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Category: Original Reviews

Responses to Peary’s “must see” movie reviews, as well as my own “must see” movie reviews up to and after 1986 (when Peary’s book was published).

Penitentiary (1979)

Penitentiary (1979)

“You got to keep yourself in shape around here — this place is full of fools! If you don’t handle the fools, they handle you.”

Synopsis:
When a hitchhiker (Leon Isaac Kennedy) gets involved with a prostitute (Hazel Spears) who inadvertently sends him to prison, he must deal with a sadistic cellie (Badja Djola). After joining a boxing league in an attempt to earn his release, he is re-assigned to live with an aging prisoner (Floyd Chatman) whose “live and let live” goal is simply to survive.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African Americans
  • Boxing
  • Prisoners

Review:
This blaxploitation film by director Jamaa Fanaka is notable as a representative flick within the genre, and for featuring a (relatively) realistic look inside mostly-black prisons of the 1970s. Kennedy’s situation of having no choice to survive other than through boxing echoes many other Hollywood films — most notably From Here to Eternity (1953) — but primarily serves as the excuse to feature seemingly countless bouts in the ring, fully sanctioned by an overweight white guard (Chuck Mitchell) who is mercifully decent towards his charges.

Thankfully, Kennedy is a determined and strong enough protagonist to manage every hurdle coming his way. Also of note is Chatman as a lifetime prisoner:

who is clearly meant to serve as a powerful and viable contrast to Kennedy’s get-out-no-matter-what-it-takes attitude; his character rings very true.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Semi-realistic footage of life inside prison

Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious.

Links:

Bird With the Crystal Plumage, The / Phantom of Terror, The(1970)

Bird With the Crystal Plumage, The / Phantom of Terror, The(1970)

“It seems very clear to me that there is a dangerous maniac at large in this city.”

Synopsis:
After an American writer (Tony Musante) in Italy witnesses the attempted murder of a beautiful redhead (Eva Renzi) behind the glass walls of an art gallery, he and his girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) put their own lives at risk while attempting to help a police inspector (Enrico Maria Salerno) figure out who the mysterious serial killer might be.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Horror Films
  • Serial Killers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “tricky and bloody horror-mystery” — very loosely based on the same novel that was turned into Screaming Mimi (1958) — is “stylishly directed by Dario Argento, Italy’s specialist in this kind of material.” (Other Peary-listed titles by Argento include Deep Red [1975], Suspiria [1977], and Inferno [1980].) Peary notes that The Bird With the Crystal Plumage “has some scary moments”, but argues that “perhaps the best scene is half comical, with Musante visiting an eccentric artist whose painting is the key to the mystery”.

Peary points out that the film’s “dubbing hurts” (yes, it does), and that it “should be seen in [a] theater for full effect” — though thanks to Blu-Ray technology, that’s no longer necessary. The storyline offers plenty of atmospherically filmed sequences and twists and turns, with several possible candidates for the murderer. It’s worth a look by giallo fans, though not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Vibrant cinematography and sets


  • Several tensely filmed sequences

Must See?
No, though Sargento fans will of course want to check it out.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

White Line Fever (1975)

White Line Fever (1975)

“They all think they got the God given right to haul what they want to, when they want to!”

Synopsis:
After leaving the Air Force, a pilot (Jan-Michael Vincent) marries his sweetheart (Kay Lenz) and the couple buy a big rig — but after going to see a family friend (Slim Pickens) about work, Vincent quickly learns that the entire trucking industry is corrupt.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Corruption
  • Revenge
  • Truckers

Review:
Named for the phenomenon experienced by long-haul truckers who enter a state of “highway hypnosis” (also known as “white line fever”), this exploitation flick by writer-director Jonathan Kaplan is a disappointment on every count. After an opening musical photo montage depicting Vincent and Lenz’s happy newlywed life together — including friendship with Lenz’s older brother (Jamie Anderson) (you can tell he’s her older brother from the package below):

… Vincent and Lenz are quickly (within the first five minutes of the movie) spending money they don’t yet have to invest in a long-haul truck.

However, after going to see an old family “friend” (Slim Pickens) for work:

… Vincent is astonished — astonished! — to learn that corruption is rampant in trucking, and in order to get any jobs at all, he must be willing to transport undercover cigarette machines. Our plucky protagonist refuses even to consider this, and thus starts the remainder of his bold but tragic journey, which includes the sudden brandishing of a powerful weapon (is this considered “logical”, given his military past?):

… and an ensuing cat-and-mouse tale between The Bad White Guys in Power and righteous Vincent, helped occasionally by those “on his side” — including an older Black man (Sam Laws):

whose son disapproves of his dad being friendly with a white guy. Laws endures racist slurs hurled at him by The Bad White Guys in Power, who also happen to be sexist pigs.

Meanwhile, Lenz — who hates her factory job but doesn’t have any other training or education — glibly falsifies her resume in an attempt to get a more interesting job:

… and then we see her in a so-sad “family planning clinic” due to becoming pregnant before she and Vincent are ready to be parents. (Clearly they don’t really know the meaning of love — and the clinic doesn’t know that you can’t just cram two shorter words together to make a longer word.)

The drama continues.

(SPOILER ALERT)

After engaging in a bold top-of-truck shootout with henchmen of the Bad White Men in Power:

… Vincent is tricked into hauling a truck full of overripe avocados (worth nothing at his final destination).

He’s justifiably pissed, and the vendetta continues. Eventually he’s framed for the murder of an increasingly unsympathetic Pickens (seen here about to offer his tarty date a box of “European chocolates”):

Within the span of just a few minutes, however, Lenz (still secretly pregnant) testifies on Vincent’s behalf and saves his life.

All of this happens before Lenz gets up the courage to finally tell Vincent she’s pregnant, only to walk immediately into her bedroom and discover Laws brutally murdered on their bed.

After this, the couple is nearly burned alive in a retributive house fire:

which causes Lenz to miscarry, never able to bear children again.

(You’d be forgiven for assuming you’d dropped into a movie-length soap opera by this point. And yes, there are more details I’m not including.)

While there’s clearly a valuable story to be told about the challenges of trucking, the nobility of Standing Up to the Man, and the importance of unionizing, this isn’t it. Given that Kaplan went on to make Over the Edge (1979), Heart Like a Wheel (1983), Project X (1987), and The Accused (1988), his talents and tastes clearly evolved.

Oh, and Dick Miller appears a couple of times, presumably to reassure you that you are indeed in exploitation-film land, despite this film being made for a major studio (Columbia Pictures).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Pretty landscape footage across America

Must See?
Oh boy, no. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Over the Edge (1979)

Over the Edge (1979)

“When you’re 16, you start playing for real.”

Synopsis:
When a teenager (Michael Kramer) and his buddy (Matt Dillon) witness an acquaintance (Vincent Spano) shooting the windshield of a car driven by a vengeful cop (Harry Northup), a chain of events is set off in their boring planned community, where there is nothing for kids to do except hang out, take drugs, and engage in petty crime.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Generation Gap
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “excellent youth film” — a “social drama that’s set in Grenada, a planned community in California” (based on similar real-life occurrences that took place in Foster City) — “has a cult following”. He notes that “director Jonathan Kaplan and writers Charles Haas and Tim Hunter (the director of Tex) are in total sympathy with these teens”, whose “wasteland environment” gives them ample reason to rebel — and he points out that the “filmmakers have no pat answers for the problem of juvenile delinquency in planned communities”, but rather “want to make it clear that such a setting creates the kind of teenagers that made adults want to move away from where they had been.” He adds that the “scenes with the kids are very believable” and “the kids are an interesting lot”, but he wishes “the adults weren’t all one-dimensional” (I agree).

In Cult Movies 3, Peary discusses the film’s production and release history in greater detail, explaining that “after it received excellent reviews in such test markets as Chicago, Cincinnati, and Kansas City, it became almost impossible to see, sparking interest and word-of-mouth.” However, “since it was promoted as a horror(!) film” (see the movie poster above), Warner Brothers “shelved it”, defending “its decision with claims that no one would book a ‘gang picture’ after the heavily publicized incidents of violence at theaters showing The Warriors (1979) and Boulevard Nights (1979).” In addition, the “drug scenes” meant no network television stations were willing to air it, so “its audience would not grow until it turned up on cable more than a year later, began to play in repertory theaters, and became available on cassette.”

Peary goes on to compare Over the Edge to Rebel Without a Cause (1955), noting that while “both films deal with the same subject, Over the Edge is more disheartening, indicating that it has gotten much worse for America’s youth since 1955″. Indeed, “Kaplan’s brutally realistic film” — a “terrifying warning — with no resolution — about what is happening to American’s best resource” — “makes Rebel Without a Cause seem optimistic.” Peary further associates Over the Edge with a handful of other films that are “completely in sympathy with teenagers”, including The Blob (1958), Foxes (1980), The Outsiders (1979), and The Breakfast Club (1986).

Despite the ongoing issue of how to keep teens and pre-teens meaningfully engaged, when watching Over the Edge today one is definitely struck by how time-bound it feels: in the pre-internet era presented here, kids must gather physically somewhere in order to hang out — and as Peary writes, “they remind [one] of rats and other night creatures that come out when people are gone”, gathering “in the dark by the rec center, sitting on the ground or in little improvised hovels”. In “the party scene, their clutching bodies fill up the halls, the basement stairwell, and the basement of a house whose adult owners are away (it’s like an underground tunnel system inhabited by rodents)” — and “they run out of the house en masse as the cops arrive, as rats or roaches would do if the lights went on; they vandalize the school and like scavengers destroy and steal from the cars in the parking lot.” Indeed, while this film may be sympathetic to its teenage protagonists, it’s hard to actually like these characters, who are so damaged by their (privileged but insufficient) upbringing that violence and drugs seem to them to be their only option. Director Kaplan has stated, “I happen to believe these kids are potentially dangerous. A good demagogue comes along and he’s got his troops. And that scares the shit out of me.” Kaplan’s right to take this stance: these kids are dangerous, and one despairs for humanity when watching his depressing film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the natural young cast
  • Effective cinematography

  • The eerie civic building set

Must See?
Yes, once, for its former cult status.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

Links:

Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The (1974)

Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The (1974)

“Everything means something, I guess.”

Synopsis:
While on a trip to visit their grandfather’s grave, a young woman (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair-bound brother (Paul A. Partain) — along with three friends (Allen Danziger, William Vail, and Teri McMinn) — encounter an unsettling hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), then the rest of his family of psychopathic cannibals: Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), the Old Man (Jim Siedow), and “Grandpa” (John Dugan).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cannibalism
  • Horror
  • Living Nightmare
  • Psychopaths

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “ferocious, independently made cult horror film by Tobe Hooper” — which led “to his Poltergeist assignment in Hollywood” — is “well-made but unpleasant”, filled with “quirky humor, bizarre characters…, and terrifying, brutally violent sequences.” He points out that “in the weird cannibalism subgenre,” it is “the most striking example of a picture that emphasizes the slaughter of human beings for ‘meat’ rather than for outright feast.” His suggestion that it might have been “made by vegetarians and animal lovers who wanted to make viewers identify with poor animals in a slaughterhouse that have their heads crushed by sledgehammers…, are hung on meat hooks…, are put in freezers…, [and] are sliced up into little chunks by chain saws in preparation for human consumption” seems right on the mark. Peary points out that the “film duplicated the nightmarish effect of Herschell Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs“, and notes that while “Hooper claimed Hitchcock influenced him greatly”, their “styles are dissimilar except for their shared ability to get viewers to imagine there is more blood on the screen than is actually shown.” Finally, Peary notes that while “Hitchcock builds suspense“, “Hooper prefers having one shock after another to achieve terror” — and while “Hitchcock reminds us we’re watching a movie, Hooper strives for reality.”

In his Cult Movies book, Peary goes into further detail about the legacy of Texas Chainsaw — including the fact that during its sneak preview in San Francisco, some unsuspecting moviegoers “threw up; others stormed the lobby to protest what they (and their children) were being subjected to”; and “when no money was refunded, punches were thrown” and “two city officials in attendance that night threatened to sue the theater on behalf of themselves and other irate viewers.” Thus, Peary writes, “began the bizarre history of the seventies’ most controversial cult horror film.” He adds that the film “kept doing great business wherever it played”, and “as its cult grew, so did its reputation for quality.” He notes that “the main differences between Chain Saw and both Psycho and Deranged” — also loosely based on the real-life exploits of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein — is that “its villains are completely unsympathetic”. Ultimately, this film “perfectly reproduces our worst nightmares — being in a strange locale where we are attacked for no reason at all by homicidal maniacs we have never seen before”; and while it’s most definitely not for everyone’s tastes (certainly not for mine), it should be seen once simply for its place in cinematic horror history.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Effective cinematography and direction

  • Memorable sets

Must See?
Yes, but only once, for its infamy and cult status.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

FilmFanatic.org Year-End Reflection 2020

FilmFanatic.org Year-End Reflection 2020

FilmFanatic.org has been going strong for over 14 years!

It’s remarkable how access to older movies has shifted in recent years, from the days when I could only find obscure titles at a local corner video store to an era when restored copies are available to stream online. (Not everything, of course — but plenty!)

In addition to switching over to a new WordPress theme this year, I’ve been spending many hours cleaning up older reviews, removing or replacing outdated links, and adding new — bigger, clearer — stills, including incorporating images directly into the review narratives themselves.

I’ve also (hopefully) made it easier to find Peary’s recommended movies according to actors (A-J, K-Z), directors, countries-of-origin, genres, and more. It’s not perfect, but it feels like I’m getting closer to the more streamlined and organized site I’ve imagined all along.

For those interested in stats, here are the latest numbers on how many of Peary’s Guide for the Film Fanatic films have been covered on this site so far:

  • 1,118 reviews of titles in the front section of Peary’s book
  • 1,706 reviews of titles from the back section of Peary’s book
  • 41 additional reviews of titles considered “missing” from Peary’s book

That’s a total of 2,842 out of 4,300 Peary-listed titles covered, which is 65.67%.

There is still no rhyme or reason to how or why I choose to cover certain titles, other than occasionally feeling motivated to work my way through all recommended movies with a certain actor, by a certain director, on a certain topic, etc. For instance, I finally finished (re)watching and reviewing all the James Bond movies listed in Peary’s GFTFF. (Go here and search for “James Bond Films” and you’ll see them listed and hyper-linked.) And I watched NEARLY all the Tarzan flicks Peary recommends (just one more left).

My goals for FilmFanatic.org in this next year include the following:

  • Keep plugging away at reviews (of course!) and get closer to the finish line. (This is a marathon, not a sprint — and an enjoyable one at that!)
  • Make more real-life connections with my fellow bloggers at CMBA (the Classic Movie Blog Association).
  • Continue to think about how to introduce newer, younger film fanatics to the wealth of amazing classic and cult movies out there, both must-sees and personal favorites. What’s the best format for this???
  • Dream about maybe (maybe) trying out some video reviews to post on YouTube.

Meanwhile, here are some highlights of favorite movies I’ve watched and reviewed in 2020:

  • To get your Pre-Code fix, check out the fabulous Edward G. in The Little Giant (1933), which “builds to an enormously satisfying conclusion”.
  • For an unexpected treat on New Year’s, watch Angels Over Broadway (1940), a “compact, humanistic thriller about a quartet of down-and-out individuals finding each other one evening and conspiring to pull a fast one on fate”.
  • James Mason is one of my favorite actors; this year I watched him in Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947), which I found “consistently engaging, innovative, and touching”, and in the tense spy flick Five Fingers (1952) (one of the few Hollywood films Mason purportedly enjoyed watching himself in).
  • If you’re curious to see Humphrey Bogart in his only horror film role, check out The Return of Doctor X (1939) — an “atmospherically shot B-flick” which offers “a pseudo-comedic mad-doctor amateur-sleuth genre-mash”.
  • Robert Montgomery is “enigmatic and charming” in Night Must Fall (1937), a “unique and well-acted thriller” which it’s best to watch cold (no spoilers here).
  • Seven Days to Noon (1950), about a distressed British scientist who takes lethal matters into his own hands, was an unexpected treat to stumble upon. As I write in my review, “From its opening moments until its almost unspeakably tension-filled finale, we’re held on the edge of our seats during this film.”
  • Though I’m not a huge fan of biopics, I was pleasantly surprised to revisit Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in Madame Curie (1943), finding it “both atmospheric and highly engaging”. It remains “a meticulously told tale of scientific inquiry, rigor, and suspense”.
  • Peter Brook’s adaptation of William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies (1963) is creepy and oh-so unique. It’s tough viewing, but cult-worthy cinema.
  • The Wicker Man (1973), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), and Being There (1979) all remain justifiable cult favorites from the 1970s — very much worth a revisit if you haven’t seen them in awhile.
  • While helping my son with a project-based assignment on the sinking of the Titanic, I watched Roy Ward Baker’s excellent A Night to Remember (1958) and was duly impressed. It’s “notable for its fidelity to historical detail, and for portraying this well-known tragedy in an effectively gripping fashion.”
  • Budd Boetticher’s The Tall T (1957), starring Randolph Scott, is a winner: “At just 78 minutes, this nifty western moves swiftly and tells a taut, tense tale from beginning to end.”
  • Perhaps you’ll agree with me that there are few better ways to spend your film-viewing hours than watching gorgeous Montgomery Clift on-screen. I revisited several of his titles this year — including Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953) (flawed) and From Here to Eternity (1954) (solid) — but my recommendations are two of his earliest titles: The Search (1948) and Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948).
  • Jules Dassin’s Thieves Highway (1949) — co-starring Richard Conte and Lee J. Cobb — offers “an elaborate revenge flick within a landscape of omni-present corruption and hustling.” You’ll never casually eat an apple again without thinking of this film.
  • A nearly perfect cult classic to revisit at any time is Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). You won’t be sorry!
  • To get your Elvis fix, definitely check out the engaging documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970), with lovely cinematography by Lucien Ballard. Elvis is at his peak here.
  • Finally, the perfect COVID-era flicks this year have included Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s Poe-inspired The Masque of the Red Death (1964) (“Famine, pestilence, war, disease, and death — they rule this world!”) and Ingmar Bergman’s timeless classic The Seventh Seal (1957).

Happy 2021 to everyone!
-FilmFanatic (Sylvia)

Truck Stop Women (1974)

Truck Stop Women (1974)

“Your old friend Anna, she ain’t tanglin’ with no eastern Mafia!”

Synopsis:
A woman (Lieux Dressler) running a truck stop brothel and hijacking ring is dismayed to learn that her beloved daughter (Claudia Jennings) is collaborating with a mafia gangster (John Martino) who wants to take over her racket.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Gangsters
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos
  • Strong Females
  • Truckers

Review:
Playmate-turned-actress Claudia Jennings starred in this unusual exploitation film featuring truckers, prostitutes, the mafia, cattle, and plenty of violence.


Unfortunately, all the characters are unlikable, so there’s no one here to sympathize with — and the plot is mostly incomprehensible, other than understanding this is a stand-off between feisty Mama Anna (Dressler):

and the mafia (grinning Martino is a true sociopath who’s shown killing in cold blood with a grin on his face in the opening scene).

There is some tension over whether Jennings will see the error of her ways and return to loyalty with her mother:

but otherwise this flick is simply an excuse to show off plenty of t&a and aggressive trucking. Watch for a truly bizarre musical interlude sung from the perspective of the trucks themselves, arguing that there would be no such thing as trucking without them (no kidding!).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lieux Dressler as Anna
  • The surreal musical interlude “There’d Be No Truck Drivers If It Wasn’t For Us Trucks”

Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious.

Links:

Big T.N.T. Show, The (1966)

Big T.N.T. Show, The (1966)

“This could be the night — the night I’ve waited for.”

Synopsis:
David McCallum conducts and introduces various rock and folk musicians from the 1960s — including Ray Charles, Petula Clark, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Bo Diddley, Joan Baez, The Ronettes, The Byrds, Donovan, and Ike and Tina Turner — as they perform for an enthusiastic audience in Los Angeles.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Concert Films
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Review:
This follow-up to The T.A.M.I. Show (1964) — distributed by AIP — was yet another attempt to chronicle and cash in on popular music acts of the day. As such, it’s essentially more of the same but different performers — and, as with The T.A.M.I. Show, some acts will appeal to individual viewers more than others. It’s always wonderful to see Ray Charles, for instance — and Joan Baez sings a lovely cover of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, while The Byrds perform “Turn! Turn! Turn! To Everything There is a Season” (never not a timely reminder). I wasn’t familiar with Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan, so it was interesting to hear a few of his ballads. However, this isn’t must-see viewing as a cinematic outing — only for fans of this particular musical era.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many enjoyable musical numbers





Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for fans of this era of music.

Links:

Cannonball! (1976)

Cannonball! (1976)

“I knew you couldn’t pass up this damn race.”

Synopsis:
An ex-con named Cannonball (John Carradine) — whose unscrupulous brother (Dick Miller) has placed a huge bet on him with a menacing bookie (Paul Bartel) — is accompanied by his girlfriend (Veronica Hamel) on an underground cross-country race, competing against his best friend Zippo (Archie Hahn), a van of three gutsy waitresses (Mary Woronov, Glynn Rubin, and Diane Lee Hart), a Black man (Stanley Bennett Clay) driving a car on behalf of a middle-aged white couple, an arrogant German (James Keach), a duplicitous man (Terry McMillan) traveling with his mistress (Louisa Moritz), a sweet young couple (Robert Carradine and Belinda Balaski), and Cannonball’s arch-rival (Bill McKinney), who is riding along with an annoying country-western star (Gerrit Graham) and his hovering mother (Judy Canova).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Car Racing
  • Comedy
  • David Carradine Films
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Rivalry

Review:
Paul Bartel directed this precursor to star-filled Cannonball Run (1981), both based on an actual unsanctioned cross-country race still in existence. It’s well made and colorfully filmed, with plenty (plenty) of chases, pile-ups, fights, and fiery crashes to enjoy (if that’s your thing), as well as some some get-back-at-the-cops action. For better or for worse, there’s a pretty clear line drawn in this film between the good guys, the bad and/or troubled folks, and the in-between guys (and gals) — and it’s fairly satisfying seeing the outcomes fall neatly in line, especially for the most sympathetic protagonists, who “do the right thing” time and again.

For a fun overview of many of the cars in this film, click here [archived web page].

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A well-crafted car racing adventure

Must See?
No, though of course it’s recommended if you enjoy this type of fare.

Links:

Barefoot Contessa, The (1954)

Barefoot Contessa, The (1954)

“Life every now and then behaves as if it has seen too many bad movies.”

Synopsis:
While at her funeral in Italy, a movie director (Humphrey Bogart), a press agent (Edmond O’Brien), and a count (Rossano Brazi) recall the mysterious life and motivations of a beautiful Spanish woman (Ava Gardner) who became an internationally beloved superstar.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Actors and Actresses
  • Aspiring Stars
  • Ava Gardner Films
  • Edmond O’Brien Films
  • Flashback Films
  • Hollywood
  • Humphrey Bogart Films
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz Films

Review:
Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote and directed this beautifully photographed (by Jack Cardiff) but narratively stilted homage to a gorgeous movie star with inscrutable tastes and motivations.

Gardner — who struggles to maintain a semblance of a Spanish accent — is a woman who easily resists the lure of money and fame, as presented in the opening sequence by a caddish first-time producer (Warren Stevens) who wrongly assumes Gardner will accept his offer to become Hollywood’s next great discovery:

Instead, Gardner is drawn to the honest friendship of Bogart (whose voiceover perspective opens the film), a jaded but happily married director who is willing to mentor Gardner and help her learn to act.

Edmond O’Brien won an Oscar for his brief work as an enthusiastic promoter:

but his role is minimal, despite taking on voiceover duties for awhile in the middle of the flashback-filled screenplay.

Finally, Gardner’s widowed husband (Brazi) tells his perspective as the first man Gardner falls for and is willing to marry, not knowing he holds dark secrets that will doom her to unhappiness yet again. During this portion of the episodic film, Valentina Cortese — so effective in Jules Dassin’s Thieves Highway (1949) — plays a thankless, underwritten role as Brazi’s concerned sister.

Since we know from the get-go how this tragic tale ends, there’s ultimately little to do but enjoy Jack Cardiff’s predictably beautiful cinematography.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gorgeous cinematography


Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re a diehard Gardner fan.

Links:

  • IMDb entry
  • TCM Article
  • Spinning Image Review
  • NY Times Original Review
  • CineSavant Review