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Deconstructing Harry

Extremely clever, and very funny if you can take the profanity
Don't think I've ever heard Woody use the C word before. Deconstructing Harry is littered with profantiy - far more so than any other Allen film I've seen. Allen was brave to play a guy who is a complete heel, a not very likable but successful writer now suffering from writer's block, during his preparations to pick up an award from the University where he was a student.

The jump cut editing is a little disconcerting at first, but when you realise what's going on in Harry Block's (yes, that's his name, too) mind it makes perfect sense.

Just caught this for the first time today, and the second half had me on the floor with laughter. It's dark but very very funny. Kirstie Alley's rant at Harry while she gives pyschotherapy to a patient is hysterical.

While Harry may be deconstructing, the story, complete with frequent runs along Harry's unfinished stories(all brilliantly done), is a master class in how to put together a script. Woody at his darkest, maybe, but also near the top of his game. I loved it.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Underated, charming 40s comedy/mystery pastiche
Woody Allen may consider this his worst film, but I certainly don't. I thoroughly enjoyed this homage to 40's B movie mystery comedies. Allen plays an insurance investigator at crossed swords with an efficiency expert (a wonderful Helen Hunt). When both of them are hypnotised at a colleague's 50th birthday bash, cue a series of expensive jewel thefts from rich clients of the company. Could it be an inside job?

While Allen may not fit the confident womaniser that is C.W. Briggs, he's still excellent with the one-liners and insults directed at Hunt. They have real chemistry together, and at times I was reminded of the banter between William Powell and Myrna Loy. Dan Ackyroyd gets a straight role, and there's good work from the cast all around. Allen's direction is impeccable.

In short; relax, Woody, this is a fine film, with plenty of laughs.

Inspector Morse: Last Bus to Woodstock
Episode 4, Season 2

One of the best of the early Morse episodes.
Loved this one. Apart from a very silly plot point involving a coded letter found on the victim Last Bus To Woodstock is classic Morse. At this point it felt like the muder rate in Oxford was topping Los Angeles, but the scene where Morse visits the three female housemates is wonderful. He really should stop trying to get off with murder suspects, though!

Shame this was Peter Woodthorpe's last episode. As the gravelly but darkly humorous Max he was always a delight, Almost as fruity as he was in Evil of Frankenstein!

Inspector Morse: The Settling of the Sun
Episode 3, Season 2

This one is just daft.
More a case of Inspector Clouseau than Morse, I'm afraid. The solution to the mystery of a murdered Japanese student is silly, and the direction is freakish. It just isn't believable at all and is one of the worst episodes in the Morse canon. Thank heaven this is an abberation. Normally Morse is much better than this.

Inspector Morse: Last Seen Wearing
Episode 2, Season 2

Decent Morse. The Dummy is terrible, though.
Morse takes up an investigation into a school girl missing for six months, and uncovers misdeeds at a private college.

The dummy hitting the deck is a really bad moment in an otherwise interesting Morse adventure. The story is quite slowly developed but is still intruiging and as the facade of the cheery college is stripped away we see it is more akin to a snake pit. I enjoyed this one as the story is somewhat different and Morse's reasonings at the beginning of the episode turn out to be completely wrong! John Thaw and Kevin Whately are excellent as usual.

Inspector Morse: The Wolvercote Tongue
Episode 1, Season 2

A nicely academic feel to this epsiode
The Wovercote Tongue concerns Morse having to investigate a possible murder amongst a party of American tourists in Oxford.

This show has a good feel to it, with Simon Callow as a womanising academic, and a fine performance from Roberta Taylor as the drinking-too-much tour guide. It isn't quite top drawer Morse but it's still highly enjoyable. The disappearance of the tongue is slightly unconvincing but it's always a treat to watch Morse and Lewis go to work.

Inspector Morse: Service of All the Dead
Episode 3, Season 1

One of the worst episodes in the series.
At least it came early. But this one is a bit of a clinker, with 5 murders and 2 suicides (I think! There were that many I sort of lost count!) and one of the dumbest female suspects in the entire series. The central idea is good, but it's poorly developed and just becomes ludicrous. Morse would never have become so popular with more episodes of this standard but luckily this is just an aberration in an otherwise excellent show.

Inspector Morse: The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn
Episode 2, Season 1

A great little mystery
Inspector Morse really hits its stride with this 2nd episode and Colin Dexter's creation finds himself investigating the murder of a deaf young academic. There's some nice casting here, with Michael Gough and Clive Swift shining in their roles, and a compelling mystery for Morse and Lewis to solve. Some fine humour, too as Morse discovers that Last Tango in Paris has been replaced on the local cinema by 101 Dalmatians! "I'll get the kids!", says Lewis enthusiatically, as Morse is left to head to the pub!

Enjoyable and highly entertaining; Morse is already developing here into a TV institution.

Inspector Morse: The Dead of Jericho
Episode 1, Season 1

Good start to the series
Oxford Policeman Inspector Morse finds himself growing attached to a woman from his choir, and, when she apparently commits suicide, uncovers a complex mystery surrounding her.

I enjoyed this first episode of the series, and John Thaw and Kevin Whateley make a great team with real chemistry. The story is interesting and watchable, and although the solution to the mystery is slightly confusing (see the fishing rods moment) the whole thing hangs together extremely well. Patrick Troughton guest stars as a peeping tom neighbour, and the mistaken identity at the heart of things works well. Morse still holds up after 30+ years and although there are better episodes, all in all this is a very good start.

The Strange Case of Doctor Rx

Neither Fish nor Fowl
Dr Rx falls between two stools -the B Movie mystery and the B movie Horror flick. Unfortunately, while not a complete failure, it isn't particularly good at either.

Patrick Knowles takes on the detective duties trying to solve a series of killings involving exonerated felons. Lionel Atwill does his best to look sinister, but he turns out to be a red herring named Dr. Fish! We have a lurch into horror territory when Dr. Rx threatens Knowles with a gorilla (all mad scientists need one!) and seems to be preparing for a quick brain transplant between the two!

No one is going to mistake this for The Maltese Falcon, but it passes an hour in a modestly entertaining way. Knowles is pretty good, and with better handling his character might have made for an okay mystery series. With better handling. This is not one of Universals star jewels, but it's okay.

Return of the Ape Man

One of the better Monograms
Monogram had form with Apes. They produced the notoriously poor movies The Ape (1940) with Boris Karloff and The Ape Man (1943) with Bela Lugosi, and you can bet those movies would not have been prominently displayed on either actors' CV! This one is not a sequel to the Lugosi disaster but a new story and the added bonus of John Carradine. It's not saying a lot but this is the best of the three by a reasonable distance.

Lugosi of course, plays Professor Dexter, with JC as Gilmore his assistant. Off they trek to the pole to uncover a Neandathal Man (by random digging!) and Lugosi is out to upgrade his find by means of a brain transplant!

George Zucco features prominently in the casting credits, but not in the movie, as legend has it he feigned an illness to get out of playing the Ape Man! A single still exists of Zucco in the make up. He was replaced by Frank Moran, who gives us the pleasure of showing us his underwear as he makes a break for freedom out of a window!

It's cheap-looking and very silly but it's also quite enjoyable. For a Monogram. Val Lewton this aint!

Hangover Square

A near classic with a brilliant central performance
Poor Laird Cregar. I've seen him in three films and it's sad to note this was his final film at the age of only 31. His tragic death robbed us of a screen great.

Laird plays George Harvey Bone, a turn of the century composer working on a concerto (shades of Claude Raines' Phantom) who becomes distracted by a blowsy-ambitious singer named Netta Longdon (a sensation Linda Darnell). Netta is playing with fire (quite literally at her ignominious end) because Bone is subject to strange blackouts, brought on, we later discover, by discordant sounds when he is stressed.

Unknown even to himself, Bone is a psychopathic killer.

Cregar is absolutely fantastic in this movie. The Square of the movie title is superbly realised, and the bonfire scene, involving the murdered Netta's corpse, is terrifically well done. George Sanders reportedly punched the producer in a quarrel over the movie's final line!

Director John Brahm scores another triumph after his Lodger. Bernard Hermann's score is wonderfully tense, and looks forward to his score for Psycho 15 years's later.

Great movie, will keep you compelled to the end.

Phantom of the Opera

Gorgeous-looking, but the lead is miscast and the story not particularly good
If you like Opera you are in for a treat. This gloriously-photographed film is a real eye-pleasing spectacle. The Opera scenes are superb (even though I don't like Opera I enjoyed them.) and the whole thing is as vividly coloured a movie as I've ever seen. Susanne Foster's vocal performances (yes, it really is her singing) is pretty amazing.

But there are problems. Universal, in preparing a mainstream big budget production, forgot to include much horror. The Phantom himself, (played by Claude Raines as a bit of a milksop) is created by a simple acid attack, and is a being way way removed from Lon Chaney's amazing portrayal in the original.

We are also, unfortunately, lumbered with a fairly routine story, and two major supporting characters, played by Nelson Eddy and Edgar Barrier, who become pretty annoying after a while. Only the chandelier sequence creates any real suspense, and you have to wait for the final minutes for that.

Much loved, Phantom of The Opera short-changes on the horror stuff for fans of the genre. Others not so horror inclined will enjoy it more.

The Uninvited

Well made and skillfully told supernatural mystery
The Univited is something of an overlooked classic. It's rare to find ghost stories handled this well, and the central mystery is surely given a tip of the hat to in Hitchcock's Vertigo.

The Devonshire coast is well realised in a Hollywoody kind of way, as Ray Milland's London music critic is persuaded to buy an old mansion by his sister (Ruth Hussey). Cue unearthly sounds in the night, phantom crying, and an atmosphere of chilling cold in one particular room. What could be causing all this?

Later films such as The Haunting and The Changeling owe something to this effective and enjoyable film. I won't go into the plot too much but it's pretty clever. The film is stylish and memorable, possessing a bit of MR James' whimsy to boot; and the look of the ghost was borrowed by Steven Spielberg for Poltergeist. Highly recommended.

The Mad Ghoul

Much better than its title suggests.
It's a shame that Universal, well used to churing out monster sequels by the bucketload, chose to only make one Mad Ghoul entry (there were early plans to feature him in House of Frankenstein which were nixed).

George Zucco and Evelyn Ankers had by this time plenty of horror movie experience behind them, and both are are top form for this lean horror-thriller. Zucco plays a college professor who discovers the Mayans used a deadly gas in their sacrificial ceremonies, restoring their supplicants to life with heart transfusions. Evil Ol' George, with his eye on the much younger Evelyn, a concert performer, dupes her fiancee and his assistant (David Bruce) into exposing himself to the gas, creating an undead horror totally obidient to his commands.

His intent is to free Isabel up for himself, but he soon discovers that to keep his dupe alive he needs a frequent supply of fresh hearts...

Really enjoyed this morbidly quirky movie. Nice to see Robert (King Kong) Armstrong and Rose (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) Hobart in supporting roles, and it's such a shame no sequels were forthcoming. A very good addition to the Universal Horrors.


Pretty good for a Poverty Row production.
Bluebeard was a long cherished project of Edgar G Ulmer's, and the director manages to overcome a miniscule PRC budget and a painted backdrop Paris to make an interesting if not always well-paced film.

This is certainly one of John Carradine's best performances. He dominates the movie as the titular murderer; the role, however is played as much for sympathy as menace. He plays Gaston Morrell, an artist cum puppeteer compelled to kill the women he paints, before (shades of Murders in the Rue Morgue) dumping them in the Seine.

This was a movie almost certainly given the go-ahead due to the tremendous success of The Lodger, that fine movie thriller starring Laird Cregar. Ulmer's movie can't approach that quality but overall he does well in giving us an atmospheric, well-acted little thriller. Bluebeard will never be called a classic (pacing problems deeply affect some scenes), but it is a decent film with an excellent central performance.

Zombies on Broadway

Quite a decent little zombie comedy.
Zombies on Broadway, astonishingly enough, turns out to be a sort of semi-sequel to Val Lewton's I Walked With A Zombie! Some of the cast from that movie turn up, including Darby Jones playing a different member of the undead, and of course, the august presence of Bela Lugosi helps keep things on the straight and narrow when Brown and Carney turn up.

I have to confess I haven't seen any other of their movies, but I quite enjoyed them in this outing, which I believe was their final film together. They may be less gifted than Abbott and Costello but frankly they are also less annoying, mugging a lot less than the more famous duo.

The Island where all the shennanigans takes place, is of course St. Sebastian, which again featured in the earlier Lewton movie. When Carney and Brown arrive searching for a real zombie for the nightclub of a former gangster (on pain of a cement overcoat after promising him a real one which turns out to be a fake), the action is brisk and reasonably entertaining.

Lugosi, perhaps suprisingly given his talent for spoofing his image, plays it pretty straight; although one scene with a monkey made me smile.

All in all, perhaps a bit better than you might expect.

Isle of the Dead

Melancholically excellent, but sags a little in the middle.
Isle of The Dead unfortunately suffered a major production issue when star Boris Karloff developed severe back trouble which required surgery. About half of the film had been shot when he was forced to bow out, and while waiting for his recovery and the availability of other actors to complete the movie Producer Val Lewton reportedly lost a bit of interest in the project, prefering to film The Body Snatcher first. And it does show.

Karloff's General Pherides, having just won a major victory in the Balkans War, demonstrates his unbending nature when he forces one of his military officers to commit suicide for arriving late to the battle.

To make ammends the General and an American reporter (Marc Cramer) visit the grave of his late wife on a nearby island. He finds the tomb desecrated, however, and the house occupied by an archeologist and various other refugees from the war. Inspite of his efforts to clear away the dead scepticemic plague has made its way to the island...

The middle section of the film is quite talky and static and doesn't always have the dramatic impact it should. However as the General's rationality gives way to superstition under the connivings of the housekeeper Kyra (Helen Thimig), he becomes convinced that the young nurse/servant of the British Counsil's wife (Katherine Emery) may be harbouring the spirit of a Vorvolika, an evil vampire-like being. It's a shame that the geography of the island itself isn't all that clear.

The last twenty minutes of the film are marvellously effective, atmospheric and frightening. Karloff is good as Pherides, although his character is slightly sloppily developed, and Katherine Emery makes a memorable Poe-like victim, being buried alive after her catalepsy goes undetected.

Not quite top draw Lewton, then. But still a very good film. In Greece everyone can hear you scream!

The Six Million Dollar Man: Eyewitness to Murder
Episode 7, Season 1

Enjoyable detective shinnanigans for Steve.
I quite like this one. Steve spots an assassin with the aid of his bionic eye, out to off a D.A. who wants to put a mobster away. Gary Lockwood of 2001 fame plays the sniper in question; but wait! Is Steve wrong? Here's our sniper appearing on a local t.v. chat show at the same time as the murder. Steve determines to break his alibi.

Good episode, even better denim outfits.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Doomsday, and Counting
Episode 6, Season 1

Standard Episode. Not badly done.
A reasonable watch, with an unexpected twist in the middle. In essence this felt like an episode of Thunderbirds, with Steve Austin a kind of one man International Rescue. Steve is called up to rescue trapped survivors of an island-based Russian nuclear plant, including a close friend.

A decent episode. You can almost see the producer/writers trying different stuff at this point in the series' development.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Little Orphan Airplane
Episode 5, Season 1

Steve's encounter with nuns.
Off beat episode with much silliness and many pleasures. Steve has to find a lost pilot in Africa and ends up being aided by some Flemish nuns with a passion for Dale Robertson! I enjoyed this one; probably not for everyone, though.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Day of the Robot
Episode 4, Season 1

Perhaps the first classic episode of the show.
John Saxon is replaced by an evil robot duplicate to help the baddies steal a missile defence system (happens every day), but due to his somewhat erratic behaviour Col Austin is on hand to uncover the truth. It all ends up with a great fight between Steve and his robot enemy, and the whole thing is great, preposterous fun, which in many ways set a template for the series. Saxon is wonderful, and has real chemistry with Lee Majors. Superb episode.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Operation Firefly
Episode 3, Season 1

The rubber allligator is pretty funny
Bizarre episode, one of the poorest of the first season, involving a scientist who invents a super laser being arm-twisted by the bad guys to develop his weapon, while his daughter, gifted with ESP and aided by Steve Austin, searches for him.

The alligator made me laugh, but as ever Lee Majors saves the episode. Legend!

The Six Million Dollar Man: Survival of the Fittest
Episode 2, Season 1

Kill Oscar!
Poor old Oscar. Almost everyone wants to bump him off! Steve and his boss survive a plane crash and find themselves stranded on an island with their fellow passengers, amongst them several assassins out to get Oscar. This episode has a nice performance from Richard Anderson, and a sub plot involving a medical student dealing with his anxiety issues. It's quite well done, even if as usual there is a lot of stock footage.

Steve is on hand, of course, to save the day.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Population: Zero
Episode 1, Season 1

Good first episode of the series proper
Briefly reviewing the first season's episodes, which I've been watching recently.

This is a very good start to the SMDM, with a plot line that kind of resembles the opening of The Andromeda Strain. A small town where everyone appears literally to have died in mid-stride (they turn out to be merely unconscious). Steve, who grew up nearby, investigates with Oscar in tow. And of course it's down to some mad scientist villians. Well-written and entertaining.

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