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Zoot Suit
(1981)

An artistic rendition of World War II ethnic clashes in some American cities
"Zoot Suit" is a 1981 Universal film based on a 1979 Broadway play of the same title, by Luis Valdez. Valdez also directed and was in the film. Daniel Valdez and Edward James Olmos star in their same roles from the stage production. The film has other members of the Broadway cast as well. This is a dramatic musical about a bleak period in America during World War II.

The plot is based on the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots and racial attacks in Los Angeles, and false arrests for what the press then called, the Sleepy Lagoon murder of a young Mexican-American man. This dark period is little remembered today. Some military servicemen attacked members of ethnic groups and stripped off their clothes. That led to Mexican-Americans, Blacks, Italian-Americans and Latinos rioting in LA and several other American cities.

The clothes were a style of suit that was fashionable among the ethnic groups of the time. Zoot suits, as they were called, used large quantities of cloth and materials that were rationed during the war. The servicemen (mostly white but some of mixed races as well) thought the ethnic groups were unpatriotic.

The play and this film by Valdez give a picture of the ethnic clashes and racial unrest of the time. It is a good historical picture of a slice of American history that is often overlooked or hidden in the broad global milieu of World War II. This film isn't on the level of "West Side Story" of 1961, but it gives a good musical presentation of similar ethnic clashes and prejudices in some American cities in the middle of World War II.

Saint Jack
(1979)

Not much of a plot for this expatriate film set in SE Asia
"Saint Jack" got one nomination among the major film organizations. The British Academy of Film and Theater Arts (BAFTA) nominated Denholm Elliot as best supporting actor. Elliott did give a good performance in a small supporting cast role that is the only real acting role in the film. There were no other nominations, and critical nods for this film were rare. And, for good reason. It has but a skimpy plot - hardly enough for a good film to be made from. There's very little challenge for acting by anyone. It's a simple film that's much like a day in the life of someone. In this case, it's Jack Flowers, an expatriate American who is a pimp in Singapore.

How different and exciting can it be following a pimp around in his rounds? Well, this guy is not your ordinary pimp - or the standard picture that Hollywood traditionally portrays of such. They usually are shown as mean, nasty and sometimes physically abusive to the women who are their sex workers. No, Flowers is a well-liked guy who is friendly, kind, and generous with everyone. And does he know everyone? Just about. So, he has the moniker of "saint" because he's a good guy.

The movie is based on a 1973 novel of the same title by Paul Theroux. I didn't read it, and I don't know if it's all fiction or somewhat based on his personal knowledge and/or experiences from having been in Southeast Asia. The story takes place during the time of the Vietnam War.

There are but a couple of diversions, otherwise it's Flowers moving about in his environs in Singapore where he knows many people on the street and in the shops. He pops in at places to say hello to his Singapore acquaintances. He stops to talk to the girls and guys working the sex trade who come from various countries. And he drinks with some expatriate Brits who have taken up residence after military or business assignments in the area. He accommodates them and visiting men from anywhere and everywhere in his rather high-class bordello. Except for the last item, one might think he or she is watching the 1967 movie, "Hotel." That movie was somewhat dreary as well, but it had several more interesting characters and clients, and some who were much better developed.

After Malaysian competitors wipe out Jack's hotel, he works for a contractor that provides sex services for Allied servicemen on leave. But when the war ends, that business dries up and shuts down. Jack thought about going back home to the States, but he turns down an offer that would give him the money for the move. Instead, he walks back into the environment he knows so well. The film has some brief scenes of female and male nudity, and one graphic sexual scene of two women. It's R-rated for a reason.

None of that makes it a good film. Except for waiting for something interesting to happen, most viewers would probably soon find the film tiring or boring. Ben Gazzara is okay as Flowers. He doesn't have many dialog lines. His is a character of watching, observing and then moving on to the next stop. It's mostly a slow-moving film. Some reviewers have thought it was underrated at 6 or 7 stars. So, they give it 10 stars? That happens in most genres. Some people are crazy about or enjoy a subject so much that they rate a film with 10 stars, rather than rating it based on its film qualities -- writing, acting, directing, filming and other production aspects.

This film was shot all on location in Singapore. The scenery and camera work earn most of the four stars I give the film. It was interesting to learn on Wikipedia of the deception for filming in Singapore. The filmmakers apparently lied about the movie they were making. They had a fake synopsis and most of those involved in its production in Malaysia believed they were making a film called "Jack of Hearts."

Anyway, the film was another box office flop for producer Roger Corman and director Peter Bogdanovich. It's $1.7 million U.S. box office finished the year in 122nd place. It didn't even match the film's $2 million budget, or cover half of its cost.

Fraggle Rock
(1983)

After the Muppets, Fraggle Rock went international
"Fraggle Rock" is a very funny and entertaining puppet TV series that ran from 1983 to 1987 in Canada. Adults as well as children could really enjoy this show. As with the Muppets, the show and characters were created by Jim Henson. It was produced in Canada, with an international design that provided for modifications in story and settings with the same characters in various market languages. It aired regularly in the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries. England and several other countries had modified settings. It had German and Spanish language versions.

The DVD I watched recently has three of the original segments, and more than four hours of shows. It's called "Fraggle Rock - Beginnings: Where it All Began." I had seen segments of the show in the past on TV.

The series is a lot of fun to watch. The fantasy land of Fraggle is a rock island somewhere in the oceans. Numerous performers voice the various characters. Doc, Sprocket, Boober, Gobo, Red, Mokey and all their many companions are delightful. Kids from four to 94 have enjoyed this series around the world.

John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!
(1965)

Gibberish and buffoonery don't make comedy without a good screenplay
"John Goldfarb, Please Come Home" is one of those movies that Hollywood moguls of the time probably wished they hadn't made. The critics overall thought it was a dud, and the public agreed. It bombed at the box office and lost money for Fox. Yet, the book on which the film was based sold well and got sterling reviews for its humor. The film, though, is something else. What could and should have been a very good political satire, turned out to be a lot of expensive buffoonery with near zero humor.

Great comedy satires are built mostly on dialog with great screenplays. That's especially so with political satires. Think of examples, such as "Ninotchka" of 1939, "The Senator was Indiscreet" of 1947, "Our Man in Havana" of 1959, or "One, Two, Three" of 1961. Some also have hilarious antics that go hand-in-hand with witty and funny dialog. Examples of this type include "A Royal Scandal" of 1945, "The Mouse that Roared" of 1959, or "Dr. Strangelove" of 1964. And a few films of this narrower genre have mostly hilarious antics with very little funny dialog, but still with excellent screenplays. Examples of this small group are "Comrade X" of 1940 and "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" of 1966.

But what happened between the book and this film that is virtuously humorless, is a puzzle. Two things seem apparent. The writers wrote dialog, especially for the various U.S. government characters, that fails miserably to even evince a chuckle or a smile. There is absolutely no tongue-in-cheek. The actors just blurt out lines that say to the audience that this is supposed to be funny. The script is infantile, treating the audience as mindless or unable to understand any subtleties of language and humor. There is no subtly. There is no understatement. Nor overstatement. Where is the innuendo, or the conjecture? Where are the oxymorons, the malapropisms, spoonerisms or gaffes? There is none of that in this film script. The only language device used here is gibberish, mostly in Peter Ustinov's King Fawz. And to go with it, no funny antics but an almost continuous stream of buffoonery. And that clearly lacks the humor that is apparent in films of The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, or the Marx Brothers. There again, though, those comics had screenplays in which their antics and buffoonery meshed for wonderful humor.

It's too bad with such a huge cast of prominent actors of the day, that 20th Century Fox couldn't make this into a very good comedy and political satire. Perhaps the reluctance of some prospective cast members to accept roles should have signaled the problems with the screenplay. Perhaps, too, the lack of any early backers in Hollywood was a sign of a problem with the plot. Then, after a book was written that got some good reviews for its comedy, it had a hard time getting made.

Another long-time writer, whose reviews are frequently helpful and that I follow and enjoy, probably hit the nail on the head as to how such a bad movie came about with a fistful of prominent actors. He notes actors who have made films they knew, or thought were bad, but they made them anyway for the pay. They needed or wanted the money. Well, the likes of Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov, Richard Crenna, Wilfrid-Hyde-White, Jim Backus, Harry Morgan and Fred Clark got their money, but 20th Century Fox lost a lot of money on this dud.

My two stars are for the lavish sets and technology used to "prop" this film - its gizmos and gadgets. Most obvious are the king's go-cart which is made to look to be rocket-powered, and then the plethora of the elaborate electric trains.

Here are the only two lines from this film that I guess might get a chuckle from some people - not many, but some.

Secretary of State Deems Sarajevo, "It may be a disaster, Whitepaper, but it is not a mistake."

Jerry Ericson, "Nobody's ever called me as asp before."

$10 Raise
(1935)

Slow moving drama is more soap opera than comedy
My five stars for this film are for the perseverance of the cast in seeing it to the end. For, "$10 Raise" is a very slow moving film that many may soon find tedious. That's mostly in the character of Edward Everett Horton's Hubert Wilkins. Horton is a good actor and is in many fine comedies. If it were not for his exaggerated squeamishness in this film, one wouldn't even think it was a comedy. And, although billed as such, it's mostly a drama or slice of life movie about an overly timid man.

There's a little larceny in here in a former employee, Fuller, played by Alan Dinehart. The nasty-natured and pompous owner of Bates and Company, is played by Berton Churchill. Hubert has a sweetheart whom he hasn't had the nerve to ask to marry him, waiting to get a $10-dollar raise after 18 years with the company, so he could afford to marry. Karen Morely plays Emily Converse. And, Hubert has a true friend in a former employee who has been very successful in the world.

It all works out in the end - when good things often happen to people who are good. It happens here in spades, but not to the point of having Hubert change. Still, except for fans of Horton, this isn't a movie that most people would enjoy, let alone sit through

Here are the best lines in this film.

Hubert Wilkins, "Well, down the steps." Perry's Friend (Boothe Howard, uncredited), "No! Hatch!" Wilkins, "Oh, it's a chicken drink....chicken hatch." They all laugh and Perry says, "A good egg." He pats Hubert on the shoulder as everyone laughs more.

Hubert Wilkins, "I think you'll have to admit, Emily, that a man's judgment is better than a woman's intuition."

Night After Night
(1932)

The guy can't buy class, but Mae West debut is good
"Night After Night" is a comedy drama in which Mae West makes her film debut. Her Maudie Triplett has a tinge of the persona that West would soon develop and be known for. Her presence in this film is the biggest plus for it. Otherwise, it's a George Raft vehicle in which his usual low-life character, Joe Anton, tries to get some class. He wants to impress Constance Cummings' Jerry Healy, while he still strings along an old flame, Wynne Gibson's Iris Dawn.

The film isn't without a considerable cast. In addition to the leads, Alison Skipworth plays Mabel Jellyman. Louis Calhern is Dick Bolton, who is part of a love triangle that include Anton and Healy. Roscoe Karns is Leo.

It's not that interesting a story, and it becomes quite far-out with Joe redoing his office and business settings with lavish design and touches. If not for Mae West - as others have noted, this film wouldn't rate six stars. This is one that might be good for afternoon nappers watch, but it's not worth spending the cash for a DVD.

Escape to Athena
(1979)

Lots of action in this WW II film set in the scenic Aegean Sea
After just watching "Escape to Athena," I could understand why it might not be highly rated by many people. But, when reading the IMDb reviews, I found that reasons for low ratings given so far were not what I thought was a debit of the film. Most didn't like the plot or thought the action was weak. I thought that many people may not see much of a comedy in a film that shows brutal killings by the Nazis, which this has. Even with the character of Elliott Gould's Charlie Dane, the comedy is quite lame and comes across almost as crass and indifference to the people in the midst of the Nazi brutality,

There is some subtle comedy in David Niven's Professor Blake and Roger Moore's Major Otto Hecht, and that works okay. The film was billed as action, adventure and comedy. I guess the European makers of the film had completely forgotten about the war or didn't recognize that the setting was wartime. It should be billed as a war movie. That's where I will take exception, as well, with those who don't see much action, because this film is loaded with it. The operation to seize control of the German base and facilities provides some good action.

As to the unbelievability of the plot, well, quite a few war movies were made that were highly fictional and that really stretched the imagination. But they offered some big entertainment. A couple that leap to mind, that most movie buffs will have seen, are "The Dirty Dozen" of 1967, and "Kelly's Heroes" of 1970. And, there have been films made about the German's confiscation of great works of art and things of historical importance. So, the location of a special German camp where prisoners work in archeological digs isn't that far-fetched at all.

Of course there are some things about this film that are unbelievable or that stretch reality. Other military men or those who know history and firearms can challenge some of the weapons used in this film. I would just add that in my three years of Army service in a combat Airborne infantry unit, including serving as a platoon armorer and RTO (Radio-Telephone Operator), I never once saw a firearm silencer. Yet in this film, it seems that everyone has them - almost all of the Greek underground and Allied escapees. There are silencers on what look like German lugers, and on rifles. Then, there is the matter of pinpoint accuracy of just about everyone firing a handgun. At 10- and 20-feet, most people with a pistol, revolver or luger would be able to shoot and hit a man in the torso. But some of these shots were 75 to 100 feet away, and they were all taking down Germans with their handguns. When the aged Professor shoots the German soldier right between the eyes as he's holding a hostage, David Niven had to be 30 yards or more away from him. Then, too, a lot of these guys had Sten guns, the British submachine guns used in WW II.

Gould's character would have worked much better as something other than a comedian - say, a singer or piano player. Then, he could still have arranged camp entertainment and had greedy eyes for ancient treasurers, but not been so indifferent to the treatment of the Greek citizens

This movie struck me as a project to bring together a number of middle-aged stars and older, for one last fling of a wartime action movie. And this cast of big names probably had fun making the movie. The last plus for the film is the scenic shots of the Aegean Sea and Greek Islands there. Anyone who has sailed or flown to that area knows the striking beauty of the waters and islands of the Aegean. Another thing about Greece is the number of monasteries it has on the mainland and islands, many of them built high up in the hills or mountains and accessible only on foot.

The movie was shot on location on the Island of Rhodes, the southeastern-most reach of Greece and the southern edge of the Aegean Sea. The screenplay, direction and action shots with the older folks are a little shaky at times. And, it has an adult theme with the brothel in town. But most of the cast, the considerable action and pyro techniques and beautiful scenery should please most movie fans.

Best Foot Forward
(1943)

The music is reason enough to enjoy this hodgepodge of a film
"Best Foot Forward" is a musical and comedy that MGM made for wartime entertainment. It's adapted from a 1941 Broadway show of the same title. The plot is a little far-fetched, and that would be okay if it had good comedy. But what humor there is here is oriented mostly at the teenage level. I didn't think it was funny watching it as a teenager a decade after it came out. Nor have any of my grandkids found it funny since then. Nancy Walker's humor is quite odd, corny and dated. But the music and dance are what make this movie a success and enjoyable.

The Broadway musical had a good run of over a year. It was Walker's debut and the start of June Allyson's rise to stardom. Gene Kelly choreographed the Broadway show. Tommy Dix was in the stage musical and was given the young male lead for the film. He closes the movie with his rousing song, "Buckle Down, Winsocki." After the war, Dix performed in nightclubs for a few years then quit the entertainment field and went into business. Virginia Weidler wasn't in the Broadway production, but had been a popular child star since the early 1930s. She was 16 when this film was made. She quit her screen career with this film and gave up show business entirely shortly thereafter.

MGM seems to have made a hodgepodge for this production. A star, Lucille Ball, is cast with some new and young talents (June Allyson, Gloria De Haven, Tommy Dix, and Kenny Bowers), and a big band in a youthful upbeat setting at a boys military school. Harry James and his orchestra (the Music Makers) were a big draw for the film.

The best reason in the 21st century to watch this film is for the music - especially Harry James. Lucille Ball has a song dubbed, and Gloria, June and Nancy have numbers. But I give this film two stars extra just for the great music that Harry James provides. This was in the days yet when popular music of all kinds (swing, jazz, blues, romantic waltzes, jive, etc.) was played by musicians and bands with the range and mix of musical instruments.

The James orchestra here has 25 members with sections of trumpets, trombones, saxophones and strings. Of course, it includes piano, base and percussion as well, and oftentimes had other instruments. The point is that this was music played by talented musicians who were a delight to listen to for their sterling musical talent. Watching and hearing Harry James play "Flight of the Bumblebee" on trumpet is reason enough to watch this film. Well, at least for those of us who have been trumpet players during our lives.

Here are the best lines from this film.

Bud Hooper, "Is it true that everybody in California sleeps under two blankets?" Jack O'Riley, "No! How could all those people get under two blankets?"

Helen Schlesinger, "You'll find out that hell hath no woman like a fury scorned." (sic)

Nancy - Blind Date, "I'd hang myself, but I've got a dentist's appointment on Tuesday."

Bud Hooper, "Well, couldn't we go outside, where it's dark?" Lucille Ball, "Why, Bud." Hooper, "Oh, I didn't mean what I sounded like I meant."

Lucile Ball, "That little guy'll die if he doesn't get to West Point." Jack O'Riley, "I didn't go to West Point and I'm not dead. Lucille Ball, "Wanna bet?"

Lucille Ball, "They did not rip my dress off - they were merely collecting souvenirs. That's the kind of people we are in this country. We collect goal posts, manhole covers, bottle tops, or, in my case, a dress."

Lucille Ball, "Major, the Flying Tigers were full of Bud Hoopers. And do you know what they used at the field in Chungking to tell which way the wind was blowing? My silk stockings."

Major Roger Reeber, "That isn't a dress. That's a souvenir. This is the kind of country where we have the right to collect bottle tops. That's why the Flying Tigers wore silk stockings to show which way the wind was blowing." Col. Harkrider "Whaaaat?"

The Knight Is Young
(1938)

This short is loaded talent, including June Allyson
"The Knight is Young" is an MGM short of 1938 that accompanied a theater release of a feature film. I saw it on the DVD with MGM's "Best Foot Forward" of 1943. This short is a musical comedy that has some very good talent in the music and dance arenas.

Actor and dancer Hal Le Roy has the lead and does a couple of excellent tap and other dance numbers. The latter one is with a young June Allyson, who's just in her 8th short since beginning her film career the year before. Le Roy had a rather unusual dance style and was very adept at fast tap dancing rotating his feet back and forth behind one another. He made a couple dozen films - all but two by 1940, with two later appearances on TV. Most of his later career was back on the stage on Broadway and elsewhere.

Besides June Allyson, the short has Earlyne Schools as herself. She made only two movies and there's little to be found about her on IMDb or on the Internet. That's surprising because she had a fantastic voice in this film. One song was a classic and she could reach super high notes.

This short is very entertaining with some other dancers and a couple of choreographed numbers with a superbly coordinated dance troupe. There is a short scene that the DVD addresses in a written prologue before the film begins. Warner Brothers notes that the film reflects the culture of the time, but that it wrongly makes a derogatory racial slur.

This is one of many such shorts that MGM and all the major studios made in the 1930s to accompany feature films. Some of these showed little known entertainers of the time who were very talented.

Dinner at the Ritz
(1937)

Nice mystery with a twist, a fine cast, and romance in Europe
"Dinner at the Ritz" is a crime, murder mystery and romance. It's a 20th Century Fox film made through its London offices and filmed at Denham Studios. Although the title simply refers to a dinner meeting where the film ends, it otherwise has nothing to do with the story. It's an interesting plot that starts in Paris, moves to the Riviera and Monaco, and then jumps up to London. The film editing seems a little choppy and the overall quality of the DVD I have is not very good

The film has a superb cast. The leads are Annabella, Paul Lukas, David Niven and Francis L. Sullivan. A slew of well-known supporting actors of the day contribute nicely to the story.

It's a very nice and interesting mystery with a couple of unusual twists. This is a film that could use restoring. Mystery fans should like it, and the romance between Niven's Paul de Brack and Annabella's Ranie Racine is developed very nicely.

The Paper
(1994)

A newspaper plot that employs the sensationalist angle in itself
"The Paper" is a movie about one day in the life of the metro editor of a New York City daily newspaper. Michael Keaton plays Henry Hackett, at the fictional New York Sun. His position equates to the city editor of most daily papers. The Sun isn't the "the" paper of prominence in the Big Apple. It is one of several papers in competition in the city. Hackett this day has an interview appointment at The Sentinel (also fictional), which is "the" paper of prominence. This is billed as a comedy and drama, but it's completely lacking in comedy. It has some drama, but it's constantly peppered with angst and harried people dashing about.

While the story is interesting, it's grossly exaggerated. It implies that this is reality on a daily basis - at least of this newspaper and others like it. If that were the case in real life, all of the Hackett's in the world wouldn't' last much beyond a month in their jobs before being carted off to the looney bin. But, not only him - others as portrayed by some of the cast besides Keaton. Most notably would be an assistant managing editor as portrayed by Glenn Close. Her Alicia Clark is a high-strung character who is often pitted against Hackett in paper decisions. She's got the management knack, but doesn't come from a journalism background.

Clark is the picture of the newspaper boss trying to outdo the competition with the sensational approach. And, director Ron Howard spices this film up by having Clark in an extra-marital affair. It's even so wacko that she pops for expensive hotel rooms for her affairs during daytime business hours. And then, to get paid more to cover her expensive habit she tries to squeeze a pay raise out of the managing editor with 18 months still left on her current contract. When he doesn't budge, she goes over his head to the publisher owner who really floors her.

Robert Duval is the managing editor, Bernie White, and Jason Robards has the small part as the owner, Graham Keighley. Duval's character is the estranged father who long ago put his job - with its philandering, above his family and lost his wife and daughter. As Bernie's health is declining, he longs to make up with his daughter. But he can't even do that, and he finds out she was married, and then going outside her home, he sees that she is a mother and that he's a grandfather.

A number of other cast members have notable roles in this picture of mayhem. Marisa Tomei plays Martha Hackett who is about to have their first child. Randy Quaid is a columnist, Michael McDougal, who carries a loaded revolved around for self-protection against the city's transportation manager who is out to get him. Jason Alexander plays that guy, Marion Sandusky. Lynne Thigpen is Janet, Henry's secretary and right-hand woman.

The plot is ballistic, with disputes and harried staffers trying to break the true story behind a gruesome street murder of two Arizona businessmen. Two innocent Black teens were arrested after they happened by the car with the two dead out-of-towners in it. Then there's a brawl in the press hangout bar, a gunshot and wounded Alicia Clark, an ambulance call for Martha Hackett whose baby is coming early, and more.

Such a crazy, frenetic and frantic day in a city editor's life might happen once in a while. Like, once a year. But as routine, or even frequent, very few Hackett's would survive for long. And the picture of the crazy newsroom in this film is highly exaggerated. Such a den of mayhem would drive all of the employees crazy in time. Although I never worked for one of the New York papers, I did work at three daily newspapers in my journalism years. I was a reporter and later an editor. One was an international paper and the other two city papers that had city editors. All had newsrooms that were nothing like that of the Sun in this film.

Some older movies of the 1930s showed newspaper competition with harried newsrooms. Those were in the days when American city newspapers were very competitive and tried to beat the competition with sensational headlines, stories and photos. Yellow journalism still flourished.

But, a number of good movies have been made that show the inside of daily newspapers more realistically. "Teacher's Pet" of 1958 is one, with Clark Gable and Doris Day. Another is "All the President's Men" of 1976 with Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, and Jason Robards. A very good TV series that showed the newsroom of a Los Angeles daily paper was the Lou Grant show of 1977-82.

This movie tries to be somewhat sensationalist in its own way - in its very plot. The cast are all good, but too much of this film stretches reality - the gun-carrying journalist, for instance, in 1994 New York City. The daytime adultery of the Close character in expensive hotel rooms. Some fans of the various cast members may enjoy the film. Journalists will probably be split. The movie got generally good reviews, and while its domestic box office was nearly double its budget, that wasn't enough to cover the cost (at about 50% producer's share) until a little profit came with overseas sales.

This is an adult film that is passable for a rainy day, especially if one's a little tired. It doesn't demand a lot of attention. And there's no comedy to keep one awake. The best line of the film indicates how lame the comedy is. Duvall's White says to Keaton's Hackett, "Don't ask marital advice from a guy with two ex-wives and a daughter who won't speak to me."

This Man Is News
(1938)

A good British comedy mystery that resembles aspects of some top Hollywood fare
"This Man is News" is a British comedy and mystery that may have been inspired by one or more American films before it. It closely resembles the male and female leads in "The Thin Man" of 1934 that starred William Powell and Myrna Loy. Here, Barry Barnes and Valerie Hobson play Simon and Pat Drake, who are out to solve a murder. Only, it turns out not to be a single murder, with one right at home. And, where Powell's Nick Charles is a master sleuth, the Barnes character here is a top newspaper reporter. So much for that, comparison.

But, then there's the newspaper itself and the reporting which provide the base for this plot. For that aspect, the writers may have been inspired by Hollywood's 1931 newspaper crime comedy, "The Front Page," that starred Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien. There might even have been some other film sources of inspiration ("Libeled Lady" of 1936 and others), for the news editor played by Alastair Sim.

Well, whether inspired by other films and stories -- or not, "This Man is News" is an interesting and entertaining comedy mystery. The Drakes are even more lively than Nick and Nora, and Pat Drake keeps up with her husband in the drinking department. This is a good plot with some angles that aren't hard to pick up on. Simon's original hunch and prediction comes true that Brown would get knocked off for snitching on his accomplices in a big jewelry heist. It's a little hard to believe that others - the press guys at his paper, and the police, wouldn't think likewise. But, then, Simon doesn't seem quite as sharp after realizing he had become a target of the criminals. He gives away the tip fairly early in the film, which any astute mystery afficionado would catch. Yet it seems to go right over his head. So, one has to wonder if he was all that smart.

Alastair Sim is very good as the editor, but not nearly as ferocious as Menjou or Spender Tracy's characters in the previous mentioned films. Rather, he plays his character more consternated and flabbergasted. That is, after he gets over being hoodwinked by Drake with his first made up story about a murder. Edward Lexy plays the lead police investigator, Inspector Hollis. It's refreshing that he isn't portrayed as a dummy, but a clear thinker who recognizes the whole complex plot toward the end ahead of Drake.

The production seems a bit choppy, and the film quality isn't very good. While the film was made at Pinewood Studios, the production company was short-lived. Pinebrook Studios made just six films in 1938-39 - this was its first.

The plot is fine and the characters are very good. But for the lower quality and inferior production, I could rate it higher. There's too much going on for the screenplay to develop and present the story very well. So, it's not as good as "The Thin Man."

The Passionate Stranger
(1957)

This novel idea is more sinister than funny
This is one film in which one can see the better title given it on release outside of the UK. There it was called "The Passionate Stranger." It's a real stretch to see that in the main character, Carlo and Mario, played by Carlo Giustini. It's much easier to see something sinister in both of his characters, but not at first. That's in his real person of Carlo, and then in his fictitious character of Mario, whom he assumes from reading the script of Judith Wynter's novel.

Where the author titles her novel, "The Passionate Stranger," movie audiences see him as not passionate, but lecherous and with evil in his heart. Carlo imagines the affair of the novel to be a real portrayal of how Mrs. Wynter feels. But moviegoers know that not be true, yet he changes his persona and pursues the married wife of his employer. Clearly, the affair was just in the novel and not real - ergo, the much better title for the film.

That this movie was billed as a comedy is really something. I would bet that nine out of 10 people who watch it would see it developing as a real crime story. Indeed, with the sudden change in Carlo's character, I couldn't help but think of and liken this film to "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." In the Robert Louis Stevenson story, Dr. Jekyll takes a potion that turns him from a gentle soul into a murdering madman. In this movie, Carlo speed reads a novel that turns him from an affable, polite and decent chap, into a lecherous predator.

The idea for this story and film is clever, but not entirely new. And, the film seems awfully slow. The sinisterness of the novel plot, which takes up about two-thirds of the film, casts a pall on what little humor there is. Not until the end of the film, is there any humor - and that mostly between Ralph Richardson's Roger Wynter and his wife, Judith. That doesn't qualify "A Novel Affair" as a comedy by any stretch of the imagination. No, this was an experimental plot, it seems, that just didn't work.

It was most difficult for me to stay with it to get past the enactment of the novel within the story. I'm glad I finally did, or I would have rated this 1 or 2. Most movie fans today, I would guess, would also find this movie hard to sit through. Although it's fine for those who like to nap during movie times.

All of the cast do well, but Richardson and Leighton have very little screen time and so few lines. The best performance is clearly by Patricia Dainton as Emily and Betty.

John Loves Mary
(1949)

A great comedy with a far-out plot and superb cast
"John Loves Mary" is a very funny comedy, loaded with hilarious dialog and some wonderfully wacky scenarios. The plot is preposterous, of course, but that's what makes all the humor. One can think of some other films with far-out plots - things that are so unreal that they wouldn't happen to one in a million or ten million people. But they provide for great comedy that wouldn't be otherwise.

This is the second real hilarious comedy I discovered that stars Ronald Reagan. Just as in the next year's film, "Louisa," Reagan plays a straight character around whom much of the comedy develops. And, as with that film, this one has a tremendous cast all around. Patricia Neal, Jack Carson, Edward Arnold, Wayne Morris, Paul Harvey, Virginia Field and Katharine Alexander all give superb performances along with Reagan's. Patricia Neal makes her film debut here.

The film is based on a 1947 Broadway comedy by the same name that ran for over a year. It must have tickled a lot of funny bones on stage as well. Reagan plays John Lawrence, a returning GI from duty with the occupation forces after World War II. Neal is Mary McKinley, his fiancé. The two are madly in love, and they are filled with joy and happiness with John's return. Arnold plays Mary's dad, Sen. James McKinley, who is not enamored of his daughter's love interest. Alexander plays his wife, Katharine, who thinks John is a fine match for their daughter.

Carson plays Fred Taylor, the war-time buddy who saved John's life, and whom the family all know about from John's letters describing Fred's great bravery. Fred had been back in the States a year, and John called him to have him take his grey suit to Mary's home that day. John wants to change out of his uniform into civies right away, and he wants Fred to meet Mary and her family.

All's happy on the reunion, but John hasn't told Mary about the big favor he did for his Army buddy, Fred. After Fred had left England, heart-broken at not being able to find his English sweetheart, John did come across her. He wanted to do a big favor for his buddy who was in love with the English lass. So, John married Lilly to get her to the States. Once here, he figured they could get a divorce in six weeks and Lilly and Fred could marry. But, when John tells Fred of his surprise, Fred's wife, whom he had married on his return, is in the hospital about to have their first child.

Whether or not any GI did such a "favor" for a buddy after WW II, it sure makes for a plot filled with much laughter. The story has a few twists that will have one rolling with laughter. Paul Harvey is hilarious as Gen. Biddle. Wayne Morris is very funny as the old officer nemesis of two sergeants, John and Fred. But now, Lt. Victor O'Leary is still in uniform - as a head theater usher. Neal plays her part superbly - as the young woman deeply in love with John, then the suspicious woman by John's wanting to delay their wedding, then the hurt woman.

This is one very funny film that's fit for the family and that most people in the 21st century could still enjoy. Here are some favorite lines.

Mary McKinley, "How did John sound to you on the telephone?" Fred Taylor, "What do you mean?" Mary, "Well, I thought his voice was deeper than when he left." Fred, "Oh, well, that could be. He was a sergeant."

Mary McKinley, "Dr. Zueger said the reason we're supposed to be reserved is to show you the difference between us and the foreign girls who throw themselves at you." John Lawrence, "Dr. Zueger is a German spy."

Mary McKinley, with her head on John's chest, "Four years is a long time. You were lonely. You didn't have anybody to talk to." John Lawrence, "I wasn't lonely. There were four million fellas with me."

Phyllis McKinley, "Why, James, you haven't danced with me since the night Coolidge was inaugurated." Sen. James McKinley, "Did we dance that night?"

Phyllis McKinley, "Mary, do you ever think of anything and then decide not to say it?"

Mary McKinley, "The Germans are back to their wives and sweethearts. The Italians are back. The Japanese are back. The only woman in whole world who's being kept apart from the man she loves is... is me."

Sen. James McKinley, "Now, look here, general, I don't want anything done that smacks of favoritism." Gen. Biddle, "Why, senator, I wouldn't show this any more favoritism than I would expect you to show me."

Mary McKinley, "Your duty? Who do you think you are, Nathan Hale?" John Lawrence, " Well, I have to live with myself." Mary, "Well, live with yourself. You're not gonna live with me."

Mary McKinley, "Your darling? I, I couldn't marry anyone so noble and patriotic. I, I'd be too impressed."

John Lawrence, "You saved my life. Now you've ruined it. We're even." Fred Taylor, "Don't say that, John."

John Lawrence, "I don't owe you a thing, not a thing." Fred Taylor, "I'm naming my baby after you - gonna call him John Harold Taylor." John, "He hasn't got a chance."

Fred Taylor, "I carried you 200 yards." John Lawrence, "It wasn't 200 - it was nearer 75". Fred, "It was at least 200." John, "And carrying me behind the lines was a nice way to get out of the shooting - don't forget that." Fred, "Oh, that's a fine thing to say, John."

Phyllis McKinley, "Why, general, what happened to you? Have you had an accident?" Gen. Biddle, "I was attacked by a drunken usher in the men's room of the Strand Theater."

Bright Leaf
(1950)

A heavy drama of anger, hatred and revenge set in tobacco country
This film is a variation of the theme of the poor boy who isn't good enough for the local big shot's daughter, who then rises in power and displaces the big shot. In this case, though, the daughter's feelings are for her family and father more than toward the poor boy. So, the poor boy hero, goes after something he wants but can't have without chicanery.

This is a heavy drama that wreaks with anger, hatred and revenge. It's not a pleasant film to watch for entertainment, but for some excellent acting. Its all-star cast delivers in Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Lauren Bacall, Donald Crisp, Jack Carson and others.

The story takes places after the Civil War in the rich tobacco country of North Carolina, where tobacco was king. And, it is the venue in the power struggle that takes place between the Royle and Singleton families. Some sources say the story is based on or resembles a real feud between tobacco clans of the past.

Otherwise, for those who might be interested, this film shows the introduction of the cigarette-making machines and how they impacted the tobacco industry and houses of the period. As anyone who watches older Westerns will know, cigarette smoking had been around since the start of the 19th century. But the "weeds" then were hand rolled. Many a Western cowboy could be seen taking a cigarette paper out of his pocket, then pouring some weed from his tobacco pouch, then licking the paper, rolling it together and twisting the ends before lighting up.

With the advent of the machinery to do away with all that, in time smoking expanded rapidly, mostly with cigarettes -- and, especially among women. Cigar and pipe smoking saw rapid declines. This movie shows the introduction of the cigarette machine and industry growth in the last decades of the 19th century. But the first cigarette machine was invented and patented in 1847 in Mexico, by Juan Nepomuceno.

In modern times, interest in this movie is probably limited to fans of the leading actors, and those who enjoy historical period films. The title is the name of a particular type of tobacco. It was more highly favored than some others.

All Over the Town
(1949)

A light comedy drama about the local weekly press in post-war England
Made at Pinewood Studios, this British film was produced by a small film company that made just a dozen or so movies from 1949 to 1962. As with most such films and endeavors, the casts don't usually have big name stars or even well know supporting actors of the time. The cast of "All Over the Town" will hardly be recognized outside of the UK, with the exception of Cyril Cusack. Still, this ensemble of characters does a fine job in this story set in a fictitious town on the English coast.

The promo for the film plays up exposure of some corruption in the small town of Tormouth, but that is just a small part that serves as the climax to the story. The film is about a town native returning home after the war and getting his job back as the "star" reporter on the weekly Clarion newspaper. Such weekly papers were printed in small towns all across England, Canada, the U.S.A. and many European countries through the 20th century. With the coming of the Internet and rapid growth of electronic technology, many small papers have gone out of business. Even large daily papers have declined as print news readership overall continues to decline. Very few films have been made with weekly newspaper production a core part of the story.

Norman Wooland plays the returning veteran, Nat Hearn. Sarah Churchill is Sally Thorpe, a local young lady who had taken over the star reporter role during the war. The plot is a good mix of light comedy, drama and a slowly developing love story. It portrays the type of reporting, news, and printing of the local nature that the big city newspapers don't provide - or even consider news. By the same token, the small towns and weekly papers are challenged to have much of real news to report. Changes occur after Nat's return and the death of the publisher of the town paper.

This is a nice picture of the small-town press and its role and service in the community. Its regular fodder includes the vital statistics (birth, deaths), accidents and illnesses, local visits, social events, family items, legal notices, sports and club activities and reviewing the local theater production and covering the town council meetings.

As a former newspaperman, I particularly enjoyed the scenes showing some of the antiquated printing presses used in the past - including an old flatbed press and an ancient hand press.

Here are some favorite lines from the film.

Mr. Vince, "You make him, miss. He'll listen to a skirt."

Sally Thorpe, "Why don't you chuck it and get out?" Nat Hearn, "Because it's not the answer. There's nothing wrong with the people. They're the same town that fought the war. All they want is someone to take an interest in their own affairs. Anything wrong with that?" Sally, "Nothing. Only I'm afraid you're in for a big disappointment." Nat, "Perhaps I am."

Sally Thorpe, "You're a bit of a mystery to me. You oughtn't be a nice person at all, but you are. Rather." Nat Hearn, "I just believe in people, that's all. Seems a pity you don't."

The Thing
(1982)

This is one horror-ible film
Watching this film again recently, I couldn't help but think about the first memorable sci-fi films I had seen in my youth. "The War of the Worlds" of 1953 was a phenomenal picture for people of all ages. It was in full color and the most sophisticated sci-fi film ever made. What a story and what mystery and tension as one watched the huge alien disks hover over and fire destruction on the people, buildings and places below. What an incredible drama as the film neared its end and no salvation appeared in sight for the human race and earth. Then, to have the surprise ending appear so gradually, without any fanfare or warfare on the screen. I've seen most of the sci-if films about aliens and set in space since then, and none have outdone that film's drama, script and spectacle as takin place on earth. The 2005 remake resembled a CGI video game.

Then, there was "The Blob" in 1958. It was later considered one of the best "date" pictures of all time. Girls would cuddle close to their dates as the screen showed the alien blob sneaking into an unsuspecting movie theater, oozing through the vents in the theater walls. I've watched both of these films in recent years and they still come across as among the best of sci-fi. What they had in common was an element of alien invasion as science-fiction and a fright factor.

Now, watching "The Thing" of 1982 on DVD many years after first seeing it, I can see the added dimension of horror. Of course, there have always been horror films as well - almost since the beginning of movies. "The Phantom of the Opera" was first made into a silent film in 1925. And, there have been combination sci-fi and horror films since "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" of 1931. While outer space films such as the Star Trek and Star Wars series have more elaborate sci-fi plots, with different creatures, including some monsters at times, these films tend to stress the sci-fi and adventure aspects of space with the right factor. Most, but not all, don't really have horror elements. The great exception, of course, is "Alien" of 1979, with its sequels. Whereas, most sci-fi grounded on earth either replaces the fright factor outright or dwarfs it with horror.

So, "The Thing" is a somewhat tamer version of the modern earth-bound sci-fi film, with horror. And, because it's also a psychological thriller, it builds mostly on the fright factor. It picks up on a 1951 film, "The Thing from Another World." But this one puts the dread in first place. It remains a popular sci-fi film with audiences several decades after it first appeared. And, while it's okay, I much prefer and enjoy the great adventure sci-fi films of the Star Wars and similar type.

The Band Wagon
(1953)

Great cast and numbers in this transitional revue musical
"The Band Wagon" is one of the last musical films produced in the format of a musical revue. Actually, it's at the end of a musical sub-category of films that stretch over a decade. From the early 1940s to the early 1950s, the original revue format was transitioning toward musical plays. As such, this has more than the very thin plots of the earliest musicals. Those were just threads to string together a series of song and dance numbers and scenes. The earliest musicals were tailored after the live shows that the public had enjoyed as vaudeville for several decades.

This transition group of films since about 1942 had plots with more substance. But they still hadn't gotten away from the musical stage and theater settings. By the mid-1950s, the genre would complete the transition to musical plays that had substantial stories and plots performed with song and dance.

One way for modern audiences to grasp the distinction is to compare the Broadway Melody and Ziegfeld films of the 1930s with the later great musicals - "Singin' in the Rain" of 1952, "South Pacific" of 1958, or "The Sound of Music" of 1965. Besides "The Band Wagon," some other very good musicals fit in the transition category. "Holiday Inn" of 1942 was the start of the transition films - those with substantial plots in musical settings (theater, stage, night clubs). Bringing up the rear of this group, after this film, was "White Christmas" of 1954.

While the plot of "The Band Wagon" is familiar in that stage performance setting, the story has a nice twist. A British director of Shakespearean and heavy dramas plans to put on a musical. Into this comes a top American song and dance man whose star has dwindled of late. Throw In a married couple who are writers and friends of both of these characters, and the main cast for this film is assembled. Well, almost. There is the alluring foreign dancer of the ballet whom the director wants to include. Then, there's his stage manager and right-hand man.

The coup of casting for this film is the pairing of Fred Astaire with Scottish-born Jack Buchanan (sometimes referred to as the "Fred Astaire" of England). Cyd Charisse plays the French ballerina and Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray play the writing team. The film was nominated for three Oscars at the 1954 Academy Awards presentations.

Among the 15 songs in the film, three became hit tunes, and one, "That's Entertainment" became the new signature song for Broadway and theater musicals. "By Myself" is sung by Astaire's Tony Hunter, and "Dancing in the Dark" is danced by Tony and Charisse's Gabrielle Gerard. But all of the song and dance numbers are excellent and very entertaining. Tony and Buchanan's Jeffrey Cordova sing and dance together, "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan." And a very funny, and masterfully portrayed trio performance by them with Fabray's Lily Marton is "Triplets."

This is a fun and entertaining musical comedy. While the comedy provides smiles and nice humorous asides, the script doesn't have lots of clever or witty dialog. It's best enjoyed for the music and dancing alone. Of course, Tony and Gabrielle develop into a romance as well.

Enter Laughing
(1967)

A slice of life light comedy about leaving the neighborhood for an acting career
"Enter Laughing" is a coming of age film based on comedian Carl Reiner's autobiographical 1958 novel of the same title. It's a slice of life story typical of many movies made in the 1950s and 1960s. This film is like others about young people growing up in the neighborhoods of New York - usually the ethnic neighborhoods. They dream of something other than what their parents expect of them. In coming of age films from small towns, it's the boy or girl who wants to leave the sticks to make it big in the city.

Reiner produced and directed this film, and he assembled a notable cast of the day. Jose Ferrer is Harrison Marlowe, Shelley Winters is Mrs. Kolowitz, and Don Rickles as Harry Hamburger. Well-known supporting players include Jack Gilford, Elaine May, and Michael Pollard. Others of the cast are Reni Santoni as David Kolowitz, the young New Yorker who is the Reiner character from the Bronx.

This is a story set around his Jewish family and culture, with his emotional struggles entering adulthood. The circumstances of his joining an off-Broadway theatre group, while always being late for his job in Mr. Foreman's tooling shop, and his girlfriend and others fill the story out. The title from the film and the book is a stage direction used in screenplays and stage scripts.

Mom and pop Kalowitz (Shelley Winters and David Opatoshu) want their son, David, to become a druggist. Note that it's not a pharmacist, but a druggist. That's a reflection of the ethnic culture of the place and time. But David, who apparently has been imitating, following and fantasizing over male movie stars since young boyhood, has his heart set on becoming an actor.

There are few funny lines in the script. The humor is mostly in the family interchanges, with David's employer at work (Mr. Foreman) and in the stage tryouts and parts of the play with May's Angela Marlowe, Ferrer, and Richard Deacon as Pike.

As with most films of plots set in specific ethnic, racial, national or regional places or times, the humor in this film will probably be more recognized and appreciated by people from such backgrounds. For the rest, it probably won't seem as funny.

This is a clean and decent film, but likely with limited audience appeal or appreciation. The plot seemed to unfold very slowly, so that I could often anticipate the following scenario. I think the actors all did well, but the screenplay needed an injection of some crisp dialog to provide more all-around comedy for a broader general audience.

Here are a couple of the better lines.

David Kolowitz, "I know I wasn't very good." Harrison B. Marlowe, "You know it and I know it. Now, our job is to keep that little secret from the audience."

Mr. Morris Kolowitz, "What's so terrible about acting? Look at Paul Muni." Mrs. Emma Kolowitz, "For every Paul Muni there's a thousand bums with holes in their pants."

Phantom Raiders
(1940)

Nick Carter solves ship sinkings out of Panama
"Phantom Raiders" is the second of three Nick Carter mystery films made by MGM that starred Walter Pidgeon. His co-star in all three is Donald Meek who plays Bartholomew, a beekeeper and wanna-be detective. Carter calls him "Beeswax," and the bee man turns out to be a sharp sleuth in his own right. In this film he saves Nick's life at least twice. He always shows up in the nick of time - to save Nick.

This film takes place in Panama where Nick has gone on vacation and Bartholomew tracks him down to deliver a $5,000 check for his taking on an investigation of ship bombings or sinkings in the Pacific out of Panama. Nick discovers that an old acquaintance, Al Taurez, from a crime racket in the States has set up shop in Panama. A whole lot of characters are involved in this one, but Nick solves it.

This series of Carter mysteries was made during World War II, but before the U.S. entered the war. While moviegoers would be getting newsreel reports of the war in Europe and somewhat in China, there would be no hint of a war going on in these films.

This film has some notable supporting actors of the day, including Joseph Schildkraut, Nat Pendleton and Cecil Kellaway. In each of these films, Carter has an image of a playboy and he seems to go for floozies. Still, Pidgeon is a delight to watch as an actor for his amiable persona - even when he is commanding.

None of these films were first class productions. The plot is somewhat choppy and the screenplay is just fair. But, it's an enjoyable enough film to watch on a rainy day.

Here are some favorite lines from the film.

Bartholomew, "This Mr. Taurez seems to be a man of generous nature." Nick Carter "Ah, yeah, Nick, would give his best friend a knife in the back any day."

Nick Carter, "Uh, I don't suppose you're a spy?" Cora Barnes, "Oh, but I am. Everyone in Colon's a spy. Haven't you seen the sign in the movie theaters? No spies under 18 admitted."

Nick Carter, "Al, you look different." Al Taurez, "Well, perhaps you miss the handcuffs, hnh,hnh."

Nick Carter, "Tell me, Al, what became of the Cleaners and Dyers Union you used to run in the old days?" Al Taurez, "Oh, Nick, you know I'm superstitious. When 13 G-men started looking for me on a Friday, I figured that was bad luck and I got out of town."

Sky Murder
(1940)

Nick Carter breaks unnamed espionage ring in 1940
"Sky Murder" is a Nick Carter mystery film that is more about the burgeoning pro-Nazi underground in the U.S. It's interesting because unless modern day moviegoers know something of the history at that time, it may not be so apparent. As the film progresses, of course, it becomes apparent that the "bad guys" are some sort of foreign underground. Yet, this movie never even refers to Germany or Nazis by name. Indeed, there isn't even a mention or any sign that World War II is going on around much of the world at the time.

The short series of Nick Carter mystery films with Walter Pidgeon were second tier (B) pictures of MGM. And, their mystery plots all had to do with espionage or underground efforts of some sort. This film was released in late September. But three months earlier MGM released its excellent anti-Nazi movie, "The Mortal Storm." That film had a top Hollywood cast of the day. It starred James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Robert Young, Frank Morgan, Robert Stack and Bonita Granville. And, it had a superb plot.

All of the Hollywood studios were now making anti-Nazi films. But none came right out and named Germany or the Nazis as the enemy or bad guys. One must remember that the U.S. was not yet in World War II, although it was aiding Great Britain and the Allies with material support and supplies. While the studios wouldn't directly name Germany or the Nazis as the culprits in these films, anyone who saw them knew who the enemy represented.

"The Mortal Storm" was the most obvious anti-Nazi film. And, one that everyone who saw it knew immediately that it was about Nazi Germany. It was set in Bavaria and it was the first film that made reference to German concentration camps. In this case, it would be Dachau. So, it seems a little strange that this film wouldn't dare to be a little more explicit about the enemy.

Aside from that, it's another good plot. And yet the screenplay is weak and the film is choppy in places. There's much bouncing around in this film, but the cast are mostly good. It's the weakness of the script, direction, editing and other production aspects that set "Sky Murder" back.

Walter Pidgeon's Nick Carter is again helped by his shadow, Donald Meek as Bartholomew, the bee-man. Kaaren Verne plays Pat Evans, Edward Ashley is Cortland Grand, and Joyce Compton is Christine Cross. Modern audiences probably wouldn't care much for this film, but it's somewhat fun with the touch of humor from Nick and his shadow, and the solving of a couple of murders and catching the Nazi - whoops! - the anonymous foreign underground.

Nick Carter, Master Detective
(1939)

Detective Nick Carter goes after aviation spies
At just under one hour running time, "Nick Carter, Master Detective" most likely was a second film of a double-feature showing. The major studios into the 1950s would sometimes bill double feature shows when a main feature film was relatively short - something in the neighborhood of under 75 minutes. Then they would run a second short film of lesser quality or billing with it. These were shorter films of 45 to 60 minutes, often serial mysteries, Westerns or comedies.

These films sometimes had major stars of the studios. Walter Pidgeon had been around for some time but had played mostly supporting roles with different studios. Since joining MGM in 1937, he was cast in a variety of roles, some supporting with major films, and others in lead roles., Here he is in the first of a series of short mystery features, Others like this would become very popular as full-length feature films into the 1940s. They included series of Boston Blackie, Philo Vance and Thin Man mysteries.

Here, Pidgeon's Carter goes undercover at an airplane development and manufacturing plant to try to discover and capture a foreign government ring that has been stealing plans for the latest powerful aircraft. Donald Meek plays Bartholomew, a would-be super sleuth who happens to be a bee-keeper. This is a strange little insertion in the story, all played for humor. Rita Johnson plays Lou Farnsby, Stanley Ridges plays Doctor Frankton and Henry Hull is John Keller.

The cast all are okay, and the story is somewhat interesting. But, as with many other lesser films, this one suffers from a poor screenplay, probably weak directing and terrible editing. The film is very choppy with very weak continuity between scenes. The technical faults are enough to bother one watching the film, so it may not hold the attention of many viewers these days. But the cast earns it the six stars.

One brief scene in the film makes one wonder just how sharp Nick Carter really is. He's supposed to be very alert and sharp in noticing details. Yet, when he goes to phone in the hotel room after telling Bartholomew (the bee man) to leave, he doesn't notice that Bartholomew goes into the closet instead of out the door that is close to the phone. So, after he phones, Nick goes out the door and closes it exposing Bartholomew who had crept back into the room to listen in on his phone call.

Gigi
(1958)

This fine film is an early example of Hollywood snubbing and politics
I first watched "Gigi" in the theater as a teenager in 1958, and have watched it a couple times since then. While it was enjoyable somewhat for the music, the glamour and the extravagant MGM sets, the story seemed to be as contrived as the culture it conveys. The sort of grooming the ladies do of Gigi was probably done with some young women of that period and place - in Paris. No doubt, some young women have dreamed of marrying a rich, handsome man. The mature women here - Aunt Alicia and Madame Alvarez are only too obliging to turn the schoolish Gigi into an alluring fox to catch her man.

MGM pulled out the stops with the glamour and glitz to make this musical as a comedy romance. It's based on a novella by French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954). The screenplay was by Alan Lerner and the songs by Lerner can composer Frederick Lowe. Andre Previn arranged and conducted the music. While the music is good, it's nothing special, with no spectacular or memorable songs. But for an occasional TV showing of the film, few people in the 21st century would know or be able to sing the single opening lines of the two best songs, "Gigi" and "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." On the other hand, without the music, I doubt that this film would have been made, let alone accorded all the Hollywood adulation.

"Gigi" has a fine cast with well-known actors of the period. But there are no notable roles or performances, and the story without the music would be a bore to most people. It looks like a high society soap opera of and for the rich and famous.

For many years I enjoyed watching the Academy Awards on TV with my siblings, and later with my own family and our teenagers. We had fun trying to guess which movies and stars would win Oscars. They weren't always our favorite films or actors, and naturally, we had disagreements about favorites and who might win an Oscar. But, of all the years with our differences we were never more unanimous than over the 1959 Oscars for 1958 movies. We were aghast that "Gigi" would win best picture, best director, and seven other Oscars. We agreed with the best costume Oscar, hands down. But that was it for this film, we agreed. And it was almost laughable that it would win two music Oscars - for best song and best scoring.

This was the same year that one of the greatest musicals of all time came out - Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific." Although "Some Enchanted Evening" wasn't a new song written specifically for the movie, it was an original song for "South Pacific." Some composers and musicians consider it the greatest song ever to come out of a musical play or film. The play premiered in 1949 and most of its music was carried over into the film. But the movie, like the play, had more than a dozen superb songs. And the South Pacific movie soundtrack album had huge sales. It was the fourth longest No. 1 position on the Billboard 200 - holding that spot for seven months.

Anyway, watching the Academy Awards show in 1959, we got an early education on Hollywood. Especially on studio politicking to get the industry people to vote for respective films. In this case, it was MGM for "Gigi." This film literally ran away with the awards, winning 9 Oscars of 9 nominations for the year. And in the process, "South Pacific" - the number one box office hit of the year, and one of the best musicals of all time, was all but snubbed by Hollywood. The reason most likely heard was because it was produced by the company that Rodgers and Hammerstein created just for that purpose. But, it had some support from 20th Century Fox which also handled most of the movie's production, including filming in Hawaii. With all of the acting nominations going to films with some tremendous performances, "Gigi" had to go for the technical and production categories along with best picture and director. But, those would be jeopardized if "South Pacific" were also nominated, so it got just three nominations.

"South Pacific" won the Oscar for Best sound, and was nominated for scoring of a musical picture, and best color cinematography. It should have won in both of those categories, but "Gigi" won instead. The biggest travesty was in "South Pacific" not even being nominated for best picture, best director and best screenplay from another medium. Had it been, it would have topped "Gigi" for sure, not only in the view of the audiences but probably all or most critics.

Anyway, "South Pacific" as of 2020 holds the record for all-time Broadway Tony awards at 17. It won 10 for its original production and seven for its 2008 revival. It remains one of the most popular musicals to be staged around America. Every year, there are high schools, colleges and community theaters putting on a "South Pacific" play somewhere around the country.

I wouldn't normally discuss another picture so much when writing a review for a movie. "Gigi" is a fine musical, but not much more than that. Still, some audiences may still enjoy it well into the 21st century. But what happened with this just "good" film sweeping so many honors at the 1959 Oscars, just bore some more discussion. Mostly because it was such a brazen snub of a great film. It's a good reminder that Hollywood doesn't always reign pure and above reproach. It doesn't always get things right. And, it often gets things wrong. So, we should watch and enjoy the movies that we can, but always with a wary eye.

Oblivion
(2013)

Fair futuristic space sci-fi shows strains of tedium
"Oblivion" is a futuristic space sci-fi film - the type that is best enjoyed on the big screen. I especially enjoy such sci-fi, and first saw this film in a theater when it came out. I had enjoyed it then and just finished watching it again on DVD. I revised my rating down a couple notches on second viewing, but not because it seemed less spectacular on the smaller screen. If anything, my impression and enjoyment have probably been most affected by the plethora of films of the genre. It continues to expand, and with that its sense of unreality and the almost complete use of CGI.

Imagine, with such a small cast, this film cost $120 million to make. Even with Tom Cruise getting paid more than $10 million for each film, and Morgan Freeman commanding high pay, that's a huge amount of money that went into some models for sets, art work and CGI.

As with a few other sci-fi films in the 21st century, this one has a psychological plot that slowly unfolds. This is a good plot in that regard, but not a great screenplay or edge-of-the-seat film. The challenge for this genre, with the huge use of CGI in the future, is to come up with very different plots that will be interesting. The younger generation will continue to watch this type of films for a time, but over time, they will have their fill of films that become run of the mill.

The sci-fi space genre is similar to another genre of films that had all but disappeared by the end of the 20th century. Western films used to be common from the 1930s into the early 1970s. There weren't many that rated in the top films for awards - a similar situation for sci-fi, but audiences, young and old, enjoyed Westerns. And over time, films of that genre became ho-hum. With the exception of an occasional extra budget film with a great story - or retelling of a Western legend, and with a big name cast and production, Westerns no longer appeal to the vast population. So, two decades into the 21st century, any fan base for Western films is miniscule.

Consider these changing numbers that reflect the appeal and audience interest in Western films. In 1950, 123 Western films were made, and in 1940 there were 86. In the 25 years from 1930 to 1954, about 2,700 Western movies were made. That's an average of 108 per year. In 1970, 71 Westerns were made, mostly in North America and Europe. In 1971, 47 Westerns were made; and in the last three years of the decade, the numbers had dropped to 12, 15 and 16, respectively.

Sci-fi films of the main space category face the same fate, it seems. With little variation, they are beginning to look like the same stories rehashed. Although they have had a longer run - from the earliest Buck Rogers space films of the 1930s to the present day, there are few films with new, imaginative or interesting plots. The psychological sci-fi films have held sway in the 21st century so far, but only so many of those can be made before they become tedious. The best of the space sci-fi films that still have drawing power are the Star Trek and Star Wars films that appear every few years. But that hardly represents an ongoing genre of appeal. Those films are unique by their diversity in characters, the human elements, with interesting stories and creatures. The special effects and CGI don't dominate.

If anyone doubts that outer space sci-fi films are losing steam, just look at the box office for this big production. It lost money in the U.S. market, with only $89 million in ticket sales. It took worldwide sales to reach $286 million cumulative box office for it to cover its costs and make a small profit (studios earn about 50% of the box office sales).

Living It Up
(1954)

Very good Martin and Lewis remake of excellent 1937 Lombard and March comedy
Anyone who has seen the 1937 Selznick comedy, "Nothing Sacred," will right away recognize the plot in this film. "Living it Up" is a more modern version of the story. It doesn't have the depth of the earlier film, but there's more zaniness with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. At times, the zaniness pushes at the edges of endurance (tedium), but overall this is a very funny film. I think it's the best of the 16 comedies that Martin and Lewis made. Incidentally, both movies were filmed in color.

Along for the ride with Martin and Lewis are Janet Leigh, Edward Arnold, and Fred Clark in meaty roles; and an assortment of very good supporting actors in comedy of the day - headed by Sig Ruman, who always delights those of us who cherish comedies. Here, he reprises his role from the first film. He plays Dr. Emile Egelhofer, with just a change in the spelling of the good doctor's name, from Dr. Emil Eggelhoffer.

The basic story and elements are the same in the 1937 and 1954 films - with a little more substance in the 1937 screenplay. A young person suffers from radiation poisoning and is going to die. A big New York City newspaper reporter proposes a paper sponsorship of the unlucky soul. The paper hosts the dying person to a few weeks of high life in the Big Apple before the fateful day. But the paper's motive is far from outright charity. It will have excusive daily stories of the patient's last weeks, and the saga is sure to boost circulation.

Of course, the whole thing turns out not to be a true. It didn't start out as a hoax, but was a mis-diagnosis by the patient's local doctor. The patient makes it a hoax in order to get to the big city and live it up - free of charge. But, the local doc has to go along to care for the patient instead of having leading experts from around the world examining the patient.

'Living it Up" reverses the gender of the victim and reporter. Carole Lombard was the patient, Hazel Flagg, in "Nothing Sacred," and Fredric March was the hotshot reporter, Wally Cook, trying to save his job. Walter Connolly played his publisher, Oliver Stone, and Charles Winninger was the local doc, Enoch Downer. In this 1954 film, Jerry Lewis is the patient, Homer Flagg, and Janet Leigh plays the reporter, Wally Cook. Dean Martin is Homer's local doctor, Steve Harris. Edward Arnold plays the mayor and Fred Clark is paper publisher Oliver Stone.

The two films are just different enough with the change in casts and a little "doctoring" of the story, that both should be enjoyed by most movie fans yet these many decades later. Here are some favorite lines from this film.

Dr. Steve Harris, "Homer, don't you think I'd want you to have radiation poisoning, just to break up the monotony?"

Dr. Steve Harris,, "What's the matter with you, Homer? You should be celebrating. I just saved your life. First patient I ever did that for."

Dr. Steve Harris, "I'm sorry, Homer. I may have been last in my class, but I'm a doctor. I couldn't hand in a phony report. I swore the solemn hippocratic oath. With purity and holiness, I will pass my life and practice my art."

Dr. Steve Harris, " I'm sorry. It's been a long time since I've seen a girl - I mean a female girl, in Desert Hole."

Yankee stadium announcer, "And now, Homer will throw out the first ball. First ball for us, perhaps the last one for him."

Wonderland Ballroom waiter, "Homer, don't eat the food here - it'll kill ya."

Dr. Steve Harris, "What Homer means, is he doesn't like to see those people suffer." Oliver Stone, "They love to stuffer."

Dr. Steve Harris, "That's a pedigree basset hound - a gift from the governor of Kentucky. You don't wanna insult the bluegrass state, do you?" Homer Flagg, "No, but why couldn't they send me a horse I could ride...?"

Homer Flagg, "Why didn't you give me medicine?" Dr. Richard Harris, "Medicine? Never carry it. It's too dangerous."

Homer Flagg, "What college did you graduate from?" Dr. Richard Harris, "Who graduated?"

Homer Flag, " I don't want any monument." Wally Cook, "Why?" Homer, "Because I hate pigeons."

Home Flagg, "Who you hitting, you mail-order MD? For you that stands for Miserable Doctor."

First Hospital Orderly, "Here's the patient from Room 433, doctor." Second Hospital Orderly, "He seems to be in a coma." Dr. Emile Egelhofer, " I shall make the medical judgments here, gentlemen. I can dispense with your advice."

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