Saturday, February 10, 2018

WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950)


Directed by Norman Foster with a coherent screenplay by Foster and Alan Campbell,
along with sarcastically witty dialogue by Ross Hunter, this Universal Pictures release is a winner thanks to solid performances by the main cast. Maybe “Husband on the Run,” that being the character actually running or simply, “On the Run,” would have been a more accurate title, however. The hugely respected, top-billed actress probably commanded the less than accurate title. The limited budget is pretty well hidden, sending this film into the unknown B+ movie category.

Husband and starving artist, Ross Elliot, is walking his dog late at night and witnesses, what he will soon learn, is a gangland murder. The gunman spots him and fires Elliot’s direction with precise accuracy. However, in the dark the murderer shoots Elliot’s back lit shadow in the head instead. That is Elliot’s good news. The bad news is he is now the prime witness to the murder. He bolts in fear, leaving the police, his wife and his dog trying to locate him.

In this role, Robert Keith is the quintessential police detective in trench coat and a fedora topping off a face full of weary. Providing support is partner, Frank Jenks. Keith is frustrated with Ann Sheridan, as she seems unconcerned about her vanishing husband. He wants to provide protection for her husband but she is anything but helpful. They sarcastically exchange humorous lines back and forth. He is confounded that there is not a single photo of Elliot in Sheridan’s possession. Her husband being a painter, he asks if he ever did a self-portrait. Sheridan says no, he never liked himself that much. He returns later with more news, telling her he went to see her husband’s doctor. She asks, “Why, aren’t you feeling well?” His point being, her husband has a serious heart problem. A shocking detail of which she was unaware. Elliot now has two reasons to be found. How times have changed. Elliot's doctor is stumped by something called, hypertension.


Enter Dennis O’Keefe as a wisecracking newspaper reporter. He is a pro at playing obnoxiously persistent characters. He wants to help Sheridan find her husband for an exclusive story. Their banter is fun and natural. After helping her evade a policewoman tailing her in a taxi, he treats Sheridan to breakfast where they serve the best waffles. “Butter in every little square,” he charmingly tells her. There is a revealing detail during this scene which shifts the plot way too soon. Perhaps the only flaw in the screenplay. This revelation makes the middle section a bit more ponderous were it not for the enjoyment of watching both actors. Through a series of clues her husband leaves behind, a couple of them extremely obscure, she is able to piece them together and locate him. A somewhat interesting script concept but not very likely to happen. But it moves the story to an exciting climax at an amusement park, nonetheless.

A speeding roller coaster at night with screaming riders and laughing animatronic figures in carnival booths can be spooky. Often repeated. The final sequence with Sheridan's terrifying ride on the coaster, though done in a studio, is a nail-biter. She makes it appear authentic. The poster supports this, being central to the illustration. Unfortunately, the same roller coaster spoils the twist in the movie, as well. All the while, Keith has been gluing clues together. Enough to determine the killer, known to the city's crime underbelly as Danny Boy, and his location.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

FLIGHT TO TANGIER (1953)


I was not sure what to make of this Paramount Pictures film with the established and respected Joan Fontaine co-starring with newcomer, Jack Palance. How could this possibly work? Thanks to a sleep-inducing, confusing screenplay, it does not. This poster tries to sell the movie with reference to Palance's previous signature role. The audience may have been disappointed with his 180 degree performance, here. Paul Sawtell's score, periodically, is grounded in adventure but I think even he was not that inspired. Not too relevant to mention but the film was produced in 3D. You will not miss it nor figure where it was used. There is a lot of camera crew action at times yet it still just lays there. Just enjoy the thespians do their thing and enjoy the thick Technicolor. Pop some popcorn.

Joining Fontaine and Palance are Robert Douglas and Corinne Calvet. We have little clue as to their relationship yet they all seem to know each another. Made me wonder if I missed the opening. Like the cast, the audience is on their own self-discovery adventure. Fontaine first appears distracted, wondering how to get out of this project or what were those papers she signed at the studio. Calvet, with her legit, yet sounding like a clichéd French impersonation, may never have looked better than in light green. Douglas has the condescending tone of a scoundrel so we gather his intent in this movie. We find them all looking skyward from the Tangier airport for a DC-3's arrival. Though a plane can fly in auto-pilot it cannot land with it. To their surprise, authorities find no bodies in or around the crashed plane. Missing in action is a courier, a briefcase with contents worth $3 million and the pilot.


Everywhere Fontaine, Palance and Calvet go in search of the plot...er...pilot and the courier, Douglas and his unethical entourage follows. In fact, more often than not, within eyesight of each other. Pretty funny when it is obvious they are on the same set or the studio camera only need pan to find either party. This “action” repeats itself with hardly a hint of excitement or any chase defining the word. Sooner or later you are back with two groups devising their next plan. If you miss seeing the first half, just make sure you are there for the last fifteen minutes. The script allows Fontaine to reunite with the pilot, the courier and the millions in a sudden ending. None of which explains why the film is ninety minutes long.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

NOT OF THIS EARTH (1957)


This sixty-seven minute, independently released sci-fi implausibility film was produced and directed by Roger Corman for his Los Altos Productions. Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation, Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna write a compelling and fast-paced story about an alien who comes to Earth in the attempt to save his planet. However, his methods are anything but legal. The film's interesting opening title graphics have an avant-garde appearance while an equally appropriate music score is in support. It is a worthy alternative to the typical alien invasion films of this era. Using a meager one hundred grand with a Corman draw, the film pulled in approximately one million dollars. It is a creepy performance by Paul Birch. Pretty spine-tingling for late Fifties audiences, I imagine. 



The people of a distant planet have developed an incurable blood disease. One of its citizens, Birch, is sent to Earth to extract the blood of humans (that's not nice) which may help cure his planet's dying race (good intentions). Birch's subtle, uneven robotic monotone speech pattern makes it hard to pin point his origin, whether earthly or planetary. No one seriously questions his constant companion, an aluminum briefcase,  stereo-typically used by gangsters for money laundering. A more logical inquiry might be why he wears “polar expedition” sunglasses day and night, though obviously not needing mobility assistance. The audience is way ahead of the cast as the opening scene reveals the death behind those shades. If considered, the audience will find implausibility in how the alien got enough cash to buy an upper class house or how he survived his background credit check. He may have had to secure a home improvement loan, as well, to install a teleportation device. This surely added to the home's value. The device needed for transporting blood by the palette. 

To be his chauffeur and errand boy, Birch hires a young, unemployed hood, Jonathan Haze. A guy the audience will not feel too bad about when meeting his demise. He is paid well otherwise he would not be waiting hand and foot on anyone. I assume the    miscreant was useful in selecting the pre-owned Cadillac for his “blind” boss.  Eventually joining the two is Beverly Garland, who is assigned as the alien's in-home nurse. Her boss, William Roerick, let Birch hire her because of the latter's telepathic power over him. Garland thinks nothing of Birch's odd countenance or the arrangement. Through most of the movie, she does not take much of anything seriously nor suspiciously. To her, nothing could possibly be a problem nor dangerous, dismissing concerns which could be attributed to more astute individuals. A somewhat annoying, flippant, character interpretation. 



A dose of Corman's humor pops up via Dick Miller as a vacuum salesman. He is about to close his sales pitch when he catches a glimpse of Birch's eyes. Feeling his demise eminent, he pauses, stares directly into the camera, shakes his head from side to side, then does a double take. Miller's product is put to shame by the blood vacuuming power of the alien's briefcase. Less humorous is Birch's super-sensitive hearing on Earth. Even an inter-office buzzer sends him into convulsions and gives him an unearthly migraine. Like when you hear a modified Harley-Davidson motorcycle with noise-polluting exhaust pipes piloted by an “in your face” rider constantly tweaking the throttle. I digressed there, a bit.



A female alien's unexpected visit to Earth has Birch accidentally stealing blood for her transfusion that contains rabies. One less alien. “Curse these dark glasses!” Feeling his  behavioral pattern may be suspect, he reaches for a tube of last resort from his briefcase. Out pops an “umbrella cabbage.” It is truly a laughable special effect prop. It slowly dangles through an open window (no one installs screens in these movies) and encompasses Roerick's entire skull. Birch then plans to “dispatch” Garland back to his planet as an example of what Earth blood can do. His pursuit of her up the staircase, white eyes glaring, is menacing. Her loud scream temporarily debilitates him as it might any other male. She escapes. He tracks her in his bulbous, waffling Cadillac, sometimes only a few feet away, navigating among the trees. The period Cadillac going off-road is scary enough, seemingly impossible. It is cleverly unsettling. She manages to call her friend and patrolman, Morgan Jones. But Birch's telepathy commands Garland to return back to the teleportation device. Meanwhile, Jones is in hot pursuit on his motorcycle. With several traffic violations pending on his home planet, as well as parking in a No Parking Zone on the opposite side of the street on Earth, it is no surprise he is not a driving enthusiast. The blaring siren zaps his concentration and he loses control, dying in a crash. His death releases the hold on Garland, who finally has her suspicions about Birch, giving her pause while collapsing in hysteria.

The final scene finds Jones and Garland standing by Birch's grave discussing the pros and cons of blood-extracting aliens. In the distance, between their heads, a mysterious man approaches. He is wearing dark sunglasses, carrying the same transfusion briefcase.


Note: In the opening hospital scene there appears to be another male (alien) actor, though it makes little sense. It is Birch who exits the Cadillac but it appears to be someone else in the waiting room, though it is clearly Birch's voice. During the hypnotism of the doctor, the out-of-focus close up looks more Gene Hackman than Paul Birch. The soft focus and back-lighting are suspicious. Birch returns to the scene when Garland monitors his vitals. The above photo comparisons may support my theory. Note the down-sloping mouth and lips, the ear lobes and the crease angle in the cheek, originating at the nose of the mystery actor when compared to Birch. In addition, the side profile of the this actor has more slope from chin to neck. Only Corman could explain it. Perhaps an extra transition scene was needed after Birch moved on to another project. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

THE STREET WITH NO NAME (1948)


This notable and hardly unknown film from Twentieth Century Fox was adapted from actual FBI files. Though you may never notice, some roles were played by the actual personnel involved. It was photographed in the original locale whenever possible, albeit in fictitious “Center City.” The documentary style is typical of the era with amazing revelations of the highly technical procedures used to catch criminals during this era. An oft-parodied melodramatic narrator keeps us informed in case we cannot fully grasp what we are seeing.

Though Mark Stevens gets top billing, it is Richard Widmark's film. Stevens is excellent and believable, but Widmark extinguishes any flame that might have been erupting from the former. Widmark plays an underworld kingpin with an addiction, of sorts, to nasal inhalers and suspicious of drafts from open windows. Only bad guys have nasal congestion, apparently. Add Lloyd Nolan, John McIntire and Ed Begley into the mix and you have got a solid acting troupe. The screenplay includes no lulls in the action and the film is satisfying from beginning to end. A ninety minute lesson in how to do film noir, thanks in big part to William Keighley's direction.


After a holdup at a nightclub ends in a murder, the FBI, headed by inspector Nolan, meet with police chief, Begley and Police Commissioner, Howard Smith, to put a stop to the current crime wave. Nolan is introduced to undercover agent, Stevens, whose assignment is to infiltrate the gang responsible. He is set up in a hotel room across the street from fellow agent, McIntire, who will be his eyes and ears. Using an alias, Stevens causes enough prearranged trouble to get the attention of Widmark, who subsequently has Stevens' social security card stolen. His system of uncovering someone's background, aided by a corrupt official. Widmark likes what he finds and enlists Stevens for his next big heist. Right before the heist is to take place, however, Widmark gets a call from his informant that the FBI knows all about it. 



There is a great scene done without a stitch of supporting music. Stevens needs evidence from Widmark's gun to help convict him. Under noir, he returns to the gang's hideout, the basement over Widmark's boxer training gym. Widmark arrives and is suspicious of a light in the lower level. Stevens escapes with Widmark always a few steps late to identify him. In his retreat, Stevens glances a boxer's punching bag and the subsequent chain creaking as the hanging bag swings back and forth is the only sound hears as Widmark silently investigates.

It is a pretty exciting ending after Steven's fingerprints from Widmark's gun are identified and the FBI man's future looks short. On Widmark's plan, the police arrive at a prearranged warehouse robbery with instructions to kill the identified Stevens. A case of mistaken identity kills one gang member and to the kingpin's surprise, all guns are instructed to fire his direction. The dirty police official feels pretty smug assuming he has tied up all loose ends. The truth shall not set him free.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

BLAST OF SILENCE! (1961)


You do not have a know a man to live with him. But you have to know a man like a brother to kill him.” So sums up the main character in this film, reminiscent of a college crafted art film project. Primarily known as a director, Allen Baron's oddball approach is typical of a student who is allowed the artistic freedom to do whatever he wants for a project to get that “A” grade. All his cash and loose change is used for this budgeted film which accounts for its starkness. Even a big band jazz score is used with restraint. This is not a film to be shot during the rejuvenation of spring. Like the lead character's future, winter is bleak.


There is a myriad of interesting camera positions. The film's “artsy” tone is set as the film opens with a shaky white spot in the center of the screen which is both frustrating and thought provoking. As the off-camera narration cryptically spells out Baron's backstory, the white spot gets larger and resolves itself into a train tunnel’s opening. Later, a similar effect is used on the streets of Manhattan as we watch Baron walk toward a low camera from a very great distance. In total silence. Ingmar Bergman would be envious. Adding to any quirkiness, even the title seems a dichotomy in itself.

Baron plays Frankie Bono, a name surely found from a top ten list of underworld figures. Visually, he is a cross between George C. Scott and Robert De Niro. In fact, the latter could fill this role without anyone knowing the difference. There are no studio sets to be found here. All filming takes us to the actual neighborhoods of “The Big Apple” as we witness Baron's lonely, emotionally damaged and pessimistic life unravel. Rarely has location shooting looked so expensivean almost documentary feelas we follow the detailed workings of a carefully efficient hit man.


Mel Davenport’s narration features the distinctive, wood-chipper voice of Lionel Stander. The expressive voice-over is the defining element of this film. The long, drawn out scenes of watching Baron go about his systematic contract procedure would be lifeless without it. The narration reflects Baron’s conscience and inner thoughts. We learn of Baron’s disgust with his contract hit, a mob boss. His revulsion by his high lifestyle and hates his mustache because it is there only to hide the fact that he has lips like a woman.

The cinematography will have the viewer reaching for a warm hoodie. Baron seems to be just another shopper as he passes decorated store fronts with real life pedestrians—unaware they are being filmed—appearing as “extras.” Christmastime provides no happy memories for Baron. He hates it. Under gloomy, overcast skies, the final scenes at Spring Creek in Brooklyn are particularly effective—despite using what sounds like the sound effect for the flying scenes from the old “The Adventures of Superman” television show—as the relentless wind bends the tall grasses and removes men’s hats. 


All the characters in this film are as ordinary as your own friends might be. Hopefully not this strange. These are people captured in their own world of monotony and self-doubt.
Molly McCarthy returns after her underwhelming performance in, “The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery,” as a longtime interest of Baron. Once again, McCarthy's acting is tolerable at best. Their relationship has no future even without her knowing what he does for a living.

One cannot ignore Dean Sheldon's acting as a nightclub singer. Sheldon is perhaps best known for his film career. This movie. His performance is a slippery slope between lounge singer and beatnik. Outside any murders, these might be the most brutal scenes in the movie. Though one cannot deny his total commitment to sell the songs.


Writer/actor, Larry Tucker’s slimy, weirdly whispered opening performance is particularly creepy and unappealing. His lines are delivered as if auditioning for the Don Corleone role. Calmly dangerous. His closest companions are a herd of rats in cages. His demise is quite gut-wrenching. It was Alfred Hitchcock, referring to his film, “Torn Curtain,” if I am not mistaken, who imagined how difficult it must be to actually kill a person with your bare hands. To say Baron is not affected by the murder would be unrealistic. Baron takes no pleasure in his lifestyle. Today’s films unrealistically have a egotistical murderer who delights in torturing someone to death by the most diabolical means. I can only imagine a coffee house’s beatnik banter the day after the film's premiere. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

GET OUTTA TOWN! (1960)


There is a 99.99% chance you will not recognize anyone in this movie. A cast of total unknowns with more television credits than films. Davis-Wilson Productions (Wilson, as in Doug Wilson) will also be unknown to you as well as Sterling World Distributors. Not a problem. The main leads, especially Doug Wilson, do not embarrass themselves and the dialogue is lean with some snappy lines. At about an hour long, this is a decent (Fifties) film proving that low budgets can do wonders in the right hands. This film is Wilson's baby. A number of self-produced films lend freedom to a production without studio bigwigs butting in. Few movies have a more appropriate title than this one. Everyone wants Wilson outta town. Even his mother.

Nothing like a jazz score with a good beatin’ in the dark to get your attention over opening credits. With every punch there is a trumpet blast. All that is missing are the superimposed graphic words, “Pow!” or “Blat!” Wilson’s face is a cross between an older Tim Allen and younger Richard Boone. He walks like an ordinary guy, at times lazily tilting back and forth, side to side, as if one leg is slightly shorter. He does a fine job here and would have made a good Philip Marlowe. Yet this was his last film after only a few roles to his name. The film hardly disappoints aside from scenes which may make your shoulders bounce up and down with laughter.


Told with a brief flashback, we find Wilson wondering what led up to his vicious, opening attack. He is back in Los Angeles to bury his brother. He first encounters a disgruntled police officer, the premature balding, Frank Hardy, along with his partner. Hardy's facial expression gives the distinct impression smiling was never his thing. He hates the sight of Wilson and tells him to get outta of town as quickly as possible. Wilson tries to explain that his three years in prison has changed him though he quickly realizes it is futile to continue flappin' his lips. Niceties are not exchanged. Hardy does not trust the former hoodlum. As Wilson moves on, he confirms to his partner that Wilson is certainly rough. “As rough as a stucco bathtub.” A great line and point taken.


He pays a visit to his former girlfriend, Jeanne Braid, who does not believe in his transformation. She wants him outta town. Braid lets it slip his brother was probably murdered. Wilson sets out to avenge his brother's death one door at a time. When he is not knocking on doors he is leaving a building, pausing to light a cigarette, thinking which direction to go next. This repeats a few times and its frequency is kind of amusing, like a weekly scene that might precede a television commercial break.

Wilson reconnects with “Squirrel,” a nervous stoolie for a local gang. He is thrilled to see Wilson again but you get the feeling “Squirrel” might rat on him just to keep in good with his boss. He takes Wilson out back to a secret door, loosely painted in huge white letters, “Door X.” How the cops have missed this is amazing. Looks like an “Our Gang” clubhouse entrance. He reunites with an old pal who is also surprised to see Wilson. With another noir quip, he tells Wilson he had him figured for a “concrete kimona.” In the ranks is a guy who does not like Wilson simply because he does not know him. Even he is unfamiliar with the cast. He tries to remove Wilson with a screw driver. Perhaps a Phillips-head. Wilson throttles the kid with the butt end of a loaded steel beer can (no sissy aluminum) then a fist to silence him. “Squirrel” goes nuts. Wilson is back!


After the flashback has expired, there are plenty of doors left to knock on as he reunites with Lee Kross and his wife, played by Marilyn O'Connor. She and Wilson have a past and he accepts her advances to find out the whole truth about Kross. He agrees to help Wilson find out about his brother but first, oddly, he says he needs to change his shirt. What he had on looked perfectly acceptable to me. The ending wraps up very suddenly, with rapid-fire verbal exchanges between Wilson and Kross informing the viewer of the latter's backstory. He turns into a sniveling coward when reminded of his slim chance surviving the syndicate. The police arrive to find Kross attempting to make a run for it. Hardy is not pleased that Wilson is still in town.

For the final time, with saxophone in support, Wilson exits a building, pauses, then decides to go right. By now, Braid has come to terms with his life turnaround and she rushes to join him on his walk back to his job in San Francisco. Though more likely only walking as far as the nearest bus terminal or train station.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

INVASION, U.S.A. (1952)


Very little has not been said about this basement budget movie which turned in a huge box office profit, proving that sensationalism sells. On the cutting edge of mediocrity, it is so bad it is “good.” The production cost savings of combat stock footage smothers the film and is rarely accurate or believable. This Columbia Pictures release is nothing else if not a film about hypnotic power. Mass hypnotic power. To be fair, it is a rather clever “back door” approach to a subject that was on the minds of some big metropolis movers and shakers in the early Fifties. Once the “unthinkable” happens, the director serves up a scary scenario. Though scale models and stock burning building footage were used during the ending nuclear bomb drop on New York City, I imagine Hedda Hopper's quote on the poster rang true opening night, which left moviegoers scrambling to locate said pants after the ending.


This may be the only film to include both actresses who played the original Lois Lane character. Google knows about it. It is also an invasion of a B-movie cast starting with Gerald Mohr, of radio fame. He is the well-known television newscaster conducting interviews at a New York City cocktail bar for his next broadcast. Sort of his “Andy Rooney Moment” perhaps. “Did you ever notice those local bar patrons?” While the broadcast news is playing on an impressively large, wall mounted Admiral television screen, his questions are directed at an amazingly coincidental cross-section of America's wealthy who show up on cue as if in a stage play. There is the pretty socialite, escorted (or hit on) by a California industrialist, a Congressman and a wealthy Arizona rancher. However, providing a leveler for the other side of life is Tom Kennedy, the ubiquitous bartender.


The pivotal role goes to Dan O'Herlihy as the unknown entity and mysterious, Mr. Ohman (as in Omen). His occupation is a forecaster and Mohr jots down “meteorologist.” Biding his time reading a book entitled, “Mercury,” oddly enough, his character is responsible for the film's premise. With a large brandy snifter in hand, his sonorous tone and experienced way of swishing around liquid puts everyone in a trance. From one end of the counter to the other. Do not deny this has never happened to you. He imparts words of wisdom and a Cold War warning. Many Americans want safety and security but do not want to make any sacrifices to keep it. Through their subconsciousness the ”invasion” unfolds. Suddenly the news becomes catastrophically bad.

Some American aircraft pose as Soviet planes, so it is hard to tell what the enemy is flying in all the edited confusion. Paratroopers are dropped from American aircraft yet reporting suggests these are enemy troops. Making it even more confusing, some Soviet troops are dressed in American uniforms. A convenient use of American stock footage. While air force jets scramble in retaliation, composer, Albert Glasser, weaves in part of the wild blue yonder “Air Force Song” in between threatening chords of angst. Massive amounts of Boeing B-29's pose as the reverse-engineered Tupolev Tu-4 Soviet bombers, dropping A-bombs at will. “Bomps Avey!” A plane that did not have enough range to ever hope of returning back to their homeland, perhaps crash landing in some American suburb or factory, instead. One bit of aviation accuracy, if you are keeping track of what the good guys are flying, is United Kingdom footage of the Intercontinental Convair B-36D bombers taking off, representing the deterrent to further aggression.


Our bar patrons scramble to do their part against the enemy. As if this whole premise is not preposterous enough, socialite, Peggy Castle, wants Mohr. They fall in love in between atomic blasts. Death and Hollywood's stereotypical pessimistic outlook for the future are thrust on the cast until Kennedy brings everyone back to reality by dinging O'Herlihy's solitary snifter. Kennedy escaped that short hypno-trance while cleaning drinking glasses. Keeping him engaged, commenting on the news, was a clever device to fool the viewer into thinking he was in lock-step with those hypnotized and the mayhem was real. The five are thankful it was only a nightmare as O'Herlihy returns to leave them with a final thought provoking comment.