Saturday, September 16, 2017


Thanks to the Internet, this movie needs little introduction. Mickey Rooney's characterization is legitimate as a young auto mechanic—an occupation he returns to four years later in, “Drive A Crooked Road”—who longs for a lifestyle he cannot afford in somewhat of an ego boost. Throughout the film, he provides his inner thoughts in voice-overs. His innocent borrowing of twenty dollars from the garage's cash register is only the beginning. Though he has every intention of paying it back the next day, his descent into crime pulls him down deeper as each misdeed gets more risky. The twenty dollars is soon forgotten. Rooney improves this film and keeps it from sinking.


Not helping is dangerous Jeanne Cagney, who is temptation personified. Saying she is well known in the neighborhood is an understatement. Peter Lorre, seedy owner of a penny arcade, could teach a detailed history class on Cagney's past. Barbara Bates plays the wholesome, unappreciated good girl who has taken her relationship with Rooney seriously. She rounds out the quartet of main characters. Like anyone not taking responsibility for their actions, Rooney's audible inner thoughts express his disgust with the “bad luck” that has befallen him. Things get so bad, Rooney ends up robbing a soused bar patron near the arcade for his large bank roll. And there are eye witnesses.


Seedy Lorre blackmails Rooney over the robbing and in exchange for his silence, requests a new car. Between a rock and a hard place, the mechanic steals one but those pesky witnesses are everywhere. His boss wants the car's price reimbursed at nearly twice the Blue Book. The less-than-lovely Cagney hatches a plan for Rooney to steal money from Lorre's arcade to pay for the car. Been there, done that, she thinks she is entitled to half so she can buy that mink coat she has lusted over. A driving suspense theme kicks in during the theft. A nightwatchmen spots someone inside the arcade and fires a shot. Despite the darkness, a light bulb turns on for Rooney who parts company with the female quicksand. He offers what funds are left to his unethical boss who promptly attempts to call the police. The ominous suspense theme returns with good effect as Rooney viciously stops his boss from speed dialing. Sure he has committed murder, he panics and runs.

Bates returns to see Rooney and the film to the end. She is head over heels in love with Rooney no matter what. In a surprising bit of unlikely good fortune, he hijacks a car driven by a sympathetic lawyer. The most unbelievable sequence in the script. After long driving advice, Rooney sends Bates and lawyer back inland while he tries to sail south until things cool off. He quite literally, misses the boat, but does not miss a bullet from one officer. The lawyer's car does a U-turn when its radio reports that Rooney's boss is recovering nicely. The good news. The bad news is that Rooney is off to prison for a few years. All because of a lousy twenty bucks! Life is not fair, man. Bates promises to wait and I believe her. She is determined to get married.


This United Artist release has a slightly amusing ending as three extras peer in the car's rear window, jockeying for a better view inside the studio prop car as the stationery trio inside calmly discuss the lawyer's fine print of his invoice. Those extras nearly steal the scene.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953)


The slow motion dissolving opening credits of a shimmering font seems to establish a whimsical tone. The orchestral music crescendos gently as each main credit slowly appears then decrescendos as credits fade. Then the cycle repeats. With a complicated lead character and screenplay, this movie needs to be watched more than once to catch all the nuances that make this low budget film work. The cinematography by John Russell is certainly a highlight. A couple of chase scenes have actors running into or stepping over a camera letting the viewer see their approaching and retreating action. The sets nicely masquerade for location filming and a few bits of well placed dialogue adds appeal. But the film would never be considered concise.

The insomniac city is Chicago and Chill Wills gives it voice. A good bet this is the only fantasy noir released by Republic Pictures. The film is the city's tale of one night in The Windy City. When Wills pops up out of nowhere to be Gig Young's substitute patrol partner, the script adds a quirky fantasy element. Nearing the film's end, once he is confident Young has everything under control, he magically vanishes just as fast as he appeared. This really is an odd choice to have Wills materialize into the film and I am not sure it even has a point. Young does not seem to be affected by any of Wills encouragement or wise counsel. An angel of sorts seems out of place in this humorless crime drama.


I was a bit frustrated with this film's pacing for the first thirty minutes. Young is strangely nonchalant with his unhappy lot in life. Uncommitted. He has grown weary of his job and restless with his marriage of an interminable three years. Few could play nonchalant better, though. It took me awhile to realize the early references to “Pops” was more than everyone's affectionate term for a senior policeman. Young is his son, carrying the family torch in the line of duty. Young's brother, on the other hand, is tempted to a wilder side by local magician turned criminal, William Talman. Another odd character. The magician angle is irrelevant to the movie or with anything Talman does. Unless he prepared those opening credits. Nothing magical about him. He is a local hood. Or as officer Thomas “Steve Allen” Poston near the end calls him, a “who’d.” Talman is indelibly etched into this film. Smooth and calculating with a stone in place of a heart. He and Edward Arnold, in another role as a powerfully crooked attorney, have had “arrangements' in the past. His plan is to do Talman a “favor” by getting him safely to Indiana. Talman is apparently unaware of the post office wanted posters in the neighboring state. He would be put away for a long time, getting him out of Arnold's hair. What there is of it. The attorney wants Young to transport him.


In the mix is an “exotic” dancer, Mala Powers, who Young is not that committed to either. He would like to be but it is complicated. Powers is an aspiring ballerina whose bit of bad fortune placed her in the company of less aspiring dancers. Also in love with Powers is perhaps the film's most unusual character. Wally Cassell plays the club's unique entertainer whose job behind an elevated glass case outside the nightclub is to fool the public into believing he is actually a mechanical man. This he does in shifts for the equivalent length of this movie (ninety minutes) with five minute breaks in between! With face painted silver atop a black tuxedo, this quirky character may be the only witness to a murder outside the club. Talman waits in the shadows to find if he is real or not before firing. Cassell is that good.

There is a nice ending twist of confusion for Talman regarding father and son. The father takes the police radio call in place of his son. Thinking he is Young, he is stunned to learn father is there to handcuff and arrest him. Young is devastated over the outcome of Talman's brutal action. His career commitment and life purpose hit new heights, no thanks to Wills. The ending is the typical gunfire exchange while running to total exhaustion. But this time down Chicago's elevated train tracks. A particularly helpless location if not timed just right. Talman's narrow escape between two speeding trains is exciting. He looks particularly terrified. But it is the electrified rails that concern both men the most as they side step over them. Running the gauntlet of stepping into well-placed automotive tires at an NFL training camp would not be this challenging. Nor this dangerous. This climax is well-timed, pretty suspenseful and I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

HIAWATHA (1952)


Based on Longfellow's 1855 epic poem, at times this film seems sincere about its treatment of the story with filming locations setting a wonderful tone. Composer Marlin Skiles' score takes the film up a notch, mostly complimenting the location and light action scenes. The movie opens under beautiful visuals and a soothing voice-over reading of a poem, after a fashion. As a segue from poem to film, the main credits are uniquely held until the end so the viewer stays in the moment. This was the last film produced by the low-budget production company, Monogram Pictures. Considering the era depicted and story, the low budget is pretty well hidden. Until the actors show up.


The casting department's budget was thin. An obvious reason for a forgettable film. The cast sounding like they just completed their first month at a New York school of drama. The main leads, Vincent Edwards, Keith Larsen and Yvette Dugay, each wearing identical non-gender Indian wigs, do not totally embarrass themselves, however. Edwards seems to fit the part of the even-tempered, peaceful tribesman and does possess more charisma than a cigar store Indian. Larsen delivers his lines as if it were opening night of a melodramatic stage play. With tribal names like Pukkeewis, Megissogwon, Chibiabos and Mudjekeewis, better turn up the volume and have an encyclopedia handy. I will say, the arrows shot into a couple of bare backs are very realistically done. Would like to know the film wizardry behind this. I liked the period appearance of the canoes, though adapted from modern ones.


Selected by the Ojibway council, Edwards/Hiawatha is sent on a peace mission to the Dakotah tribe. Fellow tribesman, Larsen, insists Edwards is a weak coward because he is so nice and even tempered. Larsen constantly spreads fake news and real arrows to undermine Edward's mission so he can elevate himself in the eyes of the tribe. Edwards has a choreographed fight with a black bear costume and you will burst out laughing when the bear takes an arrow from one Dakotah, who comes to Edwards' aide. While recovering, you witness one of the fastest courtships in film history as Dugay/Minnehaha falls in love with Edwards after only their second scene together. She is all gitche gumee about him. The subsequent wedding is clouded by a manufactured war between the two tribes, instigated, naturally, by Larsen, who prefers to make war, not love. Acceptance and peace win out and war is averted as Larsen gets justice thrust upon him once and for all. Rest assured, Edwards and Dugay will one day have a tribe of mini-hahas running around.

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.