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Roar of the Dragon

A race of time for a Western boat load against a ruthless Chinese bunch
"Roar of the Dragon" is a fairly good and interesting adventure and mystery drama set in Manchuria. Law and order was difficult in China after the Boxer Rebellion ended in 1901 and until after World War II and the rise of the Communist government in1949. Large tribes or gangs of ruthless characters fought over territory. Some raided villages and attacked commercial enterprises to haul off their goods and treasurers. And, during this time, life went on, including some commerce with the West. The setting for this film is about a stranded river ship and its several occidental passengers who must hole up in an inn stockade. They are marking time and hoping that repairs on their boat can be finished and they can be off before the murderous Voronsky and his band can overtake them.

The story is based on a novel by George Kibbe Turner, entitled "A Passage to Hong Kong." All of the cast are quite good, even though some still show hits of traits form silent film days. Richard Dis the captain of the boat, Chauncey Carson. Gwili Andre plays Natascha, who has been a captive paramour of Voronsky, and who is now trying to get away from him. C. Henry Gordon plays the treacherous Voronsky. Dudley Digges is Johnson, the owner of the shipping company. He and Carson are often at odds. Carson is a heavy drinker and Johnson only cares about himself and his business. Edward Everett Horton has a very good role as Busby, that's quite different from the persona for which he is most known in the many comedy films in which he appeared. Among others in the cast are Arline Judge, Zasu Pitts, William Orlamond, Arthur Stone, Will Stanton. Several Asian actors who had short careers in film are here, as well as some other cast members.

The film has plenty of action, gunfire and killing before it's over. Some of the characters these cast members play won't live. The worst thing about the film is the terrible organ music background in some scenes. Maybe that was a carryover from silent film days that RKO Pictures hadn't learned yet to delete or do without. Or maybe that studio, then considered one of the majors, just didn't couldn't find (or afford) a prominent composer for the film.

Here are some lines form this movie.

The Gay Deception

The gaiety of this hotel and inhabitants makes a grand comedy
"The Gay Deception" is a very funny comedy romance that is set mostly in New York City. Most of the comedy takes place in the luxurious hotel that is itself a humorous play on words. It's "The Walsdorf-Plaza Hotel," (the spelling is correct, with the "s" in the name), which borrows its fictitious creation from the two prominent upscale hotels of the Big Apple (New York City) for much of the 20th century (The Waldorf Astoria and The Plaza). It's easy for the audience to miss this until one sees the hotel marquee when some of the characters arrive.

The film has three sub-plots intermingled to create a story of a somewhat familiar theme of movies during Hollywood's golden era. A working man or woman meets a wealthy person of the opposite sex, with one or the other's background not known. Many films were made about rich heiresses running away from home (most of them were quite funny). And, there were some about a commoner falling for nobility (whose nobility isn't known at the time). Well, with a few different twists, the plot here makes an original story that is loaded with comedy, and a little romance toward the end.

Frances Dee plays Mirabel Miller. She works in a secretarial pool for the Sunblest Seedless Casaba Melon Co. Of Greenville. She wins the grand prize in the Casaba County Sweepstakes. (Wherever the fictional Greenville and Casaba County are supposed to be located, they would be far from New York City. Casaba melons, native to the Middle East and far SW Asia, are grown commercially in the SW United States - Arizona, California and Texas.) Anyway, Mirabel just wants to spend her $5,000 prize on new clothes and living it up in New York City, as long as the money lasts.

Czech-born actor Francis Lederer is an exuberant bellhop in the luxurious Walsdorf-Plaza. Well, at the start of the film, that is; and only after some time does the audience learn that he is really Prince Alessandro di Alessandria. He has come to New York in Cognito to see how the swanky American hotel operates. He is scheduled to arrive officially one month later, but even his New York Consul doesn't know of his under cover early arrival and job. The prince, Sandro, is known in the hotel as Number 14. His quest to learn about the hotel operation is because he plans to build such a hotel to attract American tourists to his small European country. He gets the bellhop and subsequent jobs because he has become a member of the board of directors of the large chain that owns the hotel, and the chain management has encouraged the New York hotel to hire someone of Sandro's nationality as a gesture. Only, Sandro's exuberant personality and eagerness aren't quite fitting and proper for those of the service class, so his behavior at times clashes with hotel management, shocks hotel patrons, and befuddles fellow workers. After being fired as a bellhop, he gets re-hired as a water. After being fired from that job, he gets re-hired as an elevator operator.

Now, when Maribel checks into the swanky hotel, and the management thinks she is some sort of Queen of the Casabas, everyone thinks she's loaded with dough. That is, everyone but Sandro. And, although a small-town girl who's enamored by the luxury, Maribel tries to hide her naiveté. But, even her feigned snobbishness can't fool Sandro.

Another subplot of this film has to do with two guys who come from the prince's home country and have made good in the States, perhaps with some shady deals. They are the president and secretary of the home country's brotherhood association in America. They pay the NY consul $5,000 for the privilege of being able to be in the greeting and celebrating party for the prince when he arrives. Lennox Pawle plays the consul-General, Akim Tamiroff plays Spellek, and Lionel Stand plays Gettel - the three of this subplot who add some comedy.

Among the hotel staff and wealthy clientele who provide some laughs and smiles are Richard Carle, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Robert Greig, Benita Hume and Alan Mowbray. The background music is perfect for the mix of funny lines and situations. It isn't just one deception, but three, and they work together perfectly for great humor. The film received an Oscar nomination as best original story.

Here are some favorite lines.

Men of America

An early sound film with William Boyd before Hopalong Cassidy
"Men of America" is a little bit of drama and slight comedy, with a crime subplot in an early 20th century America Western setting. That's a mouthful, but it about covers what this film covers. As to the title, it's anybody's guess. It has cowboys and Indians, cowboys and outlaws, criminals and killers, good guys and bad guys, and regular folk. I guess that makes up the men of America.

But, overall this is a very hokey film. That goes for the plot, the screenplay and the acting. And the film quality reflects the difficulty of the first years of sound pictures with scene and set adjustments, screenplays, and casts.

This film is an early look at William Boyd in sound pictures. He had been around in silent films since1918, and made 56 of those. But, three years after this, he would appear in a film that would ensure his stardom as one of the most recognized characters in film of the mid-20th century. After starring in "Hop-a-Long Cassidy" in 1935, Boyd would play Hoppy in 66 more movies until 1952, when he then would have a TV series as the character, from 1952-54.

Along with Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey, Hoppy entertained millions of American youth in the Saturday matinees into the mid-1950s. I was one of those frequent Saturday show kids, when a dime would gain youngsters admission with a bonus one-cent bag of popcorn. And, while I can remember bits and pieces of those movies, they all seemed quite good to me. Indeed, those I have watched since then are all quite good. Most have some humor from the sidekicks, and sometimes they are just a little corny, reflecting the culture of the time. But they had good acting, action and enjoyable plots. None that I can recall were ever as hokey as this film.

I searched online to try to find out what actor appeared in the most movies as the same character, but couldn't find anything specific about that. From the IMDb Web site, I discovered that Gene Autrey appeared in 91 feature films as himself, playing a cowboy, sheriff, marshal or in another role. Roy Rogers appeared in 77 feature films as himself, sometimes as a sheriff or marshal. But I couldn't find any other actor who played another character role other than himself in more feature films than William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy.

Tales from the Hollywood Hills: A Table at Ciro's

Typical daytime soaps are better than this PBS claptrap
"A Table at Ciro's" is a TV movie that was made for a series called "Tales from the Hollywood Hills" that aired on public television in 1987 and 1988. There were only about half a dozen of these made, all under one hour. I don't ever recall having seen this or any of the others on TV, and I can't imagine that many people did, or that anyone at all would recall them. This movie and another one were included as bonus items on a DVD of a feature film I watched recently.

In this film, Darren McGavin plays A. D. Nathan, the head of a fictional Hollywood studio called Paradigm Pictures. He and his wife, Lita (played by Lois Chiles), are hosting a small dinner party at Ciro's, a West Hollywood nightclub in business from 1940 to 1957. They both have affairs on the side, and have invited certain people to this dinner for specific purposes. The dinner, with some speculators looking on, is all about the business, coercion, exploitation, grooming, seduction and skullduggery in Hollywood and the film industry.

There's nothing revealing or enlightening in this TV movie. It looks just like a daytime soap opera, but with a plot and screenplay not even as good as most of those. It's equally boring and distasteful, and it borders on depressing. As for entertaining, this film is little more than claptrap. It's not hard to see why so few films were made in this short-lived series.

The only line of any substance is a ho-hummer, so what's new? McGavin's Nathan says, "When you fall off the ladder in this town, it takes a miracle to climb back on."

Kill or Cure

Running around at the healthy Green Glades hotel
"Kill or Cure" is a humorous British comedy mystery that has Terry-Thomas and Eric Sykes sleuthing one another. It all starts when private detective, Capt. J. Barker Rynde (Thomas) gets a call from a society dowager, Mrs. Margaret Clifford. She wants him to look into some strange goings-on at the exclusive place she is staying. It's the Green Glades health hotel, and Captain Rynde is to check in there as a guest. She will contact him after he arrives. But after he does and gets the first note, Mrs. Clifford is then found dead. That's one strike against the health hotel's slogan, "We help nature help you."

So, Rynde must investigate, but he also has to go through the physical routine of exercise, body detoxing, special diet, training, etc. That the hotel has. Naturally, this all goes against his lifestyle and tastes, but what can he do but stay under cover to solve the crime? His personal consultant and overseer is Mr. Rumbelow (Sykes), who also is his nemesis and partner in some of the comedy. Well, when a 10,000 pound reward is offered for a clue that leads to apprehending the killer, Sykes wants to start investigating himself. He doesn't know that Rynde is a detective on the case and suspects him for his prowling around. And Rynde sees Rumbelow's behavior and suspect him.

Enter Lionel Jeffries as Detective Inspector Hook, and the recipe for a first-rate comedy is complete. Some others contribute to it as well - Dennis Price as Dr. Julian Crossley, and Ronnie Barker as Inspector Hook's assistant. The film begins with some humorous dialog, but after that it is mostly in antics and the health treatments that Rynde goes through. Toward the end, the humor picks up again when Rynde and Rumbelow join forces to solve the crime and Inspector Hook takes the brunt of some of their miscues.

Rynde's accommodations are hilarious - he's put in a one-room open-air hut with a folding wall that regulations allow him to close only at night. This isn't among the top comedies for Thomas, Sykes or any others. But, it's still funny and entertaining, with a very good twist at the end.

Here are some favorite lines form this British MGM film.

J. Barker Rynde, on seeing hotel guests lounging in bath robes and night clothes when checking in, "Very informal atmosphere you have here." Johnson, Green Glades desk clerk, "Oh, we don't stand on ceremony here."

Frances Roitman, when J. Barker Rynde orders the same drink as hers from the bartender, "Were you expecting something a little more palatable?" Rynde, "Why, yes. Why, I mean .." Miss Roitman, "It's awful, isn't it? I'm afraid this is one health clinic that doesn't pull its punches."

Miss Roitman, "I don't think he quite knows what he's got himself in for." Bartender, "They never do, miss."

Rumbelow, "Your age?" Rynde, "My age?" Rumbelow, "Oh, come on. We're not going to be feminine about this, are we?" Rynde, "Oh, well, bound down 32." Rumbelow, "Well, that disposes of your age, or some of it."

Rumbelow, "Profession?" Rynde, "Um, bird watcher." Rumbelow, "Really?"

Rumbelow, "Married?" Rynde, "No." Rumbelow, "Why not?" Rynde, "Did you marry?" Rumbelow, "No." Rynde, "Why not?"

Rumbelow, "Mr. Rynde, I'm asking the questions. Are you single by choice?" Rynde, "Oh, indubitably. My profession has somewhat prejudiced me against wedding bells." Rumbelow, writing on the form, "A misogynistic ornithologist." Rynde, "Whaaat?"

Rumbelow, "Put out your tongue." Rynde, "Huh?" Rumbelow, "Tongue... oooh, nasty! Eyes? Tch, tch, tch. Good heavens, I don't know how you can see out of them."

Rynde, when Rumbelow twists his head, "Aaaah!" Rumbelow, "You got as much stiffness as rigor mortis. You've come to us just in time, Mr. Rynde. We ae the handmaidens of mother nature. We'll soon have you in working order. I'll put you down for the lot, I think."

Rumbelow, "Don't look so alarmed, Mr. Rynde. We've had worse cases and pulled 'em through. We are going to take your poor abused body and wring it out and start all over again." "Rynde, "You're not, you know." Rumbelow, "Mr. Rynde..." Rynde, "Captain, and I like my body the way it is."

Rumbelow, "That's better. A moment of panic on the brink, as it were. We get that."

Rumbelow, "I've got you down on my form as a misogynist." Rynde mumbles and says, "What is that?" Rumbelow, "You hate women." Rynde, "Well, I hate getting up in the morning, but I'm not bed-ridden."

Rita, Green Glades nurse, "Listen, you take one step nearer and I'll do gardening in that gap of yours."

Inspector Hook, "Used to call this the gallows oak, you know. Used it for hangings." Frances Roitman, "Uh, no, I didn't know." Hook, "Yeah, good old days."

Rynde, "I'm a duck. A sitting duck."

Lillian Russell

A biopic that distorts and misses too much
"Lillian Russell" is a disappointing biopic about a famous American performer and celebrated singer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As others have noted, this is a very sanitized and fictional story. It has three strikes against it. The first is its historical inaccuracies, deletions and fabrications (a polite way of saying something is a lie). The second is its failure to develop the character and persona of Lillian Russell. It doesn't let the audience see what it was about her that made her so all around liked and loved. She was known for her beauty, voice, and stage presence. There is a little bit of it in Allice Fay's portrayal, but it just plops onto the screen. The third is the singing - specifically, a lack of much music and especially of knowing what Russell sounded like. What was her voice like and what were the songs that so endeared her to the public?

Now, I enjoy Alice Faye and her singing. She was a very good singer. But her low, sultry voice was far different from the voice of Lillian Russell's. Perhaps that's why there is so very little singling by Faye in this film. And, that 's a waiving sign that this would not be a film very much about the talents and the person.

Lillian was born Helen Louise Leonard on December 4, 1861, and raised in Iowa. In real life, her mother left her father and moved to New York with Helen, in the hopes of her becoming an opera singer. It wasn't her father or grandmother who supported her singing, as the film shows. She did get training, as shown, from Leopold Damrosch. And, her voice was near operatic soprano. Alice Faye's voice, on the other hand, was a low or husky contralto. One can hear a recording of Lillian Russell on You Tube. It's from 1912, after her return to performing, and she sings "Come Down Ma Evenin' Star."

One can't fault Alice Faye for her excellent voice, because it's different than Russell's. But one can wonder why someone closer to Russell's character and voice wasn't cast in the part for this film. For instance, Jeanette MacDonald. There are pictures of Russell and MacDonald in which they even look somewhat alike. A person's size and physical shape otherwise isn't very important in making biopics, with the possible exceptions of portrayals of prize-fighters and Olympic weight-lifters. Except for Russell's buxom and full shape, at five and half feet, she was just one inch taller than Faye and two inches taller than MacDonald

And, Jeanette MacDonald had more going for her. She had made many musicals and had the persona and character of someone with a great stage presence. Indeed, with her soprano voice, the film could easily have had some more songs that Russell sang.

This film has one huge plus that enables me to rate it five stars. And that is the very good and considerable portrayal of Russell's relationship with Diamond Jim Brady. Edward Arnold was the right choice to play Brady, since he had played the lead role in the 1935 biopic about him, "Diamond Jim." That was a very good biopic, and while it showed some of Brady's relationship with Lillian Russell, it begged for more on that. Binnie Barnes played the role of Lillian Russell in that film and sang one number that very closely resembled Russell's voice. Early in her career, Barnes had worked as a chorus girl.

Hollywood has made many movies about the lives of historical figures and famous people of the past. Most of the good biopics have been based on biographies or autobiographies. While some have included a number of scenes at different times in a persons life, most of these concentrate on special adult years of achievements, discoveries, or works. Naturally, condensing a life's story or even a period of a few years into a movie of less than two hours requires many short cuts. But most movies about historical figures have tried to include the key aspects of the person's life and relationships that were of prominence during their lives. And, while some things are touched up, softened or glazed over, the films seldom tried to completely cover up some aspects of the life of the person.

Many musical biopics also have tried to closely follow the lives of their subjects, including controversies, conflicts and personal problems and trials. So, there are many very good and great musical biopics, such as: "The Fabulous Dorseys" of 1947, "With a Song in My Heart" (Jane Froman) of 1952, "The Glenn Miller Story" of 1954, "The Benny Goodman Story" of 1956, "The Five Pennies" (Red Nichols) of 1959, "Amadeus" of 1984, "Ray" (Ray Charles) of 2004, "Walk the Line" (Johnny Cash) of 2005, "La Vie en Rose" of 2007 (Edith Piaf).

Perhaps one day there will be a very good biopic done about Lillian Russell. One with a truer portrayal of her life. And, with an actress with a similar voice, beauty and presence. And with some good songs and scenes from operettas and shows that Russell performed in.

Honky Tonk

A potentially very good comedy caper, but a dark pall hangs over it
"Honky Tonk" is billed as a comedy, crime and drama film. But, why not a Western, for that's what it is? It's a Western film about a couple of con artists. So, I rate it is a caper-comedy Western. It's probably good that it's not also tagged a romance, because what this film also has is more than - or at least quite different from romance. It has a sub-plot of a love story between the two leads -- Candy Johnson, played by Clark Gable, and Elizabeth Cotton, played by Lana Turner. But, hers is a little hard to believe.

The love angle is a little twisted. That Elizabeth falls for Candy so quickly and totally, and is so blinded to what he does, is odd and strange. Oh, she knows him and who and what he is and has been. But that it makes no difference, even after she sees her dad fall apart and then get killed, casts a shadow on this character. Is Elizabeth really a nice, innocent girl to begin with? Or, has she become hardened, calloused and changed, as her dad, Judge Cotton, says? Frank Morgan plays this role, I think, exceptionally well. But Turner's role seems to be more like that of a lovestruck teenager.

If this film had been made and played out as strictly a comedy caper, it could have been very good. But, a pall hangs over it because of those aspects that are considered the drama. Especially the killings. That, and the pathos of the Judge, as someone who loves his daughter and doesn't want her to be connected with the type of life he has lived. The film just pushes him to the side until he's finally taken care of. But, Elizabeth pays so little heed to him.

Gable's role is very good, as one of those in which he is a fast and smooth talker who can turn things around by his gift of gab. All the supporting roles are fairly good, except that Marjorie Main as Mrs. Varner, and Claire Trevor as Gold Dust Nelson are way underused. The screenplay has some obvious holes - between the drama and the cons and the couple. Another is Candy's overnight jump to wealth and success, and then hosting all the political bigwigs. And, while Gable's character seems to square things so that they come out right in the end, the film leaves one with a sense that the plot was too contrived.

And there are two questions at the end. Does he finally settle down and go straight. And, if not, how much longer will Elizabeth endure his ups and downs before her love wears thin?

Here are some favorite lines from this film.

Judge Cotton, "Did this, uh, fellow Candy Johnson bother you, my dear?" Elizabeth Cotton, "Not half as much as I bothered him."

Candy Johnson, "Yes, sir, the more I look around I think that maybe this is that town." The Sniper, "What town?" Candy, "The town that I ain't gonna get run out of."

Gold Dust Nelson, "Hello, Brazos." Brazos Hearn, "Your table's cooling off." Candy Johnson, "How'd you know that guy was behind you?" Gold Dust, "I've had a lot of practice smelling out snakes."

Elizabeth Cotton, "Order me a steak too. Oh, and a bottle of beer." Candy Johnson, "Well, are you sure you'd like our steaks out here? You know, we eat 'em rare and that isn't Boston style." Elizabeth, "My great-grandfather used to eat them raw - on the hoof." Gold Dust Nelson, "He'd have a hard time in Nevada. Our cows wouldn't stand still for it."

The Great Wall

A Chinese "swashbuckler" and fantasy extravaganza
"The Great Wall" is an action adventure fantasy film set in China. It's the first major film collaboration between American and Chinese filmmakers, with a prominent Chinese director. Yimou Zhang ("House of Flying Daggers" of 2004) directs a cast of thousands with American Matt Damon and Chinese actress Tian Jing in the lead roles. The film has Mandarin Chinese and English, with sub-title translations. It was released in China in December 2016 and in must of the rest of the world in early 2017.

The plot combines Chinese mythology with the historic ventures of Europeans around the 12th century to obtain the black powder, known more commonly since then as gunpowder. Gunpowder is the first known explosive to have been developed, around the 9th century. It is one of the four great inventions attributed to China (the others being paper, printing and the compass). By the 10th century, gunpowder was being used in warfare, with weapons such as bombs and exploding fire arrows. And, news of its development spread quickly across Asia and through Europe.

The mythology of the plot dates from 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. The Taotie is a mythological monster, one of the four evil creatures of the world to the Chinese, that would devour anything. While there was no particular picture or drawing of the creature, this film created green lizard-skinned monsters with heads that resembled the monster in "The Alien." The mythology, historical Chinese culture of the time, and the setting of The Great Wall of China are combined with more fantastic inventions and fantasy contraptions of war and defense against these creatures.

This is a worthy adventure and action film, made with tremendous sets in China. The costumes, some scenic shots, and great inventions or products made as inventions are excellent and very interesting. Much of the action and fighting scenes with the Tao Tie uses CGI, and that's very apparent. No matter how hard the industry tries to make CGI look like reality, it comes across just as real CGI. Perhaps one day, when they learn to make it seem imperfect, it will seem more real to the human eye.

Anyway, this is a very good plot, with lots of dazzling action, colorful costumes, etc. The plot is good, and original with the mythology. But, otherwise, the adventures aspect in Asia resembles earlier films of similar stories. My DVD of the film came with some very good documentary shorts about the production. Apparently the movie was considered a bomb, even with considerable box office sales of nearly $335 million. That's because of its incredibly huge budget of more than $150 million. Looking at some of the bonus shorts, it's not hard to see the huge costs of making this film. Still, at about 40% of producer's share of films, it should have come close to covering its budget.

I think the models built and the presentation of the Great Wall are quite good and realistic. I traveled to China in 2002 on a walking and hiking tour. We visited and walked a section of one of the common visitor locales. In those areas, the wall can be 100 feet high, and cable cars take visitors from the ground up to the wall surface. But we also ventured into an area and hiked where the wall had been abandoned, and breached or destroyed in sections. We learned later that the government disallowed future hiking of the areas of the wall that weren't open and maintained for public use and visits.

The Great Wall of China is one of the original, and modern, Seven Wonders of the World. It was built in a series as fortification against northern invasion, dating from the 5th century B. C. In the 2nd century B. C., the sections were consolidated and tied together. Over the centuries, large sections fell into disrepair or were abandoned. The wall that exists into the 21st century was built mostly in the 14th to 17th centuries. Today, it stretches across an area of about 3,000 miles, but with its winding, curving, rises and declines with the contour of the land, it's total length is more than 13,000 miles (13,170 miles, or 21,196 kilometers. The wall has a few exceptions of extra height, mostly to protect further against frontal assaults in larger open and level areas. Otherwise, along most of its length the base ranges from 15 to 50 feet, and the height from 15 to 30 feet. Ramparts are placed on top of that, and guard towers exist at intervals along the wall.

There are several unique things of world class distinction to see when visiting China. The Great Wall is one of them, and undoubtedly one of the most memorable.

Here are a couple of lines from the film.

Tovar, played by Pedro Pascal, to William, "You know what you are? A thief. A liar. And a killer. And you can never undo the things you have done, and you will never by anything."

Tovar, "Are you sure you don't wanna go back?" William, played by Matt Damon, "Of course I do. I just don't trust you to make it out of her alive."

Murder by Invitation

Poverty row murder mystery with just a fair plot
"Murder by Invitation" is a poverty row murder mystery made by Supreme Pictures and distributed by Monogram. Except for the few leads in these films who were able to go on to major studios and have good careers, most of the cast of these films are little known beyond their time. The lead in this film, Wallace Ford, was successful moving into Television in the 1950s. Some others did the same, but for the rest, there were short and longer careers mostly in B movies of this type.

While the plot is a fair one and has some intrigue, the screenplay, filming and technical production are all lower grade. Some of the acting is wooden, and a couple of roles are corny. There's not much to recommend this film, except for the interesting mystery. One just has to be able to tolerate the holes, poor quality, weak script, terrible background music, and barely fair acting at the best. The script makes a couple of attempts at humor, but they are quite lame. Can anyone think of a more far out murder mystery film than this where a bumbling rural sheriff asks a newspaper journalist for his advice and hunches?

Here are some sample lines.

Nora O'Brien, "I still think you shouldn't attend this hearing. Suppose they make a mistake and try you. You know, there's two schools of thought about the sanity of columnists." Bob White, "Quiet."

Nora O'Brien,, "Don't you worry about a thing, Aunt Cassie." Cassandra Denham, "Why should I worry? I'm the only sane person in a family of nuts."

Nora O'Brien, "I don't like this, Sherlock." Bob White, "Chin up, Watson."

The Pink Panther Story

Excellent film background of a great comedy series and its creators
"The Pink Panther Story" is one of the most interesting short documentaries about movie making that I have ever seen. It's about a series of movies and how the first film came about. It's about the producers, and the two principal people behind the series. There is no narrator for this documentary. It just opens with an interviewee talking, and then segues to other interviewees and/or film clips, throughout its nearly 29 minutes (28:40).

The principal people behind it all were Blake Edwards, Peter Sellers and the Mirisch Brothers. This short film has a nice brief background of Edwards and Sellers, and how they came together for the first film and then the series. It includes their rapport and their later animosity. And it has a nice background of the Mirisch Brothers (Harold, Marvin and Walter), and their working relationship with Blake Edwards who directed the films.

Besides Edwards, the others interviewed are Walter Mirisch, author Ed Sikov, film editor Ralph Winters, script supervisor Betty Abbott Griffin, musical author Jon Burlingame, and Joe Dunne who was the stunt coordinator and double for Sellers in some of the heavy physical exertion scenes. An early part of this short is Blake Edwards giving his background in brief, before "The Pink Panther." A later segment is Walter Mirisch and others discussing the background of Peter Sellers before the series. Sellers died in 1980 of a heart attack, at age 54. Both Edwards and Sellers came from families with ancestors in films and the theater before that.

One very interesting thing was the casting and who the actors were originally planned for the film. Blake Edwards said he tried to get Audrey Hepburn to play the princess, but couldn't get her. So, Claudia Cardinale was their next choice. David Niven was the obvious choice as the lead, Sir Charles Lytton. But then, to play Clouseau's wife, they were able to get Ava Gardner, and to play Clouseau, Peter Ustinov.

In the opening of this documentary, Edwards says, "There were good times and bad times. The good times were as good as it could ever get -- more fun, more joy, in the good times. And, the bad times might just as well have been like going to the doctor and having him tell you, well, I'm sorry, but you're terminal."

Walter Mirisch says, "We decided to shoot it in Rome, and everything went along swimmingly until... four or six weeks prior to filming." That's when Ava Gardner withdrew from the cast. "Blake then suggested that we replace her with Capucine." And, one wonders what the Pink Panther would have been like without Peter Sellers, who came on board at the last minute. Edwards says he was in Europe and all ready to start shooting, when Ustinov backed out "at the very last minute."

Mirisch says, "We were then faced with a huge problem of replacing Peter Ustinov in the picture, and,... that really was our very first crisis." Edwards says "the most we could do was sue him." And Mirisch says they did sue Ustinov, but soon dropped the suit. He says, "When the picture came out and it was a huge success, I remember our lawyers saying to me, can you prove any damages? We weren't damaged, we were helped."

After they settled on Sellers for the role of Clouseau, Edwards says he met him at the airport, "and from the plane ride to the hotel in Rome, he and I discovered each other, so to speak. What we enjoyed in terms of comedy, which meant the world of Laurel and Hardy." Joe Dunne, who coordinated the stunts and doubled for Sellers, says "Peter Sellers was the greatest fan of Stan Laurel, I've known." And, author Ed Sikov sys, "Sellers was a great admirer of Stan Laurel," and when Laurel was an old man, Peter went to visit him when he was in Los Angeles.

All of the interviewees talked about the creativity of Edwards and Sellers working together, in spite of some personal squabbles at times, and a later falling out. Betty Griffin says, "Peter would do something, and then Blake would say, well now, if you add this to it, and it was like step-ladder, it just kept going and going and going." Edwards says, "We'd take what was on the page, and ad lib and work around it. Peter said, could we make the character more physically comedic." Mirisch says, "Blake was very smart and realized what was happening. And, instead of fighting it, he encouraged it." Griffin says, "We had a problem with the crew breaking up (with laughter) ."

Mirisch says, "Peter was a great improvisational actor." Ralph Winters, who edited the films, says, "Peter Sellers was a brilliant actor. And everything he did was very funny." Mirisch adds, "We're talking about comic invention that borders on genius."

And, who could forget the theme and background music of the films, composed and directed by Henry Mancini? Edwards and Mancini had worked together before, and Edwards says that Mancini knew him and what he would want for music. Winters says that Mancini "casts musicians like a director does the actors." Jon Burlingame says, "In this case he knew that he wanted Plas Johnson, a great tenor saxophonist, (to) play that theme." That was the warm sound and swinging style that Mancini wanted.

Mirisch says, "When the picture started out, David Niven had the leading role. When it finished, Peter Sellers did. And the script was barely changed." Author Sikov says of Peter Sellers, "If anything, he's more fondly remembered now ....years after he died... then at the time he died." And, Mirisch sums up the success of the Pink Panther and its series. "The great genius of Peter, and Mancini's music, and the cartoon character and Blake inspired by what he's doing, produced this extraordinary film which still continues to entertain audiences throughout the world."

Diamond Jim

Very good biopic about a big man
"Diamond Jim" is a very good bio-pic about a very big man - big in more ways than one. James Buchanan Brady (1856-1917) became known as Diamond Jim Brady for his flair of wearing, buying and bestowing expensive jewelry, especially diamonds. Brady was big in size, weighing over 300 pounds. The claims about how much and what he ate for dinner are probably more myth than fact; but, he loved to eat and his typical meal would be the equivalent of what six or more people would eat. After his death at age 60 and an autopsy, doctors said that Brady's stomach with six times larger than a normal stomach.

Much of this film is centered around Brady's love for food and eating habits. Several scenes are at dinner tables when he was alone or with others. The film is based on the 1934 biographical novel of the same title, by author Parker Morell (1906-1943). Although some of Brady's early successes in business had some shady overtones, Brady was highly regarded for his achievements and his generosity. He had a big heart and cared about others - even making friends out of former enemies or opponents. And, he was a philanthropist. Brady's worth when he died in 1917 is estimated at $1.5 million which would be close to $45 million in 2022. Among his charitable support was a $220,000 donation ($6.5 million in 2022 dollars) to Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The film is mostly about his adult life when he became a great salesman and then entrepreneur and supporter of new businesses. He concentrated on railroads, the equipment they needed, and eventually the production of steel rail cars to replace the wooden ones that had been in use.

This appears to be a fairly accurate and thorough picture of Brady, at least as can be portrayed in less than 90 minutes. One of the other things Brady was also otherwise known for was his friendship with the famous American singer and performer, Lillian Russell. That gets good treatment in this film.

The acting is very good with a fine cast of actors of the time. Edward Arnold is superior as Diamond Jim Brady. Binnie Barnes is very good as Lillian Russell. And Eric Blore is very good and humorous as the English businessman, Sampson Fox. Some of the other supporting cast are very good. The only roles that seem sort of lackluster are those played by Jean Arthur as Jane Matthews and Cesar Romero as Jerry Richardson.

My favorite bit of dialog in the film is the lines that portray when and how Brady got the moniker, Diamond Jim. Pawnbroker, "What you need is a diamond." Jim Brady, "What for?" Pawnbroker, "Well, to make money, you gotta look like money."

The Screen Director

A look at the varied work of the movie directors
"The Screen Director" is a nine-minute documentary short about just that. Art Gilmore is the uncredited narrator for this look at the job of the film directors. It's interesting in that it covers many details that most movie buffs wouldn't associate with the job. For instance, the checking of costumes, the details of makeup, and more. It concludes with the recognition that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences provides in the annual Academy Awards and the Oscar for best director.

Several prominent directors, with their winning films, are mentioned and shown receiving their Oscars. Among them are Michael Curtiz for "Casablanca," Frank Capra for "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," John Ford for "How Green Was My Valley," Leo McCarey for "Going My Way," William Wyler for "Best Years of Our Lives," Elia Kazan for "Gentleman's Agreement," Joseph Mankiewicz for "A Letter to Three Wives," and John Huston for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

A Matter of WHO

WHO at work fighting the spread of bugs
"A Matter of WHO" is an interesting mystery drama with a slight touch of comedy. I hadn't been aware of this film that was an MGM British production. It's quite unusual in that it's about the World Health Organization (WHO) and its policing efforts to protect against the spread of infectious diseases. WHO is a United Nationals agency that is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland

Terry-Thomas is an ace investigator and dogged pursuer in protecting the world from the spread of deadly diseases. In this film, he dashes around Europe in pursuit of the carrier sources of a case of small pox that arrived in England. The story has more intrigue because the case was the partner of an American oil exploration business. It had been exploring in the Middle East for a British oil firm, and the partner arrives in English ill from a flight n Nice, France> With him is his new bridge.

Jamieson's partner, Kennedy, had flown to England to meet him. He winds up helping and working with Terry-Thomas's Archibald Bannister to fin the source, and solve a crime associated with it.

The cast are mostly good, and the humor is very light. The best of it is Thomas dashing about London in his sporty convertible and waring his Sherlock Holmes hate. Thomas is very good in his role, and this is an informative and interesting film that will clue people in on WHO.

The Illusionist

Very good mystery fantasy in a historical setting
"The Illusionist" is a very good mystery and intriguing fantasy film. It's loosely based on a short story, "Eisenheim the Illusionist" by Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser. The story is set in the late 19th century in Vienna, which then was the principal capital of Austria-Hungary. And, the fictional story intertwines some with history. It includes a fictional account of the Mayerling incident. That was the 1889 murder-suicide of the real Crown Prince Rudolf and baroness Mary Vetsera.

The characters in the film are all fictional. That of Eisenheim, from the short story, was a mythical character of the period who was a magician and sorcerer of sorts. The film is dark but quite intriguing, and very well-acted by all of the cast. It's entertaining and is one of those that, to best appreciate the illusions, is best seen on the big screen as I first saw it.

The Gang's All Here

Benny Goodman's swing band and a top comedy cast make this WW II film
"The Gang's All Here" is one of the studio extravaganza films that most of the big studios made during World War II. These were meant to entertain the GIs at home and abroad, as well as the folks on the home front. This one is by 20th Century Fox with many of its name actors and entertainers of the day. The plot is so-so and a familiar one for that time, and it works to string together a huge musical review. It has some lavishly staged Busby Berkeley dance routines. The song leads are Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda.

It was filmed in gorgeous color, but none of the songs are exceptional or memorable hit tunes. And, two of the Berkeley big dance routines are somewhat odd. A long routine with a big female cast and huge bananas is more weird than entertaining. Another one toward the end, with large luminous rings in a dark setting is strange. It does have one long kaleidoscope routine - a Berkely trademark, that is quite good. My favorite is a shorter number toward the very end with children, 6-7 years olds, dressed up and dancing in pairs as Alice Faye sings "The Polka Dot Polka."

The biggest plus of this film is Benny Goodman and his orchestra. They play a few numbers - slow and fast for dancing, and Benny sings one tune and plays. Those who relish the days of swing music or enjoy the big band sounds should especially like this film. I think Goodman's presence raises the film one more star. And, it gets one more star for the supporting cast of wonderful comedy performers - Eugene Pallette, Charlotte Greenwood and Edward Everett Horton. Without Goodman and his band and the top comedy cast, this would be an average, fair musical.

Here are some favorite lines from this film.

Andrew Mason Sr., "Don't be a square from Delaware. Get hep to yourself." Payton Potter, "What kind of talk is that?" Mason, "I heard it on a jukebox."

Andy Mason, "How 'bout you? Did Mrs. Potter give you a furlough too?" Peyton Potter, "I promised my wife I'd be home before midnight. I like to keep my promises. She expects me to, and I expect her to expect it."

Mrs. Peyton Potter, "Don't give him anything stronger than lemonade. The last time he had champagne was on our honeymoon. It was at Niagara. He thought he was a barrel. He wanted me to roll over the falls with him.

Edie Allen, "Stop acting like Don Ameche and get me a taxi." Andy Mason, "I've got one waiting."

Edie Allen, "I, I guess I could miss seeing the Dodgers. Won't hurt anything."

Andy Mason, "Oh, I'm a soldier, not a sailor." Vivian Potter, "A soldier can get in deep water too. Sometimes way over his head."

Edie Allen, "Where have you two been?" Dorita, "To the cleaners." Edie, "The cleaners?" Dorita, "That's what they call the racetrack."

Peyton Potter, "Why not another stag diner, A. J.? I had a very good time at that last one." Andrew Mason Sr., "No, no, Right here. Behind his name he signed N. S. D." Potter, "Yes, National Selection Draft. You see that's what..." Mason, "National Selection nothing. It's N. S. D. - no stag dinner."

Andrew Mason Sr., "We'll put the show on to sell war bonds. We'll make it the biggest bond-selling drive you ever saw. We'll charge our neighbors five thousand dollar bonds for admission. Why, we'll raise a million dollars."

Phil Baker, "Mr. Mason, if you had a beard, you'd remind me of my two favorite people - Santa Claus and Uncle Sam."

Dorita, "I remember Mr. Potty. You are here to kick up some more heels, huh?"

Dorita, "Ah, ah, you naughty boy. You are what they call a fast-work man, yes?"

Dorita, "A block off the old chip, huh?"

Phil Baker, "Ugly word, blackmail. Don't say it again." Peyton Potter, "Blackmail, blackmail, blackmail."

Dorita, "Then he's a two-time, double-cross snake in the bush."

Mrs. Peyton, "Peytie, can I help it if I'm irresistible." Peyton Potter, "It's that vitamin B1. I told you you were taking too much. You're overdoing it."

Peyton Potter, "I never touch alcohol." Dorita, "Oh, you don't touch it, you drink it."

Peyton Potter, "You have the busiest hands."

Peyton Potter, when Mrs. Potter walks in on him and Dorita, "Darling, how marvelous. We were just discussing the invasion - the investments."

Dorita, "It wasn't my fault. He swooped me off my feet."

Mrs. Potter, "Well, old swoopy, swapping swoops at your age. What have you got to say about that?"

Peyton Potter, after wiping his brow and seeing lipstick on his hanky, "Oh, ketchup." Mrs. Potter, "Huh, no doubt. And from a Brazilian tomato."

Andrew Mason Sr., "You're gonna marry Vivian Potter, remember?" Andy Mason, "Yes, yes, I know. But that can wait." Mason Sr., "Yeah. Wait?"

Andrew Mason, Sr., "Come on. How about a nice mint jalopy. Oh, darn it. She's got me saying it now."

Andy Mason, "Dorita! Where's Edie?" Dorita, "Oh, it's you. Shame on you, you Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes."

Dorita, "I just spilled the cat out of the beans myself."

Lucky Me

A very good comedy musical set in colorful Miami
"Lucky Me" is a very good film with a fine mix of comedy and music, and a touch of romance. It's a colorful film, and the first musical made in CinemaScope. The setting is Miami, but the plot is quite an old one - entertainers who are down on their luck, looking for a break. They cross paths with a successful Broadway musical writer and composer, and voilá! Of course, it doesn't happen just like that. But this is the type of plot one would have to be a toddler or younger to not be able to guess the outcome.

So, as with many other musical revue types of films of the mid-20th century, the music and comedy are what make the film. Although the plot has a somewhat different and enjoyable twist of the entertainers having to work off a very expensive dinner in a ritzy hotel. That is the place of much of the comedy, and also where and how they run across Dick Carson, the recent musical maestro of Broadway hits. All of the cast are very good in their roles.

Phil Silvers especially shines as Hap Schneider, mainly for how well he impersonates a couple of characters in putting them over. Nancy Walker has a somewhat unusual snappy role as Flo Neely, part of Hap's four-member song and dance troupe. Eddie Foy Jr. Is the fourth member of the troupe, as Duke McGee. Of course, Doris Day is the troupe's star, as Candy Williams. This foursome has a couple of numbers with routines that are very good. Candy Williams is an exceptionally peppy role, even for Doris Day, but that helps overcome the one flaw of the plot - her superstitions. After a while, that aspect becomes irksome in the plot. It could easily have been done away with after the opening scene and Day's clever song about superstitions.

Robert Cummings is Dick Carson, and part of the enjoyment here is hearing him sing. Carson was one of several Hollywood stars with musical talent, mostly singing, but who didn't play many musical roles. All of the supporting cast are good. One who should be mentioned is Marcel Dalio who played Anton, the owner and/or maître d'hôtel of the swanky hotel that is the setting for much of the film.

Here are some favorite lines from this comedy musical.

Candy Williams, "I thought you said we'd murder 'em." Hap Schneider, "They're dead ain't they?"

Hap Schneider, "I can't understand Max doing a thing like this. And after all the money I borrowed from him."

Dick Carson, "It, uh, must be a new service the hotel has. Instead of television sets, they're sending the act around to the rooms."

Dick Carson, "Her father is Otis Thayer." Tommy Arthur, "Not the Otis Thayer with the 42 oil wells?" Lorraine Thayer, "Forty-four. Two more came in this morning." Carson, "Welllll. I knew he was expecting, but we hardly hoped for twins."

Dick Carson, "I'm just the kind of a guy that likes to put his cards on the table." Lorraine Thayer, "Sure, darling. But that doesn't mean you have to play solitaire."

Candy Williams, "You're very kind." Dick Carson, "Oh, kind nothing. I just feel safer with you in the car."

Dick Carson, "I was wondering if you'd like to go out with me tonight. We could eat and dance, have some fun and go to The Quarter Deck." Candy Williams, "No, no, I don't think I could really. After all, I hardy know you. You're practically a stranger."

Candy Williams, remembering a fortune teller from the penny arcade, "You are a stranger. A mysterious stranger." Dick Carson, "I, I am?" Candy, "It's amazing." Dick, "Well, of course, I think everyone starts out that way, and they just sort of work their way up from there, don't you? You couldn't possibly consider tonight?" Candy, "Ah, ordinarily I wouldn't, no. But, but since you're a stranger, I'd love to." Dick, "Yeah. Yeah, well, the way you've got it worked out's better."

Dick Carson, "Well, she's a jealous, possessive woman" Candy Williams, "Isn't that just too bad."

Candy Williams, "I know nothing about men, but I know an awful lot about women." Dick Carson, "Candy, please..." Candy, "And they don't become jealous and possessive unless some, some worm of a man gives them every good reason to be."

Candy Williams, "There isn't going to be any show." Hap Schneider, "No show? Why?" Candy, "Miss Oil Wells won't have me, that's why."

School for Scoundrels

A crude, vulgar remake that deservedly bombed
This 2006 remake of the 1960 classic British comedy of the same title might be of some value, but not as a form of entertainment. It demonstrates how some film remakes fail. In this case, it strays far from the tone and tenor of the original. And, in changing the setting (time, place and culture), it also replaces the smooth, sophisticated comedy of a story, with crass and crude. Indeed, a character like Billy Bob Thornton's and one or two others from this film in real life today would be the subjects of lawsuits.

The original film masterfully presented a story with subtle humor and outright comedy. This remake is a piece of trash that's not only humorless but vulgar and insensitive. It bombed at the box office and lost the makers many millions of dollars. One would think Hollywood would learn, especially when it comes to comedy. But some filmmakers and backers, who apparently like films like this that don't register with most of the movie-going populace, apparently have the bucks to throw away.

So, every so often, Hollywood tries to foist something like this on the public. But most audiences can tell a treat from a turd.

School for Scoundrels

Lifemanship's ploys to make men out of mice
"School for Scoundrels" is a wonderful, sophisticated, very funny and entertaining British comedy. It's not a laugh-out-loud film, but one that will keep smiles and grins on many faces for most of its 90-plus minutes. The film has no fewer than four top British comedy actors of the day in meaty roles, with more in small parts. Ian Carmichael, Dennis Price, Alastair Sim and Terry-Thomas head the list, but Hattie Jacques, John Le Mesurier, and Peter Jones lead a supporting cast of wonderful comics of the period.

While not an out and out satire, the film has small needle pricks into aspects and facets of personalities and society. The subtitle of the film is, "How to Win Without Actually Cheating." Sims is Mr. S. Potter, founder and head of the College of Lifemanship. By its name and nature it's a school that promises to make men out of milquetoasts, successes out of failures, and winners out of losers.

In at least two of these groups is Ian Carmichael's Henry Palfrey. He's a good person who inherited and runs a small and successful business, established by his uncle. He is a member of a country club of sorts.

Palfrey is a badgered boss by Gloatbridge, the 32-year employee of the firm who rides herd over the small staff and keeps the books. They had agreed that Palfrey would only sign things and Gloatbridge would make all the decisions. The office staff, of course, fear Gloatbridge and have no respect whatsoever for Palfrey. Running to catch the bus one morning Palfrey collides with April Smith (played by Janette Scott) as she is getting off the bus. He is smitten by her and they start to date. When they encounter an acquaintance from his club, Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas), things turn out bad for Henry as he fumbles, stumbles and trips playing tennis with a calm and cool Raymond - all in front of April. Since Raymond has a hot sports car, Henry thinks he should have a car to impress April. And two con artist car salesmen take him for a ride, so to speak. Dennis Price and Peter Jones are very funny as Dunstan and Dudley of Winsome Welshmen used cars..

Now, the audience learns everything up to this point in flashback as Palfrey gives his background to Mr. Potter. The film opens with Palfrey getting off a train in Yeovil, England, and then following signs with pointing fingers to find the College of Lifemanship. It is there, under Mr. Potter's tutelage, that Palfrey hopes to become a man - that is, to be able to become assertive, stand up to the likes of all these others, and win his girl.

Throughout history there have been all sorts of programs to help people form character and traits to help them in life. This is not higher education of the universities. It's quite different than accumulating knowledge. Nor should this be confused with the finishing schools and prep schools that the wealthy young attend. Rather, it is learning personal, social and communication skills to help one in society, business or anywhere in life. In other words, to get along and to get ahead. Perhaps the best known of such programs has been that of Dale Carnegie. Countless men and women of all kinds and from all walks of life have taken Dale Carnegie courses. Carnegie's first book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" of 1936 opened the floodgates of self-improvement books and programs. One wonders if these didn't inspire or influence Stephen Potter's somewhat sardonic books upon which this film was based. It was Potter who coined "gamesmanship" and led to multiple neologisms of "-manship in the English language."

Well, the College of Lifemanship in this film operates on a somewhat twisted principle of self-help. While it does focus on learning and honing some personal things, these are more tricks or ploys, than skills. And their purpose is to help one rise above another person by making the other look bad or foolish. Among the classes and subjects in the College of Lifemanship are Partymanship, Gamesmanship (beginners and advanced), Woo-manship (beginners and advanced) and many more.

And from thereon it is a very amusing ride as one cheers on and shares in Palfrey's succeeding ventures that turn the tables on former opponents in life, and get revenge or settle scores with others. That is, until the end, when Potter is flummoxed by Palfrey's alteration of his system. Alastair Sim alone, will make one laugh just in his expressions as Mr. Potter. Here are some sample lines, beginning with Potter's welcome to the new class of misfits who are about to be retrofitted.

Mr. S. Potter, "Well, gentlemen, Lifemanship is the science of being one up on your opponent at all times. It's the art of making him feel that somewhere, somehow, he has become less than you - less desirable, less worthy, heh, less blessed... Who then, you will ask, are your opponents? Everybody in the world who is not you. And the purpose of your life must be to be one up on them. Because - and mark this well, he who is not one up, is one down."

Gloatbridge, "Here is the morning's business, sir. What I had ready on your desk at nine o'clock, but removed to a place of safety pending your arrival."

Henry Palfrey, at Winsome Welshmen used cars, "Well, is the company still in existence?" Dudley, "They went out of business because they were too good. You'll never find this kind of quality in a company that survived the Depression. Never." Dunstan, "Never!"

Henry Palfrey, "Well, frankly, Mr. Potter, I'm a failure." Mr. Potter, "Noooo?"

Mr. Potter, "Some of the most successful marriages are made up of people who scarcely talk to each other."

Raymond Delauney, "A tree in the middle of the road? Are you sure you know the way?"

Yolanda and the Thief

The film flopped with a musical ploy that fails, but the comedy makes it worthwhile
"Yolanda and the Thief" had a fine cast for a comedy musical, but its combination of fantasy, new or innovative dance efforts, and a fable setting doomed it from the start at the box office. Indeed, even many decades later and in the next century, the "artistic" and different dance and music sets and scenes seem strange. It was far from the modern, peppy and spirited dancing the Gene Kelly brought to the art. Something like it did survive, at least for a while as a fad on Broadway. But that type of modern or artistic stuff just hasn't been much of a crowd pleaser for entertainment. I think such expressionistic stuff works by itself in small theaters or on stage. But in stories or movies with any kind of plot, it clashes with the ongoing story. And that causes breaks in attention, focus, and enjoyment

So, this was a big box office flop, in spite of a significant cast. It apparently contributed to Lucille Bremer's career ending after she married. It's too bad, because the plot, even with some holes and needing some refining, is a very good one around which to build a very good musical comedy. Take out the fantasy and dream stuff, and put some numbers in the daytime and carnival life of the fictional country, and it could work.

I say that because of the script with some of the characters that make this a very funny comedy in places. And that raises it considerably. While all of the leads play the humor very well, one character stands out. Mildred Natwick as Aunt Amarilla is a riot in her comedic performance. This is a major supporting role that actually carries the film and keeps it from being a total flop. Others of the cast contribute nicely, especially Frank Morgan as Victor Trout and Leon Ames as Mr. Candle. His real identify wasn't hard to guess from the start, as I'm sure the producers intended.

Lucille Bremer was a very good dancer and a good actress; and when Fred Astaire doesn't even look great in dance numbers, one knows there's something wrong with the screenplay. All of the sheet waiving, garment fluttering and gimmickry in the dance routines are a terrible distraction and tend to quash what little real dancing there is. There is one very good scene when Yolanda surprises Johnny Riggs, who's posing as an angel under the name of Mr. Brown. She says it's to "remind him of his home," and the servant unveils a beautiful harp. Well, the musically trained and talented Astaire plays it and has a very nice dance routine around the harp.

So, the comedy alone, with some of the cleverness of the plot, carries this film so that many can enjoy it for the humor. Here are some favorite of many, many humorous lines in this film. Aunt Amarilla's constant state of confusion and her seeming indifference to it is sure to get many laughs or smiles.

Victor Trout, "Well, if that's her, this is the greatest retouching job on record."

Johnny Parkson Riggs, looking at Mr. Candle on the train, "The quiet one... I can't quite make out what his angle is. But he's the most dangerous of all. He's got an honest face."

Aunt Amarilla, "I wish to pay tribute here and now to others who deserve it. This gallant crew - they helped sail the ship while I, the captain, steered on the poop deck.... Or is it the bridge?"

Aunt Amarilla, "Emilio, can you ever forget that day 18 years ago when Miss Yolanda left?" Emilio, "I am sorry, Senora, but I have only been here for six months." Aunt Amarilla, "Yes, of course, I had you confused with him. You remember when Miss Yolanda left, don't you my good man?" Plumber (an unknown actor, unlisted character), "I do not belong here at all. I am only the plumber." Aunt Amarilla, turning to Yolanda, "Well, take my word for it - you left. But the main thing is, you're back."

Victor Trout, "You could be the greatest crook in the world, but not if you get mixed up with a woman."

Johnny Riggs, pushing the taxi, "We've traveled five miles and I've yet to get in the cab."

Johnny Riggs, "How much do you want for us to push you back to town?" Taxi driver, "I make you a flat rate."

Aunt Amarilla, to Yolanda, "You'll love the Blue Room." Housekeeper, "But, senora, you are already in the Blue Room." Aunt Amarilla, "You would have loved the Blue Room."

Aunt Amarilla, "Is he here?" Yolanda, "Yes and no." Aunt, "How can a man be here and not be here?"

Johnny Riggs, "What're you doing, having a nightmare?" Victor Trout, "Me? I was just about to float you back form wherever you were. When you have a nightmare, you sure keep busy." Johnny, "Oh! Oh what a jam I was in."

Yolanda, "I wouldn't try to stop Mr. Brown. If we wishes to enter this house, nothing can stop him - no walls, no doors, no,... no locks, nothing." Aunt Amarilla, "Oh, one of those, is he. Well, I know how to deal with him."

Aunt Amarilla, "Oh, my dear, you're just overwrought. A girl on the verge of being a bride is a frightening thing. I know. I've been on the verge constantly."

Aunt Amarilla, "I thought there was something strange about Mr. Brown. But I wouldn't be in any hurry to rush back to that nunnery, if I were you. This is one of the nicest love letters I've ever seen."

Johnny Riggs, "But she knows I'm a crook. The whole thing is impossible." Mr. Candle, "Young man, sometimes you try my patience. I've just made a flood, washed out a bridge, caused a train to turn back, and you have the nerve to sit there and tell me that something is impossible."

Wonder Man

An agoraphobiac meets his lapsed monozygotic twin, with many laughs
Danny Kaye made fewer than 30 movies in his career, including five feature films for television. But he was without a doubt one of the most talented performers and best film comedians of all time. His talent included acting, dancing, singing, and multiple abilities with comedy. He was the king of the comical tongue-twisters, and a superbly funny imitator of many languages and cultures.

"Wonder Man" is a very good film, even though the quirky plot has a somewhat dark aspect that the screenplay doesn't resolve. Kaye's performance and the comedy make the movie, with some wonderful help by a first-rate supporting cast. This is one of two films in which Kaye played double characters - two men who looked alike. The later film, "On the Riviera" of 1951 is one of the best of his films that showcase his broad range of talents. The plot for this film isn't as good for that purpose, and the screenplay doesn't have the level of witty dialog and antics that Kaye would reach in his future films. Especially, when his wife, Sylvia Fine, began to write and create his parts.

Here, Kaye plays super-identical twins, with opposite personalities. Buster is a night club performer who goes by the name of Buzzy Ballew. After he witnessed a murder and was going to testify against the crime boss who did it, he gets bumped off. His ghost then appears to twin brother, Edwin Dingle, coaxing him to bring the bad guys to justice. Naturally, the mild-mannered, studious and shy Edwin can't just change overnight. So, Buzzy has to enter Edwin's body.

From then on, the film goes back and forth between the two characters and personalities. Similar films have been made, and while some of it is humorous, it's not quite perfect. And of course there have to be two women in the picture - the fellow performer who wants Buzzy, and the quiet librarian who wants Edwin. Isn't it interesting how the romantic interests match the different male characters? (Joke) Buzzy and Midge have a routine together at The Pelican Club. David Rose provides the music for this film, and the show part has a number, the Bali Boogie, and Kaye's Edwin (or Buzzy?) does a very funny rendition of Otchi Tchornya.

The rest of the cast are excellent. Virginia Mayo was paired with Kaye more than any other actress as the female lead, and she plays Ellen Shanley, the librarian. Vera-Ellen is Buzzy's show partner, Midge Mallon. The club owner, who also has eyes for Midge, is Donald Woods as Monte Rossen. S. Z. Sakall is Schmidt, the deli owner. Allen Jenkins and Edward Brophy are the two hitmen, Chimp and Torso, who knock off Buzzy. Steve Cochran plays the crime boss, Ten Grand Jackson; and the district attorney is played by Otto Kruger.

This is a fun film with many good laughs and some good music and dance numbers. Here are my favorite lines from the film.

Monte Rossen, to Buzzy Ballew (Buster Dingle), "Save the comedy until you get on."

Buzzy Ballew (Buster Dingle), speaking of his brother, Edwin, to girlfriend Midge Mallon, "He's a bookworm. You're much better off with me. I'm just a worm."

Woman in Library (Sarah Selby, uncredited), "You had me go through all these books on ancient Rome and there's nothing - not a word about Anaxamoras." Ellen Shanley, "Madam, I'm doing my best. I've never heard of Anaxamoras." Edwin Dingle, "I don't wish to intrude, but it's Anaxagoras, with a 'G.'" Woman, "Oh, is it really?" Edwin Dingle, "Yes. He was born in Clazomenae in 500 B. C. Anaxagoras was a disciple of Anaximones and a friend of Socrates and Pericles. He died in 420 B. C. at Lampascus."

Woman in Library, "Oh, good heavens. He writes with both hands."

Woman in Library, "Why does he write with two hands?" Ellen Shanley, "He says it saves time."

Edwin Dingle, "I can't come. I couldn't think of it. I've got agoraphobia, a mental fear of crowds, especially women. Worst case ever recorded in the annals of psychiatry."

Edwin Dingle, "We're monozygotic twins." Ellen Shanley, "No! That sounds frightening. What are those?" Edwin, "Super identical. It's a rare biological phenomenon."

Bus Passenger (Kenner G. Kemp, uncredited), "You live in Brooklyn?" Edwin Dingle, "No." Passenger, "Then why are you going to Brooklyn?" Edwin, "Oh, I'm not." Passenger, "Well, the bus is." Edwin, "Oh, no, the bus is going to Schmidt's Delicatessen." Passenger, "It is? What for?" Edwin, "Potato salad."

Edwin Dingle, "I don't want to go to Brooklyn." Bus driver, "None of us want to, bud, but we all gotta go sooner or later."

Edwin Dingle, "Buster? Buster, this is wonderful." Buzzy Ballew (Buster Dingle), "Wonderful? Ho, ho, it's murder." Edwin, "After ten years to meet you here of all places - Brooklyn." Buzzy, "Yeah."

Edwin Dingle, "Do you remember you once told me you wouldn't be found dead in Brooklyn?" Buzzy Ballew, "Yeah, I remember. That was the only way they could get me here."

Buzzy Ballew, "Well, why worry. They can't do anything to me now. They killed me last night."

Ellen Shanley, "Only yesterday he was just a nice, sweet, ordinary genius."

Ellen Shanley, "You know, I read in Martin's Notes on American Geology, that the tremendous flow of water over Niagara Falls removes the sub-alluvial soil at the rate of two and three-tenths feet a year." Edwin Dingle (or is it Buzzy?), "You know, honey, what you need is to get away from musty old books."

Jurassic Park III

Modest monster sci-fi still entertains those who enjoy this type
"Jurassic Park III" is the third film of the trilogy that began with Jurassic Park in 1993, based on Michael Crichton's novel of the same title. But for some of the characters, a couple of lead actors who return from the first film, and the various dinosaurs, there is nothing in this plot that resembles the book. This series has followed the usual path of such successful stories. After the sequel of the original story, which usually contains the same characters but extends the plot in time, subsequent films are new stories. Other writers devise a plot that continues with most of the same original characters and or settings.

In this film, the main villain dinosaur, T-rex, is replaced by another nasty character, Spinosaurus. That and a little different story of the human element, don't give much new or exciting for this film. Although it also made money for the producers at the box office, it wasn't anything on the order of the original film or the sequel.

Those who enjoy monster sci-fi films, as I do, should like this film. But by this time, the fright factor, so important in getting the original film its huge popularity, is toned down a great deal. That's because audiences know what to expect and are looking for the scary scenes.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

"Jurassic Park" sequel with some new cast and more monsters
"The Lost World: Jurassic Park," like the vast majority of Hollywood sequels isn't nearly as good as the original film. That doesn't meant it isn't also good and enjoyable. And, in the genre of sci-fi this still is an interesting and enjoyable film. Of course, without the dinosaurs, especially the vicious monsters, this would be a cute fairy tale.

Jeff Goldblum returns with some new faces in this second film of what would become a trilogy and eventually lead into more films. Of course by that time, except for the setting and the subjects - revived dinosaurs from DNA, the films have gone far beyond the novel by Michael Crichton that started it all. But without his idea and masterful storytelling, there wouldn't be these fantastic sci-fi and adventure stories to tell.

This second film has some more intrigue with Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Vince Vaughn added to the cast. What's not to like about scary monsters making mayhem. Of course, there are bad guys that lead the problems in this film. As with the original, this one is most enjoyed on the giant screens. If it doesn't show anywhere soon to see it in a theater, the bigger the home wall screen the better.

The Groom Wore Spurs

The lawyer rescues the phony Hollywood cowboy star
"The Groom Wore Spurs" is a comedy romance that most who enjoy comedies should enjoy. It was made by a Poverty Row studio where Jack Carson could get lead roles from time to time. Carson was a very good actor, and played some wonderful supporting roles in comedies. And, Ginger Rogers, who has billing ahead of him here, was still making films for various studies during the years toward the end of the musicals in which she appeared, especially dancing with Fred Astaire.

The plot for this film is quite wacky, but not solid enough with a very good screenplay to make the grade as a screwball comedy. The script is very loose and not tightly written, and the direction and production leave room for much improvement. But Caron and Rogers do well together for comedy, and the dialog has just enough comedy to put this film over. It's not worth running out to buy, but if one comes across it on one of the TV movie channels, it can be a fun flick. It has no small amount of poking at the film industry for its hyping of stars.

In this case, it's Carson who plays Ben Castle, a celebrity Western cowboy star. He even needs help getting on a horse, and the only thing he likes about the West is chuck wagon food. Carson's public image has to be maintained, so he talk with a Western drawl. Ginger Rogers is Abigail (A. J.) Furnival, a young attorney, who gets mixed up with the carousing Castle to help him settle a gambling debt. Well, they get hitched quite soon, and the comedy starts after that.

Here are the best lines.

Last Vegas Hotel Desk Clerk, "Oh, uh, Mr. Castle." Ben Castle, "Hmmm?" Clerk, "If you are planning on entertaining any friends in the hotel this weekend, uh, remember hotel furniture costs money too."

A. J. Furnival, "No, that's all right. I trust you." Ben Castle, 'You do?" Abigail, "Intrinsically.

A. J. Furnival, "Oh, he doesn't want a wife. He doesn't need one. What he needs is somebody to grab hold of him and make a man out of him." Alice Dean, A. J.'s roommate, "Well, don't they call those things wives?"

Alice Dean, "Don't you know the one way a woman =can really get even with a man is by living with him?"

Mrs. Forbes, "Mr. Castle, I think you shod be embalmed and I've just received notice." Ben Castle, still in be, "Hmmmm?" Mrs. Forbes, yelling, "I've just received notice." Ben Castle, "ell, aren't you a little too old for the draft?" Mrs. Forbes, "I'm not talking about the draft, Mr. Castle. I've just been discharged." Ben Castle, "Already? But, hu.. how can you be discharged before you're drafted?"

Ben Castle, "Can I look sad in this picture? I feel happier that way. Oh, well."

Ben Castle, "You, uh, do you like chuck wagon food?" Abigail Furnival, "Mm hmm. You?" Ben, "It's the only thing about the West I do like."

Jurassic Park

The king of the monster sci-fi flicks, with the top director and athor in the field
"Jurassic Park" clearly deserved all the awards it received for special effects - visual, sound and editing. The entire production team contributed to one of the best sci-fi films ever made. And, without a doubt, it's the best monster sci-fi film ever made well into the 21st century. I can't think of another creature feature that seemed so real. While CGI was obviously very important in making this picture, the realism has to be attributed as much to the fantastic models of the dinosaurs created for the film - especially the main villain, T-Rex.

This film took the development and use of animatronics to a new level. These are robotic types of models able that can be moved, for sequences of shots that make them seem to come to life. The effect, with actual creations is much more realistic than CGI. People can see videos of the creation and making of T-Rex online. People can see videos of the creation and making of the big guy online.

The basis of the film, and a succession of sequels and all sorts of spinoffs, of course is the 1990 novel of the same title by Michael Crichton. Crichton (1942-2008) was a Harvard Medical school graduate and M. D. But he never practiced medicine in favor of a flourishing, driven writing career. He was the master storyteller of sci-fi thrillers, especially plots around medicine and the physical sciences. Of his 26 novels, 13 have been made into films. He also wrote several original screenplays, and directed and produced films. His first smash film success was "The Andromeda Strain" of 1971. Jurassic Park is by far the most successful book and film, but his books by 2020 had sold more than 200 million copies.

Crichton and Stephen Spielberg became friends while working on this and other films. While having great directing talent across many genres, Spielberg has had a particular flair for sci-fi films. The Jurassic Park series are the most prominent, but others of his productions include "Firelight" of 1964, "E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial" of 1982, "Twilight Zone, The Movie" of 1983, "Gremlins" of 1984, "Back to the Future" of 1985, "Innerspace" of 1987, "batteries not included" of 1987, and sequels of some of these and more.

All of the aspects of this film are excellent. And all of the cast are superb. The plot is simple and while many, many more have reviewed and commented on this film, I decided this late just to give the recognition to the author and director, both of whom have a repertoire of films that will last and be enjoyed far into the future. And as for seeing this film, anyone who has not yet seen it on a theater screen should watch for any such opportunity in the future. This is the type of film that misses the grand scale of the subject on TV screens, even the large flat wall screens. Dinosaurs, especially in "Jurassic Park," and its sequels, should be seen on the big screen for maximum enjoyment.


This has the ugliest and scariest sci-fi monster of all time cinema
Coming at the end of the 1970s, "Alien" was the first really great sci-fi monster film since the 1950s. That was "the" decade of sci-fi monster flicks that produced some films with fantastic fright factors. Those were some of the best date movies ever - speaking from experience, as girls would huddle close to their boyfriends or dates watching "The Blob" seep through air vents of the movie theater on the screen. "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" of 1954, "The Thing from Another World" of 1951, "It Came From Beneath the Sea" of 1955 were some of the best sci-fi monster films of the decade that had high fright factors. Of course, there were some films that verged almost on the comical. And some others were outlandish but nevertheless had decent frightful scenes. "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and "The Black Scorpion" of 1957 come to mind.

Well, this film, "Alien," restored the fright factor in sci-fi monster movies, and may have spiked interest in more such films, judging from the stepped up output through the end of the century and into the 21st century. As others have noted, it was the breakout film for Sigourney Weaver's career, and deservedly so. All of the cast are good in this story that topped all previous monster films for horror in its namesake alien. Not until Jurassic Park four years later was there such a heinous monster created. Yet, even with the scary T-Rex of that film, the alien monster in this film still stands out as the ugliest, scariest of monsters of all time cinema.

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