Monsoon, 1943, b&w, Edgar G. Ulmer (dir.), John Carradine, Gale Sondergaard, Sidney Toler, Frank Fenton, Veda Ann Borg, Rita Quickley, Rick Vallin. Original title: Isle of Forgotten Sins. 1:22 [1:16, same as National Film Museum print]
The sleeve description says â€œA young couple travel to India to a remote jungle village, to announce their betrothal to the brideâ€™s parentsâ€¦â€ and so on, and lists George Nader as the star. If the person preparing the sleeve copy checked IMDB or standard reference works, they no doubt based that on the 1952 flick Monsoonâ€”directed by Rodney Amateau, starring George Nader, Ursula Thiess, Diana Douglas and others.
This is an entirely different movie with an entirely different plot, filmed nine years earlier (with an entirely different title) and not even set in the same country. Itâ€™s about greed, gold, diving and weather; it starts in a South Seas gambling hall/brothel and winds up in a similar establishment. In between? Better than you might expect, partly because there really are no heroes among this strong cast. $1.25.
Borderline, 1950, b&w, William A. Seiter (dir.), Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr, JosÃ© Torvay, Morris Ankrum. 1:28.
Maybe I saw too much of Raymond Burr on TV, but his bad-guy movie roles always strike me as suiting him betterâ€”and this oneâ€™s no exception. Burr is a drug ringleader (or one rung below leader) in Mexico, MacMurray and Trevor two different American agents sentâ€”by two different agenciesâ€”to infiltrate the gang. Naturally, each of them thinks the other oneâ€™s part of the gang. Naturally, they fall in love. Naturally, it all works out. It is an odd combinationâ€”part comedy, part noir, part â€œmelodramaâ€ as the sleeve saysâ€”but, to my mind, t works pretty well. For that matter, MacMurray makes a fine leading man and tough guy. I found it enjoyable and the printâ€™s pretty good. $1.50.
Indiscretion of an American Wife, 1953, b&w, Vittorio de Sica (dir.), Jennifer Jones, Montgomery Clift, Richard Beymer, Gino Cervi. Dialogue by Truman Capote. Original title: Stazione Termini. 1:12, 1:30, 1:03 in U.S. release [1:03].
This oneâ€™s supposed to be a minor classic, but of course anything by Vittorio de Sica is supposed to be a minor classic. The plotâ€™s pretty simple: Jennifer Jones (the â€œAmerican wifeâ€) has been somehow involved with the â€œItalianâ€ Montgomery Clift and is now returning to her husband and child. The two meet in the train station and talk and talk and emote and talk andâ€¦ Unfortunately, Capote or no Capote, itâ€™s not very interesting talk. Iâ€™m not anti-romantic: I saw and loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and generally like good romances. This oneâ€¦well, at just over an hour it seemed way too long; I canâ€™t imagine sitting through the 90-minute version. For serious fans of de Sica or Jones, Iâ€™d reluctantly give it $1.
The North Star, 1943, b&w, Lewis Milestone (dir.), Lillian Hellman (screenplay & story), Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, Walter Brennan, Ann Harding, Farley Granger, Erich von Stroheim, Dean Jagger. Music by Aaron Copland. 1:48 [1:45].
What starpower! What historical drama! What sweep! Whatâ€¦well, nonsense, at least historically. The first quarter of the movie is bizarre, as it depicts the healthy, happy, well-fed, joyous occupants of a Ukraine farming village who all have what they need thanks to benevolent Communism. They sing, they dance, they have little in common with real Ukrainians at the start of World War II. Then their idyllic way of life is shattered by the Nazi invasion; the remainder of the movie is all about the occupation of their village, barbaric draining of childrenâ€™s blood by evil doctors, and the brave defense by a group of horse-riding village men hiding in the hills.
If you read the whole set of IMDB reviews, you might think this is some sort of early Hollywood Communist plot (you know that old Commie Walter Brennan, right?)â€”as opposed to a wartime propaganda film made at the request of the President, to help convince Americans that Russians were our allies and should be thought of more favorably. This is, then, a true period piece: A picture that could not have been made with that much star power two years earlier or five years later. All that said, and all those fine actors admired, itâ€™s just not a very good movie–not only does it romanticize the USSR, it’s sort of a mess dramatically. At most $1.