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Love Letters of a Star

No Fair
Well-done B picture with a 'B' cast who are all very competent and put this very mysterious mystery over. I can't even recap the story as it is very involved and convoluted, but a young lady poisons herself and her family spends the rest of the picture trying to solve it.

My title is 'No Fair' due to the resolution of the crime, and it would have an exclamation point if the website allowed it. If you should happen upon it, watch it - and I defy you to guess the murderer.

Shown at Capitolfest, Rome NY, 8/14/21.

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

Wandering Fires

Solemn Drama
Hardly anyone cracks a smile in this heavy-going drama about WWl and its aftermath. Constance Bennett is a controversial socialite who catches the eye of an introverted young fellow at a country club soiree. But she has a 'secret' (o tempora, o mores) which makes her the 'talk of the town'.

I thought the story, while self-important and overdramatic, was curiously absorbing and with a surprise ending. An enjoyable silent ably carried by Ms. Bennett. I thought the rating by the website didn't do it justice. Shown at Capitolfest, Rome NY, 8/14/21.

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

Duck Soup

Hilarious Short
This is the first short in which Laurel and Hardy worked together as a team. They were not called 'Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy' but have fictitious names. And Hardy has a two day growth of stubble. Nevertheless, this one is loaded with some very funny sight gags (this being the silent era) and ranks among their funniest films.

Forest Rangers are recruiting volunteers and have been given permission to press into service vagrants found in the LA area. Our heroes fall into that category in this short and do all they can to avoid the Rangers. They come upon an unoccupied mansion and hide inside - until a couple who rented it show up at the front door. Things begin to unravel for the boys in predictable fashion, making it one of their best. It played at Capitolfest, Rome NY, 8/14/21.

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

Her Wedding Night

Menage a Quatre
Uneven comedy that doesn't get really funny until the end of the picture. Beforehand there's some funny sequences and a lot of tedious business. It stars Clara Bow and Charlie Ruggles (they're funny) and Ralph Forbes (he's not). It takes place in France and the gist of the plot is trafficky and convoluted; Bow is trying to avoid fans and Forbes is a bon vivant song writer. He has lots of old flames who come to his flat to pester him and Bow somehow ends up there, along with Ruggles and another woman.

Towards the end the picture becomes a bedroom farce and is pretty funny, with people dashing in and out of each others bedrooms. We've seen it before, with doors opening and closing just as one leaves and another enters, but it's done very well here. Otherwise it's a long wait for the payoff. This played at Capitolfest, Rome NY, 8/14/21.

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

The River Pirate

Good/Bad Boy
How to judge Sandy, a reform school kid who can't stay out of trouble. Career crook Victor McLaglen takes him under his wing and promises to 'take care of him' upon his release and show him the ropes (river pirates rob warehouses along the riverfront). But he has an angel in Lois Moran, playing a social worker who tries to straighten him out.

Victor McLaglen is the star, looking very trim here before adding weight as we remember him in later films. He is a sympathetic character with his customary winning smile and carries the picture. Sandy is played by Nick Stuart who is all but forgotten to film fans but has an appealing, boyishness about him.

Interesting story but not a swashbuckler as the title implies. It was shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/14/21.

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

The Pursuit of Happiness

American Tradition
It starts out like a war picture. Hessian soldiers are conscripted to fight in America beside the British. Francis Lederer is a college student who can speak English and becomes a translator, before deserting to join the American side once here.

Upon meeting Joan Bennett he is smitten and the picture abruptly becomes a light comedy. It is clearly a vehicle for Lederer who had just become Paramount's newest star. He is in nearly every scene, cheerful, appealing and smiling relentlessly.

We find out about Bundling, a colonial courting custom allowing couples to sit in bed to converse, read to one another, etc., and with a 9 inch wooden board between them to ward off any impure spirits. It's a very entertaining story and was adapted from the Broadway stage to the big screen.

See it if you can, it's surprisingly good. I saw it at Capitolfest, Rome, NY. 8/14/21.

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

Rich People

Good Connie
Constance Bennett faces a dilemma; will she choose the rich guy or the ordinary Joe? Naturally, Connie has the answer in time for the final credits. Rich guy is played by Robert Ames and regular guy is Regis Toomey, whose hobby is creating statistical business charts and life trends. A lively picture that moves right along and wastes little time.

This was Bennett's return to the screen after retiring in 1925, having just married Philip Plant. She divorced him in 1929 and made "Rich People". The little known Ames was an alcoholic and died in 1931, aged 42. Regis Toomey made 271 films and died in 1993, aged 91.

The film was restored by the Library of Congress and was shown at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/13/21.

Face the Camera

Very Funny
"Face The Camera" is just that - a very funny film short starring James Parrott, who bears a striking resemblance to Charley Chase. It's not by accident, though, as he was Charley's older brother.

Story involves a cameraman ( a pretend cameraman) assigned to cover a bathing beauty contest. Here follows a hilarious string of sight gags (this being the silent era), and many are ingenious and resourceful, adding to the continuous fun.

See it if you can. I saw it at Capitolfest, Rome, NY, 8/13/21.

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

She Wanted a Millionaire

Star Vehicle
"She Wanted A Millionaire" is a trifling story made palatable by the presence of the two stars, and unworthy of their talents. I wonder if this picture broke any new ground in long ago 1932; in fact, it did, as the story parallels a similar real-life scandal in which a beauty contestant married a millionaire which subsequently involved a murder.

That slim thread may be responsible for any success the film may have had in the 30's but is an insufficient reason for anyone to pursue it now. It is dated and devoid of humor and good feeling and interesting only as an early look at the budding careers of two Hollywood newcomers who eventually made it big.

Shown at Capitolfest, Rome NY, 8/13/21.

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

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.

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