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A Few Remarks On The Significant Subtext
No need to echo consensus points from 300 reviews. What follows is my brief effort at characterizing the movie's important social subtext.
Besides the first-rate cast, majestic scenery, and excellent script, few Westerns capture the mythic history of the West better than Shane. The battle is really one between two types of society. The Rykers represent a feudal type with their land baron ownership of huge swaths of as yet barren land. I'm glad the script includes struggles they've had in taming the territory for their huge cattle-grazing purposes. It's not like they've sacrificed nothing for their dominant position. No doubt it would have been easy for the film to portray them as unadulterated bad guys.
On the other hand, The Starretts and their neighbors may be squatters on the land, but they represent a different future, one of broad settlement, farming pastures, and cooperative community. In short, they're a communal threat to the Strykers dominance. That's shown in their family gatherings, common purpose, and common desire to come together; that is, if they can resist The Strykers' effort to drive them apart. Actor Heflin's dad Starrett represents this resolve and dedication to the community dream, as well as a strong sense of personal morals, just the sort that are needed in order to lead the transition. He has the guts, but does he have the skills; that's where Shane comes in.
Of course, it's Shane and little Joey that represent the drama's appealing heart. In short, Shane amounts to the vital transition figure between the old and the new. As a gunfighter, he's a product of the open range of the Starretts, but as an exceptional man who's sampled the Starrett's family life he senses the need for constructive change and is willing to risk his life for it. Meanwhile, Joey, in a meaningful sense, represents the power of Shane's enduring norms, which Joey will no doubt carry into his own and the town's future. Ironically, however, Shane realizes that his strength is also an unintentional threat to the Starrett's cohesion as a family unit-- mom (Arthur) is attracted to him, while he's replacing dad as Joey's adult model. Thus, in the celebrated closing, Shane must ride away into an uncertain future, his contribution to civilizing the West his lasting legacy. At the same time, Joey will chase after the hope of somehow being the good man's equal in his coming years. And our last shot is Shane as he rides toward the majestic peaks he has now earned. Thus concrete events in the film transform into a spirit of the new West.
Anyway, this is my take on what I think is the film's powerful subtext embodied in characters and events. All in all, the movie was a critical hit when I was a kid, and I think it still is.
Lady in the Death House (1944)
Pretty Good Programmer
The flick's a PRC programmer that manages some suspense. So, will an eager Fowley and Atwill get to the warden before an innocent Parker is executed. It's certainly one of the lengthiest suspenseful countdowns on white-knuckle record. The story's told in flashback as Parker walks the last mile, so things look bad for her from the outset. Then too, it's two of moviedom's traditional bad guys Fowley and Atwill playing good guys, so seeing them as heroes takes some getting used to. Though the exposition gets a little difficult at times, there's a standout nightclub scene where Parker's dress catches afire with a romantic aftermath that solidifies a relationship. The acting is good, except for the wild-eyed Jones whose expressions at times are almost clownish. All in all, it's a decent little programmer that, with a few changes, might have fit into the old Perry Mason TV series.
Street Corner (1948)
Shirley Temple Meets Sex-Ed
The doggondest movie I've seen in years. From the title, I was expecting an exploitation cheapo where titillation is concealed in a public service wrapper, Elmer Clifton style. But no. Whatever else the flick is, it's sincere in its anti-abortion and non-marital sex message. But, oh my, what titillation there is is the grotesque kind the Army used to scare recruits away from vd risks. It's sex as anti-titillation.
The narrative itself starts out as a routine teen drama of the time. Middle-class Marcia Mae Jones is the embodiment of girlish innocence. Unfortunately, she gets romantically careless one night with her boyfriend and one thing leads to another. In the censored fashion of the time, her intercourse is conveyed by a dropped flower and her missed period by subtle innuendo. Now, being respectably middle-class, she and boyfriend must marry, except her intended is suddenly killed in a road accident. So now, what is Jones to do. She can't tell her parents who are wrapped up in their own concerns. So what else can she do given her class background but get an abortion and keep outward respectability.
Now, the 1948 movie's rather daring to this point, but not wildly so. But then, out of the blue, we're suddenly exposed to a lecture using clinical footage of live vaginal birth, a C-section, and the grotesque effects of syphilis on both male and female sex organs. I had to pinch myself that such visual explicitness would occur in what appeared to be a conventional Hollywood-type production. But there it is in all icky up-close detail.
To me, the question is where could this package with its x-rated material be shown, especially in Production Code, 1948. My guess is that the x-rated footage could be edited out for commercial neighborhood showing and then re-inserted for instances of special viewing. Because of shrewd storyline construction, I think this could be done without harm to the story or its emphatic anti-abortion message. However that may be, the sudden transition from teen angst to vaginal and penile close-ups is jarring, to say the least.
The production itself is quite competent for a low-budget indie. Jones is sweetly sympathetic in the lead and makes me wish I were her age again. Then too, Crehan, the authoritative voice of proper behavior, manages not to be too off-putting. My only complaint is with the abortionist who's made to look like the ultimate evil in an obvious effort at visual manipulation.
All in all, it's a strange flick impossible for me to rate, and unlike any I've seen in many years of movie watching. I just wish IMDB had more info about it. Anyway, catch up with this genuine oddity if you can, but be prepared, as reviewer Hafer puts it, for a heavy "yuck" factor.
Needs More Gopher
Mildly amusing outdoor comedy. Given the talent involved, the results are rather disappointing. I get the feeling much of the narrative was improvised as they went along-- the storyline stumbling around in choppy fashion between golf course antics, nude sex, and O'Keefe's effort at raising college money. It's almost like a series of skits minus coherent connecting threads to build on. Nonetheless, there are some generally amusing elements-- the mischievous gopher, with his impish little face and clever effects. I'm just sorry he wasn't given more pranks since the comedic possibilities are a bucket-load. Instead, we get Ted Knight mugging it up in Ted Baxter style, along with a curled-lip Bill Murray doing something or other. Otherwise, it's a boisterous Rodney Dangerfield injecting real energy, while Chevy Chase plays his mystical club member in fairly straight style.
All in all, I expected better given the splash the movie made on first release. Perhaps a sequel with a different director and writers could better tap the rich potential that's clearly there. That is, if our naughty gopher is still in residence.
Wake Island (1942)
First-Rate Flag Waver
It's 1942 and the war in the Pacific is still in doubt. Japan has taken the Philippines and is moving on the rocky atolls of the central Pacific. Wake is smack in the middle and of no real value except militarily as a stepping-stone to bigger prizes.
This Paramount production adds up to an expertly mounted flag waver. Sure, maybe the Japanese have taken the island, but viewers are treated to heroic resistance from the Marine defenders that's bound to rally a grim American home front. The battle scenes--air, water, and ground--are realistic as heck, location shots blending almost seamlessly with occasional sets. Then too, the set-up footage of what purports to be an island Marine base is convincing as heck. Clearly Paramount understood the significance of its production.
For old time movie buffs, it's a treat catching the likes of Bill Bendix, Preston Foster, and Brian Donlevy, the former two providing the flick's macho humor. But don't look for skirts, it's an all male cast, understandably. And except for the tricky Japanese diplomat in the first part, the enemy is not parodied, rather surprising given the circumstances. All in all, the 80+ minutes amounts to a first-rate tribute to American fighting spirit even under impossible odds. However, if you don't like movie bullets or explosions, steer clear.
Decoy: Ladies Man (1958)
Drama on High
A highly dramatic episode. Each of the three leads-- Tolan, Nettleton, and Harvey-- gets a chance to emotionally shine. Garland's policewoman, of course, keeps a cool guiding head and a good thing too. (Am I mistaken or has Garland been somewhat glamorized, especially the eyebrows.) Plot-wise, nut-case Tolan hates his emotional dependency on women causing them and him terrible distress. He appears one of the more twisted characters in the series itself. Also, the climax amounts to a riveting slice of "what will he do".
All in all, I agree with reviewer paularoc: the boxed gun used to shoot Nettleton is quite a stretch. In fact, in my book, the whole episode appears more contrived than usual. Nonetheless, the compelling characters override plot difficulties while Rosenberg's direction, especially close-ups, remains dynamic. So fans of the series, women especially, should tune in.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
A prestige movie at the time, it's one that we folks were supposed to extol as a slew of Oscars and suddenly cool torn T-shirts can attest. However, except for Brando, I think its appeal has dwindled over time. Above all, ASND amounts to a filmed stage play with all the pitfalls therein-- a confined set, lengthy dialogue, and no action. In short, the result poses a contest for viewers to sit through. Of course, it's the performances that are supposed to grab you, and Brando's explosive Stanley does that with a one-note performance that amounts to crashing household goodies at a moment's notice. I guess that's supposed to make up for the static staging.
Anyway, it's Leigh as the hapless Blanche who gets the spotlight and an Oscar. However, her turn strikes me as relentlessly theatrical. She doesn't just register an emotion, she flourishes it in theatrical style. And since she's in most every scene, the exposure's unrelenting. No doubt, Blanche is a plum role-- a refined upper-class woman deprived of her privileged background, having gone through stages of degradation and now in a mental down spiral. Maybe a new life in New Orleans with sister Stella and romance with gentleman Mitch can reverse the down trend. Well, it might if Stella could divorce herself from brutal husband Stanley who despises Blanche's refined ways. But apparently his macho potency is more than the sweet-natured Stella can break with. This is really the central tragedy of the story, though we have to infer it. Of course, in 1951 such topics as masculine potency could only be implied and Brando embodies it to the proverbial T. To me, however, it's Kim Hunter who really delivers in award fashion as sweet-tempered Stella. It's clearly a subordinate part to Blanche by helping highlight her sister's miseries. Nonetheless, Hunter brings off the sympathetic role in fine non-sappy fashion.
No need to go on. All in all, the movie (but not the subject matter) remains a product of its time, whose lasting impact, along with some memorable lines, was to confirm Brando's rebellious reputation and skyrocketing fame.
Nothing Sacred (1937)
Slickly Done Madcap
Guess I won't be going to Warsaw, Vermont, anytime soon. They speak only two abrupt words there and everyone except Lombard looks like The Wicked Witch of The East. No wonder Lombard wants to get the heck out even if she has to pretend to be dying to do it.
The Selznick production's a first-rate effort all the way around, from colorful sets to snappy direction to vibrant acting. The premise is a tricky one- deceiving popular emotions by faking death, but the Selznick crew brings it off in astute madcap fashion. It's the kind of material that could go badly wrong without sure hands to guide it.
Lombard calibrates nicely in the central role, while the boisterous Connoly almost steals the show with a flashy performance. In fact, his newspaper editor is assertive enough to rescue General Custer. On the other hand, reporter March has to low-key it as Lombard's sensible advisor. And did I imagine it or does Lombard, wittingly or not, flash a bandaged middle-finger salute during the dance numbers. Also, NS is apparently (IMDB) the first comedy to be filmed in color, the process then being only a year or so old, but you'd never know it from the print I saw.
Anyway, seldom does Hollywood combine disparate elements as slickly as here, even when some story elements are touchy. All in all, I would think the Wellman helmed flick amounts to one of the radiant Lombard's best.
I'll Sell My Life (1941)
Clifton's Unfocused Mix
The premise may be a stretch but does hold some interest. Too bad Clifton's direction mangles the potential. So why does Hobart leave a strange letter with kindly soul Whalen along with several thousand dollars. Whalen's to hold the letter until a large remaining sum is paid him. If the money is not paid, he's to open the letter and see that justice is done whatever that might mean. And, oh yes, the transaction is to take place after Hobart's death which she implies is imminent.
Yeah, the plot's kind of involved. Still, we wonder what's in the mysterious envelope, why Hobart is to die, and what would be the required justice. Unfortunately, director Clifton undercuts the mystery with no atmosphere, silly comical characters, and a meandering narrative (he's also a co-writer). Fortunately, actress Hobart gives the story what impact it has; at the same time, leading man Whalen's character is both a stretch and blandly played. For me, the best part are the nightclub acts and Woodbury's revealing tight skirt.
Overall, the flick's a wasted opportunity. I'm just sorry RKO, for example, didn't get a shot at the material during its 40's period of dark shadows and ironical fate. Then we might have had something memorable instead of a belly flop.
Back to School (1986)
Dangerfield vs. Shakespeare in a Laugher
The comedy's a Dangerfield showcase. He gets to mug it up no matter the situation, so if you're not a fan, skip it. To me, however, the comedy flick is hilarious, as Melon (RD) throws his weight around with a fist full of dollars and muscleman Burt Young to help. So what does rich guy Melon care about proper behavior when it's only money that counts. After all, he's already conquered the business world; so conquering academia in order to help his son should be a snap. Never mind that once enrolled he looks like an overripe melon in a classroom of tulips. And get a look at all those tulips in skirts. All in all, it's a rich setup perfect for the comedian's brand of blubbery humor. I especially like his encounters with snobby Professor Barbay; it's like Curly of the Three Stooges facing off with Mr. Stuffy Stone Face.
Nevertheless, there's an apparent subtext underlying the robust humor. Namely, can college's intellectual refinements really prepare graduates for a real world jungle. Here the screenplay gets a little muddy in working things out. So the script tackles the opposite-- namely, does the jungle prepare for the classroom. Here Melon figures college will be a cinch, even for an aging fat guy. After all, he's already proven his jungle skills with a bag of money and knowing the right people. But the challenge turns out to be tougher than he thought, since his tools will only take him so far amidst a room full of Shakespeare and Shelley. So, perhaps there are limits to his jungle success. But whether the classroom prepares for the jungle is less clear.
Nonetheless, the flick's full of laughs, tapering off somewhat near the end as the more serious threads emerge. Still, who can forget Sam Kinnison's hilarious professor who could scare even me into studying. His monstrous grouch amounts to a touch of inspiration. All in all, the porky comedian shows he can be as funny on the big screen as he is on the small.
Sitting on the Moon (1936)
A Sturdy Mediocrity
Nothing remarkable here. Nonetheless the programmer reflects quality Hollywood craftsmanship even at lowly Republic Pictures level. Floundering songwriter Pryor wants to help equally floundering songstress Bradley. Both are talented and together they show promise, she trilling his words and music. Trouble is both are blackballed in the industry through mix-ups. Thus they struggle to win their rightful place, and just as importantly, by remaining together.
Bradley was new to me, but she's quite winning in the role, projecting both sweetness and dedication. Too bad she retired early to become Hopalong's real life wife. The songs and staging are entertaining without being memorable, while Newell and Kelton supply occasional comic relief. Also, it's kind of nostalgic for us geezers to see how radio programs were put together during that era. Anyway, it's the kind of light entertainment that kept old time movie-goers coming back for more Hollywood escapism, even if it was at the bottom of a double-bill. So modern day viewers could do a lot worse.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Sex, Blood, and Got-cha's
A 10 on the Horror Movie Scale.
A sex, blood, and got-cha classic, no doubt about it. So who's splattering the new camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake and why. It's this mystery that carries the storyline leaving little time for character development except for Alice, who evolves from defenseless teen to aggressive survivor. Otherwise, it's attractive hormonal kids parading around in their underwear or playing 'strip Monopoly' a nifty variation on the board game usual. Too bad the kids keep disappearing. Wisely, the horror movie's gore is not overdone to a sickening degree as in many horror movies. Instead there's just enough to give us a sudden jolt. Then too, the ending's thoughtful enough to leave us wondering whether there is a real curse after all, and whether Alice will be next.
No need to go on after so many reviews. All in all, I can see why the cheap flick struck a popular chord and a gold mine-- the photography is unerring and underrated. Also, a special tip of my geezer cap to the enchanting Robbi Morgan, whose Annie makes me doubly yearn for those innocent teen years. Meantime, don't watch this alone, but especially not if you hear rain hitting from somewhere you can't be sure.
Lady by Choice (1934)
Catch The Grabber First Part
That slam-bang opening creates a problem for all that follows. Too bad the remainder settles into rather listless soap opera. In that opening grabber, Robson's old street lady is an untamed alcoholic firebrand who shreds judge Daly's courtroom like a ragged tornado. She cares nothing about the court's staid dignity or the assembled onlookers. It's a heckuva act like nothing I've seen. But where do you go from there with 70-more minutes to fill. Well, the old lady gets adopted by court order by fan dancer Lombard who aims to tame and bring out the motherly good in her. Then too, Lombard herself wants a new career while being pursued by wealthy suitor Pryor. Maybe now an adopted mother can help her. So, will the changes each needs really take hold.
Too bad the follow up fails to rise above the strictly conventional, not helped by Pryor's lack of charisma. Lombard, however, shows her talent with a nicely under-stated performance conveying both sensitivity and depth. All in all, the two lead actresses prove better than the conventional material. But who can forget Robson's early tour-de-force that leaves the stereotype of nice old lady in cinematic shreds, which is about the only reason to catch up with this antique.
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
Not A Bad Corman Flick
Plot-- people go disappearing mysteriously in a backwoods swamp leading the authorities to a guessing game while the missing continue to pile up.
So how did I miss this drive-in special back in '59; maybe I had a back-seat 12-pack that made me forget. Anyhow, I'm glad to catch up with this Corman special. Okay, I'm in a minority, but the flick's on the whole competently made. The monster is the only really cheesy part (surprise, surprise). Still, it's wisely kept in shadow so we never get a really good look. Otherwise, the script, acting, and staging are all credibly done. For a cheap budget, the Cormans got their money's worth, especially with the LA Arboretum. Then too, was there ever a better screen vixen than the great Yvette Vickers. Here she grabs us guys in the first part with her seductive specialty and a lot of leg. No wonder the leeches were saving her for their vampire dinners. And catch the hillbillies. Their backwoods lingo and grimy looks are really colorful and well acted.
Anyway, I can't say the cheapo's a campy laugher like most Corman monster flicks. On the whole, however, it is a quality cut above and held my interest all the way through, Vickers or no.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Existentialist's Top Ten
I doubt the 2-hours is a favorite of NYC's chamber of commerce. The grime and sin fairly drip off the screen-- location filming on the streets being a big, big plus. Poor cabbie Bickle, he's trapped in his own isolation and can't decide whether to break out or celebrate. He'd like to connect with high class Betsy, but he's too self enclosed to realize his porn movies are an insult to her. Then too, he'd like to affirm conventional values by rescuing little Iris from life on the street. But she's too much in love with her pimp, a part of the city filth which he takes care of with an angry gun. Hailed now by the cops and public as a hero, he nevertheless falls back into isolation as passengers come and go from his private cab. Still, he's done his bit to clean up the city. Now he can drive at ease within his self-enclosure. Perhaps the moral is we're each condemned to live inside our own cab. Or is his problem more simply an instance of urban neglect.
Heckuva job by Scorsese and Co. that holds fast audience interest even minus a storyline. Instead, it's an account of one man's struggle inside an alienating environment, and actor DeNiro triumphs in a darn difficult role. In fact, he's in about every scene, so there's plenty of chances to fail.
No need to go on; 1000+ reviews says it all. Nonetheless, I nominate the movie for existentialism's hall of movie fame. Plus next time I take a cab, I'll darn sure be nice to the driver.
Lady Behave! (1937)
Promising Premise Partially Realized
Fitfully funny slice of madcap. Movie picks up steam as it goes along, especially when the kids come in. Seems only way Paula can keep sister Clarice from jail for bigamy is to get her sister's first marriage annulled. But to do that Paula has to pretend to be wife Clarice in first husband Cormack's wealthy household. Seems Cormack was too foggy to remember the real Clarice, so the trick might work, that is, if his two rambunctious teens will accept their new mom. If this sounds complicated, it is, so you may need a scorecard.
I wish there were more snappy lines to go with the fast-paced hijinks, but apparently the censors were active- (IMDB)- given the.touchy premise of fake marriage. As a result, the dialogue doesn't help the potential, leaving the chuckles to various antics instead.
Anyway, Eilers does well as the sober-sided Paula who centers the film; then too, I think I notice a faint facial resemblance to Joan Crawford, of all people. At the same time,1960's Batman- helper, Neil Hamilton, shows a handsome younger face as Cormack, combining both looks and straight-man deadpan. There's also a good look at peppy teenager Marcia Mae Jones who does keep things moving. In fact, she almost takes over the film in its latter stages.
All in all, if you're not expecting polished madcap in the 30's style of MGM or TCF, the antics are mildly amusing, even if no thanks to the Breen office (IMDB).
Daughter of the Tong (1939)
Thanks to the movie's extended prologue I now know who the FBI is. Like most Americans, I was in serious doubt. Kidding aside, the prologue is rather odd in its assumptions, even for 1939. All in all, there's nothing special about this 60-minute programmer that mainly dramatizes the agency at work in stopping an Asian smuggling ring. It appears the culprits smuggle people into the country inside sealed boxes who apparently breathe by magic. Anyway, despite the title, the flick's not very ethnic, Loo being the only real Asian, and with no real presence of a tong.
Story-wise, Withers goes undercover to penetrate the gang and its mysterious mastermind, Carney. But to us viewers, the culprit's pretty apparent from the outset. Don't worry, though, if things slow down there's always a brawl available- I hope the guys got double pay for all the acrobatics. And catch the great Richard Loo already planning his many sinister roles in WWII, along with Dave O'Brien taking a break from six-shooters and cowboy hats. On the other hand, it's too bad Brent didn't make a stronger try at acting evil since she really looks the part. The best part to me was the well-crafted car chase over mountain roads that's worthy of a more expensive production. Anyway, the flick's an okay action feature for a slow evening, but nothing more.
One More Silent Guffaw
This is the silent sound of my hands clapping and my mouth guffawing. Was there ever a better slice of sheer lunacy than up-in-the-air with ZAZ. A plane in distress doesn't seem like satirical material, but in the inspired hands of ZAZ the laughs link up all the way through. It's also a triumph that the ex-pilot's dramatic part is so well combined with the nonsense. And happily, there's no draggy parts either.
Big fun too for us geezers is seeing headliners like Bridges from the past, and shouldn't overlook red-haired Ken Tobey who fended off the classic The Thing back in '51. Thanks, Ken. All in all, I'm just wondering what the deadly serious stars were like between shots. Holding their deadpan expressions amid the lunacy must have been a career challenge. No need to go on as the number of reviews tell the story better than I can. So don't miss it. Meanwhile, from now on, I'm flying ZAZ's wacko airlines with lovely Hagerty as stewardess.
Fear and Desire (1953)
A Bust, As Kubrick Knew
Kubrick's visual flair is undone by a pretentious script and uneven acting. Then too the storyline is a real stretch, so, all in all, I can see why the legendary filmmaker disowned this his first feature length effort. Nonetheless, there's all kind of tension implicit in four guys trapped behind enemy lines. So the premise has real potential. Too bad the script seems more interested in literary tropes than their life-and-death anguish. It's hard to be absorbed into the characters when they're spouting dialogue from Shakespeare. After all, these are supposed to be ordinary guys, not someone declaiming from center stage. And just who decided Pvt. Fletcher should impersonate a dopey clown that's about as humorous and affecting as a kick in the shins. And what about the girl whose deadpan expression never changes regardless the provocation. Clearly, at this stage, Kubrick is more skilled with camera than with actors. All in all, there may be something profound somewhere in the mess, but excuse me if I don't go digging in what may be a fool's errand.
Decoy: The Sound of Tears (1958)
So Who's The Culprit
We see a shadowy woman standing in the mysterious opening scene. Suddenly she loosens a barrage of bullets into a poor shadowy guy across from her. So what's the story behind this murder, and guess who gets to figure it out. Pretty good whodunit, again showcasing fine acting, though actor Mendick's cop needs tone down a bit. And catch Casey showing some un-cop emotion when recalling a tragic romance of her own. Actress Pleshette gets featured billing, but it's really Molly Mc Carthy's showcase. I wish IMDB had more on this obscure actress, whose career was brief but clearly talented. Then too, catch the crowded street scene and cavernous terminal (Grand Central Station) near the end. It's excellent performances and colorful locations that again distinguish this unusual 50's series.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Defies A Conventional Rating
If I had a dime for every quart of phony blood the characters swim in, I'd be a millionaire. Add a dime for every f--- word and I'd be a billionaire. Jokes aside, there's clearly a creative force behind this ragged production. Trouble is Tarantino and co. lacked enough budget to complete their hopes. So what we get instead are special moments awkwardly combined. It's not surprising Tarantino would go on to an iconic career once the budget squeeze was off. However, I do wish he could have worked in some eye-catching females for relief from all the ugly guys. Surely that wouldn't have cost much. Nonetheless, I'm sure old time movie buffs like me are delighted to catch authentic tough guy Tierney as the gang leader. Too bad for his career he couldn't limit his fisticuffs to the screen.
Because of the Tarantino name and the hallelujah reviews, I guess I was expecting more than the mixed result I got. Still, you might want to catch the compelling moments that dot the result.
Isle of the Dead (1945)
It Ain't Club Med
Some great faces in this vintage horror flick-- a gaunt wild-haired Karloff, a scary ethereal Thimig, and a weird little Knaggs we needed to see more of. Overall, however, the 70-minutes is a collection of memorable moments rather than a compelling totality.
Plot-wise are the dozen or so isle dwellers dying of plague or is it of an evil vorvolika (vampire). Karloff's no-nonsense army general starts off thinking it's the former but ends up thinking the latter. In fact, the script toys with science vs. superstition even down to the last. Is Thimig beset by a death-like trance or an evil spirit; is it a plague that sweeps the isle or is it a vorvolika. Thus the premise repeats the classic conflict between the natural and the supernatural.
Producer Lewton's tragically short career specialized in some of the best examples of poetic horror in Hollywood annals despite their often catch-penny titles, e.g. I Walked With A Zombie. His hand is evident here with the eerie b&w compositions ultimately more unsettling than our current taste for blood and gore. Catch, for example, the flowing white gown amid the dark spooky woods, a study in artistic composition unrepeatable by modern Technicolor. Add up these memorable scenes and the production's an adventure in the visual artistry 40's horror.
Nonetheless, I don't think Isle is top-notch Lewton. For one, the screenplay doesn't seem to know where to go with its provocative science vs. superstition premise, resulting in a narrative of visual moments rather than suspenseful whole. Then too, actress Drew lacks the depth needed to convey a possible vorvolika, which drives much of the plot. But then, more ambiguity would have undercut her ingenue role as actor Cramer's heart-throb. So I guess the problem lies in how her role is conceived.
Still, no Lewton production that also features the unforgettable Karloff can afford to be missed. What a great presence he was. Meanwhile, I guess I won't be doing any island-hopping any time soon.
Decoy: High Swing (1958)
Unusually Thought-Provoking for 1950's TV
I'll leave plot recap to reviewer Kapel'. More than most cop shows of the time, Decoy concentrated on human interest for audience appeal. That's probably because Casey couldn't be seen duking it out with criminal thugs in the manner of a standard male series. Despite some over-acting (Dekker), this particular episode is distinguished by a surprising climax unusual for its day. The build-up has touches of both criminality and tragedy with wife Atwater's poignant cripple and husband Dekker's single-minded devotion. Still, the ending comes as a memorable surprise that heightens what may be a tragedy or is it justice served. On the other hand, there're no characteristic views of NY streets or locales, since it's this study of values that prevails. All in all, the entry's a thought-provoking episode, so don't miss it.
One Of Allen's Best
No need to recap the wacky plot or what there is of it.
Be prepared to duck since the shtick flies faster than speeding bullets. Most antics, verbal or otherwise, hit the laugh mark, but with so many zooming around some are bound to bring a "huh", like the execution scenes. Still, this is Allen at his inventive peak, his Fielding Melish a perfect nebbish as he fumbles his way through thick and thin, never at a loss for a screw-up wherever he goes.
Still, screenwriter Allen's toying at times with touchy political subjects, like an aggressive US role in Latin America, along with a mounting communist resistance, and even a cross-dressing J. Edgar Hoover you wouldn't want to date. And this at a Cold War time when Castro's influence was still quite strong along with a real beard as well. But Allen's flair for nonsense buries such subtexts in a steady barrage of goofy antics.
The flick's short on eye-candy except when Melish ogles through porno magazines while trying to avoid the gaze of a disapproving old woman. Otherwise, ex-wife Lasser has the only female role, mainly as bookends to the narrative nonsense. Anyway, it's top-notch Allen at his creative goofiest. So don't miss it, even if not an Allen fan.
Bad Girl (1931)
Needs More Spark
Despite initial high ratings (IMDB), the 90-minutes now seems talky and strung out. Eilers is a model who's heard every come-on in the book. Naturally, she doesn't trust men, but then she meets Dunn cute in the rain. Surprisingly, however, he seems uninterested which nonetheless interests her in him. So her defenses ebb while he slowly warms up to Eilers' winsome charm. The question is how their relationship will develop, especially when he conceals his money problems from her.
The flick starts off well with what looks like a royal wedding ensemble parading through a high-class bistro. I guess the girls are modeling ritzy wedding gowns that really are quite a sight. There's also a lot of snappy boy-girl badinage to percolate the proceedings. At that point, the snarky movie looks promising. Trouble is things soon settle into a talky soap-opera that meanders around in not very interesting fashion. Eilers makes for an appealing personality as she slowly lets her guard down. Dunn, however, lacks impact, perhaps because of his relentlessly good-guy role. Stealing the show is Gombell as Eilers' sober-sided best friend. Her character projects the kind of spark the talky narrative needs.
All in all, I'm not surprised the screenplay's adapted from a stage play, always a risk for movie-makers who need to find ways to vary the stage talk. In my view, Borzage and Co. don't succeed despite the accolades of the time, and despite the director's well earned reputation .
(Catch the big radio consoles of the time. They were a common living room fixture that families could gather around to hear "Amos & Andy" or "Inner Sanctum" if in a darker mood.)