Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

Box Office Gold Disc 12

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Angels Hard As They Come, 1971, color. Joe Viola (dir.), Scott Glenn, Charles Dierkop, James Iglehart, Gilda Texter, Gary Littlejohn, Gary Busey. 1:26.

We open with some motorcycle dudes (one driving a motorized tricycle) trying to close a drug deal, but the man’s watching. From there, we get some of them—the Angels—tooling down the road, where they meet up with members of another outlaw cycle gang, the Dragons. They’re told of an ongoing party with some hippies in a ghost town, so of course they drop everything and join it.

All’s fine until some of the Dragons gang-rape (apparently) one of the hippie girls, she winds up dead, the Angels wind up in the ghost town’s jail and things start going south. Eventually—after a whole bunch of violence and some topless dancing—most of Dragons are dead and the hippies and Angels leave. That’s about it. Gratuitous everything.

Utterly worthless. Good print, but even as an exploitation flick this one’s just pointless and vile. For fans of motorcycles and truly worthless biker flicks, maybe $0.25.

Jane Eyre, 1970 (TV movie), color. Delbert Mann (dir.), George C. Scott, Susannah York, Ian Bannen, Jack Hawkins, Jean Marsh. 1:50 [1:39]

This is one of those “why is this in a cheap 50-movie set?” movies. I mean: George C. Scott. Susannah York. Jane Eyre. Music by John Williams. And a pretty respectable British production. Not a great print, but usually near-VHS quality. I won’t comment on the plot, which I assume is fairly true to the original (depressing, although love sort-of triumphs in the end). Scott (as Rochester) leaves a few toothmarks in the scenery, but probably no more than the role calls for. York does a pretty good imitation of being plain, and a fine job in the role.

All in all, a solid piece of work. OK, it’s a TV movie (but a good one), and there appear to be a few minutes missing, but it’s still pretty solid. (I list Jean Marsh above because she’s Mrs. Rochester, in a crucial but non-speaking role.) Not great, but certainly worth $1.50.

The Seniors, 1978, color. Rod Amateau (dir.), Jeffrey Byron, Gary Imhoff, Dennis Quaid, Lou Richards, Rocky Flintermann, Priscilla Barnes, Alan Reed, Edward Andrews, Ian Wolfe, Alan Hewitt, Robert Emhardt. 1:27.

An odd little confection about four men, seniors in college who share an old house and a beautiful “nympho who loves to cook and clean” and who are terrified of graduating and going to Work. They have a dweebish friend who lusts after their nympho and who is a lab assistant to and buffer to the world for a “three-time Nobel winner” entomologist (there are so many entomology Nobel categories) who gets any grant he asks for and will sign anything the lab assistant puts in front of him. So the four prepare a $50,000 grant request for a study on sexual preferences of liberated college women (or something like that).

From there on, well, part of it seems like an excuse for half a dozen or more college women to drop their tops (but did all college women in 1978 really wear such long and dowdy clothing?), and we learn that hundreds of beautiful coeds will rush at the opportunity to have sex with strangers for $20 an hour. After the four (the original men in the “study”) realize the money may eventually run out, they decide to expand the study to involve other male participants paying $50 an hour to participate in the study…and take over a motel to serve as a research source. (The coeds get $20; the rest goes for overhead and expansion and…well, and profit. All in the name of science, to be sure.)

In other words, it’s a comedy about the joys of prostitution. (At this point, the always-willing coed participants are signing up for 6 days-a-week two-hour shifts: Sure it’s just research.) It also involves venal leaders of the community, a foundation person hot after the 72-year-old scientist (who’s breeding an indestructible mosquito to take over the world) and more uplifting material.

A trashy little item with some up-and-coming and down-and-going actors. (Quaid was 24 at the time; Barnes was 20.) Not badly done for what it is. I’ll give it $0.75.

The Deadly Companions, 1961, color. Sam Peckinpah (dir.), Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Steve Cochran, Chill Wills, Strother Martin. 1:33.

Another “how did this get into a cheap megapack?” movie—a decent Western with reasonable starpower and a first-rate director. (Ah, but it was early in Peckinpah’s career.) The basic story: A guy shows up in an Arizona town, sees another guy hanging from a rafter in a “torture him to death” situation, saves him. Well…turns out the first guy—who never takes off his hat—is a former Union officer who was almost scalped by a Johnny Reb and has been looking for him. Guess who?

The rest of the plot is complex and involves an accidental killing, a bank robbery, a love story of sorts, various forms of betrayal, loads of Arizona scenery and about as much of a happy ending as makes sense for this kind of flick. All in all, well done, a pretty good print, not a great movie but not a bad flick. $1.25.

In case you’re wondering: This isn’t the last disc in the megapack. Because these are all full-length movies, the 50-movie set requires 13 discs.

Mystery Collection Disc 33

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Murder by Invitation, 1941, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Wallace Ford, Marian Marsh, Sarah Padden, Gavin Gordon, George Guhl, Wallis Clark, Minerva Urecal, J. Arthur Young. 1:07 [1:05.]

In some ways this is a murder-mystery cliché: Aged wealthy person sends a command invitation to the relatives to go to his/her estate or be stricken from the will—and said relatives start to disappear.

But this one has considerable pizazz. The aged wealthy person starts out as defendant in a court hearing in which her nephew the attorney and other relatives want to have her declared mentally incompetent and sent to an institution—so they can take care of her $3 million. That goes nowhere, as she’s mildly eccentric but clearly not incompetent. Then she sends The Invitation. Along the way, a columnist and his Girl Friday get involved, first at the competency hearing and then with the murders.

It’s nicely done for this kind of fast-moving B mystery, with a couple of twists toward the end that I certainly didn’t see coming. Funny, surprising, fast-moving. Nothing great here, but even as a B flick an easy $1.25.

The Murder in the Museum, 1934, b&w. Melville Shyer (dir.), Henry B. Walthall, John Harron, Phyllis Barrington, Tom O’Brien, Joseph W. Girard. 1:05.

The museum, in this case, is a sideshow—a set of carny attractions whose owner also runs a drug-running operation out of the back room. Based on a series of tips, a city councilman shows up, with the police commissioner along—but there’s also the commissioner’s beautiful niece and a young reporter, both of them arriving independently.

The councilman winds up shot. The commissioner was clearly an enemy (both were running for mayor) and becomes a natural suspect because he was one of few who could have smuggled a gun out. The reporter (who’s already a hot item with the niece) sets out to clear his name by discovering the truth.

There’s more, to be sure, including a happy ending of sorts, but it’s all somehow slow-moving and languid in an odd way, with some actors seeming to be reading their lines. The best parts may be the sideshow and the sad set of people involved—including a cohort of Pancho Villa turned knife-thrower and a philosophy professor turned magician. It’s not terrible, but it’s a long way from being top-notch even for a B murder mystery. Charitably, $0.75.

I Cover the Waterfront, 1933, b&w. James Cruze (dir.), Ben Lyon, Claudette Colbert, Ernest Torrence, Hobart Cavanaugh, Maurice Black, Purnell Pratt. 1:15 [1:01].

Previously reviewed as part of 50 Movie Pack Hollywood Legends in Cites & Insights 9.1 (January 2009). Here’s what I said then:

The waterfront reporter promises his editor a big story on Chinese immigrants being smuggled. He winds up with a “bad lead” because the fishing captain involved is so ruthless he’ll cheerfully drown an immigrant rather than risk exposure. Eventually, the reporter gets the story through a plot involving romancing the captain’s daughter; he also gets shot along the way. There’s a side story involving a drunken reporter who turns up in his apartment. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems scattered, possibly because of missing footage. It’s not bad, but hardly a classic in this rendition. $1.00.

The Dark Hour, 1936, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Ray Walker, Berton Churchill, Irene Ware, Hobart Bosworth, Hedda Hopper, E.E. Clive, Harold Goodwin, William V. Mong. 1:04 [1:09]

We begin with a middle-aged man (in full suit) bantering with a younger man about the younger man’s courtship of the older man’s neighbors’ niece (with the two meeting at the older man’s house because the two greedy and wealthy old uncles can’t stand the young man). We progress from there to…well, quite a bit. The middle-aged man is a retired police detective; the younger one is a current police detective. There’s a third neighboring house, with the uncles’ sister-in-law living there to protect the niece.

During the course of the film, one uncle winds up dead—stabbed, but with remarkably little blood resulting. The uncles’ butler also winds up dead, stabbed with the same knife (and this time there’s blood). A chemist boarding with the retired cop (and also after the niece) disappears. We learn that the uncles own apartment buildings that were torched (and heavily insured). There’s a Lady in Black who may not be a lady. And lots, lots more—culminating in two impending marriages, a guilty party taken off for justice (for both murders and burning down his own buildings)—and a triple twist at the end involving the real killer of the uncle, with the clarity that nobody involved much cares about the death.

Surprisingly good. Not great, but even as a B flick it’s an easy $1.25.

Box Office Gold Disc 11

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

The Day Time Ended, 1979, color. John ‘Bud’ Cardos (dir.), Jim Davis, Chris Mitchun, Dorothy Malone, Marcy Lafferty, Natasha Ryan, Scott C. Kolden, Roberto Contreras. 1:19 [1:20].

The sleeve description is wrong on many counts—but it’s hard to fault it, because trying to come with a right summary of this film, other than “They grow that stuff strong in California,” isn’t easy—unless the moral is “Don’t power your house with solar energy: It draws strange neighbors.” Consider any attempt at plot description here to be useless: There really is no plot. Although at two points there is a truly odd little (about 6″ tall) dancing and beckoning alien—or possibly the same footage used twice.

Jim Davis (Jock Ewing in the first seasons of the original Dallas, until his death), the classic crusty old Westerner, is with his son (or son-in-law?) picking up both of their wives, his daughter (or daughter-in-law) and son (or other son) and granddaughter, and taking them to their spectacular new vaguely pyramid-shaped adobe solar-powered house, with its similar stable.

From there on out, things just get strange. The little girl sees a big tall green semi-pyramidal building that makes music, befriends her and somehow becomes an inch-tall building she can carry around—and that makes things happen for her. There’s a presumably-evil alien (?) hovering machine that never actually harms anybody (IMDB calls it the “Vacuum Cleaner of Doom,” which is a good description); a simultaneous triple supernebula that basically takes over the whole sky, lots of strange alien lights and whirly things and…

I don’t know what to say. At one point, the alien force acts as an instant glazier, fixing a broken wall mirror. At one point, “prehistoric monsters” that were never in any Earth history are doing battle in the yard. At one point, the front 400 acres seems to have become some sort of universal graveyard for flying and other machines. There’s a huge daytime moon taking up one-third of the sky at one point, a sun (or not) taking up even more at another. Especially in the last third of the flick, the family—whatever there is of it at any time—seems to have turned spectators in their own story.

And at a key point, the crusty old father says it must be a space-time warp, the two missing people (they’re not missing for long) must have been swept into the vortex, and they’ll just have to make do. Oh, and before this all begins there’s a starscape with some distorted narration about trying to reach people but not knowing where or when the person was, but now he knows that time is all there at once. Or something. This was Jim Davis’ final picture, but I’m sure he was prouder of his legacy as Jock Ewing: The plots made a lot more sense and the general acting level was higher.

I suppose you could call it sci-fi, but even most bad B flicks have a slightly more coherent “plot” than this thing. It’s bizarrely amusing (but doesn’t make a lick of sense) and the visuals aren’t bad; for that, I’ll give it $0.75.

Hard Knox, 1984, color (TV movie). Peter Werner (dir.), Robert Conrad, Red West, Joan Sweeny, Bill Erwin, Dean Hill, Dianne B. Shaw, Stephen Caffrey. 1:36

The plot’s familiar enough, with a number of variations: New [student, teacher, administrator, recruit, headmaster, whatever] shows up at [school, military school, platoon, whatever] full of misfits and turns it or them around—changing himself or herself in the process.

Whether you like this formula or not depends primarily, I think, on how you like the protagonist. And I like Robert Conrad just fine, in this case as Col. Joe “Hard” Knox, the most decorated fighter pilot in the Marine Air Corps, who’s just been grounded for medical reasons and has a 30-day leave before he accepts (or doesn’t) a promotion and a desk job. He returns home—and to the low-rent military school he graduated from, which has fallen on hard times. You can almost guess the rest. He agrees to be headmaster for two weeks; his trusty sidekick shows up to help out; and, well, the rest is what it is.

I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Nothing terribly deep, not lots of character development, and clearly not a huge-budget movie. I wasn’t surprised to find that it was a TV movie. But, well, I thought Conrad and his crew did a good job of what they did. $1.50.

Arch of Triumph, 1984, color (TV movie). Waris Hussein (dir.), Anthony Hopkins, Lesley-Anne Downs, Donald Pleasence, Frank Finlay. 1:33 [1:35].

I found it impossible to watch this movie to completion. That was partly the print: portions were so dark it was difficult to tell what was happing. It was partly the way it was directed and cut. And it was, I’m afraid, partly my own unwillingness to sit through such a downbeat movie.

A shame, probably, as the cast is first-rate. Since I didn’t finish it, I provide no rating. Maybe more serious cineastes would love it. Or, given that it’s a TV movie and the reviews I read, maybe not.

Jory, 1973, color. Jorge Foris (dir.), John Marley, B.H. Thomas, Robby Benson, Brad Dexter, Anne Lockhart, Linda Purl. 1:37.

Fifteen-year-old Jory and his father get off a stagecoach, are told Santa Rosa’s just over the hill, and drag a trunk and a suitcase to this tiny little town. (Presumably a mythical Santa Rosa or possibly Santa Rosa, New Mexico; even that early on, Santa Rosa, California was a lot bigger than this.) It’s not quite clear why they’ve come out west from St. Louis; the father’s a lawyer, and there’s clearly no law in this version of the old west—as we find out when the father gets stabbed to death in a saloon the first night there, with the only reaction being the bartender suggesting that the killer might want to leave. Jory returns the favor, bashing the killer’s head in with a rock, which nobody sees but might just make him a target for relatives. So he heads out with a horse run (like a cattle run but with horses) on its way to a Texas ranch by way of Hobbes, New Mexico. (Why do the horsemen let him come along? Well, this flashy cowboy [B.J. Thomas] who’s a hot gun handler but who’s never shot anybody takes a fancy to him, and…)

In Hobbes, town of bright lights and loud saloons, the flashy cowboy gets shot in an unfair fight. Jory shoots his killer in a slightly fairer fight. Later, there’s an attempted stampede which Jory prevents, he’s hired on as the bodyguard for the rancher’s roughly 15-year-old daughter (since the neighboring rancher’s a thief and scoundrel)… And that’s just part of the plot, which culminates in, well, Jory leaving the ranch to find his own future. With his pa’s lawbook but no pistols (one rifle, however). I guess it’s a coming-of-age film, but it’s all so compressed and Jory seems to learn so little that it’s hard to say.

How you feel about this film may depend heavily on how you feel about the very young Robby Benson (he was 17 when the film was released, probably 15 or 16 when it was made, and certainly looked 15—it’s his first credited movie role). If you think he’s a fine young dramatic actor with great looks, you’ll probably give this flick $1.50, maybe more. If you find him vapid and irritating, you’ll probably downgrade this to a buck. I’m somewhere in the middle. I was sad that an uncredited Howard Hesseman only got about two minutes (he’s the bartender). It’s a good cast in general, and it’s a fine-quality print, but it’s a slightly empty picture. $1.25.

Is Netflix Shoving Us to Stream? Apparently not

Monday, August 20th, 2012

UPDATE: Maybe it is just a run of odd luck. It does seem odd that Smallville Season 4 Disc 4 suddenly becomes unavailable, that Stargate Season 4 Disc 1 is suddenly hard to get, and that at least one or two other old, presumably not-much-in-demand others won’t ship…but they are, finally, shipping us a TV DVD. I’m still a little suspicious (given Netflix’ past history of manipulating queues), but…

Second update: Netflix has gone out of their way to provide Stargate SG-1 Season 4 Disc 1. We’re happy.

Original post:

Maybe it’s just a run of odd luck on our part, but I wonder…

We have a disc-only subscription to Netflix, because our DSL–while fast enough for all other purposes–isn’t fast enough to deliver a streaming Netflix picture that we consider watchable on our HDTV.

We have a three-disc subscription because we watch old TV series on disc. Otherwise, a single-disc subscription would be jes’ fine: we watch one movie a week.

Until last week, Netflix was working the way I’d expect: you send back a disc, you get the next disc in your queue…almost always. (We don’t pop the latest movie releases up to the top of our queue.)

And then…

We sent back a TV disc, with another TV disc at the top of our queue (I pop the next one up when one’s finished). We didn’t get the next disc; instead, we got another movie.

We sent back the movie, with two TV discs at the top of our queue. We got another movie…and both TV discs suddenly said “Very long wait.”

We moved those discs down the queue and another, entirely different, TV disc to the top of the queue. And completed the only TV disc we had on hand, and sent it back.

And got another movie.

I’ve now put three TV discs, none of them showing a wait, on top of our queue. Two discs are on the way back to Netflix.

If we get more movies, frankly, I’m gonna get suspicious. Suspicious that Netflix is deliberately ignoring TV discs in an effort to force us to use streaming for TV and pay the extra $8. (Which would require at least an extra $30-$50/month to get adequate bandwidth.)

Which would also backfire, since we’d drop back to a single-movie (Blu-ray) subscription, and the differential is a heck of a lot more than $8.

I trust it’s just some odd sequence of accidents. But the fact that Netflix has, over the years, always handled the queue properly (and we’re very early subscribers), does make me, well, a little suspicious.

Is this happening to anybody else? Or are we just oddballs? (OK, maybe the fact that we don’t pay a fortune to have Really Broad Broadband and actually watch TV series on discs makes us oddballs…)

Mystery Collection Disc 32

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Hold That Woman, 1940, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), James Dunn, Frances Gifford, George Douglas, Rita La Roy, Martin Spellman, Eddie Fetherston. 1:07 [1:04]

This fast-moving comedy (not much mystery, although there’s plenty of crime) is set in an LA where apparently nobody actually pays for anything and people move every few days to avoid being held accountable, thus keeping an army of skip tracers employed: People who go out to either get some money from the skipper or retrieve the item.

Skip-Tracers Ltd. has a star tracer—and another guy who doesn’t do so well (and who deeply resents the fair-haired boy but never says why). He’s told that he has 30 days to ship up or ship out, and given to easy assignments to do before his date that evening: A fur coat and a radio. Next thing we see, he’s picking up his date—the beautiful daughter of a cop—and hands her this great new coat to wear for the evening. Oh, and they have to stop on the way to the nightclub to pick up that radio…and when he tries to do that, he gets arrested.

Anyway, one thing leads to another, with repossessions and “un-repossessions” all over the place, a jewel robbery with an obvious suspect (who’s obviously guilty: Not much mystery here), a wealthy Hollywood starlet with an odd accent and a tendency to love whoever’s handy…and this skip tracer who has impulse problems. As with: When you’re about to get fired and have $600 to your name, what’s more reasonable than to propose on the spot, get married, rent a house and spend the rest of your cash on a houseload of furniture. (Which turns out to be…you guessed it.)

Lots of action, a fair amount of fun, reasonably well played. Silly, but (or “Silly, and”) I’ll give it $1.00.

Midnight Limited, 1940, b&w. Howard Bretherton (dir.), John King, Marjorie Reynolds, George Cleveland, Edward Keane, Monte Collins, L Stanford Jolley. 1:02.

The night train from New York to Montreal is the setting for a series of robberies—always in Car 1 (next to the baggage car), always the same MO. In the first one, a young woman—not the intended victim—has crucial papers stolen because the robber wants to intimidate her. She needs the papers and keeps bugging the railroad detectives until one of them takes a fancy to the case (and to her).

That’s the basic plot, and as you’d expect it winds up with the couple getting married, with a fair amount of plot in between. (The plot doesn’t always make sense, but…) The problem I had with this fairly typical low-budget B mystery is the dialog and acting of the head detective and the hero: They both sounded like they were reading from a dictionary, and the dialog seemed wholly artificial. That clumsiness reduces an otherwise typical buck-a-pop hour-long B to $0.75.

Murder At Dawn, 1932, b&w. Richard Thorpe (dir.), Jack Mulhall, Josephine Dunn, Eddie Boland, Marjorie Beebe, Martha Mattox, Mischa Auer, Phillips Smalley, Crauford Kent, Frank Ball. 1:02 [0:51]

There is a plot, to be sure. A young couple about to get married head upstate to her father’s mysterious lodge/laboratory, accompanied by another married couple (the husband a cheerful alcoholic). They arrive at some remote train station where the only conveyance is the source of some sad ethnic humor…and eventually at the house (which the driver didn’t want to take them to). Meanwhile, the father’s just completed his invention, a solar-powered source of unlimited energy! which works equally well under artificial lighting! and will revolutionize the world! According to one review, the lab equipment (with lots of sparks and the like) was the same used in the original Frankenstein.

From there we get lots of secret passages, lowkey-spooky housekeeper, mysterious characters of all sorts, the drunken bumbling and childish screaming of the male friend, one murder, at least one assumed murder and some varied number of unknown folks stalking other unknown folks. I guess it all ends well, but it’s so incoherent that it’s hard to tell. Apparently 11 minutes of an already-short flick are missing; it’s possible (but unlikely) that it would be more coherent if it was complete. Mostly this is just dumb, in a mediocre print. Charitably, $0.75.

Murder at Glen Athol, 1936, b&w. Frank R. Strayer (dir.), John Miljan, Irene Ware, Iris Adrian, Noel Madison, Oscar Apfel, Barry Norton, Harry Holman, Betty Blythe. 1:04 [1:07]

The suave detective on holiday (at a wealthy friend’s home, the friend conveniently gone), trying to write a book while his former-prizefighter pal (they’ve saved each other’s life) is vacuuming, butling, and generally interfering. The neighbors with complicated family stuff—including a golddigger who’s divorced one person for a fat settlement, driven a husband into the asylum, and now wants to get rid of him and marry his brother…and who comes on to the detective, but also has a beautiful and not quite so bizarre friend. Gangsters (I guess) also come into the play—partly because the slut/golddigger/party girl is blackmailing one of them.

What follows: Lots’o’plot but remarkably little real motion, to the point that I may have nodded off once or twice. Three murders (well, five deaths…) It all winds up with the detective marrying the beautiful friend after a (courtship? a few conversations) lasting perhaps two or three days, and justice sort-of done.

Somehow, this one just didn’t work. I didn’t care about the mystery, I didn’t care about the detective, the friend, the victims, anybody. Charitably, $0.75.

Comedy Kings Disc 9

Friday, July 6th, 2012

The Nut Farm, 1935, b&w. Melville W. Brown (dir.), Wallace Ford, Betty Alden, Florence Roberts, Spencer Charters, Oscar Apfel, Bradley Page. 1:05 [1:07]

A small businessman’s wife gets a postcard from her mother and brother, living in sunny California—and he’s just been offered $40,000 for his store (from a chain), a lot of money in 1935. Maybe they should move to California and buy a nut farm…

Next thing we know, they’ve arrived, first meeting the mother and brother’s half-deaf landlord (whose daughter is the brother’s girlfriend). The brother’s a wisecracking “producer”—or, rather, assistant director who hasn’t actually had a call in six weeks. And the wife has been reading an ad about Hollywood’s need for new faces and a great acting studio.

So we get the plot. She falls into the hands of a slick “producer”/drama coach, while her husband’s out looking for nut farms. He finds one—but she says she can star in a movie for an investment of $40,000, guaranteed to triple the money. And the smooth operator manages to con the husband as well—and even the brother, who he chooses on the spot to direct.

Caution: Spoilers ahead, but not the final round. Since the “producer” has already, um, spent all the money, filming will shut down early—but the kid’s going to shoot those final scenes somehow. When it all comes together and gets its premiere showing, it gets laughed off the screen. As a drama, it’s a pretty good comed…oh, wait… Anyway, after a few more twists, all winds up happily. And it’s funny: fast, well played, funny. Not a major motion picture, but a nice little flick. I’ll give it $1.25.

Palooka, 1934, b&w, Previously reviewed in C&I 7.5.

The Perils of Pauline, 1947, color. George Marshall (dir.), Betty Hutton, John Lund, Billy De Wolfe, William Demarest, Constance Collier, Frank Faylen, William Parnum, Chester Conklin, Snub Pollard, Bert Roach. 1:36.

The good news here is that the film is in Technicolor—a little faded but still wholly enjoyable—and the print is about as good as these ever get: Still VHS quality but very good VHS quality. The better news is that this is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about movie-making, with Betty Hutton showing herself to be a great physical comedienne as well as a fine singer and accomplished deliberate scenery-chewer.

Hutton plays Pearl White—who did star in the actual serial The Perils of Pauline, but whose life had only certain points in common with this combined romance, musical comedy and satire of early silent churn-em-out movie-making. The first introduction to the movie factory, in which Hutton winds up raging through a series of doors and, in the process, through four or five entirely different movies being made, is nothing short of classic. The supporting cast is also first-rate.

I could go on, but the plot itself is somewhat secondary. If you’re looking for a pure biography of Pearl White, this ain’t it—but I don’t think it was ever intended to be. (Reading the negative reviews on IMDB, I can practically smell the grinding compound on the axes.) This movie is delightful, and I couldn’t possibly give it less than $2.

The Rage of Paris, 1938,b&w. Henry Koster (dir.), Danielle Darrieux, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mischa Auer, Louis Hayward, Helen Broderick. 1:18.

The plot, such as it is: French girl in New York, trying to find work, bluffs her way into a modeling job but takes the wrong address slip—and soon finds herself half-stripped when a businessman walks in to his office. After she flees following an odd conversation, her friend in the apartment house convinces her she needs to marry a rich man, and engages a maître d’ who’s just about saved up enough to open his own restaurant to underwrite the girl so she looks uptown and can snare a millionaire.

Which she does—except that the millionaire’s a good friend of the businessman, who knows she’s up to no good. This leads to him kidnapping her, a variety of stuff happening, her realization that she loves him, his saying “and just when did you find out I’m wealthier than my friend?”—and, of course, it all works out in the end.

It’s an early romantic comedy with some screwball elements, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. plays the businessman with flair. (Darrieux and Auer—the maître d’—are also first-rate, and the rest of the cast is more than adequate.)It’s charming and in the best romcom tradition, years before the genre was really solidified. The print’s pretty good, and I think it’s easily worth $1.50.

Mystery Collection Disc 31

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Double Cross, 1941, b&w. Albert H. Kelley (dir.), Kane Richmond, Pauline Moore, Wynne Gibson, John Miljan. 1:02.

One of those hour-long programmers that keeps right on moving. This time, a cop’s gotten friendly with a hard-edged woman who co-owns (?) a nightclub/gambling hall. He’s visiting her when he should be on duty. When the cops raid the joint, she manages to grab his gun, shoot another cop, and shove the gun into his hands as the cops shoot him. That’s just one double-cross in a movie that has its share.

The bulk of the plot involves another cop (friend of the first one), his fiancée (who takes photos at the club), his father (a police captain who’s about to be named commissioner), some semi-undercover work, the backer of the club who sees to it that it keeps reopening (big surprise here), and a surprisingly effective movie. Nothing really special, but this one works. Given the length, I’ll give it $1.

Ellis Island, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Donald Cook, Peggy Shannon, Jack La Rue, Joyce Compton, Bradley Page, Johnny Arthur, George Rosener. 1:07.

This oddity is really a semi-slapstick comedy about a park ranger who cheats on his long-time fiancée, gets caught at it, wants his buddy ranger to bail him out by lying (saying it was the buddy’s cousin and the ranger was just meeting her at the train as a favor)…and eventually Gets the Girl. Which is a little sad, actually.

The movie’s “mystery” plot is about a ten-year-old bank robbery (one that suggests Federal Reserve guards are worthless) that yielded $1 million, with the trio of robbers—all immigrants—captured and put away for ten years. Now they’re out and being deported (through Ellis Island, where part of the action takes place), with a deportation process that seems to assume nobody’s ever going to put up a fuss or try to escape. Various shenanigans happen, with hoodlums trying to find out where the money’s hidden, a phony Treasury agent also trying to find the money, the niece of one of the bandits involved, and a moderately clever twist.

Not great, not terrible, but an unsettled blend of semi-mystery, romantic comedy, slapstick comedy and more (there’s a stereotypic farmer-with-shotgun, the “get offa’ my land, you chicken thieves!” type). It does not help that the cheating boyfriend is an incredibly annoying character. I can’t really give it more than $0.75.

Exile Express, 1939, b&w. Otis Garrett (dir.), Anna Sten, Alan Marshal, Jerome Cowan, Walter Catlett. 1:11 [1:09]

Another one that’s part slapstick, part murder mystery (with a spy story and an evil chemical formula thrown in), part romance. And partly seems as though they’re making it up as they go along.

The plot: A beautiful Ukrainian immigrant is a chemist’s assistant, on the eve of getting her citizenship. She’s being courted by a handsome young rogue she doesn’t really love. The chemist has combined a number of specific pesticides to create a super-pesticide that’s sort of a permanent Round-Up: It not only kills all the pests and all the crops, it makes the land useless for years to come. He plans to turn it over to the Feds…and when a spy shoots him, he manages to spill acid on the formula before he dies. (The assistant, having been approached by a spy from her homeland, calls him and warns him—and as he’s about to put the formula in his safe, he gets shot.)

The cops assume that the woman had something to do with it and send her off for deportation after she’s acquitted (I guess—it’s just a bunch of headlines). Since she’s in San Francisco and you can only deport people from Ellis Island, she’s put on the “exile express,” a four-day train ride, along with a tax evader/big-shot criminal who’s happy enough to be going home. And a dashing young reporter who’s looking for some story, although it’s not quite clear what. Oh, there’s also a bedraggled Bolshevik; after anybody talks to him, they start scratching themselves.

Anyhoo…the young rogue sees to it that she escapes from the train with the story that she’ll get married to some American chump, go across the border to Canada, then come back as the wife of a citizen—but, of course, the young rogue’s really the spy’s boss. Without going into the rest of the plot, let’s just say that she winds up happily (I guess) married to the reporter.

All a little helter-skelter. OK, it’s a mess. The print’s mixed, but the sound’s worse: It fades in and out, possibly due to some automatic attempt to reduce background noise (it’s dead silent except when there’s dialog or sound effects, at which point there’s lots of background noise—and sometimes the fade-in misses a line of dialog). I suspect this kind of mixed-genre short movie was enormously popular at one point, but it’s hard to make work well. $0.75.

Hollywood Stadium Mystery, 1938, b&w. David Howard (dir.), Neil Hamilton, Evelyn Venable, Jimmy Wallington, Barbara Pepper, Lucien Littlefield, Lynne Roberts, Smiley Burnette.

Based on the description, I was expecting another variation on the “Who in this big crowd pulled the trigger?” theme—but this nonstop flick isn’t quite that. There’s a murder in the first two minutes, but that’s not the crime. We have a beautiful female mystery writer and a handsome male DA who meet cute, are immediately antagonistic to one another, and of course are going to wind up married by the end of the movie. We have a couple of actual murders—one of them the challenger to a boxing title, murdered in a way that involves an odd scent. We have a comedian playing himself, doing a little act to distract people being held for questioning. We have a murderer who seems like an unlikely candidate. There’s humor, some misdirection, and generally almost too much plot for a short film. All in all, fun and well done. Based on the sleeve’s “66 minute” timing, the movie’s missing 13 minutes. In any case, I’ll give it $1.00.

Box Office Gold Disc 10

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Portrait of a Showgirl, 1982, color (made for TV). Steven Hilliard Stern (dir.), Lesley Ann Warren, Rita Moreno, Dianne Kay, Tony Curtis, Barry Primus, Hamilton Camp, Kip Gilman. 1:34 [1:36].

A first-rate cast, a good print (VHS quality), an OK story. It’s slice-of-life time for three dancers in Las Vegas: A newly arrived hard-edged former Fosse dancer, just in from New York in her Mercedes; a naïve young thing in from St. Louis; and an Italian stalwart who lives in town with her husband, a hotel concierge who dreams of making it big. The stalwart wonders if she has one more good show left in her—but at whatever age, it’s hard to think of Rita Moreno (Italian, right? and married to Tony Curtis) as being less than superb as a dancer. Lesley Ann Warren does hard-edged superbly, and a combination of bad at making romantic choices and good at telling the truth even better. The rest of the cast includes some notably good talent as well.

The foreground story? Not much, really, Caesar’s Palace (where it was filmed) has decided to go back to a showgirl revue, and the troupe is getting ready. It all revolves around that. Nothing terribly deep, and the St. Louis newbie is a little too naïve to believe—but it all works fairly well. It’s made for TV, but it’s a good job. All in all, it gets $1.50.

Casablanca Express, 1989, color. Sergio Martino (dir.), Jason Connery, Francesco Quinn, Jinny Steffan, Jean Sorel, Donald Pleasence, Glenn Ford. 1:25.

Set in French Africa (Algeria) and Morocco in 1942, based on the plan of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin to meet in Casablanca and plan their war efforts. Churchill’s now in Algiers, and the idea is to get him to Casablanca alive—despite the clear presence of collaborators (Vichy French and Arabs who regard the Third Reich as liberators).

After the setup, it’s mostly set on a train, the Casablanca Express, and it’s a bloody ride as the Germans try to kidnap Churchill. What else can I say about the plot? There’s a modest twist at the end, and we all know that Churchill wasn’t captured by Hitler. In any case, it’s a fairly good cast, the acting is OK, and all in all it’s not a bad ride (although, reading the poisonous IMDB reviews, it’s apparently wildly inauthentic). Filmed where it’s set, by an Italian company. (It’s a “sons” picture—Connery and Francesco are the sons of Sean and Anthony.) $1.25.

Cold War Killers, 1986, color (made for TV). William Barnes (dir.), Terence Stamp, Robin Sachs, Carmen Du Sautoy. 1:26.

The title’s a little misleading. Yes, the plot does involve several deaths—but only one during the film itself, and that one’s off-screen. This movie is a moderately complex espionage flick involving the KGB, the Mossad and at least two different (I think) branches of British intelligence, all somehow trying to solve a 30-year-old mystery when a crashed plane emerges as a large pond is being drained.

What you need to know (and what may explain why this rather good movie is in this set—well, that and its TV provenance): No explosions. No high-speed car chases. No gun battles. Indeed, the most violent action is a window being broken (twice during the film—and we’re expected to believe that a high-level British operative breaks into a store by, wait for it, taking a tire iron to the window instead of using lock picks).

And it’s really quite good. I’m not sure why I liked it, but Terence Stamp is clearly part of the reason. I found this compelling and entertaining. Not a great movie, but pretty good, and exceptional as a TV movie: $1.75.

Delta Force Commando, 1988, color. Perluigi Ciricai (dir.), Brett Baxter Clark, Fred Williamson, Mark Gregory, Bo Svenson. 1:36.

The only way I can plausibly review this flick is as a modern Spaghetti Western, only with grenade launchers, helicopters and an atomic weapon that’s readily carried by one person instead of horses, saloons and acrobatic shooting—although it still has a prostitute (sort of) if less nudity than usual. It’s Italian, it’s got pretty decent production values, it stars a wronged handsome fellow and his unwilling sidekick who seem immune to bullets and leave an enormous body count. I mean enormous. I didn’t even try to count. (The guns all seem to have limitless firepower—even though people are changing clips once in a while. Verisimilitude is not, shall we say, this film’s strong point.)

The “plot”: Some Latin American revolutionaries swipe this backpack bomb from “U.S.Base” in Puerto Rico (I think that was the name), thanks to a lecherous Sergeant who takes a really sleazy hooker to his upscale barracks and…well, never mind. Just know that on the way out, the trigger-happy bomb thieves manage to shoot the pregnant wife of Our Hero.

Somehow, the 50-person Marine Delta Force can’t leave the carrier where they’re staked out waiting to find this bomb—and there’s even a BBC reporter (who reads words very slowly and wouldn’t last a day on the actual BBC), invited there by a State Department idiot who seems to be in control, and… well, never mind. The hero hijacks a helicopter and we’re off and running, er, gunning.

I won’t spoil the plot twist, but it makes no sense in any case. Let’s just say this is mano-a-mano with a few dozen other dead manos (and women) thrown in for good measure. (The plot summary on the sleeve and at IMDB is just wrong.) Viewed strictly as over-the-top Italian action flick making, it’s maybe worth $1.00.

Box Office Gold Disc 9

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Death Scream (orig. La maison sous les arbres or The Deadly Trap), 1971, color. Rene Clement (dir.), Faye Dunaway, Frank Langella, Barbara Parkins, Karen Blanguernon. 1:36 [1:32]

We have Frank Langella as a mathematical genius, working for a publisher, who’s contacted by someone who really, truly wants him to do something for them…something clearly not on the up and up. He’s in Paris, where he moved two years previously with his wife (Faye Dunaway), their 8-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. Dunaway seems to be having memory problems, the marriage isn’t as good as it should be, and he bonds with the daughter while she spoils the (slightly rotten) son. The real estate agent who found them the apartment lives downstairs with her husband and spends a lot of time with them. Dunaway’s character is seeing a psychiatrist and seems to be getting more anxious by the day, especially when she buys a party dress and her daughter points out that she already owns the exact same dress.

And then, she’s with the kids at a puppet show, buys a hoop for the son, and as they’re going home, she loses them. After clues suggesting that they might have drowned (or that she might have drowned them), it turns out they’ve been kidnapped. The rest of the film deals with that (and gaslighting, but not by her husband). The title’s a cheat; there are deaths (two of them), but that’s not really the theme. I guess it’s a psychological thriller; I just didn’t find it particularly compelling. Widescreen (but not anamorphic, and zooming this VHS-quality print up to fill a big screen was occasionally unpleasant). Not terrible, not great, $1.25.

Powderkeg, 1971, color (TV: pilot for Bearcats!). Douglas Heyes (dir.), Rod Taylor, Dennis Cole, Fernando Lamas, John McIntire, Michael Ansara, Tisha Sterling. 1:33.

The plot’s all seriousness: A band of Mexican bandits hijack a train and its 73 passengers (shooting the troops that are on the train) in order to free the brother of the head bandit, who’s going to be hanged in New Mexico after the gang had raided the town. If the brother isn’t freed, the head promises to shoot all the passengers—and keeps running the train back and forth on 40 miles of track in the open Mexican country, so he can spot any attempts to rescue them.

Well, sir…the note demanding the exchange (pinned to the body of a railroad official, thrown off at the station the train doesn’t stop at) was written under duress by a young Mexican lawyer, instructed to address it to the president of the railroad and any high-ranking names he can think of. The two names he adds turn out to be a couple of guys who’ve done border-town cleanup in the past. And thus the romp begins.

And romp it is: High adventure with low plausibility, carried off with style by a good cast. After learning that this was actually the movie-length pilot for a one-season TV series starring Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole (Bearcats!)—well, it’s still a good flick. It’s not even worth recounting the rest of the plot. I found it well done, enjoyable, a fairly good print; easily worth $1.50.

Slipsteream, 1989, color. Steven Lisberger (dir.), Bob Peck, Mark Hammill, Kitty Aldridge, Bill Paxton, Susan Leong, Abigail David, Robbie Coltrane. (Brief parts by Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham.) 1:42.

There’s a deep mystery to this picture. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Oh, the mystery’s not the nature of the killer who’s central to the plot. He (Bob Peck) starts out being captured by two cops, one of whom (Mark Hammill) delights in blowing people away at the slightest provocation; is taken from them by a no-account bounty hunter (Bill Paxton) who wants to turn him in for the reward; and winds up the most heroic character in the film. If you haven’t figured out what he is long before it’s revealed—about halfway through the film—you’re not trying.

It’s not even the erratic nature of the slipstream—the supposed worldwide band of constant howling winds that’s the chief result of “the Convergence,” a near-future environmental disaster that’s resulted in the death of most people and ruination of most others. The slipstream is terribly ferocious when it suits the plot; nonexistent when it doesn’t.

It’s not even just how long in the future this could be set, given that one semi-decadent “downstream” group, living in an old museum/library setting with a variety of artifacts seems to have an unlimited supply of Dom Perignon.

Variable acting (Mark Hammill makes a great villain), pretty good print, loads of scenery, good stereo sound (unusual for these pictures) with an Elmer Bernstein score. Not a great scifi flick, but not a bad one.

The mystery is this: How on earth does a British 1989 color science fiction flick with good production values and scenery (if not great special effects), produced by Gary Kurtz, filmed in Turkey with a quality score and a good cast wind up in a Mill Creek Entertainment megapack? In any case, I’ll give it $1.50.

Somewhere, Tomorrow, 1983, color. Robert Wiemer (dir. & screenplay), Sarah Jessica Parker, Nancy Addison, Tom Shea, Rick Weber, Paul Bates. 1:31.

At first blush, this appears to be a movie told as flashbacks, starting with a teenager (an 18-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker) in ICU after a minor concussion—because, the doctor says, she seems to want to die. And, in the end, she doesn’t—but there’s also a little twist on the twist.

Basic plot: The girl’s father was killed in a plane crash—it’s never said how much earlier. She mourns him. She and her mother live on a horse ranch, but really can’t afford to keep it up. Her mother’s dating a local cop, and the girl’s not too wild about that.

And then…and then. Lots of plot. Cut to a teenage boy and his friend, taking off in a single-engine Cessna (I guess the kid’s old enough for a pilot’s license) to go visit the kid’s horse, who is on a stud appointment at the girl’s ranch. There’s some sputtering just before they take off (as the kid’s teaching his friend to fly), but they ignore it. Which, of course, eventually leads to them crashing in the firebreak near the ranch, just as she’s taking the kid’s horse out for some exercise.

We wind up with the boy showing up as an all-too-physical ghost only she can see (and, oh look, she was watching Topper just before going out for the exercise ride), a lot of blather about the need for her mother to move on, her mother marrying the police officer…and back we go to the hospital. It all ends happily and truly peculiarly.

The good parts: Very good print (full VHS quality). Some good scenery. The bad parts: The very young Parker (in her first movie, although she’d done earlier TV) isn’t all that great, and neither are the other actors—but maybe that’s the script. Oh, and Parker sings two songs, which turns out not be a win either. I found the whole thing sort of dreary; there may have been a Deep Religious Message that I missed, and there’s definitely a “life must go on!” message*, but mostly it was not very good. Generously, $1.

Box Office Gold, Disc 8

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Eliza’s Horoscope, 1975, color. Gordon Sheppard (dir.), Elizabeth Moorman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rose Quang. 2:00.

An 18-year-old country girl north of Montreal shows up in a not-so-great part of the city, somehow at an odd apartment building, meeting an ancient Asian astrologer and… OK, the sleeve says she’s “looking for a new life,” moves into this boarding house where Tommy (Tommy Lee Jones) also lives and has a “checked past,” and that the astrologer tells her (the sleeve says an Astrologer who tell here: the person must have actually watched this just before writing it) she’ll meet the love of her life and she starts a hunt for the man.

What I saw: random characters and worse than random filmmaking, with lots of visual hiccups—you see the first second of a shot, then the same first second followed by more—and occasional random inserts of scenes for no apparent reason. Maybe it’s supposed to be trippy, but it felt like stone incompetent direction and editing. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there is no point.

Even with a young Tommy Lee Jones, I could barely last for half an hour before giving up on it. After reading the odd set of IMDB reviews, I conclude either that the movie’s simply too deep and artistic for my cloddish soul—or that it’s a badly-made piece of pseudo-mystical crap. I note that the director was also the producer, writer and editor—and never directed, produced, wrote or edited another feature film. The star apparently never acted in another movie either (but did stunts in one) Tommy Lee Jones (“Tom Lee Jones” at the time) does not save the picture; not by a long shot. Decent print, I guess. Even in “headier” days I would have walked out on this; it’s possible that if you’re sufficiently stoned, it would be wonderful. Or not. No rating.

It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time, 1975, color. John Trent (dir.), Anthony Newley, Stefanie Powers, Isaac Hayes, Lloyd Bochner, Yvonne De Carlo, Henry Ramer, Lawrence Dane, John Candy. 1:30.

There’s a lot right with this farce—a great cast, good photography, a good print, and some genuinely amusing moments. Stefanie Powers is a beautiful woman with somewhat questionable morals: She divorced her first husband (a starving playwright, played by Anthony Newley) to marry a wealthy construction magnate—but she sleeps with her ex once a week, and when she gets involved with a politician’s campaign she’s clearly ready to sleep with him as well. She also wants to save her feisty mom’s house from being torn down, by her husband’s company, by getting it declared a landmark, and gets the politician involved in that (but he’s double-crossing her). That’s just the start of a fast, frequently funny flick that never stops moving.

So what’s the problem? It tries a little too hard, from the opening cartoon credits to the use of cuckoo-clock sound effects each time the armed mom is about to do something nefarious. (It’s also a panned-and-scanned version of a widescreen flick, but that’s par for the course.) Still, it is a remarkable cast (with Isaac Hayes as a drunken sculptor, a young (and slim) John Candy as a hapless junior-grade cop and more) and while I don’t grant “hysterical” it is amusing in a frenetic way. (It is not a “John Candy film” by any means: his role is relatively minor.) $1.25.

Mooch Goes to Hollywood, 1971, color, made for TV. Richard Erdman (dir.), Vincent Price, James Darren, Jill St. John, Jim Backus and, mostly in cameos, Marty Allen, Richard Burton (voice), Phyllis Diller, Jay C. Flippen, Zsa Zsa Gabor (voice), Sam Jaffe, Rose Marie, Dick Martin, Darren McGavin, Edward G. Robinson, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney. 0:51.

Sometimes a picture is so astonishing that it raises fundamental questions. Such as, in this case, how did this thing ever get made—and, better yet, why? The plot, if you want to call it that, is that a mutt jumps off a freight car (hobo’s bag & stick in mouth) and wanders around Hollywood, instantly charming a number of movie actors—specifically, the first four listed above—and twice getting taken to the same sinister vet’s (I say “sinister” only because I’ve never seen a real vet who’s so bad with animals).

Oh, and Zsa Zsa Gabor narrates the whole thing.

A remarkable cast, although some of them are barely in the picture at all (I think Mickey Rooney’s on screen for ten seconds or less, with no lines, and Phyllis Diller’s part isn’t much bigger). I know I remarked on it: “Don’t all these big names have anything better to do?” Followed by “Did Jim Backus—who co-wrote and co-produced this—really have that many favors owed him?” One repeated sequence (repeated with each of the four main players) is dumb the first time and a little creepy by the fourth. (Apparently the dog playing Mooch was the original Benji, for what that’s worth.) Decent print, good color, wholly pointless, and even as a bizarre little flick it’s not worth more than $0.75.

The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go, 1970, color. Burgess Meredith (dir. & writer), James Mason, Jack MacGowran, Irene Tsu, Jeff Bridges, Peter Lind Hayes, Clarissa Kaye-Mason, Burgess Meredith, Broderick Crawford. 1:29.

I’m not quite sure how to describe this movie, set in Hong Kong while it was still British-controlled. We have James Mason as a half-Mexican, half-Chinese evil power broker (who turns good halfway through the movie); Burgess Meredith as a grumpy old Chinese acupuncturist/herbal medicine purveyor (Meredith also wrote and directed the movie); Jeff Bridges as a deserting soldier who’s also a James Joyce scholar/writer (I guess) and, on the side, blackmailer; Irene Tsu as his Chinese wife/girlfriend/companion; and narration by Buddha (who apparently can, once every 50 years, cause a transmutation in one person when the world needs changing). Oh, and a crass CIA agent who’s also a Joyce scholar and who has trouble dying (he’s as ineffectual at that as at everything else). Some really annoying pop-style songs. As one review says, fight scenes “right out of Batman”—that is, the series in which Meredith was the Joker, certainly not the movies. Jeff Bridges’ first feature film (he was 21), although he’d done TV before that.

That’s just the beginning. There’s lots of plot. Tsu has wardrobe problems throughout, as do a number of lesser-known Chinese actresses. It’s a truly odd flick. The print’s soft but watchable; the flick’s weird but watchable, even if I did sort of go “Huh?” when it was all over. As a not very good curiosity, I’ll give it $1.00.