Archive for the ‘MURDER’ Category


29 Nov


Foxcatcher – directed by Bennett Miller. Biodrama. 134 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: Two international wrestling champion brothers become enmeshed with a wealthy aficionado.


One wonders what scene it might be, but there is a sense of one missing. Between Vanessa Redgrave who plays his mother and Steve Carell, who plays the billionaire John Du Pont.

For Mrs Du Pont is an enormously accomplished equestrienne. Now being an equestrienne, with an entire room of her mansion given over to her many trophies, requires an early start, among riders who are seasoned and talented and unbribable. To win those prizes you have to be the same. You have to know your onions from way back.

Her son, however, takes on the hobby of international competitive wrestling in his fifties. He had the interest and even the temperament to be a patron. But he sets himself up, instead, as a “mentor, leader, and coach” – none of which he was, as though to compete with the his mother in her own sport.

As this fraud takes place before our eyes, we see his protégé, played by Channing Tatum, lose vim. Having already won two world championships, he is to compete in the Seoul Olympics. But the more Du Pont engages with him the less true air remains for Tatum to inhale as his own. Presently, Du Pont alienates him from his own brother, David, played by Mark Ruffalo. And then bribes Ruffalo to live at his vast estate where he has built a training facility for the Olympic wrestlers.

But somewhere we need one more scene with the mother. We see her voice her opinion that wrestling is lowbrow, and in another scene we see her turn away from the training of the wrestlers as her son attempts to show off his “leadership” in front of her. It might be a scene in which he says to her, “What if I won an Olympic Gold Medal, mother?’

The piece could not be better cast or played. Ruffalo, who is the real coach, completely convinces that he is a coach, and the care and savvy he imbrues the character with are just enough to delude him about the possible nature of Du Pont.

Channing Tatum plays Mark Shultz, the younger wrestler brother as a young man focused on his sport to the exclusion of everything else. He has no girlfriend, no children, no outside interests. This means he has the blinders on, but Tatum plays the wrestler as aware of himself and his own nature upon which he depends for security in his sport.

Steve Carell plays Du Pont. He carries himself chin-in-air like William Buckley, and like Buckley he is clammy as an adder – but with this difference, Buckley was a person of great accomplishment, Du Pont is a person of none that have not been purchased. His is a cogent portrayal of an idiot dauphin. He’s quite fascinating.

I’m not sure, however, that films are solely about portraiture. Or that to achieve a fine representation of a character is sufficient to a drama. The drama here does not play out; one figures it out. Carell is especially worth dwelling on amid an unexceptionable cast. And such a story is come by rarely. So it’s good to be given it by all of them. And you will not waste your time spending a couple of hours with it.



03 Feb

Rashomon – Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Drama. Four participants in a violent criminal deed, each tell it from their particular point of view. 88 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once you leave the theatre. I remember when it first appeared. It was, with the early films of Vittorio De Sica and S. Ray, the opening stroke of the introduction of international film to American audiences. They all were startling, indifferent to Hollywood style, profound, gutsy, and beautiful, none more so than Kurosawa. The acting style was Japanese in that it was intense, raw, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized, and firmly and deeply lodged in voice production; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. How he got the part is extraordinary: a friend of Kurosawa told him to come to the stodgy institute’s auditions because someone was tearing the place apart; Kurosawa came and saw that one of the greatest actors in he world, although completely unknown, was before him. He inveigled the institute to accept Mifune. Watch him: he’s the fastest actor in human response ever to appear in film. He can turn on a yen.  There is no one like him for contained anger but Brando. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the sets completely imprisoned. Does it hold up? Masterpieces do. This time round all these years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.




Crime Of Passion

28 Apr

Crime of Passion – Directed by Gerd Oswald.  Female Pulp. A successful columnist marries an ordinary Joe and goes nuts. 84 minutes Black and White 1957.

* * * *

Barbara Stanwyck is really superb in this picture – and so is Sterling Haydn. There’s a lot of nonsense talk about film noir. Film noir depended upon being shot in black and white and it also depended upon a disenfranchised, downbeat, beaten-down male or female character as the lead and the sense no one can be trusted. This film is not noir. Just because a film is beautifully lit and in black and white does not make it noir. This picture is a good old-fashioned woman’s pulp – the story of an able and prominent newspaper columnist who falls for a good hearted cop, retires, and is driven to distraction by his lack of ambition. The scenes with Raymond Burr are odd to see, because Burr, who made his career throwing his weight around, is quite sympathetic here. Stanwyck is a commanding actress who holds the screen with a minimum of histrionics. She’s older here, but only in years. Her hair was going grey, which is why she steered away from color movies for so many years, but it looks blond. And her figure is tops. It’s a double-edged proto-woman’s lib picture. All female noir films deal with a woman disempowered after WWII, at which point they marry, not for love but for money and power, using sex as the hook. This is not the case here; here the problem is the drabness of housework. Still, after Stanwyck loses her income, it’s entirely wonderful to see how many fabulous designer housecoats and negligees can be purchased on an ordinary police detective’s salary. This is the 50s; this is still movie star time. You’ll enjoy it.



Storm Warning

22 Mar

Storm Warning — directed by Jerry Wald — Drama. On a visit to her younger sister in a small southern town, a woman witnesses a murder that appears to be committed by her brother-in-law.

* * * *

What about Ginger Rogers? Was she some good actress or not? Boy she certainly is good here. And set her up against Doris Day and you can see what authority and readiness she had. She was, in Hello Dolly, rumored to be hateful to work with, and she may in her personal life have been humorless. She certainly had that peculiar way of ending her eyebrows at the center with an apostrophe. But what a wonderful chin she had. And she is a slender as can can be. She looks wonderful, and here she is already 39. She’s too classy and smart to be the touring model (as if there ever was such a thing), but one passes that over because of the conviction she gives to all her dramatic work, her simply being in the material, walking through a bowling alley, running in the rain. She was a strong athlete and tennis player, and of course was a national star dancer in her teens, touring and holding her own on Broadway, where she first met Astaire, who helped choreograph one of her shows. She had an acid touch, if needed. And here it works well against Steve Cochran, who is gorgeous, but not really a good enough actor to play the part of someone who is stupid. This required someone like Dan Duryea or Richard Widmark who both played stupid people as though they were canny. Doris Day had no training as an actor, and it always showed, but at least she was always fully invested in what she did, and could turn on a dime and come up with it. Here we also have Ronald Reagan, really quite good as the wised up DA who can’t forge a case against the Klan. He is never without a tipped-back fedora and a slangy approach to the townsfolk, none of whom have Southern accents, if you will. The ending is good. One of Jerry Wald’s social statements, and not a moment too soon. Not a bad picture, not a great one, but with what makes a Star a Star, Rogers is worth the ticket.



The Thirteenth Guest

26 Feb

The Thirteenth Guest — Directed by Albert Ray — Murder Mystery. Who will be the next to be bumped off at this creepy-house-creepy-house-party anyhow?  69 minutes Black and White 1932.

* * *

Well, here we have Ginger Rogers aged 20 — and, of course, she’s not bumped off at all. This flick is a sort of Necco Candy, a period confection which I would only devour in a movie theatre and which drew from me all the brainless attention it was meant to. It’s a murder mystery complete with all the spider-webby appurtenances of the genre: a secret peephole, an inner sanctum, and a suave private eye. And there is Ginger, slender and pert and blond, and, since she is young, she is entirely fool-proof as the target of the dastardly murderer. Now, of course, we know there is no nourishment in a Necco wafer so we should not expect any from a B flick with which a really already experienced performer paid the rent. She had made 19 movies before she made her first musical with Fred Astaire, she had toured on the road as a star since she was 14. And here, as usual, she makes hard work look easy. She gave a lot, did our Ginger. All hail to her!



Lady Of Burlesque

17 Dec

Lady Of Burlesque – directed by William Wellman – a backstage mystery comedy about a hooch dancer and a couple of murdered canaries. 91 minutes black and white 1943.

* * * * *

Every student of film and every person fascinated by its craft could not do better than to watch William Wellman’s management of crowd movement in this back-stage whodunit. The set is spectacularly real in terms of its seediness, dusty props, crumby dressing rooms, and crowdedness. The film is alive with imaginative motion. Which stops dead when the inspector calls to examine the personnel and everyone has to gather in a dressing room that allows of scarcely any motion at all. So the movie lurches effectively between the hurly burly and hustle of the shows and the standstill of these scenes. Michael O’Shea plays the two-bit fool who woes the heroine and he is perfectly cast because he is lower-class at heart and so is Barbara Stanwyck, a Brooklyn girl from way back. She is not physically convincing as a Burlesque Queen; she does not have the aplomb or the powerful double-entendre of a Gypsy Rose Lee who wrote the story, but otherwise she is marvelous, for two reasons. She is a person of determination: her walk is like a naval destroyer moving across a duck pond. And she had the common touch. The burley-que life on stage was coarser than what we see here, but the casting of the girls with their snappy slang brings out the necessary, as do the costumes organized around their bodies not to reveal their sexuality but to astound by exaggerating it symbolically. A g-string tells less than a three foot hat!



Crossed Over

03 Dec

Crossed Over – directed by Bobby Roth — a novelist who has lost her son in a hit-and-run becomes friends with a notorious murderess in prison. 89 minutes color 2002.

* * * *

It but touches on things. How could it have done otherwise? I don’t know. The hell-realm of Karla Faye Tucker would be something worth looking at, but instead of going inside, we skip along on the stones of her personal history, but we never fall in, for the script misses itself. Very sad about her, good that she had a spiritual emergence. And then was executed. That was enough. The Diane Keaton character who persistently visits Tucker after her own son is killed by a hit-and-run driver is also given the once-over. Diane Keaton is an actor of genius; her recognition scene early in the picture is stunning. Maury Chaykin is an actor of the very first rank, and he offers a lot to Keaton here; he brings a sense of her reality in him, and so we do believe they are well married. But what we are given, instead of the collusion of Keaton and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tucker, in a mysterious joining, is pat. The tears are pat. The sorrows are pat. The rapprochements are pat. Everything is routine. It is as though history must be honored over truth; as though this were not a drama but a documentary. Jennifer Jason Leigh is well cast as the murderess. She is an actor of great brilliance, whose career has collapsed because of a failure of voice production and trained actor’s proper articulation. One never understand the words she is saying. Nonetheless she is perfectly cast here, for the part needs an actress of no personal appeal whatsoever, and such she is. The film is well-directed and very well filmed. The prison mis-en-scene is uncannily right. But where is the power of a real story?



The Next Three Days

20 Nov

The Next Three Days –– directed by Paul Haggis –– suspense thriller about a woman convicted of murder and her husband who is not at all convicted she did it. Color 2010.

* * * * *

Well, you may wonder if you are in your ripe forties and had the part Russell Crowe plays here how well could you play it? Not within a mile as well as Russell Crowe does, was my answer as I watched. He is in his scruffy three-days-unshaven mode here, and he is in the hands of rough story that carries us into its surprises without betraying our credulity. Crowe plays a man unexceptionally in love with his wife, well played by Elizabeth Banks, and the conviction he brings to his feeling for her is the carrying force of the film on an emotional level. This love is put to the test by his own foolish plans to rescue her which projects us into the level of action, where the film is never still, always thrusting us forward into its next frustration, calamity, conniption. Crowe is in virtually every scene, and his registration as an actor is sterling throughout. He is always on the emotional and physical money. The film, however, is grounded, not by this performance but by the writing and direction and playing of his son, who is quiet and calm and patient, and represents the unspoken value system of the piece therefore. True, the director takes us past certain improbabilities to reach its excitement, but they vanish swiftly as the plot parts and lets us in on it. Liam Neeson has one scene, and he is superb in it. Altogether a well-written, tightly told  action adventure piece, beautifully produced, costumed, cast, written, designed, and performed.



Day Of Wrath

13 Nov

Day Of Wrath –– Carl Dryer –– a young bride, a young son in law, an old preacher husband –– 1943 black and white.

* * * * *

Another version of Desire Under The Elms, aka Phaedra, aka Hippolytus, and so forth. In this version we have a powerful puritanical early 17th Century village minister and his good looking young wife and grown son back from college. Watch out! Here the chorus is supplied by the old minister’s mean even older mother very ably played by Sigrid Neiiendaman. As in The Passion of Joan Of Arc, Dryer offers up immolation as the fear point of it all. And that immediately gets the ball rolling, as a stout old lady is condemned, tracked down, tortured, tried, and burned to death as a witch by the corrupt minister. A very great actress plays this part, Anna Svierkkier, and it is delightful to realize that an artist of completely modern temperament, skill, talent, and urge was already an old woman in Denmark; I thought we’d have to wait for Geraldine Page and Kim Stanley for the naturalness of this level of approach. Dryer’s layout in the piece is curious, as all the men suffer the torments of the damned and are weakened by it, while all the women are completely without conscience or guilt of any kind, and are strengthened by it. The Day Of Wrath when it comes sure aint going to bother these dames. Made in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1944, the Teutonic (puritanical) brutality is shrouded in the severe ruffs of the age of Rembrandt. But what we are drawn to here is Dryer’s various story-telling manias, the long, long tracking shot, the devastating close-up, the molded lighting, the leisure he afford his actors and the tale, the dire solemnity of treatment, and the sense you are watching a silent picture when you are not. Do not, I say do not, lest you suffer That Wrath When The Day Comes, buy a bag of popcorn to eat this one by.



Silver Streak

08 Nov

Silver Streak –– directed by Arthur Hiller –– romantic adventure comedy in which nefarious doings get let loose on a speeding train. 113 minutes color 1976.

* * * * *

Gene Wilder’s eyes are of such a pellucid teacup blue that you know their innocence must be polluted before long. And so it comes to pass. I wouldn’t call the great Jill Clayburg pollution, but she does seduce him with an ease smoother than finesse and swifter than the swift at dawn. Ned Beatty a great actor who must have won three dozen Oscars by now, or none, plays, as usual, a person who wandered out of a Sinclair Lewis novel. Presently, the skullduggery starts to boil up, guided suavely by the person of Patrick McGoohan. Into the train wreck he plans for these person’s lives, zooms Richard Pryor, and the bullets start to fly to the right and to the left, but never, O never, to the heart of our hero which is preserved by his ironclad devotion to our Jill. The film starts as a leaden streak until Mr. Pryor’s arrival, but watch his invention, his imagination, his beautiful, restless, and exquisitely beggarly dissatisfaction driving every scene to glory. Have there ever been any more than five elegant leading women to appear in American film? Was Kay Francis one? Gwyneth Paltrow is certainly one. Jill Clayburgh is absolutely one, and it is a treat to know it as a rare fact right here in this amusing escape by train.



Batman Forever

07 Nov

Batman Forever –– directed by Joel Schumacher –– the caped superhero is beset on all sides, of course. ––122 minutes color 1995.

* * * * *

“Was that over-the-top? I can’t tell,” utters Jim Carrey, and one wonders at the question. Has Jim Carrey ever been under over-the-top? Certainly not in this film. He is clearly a great film creature, and give him a gilded cane and stand back. The picture itself is overloaded with focal possibilities. First we have Tommy Lee Jones miscast as someone who is not a genius and therefore cannot be played by him. All Jones can do is howl with gruesome laughter. He plays a petty thief running a covey of red capped robbers, but he is at once supplanted by Nicole Kidman, whose blond hair brings the only daylight into the night-owl doings of the Batman milieu. God helps anyone who commits a 9-5 crime in Gotham; Batman only saves the night, never the day. Kidman, no matter how ever-glorious, is soon supplanted by Jim Carrey as a sedulous inventor employee of Bruce Wayne. Carrey consumes every scene he is in, with his brilliant physical comedy and hyperbolic acting style and range of invention. He’s wonderful of course. But his Niagara turns everyone around him into a trickle. He is followed but not supplanted by Chris O’Donnell who enters as a fledging Robin. The whole film is all quite lovely, and gives full satisfaction to one’s longing for midnight draughts. Val Kilmer is Bruce Wayne, and why not? The part is cast for the mouth showing under the mask. He is a very good actor and perfectly at ease in the role of the adult orphan. Complaints are irrelevant. So is praise. Who could critique a mud bath at a spa or champagne fountain at a wedding? Not I. Over-indulgence is at times the only proper rule of law. All I can say is that Jim Carrey fifteen years ago was at the perfect age to have played Hamlet, and should have done so. He had the antic temperament, the innocence of eye, and the pain.




25 Oct

Roshamon –– directed by Akira Kurosawa –– murder mystery in which four versions of the event are related by those who were there, none of those versions agreeing. 88 minutes black and white 1960.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once it is over, for it never is over. When it was first shown, it entered into the consciousness of the world like scripture. I remember when it first appeared. The acting style was Japanese in one sense of the word in that it was intense, gutsy, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. It opened up Asian film to the West. Toshiro Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the two sets completely imprisoned. This time round all these 50 years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.



The Big Sleep

24 Oct

The Big Sleep – directed by Michael Winner – “noir” remake of a detective investigating a blackmail case. –– 102 minutes color 1878.

* *

Mitchum carries himself well through this poorly directed piece, a redo of the Bogart-Bacall. Oliver Reed appears, as does John Mills, Richard Todd, and Colin Blakely. For the money, dear, for the money. Sara Miles is sexier than anyone has a right to be. Joan Collins keeps her dignity, if you can imagine such a thing. But poor Richard Boone is off his mark, and even that past master Jimmy Stewart seems uncertain of his bearings, as which of us would not be, staggering through this ghost of a classic. Amusing palaces.  Made in the dear druggy days of Great Britain.



Peeping Tom

24 Oct

Peeping Tom –– directed by Michael Powell –– macabre drama about a photographer who kills with his camera. 101 minutes color 1960

* * *

Not as bad as it was said to be at the time of its release, and not as good as it was in later years claimed to be. Its interest does not lie with Powell’s famous sense of color, which is really simply bad taste in Technicolor. Nor does it consist of our interest in this film as a noir, for it cannot be a noir, since it is in color and since it was made 10 years after 1950 when the era of noir ceased. No, a picture of this kind must depend upon our interest in the personalities of the principals, and here they are not sufficient to the task of holding it. Carl Boehm is the leading actor, good looking, blond, and very German, which indeed he was; he was the son of a famous conductor. But why is a German called upon to play a role perfectly suited to Dirk Bogarde? Anna Massey his opposite in the film is the daughter of Raymond Massey, and she resembles him when in profile. She also has the habit as did he of an over-articulating mouth, which she cannot help, but she also delivers her lines from the same inner place her father did, which is that of well-projected unbroken recitation. This wrecks vulnerability. She is costumed oddly, also, for one cannot understand how she can afford such smart clothes when her circumstances are shabby genteel. The direction of this material is skewed throughout, particularly in the film studio scenes, which are handled with contempt as burlesque rather than as serious attempts to make a commercial film. Powell hated the studio system at Pinewood and this hatred sabotages these scenes and displaces the drama going on in them. Worst of all, the film is mis-titled. It has nothing to do with a peeping tom. It has nothing to do with voyeurism, so, if the slimy title did not disgust the reviewers of that time, it certainly must have disappointed them. It is simply a picture about a peculiar maniac. The commentary which accompanies it is numbingly dumb. It reads into the picture symbols where there are really only cymbals. Let us preserve a disrespectful silence then and say no more.




23 Oct

RED –– directed by Robert Schwentke–– an action spy comedy adventure in which a bouquet of experienced old-time CIA assassins come out of retirement when a past score starts to be settled against them. Color 2010

* * * * *

Ernest Borgnine at 94 is in fine form here as the keeper of the very most secret of all the files in the world. And our acting staff is all over 50, or is it 60? ––  and, like him, at the top of their game. Bruce Willis, always an excellent actor in the right roll, is particularly droll in registering the humor of the situation. Morgan Freeman plays the old reliable, and Helen Mirren and Brian Cox play former lovers rekindling their oomph amid the flames and firestorms of the genre. What makes the piece worth seeing is its unfolding until those firestorms start, at which time the wit stops, for it is impossible to be quite jolly and lighthearted while the Uzis fire. Or whatever that weaponry is. And besides the story then departs the arena of the possible and dashes into the arena of the improbable, and from that quickly seethes into the arena of the impossible, when Richard Dryfuss enters the picture and introduces the Vice-President of the United States as the man behind the man behind the man behind the woman, whom Rebecca Pidgeon plays with her usually chilling affect. It’s more than the comedy will bear. For the film is one step away in its fine early stages from an Abbott and Costello film, with Freeman, Willis, and Mirren all playing Costello and John Malkovich playing Abbott, the only serious lunatic in the bunch. Mary-Louse Parker is particular responsive and funny in the Dorothy Lamour role –– or is that from another series entirely? Oh, yes. But what then? She could have been in an Abbott and Costello film, couldn’t she? The piece is well written in its early stages of the preposterous, by which I mean in terms of narrative and dialogue and editing, and very well told by the director. It is when it devolves into the preposterously preposterous that expectations drop. But, never mind. Just expect them to.



Angels Over Broadway

19 Oct

Angels Over Broadway –– directed by Ben Hect and Lee Garmes –– noir about Broadway hustlers in the 40s. 80 minutes, black and white, 1940.

* * * *

Douglas Fairbanks Junior is first class and well worth watching as the tough-talking hardboiled grifter of this Ben Hecht (His Gal Friday) written and directed film noir. D.F. Jr never takes the gum out of his mouth, and it works. Mealy-mouthed John Qualen is fine as the focal figure, which he also was in His Gal Friday. Thomas Mitchell, in full Irish drunk mode once again, plays the surrogate Hecht character and gives vent to the screenwriter’s most self-indulgent utterances. It is endearing to hear the yearning idealism of an earlier era, and in this era it was put in the form of a certain overblown futile self-pity, which you find in many of its writers, Saroyan, Steinbeck, Maxwell Anderson, Odets. Lovely Rita Hayworth plays an aspiring nightclub chorine, uncertain of herself yet loyal. She’s young and touching. She plays the movie’s moral center, and Hayworth as a picture’s moral or immoral center is always well cast. The supporting cast are excellent. The movie is a piece of chewing gum, something to do until something tastier comes along, but that’s all right. Like chewing gum it’s not supposed to stick with you. The flavor doesn’t last, but it has a tang while it lasts.



The Loves Of Carmen

17 Oct

The Loves Of Carmen –– directed by Charles Vidor –– tragedy when a naïve soldier falls in lust with a slatternly factory girl. 1948 color.

* * * * *

Spanish to her beautiful long and graceful fingertips, Rita Hayworth is the greatest Carmen ever to be filmed, in opera or out, the Carmen of Carmens. She could kill you with a click-clock of a castanet. Her opening appearance, teasing with an orange, is bravura acting at its best, easiest, and most fluid. This was the last picture she made before marrying Ali Kahn, her last picture as a young woman. The production is, of course, a Hollywood pastiche; the setting has nothing to do with Spain, or even with Mexico, where it is supposed to be placed. But so what –– with this provocative, saucy, witty, unpredictable, fiery, and bold woman brought to life with force, subtlety, and brazen confidence. There was nobody like Rita Hayworth. You couldn’t take your eyes off of her, and it’s still true. She made five films with Glen Ford, but he said he felt out of place in this one, and he does look foolish in his regimentals, but as soon as he gets out of the soldier suit he’s fine. Don Jose is gauche, awkward, inexperienced –– and Ford conveys all that and brings to his scenes a bandanna of terrifying violence and cruelty once that uniform is exchanged for a highwayman’s rig. Victor Jory is a drooling monster, and Luther Adler sound as the wise thief. But it’s Hayworth in full force whose radiant and astonishing femininity make this picture a treat. Look at her bearing as she moves. Absorb her intensity when she is still. Surrender to her when the music starts. For it is quite apparent that no one in films ever enjoyed herself so much as Rita Hayworth when she danced.




17 Oct

Impact – directed by Arthur Lubin –– a noir thriller in which a man starts a new life with a new name when he is double-crossed by his wife, while a new love and wily detective help him out, 111 minutes. Black and white 1949.

* * * *

Ella Raines has a level-eyed honesty and shining directness that perfectly suited the smart but innocent heroines of the era. She had beautiful dark hair with a widow’s peak that could be worn in any style, a slender figure that looked wonderful in slacks. She was always physically limber and at ease on camera, and this helps opposite Brian Donlevy’s habitual stiffness as an actor –– here twenty years too old for the part, but still quite affecting in it. It’s a case of the role making the actor. The plot falls apart at the end, but the filming is excellent, including a wonderful car crash off a cliff, which I imitated as a little boy with my tinkerkoy convertible. Ah, death and destruction! We also have the delicious gravy of the great Charles Coburn as an Irish detective. What a master he was!




15 Oct

Infamous — directed by Douglas McGrath — bio-drama about Truman Capote, Harper Lee, and their approach to the Sutter murders which produced his best seller In Cold Blood. 118 minutes color 2006

* * * *

Well, it’s badly written, directed, filmed. The sets and costumes are suited to a Betty Grable musical. And it’s hard to like Truman Capote. One can admire him, for his strength and pertinacity, but his books are unreadable now and his position as the dwarf/jester of cafe society is gone. But during Gwyneth Paltrow’s perfect rendition of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”when she breaks down — you see Capote rooting for her. Odd. Capote rooted for no one but himself. Capote banked everything on vindictive survival. And it’s understandable, because he fell into no expected human category– until he found, after In Cold Blood, that survival itself wasn’t worth it. But that’s not the story told here. Toby Jones as Capote is trapped by the physical distortion he adopts, save once, in front of a mirror when he realizes the irony that he loves and is loved by someone he can never be with. Mark Wahlberg was to play that part, Perry Smith, and would have been better than Daniel Craig, who has only half of the character to offer, Perry’s violence; the other half, Perry’s artistic soul, is given Craig by dialogue but he cannot embody it. But Craig performs everything with complete conviction and simplicity, all praise to him. The great Lee Pace is Dick Hickock, the nasty psychopath provoker of the slaughter. Sandra Bullock is tops as Harper Lee, shrewdly achieving her effect by rarely looking at the camera, in the actual meditation of a modest woman. Juliet Stevenson is way out of line as Diana Vreeland. High Society people are not hoity toity, only people who imitate them are that. Sigourney Weaver is miscast as Babe Paley, it should have been played by an elegant woman, which Weaver is not: Jill Clayburg, Blythe Danner. But the story gives me room to ponder the ways of nature. I recommend the piece because it held me, and because the director, although not very bright, has given us a simple draft of the Capote romance with slaughter and slaughterers, and because of Lee Pace, the instrument of it, amazing in his few scenes. The film itself accomplished what it set out to do. Despite its shortcomings — an honest job about a dishonest person.



Scared Stiff

29 Jul
Scared Stiff — directed by George Marshall — an heiress to a haunted Cuban castle is threatened on all sides and warned to stay away. Martin and Lewis ride to her rescue — black and white 1953
* * *
A remake of Ghost Breakers of 1940, and directed by the same director, and evidently using the same great sets for the castle, and some of the original takes, this Martin and Lewis version takes a great deal more effort, because, in the original, Bob Hope played both parts  —  and so the film took a good deal less time. In this version there is too much horsing around en route to Cuba. And in the original, we had that game and merry minx Paulette Goddard braving all, whereas here we have Lizabeth Scott left over from a passing noir, and she wants pep. It’s not her fault. She was wired slow. Goodness knows she throws herself into it, and does not shame herself, but it is interesting to see how different a script is required with such a change of leading lady. Goddard strips to a bra and panties at one point, and it’s choice, whereas, while Scott is beautifully appareled by Edith Head, Scott does not show her, actually excellent, figure until the swimming scene — the one where Paulette held her clothes above the water while she side-stroked to the deadly castle. Anyhow, Lewis wears on one. He plays his usual frenetic baby, and. while he is inventive and adept and agile in his awkwardness, we see is range of responses is limited because of the number of times he is asked to repeat them. We have wonderful cobwebs, though, and numerous spooks and suspects. We lack the devastatingly dangerous young Anthony Quinn as the twins — and the presence of Martin and Lewis routines, log-jammed with the already frenetic Carmen Miranda, do not supply the deficiency, despite all we hoped for Lewis’s imitation of her in CM costume. Dean Martin remains a mensch, throughout — easy, attractive, and kind. A great draw.


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