Sunday, August 30, 2015

JOHNNY DARK (1954)



This Universal International release is a fast-paced film about a talented, young and ambitious automobile engineer working for an independent manufacturer. An outstanding poster illustration tells all you need to know about this movie. 

It is an early “vehicle” for Tony Curtis, which co-stars his love interest, also on a career upswing, Piper Laurie, as an up and coming automotive designer. The only ground-breaking aspect of the film. Most of the film includes the mundane happenings of engine tests with racing being a good barometer for improving automobiles. The stodgy automotive CEO wants no part of any sports car in his lineup, however, demanding employees stick with cars that seat six, the standard American family. By film’s end, he softens his stand, finding a place for a sporty model in the company’s roster after our hero wins a major race in one. Worth a look for vintage automotive enthusiasts as there are real driving sequences in actual period sports cars. Interesting if not exciting. Beyond that it is standard fare for the period with studio backdrop shots of Curtis “speeding” ahead of the stock studio backdrop competition. 

I imagine this was a must see for teen fans of Curtis and Laurie with many licensed drivers leaving the theater wanting to get their hands on a Jaguar XK120.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

FRONTIER RANGERS (1959)



If this smells to you like an early TV series, you would be right. Not much to add here. It is compiled from edited episodes of the series “Northwest Passage” distributed by MGM, not Disney. These edits make the “movie” highly episodic finding yourself off-subject more than once. Surprisingly, some of the action can be a bloody affair as Indians succumb to a well-placed hatchet in the chest or head. Nothing gory as the series was broadcast in black and white. Still, a definitive way to expire. An embarrassing, child-like opening theme song sets the stage for kids in boomer land. Much of the background music is hacked together with some unusual results. Mostly shot under studio lights on a sound-stage, it is made worse by studio-enhanced vocals and obvious stuntmen stepping in for Keith Larson (handsome hero hatchet king) or sidekick Buddy Ebsen for levity. Don Burnett makes up the trio. On the positive side, there are outdoor scenes (perhaps reused from feature films) making it all look rather authentic. As a TV series, I can imagine a 10-year old looking forward to the next episode. The actors do their best to sell the story.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

CRIME WAVE (1954)


This taut film is a good one of the era. Plenty of Los Angeles location filming helping to carry off the believability factor. A world-weary, disgruntled and toothpick-chewing Sterling Hayden plays a detective without much compassion. His “driving” in the studio prop auto is hilarious as he stares out the windshield, mesmerized by traffic, as the car rocks back and forth in repetition. He had just played a policeman in “Suddenly” in which any tender piece of dialogue was delivered with the sensitivity of a WWF wrestler. Once again Ted De Corsia plays a mobster. After release from prison his latest robbery scheme pressures former cellmate, Gene Nelson, to join in. Now going legit, Nelson wants no part of it. But after his wife’s life is held accountable he plays along for her safety. And with clever end results. Phyllis Kirk plays the wife, here reunited with her co-star from, “House of Wax,” the soon to be renamed, Charles Buchinsky. Timothy Carey’s uncredited role as “Johnny” is about as creepy as it gets. His cult status character has significant mental and emotional problems. He almost seems out of place in the film since we have no connection to him before he just shows up in the last third of the film. And is unforgettable. In the end, there is a beating heart inside Hayden and understands Nelson’s motive for eluding the authorities.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME (1947)


Robert Young is good as a philandering coward (against type), equally tender and pathetic. Young’s wife is not as good looking as the other female costars. He realizes this rather quickly. He and Jane Greer have plans but Young cannot leave his wife’s money and Young and Greer go their separate ways. Enter Susan Hayward, his 2nd fling, who has a manipulative mind of her own. After sending his wife divorce papers, Young plans to run away with Hayward, but their late night automobile accident kills her beyond identification. Apparently they could not find her teeth. During the same period, unknown to Young, his wife accidentally falls to her death at her favorite spot near their ranch. Everyone assumes the auto victim was his wife and Young plays along. This could actually work out for him. He would kill his wife and no one will know the difference. After discovering his wife’s body, he stupidly dumps her in the nearby pond. No one will ever find her floating on the surface.



The ending may be the most unbelievable thing about this film. The movie is told through flashbacks as Young testifies under oath he did not kill his wife but his story seems so unbelievable, even he finds it all hard to believe, and is convinced the jury will convict him. As the verdict starts to be read there is a close up of a screaming courtroom witness. The camera fixes on Young who is about to roll (not jump) out the window to certain death. The court police officer pulls his gun and kills him. Nobody is going to commit suicide on his watch! With no brief shot of Young dashing out of his chair, immediately followed by the screaming lady, it seems like unfortunate editing. Suspended disbelief I guess. By then, everyone in the theater knows the verdict. This probably worked in 1947. Many rate this film very high. It would rate higher with me if it were not for the aforementioned implausibilities. A well acted drama nonetheless and worth a viewing.