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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...

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I saw five movies for the first time this past week:

 

"Student Tour" (1934)--PreCode with Jimmy Durante  has a few good lines from him, an enjoyable dance number with Betty Grable in a see-through skirt, and Nelson Eddy belting out "The Carlo" (which sounds suspiciously like Ravels' "Bolero").  Eddys' next film would be "Naughty Marietta" (1935).  Leading lady Maxine Doyle can't sing, dance, or even smile--a real triple threat.

 

"Madame Bovary" (1949)--Vincent Minnelli directed Jennifer Jones in one of her best performances as a woman who tries desperately to make reality fit her fantasy world.  James Mason as Flaubert (his 1857 obscenity trial is used as a framing device for the film), and Louis Jourdan as Emma Bovarys' seducer are beyond reproach.  Van Heflin as her Prince Charming who is all too human is good, although not remotely convincing as a Frenchman.  Miklos Rosza's score fits Emma, especially in the waltz scene. Recommended.

 

"Baron Blood" (1972)--Mario Bava horror film is well photographed and acted.  Joseph Cotten and Elke Sommer are especially good in this tale of the occult being treated as a joke, and finding out the hard way things are not just a joke.  Recommended.

 

"The Boyfriend" (1971)--Ken Russell's take on the Sandy Wilson musical stars Twiggy, who is in the Ruby Keeler role of having to go on for the star of the show.  Despite loads of Art Deco, and some good supporting performances (Tommy Tune and Barbara Windsor, who has a gem of a number that plays like a gag from one of the "Carry On... films),and a few good songs, film never quite comes together.  When it's good, it's very good.  When it's bad, it flounders.  Worth a look.

 

"The Awakening" (1980)--Charlton Heston mummy movie that is stuck with a script so predictable, viewers may want to try and see if they can shout out lines before the actors speak them.  The script treats cliches that have been around since the days of silent film as if they were brand new ideas.  Anyone who has seen more than one horror movie will be able to predict who will die and why; the doomed characters' lines announce their impending deaths.  The groans outnumber the howlers.

 

Most Favorite--"Madame Bovary" (1949).

 

Least Favorite--"Student Tour" (1934).

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I saw three movies this week.  Baby Driver was this summer's cool action movie, or one of them at least.  How was it?  OK, I guess.  The opening getaway is in obvious contrast with Drive, a movie only six years old.  The comparison doesn't do the new kid much credit.  On the other hand, the love story does give it some heart, and if more attention and interest had been paid to the love interest, the movie would be even better.  Interestingly, the protagonist, in his difficult struggle to go clean and go away with his girl, faces a vindictive enemy angry that the protagonist's actions have indirectly led to the death of his love.  Star Trek III: the Search for Spock can't have the effect it had at the time, when Nimoy would play Spock for a quarter of a century, and would appear about a century later on The Next Generation series.  Evolution was the movie of the week for me.  Not the 2001 David Duchovny comedy, this movie is the follow-up to the enigmatic Innocence.  Once again it has young children (in this case boys), isolated in a strange location (an isolated and almost abandoned island), and watched over by adults (mothers who tend to look alike and also look vaguely like a young Tilda Swinton).  Something very strange is going on to the young boys, worthy of Cronenberg in its upsetting, but not explicitly spelled out.

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I watched 17 movies for the first time this past week, all but one from 1930. The breakdown is as follows:

 

The Best of the week was Westfront 1918, a German World War One drama from director G.W. Pabst. It's brutal in its depiction of that war, particularly during the film's shattering final 15 minutes, and it also shows the hardships of the homefront, with extreme food rationing and people resorting to all sorts of unsavory tactics to survive. The "band of brothers" camaraderie is present, and the performances are all good. This one is highly recommended.   9/10

 

8/10

People On Sunday - Unique mix of fictional narrative and documentary filmmaking in this silent German precursor to the later Italian neo-realists. A quartet of attractive young Berliners head to the country for a Sunday idyll. There's not much plot, and the performers are all non-professionals, but the film itself is very evocative and makes for a great snapshot of a time and a place. The crew includes Billy Wilder and Curt Siodmak on the script, Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer directing, and Fred Zinnemann as AD.

 

7/10

Raffles - Ronald Colman as the gentleman jewel thief contemplating a change of ways after falling for the beautiful Kay Francis.

 

The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu - Warner Oland returns as the "yellow peril" super-villain bent on revenge against the English who killed his wife and son. O.P. Heggie, Neil Hamilton and Jean Arthur also return.

 

Seven Days' Leave - Oddly affecting WW1-era drama about an old English charwoman (Beryl Mercer) who pretends to have a son on the front, only to have Canadian soldier Gary Cooper mistaken for the fictional child. The two agree to continue the ruse, and end up forming a mother-son bond. It sounds corny, but it's surprisingly effective.

 

Sinners' Holiday - James Cagney made his debut in this adaptation of a stage play that had also featured him. Grant Withers gets top billing as ex-con who finds work and love on the boardwalk, employed by cranky Lucille La Verne and dating her daughter (the gorgeous Evalyn Knapp). Cagney plays La Verne's son, who gets mixed up with bootleggers and murder. Joan Blondell, in her second role, steals all her scenes.

 

That Night's Wife - Japanese silent drama from Yasujiro Ozu about a desperate father who commits a crime to get money for his sick child. 

 

Walk Cheerfully - Japanese silent crime drama from Yasujiro Ozu about a petty crook who decides to mend his ways for the love of a good girl.

 

Way for a Sailor - Uneven comedy-romance with John Gilbert and Wallace Beery as merchant marine sailors who like to raise hell on shore leave. Gilbert decides to try and bed the virginal Leila Hyams, but will even his scoundrel's heart be changed by true love?

 

The Widow from Chicago - Edward G. Robinson started his Warner/First National contract with this crime drama co-starring Alice White and Neil Hamilton. Originally a musical, the songs were cut when audiences cooled on the genre, leaving the movie barely an hour long. It's nothing really memorable, but worth seeing for fans of Robinson.

 

With Byrd at the South Pole - Documentary following Richard E. Byrd's attempt to fly over the South Pole. Excellent cinematography, done under extreme circumstances, won an Oscar.

 

Wonder Woman (2017) - This was a huge hit and highly touted by critics, but I was a bit disappointed. The first 20 minutes are excellent, but once the film moves into the WW1 setting it loses steam, and the inevitable fight scenes devolve into CGI overkill. It's not a bad movie as far as superhero films go, but it wasn't the revelation that some said that it was, either.

 

6/10

Laughter - Nancy Carroll as a former showgirl who married rich old Frank Morgan for the security, but now she pines for the fun days with songwriter Fredric March.

 

Reaching for the Moon - Irving Berlin musical that had most of the songs cut before the film's release. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. stars as a rich banker who takes lessons in love from valet Edward Everett Horton. Doug woos Bebe Daniels aboard a cruise ship, that is when he isn't taking his shirt off and swinging around the set like a lunatic. Bing Crosby makes his solo debut (his song made the final cut).

 

Sin Takes a Holiday - Constance Bennett agrees to a sham marriage to help out her attorney boss, and in exchange she gets an all-expense-paid cruise to Paris. On board ship, she is seduced by cad Basil Rathbone, but money and independence give her new-found self-confidence.

 

5/10

The Silver Horde - Silly hokum with Joel McCrea starting a rival salmon fishery in frigid Alaska. He's in business with prostitute Evelyn Brent, although he doesn't know her past, while he's engaged to society girl Jean Arthur. Louis Wolheim lurks about as Brent's henchman, continuously daydreaming about strangling a guy to death.

 

 

The Worst was Tom Sawyer, the biggest commercial hit of 1930, starring Jackie Coogan in the title role. I'm not a fan of kid's movies or kids in movies, and I was never much of a fan of Twain's book, either, so this one was pretty much a non-starter for me.   5/10

 

I also rewatched some of my favorites from 1930:

The Big House  (8/10)

The Blue Angel  (8/10)

The Divorcee  (8/10)

Earth  (8/10)

Morocco  (8/10)

Under the Roofs of Paris  (8/10)

Up the River  (7/10)

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The Worst was Tom Sawyer, the biggest commercial hit of 1930, starring Jackie Coogan in the title role. I'm not a fan of kid's movies or kids in movies, and I was never much of a fan of Twain's book, either, so this one was pretty much a non-starter for me. 

 

Fortunately, the Johnny Whittaker 1973 Sherman-Bros. musical version just hit (limited edition) Blu-ray,

https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/tom-sawyer-huckleberry-finn-blu-ray/

and Whittaker absolutely owns the role--Very few child actors could have stepped out of the book pages, and the Brothers knew the appeal of Twain's story.

 

Jeff "Teen Superboy" East as Huckleberry, not so much, but also gets his own Twain-faithful bigscreen version--I haven't seen the 30's version of either, and I'm not sure I even want to.  Try both and see, though.

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I saw three movies last week.  Oblivion had an interesting set-up, but in the end little payoff.  When your sci-fi protagonist admits that his memory has been conveniently erased at the beginning of the movie, that's a red flag right there.  And that Olga Kurylenko has surprisingly little to do suggests that the director had little faith in her.  The Panic in Needle Park was the movie that showed that Al Pacino was a talent worth watching.  It is a good performance, and so is that of his co-star Kitty Winn.  Of course part of the effectiveness of their performances as drug addicts is that they are often lethargic and show little insight and initiative.  So on the one hand this is a realistic portrayal, on the other hand it's not the most enjoyable or exciting movie.  Its achievement lays elsewhere.  Creepy is a Japanese movie about the search for a serial killer.  And it certainly is that, which puts it ahead of many movies that deal with this often exhausted theme.  The villain is certainly good, and if there's a flaw in the movie, it's that the villain is too easily overconfident that it doesn't entirely hold up.

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Between taking care of non-movie related things and rewatching several titles, I only saw 6 movies for the first time this week, all from 1931. They were:

 

The best was City Streets, an unlikely gangster picture from director Rouben Mamoulian. Sylvia Sidney and Gary Cooper star as a couple trying to survive in the world of murderous bootleggers, namely Paul Lukas. Seeing Guy Kibbee as a cold-blooded killer was odd. Sidney is very good. (7/10)

 

The Criminal Code is a prison flick from Howard Hawks with tough new warden Walter Huston trying to save the emotionally-fragile Phillips Holmes, who's doing a ten-year stretch for manslaughter. Boris Karloff has one of his best roles as a fellow inmate bent on revenge against a guard.   (7/10)

 

The Bad Sister marked Bette Davis's debut, and I thought she very good as the "homely" but saintly sister of bad girl Sidney Fox (also debuting here). Humphrey Bogart comes to town in a fancy car and with a sleazy grin and steals Fox away from good doctor Conrad Nagel.   (7/10)

 

An American Tragedy is the first film version of Theodore Dreiser's novel. Dreiser hated it, as did director Josef von Sternberg. It's not too bad until the courtroom scenes in the film's final third, which are a ridiculous (unintentional) farce, mainly due to Irving Pichel's scenery chewing and an apparent complete disregard for all courtroom procedure. Star Phillips Holmes (there he is again!) is blankly pretty and sociopathic. Sylvia Sidney (there she is again!) is pretty and sympathetic. Frances Dee is there.   (6/10)

 

Chinatown After Dark is a poverty row mystery/thriller programmer that is justly forgotten. Silent star Carmel Myers (Ben-Hur) is a Chinatown crime boss after a valuable dagger in the possession of Rex Lease and Barbara Kent. Billy Gilbert sneezes.   (4/10)

 

The worst was Arizona, a pitiful romantic drama involving West Point cadet and football star turned soldier John Wayne discovering that the girl (Laura La Plante) he dumped has married his new commanding officer. So the Duke does what's natural and starts making moves on his ex's little sister. Watch it for the scene where the Duke and Lil' Sis sing a song about cookies.  (4/10)

 

I rewatched:

 

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) - 10/10

L'Age d'Or (1930) - 9/10

Animal Crackers (1930) - 8/10

 

Frankenstein (1931) - 10/10

City Lights (1931) - 10/10

M (1931) - 10/10

A Nous la Liberte (1931) - 9/10

Dracula (1931) - 8/10

Little Caesar (1931) - 8/10

Marius (1931) - 8/10

Monkey Business (1931) - 8/10

The Public Enemy (1931) - 8/10

Cimarron (1931) - 7/10

The Front Page (1931) - 7/10

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I saw six films for the first time the last two weeks:

 

"Romance" (1930)--Garbo is an Italian opera diva/kept woman in this one.  She is riveting, even in this muck.  It's a real challenge to decipher her Swedish accent trying to interpret an Italian accent while speaking English.  Plot is about the forbidden love of a clergyman (Gavin Gordon) for a woman with a Past.  A scene stealing pet monkey bites off part of a costar's wig.  

 

"What a Carve Up" (1961)--Sidney James and Shirley Eaton in this mild British sendup of "old dark house movies.  It's diverting enough while watching, but nothing specific stayed in my mind about it.

 

"Go Naked in the World" (1961)--Howler of a melodrama (think "Butterfield 8").  Gina Lollobrigida is a high class call girl, Anthony Franciosa is the idiot who just finished an Army enlistment but can't tell Lollobrigida is anything besides a "Nice" girl, despite their sleeping together on the first date, despite her complaint "I haven't been left alone since I was 12 years old", despite his father's (Ernest Borgnine) spotting her for a call girl the minute he looks at her.  Other memorable lines:

 

Gina to Tony, when he asks how many men she's been with: "Why count waves in the ocean?"

 

Tony to Gina, after he finds out the terrible truth: "I'll never be clean again!"

 

Ernie to Tony: "Spit on me for luck!"

 

This one's a real gem for those who like their melodramas to be unintentionally funny.  Recommended.

 

"Cry Wolf" (1947)--Barbara Stanwyck/Errol Flynn thriller that works despite the script, which is a morass of cliches.  Geraldine Brooks is notable in her debut.  Film is better than Maltin thinks.  Worth a look.

 

"Promise at Dawn" (1970)--Melina Mercouri film based on Romain Gary's memoir.  Copy I saw on YouTube was horribly dubbed (the timing was off by about 5 seconds),  Even if the dubbing was done correctly, film would still be near incoherent.  Skip it.

 

"A Certain Sacrifice" (1985)--Madonna's first film looks like it was shot in a garage, some of the dialogue is inaudible, and is terribly acted. A waste of time.

 

Favorite--"Go Naked in the World" (1961).

 

Least Favorite--"A Certain Sacrifice" (1985).

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Gina to Tony, when he asks how many men she's been with: "Why count waves in the ocean?"

 

 

 

If ever actually asked that stupid question, I'd employ Illeana Douglas' response from some forgettable movie; "'bout a hundred" Typically shut them down.

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I saw six movies this week, and all of them had their virtues, if none of them were good enough to make a ten best list.  The Beguiled, or more precisely the Sofia Coppola remake, is beautifully shot.  It is quite competent, with all the actors doing the job they're supposed to do.  One does wonder whether something more thoughtful should be said about the original concept, of sexual fantasy turned to sexual nightmare.  Spiderman: Homecoming is an unnecessary reboot which can be defended on its own terms.  I found it took some time to warm up, since the character here is a couple of years younger than his counterpart in the original comic books.  He's also eager to be an Avenger, again not a major theme of the original comic books.  But the movie does develop some wit and adventure.

 

The Westerner is generally considered a slight Wyler.  It does have excellent Toland photography.  It has a more complex character played by Brennan, even if Brennan's performance itself isn't really Best Supporting Actor   It has Gary Cooper giving a typical Gary Cooper performance, which is tolerable if you like that sort of thing.  As it happens I do.  Ride in the Whirlwind is a taut, austere western if which Jack Nicholson and an actor who didn't become famous four years later face a lynch mob interested in executing people first and not asking questions at all.  It's also intelligent and engaging, if not ultimately substantial enough for more.

 

No, of the Vainglory of Command is a Portuguese movie which deals with an army squad in Angola.  As they go off to battle a war that they are in fact destined to lose, they ruminate about other famous defeats in Portuguese history.  It's an interesting movie, with a strangely magical sequence in the middle of the movie.  Cameraperson is an engaging documentary about a female cinematographer as she travels all over the world.  She films a boxing match in Brooklyn as well as a midwife in Nigeria.  She discusses war crimes in the former Yugoslavia while filming her two small twins.

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Out of all those you listed, THE WESTERNER is the only one I bothered with or saw.  And I'll just say that WALTER BRENNAN is the ONLY reason I even bother to watch it.  After years of only knowing Brennan through his "Grandpappy Amos" character on "The Real McCoys"  while growing up, and seeing variations on that theme in films and TV shows he's done since "McCoys" went off the air, his JUDGE ROY BEAN was a revalation.  And the most "unlike Brennan" role I've seen him in.  Anyway, although I liked them both, I much prefer BRENNAN'S Roy Bean over PAUL NEWMAN's.  ;)

 

 

Sepiatone

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I saw 20 movies for the first time in the past week, all but one from 1931.

 

The best of the week was probably The Maltese Falcon, the first film version of Hammett's book. It can't match up to the 1941 version (a personal favorite), but there was enough good here to recommend it. Ricardo Cortez is sleazier and perhaps more realistic as detective Sam Spade, and Dudley Digges is good as Gutman. And Una Merkel, here playing Spade's secretary, is always a plus. (7/10)

 

7/10

Daughter of the Dragon - Third and final Fu Manchu in Paramount's series. Warner Oland returns briefly to pass on his quest for vengeance to his daughter Anna May Wong. Scotland Yard cop Sessue Hayakawa tries to stop her, but cupid strikes them both. 

 

Flunky, Word Hard! - Silent Japanese short film is the earliest surviving from director Mikio Naruse. It's a fun comedy about a goofy family man and insurance salesman struggling to make ends meet.

 

Gentleman's Fate - Rich society guy John Gilbert finds out that his real father is a bootlegger, and John gets caught up with his new-found gangster brother Louis Wolheim. The leads are good here.

 

The Lady and the Beard - Silent Japanese comedy from Yasujiro Ozu. An old-fashioned, bearded kendo champion has trouble fitting into modern society, so a girl takes pity on him and helps him change his ways, but hopefully not his character.

 

The Mad Genius - Some outrageous pre-code moments in this one, like when impresario John Barrymore plies his stage director with cocaine to keep him on track. Barrymore exerts complete control over dancer Donald Cook, who John rescued as a boy from being beaten by Boris Karloff. Charles Butterworth is the comic relief.

 

Man of the World - William Powell is a debonair blackmailer in Paris who begins to regret his ways thanks to nice girl Carole Lombard. This one has more of a sting to it than many of its contemporaries.

 

The Millionaire - George Arliss actually seems human in this low-key comedy about a retired auto magnate who decides to buy a rundown gas station to keep busy. Jimmy Cagney fast-talks his way through one scene. 

 

The Miracle Woman - Frank Capra takes on religious phonies in the guise of Barbara Stanwyck. Blind David Manners leads her to regret being a sleazy crook. The film just misses out on being a real punch to the gut.

 

The Wizard of Lies (2017) - HBO film with Robert De Niro as Bernie Madoff, he of the world's biggest Ponzi scheme. The film, directed by Barry Levinson, seems more interested in showing that his immediate family were in fact not in on it and were clueless dupes just like his investors. Also featuring Michelle Pfeiffer.

 

6/10

Ambassador Bill - Will Rogers is the new US ambassador to the war-torn fictional European country of Sylvania. Can his down-home witticisms and affable demeanor be just what the people need? Featuring a very young Ray Milland, and Gustav von Seyffertitz.

 

Dirigible - Frank Capra directed this look at the US Navy's dirigible (blimp) force. Captain Jack Holt is ordered to use his dirigible to escort Antarctic explorer Hobart Bosworth to the South Pole. Ace pilot Ralph Graves goes along, while his wife Fay Wray throws a fit.

 

The Drums of Jeopardy - Warner Oland stars as Russian scientist Boris Karlov, determined to have revenge against the Russian noble family that he blames for his daughter's suicide. Like a Fu Manchu movie but cheaper, sillier, and more Russian.

 

Fighting Caravans - Gary Cooper leads a wagon train to California while wooing Lila Damita. Watch Wagon Train instead.

 

The Finger Points - Richard Barthelmess (with a bad southern accent) moves from Savannah to Chicago to work on a newspaper, only to end up on a gangster's payroll. Fay Wray is disappointed in him. With Clark Gable as a mob hood.

 

Friends and Lovers - Interesting cast wasted in an underwhelming melodrama. Adolphe Menjou, Lila Damita, Erich von Stroheim and Laurence Olivier get involved in illicit affairs and blackmail.

 

Graft - Minor time-waster starring Regis Toomey as a cub reporter after a story involving gangsters, politicians, and you guessed it, graft. Boris Karloff plays a hitman.

 

Honor Among Lovers - Rich boss Fredric March falls for his ace secretary Claudette Colbert, but she marries mewling twerp Monroe Owsley instead. Charlie Ruggles is March's dissolute pal who has a young Ginger Rogers on his arm.

 

Mata Hari - Greta Garbo star vehicle has some nice costumes and sets, but that's about it. 

 

The worst of the week was A Holy Terror. George O'Brien is a big, goofy lug who crashes his plane into a hotel in a Wyoming town while searching for his father's killer. Local ranch foreman Humphrey Bogart doesn't like George snooping around, so he orders his faithful sidekick Stanley Fields to "go in there and give him a gooseberry pie." Not Bogie's finest moment.  (4/10)

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Gentleman's Fate - Rich society guy John Gilbert finds out that his real father is a bootlegger, and John gets caught up with his new-found gangster brother Louis Wolheim. The leads are good here.

 

 

I enjoyed this melodrama, too. Besides, who wouldn't believe that John Gilbert and Louis Wolheim were brothers? ;)

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Least GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE(1933) what a propaganda film, one sequence has a lIne up of mobsters shot on Governor's Island NY by firing squad with the Statue Of Liberty as a backdrop. And Walter Huston gets insufferable to watch.

 

Most Ride in the Whirlwind (1966), first viewing, can't believe I'd never caught this before, I did see Hellman's The Shooting which I didn't think much of it so I probably shied away from seeking this out. It's way better with some decent cinematography. 7/10

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Least GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE(1933) what a propaganda film, one sequence has a lIne up of mobsters shot on Governor's Island NY by firing squad with the Statue Of Liberty as a backdrop. And Walter Huston gets insufferable to watch.

 

I enjoyed that one for the sheer insanity of it. It could only have been made during the Depression. 

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I saw six movies for the first time this week:

 

"Kiss of the Vampire" (1963)--Fun Hammer horror film set in early 20th century Germany.  Attention getting opening, the lush Hammer look, vivid colors, film follows the Hammer Gothic formula (Couple checks in at an odd hotel, are invited to the local castle for dinner, and more, etc.)  Leads are attractive and competent, the vampire hunter is refreshingly matter of fact, there's a minimum of stupidity, and the special effects are good to acceptable.  A fun watch.

 

"Vampire Circus" (1972)--Hammer horror set in the 1800's.  A village thinks they have gotten rid of an ancient evil, but the villagers have botched the job.  Fast forward 15 years; the village is struck by an unnamed plague that strikes the priests of the town first.  Surrounding towns have blocked all exits from the village; then a traveling circus comes to visit.  People who attend the circus start dying in strange ways.  

This is one of the rare Hammer films where the viewer has to listen carefully.  Important plot points are groaned, whispered, or are only mentioned once in a throwaway line, and not spoken of again.  I had to keep track of who was related to whom. If the viewer misses a line, or loses track of who is related to whom, film could easily become confusing.  Despite the film's flaws, this is my find for October--so far.  Recommended.

 

"The Return of Dracula" (1958)--I hated this one, excepting Francis Lederer and a brief switch to Technicolor.  The characters are idiots, especially the policeman who gets himself killed, and the heroine, who is dreadfully slow on the uptake.  The groans outnumber the laughs.  Skip it.

 

"Spite Marriage" (1929)--Buster Keaton's last silent is more plot heavy than usual, but is still funny.  Highlights--Buster destroying a stage Civil War melodrama, all by himself, and his trying to get his passed-out bride to bed.  Worth the watch.

 

"Wichita" (1955)--Jacques Tourneur western that has a pacifist theme.  Notable for it's direction, the cinematography, and an early look at Vera Miles in one of her first starring roles.

 

"Berserk!" (1967)--Joan Crawford had one of her last roles in this British horror film that starts out quickly, then turns into a whodunit.  There are plenty of suspects, and some of them are disposed of in inventive ways.  The Billy Smart Circus of England participated in the filming.  A watchable horror film/whodunit, with occasional animal acts.  Worth a watch.

 

Favorite--"Vampire Circus" (1972).

 

Least Favorite--"The Return of Dracula" (1958).

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I enjoyed that one for the sheer insanity of it. It could only have been made during the Depression. 

It was bizarro America depicted in that one.

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I saw four movies this week.  First are two unnecessary blockbusters.  The Pirates of the Caribbean:  On Stranger Tides shows that Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow is still tolerable, especially if you have the movie in the background while you're walking on other things.  But the interlocking plots, done with some charm in the second movie, is just tedious in this one.  And caring whether or not Penelope Cruz has a genuine daughter-father relationship with Blackbeard pirate--who really cares?  The latest version of The Mummy has a female villain this time.  It also has Tom Cruise and a very uninteresting woman as his love interest.  There are some obvious plot holes, such as why bury the title character in Iraq?  Since the secret institute finds a way to take her down once halfway through the movie, why not do the same thing when she gets free for the big finale?  And why have your institute led by a man who has great difficulties not changing into a super powered sociopath?  One the one hand, there's nothing as offensive as the casual racism of the 1999 version.  And there's one bright idea:  the Mummy is able to control the sands and directs them against the good guys.  And since sand and glass are both made of the same materials that means she can send a blizzard of shattered glass against them.  Of course, this leads immediately to one of those scenes where the good guys outrun a disaster that is maiming and probably killing dozens of people behind them.

 

The Great Lie is perhaps best known as the movie Mary Astor won an oscar for, given to her in the same year the Academy ignored her in The Maltese Falcon.  What can we say about this melodrama?  Sam McDaniel is really annoying as a cringing Jim Crow servant.  Fortunately he plays less of a role as the movie goes one.  Davis is good as the wronged woman, and Astor as the nefarious other women is also good, and comparatively better in the supporting actress category.  George Brent as the man being fought over is, quite uninspiring.  Also, it's sexist that Astor is damned for caring about her career, and quite rich given the star power of the women are the drawing point of the movie.  Julieta is based, oddly enough, on three Alice Munro stories of all things.  While Adriana Ugarte is fairly charming as the younger version of the protagonist, I had problems with the movie as the melodrama folded out.  At one point the protagonist makes a frankly inexplicable decision.  But the larger problem is that the tragedy tends to deal on happenstance and a certain abruptness that doesn't fully work.

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I saw 19 movies for the first time last week, most from 1931. However, the best and worst were from this year.

 

The best of the week was Baby Driver (2017), a fast-paced, pop-music-heavy crime/action film from director Edgar Wright. A preternaturally gifted getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) is forced to work for heist organizer Kevin Spacey to pay off a debt. Baby falls for diner waitress Lily James and wants to go legit, but Spacey won't let him. Now Baby has to figure a way out, and how to survive run-ins with scary crooks Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx.  (8/10)

 

8/10

Street Scene (1931) - Slice-of-life look at the ethnically diverse tenants of a lower-class NYC apartment building. Sylvia Sidney is adorable, but the highlights are the film debuts of character performers John Qualen and Beulah Bondi, both of whom carried over from the stage version.

 

7/10

Murder By the Clock (1931) - Wacky mystery/horror flick with William "Stage" Boyd trying to solve the murder of a mean but rich old woman. The highlights are Lilyan Tashman as a femme fatale and Irving Pichel as a mentally-slow strongman who dreams of murdering people.

 

The Phantom of Paris (1931) - John Gilbert has fun as a Houdini-esque Parisian escape artist who goes to elaborate lengths to prove his innocence after being charged with murder. 

 

The Star Witness (1931) - Odd mix of a gangster picture and a domestic comedy, as a middle-class family witnesses a gangland murder, and D.A. Walter Huston forces them to testify. Chic Sale does his old hick shtick, while Nat Pendleton gets to throw a guy into a wall over and over again.

 

Svengali (1931) - John Barrymore with a pointy beard uses hypnosis to mentally dominate Marion Marsh into becoming a singing sensation. Lots of nice expressionistic touches in this one.

 

Tonight or Never (1931) - Gloria Swanson is an opera diva who is accused of being too emotionally detached. She decides to let Melvyn Douglas (in his debut) try and heat her up a bit.

 

6/10

My Sin (1931) - Tallulah Bankhead is a "disreputable" lady working in Panama when she shoots a guy. Drunk lawyer Fredric March helps her defend herself in court, and she moves to NYC and assumes a new identity. When she goes to marry a rich society fellow, her secret past threatens her future. Yawn.

 

The Neighbor's Wife and Mine (1931) - Japanese comedy about a playwright taking his family to a country town to find peace and quiet so that he can work. Naturally things don't turn out that way. This is the earliest Japanese movie that I've seen that has full sound.

 

The Speckled Band (1931) - Raymond Massey makes his film debut playing Sherlock Holmes in this minor offering. He's good, but the filmmaking is lacking.

 

The Squaw Man (1931) - Cecil B. DeMille remakes the same story for the third time. Englishman Warner Baxter comes to Western U.S. and becomes a rancher, battling Charles Bickford while falling for native woman Lupe Velez. I can't blame him.

 

Ten Cents a Dance (1931) - Routine melodrama inspired by a hit song of the day. Barbara Stanwyck is a taxi dancer who marries milksop Monroe Owsley, but when he screws up, she has to go to rich guy Ricardo Cortez for help.

 

5/10

Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961) - Goofy George Pal fantasy with Greek fisherman Anthony Hall getting enslaved in the mythical land of Atlantis after escorting princess Joyce Taylor back home. John Dall wants to make a big laser to dominate the world, but High Priest Edward Platt thinks that's a bad idea. William Smith intimidates as an Atlantean guard. Watch out for Fat Blue Neptune.

 

The Range Feud (1931) - Bland B-western starring Buck Jones, featuring a young John Wayne in support. Typical stuff, but with a lot of really big hats.

 

Taris (1931) - Short French film from director Jean Vigo that shows champion swimmer Jean Taris in motion.

 

4/10

The Sin Ship (1931) - Louis Wolheim stars in and directed this flaccid drama about a drunken ship captain (Wolheim) who escorts "good people" Mary Astor and Ian Keith to another country. Astor makes Wolheim clean up his act, but she and Keith are secretly crooks on the lam. Astor's character name "Frisco Kitty" really amused Ben Mankiewicz.

 

Women of All Nations (1931) - Third in a series of comedic military flicks starring Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe as US Marines who constantly compete with each other. Bela Lugosi shows up as an Egyptian prince with a harem. Terrible.

 

3/10

Truth or Dare (2017) - SyFy Channel horror movie about a group of dumb college kids who play the title game in a house infested with "evil". Lots of stupid, gory self-torture, and that's just the viewer!

 

The worst of the week was another new SyFy Channel original, House of the Witch (2017). Another group of dumb teens hold a Halloween party in an abandoned, long-rumored-to-be-haunted house on the outskirts of town. Soon enough, the evil spirit of an executed witch starts picking them off one by one. Cheap, poorly acted, and badly written. Trick or treat?   (2/10)

 

I also re-watched a few:

 

Freaks (1932) 8/10

Grand Hotel (1932) 8/10

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) 8/10

The Mummy (1932) 8/10

White Zombie (1932) 7/10

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I saw five movies for the first time this past week:

 

"Martin Scorsese Presents, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows" (2007)--Excellent documentary on Lewton and his Hollywood years.  Covers time when he was sponsored by his aunt Nazimova, to his work with David O. Selznick, to his being hired by RKO to set up a low budget horror film unit.  Lewton had a streak of depression which shaped all his films in some way.  Highly recommended.

 

"Giant of Metropolis" (1961)--Goofier than usual sword and sandals flick from Italy, this time set in distant Atlantis.  Film looks and sounds like a remake of the Flash Gordon serials, along with Fritz Lang's 1927 "Metropolis".  The crazed color scheme, sets, and costumes, along with the stilted acting and dialogue make this worth a look.  Archive.org has a good copy uploaded in 2016; it's other copies of the film are unwatchable.

 

"The Horrible Doctor Hichcock" (1961)--Italian version of a Victorian Gothic horror film.  Beautifully photographed, film uses all the cliches effectively (a dark and stormy night, banging windows, pianos that play by themselves, etc.).  Barbara Steele was a fine actress, and she does one of her best jobs in this film.  Watch for the borrowings from Alfred Hitchcock's films.  Recommended.

 

"Blood and Roses" (1961)--Roger Vadim's try at a vampire film.  Fine photography by Renoir, and a dreamlike atmosphere make up for the slow pacing of the film.  The kids in the film are allowed to be amusing, instead of intensely irritating, which is a nice change.  Recommended.

 

"Prehistoric Women" (1967)--Amusing nonsense from Hammer Studios.  Martine Beswick is arresting in looks and acting.  Her leading man tries and fails to keep from smiling.  1970's "Carry On: Up the Jungle" satirizes two sequences directly from this film.  Recommended for bad movie lovers.

 

Most Favorite--"Martin Scorsese Presents, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows" (2007).

 

Least Essential--"Giant of Metropolis" (1961).

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I saw three movies last week.  Wind River is directed by the same man who wrote the scripts for Hell or High Water and Sicario.  Jeremy Renner is good as the protagonist, Grahame Greene is good as the Native American police officer, and Elizabeth Olsen is OK, all investigating a rape/probable homicide on a reservation in Wyoming.  But there are no shortage of problems when one thinks about them.  For a start, the movie makes much of missing and abused Native American women.  But the overwhelming poverty isn't really understood:  one gets the impression the main problem with living in Wyoming is that everyone is so far from each other.  And there's the fact that both the guilty party and the forces of justice both, independently as it happens, make stunning stupid moves. 

 

The Judge is pure oscarbait, and I'm not biting.  It is so full of cliche and free of genuine insight that I lost patience with it long before its hardly surprising ending.  Little Sister is an independent movie about a young woman about to become a nun who visits her family.  One problem with the movie is that she is shy to the point of blandness.  Another problem is that one doesn't really connect her character with her past (she was into Marilyn Manson as a teenager) to her present.  At one point we see her arguing with her mother, played by Ally Sheedy, and not only do we think she's Sheedy's daughter, we don't really think they're in the same movie.

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I watched 22 movies for the first time this week, and they were all over the place release year-, genre-, and quality-wise. The breakdown is as follows:

 

The best of the week was a tie. Downstairs (1932) was a terrific display of a morally reprehensible cad played by John Gilbert, who also wrote the story. He gets hired on as a chauffeur at a baron's estate and proceeds to wreak havoc with the other employees, namely butler Paul Lukas and his new wife, maid Virginia Bruce, as well as the baron's wife (Olga Baclanova). Gilbert is devilish, and the film ends on a decidedly Pre-Code note.   (8/10)

 

The other stand-out this week was Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), the latest attempt to adapt the comic book character to the big screen. This version nails it more than the earlier films (a few of which I liked). Tom Holland is a likable Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the tone is kept youthful and humorous. I also liked that the scope was much smaller, with Spider-Man trying to stop a gang of high-tech thieves and weapons dealers led by Michael Keaton, as opposed to the usual world-ending cosmic malarkey in most Marvel movies.   (8/10)

 

 

7/10

Air Mail (1932) - John Ford directed this look at the early, dangerous days of the air mail service. Ralph Bellamy oversees a group of harried pilots who often don't make it out of their perilous flights alive. Pat O'Brien is the cocky new guy. This is kind of like The Dawn Patrol with less drinking and more postage.

 

American Madness (1932) - Frank Capra directs Walter Huston as a hard-charging banker who tries to stop a run on his bank. Pat O'Brien is a patsy for creepy-looking Gavin Gordon.

 

Arsene Lupin (1932) - Gentleman thief John Barrymore tries to outwit police inspector Lionel Barrymore, while also wooing Karen Morley. There are some good smoldering love scenes in this one.

 

Cynara (1932) - Married man Ronald Colman has an affair behind the back of wife Kay Francis. When he tries to break it off, the lover gets kooky. Kind of like Fatal Attraction with less rabbit boiling.

 

The Dark Horse (1932) - Warren William stars as the silver-tongued political campaign manager of doofus Guy Kibbee. Bette Davis is the long-suffering assistant. 

 

Devil and the Deep (1932) - "Introducing" Charles Laughton as the insanely jealous husband of Tallulah Bankhead. He's a Navy sub commander who thinks all of his junior officers are sleeping with Tallulah, including last second-in-command Cary Grant and new second-in-command Gary Cooper. What a cast!

 

 

6/10

Big City Blues (1932) - Eric Linden is a smalltown rube who gets blamed for a killing in the Big City. Saucy showgirl Joan Blondell tries to help him out. Humphrey Bogart punches Lyle Talbot, thus rendering the whole thing worthwhile.

 

A Bill of Divorcement (1932) - Katharine Hepburn makes her debut in this George Cukor-directed drama starring John Barrymore as a mental patient who abruptly shows back up in his family's life.

 

The Half-Naked Truth (1932) - Lee Tracy is a fast-talking huckster who tries to make dancer Lupe Velez into a Broadway star. 

 

Madam Satan (1930) - It appears a lot of TCM viewers caught this one the other night, judging by the commentary elsewhere. I'll just say that the last half of the film warrants the price of admission, and the costume designer should have been given an award, or fired, I'm not sure which.

 

 

5/10

The Big Stampede (1932) - John Wayne and Duke the Wonder Horse fight cattle rustler Noah Beery.

 

Hold 'Em Jail (1932) - Wheeler & Woolsey comedy set in a prison and involving football. Try to decide which is more cringe-worthy: Woolsey wooing Edna May Oliver, or 37-year-old Wheeler flirting with 15-year-old Betty Grable.

 

The Hurricane Express (1932) - John Wayne stars in this action serial as a pilot who tries to stop the "Wrecker", a mysterious masked bad guy after a gold shipment about the title choo-choo.

 

Love Affair (1932) - Dorothy Mackraill loves aeronautic engineer Humphrey Bogart so much that she'll marry another guy just to get the dough Bogie needs to pay for his airplane engine company. 

 

Neverknock (2017) - Canadian horror movie about a slimy monster that attacks people who knock on a cursed door. The victims have hallucinations of their worst fears. The creature design is unique.

 

 

4/10

The Bye Bye Man (2017) - Silly horror tale about a boogey-man who curses anyone that says his dumb name, and even those who hear it. Viewers receive their own form of punishment. Faye Dunaway shows up to scare the older members of the audience.

 

Rings (2017) - Part 3 in the series about a cursed VHS tape that brings death to those who watch it. I found it amusing as they struggled to find a way to have young people in 2017 watch something on VHS. Vincent D'onofrio shows up as a creepy blind dude.

 

The Sandman (2017) - Sub-par sci-fi/horror from executive producer Stan Lee plays like a mash-up of The Babadook and Firestarter, with a young psychic girl being menaced by the boogey-man from a storybook. 

 

 

The worst of the week was also a toss-up: Haunted Gold (1932) was another in the long line of short B-Westerns John Wayne made in the 1930's. This one also features Duke the Wonder Horse. The Scooby-Doo plot concerns a supposedly haunted gold mine that is fought over by Wayne, Sheila Terry, and a bunch of dumb bad guys. Wayne gets an offensive-caricature black buddy this time, one that speaks with a "watermelon accent" according to another character. Yeesh.

 

Then there's Snow Devils (1967) - the fourth entry in the lamentable Italian "Gamma 1" series of science fiction turkeys. This one involves a group of hairy aliens that look like Zach Galifianakis in grease-paint pretending to be Yetis in the Himalayas in order to facilitate world domination. Stay tuned for the end space battle if you dare, as it puts the "special" in special effects.

 

 

I also rewatched a few more from 1932:

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (9/10)

Scarface (9/10)

Fanny (8/10)

Horse Feathers (8/10)

Island of Lost Souls (8/10)

Vampyr (8/10)

Tarzan the Ape Man (7/10)

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Lawrence, I'm thoroughly enjoying your year by year reviews. You draw our attention to movies I've loved and point out some I want to investigate.

 

I liked The Half-Naked Truth better than you did. Easily an 8/10 for me. Gregory La Cava was an excellent director of comedies, and it's unfortunate that alcoholism shortened his career.

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I saw six movies for the first time last week:

 

"Madam Satan" (1930)--A Cecil B. DeMille early talkie, part comedy/musical/disaster movie.  The film starts out slow, but stay with it for the first 50 minutes or so.  The second half of the film is worth seeing, and the method of abandoning an airship that's falling apart is something to see.  Memorably bizarre film.  Recommended.

 

"Skidoo" (1968)--Otto Preminger reportedly went on an acid trip before filming this movie.  I'm not sure it helped, or if anything besides a new script would have helped.  Disastrously unfunny film has Jackie Gleason as a retired mobster who's called to do one last hit.  Carol Channing as his wife is in there working for laughs and actually getting a few.  Peter Lawford as a corrupt senator gets laughs.  Slim Summerville in a bit is amusing.  But Gleason, Groucho Marx, Mickey Rooney and many others sink without trace, all victims of an unfunny, formless script and clueless direction.

 

"Scream, Blacula, Scream" (1973)--Second Blacksploitation version of Dracula is somewhat better than the first.  William Marshall really works his cape this time around, after a voodoo ceremony brings him back to Unlife.  Pam Grier does well as a voodoo priestess in training/ imperilled heroine.  Barbara Rhoades is memorably bad in a prolonged death scene.  The bat Marshall turns into is obviously fake animation.

 

"Myra Breckinridge" (1970)--Should be seen by every filmmaker as to how to NOT make a movie.  Surgeon John Carradine performs a sex change upon Myron (Rex Reed) after remarking he's never done one before.  The audience inside the operating room gives him a standing ovation.  Myra (Raquel Welch) then states that her goal is the destruction of masculinity (I'm paraphrasing).  She then goes to her Uncle Buck's (John Huston) acting school, to claim a half million dollars.  The few laughs the viewer is allowed seem to be there by accident, although Welch does show a possible talent for comedy.  Mae West and Farrah Fawcett (in her debut) also get laughs, although it's not clear that director Michael Sarne did anything to help them get their laughs.  Sarne pretty much killed his career with this film.  He didn't direct again for 5 years, and didn't act again for 11 years.  Recommended for those who watch cinematic trainwrecks.

 

"Sweet Kitty Bellairs" (1930)--I found this by accident, mislabeled on another website.  Since this is coming up in Jan. 2018, I'll just say this is almost all music, with a plot about a girl in love with three men in the 18th century.  The songs fit the material like a glove, and the film is most amusing.  Recommended.

 

"Lady Windermere's Fan" (1925)--Good but not great Ernst Lubitsch satire on the manners of London society in the 1920's.  Film is well acted, with subtle bits all the way through, but the plot creaks, groans, and sometimes stops the action dead in its' tracks.  Irene Rich is excellent in the film as an adventuress.  Film is definitely worth a watch.

 

Favorite--"Sweet Kitty Bellairs" (1930).

 

Least Favorite--"Skidoo" (1968).

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