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Galileo
(1975)

Martyrs Of Science
Galileo wheedles, cajoles, and instructs in this filmed stage version of Bertold Brecht's play, as translated by Charles Laughton.

Director Joseph Losey had directed its Broadway debut eight years earlier, and it's offered as a stage show, albeit with cinematographer Michael Rand offering a variety of angles and editor Reginald Beck trying his hardest.

It's one of those shows that is a hagiography, as Topol ages and looks weary, but maintains his childlike wonder. It's got some stage luminaries giving restrained performances -- except for John Gielgud as an elderly, ranting cardinal. The great charm of this production is, of course, seeing these fine stage actors in their natural medium. With Edward Fox, Margaret Leighton, Clive Revill and Tom Conti.

The Borrowers
(1973)

Borrows Nothing But The Story
This version of the Mary Norton book has some superb casting, with Eddie Albert, Judith Anderson, Beatrice Straight, and Barnard Hughes, but my viewing suffered because the copy seemed pulled from a tape, with its 1970s-hued color design making the whole thing blurry and depressing.

What is this story about small people who live in an old house, and whose presence is a secret, safe to Miss Anderson, and orphaned Dennis Larsen, who discovers them?

Fantasy done right is a means of telling a story about the real world that's too uncomfortable to tell as a realistic tale; it handles its points symbolically, rather than mimetically. a better writer than I has pointed out that this is a reworking of Ann Frank's story, and once that is said, it all falls Into place. However, Walter Miller's direction of Jay Presson Allen's script is too workaday, and the parable gets lost in the oversized props, the obvious process photography, and the big-name actors. For a 1970s TV movie, it's a notable accomplishment. For a telling piece of fantasy, it's all about the sense of wonder, with nothing behind to bolster it.

Penny and the Pownall Case
(1948)

The Comic Strip
Peggy Evans is a model for Christopher Lee; he draws a comic strip for a newspaper which seems to specialize showing Miss Evans in sunsuits, raising her skirts, and so forth. She a fiend for mysteries, and when Detective Inspector Ralph Michael drops by to ask Lee some questions about a kidnapping that has turned into a murder, she's so fascinated she agrees to go with Lee to sunny Spain for modelling. Soon, however, she finds herself involved with much more dangerous people, smuggling Nazis out of Europe.

The racy comic strip is based on Norman Pett's strip about Jane, a young woman who found herself on the pages of the Mirror in states of undress. Pett's wife was the original model, but she developed an interest in golf and was replaced by Chrystabel Leighton-Porter. Pett gave up the strip in 1948, and it continued for another eleven years.

This is the only directorial effort of Slim Hand. Far less revealing than the comic strip, and utterly conventional, it's a fairly wan second feature at 47 minutes.

Comic Book Confidential
(1988)

Good Survey
I gave up comic books more than half a century ago, so this survey by Ron Mann is more about matters I knew about peropherally than centrally. It starts with Frederick Wertham, then backtracks to talk about the creation of comic books in the early 1930s, speaking with Bill Gaines about his father, his travails with the CCA and Mad Magazine.

Mostly, though, it concerns itself with the growth of alternative comics: the underground books and the artists who want to use the medium to say something substantial. With its interviews with Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Robert Crumb, Shary Fleniken et al., it makes its case tellingly, even though it winds up being a series of recorded interviewed, interspersed with splash montages of cover art. Even so, it makes its points tellingly, and if its production at the height of the Graphic Novel era -- the final interview is with Frank Miller talking about The Dark Knight, it makes the mistake that the trend line will continue forever.... well, that's a common nough error. It certain captures the spirit of the moment.

A Tragedy at Midnight
(1942)

Ah, Fooey!
John Howard is a radio broadcaster whose programs solves crimes the police can't. This annoys the boys in blue, so the local Police Commissioner orders the force to find something on Howard. They can't, but he does: a dead woman in his bed. He and feuding wife, mystery-writer Margaret Lindsay go on the run to find the real killer before the cops shoot them down, aided by their houseboy, Keye Luke, whose character rejoices in the name of Ah Foo.

It's one of those movies that are supposed to be filled with snappy patter, but the jokes are like Rice Crispies that have been soaked in cottage cheese for a week. Miss Lindsay does her best, delivering her lines in a nitwitted, high-speed manner, but even director Joseph Santley can't make anything interesting out of this mess of a script.

Murder in Times Square
(1943)

The Crossroads Of The World
After a lifetime of struggling, Edmund Lowe's "I am an obnoxious genius" act has finally paid off, and he's looking at a long, prosperous run. However, as he confesses to Texan Bruce Bennett, there to act as his sounding board, it is just an act, meant to keep his name in the papers. When a corpse turns up, everyone on Broadwayis happy to pin it on him, especially when pay-off racketeer Esther Dale doesn't get her cut.

It's a look at Runyonesque Broadway from the sleazy side, andthe mystery is all right. It also gives a bunch of minor players a paycheck, including James C. Morton's last. With a plethora of youngsters at the starts of their careers, including Veda Ann Borg and Gerald Mohr, it offers a cramped, uncomfortable view of the crossroads of the world.

The Way of Youth
(1934)

Tempest In A Teapot
Irene Vanbrugh runs a gambling house in Paris. However, her fancy man, Henry Victor, has been collecting her debts and keeping them for himself. S she decides that it's time to pack it in and move to London, where things are better managed.... except that Victor tags along. When she realizes that her grandchild, Aileen Marson, has lost a lot of money at her tables, she reveals herself to the girl and lets her have money to enjoy herself. Victor sees an opportunity for himself, and the young girl sees her forthcoming marriage to Army officer Sebastian Shaw threatened.

It's enough to make one think of Henry James and his long-winded meditations on the suffocating details of upper-class life, except that none of the people we see on screen are shocked by this raging storm of outraged propriety. It's well acted, if rather pointless, and its year of production meant it never played in an American movie theater, where Joe Breen' might have had a stroke, even though no one ever does or says anything wrong, no one is hurt, and no one is punished for the cardinal sin of wearing a straw hat after September 15.

The Golden Blade
(1953)

The Princess Who Was An Aussie
This time it's Rock Hudson with erratically marcelled hair who's the commoner who loves the princess, Universal's exotic Piper Laurie. There's a magic sword that gets stuck in a stone pillar, George Macready is a magician and the bad guy who winds up with a cart of junk like something out of Aladdin. All the costumes are uncomfortable and gauzy. Basically, it's an excuse to take the Arabian Nights set out for its annual run, after Tony Curtis and Farkey Granger turned down the role. Under the direction of Nathan Juran, it turns into a movie for 14-year-old boys.

Pep Up
(1929)

Somewhere, He's Still Floating Over The City....
Here's a Cliff Bowes Cameo Comedy from the series' last season; Camei was the one-reel comedies from Educational Pictures, and 1929 was the year sound was coming in. Like most of the Cameos, it is brisk, and has two sets of gags. One has Cliff dragging a tiny dog along the street, and the second has a romantic rival dousing him with "African Itching Bugs", leading a butler to douse him with a repellent that rots his clothes away.

It's fast, it's efficient, and it has a number of good gags. That's pretty much what you want in a one-reel comedy.

Vibes
(1988)

Worth It To Hear Miss Lauper Talk
Cindy Lauper and Jeff Goldblum are psychics. They are recruited for Peter Falk to go on down to Ecuador for reasons that keep shifting around, because he;s Peter Falk.

It's not a great script and director Ken Kwapis doesn't bring much to it; neither does Goldblum, who seems to be cranky. However, Falk is always great in a role that reminds me of his character in THE IN-LAWS, and Miss Lauper, in her first screen role, makes me laugh every time she opens her mouth; she's got a voice that makes Fran Drescher sound like Helen Mirren. Steve Buscemi has a small role, and JUlian Sands is also wasted. Still, a lot of fun.

Deadly Nightshade
(1953)

And What Is That Title Supposed To Refer To?
Emrys Jones is arrested for being an escaped prisoner. He isn't, but when the police finally release him and drop him off at home, the real escapee (played, conveniently enough, by Jones) shows up and takes over the life of the other guy.

But wait! There's more! There's some sort of accident and the usual harrumphing retired colonel and his wife are sequestered on Jones, as is Zena Marshll, who just so happens to be the escaped man's ex-fiancee!

At time it's seems as if about one in five movies involves an actor (or actress) playing identical twins, whether actual twins or doppelgangers. As the film slogs on -- and it does seem to bog down under the steady stream of coincidences -- various plot twists come into operation to make the version of Jones who started out as the bad guy the good guy, and vice versa. However, to be frank, I didn't care.

A Woman of Mystery
(1958)

The Cheaper The Producers, The Gaudier The Patter
Fleet Street reporter Dermot Walsh gets handed an assignment no one else on staff will touch: a hat check girl at a minor club has committed suicide.Write a nice human-interest story on her and how she came to be so filled with despair. As Walsh investigates, he finds a lot of money, a tie to an escort racket and much else.

It's a cheap Danziger Brothers second feature that tells its story in the laziest manner possible, from showing the audience a street sign to a voice-over by Walsh that explains why he's doing what he's doing. The hoods are obviously hoods, using strained, slangy metaphors. Hazel Court plays Walsh' girlfriend; Michael Caine is reputed to be present, but I wasn't interested enough to look closely, nor did his usually distinctive voice draw my attention.

Prekrasnaya Lyukanida
(1912)

First Hit For Starewicz
Here's an early stop-motion film by Starewicz that makes fun of all the epics that we're beginning to come out from Italy. Two noble bugs fight with flashing swords for the love of a beautiful lady bug.

Of course, it is best to take the legends of movie-making with a grain or ten thousand of salt. Reports that contemporary reviewers didn't realize this was stop-motion work, but thought insects were trained, is probably as true as the reports that people screamed in terror as the train pulled into the station for the Lumieres' first show. Still, the principal thing to note about this film is it's earnest silliness.

Ride from Blarney to Cork on Cork & Muskerry Light Railway
(1902)

Along The Way
The Electrical Edwardians take us on a phantom train ride...... well, you can probably guess the route given the piece's title.

Given the pieces set during the Troubles, mostly in Dublin, there is a tendency to think of Ireland as absolutely impoverished and grim. There's no doubt that economically it was a backwater of Great Britain, but it's still a pleasant train ride with people in their laden carts besides the rails, or functionaries of the railroad jogging along side one passed station or the other.

The Scamp
(1957)

Music Hath Charms
Schoolteacher Richard Attenborough takes an interest in street kid Colin Petersen. His mother is dead, and his father, Terence Morgan, is a rough guy who clouts him for taking five pounds from his wallet, and gives him half a crown for almost getting away with it. When Morgan leaves the country to look for work, Attenborough takes in Colin, despite the misgivings of his wife, Dorothy Alison. Nonetheless, it seems to be working out.

Colin demonstrates his skill with drums throughout the movie; music is a major part of how he bonds with Attenborough, who fakes the piano very nicely. Colin later performed with the BeeGees.

It's a well put together movie, but the relative ease with which the wild youngster is tamed by thoughtful kindness seems a little pat.

Prison Without Bars
(1938)

Edna Best Is Always Right
Edna Best takes over a girl's reformatory and institutes new methods, including trusting the girls. She is opposed by the old guard of matrons, all of whom wear black, under the stony-faced tutelage of the old matron, Martitia Hunt.

Edna Best plays her saint-like role with nicely revealed emotionalism, annoying fiancee Barry K. Barnes, who wants to get married now that his appointment in India has come through. This black-and-white production offers a decidedly black-and-white attitude towards prison reform.

The copy I looked at had been severely cropped on the sides, making the credits difficult to read and offering a weird and ugly mise-en-scene. Look out for an instantly recognized Glynis Johns in her third screen appearance.

Ski Party
(1965)

And Again
Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman are three-letter men at college, but the girls won't give them a tumble, but not because they are old enough to be professors, but because of the exigencies of the plot. So they go on a ski vacation and decide the best way to get close to the girls is to steal a couple of wigs and pretend to be girls half the time.

There's some decent mechanical jokes in this script, including breaking of the fourth wall and references to SOME LIKE IT HOT. Still, the number of tight close-ups on the rears of frugging girls in bikinis make it apparent what the film makers thought their audiences were interested in seeing. Robert Q. Lewis offers the attraction for older people who want an excuse to see this movie, and Yvonne Craig and Deborah Wally provide the rest.

Night Train for Inverness
(1960)

Last Ride
Norman Wooland gets out of prison after six months for a spot of embezzlement. He picks up his son, planning to head for Inverness along with his girl friend, Jane Hylton. He doesn't know the boy is a severe diabetic and will slip into a coma within eight hours... a lot less time than the train ride, especially when he treats the youngster to cake and ice cream.

It's a nice thriller, far better than the usual cheap work from the Danzigers. Silvia Francis plays the mother of the boy in a nothing role, but Irene Arnold shines as her mother, one of those people who'd rather be right than have things turn out well.

The Happiness of Three Women
(1954)

Brenda De Banzies Is Always Good
Brenda de Banzies runs a small public house in Wales with a wishing well. Eynon Evans is the local post man who has been trying to get Miss de Banzies to marry him for decades. Her son, Donald Houston, is engaged to be married to Petula Clark, who because he doesn't have working legs, is wracked with doubts. There's also a wealthy widow, Gladts Hay, and a young couple who aren't getting along.

It's one of those movies set in Wales where random groups start singing chorale at random moments; even Miss Clark has a rare on-screen performance. Based on a play by Evans, it hews to every stereotype about Wales you can imagine. Director Maurice Elvey opens it up with lots of vistas in the beginning. Later, when it settles down to telling its story, there are plenty of Dutch angles, none of which disguise its stage origins.

Apparently the role taken by Evans in the movie was essayed by Lupino Lane in its National Theater premiere.

The Incredible Stranger
(1942)

Doesn't Sound Incredible To Me
A man moves into a small town in the 1890s. He speaks to no one, communicating by occasional note. It is directed by Jacques Tourneur as 'Jack' Tourneur, one of the last shorts he directed before turning full-time to features.

John Nesbitt's long-running MGM series, THE PASSING PARADE, usually showed audiences reenactments of true events, or educated them about some small point overlooked by many. Many of the events were fictionalize,d but I cannot recall seeing another which admits that it was all fiction, although based on 'scientifically proven psychology.'

It is, alas, one of the weakest of this interesting series, based upon the hysteria Nesbitt shows, from the short's title to ' the people who prepare to lynch Paul Guilefoyle.

Murder in the Music Hall
(1946)

What The Blind Man Saw
Edward Norris gets out of prison after five years and meets up with his old girl friend, Vera Hruba Ralston. She a lead ice dancer at the Radio City Music Hall, and the man he went to prison for killing was her skating partner and lover. Norris says he took the plea because he loves her, and now he wants his pay-off: come with him to Europe. She's moved on, to libretttist William Marshall and turns him down. Later that evening, Norris is murdered, and Miss Ralston looks like a prime suspect, so she and Marshall go looking for the murderer.

When she's not doing routines on ice, of course. There seem to be four or five numbers in which she stars, and she seems all right. Republic Pictures boss Herbert Yates was smitten with the ice skater, and said he would make her a star. Although they eventually married, and he kept putting her in leads, she never turned into much of an actress.

Fortunately, she didn't need to be much of one here. A couple of the ice dancing routines are good, the mystery script is nicely tangled, with a blind man the principal witness, and there are plenty of other talented actors around, including Jerome Cowan, Helen Walker, Nancy Kelly and Julie Bishop. While the editing could have been tighter, it's a pretty good movie.

Dilemma
(1962)

One Of Those Days
What would you do if you came home to find your beautiful, rich wife, Ingrid Hafner missing -- the snoopy lady next door says she heard a scream and ran out earlier -- and a dead man on the floor of the bath room. If you're Peter Halliday, about to go off on holiday with your wife, you get concrete and bury him beneath the floorboards, of course. That is, if you can get past the constant interruptions: Patricia Burke with cups of tea, nuns collecting for missionaries, mother Joan Heath showing up to slang the wife, and so forth. It's a very funny movie that distracts the viewer from wondering what the dead man is doing there.

Pip and Jane Baker disavowed the script, saying it wasn't anything like what they handed in. I think they made a mistake.

This is China
(1937)

China On The March
For five minutes, the audience learns about the poverty of the Chinese peasant, who gets by on a bowl of rice a day, with his daughters cared for by missionaries. Then it's Japanese invading and China uniting. Then it's burial practices, and we're off to Mongolia.

Even then China was a vast and populous nation, so the sense of rushing from one aspect to another is not so bizarre. Even so, this looks to have been shot and edited by what seem to have been very warlike Christians, one moment feeding the hungry, the next exhorting China to rise and throw out the invader..... and poor, oppressed Mongolians, too. What had they ever done to anyone?

It's understandable. For westerners, the Second World War started in 1939 if you are a European, 1941 if an American. For China it began in 1931, with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. They had already been fighting for six years by the time this was released.

It's a Grand Old World
(1937)

Harmless Fun
Sandy Powell wins sixteen thousand pounds on the football pools. This is an excuse to sing the title song several times, ineptly pursue dancer Gina Malo, do a few comedy bits, and utter his catchphrase,"Can you hear me, mother?" several times. It's all a pleasant little vehicle for the music-hall comic, who made half a dozen movies in the 1930s. They were popular in the northern end of England, although quite obviously they were made on the cheap. Nevertheless, there are a few performers worth noting, including Garry Marsh and Cyril Ritchard.

The copy I looked at was a Pathescope cut-down, 47 minutes instead of the 71 it's listed as. As with the works of other less well known 'cheeky chappies', it's a valuable document on the sort of entertainment that was popular once you got out of the urban centers. Unlike some of the others, there's not a spot of smut in it.Powell worked on TV, the radio and the stage until his death in 1982 at the age of 82.

Phantom Raiders
(1940)

The Many Lives Of Nick Carter
Walter Pidgeon reprises as Nick Carter in this follow-up to 1939's NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE. This time he and Donald Meek head down to Panama to deal with ships sinking -- the insurance company which covers the old hulks thinks there's something suspicious going on.

It's definitely a programmer, but given the usual MGM gloss, with Jacques Tourneur directing and Clyde de Vinna handling the camera. The usual assortment of high-class supporting actors include Joseph Schildkraut, Nat Pendleton, John Carroll, and Cecil Kellaway. Steffi Duna has a funny bit as a b-girl who doesn't speak English, but parrots stock phrases that are almost on point.

Nick Carter was an old Dime Novel character invented by the son of one of the founders of Street & Smiith in 1886. He was soon given his own line of weekly magazines, with his adventures reprinted in book form. By the middle of the 1910s, S&S had gotten out of dime novels and was producing Detective Story Magazine. An attempt to revive Carter within its pages in the middle of the 1920s In the 1930s, he got his own pulp. Novels continued to appear, and in 1943, Mutual began broadcasting a radio series which ran through 1955. In the 1960s, Nick Carter became a spy, in the Killmaster series, which ran through 1990.

Along the way, there were several movies series, including a French one around 1910, an adopted son, Chick Carter., and an Eddie Constantine vehicle.

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