Action Adventure movies


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

IN THE LINE OF FIRE. Columbia Pictures, 1993. Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, Fred Dalton Thompson, John Mahoney. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu.

   As a thriller starring Clint Eastwood as a grizzled, aging Secret Service Agent obsessed with guarding the President from a dedicated assassin, In the Line of Fire was both a critical and commercial success. It’s not difficult to see why. First, there’s star power in Clint Eastwood, cast as the lead. Bitter, determined, and prone to acerbic quips, Frank Horrigan (Eastwood) is a late fifty-something who has the unfortunate distinction of being the only currently operative agent who was with John F. Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas. Some thirty years later, Horrigan can’t seem to shake the feeling that, had he made different decisions, he might have been able to stop Lee Harvey Oswald.

   When Horrigan begins to investigate yet another potential threat to the president, he immediately finds himself embroiled in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with James Carney (John Malkovich). Portrayed with an intensity that matches – and often overwhelms Eastwood’s – Malkovich’s Carney is a skilled, but deeply paranoid antagonist.

   Malkovich, never one too phone in a performance, takes the role and imbues it with pathos. Carney – who likes to be called “Booth” – is a man who passionately believes that the country he once served has abandoned him. And he thinks he has found a kindred spirit in Horrigan. Little does he know that behind the gruff, sullied exterior, Horrigan is a true believer and dedicated patriot who, despite it all, still believes in his career choice.

   Horrigan’s personal life and code of honor is explored not so much by what he says – his rhetoric always seems to more aggressive than his heart – but how he conducts himself with others. That’s why his would-be romance with fellow agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo) and his friendship with his younger partner Al D’Andrea (Dylan McDermott) are so key to the film. Neither is a distraction.

   Rounding out the cast are a coterie of actors who were quite familiar to contemporaneous audiences. John Mahoney, best known for his portrayal as the father on Frasier, is cast as the head of the Secret Service. Fred Dalton Thompson, politician as well as actor, portrays the president’s Chief of Staff. Look for Steve Hytner (Kenny Bania on Seinfeld) as Secret Service Agent Tony Carducci and a youthful Joshua Malina as Tony Chavez, another agent.

   Speaking of the 1990s, there’s a very early 1990s aesthetic to In the Line of Fire. The cinematography, the action sequences, and the somewhat sanitized interiors squarely places the film into the same time frame as JFK (1991) and The Fugitive (1993). Compared to 1970s cinema, early 1990s films are a bit flatter, less gritty, and more polished – even if the plot involves an unhinged assassin or conspiratorial villain.

   This past week was the second time I’ve watched In the Line of Fire. The first must have been around the time it was released. While it still holds up as a solid work of film making, I can’t say that it was necessarily as enjoyable this time around. A lot of the plot seems to repeat itself, with Horrigan and his colleagues constantly chasing false leads. And the prime piece of evidence that enables Horrigan to discover Carney’s alias – a scrap of paper with something written on it – seems a little too pat.

   Still, it’s an exceedingly watchable film with a strong cast. I just wish the director had leaned a bit more into Carney’s madness. But then again, had he done so, it would have been Malkovich’s film, not Eastwood’s. Maybe that could have worked even better?

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION. The Cannon Group/Golan-Globus Productions, 1984. Shô Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennett, David Chung, Dale Ishimoto, James Hong. Screenwriter: James R. Silke. Director: Sam Firstenberg.

   Cinema takes different forms. Some movies are certainly a high art form; others are lowbrow popcorn fare. Then there’s Ninja III: The Domination, which I got to see as part of Cinematic Void’s presentation in conjunction with American Cinematheque. Released by the Cannon Group, this schlock fest blends the 1980s ninja obsession with supernatural elements, creating something entirely new, extremely weird, and very clumsy.

   Directed by Sam Firstenberg (Revenge of the Ninja), the plot follows Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), a professional telephone lineswoman and part-time aerobics instructor who becomes demonically possessed by a deceased ninja assassin. Yes, you read that right. How’s that for a set-up?

   She’s also romantically involved with a police officer, the caring, but generally clueless Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett). He knows something is very wrong with Christie. But because he doesn’t know exactly what, he takes her to a Japanese alchemist (James Hong) who summons the hidden ninja demon within. It’s a hilariously bad – but also stunningly good – scene that pays, er, homage to William Friedkin’s classic horror film The Exorcist (1973). The audience cheered and lapped up every minute.

   A ninja film, of course, wouldn’t be a ninja film without the singular presence of Japanese martial artist and actor Shô Kosugi. Here he portrays the good ninja, an eye-patched and stoic warrior who flies in from Japan to defeat the supernatural ninja warrior spirit. Kosugi is an exceptional martial artist. His stunt scenes are compelling; he just simply didn’t have the face or persona that made someone like Jackie Chan a household name in the 1990s.

   If anyone tells you that Ninja III: The Domination is a great film, they’re most likely lying to you. But if they tell you that it’s great fun, I think they’re being honest. Who would have thought that dozens of people would have turned out on a Monday night almost forty years after it was released into theaters to laugh and to clap at one of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’s weirdest movies?

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

JACK HIGGINS – The Wrath of God. Originally published as by James Graham (Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1971; Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1971; Dell, US, paperback, 1974).

THE WRATH OF GOD. (1972) Robert Mitchum, Ke.n Hurchinson, Victor Buono, Frank Langella, Rita Hayworth. Director: Ralph Nelson.

   I may shock some here who know what a fan of the British adventure/thriller genre I am, but I stopped reading Jack Higgins after The Eagle Has Landed, his breakthrough bestseller and never went back. I dipped my toes in once in a while, but honestly I just was not interested. To me he was always the least of the major names in the genre, not in the same class as MacLean, Lyall, or Bagley and certainly not Innes, Household, and Canning.

   Some of those later books I found nearly unreadable. Major bestselling writer, hugely popular, films, mini-series, but I had moved on. He just did not interest me anymore. I don’t even like Eagle, or the movie based on it.

   As a writer, Higgins simply was not a good enough to get me to pull for German commandos trying to assassinate Churchill and their traitorous charismatic IRA helper. I’m just not sophisticated enough to enjoy an entertainment when I’m pulling for the main characters to be shot as soon as possible, not unless the writer is a hell of a lot more skilled than Jack Higgins was.

   But noting his recent death I thought I would look at my favorite Higgins novel, because once upon a time I read him faithfully and had high hopes for him.

   Higgins, real name Harry Patterson, was a school teacher who decided writing was more fun and paid better and went about it with a vengeance unseen since the heyday of the pulps. He had to manufacture multiple names to keep up with his output, mostly in around sixty thousand to seventy thousand word novels that moved fast, had attractive narrators, and exotic locations.

   Those are far and away his most entertaining books, Night Judgment on Sinos, Year of the Tiger, A Game of Heroes, East of Desolation (my first), The Run to Morning, and Khufra Run are among the ones I would particularly single out from his his pre-Eagle output. They are not only good books, I’ve reread some of them recently and enjoyed them again.

   Along the way he decided that it was more effort to churn out these fast moving short thrillers than to try for something bigger, and one of the names he experimented with in that endeavor was James Graham under which he wrote the fine flying adventure The Last Place God Made and this book, The Wrath of God.

   Made has echoes of Nevil Shute, God of Graham Greene. The latter only just edges out the former in my estimation only because I like the fairly cheesy film based on it which I won’t really go into other than to say Robert Mitchum has fun as the phony priest who falls for his own con and Victor Buono gets what may be the only semi heroic role of his career.

   I will not kid you it is a good movie, only that it is, for me anyway, a fun one despite the sad figure Rita Hayworth cuts in it as her failing health and mental state were becoming obvious.

   The place is Central America and the time is the 1920’s. The narrator is young ex-IRA gunmen Emmett Keogh for whom the world has become too small and the backwaters of hell seem a good place to lie low. At least they do until he meets Mr. Janos, a fat shady businessman with an ivory headed cane and Father, Oliver Van Horne, a charming American priest. Neither is what they seem. Janos sells illegal arms and Van Horne has a Tommy gun under his cassock and alternates between con artist and bank robber.

   All three have run out of places in the world to be.

   Which is how the three of them end up under arrest and blackmailed by Colonel Bonilla of the Army into helping topple a mad land owner turned warlord in the small village of Mojada and the surrounding region which is held in the grip of terror by Tomas la Plata, revolutionary, outlaw, madman, and would be dictator.

   An army couldn’t pry him out of the region, but maybe a phony priest with a machine gun, an arms dealer, and an IRA gunman/sniper can.

   It’s a fairly simple set up that goes back away, the good bad men vs the worse bad men. Arcs of redemption are put into action, tough seasoned hard cases are softened by decent people, love, and the plight of the innocent, and before it is over bloody hell will break out.

   But it is written with brio and conviction, the narrator, Keogh, convincingly cynical, tough, and caught up in Oliver Van Horne’s greatest con and his own lingering shreds of idealism.

   Writing a book using central casting isn’t always a bad idea.

   You can guess every turn of the plot well before it happens. There are no surprises here. Our “heroes” will consider stealing the silver hidden in Mojada and double crossing Bonilla, and of course end up doing the right thing while cursing themselves for doing it. Keogh, the youngest, will find love with a local girl.

   I’ll go farther and point out that one of the delights of reading Higgins was how much he embraced the more obvious tropes of the genre. He wasn’t one for great invention of plot or character, he instead gave the reader what they wanted in the most straightforward manner possible moving so fast you couldn’t really complain that it was a good sandwich and not a filling meal.

   His downfall came when he tried to convince readers it was a multiple course meal and he just didn’t deliver.

   Frankly, when I stopped reading him was when he tried to do a bit more and I just didn’t think he really had the chops for it. This and The Last Place God Made are as far as he was really able to stretch himself in more serious terms, and truthfully he only just makes it, but credit where deserved in the end he does pull it off.

   Maybe there wasn’t greatness there, but there was something more than the too slick bestselling writer he became. I would highly recommend every book I have mentioned here but The Eagle Has Landed, granting that most of you will probably disagree and may only know Higgins from his later better known works.
   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THE ROVER. United Artists, 1967. Released first in Italy as L’avventuriero. Anthony Quinn, Rosanna Schiaffino, Rita Hayworth, Richard Johnson, Ivo Garrani, Luciano Rossi, Anthony Dawson. Based on the novel by Joseph Conrad. Director: Terence Young.

   It was with some bemusement I watched The Rover, a film based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, a cheap-jack multinational production/tax write-off which captures nothing at all of Conrad’s ethos and even less of the brooding excitement of his writing at its best.

   What we’re left with is Anthony Quinn — that charismatic actor whose career had more bad steps than a derelict lighthouse — as a Napoleonic-era trench privateer returned to his country with all too little to show his head-hunting bosses. He falls in love with a mysterious young woman, tries to refit a derelict ship and slip past a British blockade, but by that time, everyone’s pretty much lost interest in this shabby show.

   How tacky is it? Well, aside from the perfunctory photography and poor dubbing, it’s set in a rather sparsely-populated France (well, maybe everyone was off fighting the wars) with few buildings, one or two streets, and maybe four horses. And the scene of a British ship chasing the privateer was very obviously filmed with One ship photographed from different angles, edited to try and make it look like Two — which don’t work.

   Sad to see talents that once showed some promise stuck in this movie-mire: The Rover was directed by Terence Young, who made movie history a few years earlier launching the James Bond series; aside from Quinn, it features Rita Hayworth and Richard Johnson (who at various times embodied Bulldog Drummond and Lord Nelson) and, in a teeny-tiny part, tucked off in a corner somewhere, movie-goers with long memories will spot Anthony Dawson and wonder what became of the promising actor so memorable as the unlucky Cpt. Lesgate in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #7, May 2000.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE BLACK WATCH.  Fox Films, 1929. Victor McLaglen, Myrna Loy, Lumsden Hare, David Torrance, David Rollins, Roy D’Arcy, Mitchell Lewis, Walter Long, Francis Ford. Screenplay by James Kevin MacGuinnis & John Stone, based on the novel King of the Khyber Rifles by Talbot Mundy. Directed by John Ford.

   Whether you enjoy this early talkie or not may depend on your tolerance for Fordian sentimentality and the primitive technology of early sound. Stiff dialogue delivered stiffly doesn’t help a great deal either. Compare this to the superior Bulldog Drummond also from 1929 to see just how stiff it is.

   What does help is the stunning visuals true to Ford at his best ably abetted by Cinematographer Joseph H. August and some exciting moments thanks to the few times the film actually strays toward Talbot Mundy’s classic pulp novel.

   That said, the first twenty minutes of the film are a write off of Fordian sentimentality and unnecessary back story.

   Captain Donald (*) King (Victor McLaglen) of the famed Black Watch Highland Regiment is summoned to headquarters from the Regimental dinner on the eve of sailing for Europe and the early days of WW I.

   At headquarters Captain King is told he is needed in the Khyber Pass in India where he previously served in the Khyber Rifles. It seems the hillmen are rallying behind a mysterious woman known as Yasmani who they believe is a goddess. King is to find Yasmani and prevent the hillmen from falling on vulnerable India and sweeping the weakened British off the sub-continent.

   As part of his secret service work King cannot let his fellow officers know that he is being sent to India. They have to believe he is deserting the regiment as they march to war for safety in India. He can’t even tell his younger brother Malcolm (David Rollins) who worships him.

   That would be bad enough without a drawn-out scene of the regiment boarding the train for the ship to France and goodbyes to their family along with some much unneeded comedy relief.

   It’s twenty wasted minutes. Thankfully Ford will learn to better balance this sort of thing in later films and make a virtue of it (usually). He doesn’t here though there are more than enough Fordian touches.

   Things pick up a little in India where the Mundy novel begins in the first place. There King ties up with his old ally Major Mohammed Khan (Mitchell Lewis) who will help him in his mission which begins by attracting the attention of Yasmani (Myrna Loy) and her allies the ambitious Rewa Gunga (Roy D’Arcy) and the savage hillman Harim Bey (Walter Long) both with her longing glances at his manly presence and his heavy drinking and bad behavior leading Gunga to think King will be a good deserter.

   Staging the accidental killing of a fellow officer King “escapes” and is taken in by Yasmani who offers to take him into the Khyber Pass and the infamous Cave of Terror where the hillmen are meeting before sweeping into India. Unlike the character in the book, no one tries to pass Victor McLaglen off as a native in disguise (thankfully) though he does get to don a turban and robes.

   The sets and staging for the Cave of Terror scenes are worth the whole film. Though the restraints of budget show Ford and August use imagination, shadow, and smoke to create a genuinely entertaining vision replete with McLaglen battling a native bare chested to prove his worth.

   Despite the stiff delivery of dialogue that would read better on a silent title card they actually keep some of the more fantastic elements of Mundy’s novel including Yasmani’s claim to be a descendant of Alexander the Great and suggestions of past lives between she and King.

   And she almost wins him over to her vision of paradise in her arms as the king of India until she shows him his regiment in France in a crystal ball and he sees his brother Malcolm wounded in battle. Considering how Loy looks in those gauzy outfits, he proves a better man than me. This was from the era when she played exotic roles like the daughter of Fu Manchu and the murderous and vengeful Eurasian in Thirteen Women, gauzy suits her.

   A fairly exciting battle between the hillmen and King and Khan’s men armed with machine guns follows shot beautifully in smoke and shadows with captured and blinded Major MacGregor (Francis Ford) who King has freed from slavery leading the troops with King’s sword thrust into his hand.

   King doesn’t get the girl, but he does get his Regiment, a happy ending for any Ford film.

   Henry King ignored Mundy entirely for his version of King of the Khyber Rifles with Tyrone Power as a half Indian King. Despite having no relation to the book it was much more exciting even without Yasmani with a splendid set piece for the ending ironically mindful of a similar scene in John Ford’s The Searchers.

   McLaglen’s stiff delivery of his lines (Loy is no better) doesn’t help, but he looks great when he isn’t speaking and it is the visuals for this, often mindful of Joseph Clement Coll’s famous illustrations for the book, that make it worthwhile, and Loy is believably ethereal as Yasmani (though there is little ethereal about the vibrant wild child of Mundy’s novels).

   Mitchell Lewis and Walter Long fare best in the acting department, playing vibrant over the top characters with an energy you only wish McLaglen and Loy brought to their roles.

   This is an early example of the popular British Raj genre that reached its peak with films like Gunga Din, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, The Four Feathers, and Charge of the Light Brigade. The elements aren’t quite there, but even at this stage Ford hits most of the right notes.

(*) Just why King is named Donald in this is a mystery in itself. In the book his name is Athleston and in the Power version Alan. Donald seems a bit arbitrary.

   I’ve yet to spot them but supposedly John Wayne and Randolph Scott appear in this as Highlanders. Considering they are in uniform and shadow much of the film it may take some luck to find them, but the print on YouTube is pretty crisp.

   In addition you get a chance to see what McLaglen must have looked like a few years earlier when he was Governor General of Damascus after T. E. Lawrence captured the city.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

  THEY WERE SO YOUNG. First released in Germany as Mannequins fur Rio (Corona Filmproduktion, 1954). Lippert Pictures, US, 1955. Scott Brady, Raymond Burr, Johanna Matz, Ingrid Stenn, Gisela Fackedely, Eduard Linkers, Gert Frobe. Screenplay by Felix Lutzkendort and Kurt Neumann. Suggested by Interpol files compiled by Jacques Compandez. Additional screenplay uncredited by Dalton Trumbo, Michael Wilson, and Ernest Blass. Directed by Kurt Neumann.

   Their hearts were high in the sky … They never knew their feet were in the dirt.

   Sometimes mistakenly identified as film noir, this West German and American co -production is pure exploitation with only the presence of American stars Scott Brady and Raymond Burr anywhere near actual noir.

   It opens with the discovery of a dead half-nude young woman on the beach in Rio de Janeiro, with a quick stop at the Brazilian police who announce this is a case for Bureau 19 of Interpol.

   That noted, and despite the film allegedly being based on Interpol files and one later mention of the International Police (there is not and never was such a thing and Interpol has no enforcement abilities much less having any agents in 1954 television and movies to the contrary — I’ll save my rant about the infamous and phony Interpol for the comments section if anyone doesn’t know their troubled history) that aspect of the film ends with this single reference.

   Very quickly this switches from an investigation by Interpol to a straight up story of innocent girls caught up in a white slavery ring.

   “The Desperate Drama of Lost Women,” as the trailer claims.

   Eve (Johanna Matz) and Connie (Ingrid Stenn) arrive in Rio in the company of M. Albert (Eduard Linkers) who has brought them to Rio to work as fashion models living and working at the Villa Berganza under the direction of Mdme. Lansowa (Gisele Fackedely), “You’ll meet a good many rich and cultured people… I suggest you let me choose your friends at first.”

   Among the rich and cultured people they meet is Jaime Coltos (Raymond Burr) a local tycoon and his American engineer Richard Lanning (Scott Brady) just back from six months in the jungle. Burr is attracted to Connie, and Brady, a little worse for drink, gets a water bottle broken over his head by Eve.

   Eve has caught on what Villa Bergandza is a front for and she and Connie leave the next day seeking help, but they have no papers and the police show little sympathy. Gaslighted by Albert and Mdme. Lansowa they find themselves back at the Villa Bergandza with no authorities they can turn to, not even their own Consulates.

   But Eve, out on an arranged date, remembers Lanning is at the hotel where she is taken and goes to him for help. He agrees after spying the men who followed Eve and plans to let her stay in his room while he seeks help, but an emergency phone call from Coltos forces him to return to the jungle and Coltos’s villa there.

   Rather than leave Eve he decides to take her with him and perhaps persuade Coltos, an influential man, to help her. I won’t offer any Spoilers here, but it you haven’t figured out the twist coming you haven’t paid attention to any movie of this type you have ever seen, much less ever seen a movie from this period with Raymond Burr in it.

   Brady plays the usual somewhat lunk-headed gauche American abroad common to this era. At least here his blundering is blundering, not portrayed as somehow an advantage. At best you can say his character is determined to help the girl however ineptly.

   Eve ends up prostituted on a riverboat where Connie has been sent run by the murderous Captain Lobos (Gert Frobe) used as a pleasure boat for the local workers and Lanning, by now falling for her, slips on board with a party of workers with an ally hoping to help Eve escape.

   Another twist more or less out of left field awaits them, but Interpol still has nothing to do with it.

   Running a short hour and twenty minutes this is a fairly tight, well done little melodrama that skirts film noir and exploitation without ever being exactly one or the other. However exploitative the trailer and campaign for the film, it never comes anywhere near living up to that promise. Despite a few scenes this was mostly shot in Hamburg.

   Some film enthusiasts may get all excited by the uncredited appearance of Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson’s names related to this, and there are a few decent bits of dialogue here and there that they might have contributed, but honestly you could never tell watching this such distinguished company worked on it. Neither the story nor the dialogue suggests anything special here. At most they might have punched up the script for the American dubbing.

   Brady is fairly charming here as a mostly one-note hero, exactly what is called for, but nothing more. Matz is attractive and innocent enough if a little hard to believe as quite this naive despite a back story out of Dickens and Little Nell. The villainy is acceptably smarmy and Ingrid Stenn actually halfway good as the doomed Connie.

   I do question if Connie is really a common name for Belgian girls, but then I lived in France not Belgium.

   The exploitative American title sounds like some sort of teen drama or soap opera which probably kept this from getting to any audience it might have had on initial release.

   It’s currently available on YouTube. Nothing special here, but better done than you might expect with the American stars lending a bit of weight to it. It’s worth killing an hour or so if you have nothing better to do which is actually fairly high praise for this kind of film.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE FOREIGNER. STX Films, 2017. Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Liu Tao, Charlie Murphy, Orla Brady, Katie Leung. Written by David Marconi, based on the 1992 novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather. Directed by Martin Campbell. Currently streaming on Netflix.

   The Foreigner may not come with instant name recognition, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a well-crafted, solid thriller. Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), the movie benefits from the presence of two action stars: Pierce Brosnan, who Campbell directed as James Bond in GoldenEye (1995) and Hong Kong-turned-Hollywood martial arts star, Jackie Chan.

   This, however, is not your comedy/action hybrid 1990s Jackie Chan movie. Gone is the humor and the goofy, charming persona that he imbued with ease into nearly every character he portrayed. Here, Chan plays against type as a broken, lonely, and vengeful father determined to avenge the death of his daughter. It’s striking how Chan all but disappears into his character. Moving with a sullen gait and with notable bags under his eyes, Chan’s character – a man who has lost everything and has nothing to lose – is mourning personified.

   Chan portrays Ngoc Minh Quan, a London restaurant owner of Chinese-Vietnamese heritage. A dedicated father, Quan ends up witnessing his daughter die in a bombing perpetrated by a rogue IRA splinter group in London. From then on, his life will never be the same. Not only is his wife gone – she died giving birth to his daughter – but he is also suffering from the ongoing trauma of having lost two young daughters when fleeing the communist takeover of South Vietnam decades ago.

   Quan sets his sights on Liam Hennessy, a Sinn Féin politician now serving as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. The British have tasked Hennessy with finding out who the rogue IRA operatives in London were. Complicating matters is the fact that Hennessy has an IRA past, one that he swears is behind him. But is it? Quan, for one, certainly doesn’t think so.

   As the movie progresses, the film reveals itself to be driven by two narrative thrusts. One deals with Quan’s single-handed quest for revenge. As it turns out, the beaten down Quan has more than one trick up his sleeve. As a young man in South Vietnam, he had Special Forces training and served with the US Army with distinction. Those skills, while perhaps a little rusty, prove to be very useful to Quan as he takes out many of Hennessy’s men. It’s great to see that Chan has still has many of his martial arts acting chops (pun intended), even though there are moments when he gets a little too John Rambo – think First Blood (1982) – for believability’s sake.

   The other, more interesting, story line concerns Hennessy’s divided loyalties and vulnerability in the tinderbox of Belfast politics. Brosnan shines here as a former terrorist who has supposedly decided to break away from his violent past and advance his cause through the political system instead.

   Trying to please both the British and the young radicals in Catholic nationalist circles proves a heady job, one that seems to have strained his marriage beyond repair. Like any good movie about Northern Irish politics, there are betrayals and plots, schemes and broken dreams. In The Foreigner, it’s Chan’s character who enters this insular world and lights the matches that end up burning it all to the ground.

   Both entertaining and captivating, The Foreigner is one of the better thrillers that I’ve watched recently. It’s nothing I would go out of my way to watch a second time, but it kept me interested enough. One final thought: for whatever reason, I don’t remember any songs from the movie. There is a soundtrack, however and it blends seamlessly with the downbeat, claustrophobic atmosphere of the film.
   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

PACIFIC BLACKOUT. Paramount Pictures, 1941. Robert Preston, Martha O’Driscoll, Philip Merrivale, Eva Gabor, Louis Jean Heydt, Thurston Hall, J. Edward Bromberg, Mary Treen, Monte Blue, Rod Cameron. Screenplay: Lester Cole & W. P. Lipscomb. Story by  Franz Spencer (Franz Schulz) & Curt Siodmak. Directed by Ralph Murphy.

   As Seattle prepares for its first city wide blackout of the pre-War era replete with the Army providing bombers to drop faux weapons, Robert Draper (Robert Preston), a young inventor who has been working on range finder for the Army, is on trial for murdering his partner, and it looks bad for him, what with French nightclub singer Marie Duval (Eva Gabor) swearing he is guilty, though he swears he never met her.

   John Runnel (Philip Merrivale), an expert on blackouts, is advising the city and a friend of Draper’s, but there is nothing he can do when Draper is convicted and sentenced to death (they move fast in B -movies).

   While being transferred to prison that night as the blackout begins, there is an accident and Draper escapes, and while trying to find a way out of his handcuffs, he meets Mary Jones (Martha O’Driscoll), who is walking her dog in the park.

   Mary is one of those screwball types you could only find in a movie of this era, and in short order she is helping Preston in his escape through a series of misadventures that fill up most of the movie a la a more urban 39 Steps (one of the most oft repeated plots in Hollywood history, even by Hitchcock).

   About midway through, the big secret regarding the villain is revealed, but it isn’t until right at the end we discover the McGuffin: saboteurs have substituted a real bomb for one of the phony ones to be dropped on Seattle by pilot Rod Cameron’s unsuspecting crew.

   To the extent this works its because of Preston and O’Driscoll, and a decent performance by a young Eva Gabor as the French girl whose testimony has been extorted by the unexpected German spy behind the whole thing. J. Edward Bomberg has a nice bit in a medical treatment shelter as a slight of hand artist turned pick pocket who helps Preston out in a tight.

   I’m curious if there ever was a blackout quite as extravagant as this one, but being on the West Coast and knowing Spielberg’s 1941 was loosely based on fact it is just in the realm of possibility (probably not with bombers dropping bags informing kids they have just been killed by poison gas).

   This is by turns screwball comedy, spy thriller, murder mystery, and patriotic flag waver, but makes so many sudden turns you may get a little dizzy trying to follow it. It never manages to all come together, but individual bits are worth seeing, and Preston is always good.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE STAR OF INDIA. Eros Films, UK, 1954. United Artists, US, 1856. Cornell Wilde, Jean Wallace, Herbert Lom, Basil Sydney, Yvonne Sanson, John Slater, Walter Rilla. Screenplay: Herbert Dalmas, Denis Freeman (additional dialogue), John H, Kafka (uncredited). Directed by Arthur Lubin.

   Gorgeous color and the scenic haunting mystery-ridden landscape of the Languedoc region of France are among the highlights of this 17th century swashbuckler featuring Cornel Wilde as Pierre St. Laurent, a French officer recently returned from the wars in India (when the French and Dutch were still vying for an Indian Empire with the British) whose homecoming is spoiled when he finds his home has been sold for taxes and is now occupied by Katrina (Jean Wallace, Wilde’s wife), the widow of an older Count.

   When a visit to the ruthless and feline Royal Governor of the region Narbonne (Herbert Lom) yields no relief, Pierre returns to Katrina who informs him the Count sold a family jewel to Narbonne to pay for the estate and that if he will return the jewel, she will return his estates.

   That night when Pierre steals a statue of Shiva from Narbonne, he is forced to kill another thief who dies whispering the name of the king, and when the statue in turn houses only an empty compartment, Pierre is convinced Katrina’s story is about a family jewel is a lie — certainly when the jewel in the painting of her grandmother turns out to have been only recently added to the portrait and is a different shape than the hidden compartment in the statue.

   Spying on her, he learns that she is an agent of the Dutch government in the person of Van Horst (Walter Rilla), and the jewel is none other than the sacred sapphire known as the Star of India stolen by agents of Narbonne in India from a temple which the Dutch government wishes returned to India, where the jewels theft has stirred riots and unrest and death among native and colonists alike.

   Shades of The Moonstone and The Sign of the Four.

   Pierre manages to get himself invited to stay with Narbonne by returning the statue of Shiva, claiming to have stopped the thief he killed with a promise from Narbonne he can present his case to Louis XIV (Basil Sydney) himself. But he soon discovers that Louis, who is traveling with his Mistress Madame de Montespan (Yvonne Sanson), wants the jewel for her (and already sent the thief Pierre killed to steal it from Narbonne).

   Now Pierre must choose between his king, his conscience, and his growing love for Katrina if he can discover where Narbonne has hidden the jewel, steal it from under the eye of Narbonne, his man Emile (John Slater), and the greedy king (well played by Sydney).

   It’s a clever film with an attractive cast made even better by Wilde, a natural swashbucker (Bandit of Sherwood, At Sword’s Point, Forever Amber, Treasure of the Golden Condor, Sword of Lancelot) and a gifted swordsman (he qualified for the 1936 Olympic fencing team but never competed), who was as at ease as Errol Flynn in this type of role.

   There were always complaints about Wallace role in Wilde’s films, but while she was no great actress, she was photogenic and competent and certainly the films are better than those Hugo Haas put Cleo Moore in, and I would argue she is better than Sondra Locke in most of Clint Eastwood’s films and at least as good as Jill Ireland in Charles Bronson’s. As nepotism goes it seems a lesser sin.

   The film might have fared better with Maureen O’Hara or Rhonda Fleming, but Wallace is more than adequate, and between Wilde’s swashbuckling, Lom’s villainy, a smart script, capable direction by Lubin (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves with Wilde and many Abbott and Costello films and later television), attractive sets, well staged action, and the too seldom seen Languedoc scenery, the film has more than enough going for it to compensate.

   If, like me, you like a good swashbuckler this one is relatively rare and quite worth the effort to see. I don’t know if it is available on DVD, but you can find it streaming on YouTube in English with not too distracting foreign subtitles in a decent enough print.

   

JOLT. Millennium, 2021. Kate Beckinsale, Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox, Stanley Tucci. Jai Courtney, David Bradley. Director: Tanya Wexler. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

   There is about half a good movie in this recent action-comedy thriller. The second half? Pure dreck. And not good dreck at that.

   Kate Beckinsale (last seen by me in The Widow, reviewed here )  plays Lindy Lewis (no relation), a woman who since she was a young girl has been afflicted with intermittent explosive disorder, which I have discovered is a real thing. Anyone having the problem is plagued by bouts of anger, rage and utter hostility toward others, expressed by outbreaks of uncontrollable violence.

   Lindy’s case is far worse than others. She barely has a life, cannot hold a job, and when it comes down to it, simply cannot get along with others. Finally, now grownup, she has found a doctor to help control the symptoms. It’s only in the experimental stages, but by wearing an intricate wire harness, Lindy can push a button and give herself a jolt of electricity to subdue her violent urges.

   Problem is, as soon as she finally meets the man of her dreams, he’s found murdered, even before they have their third date. The police are of no help. Solution: find the man responsible, and provide her own punishment.

   This first half of the movie is fun and even a little romantic and and funny. Enjoyable, even. Problem is, moviewise, from this point on, it seems that working intensively with her problem over the years, Lindy has developed what the comic books call superpowers, and there’s no way that anyone that gets in her way can stop her. Lots of action, violence, bad language and fighting ensue. All of which are boring. Even the villains of the piece are boring. Eh. Who cares? Not I, said this viewer.

   

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