Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joyeux Noel (2005)

Joyeux Noel is a moving film about a true First World War incident that still surprises nearly a century later.

German, French and Scottish troops agree to a truce on Christmas Eve in 1914. They share rations, drinks and attend mass all in No Man's Land.

On Christmas Day, the ceasefire continues with the dead given proper burials and trenches shared depending on what side is doing the shelling. Soldiers from the three countries play soccer.

There's humour too, with both French and German soldiers claiming ownership of a cat that moves between the opposing trenches. Not everyone shares in the festive spirit. Jonathan (Steven Robertson) is a Scottish solider who seethes hatred towards the Germans for their killing his younger brother. There's a tense scene when he encounters a friendly German. Will he accept his enemy's friendly greeting or will Jonathan act out and end the truce?

Director Christian Carion focuses much of his story on Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann), a famous German tenor who is conscripted into the army and serves as a private. His lover, Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger), joins him for a Christmas Eve performance for high-ranking German officers. She knows Sprink is doomed to die and wants him to desert. Sprink feels obligated to keep serving alongside his comrades. His superior officer Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl) is suspicious of Sprink's loyalty to the German army.

Audebert (Guillaume Canet) leads the French troops. His wife is behind enemy lines. She's given birth, but he has no idea about his wife's health or the child's sex. He clashes with his father, who is a superior officer, about the war.

There's a great scene when military censors open soldiers' letters and read about the Christmas truce. Snippets of letters are shared by voiceover. Military brass are aghast at such open fraternization with the enemy. French and German troops are shipped to other parts of the Western front.

There's a real sense of sadness in Joyeux Noel. What should be one of the happiest days of the year is surrounded by dread knowing many of the men who took part in the truce will not survive another four years of fighting in the trenches.

This film has encouraged this movie fan to read more about this topic. Malcolm Brown's Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914 and O Holy Night: The Peace of 1914 by Michael Snow and Annie Berzoven, have the strongest reviews on Amazon. I hope to read at least one of these titles and share my thoughts on that work in 2013.

Joyeux Noel earned an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film. It's definitely worth a look. Merry Christmas.

RATING: 8/10

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938)

Viewers can sit down with this 15-part serial and adopt one of two attitudes.

1. Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars boasts atrocious special effects, wooden acting from many of its actors and some of the dumbest soldiers serving a power hungry leader who wants to take over the universe. You'd be right on all counts.


2. Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars is a step back into the early days of science fiction on film. Special effects were nowhere near what audiences in the 21st century now take for granted. It's a chance to take a look at just how future technology was seen back in the Dirty Thirties. Flash Gordon features an all-time screen villain with Mongo's Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton). Love that name!

Put me in the latter camp.

Kiefer Sutherland and Fox's 24 owes a debt of thanks to Flash Gordon. Flash (Larry 'Buster' Crabbe) featured certain death at the end of each 15 to 20 minute episode. How often did you wonder how Kiefer's Jack Bauer would survive at the end of each hour? But he did. Time and time again. Pit Flash against fires, explosions, crashing spaceships or rays that appear to burn him alive and he still escapes, with little lingering side effects. Flash, you rock!

How about the technology? Well, the folks behind Flash were way off on just how fast a spaceship could travel ("at least 1,200 miles per hour"), but the paralyzer gun cooked up by Professor Zarkov (Frank Shannon) has the same impact as a present-day Taser. There's a subway that, if the sound effects are to be believed, looks like today's high speed rail.

Three Flash Gordon serials were made between 1936 (Space Soldiers) and 1940 (Conquers the Universe). Trip to Mars picks up where Space Soldiers left off. Flash, Zarkov and Dale Arden are headed back to Earth. But their triumphant return, including a ticker tape parade, is short lived.

Ming has teamed up with Queen Azura of Mars. A ray is sucking the nitron out of Earth's atmosphere. This leads to environmental catastrophes. How's that for another present-day circumstance Flash Gordon's makers got right? If anyone knows why nitron is needed to knock out an enemy, let me know.

The trio heads back into outer space, this time bound for Mars. They meet the clay people, who have been banished to live underground by Azura. Old ally Prince Barin (Richard Alexander) returns , guess when, shortly before an execution attempt.

Flash and company have ray guns, but most battles are waged with fists. It's impressive to watch a 50-something Zarkov beat the snot out of soldiers who are 30 years younger than him and apparently in the best physical shape of their lives. How do you do it, Zarkov?

The Flash Gordon serials will always hold a special place in Reel Popcorn Junkie's heart. I watched them on American television growing up. But even I have to draw the line on the addition of reporter Happy Hapgood (Donald Kerr) to the cast. He's there for comic relief. I'm not laughing. Flash and Zarkov should have left him with the forest people. He's the equivalent of Scrappy Doo joining his uncle, Scooby Doo. Not. Needed.

But, give credit to Kerr. He appeared in a staggering 478 titles in his career. Most of them are not credited.

It's more fun to watch this serial than Flash's so-so return to the big screen in 1980, complete with soundtrack from Queen (who get it right when they describe Gordon as "king of the impossible").

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Wow. Richard Alexander, who appears as Flash's ally Prince Barin, was Westhus in the original All Quiet on the Western Front.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Black Swan (1942)

Set sail for a witty script, plenty of adventure and gorgeous Technicolor with The Black Swan.

Leon Shamroy's work behind the camera is the real star of this 1942 effort from director Henry King (Twelve O'Clock High, The Song of Bernadette). He even won an Oscar for best cinematography.

In an accompanying commentary, actress Maureen O'Hara notes she did little work in Technicolor before The Black Swan. Afterwards, she wanted to do nothing but.

The story is pretty straightforward. Capt. Harry Morgan (Laird Cregar) is a pirate who is expected to be hanged by the King of England. Instead, he's given a pardon and sent to Jamaica to rid the seas of pirates. Some, like Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power), join him. Others, Capt. Billy Leech (George Sanders) vow to keep pillaging.

Waring becomes smitten with Lady Margaret Denby (Maureen O'Hara), the daughter of the colony's former leader. She's less than eager to get to know a former pirate. He keeps up his attempts to woo her, while Morgan faces impeachment over Leech wreaking havoc on British ships laden with gold.

There's a couple of funny scenes where Waring uses given circumstances to get a little closer to the knockout who is Denby.

Power made The Black Swan just two years after The Mark of Zorro. He gets to wield his sword again, especially in a climatic showdown with Leech. It almost looks like the film is speeded up to handle the one-on-one battle.

The Black Swan has a great cast with Thomas Mitchell (It's a Wonderful Life) and Anthony Quinn (Lawrence of Arabia) along for the ride.

Get the popcorn ready and savour this entertaining swash buckler of a tale.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: The Black Swan also received Oscar nominations for best special effects and music (Alfred Newman).

Leon Shamroy also shot South Pacific, Cleopatra and The King and I.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thieves' Highway (1949)

It takes a lot of work to be a workingman in this film.

Kenny, reviewed on this site three weeks ago, was an incredibly funny, but also touching look at a content employee for an Australian portable toilet company.

Thieves' Highway, from director Jules Dassin (The Naked City, Riffi), paints a much bleaker picture of life as an average Joe just trying to make a buck.

In this 1949 release from Twentieth Century Fox, blue collar workers are ripped off, work long hours in dangerous conditions, get beat up and die. Happy Labour Day to you, too.

Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) returns home after a lengthy spell working on the sea. He's done well for himself, literally showering his parents and sweetheart Polly Faber (Barbara Lawrence) with money. The homecoming celebration doesn't last long once Nick learns his father lost his legs in a trucking collision.

Yanko Garcos (Morris Carnovsky) blames crooked fruit buyer Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) for causing the collision that cost him his legs and a nice payout for services rendered.

Nick vows payback and swings into action. He wants to repossess his father's truck from Ed Prentiss (Millard Mitchell), but ends up going into business with him. Prentiss knows where they can score Golden Delicious apples and get them to market before anyone else. It's when these two men meet that audiences see another challenge for the workingman - getting stiffed. Slob (Jack Oakie) and Pete (Joseph Pevney) want their own deal with Prentiss, but he blows them off. They figure something is up and decide to tail him.

Garcos and Prentiss get their apples, but problems soon follow with their trucks and fatigue. Nick gets to market in San Francisco first where he encounters Figlia for himself. His reputation as a shyster is well-known, even the police know about his crooked dealings. Garcos wants a good price for his apples. Figlia is looking for an angle to take a bite out of Garcos' approach. Enter Rica (Valentina Cortese), a streetwalker who Garcos can't figure out. Is she trying to help him or get him killed?

Kenny was an easy character to love. He was a hard-worker and had a lot of funny things to say. It's not as easy to cheer for Garcos. This chap is not above using violence to settle scores. He's supposed to be marrying Polly, but is definitely attracted to Rica. Garcos is kind of dumb too. He makes a long-distance call in a restaurant telling Polly of his big cash score from Figlia. You think some of those diners might want to get their hands on his billfold, let alone Figlia?

Thieves' Highway offers several strong performances, especially from Conte (The Godfather, Ocean's Eleven) and Cobb (Call Northside 777, 12 Angry Men). Mitchell (Twelve O'Clock High) is solid as a veteran driver who is also a player when it comes to dealing with other truckers.

The Criterion Collection release of Thieves' Highway does a fine job of making cinematographer Norbert Brodine's work look top notch.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Brodine was director of photography of Libeled Lady, one of this site's favorite films.

A.I. Bezzerides wrote the screenplay for Thieves' Highway. It's based on his book.

Two principal members of the cast are still alive at this writing: Valentina Cortese (b. 1923) and Barbara Lawrence (b. 1928). Lawrence also appeared in A Letter to Three Wives, reviewed earlier on this site.

Jack Oakie received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for The Great Dictator.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nowhwere Boy (2009)

Nowhere Boy has something to say about John Lennon.

This solid 2009 effort from director Sam Taylor-Johnson, making her feature-film debut, explores a difficult time in the life of a teenaged Lennon. That drama makes for compelling viewing. The look at the birth of The Beatles is also fascinating to watch. Keep an eye out for how, and where, Lennon forms The Quarrymen.

He's living with his hard as nails aunt, Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). She runs a tight ship. Her husband, George (David Threlfall) has a closer relationship with his nephew, but dies shortly after this story begins. Mimi wants John to get his education. He keeps getting suspended and burning letters from the school meant for her eyes.

It's a friend of Lennon's who tells him his mother, Julia (Anna-Marie Duff), lives within walking distance of Mimi's home. Much of Nowhere Boy explores the relationship between Lennon and the woman who gave him up to her sister's care. He's excited to find her. Julia is very different from her sister. She's a carefree spirit, loves rock and roll music over the classical music Mimi favours. She dances. She flirts. Julia teaches him to play the banjo. She's with John when he sees a newsreel clip of a young Elvis Presley driving the girls crazy. It's then he decides he wants to be follow in the King of Rock and Roll's footsteps.

There's continued tension at home with Mimi livid at John's cutting classes and stealing rides on the double-decker buses. He wants to move in with his mom, but her husband isn't keen on the idea. Lennon is a Nowhere Boy.

Much of the film is dedicated to the relationship between Lennon, his mother and his aunt. But Nowhere Boy also explores the launch of Lennon's first band, The Quarrymen, that comes to include Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie-Sangstar) and George Harrison (Sam Bell).

There's a quick nod to a famous photograph taken of The Quarrymen performing at a church social in July 1957, the day Lennon and McCartney met. Nowhere Boy also includes The Quarrymen recording their first song, In Spite of all the Danger, that was included on the first anthology album by The Beatles in 1995.

Taylor-Johnson delivers a strong performance as a young Lennon offering hints of his humour and, at times, his nastiness towards others. There's flashes of Lennon's wit with language too. Scott Thomas offers a human side besides Mimi's strict personality. Duff is a standout as Julia, a woman who loves life, but has made some bad choices.

Nowhere Boy is a hit.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Thomas Brodie-Sangster played another major historical figure. He was a young Hitler in Hitler: The Rise of Evil.

Nowhwere Boy is the only film credit for Sam Bell.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kenny (2006)

This Australian comedy about a man who services porta-potties should a-pee-l to many movie-goers.

Folks, this is one of the funniest comedies this dedicated film fan has watched in a long while. There was such a ballyhoo when Crocodile Dundee with Paul Hogan hit North American screens in 1986. Where was the heavy box office traffic for this fantastic comedy that followed 20 years later?

Kenny offers many, many laugh-out loud moments. But there's also a tender side too, with a hero whose personal life is, in many ways, in the toilet.

Kenny (Shane Jacobson) works for Splash Down in Melbourne. The business rents portable toilets for events such as music festivals, air shows and horse races. Kenny and his crew set the loos up before anyone else arrives and take them down when everyone else has left. He notes his job offers him an opportunity to work outside, see many events others don't, but it's lonely too.

"No one's ever impressed with what you do," he says early on in the 99-minute film.

Kenny blames his job for his wife leaving him after 14 years. He observes people don't want to hug him or shake his hand. His bitter father (real-life dad Ronald Jacobson) urges him to get another job. He's embarrassed at what his son does for a living.

"I didn't put you through school for you to become a f------ glorified turd burglar," his father berates him during a rare visit to his trailer home.

His wife's death has distanced relations between him and his two sons. Kenny notices the relationship between the trio is "Christmas cards at 20 paces." His brother wants him to change when he shows up in his work clothes at a bar for a birthday bash.

Shot in documentary style, kenny follows our hero on the job as he deals with his employees, one worries a lot, a new hire works hard, but doesn't have a good feel for good customer relations. A university student, who pleaded for a job so he could earn some extra money, balks at the job's demands including retrieving a woman's wedding ring that's ended up in one of Splash Down's toilets.

"He's probably studying to be an accountant or something," Kenny notes with disdain. "He can't even clean a s---ter."

"I thought this would be corporate bathrooms," the student counters.

"You reckon all the girls on Virgin Airlines are virgins?" replies Kenny.

There's vandalism to clean up, fueled by what Kenny notes as revelers who are "full of the Batman juice" or have eaten "fruity disco biscuits." One chap notes, with a black marker, he "woz here" in Kenny's portable toilet.

"This is his claim to fame," Kenny notes as he scrubs up the mess. "He's been to our s---ter."

The film's best sequence when Kenny and company are at a stock car racing event. Punks in one area of the venue regularly torch the portable toilets at the evening's end. Kenny wants to end the tradition with some careful strategy.

"Our job's to save the toilets," he tells his staff.

Bad timing on the race track, fisticuffs, Molotov cocktails and an unexpected customer all add up to an extremely hilarious scene conceived by Jacobson and his brother, Clayton, who also directs.

"No man should be set on fire to save one of his s---ters," Kenny says after a limb becomes engulfed in flames.

Kenny's a big guy, but he's a softy at heart. When his boss taps him to attend the Pumper and Cleaner Environmental Expo International in Nashville, his friendly, outgoing manner attracts a fine-looking stewardess and the start of a relationship with several Japanese businessmen who need many deluxe portable toilets complete with televisions.

Kenny is a celebration of the working man doing essential work that no one else respects. It's about taking pride in one's talents and not refusing to change careers because of what others think.

"Plumbing is all I've ever known, but I don't think I've ever been envious of anyone else cause this is the life I got," he says.

Bodily fluid humour gets a lot of play in mostly youth-oriented comedies these days. Here's a film centred on a job dealing with urine and feces, but there's little in-your-face grossness here. There's a brief reference to pee on the floor with Kenny lamenting the difficulty some men have in hitting the mark.

Kenny is a great comedy with a heart. Watch this film.

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: Shane Jacobson appeared in the 2012 reboot, The Bourne Legacy.

Much of Kenny's cast is on screen for the first, and only, time including Alf Scerri and Glenn and Haley Preusker.

Vicki Musso is Kenny's cranky ex-wife and the woman who loses her wedding ring in the toilet. Thank you, Internet Movie Database!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

It's worth the wait to see one of the most famous screen shots of James Cagney near this film's finale.

His character, Rocky Sullivan (Cagney), faces the death penalty for killing two crime associates followed by a handful of police officers in a last-ditch effort to escape justice.

Watch, and savour, the iconic shot of a defiant Sullivan walking in the shadows towards the electric chair. This is great stuff.

Angels with Dirty Faces is a good, but not great, film. There's no big surprises in this film's plot, but what a cast.

Sullivan and childhood pal Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien) followed very different career paths. The pair grew up poor. Both stole, but Connolly only put his hands on things he needed to survive. Sullivan was a little more enterprising.

When an attempted theft of pens from a rail car goes bad, it's Sullivan who ends up in a juvenile detention centre. Connolly escaped police. The stint is the first of several arrests for Sullivan as he gradually gets involved in more serious crimes.

Connolly took a very different career path and became a priest. He's rector of a Catholic parish in his old neighbourhood. Father Jerry and Rocky get re-acquainted when the convict gets released from prison. He rents a room from the girl he pestered as a youngster, Laury Ferguson (Ann Sheridan), now a fine-looking lady. Sullian is interested. Ferguson, not so much.

Sullivan is eager to see his crooked lawyer, James Frazier (Humphrey Bogart), who's holding on to $100,000 of his cash. Hey, this is the Great Depression and that's serious scratch. Frazier, now managing a ritzy nightclub under boss Mac Keefer (George Bancroft), is less-than-pleased to see Sullivan is still alive. He's keen to put Sullivan away for good.

Father Jerry is doing his best to encourage a gang of street toughs to live honest lives and steer clear of crime's allure. But that job is hard to do when Sullivan shows up sporting fine threads and a pocketful of bills. Father Jerry encourages his old friend to be a mentor to the kids. Sullivan is persuaded, somewhat. When Keefer figures out a way to get Sullivan in trouble, it's Rocky who turns to the kids to keep his cash stash safe.

Rocky is back in the big money. Laury, who lost her husband to crime, starts to warm to imagining a life with him. Father Jerry is determined not to be wooed by Sullivan's generous offers of cash help to build a new recreation centre for youth. What good will it do, he reasons, when that site is surrounded by people profiting from crime? Instead, he vows to bring Sullivan and his crowd down.

It's tough to see legendary tough guy Bogart as a cowardly lawyer who mops his brow and begs for his life when he's in danger. But, as film historian Dana Polan notes in a commentary accompanying this 1938 film from Michael Curtiz, he was still being groomed for stardom by Warner Brothers. Casablana, Key Largo and The Treasure of the Sierre Madre would follow.

Cagney is the best thing in this film. He's tough. He's funny. There's still some good in a guy who turned to crime many years before.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Curtiz would go on to direct Bogart in Casablanca.

Cagney and O'Brien reunited more than 40 years later for Ragtime.

George Bancroft was Curley in John Ford's Stagecoach.

Billy Halop, leader of the Dead End Kids in Angels with Dirty Faces, played recurring character Bert Munson in television's All in the Family.

Frankie Burke made his film debut playing a young Rocky Sullivan. He appeared in 18 films between 1938 and 1941. He died in 1983 at age 67.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

is all over the map.

This film noir steers into melodrama, courtroom drama and a very strange love story.

Frank Chambers (John Garfield) has itchy feet. This guy keeps moving from town to town, job to job.

When he gets dropped off at a roadside diner, he finally finds a reason to stay in one place for awhile.

Business owner Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) needs a hired hand to pump gas and serve burgers to customers. It's not so much Nick's offer of employment, but his drop-dead gorgeous young wife Cora (Lana Turner) that Frank likes.

Turner makes a great screen entrance when her tube of lipstick rolls down the cafe floor to Frank. The camera pans along the floor and up to Cora's very nice legs.

Frank doesn't waste much time making a move on Mrs. Smith. These two characters supposedly love each other, but it looks more like lust.

Cora and Frank conspire to off clueless Nick. This chap has no clue of the illicit goings-on with his wife and the hired help.

Now, this is a film noir so chances are things are not going to work out as planned. A first attempt to off Nick is botched. District attorney Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames) gets suspicious about Frank's activities at the roadside business. A court case and legal wranglings follow.

Hume Cronyn shines as defence attorney Arthur Keats. Present-day audiences know him for Ron Howard's Cocoon. But check out his dramatic work in The Postman Always Rings Twice. He's cocky. He's conniving. He pulls off some great strategic moves in the courtroom.

Keats taps ex-cop Ezra Kennedy (Alan Reed) for some help to save his case. There are a few moments in Postman when reality seems to be miles away from what happens on the screen. Watching Frank whup a beefy police officer is one of them.

Postman keeps turning in directions audiences may not expect. This movie-goer was shaking his head at times thinking things were getting a little silly on this screen take on James M. Cain's book. The twist ending has some punch and we finally get to hear the postman reference.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: John Garfield and Cecil Kellaway are both two-time Academy Award nominees. Garfield was recognized for his work in Body and Soul and Four Daughters. Kellaway received nods for The Luck of the Irish and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Leon Ames' last role was in Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).

Actress Audrey Totter is still alive. She played Madge Gorland, the woman Frank picks up when Cora leaves town, in The Postman Always Rings Twice. She'll celebrate her 94th birthday on Dec. 20, 1918. Totter, like Cronyn, has a smaller role but she definitely stands out in this film. Wow.

Alan Reed is the voice of Fred Flintstone.

NOT-SO-FUN FACT: Garfield died in 1952. He was just 39.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Breaking Away (1979)

How did this film win an Oscar for best screenplay?

Steve Tesich captured an Acadmey Award in 1980 for penning the script for this sports drama from director Peter Yates (Bullitt).

His script has its moments, and there are some memorable lines of dialogue, but take a look at what other films Breaking Away was up against that year.

All That Jazz, one of Bob Fosse's finest films.

And Justice for All.

The China Syndrome.

And, finally, Woody Allen's Manhatten. Manhatten! It'd be fun to read the newspaper coverage of the day and see if Breaking Away's won was seen as expected or a complete and shocking surprise.

There's nothing really new in this film. Four high school buddies are living aimless lives after getting their diplomas. There's friction between them, residents of Bloomington, Indiana, and the community's well-to-do college kids.

Mike (Dennis Quaid) is the high school quarterback who's angry at just about everybody. He can't bring himself to light the cigarettes he's always sticking in his mouth in case his athletic skills are again needed some way.

Cyril (Daniel Stern) makes some wise observations about the group's future. "I thought that was the whole plan," he suggests to Mike. "I thought we were going to waste the rest of our lives together."

Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) is secretly seeing his girlfriend, Nancy (Amy Wright). Even serious relationswhips with the fairer sex have to be kept hush-hush among the quartet of friends. Moocher and Nancy plan to marry, not that any of his friends would be aware of that fact.

Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) gets the most screen time. He's a cycling fanatic. Stoller is so impressed with Italian racers he adopts an Italian persona. He speaks Italian. Stoller listens to Italian opera arias. He kisses his dad on the cheek.

His obsession with bicycle racing doesn't roll well with his used car salesman father (Paul Dooley). He worked, and ached, when he was in his late teens. Pops expects his father to do the same. Mom (Barbara Barrie) is a little more understanding of her son and encourages him to follow his dreams.

Stoller finds love with Katherine (Robyn Douglas), an attractive college student who's also seeing fraternity hunk Rod (Hart Bochner).

When a dust up between the local teens, or cutters, and college boys erupts, the university president decides Bloomington's youth can take part in an annual race at the school. Viewer, you can start connecting the dots now. Stoller isn't keen to race because that means Katherine will see he's not the Italian exchange student he's supposed to be. Pops starts to gain an appreciation for the tremendous cycling talent his son has. There'll be a neck-and-neck finish between college kids and the cutters. The winner will be......

From one of the great all-time car chases in Bullitt, Yates gets to film two big bicycle races in Breaking Away. There's no jaw-dropping moments here. What does impress is the speed these bikes can travel.

Moocher is in love. Dave and Cyril both have the brains for college. Yep, they're breaking away from the close-knit friendships of their youth. Get it?

Breaking Away boasts an early look at four actors who'd all go on to further success in Hollywood, especially Dennis Quaid. The relationship between Stoller and his parents is touching. Too often in films parents of teens are portrayed as dopes and clueless adults. Not here. David's actions are enough to give his father heart trouble.

"No, I don't feel lucky to be alive. I feel lucky I'm not dead. There's a difference," dad tells mom after a health scare.

Cast members Barrie and Haley went on to appear in a short-lived television follow-up to the film. Teen heart throb Shaun Cassidy (!!!) took over the role of Dave.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Quaid and Christopher also appeared in September 30, 1955.

Breaking Away was Daniel Stern's film debut.

Jackie Earle Haley was in three Bad News Bears films.

Amy Wright was a bridesmaid in The Deer Hunter.

Breaking Away was the only credit for several cast members including the car wash owner (Woody Hueston), anthem singer (Jennifer Nolan), university president (John Ryan) and the "homecoming car kid" (Mike Silvers).

NOT SO FUN FACT: Tesich died of a heart attack in 1996. He was 53.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bullitt (1968)

Bullitt packs a punch.

This 1968 police drama from director Peter Yates (Breaking Away, Krull) is best remembered for its electrifying car chase through the hilly streets of San Francisco. That scene no doubt played a big role in Bullitt being added to the national film registry by the National Film Preservation Board in 2007.

That roughly 10-minute scene still stands up very well more than four decades later. There's a quick seatbelt shot that prepares viewers for what's to come as the chase prepares to heat up.

But Bullitt also offers viewers a very solid cast of actors including Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Robert Duvall, Don Gordon and Simon Oakland. Plus, director Yates isn't afraid to use silence frequently. Conversations between characters are held at a distance. Some times characters are looking at something or someone. Hurray for a soundtrack that's not wall-to-wall dialogue and music.

Bullitt (McQueen) is a San Francisco police lieutenant assigned to keep watch over a Senate witness who's on the run from the mob. Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) is the oily senator who expects great things to happen to his career when Johnny Ross testifies.

But when a couple of hitmen get to Ross before he can speak, Bullitt is under the gun. Chalmers wants to know why his starmaking tool is dead. Bullitt is suspicious about how the man he was supposed to protect was tracked down so easily. He has the support of his immediate supervisor, Capt. Bennet (Simon Oakland), but another superior, Baker (Norman Fell!) wants to kiss up to Chalmers and ride his expected wave of upcoming political power. Bullitt isn't interested in kissing anyone's backside. There are sparks during his several run-ins with Chalmers.

With all that on-the-job intrigue, Bullitt still takes time to look at things on the home front with Bullitt and his better half, Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset). She's an artist. Her life is miles away from the brutal world, where violence is commonplace, that Bullitt inhabits. "You're living in a sewer, Frank," she tells him. The film's final scene relates to the domestic front and is a memorable one.

While the car chase gets all the attention, how about the film's climax at the San Francisco airport when Bullitt and his partner Delgetti (Don Gordon) finally connect all the dots. Hands up for all the other films you can remember where there was a foot chase in-between planes preparing for lift off.

Bullitt was nominated for two Oscars (editing, sound) and won a statue for the former. This film hits the mark for a solid evening's entertainment.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Norman Fell is remembered for his work in television's Three's Company. Simon Oakland starred in Baa Baa Black Sheep.

It must have hurt, but both Fell and Vaughn appeared in C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud. Larry Linville (M*A*S*H) and June Lockhart (Lost in Space) are also in the cast. Yikes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Letter (1940)

The Letter is first class entertainment.

This 1940 film noir from director William Wyler (Ben-Hur, The Little Foxes) offers plenty to savour.

There's great performances from Bette Davis, James Stephenson and Gale Sondergaard (The Mark of Zorro) and beautiful cinematography from Tony Gaudio (The Adventures of Robin Hood, High Sierra).

The Letter earned an eye-popping seven Academy Award nominations, including Davis (best actress) and Wyler (director).

This film opens with a bang, or bangs, to be more exact. Leslie Crosbie (Davis) has just filled a Geoffrey Hammond (David Newell) with slugs outside her home at a rubber plantation late at night.

She suggests Hammond was a surprise visitor who planned to sexually assault her. The story sounds believable until her lawyer Howard Joyce (Stephenson) learns of a letter Leslie wrote to Hammond that same day, demanding to see him. They were lovers. Leslie is riled he chose to tie the knot with Sondergaard. Murder follows.

Joyce puts his career on the line to help his client. Her husband, Robert (Herbert Marshall), is her loving and totally clueless better half who knows nothing of his wife's lengthy affair. His dreams of a new business opportunity are also risked because of the cash it'll take to make the sure chances of a murder conviction disappear.

Sondergaard says little in this film, but boy does she make a big impact on the screen as she continually glowers at the woman who killed her husband. The spooky mood surrounding her character gets a big help from the score courtesy of Max Steiner (Casablanca, Gone with the Wind). Watch, and listen, for a scene at a Chinese merchant's shop with wind chimes dangling as Mrs. Hammond and Leslie meet. This is great cinema, followed by a chilling finale.

There's plenty of drama after the murder trial as Robert tries to deal with his wife's infidelity, Joyce wondering if he's thrown his career away and Leslie still tormented by her lover. The DVD I watched offered an alternate ending, but there's nothing Earth shattering about its content. The original packs a real punch and a fine overhead shot leading to the film's final scene.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Prison matron Doris Lloyd was Baroness Ebberfeld in The Sound of Music. She also had an uncredited role in the original Mutiny on the Bounty.

Victor Sen Yung, who appears as James Stephenson's assistant, was Hop Sing in Bonanza. He also played Jimmy Chan in several Charlie Chan films.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Get ready for a little bit of everything in (500) Days of Summer.

There's split screens, characters talking straight to the camera, a story that moves back and forth in time, some black and white footage and even a voiceover.

There are many romantic comedies, a fact Matthew McGonaughey can give thanks for on a daily basis, but few worth seeing. Sorry, Matthew.

(500) Days of Summer is easy to fall in love with thanks to a smart script by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber. Some fine work by leads Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel helps a lot. Any major Hollywood release that spoofs Igmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal deserves a look.

Yes, some of the set-ups are overdone. There's the barely teenage younger sister who's the voice of wisdom when it comes to relationships. Wasn't Natalie Portman's character wise way beyond her years in Beautiful Girls (1995)?

A choreographed dance scene with our romantic male lead has also been done before, but let's give marks for the inspired choice of Hall and Oates' hit from 1981, You Make My Dreams.

Forgive those cliches and warm up to (500) Days of Summer.

Tom (Gordon-Levitt) doesn't expect he'll ever know true happiness until he meets The One. Summer (Deschanel) saw her parents break up when she was young. She doubts love exists. Summer doesn't want to be in a relationship.

"I like being on my own," she says on Day 28 of their relationship. "There's no such thing as love. It's fantasy."

With those backgrounds, Tom and Summer don't look like they'll be a good match. But there's a spark between these two greeting card workers. Tom writes card messages. Summer is the new assistant to his boss. He keeps regular updates about his feelings to friends McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gabler).

Tom and Summer's relationship deepens. They start having sex. Summer starts telling Tom things she's never shared with anyone else before. He thinks he's broken through her relationship wall, that now she's ready to make a long-term commitment. Tom would be wrong. It's hard to blame Summer. She never said she was looking for a forever relationship.

(500) Days of Summer bounces around during their slightly longer than one-year relationship. Audiences see the good and the bad, but it takes some sage words of advice from a possible new romantic interest for Tom to see all the sides of his relationship with Summer.

Summer's a hard girl to figure out. Some of Tom's behaviour seems a little odd. He breaks plates over his head when things sour with Summer. Really? But, hey, this movie-goer will take characters that have a little depth to them rather than a standard romance.

RATING: 8/10

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Twelve O'Clock High (1949)

This is a must-see film.

Twelve O'Clock High ranks alongside All Quiet on the Western Front, Saving Private Ryan and The Great Escape as one of the finest films movies ever made about war. The 132-minute drama earned four Oscar nominations and won two for supporting actor (Dean Jagger) and sound.


Most of the combat we see in this fine 1949 drama from director Henry King (The Gunfighter, The Song of Bernadette) is in the minds of the American bomber crews. These men were tasked with early daylight bombing raids against German targets. Casualty rates were high. The demands to fly more missions was relentless.

Audiences only see one actual combat sequence at the film's end. The rest of the drama is at 918 Group's base in England.

918 Group is going through a tough stretch. Its men are dying. Objectives are not being hit. Leader Col. Ernie Davnport (Gary Merrill) is given the boot because he's spending more time worried about his men than reaching the air force's objectives. Discipline isn't enforced because he feels bad about what his men are enduring.


His friend, Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck), takes his place and quickly clamps down on what he sees as too many lax attitudes around the base. A guard is demoted. Davenport's second-hand man is arrested and called yellow. The worst of the lot are assigned to a bomber dubbed The Leper Colony. Savage brushes away suggestions of taking it easy on his men. He drives them harder, determined to build pride in the unit through success in the air.

The pilots bristle at Savage's demands and ask for transfers. He turns to his assitant, Maj. Harvey Stovall (Jagger), to tie up the paperwork for as long as possible.

The group starts to achieve success, but Savage soon faces the same conflicts as Davenport. The inevitable deaths of his men are starting to take a toll on him too.

Peck delivers an outstanding performance which rightfully earned him an Oscar nomination. His Savage is curt and driven, determined to get the job done despite all the flack he gets from his men. He has a wonderful chemistry with Jagger, whose Stouvall was a First World War veteran who wanted to fight again against the Nazis.

Millard Mitchell is solid as Maj. Gen. Pat Pritchard. This military leader sees how problems with 918 Group could spread to other units and cripple the American war effort.

Made four years after the Second World War ended, Twelve O'Clock High doesn't dance around war's impact on combatants. Within the film's first five minutes audiences learn of a gunner losing his arm and another man losing part of his head. This ain't no rah-rah war movie.

Watch for Savage's reaction as he leads a raid into German territory. He gets a bad case of the sweats, similar to Tom Hanks' hand that won't stop shaking in Saving Private Ryan.

See this movie. That's an order.

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: Gary Merrill's final two credits were for episodes of the Canadian television show The Littlest Hobo in 1980.

Millard Mitchell died in 1953 of lung cancer (Thank you Internet Movie Database). He was 50.

Dean Jagger was Maj. Gen. Thomas Waverly in White Christmas.

Robert Arthur, who appears as the often promoted and demoted Sgt. McIhenny quite acting in the 1960s. His last credit was in television's Gomer Pyle in 1966. Twelve O'Clock High was nominated for best picture, but lost to All the King's Men.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Big Knife (1955)

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

The Big Knife cuts deep in its depiction of the studio system of Hollywood's Golden Age.

There's not much happiness in these parts, as depicted by director Robert Aldrich (The Flight of the Phoenix) in this powerful 1955 effort.

Charles Castle (Jack Palance) is at a crossroads. His studio contract is up for renewal. Boss Stanley Hoft (Rod Steiger) wants him back for seven more years. Castle is disillusioned with the roles he's given. His wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), has left him. There's signs of a possible reconciliation, but only if Castle leaves Hollywood. His wife is tired of his cheating and is getting serious with another man, Hank Teagle (Wesley Addy).

TWO IDEALISTS Teagle and Castle are both idealists. Castle sold out for success. Scriptwriter Teagle stayed true, but his works never make the screen.

Castle's leverage in negotiations is limited by a nasty incident in his past that Hoft, and a floozy who he was with at the time, Dixie Evans (Shelley Winters), have in their arsenal. Evans is a potential powder keg to Castle's future. She drinks too much and starts talking too often at parties about what happened a few years back. Castle's next starring role could be as a prisoner in jail.


Smiley Coy (Wendell Corey) is the studio's fixer, just like George Clooney was for a law firm in 2007's Michael Clayton. Charles is concerned Coy's not joking when he describes what he'll do to make sure Evans stops yapping.

"Sorry to throw the meat on the floor," he offers when he explains what he'll have done.

The Big Knife offers many fine performances. Palance, known to today's audiences for his work in City Slickers, is explosive as Castle. He's shown sparring in the film's first scene, but it's him who's being beaten down at work and home.

Steiger is a powerful force as Hoft. His screen time is limited, but he dominates the screen. Corey's quiet, deadly authority is chilling.

Dixie shares Castle's disillusioment with Hollywood, but not his success. She's offered a studio contract to keep her mouth shut about Castle's indiscretion. But her roles are limited with studio bosses more interested in her shapely figure than her acting talent. "I'm a deductible item," she laments.


The Big Knife is based on a play penned by Clifford Odets. The film's stage origins are noticeable with most of the action set in the living room of Castle's swanky Bel Air home. Viewers be warned, there's a lot of talking and not much action. The musical score is often obtrusive too.

Movies offer occasional glimpses at Hollywood with efforts such as Sunset Boulevard and The Player. The Big Knife is a knockout.

RATING: 8/10

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Trekkies (1997)

Trekkies ventures just about where you'd expect a documentary about Star Trek's fans to go.

For added marks, the film's host is Denise Crosby, or Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Some fans praise the landmark 1960s television series for motivating them to study in the sciences. Hurray for them.

Others thank show conventions for offering them the chance to make long-lasting friendships. That's great.

Then, there's the diehards who change their names to show characters, dress as Star Trek characters in public, want to be addressed by their rank in the workplace and are willing to pay big bucks for show props. Yikes.

Trekkies overwhelms viewers with many, many brief clips from Star Trek fans who attend conventions. Still, most of the film concentrates on a handful of fans including Gabriel Koerner, a very well-spoken 15-year-old who plans to shoot a Star Trek inspired film with other fans.

Viewers meet Dr. Denis Bourguignon, who operates Starbase Dental in Orlando, Flo. This man's office is jammed with Star Trek gear. His wife and two children appear on camera with him in their Star Trek uniforms.

There's a woman who takes lots and lots of photos of Brent Spiner, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, when he speaks at conventions. When she's feeling low she looks towards the mountain Spiner lives on the other side of (I think) and feels better.

Many of the cast members from Star Trek and Next Generation are interviewed. It's especially interesting to hear George Takei talk about the first gathering of fans in 1972 and how he was floored by the huge turnout.

There's just a wee bit of footage of William Shatner, and no mention of his famous appearance on Saturday Night Live where he exhorts the show's fans to "Get a life."

The movie notes Trekkies is the only fan term to make its way into the dictionary. This film demonstrates why the short-lived television series continues to live long and prosper.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Gabriel Koerner is now working in the entertainment industry. He has more than two-dozen film and television credits including Shutter Island, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Trekkies features the last on-screen appearance of DeForest Kelley, Bones from Star Trek. He voiced a character in 1998's The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars before his death in 1999. He was 79.

Without a Clue (1988)

Without a Clue offers viewers a great title and story idea.

It's too bad the film itself is just OK.

This 1988 effort from director Thom Eberhardt (Gross Anatomy) suggests famed British detective Sherlock Holmes is really Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine). When it comes to solving crime, he's totally clueless. Instead, the washed-up actor focused his energies on booze, women and gambling. He especially likes his liquid refreshments.


Dr. John Watson (Ben Kingsley) is the real brains behind this crime-fighting operation. He created Holmes as a ruse when he was trying to land a prestigious medical position. Watson deduced the hiring committee wouldn't think much about a doctor writing detective stories.

His creation has worked all-too-well. Everyone loves Holmes. The press eagerly await his bon mots for their stories. Pub attendees want to buy him a drink. Civic officials love the chance to shake his hand. Watson gets no love.

Frustrated by Kincaid's latest bumbling, Watson gives him the boot. But Holmes doesn't remain outcast for long.

Lord Smithwick (Nigel Davenport) is in urgent need of the great detective's help. Arch-villain Professor James Moriarty (Paul Freeman) plans to flood England with phony five-pound notes. His counterfeit spree will ruin the country's economy.

Kincaid, very well-aware of Moriarty's evil ways, is less than enthused with what's supposed to be his final case.


Without a Clue's best moments come with humour that wouldn't be out-of-place in Airplane or The Naked Gun! Doors fly open and smack people. Hooch is kept stashed in a secret hiding place in a bookshelf.

Problem is, there's just not enough really funny jokes in this film's 107 minutes. That's a crime.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Paul Freeman appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Wow. Lysette Anthony, who catches Caine's eye as Leslie Giles, appeared in Canadian rock singer Bryan Adams' video for Reckless in 1983.

Keeping with the Bryan Adams strand, Harold Mayor is Lord Mayor Gerald Fitzwalter Johnson in Without a Clue. He was Bishop of Hereford in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Adams sang that film's theme song, a tune that still grates on this movie-goer, Everything I Do (I Do for You). I'd like to thank the chap who lived above me in London, Ont., who set that song on repeat play for hours beginning in the middle of the night circa 1993.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dark Victory (1939)

Dark Victory is a bright spot in Bette Davis' filmography.

The American film legend lobbied hard for the play by George Emerson Brewer, Jr. and Bertram Bloch to be made into a motion picture.

Good call, Bette.

Her Judith Traherne is a well-off socialite living very well off her late father's fortune. Much like a 1930s version of the Kiss song, Rock and Roll All Night, Traherne parties well into the morning and enjoys regular intakes of alcohol and tobacco.

She's hesitant to say anything about painful headaches that have bothered her for several months. Her eyesight is getting wonky too. It's not until she a) takes a bad spill when riding a horse and b) falls down a flight of stairs that others get a concerned about her well-being.

Enter Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent). Steele is an accomplished brain surgeon. He's getting ready to pack up his practice and head to Vermont where he can focus on his scientific research.

Tarherne is a reluctant patient, loathe to reveal details about her serious ailments.

"It's just a boring subject," she suggests about her health. "I'm accustomed to looking after myself."

Steele has an idea what's happening and X-rays confirm his suspicions. He must operate, but even that surgery isn't a complete success. Traherne will die in less than a year. Steele swears Traherne's best friend, Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald), to secrecy.

Sparks start flying between Steele and Traherne. All this talk about illness and mortality sure doesn't impact her looks. She's luminous and full of life. That sunny attitude takes a big dip when she happens on her medical file and learns of her fate. It's back to her hard-living lifestyle. Suicide begins to look like attractive rather than counting the days waiting for her demise.

Will she reunite with Steele? Will she find peace before her death?

Dark Victory is a joy to watch even with all its deep subject matter. Brent is the rock solid caregiver to Davis. As Traherne, Davis gives a role of a lifetime. Her work in this 1939 feature fromd director Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel, The Dawn Patrol) earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress.

It's a little odd seeing Humphrey Bogart as a horse trainer after tough guy roles in Angels with Dirty Faces and The Roaring Twenties. Both films were also released in the late 1930s.

Future American president Ronald Reagan is more a tippler than the Gipper as Alec, a party-going friend of Traherne's. There's even a small role for Henry Travers. He's known most for his role as Clarence, the angel, in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.

The death of Traherne's father allowed her a life of wealth and privlege. She battles illness while Steele does research to save lives. Should doctors tell their patients when death is imminent? When should someone speak up about secrets others are keeping? There are some meaty questions to chew on in addition to the film's fine performances.

RATING: 8/10

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

This Star Trek film journeys into a ho-hum cinematic world.

It's not terrible. It's not great. It's OK.

For Star Trek completists, it's must-see viewing, of course.

Casual fans of the long-running franchise could safely bank on parts II, IV and VI for greater enjoyment.

The Search for Spock begins where The Wrath of Khan ends. The Starship Enterprise is in rough shape after its most recent battles. The crew holds a funeral service for Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who died at the end of the second Star Trek film.


His remains are dispatched to Genesis, a planet-wide science experiment dreamed up by Kirk's son, David (Merritt Butrick). Federation monitoring of Genesis pinpoints a lifeform near Spock's casket. Hmmm. Has the Enterprise's science officer been resurrected on this planet of new life? It sure looks that way when David and Saavik (Robin Curtis) find Spock's burial robe, but not him. The parallels to Jesus Christ's resurrection after being crucified are pretty obvious here.

The Klingons, enemies of the Federation, learn about Genesis' power and want David's scientific find for their own evil use. Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) and his crew head to Genesis.

BRING HIM BACK After being chewed out by Spock's father Sarek (Mark Leonard) for not bringing "his living spirit" back to Vulcan, Kirk vows to bring his best friend home. Captain and company, against Federation orders, hijack the Enterprise and head to Genesis.

David's science project isn't as solid as he believed. Enterprise isn't in the best shape to do battle with, oh, any cloaked Klingon vessels they might encounter. Kruge wants Genesis. See where this is all going?

McCoy (DeForest Kelley) always gets some fine laughs and he delivers again here. His best crack is his first when he tries to arrange purchase of a vessel to get to Genesis. Sulu (George Takei) beats the snot out of a Federation guard. Chekov (Walter Koenig), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Scotty (James Doohan) get their brief moments too.

Nimoy makes his feature film directing debut here. He did have four television credits prior to this 1984 release including a 1983 epiosde of T.J. Hooker featuring one William Shatner. Star Trek IV and Three Men and a Baby would follow.

Star Trek III pretty much delivers what viewers will expect, including some decent action and wisecracks, but no big surprises.

RATING: 7/10

FILM FACTS: William Shatner's Star Trek Movie Memories is a nifty accompaniment when watching the film series. His chapter on The Search for Spock includes interesting details on Nimoy's decision to direct the third film, Shatner's initial unease with the script, Takei's unhappiness with said martial arts scene and his surprise role in the film's finale, Nimoy's initial choice of actor for Kruge and how actress Dame Judith Anderson beamed on board.

I did not know prior to writing this post that Carl Steven, who portrayed Spock at age nine, died in 2011. He was 36. Steven's other credits include Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Little House on the Prairie.

Butrick, who appeared in 20 episodes of the television series Square Pegs, died in 1989 at age 29.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

It's no problem to watch Trouble in Paradise.

This romantic comedy from director Ernst Lubitsch (Heaven Can Wait) is a true gem filled with great performances and an incredibly witty script.


This film, which remains a joy to watch 80 years after its release, is a must-see.

Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) is a true talent in the business of fraud. He works his way around Europe fleecing the very rich. When he strikes at a peace conference, a police reporter sums up his effectiveness with "He took practically everything except the peace."

Monescu finds love with another thief, Lily (Miriam Hopkins). A talented team of schemers is born.

"I love you," Monescu tells Lily early in the film. "I loved you the moment I saw you. I'm mad about you, my little shoplifter. My sweet little pickpocket. My darling."

Monescu sees a prime opportunity for a major score by targeting Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), the widow of a perfume boss. This lady is r-i-c-h. She's busy turning down other suitors ("Marriage is a beautiful mistake which two people make together, but with you I think it would be a mistake.")

PLEASURE MIXES WITH BUSINESS Monescu smooth talks his way into becoming Colet's secretary with plans for a major heist in a matter of weeks. But it's hard for him to separate business from pleasure when he finds himself falling for the stunning Colet.

"I came here to rob you, but unfortunately fell in love with you," he tells her.

Lily gets wise to Monescu's funny business just as an earlier victim gets suspicious of Colet's new hired hand. The fraudsters plan to head to Germany, but will Monescu ride the rails to freedom or try and make a go of things with Colet?

"I love you as a crook," Lily says when she first gets suspicious about his intentions with his latest mark. "I worship you as a crook. Steal, swindle, rob, oh but don't become one of those useless good-for-nothing gigolos."

Who writes this kind of dialogue now?

Trouble in Paradise offers quick jabs at advertising ("Remember it doesn't matter what you say. It doesn't matter how you look. It's how you smell.") and the affluence of the rich during the Great Depression. Colet is berated by a Communist (Leonid Kinskey) for spending so much money on jewelry.

The more recent Lost in Translation offered an interesting scene where Bill Murray whispers something to Scarlett Johansson. The audience can't hear what's said. Lost in Translation has several such scenes as well as numerous quick edits when characters react to news from others. Here's an example. A female character at a start of an opera sings, "I love you." When the film moves ahead to later in the show, things have changed. "I hate you," she sings. Great stuff.

Hey, there's even a nod to the rich being treated differently than the average Joe when it comes to crime. Shades of the financial meltdown of 1988 anyone? "You have to be in the social registry to keep out of jail," suggests Monescu. Zap!

This movie-goer suffered thorugh nearly three hours of The Dark Knight Rises. Trouble in Paradise wins your heart in just 83 minutes. Watch this movie!

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: Leonid Kinskey was a bartender in Casablanca, Professor Overbeck in television's Batman and an agitator, again, in Duck Soup.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In Good Company (2004)

In Good Company, meet Music and Lyrics.

Watching this 2004 comedy/drama from director Paul Weitz (About a Boy) reminded me of the Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore film recently reviewed on this site.

I commented how Music and Lyrics some times felt like a TV movie at times. In Good Company has the same feel. This film could have been made for a television network, rather than put on the big screen.


It's an agreeable film, often predictable, with some nice performances. The end. With the 2012 Olympics now on in London, I'd suggest In Good Company would definitely end out of medal contention.

The film does deal with some serious issues - corporate takeovers and downsizings.


Young buck Carter (Topher Grace) is sent to re-energize the sales team at a weekly American sports magazine. He bumps middle-aged boss Dan (Dennis Quaid). He's in his early 50s with a baby on the way with wife, Ann (Marg Helgenberger), and daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) transferring to a pricey university in New York City.

In Good Company works best when it contrasts the lives of Carter and Dan.

There's some interesting crossover scenes involving the same item, such as a heart beat or a credit card.

Carter's the young kid on the move. He's making good coin. Carter is connected to the bigwigs in the company. He's earmarked as an up-and-comer. But Carter doesn't have a life. His wife leaves him less than a year into his marriage. A newly-bought Porshe is quickly banged up. He's hard pressed to even get some attention from his fish.

He looks at Dan's life and sees everything he's missing. A loving wife. A family. A real home.

Carter is axing jobs, but isn't keen to have Dan walk the plank. That might be because he's taken a shine to Alex, the talented athlete who's studying creative writing. In unexplained ways that tend to exist only in the movies, Carter is immediately smitten with Alex and reveals all his insecurities to her. Their relationship is kept hidden from dad until one day . . . . . . . .

In Good Company balances romance, family relationships and the cold world of bottom-line business. The pain of cutbacks is felt most strongly with Morty (David Paymer), a nice guy with a controlling wife. But Dan's showdown with corporate boss Teddy K (Malcolm McDowell) isn't a game changer. He dares question the big guy's vision, but in a room filled with employees old Ted has little to say. Say what? Where's the grand plan, Teddy K?

In Good Company has a solid cast with a so-so story. Your life can go on quite nicely without watching this film. RATING: 6/10

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Too long. Too many gaps in credibility. Too bad.

It's hard to enough to hear what Batman has to say when he speaks in hushed tones.

So what happens in this movie?

He battles a villian, Bane, who is also difficult to understand.

The second entry in this series is the best.

The Dark Knight Rises falls flat.

Bye bye, Batman.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blast 'Em (1992)

This documentary is still worth a look 20 years after its release.

The obsession with celebrity has only grown since this 103-minute effort from Canadians Joseph Blasioli and Egidio Coccimiglio came out. Consider how much public attention was focused on actress Lindsay Lohan's life falling apart and the vast amounts of space eaten up by Paris Hilton for being Paris Hilton.

Blast 'Em tells viewers some things that don't come as big surprises. We live in a celebrity culture. Magazines such as People, Us and National Enquirer pay cash for candid shots of the famous, usually Hollywood stars. It suggests paparazzi photographers will do just about anything to get the shot they want.


Greta Garbo is in her last days. Albert Ferreira describes how he kept vigil outside her New York residence, followed her to hospital and grabbed a couple of frames before he was whisked away. The screen legend died days later. Ferreira took her last imaages.


blast 'em also offers how paparazzi to advance their careers. It doesn't hurt to have images of actor X if his new movie has just opened. The photos mean free promotion of his latest project. Actress Sally Kirkland (JFK) describes how she enjoys playing it up for the camera and living the life of a movie star. Kirkland makes an appearance at the Academy Awards and is more than happy to pose before the ceremony.

Most of Blast 'Em centres on Victor Malafronte, a 29-year-old shooter who is just starting out as a celebrity shooter. More established photographers can get by on attending one event a night. Not Malafronte. He's hustling to three or four parties, premieres and tributes. Malafronte is getting plenty of grief from his boss out west for the shots he misses, Jon Bon Jovi being one. "If I miss a shot, I'm screwed," he offers early in the film.

Invading the privacy of celebrities isn't a concern for Malafronte. He feels no sympathy for stars pocketing millions of dollars annually. If he's stiffed by a star at an event, it puts the fire in his belly to track him/her down somewhere else. After all, Malafronte needs the shot. It's all about the picture.


Malafronte is focused on getting shots of Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox and his wife, Tracy Pollan. Fox, another Canadian, rarely makes appearances, Malafronte says. When Fox begins popping up regularly, cash paid for shots of him slumps. But, there's still big bucks to be made for shooting Fox, Pollard and their son. Blast 'Em follows Malafronte as he hustles for that precious shot. "I'm slightly invading the guy's life," Malafronte acknowledges. He parks across the street from the couple's residence. Malafronte talks up the doorman to find out when Fox and Pollan are in town and when they walk their child.

Audiences learn some of the tricks of celebrity phographers. We hear them yell out instructions to the stars. Wave. Put your arm around her. Malafronte explains how it helps to have a celebrity doing something rather than standing still. He berates Bill Murray for just standing around next to Robert DeNiro.

Photos of stars displaying emotions suggested in front-page stories of tabloids have long interested me. Blast 'Em helps explain how they come to be. Malafronte shoots Mary Tyler Moore and Lauren Bacall chatting. His shot of Moore ends up on the National Enquirer to accompany a story about her failed breast enhancement operation in the early 1990s.


There are stars galore in Blast 'Em. I just wish the filmmakers would have identified who they, and the photographers shooting them, were. Yes, folks still know what Madonna looks like, but I didn't recognize Kirkland until I saw her name in the end credits. Who's the guy getting into the limo with two women? What about the photographer with an obsession for the Material Girl? Identify, please.

Based on its ranking on Amazon.com, Blast 'Em isn't a must see for lovers of the stars. It's ranked 243,854 in July 2012. That's too bad. People love celebrities and buy the magazines that feautre their images. It might interest them to see how these pictures come to be.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Victor Malafronte's second screen appearance comes 20 years after his debut in Blast 'Em. The Invisible String, a documentary about Frisbee, is in post-production.

Egidio Coccimiglio was in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in 2012 to shoot Compulsion with Carrie Ann Moss and Heather Graham. He's a native of that Northern Ontario city.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Consider this promise kept.

The first Star Trek motion picture ends with this sentence.

The human adventure is just beginning.

Quite true.

Star Trek continues to entertain movie-goers more than 30 years after this big screen debut. After the original Star Trek crew faded to black, and The Next Generation came and went, JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise with, yes, Star Trek in 2009.


I can't remember if I saw STTMP upon its first release. I do remember mixed reaction to the return of the USS Enterprise at the time.

The DVD I viewed is a director's cut from the legendary Robert Wise (The Sound of Music). Tight timelines prevented STTMP from having all the special effects ready for its December 1979 release.

That's definitely taken care of in this version. The special effects are stellar throughout this film's 136-minute running time. This space trip is definitely worth the ride.


All the original crew is back with Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) ready to save Earth from a huge, powerful blue cloud that vaporizes spacecraft at will.

Enterprise, being fixed up in a dry dock (symbolism, anyone?) is the closest Starfleet ship to said cloud.

Kirk, now an admiral, doesn't impress the ship's captain, Decker (Stephen Collins) when he shows up and bumps him down in rank. There's some on-board conflict for you. Decker may be fuming at Kirk, but he's also smitten with the return of Ilia (Persis Khambatta), an old love interest.


STTMP's plot is an interesting one. Where did this cloud get all its power? The answer, revealed at about the two-hour mark, feels a bit like a Twilight Zone episode.

There aren't many laughs, but Bones McCoy gets to deliver what gems there are.

The only thing that doesn't age well is the choice of fashions most of the crew sports. Ouch.

RATING: 8/10

FACTS FROM THE GALAXY: Persis Khambatta died of a heart attack in 1998. She was 49.

Stephen Collins appeared as Mr. Harter in the recent film version of The Three Stooges.

Nichelle Nichols was a dancer in the film version of Porgy and Bess.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Music and Lyrics (2007)

The music video that opens Music and Lyrics generates a lot of goodwill for this fairly good 2007 comedy from director Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice).

For starters, it's a good pop song.

Second, it does a reasonably good job of bringing viewers back to the 1980s when MTV and, here in Canada, Much Music helped bring music to the masses.

The song featured, Pop Goes My Heart, was a huge hit for Pop!, a 1980s band led by Colin Thompson (Scott Porter) and Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant).

Thompson pulled up stakes from the band and launched a very successful solo career. Fletcher countered with a contrived solo effort that still languishes at music shops. While his former partner enjoys an A-list career, Fletcher is reduced to playing amusement parks, state fairs and high school reunions. Even those shows are starting to drop off. He's making enough money from his past glories to pay the bills, but is content being a spent creative force. "I'm a happy has been," Fletcher suggests in the early frames. "It really takes the pressure off."

A huge opportunity turns up when pop goddess, and Pop! fan, Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) invites Fletcher to write a song for her consideration. He only writes music, not lyrics, and hasn't ventured to pen a tune since parting ways with Thompson.

A co-writing partner turns up in the unlikely form Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), who's filling in to care for his plants. Fisher has a way with words, probably because she has a largely unrecognized writing talent herself. She has bitter memories of a failed romance with an old teacher.

Fletcher and Fisher hit it off, fall in love and write a song that just might catch Cora's ear.

Music and Lyrcis feels like a television show at times. The story, especially in the early to mid stages, feels like a so-so sitcom. What keeps this film going is a steady string of one-liners from Hugh Grant. Many centre on the music business and other 1980s acts including Debbie Gibson and Adam Ant. Bennett gets one great line when Fletcher and Fisher attend her party. "I want to show you the roof," she tells them. "It's upstairs."

Stay tuned through the closing credits when Pop Goes My Heart plays again, this time with pop ups. Groovy!

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: I could have sworn Drew Barrymore's sister was played by Kirstie Alley. Nope. It's Kristen Johnston. Sorry, Kristen! June 2012 update: National Post reports a possible Wham! reunion with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley.

Wrongfully Accused (1998)

It's a crime this film was made.

Wrongfully Accused is far from the many, many laughs in 1988's The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad which also featured actor Leslie Nielsen and writer Pat Proft.

Put it this way. Wrongfully Accused is about as much fun as The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult which Proft also wrote. It's a film best to avoid. I'd rather remember Proft's wit for the two episodes of Police Squad! he helped craft.

The third Naked Gun and Wrongfully Accused are both silly, rather than funny. The humour isn't subtle. It's pummeled into the viewer's face.

Please watch The Naked Gun, or buy the Police Squad DVD with all six precious episodes, rather than sit through 87 minutes of hard-to-find fun in this weak 1998 effort.

This fan of the cinematic silliness, at best, smiled at some of the jokes in this movie that bases its plot on Harrison Ford's The Fugitive. That film gave some much-needed attention to Tommy Lee Jones as Ford's nemesis. Wrongfully Accused is, sadly, the last feature release starring Richard Crenna.

Poor Richard. As Lieut. Fergus Falls, he gets to speak most of his lines at a rapid-fire pace. But none of it is funny. Crenna's best moment is late in the film and involves a football. That's the type of humour that makes The Naked Gun so much fun to watch.

Here, Nielsen is Ryan Harrison, star of the popular Lord of the Violin concert series. He gets mixed up with a beautiful rich woman (Kelly LeBrock) who offs her husband (Michael York) and plans to kill a United Nations official with the help of terrorist Sean Laughrea (Aaron Pearl). Sean stands out with his one artifical leg, arm and eye.

Cass Lake (Melinda McGraw) is the woman who loves Harrison, or plays him for a dupe. Ryan spends a good chunk of the film trying to figure out whose side she's on.

There are funny moments some of which involve a train in the woods, a certain choice of liquid to celebrate Harrison's concert success and a remote car starter and a submarine.

Too often though, the jokes fall flat.

Viewer beware, the laughs aren't there.

RATING: 3/10

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Major League III

Here's a review I wrote for a proposed movie column to the editor of the paper where I now work.

The column wasn't picked up, but I was hired two years later.

Memo to: Warner Brothers Pictures

From: A worried movie-goer

Re: Major League III: Back to the Minors

Your studio is celebrating 75 years of "entertaining the world" with classics such as Dog Day Afternoon, Unforgiven and Casablanca. With such a proud history, who gave the green light to this awful film?

The original Major League, released in 1989, was nothing to get excited about although it did feature a couple of actors (Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo) who've developed into true movie stars.

Nine years later, the roster is indeed second string with Corbin Bensen and Scott Bakula the most recognizable talent.

Writer-director John Warren has managed to make one of the most painful types of films for a moviegoer to sit through - a comedy that is not funny.

Minnesota Twins owner Roger Dorn (Bernsen) recruits over-the-hill minor league picture Gus Cantrell (Bakula) to give up life on the mound to manage a Twins farm team. 'The Buzz' feature the usual collection of wacky movie misfits baseball fans would never find playing professionally. There's a catcher who has trouble throwing the ball back to the mound and a brainy picture who possesses a fastball which easily falls below city speed limits. The laughs continue with a pair of identical twins who beat each other up during games.

Cantrell displays the required managerial skill, surprise, surprise, and turns his team into a disciplined outfit that starts winning games. The Buzz start making some noise in the league standings.

Meanwhile, the parent club is ailing and owner Dorn cooks up the brilliant idea of an exhibition game between the Twins and The Buzz. Razor-sharp Dorn never considers the fact he'd be the laughing-stock of the country if his major league squad comes up short.

Sure enough, The Buzz are on the verge of winning the game when the stadium's power is suddenly, and suspiciously, lost. A rematch is inevitable.

Major League has some big league problems. Warren's script isn't funny. The characters are caricatures. Do viewers really need to see another Japanese character whose poor knowledge of English makes him say silly things?

Bob Uecker returns for another stint as a far-from-witty broadcaster. His on-going presence, devoid of laughs, makes a bad film even worse. An annoying soundtrack of instrumental music grates on the nerves. Good grief, what was B.T.O.'s Taking Care of Business doing amidst this dreck? This team should be out of business.

Warner Brothers, here's to another 75 years without Major League IV. Please.

RATING: 3 strikes and you're out

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Born to Kill (1947)

RATING: 3/10

Born to Kill is a deadly waste of time.

This 1947 film noir from director Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story) starts with plenty of promise.


Laury Palmer (Izabel Jewell) is playing two boyfriends off each other. That approach to man management turns out badly when fella No. 1, Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney), spots Laury with fella No.2 at a casino. Sam's a bit of a loose cannon, the type of man who snaps and acts violently before he thinks.

See some symbolism here? He's wild. The three find themselves in a casino, taking their chances.

Wild murders Palmer and her other beau in a tense scene in the kitchen of the boarding house where she lives. This is Born to Kill's best scene. Wild is a brutal killer.

Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) is a short-term resident of the same building. She's in Reno to get a divorce. We don't learn much about her former better half, but we learn early on she doesn't think much of most men. They're turnips, a term this movie-goer has not heard before, suggesting they are useless or not wanted.


Brent spotted Wild at the casino. There's more symbolism as she places bets for, and against, him as he throws the dice. She finds the two dead bodies, considers calling police, but doesn't. Brent was already due to head back to San Francisco where she lives with her very well-off foster sister, Georgia Staples (Audrey Long).

Wild's buddy, Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.) suggests he clear out of town and head to San Francisco while he tracks the police investigation into the murders.

He and Brent meet up on the same train. There are sparks between them.

Born to Kill is a very entertaining film up to this point. But, boy, do the wheels fall off the bus quickly. I appreciate things move along a little faster on the screen than in real time, but come on. Within about five minutes of screen time Staples and Wild are married.


Brent still has the hots for Wild. Wild is cold to Staples. With all those romantic entanglements going on, boarding house landlady Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard) has hired private eye Matthew Albert Arnett (Walter Slezak) to find Laury's killer. Maybe all that beer drinking has affected Mrs. Kraft's short-term memory. Laury did make mention of her physically impressive boyfriend who appeared likely to get very angry if he was double-crossed.

Born to Kill's best moments come from the supporting cast. Cook is the eager-to-help friend who has no qualms covering the tracks of a murderer, including doing some killing on his own, if needed. Howard is a weary older woman who wants justice for the young woman she admired. Slezak is a private eye with ethics that are hard to see. He's eager to look the other way for a price. "I am a man of integrity, but I'm always willing to listen to an interesting offer," he says. "Obstructing the wheels of justice is a costly affair."


The last five minutes of Born to Kill rank as the most ludicrous 300 seconds of film I have watched in some time. I jotted "Oh, brother" in my notepad upon the first viewing. The second time around I sat slack-jawed at how silly things became.

There are many better film noirs to watch. Leave this one in the dark.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Charade (1963)

With Charade's 50th anniversary coming up, I'm tempted to think of 50 reasons why this comedic thriller is worth watching.

Alas, that could make for a rather long review.

How about five?

1. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Here's a chance to see two screen legends together. Audrey is divine in her long line of Givenchy fashions. Cary, at 59, is still an incredibly handsome man. Wow. Remember folks, Grant only made two more films after this with Father Goose and, finally, Walk Don't Run in 1966. Both are a delight here.

2. There's plenty of great supporting talent in this 1963 feature from director Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) including James Coburn, Walter Matthau and George Kennedy. The Internet Movie Database website lists three of Kennedy's four most well-known roles as Leslie Nielsen's sidekick in The Naked Gun trilogy. Yikes. Kennedy deserves more attention for his fine work here. He's a great villain, complete with mechanical arm. George, you're a great bad guy.

3. Lend an ear to Henry Mancini's score. Great stuff. Hear Donen explain in the film's commentary why he decided to recruit the American composer for this project. It's hard to believe Mancini died almost 20 years ago in 1994.

4. A great script from Peter Stone (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Father Goose). I can't remember the last time I saw so many great character names, Hamilton Bartholemew, Tex Panthollow, Herman Scobie. Stone cooks up plenty of smart dialogue too.

"I don't bite unless it's called for." Hepburn

"That's OK. It's a drip dry." Grant to Hepburn when she cries on the shoulder of his suit.

Stone keeps viewers guessing through the film. Hepburn's husband is murdered for his part in stealing $250,000 during the Second World War. His old army buddies including Coburn and Kennedy, want it back. Hepburn has no idea where said cash can be found. Grant appears to be the only person who can help Hepburn. But can he be trusted? He changes his identity almost as often as Hepburn sports new designer fashions.

5. A great ending. All the world's a stage, eh? For a movie where numerous characters aren't who they seem, what better place to end this film than on the stage of an empty theatre.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: This is the only film appearance for Thomas Chelimsky. IMDB site reports he is a neurologist and professor in Ohio.

Donen directed a musical number for one episode of television's Moonlighting, Big Man on Mulberry Street.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Secret Lives of Dentists (2002)

RATING: 7/10

Here's a film with some bite.


But viewers be warned. This 2002 effort from director Alan Rudolph (Songwriter, Breakfast of Champions) isn't your typical straightforward narrative.

Dentist David Hurst (Campbell Scott) regularly slips into some type of dream world, or alternate reality, as he ponders the likelihood his wife of 10 years, Dana (Hope Davis), is having an affair.

David isn't the most animated chap. Maybe that's why he gravitates to Slater (Denis Leary), a cranky musician who has had his fill of dentists, pardon the pun, and has just been shown the door by his wife.

THE STRAIGHT, UNVARNISHED TRUTH Slater doesn't sugercoat things. He calls out Hurst when he sees him at a concert. His filling, recently put in by Hurst, has fallen out. Slater's more than happy to highlight the failing to the well-heeled crowd.

That turns out to be a less-than-stellar night for Hurst. Before the concert, he spots Dana getting a little too close with a man whose face he can't see.

But Hurst is reluctant to confront Dana about what he saw. If the marriage ends, that means heading to the lawyer's office and hammering out child custody and other unpleasant details he'd rather avoid.

It's Slater who keeps showing up in Hurst's subconscious. The realist to Hurst's status quo stance? The one who'd like to do what Hurst fears?


The slow pace of The Secret Lives of Dentists may irk some. A good chunk of the final third of the film centres on illness hitting the Hursts and their three daughters.

Is it the flu or is everyone taking an ill turn because their bodies are reacting to the chill in relations between husband and wife? Dana noted earlier her world seems to have grown smaller since tying the knot. Spending five days throwing up in her house offers ample proof of this observation.

Much is made of the resiliency of teeth at the film's start. Can a marriage last as long?

FUN FACTS: Hope Davis made her film debut in Flatliners with Kiefer Sutherland in 1990. She appeared as a ticket agent in Home Alone the same year.

The Hurst children are played by Gianna Beleno, Lydia Jordan and Cassidy Hinkle. The Secret Lives of Dentists was the only film role for Beleno besides two television credits. The drama marked the debuts of Jordan and Hinkle.

Alan Rudolph hasn't directed a film since The Secret Lives of Dentists.

Both Scott and Leary will appear in The Amazing Spider-Man.

The film is based on Jane Smiley's book.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Petrified Forest (1936)

RATING: 8/10

The Petrified Forest breathed life into the-then sagging careers of Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis.

The mid-1930s was hardly a highpoint for either legendary performer, as the film's accompanying documentary, The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert, explains.


Bogart, 36, was running out of chances on the big screen after about a dozen roles, inluding appearances in Three on a Match and Midnight, did little to help his chances. Davis was also making little headway five years into a career that began with The Bad Sister in 1931.

Bogart appeared in the stage version of The Petrified Forest. Leading man Leslie Howard (Alan Squier) was adamant Bogie be cast in the film directed by Archie Mayo (Black Legion, A Night in Casablanca).

Howard's stubborness ignited Bogart's career. He'd go on to star in a string of classics including Key Largo, Casablanca and High Sierra. Midler's career would stretch for another 50-plus years ending with her final screen appearance in 1989.

Bogart's a treat to watch in this screen adaptation of Robert Sherwood's play. He's Duke Mantee, a feared gangster with a very bloody past. He's on the run from the law, and bound for Mexico, when he turns up at a restaurant and gas station in the desert.


The desolate business is owned by Jason Maple (Porter Hall), a First World War veteran who's chided by his father, Gramp Maple (Charley Grapewin), for serving behind the lines as a mechanic.

There's a lot of that disillusion in this 1936 drama. Squier is the intellectual who was supposed to be a great writer. He wrote one book and it sold dismally. His wife left him. Squier discovers the restaurant as he hitch-hikes across the United States.

Jason's daughter, Gabrielle, is itching to get back to France where she was born and her mother still lives. She wants to paint. While gas jockey Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran) tries to woo Gabrielle, she's more interested in Squier. A former college football star, Boze is far from the glory he enjoyed on the grid iron.

Mantee and his gang hijack a vehicle occupied by banker Mr. Chisholm (Paul Harvey) and his long-suffering wife (Genevieve Tobin). The gangster and his crew end up at Maple's restaurant during a sandstorm. Mr. Chisholm is more interested in business succession than his wife when the bullets eventually start flying.


Will they make it to Mexico ahead of the law? Will Boze and Alan square off over their affections for Gabrielle? Will she see her dream of a life in Europe come true?

The Petrified Forest offers viewers a strong cast and an early look at just how good Bogart and Davis are on the screen. Bogart is a menacing bad guy, speaking slowly and delivering most of his lines seated in a chair. He doesn't make his first appearance until about 30 minutes into the film, but he's riveting for The Petrified Forest's final hour.

More gangster roles would follow for Bogart, including The Roarding Twenties. This is where he started.

FUN FACTS: Director Mayo and Bogart teamed up for Black Legion in 1937. Foran was in that film too.

Genevieve Tobin's last film credit was No Time for Comedy in 1940. She married director William Keighley in 1938. They'd stay together until his death in 1984. Tobin died in 1995 at age 95.

Charley Grapewin was Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz and Grandpa in The Grapes of Wrath.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ride the High Country (1962)

RATING: 9/10 John Wayne went out with a bang in The Shootist.

Randolph Scott rode off into the sunset with Ride the High Country.

The American actor made plenty of westerns in his career including The Desperadoes and Frontier Marshal.


ride the high country 1962, director Sam Peckinpah's second big-screen effort, is his final credit. This fine effort, filmed in glorious colour at Inyo National Forest, is a fitting farewell.

Peckinpah has great fun turning the traditional conventions of the western genre upside down.


Time has passed Gil Westrum (McCrea) by. He has earned his living trying to do the right thing by enforcing the law. For his troubles, Gil has dodged bullets and lost the woman he loved to a rancher. His feet ache after a day's ride and his memory isn't as good as it once was.

Spectators line the street when Westrum rides into town at the film's start. He modestly waves to them, but he's not why they're there. Heck, a man on a camel is racing against horse riders. "You're in the way," a police officer (police officer!) tells him. Westrum wears glasses to read. His shirt is fraying.

His days of top-of-the-line work are pretty much gone. He perks up when he's offered a job bringing gold out of a mining camp. Westrum needs help. He bumps into his old partner, Steve Judd (Randolph Scott), at a travelling circus. Judd bills himself as The Oregon Kid, a wee bit of a fabrication to put food on the table.


He's not the man Westrum remembers. Judd wants the gold. If he can't convince Westrum to change his law-abiding ways, he'll gladly embrace a more sinister Plan B. Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) is a young hotshot who comes along for the ride. He's in cahoots with Judd, but doubts all the talk in the world won't change Westrum's mind.

The trio meet Elsa Knudsen after a day's ride. Her father, Joshua (R.G. Armstrong), is more than happy to keep her in isolation. Elsa wants her freedom and the chance to marry her bethroed. He just happens to be working in the mining camp. She slips away to ride with Westrum and company.

That's Ride the High Country's simple set-up. Westrum stays true to his ways. His hired help plan to double-cross him. Knudsen gets caught up a man she really shouldn't marry.

Ride the High Country offers some great humour, solid action and a loving farewell to a genre that entertained so many movie-goers for decades. Stagecoach, Red River, The Searchers and The Ox-Bow Incident are some of the finest westerns ever made.


It's a genre seldom seen in theatres now. There was a spurt in the mid-1980s with releases such as Silverado and Pale Rider. Unforgiven won four Oscars, including best picture and director (Clint Eastwood) in 1993. Val Kilmer's Wyatt Earp's Revenge, went to video in 2012. Sigh.

FUN FACTS: Peckinpah's last credit was helming the music video for Julian Lennon's Too Late for Goodbyes.

Mariette Hartley made her movie debut in Ride the High Country.

Ron Starr has just 13 credits to his name including G.I. Blues with Elvis Presley in 1960.

R.G. Armstrong turns 95 in 2012. He appeared in Metallica's Enter Sandman video. Armstrong was Pruneface in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy.

Joel McCrea was another veteran of the western genre. His final film was Mustang Country, with The Duke's son, Patrick, in 1976.

Ride the High Country boasts a solid score from George Bassman. He handled orchestral and vocal arrangements for The Wizard of Oz.