Monday, January 31, 2011

Wait Until Dark (1967)

You'll have to wait until dark before things get really interesting in this thriller from James Bond director Terrence Young.

Wait Until Dark is based on Frederick Knott's play, hence the limited setting of a basement apartment in New York City. If you're a film fan with little patience for essentially one-location films, be warned. What a change of pace this must have been for the director of Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball.

This 1967 thriller has its strong points, especially a solid cast with Audrey Hepburn, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston and a very creepy Alan Arkin. His character is one ruthless killer.


But, prepare to have your patience tested by a plot that gives heroine Susy Hendrix (Hepburn) several opportunities to get help pronto. Instead, she repeatedly opts for Plan B. This woman lives in New York City? Yikes. Hey, why call police when you can send a child to wait for your husband at a bus station?

Roat (Alan Arkin) offs drug mule Lisa (Samantha Jones) when she tries to do business on her own. He needs to find a doll packed with heroin that Lisa handed off to Hendrix's photographer husband, Sam, at the end of a flight. Sam has no clue what the doll holds.

Roat recruits two former cops (Crenna and Weston) to help him find the doll in the couple's apartment. Susy, who recently lost her sight in a motor vehicle collision, begins to piece together bits and pieces in the stories of the three men that don't quite add up. Give them marks for trying to cook up a yarn involving Lisa's murder and suggesting Sam had a role in her demise.

Wait Until Dark has received some pretty high praise from some critics. I can't be as generous. Susy never should have been put in a life and death situation. She finds out where the doll is. Why doesn't she just give it to the men? Why doesn't she tell neighbouring girl Gloria (Julie Herrod) instructions to call police? Why doesn't she call police? Why doesn't she see a neighbour. She's not living in the bush.

While I'm busy asking questions, why does Roat dress up as two other characters? Did he forget Susy's blind?

Even with those frustrating questions in mind, the last 10 minutes do generate some solid suspense. Enjoy what Susy does to try and defend herself and be prepared for one very effective jolt.


Stay tuned for the theme song as the film's credits roll, courtesy of Henry Mancini. That's just how it was in the 1960s, I suppose.

Rating: 7/10

CAST: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Samantha Jones.

FUN FACTS: What happened to Julie Herrod? Wait Until Dark was her only film. She appeared in two television shows, the last having aired in 1967. Wait Until Dark came out a year after Arkin appeared in The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! One of Richard Crenna's last roles was that of Ronald Reagan in The Day Reagan was Shot. He died in 2003. Wait Until Dark marked the film debut for fashion model Samantha Jones. Her last film was Get To Know Your Rabbit in 1972.

From Donald Spoto's The Life of Audrey Hepburn:
Director Terrence Young, wounded at Battle of Arnhem during the Second World War, was nursed by Audrey Hepburn and her mother. Young and Hepburn had a tea break at 4 p.m. daily during production.

From Charles Higham's Audrey: The Life of Audrey Hepburn
Young wanted George C. Scott to play the villain.
Richard Crenna and Jack Weston borrowed suits of armour from set of Camelot to have fun with Wait Until Dark cast and crew.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Darling Clementine (1946)

Victor Mature's take on Doc Holliday is the perfect prescription for western movie fans.

Henry Fonda gets top billing in John Ford's 1946 western, but Mature is a real treat to watch as the former doctor who now sends people to the graveyard instead of restoring their health.


The town of Tombstone is the perfect place for the Shakespeare-quoting killer with a taste for champagne and lots of readin'.

Mature's Doc speaks softly and is tormented by who he used to be and who he has become.

The four Earp brothers are herding cattle to California. When Wyatt (Fonda), Morgan (Ward Bond) and Virgil (Tim Holt) ride into Tombstone, youngest brother James (Don Garner) is killed by cattle rustlers.


Wyatt, ex-marshall of Dodge City, decides to enforce the law in Tombstone. Old Man Clanton (a great Walter Brennan) and his boys stand out as the likely culprits. The ominous music when pops and one of his boys appear on camera the first time is a pretty good hint these aren't peace-lovin' folks.

But give Brennan top marks in his secondary role as one mean, cruel father. Here's a guy who whips his sons when they mess up. "When you pull a gun, kill a man," is one of the practical pieces of advice he offers his offspring.

Holliday and Earp aren't chummy buddies at first, but a respect does grow between the two men. The now bad doctor, who is keeping time with saloon girl Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), confronts his past when old flame Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) ends up in Tombstone after a long search for her much-loved beau.


Veteran movie critic Roger Ebert hails My Darling Clementine as director John Ford's greatest western. Those are high words of praise for the American filmmaker whose resume also includes The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Rio Grande.

Besides several great performances, there is plenty of humour in this film ranging from slapstick to clever word play. The scenery is beautiful and the composition of some of Ford's shots in this black-and-white film is inspired.

The DVD I watched included an interesting 42-minute documentary about the preview print screened compared to the final version released to theatres. Learn why producer Darryl F. Zanuck wasn't entirely happy with Ford's cut of My Darling Clementine.

Rating: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Mature appeared in the 1976 film, Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. Linda Darnell was Hollywood's youngest leading lady when, at 16, she appeared in Hotel for Women in 1939. Her next fact isn't fun, but sad. Darnell died in a house fire in 1965. She was 41. Darnell was watching Star Dust, a film she made in 1940, at the time. Cathy Downs moved from westerns to science-fiction/horror films with credits in Missile to the Moon and The She-Creature in the 1950s.

My Darling Clementine (1946, 97 minutes). Cast includes Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature, Cathy Downs, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt, Ward Bond, Alan Mowbray, John Ireland, Roy Roberts, Jane Darwell and Grant Withers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)

Deathbed promises can be tricky things.

Bea Singer (Anne Bancroft) wants her son Jack (Nicholas Cage) to vow he will never marry. "No girl could love you like I could," she tells him just moments before her demise.

Jack's promise, and his day-to-day encounters with marital infidelity as a private eye, convince him to hold off from marrying his long-time girlfriend, Grade 2 teacher Betsy (Sarah Jessica Parker).


She's patient, to a point, but wonders if he'll ever decide to settle down. It takes an ultimatum from Betsy to finally convince Jack to take the plunge. On the spur of the moment, he decides the New York couple should fly to Las Vegas and get married.

No sooner do the couple check into Bally's (for fun, count how many references are made to the well-known Sin City hotel in the film's 92-minute running time) then Betsy catches the eye of professional gambler Tommy Korman (James Caan).

Betsy is a virtual lookalike of his dead, and much-missed, wife Donna (also played by Parker in flashbacks). Korman sets up a card came and invites Jack to attend. When the private eye loses a spectacular amount of cash and is in debt to Korman, the grieving card player offers him an out.

Let me spend a few days with Betsy and the debt is forgiven.

Here's where things get interesting.

Korman treats Betsy royally. He wants to get married and have children. These are all things Betsy wants, but Jack just can't commit himself to.

He finally takes action, including enlisting the help of a bunch of skydiving Elvises, to win his girl back.


For a comedy, the laughs are on the modest side. But there are about a half-dozen true laugh-out loud moments in this film. Cage is at his most amusing when he goes ballistic in his frustrated attempts to get Betsy back.

There's a running gag of a client of Singer's who's convinced his wife is having an affair with Mike Tyson that also generates some good laughs.


The soundtrack is solid, with plenty of tunes from the King of Rock and Roll himself to covers of Elvis Presley's greatest hits by major talent such as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Amy Grant and Travis Tritt.

Besides Bancroft, there's also small roles of two other much-missed actors. Peter Boyle is pretty much wasted as Chief Orman, a Broadway-loving eccentric tucked away in a rundown shack. Pat Morita, from The Karate Kid and Happy Days, is taxi driver Mahi Mahi.

Honeymoon in Vegas is a rare directorial turn by Andrew Bergman. He directed six films between 1981 and 2000 ending with Isn't She Great.

Rating: 7/10

Cast: James Caan, Nicholas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pat Morita, Peter Boyle, Anne Bancroft.

FUN FACTS: Cage and Bergman reunited for It Could Happen to You. Bruno Mars, who appeared as Little Elvis, has written several songs that have appeared on the television show, Glee. Robert Kim, Oriental Elvis in Honeymoon in Vegas, appeared as Det. Steven Lim in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. That film starred Parker's eventual husband, Matthew Broderick. They married in 1997. A year before Ferris Bueller's release in 1986, Parker appeared in Girls Just Want to Have Fun based on Cyndi Lauper's hit song. One of her co-stars was Helen Hunt.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Anne Francis 1930-2011

Anne Francis, the love interest in Forbidden Planet, is dead.

She died Jan. 2 at age 80.

Forbidden Planet was reviewed by Reel Popcorn Junkie in December 2010.

Her co-star in that film, Leslie Nielsen, also recently died.

Francis worked in film and television with credits including two episodes of the original Twilight Zone series (Jess-Belle, 1963 and The After Hours, 1960).


Get ready for a wild ride.

Nearly 40 years after its release, Deliverance still packs a powerful punch.

This was director John Boorman's first major directorial effort after directing about a half-dozen episodes of both Citizen 63 and The Newcomers in the 1960s. It's an amazing first effort by the British director for an American film.

Deliverance's plot is unveiled in voiceovers beginning as soon as the film starts.


Lewis (Burt Reynolds) wants to paddle the Chattooga River in the final days before the waterway in North Georgia is flooded by a dam.

Reynolds, in his first major film role, is well cast as a man who loves challenging nature. He's the most well-suited of the four buddies from the big city to go toe-to-toe with the outdoors.

Ed (Jon Voight, three years after generating major buzz with Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy) is a family man with a soft spot for his pipe. He doesn't really have an answer when Lewis asks him why he keeps joining him on his nature treks.

Bobby (Ned Beatty) is the salesman who doesn't want to make waves (pardon the pun). "I'm not used to being yelled at," he suggests at one point.

Drew (Ronny Cox) appears the most interested in meeting the Georgian locals. For anyone wondering where the instrumental, Dueling Banjos, came from, here's your answer.

Their weekend adventure doesn't start well when Lewis challenges some of the locals the quartet will need help from to end their adventure.

Things soon get worse.

When Ed and Bobby appear to get lost during the group's second day on the water, they meet up with two men with very sinister plans for their well-being.

When Bobby is degraded, it leads to one of the film's most-famous lines as his tormentor wants to make him "squeal like a pig."

Lewis gets his friends out of their very dangerous jam, but at a deadly price. What Lewis decides to do to keep the incident hush-hush torments Drew, a strong emotion which may contribute to his fate.


Deliverance works because of four great performances, incredible action scenes shot on the river and its exploration of what civilized people do to survive. There's several moral dilemmas that don't offer easy answers. When police start to investigate what's happened to the four, Boorman builds up a very effective sense of foreboding. Music is kept to a minimum. So many scenes of silence in this adventure/drama help ratchet up the tension.

Deliverance also doesn't offer easy answers to the situations the four paddlers face. There's a reason why Ed faces a grisly nightmare at the film's end.

Rating: 9/10


The DVD copy I viewed included plenty of bonus material including commentary from Boorman and period footage of James Dickey in The Dangerous World of Deliverance. He wrote the screenplay based on his own book. There's also a four-part retrospective with Boorman and the film's stars.

FUN FACTS: Charley Boorman, the director's son, appears as Ed's Boy. The younger Boorman also appeared in Excalibur and The Emerald Forest, also directed by his father. Deliverance was nominated for three Oscars (best director, best picture, best film editing). The Godfather won for best picture. Bob Fosse was named best director.

Running time: 109 minutes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Man in the White Suit

It's rare one film serves as a double feature on its own.

But watch the great British comedy, the man in the white suit, on two levels.

At its simplest, this 1951 film directed by Alexander Mackendrick (he also did the original version of The Ladykillers), generates plenty of laughs with its slapstick scenes and chases.

Even better, The Man in the White Suit offers a lot to think about in its 82-minute running time - especially some big questions about the behaviour of captains of industry, the working class and the interplay, and sometimes dependence, between the two.

Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) is an idealistic lab assistant dedicated to creating a fabric that can never get dirty or destroyed. His resume includes a lot of short stints at seven garment manufacturers once all the money he's tapped, unauthorized, for research is discovered.

It's at a textile mill owned by Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker) that Stratton finally makes his landmark discovery in yet another lab he's infiltrated.

Birnley's daughter, Daphne (Joan Greenwood), sees the tremendous potential with Stratton's scientific discovery and how it will help people worldwide. When he dons a suit made with the white fabric, she tells him, "It makes you look like a knight in shining armour."

But will anyone ride to Stratton's rescue when major players, both on the shop floor and in the boardroom, find out what he's done?

Birnley himself is tremendously excited, initially, about having access to a revolutionary find that will set his business far apart from his competitors. That's until he's confronted by other garment manufacturers. They're led by the very elderly, not to mention even more imposing, Sir John Kierlaw (Ernest Thesiger).

Ardent unionist Bertha Steps (Vida Hope) has a soft spot for Stratton, but she and her fellow workers are also concerned about their jobs.

Divisions between the class lines are explored as workers watch Stratton being wooed by the well-off company owners who travel about in their Rolls-Royces. Steps lives in a roominghouse. Birnley is in a huge home.

The Man in the White Suit also explores the risk facing people who think creatively. Disdain and ridicule await. Watch for the final confrontation that initially suggests violence, but serves up, in a way, an even more painful assault.

Rating: 8/10

Fun facts: Actor Ernest Thesiger also appeared in Scrooge, as The Undertaker, and as Dr. Pretonius in Bride of Frankenstein. Vida Hope made her film debut in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39
Steps. She appeared uncredited as an usherette. Director Alexander Mackendrick was American. His directing career only ran from 1949 to 1967. Joan Greenwood was uncredited as The Great Tyrant in Barbarella.