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The Big Bus

The aviophobic answer for travel
Before there was "Airplane" (1980), there was "The Big Bus." This Paramount picture set out to join the list of all the "big" things and events. The opening credits and dialog say that the Cyclops was out to top all the other big achievements. It's a nuclear-powered mega bus. I think this film is worth catching just to see the behemoth of a bus. One wonders what motor company might have made the bus for the movie.

This film has a few funny segments, but too few. It has some funny dialog, but some crass dialog and profanity passed off as humor doesn't work. The idea for this film is good. It's a hilarious spoof of airline travel, the space program, disaster films, and any number of professions. Most characters are very good, and the actors in their roles are good. The film has several prominent actors in little more than cameo roles. Most of those add humor. Jose Ferrer is especially good and funny as Ironman, and John Beck is hilarious as Shoulders O'Brien.

But the screenplay needed lots of work. The story sags in places, the humor runs out quickly, and it could do without the profanity. This film had great potential for a very funny satire, but it sputters in places and runs out of gas toward the end.

How far out is the idea of a super mega-bus? Well, by 1976 most people who had to travel wanted to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Air travel was the demise of long-distance rail passenger service in the U.S. But, well past the middle of the 20th century, there still were more than a few people who didn't like to fly. Some had great fear of flying. So, the Coyote Bus Lines invented the Cyclops to meet their needs and deliver passengers by roadway in comfort and leisure. It also would do away with the burning of fossil fuels - a subplot in the film that is the basis for some of the humor.

The spoofing is even obvious in the scenery and the route of the non-stop trip from New York to Denver. Denver sits on the East side of the Rocky Mountains - at the foot of the Front Range. But the movie has the bus driving high in the mountains just before Denver.

This movie had great potential. A good rewrite of the screenplay might have made it a smash hit.

A Date with Judy

Powell and Taylor entertain in an early career comedy-musical
"A Date with Judy" is a nostalgic look at mid-20th century America when most of the world was at peace, or at least enjoying a calm. It's a picture of middle and upper middle-class white America after World War II. The film is set in Santa Barbara, California in 1948. Rock 'n roll hasn't yet burst on the scene. It was the sunset years of the corner drugstore with its soda fountain where teens met after high school. That's just before drive-in restaurants came on the scene in the1950s. Kids still dressed modestly and nicely. The bobbysoxer boom was just around the corner.

This is one of the lighter types of comedy-musicals that MGM made with various young stars after the series of Andy Hardy films with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland (1938-1946). The big musicals, of all the studios, were to come in the next two decades. That, despite the demise of the studio system.

This is a cute comedy romance with Jane Powell singing a few songs and she and 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor organizing a high school musical program. Powell is Judy Foster and Taylor is Carol Pringle. Powell was three years older than Taylor, and although Taylor got her start in films younger than Powell, it was Powell's singing that propelled her career in musicals. Of course, Taylor's star would take off with excellent dramatic roles. Later Powell films were much better, but this is a light and fun film with a couple of tremendous young entertainers very early in their careers.

The most unusual casting for this film has to Wallace Beery as Judy's father, Melvin Colner Foster. The usually gruff, tough, and often nasty Beery actually pulls it off as a caring dad and nice guy in this film.

Carmen Miranda, known as the Brazilian Bombshell, adds some spice and humor to the story, as well as a tune. And, the frequently paired Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra (with Miranda) provide most of the music.

"A Date with Judy" is an enjoyable film that also gives an accurate peak at the culture of the time, place and people of the late 1940s in much of America.

Here are a couple lines from the film.

Judy Foster, "My father seems to think that his fish can get along very well without my help."

Caro Pringle, "I finally convinced father to let you and Oogie try out on his radio station." Judy, "You did? Oh, that's stinky super."

Third Finger, Left Hand

Wonderful comedy has an original plot, great cast and witty screenplay
"Third Finger, Left Hand" is an outstanding comedy film that stars Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas with an excellent supporting cast. Everyone gets in on the humor. Most notable about this comedy is its original and novel plot of a career-seeking woman faking that she is married. The whole idea is to keep suitors away so that she can establish herself and be a success in the business world as the publisher of a woman's magazine.

Loy's Margot Sherwood says she's married to a guy named Tony Merrick. He's a globe-trotting character in some business that we never learn about. Margot met him in Rio de Janeiro where she went for a vacation a year ago. She fell for him in one night and they got married. So, when she came back to New York with a ring on the third finger of her left hand, the wolves stayed away. Only a couple of amorous characters continue to pursue her. They think she should divorce her uncaring husband who stays away. But her ploy at least keeps the boss away, Mr. Russell. And, Margot becomes friends with the boss's wife, instead of another ex-female manager of her husband's magazine. Previous female managers lasted no longer than a few months because of Mr. Russell's attention.

Meanwhile, arriving in New York by ship from Europe, is globe-trotting artist Jeff Thompson, played by Douglas. The meeting of the two lead characters aboard ship begins a hilarious love triangle that involves the third lead, Lee Bowman, as Philip Booth. And, that anchors this comedy that moves between riotously funny scenarios, to hilariously corny and funny scenes.

The original plot has a first-rate screenplay that is filled with witty dialog and funny exchanges. The film has a wonderful cast of well-known and supporting actors. Felix Bressart is superbly funny as August "Gussie" Winkel. Donald Meek, whose last name describes is physical build and usual character persona, is completely out of his familiar character. His Mr. Flandrin is a high-falutin art dealer who barks out orders and scowls at anyone who gets in his way. Bonita Granville is very funny as the teenage sister of Margot, Vicky Sherwood. And, Raymond Walburn's smile alone invites smiles, as he plays Margot's father, Mr. Sherwood. And, there are more.

One can imagine how this will turn out - as do most comedy romances. But, in getting to that point, this film has some different angles and twists that make it quite original. And, it's that originality - with these actors - that makes the film so funny.

A very humorous thread runs through much of the film. It has to do with the State of Ohio - especially its name. Jeff is from Wapakoneta, Ohio, and he likes his home state very much. He's looking forward to returning home to resume his painting career. After traveling around the world and bringing back a large portfolio of professional paintings to sell in New York, he is anxious to return to the sanity of Ohio. He doesn't want to spend more than one night in the cockeyed big city.

The thread that gets repeated several times is an old song about Ohio. The chorus reads, "What's round on the ends and high in the middle? It's o-HI-o." He hums and sings a couple of lines at different times. The railroad porter sings the song, and by the end of the movie, Margot is humming it.

In one scene toward the end, some hometown folks recognize Jeff. When they strike up a conversation, Margot elbows her way between Jeff and a reverend. She butts into the conversation with a street lingo that leaves one in stitches. Loy is superb at this and it reminds one of a similar scenario carried out by Irene Dunne in "The Awful Truth."

Well into the 21st century, "Third Finger, Left Hand" stands the test of time well. It's a very funny story that people of all ages should enjoy. It's truly one of the great comedies at close of Hollywood's golden era.

Here are some favorite lines. See the Quotes section under this IMDb Web page of the film for many more laughs.

Jeff Thompson, "Tell the folks your idea for doing my den, angel." Margot Sherwood Merrick, "Well, uh, I want to do it very simply. Uh, just a short flight of steps and a gallows. That's the theme. It's going to be very modernistic." Jeff, "She has the most unconventional ideas."

Mr. Sherwood, as the last dinner guest leaves, "Such a lively woman." Jeff Thompson, "Yeah. So interested in other people's lives." Margo Merrick, "And with nine of her own to live."

Jeff Thompson, "When you do get married, you certainly won't need any practice hen-pecking." Margot Merrick, "I'm not hen-pecking." Jeff, "Listen, my Aunt Edith killed my Uncle John hen-pecking. I oughtta know a hen-pecker when I hear one."

Mr. Flandrin, "Young woman, I can be just as unethical as you can."

Jeff Thompson, "Yes sir, you certainly put that over. You know, to look at your face, nobody'd ever thing you were such a good liar."

Margot Sherwood Merrick, "Whadda ya think we're doin' in Niagara Falls - huntin' woims?"


The idle rich playboy and the torch singer
The plot for "Reckless" is based on a real-life scenario that came to a climax just three years before this film's release. Other reviewers give more details of the affair and ultimate marriage of tobacco-heir Zachary Smith Reynolds and torch singer Libby Holman, and of his apparent suicide. These remarks will focus on the actors, their roles and performances. And then note the fictional deviations from the real characters and story.

Jean Harlow plays Mona Leslie, the character who is based on Holman; and Franchot Tone plays Bob Harrison, the character based on the 21-year old heir of the Reynolds tobacco fortune. William Powell's Ned Riley is a fictional character who may have had parts of one or more other males in Holman's life. But there was no one person like him. The rest of the cast include some characters that represent real people - mostly in the Reynolds family; while the bulk are fictional or generalizations of several other people, mostly performers around Holman.

Reviewers are split on Harlow's "suitability" for her role here. I agree with those who think this may be her best dramatic performance. It's hard to imagine the possible diverse talents of a performer if the performer is most often cast in one type of role and/or an audience is used to seeing her or him as such. People were used to Harlow as a comedienne and tough, wise-cracking bombshell, even in some of her films that weren't all comedies. Yet, she showed some dramatic flare as well in some films before this - most notably "Dinner at Eight" of 1933.

Harlow puts some enthusiasm and bounce into her Mona Leslie that lights up the screen in her scenes. She seems to be acting and reacting more spontaneously than in many of her films in which she seemed to be ready with the next punchline. Harlow was an entertaining actress but far from a great one. Since she plays a singer and actress, it's obvious that MGM would bill this as a musical as well as a drama and light comedy. While the tunes and limited dances are good, they aren't anything special. And Harlow's singing was all dubbed.

Franchot Tone gives a very good performance as the super-spoiled rich kid and playboy alcoholic. His Bob Harrison is the picture of the idle rich kid who thinks he can woo any woman with his money. Only here, it is apparent that he merely wants a sexual conquest because of his almost immediate regret at having married Leslie. The portrayal of Harrison pursuing Leslie is apparently very close to Reynold's behavior. He was said to have stalked Holman to the point of flying his personal plane to follow her around the globe. As the movie shows, the real family was appalled at Holman's lifestyle. The film doesn't include the events when Holman's stage and nightclub circle descended on the Reynolds estate and greatly disrupted and disturbed the family.

The details about Harrison's death, and the aftermath, differ somewhat from those after the Reynold's 1932 suicide. The family did provide for Holman and for her son who was conceived by Reynolds, as shown in the film. But the family kept the affair as quiet as possible. It's not very likely that there was a major comeback show in which Holman confronted and won over a hostile audience. That's most likely Hollywood hype to build audience sympathy for Harlow's character. And that's important for the film's success, because the screenplay was very deliberate so as not to paint Holman as a gold-digger, which she wasn't.

This also relates to one other aspect of Holman's character. The audiences of 1935 would have known about the Holman-Reynolds marriage and his apparent suicide. But most would not have read or known much about Holman's real life. She was bisexual and lived a very lurid and hedonistic lifestyle with various women and men. Some think her true lifestyle could not be portrayed because of the Motion Picture code enforcement. While that may be an official way to explain the whitewashing of the Holman character, I suspect that the MGM studio heads knew that a portrayal of a hedonistic heroine in this story would not have garnered audience approval. If anything, it's clear by the script for this film, that MGM's Leslie was a virtuous young singer and performer - far from the real Libby Holman.

William Powell's part is the least of the major roles, but his Ned Riley seems to be the thread that holds the pieces of the story together. His character is likeable, but one wants to give him a poke so he will tell Mona that he loves her. May Robson and many others of the cast give good performances.

The Silent Lovers

Fictional look at major stars' romance in early Hollywood
The promotion and summary for this film tells what it's about. John Gilbert was one of the biggest stars of the silent era. He was MGM's leading man when Greta Garbo arrived in Hollywood, fresh from her second film in her home country, Sweden.

But for the general theme - the romance between Gilbert and Garbo, and some specific incidents, one should be wary of considering the story very accurate. After all, it's based on a fictional novel by Gordon Kanin, and that only partly includes Garbo and Gilbert. "Moviola" was a broad fictional novel about Hollywood movie production.

This film focuses on the affair of several years between Garbo and Gilbert, after she once settles in Hollywood. Brian Keith's role is that of Garbo's Swedish mentor and film director, who was the reason that Garbo even went to Hollywood when she did.

The portrayals of some of the major characters of the time seemed to fit the personas for which they were known. John Rubinstein plays a bright, cool and very capable MGM partner and producer, Irving Thalberg. And Harold Gould does very well as the flamboyant, boisterous, egotistical and socially awkward American producer, Louis B. Mayer

Barry Bostwick gives a very good performance as John Gilbert, as well as one might know him these many decades later from articles, legends and samples of his work. The casting for Greta Garbo's character would naturally be the most challenging for this film. Kristina Wayborn got the part and did okay. It might be unfair to compare her to Garbo because of the latter's unique face and beauty. One doesn't have the sense that Wayborn is into the role of Garbo, or really portraying her persona.

The film is true to its billing about the period of the Garbo-Gilbert romance. But, by barely including anything of shooting her films, except for a couple of scenes with Gilbert, I think the film falls way short. Just toward the end Garbo meets the actor who is playing Robert Taylor. He would be starring with her in her next picture, "Camille." It seems that showing much more of Garbo's acting and film work would have enhanced the story considerably. And that would include showing her later filming with closed sets, which she demanded.

This is a somewhat interesting film, mostly on how Garbo got to Hollywood, and her early long romance with John Gilbert. But anyone wanting a more open story about her Hollywood years in general - including the several actors with whom she performed, will be disappointed.

This is just a fair film and fictional look at a period in Greta Garbo's arrival in Hollywood and early romance, with just a peek at her dealings with MGM and her film career. Garbo was a striking actress - considered to be one of the most beautiful of all time. She was very capable and starred in some exceptional films. She never won an Oscar but was nominated three times. While drama was her special field, she starred in one of the best comedy and political satires ever made by Hollywood. So long as there is a public memory or knowledge of the Soviet Union of the past, "Ninotchka" of 1939 will remain a tremendous comedy that will entertain people.

Garbo will be remembered and watched for decades to comes in some of the great films she made. Among those are "Anna Christie" of 1930, "Grand Hotel" of 1932, "Queen Christina" of 1933, "Anna Karenina" of 1935, and "Camille" of 1936, which she said was her favorite film. Robert Taylor, who co-starred with Garbo in that film, said it was one of his favorite films also and that Garbo was his favorite co-star.

The Commuter

Another fast and furious action film with little substance
Other reviewers have aptly described the shortcomings of this film. The notion that most action sequences are preposterous in these nearly constant motion "thrillers" is a given. Imagination, innovation and ingenuity seem to be missing among writers of mysteries and fiction in the 21st century. So, they resort to and rely upon sequences of action that are highly improbable if not impossible and unbelievable. That's why these films so soon begin to wear thin and one loses interest.

"The Commuter" has an element of mystery, but its unraveling in the film is as incoherent and improbable as are the elements of the crime plot itself. The screenplay has holes and the CGI of a speeding train and climax only add to the unreal aspects of the plot. So, the film seems quite far-fetched. Liam Neeson's Michael MacCauley is running on high octane for most of the film. The result is a sense of a frenetic character, rather than a smart detective with good acting.

The film is all about this one character, and the rest of the cast are mostly minimalized in the frenzy. No one else stands out for good acting. Like most other films in the modern genre of fast-action, far-fetched plots, and little to no acting, "The Commuter" is soon forgettable. But it did give me pause to wonder about long daily commuting.

Having lived in a large city on the West Coast for many years, and outside a major city on the East Coast for many years, I'm no stranger to daily commutes to work. But this film's picture of early morning train commuting to the Big Apple, makes one stop to wonder. Why would anybody who spends three to four hours every day commuting to work continue to live that way? What kind of life, person and family life does that afford one? It's no wonder parents of suburbia are losing touch with their children and so many have "lost" them by their teens.

Perhaps, with all the modern electronic technology, social engineers should consider reconfiguring the demographic landscapes of America and other countries. Plan and do things that spread the population out more - away from mega-cities to many smaller cities and big towns. Create work conditions that are more conducive to supporting family life and strong families. Give back large portions of work commute times to people for their social and family welfare. Any improvements for families are bound to improve society over all.


How not to run the IT arm of a big high-tech firm
"I.T." is in the genre of modern fast-action mystery thrillers. It's a dark film that centers around electronic technology. Unfortunately, the script isn't very good. None of the acting is remarkable. The biggest name is Pierce Brosnan who plays Mike Regan. But his role seems overdone at times, and not believable at other times. This guy is living with real tension for his business, and he pretends as though there's no pressure on him when he's home.

I listed my comments as having possible spoilers because I had to make some observations about the ease with which the weird character was able to wreak such havoc. Considering that the year is 2016, it's amazing that a jet airline travel service, with all its reliance on high tech, would not have better vetted applicants for high-tech jobs in the company. Then, Regan "invites" the IT guy whom he had never met or known before, to his home to fix his sophisticated equipment. Then he gives this perfect stranger his Wi-Fi password.

One other point in the film that I think is glossed over, is daughter Kaitlyn Regan's accepting the stranger, Patrick (played by Jason Barry), as her Facebook friend. Later she blames her dad for the fiasco with the hacking, for bringing the IT guy into their home. But even though he had Regan's Wi-Fi password and had wired his house system for his use, he still needed to get into the network. I think the way he was able to do that was through Kaitlyn's smart phone, when she gave him access to her.

The time of my writing this is summer of 2019, and I've just read an article about how easy it will be for hackers to get into private home networks through any of the new smart devices now being made and bought. Apparently, the automatic coffee makers, toasters, juicers, and other handy modern appliance that works with computer programs, are easy targets for hackers. They don't have the built-in security and constantly improving security of PCs, laptops and smart phones. But, because they are tied into those devices, they are the avenues for hackers to use to get into the mainframes of private computer systems and programs.

This film borders a little on the horror genre. The best part of it is the suspense of not knowing what Patrick will do next. Otherwise, there isn't much in this film that is very good. But it might be used for training or education on how not too run the IT arm off a big high-tech firm.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Slow action and Holmes' martial arts become tiring after a while
"A Game of Shadows" is the sequel to the modern first film, "Sherlock Homes" of 2009. It continues with the slow-motion, pre-descriptive dialog of various scenes - especially those involving fighting. While I found the first of the fast-action fictional and comic book character films entertaining, the almost non-stop action began to wear thin after a few years.

The real Holmes off Arthur Conan Doyle's creation solved crimes by his cunning and brain. That's apparently not enough for modern Hollywood firms and/or audiences. Now, they must have a Holmes who is a master in martial arts, fisticuffs, and brawling mayhem.

So, this film soon became tiring, even though I stayed with it to the end. The one line I found quite clever and funny was by Holmes when he says, "It's so overt it's covert. As with the previous film, the CGI work with this film makes the London streets and various scenes seem unreal - made up.


Good idea but a poor script and lack of comedy led to its box office flop
If this film had come out after 2002, one might think the idea for it came from "Catch Me If You Can." That 2002 smash hit was based on a true story, and had a cast of top actors of the day. But, "Mumford" is all fiction with an incredible story that's almost as unbelievable as the true story in the 2002 film. This script isn't nearly as good. And, although it's about an imposter with a record of several cons, this one is set in one locale. So, without the action and sense of adventure of the 2002 film, "Mumford" needed to shine with a very good screenplay and tremendous acting.

Unfortunately, it lacks all of that. The only two names that may be recognizable to most movie buffs will be Martin Short and Alfre Woodard. There are no big-name stars of the day. The cast in the lead roles are just so-so. While the idea for the film is a good one, it just doesn't have the life of a good script or superb acting. Apparently, some critics gave it good ratings, but many others didn't. It flopped at the box office.

It's supposed to be a comedy, but there are no laughs in the film. The best it might do is squeeze out a couple of smiles. The R rating is for gratuitous brief scenes of nudity. Four stars are for the efforts by some of the cast.

The film does have a play on words, but it may have been unintentional. The name of Skip's company is Panda Modems. While the film's plot isn't one of "pandemonium," it is quite quirky. The best line is when Skip says to Lily, "I may be young but doc can tell ya I'm very immature."

Catch Me If You Can

An unbelievable film, yet based on a true story
As unbelievable as it seems to be, "Catch Me If You Can" was based on a real person and his exploits. That included, by the time he was just 19 years of age, passing himself off as a major airline passenger jet pilot, a medical doctor, a lawyer, and a prison official. Frank Abagnale Jr. told his story in a book co-written by Stan Redding in 1980, by the same title as this film.

Of course, in order to get away with any of his imposter roles, Abagnale had to look older than he was. And, the tricks and traits he developed for conning banks, businesses and people took imagination and some skill to learn. His story is a fascinating one and ideal for a very entertaining film. As the movie shows, Abagnale eventually was caught and spent time in jail. In reality, he served short sentences in France and Sweden before being extradited to the U.S. And, as the film notes at the end, he eventually turned his experience into a lucrative career and later business. He helped the FBI, banks and businesses to spot and protect against fraud.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Abagnale in this film, and Tom hanks plays Carl Hanratty. His role is based on the real FBI agent who was the chief pursuer of the cagey con man. That was Joseph Shea, who later was a close friend of Abagnale's until Shea's death.

Melody in Spring

A wonderful wacky comedy with some very good singing
Every now and then, one comes across an unknown or unheard-of film that is a real gem. These are usually the older movies that for one reason or another never achieved great success or recognition. They may not have had big stars of the day in the leading roles. Or, they had new faces of as yet unknown actors. Or, the story wasn't based on a major novel. Or, the director, budget and any number of other things relegated it to second tier, even though it may be made by a major studio.

Well, "Melody in Spring" clearly is such a gem. And, its pedigree has a little bit of all of the above aspects. Lanny Ross and Ann Sothern are fairly new to film, as John Craddock and Jane Blodgett. Sothern had been uncredited in most of her 10 films before this, and this was her first significant role. Ross had been in just three shorts before this, but has the male lead and major role in this film. Paramount gave them some tremendous support in two seasoned and prolific performers - Charles Ruggles and Mary Boland as husband and wife - Warren and Mary Blodgett, parents of Jane. Both had solid careers in silent films that carried over into the sound age. They were especially good in comedy.

And one thing that may have held this film back with audiences was its billing as a musical. It is clearly a comedy first and foremost. It does have music, all in singing, and it's a major departure from the standard form of musicals to that time. In a way, it's a peek at the form that the latter great musicals of the mid-20th century would take. Instead of the revue format, in which a variety of music and dance numbers are featured, with a loose plot that ties them together, the musical plays that became great hits were regular stories that had the characters singing and dancing in parts of the story.

This movie has no staged song and dance numbers. There are no dance numbers at all. The music in this film is all singing. Ross has a superb tenor voice, and some of his numbers or parts are a cappella, with little or no musical accompaniment. There are two songs with choruses. One is the Swiss Milking Song and the other is a bouncy tune that Ross leads jail inmates and guards in singing.

One wonders why Ross didn't stay in Hollywood, but he made only four more films after this one. He was actually trained in the law profession but gave it up to pursue a singing career in 1929. He was very popular on radio. He sang for numerous programs and had his own show for years on CBS. An interesting tidbit about Ross was his high school years where he excelled in track sports, and then his years at Yale University where he was one of the nation's top athletes in track and field and where he also was a soloist with the Yale Glee Club.

Ross's Craddock is a very likable and outgoing person in "Melody in Spring." He and Sothern have very good chemistry in this film, and Sothern is superb in her smiling and doting demeanor and looks in the scenes when Ross sings to her.

But, now for the comedy. Warren Blodgett is an irascible, eccentric millionaire who is something of a kleptomaniac. He doesn't consider it stealing but "collecting" to take bed knobs, signs, or any other items for his collection. He has bed knobs from sleeping places visited by George Washington, Queen Elizabeth and others. He seems to spend more time and energy adding to his collection, which he proudly labels and displays around his home, than he does in his business. But then, he apparently is the dogfood king, whose name is on every dog biscuit and "puppy pretzel."

In one scene, Warren Blodgett is listening to the hour-long radio show his company sponsors. At commercial time, the announcer says, "Do other dogs avoid your dog? Is your dog a social failure? Then, buy Blodget Puppy Pretzels, and buy them now."

The story is quite wacky, with Jane's parents not caring for Craddock after an altercation with him early in the film. He and Jane first meet in a small town where the George Washington Inn of 1770 is located. Then, they meet again when he shows up at the Blodgett's, trying to land a job singing on the Blodgett radio hour. The story moves back and forth between John and Jane together, and Warren trying to snitch souvenirs, with Mary constantly on his trail. The story takes them across the pond to Paris and then to Switzerland. The Paramount sets were very good, especially those of the Swiss village, countryside and scenery. Of course, the places, town and mountains are fictitious Alpine names.

This is one very funny, somewhat wacky, and entertaining film, with some very good singing. Apparently, this was a box office disappointment to Paramount. But it won't be a disappointment to anyone today who enjoys good comedy and entertainment. I highly recommend "Melody in Spring" for many good laughs. Here are some sample lines.

Blonde in Washington's bed, "Well, if you woke up in the middle of the night and saw a man with a look in his eye, what would you do?" Warren Blodgett, "It's a lie. There was nothing in my eye."

House detective, "Are you nutty?" Warren Blodgett, "Well, certainly not." Mary Blodgett, "Oh, yes he is. Don't listen to him, officer. My, you know you're nutty dear. Now come along."

Warren Blodgett, "Mary, I'm going to climb an Alp. I'm going to carve my initials on the very top."

Every Night at Eight

Good singers and musical score save an otherwise weak production
This 1935 Walter Wanger comedy musical suffers in a number of technical areas. By 1935, the major studios were putting out films with very good quality "Every Night at Eight" is choppy, poorly edited and weak in the camera work and direction. The film has a good cast, and the idea of the three girlfriends together for a singing trio is good. Alice Faye and Frances Langford give some good examples of their singing. This was Langford's first feature film and one of her best for singing. While she had lead roles in several films and major roles in several more, Langford didn't have great screenplays.

Other reviewers have noted how Alice Faye so closely resembled Jean Harlow in appearance. In a couple of scenes early in this picture, one could easily see Faye as a sister of Harlow for her physical resemblance, especially in the face. Patsy Kelly is OK for the comedic element, but she soon begins to wear thin with her crass cracks. Thankfully, they are toned down to less frequent or harsh comments in the last half of the film.

At first, George Raft seemed about the least likely of any leading man in Hollywood to be able to appear real as a band leader. But his part is the biggest surprise of this movie. Raft shows real bounce and ability to keep with the beat as he leads his band. He comes across as knowing the business. But, other than for the girls singing, and a little bit of the band jamming, the story is wanting. The script is otherwise weak and Raft's acting especially seems to move between lively and nearly dead as he sits looking flat in some scenes.

The film has a good musical score, and that and the songs by Faye and Langford are reason enough to watch "Every Night at Eight."

Here are a couple of favorite lines from this film.

Dixie Foley, "Say, listen. What was the name of the picture where the girl gets the ride?" Daphne O'Connor, "It Happened the Other Night." (sic) Dixie, "I guess it don't work in the daytime."

Susan Moore, commenting on a woman who is imitating a chicken, "How did she ever learn to do that?" Dixie Foley, "You can't learn that, it's a gift." Daphne O'Connor, "Gift nothing! It's a curse."

Horse Feathers

Only vaudeville fans may find any laughs in this early Marx Brothers film
"Horse Feathers" is only the fourth feature film the Marx Brothers made. It's among the earliest films that included brother Zeppo who quit acting after "Duck Soup" in 1933. He didn't think he fit in as a straight man with his zany brothers. Zeppo became a successful inventor and manufacturer after leaving the troupe. While mostly later films included some smash hits ("A Night at the Opera" of 1935 and "A Day at the Races" of 1937), this film is among the worst.

In their best films, the Marx Brothers have a plot and a cast that act straight or comedic, off of the boys. That makes their antics, silly goings-on and dialog all the funnier. But without that, the comedy falls flat. Watching this film again after many years, it's obvious that these were players from vaudeville. Only here, they seem to be hold-overs who were worn out. The rest of the cast mostly stands or sits in silence as Groucho and gang go through one vaudeville gag after another. It was almost painful to watch Groucho in his monologue of introduction as the new president of Huxley College. He cracks one dud after another.

This film has little cohesion and doesn't even pretend to have a plot. The one opportunity for some good comedy would seem to be in the football game with the Marx brothers on the field. But the writers and actors miss this opportunity with mostly inane actions that might have evinced a laugh or two in 1932, but certainly don't these decades later. Four stars might be a stretch for this film, but the musical talent that Harpo and Chico display is always good and entertaining. And Groucho's song provides most of the comedy.

Give a Girl a Break

A musical with top Broadway dance masters of the mid-20th century
"Give a Girl a Break" isn't a big-name and elaborate production that characterized most MGM musicals. But this smaller scale musical has a nice story that features some of the best dancing talent of Hollywood and Broadway in the mid-20th century. The story is set on Broadway. The director and producer of a new musical about to open need a new leading lady when their snooty star quits. With only three weeks until opening, they come up with the idea of promoting an amateur competition to select the new lead. It's a dream made in heaven for girls from the Big Apple to some distance away. Our story centers around three who will vie for the sole spot. The way the story plays out is nice, with three of the leading men each having his eye on one particular of the three girls.

Marge and Gower Champion have top billing. This is just one of three films in which they have that spot or share the leads. Gower made only 20 films in his career, most with Marge when they were married, and she made only 26 films. But the rest of the time, they spent on the stage. Marge eventually began teaching dance, and Gower was the leading choreographer and a leading musical director for two decades on Broadway. He won eight Tony awards and received 15 nominations in his career - some as director and some as choreographer. Had he lived beyond age 59, he doubtless would have won more awards.

But, beside the Champions, another legendary stage dancer, choreographer and director has near top billing in this film. Bob Fosse plays Bob Dowdy, assistant to the director, Ted Sturgis (Gower Champion). Fosse has won an academy award, a BAFTA award and an Emmy for his film and TV work. And he has nine Tony awards for directing and choreography of Broadway musicals.

The rest of the cast in this film are top drawer, the women all with dancing and singing. Debbie Reynolds does modern dance and traditional dance with singing, and Dolly Sharp does classical and jazz dancing.

This film is a tremendous show of dance. The earliest peeks of the Champions with short dance scenes are in "Mr. Music" of 1950, "Show Boat" of 1951, and "Lovely to Look At" of 1952. That year they also starred in their first film, "Everything I Have Is Yours." It's too bad that the Champions didn't make more films. These MGM films were successful at the box office, and both of the players are competent actors. Gower Champion has a likeable persona. But, as with many people who have natural dancing talent, the stage has more allure than film. One can understand that five to seven performances a week for many months would be more attractive to an active dancer than the schedule of filmmaking that might require a few days of repetitive rehearsals to get single scenes down. As opposed to frequent rehearsals and interruptible scene shoots, the live stage affords dancers the opportunity to perform their talents on a regular schedule before live audiences.

This film makes a nice addition to a movie musical or dance library. It's nice to have some other master performers to view on film once in a while, besides the incomparable Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly with their several fantastic female partners.

Tennessee's Partner

A somewhat different and entertaining Western
"Tennessee's Partner" has a considerably different plot and variety of characters than a typical Western film. I don't recall having seen it as a youngster in the theater, or ever seeing it on late night TV movie broadcasts. It has a good cast of actors for the day. John Payne ("Miracle on 34th Street") had top billing with Ronald Reagan and Rhonda Fleming in major roles and a cast of well-known supporting actors of the day - Anthony Caruso, Morris Ankrum, Leo Gordon and Coleen Gray.

The story is set in the gold rush foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern California. But the plot varies from the usual frontier town with bawdy bars and wild goings on. The area already has taken on a start of respectability, even with the ladies' establishment with its hostesses, drinks and fine eats, as well as gambling tables. Indeed, one wonders how many places in those days had poker games with $5,000 bets and raises.

But the film has a fair share of fighting and shooting as well. It's something of a strange film about friendship. Here are some favorite lines from the movie.

Tennessee, "I don't have any friends." Cowpoke, "Well, that's somethin' you don't know until the time comes. Then you find out."

Cowpoke, "What's wrong with women?" Tennessee, "They act like women." Cowpoke, "Now, that's one thing I've always liked about 'em."

Cowpoke, "A man can take about anything. Except being made a bigger fool than he already is."

Sherlock Holmes

A fast and furious modern version of Sherlock Holmes
One can't help but enjoy the performance of Robert Downey, Jr. in this film. His persona, with all its quirkiness, is funny and entertaining. But the idea that he could be the Sherlock Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's day and writing is a far stretch. The inclusion of Jude Law as Dr. John Watson adds greatly to the plot and enjoyment. Although he's a counter-character to Holmes, he's also adept at crime-solving, shooting and fighting. Of course, all of the latter is mostly out of character of the "real" Holmes and Watson. For, their brains, cunning and sleuthing were the modus operandi of the original characters.

After seeing this film on its release in theaters, I watched it again recently on DVD. It occurred to me that the device used in this film - of short stops in the story with explanations by Holmes almost as afterthoughts, might have been intended to inform (and thereby, better entertain) a modern audience that otherwise wouldn't have grasped the perception that Holmes had for small details. In reading Doyle's stories, one knows Holmes' uncanny deductions from the smallest of details. And in earlier and old-time films, audiences understood this after some comment on details by Holmes. But this modern film seems to have to make the many small details clear as a significant part of the story. After a bit, that seems childish and silly.

One other observation is important to note, I think. All of the CGI and high definition filming in this story makes the setting seem unreal - as if created for stage or film. I get the sense of something being unreal often with CGI. But here, the sharp detail and contrasts of black and white in street scenes gives them the appearance of being lifted off the pages of comic books.

While I found this film entertaining, it seems something of a letdown in story telling today. Hollywood apparently has to add lots of action in the form of fights, brawling, chases and conflagrations, in order to appeal to modern audiences -- even with classical and historical characters and stories. It's too bad, because with such modernizing of stories, I think the public loses out on the educational aspects of grasping the people, places, cultures and conditions of times past.

This is a fast and furious modern version of Sherlock Holmes. For those who enjoy mysteries in more realistic portrayals and conditions, I heartily recommend the wonderful series of TV films of the 1980s and 1990s that starred Jeremy Brett as Holmes and Edward Hardwicke as Dr. Watson.

Here are a couple favorite lines from this film.

Sherlock Holmes, "It's a matter of professional integrity. No girl wants to marry a doctor who can't tell if a man's dead or not."

Sherlock Holmes, after taking a deep breath, "Ah, putrefication!" (sic)

Angel on My Shoulder

Rehashed and revised theme is lifted by lead performances
"Angel on My Shoulder" must have seemed to be an old story rehashed even in 1946. As others have noted, this film was a dark side rendition of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan." And, a favorite reviewer notes that a segment of the film is a copy of part of the 1938 hit film, "Angels with Dirty Faces." Claude Rains is familiar from his similar but counter role in 1941s "Mr. Jordan." Paul Muni had made just two films in 1945.

With "Angel on My Shoulder," Muni hoped to revive his film career, but it wasn't to be. He had five Academy Award nominations in the 1930s and won his only Oscar for "The Story of Louis Pasteur" in 1937. His screen roles were further apart in the 1940s as his popularity diminished.

But 1946 was a banner year for Hollywood, with many great movies. After the bleak years of World War II, the Western public wanted a return to solid entertainment. The Academy Awards for the year were almost exclusively for dramatic films. Solid dramas and mystery/crime thrillers were the top of the box office draws for the year. So, the dark side fantasy of a familiar theme in "Angel on My Shoulder" just didn't appeal to that many people of the day. Nor does it hold much interest these many decades later.

Muni's film career continued to decline and ended with mostly TV story appearances in the 1950s. But his acting career continued strong on the stage, and in 1955, he won a Tony for his role in the Broadway production off "Inherit the Wind." The performances by the leads in this film are the only reason it earns six stars.

The Kentuckian

Good action and adventure peek at pioneer times
"The Kentuckian" is one of those films that made young men in the mid-20th century dream about adventure in the pioneer days. It's every bit as good an entertainment film for the young folks of the early 21st century. If only they can pry themselves away from their hand phones.

All of the cast do a fine job in this look back at the early pioneer days when the West in the U.S. was still east of the Mississippi River. Bolstering the plot and action and adventure is some tremendous camera work and scenes in beautiful outdoor settings.

It seems that modern films have all but forgotten about the early years of the settlement and expansion of America. This is a fine film to introduce a peek at what that early history was like, with a story that no doubt replayed itself many a time in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Burt Lancaster and crew provide an entertaining look back when boys of yesterday dreamed about early adventure in the new world.

All-American Co-Ed

Langford's songs are the only good thing about this film
Hollywood studios were trying all types of comedy films by 1940 when things were heating up around the world before WW II. There were lots of these comedy and musical combos with stories set on college campuses. There was so little new or different in any of them, and most weren't big successes. "All-American Co-Ed" is in both groups. The only reason for watching this film is Francis Langford's singing.

Johnny Downs was a good actor, but had the misfortune of being just another handsome face who could act, when the studios put everything into two or three leading actors. So, Downs and many others like him were relegated to lesser films. This is one of the earliest Hollywood films with an actor in drag. Downs plays Bobbie DeWolfe, a girl who goes to an arch-rival all-girls' college. But, it's a dud for comedy.

Again, the only reason to watch this flick is for Langford's singing.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

A great wrap on the original story
The third of the original trilogy of Star Wars warps up the story beautifully. George Lucas would write and produce two more trilogies - in a prequel and then sequel series. But this first series contains a whole story in itself. The next two trilogies are good, and sci-fi fans should enjoy them. But, as with other movies that been made in the past, nothing can match the originals for interest and enjoyment.

The best action and special effects in this film have to do with the good guys battling the bad guys on Jabba the Hut's Tatooine. Princess Leia shows her muscle. Again, there are more creatures and weapon machines. The very young are probably taken most with the Ewoks on the planet, Endor. They do look a lot like scruffy Teddy bears.

Here are some favorite lines from this film:

C-3PO, "If I told you half the things I've heard about this Jabba the Hut, you'd probably short-circuit."

Jabba the Hut, "This bounty hunter is my kind of scum."

Luke Skywalker, "Your over confidence is your weakness." The Emperor, "Your faith in your friends is yours."

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

More creatures and excitement as the trilogy continues
Form the overwhelming success of the first Star Wars film ("Episode IV - A New Hope") the movie-going public was chomping at the bit in anticipation of this second film. It came out three years after the first and continued the mystique of the first film. The fans flocked to the theaters, and the critics couldn't heap enough praise on the production.

As with the first, special effects are a dominant aspect of this film. The story continues and builds to a nice conclusion that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats in antici0pation of the finale. Of this second film, I especially enjoyed the new creatures that the film introduces. The character of Yoda undoubtedly required more work and ingenuity to film. While Frank Oz was the voice of Yoda, he and several other puppeteers and two dwarf actors created the character and brought him to life.

This film probes the moral and spiritual aspects of series and its time and place. The sci-fi aspects that I enjoy the most are the scenes of the Cloud City on the gas planet, Bespin. The vibrant colors in these space scenes are fantastic.

This is just a great film in a great series all around.

Star Wars

The best of the outer space Sci-fi films
Sci-fi movies set in space don't get better than this or all three of the films of the first Star Wars trilogy. The Star Trek movies are very good and come in second as a group. But this Star Wars film, and the others of the series, maintain a single plot -- good overcoming evil, and it spans a galaxy far beyond our Milky Way.

The story, the action, the technical production qualities and all things about Star Wars are fascinating. "A New Hope" introducers viewers to dozens of alien creatures and characters. The bar scene at spaceport Mos Eisley is a delight to watch as aliens with ant-like heads play instruments, and characters of various strange physical features converse at the bar and tables. The various huge transport creatures that people ride are amazing.

Of course, the different spacecraft, ships and flying fortresses are interesting. In short, what's not to like about this wonderful, far-out, Sci-fi adventure film? I can recall taking my oldest children, then six to 10, to see this first Star Wars film after it came out in Late May of 1977. We stood in line outside the movie theater in northern Virginia. Now I enjoy it again, watching with my grandchildren.

Here are some favorite lines from this film, "Star War IV - A New Hope."

Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.

Han Solo, "Jabba, you're a wonderful human being."

Han Solo, "One thing's for sure, we're all gonna be a lot thinner."

Han Solo, "Good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living, that's something else."

Han Solo, "I don't know what we're gonna do now. Even if I could take off, I could never get past the tractor beam." Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Leave that to me."

Han Solo, "Damn fool, I knew you were going to say that." Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Who's the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him?"

The Time of Their Lives

A different Abbott and Costello format in a fun film for the family
"The Time of Their Lives" is a very good Abbot and Costello comedy that has some very nice special effects in filming to show ghosts walking through walls and doors. I agree with some other reviewers who think this and their other 1946 film, "Little Giant," were among the best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. In both of these films, the stars are not a pair of sidekicks. They don't know each other. So, instead of the comedy being built around skits and sketches of the two, it's broader and wrapped into the whole story. And, in both of these instances it worked very well.

In this film, Marjorie Reynolds as Melody Allen, is paired with Costello's Horatio Prim, as two Revolutionary War period Americans who weren't improperly identified and labeled as traitors after being killed. So, their ghosts are condemned to live on the Danbury estate until such time as they should be exonerated. The time skips ahead to 1946 when a descendant of the nasty Cuthbert Greenway (played by Bud Abbott) encourages another man to rebuild the Danbury estate just as it was. Abbott's Dr. Ralph Greenway and company are in for a surprise as the ghosts of Horatio and Melody seek to set things straight. In this film, Bud Abbott's character is the butt of most of the comedy from pratfalls and mishaps.

This is an entertaining and fun film that the whole family can enjoy. It won't frighten the youngsters but will tickle their funny bones in places.

Adam Had Four Sons

A family and love story with deep undertones
"Adam Had Four Sons" is a wonderful drama and love story. But judging from most of the reviews to this date of my comments, it seems to me that most viewers didn't sense the depth of the story. I don't know if it is based on or is supposed to emulate Theodore Roosevelt and his family, as one or more reviewers have said. It is based on a novel by Charles Bonner, but I could find nothing online about him or his novel. The movie showed in France under a different title, "The Family Stoddard."

I make a distinction between romance and love in movies. The first is the most common and often involves comedy, gaiety, and the "feel good" emotions. It doesn't carry responsibility or commitment. Love is deeper, more serious, sacrificial and enduring. So, in this film, the relationship between Warner Baxter's Adam Stoddard and his wife, Molly (played by Fay Wray) clearly is one of love. Then, after she dies, and in later years after her return, Ingrid Berman's Emilie Gallatin falls in love with Adam; and he with her. Only, theirs is a distant, hands-off, respectful love that neither will voice. It's possible that the characters fear rejection, but more probable that they feel an unworthiness.

As I said, this is a love story - not a common Hollywood romance. This relationship finally comes to the fore when the sons coax Adam and Emilie separately, telling each of them how obvious it is that the other is in love with him/her.

But there's a great deal more to this film than that. It has some undertones of a morality play when Susan Hayward enters the picture as Hester Stoddard, the wife of David. Most other reviewers seem to latch onto Hayward's presence as putting life into the film. That she is a vixen and gold-digger, there's no doubt. But when Emilie discovers her infidelity, she then covers it up rather than see Adam hurt. Fortunately for all, this has a "happy" ending. Hester betrays herself, David survives his crazy flying suicide attempt, and Adam and Emilie become betrothed.

But, what if these last turns of events had not happened? If the truth about Hester had not come out, the love between Adam and Emilie would have ended with separation. What would Adam's house have turned into with an adulterous woman then in charge? And a son who didn't fess up to having betrayed a brother. One can only surmise what would have happened. But, for sure, it would not have been good for any of them. Why is this point important? Because an underlying tone of this movie is truth and honesty. Was Emilie really protecting or saving Adam from hurt and disgrace by covering up for Hester and Jack? Is wrong, harm, evil or sin ever made good by covering it up?

This movie is much more than drama and romance or melodrama. It's a story about family and love, sacrifice and caring, and yes - dishonesty, cheating, integrity and truth. Indeed, Adam's words toward the end, state his bedrock standard. He says, "The family has always lived by the truth. I wouldn't be hurt by it."

Besides Bergman, Baxter and Wray, this film has a first-rate cast, all of whom give superb performances.

Down to Earth

Cast is the only thing good about this weak plot with terrible music
"Down to Earth" is a 1947 comedy, fantasy, musical that has a very good cast but a weak script and terrible music. Rita Hayworth plays a dual role as goddess Terpischore (from Greek mythology) and Kitty Pendleton in present day (1947) Broadway of the Big Apple. Hayworth was a very good actress and dancer, coming from a family of dancers. As the muse of poetry and dancing, Terpsichore is startled to learn of a Broadway play being staged down on earth that puts the muses in a bad light. She wants to go to earth to effect a change.

Larry Parks has the male lead opposite Hayworth's characters, as the play director, Danny Miller. But a couple of other male characters have major roles. Edward Everett Horton is the heavenly messenger who's supposed to watch over Terpischore to keep her on the straight and narrow. And, James Gleason is the bemused Max Corkle, who becomes the new dancer, Kitty Pendleton's agent - he knows not how.

At least one other reviewer has noted the poor outcome of Hollywood's efforts to make films that use or include or are based on Greek mythology. Well, this film fits the mold. But for the actors already named and some others who try to do their best, the script for this film is a real dud. And the terrible music doesn't escape anyone's notice. This is one of those instances when audiences wonder what the studio heads were thinking, or doing. Didn't they see that the music really did this film in as a musical? What did they see that was so good in the script? True - other films have bombed and been much worse. This film has very little comedy and no real laughs. Most of the dancing and choreography is strange, but not exceptional or entertaining. The music - again, it's terrible. The fantasy is little more than the vehicle for most of the comedy is the film. And, that's not much.

What strikes one watching this film is a sense of pity for the cast. All of whom, especially Hayworth and the top supporters, deserved a better screenplay and score than this Columbia project provided. It isn't a turkey, but it barely gets off the ground - that, thanks to the cast.

Here are some favorite lines from the film.

Terpischore, "Why, their number one song on the Hit Parade is 'Who Hit Nelly in the Belly with a Flounder?'"

Terpischore, "I thought you couldn't feel any pain." Messenger 7013, "I've got a memory, haven't I?"

Max Corkle, "I think she musta went to college. You know how that'll ruin anybody."

Messenger 7013, "Mr. Jordan, you're not going to assign me to Brooklyn again?" Mr. Jordan, "Precisely." Messenger 7013, "Oh, dear. The nights are six months long in Brooklyn."

Stage Hand, "Brother, if those long-hairs go for it, you're dead."

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