Friday, September 19, 2014

The Show (1927)
The Show (1927) Poster

**** out of 5

This silent thriller takes John Gilbert in a womanizing bad boy role similar to that played by Charles Farrell in Liliom, and plunges that character into the dark and eerie underworld that director Tod Browning so excelled in creating. Lionel Barrymore is the villain, played with just enough cruel cunning and vicious brutality to allow the viewer to root for John Gilbert's sideshow barker despite his lack of moral character. One can see the early roots of the Film Noir in this 1927 production, as Gilbert' misdeeds and bad choices cause him to experience ever-increasing troubles and danger.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Poster

***** out of 5

Finally got a chance to see this one. And it's easily rated highly among the best of Marvel's movies so far.

Sinbad the Sailor (1947)
Sinbad, the Sailor (1947) Poster

**** out of 5

This film's eye-poppingly brilliantly vivid technicolor makes for a colorful adventure story. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is the title character in the kind of role his father made famous, and comes off fairly well in the comparison, despite some overly demonstrative acting. And with the lovely Maureen O'Hara as the lead actress, entertaining supporting characters like George Tobias, Mike Mazurki and Sheldon Leonard, an entertainingly cunning companion in Walter Slezak, and Anthony Quinn as the villainous adversary, Fairbanks is surrounded by a terrific cast of actors. The story has just enough turns and twists to stay interesting to the finish.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Harakiri (1919)
Harakiri (1919) Poster

*** out of 5
Early Fritz Lang silent film, more interesting from that aspect than for its actual content, which is a variation of the Madam Butterfly story. Interesting comparisons could also be draw between this and The Squaw Man (which Cecil B DeMille made 3 times) as both have quite similar themes, plots and endings, and combined make an interesting reflection of racial attitudes of the time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Last Hurrah (1958)
The Last Hurrah (1958) Poster

**** out of 5

This isn't John Ford at his best, as the film strikes an uneasy balance between satire and serious political drama, but even a lesser John Ford film is superior entertainment, with plenty of the humor and heart that is present in all his work. Plus, in addition to Spencer Tracy's lovable performance as an old local politician fighting one last campaign and Jeffrey Hunter as his newsman nephew, it's always fun to see the many regular supporting players that show up in Ford's films, faces like John Carradine, Pat O'Brien, Jack Pennick, Frank McHugh, Edward Brophy, Jane Darwell, Donald Crisp, James Gleason, Ricardo Cortez, et al.

The Spanish Main (1945)
The Spanish Main (1945) Poster

**** out of 5

Pretty solid swashbuckling adventure by a director whose career comfortably straddled the change from silent to sound, with excellent and notable films in both periods.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gideon of Scotland Yard (Gideon's Day) - (1958)
Gideon of Scotland Yard (1958) Poster
**** out of 5

An unusual title in John Ford's filmography genre-wise, but a good example of his versatility as a director for precisely that reason.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Big Lebowski (1998) Poster
**** out of 5

Coen brothers films tend to be more farce in nature, and thus something of an acquired taste. The characters aren't really people you connect to emotionally; they are caricatures, crafted solely to be amusing, and on that level this film is certainly successful, playing as a sort of satire on the classic Film Noir story, but instead of a hard-boiled private detective, we have as the lead character, "The Dude," a burned-out slacker played by Jeff Bridges, and his two bowling teammates, played with great humor by Steve Buscemi and John Goodman.

The Misfits (1961)
The Misfits (1961) Poster
**** out of 5

5 great performers giving top-shelf performances with an excellent Arthur Miller script to support them and the great John Huston directing: Gable, Monroe, Wallach, Clift, & Ritter. Can't get much better than that! Clark Gable's final screen appearance shows he a still had that star power blazing away even at the end, and Marilyn Monroe never looked more better or gave as good a dramatic performance as here. Montgomery Clift has a terrific introductory scene, and goes on to a continually surprising performance. Thelma Ritter is a great supporting character, as should be expected from her. And the lately deceased Eli Wallach is a marvel to watch in a multi-faceted and outstandingly well layered role that is acted with great nuance and charisma.

The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938)
The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938) Poster
*** out of 5

Historical (and racial) accuracy takes a back seat (or at best, a side car) to romance, intrigue, and adventure. So many white actors as asian characters! typical, for the time it was made, but taking aside the issues of race, the performers themselves are all suitably engaging.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Treasure Island (1934)
Treasure Island (1934) Poster
**** out of 5

With Victor Fleming at the helm, Treasure Island is given just the right sense of adventure and atmosphere it deserves. And Wallace Beery makes a great Long John Silver, and the cast he plays with fill out the rest of the roster more ably than most other versions of this story. While they could've used a more menacing Israel Hands, the rest of the cast all fit the bill in a story that demands a lot of colorful characters. Lionel Barrymore as Billy Bones is a lot of fun in his opening scenes, chewing the scenery just as we would expect of him. Nigel Bruce is perfectly cast as the pompous Squire Trelawney, Otto Kruger suitably dashing and gallant as Doctor Livesey, Lewis Stone appropriately stern as Captain Smollett, Chic Sale is a perfectly looney Ben Gunn, and of course Jackie Cooper in the role of Jim Hawkins makes an excellent counterpart to Wallace Beery, just as he did in The Champ (1934). It's only a shame their off-screen interactions were reportedly not as good as their on-screen rapport.

The Extra Girl (1923)
The Extra Girl (1923) Poster
*** out of 5

An admirable effort by Mabel Normand to do a Mary Pickford picture, which succeeds mostly because she brings with her the comic sensibilities of Mack Sennett, in her last film for that studio.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Long Gray Line (1955)

The Long Gray Line (1955) Poster
***** out of 5

This one's a real man-weeper, and just one more reason why John Ford was the all-time greatest director.

Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) Poster
*** out of 5

Average B-Movie from shlock-master producer Sam Katzman, with better-than average effects by Ray Harryhausen, the best of which are naturally saved for the big final battle sequence, with lots of exploding national landmarks and crashing saucers. Wish the rest of the film was as exciting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) Poster
***** out of 5

Questionable history, but great drama! Bette Davis and Errol Flynn as the titular lovers who fight a losing battle against fate and their own hearts. Their relationship is captivating to watch, and the supporting cast adds exciting layers of court intrigue to the drama. Donald Crisp is a notable supporting player as Sir Francis Bacon, adviser and friend to both who put his considerable skills of diplomacy to the limits in his attempts to keep them and the kingdom together. Olivia deHavilland's role as a jealous lady-in-waiting is underdeveloped, but admirably played, as is Vincent Price's role as Flynn's court rival, Sir Walter Raleigh.

The Sword and the Rose (1953)
The Sword and the Rose (1953) Poster
**** out of 5

A diverting period drama, and an interesting selection by Disney for one of the earlier live-action films by his studio. Some good performances here, with Richard Todd doing his best Errol Flynn to Glynis John's attempt at the Olivia De Havilland part. She acquits herself well enough, but fares much better in more comic roles, in the films I've observed. James Robert Justice is the stand-out performer, as a very entertaining Henry VIII - alternately cunning and earthy; a lusty and open fellow who is only matched in wit by his own sister, as played by Johns. Michael Gough plays Duke of Buckingham with great skill and nuance - at times an ally to the Todd and Johns, at times a ruthless opponent but always with his own interests behind his every move.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Down on the Farm (1920)
*** out of 5

An amusing early foray into feature length comedy by the Mack Sennett studio during the silent era. Several familiar faces make appearances Louise Fazenda displays charm and wit as the lead character, a farm girl in love with the hired hand, Harry Gribbon. James Finlayson playing the kind of part he was most commonly featured in, the landlord who demand the rent or the hand of the farmer's daughter. And an amusig sequence features his attempts to get a little action from the faithful wife (Marie Prevost) of another local man, the hilarious Ben Turpin, who had much more to offer as a comedian than being a funny-looking cross-eyed living visual gag.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sergeant Rutledge (1960)
Sergeant Rutledge (1960) Poster
**** out of 5

Proof that Quentin Tarantino knows squat about John Ford.

Witness For the Prosecution (1957)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957) Poster
***** out of 5

Everything about this is terrific. Dialogue just crackles all through it. Charles Laughton was rarely more charismatic and engaging than in this film, and his interaction with his real-life wife, Elsa Lanchester is a so great; they make a great on-screen duo (and not for the first time, either; they did 12 together all told. Check out Private Life of Henry VIII and Rembrandt, for a couple other standouts they costarred in) Tyrone Power also give a performance that is richly layered as the accused man. And Marlene Dietrich does some outstanding work in a difficult role. I'd spoil the plot if I told you exactly how good she is in this.

The Sea Hawk (1940)
The Sea Hawk (1940) Poster**** out of 5
The choice to switch from black and white to sepia for the panama sequence is an interesting throw-back to techniques used in silent film, where tinting was sometimes used to denote time of day or interior vs. exterior scenes. In this case it is effectively used to depict the extreme heat of the tropical climate.