Sunday, April 30, 2023

Runaway Train

A couple of years back when I watched the documentary Electric Boogaloo about Cannon Films, one of the movies that got a fair amount of attention in part because pretty much everyone involved with the documentary considered it one of the studio's best moves was Runaway Train. I noticed recently that it's available on TubiTV free with ads for streaming, so I recently sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

As you can guess from the highly original title, there's a runaway train, but it takes a while before we get to the train. Instead, the movie starts at the Stonhaven maximum security federal prison in Alaska. One of the prisoners is Buck McGeehy (Eric Roberts), who seems to have a surprising amount of freedom to train as a boxer. Not only that, but there are boxing nights which seems like a bad idea because there are going to be prisoners who don't like each other and encouraging violence is bound to lead to violence outside the ring. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

One of the prisoners who has a lot less freedom is Oscar "Manny" Manheim (Jon Voight), who has escaped from the place on multiple occasions in the past, and has been kept in solitary confinement by the brutal warden, Rnken (John P. Ryan). The warden is so brutal that the solitary confinement is described as Manny being welded into his cell for three years, leading to a federal civil rights case, which Manny eventually wins, leading to his release back into the general population.

Manny, for his part, is violent enough to have enemies in the general population, and at the boxing matches, he gets stabbed. This causes him to bring forward his plans to escape, and needing help, brings Buck into the plan. Since you can't have a runaway train within the walls of the prison, you can probably guess that the escape is successful, at least in the short term.

Still, it's Alaska, and it's bitter cold and snowing, so the two men have to get to the safety of warmth quickly. They make their way to a train depot and overpower two of the workers there, exchanging clothing so the prisoners won't be seen in prison uniforms. They also hop a train, or at least a group of locomotives coupled together, with just one engineer on the train. He spots the men but is overpowered and suffers a fatal heart attack. Meanwhile, his attempt to stop the train has failed in that the brakes are burned out, which is what leads to the runaway train of the title.

Back in the dispatching station, we've got a couple of dispatchers much like Walter Matthau in The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three. They try to stop the train because, as far as they know, there's nobody on the train, the engineer having been found dead after falling off the train when he had his heart attack. Ranken doesn't know where his two fleeing prisoners are, but it's not going to take too long for him to put two and two together and determine that the prisoners are on the train.

And it just so happens that the prisoners aren't the only one on the train. Somebody blows the horn, and a young employee, Sara (Rebecca De Mornay) is also on the train. Her function is basically to serve as a sort of Greek chorus, informing the fugitives and the audience of the situation the two men face, and being a bit of moderation between them since they have divergent personalities. It also seems, as if the film is falling prey to one of the more common tropes, that Sara is falling in love with Buck....

When watching the opening credits of Runaway Train, one of the names you'll see is Japanese director Akira Kurosawa getting a writing credit. It turns out that he had read a news story back in the early 1960s about a runaway train, and wrote the genesis for the story we see here, but funding fell through and Kurosawa's movie was never made. Still, his name on the credits lends the movie a sensibility that's a bit different from other Hollywood action movies. In any case, the movie works, and it's easy to see why Runaway Train got a reputation as Cannon Films' finest hour.

Surprisingly to me, the movie also picked up Oscar nominations for both Voight and Roberts. The thing is, I didn't think of the roles as particularly demanding in the sense of Oscar-type acting. Physically yes; emotionally not so much. Not that this takes anything away from the film, which is highly entertaining and definitely extremely well-made. It's absolutely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

I've always wanted to see the Faroes

Every time I open up the Watch TCM app, I look for movies about to leave the app. With this past month being dedicated to Warner Bros.' 100th anniversary, there are quite a lot of movies that I've already blogged about, but even then I can still find a movie or two that I haven't seen before, much less blogged about. For today's post, I recently watched the epic Land of the Pharaohs.

The pharaoh in question is Khufu, also known as Cheops, and played by Jack Hawkins who is oh so obviously Egyptian. Khufu is one of the pharaohs known for having a great pyramid built in his honor, which also served as his burial place. Ancient Egyptian tradition had powerful figures like pharaohs buried with a substantial amount of their stuff to accompany them into the afterlife (or the "second life" as it's referred to in this movie). As a result, and from past experience, Khufu is terribly worried about the thought of grave robbers. That's part of the reason later pharaohs like Tutankhamen were buried in much more non-descript places, as it would be more difficult for grave robbers to find the graves.

Anyhow, the question for Khufu is just how to make that grave impregnable to would-be grave robbers. To that end, he asks his chief architect Vashtar (James Robertson Justice), who just happens to be a slave in addition to Khufu's architect. Vashtar had been captured in one of Khufu's many wars of conquest, prized for his skill. Vashtar might be willing to help Khufu, but at a price: he wants the group of slaves captured alongside him to be freed upon completion of the pyramid. Vashtar knows he's going to be killed anyway since Khufu isn't going to let anybody with the secret to the security measures remain alive, so what difference does it make if Khufu says no and kills him now, or kills him at the end? Besides, Khufu needs Vashtar's knolwedge.

The other problem is that it's pretty darn expensive to build a pyramid. Oh, Khufu seems to have enough slave labor for now, but it's sitll going to cost to get the stones, and there's all that stuff that he wants buried with him. He's already raised taxes on his subjects, and they're bristling at that, so he needs to go on more conquests to be able to spread the tax levy across more people. In one of those wars, in Cyprus, the defeated side decides to give their most beautiful princess away to become one of Khufu's queens. Khufu, obviously thinking with the wrong head, accepts, and Princess Nellifer (Joan Collins) goes to Egypt.

Nellifer immediately finds out about all the stuff Khufu is going to have buried with him and gets jealous, understandably wondering what the use of all that stuff is just buried underground, she obviously not believing in Egyptian religious traditions about the second life. But Khufu doesn't trust anybody, not even Nellifer, to go into the treasure room.

The other problem for Khufu is that with it taking so long to build the pyramid, Vashtar is getting old, and going blind. He may not be able to complete building the pyramid and overseeing the security measures before he goes blind, but that entails the danger of letting somebody else, such as his son Senta (Dewey Martin) in on the secret.

Parts of Land of the Pharaohs are lovely to look at, and there's certainly a fair bit of spectacle here. But other parts of the movie are bogged down by an uninspired story. It's another one of those movies where everybody does the best they can with the material they're given, except that it's subpar material. Jack Hawkins is the best of the actors here, although even he doesn't have all that much to do. It's as if Warner Bros. spent a ton of money going over to Italy and Egypt to get permission to do all the filming and so much on the would-be epic sets that they didn't have money left over to get a story that really works. Or if they did, they spent it on too many screenwriters. Three, including William Faulkner, are credited.

But if you want to see what Hollywood was doing in the mid-1950s to try to compete with television, a spectacle like Land of the Pharaohs is a good example of that.

Friday, April 28, 2023


Another movie that I noticed was about to disappear from the Watch TCM app is another one that I had surprisingly never heard of before: Scarecrow. Thanks to the starpower and the interesting enough synopsis, I decided to give it a watch.

The two stars are Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, both relatively early in their careers. They're a couple of men who seem like they're down on their luck, as they're both on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. (Fortunately neither of them uses Claudette Colbert's method of getting cars to stop.) They don't know each other yet, although they're about to get to know each other. Pacino plays Francis Delbuchi, but Hackman's character, Max, doesn't care for the name Francis, so asks Francis his middle name and, on finding out it's Lionel, starts calling him Lion. It's the start of a relationship that's an uneasy friendship, in part because of both of the men's personalities.

Max is a convict fresh out of prison having serve several years. He's got a sister in Denver, and is planning to stop and see her along the way, but he's really hoping to get to Pittsburgh. That's because the money that he's earned doing whatever low-paid work the prison has given him as resulted in a four-figure bankroll, which isn't a whole lot, but at least was more back in the early 1970s.

Lion is former merchant marine, having been recently demobbed. He joined the merchant marine becaue some years back he knocked up his wife but couldn't handle being a father and couldn't support her. So he went to sea nd has been sending the money to his wife in Detroit, where she and the now five-year-old kid are supposed to be living. Lion hasn't even seen the kid and doesn't know whether it's a boy or a girl.

The two travel together across the country, making the decision that both of them will go to Pittsburgh together and use Max's money to start a car wash, this still being the era before automatic car washes and franchises. It's a good reason to keep the two characters together over the course of the movie. Things don't always work out for them, however, as the two of them go out for a night on the town with Max's sister in Denver and her friends, which leads to a fight and Max and Lionel having to serve a month in the low-security prison work farm, and threatening to break up the friendship.

As for Lion, well, he does make it to Detroit and finds that his wife is still living at the address he has on file, and even has the same phone number. But he also finds that... well, I'm not really going to give that away, and what happens after Lionel meets his wife.

Scarecrow is, despite its two stars, a relatively little movie. It's also the sort of movie that I can see sharply dividing people's opinions on whether or not they like it. It's a movie that is a bit short of plot, being more about the characters' journey and the people they meet along the way instead. There are movies in that genre that are excellent, such as Harry and Tonto. On the other hand, I really found myself left cold by Scarecrow, as I could really feel the "whole lot of nothing going on" as it was going on. This even though it's not as though the actors do anything wrong in their performances. I guess it's more that the two are plaing characters not particularly likeable, unlike Art Carney in the aforementioned Harry and Tonto. The twist at the end was also maddening and didn't seem like a logical resolution to the plot to me.

But as I said, I can see why there are people who would really like Scarecrow, finding it quirky and enjoying the acting. So it's definitely one you should watch for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks for April 27, 2023: Lukewarm second season (TV Edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's also the final Thursday of the month, so that means a TV-related edition. This time out, the theme is "lukewarm second seasons". That is, shows that had a good opening season followed by a not-so-good second season. This was a bit tough for me, so in the end I decided to pick three shows that I think all got canceled midway through the second season:

I'll Fly Away (1991-1993). Sam Waterston plays a widowed (technically the wife is in a sanatorium to start the series and dies midway through the first season) North Carolina district attorney dealing with the earlier years of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. Regina Taylor plays the family's common-sense maid. As you might guess, the show touched on Important Issues, but in the second season it got even more blunt and preachy. After the show's cancellation, PBS produced a two-hour TV movie to wrap up the story arc.

The Mole (2001-2002). Anderson Cooper hosted this competition show in which the producers had one of the contestants be "the mole", a player who may or may not be sabotaging the other contestants, with the others having to figure out who the mole is and getting eliminated if they don't know enough. I don't think the second season was that much worse than the first, although for whatever reason it got pulled midway through the second season. Well, there was the twist about polling the remaining players about which fellow contestant they liked least, and then offering that contestant a cash payout to leave, which seems like a lousy twist. ABC eventually rebooted it, with celebrities, which is even worse.

Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Apparently, this may not have been cancelled during the second season, as the first season was a mini-season. I was a freshman in college when the show was on, and it was a huge deal among certain people, although I never got it, and it just seemed to keep getting weirder and weirder.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Incredible Mr. Limpet

One of the movies that was about to expire on the Watch TCM app was The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Since I had never blogged about it here before, I decided to watch it so that I could do a post about it here.

Don Knotts plays Henry Limpet, although we only first see him in a photograph. That photo is in the archives of the Pentagon in the present day (well, 1964 when the movie was released) because the whole Henry Limpet case is top secret dating back to World War II. Now, however, thanks to the help of a flashback, we're able to learn the story of Henry Limpet....

It's the days just before World War II, and Henry Limpet is a mild-mannered man who seems more insterested in fish than anything else, even though he was able to pick up a wife Bessie (Carole Cook) somehow along the way. She's the sort of long-suffering wife, feeling herself playing second fiddle to all the fish that Henry keeps, and his feelings that fish must have a much better life than humans do. It's so bad that Henry's best friend, US Navy sailor George Stickel (Jack Weston) can see it and takes an interest in Bessie.

Everybody knows there's about to be a war on, and indeed the movie seems to indicate at first that the US is already at war although we see a newspaper headline about Pearl Harbor later in the movie. In any case, this is more plot exposition to point out that Henry can't serve in the navy even though he wanted to, thanks to his extreme nearsightedness that requires him to wear thick eyeglasses that make him look even more like a dork than you'd think if you think of the stereotype of Don Knotts as Barney Fife or from later seasons of Three's Company. Those glasses are going to become a plot point, although I'm getting ahead of myself a bit.

The Limpets and Stickel spend a day out on the town at Coney Island together, but tragedy strikes when Henry falls off the pier into the ocean. It's a tragedy for Bessie and George as Henry is never seen again. Surprisingly, however, it's not much of a tragedy for Henry. He has such a misperception about the life of a fish that he's practially taken to wishing he could be a fish himself. And when he falls off the pier, something magical happens, in that Limpet doesn't drown, but gets turned into a fish, with all following scenes of him being animated (and of course Knotts providing the voice of Mr. Limpet).

Limpet first runs into Crusty the Crab (Paul Frees), and then is met by a female fish who has no comprehension of a lot of the human things that Limpet talks about. She doesn't even understand the concept of a name, but is given the name Ladyfish (voiced by Elizabeth MacRae) by Limpet. As for Henry, in addition to having been turned into a fish, he's also been given a hellacious roar that can be useful in scaring away anything that would be scared by such a roar, or drawing attention from those whose attention he'd like.

And then Pearl Harbor happens. Mr. Limpet is still in the Atlantic, but the war is going on there as well with German U-boats attacking Allied shipping convoys crossing the Atlantic. Henry finally sees a way that he could be of use to the military. He can swim underwater and spot all the German submarines, which the Americans could then fire upon. Of course, there's a bit of a problem, which is how is he going to inform the Americans of all this? He tries, and understandably the naval authorities wonder what the hell is going on. Henry's memories of his best friend George, now in the navy, come in quite useful here....

The Incredible Mr. Limpet is an odd little movie, but one that actually works surprisingly well as light entertainment. Because of the animation it's easy enough to see why one would want to show it to kids. But there's also a lot grown-up going on. Not only are there the live-action scenes that might be a bit slow going for kids, especially because it takes a good half hour or so before we get to the animation. There's also some adult humor that might go over kids' heads, especially when it comes to Ladyfish's sex drive.

All in all, The Incredible Mr. Limpet is a fun enough movie even if it has some flaws, and is definitely worth a watch.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Harry Belafonte, 1927-2023

Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte in a publicity still from Carmen Jones

The death has been announced of singer and sometimes actor Harry Belafonte. Belafonte, who was in many ways responsible for the calypso craze of the late 1950s, was 96. That latter was also recorded on film, with such hilariously awful movies (that Belafonte had nothing to do with, it should be pointed out) as Bop Girl Goes Calypso.

Belafonte only made a handful of dramatic (ie. non-documentary movies), and all of the ones I've seen are interesting, although I have to say that they're generally interesting for reasons other than Belafonte's presence in the cast. It's Dorothy Dandrige and Pearl Bailey, for example, that give Carmen Jones its irrepressible energy, and child star Philip Hepburn in Bright Road. Belafonte was pleasant enough on screen, but everybody around him seemed to have more heft.

I think it's in part because of that that certainly Belafonte's singing career is going to be more mentioned in the obituaries, as well as his social activism. I haven't looked it up to see whether TCM is going to have a tribute to him in May or June, but he made a small enough number of movies that it would probably have to be limited to a Sunday night before Silent Sunday Nights double feature of probably two out of Bright Road, The World, The Flesh, and the Devil, and Odds Against Tomorrow.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Not the frequent Love Boat guest star

Another movie that I noticed was on one of the streaming services and had never seen before was the Elvis Presley western Charro! (exclamation point in the title). Never having seen it before, I decided to watch it so I could do a post on it here.

Elvis plays Jess Wade, who at the start of the movie is going to a small Mexican village because he's learned that his girlfriend Tracey Winters (Ina Balin) is there. He walks into the bar, no pun intended, and finds that instead of Tracey, he's got Billy Hackett, the younger brother of Vince Hackett (Victor French) waiting for him. Victor is the leader of a criminal gang, and Jess happened to be in that gang in the past before quitting his life of crime. (The movie was released after the disintegration of the Production Code, so you can have a darker past for the Jess Wade character and get away with it.) Victor wants Jess back for reasons that are soon to be revealed.

After Hackett disarms Jess in a putative shootout, no shots necessary since the Hackett gang badly outnumbers Jess, they take him more or less hostage and take him up into the mountains, where the gang has its hideout. It's there that Jess learns what the gang has been doing after he left. It seems they stole a Mexican cannon that Emperor Maximilian had used during the French occupation. In theory, that ought to be moderately bad, but this is a special cannon, in that it's been gold-plated. This seems highly inconvenient to me, in that the gold plating would wear off, but in any case that gold plating is worth a lot.

Worse for Jess is that the authorities have a wanted poster out, with the authorities knowing that one of the thieves is about Jess' height and has a very noticeable scar on his neck from the shootout when the cannon was stolen. Now, Jess doesn't have that scar, so he should be in the clear. But obviously Vince Hackett thought of that, having his men hold Jess down and brand Jess so that it will look just like the scar the putative thief is supposed to have. He's able to get a horse and get back to town, but his troubles are not over by any stretch of the imagination.

He's able to befriend the sheriff and the sheriff's daughter, especially once he arrests Vince's little brother, being named a deputy in the process, but the arrest of the kid brother is really going to bring problems as Vince wants his brother back, and has the cannon to use against the town should they not accede to his blackmail demands. And then the town learns about Jess' past, and that he has that scar that makes him look lie the description of the man in the wanted poster....

Charro! is different than most of Elvis' movies in that he does very little singing here, singing just the title song, and certainly not having any of the sort of musical numbers he did in his other movies. That said, he's very competent in what is a relatively serious western. Charro! received bad reviews at the time, but I don't see why. Granted, it's more in tone with the programmer westerns of the 1950s and 1960s instead of the post-Code westerns, but it does what it does well enough. I've always thought from some of Elvis' earlier movies that if Col. Tom Parker hadn't put Elvis in all those cookie-cutter musicals, Elvis could have had a solid career as an actor, if not remembered as a great. Charro! is more evidence of that, and is definitely worth watching.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Maybe there's something true here

A movie that for some reason sounded familiar even though a search of the blog claims I'd never posted about it is one that recently ran on TCM thanks to the salute to Warner Bros.: The Truth About Youth. As it turns out, I don't think I'd seen it before; instead, it's more that a lot of these early talkies seem to flow together.

The two youths (no My Cousin Vinny jokes, please) are played by a very young Loretta Young and David Manners. He's Richard Dane, nicknamed "The Imp", and is the orphaned son of parents who died quite a few years in the past. He's being raised by a friend of his father's, Richard Carewe (Conway Tearle), who is one of three guardians, although the one who is the most important in raising young Richard. Loretta Young plays Phyllis Ericson, the daughter of the elder Richard's maid. The elder Richard, and pretty much all of the older adults in this movie, just know that young Richard and Phyllis would be right for each other and should get married now that young Richard is 21, much like the Joel McCrea and Frances Dee characters in One Man's Journey.

But a couple of things happen to make this marriage that the parental types are trying to arrange more complicated. One is that Phyllis likes young Richard as a friend, but doesn't honestly love him. Instead, she loves the elder Richard, which is somewhat creepy considering that in real life there was an alomst 35-year age difference between Young and Tearle. But if that's bad, wait until you see what young Richard gets up to.

There's a new nightclub in town, and that club brings in a singer named Kara (Myrna Loy in the vamp phase of her career) who goes by the nickname the Firefly. Young Richard sees her perform, and is immediately taken by her. Never mind all the warnings that she's supposedly a gold-digger who is into relationships for the money that men can bring her. And never mind that young Richard isn't really rich, even though the elder Richard is and if anything has been throwing money away on other people instead of himself. Young Richard gets a meeting backstage with Kara, and lies about how much he's worth so that she'll keep seeing him.

Indeed, young Richard is so taken with Kara that he prettmy much asks her to marry him on the spot. She writes him a letter in which she basically agrees, but young Richard gets extremely drunk and drops the note at home. Phyllis comes across the letter, and this is where the fact taht two of the characters are named Richard comes into play. In most movies, the writers try to avoid giving the same first name unless it's based on real people or there's a plot need for it. Here, the two Richards having the same name allows the elder Richard to tell Phyllis that the letter was actually for him, not young Richard. The elder Richard doesn't realize that Phyllis wants him and not the younger Richard, and so comes up with a way to try to get Kara to end the relationship with young Richard. We know he only needs to wait until Kara finds out young RIchard isn't rich after all.

The Truth About Youth is an interesting little early talkie, mostly for the presence of Myrna Loy. I think a lot of people who are into old movies, especially from the pre-Code era, will already know that Myrna Loy played a lot of vamps and femmes fatales at that point of her career. For those who aren't so well aware of that, this role may come across as a bit of a surprise. And boy is Loy's character interesting, made up n what is obviously garish makeup even though the movie is in black and white.

The movie may also be interesting for its attitudes about relationships in the early 1930s, although as I was watching I couldn't help but wonder what if any relationship the movie has with the truth. The title is misleading in that I didn't feel like there was that much about truth or about youth here. But The Truth About Youth is still definitely worth watching for fans of early talkies.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Jack the Giant Killer

Another movie that I came across on one or another of the streaming services was Edward Small's early 1960s production of Jack the Giant Killer.

The movie informs us that ages ago, Cornwall was ruled by an evil prince named Pendragon (Torin Thatcher), who had a command of magic and was able to control all the witches and other associated legendary creatures. But he was defeated and banished to a castle on an island well off shore, and Cornwall is now ruled by benevolent King Mark. Mark has a daughter Elaine (Judi Meredith), who is also the Crown Princess, and as the movie opens it's her birthday.

Who should show up to celebrate but Pendragon in disguise? He brings a fairly remarkable gift, a music box that opens to reveal a dancing jester. This is, as you can probably guess, a ruse, as Pendragon has magic that will allow the mechanical jester to grow in size and become a giant who can kidnap Elaine and take her back to Pendragon's castle, something that would pose serious problems for the King.

The good news is that the kidnapping is foiled by Jack (Kerwin Mathews), which is how he gets the title of giant killer. It also gets him a knighthood, as well as the love of Elaine. But since all of this happens in the first 20 minutes or so, you know that the movie isn't over by a long shot, and that Pendragon has a few tricks up his sleeve, or a lot of tricks. Jack is given the job of sailing Elaine across the English Channel to a convent where she'll be safe from Pendragon and can stay until the King's death at which point Elaine would become queen. But Pendragon uses his magic to figure out what's going to happen, and is able to kidnap Elaine.

The game is on to find Elaine, made more important by the fact that Pendragon has used his magic to cast a spell on Elaine that turns her into a witch who can do Pendragon's bidding while looking benign to people on the outside as long as she isn't looking into Pendragon's mirror. Pendragon informs Mark that if he doesn't abdicate in a week, Pendragon will kill him, finalizing Pendragon's plan to rule alongside Elaine, since the throne would rightly be Elaine's in any case.

The fairy-tale nature of the story, combined with the use of stop-motion photography to handle the magical creatures, make Jack the Giant Killer the sort of movie that should naturally appeal to kids. It's also nicely photographed in Technicolor. Sure, it's not a great movie for adults, but the kids won't notice the relatively thin plotline. Any plot holes can be explained away by magic anyhow.

So Jack the Giant Killer is a good movie for some people, but maybe not everybody.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

I have to admit that another genre I haven't watched all that much of is the Hammer horror film. A bunch of them were distributed by Warner Bros. in the US, which is how they could show up in TCM's 100th anniversary salute to Warner Bros. With that in mind, and seeing that a couple of them were about to leave the Watch TCM app, I decided to watch Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.

Apparently, Dracula (Christopher Lee) was killed off in the previous movie in the series, which I haven't seen. But his spirit lingers over the village where his castle is located, and this leaves the villagers terrified. So the Monsignor (Rupert Davies) heads off to the castle to perform an exorcism, which it is hoped will destroy Dracula once and for all. Fat chance, of course, since we wouldn't have a movie otherwise.

What happens here is that as the Monsignor is performing the exorcism, there's a thunderstorm that passes directly overhead, and the priest accompanying the Monsignor is knocked down during the storm, getting a concussion and some lacerations. The blood just happens to flow right into the ice in which Dracula had been buried alive and presumed frozen, so once Dracula tastes the blood, he's very much alive again, and boy is he pissed.

This Dracula, however, doesn't seem to turn people into vampires by biting them, instead making them slaves who are forced to do his bidding. Dracula learns from the priest that it was the Monsignor who did the exorcism, and that the Monsignor has a lovely niece Maria (Veronica Carlson) whose sould Dracula wants because even Dracula apparently has a sex drive.

Meanwhile, Maria has a new boyfriend in the form of Paul (Barry Andrews) who hs shown up in town and is willing to marry Maria. But he's an atheist, which understandably bothers everybody else who finds out about it. And of course, not having any religion, it's going to be hard to do the religious rituals everybody else believes are necessary to deal with a vampire.

Perhaps it's necessary to see the Hammer horror films in sequence, since there are so many with Dracula and so many with Frankenstein; not having seen the previous Dracula movies, it's possible that I was missing key info that contemporary viewers would have known. In any case, I found the movie OK, but certainly nothing great.

One thing it did have going for it was a great visual style. Apparently director Freddie Francis used particular color filters to make the movie, with various locations getting various filters. Whatever he did, the color scheme was definitely noticeable to me.

Perhaps people who are bigger fans of horror movies will enjoy Dracula Has Risen from the Grave more than I did, or maybe I just needed to be in the right mood or watch it in October. In any case, I'm not certain when I'll be visiting more Hammer horror films.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Briefs for April 20-21, 2023

This being a month dedicated to Warner Bros. on TCM, it's unsurprising that most of what's on is stuff I've already seen especially over the 15-plus years that I've been blogging. One movie that is definitely worth recommending again, if only for the insane casting is The Oklahoma Kid, which will be on at 3:00 PM, April 21. Neither James Cagney nor Humphrey Bogart were well-suited to westerns, and certainly not the sort of western Warner Bros. put them in. Bogart commented that Cagney looked like a mushroom in that 10-gallon hat the studio put him in.

Surprisingly, the picture I used to illustrate The Oklahoma Kid still shows up when I see the post I linked above, a post written back at the end of 2009. I was using Photobucket back then, since it was a free and easy-to-use photo hosting service that had obvious link naming for pictures one uploaded. I don't recall how many years ago it was that Photobucket decided to go to a mostly-paid model and screw up embedding photos. But over the past couple of weeks I've been getting even nastier nastygrams from them telling them the account has been deactivated because they no longer support free accounts at all. And yet, the picture is there, if heavily watermarked.

Somebody at FXM has a sense of humor, or at least is trying to think halfway creatively when programming the channel. The April 21 schedule includes, in order:
The 1944 (Laird Cregar) version of The Lodger at 7:15 AM;
The House on 92nd Street (a very entertaining docudrama) at 8:40 AM;
House of Strangers, a pretty good drama remade as the western Broken Lance, at 10:10 AM; and
The House on Telegraph Hill at 11:55 AM. A lot of houses there.

Finally, when I watched Bullets or Ballots recently, I noticed it was an 82-minute movie programmed into a 1:45 slot. This gave TCM more than enough time to insert a short, which was one of their bandleader shorts which were a thing in the late 1930s and the 1940s. This one was Swing Cat's Jamboree, starring Louis Prima and his musicians and singers. It's nothing particularly special if you're not a big fan of the music, although Louis Prima is a more remembered name nowadays than some of the other bandleaders who were spotlighted. As of right now, this one is on Youtube:

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

My Favorite Wife meets The Pawnbroker

As I was looking through the various streaming channels and their on-demand services, I came across a new-to-me movie that had a synopsis that sounded interesting to me: Enemies, a Love Story. Because of that interesting synopsis, I decided I'd sit down and watch the movie.

Ron Silver plays Herman Broder. At the beginning of the movie, he's having a nightmare. It's his native Poland during World War II, and Herman and his wife Tamara are Jewish, still hiding out at the house in the country. Sure enough, the Nazis show up and find Tamara, taking her away to a concentration camp to be killed. Herman wakes up from the nightmare, and it's 1949 in Coney Island, where Herman now lives, having survived the war.

Fortunately for him, he has a good wife in the form of Jadwiga (Margaret Sophie Stein), who was a non-Jewish servant at the Broder place which is why she was able to stay on during the war and help hide the Broders. They both left for America after the war and got married. Jadwiga does the housewife thing while Herman does research and ghost writing for Rabbi Lembeck (Alan King).

It's not the happiest of marriages, however, as Herman is having an affair with Masha (Lena Olin). Masha, for her part, is also married (her husband is played by the movie's director, Paul Mazursky, in a brief cameo), and somewhat more up front about claiming it's an unhappy marriage. She keeps pressing Herman to get a divorce from Jadwiga so he can marry Masha, but he dithers about what to do.

If that's not bad enough, things are about to get a whole lot more complicated for Herman. He discovers there's a personal ad for him in the paper, suggesting that he go to a certain address. He does go, and what does he find? Tamara (Anjelica Huston) has survived the concentration camp! She learned that Herman became a refugee like all those other Jews and went to New York, so she's followed him for the fairly unsurprising reason that most people's conception of God would insist that the two are still morally married even if a court could have declared Tamara legally dead.

At least Tamara might be able to accept that Herman had logical reason to believe that she had in fact died, and that it would be logical for him to find a new wife -- and you can understand that people like Herman and Jadwiga might fall in love out of a shared emotional bond that grew from having to work together to survive the Nazis. So Tamara is somewhat willing to entertain the idea that she's not going to be Herman's de facto wife any longer.

That's about the only piece of good news for Herman, who hears from Jadwiga that she's pregnant, and learns from Masha that she too is pregnant. Two wives, and a mistress, and two children on the way, with one of them illegitimate? What's a man to do?

Enemies, a Love Story is based on a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer; as I said at the beginning, the movie has a really interesting premise. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but feel like the movie has trouble finding the proper tone. A movie like My Favorite Wife, or, I suppose, Too Many Husbands can easily deal with the material as a farce. Here, however, that sort of farcical idea is sitting on top of characters who survived the Holocaust, something that seems rather less ripe for humor, this being several years before Life is Beautiful and not having a prominent juvenile character. I haven't read the book, so I wouldn't be surprised if Singer was able to come up with the right tone in print.

Still, a lot of other reviewers have heaped high praise on Enemies, a Love Story, while the Academy recognized the quality of the acting by nominating both Huston and Olin for Supporting Actress Oscars. So I wouldn't be surprised if other people watch this movie and like it a lot where I have more of a lukewarm opinion of the movie.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Bullets or Ballots

One of the 1930s Warner Bros. movies TCM ran in honor of the studio's 100th anniversary this month that I had surprisingly not seen before was Bullets or Ballots, so I recorded it and recently sat down to watch it in and among the more recent that seem to dominate the streaming services.

Prohibition has ended, and the gangsters that were bootlegging liquor need new rackets to go into. One of those rackets in New York is run by Al Kruger (Barton MacLane) and his second-in-command "Bugs" Fenner (Humphrey Bogart; the movie having been released in 1936, Bogart was not yet a star). Kruger is the sensible one and the only person in this part of the gang who knows the identities of the real money men. Fenner, for his part, is much more hot-headed and willing to use violence to get what he wants for the gang, or really himself. Kruger knows that this is only goin to bring the government down much harder on the gangs, so opposes violence.

Fenner gets his way, sort of. Ward Bryant is the local politician crusading against crime and presumably angling for higher office. Kruger figures they can lay low and weather the storm, perhaps by bribing some jurors. After all, he's been on trial multiple times, but always gotten off. Fenner, however, doesn't believe any of this guff, so takes it into his own hands to kill Bryant! As you can probably guess, he should have listened to Kruger.

Neither Bogart nor MacLane is the star of the proceedings, however. That honor goes to Edward G. Robinson. He plays Johnny Blake, an all-American police officer who happens to be just familiar enough with the gangs. This causes the new police commissioner to fire him suddenly, although one can guess that this is a ruse to free up Blake so that he can go undercover and go after the Kruger gang. Blake's familiarity with the gangs is in part because of an old flame in the form of Lee Morgan (Joan Blondell), who runs small-time rackets up in the Bronx. Working with Lee is Nellie LaFleur (Louise Beavers), getting a role about as respectable and equal to whites as you can expect from a 1930s movie. She's come up with the idea of setting up a numbers game in Harlem, and has been successful enogh to earn her and Lee a tidy sum of money.

As you can guess, Kruger and Fennel learn about this and would like the money, too. Krugr by this time has made the mistake of bringing on Blake, thinking that Blake can tell them how to get around the cops when in fact Blake is still working for the cops as an undercover plant. Thanks to the Production Code, none of this is too difficult to figure out. Fenner is no dummy, and keeps having Blake tailed and bugged, looking for proof that Johnny is still in cahoots with the cops. Fenner is also much more forceful in his desire to get that numbers money from Lee and Nellie.

Bullets or Ballots is all predictable, but this being Warner Bros., you know they're going to be good at making programmers and especially programmers in the crime/gangster area. Sure enough, the movie never stops entertaining, all the way to its conclusion. Robinson is good if not quite rightly cast, while Blondell and Bogart are the two standouts. MacLane's is a bit of a lesser figure, but in some ways the material really calls for that since the higher-ups -- especially those masterminds whose identities only he knows -- have a tendency to stick to the shadows. Think Louis Calhern in The Asphalt Jungle or Alexander Scourby in The Big Heat.

If you want to watch a good example of the sort of programmer Warner Bros. was churning out in the mid-30s, Bullets or Ballots is just as good as any of the others.

Monday, April 17, 2023

A competition

I did a review of the Elizabeth Taylor movie Rhapsody not too long ago. I was thinking of that movie when I recently watched The Competition, as both have decided classical music themes and a stock plot.

The Competition opens up with Paul Dietrich (Richard Dreyfuss) winning third place in a midwestern piano competition. You'd think that's pretty good, but there's a glut of would-be concert pianists out there, and third-best in one region isn't quite going to cut it for trying to become a concert pianist. It doesn't help that Paul is the stock character type of the standoffish heterodox player, similar to the sort of cop you see in 70s and 80s police movies, only with the character traits transferred to a classical pianist. He's got a job offer to become a... public school music teacher. Yippee.

His parents suggest he take one last chance, to submit an audition tape to a prestigious competition held every year in San Francisco. They've been subsidizing him to this point, and don't want to see him fail. Paul feels that if he can only come in third in the midwest, how can he win a much bigger national competition. But he enters anyway, since it's the last year he can enter before he reaches the age limit. Besides, he's not so certain he wants to become a school teacher, having seen what it's done to his best friend.

Then there's young Heidi Schoonover (Amy Irving). She clearly comes from a much richer family, and they have the money to have a prestigious music teacher like Greta Vandermann (Lee Remick), who can trace her musical tutlage back to Beethoven, give her one-on-one masterclasses. Heidi isn't certain she's good enough for a competition like the one out in San Francisco, so Greta greases the skids by sending in a tape for Heidi. Unsurprisingly, both Heidi and Paul are selected among the 12 semifinalists, or else we wouldn't have much of a movie.

So our two protagonists make their way out to San Francisco, where they find they've been pitted against a bunch of other stock characters. There's Jerry DiSalvo (Joseph Cali), who looks like he could be the same character John Travolta played in Saturday Night Fever, only moved from disco over to classical music. He figures that the competition might be a good way to get a gig at one of the Las Vegas hotels. I mean, have you seen how much money Liberace makes?. There's a nice enough but slightly odd black guy who thankfully isn't there to go on about racism (I say thankfully because that would have been a supremely easy trap for the screenwriters to fall into); a nondescript guy; and, the other important character Tatjana, a young Soviet pianist who was obviously invited in the spirit of détente. Tatjana and her music teacher are kept on a close leash by their Soviet handlers, but the teacher has been planning this as a way to defect in what is the big subplot of the movie.

I suppose you could technically call it the second subplot. The competition is supposed to be the main plot, but alongside that is the relationship between Paul and Heidi. They apparently know each other from music school days, but Paul has that reputation for being a bit of a rebel and difficult to deal with, and Heidi has certainly had to deal with that before. But you also know that the two are going to fall in (and possibly back out of) love while the competition is going on.

The big problem with The Competition is the extent to which it relies on hoary plot lines and characterizations. The bright spot is the piano music. Now, none of the actors involved could play piano at a competition level, but a music teacher was brought in to train these actors in how to fake it to look like they really were playing the pieces, to a more realistic standard than a lot of other movies and TV shows. The producers hired real up-and-coming pianists to do the actual playing of the concerti in the competition. They didn't get a real conductor, instead casting Sam Wanamaker to play the temperamental (what a surprise) conductor.

If you like classical music, then you'll probably enjoy the classical music scenes in The Competition. Having said that, the rest of the music is terribly dated to late-era disco. Surprisingly, the movie also received an Oscar nomination for the song that plays over the closing credits. I say surprisingly because, as I've mentioned in posts on other movies from 1980, that year was an extremely strong year for original songs and there was a lot that could have gotten the fifth slot over the song here.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Summer of '42

I was looking through the Watch TCM app for some older movies just about to expire from the app to watch and do reviews on. That's how I came up with the ide of posting on My Past the other day. Another movie about to leave the app was "only" as old as 1971: Summer of '42. Surprisingly, I had never actually watched it before, so I finaly got around to watching it so that I could do a review on it here.

The movie, as you can guess is set in the summer of 1952, which means that Wold War II is raging and is going to be a part of the plot. However, that's not what the movie is really about. Instead, the movie tells us about one Herman "Hermie" Raucher (played by Gary Grimes, with the movie's director Richard Mulligan providing voiceovers from the perspective of an adult Raucher). In those days, it wasn't uncommon for middle-class people to get away for the summer, with the Raucher family going to Nantucket Island for the season. However, for kids like 15-year-old Hermie, it wouldn't do to spend an entire summer there without their friends, so parents coordinated to make certain multiple friends were able to go together. In this case, that means Hermie is on the island for the summer together with his best friends Oscy (Jerry Houser) and Benjie (Oliver Conant).

Being 15 years old and going through puberty, it's only natural that the three have lots of thoughts of sex. At the same time, being only 15 years old it's not as though any of them has actually "made it" (to use a line from Harry and Tonto) or even has a good idea of what sex, love, and romance are really like. But they'd like to think they know.

One day while at the beach, they happen to see Dorothy (Jennifer O'Neill), a young bride who's married a GI in one of those hurried marriages that happened in those days because the groom is just about to go off to fight the war. All three are at least somewhat interested in the idea of the nice-looking older woman, but it's Hermie who really starts having sexual thoughts about it. The feelings are strong enough that when he sees Dorothy struggling with her groceries, he offers to help, just to be close to her. He acts older than he is, although that presents problems when he tries coffee for the first time.

Hermie has more meetings with Dorothy, as he's actively looking for them, and he really starts having sexual thoughts when he helps move boxes and sees her in short shorts as a result. But he's still just a boy, with friends his age who feel like they're more likely to have success with girls their own age. Girls tend to mature earlier than boys, which I suppose is part of why it's less common in real life for teenage boys to be involved with a 20-something woman than the other way round. Oscy and the other boys run into a group of girls, and Oscy finagles this into a date, at least for him and Hermie; Oscy rather rudely leaves Benjie with the homely girl and the two don't want to be hooked up.

Hermie still thinks about sex, whether it be trying to cop a feel with the girl Oscy set him up with, or more usually about Dorothy. As such, there's not all that much to the plot of the movie more than being a slice-of-life story, at least until one day when something fateful happens....

Summer of '42 is based on things that happened to the real-life Herman Raucher, who would go on to become a screenwriter and novelist. Raucher did quite a good job at creating an atmosphere of innocence in young boys who hadn't yet experienced any of the loss that World War II was going to bring to a whole lot of people. As such, it's easy to see why the movie became a sleeper hit when it was released back in 1971. A lot of people were looking for nostalgia, which this movie gives in spades. It's also nicely photographed.

I think there are a lot of people out there who will like this movie, especially if they want that nostalgia kick. I didn't dislike the movie, although I will admit that I think other people will like it more than I did. I'd also suggest that I think it would work great on a double bill with Woody Allen's Radio Days, which is a lighter-hearted look at the same era. Summer of '42 is definitely worth watching if you haven't seen it before.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Hercules (1958)

I've watched several of the Bible-themed movies that were spectacles back in the 1950s and early 1960s, but not so many of the sword-and-sandal Italian movies. Recently, I noticed that the 1958 version of Hercules was available on one or another of the streaming services, so I decided to watch it.

Surprisingly, there are two somewhat recognizable names in the cast. The first is Steve Reeves, a former professional bodybuilder from the US who was hired by the Italian studio probably because he'd come cheaply, and because he certainly has the physique to play a hero who is supposed to be a demigod. As the movie starts, Hercules is lying around in some seaside location, or more accurately a location near cliffs overlooking the sea. There's also a road going dangerously close to those cliffs, and we see a pretty young lady struggling to keep her chariot under control. With the chariot perilously close to going over the cliff, Hercules picks up a tree and puts it in the path of the chariot, stopping it.

The chariot was being driven by Iole, played by the other recognizable name in the cast, Sylva Koscina. In a nice bit of good news for Hercules, Iole is a princess, being the daughter of Pellas, who happends to be the king of Iolcus. Saving a king's daughter from death can be a valuable thing, although there are also going to be people at the royal court who are worried about the newcomer.

But royal intrigue isn't that much of the plot. Other, of course, then a legend of a man with one shoe who is destined to ascend to the throne of Iolcus. Hercules happens to meet just such a man when he runs into Jason, of Argonauts fame. Granted, Jason hasn't lost his shoe yet, and hasn't found the golden fleece. The shoe part is going to come first, and then after Pellas sees Jason sans shoe at the palace, Jason, Hercules, Ulysses, and some others are going to go looking for that fleece.

They find the fleece on an island full of Amazon warriors who have no men around, and indeed put men who show up to death. Now, you wonder how they can keep the civilization going without men since they haven't discovered artificial insemination yet. But that's not germane to the plot. Hercules has to come up with a way to get Jason off the island, and also deal with a way to deal with the disgruntled sailors who have had to stay on the ship since the island doesn't want men.

The big problem with this version of Hercules is the relative lack of a plot. There aren't Hercules' traditional labors here, and it feels like the writers didn't know what to do, so they instead took a whole bunch of elements from Greek mythology and threw them together in a mish-mash that doesn't quite work. It's moderately entertaining, and reasonably well photographed, but it's certainly not anything great.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Somebody or other's past

With TCM showing only movies from Warner Bros. and its subsidiaries this month, that meant that the beginning of the month included several lesser-known movies. Now, I've been blogging long enough that I've actually done posts on most of those movies, but one I hadn't done was My Past. With that in mind, I sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

Nominally, the character who is supposed to have a past is Doree Macy, played by Bebe Daniels. She's a Broadway actress, in an era when the trope was that a lot of young ladies in that profession were looking to snag a rich husband. She's still not married, although she's had a well-to-do -- and single -- businessman named John Thornley (Lewis Stone) eying her and even inviting her on to his yacht, in a group of both his and her friends. However, she doesn't particularly love Thornley. Not that she's got anything against him; he's a nice enough older man, but she just doesn't love him.

One of Thornley's friends is actually his co-worker, Bob Byrne (Ben Lyon). One day after getting off Thornley's yacht, she steps into Byrne's limo instead of Thornley's, and the two share a ride together. These two immediately fall in love. There's a problem, however, with is that Bob is married. His wife Consuela is off in Paris, and with the two spouses traveling separately, the assumption is that the marriage is on the rocks and the right think to do would be to get a divorce, especially if Consuela falls in love with somebody in Paris.

Doree's best friend Marion (Joan Blondell) that however nice a guy like Bob is, he's never really going to get that divorce once Consuela comes back. And what if Consuela isn't willing to grant Bob a divorce anyway? There wouldn't me as much of a movie is Doree listened to Marion's advice, so she keeps seeing Bob even though it's obvious Consuela is eventually going to return from Paris.

Sure enough, Consuela comes back, and earlier than expected, which forces Bob to break things off suddenly. He's not necessarily happy about it, but there are appearances to be kept up. Worse, Bob realizes he should have been more faithful to Consuela and decides that he's not going to talk about divorce after all.

With this in mind, Doree decides to settle for Thornley. But there's a catch in that Thornley has figured out that Doree doesn't really love him. Worse, he's learned over the course of her relationship with Bob that he no longer loves Doree either. They could be platonic friends even in spite of the age difference, but a marriage is going to be a disaster.

My Past is the sort of movie that probably appealed to a certain demographic back when it was released in 1931. Ninety-plus years on, however, the movie comes across as dated, both in terms of the storyline and in terms of the acting. This isn't to say that the movie is bad; instead, it's more that it's another of those movies that is going to be hard for people not really into old movies to get into. If you were trying to introduce such a person to pre-Code dramas, there are a lot more interesting movies out there to do it with.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, April 13, 2023: Erotic Thrillers

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "Erotic Thrillers", which might be a bit tougher than it looks if you're a fan of classic movies like I am. That's because the Production Code kind of put a limit on just how erotic you could get, at least for normal definitons of erotic. If you're turned on by Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery in Tugboat Annie, well, more power to you, I suppose, although I can't imagine most people considering them Hollywood's most erotic screen team. That would be Wheeler and Woolsey. In any case, I was able to come up with three selections with varying degrees of eroticism:

Spellbound (1945). More suspense than thriller, I suppose, but there's that ridiculous kiss between Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman superimposed over a shot of a long corridor of doors opening up one after the other. It's as obvious an allusion as the cutting to horses for the Robert Mitchum/Gloria Grahame kiss in Not As a Stranger. That having been said, Alfred Hitchcock did come up with a pretty good movie even if the Freudian psychology is laid on thick.

Cape Fear (1962). Gregory Peck plays an attory who was witness to a crime and whose testimony helped put the perpetrator (Robert Mitchum) in jail. Mitchum has served his sentence and is out of jail, looking for revenge. But he's going to take his own sweet time doing it, unnerving Peck and his family. There's a ton of eroticism in the climax when Mitchum cracks open an egg and pours it on the skin of Peck's wife (Polly Bergen) who is only wearing a nightgown.

Basic Instinct (1992). Yeah, you know the scene of Sharon Stone spreading her legs. She plays a writer who is one of the main suspects in a murder being investigated by Michael Douglas; the two wind up falling in love (gee, there's a surprising plot twist) as he's investigating her.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Death Goes to School

Another of the streaming channels on my Roku, one whose name I can't recall offhand but that is dedicated to mystery movies and TV, has a bunch of stuff that looks like cheap public domain prints. I was looking through the films on offer, and the title Death Goes to School looked interesting enough. So I decided to watch it.

Death Goes to School is a British B movie that starts off at a girls' school in what is most likely one of the Home Counties near London but decidedly not urban. The girls are playing some sort of bat and ball game when the ball goes out of the field of play and one of the girls has to go fetch it. That girl goes through a small line of woods to one of the outbuildings on the other side, where she sees.... a dead body! She goes running to her headmistress, Miss Halstead, who tells her to stay in the office while Halstead and another teacher, Miss Shepherd (Barbara Murray) go to investigate.

They find the dead body all right; it's the body of another of the teachers at the school, Miss Cooper (Pamela Alan, as a portion of the movie is told in flashbacks thanks to the structure of the murder investigation). Miss Cooper has been strangled to death, and Miss Shepherd is horrified to see that the method of strangulation was with her scarf! That's going to make her an obvious suspect when Scotland Yard sends Inspector Campbell (Gordon Jackson) to investigate.

Campbell decides to start with all of Miss Cooper's colleagues at the school, and this being a murder mystery, it's unsurprising that everybody at the school had some reason to hate Miss Cooper, which also means that pretty much everybody is a suspect. Well, except for Miss Cooper herself since she's quite dead. One thing that Campbell beats into our heads is that one piece of evidence is a size 5 women's shoe with a low heel. Find out which woman wears size 5, and you'll go some way to figuring out who the murderer is.

Except, of course, that multiple women wear size 5, and there's always the possiblity of somebody not wearing the shoe size they normally do. The investigation continues, and Miss Shepherd shows a bit of initiative on her own in trying to solve the mystery. In any case, you know that the murderer is going to be found out at the end.

Death Goes to School is the sort of material that a decade later probably would have been episodic TV for one of the plethora of detective shows out there. It's easy enough to watch this and imagine Peter Falk as Columbo having a field day with the material. But because it's a movie, and in the public domain, the production and the print both have a decidedly low-budget feel about them. That's a bit of a shame, since there's nothing particularly wrong with the movie. There's nothing particularly noteworthy, either, down to the relatively obscure cast.

Death Goes to School is something I'd recommend if you're the sort of person who likes British movies from that era (early 1950s), or if you and a bunch of friends are interested in trying something in a genre (British B mysteries) that doesn't show up that often in America. It's entertaining enough, but not something anybody would go out of their way to look for.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Duellists

I was browsing the various online streaming channels, and one of the channels devoted to 1970s movies had a movie I'd never heard of: The Duellists. Suitably intrigued, I decided I'd watch the movie and do a review of it here.

The movie is loosely based on a short story by Joseph Conrad and, as you might be able to discern from the title, deals with duellists, or at least one duellist. The movie opens up in 1800 in Strasbourg, France. You'll recall from history that this was early on in the Napoleonic era, about the time when he crowned himself emperor of France. Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) is a lieutenant in the French army who has a thing for duels, as well as a thing for picking the wrong person to challenge to a duel. Not that he's picking people who will kill him, because then he'd be dead and there wouldn't be any more duels; instead, his choices get him into trouble and give him an obsession that's going to last the rest of his life. In Strasbourg, that means injuring the nephew of a powerful local politician.

As a result, the mayor wants Feraud arrested. But, since he's in the military, Feraud is going to have to be arrested by the military police. This leads the general to assign Lt. Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine) to arrest Feraud. Feraud decides that this is another slight, and more than enough of a reason to challenge d'Hubert to a duel. This leads to d'Hubert getting into trouble with his commanding officer, and Feraud has another enemy, while d'Hubert would rather have nothing to do with a man like Feraud if he could avoid it.

Unfortunately, if you're watching, it'll be obvious from how long you've been watching that the movie is nowhere near over and that d'Hubert is going to meet up with Feraud again, even though the two of them aren't in the same regiment and Napoleon is sending armies all over Europe. Sure enough, the following year Feraud runs across d'Hubert in Augsburg and challenges d'Hubert to another duel.

One of the rules of French military duels is that they can only be contested by men of the same rank, and this leads d'Hubert to try to get promoted in the hopes that he'll be a different rank from Feraud and then Feraud will not be able to challenge him to yet another duel. And yet somehow, things don't quite work out that way. Feraud and d'Hubert meet again and again over the course of the next 15 years through Napoleon's ups and downs and somewhat differing political views once it becomes clear that Napoleon's tenure in office isn't going to be as long as Napoleon would have hoped. As for d'Hubert, he just wishes the duels would end once and for all....

The Duellists is a visually beautiful movie, largely because director Ridley Scott, making his feature film debut, had seen Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon that had come out not long before and liked that movie's visual style of trying to emulate paintings come to life. Scott shows he's good with a camera as his stylist attempt does more or less succeed.

The bad news, however, is that the visuals are in service of a story that doesn't work all that well, as it's too much a one-note story that the screenwriters tried to flesh out into something feature-length. Also, I don't think Keith Carradine, and certainly not Harvey Keitel, were appropriately cast here. The British actors who play the supporting roles -- some well-known like Albert Finney and some not so well-known -- do much better.

The Duellists is the sort of film that, while watching, it's easy to understand why professional critics gave it such glowing reviews. I have a feeling that average viewers, however, will have a somewhat more mixed view of the film. As always, though, watch and judge for yourself.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Briefs for April 10-11, 2023

I've mentioned a couple of times that TCM is spending the entire month of April on the 100th anniversary of the Warner Bros. studio. Most of this means movies produced or distributed by Warner Bros., but as I've said, there are also some documentaries which may or may not have been produced at Warner Bros. but deal with the studio and its stars. One in the latter category is Scandal: The Trial of Mary Astor, which I mentioned a few years back after I saw an airing of it on TCM. This one deals with the child custody case Astor was fighting at the same time she was filming the movie Dodsworth. It'll be on tomorrow (April 11) at 4:30 PM, and is definitely worth watching. It immediately precedes The Great Lie at 6:00 PM, for which Astor won her Oscar. I said when I reviewed this one that is might be more interesting for the way the screenwriters had to jump through hoops to get it past the Production Code.

I think I mentioned the last time I did one of these briefs posts that I hadn't seen anything being newly put into the FXM rotation. I may have been wrong about that one. I see that Cry of the City will be on tomorrow (April 11) at 10:05 AM, after an airing today. It may or may not have been in the rotation since the start of the year, and I just didn't pay close enough attention. But a search of the blog suggests that I haven't mentioned it in quite a few years, and I think it's one that I would have searched on if I had seen it on the FXM schedule back in January.

Another Fox movie shows up over on StarzEncore Westerns: the 1966 version of Stagecoach, which airs this evening at 7:45 PM, and then tomorrow at 11:00 AM. A search of the online guides suggests that it will have another airing on April 23 on the reguarl StarzEncore channel.

If you want to feel old, I was looking at the list of birthdays for today and how old the birthday people are. Haley Joel Osment, who memorably saw dead people in The Sixth Sense and whose birthday remindes me of Secondhand Lions, a movie I'd really like to rewatch and do a post on, has a birthday today. He turns 35. Twice his age is Steven Segal, celebrating his 71st birthday.

Sunday, April 9, 2023


One of the things that World War II did was give audiences a taste for movies that would boost their morale, even if there was no actual fighting in the movies. I think I've mentioned Fox's more homespun musicals, but for something that was more contemporary, you could watch a Warner Bros. family movie like Janie.

Janie Conway (Joyce Reynolds, who didn't go on to have that much of a career) plays Janie, a high school student in Hortonville, one of those small to medium-sized cities that populated Hollywood movies back in those days. She's typical of the middle class teens who were the focus of a lot of such movies, since Hollywood generally didn't want to show movies about the dirt poor for fairly obvious reasons. Janie has a boyfriend in Scooper (Richard Erdman), but things are about to get a lot more complicated for the two of them.

Janie's father Charles (Edward Arnold) is editor of the local newspaper, who also has a lot on his hands. Professionally, he needs a new printing press, but with the war on the government get to control which businesses get which goods. And at home, Dad has to deal with Janie. She, being a typical teenager, makes life difficult for him in all sorts of ways, from constantly hogging the telephone to having an interest in boys. This latter causes a big issue when she and her friends go to a "blanket party" with a bunch of boys, a party that gets published in Life magazine.

And then there's the war coming to their hometown. A bunch of servicemen get stationed at a base near Hortonville either on their way out to the European or Pacific theaters, or on their way back. So a bunch of young men who are still older than the high school boys and consequently a lot more mature are in town, cutting a fine picture in their uniforms. So of course the girls start falling for these men, even though I'd think the solderis would want an adult instead of a 16-year-old girl. In any case, Janie meets Pfc. Dick Lawrence (Robert Hutton), and the sparks start to fly between the two of them, much to Scooper's consternation.

But how to meet Dick alone? There's the rub. The other girls have the same problem, although in some ways even bigger because of the editorials that Janie's father has published. As a result, none of the other girls' fathers will let them fraternize with the servicemen. They get the bright idea to do so surreptitiously, at Janie's house, one even when Janie's parents go out to a grown-up function and Janie thinks she'll have the house more or less to herself. One thing leads to another, and it seems like the entire base is at Janie's house.

Janie is the sort of movie where you can see why audiences of the day would have liked it, but looking back on it 80 years later, boy is it dated. It doesn't help that most of the characters are unappealing. Janie is selfish, Mom (Ann Harding) is too ditzy, and Dad is close to the stereotypical out-of-touch dad. And then there's kid sister Elspeth, who is given the sort of role Virginia Weidler had in The Philadelphia Story, only turned up to 11 and made much more obnoxious. I wanted Bette Davis to come in and shake her the same way she did to Miriam Hopkins in Old Acquaintance.

So while Janie is a curio that will appeal to some people, I don't think it will appeal to everybody.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Breakheart Pass

I didn't really intend to do posts on multiple westerns in fairly quick succession, especially two with a gunrunning theme, but I happened to watch Breakheart Pass without really knowing what it was about.

It's the 1870s somewhere in the northern half of the Rockies, in an area where snow-covered mountains aren't uncommon. One of the army forts has suffered a breakout of one of those communicable diseases that were more common in the 1800s, so the fort is basically on quarantine until a special train can be put on to bring medicine to the fort. In addition to relief soldiers and the crew of the train, there's a private car on it which is owned by Fairchild (Richard Crenna), territorial governor. He's heading up to the fort with his fiancée Marica (Jill Ireland), because her father is the current commander of the fort.

The train stops at one of those small towns that populated western movies, where it picks up a few more passengers. One of them is Pearce (Ben Johnson), a US Marshal who is there for the obvious reason that the train and its supplies need to be protected. Also brought on the train is Deakin (Charles Bronson). He's the prisoner of Pearce, so you wonder why he'd be taken to the Fort as it doesn't really seem to be mentioned whether this is a through train. In any case, he's been on wanted posters that all of the other passengers have seen, so they immediately suspect anything he's been doing.

And they're going to have a lot to suspect Deakin of, when they find out that the doctor who is going to be treating the outbreak, Molyneux (David Huddleston), is found dead in what looks like a fairly obvious murder. Deakin seems to know way too much about medicine for his own good and starts to take over the investigation, which you'd think would set off alarm bells in the other passengers.

To be fair, it does set off those alarm bells, but not for the reason that a normal viewer would expect. In fact, as the movie develops, there are quite a few more murders, and all of the main characters turn out to be not quite what they seem. The train, as well, is not necessarily going to the fort in order to treat that outbreak. But who is committing the murders, and why?

Breakheart Pass is the sort of movie that feels a bit out of place and out of date. The idea of setting a murder mystery on board an old west train is a good one, but you feel like it would have been done already in the 1950s. That, or this is the sort of material that by the mid-1970s would make great material for the TV movies of the week when there were only the three networks and all-star TV movies were the rage. Now, none of this is to say that Breakheart Pass is in any way a bad movie. Instead, it's more that it's the sort of material that feels a bit pedestrian, like it's been done before. It does entertain and it also quite thankfully doesn't outstay its welcome.

There's also the lovely photography. The northern half of Idaho stands in for what I think was supposed to be Colorado, and for the most part the scenery is quite nice. As with Oh Mr. Porter, train buffs will probably enjoy the movie as well. Breakheart Pass certainly isn't an all-time classic, but it's also the sort of movie that nobody who made it has anything to be embarrassed about.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Not to be confused with Tintin

I mentioned briefly a week ago that April's schedule on TCM was being devoted to the films of Warner Bros. and its subsidiaries. I didn't know that they had signed the famous canine star Rin Tin Tin, a name I think even people who aren't movie fans have heard of even if they'd never seen any of the movies. To be honest, I hadn't seen any of the films either, but TCM ran one of them as part of the salute to Warner Bros.: Clash of the Wolves.

Rinty, a German Shepherd who had been rescued in World War I as a puppy, here plays Lobo, which as you may know comes from the word for "wolf". In fact, in a shameless bit of cultural appropriation, or maybe wolfface, a Canis familiaris playing Canis lupus, but then a real wolf would have been too dangerous for filming and wouldn't have had the name recognition that Rin Tin Tin had. Lobo and his mate live with the rest of the wolf pack up in the mountains. But a forest fire forces them to abandon the mountains and live in the desert flatlands.

The flatlands also bring people, in the form of Dave Weston (Charles Farrell), a man who's prospecting for borax. His eventual girlfriend is May (June Marlowe), while he has an enemy in "Borax" Horton, a man who wants to jump everybody else's claims and get the borax for himself, as there's money in it. It's a pedestrian human story of the sort that you could see in any Poverty Row western, although the more formulaic westerns were still several years away in the sound era. And the humans aren't the stars here anyhow.

Lobo is threatened by a couple of things. One is that the ranchers see wolves, and they immediately fear, not without reason, that the wolves might be a danger to their cattle. Kill the leader and you may be able to get the wolf pack to disperse. The other problem is that the wolves aren't used to the things in the flatlands, which include such dangers as cacti and their thorns. Lobo gets a thorn in one of his paw pads, and isn't able to get it out, leaving him with a noticeable limp if he isn't careful. And if the other wolves notice it, well, there goes his status as the alpha male. And as a pack animal that's aged out of being the alpha male, that's a big problem.

Of course the human and wolf story lines are going to merge, in the form of Dave finding Lobo and, like Androcles, removing the thorn. Lobo then becomes man's new best friend, although the rest of the humans still know what Lobo looks like, putting his life in danger even if they see him with Dave. There's only so much you can take the wildness out of the wolf.

Clash of the Wolves is the sort of material that if it were a talking picture, would probably be great for kids. The human storyline isn't particularly exciting, but there's no denying that Rin Tin Tin was a very skilled performer and shines every time he's on the screen. The movie being silent, however, I wonder how much the kids of today would be able to get into it.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

The Passover Plot

If I read the calendar correctly, yesterday evening was the first night of Passover. With that in mind, I decided to watch a movie that I'd first read about several years ago, but never got around to watching since I didn't really have any streaming options at the old house. That movie is The Passover Plot.

Pretty much any American of whatever Christian denomination will know the basic history of the Holy Land around Jersulam at the time when Jesus (played here by Zalman King) is said to have lived. Judea and Samaria, along with everywhere else around the Mediterranean Sea, had been taken over by the Romans, who were most decidedly not Jewish. The Jews felt subjugated, with the result that there was a rise in messianic, end-of-days fervor among Jews. Part of the belief was that a new King, descended from King David, would return to save the Jewish people. This would obviously be a threat to Roman authority, so when Jesus (called Yeshua here since the movie was filmed in Israel and produced in part by Golan-Globus) arrives and presents himself as a sort of political dissident, it's no wonder the Romans want to deal with him.

The Passover Plot takes these basics and weaves them into a story that deals a lot more with Jesus as he would have affected the political situation and less with the miracles that believers believed he was performing. British biblical scholar Hugh Schonfield did a lot of research into both the Bible and the history of the era, and came up with some conclusions that lead to the plot of this movie and its mildly controversial thesis.

In this telling, there's the obvious debate we've seen over and over among the oppressed over how much to resist peacefully and how much the resistance should be direct and physical. Yeshua has decided that he would be the peaceful resistance, while his brother Yaocov (Dan Hedaya) would foment the more violent resistance. They still need outside help, however, which is where Judah (Scott Wilson), the 13th apostle who would betray Yeshua, comes in.

But in addition to the resistance, there are also always those who collaborate with the authorities. Pontius Pilate (Donald Pleasance), whom the Romans have sent to quell the Israelites, knows this, which is why he works with the Jewish high priests led by Caiaphas (Hugh Griffith). He knows that once Yeshua has entered Jerusalem and declared himself King, that should give the high priests an opening to have Yeshua declared a blasphemer so that Rome doesn't have to crucify him.

But Yeshua here is extremely calculating, which is really the most controversal thesis of Schonfield's book and this movie. Yeshua as presented here isn't the Son of God, and frankly knows it. He is, however, a canny political operator. Indeed, he's timed his whole entrance into Jerusalem and later betrayal so that he'll be crucified on a Friday morning. By Jewish and Roman law, Jews were not allowed to be crucified over Shabbat. Crucifixion wasn't immediately fatal the way that a conscientious, non-sadistic hangman's noose was. Instead, those crucified suffered until they could no longer hold up their heads, suffocating to death when this closed their airway. (They also weren't nailed to the cross through their palms, as there wasn't enough support in the palms to keep them naied to the cross. The nails actually went through their wrists.) Yeshua has planned to have himself drugged so that it will look to everybody like he's died on the cross, only to make a miraculous recovery once one of his connected supporters is able to get him down from the cross.

It's an interesting, if obviously controversial theory. Nobody knows anything close to what really happened because, as the film informs us in a scrolling text at the end, there are no extant sources from the time that Jesus was actually alive. The Gospels were only written 40-80 years after his crucifixion. I do think it highly likely that there was one (or more likely more than one) man who was the real life inspiraton for the Jesus as resistance figure. As for the miracles, well, I'm not going to get into them here.

Having said all that, it's a bit of a shame that the movie doesn't present any of this material fairly well. The acting is mostly wooden, other than of course Donald Pleasance whom you would never expect to be anything less than over the top, bringing a spark every time Pontius Pilate shows up. And I don't think the script helps much. Perhaps this is material that needs to be told in a more academic tone. But even with all those flaws, The Passover Plot is worth watching and probably deserves to be better known.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Gleaming the dystopian sphere

Another of the movies I found available for free on one or another of the streaming services that sounded like it would be fun for TCM's Underground if that programming block were still around is Solarbabies. So I watched it in order to be able to do a review here.

The movie is set in some distant future, when somehow or other that the opening narration didn't quite explain, the Earth's oceans have gone dry and all the water is somewhere, which is pretty damn amazing since the oceans covered 70% of the planet's surface. However, there's legend of a being from outer space named Bodhi who might be able to save mankind, or at least the portion of mankind that isn't making out like a bandit from the situation. After all, with a shortage of a critical substance like water, you know that there are going to be people who try to exploit that, and they're going to be the de facto government.

Meanwhile, this government, called the Eco-Protectorate, in addition to rationing out the water takes orphaned children and puts them in orphanages that make Oliver Twist look almost luxurious, also indoctrinating these children into becoming the next generation of enforcers for the Eco-Protectorate. As a form of stress release, the kids get to play a sport called "skateball" that looks half like lacrosse, and half like roller derby. The orphanage at the heart of the story has a team called the Solarbabies, and as the movie opens they've accepted a challenge from a team from another orphanage, to play an unsanctioned match at night with no rules in an abandoned arena.

The authorities get wind of this, and eventually show up to try to arrest the teens for doing something highly illegal. The youngest of the orphans, Daniel (Lukas Haas), who is effectively the Solarbabies' mascot, flees into a cave. There, he finds a glowing orb that seems to have the power of communication. In talking to the orb, he discovers that it claims to be Bodhi. And it certainly does have decided non-human powers, curing Daniel of his deafness such that he doesn't need to use the mechanical hearing device he normally wears.

Daniel brings Bodhi back to his living quarters, which he shares with the rest of the Solarbabies: nominal leader Jason (Jason Patric); Jason's eventual girlfriend Terra (Jami Gertz); sciencey Metron (James LeGros); Tug and Rabbit rounding out the team. They don't believe Daniel at first, but considering that he's had his deafness cured and then after they see some of the things Bodhi can do, they begin to believe.

However, word somehow gets out and other people want Bodhi either for their own power, or so that they can destroy Bodhi because they see it as a threat to their power. Eventually Bodhi gets stolen and taken to a research facility for what is nominally research, but is in fact an attempt to destroy Bodhi. The Solarbabies have to take off through the desert on their roller skates in search of Bodhi. The Eco-Protectorate's storm troopers, as you might guess, are in close pursuit. If they have this much power to remake the world, you have to wonder how a half-dozen meddling kids are able to thwart their plans.

Solarbabies is for the most part an absolute mess, and it's easy to see why, upon its release, critics panned it mercilessly. It's the sort of movie that should have become a bigger cult classic than it is. After all, so much of the film is laughable, with plot strands that don't make sense together and terrible dialogue. But at the same time, as I was watching it I couldn't help but think of the skateboarders in Gleaming the Cube and that I actually quite preferred Gleaming the Cube. I think the big reason why is that to me, there's something about Gleaming the Cube that has more charm, along with a motivation for the main character that is at least grounded in reality. Solarbabies feels as though it's trying to be too serious and too adventurous for its own good.

Not that Solarbabies is without its own charms. In fact, if you're in the right mood it's a lot of fun just because of how bad it is. But it could have been a so much better form of bad.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

The Zenda prisoner

A movie that, for whatever reason, I had never gotten around to watching, in fact not any of the versions of it, is the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda. It was on TCM in March for 31 Days of Oscar, and so I recently watched it off the Watch TCM app.

To be honest, I sort of knew the basic story. In that great romantic age of the decades just before the Great War, a British gentleman named Rudolf Rassendyll (Ronald Colman) goes on the sort of trip to mysterious central Europe that only the idle rich could afford to do in those days, winding up in some unnamed kingdom roughly where the border of Hungary and Romania would be today. He gets an odd reception, which isn't explained to him until he meets some higher-up military men. Col. Zapt (C. Aubrey Smith) informs Rudolf that he looks amazingly like their country's crown prince, also named Rudolf; apparently, the two shared a common ancestor five or six generations prior.

Curiosity gets the better of everybody, and the two Rudolfs are introduced to each other. British Rudolf does look surprisingly like the Crown Prince, which isn't that much of a surprise when you understand that the continental Rudolf is also played by Ronald Colman. His coronation is supposed to be the next day, but he parties into the night with his new best friend Rudolf.

That's a mistake though, as Prince Rudolf's half-brother Michael (Raymond Massey) has given the prince a drugged bottle of wine. Rudolf drinks all of it and is unable to be roused for his coronation the next day, something that means Michael would be in line to take the throne. So you can understand why Michael would want to commit such a dastardly deed. Zapt understands that having King Michael would be a terrible thing, so he convinces the British Rudolf to stand in for the prince, as nobody will notice the difference. I suppose it's the reverse of Richard Basehart taking off his glasses and putting on contact lenses in Tension.

Michael, of course, knows there's a ruse, since he's the one who drugged his half-brother. Worse than that, he kidnaps the crown prince, so that when the British Rudolf thinks the hare-brained scheme of being a body double for a prince is just about over, it really isn't: nobody can find the prince who is technically a king now.

Even more complicated is the fact that Prince Rudolf has a personal life, and somehow nobody close to British Rudolf who isn't aware of the ruse is able to figure out that these two aren't the same people. This is especially true of Princess Flavia (Madeleine Carroll), another cousin. She's betrothed to Prince Rudolf, but it's more one of those royal marriages of convenience. She was willing to marry the prince out of duty, but she didn't really love him. British Rudolf, on the other hand is different, and while Flavia notices a change, she can't figure out what caused it.

Meanwhile, there's still the little problem of Prince Rudolf having been absconded with and being held somewhere. His supporters are going to have to rescue him, but Michael is no dummy and has made it very difficult for anybody to rescue him.

The plot to The Prisoner of Zenda is frankly a bit daft. But it's one of those movies where you should just sit back and not try to think too much about all the plot holes. If you can do that, you'll find that it's fairly grand entertainment, at least in the fashion of 1930s Hollywood. Everybody involved does a good job, and the story never really stops moving. It's definitely worth a watch.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Don Juan de Marco

Another of the movies that showed up on one of the streaming services was one I knew more for the hit song it spawned and because it came at the end of a famous star's career than for the actual movie itself: Don Juan de Marco. Having watched it, I can now do a review of it for all of you.

Johnny Depp plays the titular character, who at the start of the movie is getting dressed up in a Zorro-like mask, although as you might be able to guess from the title, it's really supposed to by Don Juan, the great lover, or at least one of Don Juan's descendants. Since he's referred to as Don Juan de Marco for most of the movie, that's how we'll call him in this post. Anyhow, after getting dressed up, he goes to a fancy restaurant to meet a woman. However, the real purpose is to tell the woman that he's going to commit suicide.

How to stop a young man from committing suicide by throwing himself off a ledge? In Fourteen Hours, they tried to use a policeman to talk the man down, but here, it's considered better to try a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist in question is Dr. Jack Mickler (Marlon Brando), who is nearing the end of his career. Dr. Mickler is successful, and de Marco is taken to the psych ward where they authorities are able to hold him involuntarily for up to 10 days for evaluation.

Dr. Mickler decides he's going to be the one to do the psychiatric evaluation, while his bosses just want to drug the poor patient into submission. So Mickler starts talking to de Marco, who claims he is in fact Don Juan, and starts telling all sorts of stories that seem like they should be too ridiculous for words, and have all sorts of inconsistencies. A century earlier, perhaps the stories might have been more realistic, but consdering de Marco would have been born in the early 1970s, there's no way any of the things he describes could have happened, which is kind of the point.

However, de Marco's presence at the pyschiatric hospital begins to have an effect. All of the nurses seem to be taken by him, and in Dr. Mickler's case, you wonder whether he's beginning to have difficulty distinguishing fact from fantasy. But de Marco is also helping out Mickler's personal life. At home, Micker is stuck in a rut with his wife Marilyn (Faye Dunaway). Talking to de Marco gives Mickler the gumption to try to put some spice back into his love life.

Still, there's the looming deadline of the 10 days' detention, and the finding of de Marco's grandmother. Grandma informs Dr. Mickler that not only is de Marco's story not true, the real story is somewhat more disturbing. He fell for a magazine centerfold and basically tried to stalk the poor woman until he was told in no uncertain terms to knock it off. At least he only tried to kill himself, not the woman. What will happen when de Marco has his meeting with the staff and a judge at the end of the ten days?

Don Juan de Marco is a movie that has an interesting premise, if one that's fairly unrealistic. It's also well photographed, and has a pretty good performance from Johnny Depp who certainly knows crazy after having been a disastrous relationshp with Amber Heard. Marlon Brando, on the other hand, make you feel like he's sleepwalking through the movie. Then again, I'm not as big a fan of Brando as some people are, so it may be in part my own prejudices. It's also a movie that TCM could show in 31 Days of Oscar since Bryan Adams' song "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman" was nominated in the Original Song category.

If you want an interesting romantic fantasy, and something with more modern sensibilities than the classic movies I usually discuss, you could do a lot worse than Don Juan de Marco. But it could have been a better movie.