Hey Good Lookin’ (1982)

“I’m callin’ for a rumble with the Chaplains to protect our honor!”

Synopsis:
In 1950s Brooklyn, a couple of hoods named Vinnie (Richard Romanus) and Crazy (David Proval) romance a busty babe (Tina Bowman) and her plump girlfriend (Jesse Welles) while gearing up for a rumble with rival gang members.

Genres:

Review:
Peary lists five of “adult animator” Ralph Bakshi’s feature-length films in his GFTFF: Fritz the Cat (1972), Heavy Traffic (1973), Lord of the Rings (1978), American Pop (1981), and this dreadfully unappealing “nostalgic” look back at the 1950s. There is little to redeem in this film — neither the distasteful characters, nor the meaningless lives they carry out. Sure, I’m being hard on these punks, but they’re abject losers, and it’s genuinely challenging to watch them on-screen for more than an hour. Not even Bakshi’s unique animation style carries this one for me.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
Not much of anything.

Must See?
Nope; skip this one unless you’re a Bakshi completist. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book — which I suppose all Bakshi’s films ultimately are.

Links:

Is There Sex After Death? (1971)

“Isn’t the orgasm what we’re all looking for?”

Synopsis:
A doctor of sexology (Alan Abel) drives around New York City in his Sexmobile, investigating various people’s perspectives on sex.

Genres:

Review:
Renowned hoaxster Alan Abel helmed this satirical pastiche about the impact of the sexual revolution, deftly mixing seemingly-real “man on the street” interviews with more obviously fictional skits. Indeed, thoughout the film we’re kept on our toes about exactly how much is scripted versus authentic: his visit to a nudist colony, for instance, appears real, but how likely is it that the individuals were engaged in a game of “Simon Says” other than for the film crew’s benefit? Naturally, some sections of this film — i.e., the final “Sex Olympics” — are more amusing then others: some (i.e., the breast enhancement exercises) fall completely flat, while some (i.e., the opening skit asking a variety of individuals about the ideal penis length) are stupidly juvenile, some (i.e., the discussion about dwarfs’ sex lives) are outright offensive, and some (i.e., the topless string quartet) are randomly quirky. This flick is certainly not must-see viewing, but will be a curiosity for those who remember Abel’s cultural impact.

Note: I didn’t know about Abel before catching this film, and was intrigued to learn more about his infamous Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA) movement, as well as writing his own obituary for his faked death.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some amusing sketches interspersed throughout

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look by those who are curious. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978)

Hello, CMBA members! I’m happy to be participating in the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Fall “Outlaws” blogathon. If you’re new to my site, please click here to read more. Welcome!



“I am a gunfighter; you are a woman between husbands.”

Synopsis:
A gunslinger (Fabio Testi) is rescued from hanging by agreeing to kill a man (Warren Oates) who refuses to sell his land to a railroad company. When Testi befriends Oates and has an affair with his wife (Jenny Agutter), his original plans quickly go awry — and soon Oates and his brothers are seeking revenge against both Agutter and Testi.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Roger Corman-protege Monte Hellman is best known for helming cult favorites Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Cockfighter (1974), as well as two “existential” westerns — Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) and The Shooting (1966) — and this unusually titled outing, made more than a decade later. As Peary writes in his brief review of China 9, Liberty 37 (the title “refers to [a] signpost located between the towns of China and Liberty”), while it’s “not on [the] level of his earlier” westerns, it’s “still a fairly interesting, unusual entry in the genre”, with a “dusty, gritty feel” to it akin to “Italian westerns and the westerns of Sam Peckinpah (who has a bit part)”. He points out that “the epic lovemaking between Testi and Agutter in a river and in a hotel room is noteworthy; except for Anthony Mann’s Man of the West, sex has had no place in the conservative western genre” — and he adds that “certainly this is the only western in which sex is what drives the lead characters”.

I selected this western for inclusion in CMBA’s Fall Outlaws Blogathon because of the unusual shifting of who, exactly, the “outlaws” are as the film progresses. While hired-man Testi is the obvious first candidate, the railroad company requesting Oates’s murder is implicated as well: “outlaws” in this western landscape are clearly operating within a powerful web of industrial corruption.

[SPOILERS ALERT]

Once Oates discover’s Agutter’s affair with Testi and turns violent, Agutter believes she’s killed him in self-defense, and becomes an outlaw alongside her lover. However, when one of Oates’s brothers (Paco Benlloch) runs into the pair and learns what happened to Oates, he is naturally perturbed, and becomes involved in a prolonged kerfuffle that results in his death. When his corpse is delivered to the recovering Oates’s homestead, the plot has thickened considerably: Oates is now out to avenge not only his wife’s infidelity but the killing of his brother. With Agutter clearly penitent (one scene shows her mourning in a church), and honorable Testi returning the money he’s been given for killing Oates — he believes Oates’s “murder” was actually committed by Agutter — it becomes even more difficult to sort out who the “outlaws” actually are here.

Meanwhile, another of Oates’s brothers (Gianrico Tondinelli) attempts to rape Agutter, but is stopped by Oates himself, who nonetheless says, “Go ahead, boy; that’s what whores are for”. Soon the original baddies — men representing the railroad company — set out to kill both Testi (who has not lived up to his agreement) and Oates (who they still want murdered). Testi’s life is saved by a prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold (and a convenient penchant for sharpshooting), and he’s ultimately able to protect Oates from the killers who have amassed on his property and are waiting to ambush him. Testi’s final showdown with Oates — and the evolving relationship between Oates and Agutter, who appear to be trying to better understand one another and start afresh — is testament to the film’s refusal to categorize individuals (or “outlaws”) as either good or bad; humanity is far more complex than that.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Giuseppe Rotunno’s cinematography (shot in Spain and Italy)


  • Pino Donaggio’s eclectic score

Must See?
No, but’s recommended as an enjoyable outing by an accomplished director.

Links:

Outlaw, The (1943)

“Ever since you met him, you’ve treated me like a dog!”

Synopsis:
Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) befriends Billy the Kid (Jack Beutel) while alienating his buddy Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell). Huston and Beutel spar over not only Huston’s horse, but his mistress (Jane Russell), who initially hates Beutel for killing her brother yet soon falls for him and nurses him back to health.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “‘notorious’ adult western” by “director-producer Howard Hughes” was “held back because of censorship problems due to newcomer Jane Russell’s sexually uninhibited performance” — which is exactly what business-savvy Hughes and his publicist Russell Birdwell were hoping for. As noted in TCM’s review:

As soon as production began, The Hayes Office, charged with upholding the moral fiber of motion pictures, demanded a copy of the script for review. After reading it, The Hayes Office demanded several changes to what it considered “racy dialogue and situations,” and cautioned Hughes to “avoid sexual suggestiveness.” But Hughes had no intention of pouring water on his smoldering screenplay, and when the picture was finally released, Hughes got exactly what he expected. Censors objected not only to Russell’s low-cut blouse, but also the treatment of her character as merely a sex object.

Ironically, while the film does place ample emphasis on Russell’s photogenic bosom, the film is less focused on sexual dynamics between Russell and her two lovers than on, as Robert Lang notes in his book Masculine Interests: Homoerotics in Hollywood Films:

… the complications that arise when Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) falls in love with Billy the Kid (Jack Beutel) and Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) becomes jealous of the bond that develops between the two men… [The] proper locus of the film’s sexuality is not embodied in Jane Russell as Rio MacDonald, but is played out in the relationship between the two men (and their horse).

Regardless of whether one reads the relationship between Huston and Beutel as sexual or not, it’s undeniable that the real “love triangle” here is between these men (who take an instant liking to one another, for no discernable reason) and Mitchell. In his review, however, Peary simply points out that “after a while there’s too much male talk and not enough about Russell”, adding that it’s “hard to believe” the “very pretty, buxom, teenage girl in the tight, revealing dresses” is “the same actress who’d confidently sing, dance, and be funny with Marilyn Monroe ten years later in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).”

The film itself, unfortunately, is a tonally inconsistent chore to sit through. Peary writes that the “comedy and music are intrusive”, but this is an understatement: Victor Young’s score is atrociously inappropriate for the melodramatic material, which doesn’t work as a comedy. Meanwhile, the film is at least half an hour too long, and Hughes didn’t know how to elicit strong performance from his leads. While the reasons for Beutel’s limited career are contested, it seems clear to me that he was more of a pretty face than a talented actor; as noted previously, it’s challenging to understand why Huston feels such loyalty for him.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gregg Toland’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though film fanatics will be curious to give it a once-through given its historical notoriety.

Links:

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

“He’s young and he loves life, but he may die — any day, any hour.”

Synopsis:
A British mother (Greer Garson) copes with the stress of her husband (Walter Pidgeon) helping with local war efforts, and her oldest son (Richard Ney) becoming an RAF pilot while romancing the granddaughter (Teresa Wright) of local nobility (Dame May Whitty). Meanwhile, the local stationmaster (Henry Travers) hopes to take home top prize at that year’s flower show, for a rose he’s named “Mrs. Miniver” in honor of Greer — but will Whitty allow “her” annual prize to be taken from her?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while the “typical British middle-class family” in this Best Picture winner — about individuals “whose cherished, hard-earned life of tranquillity and security has been destroyed by war” — may be “phony”, they’re “exactly the same as Americans depicted in Hollywood films”, and ultimately “the type of people American viewers could identify with in 1942”. He adds that “this was important because the purpose of MGM’s propaganda piece, which was filmed on the studio lot, was to motivate Americans to come to the aid of the British… and it is known to have succeeded to an astonishing degree.” With that said, as Peary notes, the “picture is self-conscious to an annoying degree”. He further admits that he has “always had mixed feelings about Greer Garson (and other actresses I can’t picture in blue jeans), but she deserves her Oscar if only because she agreed to be mother to an adult” (!!!). [In Alternate Oscars, he snubs Garson altogether and splits the Best Actress Oscar between Carole Lombard in To Be or Not to Be and Ginger Rogers in The Major and the Minor.] Greer’s performance is earnest and consistent, but she only seems to depict a few primary expressions, and never really surprises us with any noteworthy acting moves. Wyler would ultimately have much more success and authenticity with The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) — a film which has endured as a true wartime classic.

Note: This film was added to the National Film Registry in 2009 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically” significant.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gorgeous b&w cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg


Must See?
No, though most film fanatics will be curious to check it out at least once given its history as a multiple Oscar winner and nominee.

Links:

Crime in the Streets (1956)

“We’re not talking about wild animals — we’re talking about tough, angry kids.”

Synopsis:
After a gangland rumble between the Hornets and the the Dukes, a neighbor (Malcolm Atterbury) reports a member of the Hornets (Jimmy Ogg) to the police, and he’s sent to jail. The Hornets’ leader, Frankie (John Cassavetes), plots to get back at Atterbury with fatal finality, and enlists the help of two willing gang members — “Baby” (Sal Mineo), whose father (Will Kuluva) and sister (Denise Alexander) are concerned about him, and grinning psychopath Lou (Mark Rydell) — in carrying out a pre-meditated murder. Meanwhile, a caring social worker (James Whitmore) tries to reach out to Frankie, his younger brother (Peter Votrian), and Frankie’s overworked single mother (Virginia Gregg) to prevent the tragedy from occurring.

Genres:

Review:
Shortly after directing Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Don Siegel helmed this “social drama” — based on an Elgin Hour television play directed by Sidney Lumet — which is notable for featuring Cassavetes as the tough-as-nails lead; for the sympathetic presence of Sal Mineo a year after his breakthrough role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955); and for fine supporting performances all around (much of the cast starred in the original television production). Taking place within a confined set, the film effectively conveys the claustrophobic sensation of Cassavates as a literal ticking time bomb; while his only hope seems to be the sincere ministrations of Whitmore, another character ultimately emerges as a surprising lever for his hardened heart. It’s interesting early on to watch which of Cassavetes’ fellow gang members will join his plans, or not (enough bow out to clearly indicate that peer pressure alone isn’t enough to convince delinquents to turn to murder). An especially intriguing unexplored character is Rydell, playing a sociopathic teen seemingly in it for the kicks; along with impressionable Mineo (“Papa, let me grow up!”) and vengeful Cassavetes, these three kids represent a trio of diverse delinquency challenges to be reckoned with.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Cassavetes as Frankie
  • Fine supporting performances



  • Stark cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.

Links:

Marked Woman (1937)

“I’ll get you — even if I have to crawl back from my grave to do it!”

Synopsis:
A nightclub hostess (Bette Davis) in a “clip joint” — whose college-going sister (Jane Bryan) believes Davis is simply a model — becomes caught up in a case against her corrupt boss (Eduardo Cianelli) led by an assistant D.A. (Humphrey Bogart) determined to fight against organized crime in New York City.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Based on the real-life exploits of notorious crime mob “Lucky” Luciano, this “excellent feminist crime drama” — featuring Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role as a crusading D.A. modeled after Thomas Dewey — is primarily about women banding together to fight for their safety and freedom. Davis’s feisty character represents the reality and the determination of women caught under the thumb of criminal dominance: she knows it’s useless to stand up to a mobster as vicious as Cianelli, and clearly sympathizes with the sap (Damian O’Flynn) who thinks he can pull one over on the mob by leaving town without paying his gambling debts. (He’s swiftly killed, and his murder leads to the investigation that sparks the rest of the film.) However, when her guileless sister becomes caught up in Cianelli’s nefarious web, Davis decides she’s had enough, and rallies the support of her professional “sisters” (Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell, Rosalind Marquis, and Mayo Methot) to finally tell the truth about their situation.

As Peary notes, “We’re impressed by these women because they act bravely although they are terrified about what might happen to them; because they will be subject to humiliation in court when they’re asked about their line of work; and because they don’t stand to gain anything by testifying other than avenging Bryan’s death and freeing girls all over the city who are under Cianelli’s heavy thumb. These girls aren’t angels, they don’t have hearts of gold, but they have integrity… [and] are adament about fulfilling their mission”. The closing scene of the film — as “our five ‘heroines’ walk away into the fog, arm in arm” — emphasizes that despite the noble intentions of some “good men”, it’s “by sticking together” that “women have strength — and that’s the message they want to get out to all the faceless, exploited American women they represent”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bette Davis as Mary
  • George Barnes’ cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

Links:

Take Me Out To the Ball Game (1949)

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be married to a girl who played baseball?”

Synopsis:
Near the beginning of the 20th century, a pair of vaudeville performers (Gene Kelly and Sinatra) take a break from the stage while playing baseball for a team — The Wolves — newly acquired by a sports-loving female (Esther Williams). An acquaintance (Betty Garrett) of a noted gambler (Edward Arnold) takes an immediate fancy to Sinatra, while Kelly and Williams develop affections for one another — but when Arnolds decides to jinx the team’s chances of success by luring Kelly back to the stage, the future of the team and its romantic involvements are uncertain.

Genres:

Review:
Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly co-starred in three musicals together: Anchors Aweigh(1945), On the Town (1949), and this Busby Berkeley-directed Technicolor musical, produced in the Arthur Freed unit of MGM. Williams — who manages to star in one swimming sequence — was a last-minute replacement for Ginger Rogers, and apparently didn’t enjoy the experience much; she’s ultimately less memorable than Garrett, who has a ton of fun singing, dancing, and aggressively wooing Sinatra. The song and dance numbers (many of which include Jules Munshin, co-star of On the Town) are colorful and vibrant, and it’s fun to see the early days of baseball given their glory on screen — however, this film doesn’t distinguish itself as must-see.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lively songs and dances
  • Fine Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s a fun diversion.

Links:

Devil and Miss Jones, The (1941)

“I watch the little ants scurrying around and I know each is going to get his just dessert.”

Synopsis:
A crusty millionaire (Charles Coburn) goes undercover as a shoe clerk at his own department store, intending to ferret out the leaders behind a nascent labor movement. However, as he gets to know a kind colleague (Jean Arthur) and her agitator-boyfriend (Robert Cummings), and falls in love with a sweet middle-aged co-worker (Spring Byington), he experiences a change of heart and perspective.

Genres:

Review:
DVD Savant is a huge fan of this screwball comedy by director Sam Wood and production designer William Cameron Menzies, who previously collaborated on Pride of the Yankees (1942) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). Savant notes:

The disarming, entertaining The Devil and Miss Jones is one of the best social comedies ever, a film that creates a nice feeling for people while saying fairly pertinent things about the need for decent conditions in the workplace… The movie abounds in terrific character touches, inspired comedy gags, and two or three moments of finely tuned slapstick… So many things click in The Devil and Miss Jones that one cannot over-praise Norman Krasna’s screenplay, one of the best ever from the classic Hollywood years. [Krasna also wrote Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941).]

While I appreciate The Devil and Miss Jones on nearly every level outlined above, it’s less of a personal favorite — perhaps because I wasn’t entirely sold on the fantasy element. Clearly, one has to buy into the premise that Coburn simply needs to visit his own employees in order to have a huge change of heart — wouldn’t life be wonderful if that were the case? I suppose that was (and remains) the allure for many.

My favorite aspects of the film are its seemingly “pre-planned” camera angles and highly crafted look; it’s visually evocative from beginning to finish (even during scenes that strain credulity — such as the beach picnic at Coney Island). I’m also a fan of Byington’s adorable performance, and Jean Arthur is never not a pleasure to watch in action. (She and Coburn would reteam for The More the Merrier [1943].)

Note: It’s interesting to read about director Sam Wood’s own conversative, anti-Communist political leanings, which became truly extreme by the end of his short life; see Wikipedia’s entry for more information.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jean Arthur as Mary Jones
  • Spring Byington as Elizabeth
  • Distinctive framing and cinematography


  • William Cameron Menzies’ set designs

  • A fun look at historic Coney Island

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

Links:

Glenn Miller Story, The (1954)

“It’s funny how you can miss a person even before he’s gone.”

Synopsis:
Bandleader Glenn Miller (Jimmy Stewart) romances his sweetheart (June Allyson) and — with her ongoing support — slowly achieves worldwide success as a unique musical talent.

Genres:

Review:
Anthony Mann’s biopic of bandleader Glenn Miller’s slow but substantial rise to success — culminating in his tragic disappearance during World War II, while entertaining troops abroad — is colorfully staged, well-directed, and features likable performances by the leads (Stewart looks eerily like Miller with glasses on). There’s quite a bit of focus on Miller’s romance with his would-be and then loyal wife (Allyson): his dogged confidence that she’s the right partner for him — despite not staying in touch for two years after college — nicely parallels his pursuit of the elusive sound he was striving for in his music (which he apparently stumbled upon after years of study, hard work, and experimentation). Unfortunately, there isn’t much natural tension in the storyline, given that we know Miller will ultimately succeed, and his marriage is portrayed as nothing but peachy-keen in the midst of life’s challenges (including a miscarriage). The best part of the movie by far is the soundtrack: his famous tunes are instantly engaging, and well performed. It’s easy to see why audiences of the day loved this movie and made it a box office hit.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fun cameos by real-life musical legends
  • An effective portrayal of Miller’s creative process
  • A stand-out musical score (naturally!)

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly recommended for one-time viewing.

Links: