Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No Way Out (4 stars)

No Way Out, a bold 1950 drama directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, and starring Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, and Sidney Poitier in his film debut, explores the ugly issue of racial hatred.  Way ahead of its time, No Way Out actually depicts the venemous, black-hating man as some sort of sick monster.  Wow!  In 1950, segregation was common and totally accepted, as was total dislike of black people, so the fact that this film was bold enough to show that as unacceptable and wrong is quite amazing.  Definitely, it had to be a message that was new and, perhaps, unwelcome to audiences of the time.  Yet, the film was made...that alone makes this a 4 star film for me.

Dr. Luther Brooks (Sidney Poitier), an intern in a county hospital, happens to be on duty the night two hoodlum shooting victims are brought in.  Ray Biddle (Richard Widmark) is cocky and arrogant and totally detests black people.  He absolutely cannot stand the thought of a black doctor's hands on him and quite loudly makes his disgust known.

After noticing that Ray's brother Johnny seems to have more than just a superficial shotgun wound, Dr. Brooks orders a spinal tap for the man.  Before the spinal tap is completed, however, Johnny dies, infuriating Ray even more.  He is convinced that Dr. Brooks murdered him, and nothing will deter him from that belief.  Dr. Brooks begins to wonder if he was wrong, if he had made an incorrect diagnosis, but the only way to determine that is to do an autopsy. And Ray Biddle, Johnny's next of kin, won't give permission for that, especially when he knows just how much Dr. Brooks needs an autopsy.

Dr. Brooks and his chief of staff discover that Johnny had an ex-wife, Edie (Linda Darnell), and they hope she can be convinced to persuade Ray to agree to the autopsy.  Ray, however, has other ideas...ideas that will lead to a violent racial explosion.

The acting in this movie is spectacular!  Richard Widmark is totally amazing as the obsessed bigot.  He just oozes evil and hatred.  Sidney Poitier was fabulous as well.  It's easy to see why he would go on to become a great star.  And Linda Darnell was brilliant as well.  Truly, all three leads were amazing, and their acting, coupled with the boldness of the film is why I am giving 4 stars.

No Way Out is not an easy film to watch.  With the "n" word being used dozens of times, as well as the obsessive racial hatred, this is definitely not a feel-good film.  But it's absolutely a worthwhile film, and I highly recommend it.

Happy viewing!!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Brief Encounter (3 stars)

Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean and starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, is a romantic drama from 1945.  The movie, which is told in flashback, is the story of Dr. Alec Harvey and Mrs. Laura Jessen, who, though both married to others, fall deeply in love and embark on an ill-fated love affair.

Quite by accident, Alec and Laura meet at a train station one Thursday afternoon while both are enroute home from their usual Thursday outing.  When Laura gets a piece of coal dust in her eye, the doctor steps in to help her remove it.  Just like that, a friendship is born, and the next several Thursdays find them meeting one another.  Before long, they are deepy in love with one another; however, such love cannot be?  Or can it?  Can these two people, who are both already married to another, have any sort of future together?  Those are the questions that will play out in this film.

By today's standards, Brief Encounter is very outdated...even laughable. In our "just have an affair, just get divorced" society, it seems odd that these people, supposedly in love, would agonize so much.  If viewed through the lens of the moral climate then, though, this film is quite beautiful and responsible.  The filming is very good(especially as I have a huge fascination with trains and train stations), and the classical Rachmaninoff score is lovely, but the film fell just a a bit short for me.  While I enjoyed it and really felt for the characters, I didn't really find it all that romantic...or passionate.  The film's trailer claimed it was "the most romantic film of all time," so perhaps my expectations were a bit too high.  At any rate, I didn't find it very romantic.  Perhaps, had it been more so, or if the chemistry between Howard and Johnson had been just a bit more, or perhaps if I had been more enamored of either lead, I would have given 4 stars. 

I think this film is certainly worth viewing, even if only to be transported back to a time when commitment and marriage meant something, when people took their vows seriously.  I believe the film is out on DVD and should be easy to track down; however, it's also available on Net Flix instant viewing which is how I watched it.

Happy viewing!!

The Story of Esther Costello (4 stars)

The Story of Esther Costello is a 1957 drama which TCM aired last week as part of its Joan Crawford day on "Summer Under the Stars."  Besides Crawford, the movie stars Rossano Brazzi and Heather Sears, in a BAFTA-winning performance.  The themes in this film are quite mature, with one scene in particular probably being very shocking to audiences of the time. 

Esther's story begins in Ireland in 1948.  While playing in a cellar, a group of children discover a box of grenades and some gunpowder.  Not knowing what the items are, the children begin fighting over them, and an explosion occurs.  The majority of the children are killed in the tragedy, as is Esther's mother, who had popped her head into the cellar at the moment of explosion.  Esther, however, who had been hiding from her mother, is not killed, but the trauma of the accident leaves her blind, deaf, and mute.

Fast forward five years...vacationing American, Margaret Landi (Joan Crawford), visits Esther's village and is introduced to the young girl.  Her heart touched by Esther's story, Margaret finds herself persuaded by Esther's priest to do much more than just donate money to the church.  Since Esther is an orphan, with only a drunken old aunt to look after her, the priest encourages Margaret to care for Esther, to provide an education for her.  Though at first reluctant, Margaret has fallen in love with Esther and, so, agrees to take Esther back to America with her.

Medical tests reveal that Esther's problem is partly psychological/partly nerve damage.  Since it's not likely that she will see, hear, or speak again, she must learn to live with her limitations.  After a few years in a school for the deaf and blind, with Margaret beside her every step of the way, Esther has made remarkable progress.  Feeling that Esther's inspiring story is a way of gaining public awareness of the need for funding, Esther and Margaret are encouraged to begin a speaking tour.

At this point, Margaret's estranged husband, the philandering Carlo Landi (Rossano Brazzi), comes back into her life.  But does he really love her?  Or does he see the fundraising as a means for financial gain for himself?  And what are his intentions toward Esther?

This film is definitely a very mature-themed drama, and I think it was handled beautifully.  The acting was very good.  Truly, I thought Joan Crawford and Heather Sears had such great chemistry that I truly wondered if Mommie Dearest was all just a hoax.  Was Joan really as horrible a mother as her daughter claimed?  Because I think she was fantastic here.  And Heather Sears was amazing as the blind, deaf, and mute young woman.  I'm happy that she won an award for her performance, because she certainly deserved it.

Anyhow, definitely keep your eyes open for The Story of Esther Costello.  Without question, it is worth watching.  Happy viewing!!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Footsteps in the Fog (3 stars)

Footsteps in the Fog, from 1955, is a Victorian England period drama starring Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons.  I have had little exposure to Mr. Granger; with the exception of Green Fire, which I watched solely because I want to see all of Grace Kelly's films, I haven't seen any other of his works.  And I haven't seen a whole lot of Jean Simmons' work either, perhaps four or five films.  Even so, though, I enjoyed this film, and I thought both Granger and Simmons were quite good in their roles.

Stewart Granger portrays Steven Lowry, a man whose wife has just died.  Telling his friends that he must learn to be alone, Steve returns home after the funeral and proceeds to drink to his wife's portrait...smiling all the while.  Housemaid Lilly Watkins (Jean Simmons) tells him that she gets a queer feeling when she looks at the portrait, almost like the mistress is trying to tell her something.

A bit later, Lilly discovers dead mice in the cellar, an empty medicine bottle lying in the midst of them.  Having done an experiment with the contents of the medicine bottle, Lilly knows that Mrs. Lowry did not die of gastroenteritis, as had been supposed, but by poisoning.  With this knowledge, Lilly begins blackmailing Steve, at first into obtaining the deceased woman's jewelry, then into dismissing every servant except herself.

In love with Steve, Lilly wants full control over his household...and him. Steve, however, who is in love with another woman, wants nothing to do with Lilly.  Desperate to be rid of her and the hold she has over him, he will stop at nothing...including another murder.

Footsteps in the Fog is a very interesting, well-acted, mildly suspenseful film.  While not a favorite by any means, I enjoyed it very much and definitely recommend it. It is out on DVD, so it should be fairly easy to track down.  Happy viewing!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (5 stars)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1948 drama starring Humphrey Bogart, with supporting roles by Walter Huston and Tim Holt.  The film, which received a Best Picture Academy Award nomination, was directed by John Huston, who also makes a cameo appearance early in the film.  Huston won two Academy Awards for his work here---best director and best screenplay.

Bogart and Holt are Dobbs and Curtin---broke, unemployed Americans living in Tampico, Mexico.  After hearing old prospector Howard (Walter Huston) tell stories of rich gold strikes in the Sierra Madre Mountains, the two men get gold fever.  Though Howard insists that gold can change a man's soul, Dobbs doesn't believe it.  He's certain that gold can be as good as it can bad.

Since jobs hadn't worked out in Tampico, Dobbs and Curtin decide to head into the mountains in search of their fortune.  Howard, the seasoned gold-mining veteran, accompanies them on their long, arduous trek.  When they finally find a strike, greed begins to take root and the men's personalities begin to change.  Can they trust one another anymore?  Or will one partner be just as glad if another partner is killed in a mine cave-in?  After all, one less man means one less partner with whom they need to share the riches.

I truly believe this is the most brilliant performance of Humphrey Bogart's amazing career.  (Yes, even better than his superb work in Casablanca, my 2nd favorite film of all-time!).  How he wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award for Treasure of the Sierra Madre, let alone not walk away with the win, is beyond my understanding. It was definitely an oversight on the part of the Academy.  Walter Huston was fabulous as well, very deservedly winning the Academy Award for best supporting actor.

This movie is a gem, and it really shows what greed can do to a person.  Definitely, a must-see film!!  (The acting is what takes it from 4 to 5 stars for me.)  Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Dangerous Ground (4 stars)

On Dangerous Ground, is a 1952 crime drama starring Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino.  Net Flix categorizes it as film noir; however, I think it's only very mildly noir.  Since it also gets me a bit misty-eyed, I guess it's slightly sentimental too.

Robert Ryan plays Jim Wilson, a disillusioned cop with an anger problem.

 After eleven years on the force, he's cynical and untrusting...and violent, often beating suspects to get information out of them. Telling Jim that he is behaving like a "gangster with a badge" and feeling that a change of environment will do him good, Jim's superior sends him to a rural town "up north", where he can help solve a murder case. It is there that Jim meets Ida Lupino's character, Mary, a blind woman whose mentally unstable brother is the one believed responsible for the murder. 

Robert Ryan, who I think was an extremely under-rated actor, does his usual splendid job in this role. Ida Lupino is lovely in her role as the vulnerable blind woman. And she does a brilliant job playing blind. The scenes between them are surprisingly tender, showing Ryan's amazing depth as an actor. Although he is often "the heavy,"  and is to an extent in this film, the gentleness he exhibits towards Mary is quite lovely.  A few of the scenes between them brought tears to my eyes.

On Dangerous Ground makes a profound statement about loneliness and lonely people. It is definitely a solid 4 star film.  I only wish it had been a bit longer (running time is only 81 minutes)!!!  Out on DVD, this movie should be quite easy to track down.

Happy viewing!!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dangerously They Live (3 stars)

Sometimes it isn't easy to fit a film into a certain genre.  While it has some leanings to a particular genre, those leanings are quite mild, so you're not sure it really fits there.  That's the case with Dangerously They Live, a 1941 drama starring John Garfield.  While there are some elements of espionage, it's not overtly an espionage film.  Also, while it is mildly suspenseful, it hardly qualifies as a mystery/suspense.  So, I will simply say this film is a drama, with a small amount of espionage and suspense.

Also starring Nancy Coleman and Raymond Massey, Dangerously They Live has John Garfield playing against type.  While he generally portrays cynical, angry, or criminal men, in this film, he's an honorable, likeable doctor, assigned to the case of a lovely young woman---the victim of a car accident.  Although the lady's injuries weren't severe, after coming to after the accident, she seems to have amnesia and is unable to tell Dr. Lewis anything about herself.

When a man claiming to be her father arrives at the hospital, the woman tells Dr. Lewis that she is in danger, that the man is not her father and is just trying to get information out of her.  She claims that she is a member of the British Intelligence and that she was on an important anti-Nazi mission when the accident occurred.  However, when the man returns to the hospital with photos of himself with the young woman, Dr. Lewis isn't sure what to believe.  Is this beautiful young woman really in danger?  Or has the accident left her confused and delusional?

This movie was enjoyable and quite interesting; however, I must admit, I actually prefer John Garfield in his typical, rough-around-the-edges kind of roles.  As I've said before, I rather like him when he's in "bad boy" fashion...I think he really excelled in those roles.  He's good here, and the film is entertaining; I just prefer Garfield when he's not a nice guy.   I do recommend this movie, though, especially to those who are Garfield fans. 

Happy viewing!!!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Submarine Command (2 stars)

Hard as it is to believe, I DO occasionally give William Holden films less than 4 and 5 stars.  Sometimes, as in the case of Submarine Command, I actually give the film only 2 stars.  Of course, it kills me to do that, but sometimes, even Holden's gorgeousness can't turn the movie into a winner for me, and rather than just blindly giving a thumbs-up to all of his films, I put my "objective hat" on and give it the "didn't like it" rating.

From 1951, Submarine Command pairs Holden with Nancy Olson, who starred opposite him in three other films.  Don Taylor and William Bendix co-star in this post World War II/early Korean War film.  The movie begins in mid-August, 1945, just before the end of the Japanese portion of the war.  The submarine Tiger Shark is out in the Pacific, where its commander and another man are attempting a lifeboat rescue of a downed airman, having left Ken White (William Holden) in command during their absence.  Before the men are able to make it back to the sub, there is a Japanese air strike, and White is forced to take the sub down...leaving the men behind to die, an action which causes him to incur the wrath of one of his crew.

Though the war is soon over, Ken's war has just begun.  Besides incurring the resentment of one of his crewmen, who believed Ken should have stopped the dive and returned for their captain, Ken has his own doubts about his actions.  And when, a few years later, as a career Navy man he needs to show a reporter around the Tiger Shark, Ken's demons resurface, causing him to be angry and difficult.  As his wife, Carol, tells him, he's at war with his job, himself, and her.

With his marriage in shambles, Ken is on the verge of leaving the Navy, when North Korean activity begins to build.  The Tiger Shark is called back into action, with Ken in command...and the crew member who detests him part of his team.  Is there any hope for Ken to overcome his demons?  To save his marriage?  To gain the respect of a man who hates him?

Though I love William Holden and think he was very good in this role (not to mention fabulously good-looking!), this movie just didn't do it for me.  For one thing, I thought there was zero chemistry between him and Nancy Olson.  While I think they had great chemistry in Sunset Boulevard, I didn't find their love believeable here in Submarine Command.  As a result, I just didn't even care about their marriage.  I could have cared less if they got back together or not.  And Don Taylor's character was pointless to me.  He added nothing to the storyline, and I think he was wasted in the film.

Also, though it wasn't called by that name, I believe Ken was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the message of the movie was that he could overcome its effects by sheer will and determination.  I think the film missed a great opportunity to enlighten the audience about a very real disorder that has affected so many veterans.

Of course, as a William Holden fanatic, I HAD to see this film.  After all, I want to see every one of his films if possible.  So, I'm glad I watched this one...I'm just sad that I didn't enjoy it.  If you are a major Holden fan, or if you like sub movies, you will probably want to see this one.  I would be interested to hear what you think of it.

By the way, I watched this through Net Flix instant viewing.  I don't think it's out on DVD, but TCM does air it periodically.  Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Letter (5 stars)

It's no secret that Bette Davis is my all-time favorite actress.  I think she was positively brilliant in every role she ever played...she was especially good when she was being bad.  The Letter, from 1940, is a film in which Bette is particularly bad...which means her dramatic abilities shine brightly here.  Directed by William Wyler, and also starring Herbert Marshall, The Letter begins with several gunshots being fired and Bette, in the character of Leslie Crosbie, standing---gun in hand---over the body of a motionless man.

Leslie, along with her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall), lives on a rubber plantation in Singapore.  As Leslie tells her husband and the police, the dead man, family friend Jeff Hammond, had arrived at the plantation in a state of drunkenness and began making advances toward her.  Although she asked him to leave, he continued forcing his unwanted attentions upon her, and with self-protection in mind, she shot him. 

Robert Crosbie is caring and supportive and never once doubts his wife's story; Leslie's lawyer, however, begins to be suspicious, especially when his associate indicates that there is a letter from Leslie to Mr. Hammond, written on the day of his death.  That letter, which makes clear that Leslie's relationship with Jeff Hammond was not quite what she had revealed, is in the possession of Hammond's widow, who is willing to sell said letter for a price.

Is the letter legitimate?  What was Leslie's relationship with Jeff Hammond?  Did she really shoot him in self-defense?  Or is there more to it than that?  These are the questions which will play out in this fabulously-acted film.  Bette, who was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for this role, is totally stellar.  Herbert Marshall is very good as her faithful, loving husband.  And Gale Sondergaard, who portrays Hammond's widow, was spectacular...and she barely uttered ten words.  She spoke more with her eyes and facial expressions than the average person speaks with a hundred words.  To my way of thinking, she ought to have garnered a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

Anyhow, The Letter is a definite must-see Bette Davis film.  It's out on DVD and should be quite easy to track down.  Happy viewing!!!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

He Ran All the Way (4 stars)

Last Friday was John Garfield's day on TCM, which gave me the opportunity to catch some of the lesser-known works of one of my absolute favorite actors.  So far, I've had the opportunity to watch He Ran All the Way, a crime-drama from 1951, which also stars Shelley Winters and co-stars Wallace Ford and Selena Royle.  He Ran All the Way was Garfield's final big-screen performance, and in my opinion, he definitely went out on top...I think he was totally fabulous in this role.

Small-time crook, Nick Robey (Garfield),  is involved in a robbery gone wrong.  Although he makes off with the targeted payroll, his partner in crime is killed and a police officer is wounded by a shot from Robey's gun.  When a manhunt ensues for the second man involved in the heist, Nick's only means of escape is to melt into the crowd, so he ducks into the nearby community swimming pool, where he meets working-girl Peggy Dobbs (Shelley Winters).  Realizing that it is in his best interests to have Peggy as an ally, Nick asks if he might see her home from the pool, a request to which Peggy agrees.

Although Peggy shares an apartment with her mom, dad, and younger brother, they have all gone out for the evening, leaving Peggy and Nick alone.  Peggy is quite attracted to Nick and comes close to kissing him; however, in short order, Nick's fear of being discovered by the police begins to consume him.  By the time the remainder of the  family returns from their outing, Nick has brandished his gun and taken the Dobbs family hostage in their own home.  Though Nick allows them to carry on as normal---work, church, shopping, etc.--- with one family member always in his gun-ready presence, no one is willing to report Nick to the police.

There are a few moments when a tender, caring side of Nick pops to the surface.  As for Peggy, she appears to really care for Nick.  But are her feelings just an act?  Or does she really want to help Nick get away? 

He Ran All the Way is very similar to the 1955 Fredric March/Humphrey Bogart film Desperate Hours, in which a family is held hostage in their home.  My husband and kids actually prefer Desperate Hours to He Ran All the Way.  For me, though, I like them both equally.  They are both 4-star films for me.

Although John Garfield's performance in He Ran All the Way is stellar and perhaps one of his best, sadly this final big screen performance did not end his career on top.  As I learned from Ben Mankiewicz's informational snippet, shortly after this film was made, Garfield found himself blacklisted in Hollywood because of his refusal to provide names in the anti-Communism hearings.  The stress of the blacklist, coupled with the bad heart he'd had all his life, caused Garfield to suffer a fatal heart attack in 1952...a great talent gone too soon, at the age of 39.

I'm not sure if this film is out on DVD; however, I know it is viewable on You Tube, so you can easily catch it there.  I definitely highly recommend it.  And for those who are John Garfield fans (as I am), you won't want to miss his final big-screen performance.  Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Evelyn Prentice (4 stars)

The team of William Powell and Myrna Loy made well over a dozen films together, many of them part of The Thin Man series.  But Powell and Loy didn't just shine as Nick and Nora Charles; on the contrary, they were magical in just about every film they did together.  The chemistry between them was fabulous...always.  My favorite of the Powell/Loy pairings is the 1934 drama Evelyn Prentice.

John and Evelyn Prentice are a happily married, socially prominent couple who seem to have it all.  However, as a high-powered defense attorney currently working on a high-profile case, John works round the clock, a practice which greatly grieves his loving wife.  In fact, as Evelyn tells a friend, the two seem to have dinner together only about once a week.  She longs for him to be home more.

Alone with friends one evening, Evelyn visits a nightclub, where she catches the eye of handsome ladies' man, Larry Kennard.  He immediately begins pursuing Evelyn, sending her books of poetry and invitations to tea.  Though her relationship with Larry is totally above board and quite innocent, Evelyn begins to feel that continuing to see him is unwise, so she decides to break things off.  However, after it begins to look as though John has been having an affair with his just-acquitted client (Rosalind Russell, in her film debut), Evelyn runs back to Larry.

In the end, though, Evelyn realizes that she cannot have an affair with Larry, so, once again, she tries to break things off, even asking him to return to her the letters she had written him.  Larry, however, sure that Evelyn will pay dearly to keep her innocent, yet easily-misconstrued letters, from reaching her husband, isn't willing to part with them.  Blackmail and subsequently murder then arrive on the scene.

As I said, Evelyn Prentice is my absolute favorite of the William Powell/Myrna Loy films.  While it might seem a bit strange to see them in dramatic roles, since they were fabulous in more lighthearted, comedic films, I think they both do an excellent job here.  Definitely, Powell and Loy were extremely versatile actors who excelled in all they did.

 By the way, today is Myrna Loy's birthday...her 106th.  Why not watch Evelyn Prentice---or any number of other fabulous films---in celebration of her.  Happy viewing!!