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. Plus, Edwards removed his chest hairs with Nair. 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 fake 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!