Sunday, June 30, 2013

#1,049. Blackmail (1929)


Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, Charles Paton



Tag line: "See and Hear It - Our Mother Tongue As It Should Be Spoken"

Trivia: Michael Powell claims to have suggested the use of The British Museum as the location for the final pursuit, thus beginning Alfred Hitchcock's use of famous landmarks in his "chase" films






1929’s Blackmail was a landmark film. Along with being Alfred Hitchcock’s first sound movie, it’s also recognized as the first "all-talkie" ever produced in Britain (to that point, the few sound films that existed were either dubbed after the fact, or co-productions with another country).

One night, Alice (Amy Ondra), who’s been dating Detective Frank Webber (John Longden) of Scotland Yard, decides to ditch her boyfriend so that she can spend an evening with an Artist (Cyril Ritchard). Things fall apart, however, when the Artist invites Alice up to his apartment, and, once there, tries to rape her. While struggling to break free, Alice grabs hold of a bread knife and stabs the Artist to death. Frightened and confused, she quietly sneaks out of the apartment and heads for home. The next day, when the Artist’s landlady (Hannah Jones) discovers his body, she calls the police, and Frank is assigned to the case. When he finds Alice’s glove at the scene of the crime, Frank, who knew she was with another man the night before, fears she might be mixed up in the killing, and hides it before anyone can see it. Unfortunately, a shady character by the name of Tracy (Donald Calthrop) saw Alice with the Artist prior to the killing, and tries to extort money from her in exchange for his silence.

As with any Hitchcock film, Blackmail features a number of visually stunning scenes; the opening sequence, during which we tag along with the boys of Scotland Yard as they apprehend a wanted criminal (Percy Parsons), is incredibly well-shot, as is the film’s grand finale, which takes place inside the British Museum. But what makes Blackmail so fascinating is how well Hitchcock also utilized sound, despite the fact he was doing so for the very first time and had no experience whatsoever with it. The morning after the killing, Alice sits down to breakfast with her family, who are discussing the murder. Unable to concentrate on what’s being said, she hears only the word “knife” repeated over and over again, as if her subconscious was reminding her of the crime she committed.

In the end, Blackmail proved the best of both worlds, a movie filled with one great image after another that, at the same time, utilizes sound perfectly to move its story forward. The fact that it's the first British picture ever to combine the two makes this accomplishment all the more amazing.







Saturday, June 29, 2013

#1,048. Drag Me to Hell (2009)


Directed By: Sam Raimi

Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver




Tag line: "Christine Brown has a good job, a great boyfriend, and a bright future. But in three days, she's going to hell"

Trivia: The script was written after Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi completed Army of Darkness, but Sam pursued other projects before returning to this





Sam Raimi, who in 1981 gave us The Evil Dead, returns to the horror genre with 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, an occasionally gross, yet hugely entertaining movie.

Loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is in line for a promotion. To impress her boss, she refuses to give an elderly gypsy named Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) an extension on her mortgage. Naturally, Mrs. Ganush is none too happy about it, and takes her frustrations out on Christine by putting a curse on her. Within hours, Christine finds herself at the mercy of an evil spirit, which, according to fortune teller Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), goes by the name of Lamia. With the help of Rham Jas, as well as her boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), Christine must break this terrible curse in less than 72 hours. If she doesn't, Lamia will drag her down to hell, where she'll spend eternity suffering the tortures of the damned.

Packed with plenty of jump scares, Drag Me to Hell is a real thrill ride. At times, it’s a very tense motion picture, especially in the scenes where Lamia is stalking Christine (we never see the demon, save for its shadow on the wall, yet it definitely makes its presence known). The film also contains a handful of over-the-top sequences that, if they don’t make you laugh, are sure bring a smile to your face (there’s a scene with a goat that’s unforgettable). What’s more, Drag Me to Hell features one of the most repulsive antagonists in recent memory. Played to perfection by Lorna Raver, Mrs. Ganush spends the better part of the movie spewing mucus, bugs, even embalming fluid all over Christine. Prior to putting the curse on her, Mrs. Ganush attacks Christine in a parking garage, and during the melee, her false teeth fall out. But instead of slowing her down, this makes the old hag even angrier (she lunges at Christine and starts gnawing on the poor girl’s chin). From that moment on, Mrs. Ganush grows steadily more disgusting each time we see her.

Much like The Evil Dead before it, Drag Me to Hell will both scare the bejesus out of you and make you sick to your stomach. And I loved every minute of it!







Friday, June 28, 2013

#1,047. The Wild World of Batwoman (1966)


Directed By: Jerry Warren

Starring: Katherine Victor, George Mitchell, Steve Brodie




Tag line: "Her thrills rip forth in wide wild adventure!"

Trivia: Katherine Victor created the Batwoman costume herself since Jerry Warren would not hire a costume designer






The Wild World of Batwoman is a bad movie, but the real problem is it also thinks it’s a laugh riot. In an attempt to cash in on the success of the wildly popular Batman TV series (which starred Adam West as the caped crusader), director Jerry Warren tried to bring some of the show’s humor to his movie. Well, he failed; The Wild World of Batwoman isn’t the least bit funny.

There’s a whole lot going on here, but the central story seems to involve an arch-criminal named Rat Fink (Richard Banks), who tries to recruit Batwoman (Katherine Victor, wearing a costume that’s a cross between go-go dancer and dominatrix), defender of truth and justice, to help him steal a nuclear hearing aid, which is powerful enough to listen in on any phone conversation. What’s more, when combined with other ingredients, this particular hearing aid can also be turned into a nuclear bomb! With the help of her followers, the aptly named “Order of the Batwoman”, our hero does all she can to foil Rat Fink, but will her efforts be enough to stop this evil mastermind?

The Wild World of Batwoman is terrible right from the start. After an awkward opening sequence in which a girl is initiated into the “Order of the Batwoman”, we cut to a scene where two guys, one carrying a gun, attempt to mug somebody in an alley. When the muggers demand that he hand over his wallet, the victim slowly backs away and tells the muggers to “come and get it” (which is what anyone who had a gun pointed at them would do, right?). A shot rings out, and the victim falls over dead. To make matters worse, two of Batwoman’s agents were hiding in the background the entire time, and saw the whole thing. They call in to Batwoman, telling her they just witnessed a murder, and can provide descriptions of the killers if necessary (obviously, the “Order” doesn't quite get the whole "hero" thing). Not five minutes in, and The Wild World of Batwoman is already a mess.

Then there’s the so-called “comedy”, which is practically non-existent. After one of her followers is kidnapped by Rat Fink, Batwoman gathers the “Order” together to discuss how they’re going to rescue her. The fact that their meeting is held by the side of a pool, with each of the girls wearing bikinis, is clearly meant to be funny (as is the meeting itself, which is so formal that I thought it was a gathering of some company's Board of Directors). But the acting is so wooden that we have no idea whether they’re trying to be serious or not. The comedy is further hampered by director Warren, who lets most scenes run on far too long. Things do get substantially more goofy later in the film, but by then, it’s too late.

The Wild World of Batwoman is a smoldering pile of compost, a jaw-droppingly awful film put together so poorly that most viewers won’t have the slightest clue what’s going on. Watching bad movies can sometimes be fun (The Crater Lake Monster is a blast, as are Plan 9 from Outer Space and Eegah!), but this one worked on my last nerve. I couldn’t wait for it to end.







Thursday, June 27, 2013

#1,046. The Dreaming (1988)


Directed By: Mario Andreacchio

Starring: Arthur Dignam, Penny Cook, Gary Sweet




Tag line: "Are they dreams or nightmares...Nightmares or premonitions?"

Trivia: This film was originally meant to be directed by Craig Lahiff but he dropped out before filming and was replaced by Mario Andreacchio






The Dreaming, a 1988 horror film from Australia, opens in much the same way that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining does, with a camera, mounted on front of a helicopter, flying over an island as an ominous score (composed by Frank Strangio, who also did the music for such ozploitation classics as BMX Bandits and Dead End Drive In) fills the soundtrack. Yet while the movie shares some similarities with Kubrick’s masterpiece (nightmarish visions, characters dealing with the ghosts of the past, etc), The Dreaming ultimately loses its way, resulting in a second half that drags terribly.

While digging on a remote island off the coast of Australia, archaeologist Bernard Thornton (Arthur Digham) and his crew find a secret chamber behind a cave wall, one that contains both ancient artifacts and human remains. Several months later, a group of Aborigine teens breaks into a museum to retrieve these artifacts, and one of them (Kristina Nehm) is captured and beaten by the police. She’s rushed to the hospital, where Dr. Cathy Thornton (Penny Cook), the daughter of the archaeologist who made the discovery, attempts to save her life. The girl dies from her injuries, but the story doesn’t end there, because shortly after this incident, Cathy starts experiencing visions of both the dead teen and an ancient Aborigine tribe, which was apparently attacked by Australian whalers over 100 years earlier. Intent of learning what these hallucinations mean, Cathy tries to track down her estranged father, hoping he can shed some light on the situation. But as it turns out, dear old dad has been having visions of his own.

Right off the bat, I was impressed by how well The Dreaming was shot; along with the helicopter ride at the beginning, director Mario Andreacchio moves his camera around to great effect, which adds to the otherworldly feel of the opening sequences. As for the thrills, they kick in shortly before the death of the Aborigine girl, at which point Cathy’s troubling visions begin. In one of the movie’s coolest scenes, Cathy is looking at an X-Ray of the injured girl, trying to determine what happened to her. All of a sudden, the X-Ray springs to life, as if calling out in agony (It’s at this exact moment that the girl, lying on a table in the next room, dies). There are other tense moments as well (a particularly unsettling one occurs when Cathy is sitting alone in her bedroom), all of which draw us into the story.

Unfortunately, the tension established at the outset fades by the time Cathy tries to locate her father. She eventually follows him back to the island, and once there, the pace slows to a crawl as Cathy experiences even more flashbacks, while her father deals with demons of his own. This, coupled with the fact that most audience members will have figured out what the visions mean in the film’s first 20 minutes, results in a disappointing climax to what was otherwise a sharp, entertaining movie.







Wednesday, June 26, 2013

#1,045. Meatballs (1979)


Directed By: Ivan Reitman

Starring: Bill Murray, Harvey Atkin, Kate Lynch



Tag line: "The Summer Camp That Makes You Untrustworthy, Disloyal, Unhelpful, Unfriendly, Discourteous, Unkind, Disobedient, and Very Hilarious"

Trivia: The movie was filmed at an actual summer camp, Camp White Pine, in Haliburton, Ontario






Meatballs, a 1979 comedy directed by Ivan Reitman, marked the first time Bill Murray was given a starring role in a movie. Needless to say, he made the most of it, and while Meatballs is only a so-so picture when the actor isn't on-screen, it’s pure gold whenever he is.

Murray plays Trip Harrison, head counselor of Camp North Star, a summer camp for kids. Placed in charge of the C.I.T.’s (Counselors-in-Training), Trip instead spends most of his time trying to hook up with fellow counselor Roxanne (Kate Lynch) and watching over a young camper named Rudy (Chris Makepeace), who’s having a hard time fitting in. The summer is chock full of outdoor hikes, canoe trips, and romantic entanglements among the C.I.T.’s, culminating in a two-day Olympiad in which North Star battles it out against their chief rival, Camp Mohawk, which caters only to the rich and snobby.

Aside from Murray’s character, Meatballs also follows the exploits of the C.I.T.’s, including Spaz (Jack Blum) and Fink (Keith Knight), two awkward pals who have no luck whatsoever with the ladies, and Candace (Sarah Torgov), who strikes up a romance with Crockett (Russ Banham) that lasts the entire summer. While the young performers do a good enough job with their roles, Meatballs loses a lot of steam whenever the focus shifts to these various side stories. Fortunately, Murray is on-hand to liven things up. His P.A. announcements, which he makes throughout the film, are hilarious (“Attention. Here's an update on tonight's dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal”), as is a running gag where he and several C.I.T.’s play a series of practical jokes on the camp’s director, Morty (Harvey Atkin), who’s obviously a very deep sleeper. Along with his sarcastic wit, Murray also shows genuine tenderness in his scenes with Chris Makepeace, giving the movie a little bit of heart to go with the laughs.

Since the release of Meatballs nearly thirty-five years ago, Bill Murray has become one of Hollywood’s most recognizable actors. He’s part of Wes Anderson’s stock company, appearing in all of the director’s films since 1998’s Rushmore, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 for his superb performance in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. With Meatballs, we get to see the actor at the start of his career, and, even at this early stage, we can spot the incredible talent that has since transformed him into a star.







Tuesday, June 25, 2013

#1,044. Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)


Directed By: Lamont Johnson

Starring: Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson



Tag line: "Journey with Wolff and Niki, an interstellar adventurer and young rebel. On a mission to rescue three stranded women from a planet no one has warned them about. Because no one has ever returned"

Trivia: A number of the film's screenwriters were writers from Marvel Comics





Directed by Lamont Johnson, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was one of several 3-D movies released in the early ‘80s. Because we hadn’t seen a 3-D film before, my friends and I couldn’t wait to check it out, but unfortunately, the gimmick wasn’t all that impressive. What’s more, the glasses eventually gave us all a headache, so we took them off and spent the last 30 minutes or so of the picture staring at a fuzzy screen. Obviously, it wasn’t a particularly good movie-going experience, but watching it again now, without the 3-D, I have to say I was impressed. Set on a desolate planet, Spacehunter has a post-apocalyptic feel to it that, when combined with the film’s bizarre creatures and fun action sequences, results in moments of genuine excitement.

When their spaceship is attacked, three girls (Cali Timmins, Deborah Pratt, and Aleisa Shirley) hop into an escape pod and crash-land on Terra XI, a planet populated by thieves and lowlifes. Wolff (Peter Strauss), a bounty hunter, heads to Terra XI to rescue the girls and claim the huge reward offered for their safe return. Joined by both a scruffy teen named Niki (Molly Ringwald) and a fellow bounty hunter (Ernie Hudson), Wolff battles some of the oddest creatures he’s ever encountered, all in an effort to reach the planet’s “Forbidden Zone”, where the girls are being held by The Overdog (Michael Ironside), a cruel cyborg who won’t give up his prisoners without a fight.

The opening 20 minutes of Spacehunter, which features, among other things, a battle on Terra XI between two rival factions, are exciting, and get the movie off to a great start, and while many of the effects (especially those set in space) are noticeably bad, the planet’s striking landscape more than makes up for them. Spacehunter also stars a couple of performers who, within a year of making it, would hit the big time; John Hughes’ 1984 film Sixteen Candles made Molly Ringwald a star, while Ernie Hudson went on to play the 4th member of the famous spirit hunting team in Ghostbusters. The most fascinating character in the movie, though, is Michael Ironside’s Overdog, who, part man and part machine, is a hell of a creepy dude (when the 3 girls are first brought to him, The Overdog orders a guard to strip the clothes off one of them, telling him to do so “slowly”). When the action shifts to his domain in the Forbidden Zone, Spacehunter really hits its stride.

Those expecting a film on the level of Star Wars or The Road Warrior will likely be disappointed, but as a slice of 80s cheese, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is a flick that fans of low-budget sci-fi will surely enjoy.







Monday, June 24, 2013

#1,043. My Favorite Year (1982)


Directed By: Richard Benjamin

Starring: Peter O'Toole, Mark Linn-Baker, Jessica Harper, Joseph Bologna





Trivia:  This film was produced by Mel brooks, and the Mark Linn-Baker character is based on Brooks when he was a writer for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows"






Back in the 1950s, Mel Brooks worked as a television writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows.  At one point, Errol Flynn, the charismatic actor who starred in such pictures as Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, was scheduled to appear as a guest, and many wondered if the notoriously hard-drinking Aussie would show up drunk, or not show up at all. As it turned out, Flynn’s appearance went off without a hitch, but that didn’t stop director Richard Benjamin from weaving a damn funny movie around the story some 30 years later.  

Like the reporter said in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend".

Produced by Brooks, My Favorite Year is set in 1954, and stars Mark Linn-Baker as Benjy Stone, a young writer for the hottest TV show in the country, Comedy Cavalcade, which stars the egotistical King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna). When Benjy learns that his favorite actor, Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole), is going to be a guest on the show, he can barely contain his excitement. His dreams of meeting his hero are nearly shattered, however, when Kaiser, mindful of Swann’s reputation as a drunk, threatens to drop the star from the program. So, Benjy agrees to serve as the actor’s chaperone, promising to keep Swann sober long enough to finish the show. But as Benjy soon discovers, preventing Allan Swann from hitting the bottle is easier said than done.

Director Benjamin and his crew do a fine job re-creating the era of the 1950s, but it’s the cast of My Favorite Year that’s its greatest strength. Though a bit broad in his portrayal at times, Mark Linn-Baker is effective as the star-struck Benjy, who, as the story progresses, must deal with the fact that his boyhood idol is less than perfect. Joseph Bologna is hilariously arrogant as King Kaiser, and Lainie Kazan makes a brief yet memorable appearance as Benjy’s mother, who continually embarrasses her son when he brings Alan Swann home for dinner. But the film’s best performance is delivered by Peter O’Toole, who gets just as many laughs as his co-stars (in one scene, Swann, who’s hanging around the studio, accidentally walks into the ladies room. A costume designer, played by Selma Diamond, angrily chastises him, exclaiming “This is for ladies only!” Without missing a beat, Swann unzips his fly and responds “So is this, Mum, but every now and then I have to run a little water through it”). Yet as funny as My Favorite Year is, it also has its share of drama, addressing such serious topics as insecurity and the trappings of hero worship. The film’s best scene, a final confrontation between Benjy and Swann, deals perfectly with both issues, and while Linn-Baker is exceptionally strong in this sequence, it’s O’Toole who nearly moves you to tears.

One of the greatest injustices in Academy Award history is that Peter O’Toole, despite being nominated 8 times for Best Actor, has never won an Oscar. Already passed over for his performances in such films as Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter, and The Stunt Man, it was no great surprise when he lost yet again in '82, this time to Ben Kingsley (for Gandhi). My Favorite Year marked his 7th nomination, and while the Oscar that year should have probably gone to Paul Newman, who was brilliant as the alcoholic lawyer in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict, O’Toole’s portrayal of Alan Swann was one of the best of his career.







Sunday, June 23, 2013

#1,042. Night of the Living Dead (1990)


Directed By: Tom Savini

Starring: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles






Tag line: "There IS a fate worse than death"

Trivia: Tom Savini's originally wanted to start the film in black-and-white, then slowly add color






Directed by renowned make-up artist Tom Savini from a script written by George A. Romero, 1990’s Night of the Living Dead is essentially the same movie as the black & white indie film that inspired it. Yet, despite its similarities to Romero’s 1968 classic, this Night of the Living Dead differs from the original in one key area.

While visiting their mother’s grave, Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her older brother, Johnnie (Bill Mosley) are attacked by a seemingly insane man. Johnnie is killed, but Barbara manages to escape, making her way to a remote farmhouse. At first scared and confused, Barbara finally gets a grip on herself when Ben (Tony Todd) shows up on the scene and takes control. Once inside the farmhouse, the two discover there are more people hiding in the basement, including Harry Cooper (Tom Towles) and his wife, Helen (McKee Anderson), whose daughter, Sarah (Heather Mazur) is badly injured. Also holed up in the house are Tom (William Butler) and his girlfriend, Judy (Katie Finneran). After comparing notes, they come to the realization that the dead are returning to life, and are attacking the living. Despite Cooper’s insistence that they're safer in the basement, Ben, Barbara, and Tom remain upstairs, boarding up the doors and windows as they try to figure out how to escape. But with more walking dead arriving every minute, finding a way out isn’t going to be easy.

Along with other similarities, this Night of the Living Dead features the same characters as the ’68 picture. Like the original, much of the movie consists of a battle of wills between Ben and Cooper, who, throughout the film, are at each other’s throats. While far from his best performance, Tony Todd is fine as Ben, while Tom Towles is so over-the-top as the conniving Cooper that you rarely take him seriously. Outshining both is Patricia Tallman as Barbara, who, before long, becomes the focal point of the entire picture. Aside from its characters, 1990s Night of the Living Dead also recreates some of the earlier film’s more memorable moments, including the opening cemetery scene and Johnnie’s famous line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara”.

The key difference between the two movies is the character of Barbara. In the ’68 version, Barbara (played by Judith O’Dea) was in a state of shock through most of the film, a frightened mouse who recoiled in fear whenever things got hairy. This time around, Barbara starts off timid and scared, but after a pep talk from Ben, she gets her bearings, and when the final showdown rolls around, she’s kicking all sorts of zombie ass!

For overall creepiness, nothing can top Romero’s earlier classic, but with a slightly different spin on the story, as well as an ending that’s even more nihilistic than the original’s, Savini’s Night of the Living Dead is well worth a watch.








Saturday, June 22, 2013

#1,041. The Gold Rush (1925)


Directed By: Charlie Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Tom Murray




Trivia: In his autobiography, Chaplin revealed he got the idea for this film at Pickfair, the home of good friends Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, who had showed him pictures of Alaska






I was surprised to learn that Charlie Chaplin, one of the great stars of silent cinema, made only three feature films in the 1920s; sandwiched between The Kid in '21 and The Circus in '28 was The Gold Rush, a 1925 comedy in which Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp became the “Lone Prospector”.

The story is fairly straightforward: After hearing that gold has been discovered in the Klondike, a Lone Prospector (Chaplin) journeys to the snowy region, intent on becoming a very rich man. Along the way, he meets a variety of characters, including Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain), who becomes his partner; the villainous Black Larsen (Tom Murray); and the beautiful Georgia (Georgia Hale), who captures his heart. Through many trials and tribulations, the Prospector presses on, convinced there’s gold just waiting to be found in this Yukon wilderness. But will he find any before he starves to death?

The Gold Rush features a number of now-iconic scenes, like the one where Chaplin’s prospector is so hungry that he eats his own boot (the sight of Chaplin twirling the shoelaces around a fork as if they were spaghetti is priceless). Just as memorable are the “dinner roll dance” (where the prospector, using two forks with dinner rolls at the end of them, gleefully “dances” around the table) and a scene in which a cabin teeters dangerously on the edge of a cliff. Chaplin’s pantomime skills also get a workout (like in the sequence where he’s trying to leave his cabin, yet is constantly pushed back inside by the harsh wind), and there’s some heartbreaking drama as well, in the Prospector’s relationship with Georgia. In short, The Gold Rush has it all!

Despite the fact his output in the ‘20s was limited; all three of the films Charlie Chaplin produced in that decade are now considered classics, with The Gold Rush leading the pack. Finding something to laugh about even in the most difficult conditions, The Gold Rush is one of the great movies of the silent age.







Friday, June 21, 2013

#1,040. Eddie Murphy Raw (1987)


Directed By: Robert Townsend

Starring: Eddie Murphy




Tag line: "Catch him in the act. Uncensored Uncut Irresistibly..."

Trivia: This was the only film to receive a 16 rating in Iceland due entirely to language







Shot on-location at the Felt Forum in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Eddie Murphy Raw is a concert film showcasing the stand-up comedy of (who else?) Eddie Murphy. Laced with jokes about everything from sex to the problems of being a celebrity, and featuring a barrage of four-letter words (Prior to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, this movie held the record for most uses of the F-bomb in a feature length picture), Eddie Murphy Raw is an incredibly funny experience.

Following an opening skit in which a young Eddie (Deon Richmond) tells his family (including Uncle Samuel L. Jackson) an off-color joke, Eddie Murphy Raw gets down to business. Throughout the course of the movie, Murphy tackles a number of issues, ranging from fan reactions to his jokes about Stevie Wonder to a conversation he had with fellow comedian Bill Cosby, who admonished him for using foul language on-stage (during this particular routine, Murphy does a spot-on impression of both Cosby and Richard Pryor). And while some of the bits are dated (in one, he references Tonight Show host Johnny Carson’s pending divorce), many are timeless (a personal favorite is a discussion of just how painful it is to be kicked in the nuts. “You don’t have to kick nuts to hurt somebody”, Murphy quips, “You can just graze nuts”).

When Eddie Murphy Raw hit the scene in 1987, Murphy was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars; his 1984 film, Beverly Hills Cop, had raked in over $200 million in the U.S. alone, and its sequel, Beverly Hills Cop II, released 3 years later, brought in another $153 million. And while he may no longer be box-office gold (his biggest hits in recent years were the animated Shrek films, in which he provided the voice of Donkey), Eddie Murphy Raw serves as a hilarious reminder of an era when the comedian was on top of the world, while, at the same time, showing how he got there in the first place.








Thursday, June 20, 2013

#1,039. Hot Fuzz (2007)


Directed By: Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton




Tag line: "Big Cops. Small Town. Moderate Violence"

Trivia: Simon Pegg had weapons training in preparation for his role as Nick Angel, and also learned how to skid a bicycle properly along the way







Edgar Wright, who scored a hit with 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, continues his assault on genre cinema with the hilarious 2007 movie, Hot Fuzz, a motion picture that’s as much a high-octane action film as it is a side-splitting comedy.

Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is the finest policeman in all of London. In fact, he’s a little too good at his job, and many of his peers on the force are tired of him showing them up. So, in spite of his exemplary record, he’s shipped off to the small town of Sandford, a quiet community where nothing much happens. Partnered with Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the son of the chief Inspector (Jim Broadbent), Angel now spends his days searching for escaped geese and chasing down the occasional shoplifter. But when a series of tragic “accidents” occurs, resulting in the violent deaths of some of Sandford’s less popular citizens, Angel suspects foul play. He’s convinced the shifty Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), owner of the local supermarket, is behind it all, but is he the only culprit?

Pegg and Frost, who were excellent as the best pals in Shaun of the Dead, do a fine job as the “buddy” cops, two polar opposites who, despite their differences, work together to protect an entire village. Many of the film’s funnier moments stem from their unlikely partnership, with Frost’s Danny, who’s a big fan of action flicks, constantly pressing Pegg’s Sgt. Angel to talk about his days as a London police officer. When Angel reveals he was once stabbed, Danny asks what it felt like. “It was the single most painful experience of my life”, Angel replies, matter-of-factly. After a slight pause, Danny counters with, “What was the second most painful?” Before long, they begin to rub off on one another, with Danny taking his work more seriously, and the normally tight-assed Angel cutting loose from time to time (he even spends a night watching movies like Point Break with Danny). The two actors, who, aside from Shaun of the Dead, also teamed up for the sci-fi / comedy Paul in 2011, make for a likeable duo, and give the audience someone to root for when things start getting dangerous.

As funny as the film is, Hot Fuzz is also a fine action movie, featuring loads of excitement and some truly gory violence (one character gets their head crushed in by a stone gargoyle). To keep things moving along at a brisk pace, director Wright relies on quick cuts and sharp camera angles to accentuate the more intense scenes, culminating in a final act that’s out of this world. By presenting its action so convincingly, Hot Fuzz proves, in the end, to be much more than a parody, or an homage to movies like Dirty Harry and Mad Max; it’s a thrilling film in its own right, one that just happens to give us plenty to laugh about.








Wednesday, June 19, 2013

#1,038. The Fly (1958)


Directed By: Kurt Neumann

Starring: David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price




Tag line: "She had to kill the thing her husband had become -- But could she?"

Trivia: Patricia Owens has a real fear of insects. Director Kurt Neumann used this by not allowing her to see the makeup until the "unmasking' scene






I was already a fan of David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly before I ever sat down to watch the '58 original, and while the two movies approach the story differently, both have earned a place among the classics of the sci-fi/horror genres.

Scientist Andre Delambre (Al Hedison) has just been crushed to death in a hydraulic press. His wife, Helene (Patricia Owens), confesses to murdering him, but as she tells Andre’s brother, Francois (Vincent Price), she had her reasons for doing so. It all started with an experiment Andre was conducting, in which he transported living creatures from one sealed chamber to another using his newest invention, the “disintegrator-integrator". Following several successful attempts with animals, Andre decided to give his creation the ultimate test, and climbed into the chamber himself. Unfortunately, he wasn’t alone; a fly had entered with him, and when Andre transported himself, he and the fly inadvertently swapped atoms, leaving Andre with the head and left arm of an insect! His mental capacity slowly slipping away, Andre begged Helene to end his misery. Initially, neither Francois nor Police Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) believe her story, but quickly change their tune when they themselves make a startling discovery.

Both versions of The Fly, this one and Cronenberg’s remake, deal with the physical transformation of a man into an insect. Where the two films differ is in the way they handle the fly itself. In Cronenberg’s The Fly, Scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, delivering an incredible performance) accidentally merges his DNA with that of a common housefly, leading to disaster when the two become one. In the 1958 original, Delambre and the fly trade body parts with each other, yet remain separate entities. To correct his mistake, Delambre must find the fly so that he can reverse the process. Of course, doing so won't be easy; in fact, It's probably more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack (at least you have a general idea where the needle is; this damn fly could be anywhere). Every now and then, we see the insect buzzing around, and the tension mounts as the characters come close to discovering it, yet continually fail to do so. The search for the elusive fly introduces a different, and equally engaging, element to the story, adding a level of suspense that, at times, is downright unbearable.

And, of course, the deformed fly figures prominently in the film’s final scene, which sent a chill running down my spine the first time I saw it. Aside from being a terrific motion picture, The Fly also has one of the best endings in horror movie history,







Tuesday, June 18, 2013

#1,037. The Devil-Doll (1936)


Directed By: Tod Browning

Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O'Sullivan, Frank Lawton





Trivia: The film's working title was The Witch of Timbuctoo








Director Tod Browning’s next-to-last film (his final being Miracles for Sale in 1939), 1936’s The Devil-Doll is also one of his best, a wonderful blend of horror and melodrama that features a strong performance by Lionel Barrymore, playing both an escaped convict and a little old lady!

After 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, banker Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) escapes, intent on exacting revenge against three former associates who framed him. Joining him in the escape is Marcel (Henry B. Walthall), a scientist who’s perfected a formula by which he can shrink any living creature, human or otherwise, to one-sixth their normal size, which he believes will end world hunger (after all, smaller people won’t eat as much food). Shortly after the two of them reach his laboratory, Marcel dies. So, Lavond joins forces with his widow, Malita (Rafaela Ottiano), and heads to Paris, where, posing as an elderly woman, he opens a doll store and sets to work using Marcel’s formula to bring down his dishonest colleagues. By doing so, he hopes to both clear his name and win back the respect of his daughter, Lorraine (Maureen O’Sullivan), who’s been a social outcast ever since his arrest.

Lionel Barrymore is superb as Lavond, and even makes for a believable old woman (I liked how he went from full-on revenge mode to sweet little old lady in the blink of an eye). The special effects are strong as well, with Browning and company bringing Lavond’s “dolls” convincingly to life. In one scene, Lavond plants a female doll in a former associates house, which then wakes up in the middle of the night and steals a valuable necklace. Even knowing how these effects were achieved (using oversized sets and furniture to make the actors appear smaller than they are) doesn't make them any less impressive.

Equally as good are the film’s more dramatic moments, where Lavond, disguised as the old woman, interacts with his daughter, Lorraine, who, over the years, has grown to hate him. In the hands of lesser actors, these scenes might have come across as overly-sentimental, but Barrymore and O’Sullivan are subdued enough in their performances to generate real emotions during these encounters (their final meeting packs enough of a punch to bring a tear to your eye). By perfectly balancing fantasy with human drama, The Devil-Doll may just be the most complete motion picture Tod Browning ever made.








Monday, June 17, 2013

#1,036. Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009)


Directed By: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska

Starring: Rikki Gagne, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska





Trivia: The first screening of the film took place in February of 2010 at the Ghouls on Film Festival in the UK








The directorial debut of twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska (who also wrote the screenplay), 2009's Dead Hooker in a Trunk is a stylish nod to the grindhouse films of yesteryear, and while the movie is far from perfect, it has an intense energy that you simply can’t ignore.

When they smell something funny coming from the back of their car, two sisters, known only as Geek (Jen Soska) and Badass (Sylvia Soska), and their friends Junkie (Rikki Gagne) and Goody Two Shoes (C.J. Wallis), pull over to investigate. What they find is (as the title suggests) a dead hooker (Tasha Moth) in the trunk. Geek and Goody Two Shoes think they should call the cops, but because neither Badass nor Junkie can remember much about the night before, they’re afraid of what a police investigation might turn up. So, they decide to dispose of the body themselves. But with the deceased’s angry pimp (John Tench), as well as a serial killer, hot on their trail, getting rid of a dead hooker won’t be as easy as they thought.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk is chock full of head-scratching, “WTF” moments. In one scene, Junkie pays a visit to her pusher (who’s also her ex-boyfriend), only to be caught up in a dangerous situation when a gang of Triads breaks into the apartment, leading to a gory, blood-soaked showdown (with some convincing practical effects). From there, the movie gets more chaotic, and not even the main characters are safe from harm (one loses an eye when they're hit on the head with a baseball bat). Dead Hooker in a Trunk is a crazy film, and it only gets crazier, and more engaging, as it wears on.

That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. For one, the constant use of hand-held cameras gets a bit distracting after a while, and an overall lack of structure plagues the picture from start to finish; at times, its feels more like a series of unrelated vignettes than it does a feature film. But while Dead Hooker in a Trunk may come up short in the narrative department, its ballsy attitude, combined with a high-energy style, makes for a hell of an entertaining movie.







Sunday, June 16, 2013

#1,035. Mark of the Vampire (1935)


Directed By: Tod Browning

Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi







Trivia: Large South American bats were imported for the picture







A remake of 1927's London After Midnight, a Lon Chaney film that has apparently been lost to the ages, Mark of the Vampire reunites director Tod Browning with star Bela Lugosi, who previously worked together on the now-classic Dracula. A return of sorts to the role that made him famous, Lugosi once again dons a vampire's cape, but what you'll remember most about this movie, aside from its atmosphere, is the twist ending. Without going into too much detail, let's just say that, in Mark of the Vampire, nothing is as it seems. 

Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) has been murdered, and a pair of vampires: Count Mora (Lugosi) and his daughter, Luna (Carroll Borland), who have taken up residence in Borotyn's former home, are believed to be his killers. Fearing a similar fate may befall Borotyn's daughter, Irena (Elizabeth Allen), noted vampire specialist Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) teams up with Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) to uncover the truth about what's happening, and before long, the two make a startling discovery. 

Though the story is, at times, a muddled mess (due, in large part, to a slew of unnecessary characters), the cast that Browning assembled for Mark of the Vampire is impressive. Aside from such seasoned veterans as Atwill, Barrymore, and Lugosi, we have newcomer Carroll Borland, who gives an eerie performance as the female vampire, Luna. But what truly stands out is the film's incredible atmosphere. Browning, with the help of cinematographer James Wong Howe, transforms the Borotyn estate and its surroundings into a living nightmare, complete with mist-covered graveyards and crumbled buildings. It seems the ideal spot for a couple of vampires to hang out, and the fact that the undead characters stay in the background for most of the picture only adds to their mystique (neither Lugosi nor Borland speak a single line of dialogue until the film's closing moments). On a scale of 1 to 10 on the creep meter, Mark of the Vampire registers a solid 9.5. 

Unfortunately, the movie's twist ending (which I won't spoil for you) is a total cheat. In fact, it's worse than a cheat; it's an insult, and makes no sense whatsoever. That Browning tried to pass this "reveal" off as a legitimate conclusion to the story is an absolute joke. Yet, as terrible as it is, this ending doesn't ruin all that came before it. Ultimately, Mark of the Vampire is effective for 90% of its running time, which, when compared to most movies, isn't bad at all.







Saturday, June 15, 2013

#1,034. Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis (1991)


Directed By: Robert Iscove

Starring: Stacy Keach, Richard Thomas, Steve Landesberg






Trivia: In Italy, this film was released as Food for Sharks









In a scene from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) is telling Brody (Roy Schieder) and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) about his experiences as a crewman aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a Navy Cruiser that was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese in 1945. Left floating in the water for days, Quint tells of how a good number of his shipmates (hundreds, in fact) were devoured by sharks. It was a dramatic scene from a classic film, but as the 1991 made-for-TV movie, Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis shows us, it’s also based on a very true, very tragic story.

After delivering a key component for the atomic bomb that would soon be dropped on Hiroshima, The U.S.S. Indianapolis, under the command of Captain Charles Butler McVay (Stacy Keach), begins its long journey home. Unfortunately, the ship and many of its crew would never make it back because on the night of July 30, 1945, the Indianapolis was struck by two Japanese torpedoes, which destroyed the Cruiser and sent hundreds of crewman to a watery grave. Those who survived the attack floated in the Pacific for about three and a half days, and despite the best efforts of the ship’s officers, including Lt. Steven Scott (Richard Thomas), Lt. D’Angelo (Robert Cicchini) and U.S. Marine Wilkes (David Caruso), many would perish in the shark-infested waters before the rescue boats arrived. Looking for a scapegoat, the U.S. Navy court-martialed Capt. McVay, finding him guilty of negligence, and even though the men under his command knew he was innocent, Capt. McVay blamed himself for the tragedy until his dying day.

The strength of the film lies in its depiction of several key events, chief among them the sinking of the ship. When the Indianapolis is hit by the torpedoes, we get an extended scene showing its destruction, a sequence that’s extremely well-staged. But the real terror sets in once the survivors are in the water, and while the shark attacks aren’t particularly gory (most involve sailors letting out a scream, followed by crimson-colored water floating to the surface), they're a grim reminder of just how treacherous this entire ordeal was.

As a movie, Mission of the Shark is direct and to the point, with no real filler to speak of. Unfortunately, it also tries to cover too much ground (everything from dropping off the cargo to the aftermath of the court martial of Capt. McVay), and some events didn’t get the attention I hoped they would, especially the shark attacks (history tells us that hundreds died as a result of these attacks, whereas the film only shows about a half-dozen or so). That aside, Mission of the Shark is an effective look at a real-life tragedy, and as complete an account of this terrible incident as we’re likely to see.








Friday, June 14, 2013

#1,033. Young and Innocent (1937)


Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney, Percy Marmont





Tag line: "A romantic murder-mystery drama! "

Trivia: When released in the U.S., the title was changed to The Girl was Young






Released in the U.S. as The Girl Was Young, Alfred Hitchcock's Young and Innocent is the tale of a man wrongly accused of murder who, while trying to avoid the authorities, also attempts to track down the real killer.

The body of Christine Clay (Pamela Carme), who was strangled with a raincoat belt, washes up on shore, and Robert Tisdall (Derrick de Marney), an acquaintance of the deceased, is arrested for her murder. After escaping the police, Robert makes his way to the Cornish countryside, where, with the help of Erica (Nova Pilbeam), the local constable's daughter, he hopes to prove his innocence by finding the man responsible for this heinous crime.

Like many of Hitchcock's films, Young and Innocent features a handful of memorable scenes, some of which were designed to build suspense (like when Robert and Erica, still on the run from the police, are delayed at a children's party), while others generate plenty of thrills, including a tense car chase that leads to near disaster in a coal mine. But the highlight of Young and Innocent is the long, sustained shot late in the movie where Hitchcock reveals the killer's identity. Earlier, a hobo (Edward Rigby), who actually saw the murderer, said he remembered the man had a facial tick. At that, the camera glides into a ballroom where a party's taking place and comes to rest in front of a man who's performing with the band. Thanks to an extreme close-up, we see the man's eyes start to twitch, a clear sign that he's the guilty party. It's a truly remarkable sequence, and the Master of Suspense, even at this early stage of his career, pulled it off brilliantly.

The theme of an innocent man on the run was a particular favorite of Hitchcock's, who had explored a similar story with 1935's The 39 Steps and would return to it again in the years to come, most notably in 1959's North by Northwest. Yet, despite being in familiar territory, Hitchcock brings enough of his unique flair to Young and Innocent to make it worthwhile.







Thursday, June 13, 2013

#1,032. City Lights (1931)


Directed By: Charles Chaplin

Starring: Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers





Trivia: Albert Einstein attended the L.A. premiere of this film









By 1931, sound movies were all the rage in Hollywood, and just about every film released that year was a talkie. Charlie Chaplin, arguably the finest screen comedian of the silent age, was one of the few filmmakers who dared to buck the trend, and in so doing, delivered a picture I consider to be his masterpiece. The funny, often touching story of a tramp who falls in love with a blind flower girl, City Lights is one of the greatest silent films ever made.

It all begins when the flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) mistakes the lowly tramp (Chaplin) for a millionaire. Smitten with her beauty, the Tramp goes along with the charade, promising to give her enough money to pay for an operation that will restore her eyesight. He does everything he can to raise the necessary funds, even going so far as to take part in a boxing match against a man twice his size (Hank Mann). When all else fails, the Tramp seeks out a millionaire (Harry Myers) whose life he once saved, asking for his help. In a drunken stupor, the millionaire gives the Tramp the money for the operation, but once sober, forgets that he’d done so, and accuses the Tramp of stealing from him. Facing jail time, the Tramp pays one last visit to the flower girl, realizing he may never see her again.

City Lights isn’t completely silent; Chaplin composed a synchronized musical score for the film, and even tossed in a few sound effects. But the movie contained no spoken dialogue whatsoever, which allowed the actor / director to do what he did best. A master of pantomime, he relied on his impressive physical skills time and again in City Lights, often to generate laughs. Among the film’s best scenes is the boxing match, where the Tramp, fearing for his safety, dances around the ring, doing everything he can to avoid being hit. But along with the comedy, City Lights is also one of the screen’s great romances, telling a most unlikely tale of love, and building to a final scene that’s sure to bring a tear to your eye.

With City Lights, Charlie Chaplin proved to the world that a movie didn’t need sound to stir our emotions, and in perfect silence, he made us laugh while, at the same time, he was breaking our hearts.







Wednesday, June 12, 2013

#1,031. Thale (2012)


Directed By: Aleksander Nordaas

Starring: Silje Reinåmo, Erlend Nervold, Jon Sigve Skard




Tag line: "In a cellar, dark and deep, I lay my dearest down to sleep; A secret they would like to keep"

Trivia: Director Nordaas shot the majority of this film in his father's basement






A perplexing mystery for much of its running time, director Aleksander Nordaas' 2012 film, Thale, might prove a frustrating experience for some viewers. Yet, in the end, it protects its secrets in such an intriguing way that you can't help but want to know more.

When the police are done carrying out their investigation, they call guys like Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) to mop up the scene. Employed as forensic cleaners, these good pals have seen it all, but even they aren't prepared for what's waiting for them at their next job. Sent to a remote lakeside cabin to search for the remains of a recently deceased man, the two find a hidden entrance that leads to a basement laboratory, where they discover a naked young woman (Silje Reinåmo) hiding in a bathtub. She's unable to speak, but thanks to some audio tapes left behind by the dead man, they learn that the girl's name is Thale, and that she's been in this underground bunker for well over 20 years. As the two try to communicate with her, they make yet another startling discovery: Thale, who possesses unique powers, may not be entirely human!

Produced on an incredibly low-budget (most of the film was shot in a basement belonging to director Nordaas' father), Thale spends the majority of its first half raising a number of questions that it's in no hurry to answer. Where did Thale come from, and why was she kept in this cellar? What experiments was she subjected to? Who was conducting them? Who, or what, is watching them from the woods? Even Elvis and Leo seem to be hiding something, like why does Elvis continually ignore his cell phone? The riddles surrounding the two pals are eventually solved, while Thale herself remains an enigma throughout much of the film. Yet the fact there are so many unanswered questions leads to a few surprises along the way, including a finale that caught me completely off-guard.

A well-crafted blend of fantasy and modern horror, Thale might not answer all the queries it poses, but it answers enough of them to pique your curiosity.







Tuesday, June 11, 2013

#1,030. What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)


Directed By: Woody Allen, Senkichi Taniguchi

Starring: Tatsuya Mihashi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama




Tag line: "WOODY ALLEN STRIKES BACK!"

Trivia: The two Japanese spy girls in the movie - Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama - also appear together in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice





When A.I.P. (American International Pictures) made a deal to distribute the Japanese spy movie, Key of Keys, in the U.S., the studio thought they were getting a James Bond-style action film, which, in the mid-1960s, would have been box-office gold. Instead, Key of Keys proved to be a truly awful picture, something producer Henry G. Saperstein realized the first time he screened it. Saddled with a stinker, the wily Saperstein came up with an interesting idea: why not turn this lousy import into a comedy? So, he hired Woody Allen, who had scored a hit a year earlier with What's New, Pussycat?, to write the script and direct the "new" movie. When Allen was finished, the serious dialogue had been dubbed over, and a terrible Japanese action film suddenly became an incredibly funny American farce.

The story is hilariously ludicrous. Private eye Phil Moskowitz is hired by the leader of a small country (one that doesn't exist yet) to retrieve a valuable recipe for egg salad, which was stolen by arch-criminal Shepherd Wong. With the help of two beautiful sisters, Suki Yaki and Teri Yaki, Moskowitz goes undercover and sneaks his way into Wong's hideout. Once there, he learns that another criminal, Wing Fat, has also set his sights on the prized recipe. Caught between a pair of low-life gangsters, Moskowitz must find a way to recover the recipe without getting himself killed in the process.

As expected, many of the jokes in What's Up, Tiger Lily? come at the expense of the on-screen "action". In one scene, Moskowitz is struck on the back of the head and knocked unconscious. When he finally comes to, he stands up, grabs his head, and, wincing in pain, says "Ow! My leg!" But along with mocking the film, Allen also gets laughs by occasionally breaking down the fourth wall. Early on, two characters are sitting in a strip club, and when the stripper removes her top, her naked breasts are covered by the words "Foreign Version". A more direct reminder comes later on, when the film abruptly stops and the silhouette of two lovers, having a secret rendezvous, fills the screen (the sequence ends when the man pulls away and says "Not in the projection room. It's against union rules"). By continually reminding us that we're watching a movie, What's Up, Tiger Lily? takes what was already a zany concept and makes it even more insane.

The movie's only flaw is that, even at an abbreviated 80 minutes, it runs a bit too long; in an effort to win over younger viewers, A.I.P. inserted scenes featuring live performances by the rock band The Lovin' Spoonful, which bog down the pace of the film. This minor quibble aside, What's Up, Tiger Lily? is an extremely funny motion picture, and I highly recommend it.







Monday, June 10, 2013

#1,029. Horse Feathers (1932)


Directed By: Norman Z. McLeod

Starring: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx





Tag line: "The Maddest Comics of the Screen!"

Trivia: In the last half of the movie Chico Marx is limping. During the making of the movie, Chico was in a car accident and his kneecap was shattered






While not as well-known as either Duck Soup or A Night at the Opera, The Marx Brothers' 1932 film, Horse Feathers, is every bit as funny as those two classics.

Professor Wagstaff (Groucho) is the new President of Huxley College, the very school that his son, Frank (Zeppo), attends. Frank convinces his father that what Huxley needs is a decent football team, so Professor Wagstaff sets out to recruit a couple of professional players. Unfortunately, he instead signs up Baravelli (Chico), a bootlegger, and Pinky (Harpo), a part-time dogcatcher, both of whom enroll at the school. To add to Huxley's problems, a gambler named Jennings (David Landau) has bet against the school in their upcoming game against Darwin University. To ensure that Huxley loses, Jennings tells Connie Bailey (Thelma Todd), the resident "college widow", to seduce Professor Wagstaff and steal the team's playbook. Needless to say, chaos ensues, which only intensifies when all four Marx Brothers take the field for the big game.

Horse Feathers features some of the brothers' finest routines. When Wagstaff visits the local speakeasy to recruit star football players Mullen (James Pierce) and McHardie (Nat Pendleton), he finds the door guarded by Baravelli, who tells Wagstaff he can't come in unless he knows the password (kicking off a hilarious give-and-take between the two). Later on, after Baravelli and Pinky have enrolled at Huxley, they attend an anatomy class being taught by none other than Professor Wagstaff (when he asks the class what a corpuscle is, Baravelli replies "That's easy! First is a Captain, then a Lieutenant, then is a corpuscle"). This all leads up to the film's best sequence: the big game against Darwin, during which the brothers break every rule in the book. At one point, they even use a horse-drawn chariot to score a touchdown!

Altogether, The Marx Brothers made a dozen movies over a twenty year period, starting with The Cocoanuts in 1929 (a filmed version of one of their early plays) and ending with 1949's Love Happy, which co-starred a young blonde bombshell named Marilyn Monroe. Sadly, not all of their films are classics (their last consistently funny movie was 1937's A Day at the Races), yet, even in their lesser pictures, the brothers sometimes achieved greatness (At the Circus features my favorite Marx Brothers musical number, Groucho's toe-tappin "Lydia the Tattooed Lady"). And even though the siblings' Hollywood output was limited, some of the comedies they left behind, Horse Feathers included, are pure gold.






Sunday, June 9, 2013

#1,028. The Paradine Case (1947)


Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton






Trivia: An exact replica of the Old Bailey courtroom was constructed for the court scenes, at a cost of $400,000







Based on a screenplay written by David O. Selznick himself, 1947’s The Paradine Case possesses a rare quality, one that makes it stand apart from the other films its director, Alfred Hitchcock, was turning out at this point in his career. I’m not referring to the story, which centers on a forbidden romance between a lawyer and his client, or the fact it’s a courtroom drama. No, what makes The Paradine Case such a unique entry in Hitchcock’s filmography is it’s the first of the director’s movies that threatened to put me to sleep. This film is dull with a capital “D”.

Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck), a well-respected London attorney married to the beautiful Gay (Ann Todd), has been assigned to defend Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli), a woman accused of murdering her wealthy husband. But the more time he spends with the alluring Mrs. Paradine, hearing her side of the story, the deeper Keane falls in love with her. Torn between his duty to the crown and his feelings for his client, Keane's conflict of interest is soon affecting much more than his high-profile case. In fact, it threatens to tear his life apart.

The Paradine Case isn’t a total failure; Ann Todd delivers a fine performance as the forgotten Mrs. Keane, and thespians Charles Laughton and Ethel Barrymore are on-hand as well, with Laughton hamming it up to perfection as Judge Lord Thomas Hurfield. The final act, when the action shifts to the courtroom, is also a strength, with Hitchcock using multiple cameras to capture every nuance of the trial, bringing what might have otherwise been a pedestrian affair convincingly to life.

The main problem I had with The Paradine Case was its two central characters, Keane and Mrs. Paradine. Even in the hands of such talented performers as Gregory Peck and Alida Valli (who was solid as the heartbroken girlfriend of Harry Lime in The Third Man), there was absolutely no chemistry between them. This, along with the first two-thirds of the movie (filled with one talky scene after another), made The Paradine Case one of the few misfires of Alfred Hitchcock’s career.








Saturday, June 8, 2013

#1,027. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)


Directed By: John Sturges

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis




Tag line: "They're going to kill you...with no hard feelings!"

Trivia: Don Siegel called the screenplay for this movie the best one he had ever read (to that point) and lobbied unsuccessfully to direct the film






Throughout his award-winning career, Spencer Tracy played everything from sympathetic fathers (Father of the Bride, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) and kind-hearted priests (Boys Town) to well-respected lawyers (Inherit the Wind) and judges (Judgment at Nuremberg). He even appeared (along with Katherine Hepburn) in a series of romantic comedies (Adam’s Rib, Woman of the Year) that are today regarded as classics of the genre. But as he showed us in director John Sturges’ 1955 crime / western, Bad Day at Black Rock, ‘ole Spence could also kick some ass when he needed to.

Tracy stars as John J. Macreedy, a WWII vet who lost the use of his left arm during the war. Looking to visit the father of an old army buddy, he takes a train to the small Arizona town of Black Rock, but from the moment he arrives there, it’s clear the locals are none too pleased to have him around. Treated with hostility everywhere he goes, Macreedy seeks the help of the town’s sheriff (Dean Jagger), only to discover that, in Black Rock, the law is laid down by a man named Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), who, along with everyone else in this tiny desert community, is hiding a secret so terrible that they’re willing to kill to protect it.

Even with one arm, Tracy’s Macreedy is a force to be reckoned with, a well-trained soldier who is perfectly capable of defending himself in any situation. And it’s a good thing too, because in Black Rock, he’s up against some tough hombres, including Hector (Lee Marvin) and Coley (Ernest Borgnine), two of Reno’s goons who make the mistake of thinking their new “guest” is a pushover (Coley learns his lesson the hard way when Macreedy tosses him from one end of the local saloon to the other). With an air of confidence that never wavers, Tracy gives the impression that his character, regardless of his handicap, is always in control.

A simmering, suspenseful mystery that plays out under the hot desert sun, Bad Day at Black Rock is an underrated crime thriller, and features a main character who’s a long way removed from your typical cinematic hero.







Friday, June 7, 2013

#1,026. Bedazzled (1967)


Directed By: Stanley Donen

Starring: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron





Tag line: "Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in their first starring comedy!"

Trivia: In West Germany, this film was released as Mephisto '68






Having found success on television with their comedy series Not Only… But Also, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore next tried their hand at feature films, writing and starring in 1967's Bedazzled. In it, Moore plays a short order cook named Stanley Moon who's madly in love with his co-worker, Margaret (Eleanor Bron), yet lacks the self-confidence to even talk to her. Driven to despair, Stanley decides to end it all, and attempts to kill himself. Enter George Spiggott (Peter Cook), better known as The Devil, who, in exchange for Stanley's soul, offers to help the poor schlub find the happiness he desires. Stanley agrees, and is granted seven wishes, all of which he uses to win Margaret's heart. But as each wish backfires, Stanley starts to think his new pal, George, may have pulled a fast one on him.

Aside from being a funny movie, Bedazzled also features a young Dudley Moore, future star of such mega-hits as 10 and Arthur, in an early film role. Moore is believable as the nebbish Stanley, a man so lonely that he's willing to trade his immortal soul for a chance at love, but it's Peter Cook who walks away with the movie, portraying the Devil as more of a practical joker than the personification of evil. Along with a handful of humorous scenes detailing George's wrongdoings (in one, he raids an elderly woman's refrigerator, and then cons her out of some money), Stanley's seven wishes also lead to a few good laughs (early on, he wishes that he and Margaret were married, only to find that his new "wife" is sexually active with everyone but him). Aside from the Devil, Stanley is also introduced, at various times, to each of the Seven Deadly Sins, including the gorgeous Lillian Lust (played by the seductive Raquel Welch), who's only too happy to teach Stanley a thing or two about the opposite sex.

Heavily influenced by the British Mod scene of the ‘60s, Bedazzled may look a bit dated to modern viewers, but thanks to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, the jokes are as fresh today as they were back then.