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Cash on Demand!
I enjoyed this movie very much - in a "sitting in front of the TV with munchies" kind of way. Nothing wrong with that. Its not a great picture, and you can see the end coming a mile off, but nonetheless its all good fun if that's all you're looking for. The thing is, all the way through the picture I couldn't help wondering whether or not the writer had seen the 1961 Hammer film (British) CASH ON DEMAND which starred the wonderful Peter Cushing and Andre Morrell. It is basically the same story, though the earlier film is, by its very nature, much more subdued and also much more subtle. I suggest anybody who either likes or dislikes FIREWALL take a look at CASH ON DEMAND and see how it should be done!

Black and Tan

There must be some Ellington fans out there!
Whilst I agree entirely with thedoge and simuland - especially regarding the incredibly unfunny racist treatment of the two piano removers at the beginning (I presume it WAS meant to be funny!), I thought I'd point out a few things to any possible Ellington fans who may seek out this movie just to see the 1929 band in action. Be warned: the sound quality is awful. The band performs less well than on any of the studio recordings of the period, and every number is tailored to the various dance routines. "Black Beauty" is particularly horrendously butchered, and with a cheesy coda added for no apparent reason except to underline the fact that it has thankfully come to an end. "The Duke Steps Out" - a marvellous recording from the Victor studios, is taken at snail's pace - again to accommodate the so-called dancing I would imagine. What on the studio recording is a brilliant passage for the three trumpets, here is taken down an octave, and they don't even make it together! Nanton's trombone sounds way off mike, and although he is perhaps the major soloist, he doesn't even get properly in any of the shots - all of which are dominated by the oddly unsexy dancing of the semi-naked chorus girls. The opening has Ellington at the piano and Artie Whetsol with his trumpet 'learning' the intro to "Black and Tan Fantasy". It doesn't have much to do with anything, but Ellington buffs might like to note that Whetsol does not use the rubber plunger and pear (pixie) mute (in the manner of Bubber Miley) but an ordinary Harmon mute. Odd - Whetsol was quite adept with the plunger (check out the Vocalion recording of "Take it Easy" where he has to play Bubber Miley's part because the latter didn't show up for the session!) so why not use it in the movie? This brings me to the final number, "Black and Tan Fantasy". Ellington had already recorded this several times by the time this film was made, and it was one of his most well known compositions. It was co-written by the aforementioned Bubber Miley, who was also the featured soloist. What a shame he had left the band shortly before the film was made. I remember being extremely disappointed to discover that he was not in the film when I first saw it back in the 70s. For some reason (its not dancers this time!) the arrangement is altered quite drastically from all the previous recordings, with a clarinet solo from Barney Bigard added in place of Miley's 2nd chorus. (Maybe Duke felt Whetsol wasn't up to two choruses, but I doubt it). Once again Whetsol uses the Harmon mute instead of the plunger, and even more interestingly Joe Nanton, the trombonist, does not use the trumpet straight mute inside the bell underneath his plunger, as he does on all of the studio recordings. The result is an out-of-tune muffled sound that hardly sounds like Nanton at all! This is capped off by a ridiculously over-recorded bass (Wellman Braud) which detracts from everything else. There's also a weird organ coda tagged on the end, which has nothing to do with anything, and the obligatory negro gospel type choir making a meal of it. I'd love to know how much say Ellington had in all of this - not a lot me thinks! But, having said all that, its still the band, and its a worthy historic document. Thedoge and simuland have said everything else. What a shame its nowhere near as good as it COULD have been!

Dr. Phibes Rises Again

Bandleaders and Jazz trumpeters!!!
Not as good as the first Phibes movie (The Abominable Dr...) but jolly good fun, so long as you're not expecting a horror movie! This is a comedy! The double act of Peter Jeffrey and John Cater as the bumbling police officers Trout and Waverley are a joy. Vincent Price, himself, often portrayed his characters with tongue firmly in cheek, (witness the AIP Corman series of E A Poe titles) and this is no exception. What I would like to know is what is the obsession with dance band leaders and jazz cornet/trumpeters all about? OK, its set in the 20s, (allegedly!) and the mechanical band look like an old dance band of the time, or is it just another in-joke probably lost on most viewers? I'll explain: Beiderbeck (Bix Beiderbecke - legendary cornettist, who died of drink at 28); Hackett (Bobby Hackett - cornettist often compared to Bix for his lyrical style); Baker (Harold "Shorty" Baker - one-time trumpeter for Duke Ellington. Or even Kenny Baker, English trumpeter of considerable ability); Shavers (Charlie Shavers - highly accomplished trumpeter from the 'swing era'); Stewart (Rex Stewart - cornettist with Duke Ellington during 30s/40s). Get the picture? Then we have two band leaders: Ambrose (English dance band leader from the 30s) and Lombardo (Guy Lombardo, Canadian dance band leader from the 20s and 30s). Obsessive or what? Never mind, I just thought I'd point it out!!!! Its still an enjoyable load of old nonsense all the same. 10 out of 10 for cheekiness, but overall a 7.

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler

Not only for students of German Cinema!
In this review I refer to the Transit Film DVD edition from the F W Murnau Foundation (or Stiftung, if you understand German!). This 2 DVD set is an excellent restoration of this(these?) movie(s). At three and a half hours, some may argue that it is a little daunting for the uninitiated silent film viewer, but in my humble opinion it is so well made (by Fritz Lang) that it still stands up today as a masterpiece of "gangster cinema". Shot between November 1921 and March 1922, the film was made only a couple of years after Lang's directorial debut (Halblutt - 1919), and five years before Metropolis - perhaps Lang's masterpiece. It can be argued that it represents the start of a 'series' of gangster/crime related movies by Lang, and parallels can be drawn to Spione (Spies) of 1927/28, and M (1931 - Lang's first talkie), and of course, The Testament of Dr Mabuse (1932/33). There was also a final addition from 1960, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse, but that is obviously of a different era. It is interesting to observe that Lang/von Harbou clearly were attempting to create a screen detective character something like Sherlock Holmes in the form of Commissioner Lohmann, (superbly played by Otto Wernicke) for it is he who is the detective in both M and Testament. However, I digress. Where both M and Testament concern themselves with the work of the police in an almost documentary fashion (especially M), Der Spieler is almost exclusively concerned with the working of the criminal mind. Mabuse is played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge, one of Lang's favourites - though one wonders what Klein-Rogge made of Lang - Thea von Harbou, the screen-writer, married Lang in 1921, after divorcing Klein-Rogge! He gives a masterful performance as Mabuse, and dominates the film. Even when not on the screen, his omnipotence pervades the entire proceedings. Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to describe the picture as 'gripping', it still has the power to hold the attention for most of its mighty three and a half hours. For me, at least, this is aided in no small measure by the magnificent new soundtrack by Aljocha Zimmermann, whose use of leitmotif (in true Teutonic style) adds immeasurably to the overall enjoyment of the film. I strongly recommend this picture, not only to serious students of German Silent Cinema (they'll have seen it anyway!) but to anybody who enjoys a good gangster/crime story. If you have a hang-up about silent movies, then in all honesty this isn't going to change your mind - but give it a try. I think its worth the effort in the end. Trivia: Although made in Berlin, and the numerous vehicles all drive on the right as one would expect, they are without exception, all right hand drive!

Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life

A must for Ellington fans
This review is really about the music and not the movie - although the latter stands up well enough as a period piece. The main deal is to see the great Duke Ellington orchestra in one of its best incarnations performing a collection of Duke's already recorded compositions (wouldn't exactly say 'hits'!) under the slightly self-conscious title of "A Rhapsody of Negro Life", or occasionally, "A Symphony in Black". The most often seen excerpt is "A Song of Sorrow", featuring the very young Billie Holliday (vocalist). The music is in reality "Saddest Tale" recorded for Brunswick earlier the same year (1935). Other delights for Ellington fans include "Ducky Wucky", and "Lightning". Aside from Ellington himself, conducting from his customary position at the piano, there are great shots of clarinetist Barney Bigard, drummer Sonny Greer, and especially trombonist Joe 'Tricky Sam' Nanton, whose statement of the "Saddest Tale" theme (with trumpet straight mute and plunger) is even better than on the Brunswick studio recording. They're miming, of course, but very convincingly! And it is actually them playing on the recording so its as good as you're going to get from the period. Also worth checking out, whilst I'm on the subject, is "Black and Tan Fantasy" from 1929. I believe this was the first all-black movie ever made, and also features the Ellington band - while they were resident at the famous Cotton Club in New York. Cheesy plot, but worth it for the band and the great dance routines! 10 out of 10 to both - from a musical point of view!!!

A Cold Night's Death

If only....
Oh how I would love to see this picture again! I saw it on TV I guess around the time it was made, and have never seen it since. I wonder if it even still exists? I remember it as being fantastically eerie, and the primate members of the cast were magnificent! Some other reviewers have pointed out that the movie was called "A Cold Night's Death" when they saw it - that was also the case as far as I was concerned. Perhaps that was just the UK title. If anyone who reads this knows if it exists, even on VHS, I'd love to know about it! I've given it a 9 because that's what I would have given it at the time - if only I could see it again through more adult and educated eyes - maybe one day?

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Ah! or Arrrrgh!!!
There are so many comments about this movie here on IMDb, that yet another seems redundant - but I simply have to say something! I guess you'll either love it or hate it(though only one sad reviewer appears to be in the latter category). I will not bother to repeat all the glowing reports about the wonderful cinematography, direction, acting et al. Nor will I comment on the plot, the minimal use of intertitles or the superb musical score (both original and new versions). I will simply say that if you think silent film is an acquired taste, (or just plain boring), watch this picture and change your view forever. If I could give it 12 out of 10 I would!

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