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Fire Maidens from Outer Space

I wish Borodin had lived to see this movie
Sixty years after seeing "Fire Maidens" more than once on late-night TV on our local station in Ohio, I obtained a copy of the movie on DVD and saw it again last night. Wow, everything the other IMDb reviewers say about this movie is true. It's a real stinker.

As a kid, though, I was intrigued by the exotic music from Borodin, which was the only aspect of the movie that gave a sense of being on another planet. Otherwise, the movie looked and felt exactly as if it had been made in someone's basement (for the interiors) in New Jersey (for the exteriors). But I never got tired of that music.

I don't recall being turned on by the scantily clad women in their several dances to this music, though I was of an age when I might have been, and it was an era when just a glimpse of leg could be exciting. Now, of course, the dances can't stand up to our world of 24/7 sex. But as an adult I enjoyed the dances because the dancers were so hilariously inept.

I kept wondering how Borodin would have reacted to this movie!

Mark of the Vampire

A moronic movie drained dry (pun intended) of horror
This movie is bursting at the seams with the paraphernalia of horror films: bats, rats, cats, owls, spiders, eerie background music, somber organ music, sinister conversations overheard from behind screens, and terrified screams galore. (Not to mention a possum!) It's almost as if this were one of those horror house amusements for grade school kids on Halloween. "Ooo! Scary!" The plot makes absolutely no sense, and the twist ending knocks it all into a cocked hat anyway.

There are some remarkably tiresome performances, led by the bombastic Lionel Barrymore as the "Professor." Lionel Atwill is equally tiresome as the skeptical police inspector, who keeps demanding rational explanations even as the place is crawling with fiendish creatures and supernatural events.

Of course, that twist ending renders all those creatures and events null and void.

Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland are quite enjoyable as "vampires," and I wished they had more screen time in place of those blowhards. Same with Donald Meek. Always a pleasure to watch, he mysteriously disappears from the cast after the opening sequences.

Twenty or so years later, Hammer Films brought new life to vampire and other horror movies. "Mark of the Vampire" has lots going on, but none of it is convincing as horror.

Diarios de motocicleta

Movie makes a saint out of a man who was not a saint at all
I came to "The Motorcycle Diaries" not knowing anything about Che Guevara other than his connection with the Cuban revolution and his face on T-shirts and posters. I enjoyed the film. The travelogue aspects and the adventures of the young men were interesting. The characters were quite likable and often amusing.

It became increasingly clear in the second half that Guevara was being offered to us as a kind of secular saint. Even so, when the movie was over I said to myself, "a good picture." In fact, it stimulated me to find out more about what Che Guevara did in his later life.

Then came the disillusionment. Apparently he oversaw the execution of hundreds of people when he came to power with Castro. He was for a time strongly pro-Soviet and was instrumental in arranging for the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba. In fact, he detested the United States so much that, based on his remarks, he would not have been opposed to seeing New York and other American cities reduced to radioactive rubble.

And there was much more to discover about his later life, none of it commendable. In the end, as was stated at the end of the movie, he was killed with the help of the CIA.

Still, it was a good movie. You just have to remember that it was only a movie.

Europa Report

Realistic and exciting science fiction adventure
They didn't make science fiction movies like this when I was a kid in the 1950s, but if I could have seen "Europa Report" back then, I would have thought I had died and gone to heaven. It has an intense sense of wonder and weirdness, without which SF falls flat. It has an exciting story, with people behaving bravely in the face of many crises. The technical detail is extensive without being obtrusive. A terrific film, made in Brooklyn (so Wikepedia tells us) on a small budget.

Most important for any science fiction fan, the story told by this movie is credible. It does not strain probability--the way "Gravity" does, for example--and it offers us characters who behave heroically without engaging in action-movie stunts like those of Sandra Bullock in "Gravity."

I would say that this is the best science fiction picture since Brian De Palma's much-maligned 2003 movie "Mission to Mars." In both films, what really counts is the human element--bravery, camaraderie, sense of wonder, resourcefulness. Special effects are essential, of course, but they are not what adventure is all about.

The Addiction

A compelling movie--dark, grim, and intense
This is a film about the evil that is inherent in mankind and how it runs rampant in a world lacking any spiritual saving grace. For Abel Ferrara, apparently, that saving grace is submission to Christianity--or at least that seems to be the meaning of the final scenes. In any case it seems clear to me that all the talk about philosophy in the film is meant to be little more than mumbo-jumbo. Philosophy alone is powerless in the face of evil.

Vampirism is an ideal symbol of evil. It is portrayed as an addiction or a disease--something inescapable and inherent, like original sin. In a world of wholesale cruelty and slaughter (as in those recurrent images from the death camps), the appearance of vampires on our city streets seems like a logical next step. The startling feeding frenzy of the vampires toward the end of the movie easily represents evil that has run rampant in a spiritually barren world.

Perhaps the director and screenwriter are taking on too much, but this is a compelling movie--dark, grim, and intense. As someone who generally dismisses vampire stories as silly superstition and is unable to take seriously the idea of wielding a crucifix as a weapon, I found this vampire movie downright scary. The wonderful black-and-white cinematography certainly added to the effect, as did the excellent performance by Lili Taylor.

The Texican

Late-career Audie Murphy movie isn't all that bad
To get some enjoyment from this movie you at least have to like Audie Murphy and be rather uncritical about westerns. I qualify on both counts. Besides, this movie also has Broderick Crawford as the tough-talking bad guy.

Past his Hollywood prime, Crawford here looks tired, overweight, and generally long in the tooth--but nobody talks tough like Broderick Crawford! The inimitable voices of these two actors--Murphy's gentle Texas voice and Crawford's gravelly growl--stand out in this movie, which otherwise is cast with Spaniards who are dubbed. The dubbing is occasionally distracting, and in the case of Antonio Casas as Frank Brady it is downright ludicrous.

Filmed in Spain, "The Texican" has a decidedly non-American score, sounding something like the music in Italian spaghetti westerns. There are a lot of surging crescendos and an ominous-sounding vocal chorus.

The less said about the actual story, the better. The fun is in watching Audie Murphy and Broderick Crawford do their thing. Murphy was a cowboy hero of mine when I was a boy in the 1950s, and of course in WW II he was a real hero--the most decorated soldier of the war.

They say Audie Murphy worked very hard to develop a fast draw, and in "The Texican" there are some examples of his fine hand with a pistol. Here, some 18 years after his first movie, he still seems like a "nice young man"--neatly dressed, slim and trim, courteous when he can be, gentle-voiced.

How did such a gentle man turn out to be so deadly with a gun--not just in the movies but in real life?

Moonrise Kingdom

Style and cleverness but little substance
This movie was a waste of talented actors, who apparently were forced to deliver their lines like zombies in order to carry out some stylistic purpose in the mind of director Wes Anderson. The movie is so stylized that it is hard to discern any human feeling. Even the two youngsters whose romance is at the heart of the story are almost robotic in expressing themselves to each other.

To me it's the kind of movie whose chief pleasure is for those who like to think they are clever enough to "get" what the director is trying to say.

Just about the only actor who seemed to think and feel more or less like a real human being was Bruce Willis. As for Bill Murray and Frances Macdormand, their conversation in the bedroom, carried on while both like flat on their back staring at the ceiling, reminded me of two, well, zombies. Edward Norton had some funny bits, though his character was such a caricature of a scoutmaster that at best all I could manage was a few chuckles.

Didn't like this movie.

Le quai des brumes

A beautiful film that is ultimately quite romantic
There is a good deal of gloomy melodrama in this movie, particularly in the first third, but there is much to enjoy as well.

Jean Gabin portrays Jean, an everyman on the run. We know he is a deserter from the French colonial military forces, but he conveys integrity and a fatalistic sense that wins our sympathy. He is a man of few words who, rather like a Hemingway hero, has no use for grand phrases.

Gabin's performance helps us to put up with the gloomy philosophizing and grim melodramatic posturing that is particularly apparent in the first third of the movie and is embodied most of all in the character of the painter. We are meant to sympathize with the painter, who makes pronouncements about how awful life is, hints that he is about to commit suicide, and then does so, as a grand gesture leaving his clothes and shoes behind for Gabin.

Michele Morgan as Nelly is beautiful, and as her love for Jean deepens she becomes absolutely radiant. There are some fine moments of romance in the last part of the movie that deepen our sense of tragedy, since we know that Jean must abandon her to evade his punishment for desertion.

Another good performance is that of Pierre Brasseur as a vain petty hood who is not nearly as brave as he portrays himself.

The direction, the camera-work, and the musical score are all excellent. The gloomy fogbound setting takes on an eerie beauty. The close-ups in the love scenes of Jean and Nelly are quite moving.

It's a really good picture, in spite of its contrived story and a dime-store philosophy.

The Horse Whisperer

Well made but schlocky chick flick with horses
If you're Robert Redford, you have the clout to make a movie with a solid cast, outstanding cinematography, and great production values. This movie has all those things, plus horses as an added bonus. Unfortunately, the story is the sort of romantic fantasy that is often called "chick flick."

Redford plays the Perfect Man--a cowboy who understands women and horses, listens to classical music, is a source of wisdom and good counsel for all who come his way, and is ruggedly handsome to boot. Even Kristen Scott Thomas, a tough New York magazine editor, is a pushover for him. He fixes her broken daughter and her broken daughter's horse and then proves so irresistible to Kristen Scott Thomas that she is ready to abandon husband and career to live out her days on a Montana ranch.

There is one really nasty scene whose nastiness seems to have escaped the film-makers. It takes place at a barn dance. Kristen Scott Thomas's husband has arrived from New York. Redford and Kristen Scott Thomas have a steamy dance in which they explore each other while her husband sits nearby, fortunately not looking their way. No one seems aware of how cheap and low their behavior is.

Scratch a romantic chick flick--at least this one--and underneath it's all horse manure.

The Gypsy Moths

A visually exciting movie with a not so exciting story
This movie about skydivers has some terrific aerial photography of their stunts and some masterful camera-work involving their activities on the ground. Unfortunately those earthbound activities don't add up to a convincing drama.

Under John Frankenheimer's direction, the drama that unfolds as the three skydivers encounter the people of a small Kansas town is visually very pleasing. There is a fine nighttime sequence, seemingly choreographed to look almost dance-like, in which we follow Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr from her house, through the neighboring streets, to a playground. In general Frankenheimer makes innovative use of the camera to make us feel part of the action.

Unfortunately, the story that unfolds while the skydivers are on the ground seems strangely unrelated to the scenes in the air. There is a vague sense that the skydivers have grown weary of their nomadic lives, but that's about it as far as motivation is concerned. For example, it doesn't explain why--SPOILER ALERT--Burt Lancaster's character commits suicide. In fact, both he and Deborah Kerr--obviously both fine actors--give inert performances in this movie. When Gene Hackman shares the screen with them, he blows them away.

The critics have pointed out that this movie contains a lot of what could be called Americana in its views of small-town mid-American life, but I saw nothing of special interest in the way the town is presented. As for the scenes with the school orchestra, they have nothing to do with the ongoing story, except that, on the day of the big Forth of July parade, the orchestra finds the streets empty since everyone has gone to see the final skydive.

Like other reviewers, I was taken aback to see glimpses of Deborah Kerr in the nude. Very out of character given her previous roles. But this was 1969, when it seems that every one in the arts--movie makers, novelists--had to bare it all, figuratively or otherwise.


Absorbing, unsentimental story of a boy in a family of scam artists
"Boy" is a really interesting movie for a number of reasons but chiefly for the astonishing resilience of its main character, a boy of ten, forced to live a nomadic existence with a scoundrel of a father and a negligent, self-absorbed stepmother.

The parents regularly endanger the boy, letting him throw himself into the sides of passing cars so they can extort money from the "guilty" drivers. Always on the run, the family lives in hotels or inns. When there's money, the father indulges himself in easy living; when money's short or things don't go his way, he slugs his common-law wife or slaps the boy around. He tells the boy his grandparents have no use for him.

The boy lives the life of an invisible kid--no home, no school, no friends, no belongings. It even seems that he has no name--his parents call him "kiddo." There are two constants in his life--his fantasies about salvation by aliens from the Andromeda galaxy, and the company of his little step-brother, whom he regales with talk about the aliens.

There's no sentimentality in this movie. With the powerful exception of the very last scene, the boy looks out for himself and appears quite tough. At one point he runs away, taking a train to some place by the sea. But we get only a glimpse of this place. In the next scene he is back with his parents--because, one has to assume, there really isn't any place for him to go. More than once in this film, the family is on the verge of breaking up, but instead they continue with their nomadic existence and their scams.

So much for traditional Japanese values. The characters in this movie live in a floating world where the old verities don't apply. There are allusions to nationalism and military valor, but these are like vestiges from the dim past.

One of the side benefits of this movie is that we get to see many views of the Japan of the time. One of the irritants of the movie--at least the version that I saw--is the subtitles, whose white letters are barely legible in the scenes set in snowy Hokkaido.

This movie gave me another reason to be grateful for Turner Classic Movies.

For Ellen

A poignant and sad movie
As someone who detests most rock music, particularly the screaming histrionics of performers like the one played by Paul Dano in "For Ellen," I was surprised to find myself empathizing with his character, Joby Taylor. As the lead singer in a band, he may be on center stage surrounded by shouting fans, but in this movie we see him against a backdrop of ordinary suburban life, and he seems like a creature from outer space--a weird alien, cut off from the mainstream of life, a stranger in a strange land.

It is clear almost from the start that Joby has been reckless, self-centered, and irresponsible. This is driven home like the impact of a judge's gavel when, late in the film, his little daughter Ellen--custody of whom Joby has loudly refused to relinquish to his wife in their divorce negotiations--simply asks, "Why didn't you come to see me?" Father and daughter have a precious two hours together at a local mall, and then it is time for him to leave her with her mother. But he returns to the house and sneaks in through the window in order to ask Ellen what she thinks of him. To the end, it is his own self that he is focused on. When she answers that he seems like a nice person, I waited for him at least to say that he liked her too--but he never did.

The movie does manage to satirize ordinary middle class life through its portrayal of the young lawyer Fred Butler, played by Jon Heder. This sad sack, who still lives with Mom, seems downright goofy next to the "cool" Joby Taylor--to use Joby's term for just about anything that requires his approval. But in being so cool, Joby has lost out on any of the good that comes with ordinary "un-cool" life.

Paul Dano's performance is outstanding in this film. The director, So Young Kim, lets the camera linger a little too long on bleak landscapes and nearly deserted highways, but her long closeups of Joby Taylor's face are effective, thanks to Paul Dano.

The very final sequence is something of a cop-out. Even before we see where it is leading, I knew that it would be a replay of the final sequence in "Five Easy Pieces." And that explains why I have tagged this review with a Spoiler Alert.

Ballada o soldate

A film of rare beauty and powerful emotion
For me this is a beloved movie, one that I have just seen for the third time and no doubt will see again after time passes.

A 19-year-old Soviet soldier who knocks out two Nazi tanks is offered a decoration by his general. Instead the soldier, Alyosha, asks for a short leave so he can travel home to see his mother and fix her roof. Along the way he meets a variety of vividly portrayed characters. One of these is Shura, a pretty young woman. They fall in love, are separated when their train pulls out without him, are almost miraculously reunited, and finally are separated for good, without his having ever declared his love for her.

Having helped a number of people during his journey and encountered various delays, Alyosha finally arrives at his home village with only minutes remaining before he must rush to catch his train back to the front. The few moments in which he and his mother embrace are heartbreaking--particularly since we already know from the voice-over that opens the movie that he is doomed never to return home.

He is not the only casualty of war. During his journey home we see many casualties. While not a grim picture, "Ballad of a Soldier" gives a sense of how the Russian people suffered in World War II.

It's been called an antiwar movie, but there is a deeper theme, etched in sharp relief by the forces of war on ordinary people. We are reminded of how fleeting is youth and the beauty of young men and women, and how precious is the little time we have to experience the joys of life. There is a profound sadness in this movie.

Back in 1959 when this film appeared, the late critic Stanley Kauffmann dismissed the movie as superficial and snidely remarked that director Grigori Chukrai would be happy working at Twentieth Century Fox. It is easy to be cynical about the earnest expression of emotion. I tend to believe, however, that, unlike Mr. Kauffmann, the great Anton Chekhov would have been genuinely moved by "Ballad of a Soldier."

Sergeant Rutledge

More interesting then than now
When this movie was made, its argument against racism was timely and still enough of a novelty to be interesting. The idea of a troop of black soldiers fighting as well as white ones would no doubt have been satisfying to many well-intentioned people, as would Woody Strode's portrayal of a noble warrior with a strong sense of integrity. It was a far cry from the demeaning stereotypes of black people that one found in the movies only a few years earlier--including Ford's own "The Sun Shines Bright."

Today it's a different story. The movie seems obsessed with miscegenation--the sheer horror of a black man having intimate contact with a white woman! Good thing Sergeant Rutledge was an honorable man who would never do such a thing.

Then there is the portrayal of Sergeant Rutledge as something larger than life. Instead of Stepin Fetchit, we have The Noble Black Hero. We see Woody Strode in several poses designed to portray him as an almost mythic character.

The movie alternates between courtroom scenes that are not very exciting and outdoor sequences that, in true John Ford fashion, are beautiful. The early sequence in the railroad station is dreamlike and scary. The views of Monument Valley are majestic.

The Gunfighter

A Grim Story with Tragic Inevitability
The gunman in western movies is often a glamorous figure. (Who can forget tall, handsome, gallant Henry Fonda in "Warlock"?) We find him fascinating even though we know he is at best outside the law and at worst a murderer.

In "The Gunfighter," a terrific movie, Gregory Peck's Jimmy Ringo has some of the mystique of the gunman, but mostly what we see is his weariness of the life he has led and his fear that he is doomed to be hunted down and shot by some upstart gunman, pretty much like the Jimmy Ringo of 15 or 20 years before. Ringo at age 35 or so is now something of a gentleman in his relations with others, and we learn that he lives by a code--never drawing on an unarmed man, for example. But there is no attempt to whitewash his past. For all we know, his career has been one of unredeemed criminality.

What captures our sympathy for Jimmy Ringo and holds us in suspense as to his outcome is not the glamor of the gunfighter but the vulnerability of a tired man desperate to elude his fate. He has convinced himself that he can start a new life with the woman he has always loved but abandoned eight years ago, along with their young son.

The entire story covers a span of only a few hours. Pursued by three men who seek to kill him, Jimmy Ringo has arrived in an obscure town with precious little time in which to make his appeal to the woman and her boy. It is clear that his idea of reuniting with her and taking her and the boy away to a place where no one has heard of him is a fantasy. In the end, he dies the way he has lived--by gunfire.

"The Gunfighter" is a well-written, tightly constructed, tragic story filmed in stark black and white. It's a reminder of how much we have lost with the passing of the western genre.

The Abominable Snowman

Laurel and Hardy Go After the Yeti
I enjoy most Hammer pictures for their skillful storytelling and good production values, but this is that rare Hammer film that seems to me incompetently made.

We wait and wait for a glimpse of the Yeti--even after one has been killed and is lying there in the pursuers' camp, we do not see what it looks like. Finally two live Yeti show up for a brief "cameo," and they look like two guys in gorilla suits.

The Yeti hunters include Forrest Tucker as a pushy, loud-mouthed American and Peter Cushing, an English gentleman who by comparison seems rather prissy. (No stereotypes in this film!) These two and their three sidekicks climb a mountain with enough equipment for an army--guns, oxygen canisters, steel traps, a cage, and much else. There follows a series of foolish or stupid actions, with people raging at each other and at the mountain in general, firing off rifles, and so forth. One Yeti hunter sets what amounts to a bear trap and catches a member of his party instead. Forrest Tucker hunts for a missing member of the group by firing of round after round with his pistol, thereby killing himself by means of an avalanche.

Meanwhile, Cushing's wife realizes that the hunting party is in trouble and simply rushes off to climb the glaciated mountain to find her husband. She did take time to put on a coat.

Tucker intends to capture a Yeti alive and bring it back home to exhibit it and make a lot of money. I kept wondering how he planned to climb back down the mountain with a live Yeti. Perhaps they would loan him some of their gear.

It was as if the movie were really "Laurel and Hardy Hunt the Yeti," only without the laughs.

Parental Guidance

Schlock Cures Every Ill in This Stupid Movie
In this movie, Billy Crystal's talent for comedy takes a back seat to sentimental schlock. If you did not cringe at the scene where the whole family solemnly buries Carl, the imaginary kangaroo, then you might not agree with me on this. Or if you did not groan when, in yet another movie, Billy Crystal waxes rhapsodically nostalgiac for baseball as it was when he was a kid.

Sure enough, Billy wipes off the mold from that early-1950s broadcast of "The Shot Heard Round the World" (THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!) and not only makes us listen to it in its entirety but then a second time as delivered by his grandson Turner, who miraculously overcomes his stutter in the process.

But there's more where that came from, folks! Crystal and co-grandparent Bette Midler solve all of the family's problems in the space of a few days.

The high point of the movie was the duet by Crystal and Midler singing "The Book of Love." The low point was everything else in the picture.


"You're Not Original Enough Not to Get Married'
When Marion (Emily Watson) says this to husband Chris (Christian Bale), I thought, Ouch! Poor Chris, longing to return to his "Bohemian" past, which was not very Bohemian at all. Basically an ordinary English guy in his 30s, Chris finally admits to his would-be Mephistopheles Toni (Lee Ross) that he's comfortable in the life he has, thank you very much.

The problem with this movie is that nobody in it with the exception of the French girl Annick (Elsa Zylberstein) is very likable. Chris is childish and, until the end, too easily led by the nose by Toni, who is clearly a phony, and an unscrupulous one to boot. Marion is so patient and reasonable with Chris that she borders on smug--it's a thankless part, really, for a good actress.

The Paris flashback sequences are the best part of the film, if only because we get to enjoy Annick, a sincere, unpretentious, and sexy young woman, clearly a joy to be with. She was really too good for Chris. When he stupidly alienates her by talking about his new "friend" Marion and she responds by walking out on him, I thought, "You're losing a damn good thing, pal!"

Odds Against Tomorrow

A Good Character Study with Outstanding Performance by Robert Ryan
I suppose "Odds against Tomorrow" can be classified as film noir or as a caper movie, but, whatever it is, for me the excitement of this film has to do with the characterizations, Abraham Polonsky's fine screenplay, Joseph Brun's cinematography and location shooting, and the fine jazz score by John Lewis. I would throw in the intriguing opening credits for good measure, though I'm sure I missed a lot of the impact because I saw the movie on a TV screen.

Robert Ryan was a masterful actor. A good many of his characters were bad guys, but they were bad guys with the depth, subtleties, and contradictions of human beings. So it is in this picture. His Earle Slater is a tortured man--unable to contain the violent urges that had put him in prison for manslaughter, haunted by a lifetime of squandered opportunities, and pathetically dependent on his late-in-life lover as a last bid for some sort of stability. Even so, he readily betrays his lover by putting the make on Helen, a woman who lives in the building. In a terrific bar scene, he struggles mightily with his urge to pound a bragging young soldier and ultimately can stand it no longer and decks the kid with a single brutal punch.

Earle's racism is only one manifestation of his explosive personality but in this movie it is the crucial factor in the fate of him and his two partners in crime.

Harry Belafonte as Johnny Ingram seemed a bit out of place in a crime picture but does an adequate job. His charm and musical talent count for a lot, and the subplot involving his estranged wife and beloved little daughter is credible and interesting. Here too, as with Robert Ryan's Earle Slater, what counts is character exploration, with action put off until the very end.

There are fine performances by Shelly Winters and Ed Begley. I am a longtime fan of sultry, sexy Gloria Grahame, but there was something off about her very mannered performance as the neighbor woman. For a time, I thought she was portraying someone with a speech impediment or other disability.

Then of course there is the programmatic ending that everyone complains about--the desperate struggle between black man and white man amid the giant gas tanks, the explosion that reduces them to cinders so that no one knows their identities let alone their race, and the glimpse of a sign that says "Dead End"--just in case you missed the lesson about racial hatred.

Nevertheless, this is a terrific movie.

Match Point

Less here than meets the eye
"Match Point" has a well-constructed story and good writing, and I found it generally entertaining. The professional reviewers cited it for its dark exploration of the role of fate and chance in our lives, but without Woody Allen actually making it clear that this is his theme, as he does on a few occasions in the film, the movie is not particularly deep. Basically it boils down to the story of a young married man's obsession with a sexy Other Woman. Eventually it evolves into a thriller.

As often happens in Woody Allen's dramas, it is difficult to care about his characters. The young man, Chris, is fixated on rising in the world, though he has only vague notions of what he wants to do and is easily seduced by the wealth and luxury of his wife's family and the plum job handed to him by his father in law. The Other Woman, Nola, is distinguished mainly for her sexiness. There's no question of love between her and Chris.

Nor, for that matter, does Chris really love his wife, whom he damns with faint praise by calling her "sweet." Sweet she may be, but even she tried my patience.

It's an emotionally arid, cold movie with not much to say about chance, luck, and fate except that chance occurrences do happen.

The worst thing about the movie, for me, was the unrelenting opera music on the soundtrack--loud and passionately insistent as only opera can be. I found the music irritating, distracting me from what was after all a pretty intricate story with some tense moments.

Harriet Craig

Good cast and outstanding dialogue
As so often happened in Hollywood back in the day, form outweighs content in this movie. Basically it's a soap opera. But thanks to excellent movie-making craftsmanship, it's a soaper well worth watching--very enjoyable.

The cast is excellent, and outshining them all is Joan Crawford, marching through her ultra-neat mansion like a drill sergeant. With her broad padded shoulders, butch hairdo, flashing eyes and jutting jaw, she scares the pants off any weak man, and, alas, Wendell Corey as her husband is that man, a fine fellow but eminently malleable and trusting, at least until the last part of the movie.

To me the best part of the movie consists of the two final confrontations between Crawford and Corey. The movie is full of great lines but the rapid-fire exchanges in these confrontations, delivered with expert timing, are just super. Fine work by writers Anne Froelich and James Gunn.

Of course I spent the whole movie waiting for that vase to be smashed! The closing shot of Crawford left with her husband's lavish house but not much else, is a powerful ending.

Casanova Brown

The stupidity of Casanova Brown tried my patience
This is a well made movie with a good cast, particularly Frank Morgan as a gold-digging husband. Gary Cooper does a good job with the character of Casanova Brown. The problem is that his character is so monumentally stupid that he tries your patience--or at least he tried mine.

Comedies often revolve around some unlikely gimmick, contrivance, or misunderstanding, but in this movie there is one unlikely gimmick after another--all of them totally unbelievable.

For example, Casanova burns down the house of his fiancé and her parents by stuffing a burning cigarette into a wadded-up handkerchief because his future mother in law disapproves of smoking. Next thing you know, the entire enormous mansion is engulfed in flames.

Then there's the long sequence in the maternity hospital, where Casanova submits to an extensive medical examination, after just showing up from off the street, without asking why it was happening.

Next, literally one minute after being charmed by the cuteness of a baby in the maternity hospital, he proceeds to kidnap the child, hole up in a hotel room with it, and teach himself infant care--all without giving a thought to what the consequences might be.

Not that Casanova has a monopoly on stupidity. His former wife Isabel has created an elaborate plot, involving moving to Chicago to have her baby and falsely putting it up for adoption, all so she can win Casanova back. But hey, who cares about the adoptive couple on their way to the hospital to see their new baby! For that matter, who cares about Madge, the woman left stranded in her wedding dress by Casanova. She comes to Chicago, presumably to get her groom to come back and marry her, but we never hear what happens to her either.

Stupidity sometimes makes good comedy, but not monumental, serial stupidity that exists only to move along a preposterous story.

The Sun Shines Bright

A surprisingly good picture, for all its faults
While I admire John Ford's work, I knew enough about his weakness for low comedy and sentimentality so that I did not look forward to seeing this obscure movie (even though he often called it his favorite). And indeed the picture turned out to have these qualities in abundance. Nevertheless, I enjoyed "The Sun Shines Bright," finding it well made and at times moving.

Judge Priest (ably portrayed by Charles Winninger) provides a strong moral core in the movie. He is a kind, tolerant man who combines a down to earth closeness to the people and traditions of his community with an integrity and conscience that earns the respect of those around him and sets him apart. In the final shot of the Judge, we stand outside his house and watch through his open doorway as he disappears into the darkness inside. It's the exact inversion of the closing scene in "The Searchers," when we look through the door at John Wayne, left outside and apart from the people in the house.

Cornpone humor and sentimentality aside, there is much in the film that is John Ford in concentrated form--his love of folk music and marches, for example. Most of all, there are his magical set pieces that capture his intense feeling for how communities work--the temperance ladies' dance, the lynch mob, and the funeral for the "fallen woman." The funeral in particular is a wonderful sequence.

As others have pointed out, the movie is very politically incorrect from the viewpoint of today--and in fact from the viewpoint of the last 50 years. This may explain its obscurity. There is the chorus of singing black folks who "know their place," the sentimental nostalgia for the Confederacy, and, most of all, the mere presence of Stepin Fetchit in the movie. As I see it, these things are not just politically incorrect but just plain wrong.

Nevertheless, far from being a bigot or reactionary, John Ford was an artist of great spirit and vision. Even in this movie, some of the black characters are anything but stereotypes. We have to grant Ford the limitations of his time.

Hope Springs

"Can This Marriage Be Saved?"
The pleasure of watching this movie comes mostly from seeing the two stars at work, particularly Tommy Lee Jones as Arnold, a husband who is knowing when it comes to business but clueless about love and marriage in general and his wife Kay in particular. His outraged disbelief in finding himself in marriage therapy is the most entertaining part of the movie.

Otherwise this film is like a dramatized version of the Ladies Home Journal column "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" Arnold is a bossy, insensitive man and a complete bore, whose sole interest outside work seems to be watching televised golf games and instructional golf videos. Kay is a meek, submissive woman who finally, in her loneliness and boredom, stands up for herself and forces Arnold to join her in marriage counseling.

The couple have not had sex in four years. They never talk except for household business. For their wedding anniversary, they give themselves such presents as a new hot water heater.

We're talking serious dysfunction here. When, as the movie comes to a close, they finally succeed in having what looks like joyous sex, I found it to be almost miraculous. In other words, I did not find it credible.

For all its clinical, sex-manual details, this movie borders on fantasy. All of life's marital problems should be resolved as rapidly as that of Kay and Arnold.

Dark Journey

Who does what to whom? This movie is not very clear.
Eventually in this confusing film it is revealed that Vivien Leigh's character Madeleine is French, not Swiss, and that she is a spy for France, not Germany, but it takes a long time to figure out what is going on. The assortment of largely indistinguishable hangers-on among the German, French, and British groups in Stockholm does not help. With the exception of the British character Bob Carter, the others are a blur.

Conrad Veidt, playing German spy Baron von Marwitz, was nearly 20 years older than young and beautiful Vivien Leigh, and his bearing in the film--not to mention his monocle!--makes him seem even older. Not a credible romance.

Even as this film was being made, the atrocities of Hitler's Germany were in full force. Within two years it would be hard to imagine anyone looking kindly on the character of a German spy. But of course the burden of hindsight should not be forced upon this movie, which should stand on its own.

A little harder to accept, however, is the romantic treatment of spy activities that ultimately resulted in the slaughter of thousands of men in the trenches of WW I. The brief shot of trench warfare in this movie makes quite a contrast with the scenes immediately following back in Stockholm--the lavish beer hall, the concert, the fashionable dress shop. The creation of autocrats, military arms makers, and rabid superpatriots, WW I wiped out an entire generation of young Britons, Frenchmen, and Germans.

It's a well-mounted film, and Vivien Leigh is truly lovely in it, but I did not find it very enjoyable.

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