Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dead of Night (1945)

Great title. So-so film.

British horror film from Ealing Studio unites directors Alberto Cavalcanti (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby), Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob), Basil Dearden (The League of Gentlemen) and Robert Hamer (Kind Hearts and Coronets).

This 1945 release is a collection of shorts stitched together under a bigger narrative. There's five stories here (Christmas Party, The Ventriloquist's Dummy, Golfing Story, Hearse Driver and The Haunted Mirror) plus the overriding story.

Architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Jones) heads out to the country to do work on a home. There, he has an uneasy feeling he has ventured out to the property before and knows the residents, and guests, inside.

He shares his story and, by jove, just about everyone else has a creepy story to tell too.

Well, they're not all creepy.


Hearse Driver and The Haunted Mirror have all the subtlety of a cement block dropped on one's foot.

Golfing Story, based on a story by H.G. Wells, is a real hoot. Two long-tiem buddies love golf and the same girl. They decide they'll hit the links for a game to decide who gets their lady love. The loser talks a long walk in a deep pond, but comes back when he learns his buddy cheated during their round. When he forgets how to make himself disappear, frustrations mount.

The Ventriloquist's Dummy is a standout too. American ventriloquist catches hot British act in a French nightclub. Follow that? Dummy wants to work with the new guy. American talent is confused. Does the dummy talk on his own? Why's the British chap drinking so much and acting paranoid? This is a great effort.


Still trying to make sense of the film's ending when all the stories come together to terrorize Craig. Is he mentally ill? Did he dream the whole episode? Is he doomed to repeat the country visit for the rest of his days?

My advice: Watch Golfing Story and The Ventriloquist's Dummy. Skip the rest.

RATING: 9/10 (for two recommended stories)
RATING: 7/10 (the entire film)

FUN FACTS: Actress Googie Withers died on July 15, 2011. She was 94. Withers' credits include The Lady Vanishes and Shine, her last role.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Champion (1949)

Watch this film and you may feel a little punch drunk yourself.

Champion earned six Oscar nominations, winning one for best editing.

Decide for yourself if this early Kirk Douglas effort from director Mark Robson (Earthquake, Von Ryan's Express) deserves to be crowned or send back for some much-needed conditioning.


Midge Kelly (Douglas) and his brother, Connie (Arthur Kennedy), are riding the rails and hitchhiking to Los Angeles. The pair bought a share in a restaurant.

These boys have grown up poor. Their new business venture doesn't turn out well when their supposed partner dupes them out of their cash. Instead of owning the joint, the siblings are clearing tables and washing dishes.

Midge takes a shine to the greasy spoon's waitress, Emma (Ruth Roman). When he puts the moves on her, restaurant owner, and Emma's father, Lew Bryce (Harry Shannon) gets angry. Real angry.


In one of Champion's first strange, head-shaking moments, he pulls a gun on the lovers. Really? If that wasn't strange enough, moments later the pair are getting married. What??? She's not pregnant. There's no suggestion they've been sleeping together. Midge wants nothing to do with the marriage and leaves. Connie follows.

Midge earned a few much-needed dollars when heading west by filling in at the last minute as a boxer. He gets smacked around, delivers a few good punches himself and catches the eye of boxing manager Tommy Haley (Paul Stewart). Haley sees potential in the young buck. The pair reunite.

Cue the montages of Midge training and beating up on his opponents as he becomes known in the boxing world.


Midge makes good on his earlier vow to Emma. "Nice guys don't make money. I'm going to get somewhere. I'm not going to be, "hey you," all my life." He becomes the champ. The money starts to flow. Nice meals and sharp fashions follow, not to mention more than just keeping an eye on some fine looking dames.

When Midge refuses to throw a fight, he gets beat up by folks who lost their shirts betting on the wrong man. Here's another strange moment. Manager Haley warns him to get moving pronto after the fight fearing what's to come. Even after scrumming with the press (hey, these guys are on deadline, interviews wouldn't last hours), the arena is dark and absolutely devoid of humanity except for said thugs. No cleaners? No fans wanting an autograph? No one taking down the ring? Security? Very strange.

But to reach his goal, Midge is quick to dump anyone who threatens to slow him down or not deliver results. Don't blink or you'll miss Midge dropping one bombshell, Grace (Marilyn Maxwell) for another Mrs. Harris (Lola Albright). By this point, I needed a score card to keep track of the women in Midge's life.

Emma is back with Connie in Chicago to take care of his ailing mother (Esther Howard). Grace is fuming at being left behind. Jerome Harris (Luis van Rooten), who just happens to be Midge's new manager, is less than impressed his wife is seeing his talent on the side.

Heading into his fifth defence of his title, there are suggestions Midge is enjoying the good life too much and not spending enough time training at the gym. He's spending more cash than he's earning. Will he buckle down and remain the champ or will he take a licking from his hungry opponent?


Champion is no Rocky. Both characters are underdogs. But Midge isn't a nice guy. He's a user with a quick temper who threatens to beat up his ignored wife. It looks like he rapes her too.

Dimitry Tiomkin earned an Oscar nod for best music, but I found his contributions distracting. Better efforts were to come from Carl Foreman with High Noon and The Guns of Navarone.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Douglas and Albright are the only principal actors from this production still alive. Tiomkin also scored It's a Wonderful Life, High Noon and Dial M for Murder. Van Rooten's film debut was as Heinrich Himmler in The Hitler Gang. Kennedy starred with Michael Douglas, Kirk's son, in Hail Hero. Stewart and Shannon appeared in Citizen Kane.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Here's my homework assignment after watching this heavenly film.

View another movie that's penned by Samson Raphaelson (Suspicion, The Shop Around the Corner).


heaven can wait 1943 is a delight for the eyes, with its gorgeous use of Technicolor, and the ears with a sharp script that delivers some very funny lines.

A dead Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) prepares to meet Satan after his earthly demise. His Excellency (Laird Cregar) isn't familiar with the less-than-saintly actions that prompted Van Cleve to take the down stairs to his desk.

Van Cleve tells his story and all of the women he crossed paths with since entering the world with a very rich New York City family in the late 1800s.


Henry's main ambition is burning through the money his family has earned. He stays up all hours of the night as a partyboy. He decides to straighten up his ways when he happens upon Martha (Gene Tierney). "I might even go to work," Henry suggests about her powerful sway over him.

There are several standout scenes in this 1943 effort from Ernst Lubisch (The Shop Around the Corner).

An early one happens when Henry pretends to be a bookstore employee when Martha tries to buy a book about making a husband happy. He senses she's not overly keen about the fella she's going to tie the knot with. Turns out her potential better half is Henry's cousin, the all work and no fun Albert Van Cleve (Allyn Joslyn).

Martha is the daughter of a Kansas-based meat packer E.F. Strable (Eugene Pallette). He gets the best opening line of any character in this film. Another scene worth savouring is his verbal tussle, with a butler's help, with his wife (Marjorie Main) over the Sunday funnies.


Charles Coburn (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monkey Business) delivers solid suport as Hugo Van Cleve, the grandfather who earned the family fortune and has a soft spot for Henry, even if he's a lazy oaf.

For all its fun, Heaven Can Wait also explores mortality -- watch for a neat montage of birthday cakes with an ever-growing number of candles -- and relationships. The Strables don't have much of a marriage. Henry loves Martha, but his eye does wonder . . .

Helene Reynolds didn't have a long career in Hollywood. She only appeared in 14 titles between 1941 and 1948. But she has a solid appearance near the film's end as Peggy Nash, a show girl who has caught the affections of Henry's son, Jack (Tod Andrews, Beneath the Planet of the Apes). Nash is on to Henry's ways to prevent a family scandal and quickly turns the tables on him.

Don't put off seeing this film. Make a date with Heaven Can Wait.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Spring Byington, who appears as Henry's mother, had guest spots on several 1960s television series including I Dream of Jeannie. Batman and Mister Ed. See if you can find her in the original Mutiny on the Bounty.

Marjorie Main appeared as Ma Kettle in several Ma Kettle films.

Gene Tierney was the star of the great American film noir, Laura.

Film editor Dorothy Spencer's other credits include To Be or Not to Be, also directed by Ernst Lubisch, and My Darling Clementine.

Don Ameche was one of the featured voice talents in Homeward Bound - The Incredible Journey

NOT SO FUN FACT: Laird Cregar's career was painfully short. He only made 16 films before dying in 1944 at 31.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

Here's a movie that still makes its mark after 71 years.

The Mark of Zorro is great fun with a strong cast and exceptional score by Alfred Newman (The King and I, The Song of Bernadette).

Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power) is in Spain, being schooled in the fine arts of horsemanship and fencing, when he gets the call to return home to California.

He doesn't take the news well. Vega expects his life of rousing adventure will soon turn to stupefying boredom.

But his folks haven't told him of some stunning developments back in Los Angeles. His father, Don Alejandro Vega (Montague Love) is out as governor.

The corrupt Don Luis Quintero (J.Edward Bromberg) and his nasty henchman, Capt. Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), now rule the roost. Their subjects are afraid, not to mention broke because of all the taxes they're forced to pay.

The senior Vega won't lead a rebellion because he fears the effort will be crushed. A 30-year government veteran, he also believes in obeying the law. His son quickly decides he'll challenge the oppressive government.

Drawing on what he learned back in Spain, Don Diego will ride by night as Zorro (Spanish for fox). A mask will conceal his identity. He'll dress in black as he strikes back at Don Luis Quintero.

To throw off his opponents, and even his own family, Don Diego adopts a peace, not war, attitude who gets queasy at the thought of holding a sword. "Sword play is such a violent business," he says. His supposed beliefs disgust his father, and Fray Felipe (Eugene Pallette) and earn the contempt of Pasquale. The governor's right hand man is well skilled with his sword.

Power is a treat to watch as Vega/Zorro. There's good reason why he was a huge matinee idol. He's a good looking young buck (in his mid 20s when this film was made) who can act.

His romancing of the governor's teenaged niece, Lolita Quintero (Linda Darnell) includes a great scene in a chapel. She's praying. Zorro, dressed as a padre, is trying to elude the governor's men. Thinking he's a man of the cloth, she wants advice about finding love. Zorro tries to conceal his identity while trying to sneak peeks at the lovely young lady. Great stuff.

Save some popcorn for the final showdown between Pasquale and Zorro. Their duel is thrilling to watch. Rathbone more than fills the bill as the chief villain. Relish how good he is at being bad.

Director Rouben Mamoulian shows off his chops in the film's opening scene with a field of swordsman practising their craft in a field.

Pallette, a veteran actor with 251 titles to his credit over his career, is a hoot as a priest more than eager to take up arms against Quintero. He repeatedly asks for God's forgiveness as he whacks soldiers on the head during the film's final fight scene.

Alfred Newman, who won nine Oscars for his musical work, provides the rousing score.

This is entertainment, folks. Well recommended.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Rouben Mamoulian was fired from helming what would become one of Hollywood's most acclaimed film noirs, Laura.

Linda Darnell appeared as Henry Fonda's love interest in My Darling Clementine.

Both films are reviewed on this site.

This fact isn't so fun. Tyrone Power died of a heart attack in 1958. He was just 44. Darnell died in a house fire in 1965. She was 41.

Gale Sondergaard, who appears as Quintero's wife, Inez, appeared in an episode of Get Smart in 1970.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pickup on South Street (1953)

Pickup on South Street is no con job.

This early effort from American director Samuel Fuller (The Big Red One) offers great performances, including one nominated for an Oscar, fine camera work and, at times, intense violence that could make viewers flinch.


Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) is a pickpocket who's running out of chances. New York's finest have already nabbed him three times. If he's caught again, he goes to the big house for life.

He targets Candy (Jean Peters) on a crowded subway train. Skip's no dip when it comes time to steal other people's money, but he doesn't know two nearby federal agents are watching the young lady. Candy is a mule, transporting American military secrets to the Communists.


Check out the year this film was released. The Cold War between America and the Soviet Union was hot, hot, hot. Candy, and her handlers, want the microfilm that Skip pocketed back. Police offer the veteran crook a deal if he'll come clean with the sought-after secret. He's suspicious they'll be true to their word. McCoy's not worried about national security. He smells plenty of cash to be made by holding out for a rich payout before returning the film.

Widmark (Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir)) is impressive as the tough-talking thief who eagerly goes toe-to-toe with his police nemesis, Capt. Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye). Thelma Ritter earned an Oscar nomination for her work as Moe, an informer who will sell information about pretty much anybody, including those she's close to.

Richard Kiley (Jurassic Park, Howard the Duck) also stands out as Joey, the nervous, under-the-gun Communist agent who starts to sweat when Candy tells him her purse was picked.

Victor Perry is a hoot in a brief appearance as Lightning Louie, another hustler ready to make a buck by doling out information others want.


Pickup on South Street gets solid treatment from The Criterion Collection. The 80-minute film's DVD extras include two segments, with a total running time of 30 minutes, of Fuller talking about his film noir effort. Fuller describes his love of subways and the affinity he has for pickpockets and other criminals. He wrote South Street's script too.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Victor Perry's film resume is slim. He appeared in just five titles released between 1952 and 1956.

Jean Peters married reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes and didn't appear on screen for nearly 20 years after A Man Called Peter came out in 1955.

Milburn Stone appeared as Doc during Gunsmoke's 20-year run on television.

Thelma Ritter received five Oscar nominations for best supporting actress between 1951 and 1963. She never won. Composer Leigh Harline won an Oscar for best score for Pinocchio.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Black Fox: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler (1962)

Here's something different.

Black Fox is a war documentary that cuts between the life of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and a 12th century folk tale. Reynard the Fox was a cunning killer with a quick tongue perfect for getting him out of trouble. His reassuring words also soothed the worries of other animals. It's an apt comparison to Hitler.


Add in narration for Marlene Dietrich (Witness for the Prosecution, Destry Rides Again) and an often jarring score from Ezra Laderman and Black Fox is a documentary that is a little off-the-beaten path.

There are no interviews in this film, just Dietrich's off-camera narration and mountains of archival photographs, film footage and artwork from talent such as Pablo Picasso, George Grosz and Gustave Dore.


Black Fox offers a solid base tracing Hitler's rise to power beginning with his disillusionment with the defeat of Germany in the First World War.

A message runner on the western front for four years, Hitler was wounded twice and temporarily blinded by a British gas attack.

Hitler blamed Jews, Communists and pacifists for his country's defeat in the four-year war.

An attempted putsch in 1923 didn't end well for Hitler, but he soon developed a more cunning approach to seizing political power. The German military was still a strong force in the European country post-First World War. Hitler pushed military might to attract support while eliminating rivals within his own party. Free speech? Not under Hitler's rule. Books are burned. Writers and artists were exiled, put in prison or killed.

Black Fox offers numerous graphic shots of Nazi atrocities before, and during, the Second World War. Parents of younger viewers taken note. Shootings, hangings, incineration and mass graves are all depicted in this film.

Black Fox reminds viewers of the numerous opportunties countries such as England, France and United States had to challenge Hitler before Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Fear of war, and lack of preparation, stopped this possibility.

Black Fox quickly skips by 1941 to 1944 with a montage of shots including the liberation of France, invasion of Italy and bombing of Germany, before ending with Hitler's last hours.

This nearly 50-year-old documentary's big strengths are its description of how Hitler seized power and its prominent use of artwork to depict one of the darkest times mankind has known.

RATING: 7.5/10

Secrets of the Dead: D-Day (2004)

Hurray for the mavericks.

Several unconventional thinkers helped Allied leaders overcome many of the deadly obstacles Nazi Germany prepared for an invasion of France during the Second World War. Their story is not often told, but the first half of this very well made PBS documentary offers riveting details about their special creations.


Secrets of the Dead: D-Day also offers a welcome chance to hear of the experiences of American, British and German men who were part of D-Day on June 6, 1944.

To escape mines, hedgehogs and barbed wire, American, British and Canadian troops needed specialized equipment.

Andrew Jackson Higgins, a New Orleans boat builder, had starting building what would become assault craft used on D-Day a decade earlier. With some effort, he was able to get the American navy to pay attention to what he made. Even Nazi leader Adolf Hitler learned about Higgins and dubbed him 'The New Noah.'

Nicholas Straussler was a Hungarian engineer who created a flotation system for tanks to navigate on to the Normandy beaches and provide firepower for soldiers. The Allies learned the importance of getting tanks on the beach pronto after the disastrous raid on Dieppe, a French port, in 1942.


Archival films show early protoypes. A British man, Bob Grundy, tries the flotation system with a tank in the present day. A Second World War veteran who 'swam' to shore with such a tank watches.

Major Gen. Percy Hobart was a British military engineer who devised a number of modified tanks for use in the invasion inclduing a crab tank that used flailing chains to detonate landmines. The Bobbin tank put down a canvas cloth for tanks to ride on so they wouldn't sink into the soft blue clay on the beach.

Learning how these machines came to be is fascinating. The last half of this 95-minute documentary focuses on the invasion itself.


Secrets of the Dead: D-Day includes remembrances from British glider pilots and tank crews, American paratroopers and a German soldier who was part of the defence force at Omaha beach where American troops landed.

Their stories are funny, informative and moving.

My big beef with this fine effort is based on being a Canadian. Where are the remembrances from the Canadian veterans? Canadian troops landed at Juno Beach, but receive scant attention here. Why couldn't at least one Canadian veteran been tapped to recount his experiences on June 6, 1944?

Secrets of the Dead: D-Day offers a great package -- details about new military weapons that helped make the difference in June 1944, archival footage that tracks the development of these weapons and interesting interviews with veterans who were at Normandy 67 years ago. Narrator is Liev Schreiber (X-Men: Origins of Wolverine).

RATING: 9/10

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Last Man on Earth is first choice for good horror

Plenty of truly awful horror movies made their way to theatres in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Killer Shrews offered "the wildest of flesh eaters." The Giant Gila Monster presented "an amazing Kong-like monster." Promises. Promises.

Horror films with intelligence, along with some good chills, were truly a rare commodity. Enter The Last Man on Earth, a 1964 Italian release with genre great Vincent Price. This film isn't great, but it is good and worth a look.

Price is Robert Morgan, an American scientist who has survived a worldwide plague that has killed millions, including his own wife and daughter.

Three years have passed since humanity was wiped out. That leaves Morgan and the undead, a cross between zombies and vampires, in an unnamed American city.

"Another day to live through. Better get started," says Morgan near the black and white film's start.

He kills vampires during the day. They try to bust into his home at night. "Morgan, we're going to kill you," one promises as he and his gang try, yet again, to dispatch him from the living. Garlic and mirrors posted outside the home help keep the ghouls at bay.

There's hope for Morgan when he meets a woman during daylight. But, and this is where the film gets interesting from a thinking perspective, danger associated with her might be even worse than what the undead propose.

Don't expect any serious jolts when watching The Last Man on Earth. But there are some eerie scenes including a flaming pit where the plague victims are brought and the unexpected return of one of Morgan's loved ones.

Some of the dialogue wasn't in synch in the Madacy Entertainment Group DVD I viewed. That was a little distracting, but didn't last long. The film's score is a little overbearing at times too, but I found that problem peaked early on.

The film is based on a work by Richard Matheson, who also wrote scripts for 16 episodes of the original Twilight Zone including the classic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

A tagline, "alone among the crawling creatures of evil that made the night hideous with their inhuman craving!", is a little rich. These undead pretty much suck at putting a real scare in Morgan's mortality.

Those petty points aside, and with current-day concerns such as SARS and an influenza pandemic, The Last Man on Earth is still worth a look.

Ranking: 7/10

The 13th Mission (2004), The Goebbels Experiment (2005)

Two Second World War documentaries make for two very different viewing experiences in the days leading up to Remembrance Day in Canada.


The 13th Mission is a powerful effort from Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that nicely ties together a pair of storylines -- the women who built Avro Lancaster bombers at a factory in southern Ontario and the seven-man crew that flew one of the aircrafts a week after D-Day. It's a good companion piece to Rosies of the North, a National Film Board documentary reviewed in September by this site.


Actors stand in for the real workers and flyers, as if they are being interviewed more than 60 years ago about their experiences. But their words are taken from interviews and letters they wrote at the time. Audiences hear what these people had to say about their experiences, good and bad, without a scriptwriter acting as middleman.

The women describe the pride they took in their job and the importance of making sure each rivet was properly placed.

The bomber crew recounts one of the most amazing stories of the Canadian military during the six-year war. When their Lancaster was hit by a German fire, mid-upper gunner Andrew Mynarski (Scott Gibson) saw rear-gunner Pat Brophy (Shawn Mathieson) was trapped. Rather than bail out, Mynarski crawled through burning hydraulic fluid to try and free his friend. Mynarski was awarded the Victoria Cross, for gallantry, for his efforts.


Accompanying the docudrama is a 13-minute documentary from The Journal, a CBC Television current affairs program. Five of the seven members of that bomber crew reunite and share their memories of Mynarski. He couldn't get Brophy out and jumped from the bomber with his clothing and parachute on fire. Brophy shares his memories about the night and a special gift he had from Mynarski on that flight.

The 13th Mission, and the documentary, are rivteing viewing.

Not so successful, surprisingly, is The Goebbels Experiment. Joseph Goebbels was the minister of propaganda for Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

This effort from German filmmaker Lutz Hachmeister (The Real American: Joe McCarthy) also draws exclusively from Goebbels' own words, narrated by British actor Kenneth Branagh.

He describes his lonley childhood, health problems and his barely getting by when he enters the workforce. In 1924, he calls for a firm hand in Germany and the throwing out of the Jewish people. Goebbels meets Hitler in 1926 and is thrilled with the First World War veteran's plans for his country.

"He has it all thought out," said Goebbels. He praises Hitler for his "stupendous mind" and notes he is "a born motivator."

The 13th Mission has a narrator to provide context of Canada's involvement in the Second World war, with one million serving in the military and another military dedicated to the war effort back home.

Such a guiding hand is missing in The Goebbels Experiment. There is startling footage in the film, inlcuding some in colour, and catty comments from Goebbels about others, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

RATINGS: The 13th Mission 9/10
The Goebbels Experiment 7/10

For more information on The 13th Mission, go to www.cbc.ca/canadianexperience

FUN FACTS: Actor Scott Gibson apepared in another Second World War effort, The Pacific. Christopher Jacot guested on Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Twentieth Century (1934)

Twentieth Century is a chore to watch, even with all the top-drawer talent assembled for its production.

Director Howard Hawks is one of the great American directors of the 20th century. His credits include the original Scarface, Red River and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.


John Barrymore was one of the great early American actors until a fondness for the bottle crippled his screen legacy. Dinner at Eight and Grand Hotel are some of his biggest films.

Carole Lombard was one of Hollywood's biggest leading ladies in the 1930s. The star of Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Made For Each Other died in a plane crash in 1942. She was 33.

The name Charles Lane may not jump out at film-goers, but Internet Movie Database credits him with 358 television and film appearances between 1931 and 2006, when he narrated The Night Before Christmas.


Twentieth Century, based on Charles Bruce Millholland's play Napoleon of Broadway, can tire even the most patient of viewers with its incessant yelling between characters. Yes, there are some funny moments and clever lines in this Columbia release, but the film's 91 minutes are a labour to get through.

Oscar Jaffe (Barrymore) is a hotshot theatrical producer. He's discovered a new talent, model Mildred Plotka (Lombard), who he wisely renames Lily Garland. His associates, including Oliver Webb (Walter Connolly) and Max Jacobs (Lane), are less than enthused with her ability on stage.

Jaffe perseveres. "The gold is all there, but we must mine it," he counsels his creative team. Jaffe's right. A new star is born. They become an item. The team of Garland and Jaffe helm three smash shows in three small years. That ends when Garland bristles under Jaffe's domination. The guy is a control freak. The years haven't been kind to Garland. She's starting to act like a diva.

When Garland bolts for Hollywood, Jaffe's magic disappears. A string of bombs follow with the latest putting him in the hole nearly $80,000. Eighty years ago, that was a daunting amount of debt.


He needs financial help for his new show, based on The Passion Play. It's a toss-up if that cash will come from trying to reunite with Garland or a seemingly free-spending businessman, Matthew Clark (Etienne Gardot). Lili, determined as she is to stand alone from her mentor, usually falls for whatever pitch he makes to win her back.

Even with its trim running time, Twentieth Century wears out its welcome. For diehard fans of Hollywood's Golden Age only.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Even with his impressive resume, Hawks was only nominated once for a best directing Oscar (Sergeant York). He received an honorary Oscar in 1975. Co-stars Connolly and Roscoe Karns also appeared in It Happened One Night. Lane was a real estate salesman in It's a Wonderful Life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Out of the Past (1947)

Wow, that Kirk Douglas fellow can act.

This super film noir offers an early glimpse of Douglas' talent. It's only his second role after making his debut a year earlier in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.


Douglas never lays a hand on anybody as Whit, a rich gambler in Out of the Past. But he's a menacing presence on the screen. Mess with him at your peril.

"I fire people, but nobody quits me," he suggests.

Whit and his dame, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), have a disagreement. It ends with the lady taking a few shots at Whit. Some connect.

"It amazes me how she missed so often," Whit recalls when he hires gumshoe Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) to find her and the $40,000 she took.

"Maybe you were moving," Jeff suggests.

Bailey finds Moffat in Mexico. They fall in love. Bailey decides he's not so eager to report her whereabouts to Whit. The pair slip away to San Francisco to start their lives together until Bailey's old partner, Fisher (Steve Brodie), finds them.


That discovery, and Bailey being found again three years later and tapped for another job by Whit, drive this powerful film from director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Wichita).

Mitchum smokes up a storm as the private eye who's messed up with a woman of suspect loyalty and a gambler eager to escape the attention of the U.S. Treasury. He looks great in a trenchcoat and fedora as he tries to figure out how he can get himself out of a mess from his past and return to be with his lady love, Ann (Virginia Houston). Jeff gets into one good slug fest. Otherwise, he uses his brains and his mouth as his weapons of choice.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Director Jacques Tourneur directed a Twilight Zone episode, Night Call, in 1964.

Virginia Houston's Hollywood career was brief, from 1946 to 1954. Out of the Past was her second film. She died in 1981 at age 55.

Out of the Past was one of six films released in 1947 featuring Steve Brodie. Others included Thunder Mountain and Crossfire.

Lee Server's work, Robert Mitchum: 'Baby, I Don't Care', was published in 2001. He dedicates 12 pages of Mitchum's biography to the making of Out of the Past.

Some interesting facts:

a) Daniel Mainwaring, author of Build My Gallows High, which was the basis of Out of the Past, suggested Humphrey Bogart for the leading role;

b) Kirk Douglas, with a pay stub of $25,000, was the highest paid actor who worked on Out of the Past. Mitchum earned about $10,300;

c) Jane Greer was sought after by Howard Hughes, but married Rudy Vallee;

d) Director Jacques Tourneur worked with cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca on Cat People. Musuraca also shot Stranger on the Third Floor, often considered to be the first film noir.

Classic Albums: Face Value (1999)

Phil Collins was a musical giant during the 1980s.

classic albums face value offers a steady stream of interesting facts about the British musician's debut album and how he came to rule the charts between 1981 and 1991. His own music, and work with Genesis as that band evolved from prog rock to pop with him as frontman, was constantly in the charts with hits such as Take Me Home, One More Night, Invisible Touch, Mama, That's All and I Can't Dance.


Face Value, released in 1981, sold 12 million copies and scored three Top 20 hits with In the Air Tonight peaking at No. 2 in England.

This 60-minute documentary dives right into the album that launched Collins' solo career. Don't leave the room in the opening minutes.

Collins, who took over as frontman of British prog-rock group Genesis in 1976 after six years backing lead vocalist Peter Gabriel on drums, wasn't even planning to do a solo album 30 years ago.

Face Value came to be because of the break-up of his first marriage and his desire to learn how to use recording equipment.

The album's creation, he said, was if he had "painted a few pictures in my room and someone wanted to look at them."


The lyrics to the album's first song, In the Air Tonight, were improvised. Collins discusses the track's use of a drum machine. "The drummer would get bored playing anything like this," he suggests.

We learn why Collins decided to record his own version of Behind the Lines, the opening track of the Genesis album, Duke.

An early version of I Missed Again, a second single from the album that soared on the charts, is played.

Collins describes the instrumental, Hand in Hand, as something that would fit into a Disney cartoon. That's an interesting observation. Collins wrote five songs for the 1999 animated film, Tarzan. You'll Be in My Heart spent 19 weeks at No. 1 on Billboards's Adult Contemporary chart.


There's a generous excerpt of Collins performing If Leaving Me is Easy live. He dropped the mournful tune from his set lists because he tired of concert-goers making noise during the quiet number.

This Classic Albums episode packs plenty of punch with a series of interviews with musicians who played on the album, the production team and even Atlantic Records co-chairman Ahmet Ertegun and string arranger Arif Maradin, both of whom have since died.

Genesis bandmates Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford and band manager Tony Smith. Here.

Genesis sideman, and Collins' collaborator, Darryl Stuermer. Check. Trombonist Lui Lui Satterfield. Present.

Bassist Alphonso Johnson offers some neat insights about his role on the album too.

Horn aranger Tom Tom Washington reveals he had no idea who Collins was prior to working with him on Face Value. Guess he didn't have The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in his LP collection. Indian violinist L. Shankar was part of this effort too.

British guitar god Eric Clapton, who guested on The Roof is Leaking, is sadly missing. Instead, there's just a photo of an apparently intoxicated Collins posing with the former Cream member.

Collins describes Please Don't Ask as the most intimate of the tracks he wrote for possible use on Face Value. "I've never really written anything like that since," said Collins. But instead, the song appeared on the great Genesis effort, Duke. Yet, there's no explanation why this powerful song was left off Face Value. Pity. But this music fan strongly recommends Duke as the best Genesis album with Collins at the helm.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Wikipedia page dedicated to Collins offers some impressive stats about his solo career. As of 2000, he sold 150 million albums. Collins, Paul McCartney and the late Michael Jackson are the only three musicians who have sold 100 million albums-plus as a member of a group and a solo act.

"This record crept up behind everybody," said Collins near the documentary's end.
"Suddenly I had another thing to do apart from Genesis."

The Collins juggernaut would peak in 1985 when No Jacket Required was released. Sussudio and One More Night both hit No. 1 in United States. No Jacket Required went triple platinum in that country.
Collins, now 60, announced his retirement in early 2011. Genesis fans hoping for a reunion of the classic Genesis line-up of Banks, Gabriel, Collins, Steve Hackett and Rutherford mourned the news.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Local Hero (1983)

There's a few ways movie watchers can approach Local Hero.

For Star Wars diehards, director Bill Forsyth's charming 1983 comedy boasts two minor characters in bigger roles.


Denis Lawson, who appeared as Wedge in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, has a major supporting role as Gordon Urquhart.

In a small Scottish fishing village where the film is set, Urquhart wears many hats. He's the innkeeper who cooks the meals and tends bar. He's also the community's chartered accountant. Urquhart and his wife, Stella (Jennifer Black), are also doing a very good job at keeping the passion alive in their marriage.

Norman Chancer, who was a rebel officer in The Empire Strikes Back, is Moritz.


Local Hero is one of the few films made by Forsyth. His credits run about a 20-year span between 1980 and 1999. Forsyth's other credits include Comfort and Joy, Gregory's Girl and the Hollywood bomb, Being Human, with Robin Williams.

Local Hero also marks an early credit for several actors including star Peter Riegart, Jenny Seagrove (Nate and Hayes) and Peter Capaldi (Bean).

Plus, it's one of about two dozen credits Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster earned in the last decade of his working life. The star of From Here to Eternity died in 1994.


Local Hero also boasts one of the finest musical scores these ears have ever heard. The soundtrack, by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, is a treat from start to finish. His band's biggest album, Brothers In Arms, was still to come. Knopfler's solo career was still about a decade away.

Local Hero is a low-key comedy. This film is mostly subtle with a capital S.

Riegert's character, MacIntyre, gets sent to Scotland by a major oil firm based in Texas. He's thought to be Scottish because of his name. It's expected his "Scottish connections" will make the difference in sealing the deal. Watch for MacIntyre's explanation about his surname's roots.

A refinery is needed for the company's offshore rigs in the area. The firm's research department has pegged the village, and surrounding area, as the perfect location for its mega-project. MacIntyre's boss, Felix Harper (Lancaster), is a keen follower of the stars. Watch the skies, he advises his representative.

MacIntyre, a veteran dealmaker, finds himself enchanted with the community and the breath-taking scenery. Meteor showers, the Northern lights and the attractive Stella help too. MacIntyre starts to look less corporate and more local resident. He becomes reluctant to see this gorgeous part of the Earth disappear.


Most of the townspeople, however, are eager to cash in and admire the seven-digit balances in their bank accounts. Fisherman eagerly compare notes on sports cars by the water's edge. Urquhart is the ringleader eager to pick Knox Oil's pockets for as much as he can get for the community's population.

"What kind of millions do you reckon we're talking about?" he asks MacIntyre.
"We'll have to talk about that," the oilman replies.

As this post is being written, there's a big ruckus in the United States about a proposed Canadian pipeline that would transport oil through America. The environmental angle isn't played up big in Local Hero. Again, it's a subtle film. But check out the wonderful shots of the water and the night skies. Beautiful. There are suggestions cash won't bring happiness.

"Can you imagine a world without oil?" asks MacIntyre as he walks along the beach. No ink. No detergents. No automobiles. But at what price?

Cellphones, emails and Blackberries didn't exist in 1983. But MacIntyre talks about his preference to do business via technology available at the time.

"I don't know why I'm here," he says after arriving in Scotland.
"I'm more of a Telex man."

This guy loves working the phones. He even calls people in the same office who are just a few feet away.


His watch sounds whenever it's time to do business back home in Houston. He has an electric briefcase (?). MacIntyre is "plugged in" to gizmos. Status is important too. Here's a young buck who drives, he mentions more than once, a Porshe 930.

"A good car is important," he suggests.
"I used to get headaches when I drove a Chevy."

Local Hero delivers steady laughs, sometimes quite loud ones. Just be prepared for its low-key pace.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: John Gordon Sinclair, who starred as Gregory in Forsyth's Gregory's Girl, has a small role in Local Hero. His girlfriend is the town's sole punk rocker. Riegert's television debut was in M*A*S*H. He appeared as Col. Igor Staminsky in two episodes. Peter Capaldi appeared as George Harrison in the television movie, John and Yoko: A Love Story (1985).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rosies of the North (1999)

Rosies of the North doesn't exactly soar above the heavens.

But it is a solid documentary about Canadian women who made airplanes during the Second World War.


As many as 3,000 women worked in the Canadian Car and Foundry factory in Fort William, now part of Thunder Bay, Ont.

The ladies manufactured Hurricane fighter planes and Hell Diver bombers.

"They [the planes] brought us together," one woman remarks near the start of the 48-minute documentary.

For many, the work marked their first jobs and, while not paid the same amount as their male counterparts, they earned good money. It was a definite step-up from a limited number of other available jobs, including cleaning homes.


Director Kelly Saxberg (Letters from Karelia, In Security) includes interviews with about two dozen people, many of them former female employees of the Canadian Car and Foundry plant.

The women, likely in their late 70s when they talked about their experiences for this National Film Board documentary, describe how they were treated, good and bad, by their male co-workers, on-the-job romances, and the importance the cash from their jobs meant for their families just coming out of the Great Depression.

England needed the fighters badly in 1940 when an invasion by Germany appeared imminent and dogfights filled the skies. British fighters were being destroyed as quickly as they were being built.


Rosies of the North introduces audiences to Elsie MacGill, Queen of the Hurricanes. The Vancouver native, described by her niece as "an unconventional woman," was named the factory's chief aeronautical engineer at 33.

It's interesting to learn how she acted among workers, how she was depicted in the media, and what led to her being turfed from her job.

Given how much time Rosies of the North dedicates to MacGill, a file interview with her should have been included. Audiences don't even know if she was still alive or deceased when the documentary was filmed. Robert Lower's script grates at times. Narrator Martine Friesen has to deliver some pretty hackneyed lines.

A daughter of one of the workers describes how proud she is of her mother's work at the factory. To meet these women in Rosies of the North is a true pleasure.

RATING: 8/10

The film is not available at Amazon.com, but it can be purchased at www.nfb.ca.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Libeled Lady (1936)

William Powell rocks.

He was a treat to watch in The Thin Man, reviewed earlier this year on this site.

Powell's a treat again in the comedy, Libeled Lady. This 1936 release from MGM earned an Academy Award nomination for best picture.


A New York newspaper is in serious trouble. The daily has gone front page, above the fold, big type with news of millionaire socialitie Connie Allenburg's dalliances in England.

It's a juicy piece on the rich single woman (Myrna Loy), but there's not an ounce of truth to the sordid tale.

Editor Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) ends up delaying his marriage, again, to Gladys (Jean Harlow) to deal with the crisis. He's not as broken up about it as Gladys. Haggerty has some commitment issues.


His paper has repeatedly locked horns with Allenburg's father. This is the perfect chance for the vengeful pops to torpedo his print adversary with a $5-million lawsuit. Haggerty knows if he doesn't come up with a good plan an obituary will soon be penned for his publication.

Enter his old adversary Bill Chandler (Powell), a troubleshooter with plenty of past experience with the paper. He needs some serious scratch to make good on a rather large tab at the Grand Plaza where he's staying.

Haggerty and Chandler agree on a plan. They'll snag Allenburg in a fabricated sticky situation with a married man. To move things along, Chandler marries Gladys. The justice of the peace is a little confused when the bride kisses Haggerty longer than her new husband.


Connie, well familiar with gold diggers, is initially very much suspicious with Chandler rubbing shoulders with her and her father. But as her apprehensions ease, Chandler finds himself falling in love with the woman who gets some less than great press.

Gladys, sick of Haggerty continually pushing back their nuptials, falls for Chandler's attentiveness and kind ways. When she learns he's putting the moves on Connie, she's determined to get her husband back.

Libeled Lady is great fun. There's some time between the really loud guffaws, but that's OK. Adding to this film's enjoyment is the twists and turns as characters learn about each other's actions and adjust their own behaviour.


A fishing scene with Chandler and father and daughter Allenburg is a hoot.
Chandler, who has billed himself as a fishing authority, has never held a reel in his life. There's some great slapstick comedy and a great story about the fish he tangles with.


This blogger, a full-time reporter with a daily paper, usually shakes his head in frustration when seeing how reporters are depicted in the movies. Here, most of the action at the paper rings true. Always fear trying to track down all the copies of an edition when a story makes print that shouldn't.

RATING: 8.5/10


Gladys: "Today's my wedding day."
Maid: "Again, Miss Gladys?"

Connie on Chandler: "If he's first class, I'll travel steerage."

Haggerty on Gladys being married to Chandler: "She may be his wife, but she's engaged to me."

Gladys, when frustrated with Haggerty: "Well, marry the newspaper and be the proud father of a lot of headlines."

FUN FACTS: Harlow and Powell were dating when Libeled Lady was filmed. Their relationship is described in Charles Francisco's Gentleman: The William Powell Story. She wanted to get married. He, after two failed marriages, was hesitant. Harlow died in 1937 at age 26. Francisco describes Powell giving the funeral director a single gardenia to put in Harlow's casket. "Good night, my dearest darling," his note read.

See if you can find Harlow as an extra in Libeled Lady. Director Jack Conway was short a woman in the background of a scene. Harlow donned a wig and went to work.

E.E. Clive, who appears as a fishing instructor, had roles in The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

It's easy to get lost in The Asphalt Jungle.

I mean that in the best possible way.

Director John Huston's film noir from 1950 is a crackerjack crime drama with standout performances, beautiful cinematography and an engrossing story. There's very little actual physical violence, but boy is there plenty of tension in an environment where double crosses, corruption and greed are ever-present.

What makes this film even more enjoyable is knowing that so many of the principal cast were just starting their film careers. Kudos to the film's casting for finding so many great performances from up-and-coming actors.

Marilyn Monroe is played up prominently in marketing material even though she's only in a pair of scenes as Angela Phinlay, the drop-dead gorgeous mistress of lawyer gone bad Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern). But she does fine as Emmerich's eye candy. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Bus Stop and Some Like It Hot would follow before the decade ended.

The Asphalt Jungle was only Jean Hagen's fourth film role. She made her debut in another film classic, Adam's Rib, in 1949. Perhaps her most well-known role, Singin' in the Rain, would follow in 1952. Here, she's Doll Conovan, a young dame who can't shake her love for hood Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden).

James Whitmore, who just died in 2009, earned his fifth movie credit as Gus Minissi, a hunbacked restaurant owner only too happy to help out thugs in need of a little protection from pesky police.

Meanwhile, The Asphalt Jungle was one of the last roles for Dorothy Tree. She was Dracula's wife in Dracula (1931). Tree earned 49 credits before leaving Hollywood to work as a speech and voice coach at the Metropolitan Opera. Here, she's May Emmerich, bedridden wife of the said crooked, and cheating, lawyer.

Doc (Sam Jaffe) is a well-known criminal just sprung from prison. He doesn't waste time trying to go straight. Doc has a plan to rip off hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry from a safe. Emmerich offers him a generous deal to offload the valuable hot gems.

Doc assembles his caper team including Dix, a brute with a penchant for the ponies and Gus as the wheelman.

The heist, surprise, surprise, doesn't go through as planned. Stay tuned to see who crosses who before the credits roll. A preachy speech from the police commissioner greates, but that's a small beef for this well-made film.

RATING: 9.5/10

FUN FACTS: Marilyn Monroe's first film appearance was as a telephone operator in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947). Wow. John Huston's directorial debut was The Maltese Falcon (1941). Sterling Hayden appeared in another crime classic, The Godfather (1972).

Titanic: How It Really Sank (2009)

Take a very heavy anchor. To it, securely fasten every known copy of James Cameron's Titanic. Dump said anchor in the very deepest depths of the coldest, darkest ocean. Ignore for generations.

With that done, sit down with a much better, and far shorter, exploration of the Titanic's sinking in April 1912. More than 1,500 died.

This National Geographic documentary is much better, and far shorter, than Cameron's comic book film. The running time is listed as 50 minutes, but action ends at the 45-minute marker. The rushed last minute is a bit odd, but that's a minor complaint.

How It Really Sank is billed as a drama/documentary. It's an approach that left me a little uneasy at the program's start, but works well.

The documentary offers plenty of contributing factors, I counted nine, that resulted in the great ship's sinking during its maiden voyage.

Some, such as the choice of raw material for the ship's rivets, may already be known. Others, such as the actions of the Titanic's wireless operator in the hours leading up to its demise and the unexpected distance traveled by the iceberg the ship hit, may surprise.

Actors recreate testimony from an inquiry that followed the devestating maritime tragedy. There's also interviews with a forensic metallurgist, oceanographer, White Star Line historian and Millvina Dean, at the time, Titanic's last surviving passenger.

An interesting photo gallery includes about a half-dozen shots of the Titanic on the bottom of the ocean floor near Newfoundland.

RATING: 9/10

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of Dreams is a hit.

Oh, this dramatic fantasy from director Phil Alden Robinson (Rhinestone [VHS]) borders on schmaltzy at times.

This is a film where handshakes and knowing nods between men mean a lot. There's awkward talk between men about, you know, stuff like relationships and feelings.

And, yes, the plot largely centres on one of the biggest gimmicks of stories involving some sort of time travel -- the desire to right a past mistake.

Oh, and Field of Dreams isn't always subtle about advancing the plot.

But, for film-goers willing to suspend their disbelief, Field of Dreams does offer an intriguing story about following dreams, making amends and not being afraid to take risks.

"Until I heard the voice I'd never done a crazy thing in my whole life," Kevin Costner's character notes in the film's introduction.

A solid cast steps up to the plate in this film including a young Gaby Hoffman (Uncle Buck), screen icon Burt Lancaster (From Here to Eternity) and early film appearances from Timothy Busfield (Sneakers) and Ray Liotta (Dominick and Eugene)

Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is still hurting from terse words he directed at his father before leaving home at 17. His dad, a big fan of the Chicago White Sox, died before he could apologize.

Now a corn farmer in Iowa with a wife and daughter in Iowa, Kinsella begins to hear messages from a phantom voice. Each cryptic suggestion from said messenger, including "If you build it, he will come," and "Ease his pain" prompt Kinsella into action.

Neighbours stop and gawk by the side of the road when he starts plowing under a section of his corn field to build a baseball diamond. Kinsella feels compelled to meet up with reclusive famed writer Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) in Boston and take him to a Red Sox game. Why, he's not sure. They try to track down Dr. Archibald 'Moonlight' Graham (Lancaster), who actually did play one inning for the New York Giants in 1905.

The messages lead to back to Kinsella's baseball field where members of the Chicago White Sox associated with the 1919 World Series scandal have come back to play. Remember what I said about suspending your disbelief? The farm's about to be foreclosed. Will Kinsella give up his baseball dream so he can keep his land?

It's neat to see a film offer a fantasy world that doesn't need to based on millions of dollars of special effects. Such an approach worked just fine in Frank Capra's magnificent It's a Wonderful Life. Here, a step back 20 years is done with a few changes, including an election poster on a street light, to a downtown street. Wonderful.

Costner does well in his everyman role during a string of hits when he was king of the leading men in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Field of Dreams does a good job of blending fantasy, sports and family in an efficient 105 minutes.

RATING: 7.5/10

ONE QUESTION: Anyone know what Kinsella says to Mann when he leaves their motel room? Even with the volume cranked up, I couldn't make out what Kevin Costner says.

FUN FACT: Field of Dreams was released after the death of actress Anne Seymour in December 1988. She appears as a newspaper publisher. Her career started in 1944. One of her early roles was in the political drama, All the King's Men.

Field of Dreams was the second-last film role for Lancaster.

My Grade 12 English teacher would be awfully disappointed if I didn't mention Field of Dreams was based on W.P. Kinsella's book, Shoeless Joe. The Canadian novel was required reading in his class.

A short, Field of Dreams 2: Lockout, about the NFL lockout, was released in 2011. Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner appeared.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Viewers may be tempted to walk the plank early on watching Mutiny on the Bounty.

Clark Gable, as Fletcher Christian, works too hard trying to be the nice guy on the British Royal Navy ship, HMS Bounty.

The idealism of Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) is too much to bear.

But Capt. Bligh (Charles Laughton) anchors this 1935 effort from director Frank Lloyd (Blood on the Sun) right from the get-go.

"You do your duty and we may get along," Bligh advises his crew early in the voyage.
"But whatever happens, you'll do your duty."

Granted, it helps early on the cruel Bligh still wants a man to be whipped for striking an officer even though he's dead. Now, that's sending a message.

The film, winner of Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1936, is based on the true story of a mutiny on the British ship in April 1789.

Bottom line, Bligh was an extremely talented seaman, but also an especially cruel leader who routinely had his men beaten for small infractions. For sailors on a two-year voyage from England to Tahiti, this doesn't sit well, especially with those forced into service by press gangs.

Christian, as first lieutenant, urges Bligh to ease up on the harsh physical treatment of his crew and give him time to ease in the new crew members.

"He doesn't punish for discipline," Christian says.
"He likes to see men crawl."

Caught in-between these two men is Byam. His background is with the aristocracy, but he also becomes good friends with Christian.

The first lieutenant finally reaches a breaking point with Bligh's behaviour and takes over the ship. The captain, and his loyalists, are set adrift. The HMS Bounty heads back to Tahiti where the locals are friendly, the food plentiful and the atmosphere much more relaxed.

Fearing cannibals on nearby islands, Bligh charts a course for the Dutch East Indies. That's 3,500 miles in a rowboat with little food and water. How those seamen managed to make their journey is almost as riveting a story as the mutiny itself.

Gable, who doesn't even try a British accent, is riveting during his explosions of fury against Bligh. He even clenches his fists at one point. Great stuff.

Tone's character, so filled with gosh-golly enthusiasm at the start, ends the film with a great speech in court.

Laughton is strong throughout this 132-minute drama. He is driven to succeed. He is driven to find Christian after the mutiny, even if he loses his own ship.

Two more film versions of Mutiny on the Bounty followed. Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard headed up a 1962 effort. The Bounty, released in 1982, starred Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins with support from Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: About 50 people now live on Pitcairn Island. Web surfers can sign up for a monthly newsletter at http:/www.government.pn The island is about 1,400 miles southeast of Tahiti.

Three neat facts from Internet Movie Database:

1. Movita, who appeared as love interest Tehani, is the last living survivor of the film's cast. She turns 94 on Dec. 4, 2011. Tehani appeared in 14 episodes of Knots Landing!
Mutiny on the Bounty extras included David Niven and James Cagney.

2. Director of editing, Margaret Booth, is the oldest Academy Award nominee to die. She was 104 when she died in 2002. She also worked on Ben-Hur

3. Mutiny on the Bounty is the only film with three actors (Laughton, Gable, Tone) nominated for best actor.

Tone appeared in The Twilight Zone episode, The Silence, in 1961.

A BEEF: Why do Warner Brothers go out of their way to make Mutiny on the Bounty appear to be a color film? Stills on the back cover of the DVD are in colour. This viewer is fine with black and white films. Yes, there's a small note at the bottom noting it's a black and white release. Is Warner Brothers afraid viewers won't buy or rent this film if it's not in colour. Embrace black and white releases, movie-goers!

Seasme Street Count It Higher (2005)

Count on Sesame Street: Count It Higher for fun.

Welcome a new school year with this great collection of music videos which originally aired on Sesame Street in the 1970s and 1980s.


Seven songs are featured in this 30-minute collection hosted by, who else, The Count.

Younger viewers can dig counting from one to 12 and learning about words beginning with "z" while adults are able to get down and groove to parodies of songs from The Beatles, ZZ Top and Bill Haley and the Comets.

The Fab Four get two terrific tributes in this collection. Letter B is based on, yes, Let It Be. Beatles fans might scratch their heads a little bit at this takeoff. The Muppet band is decked out in matching green jackets and white shirts a la early Beatles. Go figure.

Here's a great line from lyricist Christopher Cerf:

"When I find I can't remember what comes after A and before C, my mother always whispers Letter B."


Twist and Shout started with the Isley Brothers, but it was also a standout track from the Fab Four's debut disc. Here, with Count It Higher, with much encouragement, band members manage to count to 10. Hurray!

For lots of fun, and to sharpen numeracy skills, Honk Around the Clock (1982) offers about a half-dozen colorful Honkers squeezing their noses, to make honking sounds, while bopping around a big clock. This could be the most musical fun with The Muppets since Mahna Mahna (1968).

Creativity is always a big selling point with Sesame Street and The Muppets. The highlight for great minds conceiving of a memorable idea in this collection is The Ten Commandments of Health. The 1978 effort is based on The Ten Commandments of Love from Harvey and the Moonglows (1958).

This doo wop song is set in a hospital operating room. IV bottles are used for bells. The patient has a deep bass voice who repeats lyrics, just like The Ink Spots. This is great fun.


Kermit the Frog scored a big solo hit with It's Not Easy Being Green. His plea for self-acceptance continues with Do-Op Hop.

"I don't know how to fly, high up in the sky" he says.
"A frog is what I am. I'm as happy as a clam."

Kermit can also hop, which he does with great enthusiasm in this video from 1984.

Count It Higher highlights the talents of folks like Christopher Cerf, Sara Durkee and Norman Stiles who have created songs that teach and offer lots of laughs.

The Muppet Wiki offers neat background on these tracks.

My only beef: How about some commentary from Cerf, who has his hands on most of these tracks. How does he decide on the songs he chooses? How do musicians react when they are tapped to perform these songs? Would such an effort be considered a career highlight? What does a parodist like Weird Al Yankovic make of these tunes?

RATING: 8/10

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Project Grizzly (1996)

Sink your teeth into this Canadian documentary.

Project Grizzly generously offers what Hollywood too often doesn't in a sea of reboots, remakes and sequels.

This National Film Board documentary presents an original story with a lead character who'll stick in your brain for a very long time.

Troy Hurtubise survives an encounter with a grizzly he dubs Old Man.

Rather than resolve to stay miles away from the bush and a big bear's territory, the North Bay, Ont., resident decides to design a bear-proof suit.

This isn't just a weekend whim.

Hurtubise's project spans years, tens of thousands of dollars and continually updated suits. There's footage of him being hurled down the Niagara Escarpment and being plowed into by a pickup truck doing 30 miles an hour. To mimic the swipe of a grizzly bear's paw, an elevated 300 to 400 pound log smashes into Hurtubise and his suit. "I feel great," he says after getting whacked. The suit bears the brunt of baseball bats, gunshots and bows.

This slim, 72-minute documentary from Canada builds up to an excursion to the Rockies so Hurtubise can test the suit in an up-close encounter with a real big bruin.

Project Grizzly works for plenty of reasons.

Hurtubise is a fascinating character. He graduated from community college as a natural resource technologist, but couldn't find work in his field (pardon the pun). Instead, he owns a scrapyard.

He's big on martial arts, wears a buckskin jacket and extols the virtues of carrying very large knives into the bush. Yes, they can be used to ward off a bear but Hurtubise also suggests he is concerned about "the two-legged animals" he might find in the bush.

"You got a lot of wackos out there," he says. "I swear by my knives."

I'm not sure if that's supposed to be comforting or disturbing.

There's a couple of neat scenes with Hurtubise and his mother. She recalls his fascination with
being in really dangerous circumstances as a youngster. Plenty of kids have built plenty of faux volcanoes to replicate an eruption. Hurtubise did too except he used gasoline and started a fire in his bedroom. This is a guy who acknowledges his greatest fear is being average. He drams of becoming "a little Jacques Cousteau" and travel the world with his suit and research team.

Hurtubise notes matter-of-factly the worst thing that could happen to him in another one-on-one with a grizzly is he could die. Why, yes Troy, you could get mauled to death if the suit fails.

A Vietnam veteran who's part of Hurtubise's posse recounts a game bored G.I.s played to get the adrenaline flowing. Pull the pin of a hand grenade and run. Hurtubise isn't the only one who goes to extremes to get his kicks.

He finds his bear in the snowy Rockies, but you'll have to watch the film to see what happens.

Project Grizzly offers more fun than watching bears at your local dump.

RATING: 8 out of 10

FUN FACTS: Wyeth Clarkson, assistant picture editor, went on to direct SK8 life. Director Peter Lynch has also helmed A Whale of a Tale and Cyberman. Troy Hurtubise and his suit were featured on Ripley's Believe It or Not. Project Grizzly was nominated for a Genie (Canada's equivalent of the Academy Awards) for best feature length documentary.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sink the Bismark! (1960)

Viewer beware.

Sink the Bismarck! is marketed under Fox War Classics.

All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal Cinema Classics) is a classic (read the book too). The Longest Day (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) is a classic, as is Twelve O'Clock High.

Sink the Bismark! is OK, but it's far from great.


The source material is impressive, one of the most famous incidents of the Second World War. The Bismark, launched in April 1939, was the largest battleship ever built by Germany. If not stopped by the British navy in 1941, the Bismark with its huge guns and heavy armour, would have decimated Allied shipping.

The real star attraction in this 1960 effort from director Lewis Gilbert (Educating Rita, The Admirable Crichton) is how all the intelligence the British navy gathered to track the Bismark's whereabouts. Resistance fighters, airplanes, ships and a little intuition all helped in the search for the killer battleship. Seeing how that information is assessed, and strategy developed, is engrossing.


But the script by Edmund North, based on the book, Sink the Bismark!, by C.S. Forester does little to humanize the script. There's plenty to see in this movie, just not much to feel.

Newly-appointed, and rigid, naval director of operations Capt. Jonathan Shepherd (Kenneth More) gets fleshed out in the latter half of the film when we learn his much-loved son, Tom (John Stride) is, conveniently, on one of the ships ordered to change course in the hunt for Bismark. He also happens to be a gunner on a Swordfish torpedo plane that will attack the feared German ship. Anne Davis (Dana Wynter) is the WREN who takes a shine to the seemingly gruff Shepherd. Her character is smart and empathetic and adds some much-needed humanity to the naval war room.

Otherwise, be prepared for a lot of staged shots of British sailors on decks holding binoculars. The special effects are, largely, lacking. (Yes, I appreciate this film was made in 1960). There are numerous phone calls made in this film except when Prime Minister Winston Churchill rings up to stress the mission's importance. That call, conveniently, is put on speaker phone so everyone can hear an actor imitate the great statesman's voice. "You must sink the Bismark," he implores.


For news junkies like myself, there's a few appearances by American journalist Edward Murrow, who broadcast from England during the Second World War. For those who need a little context, Murrow describes how Great Britain was in tough in the early months of 1941. Germany had taken over much of Europe. The Luftwaffe was bombing England. The United States would still be months away from joining the fight. The war wasn't going well.

Sink the Bismark! won't torpedo an enjoyable night in front of the tube, but it's hardly explosive entertainment.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Sink the Bismark! was John Stride's first film credit. He appeared in another so-so war film, A Bridge Too Far. Oh, he was in Oh! Heavenly Dog too. Kenneth More also appeared in The Longest Day. Dana Wynter was Queen Elizabeth in the 1982 television movie, The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana. She died May 5, 2011 at age 79. Director Lewis Gilbert is now 91. His last credit was Before You Go in 2002.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Thin Man (1934)

Part comedy, part whodunit, The Thin Man is great entertainment.

William Powell and Myrna Loy team up for the first of a series of Thin Man films in this 1934 release from director W.S. Van Dyke (Tarzan The Ape Man).

Powell is Nick Charles, a detective of some reputation who's back in New York City after a four-year break. He's joined by his bride, Nora (Myrna Loy), and pooch, fox terrier Asta.

Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O'Sullivan) appeals to Charles for help finding her brilliant, but absent-minded and wife-cheating father, Clyde (Edward Ellis). Police suspicions fall on the father after his mistress, Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead), is found dead in her apartment. Father Wynant had earlier accused her of stealing $25,000 in bonds. Hey, this film was made nearly 80 years ago. Account for inflation and that's a whack of cash.

Charles tangles with family members who want answers, pesky reporters, curious police, his eager wife who wants him back on the job and plenty of drinks as he is drawn closer and closer to finding out who killed who, and why.

Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett (Maltese Falcon), suspects are aplenty in The Thin Man. Charles brings them all together for a final act gourmet dinner to identify the killer.

In its brief 90-minute running time, the quips quickly fly (Q. "What hit me?", A. "The last martini."), there's tough-talking mobsters, and dames, who've been done wrong.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: The Thin Man's cast includes Cesar Romero, who appeared as The Joker in the Batman television series.

Maureen O'Sullivan is familiar to modern-day audiences for her appearances in Hannan and Her Sisters and Peggy Sue Got Married.

Director Van Dyke received an Academy Award nomination for best director for The Thin Man.

Other series titles include Shadow of the Thin Man and After the Thin Man).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

Aargh, there's a generous bounty for landlubbers who take to the sea with Muppet Treasure Island.

The fifth Muppets theatrical release offers plenty of slapstick, clever dialogue and some amazing looking puppets. Muppet Treasure Island may also qualify as one of the few, if not only, films to feature a tender ballad with our lovers hanging upside down waiting to imminently plummet to their deaths. That would be Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy when they sing Love Led Us Here.


Robert Louis Stevenson's 19th century classic finds Muppets in almost all of the major roles. There's Capt. Abraham Smolleff (Kermit), Squire Trelawney (Fozzie Bear), Samuel Arrow (Sam the Eagle) and Benjamina Gunn (Miss Piggy) sharing the plank with veteran actor Tim Curry (Long John Silver). Curry is a hoot as the one major flesh and blood character in this 1996 release.

There's plenty of extra touches added to the story about an orphan looking for treasure and the pirate who offers to be his father figure.


Dr. Teeth and his band, complete with Animal on drums, keep popping up performing at various gigs. Just try and find another pirate movie with a romantic sax solo.

Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys who sat in the balcony and heckled each performance of The Muppet Show, and the Swedish Chef are put to creative use on board Kermit's ship and a pack of wild boars.

The seven songs by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, including Professional Pirate and Sailing for Adventure, are a hoot. Cabin Fever, complete with spotlights shining into the night sky and a mishmash of musical genres, is a standout.


Keep an attentive ear to all the quips that get tossed out during the film's 99-minute running time (Kermit: "I'm a frog, you know, slippery hands." "Before we lose our tempers, we always count to 10," is a line from Professional Pirate.)

What's odd about Muppet Treasure Island is the lack of celebrity cameos. Past efforts, such as The Muppet Movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan and The Great Muppet Caper, have featured everyone from Peter Ustinov, Art Carney and Gregory Hines to Bob Hope, Trevor Howard and Joan Rivers. Here, Curry is the man and he has great fun in the role.

No brief appearances from big stars is a minor quibble. Muppet Treasure Island is great fun with enough laughs to keep the kids, and the folks, amused.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACT: Joan Rivers was a perfume saleswoman in The Muppets Take Manhattan. She appears at a perfume launch in The Smurfs. Coincidence?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

I love this movie.

The Philadelphia Story. is a wonderful gem: an extremely funny and smart effort from director George Cukor (Dinner at Eight, Adam's Rib) and a jaw-dropping cast of stars with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart.


Hepburn reprises her role of Tracy Lord from Philip Barry's smash Broadway play.

The beautiful daughter of a very rich society family, Lord's marriage to sailboat tycoon, C.K.Dexter Haven (Grant) went south, badly, two years earlier. Now, she's preparing to tie the knot with self-made man George Kittredge (John Howard). He's trying, sometimes badly, to fit into high society. Trying to ride a horse is, uh, difficult.


Celebrities and the rich were big news 71 years ago and even more so in today's status-loving North American society. That's why it's neat to see Stewart as Macaulay Connor, a magazine reporter who's reluctant to worm his way into the upcoming nuptials with photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey). The couple firmly closed the door to any media coverage of their wedding ceremony. Haven, even though he slugged a photographer when he was on vacation with Lord during their marriage, is more than happy to help the reporting duo slip into her moneyed world.

Connor initially clashes with Lord over their differences in status. He's a little sensitive on the money issue because his collection of short stories isn't flying off the shelves. He falls spellbound for her gorgeous looks, something other men have done with less-than-stellar results. "You're lit from within," Connor tells her after a generous helping of vino. "You're the golden girl." Kittridge also vows to worship Lord. She just wants to be loved.

So, Lord is about to marry one man while her first husband pines for a reunion and a new suitor is smitten with her goddess-like ways. Her younger sister, Dinah (Virginia Weidler) still has a soft spot for Haven. Kittridge? Not so much. She's wondering how she can delay the wedding.


Hilarious zingers are shared generously among the cast. There are plenty of laugh-out loud moments. Rolande Young, as Lord's Uncle Willie, is especially sharp with his tongue and his lecherous pursuit of Imbrie.

Infatuation versus true love. The privileged rich and the struggling worker. A second chance at love. A first real encounter with romance. Lots of comedy.

Consider this your invitation to watch The Philadelphia Story.

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: The Philadelphia Story earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture, director and lead actress. The film won two Academy Awards for best actor (Stewart) and screenplay. Rolande Young's first film role was as Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes (1922). Virginia Weidler was just 41 when she died of a heart condition in 1968.