March 2016


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MAN OF THE WORLD. Paramount Pictures, 1931. William Powell, Carole Lombard, Wynne Gibson, Lawrence Gray, Guy Kibbee, George Chandler. Directors: Richard Wallace & Edward Goodman (the latter uncredited).

   For a film with a script written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Man of the World is overall surprisingly bland. That’s not to say that William Powell isn’t a fine actor or that Carole Lombard isn’t dazzling; it’s just that the movie just sort of plods along, without enough tension to keep the viewer fully engaged with the story. True, there’s a surprisingly (spoiler alert) downbeat ending and some rather seedy insinuations about American expatriate life in the City of Lights, but there’s just not enough verbal sparring, let along physical action, to make this programmer anything other than an average pre-Code melodrama.

   Powell portrays Michael Trevor, a former newspaperman living as an expatriate in Paris. He tells everyone he’s an aspiring novelist, but had his run of hard luck and is really part of a small blackmailing ring. They target Americans living and working in France. In order to keep their names out of a scandal sheet that Trevor’s associates run, wealthy Americans end up forking over money to Trevor as a means of guarding their reputations. Little do they know that Trevor himself is the leader of the blackmailers and not the white knight he presents himself to be.

   Things change for Trevor when he falls for the niece of one of his targets, the lovely Mary Kendall (Lombard). He’s then forced to choose between his loyalty to his criminal associates, one of whom is his ex-lover and for his true affection for Mary. Set in the backdrop of early 1930s Paris, Man of the World is neither particularly comic nor romantic. It’s more of a character study of a lonely man who, no matter where he goes, finds he can’t escape what his life has become.

       I’m a few days late on this particular post. I hope you don’t mind:

FRANK GRUBER – The Gold Gap. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1968. Pyramid N2558, paperback, October 1971.

   Frank Gruber was a prolific pulp writer in the 30s who went full force with the future of publishing in the 40s, spending more and more of his time at the typewriter churning out hardcover novels, both mysteries and westerns, beginning with Peace Marshal, a western, in 1939, followed by The French Key, a Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg mystery, in 1940.

   As time went on, he also became a movie and TV screenwriter, creating in fact (according to Wikipedia) three TV series: Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan and Shotgun Slade.

   I’ve never been a big fan of his writing, though, and while I give his books a try every once in a while, I often end up disappointed, more often than not. The Gold Gap came toward the end of his career, and while it has a few moments, they come too far and in between. As a pulp fiction writer, a Hammett or Chandler, Gruber was not, nor does he seem to have improved as time went on.

   Or in other words, tight and taut his fiction wasn’t. In the case at hand, the plot meanders all over the place until it reaches an ending that I defy anyone to explain, or care. There are two also long accounts of pool games in progress, a game better watched in person than read about in a tale in which they have no purpose being there in the first place.

   The story has something to do with a fortune in gold coins being found in Dien Bien Phu in 1954 by a ragtag group of three French Legionnaires. That’s the prologue. The tale itself begins in 1967, thirteen years later, in Beverly Hills with an ex-Navy commander named Sargent, a recent escapee from the Viet Cong, being treated to a free suit by a Hong Kong tailor. Then, with no qualifications for the job whatsoever, he is hired by a multi-millionaire to investigate the background of the girl he is engaged to marry. There has to be a catch, the reader thinks. Who knows what Sargent thinks. For a long while, irrelevant to the plot, he seems to take the job seriously.

   Add to the mix another fellow who says he works for the CIA and manages to offer Sargent taxi rides at opportune times, and in other hands, you would have the beginnings of what sounds like a decent tale. But none of the characters comes to life, and à propos de rien Sargent suddenly has the deftness with a pool cue to beat the champion of Cleveland’s upper society at the game, as described above. A poorly planned attempt to rescue the girl involved, otherwise a complete non-entity, ends the book with a dull fizz.

From jazz singer Chris McNulty’s 2005 album Dance Delicioso, a song written by Annie Lennox:

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


IAN FLEMING – Goldfinger. Jonathan Cape, UK, hardcover, 1959. Macmillan, US, hardcover, 1959. Signet S1822, US, paperback, June 1960. Reprinted many many times.

GOLDFINGER. United Artists, 1964. Sean Connery, Gert Frobe, Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Tania Mallet, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell. Screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn, based on the novel by Ian Fleming. Directed by Guy Hamilton.

   These days it’s hard to convey to younger people just how big this movie was back in 1964. Of course, these days it’s hard to convey much of anything to younger people, but I digress…

   Back in the 1960s, Doctor No was a success, and From Russia with Love was a hit, but Goldfinger was a Blockbuster that played for months in the first-run houses and for weeks at the nabes. It led to imitations, spoofs, television rip-offs (some quite good), magazines, paperbacks, merchandising that ran all the way from kiddie toys to after shave, and a lot of teenage boys spending hours before the mirror practicing how to raise one eyebrow.

   Looking back almost sixty years after it was written, Ian Fleming’s novel seems closer to the pulps of the 1920s and ‘30s than to the 1960s of my childhood and young adultery, what with the diabolical plot, fiendish villain and ethnic minions, not to mention a dauntless hero daring death and danger daily. Fleming merely adds a bit of Esquire-style snobbery and a dollop of sex — tame by today’s standards, but then just about everything is tame by today’s standards.

   I have to say that Fleming’s prose is smooth and seductive, his action scenes terse and exciting, and his characters well-observed and colorful — not a bit believable, but suited to this pulp-story sort of thing quite nicely. I should add though that Fleming/Bond’s views on homosexuality seem not so much offensive as laughable; Bond attributes it to women getting the vote, and lesbian Pussy Galore falls into his arms sighing “I never met a real man before!” One has to wonder if Fleming was writing this with a straight face.

   In terms of plot, Goldfinger follows the path Fleming had been treading since Dr. No: As soon as Bond and the villain become aware of each other, a certain uneasy tension arises. There are some initial skirmishes, Bond gets captured and taken to the heart of the villain’s operation where he blows everything up and gets the girl. The metaphor of foreplay, penetration and explosion is so clear that again I have to wonder about the look on Fleming’s face as he pounded this out.

   The movie version stays fairly close to the book (they did that with the early ones) jazzing up the action scenes just a bit and injecting cinematic razz-ma- tazz wherever Fleming strayed into understatement. Of course, the Bond films have always made a point of perching on the cutting edge of fashion, and for this reason they look quite dated now, and the suits, cars and furniture seem to cry out “Howard Johnson’s!”

   Amid the frumpiness of all this, young Sean Connery somehow still radiates the kind of sex appeal one used to see in Gable, Flynn and Walter Albert; I don’t know if I’d turn for him, but I can see where Pussy Galore might. And I have to say the Ken Adam sets still pack a dazzle. Watching Bond battle Odd-Job in the glittering innards of Fort Knox took me right back to what are commonly known as Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

   In the wisdom of my advancing years, however, I had trouble with one scene in particular. It’s not a major plot element but I’ll throw in a SPOILER ALERT!! In case anyone out there hasn’t seen it:

   Goldfinger summons all the big-wig crime bosses to his lair, explains his plot to them (while a hidden Bond takes copious notes) lures one to an early end, then kills them all. So if he was going to kill them, why did he do the lecture-and-side-show first? Was it all for Bond’s benefit? Or for the viewer? And could you even get away with naming a woman character “Pussy” these days?

   What are your thoughts?

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


FROM HEADQUARTERS. Warner Brothers, 1933. George Brent, Margaret Lindsay, Eugene Pallette, Robert Barratt, Hugh Herbert, Henry O’Neill, Hobart Cavanaugh, Ken Murray, Murray Kinnell, Kenneth Thompson Screenplay by Peter Milne & Robert N. Lee (his story). Director: William Dieterle.

   From Headquarters is a fast paced murder mystery taking place at police headquarters where Lt. Jim Stevens (George Brent) is investigating the murder of Broadway playboy Gordon Bates (Kenneth Thompson), who was shot with one of the antique guns in his collection. Complicating things is the fact Stevens is in love with Lou Winton (Margaret Lindsay), who overthrew him for Bates, and her younger brother is a suspect.

   What makes this stand out, aside from the players and director, is that there is an actual decent mystery here with well-placed red herrings, actual scientific detection, solid police work, and intelligent policemen, even Sgt. Boggs (Eugene Pallette, Sgt. Heath from the Philo Vance films), who may jump to a few conclusions but is no dummy.

   Suspects include the girl and her brother, the butler Horton (Murray Kinnell), safecracker Muggs Manton (Hobart Cavanaugh), and antiques collector Anderzian (Robert Barratt), with detection by Stevens and Boggs and Inspector Donnelly (Henry O’Neill) as well as various police technicians. Ken Murray, best known to most of us for his color home movies of Hollywood celebrities is a wise-cracking reporter, and Hugh Herbert an annoying bail bondsman with sharp eyes.

   The investigation takes place over a single day and reaches its climax with a murder in police headquarters itself, but along the way each suspect gets his or her moment, the focus twists and turns as false leads and new evidence emerge, and if the ending isn’t exactly a surprise (in fact it is literally the oldest cliche in the book) it is all so well handled and played you will likely not care.

   Frankly this one is better written and thought out with a better plot than most so called mysteries on television today, the police behaving as professionals, competent even when they aren’t terribly smart. With crisp pacing, decent writing, sharp direction, and good performances this little film is smarter and a better mystery than many of its better known cousins.

   I’ll even go so far as to say I don’t think you would have been unhappy if you had read it in a book, and even many film mysteries based on books can’t make that claim.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE MAN FROM LARAMIE. Columbia Pictures, 1955. James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O’Donnell, Alex Nicol, Aline MacMahon, Wallace Ford, Jack Elam. Based on the novel by T. T. Flynn (Dell, paperback original, 1954). Director: Anthony Mann.

   The final collaboration between Anthony Mann and James Stewart, the gritty and taut Western The Man from Laramie has a lot to recommend it. Filmed on location in New Mexico in CinemaScope (one of the first Westerns to do so), the film has some absolutely beautiful Southwestern scenery.

   So much so that, despite the Shakespearean drama unfolding before your very eyes, you nevertheless are attuned to the relative insignificance of man’s petty foibles in the midst of Nature’s bountiful horizons and mountains. Be it menacing cliffs or a dusty frontier town, Mann captures the color, mood, and the very spirit of the myriad outdoor settings.

   Indeed, the crisp and memorable visual aspect of the film overshadows what is essentially a rather quotidian Western revenge story. Stewart, more than capable of playing a stoic man with torrents of rage gurgling under an outwardly jovial demeanor, is really very good. Even those who don’t particularly find Stewart to be on the same level as Wayne and Scott will find much to appreciate here.

   He portrays Will Lockhart, a former Army captain from Laramie, Wyoming, who is determined to find the man he holds indirectly responsible for his brother’s death at the hands of Apaches. This is what brings him to Coronado, a small dusty border town with a significant Pueblo Indian presence.

   It is here that he gets caught up not only in his own psychological desire for revenge, but also enmeshed in a range feud between the local power broker and cattle baron, Alec Waggoner (Donald Crisp) and local holdout, Kate Canady (Aline MacMahon). Complicating matters further is a menacing drunk portrayed by Jack Elam; Waggoner’s spoiled and violent son, Dave (Alex Nicol); and Waggoner’s devious foreman, Vic (Arthur Kennedy) who is set to be married to Waggoner’s niece, Barbara (Cathy O’Donnell). The plot veers from Greek tragedy to soap opera, never exactly finding a comfortable middle ground.

   But it’s not really the plot that matters in The Man from Laramie as much as the visual means by which Mann tells a story of a lone man set out for revenge in the midst of an expansive Western landscape. There are some extremely effective moments of violent retribution and menace. One gets the sense that Mann was trying very hard to say something about what happens when one gets the chance to peek behind the façade of self-made men.

   It’s also as if all that the frenetic activity that transpires in the movie has happened before and will happen again, all petty squabbles taking place in the shadows of mountains that will outlast the different human civilizations that will come and go in their majestic presence.

  MALCOLM DOUGLAS – Murder Comes Calling. Gold Medal 776, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1958. Reprinted as Night of the Horns under the author’s real name, Douglas Sanderson (Stark House Press, softcover, 2015), paired with Cry Wolfram, originally published in the US as Mark it for Murder (Avon, paperback, 1959) and in the UK under this title. TV adaptation: An episode of the anthology series Detective, UK, BBC-One, 25 May 1964 (Season 1, Episode 9), as “Night of the Horns.”

   I’ve had this book for over 50 years without ever reading it. Shame on me. It’s a noir novel that starts slowly but once you hit page 40 or so, it’s non-stop action from that point on until an hour or so later when you’re finally able to put the book down..

   The story is told by Bob Race, formerly of the D.A.’s office but now trying to make a living as a defense attorney on his own, struggling even though his father-in-law is the richest person in town. Even after two years Race is madly in love with his wife Eve, but he’s only getting by, but he’s well-liked and getting his name known by working on the behalf of not-very-well-to-do defendants whom he’s convinced are innocent.

   Which is how he gets caught in this book’s worth of whirlpool of events that turns his life upside down and sideways at the same time, completely, utterly and forever. One of his regular clients is the town gangster, who offers Race a job, that of taking delivery of a single suitcase, contents unknown, for a short period of time. Race, smelling a rat, refuses, but Kresnik knows how Race helped get his latest defendant off. Although the end was right, the means was a small gift of money to someone he shouldn’t have.

   At this point Race is done for, although not without a fight. But wait, there’s more. The wife of his downstairs neighbor suggests that Eve is not the wholesome wife Race has always thought her to be. Can she be believed? Several murders later, during and following a madcap trip to Mexico and back, with the surprise assistance of an old girl friend, he’s much the worse for wear, he survives, but barely.

   Once read, this is one you may not forget. I think all the pieces fit together, but while you’re turning the pages, probably as fast as you can, you aren’t likely to even be thinking about that. It’s survival that’s at stake, and that’s all.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


UP TO HIS EARS. Les Films Ariane, France, 1965. Originally released as Les tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine. Jean Paul Belmondo, Ursula Andress, Jean Rochefurt, Valêry Inkijioff, Valéry Legrange, Jess Hahn, Joe Said, Mario David. Paul Prèbost. Screenplay by Daniel Boulanger, based on the novel Tribulations of a Chinaman in China by Jules Verne. Directed by Philippe de Broca.

   The popularity of Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days and films like Ken Annakin’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines produced a type of film popular in the sixties and seventies that doesn’t exist today, big production action comedies full of globetrotting adventures and eccentric broad characters in prolonged chases and races often resembling films from the silent era in that plot took a back seat to continuous movement and action in a light vein.

   French director Philippe de Broca (En Garde, Dear Inspector, King of Hearts) had a big success earlier with a Bondian spoof That Man From Rio featuring French superstar Jean Paul Belmondo as an innocent caught up in spy-jinks and very physical action adventure in a comic in the style of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Up to His Ears is de Broca and Belmondo’s followup to that international hit.

   Belmondo here is Arthur Lemepeur, a poor billionaire so bored with his fortune he wants to kill himself, but keeps failing at it. To that end, and to the discomfort of his valet Leon (Jean Rochefurt), his fiance Alice (Valéry Legrange, and her parents (Jess Hahn and Marie Pancome), all on his yacht with him in Hong Kong, he asks his Chinese lawyer Mr. Goh (Valêry Inkijioff) to hire someone to kill him, a contract that will expire in thirty days.

   The assassins show up (Mario David and Paul Prèbost), Roquentin and Cornac, a sad sack pair if there ever was one, but Belmondo eludes them ending up in the nightclub where Alexandrine Pinardel (Ursula Andress) strips. He ends up in her dressing room, and she takes him under her wing when he and Leon hide there and as must be expected, it is love at first sight.

   In the meantime he has also learned he lost his fortune, so he no longer has any reason to die, but Mr. Goh has traveled to Nepal and can’t call off the assassins.

   So Arthur and Leon are off to the the roof of the world, where they are very nearly sacrificed by natives in a remote area before being rescued by Roquentin and Cornac, who rather than assassins are private detectives Mr. Goh hired to protect him.

   He returns to Hong Kong and finally finds Mr. Goh, only to discover that in an effort to help him his future mother in law has hired Hong Kong gangster Charlie Fallinster (Joe Said) to murder him and he now has an army of assassins pursuing him, Leon, Alexandrine, and Roquentin and Cornac as they try to live out the remaining time. Meanwhile, Fallinster is so angered by Belmondo’s continued escapes he no longer cares about the deadline and plans to kill him anyway.

   Antic is the best way to describe this film. It doesn’t always make sense, but it is a live action cartoon as were several Belmondo did in this period, and his mobile face and lean athletic form give this the grace of a Jackie Chan film, which it resembles at times. The scenery and Andress are both gorgeous to look at — the word spectacular comes to mind — and she proves more adept at comedy than you might expect, much less an ice goddess than in most roles. A few bits here and there fall flat, but for the most part they work and there are some spectacular stunts.

   The film is silly in an inventive and cartoonish way, a broad comedy that benefits by a decent script and the charm of the stars, particularly Belmondo and Rochefurt playing off of each other. It is currently available on Hulu in a nice letterboxed print, and one well worth the effort for fans of the genre, Belmondo, or de Broca’s films. It is not as good as That Man From Rio, but only misses that by a little. If you like this kind of broad action comedy, it is a fine example of the form.

TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY. MGM, 1940. Lana Turner, Joan Blondell, George Murphy, Kent Taylor, Richard Lane, Wallace Ford. Director: S. Sylvan Simon.

   Reportedly a remake of The Broadway Melody (1929), a movie I have not seen, but which was described to me as definitely being a pre-Code film in many ways. You will have to tell me.

   What most is definitely true is that Lana Turner is the featured attraction in this one, and although still very early in her career, she certainly is extremely attractive, innocently glamorous and intrinsically eye-catching as well as any other similar compounded adjectives you can think of. Besides looking quite shapely getting dressed (or undressed) backstage, Miss Lana Turner also demonstrates that she could keep up very well on the dance floor with Mr. George Murphy, a pretty good hoofer himself.

   The story is only incidental. Two sisters (Lana and Joan Blondell) head for New York with the fiancé of the latter in search of fame and fortune on Broadway, only to learn that the younger sister and the fiancé are meant for each other, while the young lady in question is at the same time resisting the advances of a Broadway cad, who has been married five times already and is trying to leer his way into the arms of a sixth.

   But who cares? I enjoyed this one.

« Previous PageNext Page »