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A Doll's House (1959)
When the Hallmark name was quality you could count on.
Long ago now before Hallmark started mass producing mind-numbing romance pablum their Hallmark Hall of Fame productions were the benchmark for quality television. Either well crafted new material or renditions of classics, such as this, which drew the highest caliber of talent which invariably became award magnets.
In this case, taking into consideration of the limitations of the time and the newness of filming in color, this is an accomplished production with a cast, Julie Harris, Christopher Plummer, Hume Cronyn, Jason Robards and Eileen Heckert, of staggering skill at work on one of the masterworks of literature.
The actors, particularly Julie Harris as Nora will knock your socks off.
Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958)
Andy sputters to a close
As a way to tie up the loose ends of the series this average entry is a passable movie but the old spark is gone. Easy to see why this was the final film of the run.
The clips hearkening back to previous Hardy adventures (really just an excuse to remind the viewer that Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Esther Williams had appeared in the films) only emphasizes how modest this one is. Nothing against the actress who plays Andy's wife but it is too bad that they couldn't convince Ann Rutherford to return as Polly Benedict as Mrs. Hardy which any fan of the series expected.
For series fans a nice piece of nostalgia but that's about it.
The Under-Pup (1939)
Is it Deanna or Shirley? Why no it's Gloria Jean trying to be both!
Somewhat sticky musical that served as minor star Gloria Jean's screen bow. While she has genuine talent she's not a strong enough screen presence to carry the burden of the film .
Obviously groomed to be the next Shirley Temple or Deanna Durbin (she's styled to resemble both) the camera doesn't love her the way it did those other two and where they sparkled and POPPED on screen she is a sweet nonentity. It doesn't help her cause that one of the actresses who is supposed to be supporting her, the charismatic Virginia Weidler, dominates their scenes and possessed that extra element Gloria lacked.
Stacked with a solid supporting cast this is a harmless diversion, however you will be longing for Deanna Durbin before its over, but it's about 15 minutes too long for the story its selling.
Without Honor (1949)
Great Big Giant Emotions!!!! but to what end?
What an odd picture. An Overwrought Melodrama with a capital O and a capital M this breaks out of the starting gate hitting high C and continues at a fevered pitch right up to its conclusion.
Unhappy Laraine stabs caddish Franchot by accident then rambles hysterically while the callously odious Dane Clark circles around making her life hell. The one beacon of restraint in the entire enterprise is Agnes Moorehead who shows up none too soon and steals the picture with a controlled and dignified performance while all around her her cast-mates are swallowing scenery whole.
Bottoms Up (1934)
If this is what Fox was offering Spencer Tracy no wonder he fled to MGM
A conman and his pals bulldoze their way into a studio and make a young girl a star by way of a deception. Harmless, except for a semi-musical the songs and production numbers are horrid, but run of the mill programmer would be forgotten totally if it wasn't headlined by Spencer Tracy. He's far better than the material as is Thelma Todd who lights up the film the few times she appears as a back stabbing starlet. It makes you wish the two of them had been teamed in a better script.
Hers to Hold (1943)
Deanna takes a flyer on Joseph Cotton
Third and last in the series that started with Three Smart Girls Deanna returns as Little Miss Fix-It Penny Craig all grown up and faced with a problem she can't fix, her love interest is headed off to war, and she has to face the situation like an adult. Deanna is full of her usual snap and vigor and by this point had become a very beautiful woman who had matured in her reactions so she doesn't come across as quite such an eager beaver.
As with all her films this provides several opportunities for her to sing which she does with angelic clarity and grace.
Track of Thunder (1967)
Covers much the same ground as the Elvis opus Speedway, hardly a high water mark in Presley's filmography, only without the songs or a magnetic presence like the King of Rock & Roll. Basically a bunch of stock footage of cars going in circles intercepted with some badly acted scenes of backstage shenanigans.
The ill-fated Brenda Benet is lovely even saddled with an enormous helmet of ratted hair and there's 50's sci-fi queen and failed Howard Hughes discovery Faith Domergue as one character's mother to spur some interest in the film but it's a minor enterprise.
Cripes what a disaster!!
In a woefully inept performance almost completely absent of charm and nuance Mary Pickford embarrasses herself in her second to last feature. Utterly miscast as a Parisian floozy she does everything but stand on her head to try and make us believe the unbelievable. She has one cute dance/clown number although even there she relies on googly eyed exaggeration to get the point across that the audience is to find her adorable. In this instance she isn't.
For a goodly portion of the movie she wears a stupid hat with a feather that seems to form a question mark, she should have looked in a mirror used that as a cue and asked herself why she'd agreed to disgrace herself in this dog of a film. Stay away!
Little Man, What Now? (1934)
A romantic struggle cries out for a stronger leading man
Full of Borgaze's trademark swoony romanticism mixed with a touch of pre-code decadence. This tale of a struggling young couple also boasts Margaret Sullavan's enchanting sensitive performance, she seems to carry a gossamer glow with her where ever she goes. Alan Hale also adds much to the film as a sprightly good-hearted charlatan but what drags it down almost fatally is Douglass Montgomery in the male lead. To put it plainly, he stinks. He's a stiff blank slate that stops the film dead in its tracks whenever he's the focal point of the scene. You're left to wonder what a more effective actor such as Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant could have made of the part and how much better the movie would have been because of their casting.
Breakfast in Hollywood (1946)
The music is terrific, the plot is not
Mild low-budget musical version of what was once a popular radio program tries to tell too many stories during its running time.
What it does show is how some people were perfect for the airwaves and wrong for film. For instance singer Andy Russell, who sings his biggest hit Besame Mucho, has a beautiful expressive voice but when the camera focuses on him his face is a blank and he exudes minimal charisma. The same can be said for the program's host Tom Breneman whose only film appearance this was, he's bluff and gregarious and it's not hard to imagine him being entertaining on radio but he wasn't suited to film.
The overstuffed narrative at least provides the chance to see three excellent character actresses, Billie Burke, Beulah Bondi and ZaSu Pitts and then proceeds to waste them in plot lines that go nowhere or are foolish.
Really the best recommendation for the film is that it allows the audience two performances by the Nat King Cole Trio who unsurprisingly are wonderful. One element that was a simple throwaway shot at the time but now is a jaw dropper is the sign outside the nightclub where we first see the Cole Trio advertising that they are appearing with no cover charge. Considering the ludicrous prices now to see even the most average musicians the idea of being able to just walk in and see Nat King Cole for free is mind boggling.
Watch it for the music and occasional glimpses of Hedda Hopper and her crazy hats but don't expect too much.
She Went to the Races (1945)
Watch Ava shine and ride this pony to the Winners Circle
If you want to see a crystal clear example of star quality this little B is a perfect place to look.
It's a cute comedy with a wonderful cast of supporting actors and it moves along well enough with its nominal leads James Craig, a second string Clark Gable wannabe, and Frances Gifford, an efficient if somewhat colorless leading lady, getting the job done.
But then suddenly a breathtaking on the rise Ava Gardner turns up and wipes both of them off the screen. Where they function within the story she pulls the camera's focus to her and holds it in a way only a born star can. While they work to put their scenes over she just seems so comfortable with the lens's gaze she just owns her scenes. You wait for her to show up and miss her terribly when she's gone. She's the reason to seek this out.
Flame of Araby (1951)
Stretching an Arabian tale to its limit!
Your enjoyment of this will depend on your ability to swallow the preposterous liberties the studios took with casting in the 50's. In this instance we have the Irish Maureen O'Hara, slight lilt intact, and the Jewish Jeff Chandler playing an Arabian princess and a Bedouin chieftain respectively racing around what is obviously the California desert standing in for the Sahara.
Queen of Technicolor Maureen is breathtaking and Jeff properly rugged but most of the acting tends towards woodenness. If you appreciate the campiness of that scenario than this is harmless fun, all others beware.
Gli ultimi cinque minuti (1955)
What some people won't do for a nice apartment!
Airy comedy of a man a woman and the lengths they'll go to for a really great apartment! Located in the center of Rome with amazing views both want it and strike the compromise of marrying each other platonically to get it. The woman still hopes for true love and the man agrees to step aside should that special someone come along but he is secretly smitten with her and surreptitiously makes her various suitors look like fools. All goes well until he comes up against Rosanno Brazzi and finds him a tough challenge to overcome.
Linda, as ravishing as she ever was, and the dashing De Sica make a very handsome couple and share a refreshing spiky chemistry adding an extra bit of snap to the proceedings. Frothy and you can see where it's headed from a mile away but the stars, and Linda's New Look wardrobe, make it a very engaging diversion.
Woman of Straw (1964)
Gina smolders while Sean leers
Somewhat overwrought sudser is aided by gorgeous location filming in the sort of fortress-like home that people only live in either on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or movies like this and a superior cast.
Ralph Richardson is wonderful as the old codger, irascible and crotchety but sly and no one's fool. Gina full of fire-smoldering and volcanic while parading a series of knockout outfits and a cyclone of hair. Then there's Sean Connery suave and silky in an atypical role as a reprobate with a yen for Gina and larceny in his heart.
Not great cinema but fun in a melodramatic way.
Between Us Girls (1942)
A chance to see Diana Barrymore at the start of her very brief heyday
Definitely downmarket reworking of The Major and the Minor was meant to be the launching pad to stardom for doomed wild child Diana Barrymore.
She shows promise which had she been able to wrestle her demons and not self destruct might have lead her to a decent career. She and the slipping Kay Francis make an excellent physical match as mother and daughter and Diana handles the comedy demands of the script well but leading man Bob Cummings is no Ray Milland and director Henry Koster is by no means Billy Wilder.
Also the original's sense of whimsy has been replaced by a thudding foolishness which robs the situations of much of their charm.
Every Night at Eight (1935)
Three girls and a bandleader
Snappy musical is a study in proposed star building. While Alice Faye is top billed along with George Raft her role is secondary to Frances Langford who the studio was trying to build up.
But while Frances sings like a angel she doesn't pop on screen in the way Alice does nor is she able to radiate a comic persona as Patsy Kelly, the other part of the singing trio, does. She's also hindered by some REALLY unfortunate styling in makeup and especially hair-dress. She eventually had a hugely successful music career and was an tireless touring entertainer during WWII who had a minor screen career in B pictures but never at the level that Alice Faye achieved.
The story of the picture is a stock scenario for 30's musicals. Three plucky girlfriends who sing meet a brash scrapper who is trying to make it as a bandleader they join forces and before you know it they hit the Big Time but there is dissension in the ranks all set aright by the fade-out.
Lapin 360 (1972)
Low budget obscurity
Messy mishmash of a man who somehow becomes involved with kidnappers with cloudy motives.
Everything in this thing is ill-defined and suggests heavy cutting before release. The whole subplot that involves Anne Baxter and Nehemiah Persoff makes no sense to the story and they vanish without an explanation or trace in the middle of the movie. Two name actors of their stature MUST have had more substantial parts than what is here for them to waste their time. Anne's blonde wig however is something to see.
As to the rest of the picture-most of the acting is amateurish at best, the photography poor and the direction practically nonexistent.
Never heard of this? No wonder.
Once More, My Darling (1949)
Appealing comedy even if the leads are mismatched
Engaging comedy with a rather nutty premise but the skillful playing of the cast make it work. Ann Blyth embraces her inner ditz as the bubbly, forward teen who is instantly smitten with Montgomery on sight. Montgomery, one of the best light comedians of Golden Age Hollywood, carries the film right along with an air of deer in the headlights helplessness at the onslaught of ardor that Ann's character unleashes his way. Theatre great Jane Cowl is also highly amusing in one of only four film appearance's as Bob's mother.
One small drawback. Montgomery is a perfect choice for the breeziness necessary to make his character work but he was 45 at the time this was made and looks it, whereas Ann Blyth was 24 playing 19 and is convincing as such making their pairing a bit off. They would have been better paired as a father and daughter at this point. Be that as it may this is still a pleasant little known film.
Ava climbing up the ladder of stardom
Fred's back from the service looking to retrieve the pearls he was smuggling before Singapore was invaded and is haunted by the memory of what he thinks is his lost love Ava. One day she reappears but she doesn't remember him. What's the answer to the mystery?
Studio bound adventure is entertaining enough but serves more as a study in star building.
This was Ava Gardner's last film before she moved into the top tier of MGM stars with her next film, One Touch of Venus. Having scored heavily in two supporting roles for her home studio, The Killers & The Hucksters, they loaned her to Universal for the female lead in this alongside the established Fred MacMurray to test her lead appeal with minimal risk. She seems a bit cautious at times but radiates star quality every second she's on screen.
Considering the magnitude of the stars in the leads this is curiously obscure but if you enjoyed Gilda or similar fare it's worth the time.
Never Steal Anything Small (1959)
A jaunty time with Jimmy
Charming Damon Runyon flavored semi-musical crime comedy driven by Cagney's magnetism.
Only Jimmy could make the strong arm racketeer he's playing so appealing and he sails through this minor film with the assurance of the star he was. Shirley Jones is lovely and sings beautifully but it's the brassy Cara Williams who really stands out.
The songs may not be too memorable but they fit the spirit of the story well and the zippy "I Want a Ferrari" duet between Cagney and Cara Williams is a classic car lover's dream.
Special mention should also go to the production designer who uses an almost exclusively muted palate of colors to create a rich harmonious look that gives the film a very stylish appearance without ever drawing the audience's eye away from the action.
Full of wonderful character actors and a jaunty attitude this is an under-known gem from the latter part of Cagney's career and he owns the film.
The Pursuit of Happiness (1934)
Comedy in the time of George Washington
That rarest of birds, a Revolutionary War comedy.
Lederer is for once in his American career cast sensibly as a Hessian soldier conscripted into service who comes over to the patriots side but runs into multiple problems with the natives along the way. He happens upon the household of a tippling farmer, her bossy wife, their fair daughter and saucy serving girl. During his pursuit of the daughter he crosses swords, figuratively, with a blowhard militia man who is interested in her as well and the self righteous reverend of the community.
Pleasant story is buoyed by the presence of expert comic actors Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland as the parents of the young lass who catches Lederer's eye, a lovely and very blonde Joan Bennett.
Hard to find but a pleasure to watch if you happen upon it.
A real spotlight for Carolyn Jones
Carolyn Jones will always be best remembered as Morticia Addams on the 60's series The Addams Family and rightly so, her portrayal is inimitable. However before she took on that iconic role she was one of the most distinctive and talented journey-woman actresses around. Though she never enjoyed big screen stardom, despite an Oscar nomination for The Bachelor Party, she was a huge television star even before the series, a go-to performer for episodic TV when they needed someone memorable to fill a role.
Such is her assignment here in quadruplicate. She plays four sisters, Meredith, Olivia, Jane and the ill-fated Betsy of the title. The first three are suspected of bumping of the fourth and Amos Burke smoothly interacts with them, and their prickly aunt played by the estimable Gladys Cooper, to solve the riddle. While Carolyn is dressed and styled differently for each sister what she does that makes this noteworthy is that she makes each sister a markedly unique creation.
The episode is a good one though not extraordinary outside Jones's performance. However if you're a fan of the show this one is particular is worth catching for the superior work of a great actress who should be better remembered.
The Blue Angel (1959)
One question...Why bother?
Unnecessary remake that gets most of what made the original distinctive wrong.
While May Britt is a very pretty girl she possesses none of the magical allure nor cheap commonness that Marlene Dietrich brought to the part of Lola-Lola. Without those essential elements explaining her ability to ensnare the professor so utterly that he throws his life away on her the picture has an empty center. Also updating the setting to the 50's removes the air of decadent decay that hung over the first's Weimar Germany.
There are some good things chief among them Curd Jurgens's lead performance. His slow slide into degradation is compelling and he's the reason to see the film but Dmytryk's direction is listless and therefore the film is uninspired.
Interesting to see John Banner who was best known as the simple-minded Sgt. Schultz on Hogan's Heroes cast here as an erudite educator. He's also quite good in his small role.
A foolish decision to remake something so closely associated with one particular legendary figure. A losing proposition from the start, something that Marilyn Monroe, Spencer Tracy & Fredric March-all of whom were offered the roles first and rejected them obviously realized. Why bother when you know from the start your film will never measure up.
Mary rides into the cinematic sunset
Pickford's screen swan song is her best talkie, admittedly not a high bar, that moves at breakneck speed through its tale of the romance, marriage, struggles and ultimate success of its main couple. It crams too much into its 83 minute running time but as early sound films go it's not bad.
At 42 she's unconvincing as a young belle at the beginning of the film but after about ten minutes she's out of that guise and from then on her performance is quite good. Unsurprisingly her strongest moments, as well as the film's, are the one's without dialog. It gives a peek at why she was one of the queens of silents and it seems regretful that just as she was adjusting to sound she chose to withdraw.
The film wasn't a hit on release and Mary, nothing if not canny, sensed that though the parade had not passed her by as of yet it was just around the corner. So she retired, enormously wealthy and a power broker behind the scenes.
Interesting but lacking one key element
Beautifully produced version of Hemingway's saga of his early journey towards manhood. Amazing supporting cast is a mix of veterans and rising talent of the time with assured direction. The entire cast does well but there are a few standouts. Paul Newman does good character work as a punch drunk has-been boxer, Eli Wallach has some fun with his conscripted soldier and Arthur Kennedy offers his usual thoughtful work as the lead's goodhearted but dominated father. Also kept an eye out for a blink and you'll miss her appearance by Sharon Tate in her screen bow.
The problem lies in Richard Beymer in the lead. He's not bad but he's just sort of there lacking the charisma to anchor such a pageant over its extended running time. Someone with the ability to hold the camera's gaze is needed, either Steve McQueen or Albert Finney who were the proper age at the time would have been better casting. As it stands the film is good but missing the key element that would have made it more.