Friday, April 19, 2013

Recommendations :: What I've Been Watching, and So Should You! Or Not...

The Crowded Sky (1960) is another fandamntastic soap-opera / airline disaster flick where once more Dana Andrews has to bring a crippled plane in for an emergency landing after a mid-air collision with a military jet. (Highlighted by one of the engine props shearing loose and chopping a hole in the fuselage, which sucked out the engineer who not only fell out but tumbled into another engine propeller. Thank you, jump cut.) Enough melodrama and sudsy subplots to choke a moose, to be sure, and guilty of blatant misuse of the cinematic thought-bubble, but that's the way I like my disaster movies. Highly recommend for those similarly afflicted with disasteritus. 

In The Hard Way (1943), Ida Lupino does NOT play Ginger Rogers' mother to Joan Leslie NOT playing Ginger Rogers in this tale of a driven (-- meaning scheming, back-stabbing and manipulative) elder sister who pushes her sibling out of their backwater life to the heights of wealth and stardom on the stage only to have it all come crashing down when t'woo wuv gets in the way. Lupino is great, as always -- the ultimate example of not evil just horribly, horribly misguided, and the film only cemented my Bro'-crush on Jack Carson even more. Recommendation? Easy or hard, go that way as soon as possible.

I love it when second bananas get the top of the bill and knock it outta the park. (Man, I want hair like Dan Duryea's.) Also, special shout out to Peter Lorre and Freddie Steel, who make a fantastic one-two punch as the villain and witless minion of our piece, The Black Angel (1946), where a wrong man is sent to the gas chamber for murder while his wife (June Vincent) and the alcoholic ex-husband (Duryea) of the victim effort to exonerate him. Now, these efforts of forming a lounge act are a tad bit convoluted on paper but it works. Trust me.

Though hamstrung a bit by the hypnotic hookum the villain uses to dupe our heroine into a murder frame-up, with the way director Otto Preminger paints her into a corner in Whirlpool (1949), I wasn't sure they were going to get the lovely Gene Tierney out of this airtight mess let alone how -- but I encourage you all to find out for yourselves just how they do. Props to Charles Bickford as the well-seasoned detective in charge and Jose Ferrer's despicable David Korvo belongs in the Film Noir Villain Hall of Fame.

Sorry to report that Dean Martin's last screen role as Mr. Ricco (1975) is kind of a mess. Mean-spirited and ultimately pointless, Martin plays an attorney who gets a militant off the hook for a murder over some tainted evidence only to have said militant seemingly go on a killing spree after the acquittal and release. This 'seemingly' angle drives the rest of the film as Ricco soon finds himself targeted by his client, too, who apparently did commit that murder (-- the tainted evidence was provided by a racist cop trying to grease the wheels of justice), which makes no sense, at all, summing up the movie quite nicely. *bleaurgh*

Van Heflin and Virginia Grey make this Nick and Nora Charles knock-off go down smooth (-- they even got Sammy Levene to play the befuddled inspector), amiably aided and abetted by a stellar supporting cast of 'that guy' and 'that gal' with Millard Mitchell as the welcomed comedy relief. That, and Grand Central Murder (1942) is a pretty good whodunit, too, if not a bit cock-eyed in the means and ways department. Probably won't hold up under repeated viewings but it's worth the initial spin. 

The only thing I DIDN'T like about The Alphabet Murders (1965) is that it failed to launch a franchise where Tony Randall and Robert Morley kept teaming up as Hercule Poirot and Inspector Hastings to solve even more crimes in the same, comical vein. Treasure this one, folks. 

Cry Havoc (1943) is a refreshing all-female take on the battle for Bataan and propaganda piece for Why We Fight (-- seriously the only male parts were either the wounded or the dying), where a group of civilians volunteer as impromptu nurses at a field hospital. As someone else pointed out, the film loses some points over the fact their appears to be a hair salon somewhere nearby as the hospital is pasted by Japanese planes and artillery for weeks on end, but the cast sells it all well enough. And in the biggest surprise, MGM actually trumping Paramount's So Proudly We Hail (1943) with such a Debbie-Downer ending gets all kinds of respect from me.

I figured it had been long enough since watching Woman Under the Influence for me to experience some full-frontal Cassavetes again. Thus and so, I watched Opening Night (1977), which, like Woman, is fascinating and brutal and frustrating, which ultimately makes it an exhausting experience to endure. (Now, when I say exhausting I mean that in a post-work-out, well worth it kind of tired.) But just like with Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the main thought swimming against the tide of everything I'd just witnessed was, man, I HATE being that drunk.

Even though I watched The Girl from Rio (1969) on a shitty pan-n-scan print under an alternate title (Future Women), which had the most atrocious audio track ever (-- it sounded like someone was power-drilling a stubborn, stripped-out screw through the whole damned movie), this piece of Jess Franco eye-candy and general nuttiness about a cult of Glamazons with a bent for world domination is just incredible. So incredible, I immediately molested my couch cushions for enough change to snag the Blue Underground DVD with every intention to watch it again in its full glory. 


Stacia said...

I love The Hard Way! Happened across it on TCM a few years ago and was really blown away.

Sigh. Every time I come here, I add about a dozen new DVDs to my queue. Well, I'd add Crowded Sky if it was available.

W.B. Kelso said...

I know you've said your computer doesn't stream very well, but, if you're willing to give it a try, the Warner Archive has a free two week trial for the new streaming site, where you can see both THE CROWDED SKY and THE ALPHABET MURDERS for free.

Good luck, and you're welcome, with apologies as needed (cinematically speaking) if I've led you astray on any of those recs.

Stacia said...

I discovered I can do streaming if I turn off my firewall, so I have been thinking about giving Warner online a try.

No worries about recs. The only grudge I've ever held over something like that was when my husband said, "Hey, let's watch The Duelists." And that's more of a playful grudge than anything.

W.B. Kelso said...

Ah, yes. THE DUELIST. I remember sticking with it, figuring something would eventually happen. Yeah... Anyhoo, I think the Warner Archive has the potential to be something great. As it is right now, about half the content from the Beta Test has disappeared, but they've been slowly adding more. As is, right now, I don't know if it's worth $9 a month until more content is available, but for two free weeks there's plenty to explore.

What would be ideal would be like Amazon Prime streaming. Some free content, and the rest available to either rent of buy on customer demand. But, I'll take what I can get.

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