LAST UPDATE August 9, 2022

Reviews of Classic Film, with artwork and news

Battle over Boris Karloff Frankenstein "dummy" center of fight between museums

A dummy of Frankenstein's monster being held at the V&A has sparked a trans-Atlantic ownership row after a US museum called for it to be repatriated. The wooden mannequin, which stands at seven ft, is based on actor Boris Karloff... The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) is contesting the monster's ownership, stating that it owns both the mannequin and its clothes.

Story at UK Daily Mail

The Girl Can't Help it - 1956

As a dry run for the better written and made Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Jayne Mansfield's The Girl Can't Help It has its own peculiar charms. Though not as strong a satire of pop culture as Rock Hunter, it treads the same territory and throws some of the same punches (both films are written and directed by Frank Tashlin, a guy who graduated from comic art and animated cartoons, a sensibility that comes through in these films).

In what would have to be a flip side to the ambitious character Mansfield plays in Rock, here she is reluctantly cooperating with an astro-turf publicity campaign to make her into a singing star while demonstrating to one and all she can't correctly hit a single note, so the agent meant to groom her for stardom (played by Tom Ewell) attenuates her physicality instead (something that is taken for granted in Rock Hunter where Mansfield plays a Marilyn Monroe parody right out of the box).

Mansfield's character of Jerri Jordan would rather be in her kitchen cooking a meal and having babies in The Girl Can't Help It, but because she is the intended bride of a retired mobster (played with, shall we say, gusto, by Edmond O'Brien as 'Fats' Murdock) she's got to be turned into someone "important" and therefore worthy of the hyper image-conscious Fats. This is a variation on the 1950 Judy Holliday film Born Yesterday, with Jayne's character in The Girl Can't Help It turning out to be quite a bit smarter than anyone gives her credit for (like Born Yesterday), and we eventually find out she can perfectly hit her singing notes when she wants to. Why doesn't she want to? That's the crux of the story.

There's a lot of well-filmed and recorded early rock and roll in this movie, with singing acts like Fats Domino, The Platters, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, Abbey Lincoln, The Treniers and Eddie Fontaine belting out their tunes. There's also a sub-story about the payola that makes juke-box territories (and song hits) possible, something that mimics Hollywood's star machine but with violence added in.

Frank Tashlin's script is trying to have its cake and eat it, too, with The Girl Can't Help It , that is, to throw the exploitative image of the giant bosomed Jayne Mansfied dripping glamour at the screen, but to also have the same Mansfield wax sentimental about the desire for a house, babies, home-cooked food and a dedicated man, preferring an apron over mink. For the most part Tashlin strides a path toward the end credits where he gets to present both Mansfields together as one person successfully. Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot runs down a similar path with Marilyn Monroe, but without the goofy, almost comic book Mad Magazine wit that makes Tashlin's films with Mansfield more cutting and modern.

The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? are the twin high points in Mansfield's film career. As an ironic (and funny) satire of the platinum blonde phenomenon of American film (something that got rolling well before Marilyn Monroe when Harlean Carpenter, aka Jean Harlow, captured attention in the 1930 Hell's Angels with her hair bleached out by chemicals), Mansfield embodied the artifice of it all with complete commitment, both being the joke and telling the joke at the same time. It is like the bizarre paradox of Hoagy Carmichael singing Stardust, using the lyrics written by Parish Mitchell, which is a different song titled Stardust but about the other song also titled Stardust, the earlier instrumental composition by Carmichael, so we end up with a song about itself, a mirror looking at a mirror. The two Tashlin films with Mansfield, who is in on Tashlin's joke about movie stars like Mansfield, works like that, mirrors reflecting each other going off into infinity.

New from Kino: Journey of Fiddler on the Roof to the Big Screen - story documenting how the 1971 film version of the play directed by Norman Jewison came to happen - Kino Page

New from Criterion: The 1944 Arsenic and Old Lace (actually filmed in 1941 but not released until '44) featuring Cary Grant in an over-the-top comedy role – Criterion to come out on Blu Ray Page

James Caan has died

James Caan


James Caan, Oscar nominee for 'The Godfather,' dies at 82ABC News

James Caan, The Godfather and Elf Acting Legend, Dead at 82People Magazine

James Caan, Macho Leading Man of Hollywood, DiesHollywood Reporter

Rob Reiner Remembers James Caan Deadline Hollywood

Icon of New Hollywood and star of ‘Godfather’ and ‘Misery’ dies at 82 Indie Wire MSN News

Fast Review: Move Over, Darling (1963) vs. My Favorite Wife (1940)

Doris Day stars in this remake of My Favorite Wife (1940), with Day in the Irene Dunne role, and James Garner taking over the Cary Grant position in a story about a widower getting remarried on the same day his (presumed dead) wife reappears after five years on a Pacific island following a plane crash.

This newer version of the story works out some of the details that the earlier version didn't clarify (how, for example, did the 'dead' wife get along with her fellow survivor Steve Burkett, played in the '63 version by Chuck O'Conner, on the island for five years? The 1940 version left the issue slightly vague and more amicable, this version has Day finally tossing a narcissistic O'Conner to the ground, her patience with the man, after five years, very much gone).

In the 1940's version Gail Patrick played the newest wife who becomes understandably confused as the behavior of her new husband escalates crazily upon learning the news of his dead wife's resurrection, a fine point the new wife doesn't know about for a good majority of the story. In this 1963 telling, Polly Bergen is the new wife and portrays her as a rather neurotic character, becoming more laughably neurotic as the tale proceeds, whereas Patrick created humor in the story simply by standing there, frustrated, a perfectly beautiful new wife who, unbeknownst to her, has become suddenly and completely "off-limits."

James Garner in the lead in the 1963 version is a man overwhelmed with an issue he can't easily solve and he can't bring himself to explain the very simple legal (and emotional) problem to the new wife. The time delay is harder to believe this time around because Garner doesn't exude the distracted confusion of Cary Grant. Grant played a number of comedy characters as peculiar men who get caught up in an inner-turmoil they don't explain to other cast members (for example, Grant as Prof. Huxley from Bringing Up Baby) because they are so self-absorbed with the problem they're not engaging the rest of the world like a normal human being, apparently because they're struggling to explain it to them self, first, and not getting anywhere very fast. Garner seems more like he is simply running away from the problem while his character's knowledgeable mother (played by Thelma Ritter) tries to pull strings to bring about a proper conclusion.

The 1940 film was more of an adult comedy that doesn't dwell too much on the impact of the situation onto the children involved, and the 1963 version, though more frank about the sexual implications, centers the ending and resolution completely on the re-integration of a family, featuring two young daughters who seem to spend the whole length of Move Over, Darling in a swimming pool.

Doris Day as a mother alienated from her earlier life by five years "abroad" has more physical energy than Irene Dunne, and in general Move Over, Darling, shifts toward that style of physical comedy popular in the 1960s which had comedy characters running from room to room and yelling their (hopefully) funny lines (an activity featured on a lot of the movie posters of that decade, with the stars part of an ensemble of quick-footed and athletic figures).

Whatever sophistication the screwball My Favorite Wife has isn't really transferred to Move Over, Darling, and more's the pity. Doris Day provides the comic energy she excelled at in her comedy career with many other films, but Move Over, Darling isn't as tightly paced when she's not on the screen and in general the film seems compromised by trying to strike a pose as a family film which doesn't gel with the borrowed material of the earlier film.

Edward Andrews

Dward Andrews

Easily recognized character actor who appeared in 187 film and TV show roles (for example, he has 8 film appearances in 1964 alone). Born October 9, 1914 in Griffin, Georgia. Died March 8, 1985 in Santa Monica, California.

Fast Review: The Brass Bottle – 1964

Tony Randall's character of Harold Ventimore in The Brass Bottle is an architect who purchases an antique brass bottle which, when unsealed, releases Burl Ives (as Fakrash, though his name sounds like "back-rash") in a genie suit. Fakrash has been locked up in the bottle for 3,000 years, but is ready and willing to magically produce any wish his new, young, 20th century master has for him. On the surface, this seems like just what Ventimore needs, a poor nebbish up against professional failure and the expectations of his girlfriend (Barbara Eden, who is not a genie in this film) and her overbearing family.

A significant part of this film is Randall simply refusing to utilize the genie's power, so Fakrash takes matters into his own hands and creates a variety of comedic scenes involving unasked for wishes with gold bars, an army of slaves, clients for Ventimore's architectural skills, and of course, belly dancers (particularly "Lulu Porter, International Dancing Sensation" as she is listed on the trailer and advertising materials).

Fighting against this windfall of wealth and success is Ventimore's primary duty for most of the movie, and in this way The Brass Bottle mimics a similar problem plaguing Tony Randall in the 1957 Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? which had the same dilemma of Randall's character getting everything his ambition seems to want, but seeing it hilariously destroy his life. This was far better demonstrated in the earlier movie, and in The Brass Bottle the tale never really establishes its phantasy world beyond the level of a TV sitcom (in fact, the later I Dream of Jeannie TV Show did this aspect better), and aside from Burl Ive's energetic portrayal and Randall looking effortless playing a character type he'd already done many times before (and would do many times again), plus a veteran cast of character actors like Edward Andrews and Philip Ober, the script simply turns into a series of episodes about the peculiar effects a genie has on Ventimore's world, and there's no question made about where all of this power is coming from, and what the implications are for a world like Ventimore's.

At some point the ironic twist of the film would be how to put the genie back in the bottle, and the point of the genie would be the temptations of the world against the desires of a "saint" (though only the Hollywood version of one, which is Randall's character). But none of this really happens, and though there is plenty of wit in the dialogue and the cast is fine (though Kathie Browne and Richard Erdman as beatniks Hazel and Seymour Jenks seem bizarrely more artificial than even Burl Ives in a genie getup) the film simply lacks a certain amount of logical cohesion, even for the rather looser-standards of a fantasy film about a genie, belly-dancers, and imaginative blue-screen projection special effects.

At times Fakrash is played gleefully by Ives, and is the best part of the film, and one can only wish the producers and scriptors (screenplay by Oscar Brodneyn from a novel by Thomas Anstey Guthrie) could have let Ives exploit the role further. But as it is, The Brass Bottle is undercut by its own lack of ambition, never getting completely free of the bottle.

Mini-Review: Maleficent II: Mistress of Evil

Maleficent Angelina Jolie

The tale in Maleficent II: Mistress of Evil is mostly about the relationship between "Mother" (Maleficent played by Angelina Jolie) and "Beasty" (the character is actually named Aurora, is a princess, and is played by Elle Fanning) which is stretched to the breaking point by the extreme Machiavellian machinations of evil Queen Ingrith (played by Michelle Pfeiffer).

The two combatting leads of Jolie and Pfieffer are given a heavy veneer of makeup, are heavily filtered, but so is a great deal of the rest of the film which is bathed deeply in the river of Disney's "more is more" aesthetic...

Read review of Maleficent Mistress of Evil

A bio-pic of Billy Wilder is comingheyuguys

Christoph Waltz has signed up to play the iconic filmmaker Billy Wilder in the Stephen Frears directed ‘Billy Wilder and Me.... A part coming-of-age story, part true-life portrait of the beloved Billy Wilder (Waltz), the film is set during the summer of 1977, when an innocent young woman begins working for the famed director and his screenwriter Iz Diamond on a Greek island during the filming of Fedora...

Jungle Rules and nostalgia for the past

Review: Divorce - 1945

Divorce with Kay Francis and Helen Mack

"I was just playing the rules as they put them down. Jungle rules, if you know what I mean."

Kay Francis stars in and is the producer for Divorce, a Monogram film from 1945 in which an old flame (Kay as Dianne Carter) returns after four lucrative divorces to her old hometown, where she then proceeds to steal her childhood boyfriend Bob (Bruce Cabot) from his wife Martha (Helen Mack).

When Kay's character is first introduced aboard a train headed to her hometown, the camera focuses directly on her long legs then moves up to show us the whole person. When we last see her in Divorce (in both instances she is talking with the same train porter played by Napoleon Simpson), her legs are covered up by her fur coat aboard a train as she flees the town. Director William Nigh shows us that she is no longer "hunting," and her thoughtful (though troubled) demeanor, as the train porter comments on, tells us that Dianne Carter has been changed.

More Review of DIvorce – 1945 with Kay Francis

Mini-Review: Star Wars Rogue One - 2016

Unexpected! A faster, more enjoyable Star Wars movie than the bombastic The Force Awakens. Director Gareth Edwards keeps the tale pushing forward and has less overhead baggage than the J.J. Abrams film from 2015, though Rogue One is also littered with references to the famous original Lucas films (which makes sense, of course, Rogue One is a true prequel to the 1977 Star Wars).

A technological innovation is a CGI Peter Cushing (as Grand Moff Tarkin) and this is both bizarre and amazing. It's also not completely successful, he's obviously not the real Cushing and isn't a genuine filmed human being. The same goes for the end section where Carrie Fisher is "re-youthed" by CGI, but her eyes sort of float on her face a bit in a way that just isn't real.

CGI complaints aside, once Rogue One sets up its objective, it pounds forward like a World War II commando film, and the main cast (Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, and Alan Tudyk as the robot K-2SO) are quite likeable and warm, though they're not on screen to build up their characters past a certain point, but rather to accomplish the plot goals that connects Rogue One to the 1977 Star Wars and then to die in a blaze of glory, and they certainly accomplish that. If someone had predicted the ossified Star Wars franchise could produce a fast-moving suicide-mission war film as part of it's offerings, I would've thought that was a bridge too far.

I wish the whole batch of new Star Wars films could all be this slightly shlocky and have this much verve.

Ray Liotta has died

Ray Liotta


Actor Ray Liotta has died in the Dominican RepublicABC News

Critics, fans and colleagues react to Ray Liotta’s death at 67Washington Post

Ray Liotta, star of Goodfellas and Field of Dreams, dies aged 67UK Guardian

Jamie Lee Curtis, Lorraine Bracco, Taron Egerton and More React to Ray Liotta's Death

Ray Liotta dies at age 67UPI at MSN

126 acting credits listed at IMDB

Quick Review: Uncharted – 2022

At times Uncharted is an inventive adventure film charged with tension as an action film should be, showing us a tale about buried treasure (in a watery location) while giving us a shifting story of alliances between our main characters portrayed by Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali and Tati Gabrielle. The plot is fast moving and it is easy to keep up with what's happening despite the rapid movements around the globe as the treasure hunting takes on more complexity. Eventually there are double-crosses and a few characters drop out of the cast due to those double-crosses.

Uncharted's shortcomings are rather straight-forward. The dialogue is too often inadequate to presenting characterization with any depth, or of informing the audience of the urgency that is all around a character, making the film seem unreal because the dialogue suddenly becomes unnatural. The "back story" between characters is also thin but more of it gets squeezed into the ongoing film at a regular drumbeat which helps flesh out the tale, though it never truly establishes everything hinted at.

Stunt work is fantastic, and though clearly a lot of stuff is "green screen" CGI spectaculars, there's also a lot of leaping, jumping (and dropping) that is well done in the way of a classic adventure film that is full of physical activity. Art direction is very good and the various scenes in auction houses, etc., as the characters try to put together all the accumulating mass of clues on the location of their golden-goal, are fascinating. Part of the film is set in a tropical environment that is gorgeous to look at.

Quick Review: I Was A Male War Bride – 1949

Ann Sheridan and Cary Grant are pushed together by circumstances as two members of the military occupation in Europe (she's American and he's French) following World War II, and though they fight, bicker and argue through a great deal of the story (usually in funny ways) they are also eyeing one another so it is no surprise when a romantic association becomes cemented into marriage. The challenge though is finding a way to get the two together for the marriage, as military regulations are keeping them too far apart and then Sheridan is ordered to exit Europe for the United States, and they've got to figure out a way to bring new husband Cary to the states, too.

Cary Grant was a specialist in male humiliation comedies and he's in perfect form here, regularly getting into a situation that would be a terrifying nightmare in "real life" but is the seed bed of a lot of humor in I Was A Male War Bride, some of it slapstick but a lot of the funny is derived from the slapshot dialogue between Sheridan and Grant. She's very good at observing events and laughing at them, which is a not so subtle way of getting the audience to follow suit, though director Howard Hawks works the comedy in legitimate ways and with good effect, and most of it is carried on Grant's portrayal of a French officer suffering and then suffering some more.

There's probably not a funnier film made (or possible) about this sort of situation set in the wreckage (often seen on screen) of a bombed-out Germany following the end of the war. While I Was A Male War Bride is also a military comedy with the requisite jabs at military regulations, inefficiency and illogic, it takes for granted a kind of grudging admiration for the gigantic scope of the operation that was picking up the pieces in the end after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Sheridan and Grant sail through this scenery of ruin and Hawks puts them into the center of the screen in that evergreen comedy plot of a romantic entanglement between two dramatically different and conflicting personalities.

The Atomic Kid – 1954

The Atomic Kid

Let's look at the record. He was eating a peanut-butter sandwich before the bomb went off. And he did survive, didn't he? So, it must have been the peanut-butter!"

Mickey Rooney and Robert Strauss are a pair of amateur uranium prospectors who wander into an atomic testing ground. Lost, exhausted and starving, they find what they mistake as a "model home" standing alone in a broad and empty plain, filled with furniture and mannequin dummies, not realizing it is a test structure to record the effects of an atomic explosion* that is just minutes from going off. Strauss (as Stan Cooper) departs with a car he "borrows" from outside the house to go to town to try and find the owner of the home, and Rooney (as "Blix") stays, determined to find something to eat and to guard the location from any other prospectors, the two believing there must be a lucrative uranium deposit nearby judging by the readings on their Geiger counter.

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