Saturday, November 28, 2015

DIPLOMATIC COURIER (1952)


There is potential to make this early Cold War story a noteworthy Tyrone Power career jump-starter. Perhaps a best forgotten film, it may surprise you how good it might have been. Power turns in a solid performance as a favored diplomatic courier of the state department. Almost as good as his stunt double in a few action scenes. And the action is sparse. But there are plenty of plot shifts and surprises to hold your interest. Intriguing if not thrilling.

Never a fan of Patricia Neal. Here, her character just “happens” to meet Power on a flight to Salzburg and her acting is just plain annoying. She seems to be doing her best Tallulah Bankhead impression. Slurred S’s and rapid, witty comebacks trying very hard to be attractive to Power. Her mink coat helps. But soon even Power finds her annoying as she turns up everywhere he goes. He wonders what her game is.

Power becomes involved with Hildegard Kneff’s character. She may be a Russian spy yet she works with Power’s good friend and courier connection, played by James Millican. He has no dialogue after thirty minutes into the film, revealing his fate. Power begins to realize he is also in danger. The never subtle Karl Malden plays a military MP lending backup protection for Power. His superior officer is played by Stephen McNally, in an actual good guy part.

Finally realizing that Knef has been telling the truth, Power rescues her from a Russian agent just before the words THE END appear on screen. How the studios time that so precisely when dialogue runs out has always been a mystery.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

DESPERATE (1947)


This strong film is another Anthony Mann early noir effort which includes great camera angles and lighting. A dandy display of characters with an intelligent script. Steve “B-movie” Brodie and Audrey Long are newlyweds, expecting their first child after four months of marriage. Despite the film’s fast pace, in and out of vehicles, script logic takes a back seat. Brodie is an independent trucker who unexpectedly reconnects with Raymond Burr, a childhood friend. Emphasis on hood. Burr is now a mobster with plans to smuggle illegal merchandise using Brodie and his truck. Brodie wants no part of it even after taking a beating. The swinging overhead lamp, back and forth over Burr’s face will be memorable. Believable makeup for Brodie’s beating and swollen cheek, should also be noted. Burr threatens the wife if he does not go through with it. That hardly ever happens. During the opening heist, Burr’s kid brother was captured and set to be executed for killing a cop. Burr turns a bit psycho because of it and wants Brodie to confess to the shooting. His life for his brother’s. Brodie manages to escape after his first attempt fails. The only thing on his mind is his wife’s safety.


The couple quickly take the next train out of town. Switch to a bus. Steal a car. They are not sure where they are going to be safe nor does the audience have any idea where they are coming from. I could not figure where the story opens but guessing Chicago. Maybe I missed something. The decision is made to head for Long’s aunt & uncle's Minnesota farm. 



Meanwhile, back in mystery town, the police attempt to apprehend Burr and his gang. Burr escapes but a gunshot wound puts him out of circulation for two months. However, the hole in Burr’s stomach is smaller than any hole in this script. By now, no one could possibly find the newlyweds. Never mind the couple’s back rent for their original apartment, which is several months in arrears!

The trail seems impossibly cold until Burr’s cop-on-the-take finds the couple by checking Brodie’s unopened apartment mail. A letter from the aunt and uncle awaits with their return address on the envelope. Burr is roughly a twelve hour drive away, perhaps confirming the Chicago location. The farm no longer a safe haven, Brodie puts his wife on a bus for California while he deals with Burr.

The brief performance by Jason Robards, Sr. should not go unnoticed. He plays the laid-back, wise detective who is more often than not filing his nails nonchalantly when in conversation. His unflappable performance is fun to watch. When Brodie attempts to turn himself in, Robards sees his confession as just convenient lies. But he lets him go simply to track him and capture the entire gang. I would think not an easy task judging by Brodie’s earlier elusive transportation behavior. But Robards pops up at every turn. He soon discovers Brodie is on the level and both want to bury Burr's career.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

-30- (1959)



This over scripted box office flop would almost appear to be a TV series pilot movie. Part sitcom, part drama, it reveals the day’s happenings in the life of a major newspaper. Though respectably acted, there are enough uncomfortable moments to make you cringe. The ingratiating dialogues go on forever. The music score is one of the most ridiculously inappropriate ever used. They appear to have taken "Leave to Beaver," "Ben Casey" or "Lassie" themes of the period and purposely mismatched them with select scenes. Speaking of old television, David Nelson actually appears as someone else. William Conrad seemed to lose focus on his surroundings, treating this more like a staged drama. His performance is so over the top you may find yourself blushing as he chews up the scenery. I will say, Jack Webb gives his most animated performance with a full range of emotions. He is fun to watch. But the film, set entirely in a newspaper office/set, is captivating for the wrong reasons. Yet, I would like to see it again. Always a stickler for realism, Webb uses it here to a fault. A feeling we are intruding on something way too personal. Directed by Webb, this film cost him his Warner Bros. contract. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

THE CROOKED WEB (1955)



Columbia Pictures released this Clover Production movie. The mid-20th century script illustrates the reality of what the future Internet will be like: not everything you see or read is true. What lies ahead (pun intended) is a carefully planned trap that has taken 10 years to co-ordinate. Calling the movie a “con” is an understatement as seemingly everyone from America to Germany, on sea and land, has their role to play, no matter how small, to capture sandpaper-voiced Frank Lovejoy for his decade-old crime. Joining Lovejoy is handsome Richard Denning along with Mari Blanchard (as the nation’s oldest carhop) in this tale of clever deception.



What movie the above poster is connected with is a mystery. There is no parlor or a negligee. We can assume the latter, but it’s not in this film. Lovejoy and Blanchard plan to wed and the audience is neatly strung along for thirty minutes until Denning shows up as her ne’er do well “brother,” establishing the crooked part. He has a scheme to unearth “buried treasure” left behind at the end of WW2, located within a current Army reservation. Just the amount of resources Lovejoy needs for a comfortable life in another country. Plenty of twists and deceptions to make this a pretty fun outing. As trained government agents, Denning’s cleverness and Blanchard’s attractiveness come into play numerous times to regain Lovejoy’s confidence and quell suspicions. Lovejoy comes off rather bland in this outing, to the point of almost being a bit dense. No great range of emotions. He never suspects anyone would spend a decade setting him up. Who would? He does fear a double-cross and at the last moment confesses to Blanchard of his past and seals his fate. Finding out who Blanchard really was offered no encouragement, either.