Zorba the Greek - 1964
Zorba the Greek - Released Dec 17, 1964. Directed by Michael Cacoyannis
Mild-mannered Basil (Alan Bates) is a Greek who was raised as an Englishman and has come to the island of Crete to try and make a living from his family's abandoned property. While making the trip to the island, he meets Zorba (Anthony Quinn), an itinerant workman who takes it upon himself to look after the naive Basil and to help him reopen a closed lignite mine where the two hope to make a living.
Zorba and Basil are an odd couple but it makes for the film's dynamic story of the quiet Englishman/Greek being pushed out of his aimless life that consists mostly of watching the world around him. Zorba is often exuberant and draws upon a long history of experience (describing his age, Zorba only says "I move fast because I have to").
The Cretan village near them is a part of the story, and the script by director Cacoyannis (from the book by Nikos Kazantzakis) condenses the tale of a beautiful, lonely widow (Irene Papas) who refuses the attention of every man in the area, but Zorba recognizes that only one man possesses the gentleness and refinement to be acceptable to her, i.e., Basil (but the thought of it terrifies the shy man).
Humor and gorgeous location photography punctuate this movie and softens the bitter ironies that accumulate. Anthony Quinn's performance is outsized and boisterous, but diminishes to allow subtle moments, and to let the rest of Cacayannis' story be told. Lila Kedrova (as Madame Hortense) is the aging european owner of a small inn. She is also a former courtesan, stranded on the island (Kedrova won an Academy Award for this role).
Army of Darkness - 1992
Army of Darkness - Released February 19, 1993. Directed by Sam Raimi
Bruce Campbell is a time-traveling discount store clerk who must assist King Arthur in a battle against the "deadites" who are the Army of Darkness of the title. Stunt work, special effects and funny quips moves the simple plot forward as Bruce (as Ash) must locate a magical book (the Necronomicon) that will return him to the modern age, but he accidentally does the procedure incorrectly (he's supposed to say 'Klaatu Barada Nikto," a key line from the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, but Ash fails to remember it correctly) and so unleashes the dead from the earth which then march on Arthur's castle.
Sharon Tate 1967
On the set of Valley of the Dolls
I Walk Alone - 1948
I Walk Alone - Released January 16, 1948. Directed by Byron Haskin
Heller in Pink Tights - 1960
Heller in Pink Tights - Released March 1, 1960. Directed by George Cukor
Captain Kidd - 1945
Captain Kidd - Released Nov 22, 1945. Directed by Rowland V Lee
The Bride Walks Out - 1936
The Bride Walks Out - Released July 10, 1936. Directed by Leigh Jason
Meet the Stewarts - 1942
Meet the Stewarts - Released May 21, 1942. Directed by Alfred Green
This light comedy picks up where Woman of the Year left off (that Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy film came out just a few months before Meet the Stewarts) with Frances Dee as a young wife (Mrs. Stewart) trying to figure out how to do the job of wifery now that she has left the comfort of her families wealthy lifestyle. William Holden (Mr. Stewart) is from a working class background and he's going to have to learn a few things, too, and that's not all, there are in-laws who need an education, too.
An unfortunate aspect of the film is that no one learns their new duties very quickly, and incompetance in the kitchen and in housework soon loses its humor and seems more and more artificial, particularly since Frances Dee, who has specialized in intelligent roles in the past, is trying hard here to appear not up to the task of basic household activities.
Bachelor Mother - 1939
Ginger Rogers and David Niven
Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Nina Foch 1950
The photo was taken by Gordon Parks, May 5, 1950
Frankenstein Island - 1981
Frankenstein Island - Released November 27, 1981. Directed by Jerry Warren
A legendary bad film full of incoherent low-budget invention and showing influences from many older movies, such as Island of Lost Souls and Karloff's Frankenstein. Sometimes praised as an unintended laugh-riot, but only for the very patient or those who can supply their own commentary track.
A hot air balloon crashes near Frankenstein Island, and the crew paddles to shore aboard a blowup raft and once they step onto the island they declare they're going to build a raft (?) They were originally using their balloon to search for another balloon that had disappeared, but after that is established it is not mentioned again for the remainder of the film, which is how many plot threads in the story start and end.
Like curious tourists at a theme park, the group wander about the island. There are many long sections of mundane footage of the group walking in fields, walking into buildings, walking up stairs, and walking back out again, stretching the run time and the patience of the audience. This group often seem to be on a field trip.
They meet unusual people: Sheila Frankenstein (Katherine Victor), great-grand-daughter of the the famous doctor, also a large gaggle of young women who are all dressed in leopard-skin swimsuits. The story tells us they are "aliens," but they are called "amazons" by most of the characters. There is also a very modest laboratory where indecipherable research is barely going on (it does have a Tesla or Strickfaden electrical machine, though).
John Carradine appears in a few places as a large head briefly projected onto cave walls and trees (like the Great and Powerful Oz). Andrew Duggen and Cameron Mitchell also appear in this movie and their characters are likewise strangely out of synch with the story, not that the story really ever gets into synch with any one main idea, but seems to constantly be spinning toward something new and jettisoning what came before.
The Frankenstein monster (in primitive Karloffian makeup) appears finally after over an hour into the tale, but by then the old Gothic monster seems completely out of place, and when he goes into the interior of a building where the amazons are manning a 50-calibre machine gun (?) a brawl breaks out between basically everybody, but it looks more like dancing in a semi-violent discotheque with terrible decorating.
Bad-movie aficionados praise Frankenstein Island for it's on screen disaster and for it having the feel of a bad 1950s or 1960s film, though it is in such bad shape in the storytelling department that it makes something like Plan 9 from Outer Space look like Citizen Kane.
Jeopardy - 1953
Jeopardy - Released March 30, 1953. Directed by John Sturges
A simple vacation in Mexico for an American family (Barry Sullivan, Barbara Stanwyck and Lee Aaker) becomes a race against time when Dad (Sullivan) gets his foot trapped between a fallen peir pylon and granite. Unable to get him free, Mom (Stanwyck) heads off in the family car into the countryside to find help to free her husband before the incoming tide gets above his head. Bobby (the son played by Aaker) is left behind to try and watch over Dad.
Meanwhile, Ralph Meeker (as escaped killer named Lawson) has the Mexican police searching for him, and he comes across Stanwyck and pretends he is going with her to help the trapped Husband, but he quickly turns the rescue trip into a kidnapping, planning to use the family car as an escape vehicle. The challenge now becomes for Helen Stilwin (the wife played by Stanwyck) to somehow bend Lawson to her will to go to the isolated campsite and free her husband, and to not get herself killed in the process.
Director Sturges sets up the story in a sunny, breezy way, though the dialogue, narration and situation is mostly banal until the family reaches the deserted shoreline that is their goal. A dilapidated industrial fishing pier juts out into the cove where the family intends to camp on their vacation "in beautiful privacy" as Barry Sullivan puts it.
But it's that privacy which turns deadly and sends Stanwyck's character out into the Mexican countryside trying to pursued someone to assist her and she has barely a few words of Spanish at her command to explain the situation to bewildered Mexicans that she meets. Not that Sturges dwells very long on his Mexican location, really, as most of the film is tied up with two main action scenes that unfold in parallel: Barry Sullivan slowly drowning as the water inches higher and higher to where he begins grooming his helpful son (Aaker) with encouraging words about how to live without a father; and Ralph Meeker and Barbara Stanwyck dueling as they duck the police and overcome various obstacles until they've finally reached a point where Meeker's character has to make difficult choices, as does Stanwyck's.
Director Sturges makes the story tighten up considerably as we go along, and the tension of the sitiuation plateus when the criminal Lawson is finally at the shore trying to get the nearly underwater and half-dead father free as waves come rolling in over his head, and each attempt and idea ends in failure.
Arabesque - 1966
Arabesque - Released May 5, 1966. Directed by Stanley Donen
Laurel and Hardy 1929
The 300 Spartans - 1962
The 300 Spartans - Released August 29, 1962. Directed by Rudolph Mate
Xerxes (played by David Farrar) has been moving westward from Persia conquering as he goes with a gigantic army at his command. When he comes into northern Greece, he is delighted to have a chance to scoop up the Greeks into his empire as well. The only problem is that in Greece there is a place called Sparta, and all the worse for Xerxes, Sparta is full of Spartans, a nation of warriors trained from their youth to fight as a unit.
Xerxes is in northern Greece and the Spartans are in the south, so he can just wipe out the Athenians who are closer, and deal with the Spartans later. This doesn't strike King of the Spartans, Leonidas (Richard Egan) as convenient for him. He doesn't want to wait to deal with the Xerxes problem, so he and his personal bodyguard of 300 Spartans go north to introduce Xerxes to the Spartan way of military combat. The other Spartans don't accompany him because they are obligated to stay in Sparta for a religious festival and because Spartan politicians turn out to be like politicians the world over; they decide not to deal with Xerxes unless they absolutely have to, which translates as doing nothing and hoping Xerxes will go away.
Director Rudolph Mate's story of how Leonidas and the 300 Spartans face off against the vastly larger Persian army at Thermopylae is shot in Greece and has many scenes of epic landscape and hordes of soldiers on the screen. Some of the political wrangling between the Spartan leadership starts to build like an ancient version of Advise and Consent, but finally the matter of how Xerxes and the Spartans are going to meet at a narrow little strip of land (Thermopylae) is established and we get to the battle scenes.
There is also a love story between a Spartan soldier, Phylon (played by Barry Coe), and a Spartan girl, Ellas (played by Diane Baker), and this sub-story seems uncomfortably inserted into the tale (it is reminiscent of the love story between a navy man and his girlfriend that was a side-trip of no importance inserted into The Caine Mutiny of 1954.) Director Mate does a much better job integrating this episode of true love into The 300 Spartans and Mate's larger theme of sheer stubborn willpower (everybody tells the 300 Spartans they're going to fail, but they just don't care) is not much hampered by young love.
Compared to the much newer version of this story (300 directed by Zack Snyder in 2006), the version by director Mate is told with more fidelity to history and facts; whereas Snyder's version (based on the Frank Miller graphic novel) takes a lot of liberty and uses enormous amounts of CGI. But either way, the audacity of a relatively small military unit tying up Xerxes’ mammoth army - and giving Xerxes an equally large emotional crisis - makes for some over-the-top filmmaking. Mate, in contrast to Snyder, doesn't go for the bait very often, instead frequently opting for formations of men moving around as seen from a distance. Unfortunately, this is tactically more interesting than it is cinematically, which feeds the sense of stiffness that seeps repeatedly into the movie.
Mate has a large number of uniformed bodies (the Spartans wear red cloaks so that if wounded, enemy soldiers cannot detect the spilled blood) to put on the screen, but it is nothing like the numbers of soldiers one could see in super-epics (e.g., El Cid or Fall of the Roman Empire). This hurts the sense of scale in The 300 Spartans at crucial moments, making battle scenes seem static at times. However, when it comes to closer in-fighting, Mate's movie is innovative; the arms swinging swords on the screen do so with a fervor you wouldn't normally see with movies shot on a studio soundstage. The red capes help us to keep clear who is attacking who, and in the pitched battle when the Persian forces and the Spartans are muddled together, The 300 Spartans excels.
Richard Egan's King Leonidas isn't the half-crazed, spittle-spewing Leonidas of the Snyder version (which, all credit due, is well played by Gerard Butler), but Egan balances military authority, gravitas and determination into a nicely done portrait of desperation, duty and stubbornness - a virtue as far as the Spartans of the film are concerned. [Z]
Dawn of the Mummy - 1981
Dawn of the Mummy - Released December 11, 1981. Directed by Frank Agrama
An American fashion photographer with models in tow travels to Egypt for a photoshoot, coming across another American - this one being a treasure hunter - who has uncovered an Egyptian Pharaonic tomb. The photographer decides the subterranean tomb would be a great place to photograph his models, and naturally the mummy buried in the tomb rises to action to put a stop to all the nonsense disturbing his sleep.
This low budget film is truly an "international" feature, with shots in New York City and Giza, but there is some absolutely dreadful dubbing (Americans dubbing their English lines and still somehow not in synch). The dialogue seems to have frequently been made up on the spot and is repetitious to a very high degree, to the point that actors simply repeat their lines in rapid succession, apparently to try and emphasize their excitement, greed or bewilderment.
The tale tries to borrow from the George Romero zombie epic Dawn of the Dead, but instead looks more like a bland, sub-TV movie production suddenly becoming a darkly-lit gore fest before turning back into the bland sub-TV movie. The prelude to this film also borrows from the 1932 The Mummy with Karloff and possibly Hammer films Mummy from 1959, if not from any other dozens of Mummy films made over the century since George Melies began using the movie camera to perform tricks and illusions.
The art direction in Dawn of the Mummy is pretty good in consideration of what looks like minimal production dollars utilized, and the titular Mummy isn't a white-bandaged Karloff clone, but a heavily and darkly lacquered monster that looks 7 feet tall and is rather impressive standing still. Moving is a different issue and doesn't make sense in the classic physics of bad-monster-movies where a fast-footed girl appears on screen to be breaking a land speed record while running in terror, but somehow the slowly-shuffling monster is always ten feet behind her.
Is Dawn of the Mummy a terrible movie? Yes, and if everything was backwards in the movie awards business, after a few of these overheated acting scenes I would want someone to hand the cast a couple of golden Academy Award Oscars. [Z]
Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck [Illustrated with 310 Photographs] - amazon.com
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- Laura - 1944- Dana Andrews is a police detective investigating a murder of a girl so seemingly perfect he is frustratingly falling in love with her ghost.
- The Body Snatcher - 1945 - Grave-robbing in Scotland becomes a test of willpower between a compromised doctor (Henry Daniell) and the cabman (Boris Karloff) who ferries bodies (living and dead) for him.
- Hitchcock 2012 - Story of the making of the 1960 film Psycho, and how Alfred and Alma Hitchcock worked together during its production.
- Shepherd of the Hills - John Wayne, Harry Carey and Betty Fields in the Ozarks
- Son of Paleface 1952 - Bob Hope and Jane Russell team up in this sequel to bring a small amount of law and order to the west. Includes Roy Rogers and Trigger "The Smartest Horse in the World"
- Cat People - 1942 - Simone Simon in Val Lewton's first horror film for RKO - - what hints at being a sideways imitation of Universal's The Wolf Man but turns into a psychological study of marital alienation and self-deception, along with Lewton's frequent theme of superstition clashing with rational explanations that don't always quite fit.
- Wife vs Secretary - 1936 - Cark Gable has a problem: Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow are deciding on which woman will get to claim his heart in this corporate melodrama.
- Confession - 1937 - One of Kay Francis' best films and a well-made version of the German film Mazurka.
- Holiday Inn - 1942 - Bing Crosby turns his farm into a show business showcase, and Fred Astaire shows up. Incidentaly, he's also interested in Bing's girlfriend, Marjorie Reynolds. Film features the song "White Christmas", among many others.
- Gone with the Wind - 1939 - The biggest money-maker and one of the most famous films ever made.
- Dr. Strangelove - 1964 - The world is on the verge of a nuclear disaster between the United States and the Soviet Union - Director Kubrick makes this seem quite funny in this Cold War satire.
- Blade Runner - 1982 - Ridley Scott's influential film about 'replicants' who wish to live on earth and find a way to extend their limited lifetimes. Harrison Ford is sent to stop them.
- The Vampires Coffin - 1958 - Well made Mexican horror film with excellent photography amid a very familiar plotline. However, good performances and humor help make this version stand out.
- Daybreak - 1931 - Helen Chandler and Ramon Novarro in a melodrama about a piano teacher and an Austrian Imperial Officer who are trapped into (sometimes brutal) societal expectations for their lives.
- Stolen Holiday 1937 - Claude Rains and Kay Francis are almost lovers, but not quite; but she is extremely loyal as his financial empire begins to fall apart.
- Guilty Hands - 1931 - Lionel Barrymore and Kay Francis are working out who has killed a wealthy philanderer.
- The Vagabond Lover - 1929 - Rudy Vallee and Marie Dressler in a song-soaked and humorous telling of an amateur jazz band that is pretending to be a group of famous pros.
- The Lady Vanishes - 1938 - Hitchcock's famous film about a disappearing lady aboard a trans-continental train. Except for one stubborn young female passenger [who is consequently accused of mental instability] no one aboard can remember the vanished elderly Miss Froy.
- White Zombie - 1932 - Bela Lugosi likes making zombies, and this comes in handy when a local plantation owner on Haiti decides if he can't woo a certain girl to be his wife, he'll have Lugosi turn her into a mindless slave that he can command.