Friday, December 1, 2017
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
I've got a stack of notes for films I've watched over the last few months, all of which I fully intended to write individual reviews for. But it's become increasingly apparent that that's not going to happen, especially now that I'm headed into an extremely busy time of the year, a period in which my writing time will most likely be severely curtailed. So in the interest of playing catch-up and clearing some of this material off of my desk, I'm going to try to provide short, capsule reviews of these films. We'll see how successful this is. I'll take the films in chronological order beginning with:
BARBARY COAST (1935), an early Howard Hawks film set in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. Miriam Hopkins is a gold-digging woman come west to marry a rich miner only to find out he's dead. With no prospective husband and in need of a means of support, she takes a job as a roulette wheel operator in the Bella Donna casino, a shady business run by crime boss Chamalis (Edward G. Robinson). Hopkins doesn't mind fleecing the customers until she meets straight-arrow prospector Joel McCrea. She falls in love with the too-good-to-be-true miner and the two decide to leave San Francisco. Trouble ensues. With Walter Brennan as a toothless coot named "Old Atrocity" and Brian Donlevy as Chamalis's main enforcer, BARBARY COAST is good, old-fashioned fun. Thumbs up.
CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY (1969), is a lackluster British science fiction/fantasy film. The best thing about this film is the design of Nemo's submarine, The Nautilus. Robert Ryan looks pained and strained in the role of Nemo (he's no James Mason), while Chuck Connors has little to do other than play a square jawed hero. Nemo's no villain, he only wants to be left alone in his city beneath the sea and he wants Connors and the other members of his party to remain with him rather than return to the surface and tell the world about Nemo and his city. Connors, a U.S. Senator is determined to return to the surface world. That's what passes for conflict in this slow moving sunken adventure. The film has the look and feel of an Irwin Allen production but without the bombast and giant undersea monsters. Connors was considered to play the part of Doc Savage in a proposed 1960s film, a project that never saw the light of day. His lovely co-star in CITY, Luciana Paluzzi, would have made a good Pat Savage. Or, better yet, some smart producer should have signed Connors and Paluzzi to play Aquaman and Mera in either a television series or movie. This proves how bad and boring CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY is because while I was watching it with part of my brain, another part was busy playing casting director for an imaginary project. Thumbs down.
More to come.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
At the beginning of John Cromwell's hard-hitting film noir THE RACKET (1951), we see a state-wide crime commission meeting with the governor of an unnamed state. The investigators on the commission are out to clean up a corrupt city (again, unnamed) and need subpoena power to do the job. The governor agrees and it's the last we'll see of two of the commission investigators, Les (SHAZAM!) Tremayne and Milburn (GUNSMOKE) Stone until the end of the film.
Cut to the city where tough but fair police captain Tom McQuigg (Robert Mitchum) has just been put in charge of one of the worst precincts in the city. McQuigg has two objectives: to run a tight, clean and by-the-book operation and to bring down psychotic gang boss Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan). Scanlon has had the run of the town for years but now he has to answer to higher-ups for the first time in his career as "the syndicate" has moved into town, fronted by suave but vicious R.G. Connolly (Don Porter). There's also an alleged "Mr. Big" (who is never seen or heard), behind the scenes but it's left up to the viewer to determine if he really exists or if it's just an alias of the cold-blooded Connolly.
In order to solidify the mob's control of the town, they're backing a crooked candidate for judge, District Attorney Mortimer X. Welch (Ray (PERRY MASON) Collins). There's also a bent state cop, Detective Sergeant Turk (William (CANNON) Conrad), on the take.
McQuigg enlists the aid of straight-arrow beat cop Officer Bob Johnson (William (PERRY MASON) Talman), in his quest to destroy Scanlon. Caught in the crossfire are nightclub singer Irene Hayes (Lizabeth Scott) and young newspaper reporter Dave Ames (Robert Hutton). Things come to an explosive climax at the precinct station after which Tremayne and Stone show up with subpoenas for Collins and Conrad.
Based on a play (with Edward G. Robinson as Scanlon) and filmed previously in 1928, Cromwell's version of the material hews close to the original narrative while opening the action up for more dramatic impact, The screenplay by William Wister Haines and W. R. Burnett, tosses in a house bombing, a rooftop fight to the death between McQuigg and a trigger-man, a chase between a locomotive and a car and other bits of mayhem and violence to liven things up. There's still a lot of scenes of characters just standing around and talking but with a cast and material like this, you're never bored.
Tough, two-fisted and unflinching, THE RACKET is a first rate film noir. Recommended.
Friday, November 17, 2017
Knowing my fondness for pulp fiction, my buddy Dennis gave me this copy of Fredric Brown's THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT recently. I'm familiar with Brown as both a science fiction and mystery writer and I have several of his books on my shelves but CLIPJOINT is the first of his books that I've read. And it's a good one.
Published in 1947, THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT won the Edgar Award for Outstanding First Mystery Novel. The story centers on young Ed Hunter, a teenager in Chicago. When his father is killed in a dark alleyway late one night, young Ed sets out to catch the killer. He's aided by his Uncle Ambrose, "Am" as he's called, his father's brother who is currently a carney worker. Ed and Am make a good pair of amateur detectives as they explore the seedy underbelly of the city. They discover secrets about Wally Hunter that neither knew, cross paths with murderous gangsters, solve the mystery and hop a train together at the end of the novel for parts unknown.
Ed is the narrator of the story and CLIPJOINT often reads like a crime story told by Holden Caulfield. It's part coming-of-age novel, part mystery thriller. Ed and Am meet boozers, bartenders, a crooked cop, a nympho step-sister, a cougarish femme fatale, and other assorted and colorful characters along the way to solving the mystery.
THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT moves at (you'll pardon the expression) a good clip and Brown knew how to make a reader keep turning the pages. He wrote other Ed and Am mysteries over the course of his career and if they're all as good as CLIPJOINT, I've got some book hunting to do.
Friday, November 10, 2017
It's not every night that you get to watch a movie starring Zorro, Superman, Dracula, Jack the Ripper, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Batman villain Dr. Daka. What the hell kind of movie is that, you ask? It's Rouben Mamoulian's lush Technicolor bullfighting melodrama BLOOD AND SAND (1941).
Okay, so none of those characters actually appear in the film but the actors who played them do. Dark, handsome and dashing Tyrone Power starred as Zorro (with BLOOD co-star Linda Darnell) in Mamoulian's THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940). Supporting player George Reeves went on to play Superman on television's THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (1952-1958). John Carradine was Dracula in two Universal Studios monster mashes: THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and THE HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), while Laird Cregar was Jack the Ripper in THE LODGER (1944). Anthony Quinn went on to play Quasimodo in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1956) while J. Carroll Naish was Dr. Daka, Batman's first on-screen foe in the 1943 serial BATMAN. In addition to those great actors, BLOOD AND SAND features not one, but two drop-dead gorgeous leading ladies, the dark haired Linda Darnell and the ravishing red head Rita Hayworth.
That's an impressive cast for this compelling drama which charts the rise and fall of a brash young Spanish bullfighter. Juan Gallardo (Power), dreams of becoming a bull fighter like his dead father. He faces many obstacles but eventually achieves his goal, becoming the greatest bullfighter in all of Spain. He marries his childhood sweetheart, Carmen (Darnell) and all seems well. But Gallardo's fame carries a heavy price as he's soon seduced by the rapacious Dona Sol des Muire (Hayworth). Before you know it, Gallardo's lost everything but Carmen who still loves him, no matter what. Gallardo is determined to fight one last bull and then retire to live the rest of his life with Carmen. But things do not go well for Gallardo. After all, the title is BLOOD AND SAND.
BLOOD AND SAND is a handsomely mounted production, overseen by 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. The studio spared no expense to bring the story (previously filmed in the silent era in 1922 with Rudolph Valentino in the lead) to lush and vivid life. The story takes time to develop, starting with Gallardo as a young boy with a "posse" of friends, one of whom grows up to be John Carradine while another later becomes Anthony Quinn. There are several well staged bullfight sequences (coached by Budd Boetticher, who would later go on to direct several outstanding Westerns with Randolph Scott). Rotund character actor Laird Cregar practically steals the show as the flamboyant newspaper critic Natalio Curro. But ultimately, BLOOD AND SAND belongs to the love triangle of Power, Darnell and Hayworth, which simmers with real erotic tension.
BLOOD AND SAND is an old-fashioned Hollywood epic, the kind of picture you can get lost in for 125 minutes. I'd never seen it before watching the other night and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.