jayraskin1

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Reviews

Gambling House
(1950)

Interesting Film with Casting Problems
This is an interesting film which is part gangster film, part film noir, and part social drama. For those interested in how deportation was used in the 1950s to get rid of undesirables, it is very educational and seems pretty realistic. I think the biggest problem with the film is the casting of the three leads, Victor Mature, Terry Moore, and William Bendix.

Mature is surprisingly good as a gangster, but he really has a good nature and looks heroic, so it is hard to see him as a thug. Moore was 21 years old at the time of the movie and Mature was 37. This type of age difference is not unusual in Hollywood movies of this time, but unfortunately, Moore looks 18 years and talks like she is 16, and Mature looks in his 40s, so the blossoming love relationship between them seems misplaced. There were probably 50 actresses from 25-45 who would have been great with Mature, but Moore just seems in the wrong picture. Moore is great in other pictures, like "Mighty Joe Young," but at 21, she lacks the gravity to be a counter-balance to Mature's brooding performance. He is also about a foot taller than her. She looks like his daughter when she is next to him.

Worse, William Bendix, one of the great comic actors of this time plays the villain. Anybody who has seen him in his "Life of Riley" television series or other comic roles he has played in can only be disappointed that he plays the villain straight without any comic touches. He is not bad as the villain, but it does seem a waste of his talents.

It does move along fairly well and does generate some suspense in the key scenes. Don't go in with high expectations and you'll enjoy it.

Leonard Part 6
(1987)

A Great Spy Spoof Ten Years Ahead of Austin Powers and Twice as Funny
"Leonard, Part VI" was released in 1988, at the height of Bill Cosby's television career and popularity in the fourth season of "The Cosby Show," the #1 rated television comedy series in history. He had played a secret agent on "I Spy" for three years in the 1960s, so a spy spoof seemed a source of great material for him. Watching it today, it is a great mixture of satire and slapstick gags. The formula was essentially repeated ten years later with the three "Austin Powers" films. Both critics and audiences loved them. Why did they reject the similar "Leonard VI?"

The film looks great and is well-paced. It is about a retired secret agent who now runs a fancy restaurant, He is called out of retirement to stop a villain named Medusa (Gloria Foster) who has found a way to control all animals and brainwash them into murdering people. Cosby adds some interesting secondary plots. Leonard is trying to win back his wife who left him when she found him naked with a 19 years year old in a sauna. He also has to handle a daughter who has been seduced by a theater director (Moses Gunn). She wants to appear nude in a play on stage to become a star. This seems to be a direct reference to Cosby's troubles with Lisa Bonnet at the time, She played his daughter on television and appeared nude in a movie (Angel Heart). The fact that Cosby's super-hero spy is a family man adds a wonderful dimension to his character.

Why did the critics embrace "Austin Powers" and hate "Leonard Part VI?" I think there were two reasons. First Dawn Steel had replaced David Putnam as head of Columbia Studios. Putnam had greenlit Cosby's "Leonard." If it made a lot of money people would question why they had fired Putnam and replaced him with Steel. Steel, only the second woman to head a film studio, did not want a film that made her predecessor look good. She couldn't kill the film because of contractual obligations, but she could spread the word that it was a disaster. Unfortunately, Cosby himself seems to have believed this propaganda, as he apologized for the film and went on television and told people not to buy tickets to it in the weeks before it opened.

The second reason Hollywood hated it is that the villain is a vegetarian who wants to liberate all the animals in the world from man's oppression. This is a satire on P.E.T.A., While most people in the United States recognized the extreme silliness and madness of the organization, the wealthy, who run Hollywood, tend to back up and support P.E.T.A. with hugh contributions. They see them and themselves as they see the Metoo movement, strictly as heroes. Russians and Eastern Europeans are good for villains, Chinese are good for villains, blacks are good for villains or at least lower-level villains, but animal activists are the heroes of Hollywood movies and must never be considered as anything but saints protecting the poor animal victims of mankind's insensitivity and thoughtlessness.

The attacks on Cosby for his transgressing the Hollywood hierarchy in the film "Leonard Part VI" was a dress rehearsal for the attacks on Cosby in 2004 when he transgressed the boundaries of Hollywood elite with his speech calling for stronger black families before the NAACP.

Man About Town
(1939)

Another Excellent and Charming Comedy With Jack Benny
I watched Jack Benny on television as child and enjoyed him, but I have only become a real fan in the last five years. I've re-watched all of television, heard most of his radio shows (I've listened from 1932-1951, I have six more years to go) and watched all of his available movies. Benny often denigrated his acting and movie career on the radio and television shows, but that was part of his act. In fact, I haven't found any movie that he was in that was bad, and most of them, like this one is well-made and fulled with charm. Even the much lambasted "the Horn Blows at Midnight" is a quite watchable comedy which has a twenty minute finale that is as wacky and surreal as anything that the Marx Brothers or Mel Brooks ever did. Anyways, this film is a smorgasbord of delights. Eddie Anderson, Monty Wooly, Binnie Barnes, Dorothy Lamour, Betty Grable, Edward Arnold, and Phil Harris are all delightful. Unfortunately, because the film is only 1 hour and 25 minutes, each of them just get 10 or 15 minutes of screen time and that is a little disappointing. It is like a variety show where each act just does a couple of numbers and you really want to see more. The movie is the only sex farce/comedy that Benny did. Benny was surprisingly handsome and debonair looking for a comedian. Those who just saw him on television (1950-1965) were watching him in his late 50s and 60s, after he had been married for 20 years to the wonderful Mary Livingston. Here he is still 45 years old and quite handsome. While a sex comedy, it is restricted by the Hayes Code to just a few kisses and suggestions of adultery. Benny and the beautiful women around him still make it work. By the way, note that Phil Silvers used Benny's hilarious acrobatic scene at the end of this film in "A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).

The Jack Benny Program: Jack Goes to the Races
(1958)
Episode 11, Season 8

Sheldon Leonard as the Race Track Tout and Joe Besser as a Waiter, Pure Fun
This 1958 episode features many of his radio show guest regulars, including Sheldon Leonard, who plays his usual race-track tout character, Joe Besser (a short time member of the Three Stooges and "Stinky" on the "Abbott and Costello Show") and Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and many other cartoon characters) as the announcer.

Show regulars Mary, Rochester, and Dennis Day show up too. Not much happens, just a few race track gags. Benny had many fall--on-the-floor hysterical programs. This episode is just easy, laid back comedy that brings a few smiles.

Men Call It Love
(1931)

Far Better Than You Would Expect.
I wasn't expecting much, but as a fan of Adolphe Menjou and Norman Forster, I decided to give it a shot. I was surprised that the movie was really well done. It was a beautiful humanistic morality tale. All the characters were actually quite realistic and complex. Although they all behave badly and thoughtlessly at moments, the four lead characters (Menjou, Forster, Leila Hyams, and Mary Duncan) are quite sympathetic, forgivable for their mistakes, and genuinely nice people.

As many pre-code pictures did, this one examines two morally contrasting couples and there reactions to the modern-day (for 1932) pressures of marriage. Adolphe Menjou plays the sophisticated Don Juan golf pro who seduces the wealthy wives. He is fun-loving but does have his own code of morality. He won't seduce a woman unless the husband is a cad and deserves it. Norman Forster is usually laid back, but here he is positively aggressive, telling Menjou to "Go to blazes" when he turns to seduce his wife, Connie. Leila Hyams, famous for "Isle of Lost Souls," and "Freaks" is positively delightful as Connie, a woman who is totally devoted to her husband, until she sees his infidelity with his own eyes. Equally good is Mary Duncan. She makes a lot of great wisecracks about how weak her husband is and after failing to get herself seduced by Menjou goes after her friend Connie's husband. Both Forster and Duncan seem totally spontaneous and seem to be caught up in the moment, which is really how most sexual affairs happen. The movie is extremely sophisticated morally and seems to put the goodness of people before any hard and fast rules of morality. The movie was written by Vincent Lawrence (who wrote "Cleopatra," 1934) from his own stage play, and directed by Edgar Selwyn, who had an amazing and dynamic career as an actor/director and producer on Broadway and in Hollywood. In 1913, he started a movie company with a man named Goldfish, who took part of Selwyn's last name and went on to produce movies under the name of Goldwyn when he later became a founder of MGM.

Johnny Stool Pigeon
(1949)

Combination "Dragnet" and "the Departed"
The movie starts off like a police procedural of the period, but twists into something quite different and intense. Howard Duff is a cop and Dan Duryea is a criminal who infiltrate a drug mob. Both are top notch actors who keep us guessing as to what they're really thinking. Shelley Winters is sexy as the girl who flirts with both in order to escape from her life as a gangster moll. Hanging around on the edges of the film is Anthony (Tony) Curtis. He is quite chilling portraying a cruel thug without saying a word. This was the 24 year-old Bernard Schwartz's third film, but the first one where he is really generating interest. William Castle is known as a director of gimmicky films, but he has some surprisingly effective horror films, "The House on Haunted Hill," and "the Tingler" to his credit. This movie is also surprisingly effective.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Final Escape
(1964)
Episode 18, Season 2

Offbeat and Memorable Because of Actors Ed Byrnes and Robert Keith
There is some fine acting here. Robert Keith was the father of Brian Keith and one time husband of Peg Entwhistle. Brian Keith, a successful movie star in the 40s and 50s was best known as for the television series Family Affair 1966-1971. He committed suicide in 1997. Peg Entwhistle is famous for committing suicide by jumping off the Hollywood Sign in 1932. Robert Keith was never a star, but he had good supporting in Marlon Brando's "the Wild One" and "Guys and Dolls." He is most famous for his last two roles in 1964, this one on the Alfred Hitchcock Hour and his appearance as the patriarch of a rather selfish family in "the Masks" on the Twilight Zth one. Ed Byrnes became a short lived television super-star on the1958-63 detective series "77 Sunset Strip" as a hip parking valet named "Kookie." Byrnes played a baby faced criminal in the pilot episode, but was quickly accepted as one of the series heroes. The audience feels a lot of sympathy for both "Doc" (Keith) and young bank robber "Paul Perry" (Byrnes). Both are suffering being in a rather strange southern prison where the inmates work for 13 cents a day. Doc wants money to help his granddaughter get medical treatment. Perry just wants to get out of the 11 years he has to serve in the prison. The question is can they trust each other in order to get what they want.

One of the interesting things in this episode is that the characters are likeable and certainly don't deserve their fate. Usually the endings have characters getting what they deserved. This one leaves a bitter taste because neither of the two characters deserve their fate. The viewer is left pretty shocked and dismissed. This does remind the viewer that good or at least not bad people sometimes have unfair endings. This is what happened to both Robert Keith son, Brian, and his wife Peg Entwhistle.

The Last Laugh
(2019)

A Nice Movie that Lives in the Past
I'll make it simple. If you were born before 1970, you will have a 75% chance of enjoying this movie. If you were born after 1970, you will have a 25% chance of enjoying this movie.

The jokes belong to an older era, the 70s or 80s. If you weren't around then, you might not appreciate them.

The movie doesn't aim high, but it is cute enough to remind you of many great movies that these two have done. It is a pleasant 90 minutes or so (if you're over 60).

Behold My Wife!
(1934)

Actress with the Saddest Eyes In Hollywood Pleads Case for Indian Nobility
This is a film based on a now obscure novel by socialist writer Theodore Dreiser. It paints a picture of a hypocritical alcoholic and adulterous upper class at the beginning of the 20th Century. Gene Raymond plays a son of the this class who hates the class and wants to marry an ordinary (but beautiful) secretary. His family ruins his chances and he leaves the family vowing revenge. He goes out west and becomes involved with an Indian woman named Tonita Storm Cloud played by Sylvia Sydney. The rest of the movie deals with their relationship. The question that the movie explores is does he really want her or is he just using her to get revenge on his family. Sylvia Sydney had played in an adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's more successful novel, "American Tragedy" just two years before in 1931. This movie shows why the idea that actors be limited to their own ethnic and racial groups in casting is insane. There simply were no popular Indian actresses at this time, and the film wouldn't have gotten made without the popular Sylvia Sydney in the lead. The character of Tonita Storm Cloud is very sympathetic and heroic. Will the movie contradict its opening idea of a monolithic racist anti-Indian ruling class?

The Twilight Zone: Once Upon a Time
(1961)
Episode 13, Season 3

The Last Silent Film of Buster Keaton
This was a perfect blend of Keaton's wonderfully impossible humor and whimsy, and a wonderfully moral Twilight Zone tale. Keaton's silent film always portrayed a cold and cynical universe, but one that did always somehow end up caring about the idealistic Keaton. Keaton's plans and hopes are usually dashed to pieces by fate, but just as he seems doomed, fate steps in to help him. That is what happens here. Woodrow Mulligan hates the 1890s world that he lives in, but doesn't find the 1961 world he time travels to any better. Yet it is his adventures to the worse world that makes him happy to return to his own time. Keaton was one of the kings of silent comedy alongside Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, from 1922-1928. His films are the most amazing of them all the great silent film comedians. His sound career was uneven, at best. Most of his talking short films perhaps 50 or more, were amusing, but none amazing. He starred in about a dozen features between 1929 and 1936, and only three or four can be called good. His appearances in a dozen other features are small parts and cameos, with the exceptions of Charlie Chaplin's "Limelight," and "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum," (his last film in 1965). Although these are great films and he is great in them, he is only onscreen in both for about four minutes. Was there ever a funnier time travel movie Than this little Twilight Zone episode? I don't think so. For more Keaton time travel, see his first feature film, "Three Age," (1923), a spoof of DW Griffth's "Intolerance."

Fatty and Mabel Adrift
(1916)

Roscoe and Mabel in Love
This is a wonderfully sweet and romantic movie. Mabel and Fatty speak slapstick fluently and poetically here. Al St. John and Teddy are great in it too. Does anybody know who did the cinematography? It is beautiful.

The scene of Roscoe's shadow kissing Mable goodnight is still incredibly beautiful after more than 100 years.

This is another movie where Mabel Normand gets to run around in her pajamas. It was risque for the day. It was the equivalent of a nude scene today. She also did it in 1914 in her first film with Charlie Chaplin - "Mable's Strange Predicament."

This should be included in all retrospectives of the best works of both Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle.

Watching it again, I noticed the actor Wayland Trask. I didn't know who he was and he was hilarious as the gang mob boss. I wondered why he hadn't gone on to be a known silent film comedian.

I looked him up on IMDB. It turns out that he died in an auto accident, the following year that this movie was released. He only had a four year career doing shorts. He appeared in 48 of them, most of them with Charles Murray and Louise Fazenda, and a few more with Al Saint John. He did get co-star billing with Murray in three or four films. He was talented and may have become a star if not for the accident.

I Take This Woman
(1931)

Cowboy Vs. Playgirl - Much Better than You Expect
Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard are magic together. It is hard to tell if they are acting or just carrying on an off-screen romance on-screen.

At the beginning of the movie, socialite, playgirl Carol sashays over to her straight-laced aristocratic father, bends over and says, "Spank me, good daddy, I need it." You know immediately we are in a pre-code film.

Cooper plays a slow talking cowboy who doesn't think she's anything special. He tells her that all women are a disappointment to him. She's angry that he's not falling at her feet and drooling. She explains her plan explicitly to get him to fall in love with her. When the plan ends, she finds that she's succeeded, but she laments that she has also trapped herself. They're in love. That's the first twenty minutes of the movie, then it really gets interesting, as the movie explores the problems of love between two people from two different social and class backgrounds.

No Man of Her Own
(1932)

A Royal Flush
Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, Dorothy Mackaill, and Grant Mitchell are all excellent actors. There careers were thriving at this point. It may have been depression times, but this warm and witty comedy hardly notices.

Maurine Watkins who wrote the play "Chicago" in 1927, contributed to the screenplay. I think we have her to thank for a sophisticated point of view towards morals and for Lombard's character being able to show desire and passion with truth and subtlety. Being a librarian in a small town (Glendale) and realizing that Gable is a big city slicker and ladies man trying to seduce her, she rightly rejects him. However, being bored out of her mind with a small town life in her small town, she decides to gamble on him for a chance to escape. She's a lot less puritanical than Marian the Librarian from "The Music Man." The movie has a Damon Runyon flavor to it. The crooks and cops are playing a gentlemanly game and give each other sporting chances. In this respect it reminds one of Little Miss Marker.

Dorothy MacKaill's character plays an angry, criminal woman who also has a passion for Gable. She could also be a character from Wakkin's "Chicago."

The film is a delight with many skillfully executed twists and turns that still surprises us.

Saigon
(1947)

This Happened Because It Had to Happen
This movie does prove that Alan Ladd looks great in a tuxedo and would have made a great James Bond. Veronica Lake plays a secretary without a sense of humor until the last 1/3 of the film where she suddenly starts to look more like her usual sexy, peekaboo self. Only the last 1/3 of the film takes place in Saigon. The first hour is just the characters trying to get to Saigon. Weirdly, almost all the last 1/2 hour takes place in a hotel where their appears to be no Vietnamese. The movie could have been called Santa Cruz or San Diego, or any city name with as much relevance to the plot. The movie is surprisingly lacking in wit and suspense, at least until the last 20 minutes where things pick up a bit. I think the movie is just for Alan Ladd fans. The quote "This happened because it had to happen" is the best line in the movie, which tells you how bad the movie is.

The Squall
(1929)

Here Comes Nubi
Nubi (Myrna Loy) is Gypsy Girl. Me crazy in love with Nubi. Me cheat for Nubi. Me steal for Nubi. Me give up family for Nubi. Me ruin my reputation for Nubi.

Only problem is every man in village love Nubi. Nubi so beautiful, every man love Nubi. Every woman jealous of Nubi. Me can't think of any other actresses when Nubi on screen. Not even think of Zazu Pitts or Loretta Young.

Can Nubi help it if every man love Nubi and fight over Nubi. Everybody love Nubi. Nubi love nobody . Poor Nubi. Poor Gypsy girl. Poor movie, but Myrna Loy is wonderfully sensual in this painfully slow morality tale of Eve causing a squall in the Hungarian Garden of Eden.

Woman Chases Man
(1937)

Perfect Screwball Comedy
At the very beginning of this film, Nina Tennyson (Leona Maricle) tells lover Henrie Saffron (Erik Rhodes) that she is going to marry millionaire Kenneth Nolan (Joel McCrea) "so you and I can live happily ever afterwards." She explains that she is going to marry Nolan for his money and then leave him. Henrie say, "Holy Mackerel, what a way to make a living." "Do you know any other way to make a living," she wisecracks.

Besides his fiancé, Nolan's father, B.J. Nolan (Charles Winninger) is also after his money. He has started a suburban housing community called "Nolan Heights" and creditors are going to ruin him if his son doesn't invest in the project. His son has specifically been ordered in his mother's will, not to invest in his father's hair-brained schemes. Thus both father and son are in trouble.

At this moment, Virginia Travis (Mariam Hopkins) shows up looking for a job as an architect for Nolan's "Nolan Heights" housing project. She gives a wild and hilarious introductory speech:

"I know what you're thinking that I'm a girl. Yes, Mr. Nolan, but I have a man's courage, a man's vision, a man's attack...For seven years, I studied like a man, researched like a man. There is nothing feminine about my mind. Seven year ago I gave up a perfectly nice engagement with a charming, wealthy old man because I chose a practical career. I left him at the church to become an architect and today I'm ready and he's dead. Here I am Mr. Nolan with the key to Nolan Heights. I've found a way to make us both rich. I can make you a fortune. Why I have a million dollars right here in my hand."

At this point, she faints dead away. A doctor is called and he explains that she fainted due to hunger. She hadn't eaten in 48 hours. "49 hours," Virginia corrects him, coming out of her faint.

This is a very sweet movie where all the main characters are both con-artists and lovers.

I think Mariam Hopkins is brilliant in her performance and deserved an academy award. Unlike Katherine Hepburn, who appears loving, but feather-brained, in the popular screwball comedy, "Bringing Up Baby (1939), Hopkins manages to be both loving and smart.

Everybody is flawed and a little bit of a screwball in this comedy. That makes it a very wise comedy, indeed.

Lady Killer
(1933)

Cagney's Self Parody is Perhaps His Worst Film
The opening twenty minutes works well, with Cagney getting fired as a movie usher and getting taken into a gang by a lost purse/gambling scheme. At this point the movie starts to make wild jumps that throw all believably out the window. For example, Cagney threatens a group of cheap gangsters with exposure and they let him into the gang. In the next scene, he is head of the gang and they own an expensive nightclub. How did that happen?

A wealthy woman shows up at the nightclub and for no particular reason the gang does a robbery of her house. Why pick a nightclub patron as their target? It doesn't make any sense. One of the gang kills somebody during the robbery. Up to this point, the movie has been comical, but this makes Cagney into a real criminal who has caused the death of a maid. The movie turns dark and mildly suspenseful for about 15 minutes.

The movie then goes completely off the tracks by having Cagney arrive in Hollywood and suddenly be picked to play an extra in a motion picture. The movie turns back into a comedy. Cagney is satirizing Cagney the actor, but this completely undercuts Cagney the gangster character in the first half of the movie.

The first half of the movie is really a bad remake of "Blonde Crazy" (1931). That movie has Cagney as a conniving hotel bellhop, just as this movie has him as a conniving movie usher. In that movie too, Cagney is tricked by a scam into becoming part of a group of gangsters.

That movie also makes some leaps, but it doesn't run out of ideas half way through as this movie does, or fall into a chaotic mess as this movie does.

With the minor exception of Mae Clarke, the other actors are quite forgettable in their roles.

Lady Behave!
(1937)

You Two Should Go to Bed - Totally Delightful
This is a fast-paced, enjoyable little family romantic comedy that has fine acting and direction. The plot is really clever. Sexually liberated sister Clarice Kindall (Patricia Farr) goes out partying, gets drunk and marries a millionaire. Since she is on vacation, awaiting a divorce from her first husband, she has committed bigamy, a crime punishable with ten years in jail. Her big sister, Paula (Sally Eilers)comes to the rescue. Since the millionaire was too drunk to know who he married, she will pretend to be her sister and get a divorce from the husband Stephen Cormack (Neil Hamilton), but only after sister Clarice annuls the first marriage.

A complication appears as millionaire Stephen Cormack has two young teenager children Patricia (Marcia Mae Jones) and Hank (George Ernest). They are none too happy about having a mother who they believe married their father for his money while "in a fog." The cast does a great job keeping this light and fluffy, with enough wink-like actions to remind the audience that its a comedy and not to take any of this too seriously. Eilers is a precursor to Doris Day in her late 50s sex comedies -- which this resembles. She's trying to stay a virgin, despite having to live with a new husband.

The kids are adorable. Marcia Mae Jones (the crippled girl in Shirley Temple's "Heidi") and George Ernest. They had each done dozens of film roles before this and they are very professional in their comic timing. Marcia had a long career, but George pretty much ended his career when he became an adult.

The husband/father, Neil Hamilton is quite sophisticated and comfortable.

I was sad to learn that Patricia Farr who charmingly played sister Clarice tragically died of cancer at age 35, eleven years after this film. This turned out to be the height of her career. She only had a couple of small roles after this film. She handles her part well and showed talent. She was apparently hanging out modeling with another startlet at the time of this film. That was Rita Hayworth and her career took off while Farr's career went nowhere.

Eilers was in the middle of a 15 year - 50 picture career when she made this film. She is quite professional with wonderful comic timing.

I watched this picture just after watching Frank Capra's Oscar winning "You Can't Take it With You"(1939). I liked that film, but I thought this one was minute to minute funnier.

Hats Off
(1936)

John Payne First Starring Movie - For John Payne Completists
I was wondering why John Payne looked like and acted like Jimmy Stewart in this movie. I think it was because 1936 was Stewart's break out year. He starred in four movies and had good parts in four more. His career was exploding. Somebody probably saw Payne and figured people would think he was Stewart. Payne never quite reached Stewart's level of super-stardom, but he seemed to have a greater acting range, playing tough guys as easily as sweetheart roles. Here, he is quite affable and charming. One wishes he had more screen time. This is also Sam Fuller's first screenplay. I am not that familiar with Fuller's corpus except for some of his major works - "The Big Red One," "Shock Corridor" "The Naked Kiss" and "Pick Up on South Street." This seems quite different from the other works that I've seen by him, much lighter in tone. Mae Clarke is dull and Helen Lynn does seem to be doing a Gracie Allen imitation. Only Luis Alberni as Rosero hits the right notes to brighten the film a bit. The other characters are not given enough screen time to make a solid impression. This is just passable and I think only John Payne fans would really be interested enough to watch the whole thing.

Air Mail
(1932)

Very Much a Prototypical John Ford Movie
This is about a band of rugged air mail pilots who risk death to deliver the mail. It seems pretty silly nowadays, but I think people would have accepted the premise in 1931. Ralph Bellamy is excellent playing the heroic John Wayne style hero (Ford made 14 pictures with Wayne). He is a man of extraordinary courage and dedication and few words. Pat O'Brian is quite good as a hot shot, devil-may-care, egotistical flyer. Lacking any real villains, he plays the antagonist in the film. Slim Summerville gives a nice, comical sidekick performance. Besides them, Lilian Bond, as a faithless, bad girl, and Gloria Stuart (Titanic) as a faithful good girl are fun to watch.

The flying scenes are not as thrilling as they were in 1931, and it is not a masterpiece, but it is entertaining enough to hold your attention for the 84 minute running time.

Runaway Bride
(1930)

"Mr. Blaine, I've gotten myself into a mess"
Yes, the movie is awful, but there are some redeeming features, and it almost makes it into the "so bad, its good" category. I suspect that this was supposed to be a breezy screwball-comedy, crime-mystery picture. The comedy falls flat and there are too many jumps in the script and jumps in character logic to make the crime-mystery satisfying.

For example, why doesn't Mary Astor's character, Sally Fairchild,just use the fire escape to escape from the room that her runaway bridegroom has locked her in? Obviously the fire escape led down to the street as a criminal uses it to enter her room a few minutes later. The only reason seems to be that Sally couldn't escape from the room because then the criminal could not plant the diamonds on her to start the merry chase that the moves the rest of the plot forward. Then one wonders why Sally doesn't call the police when the criminal and another detective are shot in the room. Again, the answer seems to be, the movie would end right there after fifteen minutes, so she has to do the stupid thing and runaway. The screenwriter might reply that she's a runaway bride and that would be scandalous and disgraceful if the police found out. True, but she should be intelligent enough to figure out that being accused of murder trumps being accused of being a runaway bride. When she confesses to handsome Lloyd Hughes (the Lost World, 1925), "Mr Blaine, I've gotten myself into a mess," it is almost as if she's confessing to the audience how she feels about the movie she's appearing in.

The most redeeming feature and the reason to watch the movie is Mary Astor's wonderful performance. It is so sincere and she looks so beautiful and distressed throughout that you want to rush in and comfort her. It is an "A" performance in a throwaway "B" picture. We feel angry that the script and other characters are not being as sincere as Miss Astor. You feel as if her talents are being ignored and wasted. Thank goodness for John Huston and "the Maltese Falcon," otherwise modern audiences would not have appreciated Mary.

As mentioned by another reviewer, the cinematography is also quite good. It is another element that makes us sad that the script is so lightweight. Leo Tover was only 28 at the time. He would become one of the great cinematographers in Hollywood. He was nominated twice for an Oscar, but sadly, never won. "the Heiress," "the Day the Earth Stood Still," and "Love Me Tender" are some of his most well known works.

I would also note that Paul Hurst seems very comfortable playing a police sergeant. He played a detective or cop in about 20 other movies, although he was most famous for playing in Westerns.

In summary, this is a cheap, frustrating, throwaway movie, but not an uninteresting one.

Crack in the World
(1965)

Entertaining, Enthralling, and Thrilling while also Silly and Ridiculous
There were plenty of alien disaster movies in cinema before this - "War of the Worlds," "Invaders from Mars" and "Day of the Triffids," and there were plenty of monster disaster movies, such "Gozilla" and "the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," but hardly ever any disaster movies without aliens and monsters. The only ones that I can think of are "Things to Come," "Time Machine" and "On the Beach," and "Journey to the Center of the Earth"

The movie does add a nice love triangle subplot to the world disaster major plot with top scientists Dana Andrews and Kieron Moore both being in love with Janette Scott.

A lot of the special effects are just old documentary footage of lava flowing and atomic bombs, but after a while you become absorbed in the situation and the badly mismatched reaction shots just relieve some tension and make the movie more fun. Scott and Kieron also played in "Day of the Triffids" (1959) together.

The message of the movie is that when scientists warn of disaster, we should pay attention. It is still a good message. Although I'm sure that the artificial intelligence machines that will be reading this in 2037, after the human race has been wiped out, will get a big laugh from it.

Crisis in Six Scenes
(2016)

Back to the Sixties - Nostalgia and Roots - Essential Allen Comedy
Harsh critic reviews keep me from watching this for almost two months. As usual the mass of critics were wrong and I totally enjoyed the two and a half hours I spent binge-watching this on the day after Thanksgiving. By the way, Elaine May's "Ishtar" is another movie the mass of critics were totally wrong about. Trust me, it was hilarious - see it).

I felt that this was very much like some of Allen's early movie efforts from the 1960s and 1970s like "Take the Money and Run" "Bananas" and "Love and Death" where plot took a backseat to absurd and ridiculous one-liners and dialogues.

For example:

Lenny (Miley Cyrus): I don't dislike you, its just everything that you stand for.

Sidney: God's going to punish us in this. Kay: God's not going to punish you, you're an atheist. Sidney: But if I'm wrong we're in big trouble.

Kay: Chairman Mao say "Death's certain, life unpredictable." Sidney: He got that from Charlie Chan.

If you're familiar with early Woody Allen, watch this and see the amazing continuity. If you are unfamiliar, watch this and then get DVDs of "Bananas," "Take the Money and Run" and "Love and Death." You will see what a rich source of material the 1960s youth rebellion offered for sharp comedians of the time.

Miley Cyrus is terrific and Woody Allen is Woody Allen and Elaine May is Elaine May. That should be enough of a recommendation. After you see it, come back here and write a great review of it.

I See a Dark Stranger
(1946)

Hitchcockian and Fun
Most of the things I felt about the film were nicely expressed by the favorable reviewers I read, especially the ones from the U.K.. I remember Deborah Kerr from "the King and I," and sort of remember Trevor Howard from "Mutiny on the Bounty," the excellent 1962 version with Marlon Brando. It was nice to see them much younger in this 1946 film. I agree with the viewers that said this movie was witty, full of surprises and twists and turns and had a beautiful performance from a younger and very beautiful Deborah Kerr. I agreed with the negative criticism of the film that it is a bit long and the plot gets muddled a few times. In its defense, the movie does manage to unmuddle itself the numerous times that it strays from the beaten path. If you like movies that break formulas so much that you can't trust the narration, this is a joy. Actually the narrator tells you in the very beginning of the movie what to expect from the film when he says that he has chosen the wrong place to start his tale and restarts it at a completely different place. Thanks to all the U.K. and other reviewers who filled us in on the many historical and other references in the film.

Iron Man
(1931)

Put Your Robe On, You Wanna Get Pneumonia
For a boxing movie, there really isn't a lot of boxing in the movie, perhaps ten minutes total. Apparently the original ran 73 minutes and the version I saw on Youtube ran 68 minutes. I suspect the missing five minutes were boxing scenes.

This may be a blessing as Lew Ayres is certainly too handsome and collegiate looking for a boxer. Without muscles, he certainly does not physically resemble any contemporary boxers.

However, the reason to watch this story is not the boxing, but to watch a strong tale of friendship between a coach and an athlete and the selfish, sinful woman who disrupts it.

The acting is terrific. Robert Armstrong had only been starring in movies since 1928 when this was made in 1931, yet this was his 20th starring role. This was two years before his career making performances in "King Kong," and "Son of Kong," but it is easy to see why he was chosen for the lead in those movies. He gives a rock solid, believable performance here.

Lew Ayres is a bit uneven at the beginning, but eventually grows into the part. He was 23 years old and only in his fifth starring role, with the first being the classic anti-war film "All Quiet on the Western Front." It seems that Ayres was trying to develop a tough guy image after the romantic image he portrayed in that first film. My guess is that it was the studio's decision. It worked with song and dance man James Cagney, but not with Ayres. Still, he's a great actor and is easy to watch throughout.

I was surprised at how well Jean Harlow did. We should remember that she was only 21 and this was only her fourth starring role. She is quite despicable in the movie, but that was her part. She plays it with intensity and believably. I think reviewers here are criticizing her unfairly, because she doesn't show much of her comic or sexy siren side here. However, that is not the role. She is a jaded, mean, despicable woman and she plays it straight.

Again, this is a good dramatic piece and those looking for a sports movie or light comedy (although it does have moments of humor) will be disappointed. Those looking for sharp direction from Tod Browning and wonderful performances from three great actors will enjoy the movie.

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