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Starring: Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix, Mark Stevens
Screenplay: Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Jay Dratler, Based on the Story by Leo Rosten
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge
Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Director: Henry Hathaway
Henry Hathaway’s directing career spanned over 40 years and just about every genre, including this and other forays into film noir. Cast as his lead is Mark Stevens, who after this film was voted the fifth-most promising “star of tomorrow” by exhibitors, although he didn’t get many leading roles after this and worked mainly in television by the mid-50s.
Stevens plays Brad Galt, a private eye who served two years for vehicular manslaughter, framed by his former partner, Jardine. When sneering, wide-body thug Fred Foss (Bendix) comes after him, Galt pries the name of his employer from him: Jardine, apparently setting him up for another fall or just trying to kill him. But it’s actually art gallery owner Cathcart (Webb) engineering the whole thing, trying to frame Galt for murdering Jardine, who has been carrying on an affair with Cathcart’s wife. Feeling fatalistic, Galt does something he’d hesitated doing before: taking out his saucy but sincere secretary, Kathleen (Ball), and love blossoms quickly, even as Galt keeps trying to push her away for her safety. But she’s not budging.
A good effort all around, nicely shot by MacDonald even on what looks to be a skimpy budget and the same old diner and apartment sets probably used in hundreds of other films (although the image is quite degraded and due for restoration). What sets it apart is Ball, who in retrospect was meant for a great career in television comedy but who gets some great one-liners here, all the while being very convincingly concerned about the little lug, Galt. There’s an intriguing maternal aspect to their relationship, and while he makes most of the decisions, it’s clear at several points he’s lost and needs her help. The private eye with mommy issues sub genre was perhaps ahead of its time.
Starring: Gene Evans, Robert Hutton, Steve Brodie, James Edwards, Richard Loo
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Ernest Miller
Music: Paul Dunlap
Editing: Philip Cahn
Director: Samuel Fuller
For his third film, Fuller draws on his WWII experiences for this Korean War drama, focusing mainly on one Sgt. Zack (Evans), sole surviving POW, who witnesses his platoon’s execution and becomes ruthless and rather mad as a result. Fuller gets the most out of his low budget, with some intense battle scenes and authentic, coldblooded dialogue (“burp gun.” “Let’s make some money.” “A dead man’s nothin’ but a corpse—nobody cares who he is.”). But while Fuller never comes out against the war, he shows how dehumanizing and confusing it can be. Zack shoots his own POW and it’s not meant to be taken as justified revenge; it’s clear he’s failed.
Fuller finds great moments of humanity and commonality, like when the young Korean kid who saved Zack, “Short Round” (yes, he inspired the character from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) sings what sounds like “Auld Lang Syne” but turns put to be the Korean National Anthem (same tune). Or when the Japanese-American G.I. has a conversation with the Korean POW about how Japanese had to try passing as Filipinos in the U.S. during WWII, so as to avoid internment camps. It’s clear that Fuller believes war, paranoia and racism all derive from fear, and the fear dehumanizes men, even before we see Zack silently entreating the statue of Buddha to save the POW he shot, or when a dazed Zack wanders dazedly through the smoky battlefield like a ghost or someone who’s reached another level of consciousness. Fuller is way ahead of his time here, achieving similar results here in less time and for a much lower budget than Terence Malick did in The Thin Red Line in 1998.
Note - Martin Scorsese looked to this film for inspiration on how to film the boxing scenes in Raging Bull
Starring: Kevin Costner, Ivana Baquero, Samantha Mathis
Screenplay: John Travis, Based on the Short Story by John Connolly
Cinematography: Checco Varese
Music: Javier Navarrete
Editing: Tom Elkins, Robb Sullivan
Director: Luis Berdejo
Claptrap about a novelist, John James (Costner), moving his kids to a house in the country, next to an old burial mound. Teen daughter Luisa (Baquero) has the usual problems of a teen moving away (new kid in school, bullying) and resents Dad for this and for the breakup of marriage to Mom (though how he apparently got full custody isn’t explained). While John strikes up a relationship with a new woman (Mathis), Luisa is drawn to the mound. I suppose it’s a metaphor for puberty or something, but it just results in her coming home muddy and acting weird, increasingly under the control of strange creatures living in the mound. James, with the help of the father of the former owner of the house, as well as a university expert on mounds, pieces things together and tries to save Luisa before it’s too late. And while everything up to this point is boring and dumb, not incompetent enough to be fun, the ending is at least surprising if not satisfying. Everyone loses. James blows up himself and Luisa to get the inhabitants of the mound, and back home, his son stands waiting as the creatures sneak up behind him.
Starring: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack
Screenplay: Paul Dehn, Guy Trosper, Based on the Novel by John le Carre’
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Music: Sol Kaplan
Editing: Anthony Harvey
Director: Martin Ritt
Martin Ritt, one of the more progressive directors of the ’60s and onward, lenses this adaptation of the 1963 spy novel of the same name. Burton plays Leamas, a British agent based in West Berlin, who is seemingly demoted in a plan to make him look disgruntled and open to offers to defect to the side of East German Intelligence. It works, up to a point, but there is a tribunal that not only establishes East German Intelligence agent Mundt as a paid British informant, but also shatters Leamas’ credibility when his Communist girlfriend Nan (Bloom) reveals her apartment is paid for by British Intelligence. Leamas and Nan are seemingly allowed to leave over the Berlin Wall, but Nan is shot, apparently by a double agent, and Leamas decides to follow her down the wall, where he meets the same fate.
Burton would be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for the role, and he’s well cast as a disaffected, disgruntled, middle-aged agent trying to hang onto both his job and his little bit of happiness with his dumpy girlfriend and a few cocktails after work in their tiny apartment. With its damp, decaying scenery (shot in England and Ireland rather than East or West Germany for obvious reasons), the main point of the film seems to be a corrective to audiences who believed spy craft was as glamorous and action-packed as a James Bond film. Most scenes are heavy on dialogue—arguments, inquiries, evasions and lies—with the actual details on who’s working for who not that interesting or important. Working somewhat against the film is Kaplan’s cocktail jazz score; something more sorrowful or bleak would have been more appropriate to help sell the message, delivered near the end when Leamas blasts Nan for her naive Communism and black-and-white, almost hippieish sense of right and wrong: “What do you think spies are? They are a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me, little drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands…” Essentially, the physical work of spying is necessary but not special; it merely requires those willing to get down in the muck and do it. Leamas’ rationale is essentially Fascist, and with the timid and unworldly Nan as the straw woman example of the namby pamby who doesn’t know how the world works, there’s no room for any area in between idealism and ends justifying the means. So what may seem at first to be refreshingly unsentimental is really the same bloody-minded idea in most war films, only without the sentimental or patriotic sugar to make it go down easy. Notably, the James Bond adventure, Thunderball, from the same year, made $144M to Spy’s $7.8M.
Starring: Tony Curtis, Claudia Cardinale, Sharon Tate, Robert Webber, Dave Draper, Dub Taylor, Edgar Bergen, Mort Sahl
Screenplay: Ira Wallach, Based on His Novel, Muscle Beach
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
Editing: Rita Roland, Thomas Stanford
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
The film’s poster exhorts the audience to “turn on! stay loose! make out!”, with a big red circle with the film’s title inexplicably covering the illustration of pneumatic Claudia Cardinale and the tan but fading matinee idol Curtis. Like the poster, the film tries hard but misses the mark.
Curtis’ character, Carlo Cofield (a name he says so often in the film, it seems like it’s supposed to be its own running gag), pulls his car over near the beach for no clear reason, finding the lovely but clumsy Laura (Cardinale) painting. She ends up causing his car and clothes to be destroyed and invites him back to her place for dinner and to find her insurance information (I work in insurance and can’t really figure out what policy would cover getting a man to crash his own car and then burning up his clothes while not on your own property. She doesn’t appear to even own her home.). It’s not much of a meet-cute, as the script doesn’t have much interest in getting the two together, preferring a bit of farce as Laura’s lover, Rod Prescott (Webber) shows up, finds Carlo hiding outside, and tells him nicely to scram and sleep on the beach.
Carlo goes from being a bumbler to con man the next morning, dressing in one of Rod’s suits and posing as a salesman for Rod’s swimming pool company, getting Mr. and Mrs. Jim Backus (playing themselves; he even does a bit of Mr. Magoo) to sign up for the deluxe pool. With this order and the implied threat of blackmailing Rod for cheating on his wife with Laura, Carlo gets a job with the company. Things move very quickly, and he’s soon in his own beach house, with a Rolls-Royce thrown in, and Mrs. Prescott hot on his jock, but he only has eyes for beach babe Malibu (Tate, filmed very well and making an impressive debut with lots of slow-motion trampoline jumping substituting for having to deliver much dialogue). Malibu’s boyfriend, Harry (real bodybuilder Draper) has a competition coming up, and Carlo advises no sex, which makes horny Malibu vulnerable to his advances, though he fails. There’s some other hooey with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen playing a fortune teller for no good reason, and socially conscious comic Mort Sahl also playing an unrewarding role. It ends with the six people stuck in Carlo’s house, slowly turning over and sliding down the hill in a rainstorm, all ending up coupled off as intended.
The movie apparently is aiming for the kooky Kalifornia feel of beach party movies, only with dirty middle-aged men like Curtis and Webber going after the young babes. Cardinale is certainly talented, and perhaps Tate was as well, but they’re given little to do but be eye candy and objects of desire. Curtis is nearly orange from tanning but pretty close to his peak of handsomeness and in great shape. Too bad his character is a conniving creep who doesn’t take a moment to realize how good things are working out for him, so intent is he on scoring with Malibu. The film isn’t a satire of anything, nor does anyone really learn anything or grow. It’s just a series of goofy scenes that look nice but aren’t ever very funny, and overall leave a bad aftertaste.
Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Torin Thatcher, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer, Alec Mango
Screenplay: Kenneth Kolb
Cinematography: Wilkie Cooper
Visual Effects: Ray Harryhausen
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Editing: Roy Watts
Director: Nathan H. Juran
Over 50 years later, the only really memorable people associated with this film are Harryhausen and Herrmann. Herrmann, more famous for his scores for Alfred Hitchcock films before their relationship soured, turns in a wonderfully vibrant score here, a model for adventure films. But it’s Harryhausen’s fantastic stop motion animation (“Dyna-Mation”) that makes the film a classic.
It’s always disheartening to revisit films one liked as a kid to find they don’t hold up, but though it’s plenty corny and silly and stilted, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a gas. The story, which is not really based on the tale of the same name, has Egyptian prince and adventurer Sinbad (Mathews, like the rest of the cast making nary a nod towards the character’s actual ethnicity and language) and his crew lost at sea, arriving on the island of Colossa, where they meet a mysterious wizard, Sakourah (Thatcher), and briefly battle a giant Cyclops (Harryhausen designed it along the lines of the Greek god Pan, half one-eyed man, half cloven-hoofed goat), narrowly escaping but losing Sakourah’s magic, genie-filled lamp in the water, which the Cyclops retrieves, though it means nothing to him but a shiny trinket.
Sakourah presses hard for a return to find the lamp, but Sinbad has orders from his caliph (Mango), and he also has a wedding to plan, to his beloved Princess Parisa (Grant), from the neighboring but enemy kingdom of Chandra. The marriage will bring piece to the two kingdoms. Sakourah tries to convince the caliph to sponsor the trip back to Colossa, foretelling great doom for the wedding that only Sakourah can prevent, but the caliph sees through Sakourah’s act and banishes him shortly after an impressive demonstration of magic—turning Parisa’s handmaiden into a four-armed cobra woman. Sakourah has a Plan B, casting a spell to shrink Parisa to just a few inches tall, promising a cure if Sinbad and his quickly-formed crew, half loyal and half criminals promised pardons for their service, get the lamp back.
The criminals mutiny, taking Sinbad and the others hostage, Sinbad having no choice but to surrender when Sakourah is threatened. He needs Sakourah’s magic to restore Parisa. They arrive on Colossa, losing the mutineers to the mind-shattering cries of the unseen Sirens of the island, and the thinned-out crew experience calamity and several deaths due either to the Cyclops, giant Rocs, Sakourah’s perfidy or their own stupidity, until finally it’s just Sinbad, a restored Parisa, the small crew Sinbad left on the beach with a giant crossbow and the wily Sakourah and his cave palace of terrors (animated skeleton warriors, a dragon). it’s a brisk film filled with stuff that doesn’t really go out of style—giant monsters, pirates, cool weapons, magic and sword fights. Harryhausen’s creations, even as a kid, were never realistic, never exactly part of the same world in which the actors existed, and yet even as one is admiring his somewhat jittery, painstaking craft, the film is still immersive, still easy to watch and become a kid again in a way I rarely feel with the $100M plus descendants of films like this such as Wrath of the Titans or the Transformers films. Lots of fun, and while it’s considered the best of the three Harryhausen Sinbad films, it’s not even Harryhausen’s best (see: Jason and the Argonauts).
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Starring: Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, Jose Ferrer, Charles Bickford
Screenplay: Ben Hecht (as Lester Barstow), Andrew Solt, Based on the Novel, Methinks the Lady by Guy Endore
Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller
Music: David Raksin
Editing: Louis R. Loeffler
Director: Otto Preminger
Preposterous, tedious noir from Preminger and blacklisted Ben Hecht where socialite shoplifter Tierney is blackmailed by hypnotist Ferrer, and he soon gets her involved with scandal and murder until husband Conte helps set Ferrer up. Tierney, one of the great femmes fatale of film noir, is used poorly in the film, confused and at the mercy of the smooth-talking, mustache-twirling cartoon scoundrel. With Preminger, veteran composer Raksin and the talented cast, the film has a professional sheen but is undone by its own ridiculousness.
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Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren
Screenplay: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon
Cinematography: Matt Aspbury, Jean-Claude Kalache
Music: Randy Newman
Editing: Greg Snyder
Director: Dan Scanlon
Long-awaited sequel to Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., and like most of the Pixar sequels aside from Toy Story 2 and 3, it’s not as good as the original. Not even that close, though it’s fairly enjoyable. This one is more of a prequel, telling the story of how best buddies and Monsters, Inc. coworkers Mike (Crystal) and Sulley (Goodman) met as enemies their freshman year of college. Mike is the hardworking nobody who’s book smart but has no natural aptitude for scaring, while Sully is a legacy relying on natural ability but not applying himself. They’re both kicked out of the Scaring program and begrudgingly team up, along with a few other affable but forgettable losers. It’s basically Revenge of the Nerds with the addition of a disgraced jock.
With Crystal’s appealing voice and that expressive eye and mouth, this is Mike’s film more than Sulley’s, and the emotional beats mainly belong to him. But the film plays much more by-the-numbers than the first film, an odd couple/slobs vs. snobs story lacking the originality of the first film’s having the star scarer forging an emotional bond with a human child, basically his prey. The film, both visually and story wise never really rises above likable. Helen Mirren’s coldhearted Dean Hardscrabble is never anything but a villain, not believing in our heroes and even after their third act demonstration of scary ability, letting them be expelled, kind of a bum note even though we know they end up fine. Visually, it’s very tidy, the purple, turquoise, green, blue and red monsters all spaced out perfectly on the quad, all cuddly and not particularly unusual. The various events in the Scare Games look nice but are never really eye candy, never stunningly realized like Pixar’s best.
With regular vinyl tape, Glasgow-based artist Jim Lambie transforms any given space into a colorful, mesmerizing landscape that often create optical illusions.
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