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Plaisir d'amour en Iran (1976)
Isfahan tiles and intercultural romance
"The Pleasure of Love in Iran" is an out-take from Agnès Varda's "One SIngs, the Other Doesn't." It mostly shows tiles and architectural detail from Isfahan, Iran. Native to Isfahan Darius is showing his visiting French girlfriend, "Apple" (the one who sings) around. She sees the cupolas as being breast-like and the minarets phallic, he translates some poetry for her, and she writes one (on toilet paper). Only the title and a glimpse of "Pleasure" made it into "One Sings," which clocks in at just over two hours. Darius is a character, the major male character I'd say, in "One Sings."
The short is available as a supplement to the Criterion edition of "One Sings."
Studio One: Dino (1956)
A young and very intense Sal Mineo
Sal Mineo was born in 1939, and in 1956 was the right age for the Studio One original of "Dino." (also written by Reginal Rose, directed by Paul Nickell). He had a lot of emoting to do, wound up very tight from surviving reform school (where he was placed at the age of twelve) and a brutish father (Rudy Bond). A year after "Rebel without a Cause," for which Mineo received an Oscar nomination, he took on a role more like that James Dean played than the one he had played, with Pat DeSimone being the younger boy looking up to Mineo's Dino. Also, Dino connected with a girl, albeit Toni Halloran was considerably less glamorous than Natalie Wood. Ralph Meeker played the therapist Dino resists. The teleplay is quite upbeat, for all the stürm und drang of the needy but prickly parolee.
Mineo was nominated for an Emmy and reprised the role in a 1957 movie version with Brian Keith as the therapist and DeSimone reprising the role of the younger brother and gang member.
A Christmas Memory (1997)
Geraldine Page was a tough act to follow.
Consider that Elizabeth Taylor was less credible as Alexandra de Largo in a remake of "Sweet Bird of Youth" than Page, even as a movie star! I totally agree that the "Stage 67" version (and some others, especially "Noon Wine" with Jason Robards and Olivia de Haviliand) should be available on DVD. (IMDB DOES include that version under "Stage 67" and even has a link to that page on the 1997 remake's page, btw.) I also agree that other characters are more developed in the longer version (quel surprise!), though I thought the other older cousins (in addition to Sook) were well-portrayed. I think the production values of the 1997 version were probably higher than for the 1967 one, though Page lives on in my memory. Patty Duke is less mannered, but endearing, and the story of the boy about to lose a playmate old enough to be his grandmother — after their last fruitcake baking orgy — remains as poignant and as clear as in the 1967 version.
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)
An uptight Peter Sellera attempts to relax with a hippie love child (possible spoilers)
I'm pretty sure that "I Love You Alice B. Toklas" seemed silly to 1968 viewers, both "squares" and "potheads." Fed electric brownies made from a box (rather than from the most famous recipe in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook), straight-laced but simmering Harold Fine (sic.!) (Peter Sellers) and perks secretary/fiancée, start giggling even before finishing ingesting brownies. Watching them playing drunks, I marvel that none of the film-makers knew 1) that (ingested marijuana takes some time to kick in and (2) that people who are stoned don't act like people who are drunk.
Peter Sellers was good as the seething and very hirsute lawyer, Harold Fine. He thinks he is fine, despite having a nagging and materialistic fiancée (Joyce Van Patten) to augment the nagging of his materialistic and empty-headed mother (Jo Van Fleet wasted in a stereotype Jewish mother role). The nuclear family also jellyfish father (Salem Ludwig) and blissed-out hippie brother, Herbie (David Arkin). Sellers is also good at the end when he has burned out or is on a bad trip and is weary of all the freeloaders who have moved into his apartment (and started to share his flower-child free-spirited bedmate). His goofy "Love, Peace, Happiness" period is silly without being funny. As his muse, Leigh Taylor-Young is very attractive. The fake tattoo of a Monarch butterfly on her upper thigh is treated with reverence by Fine and not doubt inspired fantasies in the male audience of licking it up and proceeding under her very short mini skirts ("free love"). And bubblegum music group Harper's Bazaar supply a typically saccharine title song two or three times to complete the trivialization of the Toklas/ Stein couple.
There are some sight gags on psychedelically painted cars and the bizarre couture of the freeloaders (and the family of eleven Mexican client claiming whiplash, all wearing neck braces) and the surprise that a casket stuffed into the back of the psychedelic car Fine has while his car is in the garage doesn't fall out.
Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980)
A very boring movie about arts funding and theater troupe acting out
This very long1980 movie isn't the worst Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala movie (that would be "Jefferson in Paris") but is numbingly dull even to an admirer of many of their movies. I'd assign blame mostly to Jhabvala's screenplay about two radically different troupes vying for the chance to première a (real) recently discovered play written at age twelve by Jane Austen. From what we see of it, Austen wasn't much of a playwright at age 12 (who is?!).
Jhabvala imagines a charismatic experimentalist Svengali (Robert Powell) pitted against a socially well-connected aging actress whom he had used and abandoned earlier (Anne Baxter in her last big-screen role paying off the sins of Eve Harrington?). She wants to stage an operatic version. It defies plausibility that the experimentalist actors have operatic voices, but the audience has to simply accept that, while trying to care about any of the characters struggling to survive whimsical arts patronage. I could muster a bit of sympathy for Baxter, and more for the very handsome spurned husband played by Kurt Johnson, but couldn't care less about the "star" played by Sean Young (in her first screen role) or about which absurd production got supported and mounted off- Broadway.
The Angry Hills (1959)
Still working variations on "Casablanca" 17 years later
Stephen Dade's noirish black-and-white cinematography is the best thing on view in Robert Aldrich's early (1955) and all-too standard-issue tale of an American (Robert Mitchum) involved against his well-developed instincts for survival in resisting the Nazis in a periphery (Athens and the title hills of Greece). There's a conventionally cold-blooded Nazi commander (Marius Goring), Theodore Bikel in the Peter Lorre role of the cowardly collaborator, a wooden Stanley Baker as a less-cowardly one, Elisabeth Müller and Gia Scala as brave love interests, and Robert Mitchum in what might be considered the Humphrey Bogart role if Mitchum had not essayed it a number of times himself. And in a variant on the Sidney Greenstreet role, every bit as rotund but more jovial is Sebastian Cabot. The set-up is handled well, but the middle of the movie drags through reprisals and miraculous escapes by the antihero. The low point is a discussion about values between Mitchum and Müller and the final scene is a bolt from the blue of redemption. The movie is watchable, not least for the Greek locations, but inferior to earlier Aldrich westerns and his superb WWII melodrama "Attack!"
Wives Under Suspicion (1938)
Anything but an original story
Walter Huston famously said that he wasn't paid to sell good lines, but to put across bad ones. He often did. So did Warren William. For both of them, putting across bad lines frequently involved overacting. It's a bit difficult to believe WW being overcome by passion of any sort, and especially any aroused by his boring (though gracious) clothes-horse of a wife (Gail Patrick) in "Wives Under Suspicion," the tame and uninspired 1939 remake by James Whale of his more visually striking "Kiss Before the Mirror" made only five years earlier, but, presumably, too risqué to be rereleased after the Motion Picture Production Code began to be enforced.
Frank Morgan switched roles from defense attorney in the first to defendant in this one, and, unfortunately, Gloria Stuart and Walter Pidgeon did not return. The story is mechanical and has coincidences that strain credulity, but Warren William gave it his all. The only interesting touch was the courtroom set with the judge raised to an exaggerated height.
Enchanted April (1935)
Sketchy, but still tedious (plot spoiler warning)
The 1935 version of "Enchanted April" manages to be simultaneously tedious
and perfunctory. It is difficult to show the transformative magic of Italy shooting in a studio with only stereotypical Italian behavior to belabor. The transformation of the four strangers fleeing London is instantaneous in the cut from the first day to a week later. Rather than develop, the screenplay flips a switch and the
characters are different.
The husbands are boring enough in flashbacks without turning up, even if their presence does not drive the four women back into their shells and/or hostilities.
Jessie Ralph has the most fun (moving instead of entirely chewing up the
scenery) and Katharine Alexander has some poignant charm out of her
husband's shadow (and away from his hideous droning). Ann Harding is
unremarkable here (with the Production Code being enforced). She had an
appropriate line in an earlier (pre-Code) movie, "When Ladies Meet": "You're
not worth a minute of one anxious hour that either one of us has given you," but in "Enchanted April" can only look hurt, rush out, and proclaim fealty to her errant husband.
Grand Slam (1933)
Genial satire of American celebrity manufacture
Paul Lukas played a Russian intellectual making his living as a waiter in
"Grand Slam," directed by William Dieterle (1933). It is a surprisingly funny satire of the building up of celebrity. The waiter and the Russian restaurant's hat-check girl played by Loretta Young become America's sweethearts as bridge partners who do no squabble. With the aid of publicist and ghost-writer 'Speed' McCann (the wonderfully deadpan Frank McHugh) they become walking advertisements
for the "Stanislavsky system," a "system" of bidding whatever one feels like
(since bids are not rational, there is no basis for recriminations about their stupidity).
A duel with displaced bridge guru Cedric Van Dorn (sounds close to Goren, no? and I suspect the choice of the character's name "Stanislavsky" was also a slam at another kind of system), a puffed-up charlatan played very well by Ferdinand Gottschalk, is broadcast on radio stations across America like a prize-fight by Roscoe Karns (another great fast-talking deadpan comic actor of the 1930s).
The bridge players are even in a roped-off square, though the audience is
above them, unlike in boxing "rings."
The wide variety of American types prefigures the comedies of Preston Sturges, though for manufacturing celebrity, "Grand Slam" most calls to mind two better movies from the same (pre-Code) era with Lee Tracy playing fast-talking
publicists: "The Half-Naked Truth" and "Bombshell," but "Grand Slam" has its
moments, especially for anyone who has played bridge with serious point
Loretta Young was already a clothes horse. (To me, her face seems a bit long
and horsey, too. Another era's notion of beauty, I guess...) The movie
unfortunately all but drops Glenda Farrell, who plays McHugh's forgetful
Cry Terror! (1958)
Blowing up airlines for profit, 1958 style
Warning: The following reveals some plot elements.
James Mason does little and Inger Stevens (as Mason's wife) a lot until near the end when Mason climbs down the cable of an elevator shaft. The hard-driving
music and the voice-overs of Stevens (and, eventually, Mason) seem
unnecessary and stilted to me. The villains (especially the benzedrine wacked- out Neville Brand, but also the mastermind Steiger and the cold-blooded Angie Dickinson) are menacing enough without reports of fears from the victims. The child is exceptionally, unbelievably inert (well-behaved?) in captivity, and I have difficulty believing that an impression from chewing gum and canvassing
dentists could lead to where Mason and his daughter are being held. The FBI/ police conduct is hokey and the ending predictable, but Stevens's resolve and ingenuity are within the realm of possibility and impressive. The New York
backdrops are effectively used and some of the technology (the fabric chute for deplaning and automobile car fins, in particular) are quaint.
Kind Lady (1951)
A creepy Maurice Evans torments the regal Ethel Barrymore
The 1951 Victorian thriller "Kind Lady" (directed by John Sturges before he
became a director of action movies, based on a story by Hugh Walpole titled
"The Silver Casket" that had already filmed once before) has a creepy Maurice Evans as a know-it-all painter who takes over the house of a rich art collector played with sweetness, cunning, and steely resolve by Ethel Barrymore (not
someone intimidated by even a psychotic captor). With Angela Lansbury,
Keenan Wynn, and Betsy Blair all fine in supporting roles, cinematography by
Joseph Ruttenberg, and only running 78 minutes, it is odd that it feels a bit slack.. Typical MGM bright lighting is not well suited for Gothic thrillers, which should be dark and wet.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944)
A disaster of a movie
The first half hour of the 1944 adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize- winning novel is excruciatingly dull even with a rope bridge over an Andean
abyss collapsing. Uncomfortable with an eschatological question posted to him by a bystander peastant, priest Donald Woods sets out to find out more about
the five people who were on the bridge when it collapsed. Most of the rest of the movie (until a reprise that shows who was on the bridge in an exceedingly
phony studio-set disaster) recalls the career and would-be-lovers of a singer, Micaela (Lynn Bari), born poor, trained by impresario Uncle Pio (Akim Tamiroff) and vied for by the viceroy (Louis Calhern) and a ship captain (Francis Lederer). Except for the scenes with both of the suitors and a comical training of Micaela in swooning, the movie is dull and the whole is uncinematic, including the
framing disaster sequences. The scenes are overlit, the sets and dialog artificial, the music and cinematography uninspiring. Lynn Bari was devoid of mystery or
charisma (and given far too much screen time), and a ridiculously pat
Hollywood happy ending was substituted for Wilder's. Nazimova is wasted,
though Calhern, Lederer, and Tamiroff breathe occasional life into the
The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937)
Forget about the plot and enjoy the stars
The plot of "The Emperor's Candlesticks" is total nonsense in the 1930s Hollywood fantasies about benevolent despots, courteous kidnappers, and gallant spies. The story is only an excuse for a masquerade ball and a dash across Europe in pursuit of two candelabras that do not belong to the Russian czar or the Austro-Hungarian emperor, but are a gift from an Austrian nobleman to a Russian noblewomen. The carriers (the Polish Baron Wolensky and the Russian Countess Mironova, played by the stars, William Powell and Luise Rainer) lose and find and mistakenly switch the pair of candelabras.
Powell was unflappable in the midst of many ludicrous plots during the 1930s, often with Myrna Loy as a co-conspirator. Here, he is pitted against a lovely czarist secret agent, played, in a large wardrobe, by the great Luise Rainer. In the two immediately preceding films for which she won back-to-back Oscars ("The Great Ziegfeld" with Powell and "The Good Earth" with Paul Muni) and in her only other readily available film, "The Great Waltz," she suffered mightily. In "Candlesticks" she got a chance to play the kind of glamorous clothes horse role in which Marlene Dietrich specialized, with no occasion for jealousy at all. Dietrich and Greta Garbo both played spies in 1930s movies. Each appeared more sophisticated than Rainer's, but I find Rainer more credible as a spy with regrets about the consequences of her occupation than either Dietrich or Garbo. Rainer was also quite beautiful with high cheekbones and eyebrows as plucked as Dietrich, and received star keylighting from MGM.
Back in a gilded cage, Robert Young got a chance to be charming and gallant, impeded by the humorous bumbling minder played by Frank Morgan.
The Kremlin Letter (1970)
Very complicated and a deadly bore
John Huston made many great movies, but I think that he failed more often than he succeeded ("Annie" is the worst, but Huston also killed "Red Badge of Courage" and "Moby Dick" on the screen). "The Kremlin Letter" has a cast of Bergman stars (Bibbi Andersson and Max von Sydow) and an international cast of actors who were good elsewhere (Lila Kedrova is the biggest disappointment to me, but she is joined by Dean Jagger, Ralf Vallone, Orson Welles, et al.) but drained of emotion here or given no character with which to work. Patrick O'Neal lacked the charisma to carry a movie or to make the audience care what happened to him. Richard Boone makes an impression as the bullying mentor, and George Sanders amidst stereotypical homosexual circles, and von Sydow was a master of coldness, but everyone else seems stranded (as in lacking direction!)
The movie has a very complicated plot (or set of plots), an international cast, some kinky sex, lots of brutality, drugs (but no rock'n roll), no visual merits and exceptionally poorly recorded sound for what must have been a big-budget production in the heyday of Cold War spy films. "Beat the Devil" and "The List of Adrian Messenger" are more entertaining Huston movies of international intrigue, but better still are Huston's films of intranational intrigue such as "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Asphalt Jungle."
A Thousand Clowns (1965)
Having just watched "A Thousand Clows" again after decades, I
think that Murray is a slacker, though he also genuinely wants Nick
to have some fun (as if adolescence is supposed to be fun?) and
has all-too-keen a sense of the absurdities of his possible
employment. Like a Dürrenmatt protagonist to accomplish is goal
of saving/keeping Nick he has to do what alienates Nick (sell his
soul to tv) so farce darkens into semi-tragedy with indignities
commencing the next day.
I'm puzzled by Martin Balsam's Oscar. His aria on fitting in is
well-delivered, but I thought Gene Saks did more as the hideous
children's show comic (not to mention Tom Courtenay in
"Dr.Zhivago" that year, or Michael Dunn in "Ship of Fools"). Barbara
Harris is funny but one has to wonder about the professional
woman turned nest-builder at the drop of a file. Barry Douglas as
Nick is perfect in bravado and crushed idealism. Robard is a
delight. Despite some ranging out of the one-room apartment
(including background of Lincoln Center still under construction),
mostly the camera sits back and records the play (which is too
long, but far better than "I Am Not Rappaport" or Gardner's
sort-of-sequel to "Clowns," The Goodbye People" with Balsam
older and less conquered).
Exploiting Harlow for fun as well as profit
"Bombshell" is sort of a screwball comedy. At least Space's (Lee
Tracy) press agent and Lola Burns's (Harlow) household of
hangers-on are figures from one. She is abused by everyone and
manipulated especially ruthlessly by Tracy, but is not at all a dumb
blonde. Everyone makes it impossible for her to be anything but a
notoriety and a movie star: sabotaging any of her attempts to live a
normal life, 'cause that wouldn't pay their considerable expenses.
Like the real Harlow, I suspect, she wanted better parts and was
not especially eager to be a movie star. Without opening credits, I
might have missed that Frank Morgan (Pops) was the same actor
as Pirate in "Tortilla Flat," though his voice was fairly distinctive.
Lee Tracy is as destructively self-serving here as Spencer Tracy
was in "Tortilla Flat" (directed by Victor Fleming nine years later
and also costarring Frank Morgan). One gets the impression that
the audience is supposed to be complicit with both of them and
even root for Space to "get the girl". Victor Fleming's touch was not
very light (in "Bombshell" or "Tortilla Flat"... or "Gone with the
Wind") but the the top-flight MGM cast plays the indignities visited
on the platinum blonde bombshell fast and loud.
The Wrath of God (1972)
The mysteries of grace under fire
To some extent Ralph Nelson's "The Wrath of God" spoofs westerns, but like Nelson's "Lilies of the Field," under the comedy is, I think, a deeply felt belief in divine grace. Both movies focus on unlikely human materials having a vocation they fail to recognize and consciously resist. Herein, Robert Mitchum plays a con man masquerading as a priest and a Catholic martyr in the tradition of Thomas à Becket or Thomas More mistaken by many as a hedonist.
In her last screen performance Rita Hayworth has preternaturally red hair (fire-engine red, not a color of any natural human hair), few lines, and is required to look devout (which she manages to do). As her flamboyantly traumatized and traumatizing son, Frank Langella gets to chew up the scenery, which he does with great relish (before "Dracula," after his memorable film debut in "Diary of a Mad Housewife" and Mel Brooks's adaptation of "The Twelve Chairs"). Ken Hutchinson does fine as the token normal guy who is embroiled in others' plots, including the romantic subplot that involves him with a mute Indian maiden (Paula Pritchett). In a Sidney Greenstreet-kind of role as a corpulent and corrupt gun-runner Victor Buono is suitably droll. Still, it is Mitchum's movie, and he is as compelling when he takes his priestly role seriously as when he plays the usual disengaged but competent existentialist who expects nothin' from nobody. <bt><br> A motley gang of foreign mercenaries getting involved in the confusions of the long-running Mexican revolution and taking a side against their financial interest recurred in a number of late-1960s and early-70s movies, including "The Wild Bunch", "The Professionals", and "A Fistful of Dynamite." The latter two use considerable humor within the genre of expatriates taking sides (which in Mexican settings of different eras includes "Vera Cruz", "Old Gringo", and "Bring Me the Head, of Alfredo García").
Sous le sable (2000)
A rambling shamble built around Charlotte Rampling
Having more or less grown up on French New Wave films, I think my tolerance for murky, character-driven French melodramas is unusually high, and I liked "With a Friend Like Harry" most of the way through, but Ozon's film is the epitome of what those who despise "art-house" film loathe: suffocatingly slow revelation of not much. What I think its audience finds welcome changes from Hollywood movies is that it shows a 55-year-old woman and her sixty-something husband as sexual beings and it shows people who live with books. Indeed, Rampling teaches English literature, reads to her class from _The Waves_ and recites from memory Virginia Woolf's suicide note (which may be a clue or may be a red herring). It also shows cruelty in a different form than the violence endemic in American movies: Rampling laughing at and dismissing a sexual partner who is too light (and not just in weight) and being cut down by her mother-in-law, a tough old crow/crone, whose message about her son/Rampling's husband Rampling adds to her cache of denials. Alas, these scenes together total at most three minutes of the hour and a half of the film that was made up as it was filmed.
The Journey (1959)
Overlong melodrama hobbled by censorship
Anatloe Litvak's (1959) resetting of Guy de Maupassant's story "Boule de suif" on the Hungarian side of the Hungary/Austria border as the Soviets are finishing crushing the 1956 Hungarian revolt is overlong and so hobbled by censorship of any representations of nonmarital sex as to be nearly incomprehensible. Deborah Kerr is tremulous in willing herself to be intrepid as the rest of the group demands she give herself to the Soviet commander played by Yul Brynner so that he will let them leave the country. Brynner signs, dances, drinks heavily, sneers, winces, glowers and (as in "The King and I") rather unaccountably lusts after Kerr.
In his film debut Jason Robards mostly looks pained, not least during his Big Speech. A pre-Opie Ron(ny) Howard appears as one of the children of the American couple in the international mix (E. G. Marshall with hair and Anne Jackson with a belly). As the pompous British journalist eager to extend colonial "white man's burden" to governing and speaking for the busload of foreigners trying to get out of Hungary, Robert Morley mixes pomposity the savvy. Indeed, the characters are surprisingly unstereotyped.
The Soviets are portrayed with sympathy (pained and not understanding why the Hungarians hate them, since they liberated Hungary from the Nazis) that is especially surprising for a Hollywood movie made at the height of the Cold War and party at length, both with their prisoners/guests and among themselves. "The Journey" also has one of Georges Auric's best music scores. "The Journey" is considerably inferior to Litvak's "Decision Before Dawn" or "Night of the Generals" (both set during World War II).
The Hunters (1958)
Mitchum omnes vincit
The last feature film Dick Powell directed is like its immediate predecessor "The Enemy Below" in focusing on Robert Mitchum dueling with a savvy opponent (here, a Chinese fighter pilot in the Korean War, rather than a German submarine commander during World War II) and in having spectacular combat scenes. "The Hunters" is a superlative movie as long as the characters are in the air, although not showing clearly how important teamwork in a squadron is.
James Salter's gemlike (hard and highly polished) novel shows that better and provides a far more serious examination of a hot-dogger (played by Robert Wagner) who is lionized by Pentagon publicists but repeatedly recklessly endangers other American pilots to hog glory. In the movie, Lt. Pell's recklessness only causes one American fatality and the wing commander (Mitchum) shoots down more MiGs than the upstart whom he eventually gets to do the right thing(s). The book's portrait of someone with "the right stuff" frustrated by a media hero who is a menace to those he is supposed to work with is far more interesting than the conventional movie plotline of brash youth maturing.
The screenplay also adds a very hard-to-believe romance between Mitchum and the wife (Mai Britt) of a fatalistic alcohol-soaked junior pilot (a very convincing Lee Philips). The super-cool Mitchum does not seem to me at all likely to profess love to another officer's wife the second time they meet. The frustration at Lt. Pell putting up higher numbers of kills despite being not as good a pilot is written out of the movie so one does not know if Mitchum could have played the more complex character instead of the conventional all-conquering Hollywood hallucination.
The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937)
Stock figures in a fixed fight between virtue and vice, but well-acted and well-shot
The second of the four filmings of Bret Harte's best-known Gold Rush mining story was mostly shot in a saloon set with many closeups. Virginia Weidler (who would play Katherine Hepburn's younger sister in "The Philadelphia Story") prefigures Tatum O'Neal's Oscar-winning performance in "Paper Moon" as the cardsharp devoted to the gambler John Oakhurst, suavely played by Preston Foster. Van Heflin was surprisingly (to me anyway) handsome but already very earnest here as the parson. The good girl they both want is played with some spunk by Jean Muir and the partner pining for Oakhurst by Margaret Irving. The film looks good (credit cinematographer Robert De Grasse) but lacks the sparks of Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart in "Destry Rides Again." As in that film, the virtuous hero is not a goody-goody and is slow to resort to violence.
Park Row (1952)
Celebrating a late-19th-century newsman trampling his female rival
Sam Fuller's fifth movie (from 1952) "Park Row" is sentimental and misogynist. "War" is not a metaphor in the description "newspaper war" as Fuller portrays publishing in the New York City of the 1880s. Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) envisions better ways of doing things, including sponsoring the invention of linotype, inventing newspaper stands, and launching a campaign to raise funds to put up the Statue of Liberty (accepted by Congress without any appropriation for erecting it).
Across the street from his marginal facility for -The Globe- is the established -Star-, published by a ruthless woman misnamed "Charity" but with a fitting last name (Hackett), a Joan Crawford role that was played passionately by newcomer Mary Welch.
An old sidekick of Horace Greeley named Josiah Davenport (Herbert Heyes) encourages Mitchell's innovations and encourages Ms. Hackett to get out of a man's business. After all such antagonism between a man and a woman can only mean they are in love, right?
Although the movie is difficult to get into and is filled with stock characters and hackneyed attitudes, the look of the old-time machinery and Fuller's talent for filming mayhem make an interesting spectacle.
Always Outnumbered (1998)
Gilding the lily
Laurence Fishburne is superb as Socrates Fortlow in the HBO movie of Walter Mosley's adaptation of his first book of Fortlow stories. Mosley wove his stories together fairly well in the screenplay. The quest for a job, the serious undertaking of mentoring Darryl, dealing with the dealer/mugger and with the car-jacker are cinematic. Daniel Williams' portrayal of Darryl as a vulnerable discarded child who has to act tough is very, very good. The friendship with Right Burke (Bill Cobbs) is plausible, but having "Right" narrate the film seems unnecessary to me. We can see in Fishburne's performance the kind of many Socrates is without Right telling us how heroic he is.
The relationships with women are less convincing, or at least less compelling. I don't remember what Luvia (Cicely Tyson) has against Socrates. His relationship with Iula Brown (Natalie Cole) lacks chemistry (and screen time).
No Way Out (1950)
A still powerful race-conflict melodrama
As in other 1950s films, Richard Widmark is very scary and Sidney Poitier very noble herein. There is little preaching in Mankiewicz's screenplay and it has splendidly filmed action sequences. The rap that Mankiewicz's films are "all talk and no action" is untenable (see, especially, "The Quiet Man" and "Five Fingers"), though the talk he wrote was often very incisive and very witty.
Notable for the debuts of Poitier, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee, this melodrama is of more than historical interest. It is a gripping, noirish tale of a nightmare experienced by a young black doctor. Although the ending is predictable, and Linda Darnell's character chances unconvincingly often and unconvincingly far (and her clothes are inconceivable for a drive-in car hop!), "No Way Out" is more than a historical curiosity. (And Mankiewicz deserves reconsideration as one of the directors who really was the author of the films he directed, up there with Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges.)
True Grit (1969)
John Wayne as a young woman's restive employee
Though much depends on Kim Darby's spunk (standing up to John Wayne and to a horse trader played by Strother Martin, never betraying her values or her determination to hunt down her father's killer), John Wayne is really very good as the aging superhero. I don't begrudge him his Oscar for playing Rooster Cogburn (after Howard Hawks gave the showy drunk roles in "Rio Bravo," "El Dorado" and "Rio Lobo" to others, requiring Waynt to hold them up).
The film has an interesting villain in Robert Duvall and is also very scenic (without looking in the least like Oklahoma--it was obviously filmed much farther north. It is stunningly photographed by the great Lucien Ballard (Will Penny, The Wild Bunch and other Peckinpagh films and von Sternberg's "The Devil Is a Woman") with an Elmer Bernstein score (though not one of his best).
I found the scenes in which Darby baits the boarding house matron almost as good as those with the horse trader. Glen Campbell is not bad, and entertaining when he is ragging Cogburn about the Civil War bushwhackers. Most of what happens after he falls off his horse feels false, though his Texas ranger/bounty hunter is far from being the most interesting character in the movie.