Forgotten Films: Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940)

Lloyd Nolan's Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he's one of the best things about the film.

Lloyd Nolan’s Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he’s one of the best things about the film.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 171st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Welcome back to Forgotten Films. This week I decided to go a little further back and pick a B movie that many people have not seen. Michael Shayne, Private Detective was the first of the Mike Shayne stories to go onto celluloid and it has both good and bad points.

The first good point is Lloyd Nolan who played Shayne in seven films for Twentieth Century Fox. He makes an interesting Shayne, tough and no nonsense but one who has a whimsical side too.

The film begins at the race track where Phyllis Brighton (Marjorie Weaver) is losing badly. Her father Hiram Brighton (Clarence Kolb) refuses to give her money to place a bet on a 15-1 long shot. She finds a bookie and attempts to pawn off an expensive brooch to cover a $200 bet. Shayne is nearby and spoils her deal by telling the bookie the jewelry is paste. Phyllis does not know Shayne, but Shayne knows her and her father. Imagine her rage when the horse wins unexpectedly and she does not get her $3,000 reward.

Phyllis complains to her father about Shayne and dear old dad decides that Mike is exactly the person he needs to keep his wayward daughter on the straight and narrow. Since times are a little tight (the furniture company is repossessing his office when Brighton calls), Mike takes the job.

The first stop is a local casino where Phyllis is hanging with Harry Grange (George Meeker), the guy who had given her the tip on the horserace. She is playing roulette and not having any luck. She hits Grange up for a loan and as he is giving it to her, Shayne interrupts. There is discussion and Phyllis takes the money anyway.

Shayne goes to talk to the owner Gordon (Douglas Dumbrille), who is arguing with his daughter Marsha (Joan Valerie) about Grange. Shayne convinces Gordon to give Phyllis back the money she lost. There is a conference with Grange, Phyllis, Gordon and Shayne. It ends with Shayne punching out Grange and taking Phyllis to her home.

Here he meets Aunt Olivia (Elizabeth Patterson) who has always wanted to meet a real detective. She loves solving murder mysteries and regales Shayne with the stories of those she loved. Phyllis has been locked in her room, but she has a spare key and promptly returns to the casino and Grange.

Shayne, of course, follows but lets her alone. Instead, he drugs Grange and takes him away in Phyllis’ car, where he applies catsup to the front of his shirt. He then goes back to the casino and picks up Phyllis and is driving her home since she cannot find her car. He also calls his comic foil Chief Painter (Douglas McBride) of the homicide division to put the fear of god in her.

Driving her home, they spot Phyllis’ car and the slumped form of Grange. Phyllis recognizes the catsup and tries to shake Grange awake. That’s when she sees the gunshot to his forehead. They also find Mike’s gun nearby. It’s been fired.

Mike sends Phyllis home and throws the gun away and awaits the arrival of the police. Things get tough when the police (tipped off by Gordon) find out about the altercation between Grange and Mike.

The film swings between comedic spots and a real mystery. Shayne wisecracks through the whole film. Soon there is murder, kidnapping, horse race fixing and other drama to keep the story moving. Aunt Olivia steals the show whenever she is on stage. And Phyllis begins to think that having Shayne around might not be too bad.

As I said, Nolan is a good thing about the film. But he’s also a bad thing. He is not really the Mike Shayne form the novels (though by the time the film came out, only two had been published). The Shayne of the novels was Irish, red headed and married. Nolan’s not any of these. But, that said, I liked him.

Nolan delivers up something that is a combination of the hardboiled Shayne and the comedic Thin Man type. It must have succeeded because Fox did six more films with Nolan and then the series shifted to PRC where Hugh Beaumont (of Leave it to Beaver fame) did five more. Shayne also went on to appear on radio in several series and on TV. Brett Halliday (a pseudonym used by Davis Dresser) wrote at least 50 Mike Shayne novels (and others wrote 27 more as Halliday, bringing the total to 77). Some of my favorites were written by Robert Terrell, who also did some nice hardboiled work under his own name and Robert Kyle.

Overall I like the film. You should check it out. This first one is available on YouTube or in the Michael Shayne Mysteries collection, which has the first four Nolan Shayne offerings.

As always, my taste is in my mouth. You may hate these things. Hope not, but it’s your life.

I will probably miss the next couple of weeks as I am in the process of moving and it looks like it will be happening imminently. If I do miss my movie reviews, check out Todd Mason’s blog and see what some of the other folks who do the Forgotten Films have to offer up.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Films: Wild in the Streets (1968)

1968's cult classic "Wild in the Streets" deserves a look this tempestuous election season.

1968’s cult classic “Wild in the Streets” deserves a look this tempestuous election season.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 168th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films.

Since it is an election year, I thought it might be wise to review a politically charged film from that hotly contested year of 1968. I was not yet old enough to vote when this came out, but I was interested in the political process and watched both parties at their national conventions and the attendant folderol that went with it. I was (then and now) very anti-war and saw it as a major part of the campaigns.

Somewhere that year, the theaters on Ft. Sam Houston (where I was living) managed to show Wild in the Streets, and I somehow got to see it, even with an R rating. Perhaps the clerk thought I was one of the soldiers since I had a burr haircut at the time. Anyway, I saw it and thought it was a hoot.

Flash forward 48 years and I see that TCM was going to broadcast it one night while I was not at home. Mr. DVR came through for me, and I captured the film again. I watched it the other day with my wife and found it interesting, naïve, stupid — and totally relevant to the current political scene.

Max Flatow Jr. (Christopher Jones) is raised in a home with a shrill, dominating mother (Shelly Winters). It does not take much for him to rebel, beginning with manufacturing drugs and explosives in the family basement. He blows up his father’s new car and leaves home. Four years later, he is 22 and a multi-millionaire rock star under the name Max Frost with his band the Troopers – which also includes 15-year-old attorney Billy (Kevin Coughlin) on guitar, former child star Sally LeRoy (Diane Varsi) on keyboards, Abraham “the Hook” Salteen (Larry Bishop) on bass and trumpet and anthropologist Stanley X (Richard Pryor) on drums. They are young, rich and bored. They’re also asked to perform at a political rally for Congressman Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), a young candidate urging for voting rights for 18 year olds, which was a hot topic at the time and one I supported. Max does a live gig for the rally but pushes his own agenda, which is for the vote to be extended to 14 year olds.

The reaction is overwhelming, and Fergus finds himself a reluctant ally to the charismatic rocker. Established political advisors are appalled and want Fergus to drop Frost like a hot potato. Among those is Senator Allbright (Ed Begley). With youth demonstrations for the 14 voting age expanding across the country, Frost and Fergus compromise on 15 and Ready. They select that age so Billy can actually vote. Fergus is elected in a landslide.

Just as the election happens, a local congressman, aged 84, dies. To be elected to Congress you must be 25. Coincidentally, Sally Leroy has just turned 25 and finds herself appointed to Congress. Her first act is to introduce a constitutional amendment reducing the age for someone elected to Congress or the presidency to 14. A water supply spiked with LSD reduces the joint session of Congress to hysterical mania and the amendment is approved. (No one bothered getting the states to ratify it, but that’s just a detail.)

Soon, Max Frost is president and legislation is passed making people go into mandatory retirement at age 35, at which time they’ll be sent to camps where they’ll be fed, clothed, and provided LSD on a regular basis.

It progresses from there, but the tale of a charismatic outsider who rouses his troops and maneuvers into the political arena sort of resonated with me. I’m not going to get into a political discussion. I know who I am voting for and I hope you know your own mind also. The upcoming vote will be divisive I am afraid, but I hope some form of sanity manifests itself during the process.

I had fun with the Wild in the Streets. Christopher Jones had a short run in Hollywood, bowing out after the death of Sharon Tate (with whom he had an affair) left him devastated. IMDB only gives 10 acting credits for him and only one after 1970 (Mad Dog Time in 1996). He died in 2014.

It’s not a good film (too absurd and too many plot holes), but it is a better film than American International normally made. Give it a shot. Songs by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill include “Shape of Things to Come,” which made it to #22. It was #1 in San Antonio as I recall from that time. It is heard three times in the film.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Gamera the Invincible (1965/1966)

The poster for the U.S. release of Gammera the Invincible shows off the American actors and the extra "M" added to improve its marketability here.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 166th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

So it is a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was resting up doing not much of anything when I decided that it was time to review another film. I had watched 2015’s Crimson Peaks from Guillermo del Toro, but somehow that did not seem like what I wanted to write about.

So what to watch?

Last weekend (Memorial Day), I checked out several Half Price Books locations in San Antonio. In one I found a collection of six Gamera films on two DVD’s for the princely sum of $3.00 (less the 20% holiday sale price). Somehow, the package leapt into my shopping basket.

Some mindless kaiju seemed like just the thing to watch today. So Gamera the Invincible hopped into the DVD drive on my computer and I settled in for a quiet event. I never saw any of the Gamera films in the theater and very few of them ever. I remember in our first year of marriage, around 1980, Sandi and I saw one as we were channel surfing. She was fascinated by the spinning turtle that shot flames out of his butt. Made it a little hard to take seriously. Bur since she was not here, I had the film all to myself.

The version I watched was the 1966 World Entertainment Corp. and Harris Associates version which took the original 1965 Daiei production and, much like Toho’s Godzilla, shot some scenes of English language actors and interspliced them with the original to make it more palatable for the English language audiences.

To the film: A Japanese scientific vessel is cruising the Arctic and working with Inuit tribes when four Russian jets stray into American airspace. A confrontation follows, a Russian jet is shot down and a (nuclear?) bomb explodes. The explosion awakens a giant turtle with a severe tusk problem. The Inuits have an ancient drawing referring to the monster as Gamera. General Terry Arnold (Brian Donlevy, far removed from his Professor Quatermass films of a decade before) receives the initial reports of a 150- to 200-foot giant turtle. He soon finds himself assigned to fighting the beast.

Over in Japan, Doctor Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi), who witnessed the birth of Gamera, is working with other scientists to stop the enormous turtle after he has destroyed a lighthouse and saved the life of a young boy Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida). Toshio is fascinated with turtles and was reluctantly releasing his small pet when Gamera showed up.

Toshio forms a connection (at least on his end) with Gamera and, of course, causes likeable trouble trying to get close to the monster and helping him avoid various traps. As with most Japanese films of this ilk, I absolutely hated the kid and wanted him gone fast.

Meanwhile the UN assembles a committee with General Arnold on to solve the problem. It is decided that Arnold and a Russian counterpart will head the group. They decide to implement Plan Z but they need time. The Japanese have to feed Gamera fire and power for 24 hours until the plan can be brought to fruition.

Like last week’s film, the effects are sometimes laughable. Toy ships and planes are quite recognizable in the early shots, and Gamera is, of course, an actor in a rubber suit. But this film has some heart and soul that I thought Master of the World lacked. I mean, a turtle using butt flames as a source of jet propulsion is pretty unique.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. There are five more in the set I bought. I’m sure we will see another one soon.

As for Crimson Peaks, I really enjoyed that film also and will probably address it soon. Keep your powder and whatever jet propulsion method you utilize dry. Your mileage could also vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: Fast Company (1938)

Expect lots of double crosses and rare books in 1938's Fast Company.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 158th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Bibliomysteries are a rare thing indeed and bibliomystery films are even rarer. So when I first read Marco Page’s Fast Company as a paperback novel years ago, I was hooked. Later, when I found that it had been filmed, I was there.

Apparently after the public fell in love with Nick and Nora Charles in 1934’s The Thin Man and its 1936 sequel, there was a clamor for mystery/comedy films featuring married couples. But there was a delay for the third Thin Man film, so MGM looked and found the novel Fast Company. Suddenly, a film adaptation was in the works.

Both the book and the film feature the married couple Joel and Garda Sloane (Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice). Joel is a rare book dealer in New York City and times are a little tight. His primary income (at least in the film) is from helping the insurance companies recover stolen books they have paid out claims for. His wife Garda works in his office as the secretary and money sink. In an early scene, she admits to having sold a copy of Treasure Island for $200 and spending the money on a new dress.

One competitor to Sloane is Otto Brockler (George Zucco!!!), who is allied with Eli Bannerman (Louis Calhern!!!) in moving stolen rare books. Earlier, the insurance companies paid out $50,000 to Brockler for books supposedly stolen by Ned Morgan (Sheppard Strudwick), who’s in love with Brockler’s daughter Leah (Mary Howard). Joel Sloane is convinced Ned is not guilty, but the courts saw otherwise, so Ned went to prison.

Ned is now out of prison and wants to marry Leah, but Brockler isn’t having that. Tension arises. Bannerman, working with Sidney Wheeler (Dwight Frye!!!), a book forger, has had a stolen first edition of Leaves of Grass made into two copies and is selling them to Brockler. Bannerman is, of course, cheating his partner by saying that he is getting only $2,000 for the pair rather than the $5,000 he has negotiated. Wheeler is understandably upset.

Things get even more tricky when Brockler is killed, smashed in the head with the brass eagle statue (his good luck charm) on his desk. Ned looks good to the DA (Thurston Hall). Sloane decides to help Ned and gives him some money. Of course, he is soon captured. He’s appointed an attorney, Arnold Stamper (Douglass Dumbrille!!!).

Joel decides to see if Brockler’s secretary, Julia Thorne (Claire Dodd), knows anything. He comes on to her and proposes a partnership to split any insurance money recovered if the stolen books are found. She recalls seeing a hidden safe in Brockler’s office and many rare items are recovered.

Garda, of course, does not like Joel flirting with Julia and the whole relationship. Neither does Bannerman who has Sidney shoot Joel. He fails, only wounding Joel in the tush.

More hijinks ensue and Joel does eventually solve the murder and reunite the lovers. All ends well.

The studio apparently liked Fast Company well enough to green light a second film, Fast and Loose, in 1939. This time, though, Robert Taylor and Rosalind Russell played Joel and Garda. A third film Fast and Furious, also from 1939, featured Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern as the couple.

The films are great fun, but the lack of a continuing cast in the top-billed roles may have hurt their success. All three also are available on a DVD for less than $20. They’re short; all are 75 to 80 minutes in length. I enjoyed all three, so I say check them out.

Only the first film, Fast Company, is based on a book, though. Marco Page (Harry Kurnitz) wrote it and assisted with the screenplay of all three films. The book is even better than the movie, and it’s also well worth seeking out.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything (1980)

The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything: Not a very good movie then and not a very good movie now.

This is the 156th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

One of my favorite writers of all time is John D. McDonald. I’ve read a lot of his books; at some point I will read many more. I read all the Travis McGee novels, but my all time favorite John D. McDonald novel is The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything. I’ve read it several times and I reviewed it as one of my Forgotten Books at some point in the past. I’m not sure when, because several of my reviews were lost when the Missions Unknown site succumbed to whatever evil it was that killed it. Some reviews had not been backed up (my very bad) and there are several which are not available in archived versions of the site.

So, when this book was announced as a made-for-TV movie in 1980, I was there waiting. I watched it. I was appalled. Kirby Winter was being played by Robert Hays, a TV actor who had not yet made his big splash in Airplane!, the film which was his next role. Pam Dawber, late of Mork and Mindy, was Bonnie Lee Beaumont, sporting a horrendous South Carolina accent.  My beloved book was being sanitized and bastardized into pabulum for the masses.

I still remember that paperback book cover which claimed “One day with Bonnie Lee was like a three-year lease on a harem.” Not in this version. “Throne Smith meets Mickey Spillane.” Not in this version.

So, for 35 years I have hated this film as the epitome of bad made-for-TV movies. And I was happy with that.

This week, I was going to watch Svengali with John Barrymore, a silent film that I had on VHS. I put the tape in and while the tape was moving, I was not getting the picture. I tried several times but it was just not tracking correctly…

So, suddenly I am looking for something to watch and review. I was sitting in the floor with the DVDs and was trying to decide. Should I do The Point with its wonderful soundtrack and hippy-dippy story? What about Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings? Or Roger Corman’s Forbidden World, an amazing Alien rip-off? All these were on the tapes in front of me. And I remembered that they were not going to last too much longer, as VHS tapes have a half life of 25 years or so (or at least that’s what I have been told). Anyway, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything popped up and the next thing I knew I was shoving it into the player and watching it.

The movie’s protagonist, Kirby Winter, is a lovable loser, who worked for his uncle Omar Krebs. His uncle, worth $220 million dollars has died and Kirby is anxious as the will is read. Turns out Kirby’s inheritance is a gold-plated watch. And that’s it.

Suddenly the Board of the Krebs Foundation is noting that Omar moved $75 million into a side venture OK Enterprises, which Kirby worked for. The only other employee, the sexually-repressed-and-not-loving-it Miss Wilma Farnham (Zohra Lampert), has burned all the company records according to Omar’s instructions.

As a result, Kirby and Wilma are being hunted for embezzlement. Omar’s competitors Joseph Locordolos (Ed Nelson) and Charla O’Rourke (Jill Ireland!) are trying to unearth Omar’s secrets and are using Kirby to try and find out anything.

This leads Kirby to find a new place to stay. His hotel manager, Hoover (Burton Gilliam, notable in Blazing Saddles, not so much here), finds him a friend’s apartment. While there, Kirby is visited by Bonnie Lee Beaumont, who mistakes him for her boyfriend. This mistake leads to anger and then strangely to attraction. While having a hot dog, Kirby accidentally sets the watch and finds that he can stop time around him. He is able to act while everyone remains frozen in the moment.

So far, the film is OK – not good but OK. But from here, it goes bad. The way to fix things seems to be to undress people or leave them in awkward situations. Dressing hired guns up as Las Vegas showgirls is TV-risqué but not particularly effective.

The film was not as bad as I remembered, but it is still not good. I saw this so you do not have to. Nor do you want to see the sequel, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Dynamite (1981), which thankfully does not feature Hays or Dawber but does not replace them with anyone better.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Film: Phantom Lady (1944)

Cornell Woolrich's Phantom Lady is an engaging mystery film, just not a great one.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 155th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I really love the novels of Cornell Woolrich, whether writing under that name or William Irish or George Hopley. For a while, I had a very nice collection of first editions of his work including a beautiful copy of Phantom Lady. But I took the money and ran a long time ago.

Woolrich was a master of suspense and tension, particularly in his novels, though some also comes through in his films. Check out my review of Jacques Tourneau’s The Leopard Man which was based on Woolrich’s novel Black Alibi. It features one of the most terrifying scenes ever put on screen and that scene is straight out of the novel.

But, let’s talk about Phantom Lady. Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) is a successful engineer in a bad marriage. On his anniversary he and his wife have a fight and he storms out of the apartment. He goes to a local bar where he meets a lonely woman with a gaudy hat. They make small talk and he invites her to go to a show. When he asks her name, she demurs, saying that they should enjoy the night with no names and no history. They take a cab to the show where a drummer tries to get her attention and the headliner Monteiro (Aurora) is seen wearing the same hat. Monteiro is obviously furious.

Henderson returns home to find police Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez) waiting. Henderson’s wife has been strangled with one of his neckties. Henderson isn’t worried about being arrested for the crime because he didn’t do it. But when the police question the bartender (Andrew Tombes) he says Henderson was alone. So does the cab driver. And when Monteiro is questioned, she remembers nothing about the Henderson’s companion and the hat the argued about isn’t even among her costumes.

Henderson finds himself on trial for murder and, with no alibi, he is quickly convicted and sentenced to die. The only one convinced he’s innocent is his secretary, Carol “Kansas” Richmond (Ella Raines), who is in love with him. She cannot find any other way to help him, so she shadows the bartender. When he makes a casual slip about being paid, he tries to attack her and ends up getting killed in traffic. At that point, Carol suspects she is on the right trail.

She begins to track down the drummer (Elisha Cook, Jr.) who admits that he was paid $500 to forget what he saw. Carol calls Burgess, but by the time he gets there the drummer is dead. At this point, the film gives away the identity of the real killer, something which was not disclosed in the book until the very end.

Scott’s friend, Jack Marlow (Franchot Tone) has been in South America and when he returns he agrees to help Carol solve Scott’s problem. Together they find the Phantom Lady and the hat, but the murderer is still about and Carol is in deep trouble.

This was a good film, just not the great film which might have been made from the book. In glorious black and white, it has many of the features of a good noir film but somehow falls flat. The tense moments just don’t quite come across that way, until the point at which Carol confronts the killer. Part of the problem is the source material. Woolrich novels sometimes rely on coincidence and, as in this case, you have to buy that people are willing to let a man die after being paid to forget something. Somehow I tend to have a better opinion of people than that. Of the four, one should have broken down.

When reading the books, the breakneck pacing gets you through. With the film, that pacing isn’t there and the flaws emerge.

I still like this film, though, and I still love the work of Woolrich. I’m hoping you do to. TCM runs this film fairly regularly and you should check it out when you can. It’s not Out of the Past or Double Indemnity, but it’s still worthwhile.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: Cloud Atlas (2012)

Audiences tend to love or hate Cloud Atlas.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 152nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week’s film is not very old but I think it is pretty forgotten. There seems to be a sharp divide among the folks who have seen Cloud Atlas. Many of them love the film; the remainder seems to despise it. There’s not a lot of middle ground. Love it or hate it.

And it is pretty easy to see why the divide is there. Cloud Atlas is not an easy, mindless film. It requires work on the part of the viewer. No easy-to-follow caper or adventure film here. And, to top it off, it is long, clocking in at 172 minutes.

So let’s talk about the film and its structure. The story follows six narrative paths with intertwining fates. The basic story lines involve 1849 Pacific Islands and San Francisco, 1936 London/Edinburgh, 1973 San Francisco, 2012 London, 2144 Neo-Seoul and Hawaii 106 years after the big fall (estimated as 2321). The lead actors have the following roles:

  • Tom Hanks plays Dr. Henry Glass, hotel manager, Dr. Isaac Sachs, gangster/author,  Dermott Hoggins, an actor playing Timothy Cavendish (see below) and Zachry.
  • Halle Berry plays a native woman, Jocasta Ayrs; Luisa Rey, an Indian party guest; Ovid and Meronym.
  • Jim Broadbent plays Captain Molyneux, Vyvyan Ayrs, N/A, Timothy Cavendish, a Korean musician and a prescient.
  • Hugo Weaving plays Haskell More, Tadeusz Kesselring, Bill Smoke, Nurse Noakes, Boardman Mephi and Old George.
  • Jim Sturgess plays Adam Ewing; a poor hotel guest; Megan’s Dad; a highlander; Hae Joo Chang and Adam
  • Doona Bae plays Tilda Ewing, N/A, Megan’s Mom and Mexican woman, N/A, Sonmi-451 and N/A
  • Ben Whishaw plays a cabin boy, Robert Frobisher, store clerk, Georgette, N/A and a tribesman.

The primary viewpoint characters are Adam Ewing (Sturgess), Robert Frobisher (Whishaw), Luisa Rey (Berry), Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent), Sonmi-451 (Bae) and Zachry (Hanks). As you can see, each actor had multiple roles and each plays a different part in the overall plot.

The various plots include the awakening of a young rich man to the problems of slavery and a plot to kill him, a young composer trying to get ahead by being the amanuensis to an elderly composer, the quest of a young journalist to find out about a flawed nuclear power plant, the attempts of an elderly publisher to escape danger and a mental hospital, the awakening of a female android (fabricant) and her message to the people of her world and the trials of a middle aged tribesman trying to overcome his shame and fear of the unknown.

The Wachowskis (Lana and Andy) along with Tom Twyker wrote the screenplay based on David Mitchell’s novel and the trio also directed the film. The structure has the six stories running simultaneously, sometimes with dialogue from one era suddenly appearing and applying in another. And there is no rigid flow from one section to another. You may go from the post-apocalyptic final world to the South Pacific to Neo-Seoul to San Francisco and so on. The stories each have their cliffhangers, which are addressed, and there are numerous similarities between the stories. Somni trying to escape on a telescoping bridge matches to a sailor walking along a top sail beam ready to unfurl it.

It’s a complex movie that respects the intelligence of the viewer by not trying to explain everything, Much of the later sections’ dialogue are a patois that you can get the gist of without knowing the exact meaning of each word, since the language and everything else has evolved over time.

The film rewards the careful viewers in many ways, and, for once, the documentaries on the Blu-ray actually have insights that are revealed in later viewings.

If it sounds interesting, give this one a try. And, as I have said many times, your mileage may vary. I loved this film and wish I could describe it better to you. And I really, really wish I had seen it on the big screen.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Film: Blow Dry (2001)

Not Alan Rickman's best-known film, but certainly worth checking out.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 151st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

With the unexpected death of Alan Rickman this week, I was reminded of my favorite film of his which, of course, no one mentioned in any of their notices about his career. So I pulled my DVD off the shelf and took another look at it — and I still loved it a lot.

Blow Dry has a pretty stellar cast with Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Rachael Leigh Cook, Josh Hartnett and Bill Nighy in the lead roles and lots of great British character actors like Warren Clarke (Dim from A Clockwork Orange), Rosemary Harris (Aunt May Parker from Spider-Man 1, 2, and 3) and David Bradley (Argus Filch from Harry Potter) in supporting roles.

The story starts in the town of Keighley in Western Yorkshire where the prestigious British Hairdressing Championship is coming. Tony (Warren Clarke), the mayor of Keighley, is excited about this but no one else seems to care until people start arriving. Among the contestants are Raymond Robertson (Nighy), the two-time defending champion and his daughter Christina (Cook), who is visiting from America. Their primary competition is seen as the Kilburn Kutters with Heidi Klum as their model and the Style Warriors from London. What Ray does not know is that Keighley is the home to his old nemesis Phil Alan (Rickman) who was also a two-time winner until, on the eve of the final competition, his stylist/wife (Richardson) ran off with his model (Griffiths), leaving him with a young son and no way to compete.

Phil now works as a barber with his son Brian (Hartnett) in Keighley. His ex-wife Shelley and her partner Sandra own a beauty salon in the town called A Cut Above. Phil has ignored them for ten years, never speaking to them.

Shelley wants to enter the competition. She has incurable cancer and has not told anyone. She’s told Sandra it has been cured. Only Daisy (Rosemary Harris), a blind old woman she does the hair of, knows her secret. Shelley wants Brian to help with the men’s timed cut, but he is reluctant to do it for fear of alienating his father.

Robertson makes the mistake of visiting Phil and talking about the competition, and Phil gets mad and agrees to let Brian help. Brian is fascinated by Christina, whom he remembers from the old contests when they were both kids. Robertson really wants the third win and he is not above cheating to get it.

In many ways this is a predictable film. There is anger and hostility from Phil but he eventually comes around. There is a come- from-behind victory and the reuniting of Phil, Shelley, Sandra and Brian as a family. And, yes, here are also some bizarre hairstyles.

One of my favorite bits has Christina trying to improve her hair coloring. Her attempts have not pleased Ray, so Brian offers to help her by taking her to the funeral home where he regularly cuts the hair of the recently deceased. She colors the hair of an old man bright red with Sid Vicious spikes. But, before she can return his hair to its natural color, Christina and Brian get locked out of the funeral home. The old man’s family is not amused when they arrive the next day.

The wonderfully quirky script was written by Simon Beaufoy who was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for The Full Monty. He subsequently won on Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. Warren Clarke delivers a fine performance as the mayor who gets more and more into the competition. It culminates with him lip-syncing over the closing credits to the Elvis Presley song “I Just Can’t Help Believing.” The soundtrack includes Bill Withers, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Roger Whitaker, Santa Esmeralda and Jackie Wilson.

One odd thing I did notice is that the DVD features both Hartnett and Cook on the cover while the movie poster just has a model. If you did not know it, you would not know Rickman was in the movie unless you read the fine print. Poor packaging in my opinion.

According to Wikipedia this film got blasted when it was released and only earned a score of 19% from Rotten Tomatoes. I’m not sure what film those critics saw, but I loved this one and the people I have shared it with also loved it. Apparently, it ran in US theaters for 24 days and earned a little more than $600K.

Others will remember Alan Rickman for Die Hard or Harry Potter or Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. I will remember him for those and for Galaxy Quest, too. But I will always remember him with flashing scissors and the amazing tattoos on the soles of his feet in this film.

Check it out. Your mileage and mine may be different but then, so are we. RIP, Alan Rickman. We will all miss you.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: THEM! (1954)

Yes, you've seen it before, but why not revisit those mile-deep catacombs?

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 149th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Welcome to 2016! I wanted to start this installment off on a good note so, when I got up that morning and turned the TV to TCM, what should appear? THEM! was coming on in ten minutes! And, yes, I know this is not a “forgotten” film. It is quite definitely well known, at least among film fans of my age grouping.

And, just like The Thing From Another World from two weeks ago, this one has James Arness in it. Growing up with Gunsmoke on TV as a kid, I have always liked Arness’ easygoing style.

THEM! Has an all star cast, which is amazing for the science fiction/horror film of the day. Along with Arness, you have James Whitmore, an Academy Award nominee in 1949 for Battleground and Edmund Gwenn who won an Oscar in 1947 for Miracle on 34th Street. That’s some star power. But then the supporting cast included soon-to-be-bigger names and character actors like Fess Parker (soon to be Davy Crockett), William Schallert and Olin Howlin as a drunk. Leonard Nimoy has a small part as a radio operator.

Originally set to be in color and 3D, Warner Brothers slotted THEM! back into black and white. And it is wonderful in that format. Two New Mexico State Police troopers, Ben Peterson and Ed Blackburn (Whitmore and Chris Drake, respectively), find a young girl (Sandy Descher) wandering in the desert. She is nearly catatonic. They find her home, a trailer, a few miles away. It has been ripped apart. Her family is missing.

Soon the troopers pass by a general store and find a similar type of destruction, including a shotgun that is mangled and the body of its owner. Strange tracks are found. Peterson leaves with the girl to make a report, leaving Blackburn to guard the store. A bad move for Trooper Blackburn, as he soon is killed by giant ants.

Giant ants have evolved in the New Mexico desert as a result of atomic bomb tests. Scientists Dr. Harold Medford (Gwenn) and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon) confirm that the strange tracks belong to ants. The group is joined by FBI agent Robert Graham (Arness) who develops an attachment with Pat Medford.

The crew tracks down a nest of giant ants in the desert and drops cyanide gas into the hole while the insects are inactive. Later the army sends in a crew with Pat and they find that the ants inside the nest are dead. However, Dr. Medford notices that a chamber contains some hatched eggs, but no bodies. The eggs were for queens and Pat is concerned that the queens have hatched and flown away to establish new colonies. Two queen eggs were noted, so a nationwide search is established to look out for unusual activity and reports of flying ants or flying saucers.

This leads to a psycho ward in Brownsville with a small craft pilot (Parker) who saw one of the queens heading into Mexico. And from there to a ship in the Gulf that has ants on board. The next big report comes from Los Angeles where a boxcar with 40 tons of sugar has been ripped apart. Nearby searches find drunk Jensen (Howlin) who has seen the ants from his window at a recovery ward. But, of course, no one believes anything he says. This leads to confrontations in the sewers under LA. Just exactly where I’d want to be fighting giant mutant ants.

THEM! is a wonderful film, well paced with good performances and decent effects. Plus, Bronsilau Kaper provided the movie soundtrack and that is always a plus!

Sure you’ve seen it before! But it’s worth seeing again and it got my year off to a great start. (I later went to see the new Star Wars that evening, so it stayed pretty enjoyable). I hope your New Year’s Day was as good.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: White Pongo (1945)

White Pongo: Sometimes you're in the mood for a one-take ape flick.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 148th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It’s been a while since we did a good ape film here in the Forgotten Films. (And with this week’s choice, it will still be a while before we have a “good” ape film.) Whenever I am in desperate need of a short, interesting film to review, I go to my collection “Beyond Kong,” which contains eight ape movies. Over the years I think I’ve seen and reviewed four of them, including this one.

White Pongo will never be confused with anything other than a quick B film made cheaply and designed to bring some dollars into the studio coffers. The studio in question being Sigmund Neufeld Productions, headed by Sigmund who produced the film and was the brother to its director, Sam Newfield. Sam is legendary in Hollywood for having turned out somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 pictures in a 30-year career. Turn them out fast and cheap was his mantra.

White Pongo fits that mantra quite well. It has a flimsy story, an expedition trying to find an albino gorilla that might be the missing link, as well as a forced love story/triangle. But the one thing it does have is Ray “Crash” Corrigan in the title role.

Ray Corrigan was one of the best of the Hollywood Gorilla Men who worked in all the B flicks and comedies playing apes and gorillas. Corrigan owned his own suits and worked as a gorilla man early in his career, starting with 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man with Johnny Weissmuller. Mark Finn could wax poetic for several pages here on the subtleties of Corrigan’s gorilla work. Let’s just say, he was among the best. When he finally retired from stunt work and the gorillas in 1948, he sold his suits to Steve Calvert. His suits lived on longer than he did.

Back to White Pongo. Captured scientist Gunderson (Milton Kibbee, the brother of actor Guy Kibbee) receives help and escapes from a Congo tribe intent on sacrificing him. Their attention is turned when the White Pongo (apparently Pongo is their word for gorilla) kills some of the tribesmen. Gunderson escapes with some scientific journals and manages to make it back to civilization, but in a bad physical state. He is delirious, but the journals interest Sir Harry Bragdon (Gordon Richards). Sir Harry organizes an expedition with his daughter Pamela (Maris Wrixon), his secretary Clive Carswell (Michael Dyne), a friend Baxter (George Lloyd) and guide Hans Krobert (Al Eben). Kobert has a native guide working for him named Mumbo Jumbo (Joel Fluellen). Among the safari workers is Bishop (Richard Fraser). Pamela takes an interest in Bishop, to the annoyance of Carswell, who has his own plans for Pamela. This leads to a confrontation when Pamela, at one of their rest stops, whips out her fanciest cocktail dress and entices Bishop to kiss her. Of course, this happens just as Carswell enters. One quick punch and Carswell is down, but Sir Harry does not like the help associating with his daughter.

There’s a lot of stock footage of animals and rivers. Apparently much of the film was shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden. The plot meanders with a double cross, a kidnapping, murder, mad monkey kung-fu fighting and more. One of those items may have been a hallucination.

Anyway, if you like gorillas, you want to see this. If you don’t, you should probably stay away. It makes less sense than an episode of Jungle Jim. But there is a fight between a black gorilla and the albino. You get to see the girl slung over the shoulder of Corrigan. Ray shambles through the jungle as only he can.

IMDB points out a weird inconsistency that I noted as the film went on. “Pongo” is apparently the native word for Gorilla. But the natives all say “Ponga,” not “Pongo.” Newfield was noted for being a one-take director so you can guess how many retakes he made here.

Anyway, I had fun. My wife stayed in the other room, so I know how much she would have enjoyed this one. Not. You should check it out, but be aware; mileage on gorilla films has been known to vary widely. And objects in the rear view mirror are really a lot closer than you think.

Have a great new year and we will see you in 2016.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.