Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) Directed by Gene Fowler Jr,

I read once that this was Ringo Starr's favourite movie. It is certainly a classic of 1950's schlock horror, Coming from producer Herman Cohen it is the prime example of that strange hybrid that combined horror and teenage rebellion, Troubled teenager, Tony, is always getting into fights and eating his hamburger raw. Psychologist, Dr,Brandon, sees Tony as the perfect choice to regress to one of man's more primitive states. Luckily, when one of Tony's friends is killed while walking home through the woods, the janitor at the local morgue, born in the Carpathians, recognises the signs that a werewolf is on the loose. Low-grade nonsense, maybe, but highly enjoyable nonetheless, if you are in the right mood. Cohen went on to produce two more teenage horrors, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD OF DRACULA and a host of other horror movies well into the 1970's, Gene Fowler Jr. was mainly a television director and his only other notable feature was the under-rated low-budget I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE. Michael Landon, of course, went on to find fame in both BONANZA and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE. Whit Bissell who played Dr.Brandon was a familiar face in films and television and a year later he got tp play Dr.Frankenstein in Cohen's next horror film. Notable among the supporting cast is Guy Williams who is best remembered today as Disney's ZORRO and as Mr.Robinson in LOST IN SPACE. Rating : ***

Monday, 14 August 2017

STICK (1985) Directed by Burt Reynolds,

Burt Reynolds proved that he could direct with the excellent SHARKEY'S MACHINE but there is little evidence of that here. Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard this tale of an ex-jailbird out to revenge the death of a friend in a drug deal never really comes together. Supposedly the film originally contained more humour which was cut by the film company but I can't imagine that it would improve what we see. The cast, led by Reynolds (in poor health and condition after an accident while filming  CITY HEAT  with Clint Eastwood) includes Candice Bergen and Charles Durning, but their performances are strictly by the numbers. George Segal is another matter and his outrageous over acting and mugging are embarrassing. Rating *

Sunday, 13 August 2017

DOWN 3 DARK STREETS (1953) Directed by Arnold Laven

Arnold Laven (1922-2009) was a director who spent almost his entire career in television, making episodes of just about every series imaginable. On occasions, however, he would, emerge to direct a mid-budget feature before disappearing back into television land. Among his theatrical feature were GERONIMO, A ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO and THE GLORY GUYS, the latter from a Sam Peckinpah script. DOWN 3 DARK STREETS is, I think, one of his most interesting movies. It belongs to that sub-genre of documentary-like thriller purporting to show the investigation methods of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, complete with narration. When FBI agent Zack (played by Kenneth Tobey, taking time off from his monster fighting duties) is murdered, another agent, John "Rip" Ripey, takes on the three cases he was working on in an attempt to discover which of his investigations led to his death. The script is by the writing team of The Gordons (Gordon Gordon and his wife Mildred) based on their own novel. Four years earlier Broderick Crawford had co-starred with Glenn Ford in the film CONVICTED, Neither actors knew that both were destined to play FBI agent Ripley in different films, Crawford in the film under discussion and Ford in 1961's EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, also based on writing by The Gordons. It is perhaps a surprise to find that Gordon Gordon went on to become a stalwart of the Walt Disney studio. The cast of DOWN 3 DARK STREETS is excellent. The ever reliable Crawford headlines with Ruth Roman and Martha Hyer supplying considerable glamour in their excellent performances. Support comes from some familiar character actors including the aforementioned Kenneth Tobey, Claude Akins and William Schallert. All in all, very acceptable late night viewing. Rating ***

Martha Hyer and Broderick Crawford

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

MAMMA MIA! (2008) Directed by Phyllida Lloyd.

Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters

Okay, here goes my street cred (if I ever had any). Some films exist completely outside the given parameters of "film art" and become "events" and whether you like them or not has little to do with the cinema. This is why people queue up for the sing-a-long showings of such films as THE SOUND OF MUSIC or THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. I was never an Abba fan back in the day but I have a strong affection for MAMMA MIA! for several reason, not all associated with its quality as a film. Firstly I have seen the film on DVD at least ten times because my late partner, who was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, during the final years of her life, loved music of all kinds and even at her most disturbed she could happily settle down an watch this with me. It was probably the last film she enjoyed and as it made her so happy it has a very special place in my heart. Secondly, ever since the days of the television series CYBIL I have adored Christine Baranski and will watch her in anything. Thirdly, the film does exactly what it says on the box. It isn't Bergman, Kurosawa or even Scorsese and certainly isn't Shakespeare but it was never intended to be. It is an entertainment, no more, no less and it is expertly put together by Phyllida Lloyd and her team. Of course, there are those who never quite get it - to use a phrase, they just don't hear the music. On the subject of music I am amazed at the criticism of the singing efforts of the stars of MAMMA MIA!, most of which has been aimed at Pierce Brosnan. Somebody even suggested that all the vocals should have been over-dubbed with the original Abba recordings! The only member of the cast with a musical theatre is Baranski but everybody does fine, very unrefined nature of the vocals fits perfectly the tone of the film. Sometimes it is enough to just have fun.. Rating ****

Saturday, 5 August 2017

POWDER RIVER (1953) Directed by Louis King.

Here we go again! POWDER RIVER is yet another re-telling of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday story in which the names have been changed. Wyatt becomes Chino Bull and Holliday becomes Doc Mitch Hardin (here a doctor rather than a dentist and with a brain tumor rather than tuberculosis. Based on Stuart Lake's biography of Wyatt Earp the film draws quite heavily on John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE with the fictional Clementine becoming Debbie here. There is a street shootout at the end but this is surpassed by a well-staged gun battle on a ferry earlier in the film. Rory Calhoun is the Earp substitute and Cameron Mitchell fulfils the Holliday role. The Clanton become The Logans and it is interesting that here the script uses the names of some real-life Western badmen, Harvey Logan (played here by a suave, suited John Dehner) and his brother Loney. The real Logan was very different than depicted here and was, a couple of decades after this film is set (1875), a member of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch. French actress Corinne Calvet I found rather irritating, especially as her undoubtedly genuine French accent manages to sound fake!  Debbie is played by Penny Edwards in a meatier role than she was used to in the many B-Westerns she made with the likes of Roy Rogers and Rex Allen. The rest of the cast includes Frank Ferguson, Carl Betz and Robert J. Wilke. POWDER RIVER may be a remake of both the 1939 FRONTIER MARSHAL and the 1946 John Ford film but it has enough going for it to make it worth a look. Rating : ***


Friday, 4 August 2017


KING KONG (1933)

I first saw the original 1931 film KING KONG when it was re-released in 1950 and it is hard to explain the impact it had on me. I was four years old going on five and it is fair to say that KONG along with two other films I saw about the same time influenced me beyond all measure. The other films were Disney's SNOW WHITE and Robert Siodmak's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. These films, and you can add THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, set me as a life long fan of Monsters, fantasy and horror in the cinema. My next encounter with the gigantic ape came in the early 1960's when the film was revived at London's National Film Theatre and fans of fantastic cinema came from all over England to see it. I met several people on that day who became close friends and I was introduced to the world of "fandom". So KONG means a lot to me. Of course their were imitators, some good like MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and some not so good (but fun) like KONG (1961). Inevitably there were unnecessary remakes - an awul one in 1976 and a brilliant one in 2005 but none could supplant  the magic and revelation of that first 1950 viewing of the original. Here are the giant apes in my collection : KING KONG (1933)  SON OF KONG (1933) MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) KONGA (1961)  KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)  KING KONG ESCAPES (1967)  KING KONG (1976) KING KONG LIVES (1986)' MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1998) KING KONG (2005) KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

KONGA (1961)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

GARDEN OF EVIL (1954) Directed by Henry Hathaway,

Visually splendid Western with a first class cast that is badly let down by a stodgy script. The film is a big budget adventure  but fails to deliver any action until the last twenty five minutes preferring to  rely on endless talk. These stars are always watchable and Cooper always adds dignity and gravitas to any role - although here his character is  sketchily drawn and poor old Coop often seems ill at ease - understandably as his character could easily be dropped from the plot without much affecting the story. Motivations are all over the place. When the Indians finally attack we are presented with Apache Indians (in Mexico) who sport Mohawk style hair cuts. Budd Boetticher made a similar mistake with another tribe in the otherwise superior COMANCHE STATION. Rating : **

Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark

COUNT FIVE AND DIE (1957) Directed by Victor Vicas.

Russian born Victor Vicas (1918-1985) spent most of his career as a director in Germany and France with occasional forays into English language productions such as this. COUNT FIVE AND DIE id not really outstanding but is of some interest thanks to its uncompromising and unsentimental attitude to WW2 espionage. Nigel Patrick and Jeffrey Hunter head a team whose job is to convince the Nazis that the invasion of Europe will take place in Holland. The team soon begin to suspect that they have been infiltrated by a German spy. The lies and counter lies are well enough handled and the background of wartime London is fairly convincing given that it avoids many of the visual clich├ęs seen it other depictions of the era. As a footnote I had an uncle who (unknowingly, at the time) was involved in similar wartime deception prior to D-Day while serving in the Royal Navy. Rating **