Forgotten Films: The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939)

The Amazing Mr. Williams is fun clone of The Thin Man.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 181sth in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Police and detective films of the ’30s and ’40s can be a wonderful thing. Recently, while scrolling through the guide on my television, I saw one listed that I had never heard of. Billed as a “breezy Thin Man clone,” The Amazing Mr. Williams starred Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell, two stalwarts of this period. I gave it a chance.

Lieutenant Kenny Williams (Douglas) is a homicide detective who has amazing insights in solving cases. Maxine Carroll (Blondell) is the mayor’s secretary and Kenny’s fiancé. But Maxine does not like that Kenny works a job with hours beyond 9 to 5. Their dates are frequently interrupted by murder. Maxine hates that Kenny is a policeman and threatens regularly to leave him unless he quits.

In the opening moments of the film, Kenny is late in arriving to a date and Maxine is furious. He gets there in time to drink her Old Fashioned and apologize. Before he can order, he is dragged away for a locked-room murder involving a woman, midgets and a snake. (And it did not involve the Harry Stephen Keeler solution of a midget hanging from a rope from a helicopter).

Kenny tries to apologize to Maxine and solemnly swears to be there for her. His boss, Captain McGovern (Clarence Kolb), overhears the plans and decides to send Kenny to take convicted murderer Texas Buck Moseby (Edward Brophy) to prison for 40 years. Rather than explain the situation to Maxine (who does not want to hear any more excuses), Kenny takes Buck in tow as he takes Maxine to the Beach Casino for an evening of dinner and dancing. Maxine does not believe that Buck is an old college friend and blows the whistle on Kenny, getting him suspended for 60 days without pay.

Except of course there is another job that needs to be done. The Phantom Slugger has been preying on women on the streets, hitting them with a baseball bat. Seven women have died. Kenny has the idea of sending one of the male cops out in drag to attract the Slugger. But, because of the screw-up with Moseby, Kenny is told he will be the decoy. Maxine fed the idea to the mayor to make Kenny get fed up and resign, but it never works out the way she wants.

In another episode, Kenny resigns but is drug back into service by McGovern, leaving Maxine waiting at the altar. And a final incident which involves an innocent man captured by Kenny who is convicted of murder. While taking him to prison, Kenny realizes that a mistake has been made and that he must remove the man from the train and prove him innocent before the police capture Kenny and send him away for 10 years.

It is light hearted and breezy and episodic. The supporting cast with favorite Donald MacBride as Lieutenant Bixler and Ruth Donnelly and Effie Perkins, Maxine’s roommate and work assistant, is also quite good.

A lot happens in The Amazing Mr. Williams’ 80 minutes, and there are no real dull sections. I really like both Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell. They made three films together in 1938 and 1939, as well as one in 1964. This was the second of the three.

Melvyn Douglas also starred in Fast Company, a bibliomystery I reviewed last year which I really enjoyed. He was one of three actors to play book dealer/sleuth Joel Sloan. All three of those films also qualify as The Thin Man clones and are worth watching.

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

Forgotten Films: The Magnetic Monster (1953)

The thing that comes alive in The Magnetic Monster isn’t a giant radiated bug but a killer isotope.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 179th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Boy, have I been loving May at Turner Classic Movies, where they have been showing some wonderful monster and horror movies of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s with Dennis Miller hosting. It has been tempting to review only these movies for a while. I broke with that last week when I looked at Arsene Lupin and the Barrymores.

But here we are again with The Magnetic Monster, a ’50s science-horror movie.

Following the development of the atomic bomb, science as most Americans knew it changed drastically. Science became something terrifying and unfamiliar. And Hollywood was ready to move into this unexplored land.

The Magnetic Monster starts simply enough. The workers at Simon’s Department Store find that all their clocks have stopped. Mr. Simon (character actor favorite Byron Foulgar) begins berating Albert (Bowery Boy William “Billy” Benedict), who vows that he had wound all the clocks. Other appliances are also affected by some mysterious magnetic force which seems to have originated in the apartment above the store. The nearby Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) is contacted and it dispatches two agents, Dr. Jeffrey Stewart (Richard Carlson) and Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan). They find evidence of radioactivity and massive magnetism from a lab above the store. The lab belongs to Dr. Denker (Leonard Mudie), who is carrying a dangerous isotope aboard an airplane. Denker dies from radiation poisoning. He had been bombarding this radioactive isotope with alpha particles, initiating all sorts of weird happenings.

The isotope suddenly began to defy all laws of physics by converting energy into mass, which doubles every 12 hours. While the sample size on hand is small at a quadrupling every 24 hours, it was going to become a huge threat within a few days. At 10 days, the mass would have grown by more than one million times its original size. Five more days would be a billion times. Imagine how much energy that would consume. The OSI began to speculate about how long it would take before the earth was thrown off its orbit.

The MANIAC, a giant card fed computer, taking up about a city block, runs the calculations. There’s lots of footage of the computer working, which means tape moving and cards being moved around. MANIAC finally determines that bombarding the sample within 24 hours with 900 million volts of electricity might do the trick. The experimental power station in Nova Scotia is the only possible place this might happen, even though the unit has a top rating of 600 million volts.

Tensions reach a height as the material is being bombarded and the generator’s creator does not want to see it destroyed.

The film gets tense, and aside from the faulty hand wavy science, I found myself fairly engaged. It was not a giant bug or monster film, though a giant isotope runs wild. Curt Siodmak, who gave us many fine films over the years, provided the screenplay. My favorite of his works was Donovan’s Brain, a 1942 novel which was filmed in 1954 with Nancy Davis and Lew Ayres. Siodmak also directed The Magnetic Monster. The film’s producer was Ivan Tors, in his second production, and Richard Carlson was in the prime of his career with It Came From Outer Space and Creature From the Black Lagoon appearing in 1954. According to Wikipedia this was the first in a three film series featuring the OSI, It was followed by Riders to the Stars and Gog, both in 1954.

This wasn’t a spectacular production but an OK way to enjoy an evening. Give it a try if you have the chance.

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

Forgotten Film: Arsene Lupin (1932) 

Two Barrymores star in this 1930s film about the gentleman thief.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 178th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It was a tough choice this week selecting a Forgotten Film. On one hand, I had more of TCM’s giant creature movies on the DVR and I watched The Deadly Mantis in preparation for the review. But doing two similar films in a row was not how I really wanted to go. So, I glanced through the DVR and ran across Arsene Lupin, a mystery/thriller from 1932. I love older mysteries and the character of Arsene Lupin, so this film won out.

The character of Arsene Lupin, gentleman thief, was first introduced by Maurice Le Blanc in a series of short stories in 1905. By the time this film was made, Lupin had appeared in at least ten films and several plays as well as a number of short stories and novels. Wikipedia shows 19 volumes before the release of this film.

Aside from the subject matter, the film is also notable for being a team-up of John and Lionel Barrymore, two massive stars of the silver screen.  John gets the role of Arsene Lupin and the Duke of Charmerace, a broke aristocrat who runs a robbery ring as the gentleman burglar Arsene Lupin. The film opens with a trussed up servant of Gourney-Martin knocking a telephone off the table and calling the police. He says the house is being robbed by someone approximately six feet tall with a limp. The call goes to the dispatch, where it is identified as possibly being by Arsene Lupin. The call is given to Guerchard (Lionel Barrymore) who is one of the best in the Paris police.

As the police approach the house, the thief flees, but Guerchard follows. When they find the fleeing vehicle, it is abandoned except for a bound, well-dressed figure. The captive identifies himself as the Duke of Charmerace (John Barrymore). Guerchard says that’s a lie. The banter between the mysterious man and the officer continues back and forth continues until Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall) arrives from the opera and identifies Charmerace to the police. Guerchard believes that Charmerac is still Lupin and was after Gourney-Martin’s famous emerald necklace and other jewels.  Gourney-Martin explains to Guerchard that Lupin would have been disappointed because the jewels are in the Gourney-Martin villa in the countryside. Charmerace hears this at the same time.

Gourney-Martin plans to head out to the countryside to make sure the jewels are OK. Charmerace has a party to host the next evening for his birthday. Guerchard is planning on having men at the party to keep an eye on him. At the party, Charmerace finds a naked woman in his bed. Her name is Countess Sonia (Karen Morley), and the strap on her gown has broken and is being repaired by some of the servants in the next room. Banter and innuendo ensues between the two.

Also at the party are collectors looking for more than a half million francs, which Charmerace promises to pay on the morrow. When the lights are turned out, women’s jewelry goes missing. The police search everyone, but the jewels are not found.

Gourneey-Martin has been at the party and asks Charmerace to come with him to the villa. He agrees and decides to bring Sonia along with him.  Guerchard is interested in this development, as Sonia notifies him about the trip, since she is working for the police.

Gourney-Martin shows Charmerace his safe which has no keyhole or combination. He asks Charmerace to open the door, but when he grasps the handle, he is shocked by the electric current which paralyzes his grip and he cannot let go of the door. Gourney-Martin laughs at the situation until Charmerace uses his free hand to grab Gourney-Martin who also is shocked. Gourney-Martin uses his free hand to flip the switch that turns off the current. He tells Charmerace about the jewels and bonds in the box. The bonds were obtained in a less than legal manner.

The rest of the film deals with Lupin taunting Guerchard and threatening to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre on the following day, in front of the police and Guerchard.

It is a pretty decent film. The two Barrymores show why they were among the most noted actors of their time. Many have played Lupin over the years and John Barrymore was among the best. So, if you have the chance, it is worth spending the 84 minutes with this one. A classic film featuring classic actors in classic roles.

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

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: Fathom (1967)

Raquel Welch provides the advertised feast in Fathom.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 164th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

We are now on a roll! Two Forgotten Film columns in a row! It’s good to be back on track. As I mentioned in last week’s article, I am in the process of moving. I am in one place while the wife, cats and stuff are in another. I am staying in a college dorm room where I have an internet connection but no television service. So I am somewhat restricted in what I can review.

I brought my Blu-Ray player with me, but without a working TV it does me no good. I brought a bunch of films too, but about half are Blu-Ray only so I won’t be watching them any time soon. Still, it’s good thing not everything in my collection is Blu-Ray.

The other day I was out at the grocery store and there was this big bin of previously viewed movies. This week’s title Fathom leapt up into my cart and I parted with $3.99 + tax to take it home. (You can tell I’ve been away from home for a while by my subject choice.) I had seen this movie many years ago but my memories are always a little hazy, so on a pleasant Saturday afternoon I settled in to a nice chair and fired up my computer for a refresher.

Fathom Harvill (Raquel Welch) is a dental hygienist turned skydiver who is training in Spain for a competition against the French. Following a nice jump, she is hijacked by Colonel Campbell and his aide Timothy (Ronald Fraser and Richard Briers, respectively), the men from HADES (Headquarters Allied Defenses, Espionage & Security). They want her to parachute down to a villa and activate a defective listening device they have there. It is a vital mission, as they are trying to locate the Fire Dragon, a remote detonator for nuclear weapons that was lost and may now have been located. Opposing her will be Peter Merriwether (Tony Franciosa, who got top billing over Raquel) and his Chinese girl friend Jo-May (Greta Chi).

When Fathom arrives, she discovers a man’s dead body and the blunt object used to kill him. She picks up said object and finds her picture being taken. Then begins a game of cat and mouse. Merriwether and Jo-May think she is working for Campbell, but she says “no.” They search her and find nothing that ties her to the others, so they take her into town. There she learns from the listening device that a man named Serapkin (Clive Revill) may have killed the dead man she found in the villa. Serapkin is a man of passionate tastes and Raquel is nothing if not passionate, so she finds herself in a tiny green bikini headed off to Serapkin’s yacht, armed with explosive earrings.

Up to this point, the film has been mostly straight forward, but this was the middle 1960’s and camp was somewhat in so Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script becomes more farcical, not unlike some of the television scripts he had provided for ABC’s Batman show, which he had helped develop and for which he wrote many episodes.

The film develops into a campy Maltese Falcon with each side claiming the other is lying. Our heroine, naturally, cannot decide which group to believe. There are false leads and amazing lies and odd scenes, such as Merriwether and crew watching Fathom being chased around a bullring by a bull who is excited by her bright red dress.

At this point, I suppose I should mention the fashions in the film. It is the mid 1960s and it is Europe, and Raquel is an amazing canvas on which to display clothing or the lack thereof. The dresses are boldly colored and short, particularly the red dress and the bright yellow one. The bikinis are not micro but they are not what Annette Funnicello wore in her beach movies either. And the parachuting jumpsuits are amazingly tight in all the correct places.

No one will confuse Ms. Welch with Helen Mirren, Judi Dench or Meryl Streep, but she does play the naïve stranger role pretty well.

The character of Fathom was created by Larry Forrester in his 1967 novel A Girl Called Fathom. This film is based on his unpublished second novel, Fathom Heavensent. The first book appeared with Raquel on the cover, so I would assume people bought this book expecting to read the movie story. I’m sure they were greatly confused later.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It went on perhaps 10 minutes too long (it runs 99 minutes) but that wasn’t a big deal. The early Raquel Welch was stunning, and she knows how to use her body to great effect throughout the film. This could have been a pretty good movie without the camp stuff, but as it is, it’s an okay way to spend a Saturday afternoon away from the wife and cats.

As always, your mileage may vary.

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

 

Forgotten Film: Green Mansions (1959)

Green Mansions has some fun moments, but it marred by its casting.

This is the 160th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Green Mansions had been waiting on my DVR queue since November while the novel has been in my Forgotten Books to-be-read stack since last summer. Since the film takes less time to complete, guess which one won the race?

I have been a fan for W. H. Hudson and his fabulous works of South America for quite a few years and when last I saw this film (20 years or so ago) I really enjoyed it. So, when it came on TCM last year, I recorded it. I started to watch it about 2 months ago but got interrupted and did not immediately return, much like my viewing of Jessica Jones on Netflix. (What I saw I enjoyed, but I have not been compelled to finish it up yet.)

This is an odd film for MGM. I am not sure of the casting of Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins as a romantic couple. Audrey, yes! Tony? Well, I keep hearkening back to Psycho, which came out the following year. It might have worked for audiences in 1959, but I found it a little tense.

Abel (Perkins) is a young Venezuelan man who is connected by his parents to the government. Revolution is in the air and he finds that he needs to leave town fast with only his clothes and little else. He travels down the river to a small trading post where he acquires a map which might lead to some gold that can finance his revenge. Along the way, his guides desert him and his canoe crashed over a small waterfall. He finds himself captured by a village of natives led by Runi, portrayed by that most South American actor (and I’m being sarcastic here) Sessue Hayakawa. Unable to communicate but knowing that the natives respect courage and the ability to stand and talk for hours, Abel stands for many hours reciting anything he can think of until the arrival of Kua-Ko (Henry Silva), the son of the chief who has spent time with missionaries and can speak English.

Abel is respected for his performance and becomes part of the tribe. One day, he notices a small forest across the savannah. When he asks about it and the possibility of what game (and gold) it might contain, he is told that it is taboo. Undeterred, Abel visits the forest and is haunted by its beauty and the trilling bird-like songs he hears. When he returns, he is taken to Runi who praises his bravery, because the wood is haunted by the “Daughter of the Didi,” a spirit that has killed the chief’s favorite son and Kua-Ko’s older brother. Abel is sent back to kill the spirit.

Upon his return, he is confronted by the vision of Rima, the bird girl (Hepburn). While watching her, he is bitten by a coral snake and passes out. He awakens two days later in a hut occupied by Nuflo (Lee J. Cobb), who reveals that Rima is his granddaughter.

Abel begins to fall for Rima but is concerned that Runi and Kua-Ko will come to kill her. He tells her something of the outside world and Rima wants to go to Riolama, a village she has some residual memories of. This causes a rift with Nuflo. Abel returns to the native village where is again taken captive. Kua-Ko proves himself a mighty warrior by surviving a nest of wasps and bees stinging him without evidencing pain or screams. A mighty party ensues to celebrate his endurance. Abel escapes and takes Rima and Nuflo out to avoid the raiding party.

There is more action after they escape, and eventually they return to face the vicious mob. But I will leave that for you to see.

I liked this film better the last time I saw it. This time, several things that bothered me, not the least were the casting of Sessue Hayakawa, Anthony Perkins and Lee. J. Cobb, who was mostly annoying in his incessant complaining. And somehow Audrey Hepburn just did not seem to be into the role. She was beautiful to look at and she delivered her lines well, but there was something missing.

So, Green Mansions has a good story but not an exceptional cast. Also to it’s credit, the music is interesting. Apparently MGM hired famed composer Heitor Villa-Lobos to do the score but did not like the results. The studio then had Bronislau Kaper create a score that used some of Villa-Lobos’ themes and some new original music. There are times when it is brilliant and times when it is jarring and intrusive.

And the film was directed by Mel Ferrer who was married to Audrey Hepburn at the time. It wasn’t his first time directing a feature film nor was it his last but he did not do very many. None that I have seen are outstanding.

Overall, I am glad to have seen Green Mansions again but I may not be in such a hurry the next time it shows. If you have not seen it, it is worth a viewing.

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

 

Forgotten Films: Cloverfield (2008)

J.J. Adams claims Cloverfield was his attempt to make an American Godzilla movie.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 159th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week the second Cloverfield movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, opened. I went on Saturday and enjoyed the film quite a bit. The two people I went with had not seen the original film and asked me probing questions about it. So immediately after returning home, I dug out my DVD of the 2008 film to reacquaint myself with it.

Cloverfield is an American monster movie. It is told in the found-footage format used so wonderfully (or awfully, depending on your viewpoint) in The Blair Witch Project. The film follows a major storyline and one minor one. The first scene delves into the minor story where Rob and Beth (Michael Stahl-David and Odette Yustman, respectively) are 30-ish lovers, having just had their first sexual experience with each other in Beth’s father’s place, overlooking Central Park in New York City. They are rapt in the throes of love and Rob is showing Beth the joys of Coney Island and documenting it on his camera.

Cut to a farewell party about a month later. Rob is being assigned as a VP in Japan by his company and is hanging out with his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas). They’re being documented by Rob’s best friend Hud (T. J. Miller), who is totally clueless in how to tape testimonials at a party. Hud is doing this because he wants to get close to Lily’s friend Marlena (Lizzy Caplan).

Rob and Beth have a fight. Apparently Rob has not talked to or emailed Beth since their hot date and she is upset, showing up to the party with another guy, Travis (Ben Feldman). Beth and Travis leave.

A short while later, there is a loud explosion, and lights across the city begin to go out. This causes the group to try to go to the roof and see what is happening. They cannot tell much, but it is obvious something is going down.

Everyone gets down to street level, and Jason, Rob, Hud, Lily and Marlena try to get to the Brooklyn Bridge to get out of Manhattan. As they watch, something crashes in the street in front of them – the head of the Statue of Liberty. Fire and chaos surround them. Suddenly, Rob’s phone rings. It’s Beth. Her building has collapsed on her and she cannot move. They are right at the Brooklyn Bridge and Beth is located near Columbus Circle, a spot apparently not close to where they are.

Jason is separated from the group when the monster attacks and destroys the bridge. The shaky found footage works really well for this. Jason is killed in this attack. The group turns around to find Beth. They encounter nasty troubles in the subway and in Beth’s collapsed building, all while trying to avoid the monster and the army.

There are some problems with the film, not the least of which is, when facing the Apocalypse, I would have dropped the camera and worried more about saving myself rather than documenting the trials of some spoiled New Yorkers. And, to some people, the found footage and shaky camera work may induce nausea and headaches. I am not one of those folks.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the film. I preferred to see it as Cthulhu Eats Manhattan, while others called it an American Godzilla film. The monster is never clearly seen with the shaky camera and smoke pervading the frames. In watching some of the DVD extras, J.J. Abrams wanted to make a Godzilla for America. I like my interpretation better: the idea of some powerful, uncaring creature arriving with no notice, no apparent motivations and no compunctions about killing. At the end of the film, we know about as much as we did when it started. The creature has been given the code name Cloverfield, for reason we are not given. We do not know the final disposition of the battle or the creature. Which I think is totally right. Hopefully you will also.

If you have not seen it, check out Cloverfield. If you have, I recommend 10 Cloverfield Lane also. But, as I have said, my taste is my own and your mileage may vary. Hopefully not. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

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.