from both sides of the fence is well constructed. But ultimately these are not the key strengths of Karlson's film, it is with the characterisation of Chapman and the themes within where the pic hits its straps.
Chapman (Crawford excellent and excellently cast), as scuzzy as he is in his job, is a victim of an accident, and in true noir form one thing leads to another and things spiral out of control. Corruption gives way to paranoia and betrayals, with the New York backdrop a knowing accomplice. With the great Guffey (In a Lonely Place/The Sniper) on cinematography duty bringing his noir filters into play - where atmospheric shots enhance the feel of the net closing in on Chapman - it only needs the wily Karlson (Kansas City Confidential/99 River Street) to bring his "A" game. And he does. From the opening credits rolled out as newspaper headlines, to the clinical finale, this is well worth the time of the film noir faithful. 8/10
What the sons of some men do to the sons of others. There's the tragedy of the world.
Rebel in Town is directed by Alfred Werker and written by Danny Arnold. It stars John Payne, Ruth Roman, J. Carrol Naish, Ben Johnson, Ben Cooper and John Smith. Music is by Les Baxter and cinematography by Gordon Avil.
The phrase a hidden gem gets used far too much, so much so I try my utmost to veer away from it if at all possibly. However, for fans of grown up Westerns then Rebel in Town is most assuredly a gem of a find for sure. Story is set just after the American Civil War in the town of Kittreck Wells. A family of Confederate soldiers (The Masons) have staged a robbery in a nearby town and need to go into Kittreck for water supplies. A turn of events will bring the family of outlaws into the life of ex Union soldier John Willoughby (Payne), a hard working family man, who still has a fierce commitment to rid the land of Confederate rebels.
It could have ended up as just another trite "B" Western message movie, but this is so much more, the quality of the writing is such that the script demands full attention. The effects of the Civil War are of course central, where the characters from both sides of the fence are here painted in rich colours. John Willoughby had a tenuous grip on post war forgiveness before his family is shattered by the arrival in town of the Mason family, but soon enough his thirst for revenge begins to tip him over the edge. The Mason family are not merely outlaw fodder, they are a complex bunch, each of the four brothers different in their own values and approach to life, but it's with the patriarch Bedloe (Naish) where the screenplay finds real strength. A God fearing man, he hates what his family has become, and although he clearly rules the roost, he is given to complete democracy, his boys always are given the vote on the decisions the family must make. The juxtaposition between the two heads of family, from different sides of the war, is intelligently thought out by the makers.
Added bonus here as well is the characterisation afforded Ruth Roman as Nora Willoughby. So often in "B" Westerns female characters are given to being love interests or a cause for macho posturing, not so here. Nora Willoughby is arguably the key character, she fights throughout the play to not only overcome her grief, but also that of her husband. She is relentless in her attempts to stop John from become a crazed revenge fuelled mad man, for she can see the bigger picture that her man simply can't. The other key character of note is Ben Cooper's Gray Mason, the younger of the Mason family and the family's conscience, his interaction with - via a plot development to integrate him with the Willoughby's - is a priceless commodity for the picture's dramatic worth. With characters of great substance it only then needs good performances from the actors to make it all work, and we get that. Even the smaller supporting roles are well held by director Werker, such as Marshal Adam Russel (James Griffith) who is calm and measured and a mile away from the caricature type of law men we get in the genre.
The look of the piece is terrific, Avil's black and white photography comes from the film noir stlyed playbook, which is most befitting for the story's psychological axis. Werker had dabbled in film noir, notably with the excellent He Walked By Night, so his instruction to Avil for the look on show is astute and makes sense. Action scenes are well staged, but it's with certain scenes where the pic soars high. The catalyst scene that sets the wheels in motion is boosted by an authentic recoil, which is great to see. Also attention grabbing is a corporal punishment section that should make you wince, while the father and son axis between John and his son Peter at the film's beginning begs for deeper thought once film reaches its closure. With a lovely print being shown on TCM-HD rounding out the bonuses, this is a super treat for Western fans and therefore comes highly recommended. 8/10
Fort Bowie is directed by Howard W. Koch and written by Maurice Tombragel. It stars Ben Johnson, Jan Harrison, Kent Taylor, Maureen Hingert, Peter Mamakos and Larry Chance. Music is by Les Baxter and cinematography by Carl E. Guthrie.
In the main Fort Bowie is a Cavalry and Indians "B" Western, one that's predictable even if it's not afraid to show then ugly side of Cavalry brutality. Plot is built around Johnson's Captain Thompson, who after witnessing Major Wharton's (J. Ian Douglas) cruel slaughter of surrendering Apaches, reports to Colonel Garett (Taylor) that an attack by the Apache is imminent. Garrett promptly requests that Thompson escort his wife away from harm. Easier said than done, for Mrs. Garrett is a femme fatale causing as much consternation as the Apache!
It's great seeing Johnson in the lead, he holds court and is the fulcrum of what makes Fort Bowie better than average. His character's nickname is "Tomahawk" due to his ability with said weapon, and it's not long before we get to see it in action. In fact it's notable that the first battle staged is fought with axes, swords and arrows on both sides, and it's a well constructed battle. Alison Garrett (Harrison) is trouble and the poison she lays down is the worst kind, and it's that that gives the film an extra narrative kick. Helps that Harrison is socko gorgeous, who in turn is supplemented by other beauties Hingert and Barbara Parry.
So while some of the cast do indeed look stunning, so to does the scenery, with location filming out of Kanab excellently photographed by Guthrie. It's a shame this wasn't afforded some Technicolor frontage. The vistas make for some striking scenes, as the Indians gather and descend the hills etc. Everything is building up to the big final battle at Fort Bowie, where as the romantic shenanigans reach their peaks, so does the culmination of the Cavalry and Indians toing and froing. It's exciting, the stunt people earning their corn, to round out a thoroughly enjoyable genre piece for the so inclined for such. 7/10
The Secret Place is directed by Clive Donner and written by Linette Perry. It stars Belinda Lee, Ronald Lewis, Michael Brooke, Michael Gwynn, Geoffrey Keen and David McCallum. Music is by Clifton Parker and cinematography by Ernest Steward,
Little seen and heard of piece of British noir, The Secret Place sits somewhere in between good and frustrating. Plot involves London crooks enacting a gems robbery and finding themselves at the mercy of an adolescent boy and his secret place.
First and foremost the pluses here far outweigh the negatives. The cast list is a veritable roll call of British actors who need no introduction to fans of British film and TV. The cinematography on show is perpetually film noir in look, where cinematographer Steward (The 39 Steps/Payroll) fills 90% of the pic with monochrome menace and dark cloaked actions. The robbery at the center of the tale is suspenseful and has a cheeky glint in its eye, and with the cast on form - bolstered by an excellent child acting turn from Brooke, production value from London locales is bang on the money.
However, the pacing of the pic is an issue, where as much as you want some depth to characterisations, the back and forward expansion of the key players takes up the bulk of the running time. It's also sad to report that the finale just fizzles out as a damp squib, almost as if the Hays Code was still in force and thriving in Britain! Is there still enough to keep this above average? Yes, definitely, but it's not a hidden gem by any stretch of the imagination. 6/10
Manhattan Night is directed by Brian DeCubellis and DeCubellis adapts the screenplay from the novel Manhattan Nocturn written by Colin Harrison. It stars Adrien Brody, Yvonne Strahovski, Jennifer Beals, Campbell Scott, Linda Lavin and Steven Berkoff. Music is by Joel Douek and cinematography is by David Tumblety.
A New York journalist finds himself in a web of intrigue and passion when a woman asks him to investigate the mysterious death of her film director husband.
How wonderful to find that in this day and age there are still film makers willing to push film noir in its neo form up front and central. Of course the trick is knowing your staple requirements of what would be termed "pure noir", and of course noir in colour form is never going to be accepted in some quarters (understandably so). So approaching Manhattan Night to hopefully view a simple murder mystery thriller is likely to end in disappointment, for this beats a true noir heart and an understanding of that film making style and its narrative barbs should, hopefully, aid the viewing experience.
Instantly we are served a classic era slice of noirvana as Brody's journalist Porter Wren starts narrating where he is at for story origin. Soon enough a sultry babe in the form of Strahovski's femme fatale enters the fray. Tumblety establishes that under wise direction we are in the realm of neo-noir photographic compliance, the pronounced primaries will continue to be a feature as the NYC locales bristling with beauty and lurking danger. All while Douek lays out a jazzy blues musical score that's knowingly complicit as a seamy character.
DeCubellis has filled out his play with stock noir characters. The happily married man - a good father, giving in to temptation, the femme with a painful back story - which is compounded by a husband who is into psychotic love. The rich wealthy man damaged physically to the point of crushing his masculinity,
and his hired goons who like their work way too much. Into the mix is the murder mystery, incriminating video footage, some family peril and a whole lot of eroticism. Welcome to Noirville!
It's not all dandy film making though. DeCubellis is guilty of letting Berkoff way overact in the first half of his character's story, but this is off set later in the film as Berkoff reins it in and gives us something more subtle and touching. The director/writer also gives us an ending that doesn't have the courage to really beat a black heart, which is annoying since the pic has been set up previously as such. Yet there's so much to admire here, so much so it would be nice to see DeCubellis stay in this zone and take Tumblety with him. 8/10
Fury at Showdown is directed by Gerd Oswald and adapted to screenplay by Jason James from the novel Showdown Creek written by Lucas Todd. It stars John Derek, John Smith, Carolyn Craig, Nick Adams, Gage Clarke and Robert Griffin. Music is by Harry Sukman and cinematography by Joseph LaShelle.
After killing a man in self defence, reformed gunfighter Brock Mitchell (Derek) finds that the brother of the man he killed is intent on evening the score.
It's a tried and tested formula here, that of a one time gunman trying to reform but finds others simply will not let him. There's a love interest tantalisingly in the balance, some brotherly love playing a key part in the story, a bit of angst, fisticuffs (including a superb saloon brawl) and machismo, and a well constructed finale. Oswald has skills with the camera, nice shots and an ability to ensure each frame has something to offer, his work really belying the quickfire turnaround for release he was tasked with.
Elsewhere, Lashelle's monochrome photography is lush, seen at its best with the TCM-HD print doing the rounds on cable networks. Also appealing is Sukman's musical score, very subtle and stripped back to be a nice tonal accompaniment. Acting is in the main decent, with Derek a likeable presence in the lead, to leave us with a good sturdy Oater where Fury at Showdown manages to overcome its small budget and isolated location setting to hold its head up high. 7/10
It's a lesson I learned a long time ago. A man worth shootin' is a man worth killin'.
Firecreek is directed by Vincent McEveety and written by Calvin Clements Sr. It stars James Stewart and Henry Fonda. Music is by Alfred Newman and cinematography by William H. Clothier.
A Technicolor/Panavision production, plot finds Stewart as Johnny Cobb, the part time Sheriff of Firecreek who has to make a stand when a gang fronted by Fonda's Bob Larkin invade the town and create mayhem.
This be a traditional Western fan's picture, a sort of one for the fans made by stars who served the genre so greatly previously. The story is a complete throwback to the decade previously, even having shades of the magnificent High Noon in the process. It looks fabulous with the great Clothier on photography duty, and with a strong supporting cast list backing up our ever dependable leads it's a production of worth.
It's appreciatively noted that the makers didn't pander to feel good homespun Western formula in story telling, for although it treads a well worn path in plotting, it's a grim and moody piece. Sexual harassment, vigilantism, bullying and revenge fuel the fires in Firecreek, with Stewart and Fonda playing conflicted peace keeper and calm villainy respectively. All this while Newman lays a moody evocative score across the play.
Is there enough within to justify the running time? No not really, we have to deal with pacing issues and the action junkies among us are asked to sit tight till film's closing quarter for a fix. Shaving fifteen minute off of this wouldn't have been hard to do since there are filler sequences that don't improve the narrative. Yet this is still a treasure, where if one is prepared for a deliberately paced adult Western, that's loaded with smart dialogue and compelling performances, then genre entertainment awaits. 7.5/10
The Yellow Tomahawk is directed by Lesley Selander and written by Harold Jack Bloom and Richard Alan Simmons. It stars Rory Calhoun, Peggie Castle, Noah Beery Jr., Warner Anderson, Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and Rita Moreno. Music is by Les Baxter and cinematography by Gordon Avil.
Scout and tracker Adam Reed (Calhoun) is handed a yellow tomahawk by Cheyenne warrior Fire Knife (Cleef). It is to be given to Major Ives (Anderson) as a proclamation of war, a heed to get women and children out the way prior to attack. Ives stubbornly rejects the threat...
Another splendid 1950s Oater begging to be sought out by fans of the genre, and another reason to laud Calhoun as underrated in his time. Story wise there are familiar tropes, but it's always nice to see a screenplay sympathetic to the Native Americans, where here led by *ahem* Van Cleef they are fed up of encroachment and seek to defend their tribal lands. There is honour in the actions, which in turn solidifies a believable friendship between Fire Knife and Reed.
It's also in parts sexy, which gets its first marker during Reed and Katherine's (Castle) first meeting, god bless water! Ok! So the inevitable coupling is all a bit sudden and trite given an event previously, but the romance factor here does not hinder the depth of the screenplay. Also bonus is that Reed is not some unstoppable muscular hero, he is openly shown to be as fallible in a fight as all of us can be - twice! The makers are not here purely for comic book
There's twists in store as well, one of which is a doozy, while the action as you would expect under Selander is very competent and exciting. You will not forget the massacre sequences, where the eye for an eye - violence begets violence theme is banging the drum, while the presence of Beery and Graves is most welcome. Filmed in Colour but released to TV in black and white, a Western fan can't help lament this fact. For you can see the wonderful Kanab locations begging to be colourized. Shame that.
The messages within my grate on some, but if shrugging that off there is a whole lot for Western supporters to savour here. 7/10
Top Gun is directed by Ray Nazarro and written by Steve Fisher and Richard Schayer. It stars Sterling Hayden, William Bishop, Karin Booth, James Millican, Regis Toomey, John Dehner, Rod Taylor and Hugh Sanders. Music is by Irving Gertz and cinematography by Lester White.
Rick Martin (Hayden) is a notorious gunman who returns home to Casper, Wyoming, to tell of an imminent invasion by a gang of outlaws. But his reputation and vested interests see the town want rid of Rick quickly - something they may regret should they get their wish...
"You've been listening to a slippery tongued fella can make a lie stand up and take a bow"
Top Gun is no hidden treasure, neither for fans of 1950s American Westerns or of the under valued Sterling Hayden, you wouldn't be staking your life on this one knocking anyone's socks off. However, there is good cause to put it forward for a look see to both parties, for Hayden dose his imposing presence act and under the stewardship of the trusty Nazarro we get a meaty traditional genre piece of the era.
Front and centre is the anti-hero axis, where although his past deeds are unpalatable, the fact the townsfolk are in the main worm like, with chief heel duty falling to Bishop's Canby Judd, Rick is a man to root for. Loose canon role falls to a youthful smirking Taylor, making a good mark, and Dehner (wonderfully scuzzy) fronts up the villainous outlaws coming to sack the town of Casper.
Action is healthy in quota, the stunt men and sharp shooters earning their respective keep, while the look and aural technicalities are appealing when considering the budgetary restraints. Familiar traits such as a love triangle and the finale face off between good and bad does not a fresh film make, but the script packs some smart dialogue which in turn gives Dehner, Hayden and Millican room to hold court.
Gun Fever is directed by Mark Stevens and Stevens co-writes the screenplay with Stanley Silverman. It stars Stevens, John Lupton, Larry Storch, Maureen Hingert and Aaron Saxon. Music is by Paul Dunlap and cinematography by Charles Van Enger.
It feels a bit churlish to criticize Mark Stevens' Gun Fever for its cheap feel and well worn plotting, for he clearly has respect for the genre. Apart from budget restrictions stymying his hopes for something more dramatically appealing, he's probably more hampered by his own decision to make a safe old traditional Oater. He relies on tried and tested staples in the hope of appeasing the masses, particularly with the standard "get revenge on the man who instigated the killing of my folks" storyline.
The wind machine is permanently on, more so in the sound mix than actually blowing up a gale in scenes, so it's not a good sign that this is noticeable to viewers more so than what is actually on the screen. The Mexican character is played poorly by New Yorker Larry Scorch, and this is consistent with the all round average feel to the play playing out. However, Stevens and Enger manage to put a grim texture to the visuals, creating an earthy mud and rags look more befitting the real Wild West than the glossy Hollywood one.
Sadly doesn't live up to the promise of its throat grabbing opening, and not one to recommend seeking out as a matter of need, but there's worse out there and it's not for Stevens' want of trying that it's no great genre offering. 5/10
In the vault of Hammer Film there was an Ugly Duckling.
Thanks to UK Cable channel Talking Pictures, The Ugly Duckling has resurfaced. While it's no hidden gem demanding to be sought out as a critical must, it is however a joy for fans of British cinema with knowledge of such.
Story is a reworking of the Jekyll and Hyde story, with Bernard Bresslaw as Henry Jekll, a descendant of the not so good doctor. Henry is a bumbling buffoon, sweet, amiable and harmless, he does however drive all around him to distraction. Messing about in chemistry Henry transforms into Teddy Hyde, a womanising spiv, a man easy in the company of girls and gangsters alike. Trouble ahead does wait...
It's all very jolly and harmless, the center piece of plotting being a robbery of precious jewels that thrusts Henry/Teddy to the front of things. There's nothing deep on offer here, the dangers of messing with science, personality changes to fit in etc are not explored, this is played for light entertainment and works on those terms.
The dance hall background is firmly of its time, nicely so, with the Joe Loss Orchestra in full effect. While the period flavours are engaging as the rocking 50s close out as the more decadent swinging 60s beckons. The delight for Brit cinema fans here is with the cast, where lining up for some jollification are Jon Pertwee, Reginald Beckwith, Maudie Edwards, Richard Watiss, Michael Ripper, Shelagh Dey and David Lodge all propping up the ever likable Bresslaw. Bonus here is to get a rare look at the adorable Jean Muir, only two film credits when really she should have had more.
The Jekyll & Hyde axis of the story gives way to the jewel robbery in the final third, making this a tad disjointed, and the comedy is gentle and not likely to bring about raucous laughter (though one great line from Pertwee is absolute gold dust). Ultimately this has the ability to cover a compliant film fan for this ilk of cinema with a warm comfort blanket, for it be a time capsule worth opening. 7/10
Fort Defiance is directed by John Rawlins and written by Louis Lantz. It stars Dane Clark, Ben Johnson, Peter Graves and Tracey Roberts. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by Stanley Cortez.
Plot has Clark as sharp shooting Johnny Tallon, a feared man he may be, but after a dreadful incident in the Civil War he is a wanted man. Upon returning to the family ranch where his blind brother Ned (Graves) resides, he finds one of his pursuers, Ben Shelby (Johnson), has befriended Ned and become more of a brother to Ned than Johnny ever was. With the Indians on the warpath and saloon impresario Dave Parker (Craig Woods) out to kill of the Tallon family, something's got to give...
There's a degree of complexity on show with the writing here, where the family strife and fall out from the Civil War makes for an always interesting viewing. Also refreshing to find that Graves' blind character is not a heart string tugging token, it's a meaty portrayal by Graves, the character not trying to garner sympathy. There's a richness to the key characterisations in general, ensuring that at least when the story treads familiar Westerns pathways (Indian attacks shoehorned in - Roberts' token saloon gal love interest) all outcomes are anticipated with interest.
The location landscapes are gorgeous, which renders the use of Cinecolor as being annoying. The pronounced reds and blues detracting from the natural beauty of the surroundings, though thankfully the print shown on TCM-HD is of a decent quality. The action sequences are only competently staged, but there's enough gun shots and stunt working bodily thunder to perk up the pic, while acting across the board is on the good side of good.
Strong plotting and super scenery help to keep this one above average and thus worth seeking out by Westerns lovers. 6.5/10
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