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The Eagle

Good But Not Without Problems
Russian lieutenant Vladimir Dubrovsky (Rudolph Valentino) vows vengeance against a man named Kyrilla (James A. Marcus) after Kyrilla used treachery to steal Dubrovsky land, which left his father a dying, ruined man. Eventually hiding his face under a mask and assuming the identity "The Black Eagle", he and his band of followers set out to bring down Kyrilla. However Dubrovsky has even more reason to hide his face because having offended the Czarina of Russia by spurning her affections, she has issued a warrant for his arrest dead or alive for desertion from his regiment. Further complicating Dubrovsky's plans is he unexpectedly winds up falling in love with Kyrilla's daughter Mascha (Vilma Bánky).

Well it's certainly unpredictable, you have to say that. This one certainly has plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing what might befall our hero next. Valentino it cannot be denied is excellent in the lead role as an heroic bandit with irresistible charm. This does deliver romance and some tense moments for our ill-fated lovers. The problem here is that really "The Black Eagle" never quite seems to deliver the goods when it comes to action, his most impressive moments firing a shot at a key moment and as expected coming to the rescue of his damsel in distress time and time again. Also the ending doesn't quite seem to ring true given previously established events in our story. Still certainly not bad of its type, just a straightforward romantic adventure, almost fairytale-like, in a fashion.

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Much better than I expected.
A nine year old Brooklyn boy nicknamed "Ceddie" (Freddie Bartholomew), beloved by all who know him due to his kindly nature, finds himself in for a most unexpected change of lifestyle when he learns he's to be heir to the estate of his grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith), a British Earl and has to move in with him. A bigger challenge for the boy to overcome though is to bring down the barrier between his stubborn, set in his ways grandfather and Ceddie's mother "Dearest" (Dolores Costello), who the Earl resents his son marrying as she's an American.

This one really grabs you by the heartstrings and doesn't let up. Freddie Bartholomew is simply wonderful as "Ceddie", wonderfully capturing his character and winning over the viewing audience's hearts in fairly short time, no easy feat for a child star. C. Aubrey Smith too is just marvelous as the crotchety old grandfather who finds his stubborn, hard-hearted, icy exterior being worn away just by being in the presence of such a terrific young lad who loves him unconditionally. Dolores Costello too was nicely cast and delivers the goods when she's called upon to do so. It's the likable performances given by these stars that make this a real winner in that we're truly made to care about these characters and what happens to them.

The Black Pirate

Pirate yarns don't get much better than this.
Douglas Fairbanks Sr. stars in this exciting, action-packed swashbuckling pirate adventure yarn, as a young man seeking revenge on a band of pirates after they ransacked and destroyed his ship, killing his father. In trying to achieve his goal, he tricks the pirates into thinking he wants to join their band. Will this ruse work?

This delivers all the thrills and cutthroat pirate action anyone could ever hope for and even more. It has all the elements one looks for and wants from today's big blockbusters: impressive stunts mostly performed by Fairbanks himself, sword fights, pirate treachery, explosions, daring underwater scenes, a damsel in distress, the works. There's a few plot holes and questionable plot twists here and there but it all holds up incredibly well after all these years although in today's world lead actress Billie Dove would have been given more to do. That's a minor nitpick at best. If you like pirate yarns, check this out. Believe me, they just don't get much better than this.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Good But Dated Adaptation
Sir Percy Blakeney is leading a secret double life. Pretending to everyone in the public eye, including his own wife, that he is a silly British fop, he is in reality the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel, a man devoted, despite the threat to his own head, to helping free the innocence condemned to the guillotine during the French Terror!

Overall this is very well done and features a very capable cast particularly lead Leslie Howard in the challenging dual role and Raymond Massey, who has a great turn as lead villain/spy for the French Republic Citizen Chauvelin for which he seems perfectly cast. Merle Oberon too does quite well and looks quite fetching as Blakeney's befuddled wife.

The problem with this is it feels a bit too static, a bit too talky as was often the case with many early sound pictures. There's just a bit more exposition at times than really seems necessary. This slows the action down a bit to the point things actually get a little dull on occasion. That said, there's enough fun to be found in this one that makes it well worth watching especially those scenes featuring Howard's Blakeney, particularly when he uses some means of disguise or another to fool those pursuing him or uses his foppish charm to throw Chauvelin off his trail.

The Time of Your Life

Ahead of Its Time
Nick's Saloon, Restaurant and Entertainment Palace sure attracts some strange and eccentric characters, some looking for work and others just looking for something to help them pass away the day.

There's something that proves surprisingly charming about this film. It's offbeat, doesn't quite seem to fit with the time in which it was made but there's just something here that tends to endear this movie to the viewer, especially on repeated viewings and to be honest, I found quite a bit of humor in it too. Perhaps it's because its eccentric characters seem to ring true in more ways than one as they often seem like just the unexpected offbeat sort you just might have run into in a place like Nick's in said time and era. Maybe it's because offbeat eccentrics certainly are not a rarity in today's world and it becomes easy to relate to events here, strange and bewildering as they often are. James Cagney steals the show as Joe, whose hobby is people, in a role quite atypical for him but really it's the collection and interaction featuring all involved that grabs your interest.

A Farewell to Arms

Let's Love Tonight, We May Not Have Tomorrow.
Gary Cooper stars as Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during World War I. There he meets and falls in love with a nurse named Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes) but the war looms heavy over the couple's chances for happiness.

While this movie feels a bit dated and the war scenes go on too long and seem to be too darkly lit, this is epic romance that ultimately proves hard to take one's eyes off. You root for the characters and want to overcome the odds despite all that stands in their way making the final reality of what ultimately happens all the more potent. A real tear-jerker for the soft hearted this one. Great romance! Let's love tonight for we may not have tomorrow...the harsh reality of war.

Captain Kidd

Lackluster, too much talk, not enough action.
Fictionalized account of Captain Kidd has him looking to gain entry into favored English society after tricking the king to commission him as escort to a ship coming from India loaded with treasure. Of course, Kidd (here played with gusto by Charles Laughton) has his eyes set firmly on gaining much of said treasure for himself without the king even realizing what's he done.

Despite Laughton's best efforts and boisterous acting performance and an all star cast including Randolph Scott, Barbara Britton, John Carradine and even Henry Daniell in a short role as the King, this never rises above being just average at best. In terms of a swashbuckler, this has one sword fight that's much too short. In terms of action of the high seas, the sea battles prove all too brief. Mostly this features talking between characters to further advance the plot. In short, there's way too much posturing and talk and nowhere near enough action. Overall, it's surprisingly dull.

The Son of Monte Cristo

Swashbuckler Fun
Dashing Edmund Dantes Jr. (Louis Hayward), the son of the famed Count of Monte Cristo, uses the masked guise of the Torch to come to the aid of his beloved the fair Zona (Joan Bennett), royal grand duchess of Lichtenburg in an attempt to rescue both her and her country from falling into the hands of a determined dictator named General Gurko Lanen (George Sanders) who would be king and force poor Zona to be his queen.

While this is pretty typical fare of its type, that doesn't make this swashbuckler any less entertaining. This certainly manages to capture one's interest and imagination throughout, its supporting players even proving more than up to said task particularly Ian Wolfe as Stadt and Montagu Love as Baron Von Neuhoff. In the end, while this does deliver the expected goods in terms of lush scenery, a dashing daring do lead hero in Hayward and a devious, devilishly clever lead villain in Sanders, exciting climactic swordplay and further action and intrigue and even perhaps some symbolism of the political intrigue at work in the world at the time this was filmed, it really offers up very few actual surprises and proves far too predictable overall. Regardless, this proves a most enjoyable film experience.

That Gang of Mine

Better Than I Expected
Streetwise Muggs Maloney (Leo Gorcey) has dreams of becoming a world class jockey and finally gets his chance after befriending a kindly old poor black man named Ben (Clarence Muse) who just happens to possess and take care of a championship thoroughbred race horse.

This movie proves far more dramatic than most East Side Kids films with a fine performance from Clarence Muse as wise old Ben, who acts as a sort of adviser/mentor for Muggs and shows considerable care for him, something which is not lost on Leo Gorcey's Muggs either. The type of friendship displayed here was arguably ahead of its time in many respects. Leo Gorcey too does surprisingly well in this more dramatic role displaying the inner struggle going on in Muggs when he has to try and come to grips with his fear of racing and also his fear of letting everyone down.

While no doubt some may be a bit disappointed the humor more or less takes a back seat to the drama in this one, it actually proves a far more effective drama, and director Joseph H. Lewis does manage to keep an exciting focus on the horse racing too, than I thought was possible from many involved.

The Paleface

Keaton Amongst the Indians.
After having their land unscrupulously stolen from them by greedy oil sharks, a tribe of Native American Indians vows to kill the next white man who comes into their presence. Said white man turns out to be an unknowing Buster Keaton seeking butterflies for his collection.

This movie is basically a live-action cartoon. It features the type of chase and stunt sequences one more expects from Looney Tunes only here its accomplished in live action via a series of daring stunts and surprisingly well accomplished special effects sequences. These are pulled off much better than I though would be even possible for the time and era.

Overall this short may not be as humorous as many of Keaton's other efforts but it sure doesn't lack in terms of its overall entertainment value due to the above mentioned dangerous stunt sequences that seem more fitting for a cartoon than live action, the best of which involves Buster being thrown over a cliff and creating a makeshift bridge across a gorge.

The Inspector General

Danny Kaye steals show.
An illiterate buffoon named Georgi (Danny Kaye), part of a traveling Gypsy medicine sideshow in Eastern Europe somehow winds up mistaken for the all-powerful, visiting Inspector General whose assignment from Emperor Napoleon is to root out all evil and corruption in every town he visits. Of course, the town's officials, thoroughly corrupt to the core, are terrified by his presence and do everything they can to impress him and throw him off their trail. Georgi meanwhile is thoroughly confused but not above accepting the good hospitality especially given how hungry and down on his luck he's been. Of course, being an Inspector General also means you're a target and much danger looms for Georgi.

No mistaking this is the Danny Kaye show all the way. The rest of the cast including Elsa Lancaster, Gene Lockhart, Alan Hale and Walter Slezak are all good no doubt but it's Kaye's singing, dancing and comedy routines that prove this film's main focus. How much you enjoy it probably depends on how much you enjoy Kaye's brand of humor. I have to admit at times it goes on much too long, almost to the point of annoyance, but there's a kind of innocence about Kaye's Georgi character here that one is able to ultimately forgive this more often than not. Favorite bits: The "Be Arrogant, Be Elegant, Be Smart" section and the Gyspy drinking song.

The Scarlet Letter

Dreary, Melodramatic Bore
In 1642 Puritan America, a woman named Hester Prynne (Colleen Moore) is forced to wear a mark of shame, a Scarlet Letter "A" on her chest after being found guilty of adultery after bearing a child two years after her husband disappeared thought lost at sea. The truth is known to only two others, the town's beloved Reverand Dimmesdale (Hardie Albright) who happens to be in reality secretly the child's father and Hester's returned husband Dr. Roger Chillingworth (Henry B. Walthall), who assumes that identity rather than be shamed by a cheating wife. Chillingworth is determined to gain a measure of revenge by trying to make the lives of Hester and the Reverand as miserable as he possibly can.

While this movie may be faithful to its source material, it's overall a dreary, melodramatic bore for most of its running time. Albright's sometimes hammy performance as Dimmesdale seems particularly overdone. Moore does try as Hester Prynne but ultimately the role proves fairly plain, simple and unmemorable overall. Only those comedic bits featuring Alan Hale and William Kent added here and there to lighten the mood makes this the least bit viewable at all.

Long John Silver

"Argh! A Land Lubber I'll Never Be!!"
Robert Newton returns once again to his famous role from TREASURE ISLAND, that of Long John Silver. Once more he chews the scenery with gusto and is just grand fun to watch in this particular role any time you can catch him.

This time Long John sets out to save young Jim Hawkins (played by Kit Taylor who sadly doesn't possess the memorable screen presence that his predecessor Bobby Driscoll put into the role) from a cutthroat pirate named "El Toro" Mendoza (Lloyd Berrell) but also added into the mix are a slightly more memorable crew of pirates following after Long John's lead and Long John's frequently comedic interactions with his main squeeze Purity Pinker (Connie Gilchrist), who has her eyes firmly set on marriage and settling down the old sea Captain. Things become truly adventurous when the band of pirates set out for a return to Treasure Island and meet up with some most unexpected surprises and obstacles along the way.

In many ways, this unofficial sequel to the classic Walt Disney film, has a more gritty, real down to Earth feel about it although it really adds little new to the mix. Still any boy who ever dreamed of pirates and searching for lost treasure should find much to enjoy here. Great fun overall, Newton is just a pure delight to watch in this entertaining, surprisingly well-written and executed boys fantasy brought to life.

The Kid

Chaplin and Coogan = Winning Combination
Charlie Chaplin is a Tramp in this one who suddenly finds himself unexpectedly saddled with the unwanted responsibility of looking after an orphaned child. At first resistant to such an idea, the Tramp eventually comes to love and appreciate the child's happy presence in his life, an otherwise dark and dreary existence. However things get complicated when the child's birth mother comes looking for him.

This enjoyable comedy romp also has lots of drama and delivers not only laughs but gut-wrenching sad moments and delightfully happy ones. This isn't just comedic silliness but deals with real world serious issues such as poverty demonstrating how love can surpass most any bounds and/or limitations. Jackie Coogan as the five-year old version of the kid is an absolute delight and plays off of Charlie and his Tramp character wonderfully. Just a terrific job from a young talent who never once becomes annoying or irritating to the viewing audience as so many children in films often seem to do.

The General

A terrific film. So enjoyable it's hard to take one's eyes off it.
Buster Keaton stars in this classic silent film, which he also helped write and direct, as Johnny Gray, engineer on the General, a train that runs the railroad throughout the South. When the Civil War moves into his territory, Johnny wishes to enlist along with his main squeeze's father and brother. However finds he cannot because they consider him more valuable to the South as an engineer aboard his train. Eventually, when Union soldiers, disguised as Confederates steal his General, Johnny takes off in pursuit after them and soon finds himself one man against an army of Union soldiers!

With Buster Keaton involved in a silent era film, you know it's more than likely going to deliver the laughs and this does aplenty. Never does it fail to amuse even when it's slowly building up to its next big laugh. Plus this also has thrills, excitement, romance, and all the elements you could ever want in any action thriller all with a lead whose so funny and ingeniously entertaining that it's hard to take one's eyes off of him even when he's just sitting around doing nothing. His expressions and body language insure we always have a good idea of what's going through his mind and his heart at practically all times making this arguably one of the best films ever made.

Managed Money

Painfully Unfunny.
Mary Lou (Shirley Temple)'s older brother Sonny (Frank Coghlan Jr.) wants desperately to go to a coveted military school along with his buddy Sidney but his Dad cannot afford it. This doesn't deter Sonny however who hatches up a scheme to go prospecting for gold so his Dad will have money to pay for his education at the institute. Mary Lou, ever getting into trouble, decides to stow away in the back of Sonny's old car.

This whole short is built on and relies on the prospect of Temple's being cute enough to entertain most viewers and get a laugh because there's sure very little else here to really laugh about. Temple's meeting with the crazy "gold prospector" in the desert is more often uncomfortable than funny and all attempts made here at comedy feel far too forced to be the least bit effective. Only required viewing if you like to see a young Shirley Temple being cute.

Gulliver's Travels

Beautifully Animated But Disappointing Overall in Terms of Its Story Presentation
Lemuel Gulliver, his ship wrecked in a fantastic storm, washes ashore on the island of Lilliput, inhabited by people so tiny that Gulliver is a giant in their eyes. Soon Gulliver finds himself entangled in a war between Lilliput and neighboring Blefuscu, all brought about because the two kings of these lands couldn't decide which song was to be sung at the wedding of their two beloved children, who happen to be deeply in love with one another.

The animation is often breathtaking here especially when it focuses on the fairytale like romance between Prince David and Princess Glory. Unfortunately we never fully learn their back story or get to see much of them at all except when it's absolutely necessary to advance the plot. The rotoscoping process used for Gulliver is also fascinating to watch both in terms of its historical significance and the interesting visual impression of realism it creates on screen.

However Jonathan Swift's satirical story is almost completely sacrificed here in favor of fairytale fantasy which arguably borrows more from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet than it does Gulliver's Travels. Its main focus also is on the wrong character, a town crier named Gabby who isn't particularly appealing to the viewer. Too many of the other far more interesting and fun characters get sacrificed to make room for him. Actually the best fun here comes the two kings and their interactions with one another not to mention the hijinks that goes on between Belfuscu spies Sneak, Snoop, and Snitch. Gulliver himself is reduced to friendly giant peacemaker. Prince David does get a great moment towards the end. Of course, it would have had far more impact of the viewer was actually made to care about him.

The Racketeer

Early Talkie Better Than Most of Its Era
A beautiful, down and out former social débutante named Rhoda Philbrooke (Carol Lombard), who fell out of favor when she left her wealthy husband for a musician, is helped by a racketeer/mob boss named Mahlon Keane (Robert Armstrong), a man who seems to find his only real happiness in helping others with his ill gotten gain. Rhoda needs help to cure her musician Tony Vaughan (Roland Drew)'s alcohol addiction.

Not surprisingly the story soon turns into something of a romantic triangle cliché as Keane falls in love with Rhoda too. As early talkies go, this movie is better done than most. It moves pretty briskly and is an interesting curio in that it shows so much sympathy to the plight of a divorced débutante and an unhappy, unsatisfied gangster boss. Overall though, it's never credible enough to be fully satisfying but still its story makes for some good melodrama.

A Star Is Born

An entertaining film but March steals the show
A young country girl named Ester Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) arrives in Hollywood filled with dreams of becoming a famous movie starlet. However, she gets nowhere until she's noticed by famous movie star Norman Maine (Fredric March), a performer on his way down in terms of popular appeal. The two fall in love but just as Ester's star, under the stage name Vicki Lester begins to rise, Maine's begins to fade.

The best thing about this film is the performance given by Fredric March as actor Norman Maine. He nails the inner emotional turmoil going on inside his character and makes him always sympathetic to the viewer even as Maine falls in and out of sobriety. It's Maine's character that proves most interesting to the viewer here as March completely steals the film away from star Janet Gaynor.

Gaynor doesn't prove quite as appealing or convincing in her lead role as Ester Blodgett/Vicki Lester and honestly it's hard to see why the public should favor her so. Maybe this was to symbolize the fickleness of the public in that they should prefer a pretty new face over a talented older one. Who knows? Nevertheless Gaynor just doesn't ever prove as appealing here in her role as she should.

Let's Get Tough!

The East Side Kids vs. The Japs
Propaganda pro-American war effort film that came out in 1942 has the East Side Kids getting tough against any Japanese they spot in their own neighborhood when they learn they're too young to enlist. Ultimately they learn they were mistaken in their mistrust of some individuals but also happen to stumble across a spy ring they then set out to bust. The film is harmless enough in its fashion although some may well take offense given how innocent Asians really did get singled out during the Second World War. Overall though, it's a pretty generic effort and both Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall would have better moments, the best of which tend to come here when they ad-lib.

Brideless Groom

Shemp at his Finest.
A Three Stooges short, this one featuring Shemp. Of all those involving Shemp I've seen, this is my favorite performance by him in a Stooges short. The basic plot is that Shemp must get married by 6 o'clock that very evening if he's to inherit the half a million dollars a rich uncle left him in his will. So Shemp sets out to get himself a bride but finds it a tougher road than expected, that is until they learn of his inheritance money. Best bits here involve Shemp shaving, Shemp and Moe in a telephone booth and Larry on piano as accompaniment to Shemp's voice-training session. Also the sequence where Shemp is mistaken as Cousin Basil and its outcome proves hilarious.

The Last Time I Saw Paris

Not Bad if a Bit Too Melodramatic
Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson star as a pair of tragic, lovestruck Americans who fall in love in Paris following the end of World War II. Johnson's character, a newspaper correspondent, is haunted by the fact he can never seem to get that first novel published while Taylor's character is youthful and wants only to live each day to the fullest. The film glosses over bits and pieces of their lives together using a flashback as the key means of accomplishing this. At times, it seems a bit too melodramatic in terms of its emotional presentation and really too much of the story is quickly brushed over and not examined in enough depth but there was a lot of ground to cover here and no doubt they wanted a tighter paced film. Overall it's a pretty good movie with some quality performances from Van Johnson, Elizabeth Taylor, Donna Reed as Taylor's sister who's disappointed Johnson didn't pick her over Taylor, Walter Pidgeon as the girls' father who also embraces the live every day as though it were your last philosophy and finally Eva Gabor and Roger Moore as infidelity temptation for the married couple.

Jane Eyre

Not a good adaptation of Jane Eyre But I Still Liked It At Times.
This film examines the life of Jane Eyre, quickly brushing over her childhood and early life in Lowood and focusing more on her life after becoming governess at Thornfield Hall.

While the lovely Virginia Bruce was definitely miscast in the role of Jane Eyre, who was supposed to be somewhat plain, and really Colin Clive as Edward Rochester was miscast too, at times I still enjoy this movie's fanciful romantic moments focusing on their two characters.

Personally I found great humor in some of the early scenes featuring the Jane Eyre character in this movie, scenes that do help to endear her to the majority of the viewing audience so that we come to root for her throughout the film.

Many of the later scenes at Thornfield Hall focusing on a strange, mysterious secret hidden in a section of the house provide moments more akin to those one expects from the Horror films of the era which some fans of that genre may well enjoy.

Ultimately the way the movie just touches briefly on so much makes the story sometimes feel somewhat incomplete and an abrupt ending that doesn't match the expectation built up in the viewing audience ultimately will prove a letdown to many.

The Night Stalker

One of the Best TV Movies Ever Produced.
A former big city reporter hoping to re-establish himself in the public eye believes he's landed the biggest story in history when he comes face to face with what he believes must be a real live vampire! Darren McGavin stars in what is perhaps his best, most career defining role as Carl Kolchak here for the very first time. The argumentative, scruffy, set in his ways but ever-determined reporter who wants to get his story and the facts out for the public to read despite the best efforts of all around him, including his editor, the police chief, the district attorney and the local sheriff, to keep him reigned in and the truth seemingly under wraps for the sake of their own necks.

Aside from McGavin's terrific lead performance as a character he seemed born to play, we also have on hand here many fine character actors including Claude Akins, Kent Smith, Ralph Meeker and Charles McGraw. It even boosts superior character actors in bit parts including the ever entertaining Elisha Cook Jr. and Stanley Adams.

The only element here that truly feels out of place is Carol Lynley in the role of Kolchak's unlikely girlfriend Gail Foster. She doesn't seem to fit into the character's universe well at all. Also some may argue the vampire Janos Skorzeny (played with gusto by Barry Atwater) is more than a bit underdeveloped but personally I think they made the right move keeping him mysterious, almost unstoppable, like a not normally noticed monster lurking in the shadows. He seems to be a little more akin to Nosferatu but has some elements of the Lugosi style vampire mixed in as well.

Overall this movie is just plain good old-fashioned entertainment. Just a fun, scary, colorful television film far better than most of its ilk capable of frightening with chilling moments of horror and suspense but also throwing in a nice sense of subtle comedy when the time is right.

Jules Verne & Walt Disney: Explorers of the Imagination

Entertaining Little Tribute to Two Imagination Pioneers
This little documentary style short features commentary from many fans/experts in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy field. It's a bonus extra included in on the second disc of the two part 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Special Edition DVD.

While perhaps sometimes a bit fanciful and fan-boyish in terms of the reactions expressed by fans who grew up loving both the works of Walt Dinsey and Jules Verne, it's nevertheless a nice little tribute and it is a joy to hear what names like the famous Forrest J. Ackerman, Science Fiction writer Gregory Benford, Collector Extraordinaire Bob Burns (It Came From Bob's Basement) and Science Fiction Illustrator Vincent Di Fate think of the many, generation spanning long-lasting works brought to life by both men. Dreamers who dared to dream and sparked that imaginative, creative spark in so many others.

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