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Month: December 2021

Taste of Honey, A (1961)

Taste of Honey, A (1961)

“We don’t ask for life; we have it thrust upon us.”

A teenager (Rita Tushingham) whose flighty single mother (Dora Bryan) leaves her on her own to marry a younger man (Robert Stephens) has a brief cross-racial romance with a black sailor (Paul Danquah), then befriends a gay young man (Murray Melvin) eager to support Tushingham through her pregnancy.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cross-Cultural Romance
  • Homosexuality
  • Play Adaptation
  • Pregnancy
  • Rita Tushingham Films
  • Single Mothers
  • Tony Richardson Films

Tony Richardson’s fourth cinematic directorial outing — after Look Back in Anger (1959), The Entertainer (1960), and Sanctuary (1961), and just before The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) — was this adaptation of a play by 18-year-old Shelagh Delaney (who co-wrote the screenplay with Richardson). Tushingham is vibrant and perfectly cast in her debut role as Jo, playing an “angry young woman” whose unique eyes pierce the screen with intensity:

We can see from the film’s opening moments what a pickle she’s in, given her mother’s penchant for evading responsibility at every turn. (Bryan is shown below leaving her residence without paying back rent, with Tushingham following.)

Indeed, Bryan is truly a sorry lot, seeking escape and a sense of purpose at a local pub where a glass-eyed lout (Stephens) takes a fancy to her:

For better or for worse, Stephens can’t stand Tushingham — which is refreshing given that it breaks with expectation (we anticipate he’ll instantly hit on his aging fiancee’s nubile daughter), but also leads to Tushingham being abandoned yet again as her mother chooses Stephens over her. It’s no wonder Tushingham finds solace in the caring arms of Danquah, who she fantasizes is a descendant of African princes:

The screenplay doesn’t make much of the inter-racial aspect of their romance other than Tushingham reassuring Danquah that her mother won’t care he’s Black (not quite true). Meanwhile, the second half of the film focuses on another “controversial” topic of the day: homosexuality.

Shortly after being introduced to Murray Melvin’s Geoffrey (the pair meet in the shoe shop where Tushingham works):

… we learn that he was kicked out of his apartment for being caught having sex with a man. (I immediately thought of another British film from that year, Victim, which addresses the same topic from a more central angle.) Tushingham’s Jo — not the most mature of young women — teases Melvin endlessly about this, wanting to know details of his sex life (“You can stay if you tell me what you do,” she bargains with him. “Go on, Geoffrey. I’ve always wanted to know about people like you.”)

Eventually they develop a workable friendship, with Melvin clearly taking solace in the fact that he’s found a purpose in his life: caring for Tushingham. (“Somebody’s got to look after you. You can’t look after yourself, that’s obvious.”) As he tells Tushingham:

“Before I knew you I didn’t care much whether I lived or died, y’know. But then I met you and, well, being with you’s me life.”

Meanwhile, Tushingham continues to struggle with her unwanted pregnancy. (“I don’t want to be a mother! I don’t want to be a woman!” she wails at Melvin when he attempts to give her a “training doll” from a local clinic.)

We grow to care for these individuals, and stay invested until the very end (which is distressing, but perhaps realistic). Adding to our engagement is ample use of authentic locales around or near Manchester, nicely filmed by DP Walter Lassaly.

This “kitchen sink drama” remains worth a look by film fanatics, as a valuable female-centric entry in the genre.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Rita Tushingham as Jo
  • Murray Melvin as Geoffrey
  • Dora Bryan as Helen
  • Robert Stephens as Peter
  • Excellent use of authentic locales
  • Walter Lassaly’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its important role in the British New Wave movement, and for Tushingham’s breakthrough performance.


  • Historically Relevant


Enter Laughing (1967)

Enter Laughing (1967)

“The only way to learn to act, is to act!”

When an aspiring actor (Reni Santoni) in 1938 NYC meets a grandiose acting school owner (Jose Ferrer) eager to take his “tuition” money in exchange for a part in a play, Ferrer’s daughter (Elaine May) convinces her father to hire Santoni for the role. Meanwhile, Santoni’s overbearing parents (Shelley Winters and David Opatoshu) — who want him to enter pharmacy school — are against his career choice, Santoni’s employer (Jack Gilford) is upset that Santoni is always late for work, and Santoni’s girlfriend (Janet Margolin) tries to be supportive but gets suspicious about May’s interest in Santoni, as well as Morris’s friendship with a gorgeous secretary (Nancy Kovack).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Actors and Actresses
  • Aspiring Stars
  • Carl Reiner Films
  • Elaine May Films
  • Janet Margolin Films
  • Jose Ferrer Films
  • Shelley Winters Films

Carl Reiner’s directorial debut was this adaptation of Joseph Stein’s 1963 play, originally featuring Alan Arkin in a Tony-winning performance. Unfortunately, Santoni doesn’t seem to be up to the task of embodying the lead role, as we quickly lose interest in him and his goals: his character is a terrible actor (and he’s meant to be), but aren’t we simultaneously supposed to be rooting for his success in his chosen field? Or should we take it as a telling sign that this would-be actor doesn’t even realize that “(Enter laughing)” refers to stage directions rather than dialogue?

Meanwhile, he’s surrounded by a cast of well-known (real life) supporting actors trying hard but unable to resurrect the production — including Jose Ferrer as the world-weary Great Actor gladly taking Santoni’s money, and Shelley Winters as a stereotypically overbearing Jewish mother:

Coming across the best — simply because she’s as wacky and unpredictable as always — is Elaine May as Ferrer’s romantically inclined daughter:

… who is primarily interested in rehearsing her love scene with Santoni as often as possible. Clearly, audiences at the time resonated with a story set back in the 1930s, when free theater in NYC was apparently a thing if you were willing to sit through a crappy production featuring actors paying for the privilege of appearing on stage (this was a different era of entertainment opportunities).

Note: There should be a category on this review site called “Overbearing Parents”, since that’s really the dominant theme in this movie; consider it an honorary one designated as of now.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Elaine May as Angela Marlowe

Must See?
No. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


Our Man in Havana (1959)

Our Man in Havana (1959)

“Everything’s legal in Havana.”

A vacuum cleaner salesman (Alec Guinness) in pre-Revolutionary Havana is conscripted by a member (Noel Coward) of the British Secret Service Agency to serve as a local operative, and with help from a friend (Burl Ives), he concocts imaginary contacts and sends stories about them to his supervisor (Ralph Richardson) at headquarters. He receives ample money in exchange, which he uses to buy presents for his teenage daughter (Jo Morrow), who is dating a menacing police captain (Ernic Kovacs). Soon, however, a beautiful assistant (Maureen O’Hara) is sent from London to help Guinness, and his lies begin to unravel in increasingly lethal ways.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alec Guinness Films
  • Black Comedy
  • Burl Ives Films
  • Carol Reed Films
  • Cuba
  • Expatriates
  • Maureen O’Hara Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Noel Coward Films
  • Ralph Richardson Films
  • Spies

Nearly a decade after the release of The Third Man (1949), Carol Reed collaborated once again with British novelist Grahame Greene for this adaptation of Greene’s 1958 darkly comedic spy thriller about M16’s too-eager willingness to believe fictitious reports. Unfortunately, the overall tone of the film is uneven; despite gorgeous cinematography by Oswald Morris:

… good use of authentic locations in Cuba:

… and an all-star cast:

… the story never really coheres. As DVD Savant (actually a fan of the film) describes it:

“It’s an uneven satire about politics and espionage that contrasts a realistic view of conditions in a police state with understated British comedy. The tone veers from deadly intrigue to near slapstick, and Greene’s dialogue tries for too many verbal puns.”

However, Savant later calls out its “authentic background, expressive direction and interesting characters,” and notes that this “politically astute” film “suggests the horrors of Batista’s police state without making any statements about the revolution to come.” Clearly, one either responds to the approach taken here or not — and it didn’t quite work for me. Reading TCM’s article at least helped to explain why Guinness himself comes across in such a bland and uninteresting fashion:

Guinness… had not enjoyed his experience working with Reed. Early on Reed had surprised him by stating that Guinness’ character was really less important than the events happening around him, so there would be few close-ups of the star. When Guinness showed up on the set with ideas for playing the character as an untidy, fussy little man, Reed told him, “We don’t want any of your character acting. Play it straight. Don’t act.” Not knowing what to do with a direction like that, Guinness delivered an undistinguished performance, allowing Coward and Kovacs to steal the film.

Morrow also seems miscast as Guinness’s daughter (despite only being 20 years old in real life, she looks older), and her casual relationship with creepy Kovacs simply makes her seem like even more of a dimwit.

Meanwhile, O’Hara’s character isn’t given nearly enough distinction (she’s truly just a beautiful “Girl Friday”):

… and other supporting players (Coward, Richardson, Ives) are either vague or underdeveloped. I didn’t mind being confused for most of the beginning of the screenplay, given that spy yarns are inherently complex, and the addition of made-up narratives would necessarily complicate things further — but I wasn’t quite able to follow along as dominos began to fall. Perhaps a rewatch would help, though I’m not especially inclined.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Oswald Morris’s cinematography
  • An unusual score by Frank and Laurence Deniz

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

Links: Year-End Reflection 2021 Year-End Reflection 2021

Greetings, fellow film fanatics! It’s been another busy year of movie watching and reviewing.

In keeping with the spirit of my check-in at the end of last year, I thought I would share that I’ve now reviewed 3,165, or ~73.6% of the titles in Peary’s Guide for the Film Fanatic — just 1,135 more to go. (Whew!)

(As much as I adore this extensive and ongoing project, I’m also looking forward to eventually turning my attention to post-1987 titles…)

With that said, here are a few recommendations and thoughts from my past year of viewing and posting on this site:

  • I spent much of February and March this year working my way through the many (many) horror films listed in GFTFF. My personal favorites are those which use tropes of the genre to comment on social ills — i.e., Bob Clark’s Deathdream (1974), which incorporates concepts of ghosts, vampires, and zombies to explore how PTSD manifests not only for soldiers but for their loved ones back home; and George Romero’s unusual vampire flick Martin (1977), which still haunts me months after watching it.
  • While many of the films discussed in Peary’s three Cult Movie books don’t resonate with me personally, I was pleasantly surprised to revisit Walter Hill’s cult classic The Warriors (1979); it remains a stylized gem of fantasy vengeance, with nifty comic captions added to the 2005 director’s cut. It’s well worth a look if you haven’t seen it in awhile.
  • It turns out that quite a few excellent films about World War II were made in the 1940s. Just a few recommendations from those I watched this year are: Zoltan Korda’s Sahara (1943), set in the North African desert and revolving around the need for water to survive; John Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945), about PT boat sailors in the Philippines; and William Wellman’s sobering, beautifully shot Battleground (1949).
  • Some French titles to highlight from this past year’s viewing include the provocative and sensitively handled Sundays and Cybele (1962) by director Serge Bourguignon, about a disturbed veteran’s friendship with a young girl; Alain Resnais’s still-intriguing New Wave classic Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), in which “sensual connection is shown as a form of visceral engagement with uncomfortable truths”; and Maurice Cloche’s Monsieur Vincent (1947), about the life and spiritual growth of St. Vincent de Paul.
  • Many excellent movies are too harsh to bear watching more than once or twice. Among the classics I’m glad I revisited this year but can’t imagine seeing again any time soon include Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961), featuring a stand-out performance by young Paul Newman as pool hustler ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson; Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980), an expressive biopic about abusive, paranoid, self-loathing boxer Jake La Motta; and Claude Lanzmann’s massive, essential, relentlessly sobering Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985).
  • Finally, a few underrated gems I (re)discovered from the late ’40s and early ’50s include Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol (1948), about a lonely young boy caught in a web of confusing secrets; George Stevens’ I Remember Mama (1948), with a powerful lead performance and convincing Norwegian accent by Irene Dunne; Anthony Mann’s The Tall Target (1951), about an attempted assassination of Abraham Lincoln; John Huston’s editorially butchered but haunting The Red Badge of Courage (1951); and Henry Koster’s No Highway in the Sky (1951), about a brilliant scientist (Jimmy Stewart) who no one will believe (ahem) during a time of imminent crisis.

Happy 2022 (almost) to everyone! (I’ll keep posting over the next few days.)
-FilmFanatic (Sylvia)

Edge of the City (1957)

Edge of the City (1957)

“Look, T — I’m trouble!”

A troubled young army deserter (John Cassavetes) who is being bullied by a vicious stevedore (Jack Warden) befriends a fellow worker (Sidney Poitier) and starts hanging out with Poitier’s wife (Ruby Dee) and their friend (Kathleen Maguire). Poitier tries to help Cassavetes regain his confidence and stand up to Warden — but tragedy soon strikes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Friendship
  • John Cassavetes Films
  • Martin Ritt Films
  • Racism and Race Relations
  • Ruby Dee Films
  • Sidney Poitier Films
  • Waterfront

Martin Ritt made his impressive cinematic directorial debut with this adaptation of Robert Alan Arthur’s television play A Man is Ten Feet Tall. We’re not at all sure where things will head as we see young Cassavetes enter the dockyards looking for work:

When he finally encounters the man whose name he’s been told to give as a contact (Warden’s “Charlie Malick”), we can tell that Cassavetes has a rough history which we’ll presumably learn more about:

We’re especially kept in suspense when Cassavetes befriends Poitier, and ends up being taken under his wing:

In a most refreshing change of pace (at least for films of this era), Poitier and Cassavetes develop a meaningful cross-racial friendship, with Poitier listening closely as Cassavetes gradually shares details about his past.

Soon Poitier is encouraging Cassavetes to take risks with dating, and introduces him to a friend of his wife’s (Maguire):

Things take a dark turn, however, when Warden — a pathological bully — decides to push an issue to its limits, at which point Cassavates must make a challenging decision. To that end, many have pointed out the similarities between this film and On the Waterfront (1954), with both taking place on the docks of New York and featuring a protagonist who must decide whether to “squeal” or not — however, they are different enough to watch and consider on their own merits, and this one, too, remains worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • John Cassavetes as Axel
  • Sidney Poitier as Tommy
  • Ruby Dee as Lucy
  • Fine use of location shooting
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a good and unusual show.


  • Good Show


Last Frontier, The (1955)

Last Frontier, The (1955)

“Civilization is creepin’ up on us, lads.”

During the final days of the Civil War, a trio of trappers — Jed (Victor Mature), Gus (James Whitmore), and Mungo (Pat Hogan) — arrive at a fort that’s short on men, and are hired by a friendly captain (Guy Madison). Jed quickly falls for the wife (Anne Bancroft) of the fort’s reigning colonel (Robert Preston), who is dead set on rampaging the local Indians despite the danger this poses to his inexperienced new recruits; will Jed be able to convince Colonel Marston (Preston) not to follow through on his foolhardy plan?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anne Bancroft Films
  • Anthony Mann Films
  • James Whitmore Films
  • Robert Preston Films
  • Victor Mature Films
  • Westerns

Director Anthony Mann made numerous westerns during his lengthy career, including this Technicolor flick filmed in Mexico with Mount Popocatépetl seen in the background of the fort:

The storyline centers on differing conceptions of masculinity and success, with Mature wondering if it’s time for him to finally settle down with a wife and kids (he has his eye on Bancroft), and Preston determined to regain his reputation after leading a disastrously lethal charge during the war and being nicknamed The Butcher of Shiloh.

Bancroft (how strange to see her as a blonde!) serves as the tension point between the two men; she’s loyal to her husband, but attracted to Mature’s insistent virility:

Meanwhile, Mature is, ironically, too immature to handle life at the fort after years in the wild, and quickly makes enemies, especially when drunk (which is often). Will he be able to redeem himself by the end? I found myself surprisingly caught up in this tale, especially the excitingly filmed final shoot-out.

However, with that said …


… the film’s very last sequence is jarring and unexpected. According to TCM’s article:

The Last Frontier’s ending, with Mature in a blue army jacket, having been recruited into the ranks, saluting while Bancroft smiles down on him from a platform above as an inanely upbeat song blares over the soundtrack, was, Mann has said, forced on him.

Be forewarned.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Victor Mature as Jed
  • James Whitmore as Gus
  • Fine direction by Mann

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


Strategic Air Command (1955)

Strategic Air Command (1955)

“By staying combat ready, we can prevent a war.”

When a former Air Force Colonel (James Stewart) is drafted away from his baseball career to serve in active duty during the Cold War, his new wife (June Allyson) must adjust to life as a military spouse.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Anthony Mann Films
  • Cold War
  • Frank Lovejoy Films
  • Jimmy Stewart Films
  • June Allyson Films
  • Military

Jimmy Stewart and director Anthony Mann collaborated on eight films together: five westerns (Winchester ’73, 1950; Bend of the River, 1952; The Naked Spur, 1953; The Far Country, 1954; and The Man From Laramie, 1955); an oil-drilling drama (Thunder Bay, 1953); a biopic (The Glenn Miller Story, 1954); and this love letter to the skies — an Air Force flick so successful that it helped increase recruitment by 25%. Indeed, it’s a stunningly filmed movie, using VistaVision technology to maximum effect.

As described by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, it was “far and away the most elaborate and impressive pictoral show of the beauty and organized power of the United States air arm that has yet been put upon the screen.”

Storywise, however, there’s a lot less going on. Allyson once again plays a put-upon ’50s housewife who nonetheless stands by her man despite not being allowed to know where he is half the time:

Other dramatic incidents include Stewart managing an engine fire requiring bail-out and a forced landing:

… and facing windstorms on a non-stop flight from MacDill AFB to Yokota Air Base while nursing an increasingly debilitating shoulder injury:

During this flight, we’re also treated to spectacular footage of mid-air refueling:

Stewart was perfectly cast in the lead role; according to Wikipedia, he:

“… had been a B-17 instructor pilot, a B-24 squadron commander, and a bomb group operations officer, completing 20 combat missions. At the time of filming, Stewart, much like the character he portrays, was also a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, serving with the Strategic Air Command when on duty and at the time was qualified as a pilot on the B-47.”

Talk about serendipity! Clearly, this film will appeal to those who enjoy plenty of air action, but it’s not must-see viewing for all-purpose film fanatics.

Note: It’s been pointed out that Stanley Kubrick may have been influenced by some of the footage here when conceiving of Dr. Strangelove (1964):

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine VistaVision cinematography

Must See?
No, unless you’re a fan of such films.


Intimate Lighting (1965)

Intimate Lighting (1965)

“No more concerts; it’s funerals for me.”

A cellist (Zdenek Bezusek) and his girlfriend (Vera Kresadlova) visit Bezusek’s friend Bambas (Karel Blazek) in his country house, where life follows a leisurely and family-driven pace.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Eastern European Films
  • Musicians

Czech New Wave filmmaker Ivan Passer’s directorial debut was this hour+-long glimpse into an overnight stay at a country house, filled with music:

… laughter:

… eating and drinking:

… animals:

… children:

… wandering the grounds:

and sexual longing.

There truly doesn’t seem to be much point to any of it, which may be exactly the point; however, I’ll admit to feeling restless and waiting for a narrative hook of some kind (which never came). Given that I’m not a fan of at least two of Passer’s later American-made films — Born to Win (1971) and Law and Disorder (1974) — I’m not all that surprised I found this earlier work to be a disappointment, though it’s lauded by many.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course fans of Eastern European cinema will definitely want to check it out.


Intruder, The / I Hate Your Guts! / Shame (1962)

Intruder, The / I Hate Your Guts! / Shame (1962)

“There’s no two ways about it: this here thing’s gotta be stopped, and it’s gotta be stopped right now!”

When a white supremacist agitator (William Shatner) shows up in a southern town about to integrate its schools, he enlists help from a newspaperman (Frank Maxwell) and a local bigot (Robert Emhardt) to stir up hatred while romancing Maxwell’s teenage daughter (Beverly Lunsford) and putting the moves on the disturbed wife (Jeanne Cooper) of a neighbor (Leo Gordon). Will Shatner succeed in his goals of preventing integration and sowing violence?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deep South
  • Racism and Race Relations
  • Roger Corman Films

Made on a shoestring budget (of course), this Roger Corman-produced, Charles Beaumont-scripted independent film is a marvel of brave innovation: rather than centering a white savior showing up in a racist town to save Blacks, we’re shown a white anti-hero who easily stokes existing bigotry into increasingly violent outcomes.

I’ll admit I kept waiting for a “big reveal” — Shatner’s true motivations must surely be good — that never came; what we see here is what we get, in unvarnished docu-realism:

While the storyline ultimately ends with an “easy out”, it’s made crystal clear that nothing has changed in this town. A near-lynching of an innocent black teenager (Charles Barnes):

… only doesn’t happen given another man’s non-race-related personal grudges against Shatner. Film fanatics should most definitely check out this unusual flick, which remains one of the most potent films about racism from its era.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • William Shatner as Adam Cramer
  • Taylor Byars’ stark b&w cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a brave and unique (if flawed) independent film. Listed (appropriately so) as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Good Show


Mogambo (1953)

Mogambo (1953)

“I guess there’s all sorts of hunger in the world, isn’t there?”

A big-game hunter (Clark Gable) in Africa has an affair with a sassy playgirl (Ava Gardner) who arrives at his camp, but falls hard for the prim wife (Grace Kelly) of a scientist (Donald Sinden) hoping to study local gorillas; which of the two beauties will Gable end up with?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Ava Gardner Films
  • Clark Gable Films
  • Grace Kelly Films
  • Hunting
  • Infidelity
  • John Ford Films
  • Love Triangle

John Ford directed this remake of Red Dust (1932), starring the same leading man (naturally, 20 years wouldn’t make a difference in Gable’s sexiness factor) and incorporating much footage shot on location in Africa.

Gable and Gardner have tremendous chemistry together:

… though Gable’s attraction to beautiful Kelly (whose husband is a complete milquetoast) makes sense as well:

There’s not too much to the storyline other than this sticky love triangle — and those who’ve seen the original know how things will turn out; however, it’s easy to understand why audiences in the ’50s would enjoy seeing these gorgeous stars together, and also appreciate the location footage (which today comes across as both exoticizing and — in terms of the perceived harm caused to several wild animals — somewhat disturbing). The film primarily remains noteworthy for Gardner’s Oscar-nominated performance, which is consistently a delight — and of course, Ford’s direction is solid throughout.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ava Gardner as “Honeybear” Kelly
  • Robert Surtees’ and Freddie Young’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look if you’re a fan of any of the three stars.