April 2021 In Review
While I can’t speak for you or your corner of the globe, there isn’t much to do aside from yardwork around here with this lockdown back in serious effect thanks to you now what taking hold for the “third wave.”
But then we do have baseball back on the screens and hockey winding down to the playoff run. And then of course I have the movie room. So on with this month’s roll call.
Ssshhhh …. The Silent Film Project.
The Extra Girl (1923)
It’s Mabel Normand taking center stage in the title role. The film at a fast clip of 68 minutes plays out in two parts. The first half sees Mabel wanting nothing more than to follow her dreams to Hollywood. After all, her Mother and love interest, Ralph Graves, think she’d make for a terrific actress. She’ll just have to avoid marrying Vernon Dent who her Father has deemed a solid choice to take his daughter’s hand. Yes that’s the same Vernon Dent who went on to become the number one foil in so many classic Three Stooges Shorts.
The latter half of the film is played for plenty of gags with a tinge of action and drama tossed in. Hollywood isn’t all that easy to crack and poor Mabel finds herself assigned to the wardrobe department. There’s a great sequence where she has a chance to film her screen test and another involving her mistaking a real lion for the dog she had outfitted in a lion’s costume. Thankfully Graves has followed her to Hollywood to recapture her heart, save her and the family fortune from a thief and take her back home where they can raise a family and of course … “live happily ever after.” A fun effort from the Mack Sennett studio yet sadly Mabel’s second last film. Like so many silent era stars, she’d pass away in 1930 from a lengthy fight against tuberculosis just as talkies were upon us.
Decade by decade.
….. My personal journey through the films of Marlene Dietrich continued this month thanks to the blu ray releases of The Scarlet Empress (1934) and The Devils Is a Woman (1935). Both included in the box set of Dietrich/Von Sternberg films from Indicator. Again she is absolutely captivating in both films. I also caught up with the Ernst Lubitsch 1937 film Angel casting her opposite both Herbert Marshall and Melvyn Douglas. This one on blu ray from Kino Lorber. If you haven’t seen the Dietrich films of the 1930’s, do yourself a favor and seek them out. Might be the most photogenic actress of them all.
….. One Sunday Afternoon (1933) Gary Cooper stars along with Fay Wray in this adaptation of a successful stage play that starred Lloyd Nolan. Truthfully it’s OK but seems like a creaky dry run for the second go around, The Strawberry Blonde (1941) that is a downright classic comedy with Cagney, de Havilland and Hayworth.
….. Boomerang (1947) A murder mystery causes tempers to flare in a small town led by Dana Andrews as the D.A., Lee J. Cobb as the detective and Arthur Kennedy as the man on trial for his life for the killing of a kindly Minister. Elia Kazan film had me wondering what role Brando would have played had he been ready to take to the screen. Kennedy’s I suppose.
….. The Beautiful Blonde of Bashful Bend (1949) Betty Grable looking great in technicolor plays a saloon hall gal who can also handle a six shooter like no man in the territory. It’s a Preston Sturges effort that isn’t bad but not as memorable as Jane Russell’s gun toting gal in Bob Hope’s comedy fest The Paleface.
Robbery Under Arms – Aussie western with Peter Finch leading a couple of youngsters astray.
The Snorkel – Hammer thriller is a hidden gem with one hell of a payoff.
….. Night Passage (1957) I never tire of this one and that’s due in part to the dynamite cast surrounding Jimmy Stewart. Most notably Audie Murphy clad in black as a lightning fast outlaw riding with Dan Duryea and the likes of Jack Elam. Not up to the Anthony Mann films but still a great piece of entertainment.
….. The Case Against Brooklyn (1958) Darren McGavin goes undercover to bust a gambling ring that has already left two men dead, one an undercover cop. Hard hitting and with a Big Heat flavor, this was a pleasant surprise as I hadn’t seen it previously. Warren Stevens makes for a convincing thug facing off against McGavin. A good pick.
….. The Camp on Blood Island (1958) Hammer effort is a variation on the Bridge/Kwai theme that sees Andre Morell in charge of a group of beaten and emasculated soldiers in the grips of a Japanese prison camp. Not bad in the action segment and once again Hammer makes it look believable on a minor budget. And where the BLOODY HELL is Chuck Norris’ Col. Braddock when you need him.
….. The Leech Woman (1959) Moving on from the Noir genre, Coleen Gray, finds herself in the title role of this typical “B” flick of the sci-fi 50’s. She’s joined by Grant Williams and genre favorite, Gloria Talbot, as a woman who kills to stay young and beautiful.
Target : Harry – It’s Vic Morrow dodging counterfeiters and the law in Monte Carlo.
….. The Full Treatment (1960) Gimmicky Hammer flick starring Ronald Lewis is overlong and for me has a weak ending. Still, it’s Hammer so I had to give it a go.
….. The War Lover (1962) This Steve McQueen flick plays like someone dusted off an old Cagney script from the 1930’s. One where Cagney is the cocky pilot in WW2 and an all around jerk. Paging the King of Cool to the cockpit. Dependable Robert Wagner costars as #2 …. in the cockpit that is.
….. Dementia 13 (1963) Eerie effort from the Roger Corman stable that offered up Francis Ford Coppola his first go around in the director’s chair. Black and white adds to the edgy thrills. Stars William Campbell.
….. Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964) Actors Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin and Adam West take secondary roles to the wonderful special effects this film brought to audiences of the day from director Byron Haskin. I couldn’t help but wonder if this film somehow influenced the opening segment of 68’s Planet of the Apes. Looks great on blu ray and one I can easily recommend.
….. A Distant Trumpet (1964) Overlong and kind of boring as a whole, this from director Raoul Walsh. Cavalry vs. Indians western sorely lacks in star power. Troy Donahue? Thankfully it does have James Gregory and Claude Akins but could really use a Slim Pickens and or a Ben Johnson to join in.
1970 ‘s ….
Macon County Line – First rate drive-in thriller of it’s type.
Pray For the Wildcats – Personal favorite that I featured long ago but has since turned up on blu ray.
….. Wild Women (1970) Rather lame TV movie of the week with Hugh O’Brian on familiar ground as a western scout enlisting a group of wannabe Dirty Dozen women! Yes he needs Marie Windsor, Marilyn Maxwell and Anne Francis to lend cover as wives to the soldiers he has in tow to deliver a cannon to some fighting force somewhere….. no seriously.
….. Kidnapped (1971) Michael Caine takes center stage in the oft filmed Stevenson tale. So so results but hard not to like a film that gathers Caine, Trevor Howard, Jack Hawkins, Donald Pleasence and Jack Watson in one production.
….. Swamp Girl (1971) Country Music stars, Ferlin Husky and Claude King star in this ultra low budget flick that has Ferlin (Wings of a Dove) discovering there is truth to the legend of a beautiful blonde living in the everglades. Claude (Wolverton Mountain) plays a sheriff in the area hunting down some escaped convicts. If you can see it, the melodrama of the ending had me laughing out loud….. for the wrong reasons.
….. Clay Pigeon (1971) A bit on the amateurish side, this drug trafficking move does have a decent cast which is what has kept it on my radar for years. Telly Savalas, Robert Vaughn, Burgess Meredith, Ivan Dixon, Peter Lawford, Jeff Corey, Marlene Clark and John Marley. It’s also directed by the film’s leading man Tom Stern. If you love the cast…..
….. The Brother’s O’Toole (1973) A comedy western made for television sees John Astin playing dual roles. One a con artist meaning no real harm, the other a hardened outlaw. O.K. of it’s type but I much prefer his other comedy western of the time, Evil Roy Slade. That one had me in stitches as a kid and still does on the odd revisit.
….. Byleth : The Demon of Incest (1973) Damn I love these Euro thrillers from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Mark Damon stars in this period piece as a deranged voyeur who may also be a killer. The blood and flesh quotient are plenty in this film that fits the “guilty pleasure” moniker.
….. A Return to Macon County (1975) Not a bad film that has nothing to do with 1974’s Macon County Line. It could stand on it’s own easy enough but with that title association, you’re waiting for things to go bad for Nick Nolte and Don Johnson. Damn they looked like babies in this one. I liked it.
….. Burnt Offerings (1976) A long time favorite and with Dan Curtis directing Oliver Reed, why not? A twist on the haunted house theme with Reed, Karen Black and Bette Davis moving into a splendid mansion that has a power of it’s own. Add in Burgess Meredith and Anthony James and it only gets creepier. Yeah I’m ready for another revisit already.
Forgotten Giallo Volume 2 Set from Vinegar Syndrome brought three more titles.
….. The Girl In Room 2A (1974) Raf Vallone stars while women are disappearing in this shocker of torture and deceit. It’s also got genre favorite Rosalba Neri. All I need to know. The film? Picks up steam over the second half.
….. The French Sex Murders (1972) Anita Ekberg, Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri? Good Lord, what took me so long? Anyway, it’s a who done it mystery and considering Howard Vernon appears in it one shouldn’t be too surprised at the outcome. The best thing about the film is actor Robert Sacchi playing it in Humphrey Bogart style and the make up to match. Lisp and trenchcoat included. No fooling! I had to pause the film and call in my two sons to check it out. We all had a good laugh. Nice to know that even in the 70’s Bogie was still solving cases.
….. My Dear Killer (1972) Probably the best film in the set stars George Hilton as a detective trying to piece together a murder with a past kidnapping. William Berger and Helga Line also star in this Tonino Valerii directed who done it.
….. Nate and Hayes (1983) A forgotten pirate effort? Perhaps. Tommy Lee Jones stars as Bully Hayes with an Indiana Jones feel at times though it’s not to be compared to the archaeologists adventures. Can Tommy and Michael O’Keefe save Jenny Seagrove from the slave trade? Yeah likely.
….. Ninja III : The Domination (1984) Cannon fodder as I like to call some of the Golan-Globus productions. Silly stuff with lovely Lucinda Dickey taken over by the spirit of an evil Ninja. All of which leads to an amusing exorcism bit with James Hong in charge. Thankfully Sho Kosugi is on hand to do battle against the forces of evil because as we all know, “only a ninja can kill a ninja.”
….. Land of Doom (1985) Another of those straight to video post apocalypse tales in the wake of Mad Max’s success. Low budget but fun with a lady Max if you will played by Deborah Rennard. Love the blu ray art on this one.
….. The Howling II (1985) Maybe I’m getting less judgmental in my old age. Is this getting better with every viewing? Either way it’s no match for the Joe Dante original but it does have a magnificent looking Christopher Lee as a werewolf hunter and Sybil Danning as the Queen of the Werewolves. Gotta count for something. Just too bad they never had any cash in the budget for some some decent F/X.
….. Bad Dreams (1988) Typical 80’s thriller but I liked it. The one of a kind, Richard Lynch, inhabits a coma victim’s dreams after she wakes up years after a fire that left multiple people dead in a commune that was headed by nutty Lynch. Played by Jennifer Rubin, she’s escaped her destiny and now he’s come back to reclaim her. Also stars genre regular Bruce Abbott and Harris Yulin.
….. The Fourth War (1990) I saw this one at the theater back in the day and do enjoy a revisit on occasion. It’s Roy Scheider waging a personal war against Jurgen Prochnow along a U.S. / Russian border in what is supposed to be an agreed upon peace time. John Frankenheimer directs.
….. The Big Lebowski (1998) My love affair with this film continues. I’ve lost count after all these years but every now and then I feel the need to revisit The Dude, Walter and Donny. And yes, say so many of those iconic lines right along with the actors. “The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinner”
as of late ….
….. Whiplash (2014)
If ever I wanted to beat the hell out of an actor/character, it’s J.K. Simmons in his Oscar winning performance as the conductor from hell tormenting a drummer who wants to be the best there is. So many films come along that others sometimes get pushed back to the point I almost forget they exist. My son asked me if I’d finally watched this and pointed out he’s now seen it five times. BANG. Give me that disc. 2 hours later I realize it’s probably the best new to me movie I’ve seen so far this year. Exhilarating and a film that brought so many emotions to the surface. And damn what an ending! Yeah I must apologize for my tardiness. Should have seen it in 2014 when it first came out.
Sad Hill Unearthed (2017)
Really a labor of love and a must see for fans of the Leone classic, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. A documentary follows a group of fans who locate the graveyard used in the closing sequence of the famed film and like archaeologists, rebuild the set and the cemetery to it’s former glory. If only I had known this project was happening I may have moved to Spain to lend a hand with pick and shovel to locate the grave of Arch Stanton. Seriously, I reached for a tissue when these men and women wept at the sight of Clint Eastwood offering them his congratulations near the end of the film.
Triple Frontier (2019) A group of retired military boys decide to lend a hand to an old army buddy and head down to Mexico to take out a Drug Lord with the bonus being the millions of dollars he’s stashed away in his jungle fortress. Enjoyable and had me thinking for a while we were headed into Sierra Madre territory but in the end in went a different direction with Ben Affleck leading the platoon. Not bad.
The Jesus Rolls (2019) Can’t say that I’d recommend this to anyone ….. but if you love The Big Lebowski and the character Jesus Quintana played by John Turturro then you might want to check this one out. Truthfully I thought he was the only reason to check this out. Some say things are better left alone and there’s truth in that statement but damn it sure was nice to see John once again warning people to never “%$#& with the Jesus.”
Honest Thief (2020)
Another Liam Neeson action thriller? I guess but he makes it work once again. While I did think the initial set up was a bit much, a career thief giving up all his stolen cash for a light sentence in order to live happily ever after with the woman he now loves. Still it works and when things get twisted thanks to some shady FBI agents who want the cash for themselves setting Liam up as a fall guy on a murder rap the action kicks in and so do those skills Liam continues to carry over from a certain hit movie. Good roles for leading lady Kate Walsh and former Burn Notice star, Jeffrey Donovan. Easy to recommend on a night when you can’t settle on just what to watch.
The Bowery Boys
I wrapped up Volume 3 from the Warner Archive collection on the Bowery Boys starring Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall. This set includes some of the later titles that saw Stanley Clements stepping in for Gorcey who had departed the series by this point. Mr. Hex (1946), Dig That Uranium (1955), Crashing Las Vegas (1955), Hot Shots (1956) which I must point out also costarred the blonde bombshell Joi Lansing, Spook Chasers (1957), Looking For Danger (1957) and Up In Smoke (1957).
….. I even breathed some new life into my “slumming” series this month with a quartet of She Devils and Demons. Have a look.
The Monthly Report Card
55 Films Seen
New to Me Titles 38
19 seen on DVD
31 on blu ray
1 title thanks to TCM – The Extra Girl
1 on Crave TV – The Jesus Rolls
3 on Netflix – Honest Thief, Sad Hill Unearthed, Triple Frontier
If I could take just one of these to that well known desert isle for repeated viewings it has got to be and will continue to be The Big Lebowski.
Most enjoyable of the new to me titles goes to Macon County Line for a classic era movie and Whiplash for something post 2000.
Most enjoyable revisit goes to Burnt Offerings (if we ignore The Dude).
So count them up if you will and let Brando and I know how many of the 55 you’ve seen.