The Nutty Professor (1963)

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Like all of us, there are films that stick with you over the years because you enjoyed them in childhood. For me this one stands out for just that reason.

I loved it when this would show up on television so I could watch it once again. It fueled my love of Jerry Lewis as a boy and opened my eyes to the beauty of Stella Stevens. Thank you Jerry for not stealing all the limelight and allowing Stella to look absolutely stunning throughout the film as you let the camera linger whenever she came into frame.

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By this time in his career Jerry was a one man act when he felt like it. Writer, producer, director and star. Dino was seven years removed by this time and was doing quite nicely on his own or teaming with the Rat Pack.

Jerry Lewis _amp_ Stella Stevens in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR _1963_

Taking the Jekyll and Hyde theme, Jerry twists it into (arguably) the Lewis/Martin theme. Jerry stars as Professor Kelp who is as clumsy as possible and when it comes to looking Stella in the eye, he turns to mush. Perhaps if he was just a little more muscular he’d feel more like a man. Off to the gym Jerry goes where one gag follows another.

With his workouts not giving him the results he’s looking for, Jerry turns to what he knows best. The field of science and formulas boiling in colorful test tubes. Before he knows it he’s turned into Buddy Love. A rather warped version of old pal Dean Martin. At least that’s how I see it.

Lewis has created a rather despicable character with Buddy whose ego knows no bounds. He pursues Stella who seems caught by his talent and overall look but is continually put off by his personality. When the formula begins to wear off and Kelp’s nasally voice sneaks into Love’s conversations and singing, she begins to suspect Love and Kelp are one and the same.

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Along for the ride is Del Moore as the University Dean who has some funny scenes with both sides of Lewis’s characters including a Hamlet recital.

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When it comes to character actresses, Lewis always seemed to find a role for Kathleen Freeman in his films and for that we should all be thankful.

Fans of Mayberry will be sure to spot Howard Morris as Jerry’s father. Morris played the rascally Ernest T. Bass who was always driving Andy Griffith and Don Knotts crazy with his rock throwing antics.

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Despite pushing the boundaries with the mean spirited Buddy Love, Jerry brings forth a message for all at the close of the film. Meek and mild mannered Professor Julius Kelp offers us one of life’s lessons that he has learned the hard way.

Could it be possible that drop dead gorgeous Stella Stevens just might go for the book wormish type?

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This is one of those films I almost assume everyone has seen. Lewis may not be for all tastes as the years go by but when he’s on……he’s on. Before you sit down and watch Eddie Murphy attempt to play the role, turn the clock back and give Jerry a shot.

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Movie Challenge…….Baby Face (1933)

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I can’t recall seeing a film from the thirties with so many blatant scenes of suggested sex. That’s s-e-x. Barbara Stanwyck style. Only in a pre-code era film.

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Time for my monthly challenge ( see previous challenges here) from movie pal Kristina at Speakeasy. She has a love for the pre-code days of tinsel town and this time out has assigned me an early film from Hollywood great Stanwyck.

Barbara opens the film welcoming a group of sweaty men into her home where her father has a bootleg operation in full swing. Not only does he produce his own brand but uses their home as an underground drinking hole that is protected by a local politician.

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Things get a bit nasty when it becomes painfully obvious that her father is more than willing to pimp her services to our local representative in order to keep his silence on Dad’s underground operation.

When fate prevails freeing Barbara from the chains at home she takes some crude advice to heart. “Use men to get everything you want!” This becomes her modus operandi.

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She wastes no time in hopping a train boxcar with her servant girl played by African American actress Theresa Harris. I know this is a pre-code film so maybe I’m looking for too much here but there sure seems to be a hint of sexual tension between the two of them. Especially when Barbara protects Harris from those who want her to get rid of her.

Shockingly, Miss Stanwyck begins to use her sexual favors right from the moment they hop on the train when a rail worker discovers them hitching a free ride. There is no hinting about her intentions here as there would be in films of the future. She closes the door on the boxcar and moves to the hay in the corner.

Once Barbara hits the big city it’s all about her rise to the top and the men she uses to get there. First it’s the tubby employee at the bank to get a job. Next up it’s the Duke himself. John Wayne in a brief role as another of Barbara’s conquests.

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She has soon passed him by for the mortgage specialist who is promptly let go for gross indecency. Then comes Donald Cook and finally her sugar daddy the bank president.

The higher she climbs the more gorgeous the outfits from costume designer Orry Kelly get. When things go to far and Barbara has one ex lover kill another she is exiled by the bank to Paris and labelled as poison.Baby-Face-1

Enter leading man George Brent. He’s the new playboy in town turned bank president. Living a life of luxury he can’t help himself where sexy Barbara is concerned. She sees Brent as the ultimate meal ticket and marries into money securing her financial safety and begins to stock pile the jewels, furs and savings bonds. What could possibly go wrong?

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We’ll find out when Brent’s financial empire crashes and he turns to her for help.

Stanwyck is one cold fish this time out. She chews up her men and leaves them longing for her after tossing them aside. Yes, even the Duke. There’s an extremely large model used in the film of a large skyscraper. As Barbara climbs her way up the society ladder so does her room in the building till at the film’s climax she is in the penthouse where she had her sights set upon arriving in the city at the outset.

This is an early Warner Brothers production that was directed by Alfred E. Green. Green was a workhorse from the silent era up until his pace slowed down in the forties. He visited most genres over the years including comedies, westerns and early John Garfield titles like East of the River.

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George Brent was a notable leading man at this time and would settle quite nicely into a number of Bette Davis films. You might say he was an actor cast in films associated with starring actresses as opposed to them appearing in films opposite him.

Dracula fans will be sure to spot unbilled Edward Van Sloan as a member of the board at the bank. Van Sloan was the first actor to take on the role of Professor Van Helsing in the 1931 feature.

As for our leading lady Miss Stanwyck, this film falls in line with many of the characters she would play in the years ahead. She forever seemed to be portraying tough women who used men to get ahead of whatever it is she was up against. Gangster roles, drama, westerns. She did them all. Even later in her career she was still playing tough opposite Elvis in the film I first remember seeing her in as a kid, Roustabout.

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Baby Face (you’ve got the cutest little baby face) is a wonderful example of what was in films before the industry began to police itself in 1934. Films like these weren’t even fit for re-release due to the subject material and would be locked up for many years till the rules began to slacken on what was appropriate for our viewing pleasure.

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As for Kristina at Speakeasy, head on over to check out a film I haven’t seen in years but fondly recall that once again shows the versatility of Edward G. Robinson.

Frankenstein : The Universal Series

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It’s Alive! It’s Alive!

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We Belong Dead.

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One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots.

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The lightning. It is good for you! Your father was Frankenstein, but your mother was the lightning!

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I can’t do it! I can’t destroy Frankenstein’s creation. I’ve got to see it at its full power.

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I’m going to give that brain of yours a new home in the skull of the Frankenstein monster.

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Get out! It’s the Frankenstein monster!

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I’ve had this brain for thirty years. It hasn’t done me any good!

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I never tire of these movies and a special thankyou to Dear Boris.

 

Trouble In the Sky (1960)

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Here’s a British film that is stocked with familiar faces and is also known under the alternate title Cone of Silence.

Opening the film is the original Cad, George Sanders . He’s grilling Bernard Lee about his actions that may have resulted in the crash of an airliner that led to the death of his co-pilot.

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Lee takes the blame of pilot error thus putting his job in jeopardy till he goes before the board for review. There are those that think he’s too old for the job like Michael Craig and Peter Cushing. Then he has his supporters including Andre Morell who makes the final decisions and his daughter played by Elizabeth Seal.

The airliner makes steady flights from England to Calcutta and most of the flights are performed by planes of the miniature types. They actually blend in fairly well with the actors at the mock airports.

Lee regains his position and proves his metal in a harrowing scene of keeping a plane in the air after going through a hail storm that knocks out a cockpit window. Charlton Heston would be proud.

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Young pilot Craig begins to see that Lee is more than capable in the cockpit and nature begins to take it’s course when he meets Lee’s daughter Seal.

Hammer Films legend Peter Cushing appears here as a conniving front office gent who believes Lee to be far to old to handle the rigors of piloting anymore and isn’t above casting criticisms towards Lee and bending the truths on his own performance in a cockpit. Truthfully, he’s a pompous pr–k.

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When another plane goes down resulting in a fatal crash for all those on board, Craig pushes the airplane suppliers and their creators to reveal the truth of the planes having issues rather than the usual pilot error being the cause of the disasters. Once again George Sanders shows up to prosecute. Can Craig convince him the planes are at fault and save the good name of the accused who isn’t there to defend himself?

Sprinkled throughout the films 94 minute running time are faces that are easily recognizable. From George Sanders to Peter Cushing. The original M from the Bond series, Bernard Lee. If you enjoy the Hammers as much as I do you’ll spot Noel Willman who led a vampire cult in Kiss of the Vampire and Gordon Jackson from countless British films. Andre Morell who was Watson to Cushing’s Holmes is in here too.

This is a respectable film about the earlier days of air transit with a fine cast doing their best to bring dramatics to the proceedings.

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I caught this one on VCI’s dvd release. Despite the title on the box cover, the actual print of the film is under the alternate title.

 

 

Gotti (1996)

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Here’s a gangland flavored film from the people at HBO about the career of one John Gotti.

Armand Assante stars here as The Dapper Don or if you prefer The Teflon Don. He does so with grit and determination.

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The film is told in flashback from 1973 up until the Don’s luck ran out in 1992 when his right hand killer Sammy “The Bull” Gravano turned against him in a court of law thus sealing the fate of the world famous crime lord. Gravano is played by William Forsythe. An actor who is no stranger to the genre of crime films including a substantial role as Noodles in the Sergio Leone epic, Once Upon a Time In America.

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It’s all very “Martin Scorsese(ish) from director Robert Harmon. So much so that we get some of Marty’s stock company coming over from Goodfellas including Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore.

The film has plenty of foul language but nowhere near the violence of a theatrical film of the time. Armand gets to threaten those around him and if necessary slam a few heads before cutting Forsythe’s Gravano loose upon those that are holding him back from taking over the family business. I for one have always appreciated seeing Assante on screen. Big or small. I enjoy seeing him play tough and although I wouldn’t say he made a huge name for himself in the main stream he certainly has a large amount of credits on his resume including a starring role in the last big screen Mike Hammer adaptation, I The Jury in 1982.

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Canadian actor Al Waxman turns up here as Gotti’s big time lawyer who keeps the Don on the streets till the Feds finally catch up with him on charges that stick. While Waxman is far from a household name world wide, that isn’t necessarily true to Canadians who are old enough to recall his popular stint as The King of Kensington here within Canadian borders.

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Adding a touch of class and old time Hollywood to the proceedings is screen legend Anthony Quinn. He plays a member of the family who stands up for Gotti and guides him to the throne of the underworld. Of note is that way back in 1972, Quinn was one of those actors rumored to be The Godfather in an up and coming motion picture from some hack named Coppola.

For plenty of wire taps, stand up guy chatter mixed with William Forsythe hits and mood swings from our leading actor Assante, this plays better than many other genre pieces of the day. Worth a peek.

Charro! (1969)

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This odd entry in the career of Elvis Presley feels like a cross between various western styles. The opening credits look much like a spaghetti entry while the bulk of the film plays like a western from producer A.C. Lyles. Lyles gave us a selection of low budget oaters starring faded Hollywood stars like Jane Russell and Dana Andrews in Johnny Reno.

Elvis leaves the guitar and the Jordinaires behind as he attempts to play it straight. He’s an ex member of an outlaw gang led by Victor French. French isn’t too pleased with the fact that Presley deserted him and took his girl Ina Balin along for the ride.

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By the time French catches up with our bearded star, he’s stolen a gold cannon from south of the border and made sure that the description of the head thief matches Elvis. All he needs to do is place a branding iron on the King’s neck to finalize the description. Hang’em High anyone? I couldn’t help but say aloud while watching, “The King rises” after he’s laid out and branded. Like the tough hombre he is, Elvis struggles back to his feet.

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With a price on his head and revenge on his mind the balance of the film is spent with French and Elvis playing cat and mouse games in the town where ex flame Balin has set up shop in the local saloon. If it wasn’t for Solomon Sturges playing French’s half crazed brother, Elvis just might never have get the upper hand against the gang that left him for dead. Any bets on who might win the lovely Balin back?

While totally watchable, Charro! is just not that memorable despite Elvis finally making a film where he doesn’t sing other than the opening theme over the credits. That’s unfortunate as I for one have always thought the King’s film career should have amounted to much more than it did as far as film’s in a classic sense. For the record I do think Flaming Star with Elvis is a solid western overall. With Don Siegel directing that should come as no surprise.

Could Elvis be going into karate mode years before Jackie Chan did it in Shanghai Noon?

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Charles Marquis Warren served here as the writer, producer and director. A large part of Warren’s career was made up from television western productions. He served as producer on Rawhide, The Virginian as well as directing numerous Gunsmoke episodes.

The familiar face of Victor French is always a welcome sight. Even if he is playing the villain and not the lovable Isaiah Edwards of Little House on the Prairie.

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Another face turning up is James Sikking who I recall had a memorable scene verbally fencing with Gene Hackman in The Narrow Margin remake and assisted Sean Connery in Outland which I occasionally love to revisit.

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Overall this is pretty much for western fans and the King’s legion.

 

Ambush Bay (1966)

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Hugh O’Brian is perfectly cast here as a cold blooded, square jawed, iron willed marine sergeant who rides his platoon hard. Raw recruit James Mitchum more than anyone else.

It’s 1944 as O’Brian and his small unit of troops arrive in the Philippines. Making their way through the dense jungles they must dodge Japanese soldiers on the lookout for the return of MacArthur and his forces. They are to meet up with a contact who will lead them to safe ground and give them the valuable information they need to radio back to their own forces. Young Mitchum is the radio operator who must be protected along with his equipment at all costs.

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Chief second to O’Brian is Mickey Rooney as a gruff sergeant. On one hand he’s O’Brian’s best friend while on the other he’s trying to help out our tenderfoot Mitchum. I love Mickey during his character actor period. He still played various leads but did some great co-starring parts in the fifties and sixties in films like this and The Bridges at Toko-ri. He had the world weariness about him by this time.

The group of marines suffer assorted casualties before finally meeting up with their underground connection in the form of beautiful Tisa Chang. With the Japanese forces closing in Rooney stands tall while Mitchum has his radio shot out from under him. It looks like we may have to go into the enemies camp for the required equipment.

On location filming here adds to the flavor of jungle warfare in this Ron Winston directed film. Winston was mainly a television director working on sixties shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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Hugh O’Brian dabbled alternately between both television and films. He was of course Wyatt Earp during the western craze but appeared in films ranging from Ten Little Indians to The Shootist. He even turned up in the hit comedy Twins.

Young James Mitchum is a dead ringer for his father Robert and has the voice to match. Alas, he lacks the charisma and laid back acting approach that worked so well for Robert during his long career.

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Mickey seemed well suited to this type of film at this point in his career. He also turned up in another war film titled The Secret Invasion just before this WW2 actioner from of all people, Roger Corman.

Plenty of action here for the war film fans with O’Brian and Rooney making the mission that much better for our viewing pleasure.

 

 

Kotch (1971)

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Jack Lemmon only directed one film during his award winning career. Wouldn’t you just know that the actor he cast in the lead role was his frequent costar and longtime friend Walter Matthau.

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Like his role in The Sunshine Boys, Walter is playing a character far older than he actually was at the time. He stars here as the father of Charles Aidman who is married to Felicia Farr. He’s overly fond of his grandson and never seems to shut up driving those around him to exasperation as he constantly talks in riddles.

He competes with the new babysitter played by Deborah Winters for what he sees as control of his grandsons upbringing when the baby’s parents are not home. Farr having had enough convinces her hubby to put his old man in a retirement home. Walter isn’t impressed. One of the films highlights is where he sits in with a psychiatrist who is evaluating his mental stability. This affords Matthau a chance to shine bright.

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Matthau is having none of this and takes to the road. His journey leads him full circle to home where he becomes concerned with Winters who was acting as the babysitter. She’s about to become an unwed mother and Walter tracks her down. This leads to the unlikely pair becoming roommates and it’s their relationship that sustains the film.

Taking on a role as a surrogate father to Winters and feeling the part of an expecting Dad gives Matthau’s character a new lease on life and makes him feel young again. It’s a good thing he accompanies her to a class for expected mothers which includes a film as he may just need to deliver the child by the film’s fade out.

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Walter was nominated for the Oscar this time out losing out to Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle. It’s interesting to not that Lemmon joins the likes of Charles Laughton and Marlon Brando as world famous talent that only lent their skill to directing one film.

It’s not surprising either that Jack cast beautiful Felicia Farr as Walter’s daughter in law. Farr was married to Jack from 1962 up until his death.

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Character actor Charles Aidman always seemed to have a natural presence in countless television shows over the years ranging from Little House on the Prairie to Gunsmoke.

This one had been on my shelf for longer than I care to admit but am glad I finally got around to giving it a look. It’s no classic but means well and with Matthau along for the ride it’s hard to go wrong.

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