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.