Thursday, July 29, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 29, 2021

Blonde Venus (1932) - Josef von Sternberg’s Blonde Venus created headaches for the MPAAD before the cameras even started rolling. Marlene Dietrich stars as Helen, a German stage performer who meets and falls in love with American Nick Faraday (Herbert Marshall), whom she marries. Shortly after the birth of their son, Johnny (Dickie Moore), Faraday becomes very ill (a result of radium poisoning), and must travel to Europe if he’s to have any chance of being cured. In need of money to pay her husband’s mounting medical bills, Helen returns to the stage and becomes an overnight sensation, adopting the persona of a temptress and calling herself the Blonde Venus. It’s during one of her performances that she meets millionaire Nick Townsend (Cary Grant). Spying a way to get some quick cash, Helen essentially prostitutes herself by becoming Townsend’s lover, and earns more than enough money to cover the cost of Nick’s treatment. All goes well for Helen and her son… until Nick, cured of his illness, unexpectedly returns home. When von Sternberg originally submitted the script for Blonde Venus to the MPAAD, he was immediately ordered to revise it. In fact, the script would go through three different revisions before finally getting the green-light. Even still, Blonde Venus, with adultery and prostitution at its center, raised a few eyebrows upon its release, It stands today as a textbook example of a director making concessions to the censors, yet still managing to tell the story he set out to tell in the first place. And with excellent performances throughout, coupled with the “Von Sternberg Touch”, it’s also a classic that everyone should seek out. Rating: 9 out of 10

The Cleansing Hour (2019) – There were times when I almost switched off The Cleansing Hour; the story of a social media-obsessed priest (Ryan Guzman) whose staged online exorcisms draw big audiences, The Cleansing Hour was so bland and by-the-numbers at the start, with obvious characters and trite dialogue, that I thought I was wasting my time watching it. I’m glad I hung in there, though, because the second half of the film (which – surprise! – features an actual possession) was much more intriguing, and even though there were still predictable elements (and some less-than-stellar special effects), I was finally tuned in, and couldn’t wait to see how it all played out. The ending was even better, taking the entire tale in a darker direction than I anticipated. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, and some viewers are bound to lose patience with it just like I almost did. But don’t bail on it… The Cleansing Hour does get better. Rating: 6 out of 10

Counterblast (1948) – After escaping from prison, Nazi doctor Karl Bruckner (Mervyn Jones) - aka the “Beast of Ravensbruck” - murders a British scientist (Anthony Eustrel) and assumes his identity. Posing as said scientist, he takes up residence in a small English town and, with the help of Dr. Paul Rankin (Robert Beatty) and Tracy Hart (Nova Pilbeam) – neither of whom are aware of his true identity – Bruckner begins working on a vaccine to protect his fellow countrymen from a virus that the Nazis plan to unleash on the world. A British-produced spy thriller with a dash of sci-fi mixed in, Counterblast proved more entertaining than expected. Jones is quite good as Bruckner, and what I found truly interesting was that, despite being the film’s lead and the person we spend the most time with, there’s never a moment in the movie when we’re rooting for his character! From start to finish, we want to see Bruckner get his comeuppance. Though not quite as good as Jones, Robert Beatty is nonetheless effective as the lab assistant who comes to suspect his boss is hiding something, and I enjoyed seeing a grown-up Nova Pilbeam (she played the kidnapped daughter in Hitchcock’s 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much), who shines as the intelligent yet naïve Tracy (her romance with Beatty’s character is handled well, and we want to see a happy ending for the two of them). Director Paul L. Stein manages to generate some real tension throughout, even if things do get a bit choppy at the end. Definitely worth a watch (Counterblast is in the public domain, so tracking down a copy shouldn’t be difficult). Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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