Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Great Poster, shame about the film. Director Frank Strayer was another inhabitant of Poverty Row with a career that is littered with such titles as MURDER AT MIDNIGHT, THE MONSTER WALKS and GORILLA SHIP. His best known and possibly his best film is probably the 1933 THE VAMPIRE BAT with Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, Dwight Frye and Melvyn Douglas. CONDEMNED TO LIVE somewhat resembles that film in its plot and setting but whereas VAMPIRE BAT moved at a fare lick CONDEMNED is talky in the extreme. In fact they never seem to stop talking and these leaves little time for any action and only a few rather pathetic horror scenes. Let;s face it Ralph Morgan is no substitute for Lionel Atwill and even Mischa Auer can't make up for the absence of Dwight Frye. It's one of those films I'm glad to have finally caught up with but don't want to see again. Rating **
Viewed at The Internet Archives


Some film fans wait with excitement mounting, for the latest CGI laden epic from Hollywood. My pulse quickens when I find a George Zucco film I've not seen before and last night I found two! What is more, one of these films I'd never heard of! Let's start with THE BLACK RAVEN. This one I've known about for years. When it was announced for production back in the 1940's in the British trade paper Kinematograph Renters Weekly it was linked with the Edgar Allan Poe poem The Raven, but there is no connection now in the credits and certainly not in the plot. Said plot is the standard poverty row B-movies Old Dark House, although here it is an Old Dark Inn. The Inn is called The Black Raven and is run by a shady character (who else but George Zucco) whose underworld moniker was also The Black Raven. On a stormy, rain-swept night when the bridge has been swept away various people - an eloping couple, a corrupt politician, an embezzling bank clerk and a gang boss on the run - all find themselves stranded at the Inn along with mein host Zucco and his less than bright handy man (Glenn Strange doing a good job as a B-list Lon Chaney Jr.) while outside a killer prowls (I.Stanford Jolley). Ingredients for this kind of film don't get much better. The cast is more than competent and Sam Newfield's direction is good enough to keep things moving along without too much padding. It is, however, George Zucco who makes the film special. Zucco could lift any film of this kind a couple of notches but here he really is on top form. Just watch his face. He's obviously enjoying the whole thing enormously and at times can barely repress a smile - in one scene, as the picture fades to black and just before the cut, he can clearly be seen grinning! His delivery is flippant and the flicker of amusement across his face make him easily, as he so often was, the Man of the Match. Rating : ***

The second film was completely new to me, a povert row little gem called MIDNIGHT MANHUNT directed by William C.Thomas (many a producer but he directed half a dozen low budget noir/crime dramas in the 40s) and excellently scripted by David Lang with first class dialogue which is above the usual standard for this kind of fare. Checking Lang out on IMDb I found that he spent most of his long career as a writer contributing scripts to television Westerns and to my surprise I found that I had in my collection what must have been his most prestigious work, HELLCATS OF THE NAVY, an execrable movie starring future President Ronald Reagan and his First Lady, Nancy, which is in everyway inferior to MIDNIGHT MANHUNT. The plot has a dying gangster finding his way into a wax museum where various characters with various motives play hide 'n' seek with the corpse. Direction by Thomas is adequate but the cast is outstanding with Zucco as the suave killer, the wonderful Ann Savage (from DETOUR) as the reporter who lives above the museum. William Gargan as her rival and boyfriend and, in a scene stealing performance, Leo Gorcey as Clutch (although I swear its pronounced Klutz in the movie) who moiders the English language as only he can. Zucco has less to do here than in THE BLACK RAVEN but he does get to pistol whip Ann Savage! Rating ***

I watched both films on line at The Internet Archives.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


Robert Culp was a fine actor and a television great. The chemistry between Culp and his co-star Bill Cosby made the series I SPY one of the most watchable shows of the Sixties. This was carried over into Culp's one film as a director, HICKEY AND BOGGS, a subversively offbeat tale of two down at heel private eyes - one gay and one black - who find themselves woefully out of their depth and out-gunned. Culp took the television personas that he and Cosby had developed on television and used them as a springboard for this excellent movie.

1930 - 2010

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


1910 - 1998


So bizarre are the various elements of RING OF FEAR that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was some demented joke thought up by a crazed film fan. Produced by John Wayne no less and directed by his tame dialogue writer James Edward Grant, partly written by actor Paul Fix, the film tells of a psychopathic killer (a nicely judged performance by Sean McClory) who escapes from a Lunatic Asylum with the intention of killing circus boss CydeBeatty. When a series of accidents befall the big top, Beatty's manager (a growling Pat O'Brien) hires (as you would) crime writer Mickey Spillane to find who is behind the mishaps and why. Strange enough for you ? Well, there is also Gonzalez-Gonzalez boxing a kangaroo! To be honest these elements don't add up to anything very special but the sheer strangeness makes it watchable. There is a lot more circus than there is mystery and although on principal I'm not in favour of wild animals performing in circuses it has to be said that the footage of Cyde Beatty working with lions and tigers is quite spectacular and obviously isn't faked. Long unavailable for legal reasons it is good to see this genuine oddity back in circulation. I, for one, have wanted to see it for years. Rating ***

Monday, 22 March 2010

THE TRAIN (1964)

John Frankenheimer was a great director. He had been a top television director during the 1950s and had moved to the big screen with the modest THE YOUNG STRANGER and the ambitious THE YOUNG SAVAGES in the early 1960s. For me SAVAGES has some very serious script and strucural problems but it looked terrific and had excellent performances that proved Frankenheimer could direct and worked well with actors. It also had Burt Lancaster who saw the potential of the director and went on to make several more highly rated films with him of which THE TRAIN is one. The pre-credit sequence introduces the German officer played by Paul Scofield quite sympathetically - an art lover who has done his best to protect the greatest French paintings during the Nazi occupation of Paris. This initial impression is soon dispelled when whe discover his intention to take all the paintings to Berlin Not only is he a thief but he is as vicious a murderer as you could expect to find in the German army of the time. His plans are thwarted by the Resistance and the initially reluctant train controller, Labiche (a wonderfully physical performance by Burt Lancaster) whose personal fight with Scofield and with the train itself takes on the scale of Ahab's fight with Moby Dick. But the film is far from being the simple action adventure you might expect and has an interesting moral conundrum at its centre as the efforts of Labiche and the Resistance cause the deaths of countless railway workers. Ironically, Labiche has no interest in art and, as Scofield tells him, he will never be able to appreciate what he has fought to save. On an action level the film benefits from Frankenheimer's skill staging such things and the cast includes Jeanne Moreau, Michel Simon and Wolfgan Preiss. Frankenheimer died in 2002 leaving behind a legacy of films such as SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, SECONDS, FRENCH CONNECTION II, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. Some of his later films were under valued and some where unmitigated disasters (his ecological horror THE PROPHECY is so bad it is funny) but there are more pluses than minuses in his fascinating career. Rating ****

Sunday, 21 March 2010


A rather unlikely film to be credited to Robert Aldrich, this euro epic would probably have been some sort of guilty pleasure at 90 minutes but unfortunately it drags on for a further 50 minutes. Considering the rather racy Bible story with a mob trying to bugger some visiting angels and Lot offering his daughters in their stead we get a plot which, despite lines of dialogue like "Look out for sodomite patrols!" doesn't really exploit the reputation of the twin cities of the plain to the full advantage of the film. Some nervous hints that the Queen is a dyke rather misses the point that the audience was expecting an altogether different kind of queen. The cast headed by Stewart Granger, Anouk Aimee and Stanley Baker is backed up (if you'll excuse the expression) by such luminaries of Cinecitta as Rik Battaglia, Rosanna Podesta, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart etc. and they all seem to be taking it very seriously. Two rather aged angels turn up near the end but their chastity is never threatened. The cities themselves (although we only seem to see Sodom) are played by some old Moroccan ruins and Ancient Israel seems to have a rather higher negro population than I would have expected. Supposedly Sergio Leone was the uncredited Second Unit Director. Rating **

Friday, 19 March 2010


Fess Parker
1924 - 2010
Bears can sleep in safety again.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


I've always thought that Basil Dearden was an under-rated director but this border-line sci-fi/psychological story really hasn't stood the test of time. The problem is that it starts out as a spy thriller, becomes a psychological thriller and ends up as a domestic drama with the climax of the film being nothing more exciting that a protracted birth scene. Dirk Bogarde (being as overwrought as only he can be on a bad day) undergoes an extended session in a sensory deprivation tank to prove that a colleague who commited suicide was not a traitor. The thought is planted in his mind that his marraige is an unhappy one. Wifey gets pregant, Dirk delivers the baby and is immeadiatly cured of his delusion. End of film. A competent cast which includes Mary Ure as the wife and Michael Bryant as his rather transparently motivated friend look rather unconvinced by it all while John Clements as a secret service man gives new emphasis to the word "stiff" in stiff upper lip. Wendy Craig's character is introduced as the local slut but there is nothing in the film to suggest why and fans of stars in early appearances will spot a young Edward Fox who gets a couple of lines as a student. I tried to watch this a couple of years ago and fell asleep....I wasn;t as lucky this time. Rating **

Monday, 15 March 2010


1926 - 2010
Mission Impossible, Whiplash, Airplane, Stalag 17 etc
This post will self destruct in 24 hours.....

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Another example of Hollywood's remake obsession. This time it is an overblown reworking of a neat little sleeper of a movie from back in 1987. The original worked because it was a lean little thriller that pressed all the right buttons aided by tight direction and a memorable performance from actor Terry O'Quinn as the family obsessed serial killer. There are two scenes in the original that were particularly memorable - the murder of an inquisitive relative and a scene where the killer momentarily forgets his assumed identity. Neither scene was played for suspense and thus the audience was taken by surprise. Both scenes are in the remake but the first builds up the suspense so you know something is going to happen while the second completely ruins the moment by having the killer already in a psychotic rage when he utter the classic line "Who am I here?". It's all very predictable and tedious with director Nelson McCormack probably using the same "Direct by numbers" kit as Peter Hyams. Rating **

Saturday, 13 March 2010


An official remake of Fritz Lang's last American film this is pretty sub-standard stuff and simply not in the same league as the same director (Peter Hyams) excellent remake of Richard Fleischer's THE NARROW MARGIN. Hyams seems to still be using the "direct by numbers" kit that somebody bought him a few years back rather than using the undoubted talent he exhibited earlier in his career. None of this is convincing and the characters are mere cardboard cut outs. Douglas as the one dimensional villain of the piece not only looks more like his father with every passing year there were times in this film when I thought Kirk had come out of retirement. Rating **

Friday, 12 March 2010


I watched this with no expectations of enjoying it but was very pleasantly surprised. Very. Oliver Parker has made a very respectable version that, despite elaborations and a fleshing out of the characters with a bit of back story, does not stray very far from the spirit of Oscar Wilde's classic original. Even better is the fact that the director is content to tell the story at a leisurely pace with literate dialogue rather than aiming it at the "fast forward" MTV audience. The film looks beautiful even if such locations as The Royal Naval College at Greenwich seem to turn up in films set in the Victorian era with predictable regularity. Older horror fans will spot a reuse of the Columbrarium at Highgate Cemetery which was used in TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE ABOMINABLE DR.PHIBES as well as other horror films. The cast is excellent with Ben Barnes striking just the right note as the rather torn souless Dorian. Colin Firth seemed to me an odd choice as Lord Henry but is just about perfect. Rebecca Hall plays Lord Henry's daughter with an appealing mixture of gawkiness and sincerity that I found very attractive and refreshing. Nice to see Fiona Shaw again although she is rather wasted in a minor role that makes little use of her considerable talents. All in all I was pleasantly impressed by this film. Rating ****

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

THE ROAD (2010)

John Hillcoat's THE ROAD is a very faithful adaption of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Set in a post apocalyptic world the movie carefully avoids going down the route taken by the MAD MAX movies and others of this genre. The story is simple - a man travelling with his ten year old son across a devestated America. Born at the time of the largely unexplained disaster the boy has known no other world, yet he is the one who retains the human emotions of pity and charity that have been driven from his father by the need to survive. The movie is bleak and unrelenting in its depiction of a world where armed bands roam the country and cannibalism is becoming the norm yet it determindly rebuffs the sensational for something rather more valuable. While it is never forced upon the viewer the film is open to almost endless interpretation - especially in the figure of the old, nearly blind man, the travellers meet on the road. It's not a pleasant film nor an easy onebut it is an impressive one. Performances by a largely unreconisable cast which is headed by Viggo Mortenson, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce are uniformly excellent and Kodi Smit-McFee is truly outstanding as the boy. Impressive if somewhat difficult. Rating ****