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The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Badly dated heist flick, with Steve McQueen miscast as a bored, wealthy businessman looking for a new thrill. He gets it in the form of a bank robbery he engineers with the did of several others. But soon enough hot on his trail, is a flamboyant, female insurance investigator (Dunaway) and an intrepid cop (Burke). The film reeks of its period (the late '60s), which is fun to a point. Besides McQueen's miscasting (watch for his seemingly endless, very fake laughing fit right after the heist) and Dunaway's hammy, unintentionally laughable acting (and the fact that she is garbed in increasingly silly outfits more suited to a circus clown), former TV director Norman Jewison apparently decided to photograph the whole thing in a herky-jerky, mod style. It was 1968, remember. The result is many harsh transitions from one scene to the next, and Jewison often favors long shots when closeups would have done better. As a result, it is virtually impossible to watch this movie today. Better to check out the 1999 remake. There are also many other heist films worth seeing.
I was never much of a U.K. TV series fan, until I stumbled across this show and "Doc Martin." These two shows now have me hooked. "Bally" reminds me of gentle Irish comedy movies like "Waking Ned Devine." And the nice thing, with "Bally" I have six years worth of episodes to watch. In my home state, Connecticut, we have a huge Irish American population and Connecticut Public Television airs "Bally" episodes at least once a week, which is how I became acquainted with the show. I have since watched a couple of episodes on youtube. I can't get enough of it! You can have "Dontown Abbey." Me, I'll stick with "Bally." I also watch occasional episodes of the various police dramas like "Inspector Morse" and "DCI Banks." But without guns and gun play, they tend t be very dull.
The Night Flier (1997)
Fangs for the memories
Veteran tabloid reporter Miguel Ferrer is on the trail of a savage killer who flies from rural airport to rural airport in search of victims. Soon enough the reporter begins to realize he's pursuing a blood-sucking vampire, Dracula cape and all. Shades of The Night Stalker! At some point, the killer starts warning the reporter off, to no avail. The story takes time to build, and the killer is barely glimpsed until the last five minutes. Keeping him in the shadows until the final confrontation, also done in The Nigh Stalker, pays off big time for the very shocking and bittersweet ending. Ferrer is intense as usual, and the supporting cast is populated by some pretty colorful characters. I was most intrigued by a scene where the reporter, already sensing something supernatural about his prey,finds the killer's empty plane on a tarmac and climbs inside, only to discover the controls rusted and ruined and the entire cockpit saturated with blood.
Harsh Times (2005)
Bad boys on the loose
Bale gives a riveting, intensely powerful performance in this grim crime drama. He plays an ex-special forces type trying to land a law enforcement job so he can bring his Mexican sweetie to L.A. But he is also a petty criminal who has increasing flashbacks to his time in combat. And he can't seem to mend his criminal ways, even as he is about to begin a job ostensibly with Homeland Security. There isn't much plot, just strong acting and a sense of the specific time and place, on the streets of south central L.A. I was reminded of STRAIGHT TIME with Dustin Hoffman as an ex-con who can't control his criminal tendencies. Not a movie for kids or anyone expecting another TRAINING DAY. This is not your typical Hollywood fare and was shot for peanuts. It is the kind of gritty flick that actors die for. One caution: The plot takes awhile to kick into gear.
This slice of ghetto life is like nothing else I ave seen. A young drug runner decides he wants out of the life. He also wants to save his sister, who has taken up with one of the kid's drug kingpins. In order to get out, he has to do some pretty fancy footwork. But he is a master strategist as we see when he plays chess with his dad. Wonderful location photography and acting, with a large cast of mostly unknown actors except for Sam Jackson as the dad and Giancarlo Esposito as the drug kingpin. The plot doesn't necessarily go in the direction you might think. There is a fair amount of violence, but most of it is off camera or quickly cut away from.
The Hearse (1980)
As much as I admire Trish VanDevere, this 1980 movie-of-the-week just doesn't cut it. A recently divorced woman moves into her late aunt's old house in the woods, only to be haunted by eerie figures and an old black hearse that appears to want to kill her. As she tries to figure out what's what, the lonely woman meets several locals, including a less-than-friendly general store proprietor, a hulking, horny sheriff, a nasty real estate agent and a guy her age who seems too good to be true. This low-budget effort, slightly reminiscent of a ghost flick VanDevere shot the same year with husband George C. Scott, apparently started out as a slasher flick but was turned into a haunted house/witchcraft thriller. A muddled plot and sloppy editing doesn't help. For genre fans only.
The Woman in the Window (1944)
Edward G. and Joan Bennett star in a noirish crime drama that feels almost surreal (with god reason, as the ending makes plain). Robinson is a staid professor whose family is off on a weekend jaunt. He meets an alluring woman who invites him to he apartment for "drinks and." When her psycho boyfriend unexpectedly shows up, the prof ends up killing him during a scuffle. To protect himself and the gal, he gets rid of the body. Then the fun really starts. Edward G. is at the top of his form here, and Bennett is sexy and ever so slightly tawdry, even fully clothed. The ending, which has been used or misused in many movies before and since, here works beautifully. I am surprised I had never seen this particular melodrama until now. I am no spring chicken, and used to be a film critic, to boot.
Footsteps in the Fog (1955)
A great cast makes this Victorian thriller a near-classic, hampered only by a low budget. Stewart Granger stars as a recent widower who is in fact a murderer. This fact is known only to one of his his servants (Jean Simmons), who uses this knowledge to improve her station. When the wily widower ends up in a romantic relationship with a woman of his own class, he decides to put an end to the servant. From this point, everything that can go wrong does, and the clever twist ending is a real hoot. A young Bill Travers plays a barrister in love with the woman the widower has his eyes (an lips) on. Since the movie is working with almost no budget, the action is played out on basically three sets, so that it feels a bit like a theatrical play. No harm done in the end, as it is well written and wonderfully acted. Simmons absolutely shines.
The Keep (1983)
It's been a few years since I last watched this riff on "Dracula," and it has not held up. This is either due to the studio cutting half the finished movie or the director not being suited to the horror genre. Perhaps it's both. Sadly, the novel (the original, not the revised version) is a humdinger. An ancient entity is imprisoned in a vast structure deep inside a Romanian mountain. It is bound by what appears to be a series of silver crosses embedded in the walls that bind it. During WWII, a Nazi contingent arrives and takes over the small town at the foot of the Keep, and curiosity and greed soon get the better of the bored soldiers. The creature is released and starts picking them off to regain strength and shape before it ventures out. The opening scenes are spellbinding, as Michael Mann is a visualist extraordinaire. But once the actual plot gets going, it's all downhill from there. The monster is never scary, there is little suspense and the jagged studio editing makes the story hard to follow. Admittedly, it was shot on a shoestring budget, and Mann does the best with what he had to work with. This is no cult classic, folks. The best we can hope for is a big-budget remake, especially in this CGI era.
Strange Invaders (1983)
Lotsa fun and some real thrills
I reviewed this clever tribute to low-budget 1950s sci=fi flicks (most notably "Invaders From Mars") some years ago. Having just watched it again, I felt compelled to write it up one more time. The people who put this charming cult classic together definitely knew what they were doing: A big city college teacher (LeMat) goes searching for his missing ex-wife in a rural Midwest town, only to discover the town is populated by what appear to be very hostile aliens (for one thing, they love blowing up cars). The professor learns the aliens took over the town in the late 1950s, with our government's permission. One of the great gags in this delightful movie is that, 25 years later, nothing has changed in the occupied town. It's still full of hayseeds and sock hops and hideous American-made monster mobiles. A tabloid journalist (Allen) joins the professor in his search, and all hell breaks loose as the aliens attempt to keep their identity a secret. The supporting cast is populated by award-winning actors like Louise Fletcher, doing a variation on her legendary Nurse Wratchet (around the same time, she also appeared in a spoofy remake of "Invaders From Mars"), and Michael Lerner, whose woebegone character has lost his wife and kids to the aliens and has been locked away in the funny farm. The movie was clearly shot on a shoestring, with poor sound quality and way too many single takes (watch the little boy at the end put his right arm around his dad for a split second before dropping it and staring off-camera at what probably was one of his real-life parents). But the film also exhibits a unique charm and features some truly unnerving moments (dig the "Evil Dead" bit when the professor's dog, now a captive of the aliens, appears to rush back and forth past the professor on a lonely road, unseen but definitely there via incredible sound effects and unusual camera work. Also, some of the other effects are extremely satisfying in their crude way, such as a series of glowing orbs that hold the captive humans and the aliens' spaceship. Plus, the story's pace never slackens. There's something going on every second of this movie; there ain't no padding. The ending is utter hokum, but intentionally so, I suspect.
Dark Intruder (1965)
Where's Vincent Price when you need him?
Atmospheric TV movie about a Sherlock Holmes type (Leslie Nielson) who occasionally assists the San Francisco police with serious crimes. Set in 1890, the whole thing feels very Jack the Ripper-ish, and there is a Mr. Hyde styled monster running loose in town seemingly killing people at random. Nielson's breezy private detective eventually puts two and two together, and realizes the creature has something very specific in mind with each murder. Mark Richman plays a troubled acquaintance who may hold the key to the mystery, and Werner Klemperer of all people plays the Mr. Hyde-ish killer. Tame by today's standards, this low-budget but fanciful tale still packs a punch. Later released theatrically. Too bad it wasn't shot in color. Nielson, whose hair was still dark in those days, is an absolute hoot.
I suspect the book this Canadian indie was based on is far superior to this low-budget adaptation. Two hunting parties cross paths in the Canadian woods, which ends with a man being accidentally killed. Cliff Robertson leads a group of military veterans, and when nothing is heard after the fact about the killing, he figures in his own bent way that the other party will be coming after his men and their families. He decides to take the offensive and leads his men back into the woods, this time armed with automatic weapons and full combat gear. Dull movie, mostly guys standing around talking. A great cast is largely wasted here, including Ernest Borgnine, Henry Silva, Kate Reid and Helen Shaver. Reid steals the show midway through as horny, drunken widow. But it's not enough to redeem this flick, which might have been better offered upas a made for TV job.
Paris awash in blood
American architect Stephen Boyd runs afoul of modern-day terrorists in Paris, and in the process falls for a comely French student (LeMaire) who is part of the terrorist cell. Louis Jourdain is the head of the Paris cell, and in the course of events, two people are murdered by his people, one of them a close friend of the architect. The gal wants nothing to do with murder, and eventually this results in conflict between her and the cell leader. The use of back lot sets is a little too obvious, but Boyd and company keep things moving along. A couple of familiar character actors play supporting roles. The subject may or may not interest you, but the truth is France is in even worse shape today vis a vis terrorists and anarchists. So the episode remains timely.
It's 2013 and nothing has changed in communist Cuba. This story, set in the early 1960s, tells of an American woman (Wynter) arriving in that beleaguered country to get her husband out of jail, where he sits on trumped-up charges of being a spy. In fact, as she soon finds out, he has hidden a million dollars in the aftermath of the 1958 revolution, and the Castro regime wants that money badly. The wife enlists the aid of a brash journalist (Forrest) to help her free her husband and steal the money, only to find she has put all of their lives in danger. The Cuban officials are shown to be the corrupt weasels that we have long suspected, and unfortunately such people are still in power today under another Castro. Forrest plays his usual breezy he-man and Dana Wynter looks amazingly beautiful, given the old lady clothes, hairdo and makeup of the period. Victor Jory has a pivotal part as a boozy artist harboring a very big secret.
Slick, fast and funny
A veteran Vegas craps shooter (Kelly) down on his luck is enlisted by a wealthy Southerner (Hingle) to help him win $200,000, the winnings to be split down the middle. The veteran at first has misgivings, but agrees as long as the rich man obeys his every rule at the table. Also, he has met a bewitching woman (Kovack) he thinks just might be the right one. The boisterous Hingle and the subdued Kelly, best remembered for "Maverick," are terrific together, and they have a knock-down, drag-out fight later in the episode, with help from their stunt doubles, that is both brutal and comical. The twist ending came completely out of nowhere, at least it did for me. See what you think. Kelly, a gifted actor who died too young, appeared in two other Kraft Suspense Theatre episodes and many other TV shows.
OK for Blyden fans
I almost didn't enter a review of this episode, it is so trifling. The only thing that changed my mind is the fact that it stars Larry Blyden, a wonderful character actor who did a lot of early TV and today is long forgotten. A man of many faces and dispositions on screen, Blyden was the perfect choice to play the lead in this humorous episode, which is about an overly honest art gallery employee who puts his foot in his mouth once too often with customers and gets fired. The straw that breaks this particular camel's back and leads t his dismissal is a jewel-encrusted antique scepter that our honest john tells everyone isn't worth the suggested retail price of 2 million dollars. Facing a bleak future now that he has been fired, the meek fellow suddenly turns brazen and decides to steal the scepter to make a point and teach his former boss a lesson. He enlists the aid of a gruff ex-cop (McGraw), a washed-up actress (Merman) and her goofy daughter. Nothing goes exactly as planned, of course. Blyden plays his Jekyll-Hyde role to perfection and the legendary Ethel Merman gets off a few good lines in a strictly non-singing role. Blyden fans should enjoy this oddball tale. All others, beware.
Cat and mouse
A young Peter Brown gets to show off his acting prowess as a downed WWII pilot who escapes from a POW camp in France bearing vital information that he is to deliver to the French resistance. As he travels in disguise as a French laborer, he encounters a helpful man (Savalas) who clearly sees he is American and a pretty woman apparently traveling alone. Both, it turns out, may not be his best choice for new friends. Other than too much WWII stock footage, this is a solid episode in which the pilot, who lacks self-confidence, must make it to the resistance or perish trying. Brown rarely got a chance to really act, but in the two episodes he did for the Kraft show, he proves he was more than just a pretty face.
Still crazy after all these years
James Whitmore plays a retired Army major who has nightmares about his time in the Korean War and now plans to establish a militia to guard against America's enemies, which include anyone of ethnic descent. Tommy Sands plays a high schooler who leads a group of raucous high school youths (in reality, all of them well past college age) who run afoul of the shell-shocked major. It eventually comes down to a confrontation between the major and the brash high schooler, and the major is now brandishing a gun. Whitmore is riveting as a deranged man, and Sands is convincing enough as a wise mouthed kid who may end up paying the ultimate price for his misbehavior. The episode was slightly ahead of its time, in that people like the nutty major and his militia would come to be a few years later.
Julie Harris, playing her usual spinster type, is on a vacation with two friends (Gregg, Adams) in San Diego. On a whim she purchases a gaudy ring from a shop. Unbeknownst to her, the ring was sold to the shop by an old woman whose son was suppose to inherit it. The son is a gigolo, and mom has decided to teach him a lesson. He tracks down the spinster and her friends, and acts as their sightseeing guide in an effort to regain the ring. One problem: it's stuck tight on the spinster's finger. He woos then assaults the woman in an attempt to pry the ring from her finger, and the three women chase hm off. But he sneaks back, ready to kill the spinster if necessary. Great performances by all involved, and the story (WITH TeLEPLAY BY THE LEGENDARY JAMES GUNN) IS AS FRESH AS the day it was written.
Whitmore all the way
Solid courtroom drama about a WWII soldier of limited mental capacity being tried for the slaying of his sergeant. A slick lawyer defends him, but in order to save him since the soldier refuses to plead guilty and throw himself on the mercy of the court, has to pull out all the stops and play every trick in the book. The courtroom segment is told in flashback, as the episode begins 20 years later with the ex-soldier confronting the lawyer. James Whitmore is the slick lawyer, and he truly carries the episode. He is ably supported by Philip Abbott as the prosecuting attorney and Richard Crenna as the slow-witted soldier. Some grim battle scenes precede the trial, so beware. This is not one for the kiddies.
Sergeant Ryker (1968)
Superior courtroom drama set near the end of the Korean War. An Army sergeant named Ryker (Marvin) is sent by his commanding officer behind enemy lines, posing as a defector. The sergeant is eventually captured by Allied forces and jailed as a traitor. He is to be executed. His one possible alibi, that commanding officer, is now dead. A captain (Dillman) is convinced of Ryker's story, and convinces a general (Nolan) to let the Army retry Ryker, with the captain serving as his defense attorney. Great cast, including Peter Graves as a major itching to see Ryker hanged, and Murray Hamilton as a cynical officer who is convinced nothing can save Ryker. The courtroom scenes are suspenseful, and this two-part Kraft Suspense Theatre show was wisely turned into a theatrical release several years later.
Edge of your seat
A ragtag bunch of GIs fall in with each other in war-torn France, in 1944. They are led by a tough sergeant carrying blood to Allied lines. The problem is, one of them is a Nazi in disguise, and paranoia sets in. The main suspect is a solider with a lot of lip, and who just happens to speak fluent German. A sequence set at a French farmhouse, where the soldiers have stopped for a rest and a meal, is particularly gripping as the Nazi among the five gets brutal with the French family. Robert Goulet stars as the insolent, German-speaking soldier and Claude Akins is the tough sergeant. The episode is overloaded with stock footage, which is unfortunate, and a voice-over narration that isn't needed. Still, this is a solid episode, with twists at both the beginning and end. Lots of familiar faces fill out the supporting cast.
Barry Nelson plays a suave jewel their who is breaking in an apprentice (Brown). Unfortunately, the apprentice decides to go into business for himself and eliminate his boss one way or the other. The two begin to play a deadly cat and mouse game, and caught in the middle of their struggle is the master thief's longtime girlfriend (McBain) whom the apprentice not surprisingly covets. Two detectives (Gregory and Stevens) are watching the master thief very carefully, although the older cop suspects early on someone else is involved with some of the thefts, especially after a cop gets shot. The detective knows the master thief never carries a gun. Some good moments, and a delightful twist ending.
One of the most entertaining Kraft episodes, revolving around the heist of some South American currency plates being shipped via train. Four men of widely disparate backgrounds come together to pull off the heist aboard a train bound from Chicago to Los Angeles. Great cast, especially Jack Kelly as the mastermind and Jesse White as an engraver and forger. The scenes aboard and outside the speeding train are exciting and suspenseful. Martha Hyer plays Kelly's classy wife, and she looks radiant in the part. Other prominent players include Joe Mantell as a former circus acrobat down on his luck, and Robert Conrad as a gigolo who falls in with Kelly. The ending is absolutely hilarious, by the way, and will have you grinning from ear to ear. It doesn't get any better than this, even if you normally don't care for caper movies.
Unfortunately, the IMDb summary gives away the whole plot for this gripping episode. An elderly cabinet maker (Dekker) married to a shrewish wife (Van Fleet) ha amassed a decent savings and intends to leave it to his loving niece, who lives with the couple and works for them. The wife decides to do in her husband for the money and blame his death on a young worker (Mineo). Great cast, especially Van Fleet as the nutty wife and Mineo as the young worker. Leonard Nimoy plays a detective. It's always funny to see Nimoy in a suit when we are so used to seeing him in his pointy ears and Starfleet garb. Van Fleet gets to scream and pop her eyes and do everything but spit as the psychotic wife. Definitely worth a watch. I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me this started out as a play. It has that kind of feel to it.