Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Blake Edwards Treatment

James Coburn--looking hip as always.
What can you say about a movie in which a director sued to have his name removed from the credits? Suffice to say that director Blake Edwards was mighty displeased with the version of The Carey Treatment (1972) that was released to theaters. However, before we discuss what happened behind the scenes, let's take a look at the finished product.

Jennifer O'Neill.
The Carey Treatment stars James Coburn as Dr. Peter Carey, a hip pathologist that accepts a job at a Boston hospital because he'll "make more bread" ($45,000 to be precise or $258,600 in today's economy). Carey never actually performs his hospital duties. Instead, he has an older colleague cover for him as he investigates a potential murder and makes out with an attractive dietitian named Georgia (Jennifer O'Neill in an awful performance).

The murder victim is 15-year-old Karen Randall, the hospital administrator's daughter, who died from what appeared to be a botched abortion. The police arrest Carey's friend Dr. David Tao, who admits to performing illegal abortions but not performing one on Karen. Carey clashes with everyone, including his boss and the police, as he aggressively seeks out what really happened to the dead teenager.

The Carey Treatment was based on the 1968 novel A Case of Need, written by Michael Crichton under a pseudonym while he was a medical student. The film version, though, likely owes more to private eye films such as Harper (1966) and Marlowe (1969). Frankly, it's hard to imagine that Peter Carey is actually an M.D. In one scene, he tries to get Karen's roommate to dish on the murder victim by driving recklessly with the girl in the passenger seat (e.g., he even drives over a drawbridge while the spans are separating!).

James Coburn tries to salvage The Carey Treatment by the sheer force of his personality, glittering smile, and ultra-cool silver hair. However, he is undone by more plot holes than your average slice of Swiss cheese. Why does Karen or her mother implicate Dr. Tao? If Georgia has custody of her young son, why does she seem to spend all her nights with Carey? Someone hires a photographer to take a photo of Carey and Georgia making love, but for what reason?

The answers to these questions may be addressed in the many scenes excised from The Carey Treatment after Blake Edwards turned in his final cut. Frankly, I suspect that Edwards might have never directed The Carey Treatment if not for the fact that his career was at a low point. After enjoying boxoffice success in the 1960s with Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Days of Wine and Roses, and The Pink Panther, Edwards started the next decade with a series of flops. The most notable was Darling Lili (1970), a vanity project for his wife Julie Andrews, that boasted a $25 million budget and earned only $5 million at the theaters.

Blake Edwards subsequently signed a deal with MGM--and then unfortunately ran afoul of budget-minded studio president James Aubrey. The executive, who famously sold Dorothy's ruby slippers because they had "no intrinsic value," tampered with Blake Edwards' Western Wild Rovers (1971) as well as The Carey Treatment. Edwards revived his career in 1975 with The Return of the Pink Panther, but he never forgot his awful MGM experiences and gained his "revenge" with the biting Hollywood satire S.O.B. (1981).

Skye Aubrey.
Interestingly, the cast of The Carey Treatment includes James Aubrey's daughter Skye in a key role. Actually, it was quite a family affair with smaller parts being played by Blake Edwards' daughter Jennifer and Mel Torme's daughter Melissa Torme-March. Look quickly and you might also see Olive Dunbar as one of the doctors. She played the lead role in the disturbing short film The Lottery, which we reviewed earlier this year.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Love It or Shove It (Classic Movie Edition II)

In this occasional feature, we'll make a statement about classic cinema and then ask our panel of movie experts to "love it" (they agree) or "shove it" (they disagree). This month, our expert panel is comprised of: Caftan Woman, Silver Screenings, and yours truly.

Vivien Leigh as Miss O'Hara.
1. No one could have played Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind any better than Vivien Leigh.

Caftan Woman:  Love it. Scarlett is on screen for most of the film and when she isn't, she is a presence. If the audience isn't interested or even enthralled with the character, the movie falls apart. The talent Vivien brought to the role was augmented by the audience not identifying her with another character. That combination gives Vivien Leigh ownership of the role.

Silver Screenings:  Love it. Other actresses at the time would have been good, but Vivien Leigh captures Scarlett's essence. She has the look, the attitude(!) and, most importantly, the voice. Leigh-as-Scarlett's overall tone is as sweet as pecan pie, but it also reveals the character's razor-sharp ambition.

Rick:  Shove it. I think Vivien Leigh is very good as Scarlett, but I think GWTW would still be a classic without her. It's Selznick's vision on the screen. Olivia de Havilland provides the film with its heart and Clark Gable provides the needed intensity. Who do I think could have played Scarlett instead of Leigh? I admit that's a toughie. Gene Tierney is one possibility and Paulette Goddard doesn't look bad in her screen test (it's on YouTube).

2. The quality of classic films declined with the end of the studio system in Hollywood.

Caftan Woman:  Shove it. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Over time fashions, mores, styles and technology bring changes to the art and business of cinema. Each generation of filmmakers and audiences will create their own classics.

Silver Screenings:  Shove it. I feel the quality of classic films initially decreased, then increased over the years. While overall quality may have stumbled somewhat in the 1960s, the 1970s produced some extraordinary films (The Godfather, All the President's Men, Rocky). A person can point to more recent examples, too, such as Dead Poets Society, Schindler's List, and The King's Speech. It's not like the the studio era never produced, um, "forgettable" films.

Rick:  Shove it. The independent films of the 1950s ushered in a new era of provocative cinema with filmmakers like Otto Preminger and Samuel Fuller. I do think the studio system made it easier for young performers to break into the business. Julie Adams once told me that she was thankful to have a "home base" at Universal.

One of the 1939 classics.
3. In terms of quality films produced, 1939 was the best year in the history of classic cinema.

Caftan Woman:  Love it. While many years may lay claim to a plethora of quality titles including personal favourites 1935, 1944 and 1950, 1939 was the year John Ford released Stagecoach. If that is not reason enough, simply check the other nine films nominated by the Academy for Best Picture.

Silver Screenings:  Love it. Although quality films are being made all the time, I agree 1939 has been the Bumper Crop Year so far.

Rick:  Love it. My runner-up would be 1967: The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Cool Hand Luke, To Sir With Love, The Dirty Dozen, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and Point Blank.

4. The MGM musicals set the standard in terms of innovation, spectacle and entertainment value.

Caftan Woman:  Shove it. MGM created an incredibly talented musical unit and gave us true classics in the field. However, their peak of innovation and spectacle in the 1950s coincided with the unfortunate decline of the popularity of movie musicals. Therefore, I deny they set the standard for other studios which created their own look and stars.

Silver Screenings:  Shove it – with a caveat: My complete lack of objectivity when it comes to musicals. MGM musicals are truly lovely, but I think Warner Bros. set the gold standard with Busby Berkeley musicals in the early 1930s. (Talk about innovation!) Then, of course, you have the sparkling RKO musicals of the mid/late 1930s. (Talk about entertainment!) You can't accuse MGM musicals of not having Spectacle, but they can be a test of endurance.

Rick:  Love it. While I'm a fan of the Paramount and Warner Bros. musicals, MGM produced more outstanding musicals over an extended period. Heck, MGM made four popular compilation films featuring highlights mostly from its musicals. I don't think any other studio could have done that.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was an MGM musical.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Paul Newman Gets Wet in "The Drowning Pool"

Harper arrives in New Orleans.
It probably sounded like a good idea at the time: Send Paul Newman's California private eye Harper to New Orleans and get him involved with a former flame, corrupt cops, a devious oil man, a dangerous young woman, and a whole lot of water. It took three screenwriters--typically a sign of trouble for a movie--to try to combine these elements into a coherent mystery. "Try" is the operative word here and, to the defense of the writers, I don't think Billy Wilder could have made a decent movie out of The Drowning Pool--though his version would have been more fun.

Newman first appeared as Lew Harper in the 1966 boxoffice hit Harper. That film was based on the Ross MacDonald novel The Moving Target, which featured private eye Lew Archer. There are several stories explaining the name change from "Archer" to "Harper," but--whatever his name--audiences loved Newman in the part. Still, sequels weren't as common in the 1960s as today, so it was something of a surprise when Newman decided to revive Harper nine years later in The Drowning Pool.
 
Joanne Woodward as Harper's client.
This time around, the easygoing detective goes to The Big Easy at the request of an old flame (Joanne Woodward) who has received an anonymous blackmail letter. Harper has barely walked into his motel room before a young woman (Melanie Griffith) tries to entrap him and he's arrested by an overprotective police detective (Tony Franciosa). He spends most of the film asking questions and getting beat up. There are two murders and a suicide along the way, but, to his credit, Harper eventually figures out the identity of the killer.

The Drowning Pool is a sluggish affair peppered with dull characters. It's hard to fault the actors. After all, Newman, Woodward, and Franciosa all appeared in another Southern drama, The Long, Hot Summer (1958), and that turned out marvelously. In The Drowning Pool, though, even Mr. and Mrs. Newman don't seem to have any chemistry in their scenes. It doesn't help that their tender moments are inexplicably underscored by a sappy instrumental version of "Killing Me Softly With His Song."

Newman and Gail Strickland in the best scene.
As for the title of The Drowning Pool, that brings us to the movie's best scene. Murray Hamilton, sporting a stylish red, one-piece jumpsuit, strands his wife (Gail Strickland) and Harper in a hydrotherapy room in an abandoned mental institution. Not wanting to face Hamilton's goons the next day, Harper decides to flood the room so he and his companion can float up to the ceiling and escape. It doesn't work as planned, but Harper still breaks free.

Of course, it could also be that The Drowning Pool refers in some esoteric way to the films's characters who are emotionally drowning in a swamp of apathy. Frankly, though, I think it refers to the angst experienced by unfortunate viewers who sit through this vapid mystery for 109 minutes.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

That Man from Rio: Foreshadowing Indiana Jones?

Cruising Rio to find the lost statuette.
When a priceless statuette is stolen from a Paris museum and a young woman is kidnapped, her boyfriend follows her captors to Rio de Janeiro. He befriends a resourceful shoeshine boy, survives numerous attempts on his life, and rescues his girlfriend. The undaunted couple figures out that the statuette, which forms a set with two others, leads to an ancient treasure. They try to thwart the bad guys while bickering playfully along the way.

Is this a lost script to an Indiana Jones movie conceived by Steven Spielberg? No, it's the plot from the 1964 international hit That Man from Rio, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Françoise Dorléac.

In the movie, it really looks like Belmondo is on the ledge!
Naturally, there are distinct differences between That Man from Rio and the Indiana Jones movies, with the most obvious being the hero. Indiana is a "professional" adventurer while Belmondo's Adrien is strictly an "amateur" (even though he's a soldier taking a week of leave). Adrien doesn't understand archaeology and he's not proficient with any kind of weapon. Still, his spirit of adventure and determination certainly rival Indy--as evidenced by his willingness to climb onto high building ledges, jump out of an airplane in flight, and participate enthusiastically in a huge barroom brawl.

That Man from Rio is the kind of movie that doesn't withstand close scrutiny; heck, the villain is obvious from his first appearance. Its strengths are swift pacing, quirky touches like the helpful shoeshine boy, and a charismatic star.

Jean-Paul Belmondo as Adrien.
For those film fans who know Belmondo best from foreign classics such as Breathless and Two Women (both 1960), That Man from Rio will be a revelation. The French star runs, jumps, and swings (literally...on vines) in an incredibly athletic performance. Some of the scenes were likely performed by stunt professionals, but Belmondo does his own share of acrobatics (reminding my wife of Cary Grant in Holiday). He seems to be enjoying himself immensely and that feeling of jubilation leaps from the screen.

Françoise Dorléac as Agnes.
As his flighty companion, Françoise Dorléac can't match the charm of her co-star. Indeed, That Man from Rio is at its best when it focuses on Adrien and his attempts to rescue his girlfriend Agnes. I blame the Oscar-nominated screenplay more than Ms. Dorléac. Incidentally, she was the elder sister of Catherine Deneuve and a rising star in her own right when she died in a car accident in 1967 at age 25. Her final film appearance was opposite Michael Caine in the Harry Palmer spy film Billion Dollar Brain.

Director Philippe de Broca, who co-wrote the screenplay for That Man from Rio, has said it was partially inspired by the Tintin comics that first appeared in 1929. Tintin was a young Belgian reporter who had various adventures with his dog Snowy. Spielberg adapted Tintin for the big screen as The Adventures of Tintin, a 2011 animated film. That's not the only Spielberg connection with That Man from Rio. According to a 2015 New York Times article, Spielberg has reportedly watched That Man from Rio at least nine times.

So, perhaps, That Man from Rio really did inspire Indiana Jones....

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dr. Kildare: Perfect Television Viewing for the Summer

Richard Chamberlain as Jim Kildare.
Most of our summer viewing this year has consisted of movies and TV series on two streaming services: Acorn TV and Warner Archive. The latter features both classic films and television, including all five seasons of Dr. Kildare (1961-66). It has turned out to be the most pleasant surprise of the season! That shouldn't come as a shock, I suppose, since the 1960s produced many of our favorite television shows, including The FugitiveThe Defenders, and The Twilight Zone.

Chamberlain and Suzanne Pleshette.
However, while those three series are widely hailed as critical favorites, I don't recall a lot of praise being heaped on Dr. Kildare. While it may not reach the same heights, the first season of Kildare still boasts exceptional writing and strong acting. It helps, of course, when you have guest stars such as: Suzanne Pleshette, Charles Bickford, Anne Francis, William Shatner, Ross Martin, Ellen Burstyn, Beatrice Straight, Richard Kiley, Dorothy Malone, Glynis Johns, Rip Torn, Joan Hackett, Joseph Schildkraut, Martin Balsam, and Julie Adams. Plus, there are a number of future TV stars in small roles such as Jean Stapleton, Ted Knight, Edward Platt, and Gavin MacLeod.

Raymond Massey as Dr. Gillespie.
The strength of Dr. Kildare, though, is the casting of the leads. Richard Chamberlain earned his reputation as a fine actor after he left Kildare (and appeared on stage as Hamlet and became "King of the Miniseries"). But the truth is that he's quite good as the inexperienced intern in Dr. Kildare. Naturally, it helps when you're acting opposite Raymond Massey, who is marvelous as Jim Kildare's mentor Dr. Gillespie. I have no idea how Massey wasn't nominated for at least one Emmy during his five years in the role. He and Chamberlain share some brilliant scenes during the show's first season.

The writers do a nice job of showing the challenges of being an intern in a large hospital. Jim Kildare makes $60 a month (about $500 today), works long hours, rotates through the various medical departments, and sometimes has accurate diagnoses overruled by more senior physicians. Kildare greatly admires Gillespie, but his mentor often admonishes him for his behavior. Jim would never consider himself Gillespie's favorite, but others have taken note (one bitter doctor refers to Kildare as "Gillespie's fair-haired boy").

Richard Chamberlain and Anne Francis.
Most of the episodes take place at Blair General Hospital, but the series still ventures outside those antiseptic walls. In "The Lonely Ones," Jim visit his parents and we learn that his father is a small-town general practitioner. In "A Million Dollar Property," Jim spends a weekend with an insecure actress (Anne Francis) who wants to find more meaning in her life.

The plots deal with a wide range of medical and social issues. Examples include: a smallpox scare in "Immunity"; an ageing surgeon who may no longer be competent in "Winter Harvest"; drug addiction in "The Lonely Ones"; malpractice in "Admitting Service"; and a mercy killing in "For the Living." In "The Patient," an episode with comedic overtones, Kildare injures his back and learns what it's like to be a patient.

If you've never seen Dr. Kildare or haven't watched it in a long time, then we recommend that you check out the first season. I can't vouch for seasons 2-5, but the inaugural one is quality television that will keep you entertained and make you think. Who could ask for more in terms of summer TV viewing?

Here's a clip from Dr. Kildare that includes Dick York and Dick Sargent--the two future Darrins in Bewitched--in back-to-back episodes. How's that for foreshadowing? You can view this scene full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. You can also stream the entire Dr. Kildare series at warnerarchive.com.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Havilland Seek the Truth in "Libel"

Dirk Bogarde as Sir Mark Loddon?
During a two-day stopover in London, a Canadian World War II veteran named Jeffrey Buckenham sees a snippet of a television show about English country estates on a pub’s television. Buckenham recognizes the estate’s owner and is next seen participating in a tour of the manor house. He remains behind when the tour departs and confronts the owner, Sir Mark Loddon.

Buckenham is convinced that the man claiming to be Loddon is a nefarious imposter named Frank Wellney. Loddon acts perplexed and becomes angry when Buckenham snarls: “I want to see you crawl, Frank.”

Buckenham pursues his contention and convinces a local newspaper to publish an open letter in which he exposes Loddon as a fraud who assumed a dead man’s identity during an escape from a prisoner of war camp.

Loddon claims to have virtually no memory of his pre-war life due to his traumatic war injuries. He wants to ignore the allegations. However, his wife Margaret feels strongly that he should file a libel lawsuit against Buckenham and the newspaper. Loddon reluctantly agrees—even though it’s quite possible that it will become a trial to prove his identity.
Olivia de Havilland and Dirk Bogarde as the Loddons.
Based on a 1934 stage play by Edward Wooll, Libel (1959) is an exceedingly well-crafted film with plenty of drama inside and outside the courtroom. Its most intriguing element is that there are three possible outcomes to the story: (1) Frank Wellney could be impersonating Loddon; (2) Loddon could be the real Loddon; or (3) Loddon could be Wellney, but doesn’t know it because of war-induced amnesia. During the trial, though, the evidence against Loddon becomes so persuasive that even his wife begins to have her doubts. (It’s interesting to note that the plot wouldn’t work today as DNA tests could determine Loddon’s identity.)

Dirk Bogarde is superb in the lead role, leaving the audience to determine if his character’s perpetual haunted look is because he can’t remember what happened during the POW escape or because he fears being exposed as a fraud. His most impressive work is in the flashbacks in which he portrays both Loddon and Wellney in the same scene.


Olivia as Margaret Loddon.
The rest of the cast provides outstanding support. As Margaret Loddon, Olivia de Havilland has one of the best roles of her later career and her climactic scene with Bogarde is charged with emotion. Paul Massie is quietly convincing as Buckenham. The only other film I’ve seen him in was Hammer’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, in which he played Jekyll as a milquetoast and Hyde as a dashing villain. Finally, British veterans Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White are ideally cast as the battling barristers who are best friends outside the courtroom.


Robert Morley as a barrister.
Director Anthony Asquith obviously knew his way around cinematic courtrooms, having earlier helmed legal dramas The Winslow Boy (1948) and Court Martial (1954). He also directed several other highly-regarded British classics, to include Pygmalion (1938), The Browning Version (1951), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952).

Libel was nominated for one Academy Award…for Best Sound. Inexplicably, it’s not a well-known movie despite the acting pedigree and intriguing plot. Fortunately, it’s currently available on Warner Archive’s streaming service. Really, though, TCM should have a Dirk Bogarde day and include Libel as part of the schedule.

Here's a clip from Libel. You can view it full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. (You can also stream the entire movie at warnerarchive.com).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Perry Mason Returns!

Nineteen years after the last Perry Mason episode aired on CBS, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale returned to the small screen in their most famous roles. The only surviving members of the original cast, they reprised Perry and Della for the logically-titled Perry Mason Returns, a 96-minute made-for-TV movie on NBC.

Barbara Hale as Della.
Della has spent the previous eight years working for Arthur Gordon (Patrick O'Neal), a wealthy executive that runs Gordon Industries. Gordon chooses his birthday celebration to inform his three children and wife (stepmom to the kids) that he has written all of them out of his will. He plans to leave the bulk of his fortune to his foundation and appoint Della to manage it. Later that night, Gordon is stabbed to death! We see the face of the murderer, but that's really irrelevant because it's obvious that he's just performing a job and isn't the brains behind Gordon's death.

The real culprit has gone to great pains to ensure that Della is framed for the murder. When she's arrested, Perry Mason steps down as an appellate court judge so he can defend her. In need of a good detective agency, Perry turns to Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt). Initially, Perry is concerned that Paul, who plays sax at a local jazz club and dabbles in writing, lacks the experience for such an important investigation. Their developing relationship plays out in the background of Della's case.

Holland Taylor as a suspect.
Fans of the Perry Mason TV series may be disappointed with this revival. Whereas the TV episodes were typically concise, well-written mysteries, this TV movie lumbers along and takes its time to reach the courtroom climax. The suspects are a pretty lame bunch, too, with the exceptions of Holland Taylor (who plays the widow) and Richard Anderson (Donovan's lawyer). Anderson was actually a regular on the final season of the Perry Mason TV series, playing Lieutenant Drumm. Taylor later won an Emmy for portraying a judge on the legal TV series The Practice. She also had a connection with Barbara Hale (more on that later).

William Katt as Paul Drake Jr.
Still, the reason to watch Perry Mason Returns is to see Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale return to their famous roles. They do not disappoint--though it did take awhile for me to accept Perry with a beard. This telefilm became the second highest rated show for the 1985-86 TV season and led to 29 additional films that aired between 1986 and 1995. William Katt, Barbara Hale's real-life son, played Paul Jr, in the first nine. He was replaced with William R. Moses portraying a different private investigator in the remaining installments.

Burr starred in 26 of the 30 telefilms. When he died in 1993, each of the four remaining films were subtitled A Perry Mason Mystery (even though Perry was "out of town" during each case). Paul Sorvino was the lead attorney in The Case of the Wicked Wives, while Hal Holbrook played lawyer William "Wild Bill" McKenzie in the last three. Barbara Hale still played Della, though she only appeared briefly in the final installment The Case of the Jealous Jokester. Holland Taylor portrays McKenzie's assistant in that one.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Movie-TV Connection Game (June 2016)

Summer is here...so it must be time for another edition of one of our popular features. The rules to this game: Given a pair or trio of films or performers, your task is to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. Paul Newman and Danny Kaye (might be a toughie!).

2. Kirk Douglas and Martin Landau.

3. Tony Curtis and Lee Majors.

4. Christopher Lee and Basil Rathbone (at least two connections!).

5. Robert Reed and Raymond Burr.

6. Jim Backus and Wally Cox.

7. Beach Blanket Bingo and Sullivan's Travels.

8. Spencer Tracy and Charlton Heston.

9. Richard Burton and Lee J. Cobb.

10. James Stewart and Keanu Reeves (another potentially hard one).

11. Steve McQueen and James Garner.

12. Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan.

13. Alec Guinness and Charles Chaplin.

14. Peter Cushing and Laurence Olivier (and the answer is not Hamlet).

15. Bob Hope and Don Knotts.

Monday, June 26, 2017

That's a Good Boy, Trog!

Trog watches children at a playground.
Joan Crawford probably didn't envision her film career ending with a notoriously bad, low-budget drive-in picture about the Missing Link. Yet, Trog (1970) was the cinematic swan song for the actress that graced the silver screen in classics like Mildred Pierce and Johnny Guitar. It was, incidentally, the only Joan Crawford movie I saw theatrically; it was the second half of a double-feature with Hammer's Taste the Blood of Dracula.

To be fair, Trog isn't as dreadful as many critics would have you believe. If you want to watch a truly awful film about a caveman coping with modern civilization, then I recommend you check out Eegah! (1962). With a (much) better script, Trog could have been an interesting ethical drama about whether the caveman should be treated as a scientific specimen or a human being. (By the way, that premise was explored in Fred Schepisi's 1984 film Iceman and, to a lesser degree, in a 1970 Burt Reynolds movie called Skullduggery.)

Joan Crawford as Dr. Brockton.
Trog opens with three spelunkers discovering a caveman in a cavern near the Salton Marshes. The troglodyte--dubbed Trog for short--kills one of the youths and leaves another wounded and in shock. The third young man, Malcolm, goes to work for anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Crawford) who wants to study Trog. She captures the caveman and keeps him chained and in a cage in her facility.

Brockton and her daughter Anne teach Trog how to imitate human actions such as winding up a walking doll. They even train him to retrieve a ball, which sadly leads to the worst dialogue Joan Crawford ever uttered in a movie: "That's a good boy, Trog!"

Not everyone supports Dr. Brockton's experiments. A local entrepreneur (Michael Gough) wants to build a housing project and argues that having a murderous caveman in the community is bad for business. There's also an incident in which Trog kills a neighbor's dog while playing fetch with Dr. Brockton. (This scene really bothered me...I mean, Dr. Brockton was playing with Trog in an open meadow where anyone could happen along?)

As one might expect, Trog eventually gets free--but he doesn't go on much of a rampage. Sure, he kills a couple of villagers in fear and kidnaps a little girl that looked like the doll. It makes for a pretty low-key climax and reinforces the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, Trog is not a horror movie at all.

Michael Gough as the "villain."
Neither Joan Crawford nor Michael Gough can do much with their cliched roles. Still, I think Joan might have been more effective if she had played Brockton with more restraint.

One of the more ridiculous scenes in Trog has the caveman "remembering" the days of the dinosaurs as the result of an experiment. (Never mind that humans and dinosaurs existed a few million years apart!) The good news is that the dinosaur scenes were lifted from the 1956 Irwin Allen documentary The Animal World and were animated by Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen.

Trog producer Herman Cohen also worked with Joan Crawford on the earlier (and better) psychological thriller Berserk (1967). Also, though it was paired with a Christopher Lee Dracula film in the U.S., Trog is not a Hammer film. However, two notable Hammer alumni worked on it: Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) was the director and John Gilling (The Plague of the Zombies) co-wrote the original story.

Here's a clip from Trog courtesy of Warner Archive and available on the Cafe's YouTube channel.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Love It or Shove It: Classic Movie Edition

In this new occasional feature, we'll make a statement about classic cinema and then ask our panel of movie experts to "love it" (they agree) or "shove it" (they disagree). It should be a fun way to get some different perspectives. This month, our expert panel is comprised of: Connie Metzinger from Silver Scenes, John Greco from Twenty Four Frames, and Cafe staff member Toto.

So, let's get started!

Is Nicholson's film a classic?
1.  The best films of the 1970s--such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Godfather Part II--are classic films in every sense of the term.

Connie:  Shove it. I appreciate 1970s films as much as 1940s films, but no matter how stellar the picture may be, it's not a classic in my book.

Toto:  Love it. An important element of classic films is that they hold up over time as evidenced by the powerful performances of Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Classic films also impact us socially. Though personally not a fan of The Godfather saga, it continues to influence culture as evidenced by The Sopranos and parodies on MADtv.

John:  Love it. For me, the classic film did not end with the demise of the studio system.  It continued with many of the 1970s filmmakers, who grew up during the studio heydays and fell in love with Hollywood. Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather films are brilliant cinema. They embody the visual technique of old Hollywood with a modern touch. Coppola and his films are just one example. Others include Brian DePalma, who mixed Hitchcock suspense with modern day visual cinematic techniques (Sisters, Carrie). Martin Scorsese's love of classic Hollywood is well known, and it comes through in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and New York, New York. Woody Allen's comedies of the 70s are revisionist takes of Hollywood’s classic romantic and slapstick comedies. Finally, Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, Nickelodeon and What’s Up Doc? all pay tribute to Hollywood’s golden years. The filmmakers of the 70s embraced the old Hollywood as much as they rebelled and changed it.

2.  Alfred Hitchcock's best decade was the 1950s, which included Rear Window, Vertigo, and North By Northwest.

Connie:  Love it. It took the master of suspense twenty years to perfect his craft and he reached his directorial prime in the 1950s.

Toto:  Love it. I like every Hitchcock film from the 1950s and that isn't a statement I can say for all directors.

John:  Love it. Alfred Hitchcock made brilliant films in every decade, but few filmmakers, if any, had a run of four masterpieces in a ten year period with Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest. Any other filmmaker would find this hard to beat.  In addition, during that same decade of the 1950s, Hitch made lesser, but still fascinating, films like Stage Fright, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much and two underrated gems The Trouble with Harry and I Confess. Even Hitchcock’s own 1930s period which is filled with some brilliant work does not match his 1950s output.

Cary Grant at age 62.
3.  Cary Grant retired too soon. He was 62 when he made his last film, Walk Don't Run, in 1966.

Connie:  Shove it. Cary Grant didn't have outstanding acting abilities and if he were to have continued to perform into his 70s and 80s he would have had to rely solely on his talent and not his debonair charm or good looks. Besides, it would have been too sad to see him end his career in a cheap horror film as so many actors did.

Toto:  Shove it. I love Cary Grant! He entertained people all of his life. Retirement at 62, when he became a father for the first time, was well deserved.

John:  Hate it. Retirement was a personal choice on Cary Grant’s part, so it’s hard to argue. He didn't like the limelight. After retirement, he kept himself busy with family and various business dealings (he was on a couple of corporate boards.) As a fan, I don't like it that Grant left the screen so early; that's where the "hate it'" comes from. I felt we were cheated. However, I can understand it on a personal level that he wanted out. He was still a big star, and he left it all behind. That in itself takes some guts.
Sisters Olivia and Joan.

4. Based on the body of her work, Olivia de Havilland was a better actress than her sister Joan Fontaine.

Connie:  Love it. Joan Fontaine was an extremely talented actress, but unlike her sister she didn't have the skill in selecting noteworthy parts that showcased her talent, and that's an important part of being an actress. Joan would often follow a marvelous performance in a great movie by a mediocre role in a mediocre comedy.

Toto:  Love it. From Captain Blood through They Died With Their Boots On, I really enjoyed the eight pairings of Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. She was enchanting in Gone With the Wind and left us guessing in My Cousin Rachel.

John:  Love it. At first, I was jumping back and forth on who I thought was better. However, while Joan Fontaine was excellent in both Suspicion and Rebecca, I am not sure she ever did anything as challenging as sister Olivia's work in The Snake Pit and The Heiress. During her career, Olivia de Havilland either went after more difficult roles than Fontaine or was fortunate enough have them handed to her by the studio. Either way, I ended up leaning toward the older sister.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Case of the Unlikeliest Charlie Chan

Ross Martin as Charlie Chan.
Mystery TV series were on the rise again in 1970 with NBC preparing to launch its NBC Mystery Movie franchise. That umbrella series would feature sleuths who were rumpled and sly (Columbo), married to mischievous spouses (McMillan & Wife), and transported from the West to the East (McCloud). All of which may explain why NBC was interested in a potential TV series about an Asian American police detective--and a famous one at that.

Produced in 1970, the made-for-TV movie The Return of Charlie Chan (aka Happiness Is a Warm Clue) was intended to introduce Earl Derr Biggers' venerable detective to a new generation. However, it appears to have encountered trouble from the outset with the unlikely casting of Ross Martin in the title role. The actor had amassed a reasonable amount of popularity as Robert Conrad's sidekick (and master of disguises) Artemus Gordon in The Wild Wild West (1965-69). He seemed poised for a series of his own.

It wasn't the first time a non-Asian actor had played Charlie Chan. Warner Oland, arguably the screen's most well-known Chan, was born in Sweden and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. However, Oland's films were made in a different era. There's no evidence that NBC shelved The Return of Charlie Chan due to concerns over a casting backlash. However, the network did promote the film in 1971 and then mysteriously decided not to broadcast it. It was eventually shown in Great Britain in 1973, but didn't make its U.S. premiere until 1979.

Suspect Richard Haydn and Martin.
For the record, Ross Martin isn't a bad Charlie Chan once one realizes he's not playing Artemus in another disguise. And The Return of Charlie Chan is a decent mystery about a Greek business tycoon, married to a younger woman, who narrowly survives a murder attempt. (I'm assuming any resemblance to Aristotle Onassis was intentional!) He convinces the "incorruptible, infallible, and unfortunately retired" Charlie Chan to take on the task of protecting him during his family's pleasure cruise off the coast of Vancouver. Charlie, accompanied by his daughter Doreen and No. 8 son Peter, makes little headway toward unmasking the culprit...until one of the tycoon's employees is found murdered in his stateroom.

There is no shortage of suspects, to include a physician, a winegrower, and an international playboy who may be a thief. All of their alibis eventually crumple under the power of Charlie's deductive reasoning, which still seems sharp despite ten years as a pineapple farmer. And, yes, Mr. Chan still offers wise sayings, such as: "Even a hair casts a shadow."

Leslie Nielsen as a Greek tycoon.
The film's "special guest star" is Leslie Nielsen, who has a grand time overplaying the role of the "richest man in the world." It's interesting that most people today think of Nielsen as a comedian because of his success in Airplane! and The Naked Gun  movies. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, he was one of the busiest actors on television and in films. He played everything from a police detective in The Bold Ones to the captain in The Poseidon Adventure to the voice of a powerful, but never seen, movie executive in the TV series Bracken's World.

Ross Martin never got his own TV series, though he remained in demand as an actor in the 1970s. He guest-starred on shows like The Love Boat, Hawaii Five-O, and Vega$. He provided voices for several cartoon series and even reprised Artemus Gordon for two made-for-TV movies. Ross Martin died in 1981 after suffering a heart attack following a game of tennis.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Billy Wilder's Game of Deception...and the Wonderment of Jack Lemmon

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
It can be a challenge to review a classic like Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, because so much has been written about it. So, instead of a traditional review, I want to focus on Wilder's theme of deception and also pay tribute to that marvelous actor known as Jack Lemmon.

For those who have never seen Some Like It Hot (and you should truly rectify that immediately), here's a plot synopsis. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play Joe and Jerry, a couple of speakeasy musicians in Chicago in 1929. After losing their jobs when police raid the joint, they struggle to find employment. They become so desperate that Jerry suggests they pose as women for an available gig in sunny Florida with an all-girls band. When Joe and Jerry inadvertently witness a gangland killing, they need to go on the lam--and what better place than Florida disguised as women in an all-girls band?

Marilyn Monroe as Sugar.
The theme of deception is a favorite for Billy Wilder, who used it for comic effect earlier in The Major and the Minor. That 1942 comedy starred Ginger Rogers as a young woman who poses as a 12-year-old to save on train fare. With Some Like It Hot, Wilder ups the ante by adding several layers of deception. The most obvious one, of course, is Joe and Jerry posing as female musicians Josephine and Daphne. But Wilder delves deeper into deception when Joe decides to woo Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), the band's attractive blonde singer.

Junior explains the Shell Oil name.
Joe, in the guise of Josephine, befriends Sugar and learns about her perfect man: a gentle, sweet, helpless millionaire with a yacht or train who wears glasses ("they get those weak eyes from reading those long tiny little columns in The Wall Street Journal").  Possessing that knowledge, Joe transforms himself into Junior, the sensitive, glasses-wearing, Wall Street Journal-reading heir to the Shell Oil fortune. It's no wonder that Sugar falls for him immediately.

Of course, Sugar isn't above a few lies herself. When she first meets Junior, she implies that she comes from a wealthy family and even introduces Daphne as a "Vassar girl." Earlier in the film, we also learn that Sugar deceives the band's manager by swearing off her fondness for alcoholic beverages--while keeping a handy flask hidden under her garter belt.

It's no plot spoiler to reveal that, even after the truth comes out, Joe and Sugar wind up together. Still, one has to wonder about the success of a relationship built on deception. Fortunately, this is reel life--not real life--and so a likable cast and a well-written script make us forget about the realities of the situation (just as we do at the end of The Graduate).

Daphne dancing with Osgood.
Reality has nothing to do with the other romantic relationship in Some Like It Hot: Daphne's wooing by a real millionaire named Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). After a night of dancing, Osgood proposes marriage and Daphne, or rather Jerry, actually considers it because Osgood is a nice guy and provides security. When Joe tries to point out the obvious challenges, Jerry replies: "I'm not stupid. I know there's a problem. His mother. We need her approval. But I'm not worried, because I don't smoke."

Jack Lemmon gives a tour-de-force performance as Jerry/Daphne, transforming from a man who sees women as sex objects to one who can see them as friends. Joe's first remark when he sees Sugar is: "That's just like jello on springs." But later when a man pinches him as Daphne, he's not amused. His growing friendship with Sugar, even though it's in the guise of Daphne, is probably the strongest relationship in the film.

Daphne on the train.
Lemmon has the best scenes in the movie, including my personal favorite. After he covers up for Sugar's drinking on the train ride to Florida, she joins Jerry (as Daphne) in his upper berth. The scantily-clad Sugar snuggles up close to him and, upon discovering his cold feet, begins to rubs them with her feet. Jerry turns away briefly and mutters a reminder to himself: "I'm a girl. I'm a girl."

It's a great line, a classic Wilder situation, and features one of the finest actors of his generation. Who could ask for more?


Sunday, June 11, 2017

James Garner Wheels and Deals as "Cash McCall"

The title character in Cash McCall does not make an appearance until eighteen minutes into the film. Still, he dominates the opening scenes. Little girls sing about him as they jump rope. Business executives describe him as a "jackal," a ruthless corporate raider. We hear about his nine-room penthouse on the tenth floor (and some of the ninth) at the Hotel Ivanhoe in Philadelphia. We even see an illustration of him, apparently dressed as Robin Hood.

When we finally meet Cash, he's handsome and charming (which isn't surprisingly since he's played by James Garner). It turns out that Cash is not an unethical, greedy dealmaker--although he does like to make money. He buys broken businesses, fixes them, and sells them for a profit.

Natalie Wood as Lory.
His latest target is Austen Plastics, which produces cabinets and parts for television sets manufactured by the larger Schofield Instrument Corporation. The company's founder, Grant Austen (Dean Jagger), wants $2 million and is surprised when Cash agrees to the price with no haggling. It turns out that Cash has ulterior motives, which are linked to Austen's daughter Lory (Natalie Wood).

Screen veteran Henry Jones.
Made in 1960, Cash McCall is an immensely likable picture with a delicious cast. If you're familiar with the films and TV shows of the 1960s, you will recognize almost everyone in it. E.G. Marshall plays an attorney (just as he did on The Defenders). Otto Kruger is Cash's banker, Roland Winters plays a blowhard business rival, and Nina Foch moons over Cash as the assistant hotel manager. Best of all, veteran character Henry Jones gets the meatiest role of his movie career as a business consultant who becomes Cash's right-hand man.

Cash McCall was only James Garner's third film as a leading man, though he had some box office clout thanks to his starring role in TV's Maverick. He's ideally cast as the self-made millionaire and even gets to show a glimpse of his soft side in his scenes with Natalie Wood. This was the last film on his Warner Bros. contract and he would follow it with a key supporting performance in The Children's Hour (1961).

As for Cash McCall, the film has some shortcomings, namely it relegates Natalie Wood to a role not worthy of her talents. And the business conflicts are wrapped up too quickly in the climax (I think the similarly-themed 1991 film Other People's Money has a better ending). Still, this is the movie that re-introduced me to James Garner and played a key role in making me a Garner fan. He will have you rooting for Cash every step of the way as the wheeler-dealer tries to pull off his biggest challenge.

And really, how could you not pull for a character played by Jim Garner?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Houses of Frankenstein and Dracula

The trailer promised a lot!
House of Frankenstein (1944). The inevitable follow-up to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1942) adds Count Dracula, a mad scientist, and a lovesick, hunchbacked assistant to the mix. The result is a somewhat clunky affair that still has its minor pleasures.

Boris Karloff stars as Dr. Gustav Niemann, a prison inmate obsessed with replicating Henry Frankenstein's life-creating experiments. When a thunderstorm causes the prison walls to crumble, Niemann and his cell mate, the hunchbacked Daniel, escape.

Carradine's Count Dracula.
They take over a traveling circus of horrors that features the skeleton of Count Dracula (John Carradine). During a fit of anger, Niemann unwisely withdraws a wooden stake from the skeleton and revives Dracula. Alas, the legendary vampire chooses the wrong young woman for a tasty snack and doesn't survive the night.

Niemann and Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) continue on to Visaria (known as Vasaria in the previous film), where they discover the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man encased on ice. Naturally, they thaw out the monsters! Niemann promises to cure Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.), although his real interest is in restoring the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) to full power.

J. Carrol Naish and Boris Karloff.
The biggest flaw with House of Frankenstein is that the monsters never interact--each one has its own separate storyline. It's like watching three mini-movies connected only by the presence of Niemann and Daniel. Karloff is fun as the mad scientist, but it's a pretty stereotypical role. Naish, on the other hand, turns in a surprisingly effective performance as the physically deformed assistant who loves a gypsy girl that's smitten with Talbot.

Given its "B" movie budget, House of Frankenstein is visually striking at times. That's not totally surprisingly given the pedigrees of cinematographer George Robinson and director Erle C. Kenton. Robinson also lensed the expressionistic Son of Frankenstein, which has been justly praised elsewhere in this blog. As for Kenton, he was a reliable journeyman director for Universal, specializing in Abbott & Costello comedies and "B" horror efforts. However, his resume also includes one of the most original horror films of the 1930s: Island of Lost Souls (1932).

Glenn Strange as the Monster.
House of Dracula (1944). Film critic Leslie Halliwell counts this immediate sequel among his favorite films in his book Halliwell's Hundred. However, there's a caveat: "It is a gem of ineptitude. Its badness lies in its extremely flat handling and in the fact that the writers were not allowed to transfer to the screen the fun they must have had in cooking up its absurd plot."

Chaney as the Wolf  Man.
Certainly, the story is an upgrade over House of Frankenstein with Count Dracula (Carradine) and Larry Talbot arriving at Dr. Edlemann's seaside castle in search of cures. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens), a caring man of science, agrees to help them. Unfortunately, Dracula becomes attracted to the nurse Miliza (Martha O'Driscoll) and can't overcome his vampire urges. During a transfusion with Edlemann, the Count reverses the flow of blood so he can remain a vampire. Unfortunately, that turns the scientist into a Jekyll-Hyde mad man.

Prior to this incident, Edlemann rescues Talbot, who has tried to commit suicide by leaping off a cliff. In a cave on the beach, the two men discover the dormant--but still living--Frankenstein Monster. Anyone one else would just leave the Monster there, but then we couldn't have a climax with torch-carrying villagers, could we?

Onslow Stevens as Dr. Edlemann.
I enjoy House of Dracula more than Mr. Halliwell. It's far from a good movie, but there are some original ideas (e.g., the fate of Talbot). Plus, it provides long-time character actor Onslow Stevens with his best role. He's quite entertaining as the staid man of science who transforms into a wild-eyed killer.

House of Dracula would turn out to be the final "serious" film in Universal's original horror film cycle that started with Dracula in 1931. Its monsters would next appear opposite Bud and Lou in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.