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Racket Busters

'Racket Buster" plays like a Public Service announcement, or like a "Crime Does Not Pay" short which were popular in the 30's and 40's. Not much time wasted, as the film gets right to the point; racketeering throughout the city which the DA (Walter Abel) tries hard to stop. The head of the rackets is Humphrey Bogart and the hero is George Brent along with his pal, Allen Jenkins.

There is no time for subtlety or nuance here (at 71 mins.) and the characters are painted with broad strokes and many plot points are telegraphed. Nevertheless, the picture is well done all around and is better and more entertaining than the websites rating would suggest. Probably a 'B' picture in its' time but plays almost like an 'A'.

7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Three Smart Girls

I'm trying to say something nice about a movie that I found to be truly mediocre, despite a good cast that tried hard to put the show over. It was inoffensive at best and was billed as a comedy, but was not funny. Deanna Durbin had a couple of songs, and was quite good in her motion picture debut. Apart from that it was a chore to watch and seemed longer than its 84 min. running time.

Well, I hope I have enough lines to qualify for inclusion and I wouldn't recommend this picture as I found it dull and a disappointment.

5/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

The Prodigal

7 ******* Underrated
How much you like this picture depends on how much you like Lawrence Tibbett. He is in almost every scene and the picture is clearly designed for him, and he doesn't disappoint. Tall and handsome and with a great baritone voice, he carries the picture through all of its illogical eccentricities and old-fashioned moral values.

He is the scion of a wealthy southern family who 'hit the road' and became a hobo after becoming disenchanted with the graceful plantation way of life. He returns home after five years to a mixed welcome, from his mother who adores him and his brother who hates him. His brother's wife, played by Esther Ralston, is also in his corner. The story is trifling and dated but I felt Tibbett makes it work, right up to and including the peculiar ending. The plantation workers were stereotyped and this couldn't be made now, but it worked in 1931.

Not sure you will take to it, unless you are a fan of one of the Metropolitan Opera's great voices.

7 stars - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Fast and Furious

****** Good Fun
Engaging fluff which must have been a second feature back in Hollywood's Golden Age. Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern are the principals in a comedy/ mystery with a dizzy plot. The couple go on a semi-vacation to what must be Atlantic City. Tone is to be a judge at a beauty contest but the promoter is murdered during the festivities. Lots of snappy dialogue and plot twists in this good-natured story, directed by none other than Busby Berkley.

Tone and Sothern work well together to make the picture work and with able support from Lee Bowman and Ruth Hussey. Harmless fun from this better-than-average 'B" picture that strives to be an "A".

6/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

The Kettering Incident

******** Eerily Compelling
If this were a book I would say I couldn't put it down. Just finished watching the last episode and I can say my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping, mysterious story of what, exactly - extraterrestrials? fraudsters? unbalanced people? Maybe all of the above, as the creators of this extremely bizarre story kept us on the edge of our seats (actually, we were lying in bed) for all eight chapters.

It's even hard to synopsize. Anna is a London Hematologist who wakes up one morning in a car in a parking lot in Tasmania, where she is originally from. Apparently, 15 years earlier she and her friend were biking through a Tasman forest when they saw some mysterious lights through the trees. Her friend ran towards them and was never seen again. It's hopeless. I can't even describe the labyrinthine plot or the twists and turns that follow. Just watch it, I guarantee you've never seen a show like this one, and the ending has been unfairly knocked by other reviewers. Make up your own mind. Great job by all concerned.

8/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.


******* Marie
The role of Emma was tailor-made for Marie Dressler, one of Hollywood's greatest treasures. And she jumps into it with both feet as the nanny to the Smith children and then as their step-mother after marrying their widowed father, played by Jean Hersholt. She plays the part to a tee and wrings every ounce of laughs and tears out of her role, a tour-de-force for this old trouper.

Good support cast headed by Hersholt and by Myrna Loy in a thankless role as a spoiled kid/woman and Richard Cromwell in a favorable role here (3 years later he would get Gary Cooper killed in a wimpy part in "Lives of a Bengal Lancer"). But it's Dressler who makes the picture work by the magnetism and charisma of her screen presence. She made 4 subsequent pictures before she was taken from us too soon. "Emma" is a good but not great film held together by Marie.

7/10 ******* - website no longer prints my star rating.


***** Ingmar
I tried hard to like this picture but it's a hard movie to like; it doesn't give you a good reason to. I appreciated the production design, the same flawless period touches as in 1917 that give an authentic feel (even though I was never in Leningrad after WWII). Also a good effort by the cast to put the show across, but I found the screenplay lacks some clarity and some punch - basically, the story is not as interesting as I had hoped.

I am not a fan of Ingmar Bergman's and there were some similarities to his style that I found annoying, chiefly the pregnant pauses in conversations; One would say something, then you wait 8-10 seconds for the answer. And then there is the leaden pacing, also found in "Beanpole". In short I was disappointed by a film I feel is overrated but gets an A for effort.

***** 5/10 stars. Website no longer prints my star rating.

The Earl of Chicago

**** Misfire
I really enjoy Robert Montgomery and his suave, sophisticated onscreen persona. I've tried to watch all of his films over the years and have enjoyed most - until I saw "The Earl Of Chicago". He was miscast here as a gangster who inherits an Earldom in England. The plot line was lame and not believable, but he tried too hard to be crude and unpolished and was clearly out of his element. In his pictures he is the personification of sophistication and the reversal just doesn't work here.

Too bad, because he was surrounded by A list character actors, such as Edward Arnold, Edmund Gween, Reginald Owen and several others. It must have sounded better in the planning stage as there were some plot holes apart from the absurd plot, which does not work for Montgomery. Perhaps they needed a different actor because this was not his cup of tea. Can't recommend it.

**** 4 stars. Website no longer prints my star rating.

Gretel & Hansel

******** Hallucinatory
Remember the story of Hansel & Gretel? Forget that. This version is so surreal and unexpected that I found it fascinating. Couldn't take my eyes off the screen. It is nothing if not thought-provoking, and nothing like the old story. I thought having a theatrical pedigree Director Perkins would have a feel about filmmaking and I was right.

It takes place in what must be the 17th Century and with ominous music and a few jump scares (It's a horror film, after all) but with an excellent script and good performances from all 3 principals. Not going into the plot because you know the bare bones, but this is an extremely imaginative twist on the simplistic fairy tale.

The sound track is garbled at times and the dialogue sometimes muffled but you can imagine what they were saying. On main complaint; in one scene, the witch knocks a glass onto the floor and says, "another one bites the dust" - (FOUL!) That spoiled the scene but I quickly recovered. If you are tired of predictable fare and uninspired Hollywood films, go and see "Hansel & Gretel".

******** 8 stars. Website no longer prints my star rating.

Repeat Performance

Hidden Gem
Very good drama/fantasy which is billed as a noir. Given the moving goalposts for a film noir I suppose it qualifies, but is more like "It Happened Tomorrow" ('44), which is a fantasy but not billed as a noir. In any case, it is an engrossing film that holds your interest from start to finish. Lovely Joan Leslie never looked lovelier, and this must be her best performance in a spotty career. Suave Tom Conway is here as well as Louis Hayward. Another B-lister, he does a nice job as Leslie's alcoholic husband.

According to the TCM host this picture was nearly lost but was discovered after a copy showed up inadvertently in someone's collection. Lucky for us. This is a well done minor gem of a film which benefits from a good script and screenplay. Film fans and noir fans especially would appreciate this unheralded drama with a unique twist.


Terrific Picture
Easily the Best Picture I've seen this past year - and it wasn't easy. Until this week it was at only two theaters in NYC, so you had to make an effort; it was worth it.

After a little time to set the scene, the picture picks up steam and proceeds at break-neck speed to it's climactic ending. It starts right after Cpl. Blake gets his orders; go behind enemy lines and warn his brother's unit that they are walking into a trap, the hook being that Blake would try hard to succeed since his brother was at stake. From this point on it's like a roller coaster ride with no let up. I was exhausted at the end after the ordeal of the story. It's a war picture but it's also a story of survival, like "The Revenant".

AA Noms could go to George McKay, who i'd never seen before, for Best Actor and for whoever designed the sets - they were perfect as well as authentic. It is a British production which is fitting as Hollywood produces nothing of consequence anymore.

Motherless Brooklyn

******** Chinatown/ Brooklyn
One of the best pictures I have seen this year. Produced, written and directed by Edward Norton it is similar to "Chinatown" in that what seems to be a simple 'whacking' of a small time hood is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is a sprawling backstory. The investigating naif has no idea of the consequences at first, but then gets nearly buried in the avalanche of the plot as it unfolds.

Edward Norton is excellent as a schlub trying to find out what happened to his best friend, played by Bruce Willis in a brief cameo. The film flags in the middle but picks up steam from then on until the surprise ending. Good acting turns by dependable Willem Dafoe and especially by Alec Baldwin. Amazing how well it recreates 50's New York. A tad long, but worth the time and trouble; good moviemaking is always time well spent.

8/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Wives Under Suspicion

****** Deja Vu
Pretty interesting programmer which tells its predictable story in under an hour. Good job turned in by all concerned. Warren William is the man-eating prosecutor with great many scalps under his belt and has sent many murderers to the electric chair, until he finds himself in circumstances similar to a case before him. Gail Patrick is his stalwart, neglected wife and Ralph Morgan is a sympathetic suspect.

This was directed by James Whale, made famous as the director of "Frankenstein", and turns in a workman like job here. Milburn Stone is Williams' right hand man and there are several other familiar faces in the cast. It is better than the non-descript title would suggest and is worth your time on a rainy day, which is when I saw it.

6/10 - Website no longer prints my star ratings.

The Lighthouse

******* Prometheus
"The Lighthouse" is reasonably entertaining until the unreasonable climax of he picture. It is slow to get underway and picks up momentum as well as interest in the second half of the story, and I am still trying to make sense of the end. Up to that point it is not hard to swallow but becomes increasingly difficult. A new assistant comes to a lighthouse to help a crusty old keeper. They get to know each other in the first half, which is slow moving. Things go downhill from there, until the chaotic end in which the film disintegrates into destruction and incrimination - and the insertion of the Prometheus illustration in the final scene is downright baffling.

Robert Pattinson as the new hand is very good and Willem Dafoe is outstanding in a Oscar calibre performance as the old salt with a questionable past. I don't know how the story could have been better due to its boring premise - two guys cooped up in a lighthouse - but I'm sure it could have been made more coherent.

7/ 10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Rambo: Last Blood

******* Great
No Oscar noms coming up for this one, but c'mon, it's for Rambo fans. Not much of a plot, and Stallone's face has never look more creased, but the payoff is worth it. He talks in a scratchy whisper and he is always in earnest, but he doesn't need a lot of acting range - he is a quintessential action hero.

Never knew there could be so many ways to 'off' somebody, but the denouement is worth it, even though most of the action comes at the end of the picture (be patient, bloodthirsty Rambo fans). Sit back and enjoy. You don't have to think for 80 minutes.

******* 7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.


Best part of "The Load" is the realistic overall feel and the sets, which are real locations. I'm a fan of acting and there's no complaint on that score - all concerned are competent and contribute to the aforementioned realism of the production.

But "The Load" quickly becomes the "Movie Where Nothing Happens" and we are left waiting for a little action; a tense scene, a confrontation, maybe a fight. But I'm afraid there's none of that to be found here. As stated, a great realistic feel and good acting performances but not compelling enough for a higher rating.

***** 5/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Legion of Terror

****** Hackneyed Hyperbole
That may sound like a harsh judgment, especially since I thought the film was likable and had some appeal. It's just that the theme has been done thousands of times in thousands of movies; good guys vs bad guys, forces of evil working against a naive subject, government to the rescue, etc.. But I think when you're watching the situation for the first time the movie goes down easier. Now it's 80 years later and you can almost write the script for yourself, complete with odd coincidences and facilitated circumstances that are harder in real life.

That said, there are good acting turns here for Bruce Cabot and Ward Bond, who may have had his only starring role, and a host of movie supporting actors, including John Hamilton, who gets to preachify against subversive groups "wherever they may be found". The KKK threat may have subsided but it was more of a current topic to audiences in 1936. And it's only 65 minutes long, just enough for easy viewing. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

****** 6/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Sally, Irene and Mary

Broadway Babies
Mildly interesting story of 3 friends who are showgirls in the evening and party girls late at night, which inevitably turns into morning. They are from different backgrounds; Bennett, a seasoned veteran of the after-hours scene, O'Neil a naive newcomer, and Crawford, a 'decent' girl trying to stay virtuous. O'Neil is appealing in this seedy story of flaming youth of the 20's, who dance, party and dance some more.

The picture holds your interest but the underlying message, that finding some guy with deep pockets can really augment a meager salary, does not speak well for the lack of a sense of morality and decency, which are apparently needed to get with the 'in crowd'. I imagine it was a popular film in its time. Movie veteran Henry Kolker stands out among the supporting cast. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome NY, 8/19.

***** 5/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Internes Can't Take Money

Noir Prototype?
Probably not, but it has a certain cachet to it that is reminiscent of the genre that was yet to come. Good folk and gangsters, an unsuspecting someone caught in a web of dishonesty and murder, and all with the shadows and photographic effects normally associated with film noir. It is also an early Dr. Kildare film with Joel McCrea as the good doctor.

Nutshell: Kildare comes across Barbara Stanwyck, who is destitute and desperate. She is looking for her lost child and she is broke and just released from prison, apparently framed for aiding and abetting her husband. Kildare tries to help, with the aid of a gangster (Lloyd Nolan) on whom he has done emergency surgery (in the back of a barroom!) and who now feels he owes Kildare a favor.

The cast is excellent, headed by Stanwyck who never gives a bad performance. McCrea is his usual understated self and Stanley Ridges is very effective as a seedy, slimy villain. This is a very underrated film and was shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

******** 8/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Roamin' Thru the Roses

**** Musicians Needed
Print material accompanying this musical short states that it was never released theatrically, and it is easy to understand why. The music is somewhat tuneless and the singers are unattractive and don't sing well, particularly Margaret Nearing who has a high pitched, scratchy voice. It is mercifully short at 18 minutes, its best feature.

Love the Film Festival but didn't care for this entry. I thought it's fair game for criticism since 85 years has elapsed and no one will be left with hurt feelings. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

Youth Takes a Fling

******* 30's Romance
Odd title for a movie, especially a title which is as nebulous as this one. All things considered it is pretty funny and finds the pair in several comical situations. All in all, a breezy and entertaining trifle of a movie. It plays like a second feature but has an A feature cast with Joel McCrea and Andrea Leeds.

Nutshell; Leeds wants to find a husband and get married, but McCrea has no interest - he wants to ship out as a seaman and see the world. Both end up working for the same department store when they meet. As stated, there are some good instances of humor as well as illogical unexplained circumstances - a staple feature of 30's movies. It's easy to take and it's 75 minutes pass quickly. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

******* 7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.


******* Calamity Jane
"Caught" is not so much a western actioner as a character study, and I'll bet much to the chagrin of 30's audiences. The star of the piece is old-time actress Louise Dresser. Virtually forgotten by modern audiences, she had a wide acting range and played a variety of parts, almost never as the star. Here she should have had perhaps her only chance above the title, but the star of the film was probably Richard Arlen. She is a hypnotic figure as Calamity Jane and is in nearly every scene. She does an excellent job and is the main reason for my rating.

"Caught" is slow moving and lacks any noteworthy action. Frances Dee is miscast as a dance hall wannabe and Arlen is his usual competent self. But to see Louise Dresser become Calamity Jane is worth a long look. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

******* 7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Ben Blair

Early Western
"Ben Blair" is another technological triumph for the Library Of Congress. It was restored from the only known existing print which was found in the garage of an old-time actor. It is a story of revenge and romance in the not-so-old west, which seems to take place around the turn of the 20th century.

Nutshell: Ben searches for his no-account father who burned down their shack with his mother still in it. Adopted by a good family, he falls in love with their daughter, who eventually leaves to find a better life in a big city. Of course, he follows after avenging his mother's death.

When he finds her, the viewer is in for a huge shock; He gives her an ultimatum: come home with me or I'll kill your fiancee. As he counts down from 10, she cheerfully agrees and goes home with him! This probably sets the Womens Rights movement back to the Stone Age. This colossal restoration achievement by the LOC was shown at Capitolfest, Rome,NY, 8/19.

***** 5/10 - Website no longer prints mt star rating.

The Unseen

******* The Unexplained
This picture has been on TV but I hadn't seen it before. I disagree with some reviewers and I thought it was a first-rate mystery but which was marred by a confusing ending. There was a rush to explain motivations and circumstances, all of which left me further in the dark than before.

The cast was just fine and the tragic Gail Russell was lovely to look at, although lacking some depth as an actress. The dependable Herbert Marshall lends strong support and Joel McCrea is his usual stalwart self. There is a lot to like here until you get to the last 5 minutes; hasty contrivances and omitted rationale are always annoying. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

******* 7/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

Captain Blood

******Still Life
Actually, it wasn't as static as I'm making it out. I think I've been spoiled by the 1935 Errol Flynn version - now, there was an action picture. This one concentrates on character development rather than excitement, at least that's how I interpreted it. This silent version is also a tribute to the hard work done by the unsung heroes at the Library of Congress to restore old movies in need of restoration. This one had been cannibalized by Warner Bros. for their remake , having removed many battle scenes, except for a rousing one at the end of the picture.

This restoration is clear and with hardly any flaws in the print. It has a cast of long forgotten actors, and, truth be told, is just not as interesting as the later version. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/19.

****** 6/10 - Website no longer prints my star rating.

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