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drbonbi's Avatar drbonbi 08:38 PM 07-21-2010
Landfall ...


... is a 1949 British war film directed by Ken Annakin and starring Michael Denison, Patricia Plunkett, Edith Sharpe, Kathleen Harrison, Maurice Denham and David Tomlinson. It is based on the 1940 novel, Landfall: A Channel Story, written by author Nevil Shute.



LANDFALL takes place during the early portions of WWII. RAF pilot Rick (Michael Denison) is transferred to another squadron after sinking a British sub during a bombing raid. Disgraced, Rick has no one to turn to, save for sympathetic barmaid Mona (Patricia Plunkett). With her help, the pilot is able to find out the truth behind his 'fatal error' and clear his name. Landfall was based on a novel by Nevil Shute, of On the Beach fame.

This film has been available on VHS but just recently was released on a Region 2 SD DVD in the UK from whence I received mine. Fortunately, it is a digital remaster and does not appear to be a transfer from video.

I have read the book and was interested in seeing the movie. When it was first shown in movie theaters in this country in 1949, the year of its release, the New York Times movie critic of the time gave it a lukewarm welcome. "... (M)erely a commonplace variation on what could have been an exciting theme." Perhaps so. But, I liked it anyway.

On the upside, it remains faithful to the book and the cast is made up of competent UK actors. Michael Denison in particular had a long and successful career in the movies and theater in the UK. The female lead, Patricia Plunkett, played her part well. Unfortunately, she had a short career.

I've seen Denison in other films and he's first rate. But, in this one, he seems overly jolly. His specialty was light comedy but this isn't one. The flying bomb aerial sequences are obviously fake and don't match up well with the earlier sequences involving an actual British bomber in flight and cockpit scenes that seem real.

It doesn't portray the British Admiralty as being particularly intelligent in solving the problem of who sank what.

SD DVD. Region 2. OAR 4x3. Mono audio. B&W.

Trivia. Laurence Harvey has a bit part. He speaks a few words.


tlogan6797's Avatar tlogan6797 07:42 AM 07-22-2010

I love Walter Brennan in dramatic roles. He was a great badass.

One of my favortie roles of his is as Pa Danby in Support Your Local Sheriff (1969, which just makes the pre-1970 cutoff of the thread).

From IMDB...
[James Garner plays Jason] McCullough "passing through on my way to Australia" when he takes a job [as sheriff] in a gold rush town. After a startling display of marksmanship he immediately arrests the youngest son of the evil landowner (Danby). A battle of hired guns begins as McCullough continues to tame the town and defeat the gunslingers with a combination of skill and wit.

Maybe it's because I like Garner so much, but I find this movie original, especially for its time, and yes, funny. A great supporting cast of Walter Brennan, Henry Morgan, Jack Elam and Bruce Dern. The comedy (lots on one-liners you need pay attention to) and entire film holds up. I highly recomend it.

Favortie quote:
Pa Danby: If that gun had gone off, it'd of blowed right up in my face.
Jason McCullough: Now it wouldn't have done my finger a hell of a lot of good either, would it? What can I do for you, Mr. Danby?
dougotte's Avatar dougotte 11:34 AM 07-22-2010
Originally Posted by tlogan6797 View Post

One of my favortie roles of his is as Pa Danby in Support Your Local Sheriff (1969, which just makes the pre-1970 cutoff of the thread).

Did we just lose a decade? Let's get some guvmint experts on it right away!

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:23 AM 07-23-2010
There's Always Tomorrow (1956), directed by Douglas Sirk.

I've neglected the 1950s weepie genre (melodramatic overwrought things-just-keep-getting-worse tear-jerkers) so far, but now have several Douglas Sirk titles in the queue. Sirk was the master of the form, which reminds me of an old quote by David Cronenberg: asked how it felt to be the king of venereal horror, he said "Venereal horror may be a small genre, but at least I'm king of it!"

The value of a weepie has been recognized since ancient times: when you are oppressed by ill fortune and the injustice of life, go see a tragedy and cry it out. (Similarly, when romantically disappointed, see a sex farce and laugh it out).

Fred MacMurray has a fine wife in Joan Bennet and three great kids, but feels in a rut. The family doesn't have much time for him and he thinks the kids are pushing him aside. When old flame Barbara Stanwyck shows up they spend a lot of time together talking about the old days and he feels young again. They never get around to adultery but it is headed that way. The kids figure out something is up and put an end to it.

I wouldn't have watched this sort of soap opera when I was young and wouldn't have understood it, but now I do. "I'm not ready to be old yet" is a terrible feeling but time doesn't wait for you to figure out what to do. Hence the famous midlife crisis. In the end Stanwyck gives him the weepie moral straight up: you can't be young again, there is no going back, you need to shoulder your burden and just grow old without complaining. He does so, but looks like a broken man to me.

Third and last pairing of MacMurray and Stanwyck. Sirk's All I Desire (1953), also with Stanwyck, is on the same disc.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 06:33 AM 07-24-2010
Dr. Strangelove (1964), directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Endlessly quotable dark satire filled with images that have become cultural icons. Pretty damn funny still, ranging from the very dry to the slapstick. It was more forceful at the time before the gut-wrenching fear of imminent nuclear war had faded. It's amazing what Kubrick can fit into 94 minutes.

The fine cast includes Peter Sellers times three (great in each role -- I love the way Group Capt Mandrake's accent develops under stress), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden and Slim Pickens, who would all be famous now for this movie alone.

This time the bomber interior seemed a technocratic blizzard of switches, dials, indicator lights and mysterious self-destructing controls. I recall this being very important in the 1960s, all wrapped up with the space race and early computers -- the notion that we were finally getting some control over nature and could build clever electronic gizmos for any purpose.

The missile attack on the bomber is very exciting and we have the disorienting impulse to cheer the crew and root for them as they struggle to complete their mission to start WW3.

In a famous inadvertent bit you can see the Russian ambassador (Peter Bull) cracking up while watching Strangelove struggle with his limbs.

Laurie Johnson score.

Available on Blu-ray. This is the first time I have noticed that the centerfold in Maj Kong's "Playboy" has an issue of "Foreign Affairs" draped across her backside.

The Blu-ray has several history of the Cold War extras which I did not have time to watch. Hell, boy, I was there.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 07:34 AM 07-24-2010
Storm Warning (1951), directed by Stuart Heisler.

Ginger Rogers stops in a town terrified of the Klan and witnesses a jailbreak and murder. Her life is further complicated when she discovers her sister's husband is one of the gang. Ronald Reagan is rather good as the prosecutor who wants her to testify.

A seriously toned and earnest drama on a little-seen subject. A bit overblown and and a bit heavy on the message, but the tension builds nicely, first to the inquest and then to a confrontation with the brother-in-law and the assembled Klan.

I did not recognize Doris Day as the sister. It's supposed to be in the South but the accents are all generic middle American and there are only a scattering of black faces in the crowd.

The Klan is portrayed as a racket benefiting a few leaders. In the story they are mostly concerned with "outsiders"; there is a hint of racial animus: "it wouldn't be safe for a woman to walk the streets without us..." The prosecutor knows who is under the sheets and calls them by name: "Am I supposed to be afraid of you because you're wearing a mask?"

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:12 AM 07-26-2010
Incubus (1965), written and directed by Leslie Stevens.

A beautiful young devil worshiper wants to test her seductive powers on a saint. She picks a virtuous soldier but he responds with love which is too strong for her. She invokes a demon for assistance, but wavers in her resolve and we have a battle for two souls.

It's a fable of good and evil set in no particular place or time, beautifully filmed with very little construction or props at Big Sur. All the dialogue is in Esperanto, which adds an exotic other-worldly slant.

Leslie Stevens used his Outer Limits crew and it looks like an extended episode as if filmed by Ingmar Bergman. I think some of the musical cues are borrowed from the series.

This is well worth seeking out if you like the idea of a low budget experimental fable, although I like the setup more than the second half. Satanists are often portrayed as misfits and outsiders, but here they have a parallel loveless society of their own and are cautious when dealing with the godly. William Shatner later became a big name; I think he's fine.

To get permission to shoot at a mission church, Stevens produced a fake full-length alternative script: "Religious Legends of Old Monterey". The wikipedia has details on the history of the film, including its "curse". It was lost for over 30 years until a well-worn print was found in Paris. The restoration is rather good considering the source.

A note on the subtitles: the disc contains English and French versions, but these are burned into the image, not selectable. The sole surviving print had fixed French subtitles and there is no way to remove them; the English version just overlays that area with black stripes and text. This is unfortunate as the lettering is rather high up on the image and distracting.

The IMDB has the OAR at 1.85:1. The DVD is 1.33.

We have two commentary tracks, the first with a historian and crew, including cinematographer Conrad L. Hall who did many fine films later. They are all fond of the movie, although hint that the second half goes on a bit long (and the whole thing is only 76 minutes).

The second commentary is by Shatner, giving a bunch of tall tales in a matter of fact tone. Many silent sections and he doesn't say goodbye.

tlogan6797's Avatar tlogan6797 08:49 AM 07-26-2010

Did we just lose a decade? Let's get some guvmint experts on it right away!

OK, I KNEW there was a 9 in there somewhere. Math was never my thing.
wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:25 AM 07-27-2010
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), directed by Sergio Leone.

In my memory, Leone westerns are all about style and sadism: looking mean, dressing sinister, callously causing a lot of pain. The start of this film justifies that prejudice: it's all about gold and revenge and whatever it takes to get both.

As it progresses, new unremembered sentiments appear: glimpses of kindness, family, even a bit of camaraderie. We also have more humor than I recall, mostly provided by Eli Wallach. It's largely his film. He gets much more camera time than anyone else and his character has a broader range. Lee Van Cleef vanishes entirely for over an hour.

It must be an epic. The plot could have been covered in a shorter film, but this is the Leone style. Long shots and wide vistas, lots of incidental episodes.

About the big three-way shootout at the end: it's masterfully done, but there is just something wrong about the whole notion of grandiose operatic ritualized dueling. It's like taking bullfighting too seriously. Also: Clint Eastwood cheats, knowing he faces only one man, not two. Doesn't that drain some of the machismo from the scene?

Dubbing is inevitable in a film like this and I would not ordinarily complain, but the minor characters all sound like Mel Blanc doing Western voices.

Famous score by Ennio Morricone.

Available on Blu-ray. This is the first time I have seen the 178 minute cut. The case incorrectly says 161 minutes, which was the length of the American theatrical release.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:36 AM 07-27-2010
All I Desire (1953), directed by Douglas Sirk.

A minor costume melodrama set around 1910. Years after deserting her husband and children, tough vaudevillian Barbara Stanwyck returns to Riverside WI to see them again. Some love her, others not. She has a chance for happiness but old ghosts can still ruin all of their lives.

Not very weepie. Stanwyck dominates her scenes; those without her are pretty ordinary. The IMDB 7.0 rating is generous.

Spot young Guy Williams and Stuart Whitman. Billy Gray must have been the hardest working child actor of that era.

Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow (1956), also with Stanwyck, is on the same disc.

drbonbi's Avatar drbonbi 07:35 AM 07-27-2010
Last night I watched The Spy in Black ...

... a 1939 British film, and the first collaboration between the British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They were brought together by Alexander Korda to make the World War I spy thriller by Joseph Storer Clouston into a film. Powell and Pressburger went on to make over 20 more films together.

The Spy in Black, which was released in the US as U-Boat 29, stars Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson, Sebastian Shaw and features Marius Goring.

The plot might seem far-fetched when released in 1939 ...

Captain Hardt (Conrad Veidt), a World War I German submarine commander, is ordered to lead a mission to attack the British Fleet at Scapa Flow. He puts ashore on the Orkney Islands to meet his contact but finds more than he bargained for in the local schoolmistress (Valerie Hobson).

... but in an amazing example of life imitating art, a German submarine U-47 entered Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands in the early days of WW II between Britain and Germany and torpedoed the WW I British battleship HMS Royal Oak in what even Winston Churchill admitted was "a remarkable exploit of professional skill and daring."

This film is hard to find which is strange considering that it is the first of many collaborations of Powell and Pressburger. Amazon USA has it only on VHS tape. Amazon UK has it on a Region 2 DVD imported from Spain! But the Spanish subtitles are apparently difficult to defeat. Also expensive at £20.99 which means it costs over $30. before shipping to the USA. I did find a NTSC all region SD DVD from Movies Unlimited for $12.99. But, not surprising, it is a transfer from tape. Nonetheless, it is watchable.

The movie is dated in some ways. The acting is rather stilted. But, it was shot partially on location which wasn't commonplace then. It apparently is a "quota quickie," a film made by a UK subsidiary of an American studio to meet British requirements that a certain number of films screened in Britain be "home made."

The lead actor, Conrad Veidt, was a native German silent film star who emigrated to Great Britain in 1933 with his new bride who was Jewish. He was an ardent anti-Nazi but inevitably got cast as one in several later films made in the UK and the USA including Casablanca!

The script cast the Germans in the film as real people, not as cardboard stereotypes. It was considered one of the "ten best films of 1939" by the USA-based National Board of Review.

B&W. OAR 4x3. Mono audio.

They don't make 'em like they used to!!

The USA theater lobby poster.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:11 AM 07-28-2010
Barefoot in the Park (1967), directed by Gene Saks.

Newlywed Robert Redford is lucky in that he has Jane Fonda for a sexually voracious bride. He is less lucky in that she is a childish "free spirit" whose main entertainment is embarrassing him in public. She seems to have no idea that he has to work. Ever. Guess what? They fight. They make up again after he becomes a sick drunken bum. That's entertainment.

Well, it's not all dismal. Fixing up the mom (Mildred Natwick) with the eccentric neighbor (Charles Boyer) is a nice bit. Fonda's short skirts and pajama tops are prominently featured.

This was during that long period when Broadway and Hollywood's mission was to shock the button-downed normal stiffs out of their conformist complacency and make them celebrate the alternative and bohemian.

I've never watched a Neil Simon film or play that I wanted to see again. It's weak comedy. The bit with the five flights of stairs: once or twice would have been enough, yes?

drbonbi's Avatar drbonbi 06:02 AM 07-28-2010
Bitter Victory ...


... is a 1957 film set in World War II. It stars Richard Burton and Curd Jürgens as two Allied officers sent out on a commando raid in North Africa. Ruth Roman plays the former lover of one and the wife of the other. It was based on the novel of the same name by René Hardy.

This film is like licorice. Either you love it - or you hate it. As an early Burton it will always have some curiosity factor. There are lengthy reviews on Google such as this one written in 2005 at the time of the release of a remastered SD DVD of the film.


Columbia's bare-bones DVD of Nicholas Ray's Bitter Victory represents U.S. audiences' first opportunity to see this beautifully filmed, daringly cynical, but ultimately unsatisfying picture since its disastrous initial release nearly 50 years ago. Set in Libya during World War II, this French/American co-production was beset immediately by script, casting, and production problems. First, Ray failed to secure his top choices for two leading roles, Moira Shearer and Montgomery Clift, forced instead to settle for the less appealing Ruth Roman and Curt Jurgens. (Not only a middling actor, the German-born Jurgens is comically miscast as an English officer.)

Ray then convinced the one star he'd already hired, Richard Burton, to play Clift's role, the mordant intellectual Captain Leith. In addition to reworking the central relationships during shooting, the director also dealt with Jurgens' complaints that his character, the opportunistic Major Brand, was not sympathetic. Finally, following a lukewarm reception at the Venice Film Festival, the picture was cut by a full 20 minutes and re-released without studio support after a brief, poorly-received opening in the United States...

This SD DVD restores the European version of the film running the original 102 minutes. Jurgens is miscast as a South African born British officer (so as to explain away his German accent). He gives a rather wooden performance. Ruth Roman is little better, sort of sleepwalking through her role. Burton is less dramatic than in later roles but believable.

It's beautifully filmed in the Libyan desert in B & W CinemaScope. The bleakness of the terrain is matched by the plot of the film. There are no authentic heroes here. Ultimately an anti-war drama.

I thought the background music very late 50s chic and distracting. Vaguely reminiscent of some '50s TV shows. The choreographed dance routine aka bayonet "training" with fashionable dummies completely unscratched before and after comes across as equally out of place. What was the director thinking? (Maybe that he could take them back to the property room and get a refund?)

Overall, a disappointment.

Remastered in HD. B&W. OAR. 2.35:1 Anamorphic CinemaScope. Mono audio.

Trivia. Only Burton's name is on the cover of the DVD keep case. See those planes top left and the tank lower right on the cover depicted above? I never saw them in the film. Just Jeeps and half-tracks. The fellow actor on the cover in Arab garb is Raymond PellegrÃ*n, a French actor who rarely speaks a line in the film.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:40 AM 07-29-2010
Shame (1968), written and directed by Ingmar Bergman.

A bitter tale of civilians caught in the chaos of civil war. A couple, formally musicians, now live on a remote farm. Max Von Sydow is sensitive, Liv Ullmann is the dominant and decisive partner. When the war reaches their area they are senselessly brutalized by both sides. They need the protection and patronage of a politician, but his price is sex with the wife. The husband gets his revenge and toughens up, but it is all shameful. Heroism, honor, dignity: all gone, not even possible in the circumstances. In the end they are refugees, drifting in an open boat with strangers.

We have no notion of which side is which or what they are fighting about. The scariest part is the prospect of getting ground up in the bureaucratic machine: grey little men who exercise arbitrary power of life and death. Normally we could ignore such characters, but in wartime their inhibitions drop and they can commit all sorts of savagery.

In a touching early scene the couple sit in an antique store, listen to a musical figurine, look at the mementos of earlier times and think about better days.

A continuing theme is "children". She wants them but it isn't happening. When the war starts she says "I'm glad we don't have any and never will." After the affair with the politician who knows what might happen? But by then all hope is gone.

Liv Ullmann's face is featured throughout; it is worth studying.

Neither the IMDB nor dvdcompare give the OAR. The DVD is 1.33:1.

Photographed by Sven Nykvist.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 03:19 PM 07-30-2010
Nashville (1975), directed by Robert Altman.

Thirty-five years later I've finally seen Nashville. I must not be an Altman fan.

It's a chore to get through, obviously made by people with little love for Nashville, country music or flyover country in general. To be fair, the contingent from California (Shelley Duvall) and Britain (Geraldine Chaplin) don't fare very well either.

Dozens of characters, most with fragmentary and unresolved story lines. Choppy editing with lots of bits that don't contribute anything. Now and then a song rises above the clownish and some of the background musicians take their work seriously.

A few threads are good:
  • the decline and fall of superstar Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley)
  • Linnea (Lily Tomlin) with her deaf children
  • the sad fate of no-talent Sueleen, stripping at a fundraiser

In a bitterly comic scene, when Keith Carradine sings his big song (I'm Easy) several women in the audience think it is for them. Lily Tomlin is the one he's after that night and it works for him.

Casting Tomlin and Henry Gibson was pretty bold given the years they had spent on the pitiful Laugh-In series.

IMDB: 7.7. Rotten Tomatoes: 95% (Top Critics: 100%). Huge number of nominations and awards. People say it grows on you with repeated viewings.

hitchfan's Avatar hitchfan 07:38 PM 07-30-2010
I finally caught up with Nashville for the first time a couple of years ago. I was a big fan of Altman's largely forgotten Three Women. But I couldn't quite get what all the fuss was about Nashville, either. It is included on so many "Best" lists. As you said, maybe a second...or third...viewing would help me see what I missed. But the idea of another couple of hours with this one seems like very heavy lifting at this point.
wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:22 AM 08-02-2010
School for Scoundrels (1960), directed by Robert Hamer and Cyril Frankel.

Another entry in the genre of mild and inoffensive British comedies that were popular in the decades after WW2. Eccentric characters muddling through. Very silly.

Dapper Ian Carmichael is interested in pretty Janette Scott but is frustrated at every turn by smooth operator Terry-Thomas. Our hero attends Alistair Sim's school for cads and learns the techniques of one-upmanship and seduction. It all works well, but you need something more than tricks to win the lady.

We have skits on fancy restaurants and car dealers, and lots of tennis.

There were two directors because one was always drunk.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:33 AM 08-03-2010
Black Narcissus (1947), written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Powell and Pressburger's most famous title. It's always described as a masterpiece and I've seen it called the most beautiful color film ever. Neither statement can be much of an exaggeration.

Nuns reopen a mission school at 8000 feet in the mountains of India. It doesn't work out. The air is too clear, the wind is always blowing, the building is an old royal brothel and the walls are covered with erotic paintings. The local English agent, manly and often half dressed, provokes them from the outset and flirts with the weakest of the Sisters, the crazy one. He attends Christmas services drunk.

The women begin recalling their previous lives. The Sister Superior has vivid, wrenching flashbacks of her life in Ireland before the Order, when she hunted and fished with her young man, now long gone. It's as if their devotions have cut them off from reality which now comes roaring back in this remote, exotic location.

Outstanding cast, particularly in Deborah Kerr as the Sister Superior who is cracking and Kathleen Byron as the Sister who cracks. Also with Jean Simmons, Sabu, Flora Robson and David Farrar.

Photographed by Jack Cardiff.

Criterion Blu-ray. Just stunning.

(My thumbnails are always taken from DVD editions, by the way).

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:27 AM 08-04-2010
Passage to Marseille (1944), directed by Michael Curtiz.

The movie has several aspects, none really outstanding and together kind of confusing. Mostly it is beating the drum for the Free French allies during WW2. It also wants to tell the history of several characters, particularly Jean Matrac (Humphrey Bogart), a French journalist imprisoned before the War for opposing appeasement of the Nazis. But it has a serious (if very earnest) tone and explores the dilemma of the French, divided and conflicted during the War in ways that the other allies were not.

It is structured oddly, as a series of nested flashbacks:
  • We start with a hidden airfield in England used by the Free French Air Squadron. The commander (Claude Rains) tells how he and some of the men came there.
  • Flash back to a tramp steamer during the early part of the war. They pick up some dying men in a canoe who have escaped from Devil's Island.
  • Flash back to the prison and we get the stories of the men and their escape.
  • Flash back to their leader and his wife before the war. This is Bogart the journalist.

After each segment they pop the stack and return to the prior level until we are back at the beginning/end again.

(An aside: Stanislaw Lem had a short story with this repeated stacking motif which ends before the levels are fully unwound, which is disorienting. Shakespeare did the same in one of his plays; I will leave which one as an exercise for the reader).

The production uses much model work. There is an exciting climax where the steamer is attacked by a bomber. Bogart scandalously machine-guns downed German fliers in the water.

In a romantic bit he drops messages to his wife when he flies over her village. The final scene is especially cloying.

In some ways it is a Casablanca reunion: Curtiz, Bogart, Rains, Lorre, Greenstreet. And another Max Steiner score.

Written by Nordhoff & Hall, more famous for Mutiny on the Bounty.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:26 AM 08-05-2010
Alexander the Great (1968), directed by Phil Karlson.

Charismatic Alexander is maneuvering for a big battle with King Darius in Persia (which looks just like Utah). He's trapped, missing and thought dead for a while but shows up again without explanation how. Festivities, bathing, dancing girls, much forced hearty laughter. Problem: they have a traitor in the camp, have to sort that out during the big battle.

I list this for others who, from time to time, may enjoy a William Shatner film festival as much as I do. It's pretty bad but is only 50 minutes long and the bad-TV nostalgia rush of my youth was strong in this one. I always described it as Rat Patrol in ancient Persia. In retrospect, Rat Patrol was better. I remember when this was first broadcast and it has been on my want-list for a long time.

It was made as a series pilot episode around 1964 but not shown until several years later when Shatner had become famous for Star Trek and Adam West for Batman. Also with John Cassavetes, Joseph Cotten, Simon Oakland, and very familiar character actor John Doucette.

What if it had been a successful series? Trek with a different Kirk? The mind boggles.

Amazon has a cheap DVD. The image is poor.

Repeat: it's bad.

drbonbi's Avatar drbonbi 06:45 AM 08-06-2010
Last night I watched Above Suspicion ...


... a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer spy drama film starring Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray as newlyweds who spy on the Nazis for the British Secret Service during their honeymoon, along with Basil Rathbone as a Nazi who pursues them. The screenplay by Keith Winter, Melville Baker, and Patricia Coleman was based upon the novel Above Suspicion by Helen MacInnes. The film was directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Victor Saville, and was Crawford's last feature for MGM before signing with Warner Bros.

The plot is from a 1941 book by the same name.


Frances and Richard Myles (Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray) are newlyweds honeymooning in Europe on the eve of World War II. Unexpectedly, they find themselves commissioned by the British secret service to secure the plans for a new secret weapon masterminded by the Nazis (involving magnetic mines). The trail leads them to Innsbruck where they arouse the suspicions of Gestapo chief Von Aschenhausen (Basil Rathbone). Having secured the plans, the couple find great difficulty leaving the country. Frances is captured and held in a remote castle. She is rescued by her husband and a group of British agents, and, using underground routes, the couple finally cross the border to safety.

This was not uncommon in film-making of long ago, i.e., the screenplay being adapted from a novel and particularly so if the book had been popular, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, etc. There was already an established audience of book readers interested in seeing the characters "come to life" on the screen. That also prompted the inevitable criticism that such films took liberties with the book plot.

A couple of interesting (if only to me) notes about this film. Although many have claimed the Allies had no knowledge of German concentration camps in general and places like Dachau in particular during WW II, it is mentioned several times in this 1943 film. Admittedly, the reality of the infamous practices that went on there were not well known but the use of concentration camps to house enemies of the Nazis was common knowledge.

It was to be the last film starring Conrad Veidt. I mentioned him in my writeup above of the 1939 film U-Boat 29. After escaping in real life from Nazi Germany to England in 1933 with his Jewish bride, Veidt died prosaically on a golf course in Hollywood, CA. in 1943 at age 50.

A good trivia question. Who was the highest paid actor in the 1942 film Casablanca? According to his mini biography here, none other than Conrad Veidt at $5,000. per week, thus topping many "big names" in that movie.

This film was released by Warner Bros. on a Region 1 SD DVD in April 2010 as part of its 600+ titles Archive Collection. Hurray for WB!

B&W. OAR 4x3. Mono audio.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 08:24 AM 08-07-2010
Contraband (1940), directed by Michael Powell.

Aka Blackout.

It's Conrad Veidt week!

In early WW2 a Danish freighter is taken to a British port for inspection. When secret agent Valerie Hobson steals a pass and goes to London, the ship's captain (Veidt) chases her and gets tangled up in a German spy ring. With the aid of Danish restaurant workers he rescues her and saves the day.

We have a bizarre climactic shootout in a dark room full of plaster busts of Neville Chamberlain. That must mean something.

It's not as polished as later romantic comedy thrillers. It's dark, taking place mostly at night during the blackout and in cellars. Without subtitles the dialogue was sometimes hard to follow so parts of the plot are obscure to me.

The shipboard locations are real and I don't recall any other movie actually filmed on the streets during the blackout.

Veidt is a curious romantic lead. Stiff and formal with a wry twinkle.

Netflix doesn't have this. I rented it from

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:30 AM 08-09-2010
Captain Blood (1935), directed by Michael Curtiz.

Errol Flynn's first Hollywood picture, first starring role, first teaming with Curtiz and Olivia de Havilland. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's first film score. Nominated for best picture, and Curtiz, Korngold and the screenwriter all received a load of write-in votes in their categories.

George MacDonald Fraser's review from his The Hollywood History of the World:


The definitive pirate movie is Captain Blood. Sabatini's book [...] is one of the great unrecognized novels of the twentieth century, and as close as any modern writer has come to a prose epic [...] based on Morgan's exploits within a fictitious framework, recounting the story of an Irish surgeon falsely accused of being a Monmouth rebel and sold into slavery, falling for the niece of his brutal owner, escaping to become a buccaneer, turning patriot in a crisis, getting the girl, and becoming Governor of Jamaica.

All in the day's work for the young hopeful from Northampton Rep, Errol Flynn, whose first leading role it was, and for Michael Curtiz (director), Basil Rathbone (all fleering French villainy), Lionel Atwill (brutal uncle), and the then nineteen-year-old Olivia de Havilland. They were to do even better, but as it stands Captain Blood is interesting because it does put piracy in a historical context; attention is truthfully paid to the Monmouth Rebellion, the Bloody Assizes, and best of all, to the ethics of buccaneering -- the drawing of articles, the code of discipline, even the curious provisions for life and accident insurance. Judge Jeffreys is memorably captured by Leonard Mudie, pale and feverish-eyed, delivering sentences in his dreadful dry whisper: "Now, fellow, we be done with witnesses..." [...]

[...] Curtiz and his photographer, Hal Mohr, achieved something rare in the cinema: now and then, it was as though a window had been opened on another age. The interiors look candlelit; the players seem to belong in their setting; there are few concessions to glamour; sometimes a scene looks like a Flemish painting; the slave quarters are stifling and filthy; the heat beats off the plantation and waterfront, the battles look like battles; the most famous of screen duels takes place in a half-gale (and who will ever forget Rathbone sprawled on the sand with the surf washing through his curls?) -- in a word, it looks and sounds historically real, partly because Casey Robinson had the good sense to lace the script heavily with Sabatini's dialogue. ("Don't fling your French at me!" became a playground slogan, c. 1935).

You can see Flynn (cherubic without a mustache) still learning his craft in a few spots, but he has talent and charisma to spare, as well as comic timing:


She: "I believe you're talking treason."

He: "I hope I'm not obscure."

He does not move like a big man and I tend to forget how tall and big-chested he is. Fraser tells a story in another book: Oliver Reed fancied himself a hard-drinking, hard-fighting actor. When he had Flynn's role in a remake of The Prince and the Pauper, he insisted in getting Flynn's original shirt out of storage and was astonished to find it too big for him.

Fraser's The Pyrates (unrelated to a screenplay of the same name) is the funniest thing I have read in years. A comic novel set in the Hollywood pirate universe, he gives music and casting cues, including Flynn, de Havilland, Rathbone, etc.

Finally, I've heard of a law professor who opens every term with a question to the class: "What famous film features the Bloody Assizes?" Now you know.

drbonbi's Avatar drbonbi 07:20 AM 08-09-2010
Both Captain Blood and Above Suspicion which I reviewed above include the notable South African born actor Basil Rathbone. Best known for his role as and for me the definitive Sherlock Holmes, he was actually quite versatile and appeared on stage and screen both in the UK and USA.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:39 AM 08-10-2010
Bela Lugosi Double Feature

White Zombie (1932), directed by Victor Halperin.

In Haiti a bride is given a zombification drug on her wedding night. Her body is stolen from the tomb and she is taken to a mansion to be the love slave of a rich man. He soon realizes this was an error but zombie master Lugosi won't let him out of the deal. A missionary and the somewhat feckless husband mount a difficult rescue effort.

Said to be the first zombie film. Much of it has a really effective atmosphere, but the connecting and explanatory scenes drag. The music is not very appropriate. The acting is stiff and the camera work pretty static. But I might try to find a better copy anyway.

Lugosi had amazing hands, with fingers so long they look unnatural.

The Devil Bat, directed by Jean Yarbrough.

Mad scientist grows plus-sized attack bats in his secret lab. He tells people he is developing a new after shave lotion, but little do they know...

Entirely different from the first film, more of a comedy thriller. It's strangely watchable for such a cheesy, low budget effort.

drbonbi's Avatar drbonbi 04:20 PM 08-11-2010
Ship of Fools


... is a 1965 film which tells the overlapping stories of several passengers aboard an ocean liner bound to Germany from Vera Cruz in 1933. It stars Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret, José Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Oskar Werner, Michael Dunn, Elizabeth Ashley, George Segal, José Greco and Heinz Rühmann.

It was directed by Stanley Kramer. Werner Klemperer, better known for his portrayal of Colonel Wilhelm Klink in the 1965-1971 CBS television comedy, Hogan's Heroes, has a supporting role.

It was notable for being Vivien Leigh's last motion picture.

It won or was nominated for about every motion picture prize there ever was, as reported by the New York Times.


Best Black and White Art Direction - Joseph Kish - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Black and White Art Direction - Robert Clatworthy - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Black and White Cinematography - Ernest Laszlo - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Actor - Oskar Werner - 1965 New York Film Critics Circle
Best Actor - Lee Marvin - 1965 National Board of Review

Best Adapted Screenplay - Abby Mann - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Actress - Simone Signoret - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Actor - Oskar Werner - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Picture - 1965 National Board of Review
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama - Oskar Werner - 1965 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Picture - Drama - 1965 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Black and White Costume Design - Bill Thomas - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Black and White Costume Design - Jean Louis - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Supporting Actor - Michael Dunn - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Picture - 1965 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scie
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama - Simone Signoret - 1965 Hollywood Foreign Press Association

I have seen Simone Signoret in earlier pictures and always wondered why she had such a great reputation. It comes through in this film. In a poignant example of life imitating art, Oskar Werner in real life died at a relatively early age of a heart attack as his character does in this film.

Well worth watching.

B&W. SD DVD Netflix rental. OAR 4x3. Stereo audio.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:18 AM 08-12-2010
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), directed by Peter Weir.

Everything begins and ends at the exactly right time and place. -- Miranda.

Australia, Valentine's Day, 1900. A girl's school where the curriculum is "how to be properly English". The first 35 minutes are slow like a picnic on a summer's day. We have a class outing to an intricate volcanic hill in the area. But hints of strangeness appear: the birds and horses are unsettled, the watches stop at noon. Zamfir's pan pipe score gives an eerie, dreamlike quality to the day. When several girls ascend the Rock we have a Lynchian bass undertone denoting magic at higher elevations. Hypnotically, three of them tie their shoes and stockings around their waists and (it seems to me) ascend to another plane out of sight.

Suppressed sexual tensions and subtle suggestive imagery? Oh, yes.

The girls and one of the teachers have vanished without trace. Intensive searching of the rock reveals no clues. After a week a young man obsessed with the mystery endures a magical ordeal on the Rock and soon one of the girls is recovered. She is suffering from exposure and loss of memory and is missing her shoes, stockings, and corset, but otherwise, as the doctor says, "is quite intact."

Since we are used to mystery stories we immediately try to solve it. Lost in a cave? Abduction? Sex crime? Runaways? Flying saucers? But then there comes a moment, as in Hitchcock's The Birds, when we realize that the mystery is not going to be solved. We might hate this or we might love it because it seems to be the poignant essence of the Unexplained and Uncanny. As the school gardener says: "There's some questions got answers and some haven't."

Another plot line takes over: the school is struggling and the dragon lady headmistress begins to drink. We have hysteria in the town and among the girls, and eventually murder or suicide. In another sad bit, brother and sister orphans, separated for many years, live close to each other without ever knowing.

I think this is great filmmaking. Contrary to some rumors, the story is all fiction, not based on any real events.

Criterion DVD, 4:3 letterboxed. Subtitles, but no subtitle selection on the menu. Use the subtitle button on the remote.

Anamorphic PAL DVDs are available, although dvdcompare says "The R0 Criterion edition is the only release that presents The Director's Cut in 1.66:1". The others are apparently 1.78:1. Blu-ray imports are available, but I am hoping for a nice Criterion region A disc.

The Director's Cut is about 7 minutes shorter than the theatrical release.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 08:26 AM 08-14-2010
The Masque of the Red Death (1964), produced and directed by Roger Corman.

When a virulent plague ravages the countryside, accomplished satanist Prince Prospero seals off his castle and revels with his noble guests, staging sadistic and degrading entertainments. He has a pure young Christian woman from the village who he intends to debase, defile, corrupt and perhaps convert to his side.

He has made one terrible miscalculation: he believes that his dark worship gives him power over death, but as it turns out Death does not work for the Devil...

This must be Corman's most ambitious and colorful Poe adaptation. It has some good scenes and a quality of dark fable about it. A memorable setup is a sequence of differently colored rooms used in several scenes.

And yet: it was better in memory and seemed much more ominous in my youth. Vincent Price is very broad; I don't remember many subtle performances from him after he became a horror specialist. The revelers seem contemporary and cardboard. And yet I rewatch it from time to time.

Patrick Magee is always reliably sinister and is good at these maliciously decadent roles (A Clockwork Orange: "Food good? Try the wine!")

Photographed by Nicolas Roeg. Made in the UK.

The plot is a combination of the title story and Hop-Frog, both by Poe.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 04:51 AM 08-16-2010
Edge of Darkness (1943), directed by Lewis Milestone.

German relief forces arrive at a Norwegian fishing village to find a deserted town and bodies everywhere. The garrison has been wiped out and many civilians are also dead; obviously there has been a violent insurrection by the locals. Most of the film is a flashback to see how it came about.

The British are supplying arms to towns on the coast, telling everyone to wait for the right time. It is Our Town goes to war as the villagers discuss whether to be involved, how to do it, who can be trusted? In the end they hash it all out in a quiet church meeting.

Errol Flynn says "We must be like steel" to make this work, but Ann Sheridan is the really tough one. She denounces her own brother as a quisling and even after being raped (in the church!) she advises restraint until the whole coast is ready.

The climactic battle is very exciting but with terrible losses on both sides. The townspeople charge heavy machine guns with horse-drawn wagons and grenades. Most of the Germans are deep baddies, although one who is sweet on Judith Anderson is trying to be nice. No mercy for him, though. Die, Germans, die!

Also with Walter Houston and Ruth Gordon. Nancy Coleman is affecting as a Polish girl in a jam: she was brought to Norway as a "comfort woman" for the officers and now can't get away.

The film is dialogue heavy and a bit long at nearly two hours. As was the fashion at the time, people who are supposed to be speaking foreign languages use stilted formal English instead. It's meant to be a realistic war drama by the standards of the time, but there is a lot of speechifying.

Franz Waxman score. I heard bits from Siegfried's funeral march when the commandant shot himself: a wry statement on Wagner, Aryan supermen, that stuff. Helmut Dantine is a great villain; in life he was an active anti-Nazi and spent months in a concentration camp.

That final pane is after the big battle. Ann Sheridan is welcoming the enemy relief force.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:53 AM 08-17-2010
Jamaica Inn (1939), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

A tale of wreckers on the Cornwall coast: men who lure ships onto the rocks, murder the crew and plunder the cargo. It's a familiar setting in Regency romances.

It opens with an exciting storm and shipwreck. The movie takes place almost entirely at night and the gloomy tumbledown stone buildings are good. The main attractions are Maureen O'Hara (age 19) in her first film role as a fiery Irish lass, and Charles Laughton who hams it up without any restraint. He's the squire and local magistrate who is secretly the head of the gang. At first he seems strangely mannered, then very eccentric, but finally just nuts.

Otherwise it is neither funny enough nor serious enough to be of much interest. The plot doesn't move very forcefully. A police spy has infiltrated the gang and we have his discovery, people being tied up, escape, recapture, more tying up, more escape, etc.

It was Hitchcock's last British picture and he was never happy with it. His mind was probably on his move to Hollywood.

From a book by Daphne Du Maurier, who also wrote the novels for Rebecca and The Birds. I recall from a Hitchcock biography that it was more or less an accident that he made films from three of her books. They weren't friends and didn't work together.

(That's Robert Newton, not Charles Laughton, in the second photo).

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