Reviews of Classic Film, with artwork and news

LAST UPDATE April 19, 2024

Fast Review Highway Dragnet, 1955: Fast moving tale of a Korean War vet (Richard Conte) being pursued for murder outside Las Vegas for the death of a woman he briefly met at a bar. Did he kill her? Well, he had a violent argument with her after he accidentally implied the picture of her hanging on the wall of the bar shows that she was "beautiful then" but maybe not so much now: a former professional model and now a professional barfly, she really doesn't like that.

Come the next day, the police are moving her strangled body out of a hotel room and the Vet is brought in as suspect number one. Realizing the cops are convinced he's the murderer and not giving any notice to his protestations, he breaks free and steals a police car, rushing out into the desert but not before he blows out the tires of another police car using a 45 automatic that he kept from the war "as a souvenir."

Shortly afterward he ditches the stolen cop car and ingratiates himself into the company of a pair of women having automobile trouble out in the middle of the flat emptiness. Riding along with the two women, one a photographer and the other a model, they start sensing something is not right. Once they catch sight of local newspaper headlines about an escaped murderer in the desert, presumably hitchhiking, they're really unnerved about their enigmatic passenger.

Highway Dragnet has good surprises in the story and the ensemble of main characters played by Conte, Joan Bennett and Wanda Hendrix, help the tale move over a few storytelling speed bumps. The twisty script needed a little more polish in places because, suddenly, like a TV show episode, it speeds up character development like a video player on fast-forward, ultimately giving the movie an uneven quality. On the other hand, the location visuals are first class, especially the desperate effort of the three to get their damaged car over a mountain, and the final section of the film in an eerie sunken homestead washed out by a desert sea.

Most well-done low budget noirs know how to stay within their outline and keep the basic nugget of the story wrapped up in filmmaking efficiencies, not offering anything more than what it takes to pull off the tale and spring an unexpected twist or two on the audience. Highway Dragnet reaches out for more at times, doesn't always reach it, even generating unintended laughs, the bane of break-neck productions. Bennett and Conte make a good sparring pair and Highway Dragnet stays interesting right to the end credit. A film like this made just a decade or two later could not have resisted exploiting all of the visual metaphors laying around, which, if the viewer is watching closely, are still there all the same.

"The thousand faces of Frankenstein"Something

After several years of vampires reigning supreme (that will continue; right now, a version of Nosferatu is being shot with stars), Frankenstein seems to be the trendy creature of the moment because of the ability to tell many things through it: Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Creatures discusses feminism; the Turkish series Creature (released on Netflix) takes on religion. Del Toro is shooting his Frankenstein (Oscar Isaac plays the doctor; Jacob Elordi, of Priscilla and Saltburn, stars as the creature); Penélope Cruz is part of the cast that is about to start filming Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Bride, which reimagines Whale’s second Frankenstein film —the one about finding a mate — and stars Christian Bale as the monster in 1930s Chicago ...

"For the love of Scarlett and Rhett - Turner Classic Movies turns 30" LA Weekly

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, TCM will feature special programming throughout April with conversations with staffers who helped launch the channel, Osborne’s 20th Anniversary Tribute, and classics like Turner’s beloved Gone With The Wind and Orson Welles’ masterpiece, A Touch of Evil."

Partnership between TCM and Warner Bros. Studios for new classic films tour KTLA TV Los Angeles

The 90-minute guided tour portion will be aboard new TCM-themed carts with the focus of the tour being the early days of Tinseltown. “Casablanca,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Music Man,” “Blazing Saddles” and more are highlighted along the tour, with brand new stops related to the films found on Turner Classic Movies."

Queen Bee

Queen Bee, 1955: In some ways this might be the "ultimate" Joan Crawford melodrama because it has a character so evil and nefarious that she'd be a contender in a fight with Count Dracula. On the other hand the story gives us a sympathetic underlying pathology that seems to excuse, as only a Hollywood film can, a great number of sins in the name of peer pressure, marital pressure, friendship pressure, and finally cultural pressure (the story is set in the Deep South, though the accents are decidedly from somewhere else). As Crawford's character says when confronted about her behavior by the visiting "Miss Jennifer" (played by Lucy Marlow):

"I'm an outsider! They hate outsiders! Oh, they're polite enough, that's how they are. You don't know the things they've made me do trying to protect myself. And how ashamed I've been sometimes because of them. You don't know how they are. But, you'll find out!"

Self-hate is also a component of what's on the screen, and in between skewering everyone around her with verbal allusions, Crawford gets a few scenes of looking at herself in a mirror and being horrified at what she's become. I guess that counts for a softening of the sharp edges around the character of Eva Phillips, wife of wealthy Avery Phillips (played by Barry Sullivan) and the story suggests that if Mr. Phillips would just give Mrs. Phillips the proper attention (and restraints) their world would be a happier and safer place, and safety here means preventing the fatalities that follow in Eva's wake.

The darkness that should shroud the movie is competing with the 1950's style of histrionic film melodrama so there is a certain amount of suspended disbelief required to enjoy Queen Bee. The overheated pressure that seems to be crushing most of the main characters under the weight of lies and compromises for the sake of appearances also makes for a picture where truth is a rare commodity, along with the courage to face it (which, in a way, is the core struggle of Crawford's character, however diabolical she seems in her cruelties.)

The music in Queen Bee by George Duning is lush and expansive and how it envelopes the story reminds me of the same kind of aural packaging that helped make later films like Summer Place and Peyton Place succeed.

Under the Cherry Moon - 1987: As a feature film, Under the Cherry Moon is badly made though containing alternatively beautiful black and white cinematography (made on location in Nice, France) and it has efficient editing. The footage telling the story swings back and forth between musical, melodrama, romantic comedy and slapstick. Most of it fails to fit together well. But, if Under the Cherry Moon is viewed as containing all of the eccentric tics that a 1980s music video had which would usually feature a thinly applied story line over the top of the music, accompanied by inside jokes and some mugging at the camera by the cast, which was usually the band or singer (in this case the Minneapolis wunderkind Prince Rogers Nelson), then Under the Cherry Moon might just be the best and most complex music video of all time.
Life Magazine May 1980 with Mary Astor

Web site on Mary Astor is at The Mary Astor Collection

Reign of Terror 1949 - aka "The Black Book"

A pretty good looking copy is online at Youtube in the Classical Hollywood Cinema (The reason this stands out to me is because ragged, dim copies of Reign of Terror circulated for years, and even the copy shown on TCM years ago wasn't this good.)

Twentieth Century with Carol Lombard

Indicator Blu-rays are on sale (for example Twentieth Century with Carol Lombard is $8.00) at Powerhouse Films in the UK. They have US shipping.powerhousefilms

They're also having a "Three for $15" sale, too.

More for the HD wish list: The 1938 Island in the Sky with Gloria Stuart (in fact, why not a box set of Gloria Stuart?)

Powerhouse Films has announced pre-order for HD Disks of Tomorrow We Live (1942), The Shop at Sly Corner (1947), and Obsession (1949).

Kino Lorber has an HD Disk release of the 1992 film Brain Donors. (I remember that before this film came to theaters, the pre-release promotional art had the film titled Duck Feathers, a title that leans revealingly and heavily into the Marx Bros homage that is this movie.)

Availability Question: Why isn't there a decent copy of Director Frank Launder's The Bridal Path (1959) out on disk or on the various streaming services? The last time I saw it was in the 1990's on broadcast TV. Since then its not shown up on DVD, Blu Ray, or even VHS, from what I can tell. It appears sometimes on You Tube in a truncated form, but not for long. A legit, full version doesn't appear to be available, and perhaps there's some tangle over copyright that keeps it off screens.

OPPENHEIMER' wins 7 total Oscars at the 2024 awards

▪️ Best Supporting Actor
▪️ Best Film Editing
▪️ Best Cinematography
▪️ Best Original Score
▪️ Best Actor
▪️ Best Director
▪️ Best Picture

Fiend Without A Face

Review: Fiend Without A Face - 1958

Trouble comes to a small Canadian town when a local United States atomic radar station seems linked to unusual events and then several unexplained local deaths. Amid rising paranoia in the area, an investigation by an American officer turns up a fiendishly unexpected connection to human-thought experiments.

More about the 1958 sci-fi film Fiend Without A Face

Review: Impact - 1949

A fiendish wife plots the murder of her unaware husband (Brian Donlevy), only to have the plan twist around in a completely unexpected direction.

More about Impact - 1949



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