Saturday, December 3, 2016

I BURY THE LIVING (1958)


Albert Band brings his long list of completed B-movie credits into play for this United Artists macabre tale about a man who thinks he may be affecting people’s lives by using push pins. The viewer is sucked in right from the opening credits with a statement suggesting that some men (mankind) have the ability of great mental power over events. The old “man as God” thing and that the dead are simply biding their time underground. The movie seems like a lost episode of television’s, “Night Gallery,” if shaved by some 15 minutes. It may have elicited some talk around the office water cooler in that era. Do not be misled by the studio's poster. There is nothing scary about this film. It is spooky, ghost-believing science fiction at best. As is typical of low budget “horror” movies, the ending is disappointing with the outcome as expected. However, there is noteworthy cinematography and the award-winning composer, Gerald Fried, sets the stage for a spooky tale with the use of harpsichord, a frantic tempo and dissonant chords.


Richard Boone is appointed chairman of a committee that oversees a large cemetery. A thirty-four-year-old Theodore Bikel, the caretaker, does his best old man routine with a Scottish accent in one of the more obvious wigs from makeup artist, Jack Pierce, who may have lost interest in the film at some point. Bikel is not that convincing as a very old man but he had a nice limp going there for awhile. There is a map resembling a Picasso sketch of the cemetery grounds on the office wall. Black pins mark the filled graves and white pins indicate unoccupied graves. Boone accidentally places two black pins where they should not be and both persons mysteriously die in an automobile accident. Surely a coincidence. Until it repeatedly happens either through experimentation or challenges from doubters. Boone believes he is cursed and he falls helplessly into a deep depression. His acting skill shows restraint and does not go overboard with the character’s emotions. He is quite creditable and improves the film.

The body count is up to seven over Boone’s pin pushing spree. In an epiphany, he decides that if black pins give him the power of death, white pins might give him the power of life. He replaces all of the black pins with white pins and discovers that those graves have been dug up and the bodies removed. If you are still a believer at this point the climactic finish may spoil it. Hokum has an equally powerful force over people. I should mention that Bickel’s character is nuts.


Some cinematography effects are artistically done by Frederick Gately. The map causes much distress for Boone and at one point appears to glow, consuming the cemetery office and Boone. At one point, after being struck by Bikel, an overhead light is swinging back and forth casting light and shadows across the pins in the map creating a dizzying optical illusion. At another point, Boone’s silhouette is superimposed on the map as an animated graphic illustration, eliciting an out of body experience for him. Watching this film may have the same effect.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

THE DARK CORNER (1946)


It is hard to find flaws in this quintessential film-noir directed by Henry Hathaway. He puts the noir in film-noir. The cinematography by Joseph MacDonald is text book example and what you expect from this genre of film. A clever example is when we see both William Bendix, in a white suit, juxtaposed to Mark Stevens, dark in silhouette in an adjoining room, as if in a split screen or a positive, negative effect. It also suggests that men who wear white are not necessarily the good guys. Cyril Mockridge’s opening theme may sound familiar. "Manhattan Melody" was used for many New York films of the Forties. Hats off to the sometimes witty and sharp, cutting dialogue by screenwriters Schoenfeld and Dratler, based on a story in “Good Housekeeping” by Leo Rosten.

Mark Stevens is a falsely accused ex-con trying to run a legitimate private investigator business. His character is on edge most of the film, disgruntled by an undeserved prison term. It is easy to figure Stevens’ career potential. Handsome, tough when he needs to be and he delivers a strong performance here. He was on everyone’s radar during this period. Though not quite making the A list, he was an actor to watch. Somewhat the male equivalent of his female co-star, Lucille Ball. So it is a good pairing. She is his newly hired secretary and best ally. They hit it off right from the start. Some are surprised at Ball in these kind of roles. Pretty, witty and intelligent. Still, she got lost at Twentieth Century Fox during this period competing with similar actresses with not enough uniqueness to draw attention. The new medium of television is just around another corner where she will completely obliterate these kind of roles and never look back.


Stevens is being tailed by WIlliam Bendix. After a brutal confrontation, Bendix falsely confesses he is working for Kurt Krueger, Stevens’ former partner and corrupt lawyer who set him up for prison. Stevens, with Ball’s help, dive in to undercover what appears to be Krueger setting up Stevens for another fall. But Bendix is in cahoots with Clifton Webb, a wealthy art-gallery owner. Webb knows his young wife prefers the younger Krueger and his possessive nature will not let him share any of his valuable works of art.

Webb suggests Bendix pay Stevens an unannounced visit at his office and also talks Krueger into seeing Stevens the same night. After a brief struggle, Stevens is succumbed by ether. Bendix then murders the next person expected through the door, Krueger. The frame is set for the unconscious Stevens. With Krueger out of the way, rather than pay Bendix off, Webb dispenses him for his screen finale. It would appear Webb has tied up all the loose ends. Stevens starts putting two and three together and confronts Webb at his gallery. The arrogant Webb is in for a big surprise.


The film ends on a lighter note. While Stevens is being cleared of any wrong doing at the gallery, two Brooklyn cops stand around contemplating a Donatello statue. Not a word from either for quite awhile until the first officer wonders, “Imagine anyone in their right mind ever buying a piece of junk like that?” His partner, lacking any sophistication replies in a gravel voice, “Shoeuh they do. That is ahht.”

Saturday, November 5, 2016

COUNTERPLOT (1959)


Forrest Tucker and Allison Hayes finally together! A stale tale of murder, a conniving  lawyer and an expressionless boy in one sleepy location, Puerto Rico. The United Artists film is, literally, a real sleeper with opening music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter that has all the sentimentalism deserving this movie. Jackie Wayne plays the young errand boy looking out for Tucker who is in hiding for an assumed murder. Judging by the dark makeup, Wayne is supposed to be a native San Juanian. He seems to worship Tucker and he likes their “just guys” arrangement. No icky women around. Tucker frequently scolds him for not doing what he is told, however.


Nightclub singer and icky woman, Hayes, has a past with Tucker and Wayne thinks she is the reason for Tucker’s trouble. Upon her arrival, she and Wayne spot each other but he does not acknowledge her at first. His lie about Tucker’s whereabouts are not convincing. Hayes is soon addressed by another familiar face, corrupt lawyer, Gerald Milton, the San Juan Shyster. Milton seems to enjoy his role very much. The burly actor with his clear, commanding voice never uses contractions when speaking. It reminds me of one who commands people to do their bidding. A delivery that is part sultan and one-third Tonto. Even though Hayes says she is back to perform at her former gig, he suspects she is in town to find Tucker. Their cat and mouse conversation reveals more about Milton than the location of Tucker.

Milton comes to Tucker’s legitimate aid, however, keeping his hiding place secret from the adhesive-moustached Richard Verney, business partner of the man murdered. With a tempting offer to represent him legally, Milton gets Verney to spill his guts about who actually committed the murder. All the while being secretly recorded by Milton. Tucker had decked Verney’s partner during insults and feared his fall to the floor accidentally killed him. Tucker fled. Watching from another room, Verney finishes off his partner to inherit the Acme insurance policy (no kidding) against his death. He is killed with a most gentle, choreographed head pounding against the floor which actually looked like he was trying to wake him. Wake up little buddy! Clearly irritated with most anyone, Verney delivers his lines with a tight lipped, disgruntled delivery of his best bad guy impression. His tenor voice sounds amateurish as many of his lines trail off to a whining end.

Milton’s assistant and legman, Miguel Angel Alvarez, double crosses him and tells Verney where Tucker is hiding. Milton struggles to get control of the Alvarez’s gun. When The Shyster bends over to retrieve it, he gets a letter opener in the back. Milton is able to get two shots off with a final, “You interfered. I make payment.” Him plenty dead. Meanwhile, to prevent Tucker’s death by Verney’s gun, the boy shoots him in the arm with Tucker’s gun. Tucker later tells the boy that today he has become a man. He finally shot someone. He pours a “shot” of whisky for each of them and teases him to take the drink. The boy is confused, hesitant and quickly puts down the drink in embarrassment. Tucker laughs at him. We do not know what happens with the boy after Tucker and the icky woman get back together. But that laugh will probably have a lasting effect.

One funny editing note. As Hayes finishes her song, accepting applause, the camera cuts to Tucker’s face then back to Hayes who is now in a completely different dress. Therein lies the popularity of her club act. The ability to change clothes so fast no one can see her do it. David Copperfield would be incredulous!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

20,000 EYES (1961)


This tolerable—only sixty-one minutes—film opens with a driving, big band score by Albert Glasser, the king of B-movie composers. Against automobile headlights cutting through night streets there are interesting title designs giving one the feeling of a cutting edge crime drama. And with three beginning words, “The Beast with,” absent, I was relieved. The lobby poster might have you believe this is a science fiction movie but it is not. A misleading movie title to be sure, but 20,000 seemed to be a popular round number during this era and flows better than 37,000. Imagine that many eyes watching you. The dialogue is well memorized, always on cue and disappointing.

Singer and hoofer, Gene Nelson, tries again to step out of his musical background with another crime movie. He is not unique enough to notice and coming in late to the noir party. Nelson is in the spotlight right from the first scene. Though a legit diamond mine investor, he needs capital to cover a failing mine in Brazil. He swindles rotund John Banner’s  investment money to do it. Banner feeds Nelson a knuckle sandwich as his introduction to the movie. Nelson intends to pay him back but he needs time. Much more than the five days Banner gives him. The poor sound quality coupled with Banner’s thick German accent and fading volume make it difficult to understand his every word. I could have used subtitles.


Nelson’s secretary and girl is Merry Anders. To help with Nelson’s predicament, they contact Nelson’s old Army buddy and mining partner—and Anders’ old flame—James Brown. Brown brings some diamond samples at Nelson’s request as promotional investments. His plan involves stealing valuable diamonds from a museum and then returning them after an appropriate appraisal. With a lot of persuading they both help make the theft a success. Nelson (or his stunt man) sneaking across rooftops and into the museum before dawn is a nice touch. It has the momentary feel of a high quality caper. It continues so dark one cannot see Nelson’s time-consuming detail work he goes through to steal the diamonds from the museum case. Unless one has stolen jewels before from a case with alarms, you will have no idea what he is doing. I think he may have done a super professional job (for his first time) but we will never know for sure what he did exactly. But the director sure devoted a lot of film for it.

It is easy to lose track of which diamonds were samples, switched, stolen, stolen again or returned in Nelson’s shell game. His meeting with diamond appraisers is interrupted by Brown disguised as a robber. In the planned struggle with Brown’s gun, Nelson is supposed to take a bullet in the arm. Also part of the plan is a prior injection of Novocain into Nelson’s forearm so he does not feel the bullet as much. I have never tried that. Handling diamonds with a limp hand would seem to be draw suspicion, though.

In the director’s attempt to explain away “the why” for the theft—the logic behind it—Robert Shayne is given a useless part as the police lieutenant who tries to piece together Brown’s presence at the bank. The whole scene, filmed with the echo of an area microphone, lasts less than two minutes. Everyone gives contradicting remarks about the bandit’s identity and reasons for him arriving at that precise moment. Shayne is stumped, gives up and it is the last we see of him.

The phony theft of the diamonds means Nelson’s insurance policy will pay off. But it will take six weeks to get the money returned to Banner. Nelson pays Banner a visit poolside with a twenty-two inch television console nearby. After Nelson’s attempt to explain, Banner threatens Nelson, who pushes Banner backward, tipping over the console on the way down. Never mix electricity and water.

This B-movie has the qualifying attributes. Dark filters for night scenes. Abrupt editing. Many interior scenes filmed with an area microphone. Showing Nelson in his 1961 Chrysler pulling curbside a few times at the same location supplements the film’s location action and cements a low budget. The music score, so promising at the beginning, inserts itself in some scenes as if the composer never saw the rushes. Except for the poor lighting, questionable script and directing, it may likely satisfy an hour, however.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

HONG KONG CONFIDENTIAL (1958)


This United Artists film uses periodic voice over narration akin to a documentary newsreel. The Robert Kent Production sounds authenticated and unfolds the story with the smallest studio sets, looking more like an early television play. Yet in one scene they manage to squeeze in a current model Ford through one tiny street, leaving little room for the studio lights let alone the Asian extras to walk about on cue. It is a tale of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union and the special government agents assigned to resolve an unusual case.


The Communists “new weapon” is to kidnap the son of an Arab King to pressure him into not signing an agreement with the United States to build a missile base in his small Arab nation. Assigned to find the prince is undercover agent, Gene Barry, who is posing as a lounge singer in a tiny Hong Kong nightclub set. This is the standout moment in the film. Barry had a voice but his body rhythm here is hilarious. Stiff and corny. His left and right arms doing whatever they want as if, in his mind, he planned moving right but his body suddenly felt compelled to move left. Cannot fault him for trying his best to sell a lame song about himself. But he is definitely a “footloser.” Few would ever guess he is an intelligence agent, so in that regard he is in deep cover. His love interest and accompanist is played by Beverly Tyler in her last film before transitioning to television. She is not undercover yet her faked piano playing made me suspicious.



After Barry’s informant is killed, King Calder, the intelligence agent recommending Barry for the prince retrieval, shares evidence that the informant had ties to Allison Hayes, who is under surveillance for gold smuggling to the Communists. Hayes can play untrustworthy through makeup and wardrobe alone. She resides in another small Asian film set called Macao. So Barry has about forty feet to travel, not forty miles. In the hopes of flushing out the kidnappers, Barry sells her on his smuggling plan of mass producing souvenirs, yet after the cheap metal is burned off, is solid gold underneath.


Barry discovers a medallion belonging to the kidnapped prince in the office of Noel Drayton and the kidnapping mastermind is revealed. Hayes sets up a meeting with Drayton but double-crosses Barry at gunpoint, forcing him to a cellar where Drayton awaits with the kidnapped prince. Smugly, he tells his plan to pin the kidnapping on the American Barry. He and the prince will be killed after the Arab King signs the papers to let the Commies establish their own missile base. All wait impatiently for that important phone call. But Barry comes up with a plan to disrupt the telephone service that is right out of a Bond playbook. In the standard secret agent ploy, he needs to stand and stretch and is granted that relief. With outstretched arms he casually picks up one of several pointed, thick metal pins lying near the telephone. Really not sure what they are, yet it is pretty obvious he is up to something. I am surprised Barry was not whistling a random tune. Drayton is oblivious. Suspended disbelief at its best. When he sits back down, one arm dives between the cushions where the telephone line is and pokes the pin through the rubber encased telephone cable and not his thumb. Drayton must call from an upstairs phone to confirm the signing. He leaves Hayes alone with Barry. Uh-oh. Moviegoers knew what was coming next. In her “duh” moment, Barry volunteers to light her cigarette but overwhelms her with his charms...uh...arms, knocking the gun from her hand and as she stumbles hits her head in the fall. Drayton returns and graciously accepts a bullet. Barry and the prince escape.


One evil-doer is holding Tyler as Barry leverage. Barry kicks open the door, stands back as Asian bullets shoot the hallway full of lead. Without looking, Barry shoots around the door frame, killing the man. Yes. He is that good. At that very moment, another man is ready to shoot Barry in the back but he is shot in the back by Calder. This could have gone on a few minutes in a Zucker Brothers film. Tyler’s suspicions about Barry’s dancing abilities become clearer when she learns of his real occupation.

Barry handles suave with the best of them and this film highlights his talents. It is all fairly silly and predictable but the secret agent premise beats the Bond pictures out of the starting gate. Still, I would love to hear Simon Cowell’s comments about Barry’s dance moves. I can almost hear the buzzer. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

THE LONG HAUL (1957)


This film opens ominously late at night behind a contemporary, driving score with modern fonts. It has the intriguing feel of a possible Cold War drama. An Army truck comes to a halt near London and out pops Victor Mature with his trademark countenance of superior sarcasm. His heavy eyelids not from an all night drive. This will be his last delivery for the U.S. Army and with his discharge sets his sights back to America. His British wife would rather stay put to raise their family. After a moment of heated discussion, Mature realizes staying put is best for their marriage.

His lorry driving comes to an abrupt end, through no fault of his own, after an incident places Mature on Britain’s “do not call list.” Desperate for living money he gets involved with a smuggling operation run by Patrick Allen. Allen’s girl, Diana Dors, has been under his wing for some time. He made her as his image and treats her like any of his property. Keeping her looking cheap is anything but. In an intense exchange she walks out on him and hides in Mature’s lorry. Oh boy. Mature opens the driver’s door and is not liking the arrangement. She insists he take her any place else. She prefers a Mature man much to Allen’s ire and they begin an on-again, off-again affair with Mature’s marriage taking the brunt.


Always scheming, Allen wants to complete a money-making long haul and a sizable cash reward persuades Mature to drive. The middle seat is cushioned by Dors. How the three of them continue to get along is a wonder. The time sensitive delivery through forest and mountain shortcut is exciting with literal cliffhangers at every turn. They cross a stream but get stuck on the embankment coming out. While Mature is trying to free up a wheel, Allen diabolically lets the lorry roll backward, hoping to mash Mature. A fist fight ensues with neither actor appearing to use a stunt double as they slosh around the shoreline. Allen is hit by a sliding box from the truck bed and then smothered under a mountain of falling fur boxes and drowns.

After making the delivery of some soggy furs to the cargo ship on time, Mature and Dors take a cab back to town. Their route was the better one for that fur delivery in hind sight. She begs him to run away with her. The money he got from the long haul is meant for his wife as a final goodbye gesture. Dors delivers it and his wife delivers a slap across her face. Dors overhears talk of Mature’s son’s health (an earlier blow to the head from a fall has turned serious) but she is hesitant to mention it upon reentering the cab, which is a pretty low-down. He knew nothing of the illness and will not leave his wife and son despite his impending arrest. Dors returns to her nightclub gig and all live not so happily ever after.


Mature was more than halfway down the slope of his long haul career (note a pun-driven poster) is to be expected.and with a couple exceptions, this might be his best late-career serious role. It is hard to fault Mature in any of his prior projects where he usually dominated the screen. Although self-deprecating of his career, he turns in a solid performance for a script that takes its time to unravel. Dors’ acting is fine and her vocal range can be taken more seriously than the weak, breathy Monroe. In her early scenes, she seems out of place in a trucking industry setting, however. Like burning magnesium, she is not hard to spot.

Hollywood continues churning out this tired premise of the weak male having an affair. They now leave the weak part out, suggesting it is inevitable behavior. The guilt has disappeared. Not so in a late Fifties Hollywood.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

PATTERNS (1956)


Flawless. Compelling. Stunning. Select words that describe this movie from a revised script and screenplay by Rod Serling from a “Kraft Television Theater” production the year before. The lack of music carries over from the television series. If you were told the crux of the film revolves around boardroom meetings, one might think it would be boring. There is nothing here to bore the mature viewer. From the beautiful opening cinematography by Boris Kaufman, the way it weaves around between skyscrapers, the movie intrigues like a creative art film. We see graphic patterns right before us, but Serling’s script deals more with personal patterns of behavior and political moves of movers and shakers.

Each actor gives a tour de force performance, but I cannot say enough about Everett Sloane. He is extraordinary as the intimidating, iron-fisted company president on facial features alone. His work day begins with crowded ground floor elevators. To get an idea of Sloane’s status, the elevator operator, Ed Binns, forbids anyone in one particular elevator. The one reserved for Sloane himself. He expects no less and few words are ever exchanged. When the door opens, his staff are at his beckon call.

Van Heflin and his wife, played by Beatrice Straight, arrive in New York City by invitation from Sloane after Heflin’s successful career as an industrial designer. He is a bit overwhelmed by the transition from his small Ohio town until he meets Ed Begley, the long-tenured Vice President, who reassures him with a calm demeanor. Begley has a soft spot for people. Their welfare is his first priority and that is where he is at odds with Sloane.


Heflin’s first board meeting is an eye-opener. As he has done for many years, Begley voices his concerns over one of Sloane’s business plan in full earshot of fellow board members. Building up a head of steam, remaining cordial, Sloane suddenly and repeatedly nails him to the wall in vicious verbal attacks challenging his competence, tenure and value to the company. Watching the board members sit uncomfortably staring at their folders even made me a bit uneasy. And as explosive as a conversation can possibly be, Sloane smoothly settles tensions down with reasoned foresight and a brief smile. No one dare challenge him without good reason and Begley never has had one according to Sloane. His desire is to get Begley to resign through humiliation. As if not shocked enough by his initial board meeting, Heflin is further jolted to learn his joining the company is to replace Begley. Heflin aligns himself too closely with Begley, lending support to him to the explosive ire of Sloane. Sloane is not in a popularity contest. He is there to make a profit. For his verbal support of Begley, Sloane lays into Heflin with the same viciousness for not recognizing his own potential. The shocking scene packs a wallop, and of course, completed without the habitually used R-rated language of today’s films. There is no waste of words that have no meaning or that lack self control.

Heflin later spots Begley working late into the night. Begley, perhaps with one too many shots of whisky, gets so upset referring to Sloane one thinks he is going to kill him at the next board meeting. Heflin begs him to calm down and seriously consider resigning. He is also angrily at rope’s end with stubborn Begley, who refuses to ever give Sloane any satisfaction. Begley’s path is crumbling beneath him. And he knows it.

For the next board meeting, he again gets lambasted by Sloane. So relentless and severely that Begley stands up in a rage, though speechless. He slowly and quietly apologizes to Sloane and the board as he has done for nearly thirty years. He walks out of the adjourned meeting in a trance and collapses in the hallway. He will not need to resign. Heflin believes Sloane is the catalyst for Begley’s death, knowing of his heart condition. Alone in his office, Sloane appears to briefly show sadness at this outcome but a new day of business is upon him.

The final scene is astounding. Heflin confronts Sloane, seemingly for the last time before returning to Ohio. He has had enough of New York City, the company and Sloane personally. In no uncertain terms he tells Sloane how much he hates every inch him. Heflin would do everything in his power to remove Sloane as president if he remained, however. Sloane has no problem with that and Heflin is welcome to try. Sloan defends himself by fiercely laying out his reasons for his behavioral pattern, continually challenging Heflin’s work ethic. Still in fiery conversation, out of the blue he immediately doubles Heflin’s salary and stock options. Without even a blink, Heflin also wants to inherit Begley’s “single dream” of breaking Sloane's jaw someday. Slightly amused, Sloane agrees and adds a rider giving him the same privilege to Heflin's jaw.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

THE PROWLER (1951)


Louis B. Mayer once looked at Van Heflin and said, “You will never get the girl in the end.” This movie supports Mayer’s assessment. Heflin takes another turn playing a scoundrel. A deceiver “disguised” in a policeman’s uniform. His past has been a series of disappointments which led to his career as a disgruntled cop. The viewer is not sure who the prowler is at the beginning of this ninety minute film but the first suspect could very well be Heflin himself. He is not likeable from his first scene to his last. Co-starring with Heflin is the lithe Evelyn Keyes. Her marriage is rocky due to a possessive, jealous husband, nearly twice her age. Keyes timid, hesitant performance makes Heflin seem even more controlling.

Heflin and his squad car companion, John Maxwell, are called to investigate a prowler by Keyes. She is typically alone most nights because her husband is an overnight radio personality. By the way, he is voiced on the radio by screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo. Instantly, Heflin starts wondering what her “game” is. As if she is just wanting attention. He becomes completely obsessed with her. After checking the premises, Maxwell suggests she keep the shades drawn until she is fully dressed. There were those who did not have any common sense back then, either.


In the guise of a follow up call to check on Keyes safety the next evening, Heflin comes right in her home and immediately sits down on the couch. Keyes must be thinking, “Please, won’t you have a seat?” She is very uncomfortable with his intrusion, not understanding why he keeps showing up. He apologizes with all the fake sincerity Heflin can muster. In another return visit, he needs a smoke but they are locked in a cabinet for her husband’s use. Heflin simply picks the lock in front of her, with her hairpin, then snoops around the cabinet to discover an insurance policy on the husband's life.

She feels guilty about the possible affair, as well she should, and decides to call it off. It will never work. Heflin knows how to deal with this. As days pass she gets lonely. When she calls him he lets the phone ring extra long before answering. Repeatedly. Everytime she calls. He tells her she is right. Nothing he can do. It will never work out. And hangs up with regrets. Heflin falls back into his bed and a high placed camera catches him with a huge smile. She is hooked. Despite her initial reluctance the two begin an affair in the days to follow. I know. This rarely happens in Hollywood movies.

Heflin concocts a late night scheme at Keyes’ home. In official police uniform, he first slits a screened door, then repeatedly bangs the fence gate to arouse the husband. When Heflin sees him he shouts, “Halt!” then opens fire. The murder becomes “a tragic accident” for the coroner's jury based on Heflin’s well planned phony story. Helping convince the jury is Keyes’ shaky testimony (under fear of Heflin’s glare) that they never met prior to her husband's death. Due to this “tragedy,” Heflin resigns from the police force and never wants to see a gun again. Heflin becomes somewhat of a hero to his friends and associates. Even though Keyes suspects Heflin of foul play, his convincing lies and her naivete convinces he surely is innocent.

They happily marry then the honeymoon surprise. Heflin learns she is four months pregnant. The date of the child's conception would prove the two had lied to cover their previous relationship. It would also nail him for the murder of Keyes’ husband. The final turning point for her is when he blurts out in anger about the life insurance policy he was counting on. Oops.

Having the baby in a hospital would establish a record of the child’s birth. So they hide out for five months in a desert ghost town that his partner, Maxwell, always talked about when gem collecting. Five months! Keyes goes into premature labor and Heflin seeks a doctor in a nearby town. Keyes discovers Heflin’s disavowed gun in his suitcase and realizes he also intends to kill the doctor to keep their secret. She warns the doctor who returns to town with the newborn. Keyes’ makeup is quite effective nearing the child’s birth. She looks positively ill with death a distinct possibility.

Realizing the doctor will send the police, Heflin drives away in panic leaving his beloved in “ghost city.” The gravel road is blocked at a narrow passage by his former partner, Maxwell, who was coming to pay a visit. After a five month disappearing act, he guesses Heflin might be there! Heflin bolts from the car and attempts to run up a one hundred foot mound of steep, loose stone. Not sure where he was planning to go but in that closing metaphor of his life, the harder he tries running up the hill the more futile it becomes. He is as stationary as if on a treadmill. Makes for an easy target.

This might seem like just another oft-told story of greed, a seducer and a co-star who gets entangled in a web of deceit. It is. But with only a few implausible moments, Heflin and Keyes make this film quite watchable. Yet the authorities never did find that prowler.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956)


Budd Boetticher lays out a well-paced movie and the many on-location scenes add reality to a traditional script. There are enough hypothetical situations to slot the film into a B-movie category, despite an incredible performance by Wendell Corey and ever competent acting from Joseph Cotton. However, it is an oft-used premise with an ending that is contrived and implausible. Cotton does seem irritated throughout the film, perhaps for good reason. He accidentally kills an innocent person, his wife wants him to change careers and his life’s in the balance from an escaped prisoner. Either that or he was not fond of doing the film.

Though initially touted as a hero by tackling one bank robber, Corey is discovered to be part of an inside job and the police close in on his home expecting a standoff. Cotton accidentally shoots and kills Corey’s wife in the darkened house and the supposed mild mannered bank teller begins his journey into a mentally unbalanced world. Never underestimate the importance of background checks. Being a model prisoner with the hope of an early release, he is transferred to a prison honor farm. Corey's idea of an early release is to kill a guard and make his escape.

Blind as a bat without his eyeglasses, Corey looks deranged, in a trance, as he walks slowly through a middle-class neighborhood looking for the Cotton home. His slow and slightly hesitant gate add to his unsettling persona. He stops first at John Larch’s home, an old army buddy who used to tease Corey, calling him “Foggy” for his deep voice and spectacles. An irritating jab from an entire life of ridicule. Larch tries to reason with Foggy, I mean Corey. He suggests he does not have much chance of getting far. Corey seems to understand and remorsefully, momentarily, thinks it over. Corey disagrees. He shoots Larch dead right through the milk bottle he is holding as his wife screams in horror. A hungry, unshaven Corey looks away in disgust. Obviously he is lactose intolerant. Corey uses the wife’s hooded plaid rain coat, white rain boots and purse to transform into a six-foot two-inch lady. Just another day in LA. This is certainly a point to burst out laughing if you want. He is a fashion plate.




Cotton hastily arranges a “charade vacation” to move his wife, Rhonda Fleming, to a fellow officer’s home for safety. Not wanting to frighten her, he never mentions that she is Corey’s primary target for revenge. It is a poorly executed plan by Cotton and Fleming catches on quickly during their road trip in the studio prop car. Fleming’s character is one dimensional as a self-centered, harping wife. Her lines are delivered blandly. She gives her husband little support or understanding. It is a standard police script and makes their interaction the low points in the film. After a good verbal thrashing...uh...eye opener by police wife, Virginia Christine, Cotton’s intentions become clearer to her. She skips out, returning by bus where half the men she sees might be Corey. A useless device because the audience recognizes Corey. Besides, Foggy does not have the courage to get on the bus in that plaid raincoat and white boots.

The police stakeout the Cotton home late at night and soon spot a tall, thin lady in a raincoat and white boots but lose track of her. From a nearby bus stop, Fleming decides to walk the few blocks home. How Corey knew she would be walking home when he was prowling around then hiding in the bushes for her is an improbability. They report a curvaceous redhead walking by and Cotton blasts his fellow officers for not recognizing his wife! Fleming deliberately walks past her home (in a cagey police move) leaving Corey to wonder if he is tracking the right woman. Is that anyway to end the film? No. At the last minute she tries to make a dash back to her front door with Lady Corey in pursuit. The entire neighborhood is aroused by gunfire. Just another day in LA.

Aside from the horror genre, Corey’s performance newly defines scary. He is not sadistic like Widmark in his screen debut or Mitchum a year earlier. He seems disturbed, helpless, by his evil deeds. After killing Larch, his wife lies motionless from fainting. Corey looks down at her and in a soft, reasoning voice says, “What else could I do? It was the ONLY thing I could do.” From teller to killer, Corey is mesmerizing and chilling. He is the reason to watch this film and the director thought so too. I can only imagine what audiences thought of Corey during its first run. Just do not call him “Foggy.”

Saturday, September 10, 2016

DARK CITY (1950)


Do not let a couple of A-list actors fool you. Hal B. Wallis produced a B-movie. With the likes of Don DeFore, Harry Morgan, who again plays a slightly brain-impaired character, and always fun to watch, Jack Webb, with his cutting delivery of snide comments, it could be none other. Add Dean Jagger, Ed Begley and Wallis’ favorite, Lizabeth Scott, you have a very competent cast. Charlton Heston in his screen debut barely holds his own. Still, he stands out from all the rest with a rugged, chiseled handsomeness the others do not possess. He delivers a foot-in-the-door performance. There are some typically awkward B-movie segue edits of actor’s faces or action that do not match the previous frame. And in a casual driving scene in Vegas, they used an obvious stand-in driver for Heston. Guess it was too risky for him.


The item of note is the huge contrast between the acting of Jagger, the police detective, and Heston, a small time bookie with partners, Morgan, Webb and Begley. Jagger’s whole face is animated with vocals that rise and fall with emotion. He is genuine and believable. Heston, on the other hand, is able to move his mouth. An acting style better suited for some future heroic projects. Heston seems to have been asked to overdub his dialogue at times, being louder and clearer than a co-star, even though he is turned away from the camera.




Studio musician, Trudy Stevens, has her work cut out for her dubbing Lizabeth Scott’s three and a half songs. Unless you enjoy seeing Scott or hearing the chosen songs, you should skip right through these. Her introductory scene and first rehearsal is all that is needed to establish her character. If the lyrics pertained to the plot or another character, this could almost qualify as a musical. But who would watch a musical starring Charlton Heston?

Oh, the synopsis. Needing money after being shut down by the police, Heston and his hustlers fleece out-of-towner DeFore out of five grand that is not his during a rigged card game. DeFore is so distraught he hangs himself and his protective big brother sets out to kill each hustler one by one. Note the giant emerald ring that keeps getting into tight camera shots. The ring of a psychopath. Heston meets DeFore’s wife, Viveca Lindfors, and they nearly become an item. But the only thing Heston wants is the identify of her disturbed brother-in-law. Heston gets a dealer’s job in Vegas to elude death and be the decoy Jagger can follow. Heston and Scott do not board a studio prop plane but remain in Vegas under assumed happiness. Trudy Stevens tagging along to sing for Scott.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

MACHINE GUN KELLY (1958)


This eighty minute Roger Corman production masks any low budget thoughts as the money has been spent wisely. It is an entertaining tale of gangsters in the early 1930s. The non-stop opening and period background score gets the viewer anticipating what comes next after a slickly planned getaway with a loot hand-off and the usual car swapping. Charles Bronson, in his first film lead, plays the title character who has a death fear rather than a Death Wish, as if promoting his future movie. Even Bronson tells co-star Susan Cabot, “The fear comes over me...like a Cold Sweat.” His 1970 movie. Though no one in the cast would be considered Oscar worthy, Bronson is competent even at the beginning of his career. Everyone is living up to their salary, including Morey Amsterdam. Who probably was paid the least, however.

Smirking Cabot, perhaps never looking better than in this role, has been the gangster’s “personal agent” from day one and her condescending attitude keeps Bronson under her thumb. All the while smiling as if she is invincible. Her attitude in this movie has become the standard for many criminal or sicko in today’s movies. That evil is a pleasure. In that regard, like it or not, Corman may have broken new ground. On a personal level, I found Cabot’s annoying, bright and pronounced esses irritating. A split second steel-on-steel sound which sometimes arises from acting out a female character you are not supposed to like. Annunciating, rather than slurring the words, will usually help this affliction. Perhaps the best/worst example of this was Sally Kellerman’s delivery. Equally annoying is her mom, played by Connie Gilchrist. Ma is proud of her criminal daughter and thinks she could do a lot better than Bronson. She belittles him with every opportunity, turning him into the Rodney Dangerfield of gangsters. Gilchrist not only runs her mouth but also a house full of “ladies” who bring in money.

Morey Amsterdam, the gang’s light-hearted weasel/stool pigeon, returns with the loot from the film’s opening heist but several thousand are missing. He tries to laugh it off then denies he took any for himself. He lied. Bronson is none too happy. He later plots a meeting with him to talk over another job. Corman throws in an odd premise concerning one of the gang members, Frank DeKova, who was a big game hunter before one arm was mangled by a natural habitat African. He now keeps a mountain lion in a cage. Behind his gas station. It is DeKova’s place they meet. Bronson stalls the conversation before pushing Amsterdam against the cage and, somehow, the weasel loses an arm to the lion. I doubt any moviegoer saw that coming. Nor found it believable. In what seems like a short time, Amsterdam is back in the business. All smiles and a several pounds lighter.

After a botched robbery, thanks to Bronson freezing up when he spots a casket being delivered across his path, he decides to go big. Ma Gilchrist finally will give him some respect. Logically, he takes up kidnapping. He and Cabot abduct a steel executive’s daughter and her nurse, played by Barboura Morris. Richard Devon completes the kidnapping trio as a sleaze ball who cannot help but make a pass at the young nurse. Devon plays “Apple” and he and Bronson are at odds. Devon challenges Bronson at gunpoint during a heated exchange. Bronson, in his trademark, clinched teeth and monotone phrasing, his machine gun pointed at him, explains, “Go ahead Apple. And I will peel and core you.” Hey! That is some tough talk. Being another family outing, Cabot’s mom and dad show up at the hideout with food and encouragement. Suddenly Gilchrist does a complete 180, being so kindhearted and gentle toward the little girl, fawning over her. Perhaps Corman wanted to illustrate that over half the people in this movie have serious personal issues.


In an amusing sequence, the police bring the Amsterdam weasel in for questioning. After he leaves the squad room, two officers lose his trail because “he snuck into the ladies room.” Their diligence cast a cloud over their upcoming promotions. But the weasel, seeking revenge, gives a tip on Bronson’s location via an “anonymous” phone call (they immediately recognized Amsterdam’s’ voice). The gang goes berserk when Amsterdam arrives and I imagine most moviegoers noted that anyone on screen at this point may not make it to the ending. DeKova demonstrates his mental problems which, up until this point, outside of the lion behind his gas station, there were no suggestions of his illness. Giving some final Dangerfield zingers, the police arrive, taunting and belittling Bronson before hauling him off to prison. In the real 1933, the arrest was overshadowed by a famous breakout of John Dillinger and his future gang on the same day.

Typically, Hollywood has never been too concerned about facts. They like to blur them, though. Their business is entertainment at any cost. The truth has been warped here as well. An Internet search might square things. It is understandable they would make Bronson a tough guy, even though Kelly was not as tough as his wife led people to believe. Bronson and Cabot are not married in this film, however. Why they changed the kidnapped person to a little girl of a wealthy businessman and not the businessman himself is anyone’s guess. It would have eliminated the out-of-place scene with Gilchrist and the girl, for one. Put yourself in 1958 and that perspective will allow you to watch this movie for its entertainment value. Of which, there is plenty.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

MISSING WOMAN (1951)


This is a fun way to spend sixty minutes with one of the most abrupt endings in B-moviedom. The story moves along in tidy fashion, leaving much of the 35mm film on the cutting room floor, yet it will task your suspended disbelief sensibilities. Standard night scenes of the era were created with filters along with a limited use of studio backdrop driving scenery. There is a fair share of location filming however and one brief chase scene for the auto and highway patrol motorcycle enthusiast.

Taller than many actresses of her era, pretty Penny Edwards plays the title character. We have no background on her character other than she is a newlywed. She and her husband’s honeymoon auto is hijacked by two car thieves, James Millican and John Alvin. Millican puts a slug in her gallant husband and with a blow to the head, she falls forward on the steering wheel. The depressed horn continues, signaling local officers patrolling the area. Her character then becomes implausibly polished to pull off the potentially deadly scheme she has in mind. Maybe she was a former FBI agent.




While being questioned by the local authorities, Edwards gets the idea to go undercover to locate the killer of her husband and report his location to the police. She has a lot of savvy for this sort of thing and certainly knows how to bamboozle everyone. All we know is she has experience utilizing a fake persona. Five years on Broadway? Her assumed photographic memory comes into play as she only briefly reads a prisoner’s rap sheet but has all the details down pat. Apparently women come in handy as a distraction during a car heist, so she goes from brunette to Edward’s natural blonde hair in a complete reversal of television’s Richard Kimball. She rolls with every conversation like a pro. We are not sure at what point she will feel in over her head with this charade, but you know it is coming.

She gets the honor of meeting Robert Shayne, the boss of the chop-shop. In an awkward scene, after she is driven to the shop location to look around and meet all the nice fellows, Alvin bids her goodbye until later. She walks out the side door and I wonder where she is going. She has no car. She has no place of her own. The director must have dozed off during the dailies.

Per usual, there are bits of unintentionally funny scenes for twenty-first century replays. Bureau of Missing Persons officer, James Brown, gets a tip on Edward’s whereabouts but it is so screwy, her being undercover and all, he tells his superior he might as well file it in the trash can. The superior, in a serious reply, “Never file anything in the trash can.” Oh...right chief. And another. Edwards knew one thief by the name of Hans and with that to go on the superior officer writes down “Hands” on the backboard. He spends countless hours trying to make sense of the nickname and make a connection with it. James Brown enters the room and erases the “D” and suddenly the mystery is solved.

Police locate Edwards and she begs to go back and help round up Shayne and gang. They seem to think it is quite dangerous to return but tell her to try and stay alive. Bolstered with that encouragement, her missing person’s reward poster is spotted by Alvin and her undercover work appears to be coming to an end. We learn that everyone in a chop-shop carries a gun. The ending shootout with police includes the trademark Republic Pictures gun sound from their many westerns. And then the film ends abruptly. The director looked at his watch and announced we are done here, folks. Edwards transitions to television in the 1960s and retires. Abruptly.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

INTENT TO KILL (1958)


This is a pretty effective drama/thriller directed by Jack Cardiff, famed cinematographer. More effective than the paid assassins in the film. Shot during a cold, snowy season in Montreal, the movie opens with a climatic score (over a blaring ambulance siren) yet we are only into the film’s first two minutes. Perhaps not that peculiar as it anticipates what is ahead. But one expects something drastic to happen at any moment but the only “excitement” is the quiet and careful deboarding of a South American president, Herbert Lom, who has been transported to Montreal for personal safety and special surgery on his potentially fatal cranial blood clot. Having previously survived an assassination attempt, the fire escape outside his window makes him nervous and requests a move to another room. A nice touch in the film’s early going as who knows what goes up or down those steps all hours of the day or night. To help comfort him, he asks a nurse to bring him his statue of the patron saint of assassination.

Lom’s political opponents have hired hitmen, Warren Stevens, John Crawford and Peter Arne in an effort to kill Lom for good. They are taking orders from Lom’s personal aide, a detail unaware to Lom. Crawford and Arne do not get along. Stevens has to bring the hammer down on Crawford for his attitude and his absences for drinking and womanizing. Arne, a former doctor, is to administer a needle full of air into Lom’s vein. Stevens’ scouting made him aware about Lom’s move to another room and informs Arne after his deed while sitting in the rear seat of their automobile. He forgot to mention this to Arne. Sorry about that.

Mixed into this assassination plot are surgeon, Richard Todd, and his nagging, self-centered wife, Catherine Boyle, who has arranged for him to take a high-paying position back in London. The high-paying part is of special interest to her. Todd has no interest except in fellow doctor, Betsy Drake. Judging by Boyle’s effective, irritating performance, most viewers might feel Todd deserves better. Meanwhile, the personal aide is hoping for a future with Lom’s beautiful wife once he has been dispatched.


As Lom recovers, he comes to the conclusion that the two may be romantically involved or plotting to kill him. The hitmen, determined not to lose their payoff, become even more incompetent leading to confrontations in the hospital. Arne tries once again to needle Lom but a detective assigned for protection asks him to identify himself. I would say Arne loses his cool at this point but he never had any from the start. Todd volunteers as a lookout in the stairway entrance and Drake joins him. Crawford shows and threatens Drake at gunpoint to vouch for Arne. She stumbles over a  question from the detective answering, “He...he is...doctor...watch out!” An unusual name to be sure. The detective falls from Arne’s bullet. What is funny are the gunshots which sound like cap pistols. Would not hurt a fly. The film takes a nosedive from this bad sound edit alone and barely recovers. Arne gets a bullet in return and when Crawford enters the hall, sends Arne to eternity by shooting him a few times. Nice knowin’ ya, bub.

Todd tangles with Crawford, who leaps down a flight of stairs in swashbuckling form that Dr. Peter Blood would envy. Todd jumps on Crawford again and their struggle crashes both through a window where they fall to the pavement below. Crawford is arrested and Todd is due for surgery to remove Crawford’s cap pistol bullet.

As confusion and chaos rages in the hospital, Stevens assumes the role of an authoritarian figure, ordering nurses and orderlies around. Very official. It manages him to enter Lom's temporarily unguarded room to perform a quick hit. Barely inside the room, he discovers Lom knows how to use that statue in a manner he could never have anticipated.

It is a decent, forgettable film with competent performances. I can forgive Lom’s dull performance owing to his brain surgery. Alexander Knox possesses his role as the chief surgeon and wise counsel. Stevens stays cool and calm despite being a failure at the boss level. In an odd Todd closing, prior to going under before surgery, Drake leans over next to his face and quietly says, “Breathe deeply.” Outside of that common medical order, one could spend some time debating why that line ends the film.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

THE GREAT ST. LOUIS BANK ROBBERY (1959)


The mere mention of Steve McQueen makes this movie more well known. Even early in his career he gets top billing which tells you something about the other actors in the film. With the exception of Crahan Denton, they are virtual unknowns. This is a solid docu-drama based on the actual 1953 robbery. Everything is filmed on location and for the historical transportation geek, it is an eyeful.

The opening score has a brief solo piano segment giving the film a macabre aura, befitting the gloomy, chilly autumn period. Not many would choose to meet under a park shelter in this weather so one could assume the meeting is of a serious nature. It looks suspicious. The sound department’s inclusion of a crow’s “caw-caw” adds to the stark scene. McQueen walks into this first scene like his feet hurt. Soft-spoken, nervous and with no criminal record, he is hired as the getaway driver. He just wants to drive. This meant nothing in 1959, but it is telling to McQueen fans today.

Crahan Denton looks the part as the heist’s mastermind, in dark overcoat and fedora hat, who plans on this being his last haul. His facial features and a permanent frown are a dead giveaway of his troubled past, his distrust of women in general and a guy you do not want to cross.



Number two man, David Clarke, is a loose cannon, claustrophobic from a prison term and seems to take the seriousness of the heist rather flippantly. He vouches for McQueen because his sister, Molly McCarthy, dated McQueen in college. She agrees to meet McQueen in a tavern where the most out of tune player piano in St. Louis is plunking away. Despite his denials, she suspects he is going down the wrong path, thanks to her loser brother, and tries to talk him out of it. Her acting is a weak point. None worse than when, later, almost hysterically, between a laugh and a cry, drunk and sober, writes in lipstick on the bank window that it will be robbed. Her male companion thinks she is loony as she keeps repeating, “But it’s funny. Isn’t it funny?! Don’t you think it’s funny?!” He does not. Neither did I. Her acting is very forced, lacking any believability. Her singsong voice is also annoying.

Number four crime partner, James Dukas, is jealous of McQueen because he wanted to drive the escape vehicle. Like a child throwing a tantrum, through his smart-aleck smile and taunting, does everything he can to discredit the young McQueen.


When Denton finds out about the lipstick tip-off at the bank, thanks to Dukas’ spying, he is livid with McQueen, who has been denying he ever saw McCarthy in the first place. But Dukas gets his wish and becomes the driver. Denton threatens to call off the whole thing. Alone in his room, under the pressure and real fear the robbery will fail miserably, he momentarily breaks down emotionally. It is powerful, but brief, scene for Denton.

Clarke suggests his sister go back to Chicago, leaving her in the care of Denton. Along the way, down the outdoor fire escape, Denton goes a bit nuts with mental flashbacks of the women who have ruined his life, including his mother. He becomes mesmerized by the long flight of stairs and they compel him to shove McCarthy down them. In the midst of the failed robbery, McQueen asks Denton what happened to her. In evil disgust, Denton growls, “What do think, punk!” A line which may have given Clint Eastwood a cue for delivery. It is a tough scene illustrating the futility of these criminals. The shootout is relentless by any standard and a cloud of doom covers the robbers. One, in total despair, commits suicide off camera. A scene that probably shocked moviegoers to close out the Fifties. McQueen predicted Dukas would chicken out behind the wheel. True to form, he panics and drives away leaving his “pals” to fend for themselves.

A nice stylistic touch from the director is worth noting. When McQueen makes a call from a phone booth we do not hear his voice, only his actions talking to McCarthy. Her voice is the one we hear, replying to McQueen. And as a testament to how patient people used to be, she asks the customers to hold while she takes his brief call. Not one customer threw a hissy fit.



There is a fine and somewhat humorous early scene for McQueen. As a test, Denton wants him to find an out of state license plate in the supermarket parking lot where they are parked. He does not want to do it but Denton insists. Adding sensory perception to the scene are the sound department’s obligatory horn honks in the distance. McQueen finds a vehicle and bends down quickly behind the car. While crouched down he is startled to see a man walk behind him, between cars, but he continues down the line. McQueen hears an engine roar and wonders where it is. He is immediately surprised when the car he is crouched behind accelerates away from him, leaving McQueen puzzled and Denton nervous watching from a distance.

A McQueen trademark is improvising little details of his character. In the process of unscrewing that license plate, his hand “slips” and he acts like he cut his finger, sucking on the “wound.” Another is when he places his hand briefly on McCarthy’s martini glass just before leaving, in an awkward, “what do I do now” moment. Later, when she discovers him with Clarke, who is supposed to be in Chicago, McQueen’s temperature rises from embarrassment. He wipes “sweat” from his forehead, giving authentication to his character. What is less believable, however, is his apparent mental breakdown after the robbery is foiled. An extreme and sudden emotional turnabout which I found, though possible, not very likely.