skallisjr

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Reviews

Rendezvous
(1935)

Early Cryptography Drrama -- Okay For Its Genre
There have been not too many films based on serious "codebreaking"; this one was associated with the famous cyrptanalyst, Herbert O. Yardley. An Army officer, who wrote a biook, "Ciphering and Deciphering," under a pseudonym is identified as the author by a young lady he was dating; she was the niece of the Secretary of War, so he finds himself assigned to the somewhat beleaguered cryptological group. He turns out to be good at it, trying to find out what the Germans were transmitting, since the Germsn submsrines were sinking allied shiops. Espionage s rife in Washington, and the crypto section needs to crack the German secret cipher to determine hoe they were directing their war efforts. The officer shows his crypto talents when he first enters the group's workplace and makes an instant analysis based on the statistical distribution of characters in the cipher Over the course of his studies, he also figures out a repetitive pattern of character shifts, which enables him to determine the actual message. Spoiler: The deciphered message reveals that the US code books have been compromised, giving the rendezvous point for military and associated ships en route to support the war effort, One could quibble that actual cipher messages would be in German rather than Ebglish, and that the enciphering schemer would be a little more complex than what was presented, but that's a quibble: the average moviegoer isn't a cryptologist. Although codebreaking plays a part in the film, the machinations of the espionage agents is as important in the story as the cryptanalysis. Not a bad drama, with a touch of humor added.

Walk East on Beacon!
(1952)

Early Cold-War Drama
The story was developed some years after the close of World War II, and as some of the techniques of Soviet agents of the time. The basic story, a "professor" is developing mathematics that can be used for the development of missiles and the like, with Soviet agents trying to find out details -- apparently some exotic math -- from a project code-named Falcon. The story follows the various mechanations of enemy agents, and the details of how the F.B.I. coped with the covert actions of the enemy agents. Since the film is in monochrome, it's a bitironic to point out that the plot is In black and white, as are the characters. This follows the tradition of such films during the World War II period. The covert activities of the F.B.I. are a bit humorous to a modern eye -- for example, the call litters of the local Bureau home radio transmitter are WFBI, which would be anything but a low profile in case of people monitoring frequencies. Bugging a suspect's business with an early TV camera and audio link was more to show off the latest postwar technology than to show any practical means of snooping. To a modern eye, the precomputer "calculating machine" used somehow to develop what in the brief glimpse we see of it looks like a set of differential equations, seems to the modern eye rather amusing, but accepting it for the sake of the story isn't difficult: the developed sheet of equations is what the spy ring is seeking. A rigid analysis of the espionage and counteroffer's makes little more sense than counting the number of shots a six-gun in a Roy Rogers western manages to fire without reloading; some things one can't take too seriously. Entertaining, but not documentary.

Renfrew of the Royal Mounted
(1937)

More of the Same Ain't Bad
This is one of a series of Renfrew films. Renfrew is a Mountie -- actually, a Singing Mountie, so he's bound to burst into song during the course of the film.

The story is not profound, and has a tad of the science-fictional invention in it. A gang of crooks has a member who's invented a kind of ray gun, carefully explained as a gun that sends out a tight beam of microwaves to short out the magnetos of an airplane. His invention works, but not well enough, so a university professor is tricked into helping them upgrade the device. The professor is led to believe that he's helping to perfect an antiaircraft device for national defense.

The crooks have planted a bug in the offices of a gold mine, and thus can overhear the plans for gold shipments. However, these are relayed to them by a person who pretends to be an amateur radio operator, with the information buried in children's stories.

Sgt. Renfrew is multitalented, being among other things, an airplane pilot. He and his sidekick, Constable Kelly, have been assigned to find out why the airplanes from the mine are mysteriously vanishing without a trace, so Renfrew goes airborne, with his sidekick either airsick or asleep.

Naturally, the professor has a pretty young daughter, who comes up to Canada ti visit him, and who is intimidated by the crooks into keeping quiet for her father's safety.

The Mounties finally figure out what's going on, and Renfrew goes aloft to pilot a gold shipment while Kelly goes to the crooks' lodge. The chief of the crooks, through the bug, determines that Renfrew would be flying an agglutinate route, and goes aloft himself to lure the Mountie into chasing him into the ray gun's range. The average viewer can figure out the end of this one.

The film is full of light comedic moments and a lit of fistfights. And of course, Renfrew sings a few songs, one in the airplane he' s flying on the supposed gold shipment.

You could do far worse, but it's not a film to take seriously.

I paladini - Storia d'armi e d'amori
(1983)

A Classic Tale
When I first rented a copy of the film, I thought it would just be another Medieval oater, but was pleasantly surprised to discover it had classic roots. It's a retelling of the Song of Roland. As Excalibur was the best incarnation of Le Morte d'Arthur, and Dark Kingdom was an incarnation of the Nordic Nibelungen Ring Cycle, the roots of this go back to the legends of Charlemagne, most specifically, Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.

Naturally, the story is abbreviated from the original, and there are a few changes, possibly for simplicity.

Probably because of its Italian origins, the film features some really artistically designed armor.

The Magic Sword
(1962)

Best For Youngsters
Do not expect high drama in a children's fairy tale. That being said, the film has its moments.

The overview: a youth "falls in love" with a princess from afar, seeing her in a magic mirror and a magic pool. He's only 20, and his adoptive mother thinks he's too young to get involved with anyone, particularly a princess who's been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, Lokak, to be fed to his bicephalic dragon.

Spoilers in plot outline, below.

A knight, Sir Brantin, declares he's rescue the princess (the King indicates that he'll give half his kingdom to the rescuer, as well as letting the rescuer marry the girl). But the youth, Sir George, declares to the King that he, and his companions (knights that were magically kept in suspended animation until he awakened them) would rescue the princess. Sir Brantin tries to discourage the others, pointing out the curses that Lodak set in the pathway to his castle.

The knights start out, and some are picked off, curse by curse, until finally, only Sir George (and Sir Brantin) is left. It turns out that Sir Brantin and Lodak have a deal: Sir Branti will "rescue" the Princess and in turn will give back a ring that will give Lodak ultimate power again.

Just to complicate matters, Sir George's adoptive mother, a witch herself, miscast a spell so that instead of doubling the magical power of Sir George's armor and sword, removes the magical power completely.

Eventually, though, she appears at Lodak's castle, and while he's watching Sir George facing the dragon, recalls the correct version of the spell, restores power to sword and armor, and, while this distracts Lodak long enough, slips the ring off his finger (he got it back from Sir Brantin, then doublecrosses him), thus making herself as powerful as him.

Virtue triumphs, of course.

This is a good show for littler children. The menaces are scary enough for little ones, but there is no real on-screen violence. One could do far worse.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
(2001)

Fine Effort, Mostly Pays Off
There are well over 1,100 comments preceding thus one. Everything from praise to condemnation has already been voiced. So why another comment? Why not? The film isn't faithful to the text of the book, though it's fairly faithful to the spirit behind the book. As the opening of the Harry Potter saga, a lot of the film, as with the book, is introducing newcomers to the world of the young wizard. Meeting the characters -- Harrym Hagridm Ron, Hermione, and the like -- is important, and in the film, they're fairly well established. The whole magical world of Wizardkind is introduced, but shortcuts had to be made.

Harry's flying sequences had to be trimmed, though his elation at being a natural flayers, and some of his Quidditch practice were excised, more's the pity. Likewise, Harry becoming Seeker was a secret in the book, but the talk of the school in the film.

The fundamentals remain. The film is not the book, but it's close enough so that someone who's not roast the books first could be charmed by the film into starting to read them.

The Wizard of Speed and Time
(1988)

Amazing For A Shoestring Film.
I saw pieces that were incorporated into the film on a Walt Disney telecast, titled "The Possible Impossible," or something of that sort. It was Mike Jitlov's marching tripods and biting clapper slates. Walt was the host of the show, and he explained that by using movie techniques, it was possible to present things that couldn't really happen.

Having had to improvise some low-cost special effects for an industrial film I did in the early 1970s, I sympathize with anyone who has limited cash and great ambition. Mr. Jitlov has done outstanding visual work in the film-within-the-film, and some excellent work in the rest of the opus.

A version of the short piece was shown at a New England Science Fiction society convention I was attending, so I got another glimpse of the picture. When the final (later) version of the film was released, I realized it's a one-of-a-kind film.

The feature is entertaining, and carries the viewer along with the story, which is full of Hollywood in-jokes. Even if you know nothing about the world of film, the movie still entertains.

Although the gentle story carries the viewer along, the real feature is the vast number of special effects scenes throughout the opus. They are sociometric eye candy worth repeated viewings.

Worth watching. Worth tracking down to watch.

Treasure of Monte Cristo
(1949)

One Could Do A Lot Worse Than This One!
The "Monte Cristo" theme is kinda left in the background as the film evolves. At the very beginning, a businessman drops a letter addressed to "Ed Dantes" into a mail slot of the building he's in. He then goes into an office and is immediately struck down by a shadowy figure.

Then we meet the hero. He's a merchant seaman, with Second Mate papers. He's coming ashore, and as he gets his land legs, he sees a woman being chased by a couple of men. Being a gentleman, he rescues her. The two of them get away, and in time, she tells her story: she's an heiress who escaped from an asylum because she's being maneuvered into a situation where the people who've committed her would get her inheritance. If she reached a certain age (she's three months shy) or gets married, she gets the inheritance.

Her story seems valid, and she proposes that she and Dantes take a quick trip to Reno to get married (:only technically") so that she can get rid of all the interference. Circumstances maneuver Dantes into going along with the deal. They get a quickie marriage/honeymoon at a hotel, and the following morning, when Dantes goes for cigarettes, she disappears, and leaves a message with the address of the asylum.

Dantes returns to try to rescue her, and falls into a situation where someone gets killed. Dantes is arrested, and soon is convicted of the crime.

spoiler alert: by the trial, it seems obvious that the attorney Dantes has hired is no help. The girl he married fell in love with him (I wonder what the honeymoon was really like), and she tries to help him. He also has "family" -- San Francisco folk who effectively adopted him as a boy also help him.

More spoilers: One refreshing thing about the film is that unlike a lot of such movies, the police are not portrayed as being stupid.

The story pieces fall tiger rather rapidly toward the end, but this is a good, entertaining film. It's even better if the viewer is familiar with the Dumas story.

Sky Liner
(1949)

Flight Of Fancy
Usually, films of this sort use fictional airlines; this film uses TWA. The "Air Liner" on the film is a Constellation, which became a shuttle aircraft between Boston and New York by the late 1940s.

The story has an on-ground prelude, where one person is shot dead as he enters his office after hours without a word being spoken by the killer. But that's the prelude. A number of diverse people are passengers on the airliner, and some of them interact with each other on things established before takeoff.

The flight crew are tipped off that there will be a "federal agent" aboard the flight, and one of the passengers, posing as a member of the diplomatic corps thus learns that a G-man was aboard.

One thing overrating is the Sly Liner's restroom. It apparently was conventional in those days for more than one person to occupy the restroom at a time. (In all the times I was a passenger on a Constellation, I never checked out the restrooms, but the airline was TWA, so maybe...) Anyway, it was because more than one person used a restroom at a time that the dead body was discovered, one that turned out to have been the victim of a murder.

Naturally, if it was a killing (unclear at first), the murderer had to be aboard. The airliner was diverted to a military base (for weather reasons) where a coroner does a quickie autopsy and determines that the cause of death was indeed deliberate) The airliner eventually takes off, while the F-man pits together the pieces.

The murder weapon, though clever, might not be immediately recognizable by younger viewers, but was a clever, though understandable, idea of the time.

Ebtertaining.

Roaring City
(1951)

Hugh Beaumont For Hire
As noted elsewhere, this film bears a strong resemblance to the Old-Time Radio program, PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE. The setup is virtually identical. The protagonist (calling him a hero is a tad generous) has a shop on a pier in San Francisco, is 'for hire" for any odd job that he feels comfortable with, legal or otherwise. As with the radio show, he has an intelligent, though alcoholic, helper who can do leg offstage to get him the data he needs to put the pieces of a caper together. Also like the radio show, he gets knocked out a lot.

The radio show had a lot of colorful similes, verging toward purple prose, that's diminished in the films, but then, Dennis O'Brien is no Pat Novak. (Only Jack Webb could deliver the lines the way they would work.) But, like Novak, O'Brien has a nemesis on the police force, an inspector (Hellman for Novak, Briger for City). The inspector in the film is played by Richard Travis; in the radio show, it was played by Raymond Burr.

That aside, the stories were structured like the radio show. Most of the women were, well, far from innocent victims or bystanders. This is clearly evident in both stories.

One thing in the first story that is bemusing. Toward the end of the story, Inspector Bruger becomes convinced about the guilt of the villain, gawking the heat off O'Brien. He holds the guy at gun point as O'Brien decides to call it a day. Exiting the apartment, O'Brien casually walks between Bruger and his prisoner, right through the line of fire! But nobody reacts. Criminals must have been a lot more cooperative in those days! The film is abstaining, but nothing special. A pale echo of PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE to that show's fans, though.

Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard
(1950)

Bertter Than Its Predecessor
In the 1940s, the primary entertainment medium in the United States was broadcast radio. A number of the old-time radio (OTR) shows could be classified as drama. One was "Counterspy," started in 1942, a show about a fictional agency that combated espionage and sabotage within and outside the United States. Head of the agency was David Harding.

This is one of two films based on the radio show. The first had the United States Counterspies mostly in the background. In this, David Harding takes a more active role -- even a bit more than on the radio show, where he delegated a lot of the field work to Agent Peters.

The story involves enemy agents obtaining highly classified information on guided-missile technology. At the beginning of the film, one section head figures out what the leak is, but before he can relay the information to the Counterspies, he's killed. He did leave a 1950s equivalent of a voicemail before he's offed, however.

After hearing the message, David Harding goes to the high-security area where the section head died, apparently from natural causes. Because of the suspicious timing of his death, he orders a covert exhumation for a full autopsy. As his people reach the cemetery after dark, they find someone else digging up the grave, and capture him (not without a fistfight).

It turns out that the independent graverobber is an agent from Scotland Yard, independently wanting to get an autopsy for the same reasons Harding does, though without the clue of the voice mail. It turns out that the Scotland Yard agent is an old friend of Harding's, and they pool their efforts, though under the aegis of the U. S. Counterspies.

Unlike the previous film, this one shows all sorts of tricks involving 1950s spy technology. There are radio communications, wire taps, room bugs, and all of those things that showed cleverness to the general audience of the day. Given the minimal role of the Counterspies in the first film, David Harding, Counterspy, this film appears to be trying to make up for it.

Major Spoiler Alert The spies were extracting the data from the lead female in the film, a secretary with high security clearance, who was seeing a doctor for emotionally caused headaches. The Victor used a chemically augmented form of regressive hypnotherapy to retrieve the data The recording apparatus used will be completely alien to younger viewers. Fortunastely for her, before the doctor discovers the bug that the Counterspies planted, her exchange with the doctor demonstrates she's an innocent pawn, not a traitor.

The latter parts of the film are pretty conventional, but the film is entertaining. A much better representation of the highly popular radii series than its predecessor.

The Baron of Arizona
(1950)

Worth the Price
Vincent Price is so well-known for his role in horror films that his appearance in other kinds of film is mostly forgotten. This is one of the films that illustrates he had far more range than he's often credited for.

Likewise, Lippert Films is mostly known for a lot of quickie-cheapy kinds of films; this is a quality exception, even much ahead of its time as a crime caper film.

I saw the film when it was first released, and although I was rather young at the time, the story stayed with me for decades. I finally located a copy on a VHS taped, and snapped it up. The film still works, and I'm viewing it from a far different perspective.

That the story is mostly based on historic fact is interesting, but like many caper films, what really catches the viewer's interest is the setup of the caper, with all the research, painstaking care, and the like that goes into a committing a brilliant crime. James Reavis was an incredible con man, and watching him set up each forgery is extremely interesting. Effectively, for a brief time, he effectively stole the whole state of Arizona.

(Major Spoiler) What's really nice about the film is that the change in Reavis' character is believable, showing that even the most cold-blooded plan can be warmed by affection. That's even reflected as he teeters on the brink of being hanged: his "defense" is that if he's killed, the lynchers would be cheated out of their lands; i.e., that killing him will validate his forgeries! A very memorable film, rather obscure, and highly recommended.

North to Alaska
(1960)

Lighthearted
The story's a simple one: a team strikes gold in Alaska, and one partner goes South to tie up loose ends, including bringing back a girl who Promised To Wait for the other partner, but didn't! So what does the partner (Wayne) do? Why, he finds another girl to bring back.

The comedic situation has been used before, but it works here, as well. John Wayne comedies are relatively rare, but this is a good one. It's in my collection.

(Spoiler) In the great free-for-all fight in the mud, anyone with sharp eyes and who's really paying attention will notice that a certain major star shows that he's wearing a rug. One has to look quickly, but why it wasn't edited out is beyond me!

Space Ghost
(1966)

Quick Adventures, Much Fun
I'd watch these as an adult when they first were aired. The superhero had Power Bands, which apparently could do nearly everything by pushing the right buttons. In about 8 minutes per complete episode, a problem was set up, a glitch to its solution occurred, and then the hero triumphed, often with the help of his monkey. (With all his power bands and the like, he, Jayce, and Jan were often at the mercy of the bad guys until they got help from an often invisible Blip. So much for high-tech.Is that they're rescued by a small simian a spoiler?) Some of the villains were great, but one of the most underused ones was Metallus, who was the one who was the most honorable, and the one who contended with Space Ghost, technologically. The horde of robots he commanded were occasionally a bit silly, such as the "rock-throwing robots," to quote Jayce's observation, but the heroes managed to get through them or otherwise evade/avoid them.

The stories, as noted, are short and simple. As such, they're good for a fast break when one's had a long day. They're a lot of fun and worth a view.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
(2007)

Complement to the Book
Those who read the books first may be disappointed in the film. Those who haven't may be puzzled by some of the plot. But reading the book first makes some of the action in the film more understandable.

For starters: the dementor attack and what led up to it in the film came nowhere near what was in the book. More important, the aftermath of the attack just had the Dursleys learn that Harry apparently had been expelled from Hogwarts, and were absent to take Dudley to the hospital, never being told that Harry had to stay in the house when away from Hogwarts until his 17th birthday. Nor, to jump to the end of the film, did the Order members confront the Dursleys on how they were treating Harry.

Naturally, a book as long as "Order of the Phoenix" has to be truncated to squeeze the results into a 2.5-hour film. Yet some of the action would be just perplexing to those who haven't read the book. For example, it's been established that the vast majority of Hogwarts' students cannot see Thestrals, yet when Luna suggests that they can be used for transportation, there's no point of awkwardness (as in the book) where some of the students with Harry don't know how to mount invisible critters.

A critical event in the Harry Potter saga was when Harry gets one of Snape's memories while he was studying Occulimancy; however, in the film, *why* he was studying the discipline was a tad vague.

The basic thrust of the film plot is close enough to the book for transition to that of the book so that there can be a reasonable move to the next year's story ("Half-Blood Prince").

Having said all of the above, the film is reasonably good in imagery. Visually, my favorite scene was Harry and the Order folk flying by broomstick to London and along the Thames after dark. I suspect the magical duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort was added for visual effect, but it was a little long.

A nice view, but better viewed after reading the book.

The Condemned
(2007)

Lots of Fun
This to me is The Running Man mixed with Deadlock, with a hint of The Most Dangerous Game and The Naked Prey thrown in.

The concept is simple: take ten death-row prisoners, place them on an anonymous island, fill it with monitoring cameras, and create a Survivor situation -- literally! Ten are released; nine have to die for one to live. The producer, Ian Beckle, is presenting the ultimate "reality TV" show over a subscriber-supported Internet. He has a control room set up so that not only can the viewers see anything interesting going on (killings and rapes), but they can hear appropriate background music accompanying the views!.

Although the film is set as an action flick, it does contain significant social commentary.

Semi-spoiler: To keep the condemned "contestants" in line, each has a device strapped to an ankle, which has a timer on it so that unless the player is the winner, it will explode. It will also explode if the "contestant" strays past a border. It will also explode if the "contestant" tries to remove it. Yet more than one "contestant" went through so much physical grief that the sensing devices in the devices should have triggered.

Nothing very profound, but if one wants to take it easy, it's a nice piece of entertainment. But the viewer will remember few of the details in a few days.

Doctor Strange
(2007)

Not Quite Like The Comic Book
The picture reprises the origin story of Doctor Strange, from arrogant neurosurgeon to Sorcerer Supreme. As with some Marvel heroes, a goodly chunk of time is spent giving the previous-life story, and just enough background to see how he moves to his new life.

The story begins with the doctor occasionally Seeing Things, which are really other Sorcerers fighting supernatural creatures, invisibly to the general public (which we could call muggles). At one point, several of the Sorcerers understand that Strange can see them, but don't act on it.

At one point, he examines a comatose child. He says he can't help her, but when he examines her, he gets a vision of a fiery and menacing being. As with his other sightings, he cannot understand why he's seeing what he's seeing, but there's little he can do about his vision.

In time, Strange gets injured in a car wreck (set off by supernatural-type visions), messing up his hands. He learns that the damage to his hands is incurable, which leads him on a quest to see whether his hands could be cured by anyone. After traveling far and wide, he exhausts his finances and becomes like one homeless. Eventually, he's led to Tibet, where he encounters The Ancient One and a band of Sorcerers.

Over time, he learns humility, and then trains slowly to be like the other Sorcerers. The captain of these Sorcerers is Mordo, who is a warrior. He leads them to repel/destroy the peculiar beasts that wreak havoc in the world, but that humans can't see.

Spoilers follow: The Ancient One is the Sorcerer Supreme. He is looking for a successor, as he is ailing, and perceives that a replacement may be needed. We learn that an alien being from another dimension, Dormamu, once was trying to conquer the "other dimensions," but was repulsed successfully by The Ancient One in the past. With The Ancient One's health failing, Dormamu intensifies his attempts to break out of his dimension, by using his creatures.

Mordo is sent to cope with a pair of the monsters, and although The Ancient One gave him orders on how to deal with them, Mordo thought he knew better, and disobeyed The Ancient One.

I'll leave the rest of the story unstated.

The animation is ... well, okay, but nothing to brag about. The interdimensional scenery is adequate, but was much more imaginative in the original comic book.

Cat-Women of the Moon
(1953)

Three Ds
I picked up a copy of this because of its alleged stereoscopic content. Much of the tape had such poor registration that the stereo effect was lost. A couple of scenes were close enough so that one could see a little depth, but not most of them.

In the copy of the Rhino videotape, there was the tape and two sets of anaglyph glasses. For standard color anaglyph presentations, the left filter is red; the right, blue or cyan (or sometimes green). This one has it reversed, and on the glasses it says to use them in the red-right orientation to see this film, and the standard way to see Robot Monster or The Mask. Well, it's cheaper than redoing the film recording, but if they'd done that, they might have avoided the misalignment.

The film story is pretty weak, and rather silly. In the opening scene, the rocket, which looks similar to a radiator hood ornament, is blasting along, and someone at White Sands is trying to contact the ship. The crew starts to recover from ... what? ... the strain of takeoff? ... without responding for the longest time. Eventually, the commander responds with the equivalent of, "We're okay, now shut up." The rest of the crew objects so strongly that he lets each one of them report his or her conditions, but advises them to keep it short.

As has been observed, the command area of the ship employs office furniture. Each crewmember has a locker, like those found at high schools.

When they go to explore the lunar landscape, it's interesting to see that the space suits are of two different designs. How hot the lunar surface is can be seen by dropping a cigarette onto the surface, where it bursts into flame. Pretty good trick for a part of the moon that ostensibly had no atmosphere.

The technical gaffes ... no, make them howlers ... are so great that it propels the film immediately from science fiction into pure fantasy. Children's fantasy at that.

This is not a film to be taken seriously. If you like honest camp, though, you might find it fun.

Sibling Rivalry
(1990)

Light Comedy
This is not a profound film, nor is it intended to be. The story starts off simply: a housewife, Marjorie, is married to a doctor, Harry. Harry is part of a family of doctors that is so close-knit that there should have been adhesions among its members. Marjorie is such a dedicated wife that she stifles her inclinations to be a writer to help bring harmony to her husband's family, particularly when they have "family meetings." Marjory has a younger sister who is something of a free spirit, and she tells Marjorie that the best thing for a marriage like hers would be if she had an affair.

Harry's older brother, also a doctor, to be sure, is returning to the United States after acting as a missionary-style physician in a third-world country. Naturally, the family wants to hold a welcome-home party, and, naturally, Marjorie is supposed to take care of preparing it. When she's in a market making arrangements for the party, she's picked up by a man who is very sympathetic with her stifled life, and in time, they take a hotel room and have sex multiple times.

Spoilers follow.

After their last encounter, Marjorie discovers that her bedmate has died. Flustered, she gets dressed and leaves the room with haste, bumping into a salesman. The salesman has been unsuccessful in selling window appointments, and is determined to make a sale to the hotel. Naturally, he sneaks into the room where the corpse is, and after trying to trim a window, thinks that his actions have caused the man to die. Previously, he found Marjorie's identification, and contacts her. She speeds back to the hotel to pick up the incriminating evidence, not realizing that the salesman thinks he was the agent of the victim's demise.

As the picture progresses, like any good comedy, the harder people try to rectify things, the further enmeshed they become.

There are some fine lines in the picture, and a few plot twists as good as anything from the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, even though this film wouldn't have passed the Hayes office back then.

It's not a great film, but it is a lot of gentle fun.

The House on 92nd Street
(1945)

Not Speaking Softly
I first saw this film at age 9 when it was initially released. To a growing boy who used to listen to radio dramas on the FBI, it felt like lifting the curtain a bit to see how the real Bureau operated. My grandmother, sitting next to me, more than once sighed and said, "How clever they are!" At the time, the effect of the film was that the typical FBI agent was extremely heroic, and that he, usually as a team of other agents, could solve any crime and bring any enemy to justice.

The idea that the German agents were stealing atomic secrets just underscored how vital the FBI was to our nation's security.

The latest time I saw the film was last night. What a difference 61 years makes! Reed Hadley's narration was many decibels over what it should have been, and his almost staccato delivery didn't make me look forward to the next narrative bridge. But the basic story was pretty good. The cameras apparently filmed some areas of the FBI, including one vast room where people could work in parallel on huge numbers of files, pre-computer. As a tour, it was quite impressive.

A lot of information was squeezed into the 88 minutes of film, including some cryptology, a bit of radiotelegraphy, and interesting surveillance techniques. However, one area they were surveilling and filming, they were using a Bell & Howell Design 70 family camera, which used 100-foot reels of 16mm film. Even shooting it at "silent" speed of 16 frames per second, means that they'd get a bit more than 4 minutes of surveillance before they had to load new film, if the camera had an electric motor to keep it running continuously. Not very efficient.

Many critics today would jump on practices that were common during and after the war. Actually, taken out of historical context, some of the comments may have merit, but the film is a snapshot of its time.

All in all, though, the film does give a sense of how we thought just after the war. Not at all bad.

House on Haunted Hill
(1959)

Very Good Of Its Kind
This film starts with a simple premise: an eccentric man of great wealth invites a number of strangers to a party in a spooky old mansion. This isn't a social invitation: for various reasons, each invitee really needs the $10,000 that Loren, the host, offers them if they'll spend the night at the place.

As the "party" starts, the host passes out loaded weapons, pistols, for each guest's protection. This is surely a first in party favors. Through the course of the film, strange, and in some cases, one could say deadly, occurrences take place. These all lead up to an interesting climax where a major player is shown to have been killed by being dissolved alive in a kind of acid bath. But then ....

There are twists and turns in the film, but the presence of Vincent Price enlivens the whole film.

It's lots of fun.

Prospero's Books
(1991)

It Helps If You Already Know The Story
The film is an adaptation of The Tempest, to be sure, but taken to imaginative heights. The photographic imagery is complex and rich, and slowly the story unfolds. Unfortunately, more slowly than necessary.

Within many of the scenes is a staggering number of naked people who are no more contributory to the story than any building or fountain. There are numerous glimpses of pages of some of the books, with rapid changes of images, each so quick that they border on the subliminal. Interestingly, some of the arcane images were executed after the time the story was supposed to be taking place.

The story of the Prospero-induced storm, and the interactions with the survivors and both Prospero and his daughter are familiar to most, but the plot advances slowly, probably too slowly for many viewers.

There is a tradition in some magical philosophies that a magician derives his or her powers directly from whatever magical books he or she possesses, and this was presented in the film, from the play.

(Spoiler) At the close of the film, Prospero's books are all destroyed save one. That one was one of Shakespeare's plays -- and the one the film is based on! That was a jarring touch.

Ball of Fire
(1941)

Slang-ri-la
Professor Potts is one of a group of encyclopedists who are spending much effort over many years to produce the ultimate encyclopedia. Potts is a lexicographer, and at the time is interested in slang. A garbage collector uses some unfamiliar slang in his presence, and Potts is determined to circulate in the contemporary world to bring his terminology up to date.

In the process, he visits many different places, ending up in a nightclub where the lead singer, "Sugarpuss" O'Shea sings a song, "Drum Boogie," the title of which Professor Potts copies down as a slang term. He figures that Ms. O'Shea would be a goldmine of slang terms, and tries to interview her, but is rebuffed. Then, "Sugarpuss" learns that the police are looking for her, so she invades the professorial sanctorum to hide out, agreeing to be a source of information to Potts.

In time, Potts and Ms. O'Shea are drawn together, though she's engaged to her gangster boyfriend. He wants to marry her so that she can't testify against him if she's caught by the police; how romantic.

The film has nice touches, including the hero and his entourage riding to the rescue in a garbage truck and accompanying car.

Major spoiler: near the end of the picture, the crooks are dumped into the garbage truck's trash compartment, and it's extraordinarily clean. That alone was worth a chuckle.

Also, the film may appeal more to older viewers, because much of the "modern" slang is quite outdated. (Mae West, teaching schoolkids in My Little Chickadee, had much the same problem with her slang.) Worth a view, indeed.

David Harding, Counterspy
(1950)

Tries For Its Roots
Columbia Pictures produced a number of films based on Old Time Radio programs. Several were serials, such as Captain Midnight and Jack Armstrong. But this one is a feature. Based on the radio program, "Counterspy," the radio show originated in 1942, and spent its war years having Harding and his counterspies contend against Gestapo and Black Dragon activities. The show was popular, and continued through 1957.

The film was set in the Cold War, but effectively was a flashback to 1943. In the beginning of the film, Harding causes a radio commentator to break a story with planted disinformation, so he brings the commentator in and, to compensate, gives him the story that comprises the film.

At the beginning of the story, a tough-as-nails Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, Jerry Baldwin, is drafted by the Counterspies to investigate espionage activities in a plant that manufactured torpedoes. Baldwin's predecessor, Phil Iverson, an Annapolis classmate, who was stationed at the torpedo plant, had been found dead, presumably from smoking in bed, but with some suspicion of murder. Baldwin was to take Iverson's job, but working with the Counterspies.

Iverson's widow, Betty Iverson, was a woman that Baldwin was in love with before she married. She is asked to take her old job back, as secretary to Baldwin. Baldwin dates her, and romance blooms. However, it turns out that she's in cahoots with the factory's doctor, George Vickers, who's the head of an Axis spy ring.

The story's scattered with a lot of clandestine activity, and refreshingly, most of the characters are fairly intelligent. A number of spy tricks are presented, and the story is worthy of the radio program it emulates.

David Harding, as a spymaster, usually directed activities rather than acting as a field agent. The film follows this pattern.

Especially good if the viewer is familiar with the radio series, but entertaining even if this is the first exposure to the title character.

Beneath Still Waters
(2005)

Approach With Caution
Some films are often a collection of associated scenes that are loosely tied together to advance the plot. The film story can be followed, but one has to pay attention to sort out the relevant stuff.

In 1965, the story starts, two little boys explore a deserted town that is to be flooded. They find some strange goings-on at a church building, and -- spoiler-- one of them gets killed after freeing someone who's been bound. The other boy gets away.

Then, there's a jump of 40 years. The "current" story starts with a TV reporter and a photojournalist (working on spec) covering the 40th anniversary of the completion of the dam that caused waters to inundate the abandoned town.

The mayor of the town wants to use the 40th anniversary as a means to attract tourists, and sets a celebratory party for a few days after the action opens. So, as strange things start to happen, he wants them covered up with plausible cover stories.

Strange happenings are followed by stranger things. The daughter of the lady TV person seems to be a focus of what's happening, and we slowly understand that she's been targeted by Mordecai Salas, the strange person that the one young boy freed. Salas, we learn, was an acolyte of Aleister Crowly, a notorious black magician of the first half of the 20th Century. He apparently learned the secret of a form of immortality, but his great drive is to bring back the evil practices that the flooding of his town had suppressed.

The freelance photojournalist, Dan Quarry, eventually figures out what can stop Salas' program. He then takes action.

The film story could better have been tightened a bit. I don't recommend this for the casual viewer.

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