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Month: February 2010

Mad Dog Coll (1961)

Mad Dog Coll (1961)

“Whoever shot and murdered these little kids is a human animal — he’s worse than an animal, he’s a beast; he’s a mad dog!”

Mad Dog Coll

Synopsis:
Psychopathic gangster Mad Dog Coll (John Chandler) vies for dominance over rival Dutch Schultz (Vincent Gardenia) while romancing an exotic dancer (Kay Doubleday).

Genres:

Review:
After the success of Murder, Inc. (1960) (which he co-directed with Stuart Rosenberg), Burt Balaban helmed this similarly themed Depression-era biopic about sociopathic mobster “Mad Dog” Coll (Chandler), who was infamously gunned down in a Manhattan phone booth in 1932. The film provides cursory glimpses into Coll’s troubled childhood, but mostly focuses on his quick rise to fame and rapid descent into death (he was killed at the age of 23). The storyline — primarily focusing on Coll’s rivalry with Dutch Schultz, and his wooing of an exotic dancer — isn’t all that distinctive; and while Chandler is effective at portraying Coll’s sociopathic tendencies, he doesn’t offer much depth or insight into the character. What’s most notable are the fine supporting performances throughout, including Jerry Orbach as Coll’s loyal but increasingly ambivalent childhood friend, Vincent Gardenia as Coll’s arch-enemy Schultz, Telly Savalas (in his feature film debut) as a police lieutenant, and Kay Doubleday as Coll’s girlfriend (whose love of the finer things in life blinds her to Coll’s violent tendencies).

P.S. DVD Savant notes in his review of Murder, Inc. that this hard-to-find film is a cult favorite, though it’s not listed as such in Peary’s book.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Creative opening credits
    Mad Dog Credits
  • Kay Doubleday as Coll’s girlfriend, Clio
    Mad Dog Doubleday
  • Fine supporting performances
    Mad Dog Orbach
    Mad Dog Supporting

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look if you happen to catch it.

Links:

Murder, Inc. (1960)

Murder, Inc. (1960)

“Any guy that we hit, he asked to be hit.”

Murder Inc Poster

Synopsis:
A singer (Stuart Whitman) and his wife (May Britt) find themselves terrorized by a hitman (Peter Falk) working for an infamous New York City crime syndicate.

Genres:

Review:
Based on the real-life crime syndicate dubbed “Murder, Inc.” by the press, this historical “expose” is primarily notable as a breakthrough film for Peter Falk, who completely steals the show as notorious hitman-turned-stool-pigeon Abe Reles. Whenever Falk is in the picture (which is most of the first half of the movie), the story hums along, as we watch in trepidation to see what will happen next to his unwitting victims — the perennially frightened Stuart Whitman and his foolishly outspoken wife (Britt). Unfortunately, the second half of the movie — in which police diligently work to topple the syndicate, and crime boss “Lepke” Buchalter (David J. Stewart) makes a fatal mistake — moves slowly, ultimately feeling more didactic than thrilling. Yet the film remains worth a look at least once, simply for its fine performances throughout (especially by Falk).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Falk as Abe Reles
    Murder Inc Falk
  • Fine supporting performances
    Murder Inc Supporting

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely worth a look simply for Falk’s standout, Oscar-nominated performance.

Links:

Time After Time (1979)

Time After Time (1979)

“What have I done? I’ve loosed that bloody maniac upon Utopia!”

Time After Time Poster

Synopsis:
To escape the police, Jack the Ripper (David Warner) steals a time travel machine designed by H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) and travels to 1970s San Francisco; Wells pursues him, and finds himself falling in love with a sweet bank teller (Mary Steenburgen) whose life is soon put in danger.

Genres:

  • David Warner Films
  • Fugitives
  • Inventors
  • Jack the Ripper
  • Malcolm McDowell Films
  • Mary Steenburgen Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Serial Killers
  • Time Travel

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “entertaining, extremely clever thriller” is witty, features “terrific suspense”, and contains “three outstanding lead performances”. Warner is particularly “memorable as the vicious, intelligent” Jack the Ripper, who finds himself completely at home in a “modern” world full of violence and sexual freedom; he’s a slick, womanizing, articulate psychopath who knows exactly how to get what he wants. Meanwhile, McDowell and Steenburgen are “completely charm[ing]” as a couple (both on-screen and in real-life), with McDowell especially noteworthy as the bespectacled Wells, who manages to cope quite admirably with the “loose” society he suddenly finds himself thrown into. Yet one shouldn’t think too closely about the logistics of Wells traveling to the future, then coming back to write the remainder of his famous corpus of books, since the film’s historical veracity starts to break down at around this point… Instead, Time After Time should be watched simply for its suspense, thrills, and clever conceit.

Note: Director Nicholas Meyer would return to the concept of time travel for his contribution to the “Star Trek” film enterprise, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Malcolm McDowell as Wells
    Time After Time Wells
  • David Warner as Jack the Ripper
    Time After Time Warner
  • Mary Steenburgen as Amy
    Time After Time Steenburgen

Must See?
Yes, as a clever and enjoyable sci-fi flick.

Categories

Links:

Skippy (1931)

Skippy (1931)

“Gee, it’s elegant over here: alleys and dumps and goats and wood…”

Skippy Poster

Synopsis:
The son (Jackie Cooper) of a doctor (Willard Robertson) helps his new friend Sooky (Robert Coogan) earn enough money to release his pet dog from the pound.

Genres:

Review:
Based on the enormously popular comic strip by Percy Crosby, this amiable, surprisingly wistful tale of cross-class friendship feels at times like an extended episode of T.V.’s “The Little Rascals” — complete with self-possessed youngsters “putting on a show” to earn money — but ultimately provides more of an emotional punch. Jackie Cooper is excellent as the mischievous, devious, but kind-hearted Skippy, showing clear evidence of his child star talents. Robert Coogan is less of a natural actor (he’s clearly reading his lines and aware of the camera) but nonetheless manages to radiate just the right energy as drawling Sooky, the kid from the “wrong side of the tracks”. In Skippy and Sooky’s world, life most certainly isn’t “fair”, and kids must work hard to overcome the countless obstacles placed in their way by adults — such as when Sooky’s beloved dog Penny is cruelly hauled away by a mean-spirited dog-catcher, and the boys are told they have just three days to earn enough money to prevent her from being killed. The film’s denouement (given away by nearly every review — be forewarned) is surprisingly disturbing, adding unexpected pathos to the story as a whole.

Note: Norman Taurog won an Oscar as Best Director of the year, Cooper was nominated as Best Actor of the year, and the screenplay (by Joseph Mankiewicz and Sam Mintz) was nominated as best Adaptation.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jackie Cooper as Skippy
    Skippy Cooper

Must See?
Yes, as an Oscar-winning tale of childhood friendship.

Categories

Links:

Mad Ghoul, The (1943)

Mad Ghoul, The (1943)

“What am I? Alive or dead? Man or beast? What have you done to me?”

Mad Ghoul Poster

Synopsis:
A mad doctor (George Zucco) turns his student (David Bruce) into a zombie, forcing him to excavate hearts from fresh corpses to fuel his own temporary antidote.

Genres:

Review:
This above-average B-level Universal horror flick is sure to appeal to fans of the genre. At just over an hour in length, the storyline moves quickly while offering plenty of melodrama: a mad doctor (Zucco), eager to learn whether his preliminary success using a toxic chemical to turn monkeys into zombie-like creatures will work on humans, experiments on his own naive assistant (Bruce), hoping to win Bruce’s girlfriend (Evelyn Ankers as a concert singer) for himself — only to find Ankers has fallen for her accompanist (turgid Turhan Bey), who must also be gotten rid of. Zucco is quietly effective as the calculating doctor, while Bruce — whose zombie make-up is creepy without overpowering — eventually wins our sympathy as the unwitting Jekyll-and-Hyde who loses both his humanity and his girl.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by George Zucco and David Bruce as “partners in crime”
    Mad Ghoul Zucco Bruce
  • Effectively understated zombie make-up
    Mad Ghoul Makeup

Must See?
No, but it’s worth watching, and fans of Universal horror flicks should definitely seek it out.

Links:

Pleasure Garden (1925)

Pleasure Garden (1925)

“That girl knows exactly what she’s doing — and she likes it.”

Pleasure Garden poster

Synopsis:
An aspiring dancer (Carmelita Geraghty) befriends a kind chorus girl (Patsy Brand) who falls for the duplicitous friend (Miles Mander) of Geraghty’s upstanding fiance (John Stuart); meanwhile, the socially climbing Geraghty leaves Stuart behind for a chance to marry a prince (Karl Falkenberg).

Genres:

Review:
Hitchcock’s first feature film as a director — made after years of working as a title designer, set designer, writer, and assistant director — is a rather standard romantic melodrama distinguished only by the occasional evidence it provides of Hitch’s incipient creative genius. The storyline (based on a novel by Oliver Sandys) is frustratingly disparate: at first we believe we’re watching a movie about an ingenue (Geraghty) struggling to gain a foothold in the entertainment business, only to quickly realize that Geraghty is savvier and more calculating than she appears, at which point Brand inexplicably becomes the film’s primary protagonist, as we follow her romantic travails, and watch her eventual betrayal by a man she senses (well, her dog senses!) may not be as forthright as he appears. With exotic infidelity, madness, and murder thrown in for good measure, the result is basically a jam-packed 60-minute potboiler. With that said, as noted above, Pleasure Garden is primarily of interest for the glimpses it affords of Hitchcock’s early directorial sensibility at work; see the CineMonkey review for a detailed analysis of themes and motifs which foreshadow many of Hitchcock’s later films.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Incipient evidence of Hitchcock’s creative genius
    Pleasure Garden Spiral

Must See?
No; this one will really only be of interest to Hitchcock fans.

Links:

Jabberwocky (1977)

Jabberwocky (1977)

“It is the middle of the dark ages — ages darker than anyone had expected…”

Jabberwocky Poster

Synopsis:
During the Middle Ages, a cooper’s son (Michael Palin) sets forth into the city, where a monstrous Jabberwocky terrorizes the citizens, and the king (Max Wall) has offered the hand of his daughter (Deborah Fallender) in marriage to anyone who slays the beast.

Genres:

Review:
Terry Gilliam’s first post-Python directorial feature is a creatively conceived but ultimately enigmatic and muddled disappointment. Ostensibly based upon Lewis Carroll’s infamous nonsense poem “Jabberwocky”, the titular creature of fantasy — with “jaws that bite” and “claws that catch” — only makes a few cameo appearances throughout the film: s/he’s in partial view during the gruesome opening sequence and a later brief attack scene, and then shows up in disappointing full form during the climactic denouement. The rest of the movie is an almost unbearably muck-filled journey into what Gilliam clearly posits as the *real* Middle Ages, when Britain’s citizens lived a miserable life of dung and filth; only those “lucky” enough to see the world through rose-colored glasses, like Michael Palin’s clueless young cooper — who is desperately in love with the spoiled, sullen, obese daughter (Annette Badland) of a fishmonger (Warren Mitchell) — are able to make their way through the perils of daily life with enough nervy stupidity to survive, simply through dumb luck. Meanwhile, there’s precious little humor to be had throughout the movie, leaving one to wonder what the point of it all really is. Perhaps most frustrating is that Palin’s protagonist is an utterly hapless and accidental “hero”, never really demonstrating growth in either intelligence or bravery; his final fate is thus both undeserved and under-appreciated.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Impressively gloomy cinematography and sets
    Jabberwocky Cinematography
    Jabberwocky Cinematography2

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one unless you’re a diehard Terry Gilliam fan.

Links:

Bachelor Flat (1962)

Bachelor Flat (1962)

“Here, in this bachelor flat on Pacific, Professor can relax and get away from all those amorous college girls…”

Bachelor Flat Poster

Synopsis:
A British archaeology professor (Terry-Thomas) fights off amorous females while dealing with the sudden presence of a seventeen-year-old “juvenile delinquent” (Tuesday Weld) who is actually the daughter of his fiancee (Celeste Holm).

Genres:

Review:
Although it’s beloved by fans and has received reasonably positive reviews from critics (the All Movie Guide notes that it was “written and directed… with [director Frank Tashlin’s] usual grace and elegance”), it’s truly difficult to understand the appeal of this dated and tiresome ’60s comedy, starring gap-toothed British comedian Terry-Thomas, heartthrob Richard Beymer (a year after his leading role in West Side Story), and 18-year-old Tuesday Weld. Tashlin does indeed keep the film moving quickly, and shows evidence of his skill at directing broad slapstick, but the storyline itself falls completely flat: Terry-Thomas’s “irresistible” appeal to women of all ages never once rings true (not even as a gag), and Weld’s rash decision to pawn herself off as a juvenile delinquent (rather than revealing that Terry-Thomas’s absentee fiancee is her mother) feels equally forced. If you enjoy this type of mindless, colorful piffle, certainly feel free to seek it out; otherwise, film fanatics should feel no obligation at all to watch it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Francesca Bellini as Gladys Schmidlapp — just one of Terry-Thomas’s seemingly countless pursuers
    Bachelor Flat Bellini

Must See?
No; definitely feel free to skip this one.

Links: