Sunday, May 28, 2023

Time Table

Time Table

Directed by
Mark Stevens
Written by Robert Angus (story), Abne Kandel (screenplay)
Starring Mark Stevens, King Calder, Felicia Farr, Marianne Stewart, Wesley Addy, Allen Reed, Jack Klugman
IMDB Entry

The cliche is that actors want to direct. Sometimes it works out well.* Sometimes it doesn't. And when the actor/director also produces the movie, it has a good chance of being a vanity project that is an utter disaster. Time Table is something that might have fallen into the category, but the result is an excellent film noir with surprising twists.

We see Dr. Paul Brucker (Wesley Addy) riding a train and being called to help a sick passenger. He discovers the man has a highly contagious disease, blocks off the car, and goes to the baggage car just behind to his medical kit. Once there, he takes a gun from the kit and tells the baggagemen to lie down, where he injects them with a sedative. While they are asleep, he blows up the safe and escapes with half a million dollars in an ambulance with the patient.

Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens) is called away from a planned Mexican vacation with his wife Ruth (Marianne Stewart) to investigate the robbery for the insurance company. He joins up with railroad cop Joe Armstrong (King Calder) to find the robbers. When all the clues turn out to be dead ends, Charlie and Joe both agree that this was incredibly well planned.

Warning:  Major plot twist given away in next paragraph.

Then we discover who the mastermind -- Charlie himself. He has been having an affair with Bruckner's wife Linda (Felicia Farr) and they plan to run off together with the money. Of course, snags occur in his master plan and he has to improvise. It only makes things worse.  And there are more twists to come until the end.

It's an interesting role for Stevens. He definitely looks like the standard Hollywood hero and, up until the twist, you figure he will slowly uncover the evidence to put the thieves behind bars. The twist is a surprise, but logical. Instead, King Calder fills that role, even though he and Charlie are close friends. Wesley Addy was a successful film heavy of the 40s and 50s.

One familiar face in the cast is Jack Klugman, in one scene as a man peripherally involved with the heist and who reluctantly gives the investigators details. A familiar name and voice is Alan "Fred Flintstone" Reed as the man who rents the criminals a helicopter.


*Charles Laughton, Ron Howard, Robert Redford, et al.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Please Murder Me


Please Murder Me
Directed by
Peter Godfrey
Written by Al C Ward & Donald Hyde (screenplay), Ewald Andre Dupont and David T. Chantler (original story)
Starring Raymond Burr, Angela Lansbury, Dick Foran, John Dehner, Lamont Johnson
IMDB Entry

Sometimes it's fun to see the early roles of actors who became household words later on and it's even more fun when you can see why they got those roles.  Please Murder Me gives a look at one of the big names of 50s television in a role that is very close to it.

Craig Carlson (Raymond Burr) is a lawyer who has fallen for Myra Leeds (Angela Lansbury), wife of his best friend Joe (Dick Foran). But when Myra kills Joe, Craig takes on her case and gets her acquitted. Then he discovers that he's been played:  Myra loves Carl Holt (Lamont Johnson) and dumps Craig. Feeling guilty on getting her off, he works on a scheme to enlist the district attorney (John Dehner) to help send her to prison.

The actor I was talking about was, of course, Raymond Burr. The courtroom scene where Craig gets Myra off would not be that out of place in Perry Mason. It's likely that this role did have something to do with him getting the role, since he began with Mason the next year.

Of course, Angela Lansbury also became a TV icon. People tend to think of her as Jessica Fletcher and don't remember that when she was young, she made a great femme fatale. She is good here, seemingly sweet and loving, but hiding a darkness that's not obvious.

The plot does owe a lot to Double Indemnity, where the woman entices the man to murder. Several other elements also have similarities to the older film. It does end with a very good twist.

Also in the cast is John Dehner. He was a very busy radio actor, most notably in Frontier Gentleman and Have Gun Will Travel. He switched to TV and appeared in over a hundred TV shows, often westerns, as a guest star. One of the recurring role was in The Roaring Twenties.

Sunday, May 14, 2023


Directed by Irving Pichel
Written by Robert Smith
Starring Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates, Peter Lorre, Taylor Holmes
IMDB Entry

In the late 40s-early 50s, film noir was big, and it looked like everyone wanted to get into the act, even those who you might not expect.* Quicksand is one of those, where Mickey Rooney put his nice guy persona into noir, and the results are surprisingly effective.

Dan Brady (Rooney) is an auto mechanic who spots a Vera Novak (Jeanne Cagney) pretty woman and asks her out despite already having a girlfriend, Helen (Barbara Bates). Trouble is, he has no money. A friend agrees to lend him the -- the next day, too late for the date.  Dan decides to take the money from the till, since no one will check for a couple of days, and goes to the date, ending up at a penny arcade run by Nick Dramoshag (Peter Lorre).

But the auditor comes early, and Dan has to make up the money. He buys a watch on credit, then hocks it to get the money to make the money in the cash drawer come out right. It turns out that wasn't legal, and Dan has to keep trying more and more desperate schemes to keep from going to jail, all of which backfire.

Rooney and Cagney
Rooney is fine as Dan; his usual cheerfulness stands him in good stead as a man being pummeled by fate and his own cluelessness

Jeanne Cagney** makes a great femme fatale. Peter Lorre is his usual sinister self. 

Director Irving Pichel had an under-the-radar career, but also directed The Great Rupert.

One interesting name in the cast is Jimmy Dodds as one of Brady's co-workers. He's best known to people of a certain age as Jimmy, the leader of the original Mickey Mouse Club.

The movie does opt for a happy ending, which fits in well as a film but cuts back on the noirness. In any case, it's worth seeking out on Youtube.

*Then again, who thought Fred MacMurry would become the lead in one of the classics of the genre.

**James Cagney's sister.  She had a moderately successful career, including a couple of films with her brother.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Wuthering Heights (TV)


Wuthering Heights

Directed by
Daniel Petrie
Written by James Costigan, adapted from the novel by Emily Bronte. Jacqueline Babbin, story consultant
Starring Richard Burton, Rosemary Harris, Denholm Elliott, Barry Jones, Bernard Miles, John Colicos, Patty Duke.
IMDB Entry

The Golden Age of 50s television may have been overstated. While there were plenty of good shows, the reality is that the bad ones have not been preserved and remembered.* However, Wuthering Heights is an example of a lost TV show that deserves to be acclaimed.

The story is familiar. Heathcliffe (Richard Burton) is a foundling, adopted by Mr. Earnshaw (Barry Jones). He falls in love with Catherine (Patty Duke as a child, Rosemary Harris as an adult), but is driven off by her brother Joseph (Bernard Miles). Catherine marries Edgar Linton (Denholm Elliott). When Heathcliffe returns he vows to win Catherine back.

You can see why Burton was a star. His Heathcliffe is brooding and tortured and he really brings the character to life. Rosemary Harris was a major star on Broadway, though now is probably known as Aunt May in several Spider-man films. 

This is something of an all-star cast, many in classic TV and movies.  Bernard Miles had a long film and stage career, while Denholm Elliott is most remembered today as Indiana Jones's friend Marcus.  Patty Duke also was very successful as a child and adult and John Colicos was Count Baltar in the original Battlestar Gallactica.

While the production was aired as a Dupont Show of the Month, It looks like it was shot on film, making it more dramatic.

The movie is available on Youtube.

*This is common in all arts. Time and distance only preserve the best, making things seem better than they were.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Time to Kill


Time to Kill
Directed by Herbert I. Leeds
Written by Brett Halliday (characters), Clarence Upton Young, based on a novel by Raymond Chandler
Starring Lloyd Nolan, Heather Angel, Ethel Griffies, James Seay
IMDB Entry

Last week, while researching my entry for The Brasher Doubloon, I happened on the fact that the book has previously been adapted as a Mike Shayne programmer starring Lloyd Nolan.  Naturally, I had to check out Time to Kill.

Michael Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) is a detective hired to find the Brasher Doubloon, stolen from Mrs. Murdock (Ethel Griffies). He meets her secretary Myrtle Davis (Heather Angel), who seems to be hiding a secret.

The movie varies substantially from the later version.  Myrtle's secret gets a short shift, where it is far more prominent in the remake.  The big difference is Lloyd Nolan's portrayal of Shayne. Whereas George Montgomery didn't quite have the gravitas to be Marlowe, Nolan makes him more than just a wisecracker. Nolan played Shayne in five times before this and is the perfect actor for this sort of role. Alas, this was the last movie in the series.

The studio clearly didn't know what to do with Chandler. It was an odd hybrid of franchises. Chandler had had some success, but the studio must have decided he wasn't well enough know to make a movie featuring his name and instead attached it to an existing franchise, with just enough of his novel left to make the connection clear.

Director Herbert I. Leeds did several B-pictures for Fox and seemed to be known for his efficiency. This might have served him well in television,* but his death in 1953 cut short his career.

Nolan had a long career as a character actor and is best known for playing Diahann Carrol's crusty but kind boss in Julia.

*He directed many episodes of Jackie Gleason's The Life of Riley.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Brasher Doubloon

The Brasher Doubloon
Directed by
John Brahm
Written by Dorothy Bennett from Leonard Praskins's adaptation of The High Window by Raymond Chandler
Starring George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, Florence Bates, Conrad Janis, Roy Roberts, Fritz Kortner
IMDB Entry

In the late 40s, Hollywood discovered Raymond Chandler. Double Indemnity and Murder My Sweet* were hits and established the film noir genre. Other studios rushed to adapt his works. 20th Century Fox was lucky: they already owned the rights to Chandler's The High Window** and turned it into The Brasher Doubloon.

Detective Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) is hired by Elizabeth Murdock (Florence Bates) to recover the coin that gives the movie its name. In her mansion, Marlowe runs into Merle Davis (Nancy Guild), Murdock's secretary, who seems to know a dangerous secret and Murdock's son Leslie (Conrad Janis), who is suspicious as all get-out. Marlowe gets caught up into a bunch of shady criminals, who may have stolen the doubloon -- or may not have. After several murders, Marlowe gets to the bottom of the case.

Chandler's storytelling carries the movie.  George Montgomery is perhaps the least impressive version of the detective -- heavy on the wisecracking but light on the mood that makes film noir. Nancy Guild doesn't stand out particularly, though Florence Bates and Conrad Janis*** do make their characters stand out. 

Marlow's meeting with Mrs. Murdock parallel similar scenes between Marlowe and General Sternwood  in The Big Sleep. Another character, Rudolph Vanier (Fritz Kortner), clearly is based on Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon.

Viewers may recognize Roy Roberts as the police officer leading the investigation.  Roberts was a busy character actor in TV, with noticeable roles in Petticoat Junction, Bewitched, The Lucy Show, McHale's Navy, and The Gale Storm Show.

*He cowrote the script on the first and the second was based on one of his novels.

**And had filmed it as Time to Kill, starring Lloyd Nolan as Michael Shayne.

***Best known today for his role in Mork and Mindy.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Lady Gangster


Lady Gangster


Directed by Robert Florey (as Florian Roberts)
Written by Anthony Coldeway, from a play by Dorothy Mackaye and Carlton Miles
Starring Faye Emerson, Julie Bishop, Frank Wilcox, Roland Drew, Jackie Gleason
IMDB entry

It's not all that unusual for a movie's title to be misleading. Lady Gangster sounds exciting, but it more a prison drama than a movie about her running rackets. 

Dot Burton (Faye Emerson) joins a gang planning to rob a bank. They hand her a dog to make her seem even more harmless, but when she doesn't know the dog's name, everything unravels. She is caught but manages to hide the money and is convinced by a crusading reporter™ Kenneth Phillips (Frank Wilcox) to turn herself in, do the time, and come out a free woman. Dot, who has fallen in love with Phillips, agrees and is sent to prison.

The crooks want the money. Their leader, Carey (Roland Drew), dresses up as her sister to try to find where she hid the loot. The movie focuses on the politics of the woman inmates, including portraying a Black woman (unusual, though the just wants to play boogie woogie music on the radio) and hinting a a few same-sex couples.* Dot eventually has to break out of prison to keep Carey from getting the money and killing Kenneth.

The acting is serviceable.  Emerson does give a nice portrayal of a hard-nosed woman, and Julie Bishop is fine as her friend in prison. Jackie Gleason** had part of one of the crooks who is enamored of Dot and tries to stand up for her against Carey. Viewers who look carefully might spot William Hopper*** as the D.A.'s aide John; he's not recognizable due to his dark hair, but his voice is familiar to any Perry Mason fan.

Director Robert Florey was in movies from the silent days into the TV era. His best-known film was the first film by the Marx Brothers -- The Cocoanuts. Legend has it he was unable to control his laughter and ruined takes until he took up residence in a soundproof box.


*Given the time frame, the Hayes Office wouldn't allow anything more than the most subtle of hints. They had no problem with the crossdressing scene.

**Billed as Jackie C. Gleason

***Billed as DeWolfe Hopper. Everyone knows that gossip queen Hedda Hopper was his mother, but his father, DeWolfe Hopper, was a major vaudeville star, known for his rendition of "Casey at the Bat." He was instrumental in popularizing the poem.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Sensation Hunters (Club Paradise)

Sensation Hunters
Directed by
Cristy Cabanne
Written by Dennis J. Cooper from a story by John Faxon
Starring Robert Lowrey, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Byron Folger
IMDB Entry

Monogram pictures was the low-rent district of Hollywood.  They produced pictures that aspired to be B-movies and were usually at the bottom of the barrel, most of them forgotten and forgettable. As I was looking up film noir for this series, I stumbled across Sensation Hunters. I had seen very few Monogram pictures, so decided to look it up.

Julie Rogers (Doris Merrick) is a young woman who's going out with Ray Lawson (Eddie Quillan), a trumpet player. Her domineering father (Bryon Folger) doesn't like the match. One evening, Ray had to leave for an audition, and she sees Danny Burke (Robert Lowry). Burke is a cad, who loves 'em and leaves 'em, but Julie doesn't care.

Ray takes her to a gambling club, which is raided. He is sentenced to 30 days in jail. Julie can't pay the fine, but her father shows up and takes care of it. Once that's done, he kicks her out of their apartment and out of his life.

Julie gets a job singing at the Club Paradise, and rekindles her infatuation for Danny, even when Ray establishes himself as a successful bandleader. I
t all leads to the inevitable (but arbitrary) tragedy.

The movie is all over the map. Julie gets her job too easily. She suffers because Ray took her to the illegal gambling den, whereas you'd expect it to be Danny. Any tension is broken up by musical numbers that pad out the time. The ending seems like a half-assed attempt to make the whole mess a film noir.

Still, it's fun to watch, if not exactly good. Doris Merrick had a few films, but never made a splash, Robert Lowrey and Eddie Quillan both had long careers in TV and movies as minor players, Quillan working steadily into the 1980s, his biggest role in the TV show Julia. The most recognizable actor to modern audiences is John Hamilton-- Perry White in The Adventures of Superman -- who has a few lines as a judge. Minerva Urecal, who was very busy as a character actress, has a small part as Julie's mother.

Director Christie Cabanne was unfamiliar to me, but he directed over 160 films, starting in the silent days and cranking out up to seven full-length features a year.* I figure he worked fast and brought things in under budget. Most of his films are forgettable and his list has few titles that even the most avid film buff would recognize.


*He started work as an assistant to D.W. Griffith.

Sunday, April 2, 2023


Directed by
William A. Selter
Written by Devery Freeman
Starring Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr
IMDB Entry

As I mentioned last week, "film noir" is an exceedingly imprecise term. It has become a catchall for any film in black and white where a crime has been committed at some point and has themes of moral and political corruption. Borderline starts out noir, but turns into something else.

Madeline Haley (Clare Trevor) volunteers to go undercover to smoke out the Mexican drug lord Pete Ritchie (Raymond Burr).* She flirts with one of Ritche's gang and gets close to him when a rival drug lord, Johnny Mackin (Fred MacMurray) breaks in and steals his narcotics. He grabs Madeline and takes her with him on a trip to smuggle the drugs and see who the American contact is. 

Turns out that Mackin is also an undercover narcotics agent. Both keep their secrets from each other.**

At this point, the film changes into what was clearly influenced by It Happened One Night.*** The two have adventures and issues, as they keep running into Ritchie.

MacMurray usually preferred to play a nice guy image, but his best films had him as a bad guy. His introduction as a drug dealer is electrifying; he's good once he softens, but it is a letdown.

Trevor won an Oscar a couple of years before in Key Largo. She's also very good in the early going before the film goes all romantic.

Raymond Burr was a very busy actor before Perry Mason and Godzilla. He was one of the best heavies of his era, his size making him menacing.  The great Charles Lane makes an appearance as a customs official uncredited (of course).

Borderline is a strange movie, mostly because of its jarringly shift in tone. But if you go with it, it's quite enjoyable


*Especially interesting is an early scene where Madeline tries to volunteer for the job. She is eminently qualified, but her boss doesn't recognize her fitness for the job (despite her angling hard for it) until one of the male agents mentions her.

**One of the few times where it's not unreasonable that the two don't tell the secret that would solve their problems:  both think the other is among drug dealers.

***A couple of the scenes parallel scenes from the earlier movie -- sharing a hotel room without sharing a bed, and hitchhiking. Luckily, they both vary their ending to be different.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Blue Gardenia

The Blue Gardenia
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Charles Hoffman, from a novella by Vera Caspary
Starring: Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Sothern, Raymond Burr, Jeff Donnell, George Reeves, Nat "King" Cole
IMDB Entry

Like anyone who appreciates films of the 40s and 50s, I'm a fan of film noir. But the term has been overused and watered down over the years and nowadays it's used for any movie in black and white where a crime is committed. I'm going to be looking at some film noir films in the next few weeks, though I'm going to start with one that doesn't fit, even though it's often called noir: The Blue Gardenia.

Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter) is a telephone operator who lives with her friends Crystal (Ann Sothern) and Sally (Jeff Donnell). After she gets a "Dear Jane" letter from her boyfriend in Korea, she answers the phone to hear Harry Preble (Raymond Burr), a serial womanizer, who wants to ask Crystal out for a evening. Norah, on the rebound, takes him up on it. Harry gets her drunk and takes her back to his apartment where he tries to take advantage of her. She hits him with a fireplace poker and leaves.

The next morning, she remembers nothing and learns that Harry was found dead, killed by a fireplace poker. Norah can only remember parts of the evening and thinks she has killed him. The police have few clues, so newspaper columnist Casey Mayo (Richard Conte) writes a column asking the killer to turn herself in. Norah meets with him -- without admitting what happened -- and they develop a relationship.

Despite the noir label, the film doesn't fit the mold. The pervasive corruption in the genre is nowhere to be seen; the lead detective, Captain Haynes (George Reeve*) is an honest cop willing to give Casey a chance to help out Norah. Norah isn't corrupted, either -- she's just caught in a difficult situation and tries to fix it. It's ultimately a murder mystery where she thinks she might be the murderer.**

Baxter works well as Norah. She's already won an Oscar and Golden Globe at this point and is good as the troubled woman.  Burr makes an intriguing cad, though Richard Conte's performance is routine.  Nat "King" Cole shows up to perform the title tune in the nightclub that gives the movie its name.

The movie was directed by the great Fritz Lang.  It's not one of his major works, but still showed a sense of paranoia that was often a part of his films.

*Yes, TV's Superman, though he's sporting a moustache here. He was not u

**If this were noir, she would have been guilty, dragging Casey down with her.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Being Human (TV)


Being Human

Created by Toby Whithouse
Starring Lenora Crichlow, Russell Tovey, Aiden Turner
IMDB Entry

Gimmick stories can make for bad television, but one big exception is the UK series Being Human.*

The gimmick is simple. Three roommates just happen to be supernatural beings. George (Russell Tovey) is a werewolf. Mitchell (Aiden Turner) was a vampire. Annie (Lenora Crichlow) is a ghost. Vampires hate werewolves, but Mitchell -- who is trying to make do without killing people and drinking blood -- rescues George and become roommates and end up in the apartment that Annie is haunting. They have to negotiate being human and keeping their secrets, which isn't easy.

George and Mitchell both work as orderlies in a hospital, taking the menial job to keep from hurting people. George is moody and ashamed of what he becomes with every full moon, since he's pure animal. Mitchell keeps being tempted by circumstances and other vampires to drink blood and kill, something he can't always resist.  Annie is bright and bubbly and tries to make the most of being dead until she finally discovers how it happened.

There is a good mixture of drama and humor and plenty of villains out to tempt them and kill them.

I recognized Russell Tovey from the Doctor Who episode "Voyage of the Damned," where he played Alonzo Frame, the second in command.** His George is the most cautious of the group, pointing out the various pitfalls of any plan. Aiden Turner is best known from playing Poldark and brings both brooding and humor to the role. Lenora Crichlow has done quite a few UK series, both before and after, and her Annie is a delight.

The show ran for five seasons and is terrific throughout.

*There later was Canadian-American version that aired on SciFi.

**Allowing the Doctor to finally say "Allons-y Alonso"

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Sprung (TV)

Created. Written, and Directed by
Greg Garcia
Starring Garret Dillahunt, Shakira Barrera, Philip Garcia, Clare Gillies, James Earl, Martha Plimpton, Kate Walsh
IMDB Entry

I've been a fan of Greg Garcia since I first discovered My Name Is Earl. I loved his portrayal of quirky characters (usually lower class) with a heart of gold. When I spotted Sprung on Freevee, I was delighted.

The series begins in April 2020. Jack (Garret Dillahunt) has been in prison for almost 30 years for marijuana possession. Suddenly, he and his cellmate Rooster (Philip Garcia) are released to reduce the prison population due to Covid. Jack has nowhere to go, and Rooster offers to let him stay with his mother Barb (Martha Plimpton). Gloria (Shakira Barrera), who was also released and was the prison girlfriend of Jack,* Rooster wants to get back with his stripper girlfriend Wiggles (Clare Gilles), who has moved on to Marvin (James Earl), who is making his fortune selling a hoard of toilet paper he's collected.

Barb suggests they rob Marvin, Jack refuses, not wanting to go back to jail again. But, since he has nowhere to go, he signs on to the plan. Almost three decades in jail lets you learn a lot of tricks on how to commit crimes and Jack knows most of them. The robbery is a success, and Barb is interested in finding other targets. Jack insists that they only rob people who deserve it, and secretly gives away the money to people who need it. Then they set their sights on a local congresswoman (Kate Walsh) who is as shady as they come.

The cast is great.  Garret Dillahunt shines as Jack, who is caring and clever and still funny. There is a subplot where he tries to reconnect with his parents that is just as good drama as it is comedy.  Philip Garcia plays the fool to perfection. Shakira Barrera** is excellent, and Clare Gilles's Wiggles is the ultimate iteration of the dumb blonde trope.

The real standout is Martha Plimpton. Her Barb is just a wonder to see -- vain, treacherous, lying, bossy, but also vulnerable and deadly funny. She worked with Garcia before (as did Dillahunt) and he clearly had her in mind for the role.

The script is filled with laughs. The first episode had plenty of gags about life in the early days of Covid.*** And since this is on a streaming service, there are several very funny running gags that would never be allowed on broadcast.

The show ran for one season.  No word on if they will be another, but it seems unlikely.

*They never met each other, conducting their talk through the toilet pipes.

**Who is a computer whiz.

***"What happened to my curtains?" "There's a toilet paper shortage."

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Killing

The Killing
Directed by
Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick (story), Jim Thompson (dialogue), Lionel White (novel)
Starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook, Jr., Joe Sawyer, Timothy Carey, Kola Kwariana 
IMDB Entry

It's aways fun to watch a great director's earlier work, to see how they started to develop. Stanley Kubrick -- one of film's truly great directors -- wrote and directed The Killing, a top-notch example of film noir.

Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is a crook working on one last job before marrying Fay (Coleen Grey) that will set them up for good. It's a racetrack robbery that is worth at least $2 million, involving a sharpshooter (Timothy Carey) shooting the favorite in the backstretch. Others in on the plot include a bartender (Jay C. Flippen), a dirty cop (Ted de Corsia), a wrestler who set up a diversion (Kola Kwarani), and George Petey (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a betting window clerk who has access to the nonpublic areas of the track.

Everyone is supposed to keep quiet, except that Petey gives in to his Sherry (Marie Windsor) nagging him about how they don't have any money. He tells her about the plot and she reveals it to her lover Val (Vince Edwards. It turns out to be a fatal error.

The plotters
The film is noir through-and-through, with a femme fatale and a dark and ironic ending. Kubrick put together the story* and hired Jim Thompson to write the dialog, which crackles. Kubrick also wanted to do the cinematography, but guild rules stopped him. Even so, he kept his cinematographer on a short leash. One innovation in the story is that it's not told chronologically, jumping back to show what each of the plotters is doing to prepare for the heist.

Hayde is best known for his tremendous performance as General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove. Elisha Cook was also great in the type of role he was born to play ever since The Maltese Falcon. The entire cast puts on strong performances and much of the cast had strong careers as character actors.

The studio didn't know what to do with the film. It was dumped into neighborhood theaters with very little publicity. It got good critical reviews, but that didn't help.

The next year, Kubrick was tapped to direct Spartacus, and his career took off. But The Killing by rights should have been just as successful.


*The plan is clever, if perhaps a bit overcomplicated. But the complications don't come up as expected.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sapphire and Steel (TV)

Sapphire and Steel
Created and written by
Peter J. Hammond
Starring David McCallum, Joanna Lumley
IMDB Entry

Sometimes you get the wrong impression of a TV series that you heard of but never saw. When I first heard of the UK series Sapphire and Steel, I got the impression it was some sort of private detective show where the stars solved mundane crimes. Having seen it, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are two mysterious beings that appear at places where mysterious things are happening, usually involving ghosts. Their origins were never explained, other than their job is to fix anomalies in times. Sapphire has some ability to control time, and Steel can kill the creatures by lowering his body temperature to near absolute zero.  They can also communicate telepathically. It's implied that there are other people carrying out other missions.

The show has a Doctor Who feel to it -- low budget, cheap special effects -- and was conceived to rival the Doctor in its adventures, but didn't quite work as well, possibly due to a lack of humor of the characters. Steel is cold and dismissive of the people they meet. Sapphire is more considerate and more willing to listen to see if it includes any clues to what's happening.

There were six serials of the show, ranging from 4-8 episodes each. The pacing was very slow, but it seemed to work as a way to ratchet up the tension. Another problem was the availability of the main actors, who had thriving careers that led to availability issues. Further, issues with the production company management also worked against it. The final series was basically just burned off.

The show was revived as a series of audio dramas at Big Finish with Susanna Harker and David Warner. 

The show never seemed to have a regular run in the US, probably because of the lack of episodes. But it is an interesting attempt at a science fiction/fantasy series.

Sunday, January 8, 2023




Written and Directed by
Jacques Tati
Starring Jacques Tati, Maria Kimberly, Marcel Fraval 
IMDB Entry

Readers of this blog may have noticed my liking for Jacques Tati (especially likely). I decided to take the time to watch his final film Trafic, again. I remember being disappointed, but maybe a rewatch would change my mind.

The story is simple.  M. Hulot (Tati, of course) is a designer of a new type of camper car, which he plans to unveil at the Amsterdam auto show. It's loaded on the truck for the journey, with a driver (Marcel Fraval) driving. Maria, a publicist for the auto company (Maria Kimberly) is also involved in getting the car to be displayed.

The movie has the thinnest of plots -- which is typical of Tati. He always depended on gags to carry the story, and a specific type of gag where it is the reactions of the characters that are the basis of humor. For instance, when there is the inevitable car crash, the section -- one of the best in the film -- shows a strangely calm reaction as they gather up the part that had ended up on the side of the road and the edge of the woods.

There's also an amusing sequence where Hulot shows the features of the camper car, where each bit had a double duty. It's right out of some of Buster Keaton's work.*

Maria is the catalyst for events. She's American and a master of disregarding traffic laws, leading to the situations that make Hulot's trip a frustrating one. She got the role because her millionaire lover was going to finance the film. Tati had lost a fortune in on his previous film, Playtime, and had troubles getting financing, so he jumped at the chance. Kimberly was a model in the US and acquits herself well.

Another nice technique is that the film doesn't use subtitles. Dialog -- not a lot of it -- switches from one language to another, so if you don't know the word, someone will repeat it in another. This sounds clunky, but it comes across as perfectly natural.

Admittedly, the film doesn't reach the heights of Tati's best, but even this, his least successful film, you can see the signs of his comic genius.

*Tati was a big fan of Keaton.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Jour de Fete

Jour de Fete
Written, Directed, and Starring
Jacques Tati
IMDB Entry

I've mentioned before that I consider Jacques Tati as one of the great film comedians, and the last one to work in essentially silent cinema. His output was small -- five full-length films in twenty-two years -- but it was all classic. And it started out with Jour de Fete*.

It's set in a small farming town in France. A tractor arrives, bringing a merry-go-round and other parts of a small fair -- some games, a small theater, and other attractions that everyone in the village comes by to take part in.  The town's postman, Francois (Jacques Tati) is conscientious and hardworking, but a bit clumsy and simple and the butt of jokes. When he sees a satirical movie about postmen in America, he vows to take up their methods.

Francois is an proto-Hulot, Tati's great comic creation. In this case, he even speaks to advance the plot.** The gags are well constructed -- Keatonesque in his
use of objects behaving badly. Most of it is plotless -- just vignettes about the people who are at the fair. The part about the postmen doesn't show up until around 45 minutes in. That is the sequence that is usually listed as the plot of the movie, and it is impressive -- a series of sight gags and Francois delivers the mail. The movie also showed the main theme that runs through Tati's work -- a wariness about the new.

Tati is, as always, brilliant. Francois is an early version of M. Hulot, though for this he sports a moustache.  I suspect Tati didn't keep it so that you could see his entire face.

The film was originally shot both in color and black and white. The color process used worked poorly, so it was released as a black and white film, though a color version was recreated by his daughter in 1995. It was an immediate success and started Tati's career.

*Festival Day in French.

**Hulot was not a completely silent character, but he was a man of few words and got most of his points across with gestures.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Illusionist

The Illusionist
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
Written by Henri Marquet, Sylvain Chomet (screeplay), Jacques Tati (story)
IMDB Entry

Jacques Tati is the last of the great silent comedians.* He started making films long after sound came in, but continued the art form. There was sound, but no actual conversations. They story was told through actions and character reactions. Generally, any speech was short and consisting of a handful of words.  But the visual comedy was top notch,Tati died in 1982. He only directed five full-length features, all of which are gems of comedy. The Illusionist is an animated film that was adapted from a screenplay that he never directed.

It's the story of Tatisheff,** a stage magician. He's good,  but no one is interested in his act, and he keeps appearing in smaller and smaller venues. He travels with his recalcitrant rabbit, to a small village in Scotland for a performance, and sees a young woman, Alice, working as a maid. Feeling sorry for her, he buys her a pair of decent shoes. When he travels from there to Edinburgh, she decides to go with him.

They hole up in a theatrical hotel and he gets work where he can, while she admires him, and they set up a father-daughter relationship.

The gags are funny and, in typical Tati fashion, there are more than one going on at once. It's not slapstick, but about the reaction of the human reactions to the event.

There are plenty of memorable characters, especially in the hotel. There's a ventriloquist who is kind to Alice and never puts his dummy down, three acrobat who are always practicing their art, the hotel owners who are little people and who go in their office by only opening the lower part of a Dutch door, and a rock band that steals his thunder.

The film is visually superb. Backgrounds are filled with details and the portrayal of things like smoke and rain is unsurpassed.

The movie got an Oscar nomination but didn't win. Director Chomet had made a mark with The Triplets of Bellevue, but hasn't been able to do much since, especially since his studio and distributor folded.

There was some controversy over the film. Tati had written it for his daughter, as a way of apologizing her for his being too busy for her. Members of the family didn't like the usage, and objected to changes that Chomet had made, but I think the result is well worth it.

You don't have to know Tati to enjoy this. It's full of charm and pathos and an example of a film that uses animation in a way that is rarely seen.

*I don't count Mel Brooks, whose foray into silent comedy was a one-off thing. Shaun the Sheep is the only real challenger.
**Tati's real name. The character design is clearly based on Tati, too.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Hangover Square

Hangover Square
Directed by
John Brahm
Screenplay by Barré Lyndon* from a novel by Patrick Hamilton
Starring Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, George Sanders, Alan Napier, Faye Marlow
IMDB Entry

Laird Creger was one of the great losses to the cinema of the 1940s. He was a charismatic actor, and a strong cinema presence. But his performances showed a lot of promise before he died at age 31. Hangover Square is one that shows how good he was.

It starts out strongly:  we see a shopkeeper being murdered and his shop set on fire. The killer's face is not seen, but we show George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) stumbling through the streets. Bone is a composer and we learn that he suffers from blackouts where he cannot remember what has happened. His fiancée, Barbara Chapman, learns his situation and takes him to a police psychologist, Dr. Alan Middleton (George Sanders). Middleton investigates and sees no evidence Bone killed the shopkeeper and suggests take a break to relax, and he ends up going to a nightclub where he spots Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), who convinces him to write songs for her. He falls for her, but one day realizes he's being used.  And the blackouts start again.

Cregar puts on a fine performance. He's not a villain, and doesn't realize he's done anything wrong, since he remembers nothing about it. He's a tortured man who can't find peace and is especially good when he starts to go mad.

Sanders is his usual urbane self as he begins to suspect the truth. Linda Darnell makes a great femme fatale. 

Modern fans can spot Alan Napier (Alfred  from the Batman TV show) as Bone's future father-in-law.


*An obvious pseudonym. He won an Oscar for the screenplay of War of theWorlds.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

One Body Too Many


One Body Too Many

Directed by
Frank McDonald
Written by Winston Miller, Maxwell Shane
Starring Jack Haley, Bela Lugosi, Jean Parker, Lyle Talbot, 
IMDB Entry

Sometimes a cast list surprises you, and I was delighted when I stumbled upon One Body Too Many.

Albert Tuttle (Jack Haley) is an insurance salesman who goes to sell a policy to Cyrus Rutherford, an eccentric millionaire. Problem is, Rutherford is dead and the family is gathered for the reading of the will. It lives up to eccentric:  there is no listing of who gets what until Rutherford in buried in a special glass-domed crypt. The family will be getting different bequests, at smaller and smaller amounts, but, if Rutherford is not buried as designated, the one with the smallest bequest getting the largest, and vice versa.

Haley stumbles on this crew and is stuck there overnight as a storm rages. And people start getting murdered by people who think they were going to be stiffed by the will. Rutherford's niece (Jean Parker) asks the timid Tuttle for help, and he reluctantly agrees.

Haley, of course, is primarily known as the Tin Man of The Wizard of Oz and you can see that in this role, along with a hint of the cowardly lion. Bela Lugosi -- billed third -- is there as the butler, a role that gives him nothing to do but act vaguely sinister.

Also in the cast it Lyle Talbot, who was a familiar face in movies and TV.

The film is a mildly amusing programmer, with more smiles than laughs.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Mayor of Hell

Mayor of Hell
Directed by
Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by Edward Chodorov,  based on a story by Islin Auster
Starring James Cagney, Madge Evans, Dudley Digges, Allen Jenkins, Frankie Darro, Allen Jenkins
IMDB Entry

People often make the charge that modern films are too "woke," usually meaning that they are conscious of social issues. They don't seem to know that films have been dealing with social issues almost from the beginning. Warner Brothers especially became known for stories showing society's losers and The Mayor of Hell is a prime example.

We fist see a group of boys, let by Jimmy Smith (Frankie Darro) who are running some minor scams on the people. They get caught and some of the gang, including Jimmy, are0 sentenced to reform school.  The school's superintendent, Thompson (Dudley Digges), treats his charges with a firm hand, while enriching himself. This is upset when the deputy commissioner, Patsy Gargan (James Cagney) shows up and begins to reorganize the place, treating the boys with respect, giving them decent food, and setting everything up a democracy.

Considering that at the period, Cagney was usually playing tough guy roles.* He's tough enough to earn the respect of the boys, but clearly is looking for them to be well treated.  Madge Evans plays the nurse at the reformatory, who urges him to do what is needed to help the boys.

Of note is the performance of Allen "Farina" Hoskins. He was a major star of the Our Gang silent comedies -- possibly the most successful Black actor of his time. By this point, he had aged out of Our Gang and was struggling to find roles. One good thing was that he was treated by all the boys as an equal and didn't resort to the usual stereotypical behavior.

The social commentary in the movie is more than obvious and Thompson ends up getting more than his due. The point was especially important in the 1930s, when people sometimes skirted the law due to poverty.

*Indeed, most posters make it look like Cagney is a gangster type.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

He Ran All the Way

He Ran all the way

Directed by
John Berry
Written by Dalton Trumbo (as Guy Endore) and Hugo Butler from a novel by Sam Ross
Starring John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford, Selina Royle, Bobby Hyatt, Gladys George, Norman Lloyd
IMDB Entry

The Hollywood blacklist ruined careers and lives and perhaps none more than John Garfield.He had burst on the scene after growing up in Brooklyn and his talent for acting was noticed and he was brought to Hollywood, usually cast as a boxer or gangster.*  His final film before his early death was He Ran All the Way.

Nick Robey (Garfield) was a man down on his luck and living with his mother (Gladys George). His friend Al Molin (Norman Lloyd) convinces him to rob a payroll, despite the fact that Nick is starting to get cold feet.Of course, the job goes sour, a cop is killed and Al badly wounded.  Nick goes on the run with the money. When hiding out at a public pool, he meets Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters).She is charmed by him and he offers to take her home, at which point Nick takes her and her family hostage, using them as hostages until the heat is off.

Garfield is, as usual, excellent.  He capture the character’s desperation, and at the same time manages to make him both sympathetic and potentially dangerous.Shelly Winters was in her early career, when she could still play the ingenue, and she also makes the most of the role, She goes through the movie both repelled and attracted to Nick, so there is some real doubt as to the climax.

This was Garfield’s last film. He refused to name names before House Un-American Activities Committee.  He was blacklisted. The stress, and his long-term heart problems – which he seemed to have ignored – caused his death at age 39. Wallace Ford is also memorable as Peg’s father, who is backed into a corner trying to protect his family.

Writer Dalton Trumbo was under the blacklist at the time, but was able to find work using various pen names. Director John Berry also felt the touch of the hysteria, but found work in Europe before returning to the US once things calmed down, directing the charming romance, Claudine.

*One of his earlier films, They Made Me a Criminal, was a good description of his movie career.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Michael O’Donoghue (comedy)

Michael O'Donoghue

Wikipedia Page

Michael O’Donoghue’s influence on 20th century comedy is incalculable. While he was not the type of comic writer who would ever get mass appeal due to his dark approach to humor, he was a part of two of the most influential comedy institutions of his era.

O’Donoghue grew up in Rochester, NY, and by college, he became enamored of being a comedy writer, writing original revues. Once he graduated, he wrote a comic strip for the Evergreen Review—not a comic magazine – featuring Phoebe Zeit-Geist, a woman who often ended up kidnapped and naked, parodying superhero comics. Gary Trudeau has cited it as an influence.

He ended up being one of the founding writers of The National Lampoon. Now the Lampoon has faded in every way since its heyday, but it was a smash hit when it started, showing a new form of humor – irreverent, dark, sexy, and willing to take no prisoners in its satire.  O’Donoghue was in the center of that. He contributed many articles and eventually rose to be its editor.  One of my favorites was his “How to Write Good,” a hilarious parody of writing advice columns.

By the late 70s, the Lampoon could do no wrong. It jumped into movies with Animal House. O’Donoghue wrote a record album – National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner, and wrote and appeared in the short lived National Lampoon Radio Hour.

Then Lorne Michaels came calling.  He hired O’Donoghue to write and perform in the new sketch comedy he was developing – Saturday Night Live.  O’Donoghue was one of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players. As such, he was the first person to be shown in the first sketch, and also had the very first line on the show.

O’Donoghue had specific ideas about comedy, and put them into place. In general, he thought violence was funny. The sketch above shows some of it, and it was even more obvious in one recurring sketch where he would do impressions of celebrities have steel needles poked into their eyes. He also did a series of sketches as “Mr. Mike,” who told fairy tales that ended up with death and mass destruction – as he put it “random acts of meaningless violence.”

His most successful SNL sketch – considered a classic of the show --- was the brilliant “Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise.” If you haven’t seen it, watch it here:

O’Donoghue was prickly, and thus left SNL after arguments. He tried to do a TV special – Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video – which was deemed* too violent and released as a film. He would be hired back a few times to SNL, but always was fired.

He took up acting roles and co-wrote and appeared in Scrooged. He also had some success as a songwriter, most notably “Single Women” which was a hit for Dolly Parton.

O’Donoghue died in1994 of a cerebral hemorrhage; he suffered from migraines for years. I would write more about him, but suddenly I am run over by a truck. The End.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Pope Must Die(t)

The Pope Must Diet!

Directed by
Peter Richardson
Written by Peter Richardson and Peter Richens
Starring Robbie Coltrane, Alex Rocco, Paul Bartel, Beverly D’Angelo, Herbert Lom
IMDB Entry

In memory of Robbie Coltrane.

Some movies court controversy and have to overcome it.Sometimes it works out. Other times it kills the movie’s chances. The Pope Must Die(t) is an example of the latter, despite the fact it’s a very funny bit of satire.

In the first scene, the pope dies. A conclave is held, and by accident, they elect David Albanizi (Robbie Coltrane), a humble and honest (and klutzy) country priest, who plays a mean rock guitar. It was part of a plot by Cardinal Rocco (Alex Rocco) who secretly is an agent of the crime boss Vittorio Corelli (Herbert Lom)*.

It turns out the Church is badly corrupted and Rocco is willing to do anything to get rid of Abanizi before he discovers it all and to put the preferred candidate in his place.

Coltrane is excellent as a good man who is overwhelmed (and a bit naïve), and Alex Rocco is perfect as the corrupt cardinal.

Of course, the subject was bound to offend. To say it puts the Church in a bad light is putting it mildly. It is clearly not meant to be a serious look at things and is clearly supposed to be a fictional version of the church**

Still, the film ran into more difficulties. The original title – The Pope Must Die! – was in terrible taste to begin with. The basis for the plot is shenanigans at the Vatican Bank, which paralleled a real scandal.

The studio insisted on cuts, and changed the title in the US to The Pope Must Diet.”*** The title didn’t make a lot of sense, and ultimately didn’t help. The subject turned away many audiences. Many media sources refused to run ads for it under the original title, and didn’t change their minds when the title (and posters) were changed.

Ultimately, the movie failed at the box office. However, once you get past the dark blasphemy of a fictional version of the Church, it turns out to be a first-class comedy.

*Best known as Chief Inspector Dreyfuss the foil of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films.

**They have female priests, for instance, leading to the final joke.

***At Robbie Coltrane’s suggestion,since he saw posters for the movie defaced with the “T” at the end.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Whitehall 1212 (radio)

Whitehall 1212


Written and Directed by Willys Cooper
IMDB Entry

Success in media begets copycats, especially in TV and radio. When Dragnet became a hit, other producers tried to copy the format of choosing actual cases from police files. Of course, Dragnet wouldn’t allow anyone to use the files of the Los Angeles police, so people looked elsewhere. Willys Cooper managed to get the cooperation of Scotland Yard in London, and used it as a basis for Whitehall 1212.

The show clearly was imitating Dragnet*, though with a formula all its own. It would introduce the audience to Scotland Yards’ Black Museum, where mementos of crimes were kept for study.** After talking about the artifact of this week’s case, a police inspector would come in and discuss the case from start to finish, dramatizing what he found and how it all unfolded until the criminal was caught (and usually hanged).

While the show did not have the great characterizations that made Dragnet a hit, the crimes were well chosen and listening to police procedure in the UK shows the difference between the two legal systems. If there was any doubt that these weren’t real cases, one of them was clearly the famous Hawley Crippen case, with all the names changed.***

The show was performed by an all-British cast, and went through different actors in the main show for most episodes.

At about the same time, Orson Welles hosted The Black Museum, another radio show based on its artifacts..Welles’ version wasn’t a police procedural, though, and showed the crime being committed.

The show ran for around a year. Clearly it wasn’t the success Dragnet was, mostly because it lacked the quirky characters that made Webb’s show latter so fascinating (though they tried). Welles’s version didn’t fare much better. But both are fine examples of radio drama.

*Including the line in the introduction: “The names, for obvious reasons, have been changed.”

**There was (and still is) a Black Museum (now called the Crime Museum), though it’s not open to the public.

***Not sure why they had to. The case is famous even today.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Nicky Hopkins (music)

Nicky Hopkins

Wikipedia Entry

Even if you don’t recognize the name, if you listened to rock music – especially UK rockers – you have heard Nicky Hopkins play. He was quite simply, the businest studio musician of his era.

Hopkins learned the piano at age 3, and began playing professionally when he was 16. Just as his career was taking off, he became bedridden. Hopkins had Crohn’s disease, leading to operations and frail health. It prevented him from joining a band – the touring was too stressful. So he settled into being a session musician.

For a while, if you wanted someone to play piano, you called Hopkins.And the big names called him. He started with the Kinks and the Who, and then worked with the Rolling Stones for nine years.  Other acts that used him included Jefferson Airplane, Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker, Rod Steward, Donovan, Jerry Garcia, Steve Miller, Donovan, Carly Simon, Art Garfundel, Spinal Tap, Joe Walsh and even the Beatles – both as a group and individually with all four members.

With Quicksilver Messenger Service, he recorded his most exciting composition, Edward the Mad Shirt Grinder.

Hopkins took on the nickname of “Edward” elsewhere. When the Rolling Stones released an album of jams from their Let it Bleed sessions, the named it Jamming with Edward.

Hopkins also put out some solo albums, but they didn’t sell enough to make him a star.

He also was a member of the early supergroup, Sweet Thursday. Consisting of Hopkins, Alun Davies, Jon Mark, Harvey Burns, and Brian Odgers, The group might have achieved much, but their record company went bankrupt and could not promote it.

His Crohn’s finally caught up with him in 1994, but he left a legacy of brilliant piano playing.