Saturday, August 12, 2017

ROSES ARE RED (1947)


Twentieth Century Fox agreed to distribute this tidy sixty-seven minute noir despite a lead cast that has been mostly forgotten. Okay. Totally forgotten. Giving the viewer some common ground is a supporting cast of more familiar faces whose careers were gaining momentum, Jeff Chandler, James Arness, Joe Sawyer and Charles McGraw. Other than the ridiculous premise of identical twins from different mothers, there is not much to fault here.

The title refers to a murder case where the victim is found with a single rose in her hand. It does not make up the crux of the film, however. Sawyer is first seen smelling the rose at the crime scene. He sniffs up the aroma with great nostalgia as he recalls, as a child, his mother's rose garden. Lovely.

Don Castle, at times looking like a cross between Rory Calhoun and Robert Taylor, plays a dual role of the new D.A. and a criminal with the exact same appearance. Establishing both characters with matching mustaches and hair color and style makes for one gullible audience. If that is not confusing enough, pretty Peggy Knudsen and Patricia Knight play, respectively, the good guy's fiance and bad guy's wife. Of similar height, hairstyle, clothes and hooked up with—in reality—the same guy, it may take a few minutes to sort things out. Knudsen, a crack newspaper reporter, appears to be wearing wax lips when not talking or with a lower lip that could burst at any moment. The ladies have no trouble identifying their man, however, as each have a kiss that is more distinct than fingerprints.


A wheelchair-bound mob boss is filled in about the new D.A. by crooked cop and rose smeller, Sawyer. He informs him that the new D.A. will not “cooperate” like the last D.A., who was apparently voted out for that very reason. After bad Castle is released from prison, he spots a photo of the new D.A. in the newspaper and recognizes himself. Posing as the real D.A., he visits the mob boss in the hope of convincing him he could play the new D.A. since he is the same person. However, the boss is not fooled. He recognizes bad Castle from a program cover for his performance in “Othello” by The Prison Players with a talented supporting cast! Obviously, bad Castle has the acting chops to pull it off. They initiate a prison revolving door plan and manipulate the judicial system.


A mob goon, Chandler, abducts the real D.A., taking him to a secluded location for a few days until the bad D.A. is ready to roll. Good and bad Castle finally meet, always with a blank door between them in the background, a safe distance apart. When the opportunity arises, the D.A. jumps corrupt Castle, knocks him out and places him in an upright position as Chandler's automobile pulls into the drive. The D.A. exchanges clothes with the unconscious twin. How timely...how ridiculous. Dressing himself and a limp body in less than a minute is suspended disbelief at its briefest. Through his own initiative and just for fun, the goon (unknowingly) shoots the corrupt Castle. After pushing the real D.A.'s car over a roadside embankment, Chandler roughs him up and shoves him down the slope to make it believable that he was thrown clear of his car. While recovering in the hospital the real D.A. keeps his kidnapping and bad driving skills vague to the authorities and his girl while a smug Sawyer looks on.

Knudsen, however, smells something rotten in this Castle. Later at gunpoint, she questions him until he reminds her of their first kiss. After their third date. They kiss and she instantly knows he is the real deal. Well, he is at least alive. The real D.A. assumes the persona of the “dead D.A.” for Sawyer's sake. Oh brother! Knight unexpectedly drops by his office and expects a familiar kiss from her husband. Upon leaving, she lets Sawyer in on what a kiss means to her as they motor away. A little too personal for Sawyer. His face turns red as a rose. I imagine. The real D.A. is now her fake husband. Or something. She disappears in the film for a while. The audience not too concerned since they are way ahead of the script.

The jailbird accused in the murder agrees to turn state’s evidence on his crime family. Meanwhile, the mob boss will pay Sawyer to get out of the country but Sawyer turns the table and threatens the boss at gunpoint in his own plan to come out smelling like a rose. With an armed wheelchair Ernst Blofeld would envy, the mob boss mortally wounds Sawyer. Police arrive to haul off the dead and charge one with the illegal use of a wheelchair. Knight is called in to sign papers and divest herself from her late husband. As she goes out the door, she reminds Knudsen that her fiance’s kissing needs some practice. Well, of all the nerve!


Saturday, July 29, 2017

NO ESCAPE (1953)


A limited budget movie with opening narration is sometimes a clear signal the film is going to stall out somewhere along the way, not sustaining its “docudrama” set up. There is no escaping that reality here where escape has a double meaning. One, of having all roads out of the city blocked by police for any fleeing fugitive, and the other, trying to escape a homicide rap. This is a rare crime B-movie where none of the principles die. There is a lot of faking in this film, from dubbed singing to a rooftop escape which looks particularly manufactured. One might relish the scenes of vintage San Francisco but only if you grew up there.

The film starts off fairly optimistically thanks to Lew Ayres in a likable role well suited some five years later for a young Jack Lemmon, perhaps. He appears to be a flippant, carefree songwriter who is eking out a living playing piano at a nightclub. Actually he cannot get his composing mojo back and wallows in self-doubt and drink. His dubbed vocals being way off the believability chart. To say nothing of the piano “playing” before his hands get near the keyboard.


Marjorie Steele, girlfriend of Sonny Tufts, is adequate in her role. Her trumpeted, curling upper lip when talking is annoying as if she continued as a thumb sucker through sixth-grade. But I digress. While chatting with Ayres in the nightclub, she is whisked away by a wealthy James Griffith, in possibly his briefest role ever. A quarrel later ensues with a lamp base going to Griffith's head. All of which is assumed but never filmed. Fearing she has killed Griffith, she becomes an over-the-top bundle of nerves, jumping three feet whenever a phone rings or a siren blares. Ayres later stumbles into Griffith's apartment to return the “pity cash” he received from Griffith in the nightclub. He leaves enough fingerprints to incriminate himself. It eventually occurs to Ayres that she only knocked out Griffith with someone else returning for the kill.


Tufts as a policemen seems a stretch, as one gets the feeling he will go into a jealous, maniacal rage at any moment. Slightly unstable roles like this seemed to be more the norm for him in the Fifties as his career self-destructed. But I digress again. Tufts would prefer to pin the crime on Ayres but Steele feels guilty about that. She helps Ayres escape—without leaving town—but there is no escaping the mundane sections throughout this film which are not integral to the plot and make it seem a lot longer than it is. There are a few clever close calls or two but hardly worth mentioning. In a moment to catch their breath, Steele pointedly challenges Ayres to snap out of it and return to being the composer he once was. In the end, he sees a fresh horizon with a newly written song and encouragement from his new girl.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1969)


This film is perhaps better titled, “The Film that Blew Too Much.” For a supposed secret agent spy yarn it is bogged down for a lack of action, a lot of talk and a convoluted plot, tiresome script and boring performances by the principle players. The opening music reminds one of the typical Sixties beach party films. The score gets more appropriately “007ish” as the credits role, however. The music editor’s blew it, though, with some repetitious themes with no benefits to the action. None worse than when our hero is walking through the inside of an airliner while a burping brass score sounds as if the players were sight reading. Funny, wobbly, if not out of tune. The choreographed scuffles using obvious stuntmen and paper furniture keeps the realism dangerously low. The faked high performance engine sound effects from the (apparently) “Ferrari” knock-offwhatever it iswas probably mandatory coming a year after “Bullitt.” On the other hand, the gunshot sound effects are rather impressive in a film where everyone apparently carries a .44 Magnum.


Former CIA spy, Adam West, with the cheesy name of Johnny Cain, spends his retirement running a nightclub and is reluctant to leave his comfortable lifestyle. But the CIA's David Brian needs him more than ever. A committee known ironically as, WEST, also want his services. There is a big build up of his credentials as if they are expecting to hire Rambo. But one gets the feeling West is about as menacing as Woody Allen.

West's job is to find out who murdered a mob kingpin unceremoniously and literally dumped at his nightclub. The killing is an early step by the committee to have the Communists methodically take over the crime syndicate. So West is out to bring down WEST. We find him bouncing from one co-star to another to solve the crime and stay alive. Location filming normally helps these spy movies and that is one redeeming quality. Yet in “all this excitement” West remains quite comatose. A character that is so laid back he simply appears to be lacking sleep most of the time. But what a tan!


The film gets no lively help from deadpan co-star, Nancy Kwan, either. Bland Kwan relies on her attractiveness to the end. So it is up to Buddy Greco's performances to resuscitate the film, doing what he did best in this, the first of his two films. A Buddy Greco Film Festival making for a short evening. Always available and dependable, Nehemiah Persoff, hangs in there throughout the film as the police lieutenant and West's part-time protection.

Despite fawning “Batman” fans, Adam West simply does not sell the role in this supposed career upgrade. He never completely leaves Bruce Wayne behind. West fans will probably love it for that very reason. Being filmed in color may be its most noteworthy quality. Filmed in grainy black and white, it would be another B-movie. Which it is, of course, in any coloration. The film may not rank as the worst budgeted film of 1969 but it still ranks.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

DANGEROUS MISSION (1954)


There is no faulting the cast of this colorful B-movie with A-list actors produced by RKO Radio Pictures. Outside of these stars its main claim to fame was its use of 3D technology of the era. In a final climatic scene, an out-stretched arm to retrieve a revolver may have elicited a few oohs and ahhs. In whatever dimension it is not hard to recognize the early Fifties RKO touches. Back projected scenes and less than realistic special effects. It would appear most of the money was doled out on the cast. Which was a wise move. Nearing the peak of his career, Victor Mature gets top billing, followed by Piper Laurie, William Bendix and RKO's go to man, Vincent Price.

While working in New York, Laurie stumbles onto the murder of a mobster. She hits the rails to Chicago, transfers onto the Great Northern Railway's “Empire Builder” and gets a job at the Glacier National Park gift shop. I assume. Who could possibly find her there? Mature, for one, who descends rather quickly after her arrival. His suave demeanor, pants with no rear pockets and heavy eyelids are attracting to Laurie. She is also fond of Price, who is doing his best impression of a sincere amateur photographer. Both are gentlemen as each trade date nights with fairness and civility. Her dangerous mission is staying alive to the end of the film as the authorities want her to testify for what she witnessed. Never mind the silly sub-plot involving the ever-charming Price with an Indian maiden, Betta St. John, who is evidently from the local Naive Tribe.


The title is broad in meaning. “Dangerous Mission” does present a number of dangerous sequences. All of which have nothing to do with the plot. Like so many current movies or television dramas, this film assumes the viewer has the attention span of a gnat. A trait for which Irwin Allen honed. There is an avalanche during a party in the mountains. A party essentially intended to further introduce characters to square dancing. The crushing avalanche brings down power lines. Mature does not hesitate to climb one utility pole to curtail a dangerous live wire in the likes of Angus MacGyver. He did this frequently as an Marine. Apparently. Then there is a forest fire in which untrained civilians, Mature and Price, are enlisted into fighting by stuffed uniformed ranger, Bendix. All seems quite dangerous. Finally, a frame-eating Indian ceremony to perhaps capture Montana's heritage or to bump up tourism for the coming summer of 1954.


The opening and early scenes set the viewer up for a potential crowd-pleaser. The cast is entirely responsible for this potential. Overall, I found the movie's pacing pretty good at holding your attention. But it is a routine drama except for the aforementioned “surprise” scenes. Some of which inserted to show off the 3D effects, I imagine. One can thank the poor editing for these. The ending, amid sets with glacier paint and studio lighting, brings few surprises though it is fairly exciting. The hit man to take Laurie out (not on a date) shows a lack of skill under pressure. By this point most viewers had already chosen the cast member they hoped would not survive a fall to an icy abyss. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

THE HOUSTON STORY (1956)


William Castle offers up his final noir about an ambitious oil driller who discovers a way to steal oil then sell it to distributors or foreign interests for huge profits. The film's first half is the stronger section as we are not sure of the main character's intent nor occupation. Whether legit or crook. The opening morgue scene involving a female's body gets the intrigue award. The script can be complicated about the benefits of underworld “investing” and whose pipes are being gleaned. It starts to disintegrate during the last third of the film, however, offering a commonplace resolve.

Gene Barry puts the con in conniving. A greedy, unscrupulous businessman who romances a nightclub singer to infiltrate a Houston mobster's organization. With handsome, hero looks, Barry more often than not left the crooked roles behind. He is a decent enough fit in this role as a womanizer. More believable in this aspect than the original choice, Lee J. Cobb, might have been. Most women in the audience would prefer to be kissed by Barry over Cobb.


Barbara Hale—the aforementioned morgue lady—is the newly identified nightclub singer and mistress of local mob boss, Edward Arnold. Her facial features are a standout from any angle. Hale plays the role well despite her obvious, yet convincing, dubbed vocal number. She has cheating plans of her own. Escape town with lots of oily dough, leaving Barry barren. She will need to wash the platinum from her hair before Perry Mason would ever consider her as his assistant.


There is enough backstabbing in this film to be another Castle horror movie. Arnold, in his next to last movie, could play corrupt like few others. Barry needs his financial backing. Arnold goes along with Barry's scheme, vouching for their newest board member, chaired by “Mr. Big,” John Zaremba. But Arnold never wavers from his plan to dispose of Barry once the funds start rolling in. Apart from Houston's temperatures, Barry begins taking heat from investigators. He sets up nightclub owner, Paul Richards, another Arnold associate, to take the fall for an oil well sabotage to get them off his back. But Richards shifts the blame to Arnold, putting him on an slippery slope. For the first time in his career, he is a hunted man with no place to go. Out of nowhere, instantly, mister tough guy spits out his startling confession to Barry. “Now I gotta run! I never had to run before! I don't even know how to run!” At his size, he was accurate about the running. His rapid escape out the front doors where the police are waiting will not even allow him be arrested for jay-walking. Sensing trouble, Zaremba wants Barry removed “peacefully” from his “board of elders” and sends two gangsters to...uh...find him.

With all his shrewd and detailed planning, Barry would have made an excellent professional organizer some fifty years later. Organized for him will be a trial. A sentencing for graft, corruption and an itty-bitty murder. Digging himself out of prison might be his next drilling adventure.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

THE SCARLET HOUR (1956)


This ninety-five minute film's premise is what God meant about his Tenth Commandment. Though the title is a bit of a mystery—no scarlet noted and the film is over an hour—the suspense is pretty well handled by director, Michael Curtiz. The only thing new about this film is its debut of some future television regulars. Paramount's Vista Vision gamble, Carol Ohmart, stars with Tom Tryon, Elaine Stritch, David Lewis and James Gregory in their first film, along with seasoned actors, Ed Binns and E.G. Marshall. In fact, this movie might have played better on the small screen. At least it would have been free. Of note is a smooth vocal performance by Nat King Cole.

Ohmart's successful husband, played by Gregory, knows his wife will do just about anything behind his back. Straight-arrow Tryon proves to be a real sap by succumbing to the devious female and her plan to have him intercept jewels after thieves steal them. A plan she originates after they both secretly overhear a conversation between Lewis and his two operatives. The house to be burglarized? It is Lewis' own home.


On the night of the theft-intercept, the abusive Gregory follows his wife, catches her, and spots Tryon. Obvious to her, he would like to kill her as he has threatened to do before. He pulls his gun and enters her car. They struggle as Ohmart pleads with him. Gregory's gun goes off in the wrong direction and he is shoved out onto the pavement. Though she despised him, she plunges into hysterics, calling out his name in sorrow. How could her plan possibly have gone this wrong? This segment is hard to fathom as she drives off, arms shaking, with Tryon trying to figure what happened back there as he was dodging burglar bullets. Surely Gregory was shot with a stray one. 

Ohmart has the brazenness to be jealous of Tryon guessing he is secretly seeing her late husband's secretary, played by Jodie Lawrance. She, by the way, had more movies under her waist before 1956 than the other stars combined. Lawrance wants to protect him for the decent man he really is as she hopes for a future together. Ohmart drops a none-too-subtle suggestion to the police that she might have killed Gregory. When Tryon finds this out he is...how to put it...livid. He arranges for the police to gather at Ohmart's estate as he gives her a big dose of verbal reality. She stares out a second story window as Lawrence and Tryon embrace in the courtyard below. As for Ohmart, I am not sure how severe the charges will be, given her husband's accidental death and the theft of stolen fake jewels. Perhaps a series of counseling sessions and a year of community service. She has issues.


Hard to believe today there would not have been a script change, so I found this amusing. When the police come to the office of Tryon for questioning—Tryon portrays E.V. Marshall—he meets the lieutenant, played by E.G. Marshall. I thought I saw E.G. smirk a bit but really only wishful thinking. E.G. seems to have sucked some helium before filming certain scenes.

At least for this film, Ohmart is Madame Tussaud's Barbara Stanwyck. Given her resemblance along with a similar story line, one might assume it is a re-think of a famous Stanwyck role. But in this case, “Double Dumbdidy” might be a better title. To be more accurate, her face is a mash-up of seventy percent Stanwyck and thirty percent Meryl Streep. Even at one-hundred percent it would not have helped Ohmart's movie career who quickly transitioned to television. Her over-the-top acting quirks come off as if she is trying to steal any scene she is in. Constantly fidgeting some part of her body. None worse than her scene poolside with Lewis as her character, with all the femininity of Marlon Brando, nervously shakes in between severe drags on a cigarette. She is the weakest link in the movie and Hollywood noticed.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

PAROLE, INC. (1948)


Equity Pictures presents this uninteresting film about a federal agent's undercover mission. The Orbit Production is split between studio sets and location shooting with the obligatory train steam whistle sound track in the distance. The opening title credits are accompanied by an Alexander Lazlo score, a B-movie composer and music director for NBC Radio at the time. The music has a slight documentary angst about it and the opening roll of introductory text seems to support this. Yet the score could be used for many dramas with a burlap background beneath the titles. l cannot imagine many talked about the film after its initial run, although Michael O'Shea was popular. This movie's lack of suspense or any surprises makes for a long seventy-five minutes, including the minimum fist-a-cuffs action.


The film opens from O'Shea's hospital bed as we see him verbally, still gasping for air, transcribe his thoughts over a Dictaphone about his recent investigation. His head looking like it was bandaged by Miss Winthrop's third-grade class using masking tape indiscriminately. While his character sets up the film's premise through flashbacks, each time cutting back to his hospital bed, O'Shea's bandages begin to look a tad more medically approved. The nurses got a real chuckle with those third-graders!

O'Shea goes undercover to flesh out the gang responsible for buying paroles for convicted criminals. His lackluster voice-over narration has all the raw toughness of Danny Kaye. Evelyn Ankers, owner of a dinner club, employs several of her “boys” to do her bidding. The film plays out in slow motion as it cuts between informative scenes and the lull of O'Shea's narration. The Police Commissioner, Lyle Talbot, looking particularly oily in a pencil thin mustache, arranges a fake news headline which reassures the gang about O'Shea's supposed criminal history. Soon enough we are back to the hospital and by now, bed sores are probably O'Shea's biggest concern.


Turhan Bey plays the gang's attorney—hunk of Ankers—who is the kingpin of buying paroles with inside help from two crooked parole board members. In pinstriped suit and dark Vitalis hair, Bey looks every bit the matinee idol and stands out from all the other average looking people in the film. Harry Lauter, always on hand for supporting role, plays the well-reasoned board member whose discerning vote is constantly dismissed by the overriding committee.

The excitement nearly crescendos. The ending is the least imaginative as we quickly learn how O'Shea ended up in the hospital in the first place. It also supplies the moviegoer with his current status. He is finally out of that “Craftmatic” bed with dreams of going dancing again.