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Month: July 2007

Hold Back Tomorrow (1955)

Hold Back Tomorrow (1955)

“He wants to have some fun. Music, dancing — y’know. To kill time.”

Hold Back Tomorrow Poster

Synopsis:
As his final request, a death-row prisoner named Joe (John Agar) asks for a girl to be sent to his cell. When a suicidal prostitute named Dora (Cleo Moore) shows up, Joe is at first disappointed — but soon the two misfits realize they have more in common than they thought, and a last-minute romance ensues.

Genres:

Review:
In this character-driven romance, director Hugo Haas tells a simple, occasionally derivative, but ultimately touching story of two lonely souls finding love at the brink of death. Moore (who starred in no less than seven of Haas’s films) gives one of her best performances as Dora, a woman so weary of life she barely reacts to the worst insults; Agar is much less impressive, but serves as a suitable foil for Moore — the true protagonist of the film. Haas’s dialogue occasionally descends into outright camp, as in the following melodramatic exchange later in the film:

Joe: “Shut up, you crazy dame! What are you trying to do?”
Dora: “I’m trying to help you — help you, you fool!”

but more often is simple and quiet, befitting the film’s low budget and lack of special effects. While no masterpiece, Hold Back Tomorrow fits squarely within the realm of Haas’s unusual B-level oeuvre.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Cleo Moore as Dora
    Moore
  • An effective tale of romance between two misfits
    Couple

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for fans of Hugo Haas’s work.

Links:

Cat Women of the Moon (1953)

Cat Women of the Moon (1953)

“Four of us will be enough. We will get their women under our power, and soon we will rule the whole world!”

Cat Women Poster

Synopsis:
Five astronauts (Sonny Tufts, Victor Jory, Marie Windsor, William Phipps, and Douglas Fowley) on a trip to the moon discover a colony of man-hating “cat women” with psychic powers.

Genres:

Review:
Cat Women of the Moon is often cited as one of the definitive “bad movies” of the 1950s — and for good reason. First, its classification as “sci-fi” is highly suspect, since, as noted in the AlanSmithee.com review [nb as of 12/08: now sadly defunct] , “Science has about as much to do with [the film] as leopards have to do with double-entry accounting.” The dialogue is either laughable (“We have no use for men!”) or offensive (“You’re too smart for me, baby — I like ’em stupid!”), and the acting — even by B-favorite Marie Windsor — is over-the-top. Plus, in true “bad movie” fashion, the title is misleading: the only association these female aliens have with cats is their skin-tight black suits. As in the later camp classic Queen of Outer Space (1958), Cat Women is ripe for feminist analysis, with male-hating female aliens eventually either shown the folly of their ways (one falls in love) or destroyed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hopelessly campy performances by everyone involved
    Camp

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a campy cult classic.

Categories

Links:

First Time, The (1983)

First Time, The (1983)

“While others get laid, Charles, you will make love!”

Synopsis:
An aspiring virginal filmmaker (Tim Choate) lusts after a beautiful young co-ed (Krista Errickson) who wants nothing to do with him.

Genres:

Review:
Charlie Loventhal’s semi-autobiographical debut film received promising reviews from the New York Times upon its release — but it’s truly difficult to understand why. This archetypal tale of a young virgin hoping to gain some experience has been told countless times, and there’s nothing particularly new or original here; in fact, within the first fifteen minutes, we can already tell which pretty-but-not-popular girl the protagonist will end up with, and which pretty-but-selfish girl he’ll woo without luck — only to eventually realize she wasn’t worth the effort to begin with (who knew?). Charlie’s romantic travails (yes, he even has the same name as the director) are counterbalanced by a running subplot concerning his obnoxious film professor (played by Wallace Shawn, annoyingly typecast), and his classmates’ slavish slathering over the pretentious “art” films Shawn has produced. Naturally, our lovable protagonist is the sole budding filmmaker in the bunch who believes that films are meant to be — gasp! — entertaining; it’s too bad that the drivel he churns out really isn’t.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Wendie Jo Sperber as a sexually aggressive co-ed determined to bed Charlie

Must See?
No. While this film is inexplicably listed in the back of Peary’s book as a Personal Recommendation and a Sleeper, it’s definitely not worth seeking out.

Links:

Soup for One (1982)

Soup for One (1982)

“Soup for one… It’s the story of my life.”

Synopsis:
A single New Yorker (Saul Rubinek) hoping to meet Ms. Right falls in love at first sight with his “ideal woman” (Marcia Strassman) — then must convince her to marry him.

Genres:

Review:
After his successful role in Ticket to Heaven (1981), Saul Rubinek starred in this comedic film about the trials and tribulations of the dating scene. Unfortunately, Soup for One doesn’t offer much that’s new or original; while it’s clearly influenced by films like Annie Hall (complete with its New York setting and neurotic Jewish protagonist), it lacks both the insight and the close-hitting humor of Woody Allen’s brilliant early work. By the cliched final scenes, we’ve given up hoping for anything resembling real life or real emotions. Perhaps most egregiously, however, we’re once again presented with a beautiful female romantic lead (Strassman — a Margot Kidder lookalike) who has no reason on earth to be interested in the nebbishy male who is stalking her, yet somehow — through movie magic, one supposes — gives him a chance simply because he won’t give up. This is sending the WRONG message to obnoxiously persistent men everywhere.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A few mildly amusing moments — as when Strassman drops her glass slipper (er, diaphragm) while running away from Rubinek

Must See?
No. While it offers a few chuckles, this romantic comedy is ultimately a disappointment.

Links:

Sugarbaby (1985)

Sugarbaby (1985)

“I spied on you, I tracked you down — and then I nailed you!”

Synopsis:
A lonely, overweight mortuary employee (Marianne Sagebrecht) falls obsessively in love with a handsome young subway driver (Eisi Gulp), and plots to ensnare him romantically.

Genres:

Review:
Two years before his breakthrough film — Bagdad Cafe (1987) — writer/director Percy Adlon made this quirky comedy about an unlikely romantic couple. To his credit, Adlon’s screenplay goes in unexpected directions, with Sagebrecht’s somewhat creepy stalking of Gulp resulting in joy rather than heartache; unfortunately, however, once Gulp has been successfully seduced, not enough happens until the final 5 minutes or so, when the movie ends on a frustratingly unresolved note. Also distracting is cinematographer Johanna Heer’s excessive use of color tinting, with most scenes literally saturated in hues of pink or blue. Although Sugarbaby appears to have been well-received by most critics (see review links below), I was disappointed. Remade in 1989 as a T.V. movie with Ricki Lake, called Babycakes.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marianne Sagebrecht’s bold performance as Marianne
    Marianne
  • Eisi Gulp as Huber
    Eisi
  • Good use of an eclectic, synthesized soundtrack

Must See?
No, but fans of Adlon’s Bagdad Cafe will likely want to track this one down.

Links:

Beau James: The Life and Times of Jimmy Walker (1957)

Beau James: The Life and Times of Jimmy Walker (1957)

“There’s his one true love — the cockeyed city of New York!”

Beau James Poster

Synopsis:
New York’s flamboyant, song-writing mayor, Jimmy Walker (Bob Hope), has an open affair with a showgirl (Vera Miles) while dealing with charges of political corruption.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this biopic of New York’s “dapper mayor” (who served in office from 1925 to 1936, until his resignation) is “brave in not overlooking Walker’s loveless marriage and infidelity or the corruption in his administration” — yet it ultimately doesn’t do justice to either issue. In one of his few non-comedic roles, Bob Hope looks “ill at ease” playing it straight, and is, as Peary notes, too “laid back”. Alexis Smith does a fine job playing Walker’s wife-in-name-only (as in Night and Day, she’s once again cast as the ice-blonde “trophy wife” of a famous man), but her character isn’t on-screen enough for us to learn anything significant about her. Similarly, Vera Miles is stunning and winsome as Walker’s mistress, but adds up to little more than a cliche. While movie audiences in 1957 may have been curious to learn more (however fictionalized) about the infamous “Beau James”, most viewers today won’t have the faintest clue what all the fuss was about.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Alexis Smith as Walker’s long-suffering wife

Must See?
No. This one is only must-see for Bob Hope fans.

Links:

Three in the Attic (1968)

Three in the Attic (1968)

“You’ve heard of the sexual revolution… Well, I’m probably one of its first casualties.”

Synopsis:
A womanizing college boy (Christopher Jones) is imprisoned as a sex slave by his girlfriend (Yvette Mimieux) and two other girls he’s been secretly dating (Judy Pace and Maggie Thrett).

Genres:

Review:
Shortly after the release of Wild in the Streets, Christopher Jones starred in another AIP social satire, this one about three college girls who take an unusual form of sexual revenge on their cheating lover. Unfortunately, the idea of kidnapping a man and forcing him to have sex until his strength is literally sapped sounds amusing on paper, but is too far-fetched to believe; Jones never once tries to escape from his flimsy attic-prison, and far too many other logistical details are glossed over. The story is much more interesting during the first hour, when we watch a nicely told, if somewhat conventional, tale of a Casanova trying to juggle three women without any of them finding out.

Fortunately, the lead actors are all appealing, and make the film — despite its flaws — easy to watch: Jones acquits himself admirably as a nice-guy Alfie; Yvette Mimieux gets to do more than simply look sexy (though she does that, too); Judy Pace is a welcome spitfire; and Maggie Thrett is appropriately wacky as a hippie Jewish girl who loves to paint flowers on skin.

P.S. Don’t miss the creative closing credits…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Christopher Jones as Paxton Quigley
    Jones
  • Yvette Mimieux as Tobey
    Tobey
  • Judy Pace as Eulice
    Pace
  • An odd scene in which Paxton stumbles upon Eulice teaching Standard English to a classroom of children
    Teaching

Must See?
No, but film fanatics will likely be curious to check it out. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Swamp Women (1955)

Swamp Women (1955)

“This stinkin’ swamp water stinks!”

Synopsis:
An undercover policewoman (Carole Mathews) joins a gang of female cons — Vera (Beverly Garland), Josie (Marie Windsor), and Billie (Jil Jarmyn) — as they search the Louisiana bayou for stolen diamonds.

Genres:

Review:
Roger Corman’s first directorial effort features many of his worst signature elements: interminable stock footage filler, brawling females, and an illogical, meandering script. Even at 67 minutes, it goes on for far too long, and fails to hold interest. One of its few mildly redeeming qualities is statuesque Marie Windsor, who is always fun to watch. On the other hand, as noted by Scott Ashlin (see the “1000 Misspent Hours Review” link below), it’s likely that Swamp Women was “a big hit with San Francisco’s lesbian underground at the time of its release”, due to the fact that “the women of the title divide neatly into a femme pair… and a butch pair” — with the ostensible male lead (Touch Connors) eventually fading into the background.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marie Windsor — pre-Kubrick’s The Killing — as Josie
    Windsor
  • The women conveniently changing their prison-issue jeans into sexy short-shorts
    Shorts
  • The artistic, though completely unrelated, opening titles
    Opening titles

Must See?
No, though film fanatics may be curious to see Corman’s first directorial effort.

Links:

Terror of Tiny Town, The (1938)

Terror of Tiny Town, The (1938)

“Here comes Buck Lawson — hit leather!”

Synopsis:
The son (Billy Curtis) of a rancher (John T. Bambury) falls in love with the niece (Yvonne Moray) of his father’s enemy, “Uncle Jim” (Billy Platt). When Jim is shot, Buck (Curtis) is the suspect — but the real killer (‘Little Billy’ Rhodes) is on the loose.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this infamous, decidedly un-p.c. “novelty film” draws upon “every ‘B’ western convention and cliche around”. I disagree with Peary, however, that it’s “no worse than a lot of ‘B’ westerns of the period”: actually, it is, simply because the majority of the all-dwarf cast — who appear to be in the movie because of their size, not for any other reason — are irredeemably bad actors. Yvonne Moray as the central love interest is particularly awful; at a certain point, when she hears that Buck is in trouble, she literally pauses for a second or two before meekly stating (without emotion), “Buck! Oh, Buck!” The sole humor comes from the novelty of the film’s concept, which is mildly amusing at first (yes, it’s funny to see cowboys riding ponies instead of horses, and walking right under saloon doors), but quickly wears thin. On the other hand, this is a movie no hardcore film fanatic can go without sitting through at least once, simply due to its notoriety.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A few mildly amusing puns
    Puns
  • Groaningly bad acting and dialogue
    Acting
  • A bizarre scene in which a giggling bartender drowns himself in beer
    Beer

Must See?
Yes, simply for its cult status.

Categories

Links:

Crimes of the Heart (1986)

Crimes of the Heart (1986)

“I didn’t like his stinkin’ looks.”

Crimes of the Heart Poster

Synopsis:
Three grown sisters — Meg (Jessica Lange), Lenny (Diane Keaton), and Babe (Sissy Spacek) — reunite in their Southern childhood home when Babe is accused of shooting her husband (Beeson Carroll).

Genres:

Review:
Crimes of the Heart — directed by Bruce Beresford and starring a triumvirate of Oscar-winning actresses — is, unfortunately, a disappointment. Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley adapted her monologue-saturated, flashback-heavy play for the screen, but her attempts to open up the stage-bound settings do little to mask the fact that her characters are basically talking at each other the entire time. And Henley’s unique strain of Southern gothic humor — Spacek’s overt lack of guilt for shooting her husband; Keaton’s “shrunken ovary”; their mother’s odd “double suicide” — ultimately doesn’t work within the context of a realistic film.

With that said, both Spacek and Lange give wonderful performances as damaged sisters coping in their own dysfunctional ways. Keaton, unfortunately, fares much worse, coming across — as noted by Paul Attanasio of the Washington Post — as “a parody of herself, all nervous gestures, daffy glances and Annie Hall tics.” Sam Shepard and Tess Harper (the latter nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) are fine in minor roles, but don’t have enough screentime to make much of an impression. And, in the end, no amount of worthy acting can redeem what is essentially a flawed film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sissy Spacek as Babe
    Spacek
  • Jessica Lange as Meg
    Lange
  • The hilarious moment when we first discover the notorious truth behind the girls’ mother’s suicide
    Cat

Must See?
No. Despite its Oscar-nominated performances, this isn’t must-see viewing.

Links: