Action Adventure movies


JAMAICA INN. Mayflower Pictures, UK, 1939. Paramount, US, 1939. Charles Laughton (also co-prodcuer), Leslie Banks, Maureen O’Hara, Robert Newton, Marie Ney, Horace Hodge. Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

   I recently had the chance to watch the 75th Anniversary 4K restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn on the Cohen Media Channel. And you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a lovingly crafted, atmospheric thriller that moves along at a steady clip, immerses you in a cinematic landscape of danger, and propels you into a seedy, sweaty, windswept world filled with thieves and cutthroats.

   Adapted to the big screen from Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous 1936 novel, Jamaica Inn hinges on Charles Laughton’s lead performance as Sir Humphrey Pengallan, a dissolute local official who moonlights as the ringleader of a group of marauders.

   Upon his orders, innkeeper Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks) and his gang of lowlifes deliberately wreck ships off the Cornish coast, then looting the goods aboard and murdering any survivors. It’s apparently a lucrative operation for Pengallan, a bloviating drunkard who has built quite a life for himself in the far southwestern corner of England.

   All that changes when Joss’s niece, Mary Yellen (Maureen O’Hara in her first major screen role), shows up at the Jamaica Inn. She has come from Ireland and has no place to stay apart from with her aunt. It doesn’t take long for the seemingly innocent Mary to realize that something sinister is afoot.

   After accidentally witnessing Joss and his men’s attempt to hang Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton) for betraying their gang, she becomes caught up in a whirlwind of deceit and mortal danger. By her side is Treherane, who turns out to be something more than a mere criminal.

   What makes Jamaica Inn so enjoyable to watch is not merely the exceptional performances from the cast – notably Laughton’s scenery chewing villainy – but also the ways in which Hitchcock utilizes the still nascent medium of film to portray a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere. Throughout the movie, one gets the sense of how entrapped all of the characters – heroes and villains – alike feel.

   The heroes know that danger is all around them. The criminals know they know they can only outrun the law for so long. Much as in in Notorious (1946), which I reviewed here, Hitchcock places great emphasis on how various objects – a rope designed for hanging, a knife uses to set someone free from captivity, a musket, a lantern – are integral to the plot.

   It is my understanding – and correct me that I am wrong – that Hitchcock himself later on did not think highly of his film and that the critics at the time were not especially keen on it. But no matter. It remains an elegantly crafted film, subdued in tone, without a lot of fanfare. Kudos to the Cohen Film Collection for restoring this classic. I plan to rewatch it again sometime in the years ahead.


THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST. Allied Artists, 1958). Charlotte Austin, Lance Fuller, Johnny Roth, William Justine, and Ray “Crash” Corrigan as “Spanky.” Written by Adrian Weiss and Ed Wood Jr. 2nd Unit/Assistant director: Harry Fraser. Photographed by Roland Price. Directed by Adrian Weiss.

   A classic in the annals of bad movies, with screen creds to go with it.

   Readers here recognize Ed Wood’s name at once, but how many can recall Roland C. Price “the Vagabond Cameraman” who made Lash of the Penitentes (1936) at some risk to his life? Likewise, Ray Corrigan made his name in B Westerns and Jungle movies, but Harry Fraser wrote, produced and/or directed scores of them – all terrible.(See my reference to both gentlemen here. And speaking of credits, I just wish I could name the old tiger-hunt movie that died so this film could live.

   Let’s get the plot out of the way first — which is more than the movie does. As the story opens, newlyweds Laura (Charlotte Austin) and Dan (Lance Fuller) indulge in some circular, pointless dialogue (a trademark of Ed Wood’s prose style.) en route to his castle/menagerie where the only animal seems to be a gorilla (Ray “Crash” Corrigan”) kept in a cage in a dungeon-like room — there’s a refrigerator, but it’s lit by torches; architecture for Ed Wood was more about mood than function.

   Anyway, Laura finds herself strangely attracted to the ape, and he to her. So much so that he breaks out of his cage, invades the nuptial chamber (with its twin beds) and is quickly shot dead by Dan.

   The next day, Dan calls in his Psychologist-buddy (named Dr Carl Reiner, and yes, her name is Laura, but the Dick Van Dyke show was still a few years away.) to see why his bride is so upset (!), and the Doc immediately suspects it has something to do with a past life. Before you can say “Bridey Murphy,” he hypnotizes Laura and regresses her to a past life where she was a gorilla running through scenes from old jungle movies.

   Next thing we know, Dan & Laura are on their Honeymoon, on safari in Africa (“Get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll be in Gorilla country.”) and….

   …And then the Gorillas go on sabbatical or something so we can watch another movie. Producer Weiss, an old hand with stock footage, throws in a line about tigers escaping from a shipwreck, the extras start wearing turbans and saris, and we spend the next half hour with Dan hunting tigers and trying to look like the guy in the other movie. Getting back to this movie, the gorillas don’t return till the last ten minutes, when they abduct Laura and carry her off to Bronson Canyon, that elephant’s graveyard of cheap movies, where Dan catches up and….

   …and I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will say that Charlotte Austin is a much better actress than one should expect in a mess like this. There are times she even convinces me that she’s haunted by her inner ape, just like it says there in the script. I’m not saying she’s another Ethel Barrymore, but I will observe that it’s easier to be convincing amid the splendor at MGM than in the squalor of Bronson Canyon.

   Maybe Ms Austin’s to blame for it, but Bride/Beast just misses slipping easily into the so-bad-it’s-good bracket. Or perhaps I expected too much from a film with this pedigree. At any rate, Bride is firmly in the fun-if-you’re-in-the-mood rankings, and on that level I can recommend it highly.


GET MEAN. Italian-American, 1975. Tony Anthony (also wrote the story and produced), Lloyd Battista. Directed by Ferdinando Baldi. (Pther names of those involved are withheld to protect the innocent who were only collecting a paycheck and are otherwise blameless)

   Bad is, of course relative (like your brother-in-law), but when it comes to movies there are different levels of true cinematic incompetence.

   There is the most obvious kind of bad film, the low budget badly made and poorly acted film. Among the most famous of that breed are Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Robot Monster, and the hands down winner Manos: Hands of Fate. They wear their badness as a sort of badge of honor. We made a bad film, yes, but we would have made a better one if we had talent.

   Then there is the “what went wrong” category, when big stars, directors, writers, and even bestselling books somehow get to the screen in a form audiences simply cannot believe turn out so bad. Otto Preminger late in his career seemed to specialize in these with Hurry Sundown and Rosebud, Michael Cimmino made cinematic bad movie history with Heaven’s Gate, millions of dollars and Laurence Olivier couldn’t save Inchon. A book by Alistair MacLean and a cast that included Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, and Franco Nero could not save Force 10 From Navarone. The less said about adaptations of Harold Robbins’ The Adventurers and The Betsy the better, but even they couldn’t come close to the one with Pia Zadora. (I won’t even write the name, there may be curses involved and malign spirits, besides Ms Zadora’s acting).

   But there is another kind of bad film, one so bad, so gonzo stupid and inept that it plays as if you were smoking something funny even when you see it cold sober. Get Mean is that kind of film.

   We begin as a typical Spaghetti Western. Tony Anthony, our hero, is being dragged through the dirt by a galloping horse through some unnamed Southwestern canyon, and to add to the mystery he is being observed by a crystal ball sitting out in the middle of nowhere.

   Let me be clear, Anthony, who starred in a number of Spaghetti Westerns, is largely to blame for this film. He not only stars, but he wrote the original story and produced the film. If there is anyone to blame it is him.

   It’s only a shame the audience and not him who suffers the most from this fact.

   Soon his exhausted horse wanders into a ghost town and promptly drops dead (and never have I seen a hammier performance by a horse). Anthony frees himself, and sees smoke rising in an abandoned building. He follows his nose and inside finds a group of Romany and an old seeress with the crystal ball we saw earlier. They offer him wine and food, and proceed to explain that he is expected.

   They dump ten thousand in gold in front of him and produce the Princess Maria, who he is told he must escort to Spain where she can free her people from the barbarians.

   Our Tony, however, has already been established as an untrustworthy mercenary type and bargains his fee up to $50,000 in gold, which they quickly agree to, when a Viking replete with furs, blonde beard, and horned helmet bursts in with three sailors dressed like escapees from Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

   Having dispatched them we are shown a map as Tony and the Princess cross the United States and the Atlantic to Spain. We learn from the map also that there seems to be desert canyons in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior, because that’s where the animated map starts our journey.

   So after a brief sojourn on the shore after they land in Spain we are in the Spanish desert (at least they actually have them there) resting and arguing because Tony is so rude to royalty and thinks she is full of hot air, when we hear many men and horses approaching.

   A great battle is about to be fought between the evil Barbarians (still Vikings, but looking more like Attila’s huns) and the Princess’s allies — the Moorish army — which were driven out of Spain by El Cid around the eighth century, save for some incursions in the South and nice architectural touches.

   The good Moors are soon wiped out thanks to the Barbarians secret weapon, Leonardo’s turret, with multiple cannons that can be rapidly fired, and Tony and the haughty princess are captured by the Barbarian chief, his Valkyrie bodyguard, and his two allies; a rather gay Prince dressed like Hamlet, and the hunchback Richard II. Yup folks, that Richard II, War of the Roses, nephews murdered in their cell, old twisted back himself.

   My kingdom for a … but I’m getting ahead of the plot. That comes later.

   For no real reason the Valkyries tie Tony up and hang him upside down from a pole. then they all ride off happily with the Princess to their castle. Sadly Tony Curtis in not present to say ”Yonda lies the castle of my fadda.” Come to think of it that was a much better film even with Tony’s accent.

   Eventually more Romany types show up and rescue Tony and the wounded leader of the Moorish army. It seems as if it is up to Tony now to rescue the Princess and collect his money, so Tony, after a brief recovery, goes and gets himself captured by the Barbarians by offering his services.

   The Chief and the Prince aren’t to sure of this, but Richard II never saw an ally he couldn’t betray and persuades them that Tony could be useful. After all, the Barbarians aren’t too smart and worship a live horse in gold plated armor known as the Stallion of Rodrigo since they live in El Cid’s castle, and it turns out are desperate to find the treasure of Rodrigo.

   Tony proves to come in handy here and is sent on a mystical quest for the treasure, which involves a strange ceremony in what appears to be a Russian Orthodox church and a semi-mystical quest which ends with him being turned black (“Everywhere,” he assures us after checking his pants), and returning with no treasure but the Scorpion Necklace which curses the bearer to die.

   At this point the Barbarian chief is tired of messing with him and has him trussed up like a pig and put on a spit over a slow fire. At least he’s white again. The Princess, seeing this, grabs a sword, duels Richard II, and is promptly killed when he throws a sword between her shoulder blades.

   Well, that plot point wasn’t going anywhere fast, and now there is a treasure worth more than the reward for delivering the Princess to interest Tony — if he doesn’t cook too soon.

   But the treacherous Prince has other things in mind and frees Tony, who turns the table on him and forces the Prince to swallow the Scorpion Necklace, which the Chief and Richard II have since learned is key to Rodrigo’s treasure.

   Still hanging in there? If not I can hardly blame you.

   The Prince is returned to the castle and force-fed until he returns the missing necklace while Tony invents some sort of four barreled hand held cannon and prepares to challenge the Barbarian horde, but before he can, the Valkyries confront him, and after briefly considering cutting off some important parts of his anatomy, instead decide to make use of them in a gang assault that Tony manages to elude and instead throw the Prince in as a very reluctant substitute.

   There are by now so many things about this film to be offended by, it is hard to focus on just its use of stereotypes and casual prejudice.

   The Prince survives without changing sides, and as Tony assaults the castle, is killed. Tony then puts scorpions down the Chief’s armor and has a chuckle or two as the Viking leader spends more time dying than the ham horse earlier in the film, but just about as boring.

   Now only Richard II and Tony are left to face each other down in a gun fight. Tony’s Colt against Richard’s six barreled revolving cannon all as Richard recites the “My kingdom for a horse” speech from Shakespeare. This film is not kosher; ham is on the menu.

   Unluckily for the viewer Tony wins that one and even finds Rodrigo’s treasure, then we are shown in animation him sailing back to America and riding into the screen, past another mysteriously placed crystal ball …

   I’m am happy to say, though, that this one does not prove accurate in its predictions, and we never have to see Tony or this movie, or anything half as stupid again unless we smoke or ingest something we shouldn’t.

   As bad films go, it is hard to rate this. Ken Russell would have thrown up his hands in despair. Ed Wood would have cried himself to sleep, the movie even has bisexual cross-dressing Valkyries. Andy Warhol would have shredded his soup cans.

   Get Mean is not the worst movie ever made, but it bows to none as the stupidest most gonzo Western in history, and I include Terror in a Tiny Town in that mix.

   If Tony Anthony gets dragged into your town behind my horse, my advice is to aim low and shoot first.


ROBIN HOOD AND THE PIRATES. Finanziaria Cinematografica Italiana, 1960,as Robin Hood e i pirati; Embassy Pictures, US, 1964. Lex Barker, Jocelyn Lane, Rossanna Rory, Mario Scaccia, Edith Peters, Walter Barnes. Written by Edoardo Anton and Leo Bomba. Directed by Giorgio Simonelli.

   My DVD of this seems to be missing the first 10 minutes or so, where Robin is on his way to or from the Crusades, gets kidnapped by pirates and held for ransom. It opens, in obvious homage to The Tempest, with the ship in a violent storm and Robin washed overboard to land on the beach… close to a sign that says SHERWOOD COUNTY (in Italian) and so he’s home.

   Well that sure saved a lot of film.

   But as usual in these things, Robin Hood’s estate has been taken over by usurpers (Scaccia and Lane) and all his friends are locked up, sending Robin fleeing into the woods. The parallels with King Lear are obvious, but there are no woods here because this was filmed on the Mediterranean coast, which looks as much like Nottinghamshire as Sicily looks like Picadilly Circus.

   Fortunately, the Pirates were washed ashore too, along with some Saracen women, led by Edith Peters, who speaks with a southern drawl and sings in her own inimitable style when they form an impromptu singing group —

Edith Peters (April 14, 1926 – October 28, 2000) Con Lino Patruno rievocano il grande “Satchmo” Dai tempi della …

   –and Robin Hood and the pirates and the Saracen Supremes all team up to… well write the rest yourself.

   The discerning reader has discerned from reading so far that Robin Hood and the Pirates is no ordinary film. It isn’t actually bad enough to be funny, but it offers a cheerful disregard for Reality and Legend I found consistently amusing, as Barker and the baddies chase each other around Sherwood-on-the-Beach and indulge in spirited, if not terribly proficient, swordplay.

   And that’s my qualified recommendation: amusing if you’re in the mood. As I watched it though, I got to thinking how many notable heroes Lex Barker’s career encompassed. Besides Tarzan and Robin Hood, he was at various times: Mr. Lana Turner, Old Shatterhand, Mr. Arlene Dahl, Mangas Coloradas, and Natty Bumpo. Sounds like quite a life.


DONALD HAMILTON – The Steel Mirror. Rinehart & Co., 1948. Paperback reprints include: Dell #473, 1950; Gold Medal d1617, 1966.

FIVE STEPS TO DANGER. Henry S. Kesler Productions/Unoted Artists, 1957. Ruth Roman, Sterling Hayden, Werner Kemperer, Jeanne Cooper and Karl Lindt. Written & directed by Henry S. Kesler, from the novel by Donald Hamilton.

   A tightly-written post-war mystery with the times reflected in small details and a plot that kept surprising me right to the end.

   Even without the surprises, this would be a fun piece of nostalgia, but Steel Mirror hooks the reader quickly with John Emmett, vacationing everyman, whose car breaks down somewhere west of nowhere. He gets a ride from Anne Nicholson, an attractive, well-dressed young woman in a new car, driving across the country, and congratulates himself on his good fortune.

   Until he stows his gear in the trunk and sees no luggage….

   Hamilton builds nicely from this. Our hero and the young lady without luggage are being followed… by what turns out to be her Doctor and a nurse. It seems Anne worked with the French Resistance in WWII, got captured and tortured by the Gestapo – and may have betrayed her husband and friends; she can’t remember, and she’s driving across country to meet the one man who can tell her.

   And oh yes: the good Doctor adds that she’s subject to mental breakdowns, has tried to kill herself, doesn’t trust him (the Doc) and it would be a big help to everyone if Emmett would stay with her and check in when she gets where she’s going.

   Okay at this point the savvy reader has spotted the Bad Guy, and as the pages turn will guess the truth about the one man we’re after. This is because Donald Hamilton has let us spot and let us guess; this plot has more twists than a box of candy canes — near-arrest by a county sheriff, a visit from the FBI, and a helpful passer-by packing heat—and it soon occurs to Emmett and that savvy reader I mentioned that there are a lot of people who don’t want Anne to get where she’s going.

   Eventually the journey reaches that point where all thrillers must inevitably arrive — Anne & Emmett on the run from a Murder charge, posing as husband & wife till they can get to the one man who can clear the whole thing up for them — whereupon it simply takes another turn and then another, all predicated on the people acting like grown-ups and not like characters in a paperback. Even when the chips are down and guns drawn there’s none of the “Very clever, Mr. Bond!” stuff, just everyone playing their cards close to the vest and me trying to figure out who’s got the Joker.

   But what I shall remember from The Steel Mirror is an underlying theme of characters trying to define themselves. Emmett spent the War in a vital civilian job and he’s always wondered if he did it from convenience or cowardice. Anne is trying to find out if she’s a heroine or a traitor. And The Steel Mirror resolves both issues by letting the characters grow and understand each other.

   Nice job, that.

   I only started reading Donald Hamilton in the last few years. I was always put off by the Matt Helm thing, but he did some decent stuff. Like the novel basis of The Big Country and The Violent Men, and in between those two fine Westerns, Henry S. Kesler made a modest little film from this.

   Kesler is hardly a name to conjure with, but he worked on some memorable films (5 Graves to Cairo, In a Lonely Place, Lured …) and Five Steps to Danger is competently done. Even quite good at times. Stars Ruth Roman and Sterling Hayden play well off each other, and the bad guys (Werner Klemperer and Richard Gaines) strike just the right note of stuffy disdain: not so much evil as arrogant, and it works well here. If you ever met a doctor too interested in himself to listen to you, then you know Klemperer’s character. And Richard Gaines (the Insurance Executive in Double Indemnity) as a duplicitous dean is so politely unhelpful as to seem maddeningly sinister.

   That’s director Kesler. Writer Kesler simplifies and updates Hamilton’s book. Maybe too much so. No more Gestapo. Now Anne has (or had) a brother in East Germany working against the communists who died trying to get valuable information to a German Rocket Scientist, now working for the U.S., who was an old friend of the family before the war, and it’s up to Anne to complete the mission.

   Rocket Science. I wonder how long it took to think that one up? Kesler treats it more seriously than it deserves, and maybe I’m being too hard on him. If I hadn’t read the book first, I might have thought more highly of this. But I remembered the human element in the book, and I missed it in the movie.

AT SWORD’S POINT. RKO Radio Pictures, 1952. Also released as The Sons of the Three Musketeers. Cornel Wilde (D’Artagnan Jr.), Maureen O’Hara (Claire, daughter of Athos), Robert Douglas, Gladys Cooper, June Clayworth, Dan O’Herlihy (Aramis Jr.), Alan Hale Jr. (Porthos Jr.), Nancy Gates. Director: Lewis Allen.

   I don’t wish to insult anyone, but if you can’t tell from the credits above what this movie is all about and 90% of the plot, you may be reading the wrong blog. But not being a person to send anyone packing without a second chance, I’ll talk some about the movie anyway.

   After the death of Cardinal Richelieu, it seems as though the ailing Queen of France is once again in trouble — the evil Duke de Lavalle is making plans to marry the Queen’s daughter Henriette and kill the young Prince, next in line for the throne. She calls for the assistance of The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan. They have aged, however, and while willing, they each send one of their offspring in their stead.

   Three men and one woman, and she may be the best swordsperson of them all:

           Enemy soldier: I’ll not fight with a lady.

           Claire: I’m no lady when I fight!

   The movie is in Technicolor, and deservedly so. Maureen O’Hara was meant for color movies, and her presence in one must have doubled the box office receipts, at least.

   This one is told with a great sense of fun, and it only bogs down when things start to turn serious, as they do, but only every once in a while, but not too often. There are a lot of swordfights in this movie, and I mean a lot, and I meant it when I said Maureen O’Hara’s is right there, mixing it up with the rest of them, thrusting her sword into the enemy, through and through.

   It all turns out well, you can count on that. I enjoyed this one.

BONUS TRIVIA:   Taken from the IMDb page. Alan Hale Jr. plays the son of Porthos here. His father, Alan Hale, appeared in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) as an aging Porthos. When that film was remade as The Fifth Musketeer (1979), that role was taken by Alan Hale Jr.. In that same movie the role of an aging D’Artagnan was played by Cornel Wilde, this picture’s son of D’Artagnan. Also here, the elderly Porthos is played by Moroni Olsen, who played that character in his younger days in the film of the original Dumas novel, The Three Musketeers (1935).


   The trailer for Just Before Dawn (1981, directed by Jeff Lieberman) suggests that it’s a standard slasher film, one with perhaps some supernatural themes. While it’s true that the movie is undeniably a slasher film and part of that “craze” that swept drive-ins and cheap theaters in the early 1980s, it is also a survival film.

   Think: John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), which Lieberman credits as a major influence on his work. The trailer decribes the plot pretty well, but it fails to capture how hauntingly atmospheric the movie is. How the natural outdoor setting in the movie – it was filmed on location in Oregon – is as much as a character in the film as are the doomed protagonists.

   But let’s be honest. Just Before Dawn is an exploitation film, designed to appeal to the suburban fear of the backwoods. Just who are those inbred people who live up there, all alone in the mountains? The fun-loving kids in this movie with their fashionable clothes and their love for Blondie and Debbie Harry will soon find out, much as Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight’s characters did in that seminal work of 1970s cinema.

   One final note: for a slasher film, Just Before Dawns is relatively bloodless. There’s some gore, of course, but Lieberman didn’t go for the cheap thrills as much as he did the psychological menace of being chased and hunted in an unfamiliar, dangerous setting.


   I just watched the Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release of Kidnapped (1971) starring Michael Caine. Despite some plot flaws and the fact that the film seems to require the viewer know something about the Jacobite Risings and the doomed struggle of the Scottish Highlanders for freedom from English rule, it’s a fun movie.

   It’s the type of adventure film that is rarely made anymore. A sort of timeless work that’s intended to appeal to both children and adults. Filmed on location in Scotland, the scenery is spectacular. Apparently, Kidnapped was originally designed as a television movie. But it works as a feature film too and was released as such in some countries.

   The trailer does a fairly good job in giving the would-be viewer a sense of what to expect from the movie. Some adventure, some drama, some romance, and a host of British character actors with names likely familiar to moviegoers at the time.


GOLD FOR THE CAESARS. Adelphia Compagnia Cinematografica / Films Borderie, Italy, 1963, as Oro per i Cesari. MGM, US, 1964. Jeffrey Hunter, Mylène Demongeot, Ron Randell, Massimo Girotti, Giulio Bosetti, Ettore Manni. Directors: André De Toth, Sabatino Ciuffini (Italy), Riccardo Freda (uncredited).

   Peplum par excellence. An Italian production with Andre De Toth credited as its director (there’s some dispute as to how much actual work he did on the film), Gold for the Caesars isn’t exactly the type of film that is rich in character development. Instead, it relies upon costumes, sword fights, and campiness to get its point across. And that point is celluloid escapism, pure and simple.

   Jeffrey Hunter, a long way from the set of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), portrays Lacer, a slave in the hands of Rome. He’s also an architect, responsible for aiding in the construction of a bridge in Spain. Enlisted by a local Roman leader to aid in the search for gold in hill country occupied by the Celts, he is forced to choose between a life of enslavement versus a chance to risk it all for freedom. Along the way, he falls for a Roman slave girl.

   That’s about it, to be honest. That’s the essence of the plot. But you know what? In an era of overwrought CGI productions, there’s something slightly charming about being able to watch an admittedly mediocre sword-and-sandal film that actually has a large cast of extras portraying soldiers and slaves alike.

   Make no mistake about it: if this movie was remade today – a highly dubious proposition to be sure – both the Roman and Celt warriors would likely be “made” of CGI imagery rather than a cast of hundreds all dressed in traditional costumes. And a lot of it would probably have been filmed on green screens rather than outside. I can’t overly recommend anyone going out of his way to see Gold for the Caesars, but I’m not going to be unduly harsh on it either.


THE GREEN GODDESS. Warner Brothers, 1930. George Arliss, Ralph Forbes, H.B. Warner, Alice Joyce. Director: Alfred E. Green.

   Speaking of surprises, there’s a nifty one at the end of The Green Goddess, a remake of a venerable Silent Film derived from a creaky play by William Archer. Both films starred that shameless old ham George Arliss (whom a critic dubbed “The Man of One Face”) delivering a magnificently fruity performance as the half-mad ruler of some lost city in the remote regions of what C. Aubrey Smith used to call “Injah.”

   This film may be the spiritual progenitor of every “lost city” serial and B-movie ever made. Certainly, all the elements are there, what with the doughty downed flyers (Ralph Forbes and H. B. Warner, back when he had hair) and the woman they both love (Alice Joyce) at the mercy of heathen zealots, playing cat-and-mouse with Arliss amid splendiferous sets and keeping upper lips stiff to the point of Lockjaw. There are hairbreadth escapes, human sacrifices, stylish lust, and everything else kids go to the movies for.

   At Center Stage, though, is the unforgettable Arliss, who — how can I describe it? — manages to ham it up without overacting. He ladles out every line of his drippy dialogue with all the relish of Robert Newton or Tod Slaughter, yet somehow manages to gently kid the whole thing at the same time.

   It’s a performance of enormous gusto and more complexity than you might think, and as a reward for it, Arliss gets to wrap up the film with a Closing Line guaranteed to awaken even the most jaded viewer, Watch it and see.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #44, May 1990.

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