Monday, 31 July 2017

GIRLS TOWN (1959) Directed by Charles Haas.

Hugely entertaining juvie movie full of hip talking delinquents, cat fights, hot rods and groovy music!  Okay, hugely entertaining it might be but not for the reasons intended by producer Albert Zugsmith. Today this look at tearaway American youth seems more like a parody. The cast is headed by the great Mamie Van Doren who poses, pouts and (as a friend put it) protrudes as a girl under suspicion who is sent to Girls Town (run by Nuns for a bit of contrast) where she learns to conform with the help of a non-vampiric (remember BLOOD OF DRACULA?} Gloria Talbot amongst others. Of course there is music supplied by non-other than Paul Anka as a teen idol upset by finding a half naked girl in his hotel room. The cast also lists Harold Lloyd Jr. and Charles Chaplin Jr. Oh, yes I should mention the presence of singer Mel Torme as an unlikely teenager long before he became Thora Hird's son-in-law! As one of the characters says "It's queersville, man!". Rating : very cool ***

Sunday, 30 July 2017

MAN ON A STRING (1960) Directed by Andre De Toth

Variously known as MAN ON A STRING, CONFESSIONS OF A COUNTERSPY and ON THE ROPE this is an engrossing cold war spy thriller about a Russian born American film producer (played by the ever excellent Ernest Borgnine) who is tricked into working for Russia in order to save his family. Discovered by the American intelligence service he reluctantly becomes a double agent before realising the error of his ways and undertaking an undercover mission to Moscow. Made in a straight forward semi-documentary style and well acted by the entire cast, particularly Borgnine. Kerwin Mathews has a featured role and Glenn Corbett plays an American agent. Surprisingly the film, while obviously anti-communist in tone, is very complimentary to the Russian social achievements and the Russian people and the documentary footage of life under the "Red Menace" is fairly even handed except when dealing with the political overlords. Therefor it manages to avoid the over-the-top hysteria of such reds under the beds films of a few years earlier such as John Wayne's BIG JIM McLAIN. Andre De Toth is an interesting director, probably best remembered for his 3-d horror movie HOUSE OF WAX but also responsible for many interesting films such a the offbeat DAY OFTHE OUTLAW and the war film PLAY DIRTY. Rating ***

Saturday, 29 July 2017

LAW AND ORDER (1932) Directed by Edward L.Cahn,

My second Edward L. Cahn film seen recently and, as a fan of films about Wyatt Earp, one I've wanted to see for years. And, for once, the wait was worth it. The names may have been changed but this is the familiar story told before of the Earp Brothers feud with the Clantons, culminating in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The Earps become the Johnsons, the Clantons become the Northrups and shotgun carrying Doc Holliday becomes a gambler called Brandt.  The most likely reason for the name changes is that the film was made only three years after Wyatt Earp's death and his widow was, notoriously, ready to sue anybody who looked like besmirching her late hubby's name. The film is based on a novel by W.R.Burnett and tells how Frame "Saint" Johnson (Walter Huston), his brother Luther and two friends, one of whom is gambler, Brandt (Harry Carey) clean up Tombstone. As such the film parallels later films such as Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and Sturges THE GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K.CORRAL. The tone of the film is realistic and refreshingly adult compared to most Westerns of the period and although acting styles have changed it still makes compulsive viewing. The supporting cast includes Russell Simpson (who was also in John Ford's version), a young Andy Devine and an uncredited Walter Brennan (also in the Ford film).

GUNS, GIRLS AND GANGSTERS (1959) Directed by Edward L. Cahn,

Gerald Mohr and Mamie Van Doren

 I recently watched a surprisingly good double bill of films directed by Edward L. Cahn (1899-1963). Cahn was a former editor at Universal who graduated to directing and then moved to MGM to spend a long period of his career directing shorts. Returning to feature films in the 1950's he was responsible for a clutch of B movies fondly remembered (if not admired) by horror/sci-fi movie fans : THE CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, THE CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN, INVASION OF THE SAUCERMEN and, memorably, IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE which is often cited as the inspiration behind Ridley Scott's ALIEN. Many more features followed, mostly forgotten, Westerns, Crime, sci-fi, until his last film, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in 1967.

GUNS, GIRLS AND GANGSTERS is a very watchable B movie about an ex-con played by Gerald Mohr (a cut-price Bogart) who plans an armoured car robbery with the not too willing aide of his ex-cellmate's wife (the beautiful Mamie van Doren). Of course it all goes belly-up when Mamie's jealous husband (Lee Van Cleef) breaks out of jail. Cleef's character isn't that bright as he not only fouls up the plans but drives at night wearing sun glasses!  I suppose these days you have to be tuned in to these low budget thrillers and their B list stars but, as I am, I really enjoyed this. Rating ***

Thursday, 27 July 2017

L.A. TAKEDOWN (1989) Directed by Michael Mann,

I recently re-watched Michael Mann's 1995 film HEAT which confirmed my opinion that it was one of the best American movies of its year. This prompted me to catch up with the original version of the story which Mann made for television in 1989. Technically there is little wrong with the earlier film but when it comes to the acting it is a different story. I really can't recall any film of consequence where the acting is quite as mind numbingly bad as it is here. There is no point in naming and shaming as the blame is evenly spread over the entire cast. The sheer awfulness of the performances is only emphasised by the fact that six years later Mann decided to remake the film for the cinema and this time he had the services of Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, John Voight and Val Kilmer. Rating: **

Saturday, 22 July 2017

FRANKENSTEIN (2015) Directed by Bernard Rose.

Always curious about a new Frankenstein movie, I picked this up for pennies on Amazon. To be honest I expected something akin to THE FRANKENSTEIN ARMY or THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY, both pretty dire. What a surprise I got!  Modern day Los Angeles and Victor Frankenstein (Danny Huston no less) and his wife have created a human with the help of Dr.Praetorius but, of course "Victor fucked up!"  all of which is pretty routine low-budget horror stuff (and the film certainly delivers on blood and gore). But once the creature is loose the film rises several notches thanks to the script which modernises many incidents from the novel by Mary Shelley with a voice over by the creature quoting the text and thanks to the remarkably good performance by Xavier Samuel as the luckless and ever suffering creature. I thought this delivered on all levels. Rating ***,

Saturday, 8 July 2017

THE TALL STRANGER (1957) Directed by Thomas Carr.

There is little to distinguish this Western from a hundred others made during the 1950's but Joel McCrea could always be relied upon to give a film dignity. The supporting cast is good with Virginia Mayo as the gal with a past trying to find a new life and Leo Gordon for once playing a sympathetic character. Michael Ansara and Michael Pate are also on hand. The story, from a tale by Louis L'Amour is pretty good and there is little time to get bored between the shootouts. McCrea's greatest moment was still a few years away in Sam Peckingpah's superb RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY with Randolph Scott and, in which, McCrea died, perhaps, the most moving death in the history of Westerns. Director Thomas Carr's career was spent directing either Westerns or Serials before moving into Television where he directed episodes of almost every TV Western. THE TALL STRANGER is not outstanding but neither is it boring. Rating **