Monday, March 27, 2017

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Albert Finney as Arthur.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is one of the many working-class social dramas that proliferated throughout British cinema during the late 1950s and the 1960s. These films were inspired, in part, by the "angry young men" genre that began with John Osborne's 1956 stage play Look Back in Anger. That play was adapted for the screen by Tony Richardson, with Richard Burton in the lead role, in 1959. The following year, Richardson produced Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which earned numerous awards and made a star of Albert Finney.

Rachel Roberts with Finney.
Finney plays Arthur Seaton, a young factory worker in Nottingham, who escapes his mundane existence by routinely getting drunk on the weekends and sleeping with a married woman named Brenda (Rachel Roberts). Arthur scoffs at colleagues who try to further their careers and admires co-workers who "know how to spend money like me." He still lives with his parents and occasionally goes fishing with his cousin. He also takes delight in making life miserable for a straight-laced neighbor (to the point of shooting her in the bum with a BB rifle).

Doreen and Arthur flirt.
Two events occur that nudge Arthur off the road to nowhere. First, Brenda gets pregnant--which is a serious problem considering she and her husband (who have a son) have not engaged in sexual activity for several months. Around the same time, Arthur meets an attractive young woman named Doreen, who also works in a factory.

Screenwriter Alan Sillitoe, who adapted his own novel, creates a memorable--if not always likable--character in Arthur. His young protagonist is filled with self-importance and considers himself something of a rebel without a cause. Yet, he's not quite the uncaring, fun-loving bloke he thinks he is. He gives part of every paycheck to his Mum to cover lodging and food. He genuinely cares about Brenda, although he certainly doesn't love her. And, in a rare moment of true reflection, he admits: "God knows what I am."

Rachel Roberts as Brenda.
It's easy to see why Albert Finney's energetic performance catapulted him to fame. However, Rachel Roberts dominates much of the film. She hits all the right notes as the carefree Brenda who cavorts with Arthur when her husband and son are away. That sets the stage for a remarkable transformation when her life is turned upside down with the unexpected pregnancy. Crestfallen and looking as if the weight of the world is upon her, Brenda confesses to a befuddled Arthur that her best course of action is to tell the truth to her husband and hope for the best. It's a remarkable scene and no doubt helped secure her the 1960 Best Actress Award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning also won as Best Picture that year. I can see how its realism, social criticism, and stark black-and-white world (the cinematographer was the great Freddie Francis) seemed like a breath of fresh air. Personally, while I found it a worthwhile viewing, I prefer other "angry young man" pictures such as Room at the Top (1959) and another one based on an Alan Sillitoe work, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962). I also have a soft spot for the more cynical British satires of the 1960s, such as Georgy Girl (1966), Nothing But the Best (1964), and I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967).

By the way, be forewarned some of these films end rather abruptly by conventional standards.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Movie-TV Connection Game (March 2017 Edition)

The connection between Jiminy and Gregory?
Spring is almost here! And what better way to celebrate than with the return of the Cafe's most popular game! You will be 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. Sharon Tate, Stella Stevens, and Ann-Margret.

2. Leo G. Carroll and Richard Anderson.

3. Elsa Lanchester and Veronica Carlson.

4. David Hasselhoff and Jerry Van Dyke.

5. Ronald Colman and Ray Milland.

6. Warner Oland and Michael Landon.

7. Otto Preminger, Anne Baxter, and Art Carney.

8. Sandra Dee, Lesley Ann Warren, and Karen Valentine.

9. Judy Garland and Moira Shearer.

10. Spencer Tracy and Errol Flynn.

11. Jiminy Cricket and Gregory Peck.

12. Christopher Lambert and Jock Mahoney.

13. Faye Dunaway, Buddy Ebsen, and James Dean.

14. Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood.

15. Elizabeth Taylor and Dumbo.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Is "Green for Danger" one of the Greatest Detective Films?

It's a nifty, though misleading, poster.
In his book The Detective in Film, William K. Everson touts Green for Danger (1946) as one of the three best detective films ever made (the others being The Maltese Falcon and The Kennel Murder Case). I not only concur, but will add that it may be the best Hitchcock film not made by Hitchcock. That’s a bold statement, I know (and fans of Charade may be aghast), but Green for Danger could easily have been directed by Hitch during his late British period that produced The Lady Vanishes. In fact, the two films bare an obvious connection: both were written by the team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. Gilliat also directed Green for Danger.

Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.
Based on the 1944 novel by Christianna Brand, the film takes place during World War II at an “emergency” hospital in the English countryside. Emotions are running high at the hospital due to the constant air raids and a love triangle with two of the doctors (Trevor Howard and Leo Genn) vying for the affections of one of the nurses (Sally Gray). After another nurse announces that a patient’s accidental death was really murder, she is found dead. Scotland Yard is summoned and arrives in the form of cinema’s most offbeat detective, Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim).

Gilliat and Launder make brilliant use of time and place. Random explosions from the German bombs create both tension and humor (in the masterful hands of Sim). Equally atmospheric are the isolated hospital’s shadow-filled rooms, the tight hallways, and the white operating theater. It’s a spooky place, especially in the eerie, brilliantly-lit scene where Sister Bates is killed. People sometimes die in hospitals due to natural causes—so what better place to stage a murder?

But what separates Green for Danger from other mysteries is its seamless integration of subtle humor in the form of its detective. In the midst of a homicide investigation, the Inspector and the head of the hospital have this exchange:

Dr. White: I do hope everything can be arranged discreetly.

Inspector Cockrill: Hmm, shouldn't think so for a moment.

Dr. White: Why not? Press? Do they have to be seen?

Inspector Cockrill: Can't keep ’em out.

Dr. White: Oh, dear.

Inspector Cockrill: I don't mind. They always give me a good write-up.

Cockrill also narrates the film from time to time, which allows him to offer amusing commentary like: “My presence lay over the hospital like a pall…I found it all tremendously enjoyable."

Inspector Cockrill nicely interrogates Nurse Linley (Sally Gray).

What makes Cockrill so interesting is that he can turn off the flippant humor like a switch and demand an answer to a probing question. It’s a credit to Sim’s acting ability that he pulls this off so effortlessly. It’s also a shame that Sim, Gilliat, and Launder didn’t make any follow-up films featuring Inspector Cockrill.

Sim gets excellent support from the actors portraying the suspects, especially Howard and Genn as the rival doctors. They are so convincing that the identity of the murderer is a well-kept secret throughout the film, even though the title provides a vital clue before the credits even roll.

Green for Danger was on my want-to-see list for about 15 years. One day I came from work and my wife seemed a little excited. She had made a lovely dinner, served me in front of the TV and VCR, and turned on Green for Danger—which she had taped off USA Network during that day (back when USA showed quality movies!). Sometimes, expectations result in disapppointment, but I’m glad to say that Green for Danger exceeded all expectations and remains a movie that my wife and I continue to show any acquaintances who haven’t seen it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Five Best Vincent Price Performances

A little devil provides bad advice!
1. Champagne for Caesar (1950). It's a shame that Vincent Price didn't make more straight comedies because he's hilarious as a business tycoon in this underrated gem. He plays Burnbridge "Dirty" Waters, owner of the Milady Soap company ("the soap that sanctifies") and sponsor of a popular quiz show called "Masquerade for Money." When Burnbridge doesn't hire an overqualified genius (Ronald Colman), the latter gains revenge by winning big on the quiz show. My favorite scene is when Burnbridge contemplates killing Colman's character, getting advice from a little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other (both played by Price, of course).

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price.
2. Laura (1944). In another atypical role, Price is perfection as Shelby Carpenter, a worthless playboy that lives off older women but somehow manages to get engaged to Gene Tierney's title character (one of the true mysteries in the film!). He and Clifton Webb steal the movie...and get all the good lines, such as: "I can afford a blemish on my character, but not on my clothes."

3. The Baron of Arizona (1950). I'm not sure why Samuel Fuller's fascinating fact-based tale of one of the greatest American scams isn't better known. It provides Price with a dandy role as a meticulous con artist who masterminds an incredible scheme to claim ownership of the Arizona territory (prior to it becoming a state). Like the best villains, Price's character has his good points (he truly loves his wife). In fact, I found myself rooting for him to succeed (despite knowing that he wouldn't).

Price as stage actor Edward Lionheart.
4. Theatre of Blood (1973). Several of Vincent Price's later performances skewed toward being hammy. In this black comedy, he plays a ham--a Shakespearean actor who attempts suicide after being skewered by the critics and ignored at the awards once too often. He survives, though, and with help from his daughter (Diana Rigg), he exacts revenge on those pompous theatre critics. Price is a delight, reenacting death scenes from Shakespeare with relish. It was one of Price's favorite films and, ironically, earned some of the best reviews of his career.

5. House of Usher (1960). Price gave fine performances in several of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. In fact, one could plug Pit and the Pendulum (1961) or The Masque of the Red Death (1964) into this slot and you'd find no argument from me. I opted for this one because Price is compelling as Roderick Usher and because it was the first of the Price-Poe-Corman collaborations.

Honorable Mentions:  The Last Man on Earth (1964), in which Price plays the lone human survivor after a plague of vampirism.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Celebrate National Classic Movie Day with the Five Stars Blogathon!


For the third consecutive year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe will celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th by hosting a blogathon. This year, we will shine the spotlight on those actors and actresses that made the Golden Days of Hollywood glitter brightly.

The Five Stars Blogathon invites bloggers to list their five favorite movie stars and explain why you love them. It's that simple.

If you want to participate, please check our blogathon guidelines. If you're good with them, leave your blog's name and web address as a comment to this post. You can also just send the information to: rick@classicfilmtvcafe.com. I will add your blog to the schedule and link to it.

If you don't have a blog, you can still participate on National Classic Movie Day by listing your five favorite stars on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or another social media platform.

And since May 16th is all about our love of classic movies, it's a great day to introduce a friend to the wonderful films from the silents to the 1970s!

Here are the participants so far:

Another Old Movie Blog
Caftan Woman
Classic Film & TV Café
Classic Movie Digest
Classic Movie Treasures
Critica Retro
dbmoviesblog
goosepimply all over
Hometowns to Hollywood
Little Bits of Classics
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
(Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews
MovieMovieBlogBlog
The Movie Night Group's Guide to Classic Film
Musings of a Classic Film Addict
Old Hollywood Films
Once Upon a Screen
A Person in the Dark
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies
portraitsbyjenni
Realweegiemidget Reviews
Shadows and Satin
Silver Scenes
Silver Screen Modes
Silver Screenings
Thoughts All Sorts
Twenty Four Frames
Unknown Hollywood
Whimsically Classic

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Birds--A Matter of Misdirection

Alfred Hitchcock’s most divisive thriller finds the Master of Suspense in magician mode. On the surface, The Birds is a traditionally-structured horror film, in which the bird attacks build progressively to three of Hitchcock’s most intense sequences. However, this is just Hitchcock performing a little playful sleight of hand with the audience. Our feathered friends play a strictly peripheral part in moving the plot along. In actuality, The Birds is a relationship movie about another memorable Hitchcock mother, her adult son, and the women who threaten to come between the two—a theme explored by Hitchcock earlier in Notorious and Psycho.

In The Birds, the son is the bland, but likable, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). Mitch’s mother (wonderfully played by Jessica Tandy) fears losing her son to another woman—not because of jealousy, but because she can’t stand the thought of being abandoned. Young socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) views Mitch as a stable love interest, something she needs as she strives to live a more meaningful life. And Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) is the spinster schoolteacher, willing to waste her life to be near Mitch after failing to pry him from his mother.

Mitch's mother places herself between the lovebirds,
turning her back to ignore Melanie.
These characters come together when Melanie follows Mitch to his home in Bodega Bay after a flirtatious exchange in a pet store. Melanie’s arrival coincides with the beginning of the bird attacks. It’s almost as if the birds arrive to prevent any potential love between Mitch and Melanie, perhaps an extension of Mitch’s mother’s anger at having to defeat another rival for her son’s love. (Taken to the extreme, there could a parallel between the birds and the creature created by Morbius in Forbidden Planet).

However, although the birds initially come between Mitch and Melanie, they eventually have a very different impact. They allow Melanie, who first appears spoiled and shallow, to show her courage and vulnerability. In the end, Mitch’s mother no longer sees Melanie as a threat, but as a woman worthy of her son. Once the friction between those two characters is resolved, the bird attacks stop and the movie ends. Hitchcock’s conclusion—often criticized as ambiguous—is perfectly logical.

Hitchcock goes to great lengths to misdirect his audience by disguising The Birds as a conventional thriller. Always concerned with audience expectations, the Master of Suspense told French director/film critic Francois Truffaut in Hitchcock, a brilliant collection of interviews: “I didn’t want the public to become too impatient about the birds, because that would distract them from the personal story….” For that reason, the first bird attack comes at twenty-five minutes into the film and occurs toward the end of a playful scene in which Melanie races her boat while Mitch drives along the lake road trying to beat her to the dock.

Mitch, with all the women in his life, looks
concerned after the birthday party bird attack.
From that point on, the birds become progres-sively more menacing and their appear-ances more frequent: Mitch sees them on the power lines after Melanie visits for dinner; a bird crashes into Annie’s front door and dies; birds swoop down to break up a children’s birthday party; they fly through the open flue into Mitch’s house; and Mitch’s mother finds the first human victim in a farmhouse. (I love how Hitchcock uses broken teacups in this scene to foreshadow the impending horror. Earlier, he shows Mitch’s mom picking up broken teacups after the birds-in-the-flue incident. Then, when she visits the apparently empty farmhouse, she sees broken teacups hanging on their hooks—just before discovering the bloody, eyeless body.)

Melanie trapped in the phone booth, a metaphor for
her previously sheltered, empty life.
The remainder of the film consists of the three major set pieces: the bird attack outside the school-house; the attack after the gas station blows up; and Melanie’s struggle with the birds in the attic. Again, following the classic horror film structure, Hitchcock separates each sequence with a transition scene that allows the audience to relax and catch its breath. The scene in the restaurant with the ornithologist is one of Hitch’s rare missteps in The Birds; as Truffaut points out, it goes on too long without contributing to the narrative structure. I won’t dissect the birds’ attack on the school children—it’s an iconic sequence—but I strongly recommend that Hitchcock fans seek out Dan Auiler’s Hitchcock’s Notebooks, which includes the director’s hand-drawn storyboard and notes.

Though less famous, the burning gas station sequence is no less impressive. In the midst of the terrifying chaos, Hitchcock shows Melanie protected—and trapped—inside a phone booth. This “glass cage” is a marvelous metaphor for her previously sheltered life (also symbolized by the lovebirds in the birdcage) from which she is rescued by Mitch (literally…when he pulls her from the phone booth).

The three years between Psycho and The Birds (1963) comprised the longest gap between Hitchcock films up to that point. Much of that time was spent dealing with the technical difficulties in bringing Daphne du Maurier’s short story to the screen. In Truffaut’s book, Hitchcock admits that he discovered narrative weakness in The Birds as he was shooting it. A compulsive pre-planner, who storyboarded every shot in every film, Hitchcock began to improvise during the shooting of The Birds: “The emotional siege I went through served to bring out an additional creative sense in me.”

That creative genius is captured for all to see in The Birds. From its use of bird sounds in lieu of music to its disturbing closing shot, The Birds is an atypical Hitchcock film which finds the director in a mischievous mood. He gives us a classic chiller, but then reveals that it’s all wrapping paper and that’s what inside is a relationship drama. It’s an unexpected gift and, hey, Hitchcock even includes a birthday party for us—although it’s disrupted by those darn birds!

There's nothing ambigious about the ending--the real
conflict has been resolved.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Liquidator: "Life is not all sex and sun lamps"

One of the first spy spoofs in the wake of Goldfinger (1964), The Liquidator stars Rod Taylor as Boysie Oakes, a reluctant secret agent--or assassin, to be more precise. Boysie enjoys the swinging bachelor pad, the expensive sports car, and the ladies that come with the job. He just doesn't like the killing. So, he sub-contracts out his targets to Mr. Griffen, an efficient blue-collar contract killer. This arrangement works out well until a weekend vacation in Monte Carlo reveals that someone is using Boysie as a pawn in an espionage plot to steal an experimental aircraft.

The Liquidator is an amusing film that borders on satire, a contrast to later (and more financially successful) spoofs like Our Man Flint (1966) and the Matt Helm movies. British intelligence head Wilfrid Hyde-White creates Boysie's job because red tape is preventing his department from catching enemy spies legally. Wouldn't it just be easier to have them killed? His second-in-charge, Mostyn (Trevor Howard), has understandable reservations:

Mostyn:  Chief, this is tantamount to murder.

Chief: Then go find a murderer.

Trevor Howard as Mostyn.
Mostyn remembers Boysie from a World War II incident in which the latter saved the former's life by shooting two spies. What Mostyn doesn't know is that Boysie's gun fired when he tripped on some rubble. He finds Boysie in a rural cafe called the Bird Cage (a probable pun since Taylor had appeared in Hitchcock's The Birds two years earlier). The diner actually features colorful birds in a cage, setting up the film's best double entendre involving a buxom young woman and another word for "bird." Boysie is reluctant to leave his current situation, but once he sees his pad--and the pretty interior decorators--he signs all the government documents without reading them.

Rod Taylor and Jill St. John.
Rod Taylor is the perfect choice for the capable, but not always intelligent, Boysie. Indeed, one of my few qualms with The Liquidator is that I wish the hero had been given a few more heroic things to do. I was surprised to learn that MGM considered making a series of Liquidator films. Unless Boysie evolved into a more realistic spy, I couldn't imagine his character sustaining additional installments.

Of course, there were eight Boysie Oakes novels written by John Gardner between 1964 and 1975. Gardner portrayed Oakes as a cowardly anti-Bond who succeeded as a spy in spite of himself. That may have worked on the printed page (and Gardner is a good writer), but I doubt if movie audiences of the 1960s would have embraced the literary Boysie in a film series.

Jill St. John as Iris.
Speaking of 007, The Liquidator shares some interesting connections with the Bond films. Rod Taylor's co-star Jill St. John would portray Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. Lalo Schifrin's theme song to The Liquidator is sung by Shirley Bassey, who recorded the Bond title tunes for Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker. Finally, Ian Fleming's publisher selected author John Gardner to write new 007 novels, starting with 1981's Licence Renewed. Gardner went on to write 13 additional Bond books.

The Liquidator lacks the style and wit of my favorite spy spoof--Our Man Flint--but it's a colorful diversion with a good cast and a decidedly different hero. If you're a fan of 1960s cinema (as I am), then you will likely enjoy it. Plus, you can't dislike a movie in which Trevor Howard wisely notes: "Life is not all sex and sun lamps."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Dark of the Sun: Mercenaries with Mixed Motives

Rod Taylor as a mercenary.
This 1968 Rod Taylor action picture can count Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino among its admirers. That's pretty good for what Variety described at the time as "a raw adventure yarn with some glib philosophizing."

Taylor plays Curry, a mercenary who has accepted $50,000 to rescue some people--and $50 million in diamonds--from a town in northern Congo that's under threat of an attack from the rebel Simbas. Curry and his Congo-born crony, Ruffo (Jim Brown), must complete their mission in three days. They recruit 40 Congolese soldiers, an alcoholic doctor (Kenneth More), and an ex-Nazi German officer named Heinlein (Peter Carsten).

Jim Brown as Ruffo.
Their journey, via an old steam train, is fraught with perils from the outset. The cavalcade is attacked by a United Nations peacekeeping plane. Curry and Heinlein, who dislike each other immensely, almost fight to the death. And Curry and Ruffo's "secret" mission seems to be common knowledge to everyone they meet. Worst of all, though, they arrive at their destination three hours early and have to wait until a safe's timelock opens so they can get the diamonds. Meanwhile, an army of ruthless Simbas are fast approaching the town.

Yvette Mimieux has a small role, reteaming
her with her Time Machine co-star.
This last plot point turns into an action-packed sequence in which Ruffo and Heinlein hold off the enemy as Curry boards the train at the last second with the diamonds. Unfortunately, their escape is short-lived when an explosion disconnects the caboose from the rest of the train, sending the train car --along with its screaming passengers and the precious stones--backwards into the hands of the enemy. In the film's most harrowing scene, Curry and Ruffo return to the captured town to retrieve the diamonds. Ruffo, posing as a Simba, carries Curry like a trophy on his back as they navigate through burning streets where innocent people are being tortured and killed.

This scene, plus a brutal fight at the climax, has earned Dark of the Sun a reputation as a grim, violent film. To be sure, the atrocities, which are implied more than they are shown, are not for squeamish viewers. There was no rating system when the film was released, but it was subsequently given a PG rating in 1973 (there was no PG-13 at the time). Director Jack Cardiff cut several gruesome scenes in order to secure the film's release.

Cardiff is best known as one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of cinema, having photographed Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The African Queen (1951). He only directed 13 feature films, including two 1960s adventures with Rod Taylor: Dark of the Sun and the tongue-in-cheek The Liquidator (1965). Surprisingly, there's nothing visually striking about Dark of the Sun, although Cardiff makes one believe the film takes place in Africa (in reality, the locations were the Caribbeans and a British studio). He also handles the impressive action scenes with aplomb.

Curry and Ruffo discuss what makes them tick.
Still, it's that "glib philosophizing" that separates Dark of the Sun from other action films of the same period. In between the fight scenes, Curry and Ruffo debate their motives for what they do. At the outset, Curry makes it clear that he's a "paid man doing a dirty job" whereas Ruffo wants to maintain the freedoms his country has only recently earned. Driven by his friendship with Ruffo, Curry evolves as the film progresses--as evidenced by his decision to ultimately pay for his crimes. And yet, one can't help but think that Curry doesn't regret his violent actions...that he is still a mercenary at heart. Perhaps, it's his desire to reflect his friend's honor that drives his moral actions.

Dark of the Sun provides Jim Brown with one of his best roles as Ruffo. The former football great was typically typecast as macho men of action (e.g., Ice Station Zebra, Slaughter). But he brings sensitivity and intelligence to Ruffo, while still looking comfortable with an automatic weapon in his hand. He also gets to deliver the film's best-known line of dialogue, stating that he came from a tribe that believed: "If you eat the heart and brain of your enemy, his strength and wisdom will be added to your own."

Surprisingly, that sums up Dark of the Sun pretty well: It's a violent adventure film with more heart and a little more intelligence than you might expect.

This review is part of Rod Taylor Week at the Cafe, our week-long tribute to the Australian actor. Click here to read more reviews of his films.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dirk Bogarde Cultivates the Seeds of Friendship in "The Spanish Gardener"

Dirk Bogarde...as Jose?
British filmmakers practically cornered the market on quiet, personal dramas in the 1950s. A prime example is The Spanish Gardener (1956), an unassuming film that subtly hooks its audience with a tale about a shattered man, his lonely son, and a part-time gardener that changes their lives.

Harrington Brande (Michael Horden) is a minor, lifelong diplomat who learns in the opening scenes that he has been bypassed for a prestigious British consulate post. Even worse, his new job is replacing the man who got his desired post. Brande is an unhappy man who remains convinced his wife left him "without cause and on her own volition." His best friend (perhaps his only friend) knows otherwise. He recognizes that Brande is an insecure, needy man who wants love, but has trouble giving it. This is most apparent in his relationship with his young son Nicholas.

Michael Hordern as Brande.
Brande loves his son, but it's a selfish love. Nicholas is expected to spend time with his father--but it's difficult when Father travels frequently and is often absorbed in his work. Brande wants quality time with his son--but only on his own terms. The lonely lad needs a friend and finds one in Jose (Dirk Bogarde), a local laborer who has been hired to tend to the garden. Brande quickly grows to resent Jose and inadvertently begins to drive a wedge between his son and himself.

Although The Spanish Gardener unfolds like a stage play adaptation, it was based on a 1950 novel by A.J. Cronin. Best known for writing The Citadel, Cronin also penned The Keys to the Kingdom and The Green Years. The latter, which also features a young protagonist, shares a common theme with The Spanish Gardener. In The Green Years, an orphan overcomes an unsteady relationship with his grandparents (or de facto parents) by bonding with someone else (his great-grandfather).

There are also similarities to Enid Bagnold's later 1955 stage play, The Chalk Garden (which was adapted into a marvelous 1964 film starring Deborah Kerr). Both works use a weed-filled garden as an analogy for children that need caring in order to grow and embrace life.

One of the most recognizable faces in British cinema, Michael Hordern worked steadily as a supporting actor from the 1940s through the 1980s. He rarely got leading roles, but he more than holds his own in The Spanish Gardener opposite rising star Dirk Bogarde. Initially, Bogarde seems an odd choice to play a Spanish gardener (and he doesn't even try for a fake accent). However, his natural warmth shines through in his scene with young Jon Whiteley.

Jon Whiteley.
Whiteley gives an incredibly natural child performance. He only made five films, but one was an earlier pairing with Bogarde in the 1952 chase melodrama The Stranger in Between. He co-starred with Stewart Granger in the entertaining 1955 adventure Moonfleet. And he won an honorary Oscar for "outstanding juvenile performance" in The Kidnappers (1955).

Whiteley's parents ended his acting career at age 11. As an adult, he earned a Ph.D. from Pembroke College, Oxford, and became curator of the Christ Church Picture Gallery. When asked about his Oscar statuette in a 2013 Oxford Times interview, he said: "It is at home somewhere, but I don’t think it is a particularly attractive object. It has no great charm."

Hordern, Bogarde, and Whiteley are three excellent reasons to watch The Spanish Gardener. As a whole, the film lacks the mystery and passion that drives The Chalk Garden. Still, it manages to grip the audience's emotions and delivers a satisfying, well-told story.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Logan's Run: What Lies Beyond the Dome

In the distant future, civilization's survivors live inside a huge dome controlled by a computer. When the city's inhabitants reach the age of 30, they are "renewed" by participating in a ritual called the Carousel. Dressed in white robes and masks, they are literally lifted off the ground and disappear in a flash of bright light as the younger residents cheer their approval.

As you may have guessed, "renewal" is actually death and the implication is that the computer has implemented this process to avoid overpopulation. Most of the residents live in blissful ignorance, but there are those that seek to escape to a place known only as Sanctuary. These "runners" are tracked down and eliminated by a police force known as the Sand Men.

Michael York as Logan 5.
The computer directs a Sand Man called Logan 5 to locate and destroy Sanctuary by becoming a runner. Logan (Michael York), a naturally curious young man, enlists the aid of Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter). The two share a mutual attraction, though Jessica can't fathom how Logan can kill his fellow humans. Still, she helps him escape from the dome into the outside world. Unknown to them,  Francis 7--a fellow Sand Man and Logan's best friend--is in hot pursuit.

The first half of Logan's Run is an absorbing portrait of a futuristic society. We learn that the young people have a "life clock" embedded in their hands that changes color as they approach the age of renewal. Except for the Sand Men, the dome's inhabitants don't appear to work. They party at night, whether at a risque nightclub or by tapping into a virtual database to see who is interested in casual sex. Most of them wear red and green pastel uniforms (again, except for the Sand Men who wear black and gray). And, of course the highlight of their existence is the Carousel.

Jessica and Logan outside the dome.
The film takes a hard turn when it leaves all that behind to focus on Logan and Jessica's odyssey outside the dome. There are some interesting Ozian overtones, such as the realization of what "home" is. However, there are simply too many scenes of Logan and Jessica wandering through the forests or among the ruins of the past. Peter Ustinov pops up unexpectedly along the journey to lend some meaning to the proceedings and Francis (Richard Jordan) finally catches up with his quarries. However, by then, Logan's Run has lost all momentum and can't recapture it with an overly optimistic ending.

The Capitol building in the future.
Logan's Run earned Academy Award nominations for its cinematography, art direction, and special effects. It only won in the latter category, but that was notable in that it was the fourth Oscar for L.B. Abbott, 20th Century-Fox's long-time resident special effects wizard. In addition to working his magic for films such as The Poseidon Adventure and Fantastic Voyage, he also supervised the special effects on television classics like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. His work on Logan's Run is a mixed bag, though, with some of the miniature sets looking like...well, miniature sets.

Logan's Run performed well at the boxoffice and inspired a short-lived 1977-78 TV series with Gregory Harrison as Logan and Heather Menzies-Urich as Jessica. The film's success also resulted in renewed interest in the 1967 novel. Co-author William F. Nolan even wrote a 1977 sequel called Logan's World.

By the way, Logan's Run is also notable for featuring a brief fight between the stars of Call the Midwife and Charlie's Angels. Yes, that'd be Jenny Agutter and Farrah Fawcett. Apparently, their fight scene got intense enough for director Michael Anderson to shorten it to prevent unwarranted hair pulling.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Son of Dracula: "Don't say that word. We don't like it."

Yes, Alucard spelled backward is....
Universal's best 1940s fright film was a rare collaboration between brothers Robert and Curt Siodmak. Robert, who directed, injects his noir sensibilities into the horror genre. He makes Son of Dracula a visually and thematically dark picture with a downbeat ending, Despite its fanciful bat transformations and swirling fog, it often feels more like a traditional film noir. Curt, who wrote the story, introduces a female protagonist who initially appears to be a victim--but is later revealed to be the film's femme fatale.

Robert Paige and Louise Albritton.
It opens in conventional fashion with the European vampire Count Alucard arriving at the Caldwell family's Louisiana plantation. Katherine Caldwell (Louise Albritton) brushes off her current suitor in favor of the mysterious stranger. Meanwhile, Alucard wastes no time in disposing of Katherine's wealthy father. The twist here is that Louise knows Alucard is a vampire (and presumably her father's murderer) and she still marries him. I'll skip the rest of the plot in order to avoid spoilers, but let's just say that Katherine ranks as one of film noir's baddest bad girls.

Albritton standing behind Chaney.
Given its backstory, it's amazing that Son of Dracula turned out to be a first-rate horror film. Originally called Destiny, producer George Waggner left the project due to delays with filming The Phantom of the Opera. Alan Curtis, who was originally cast as Katherine's wussy boyfriend, injured his knee and was replaced by Robert Paige. Curt Siodmak was fired due to what he called "sibling rivalry" with his older brother and only received an "original story" credit (although some of the dialogue sounds like he wrote it). And lastly, Lon Chaney, Jr. was cast--or rather miscast--as Alucard.

Don't get me wrong about Lon Chaney, Jr. He tries hard in the title role and he doesn't hurt the film. It's just that Son of Dracula could have been better with a more gentlemanly menace (perhaps fellow "B" actor Tom Conway). Of course, the film's true star is Louise Albritton and her performance easily carries the plot. She delivers one of my favorite horror movie lines when Paige's character starts to call her a vampire: "Don't say that word. We don't like it."

Robert Siodmak enhances the film with some stunning visuals. The most famous is when Katherine awaits as Alucard's coffin rises to the surface of a swamp. Mist emerges from the coffin and transforms into Alucard. He then stands on top of the coffin, floating toward Katherine, like some kind of vampire royalty. There's an eerie, dream-like quality to the scene that lingers long after the film is over.

Certainly, Son of Dracula has its flaws--the most serious one being wasting the talents of Universal's resident scream queen Evelyn Ankers. The always likable Ankers has a small, thankless role as Katherine's sister. Also, knowing Katherine's ultimate goal, I was initially perplexed as to why she married Alucard. I later surmised it was part of an arrangement between the two, though screenwriter Eric Taylor could have clarified that point with minimal effort.

Universal made other entertaining horror films in the 1940s, such as the wacky monster rallies House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. But Son of Dracula remains the studio's best serious terror tale and stands as a testament to the talents of the Siodmak brothers. Another film they worked on together was the 1930 German comedy-drama People on Sunday. Its crew also included Edgar Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Movie of the Week Blogathon is Here!

The Classic Film & TV Cafe is proud to host the first annual Movie of the Week Blogathon, celebrating made-for-TV movies broadcast between the mid-1960s and 1989.

This era is widely considered to be the "Golden Age" of telefilms and included a number of now-classic movies such as DuelBrian's SongMy Sweet CharlieThe Night StalkerTrilogy of Terror, Gargoyles, and Love Among the Ruins (starring Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier).

Many of them were originally shown on ABC as part of the fondly-remembered Movie of the Week, but NBC and CBS also featured their own evenings of made-for-TV movies. In fact, NBC broadcast what is generally considered to be the first telefilm in 1964: See How They Run. It was a thriller, starring John Forsythe, about three orphans being pursued by hired killers.

Love Among the Ruins.
For this blogathon, some of the finest film and TV bloggers on the Internet have posted reviews of memorable made-for-TV movies. We invite you to check out all of them. And when you're done, you can watch many of these films for free on YouTube, though the quality varies (of course). Click here to view a YouTube playlist with over 50 made-for-TV movies.

Here's the blogathon schedule:

Death Takes a Holiday (1971) - Silver Screen Modes
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) - John V's Eclectic Avenue
Escape (1971) - Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things
Gargoyles (1972) - in so many words...
Gidget Grows Up (1969) - Michael's TV Tray
The Gift of Love (1983) - Christmas TV History
Haunts of the Very Rich/Scream of the Wolf - Classic Film & TV Cafe
Home for the Holidays (1972) - Twenty Four Frames
Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973) - Lo, The Humanities!
Love Among the Ruins - Old Hollywood Films
The Love War (1970) - Silver Screenings
The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler - Once Upon a Screen
Pray for the Wildcats (1974) - Movie Movie Blog Blog
Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole (1972) - Caftan Woman
Shadow on the Land (1968) - Captain Video
Sole Survivor (1970) - Apocalypse Later
Strange Homecoming (1974) - Made for TV Mayhem
Thirteen at Dinner (1985) - British TV Detectives
The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan (1979)- Reelweegiemidget Reviews
Who Is the Black Dahlia? (1975) - Film Noir Archive
The 3,000 Mile Chase (1977) - Cantrell's Writing

Cloris Leachman Channels Garfield; Peter Graves Arm Wrestles Clint Walker

This post of part of the Cafe's Movie of the Week Blogathon. Please check out the other awesome reviews by visiting the blogathon schedule.

The hotel at the Portals of Eden.
Haunts of the Very Rich (1972). The opening scene introduces seven people who are en route to a paradise resort known as the Portals of Eden. The guests consists of: a bitter businessman (Ed Asner); a philanderer (Lloyd Bridges); a timid woman (Cloris Leachman); newlyweds (Donna Mills and Tony Bill); a priest who has lost his faith (Robert Reed); and a housewife recovering from a nervous breakdown (Anne Francis). When these seven people reach their destination, they are greeted by their host Mr. Seacrist (dressed in a white suit like Mr. Roarke). For a moment, I wondered if I was watching an early pilot of Fantasy Island.

Moses Gunn as the mysterious host.
However, things turn peculiar when the guests learn that there are no other vacationers and the staff understands but doesn't speak English. Mr. Seacrist (Moses Gunn) explains away these oddities--they are the first guests of a new season and a non-English speaking staff "works better that way." Still, when a tropical storm cuts off all communication with civilization, the Portals of Eden becomes downright ominous.

If you're familiar with Leslie Howard and John Garfield movies, then you've probably recognized this plot by now. Still, Haunts of the Very Rich keeps its big revelation in check for most of its 73-minute running time. It falters, though, near the end with a rambling speech by the otherwise fine Robert Reed and an esoteric jaunt through the woods by Bridges and Leachman.

Cloris Leachman and Lloyd Bridges.
As made-for-TV movies go, it's a strong cast with Bridges and Leachman the standouts as an unlikely duo who find love in the oddest of places. Leachman's character is the first to realize what has happened and the actress excels at slowly, hesitantly coming to grips with the reality of the situation.

Haunts of the Very Rich doesn't rank in the upper echelon of the ABC Movies of the Week, but it's worthy of 73 minutes of your time and you can watch it for free on YouTube.

Peter Graves as a former hunter.
Scream of the Wolf (1974). It's never good to get out of your car on an isolated road on a foggy night, so it's no surprise when something brutally kills a Los Angeles businessman. The sheriff of a nearby seaside community enlists the aid of writer John Wetherby (Peter Graves), a former big game hunter. They find wolf-like tracks around the corpse, but here's what's weird: the tracks change from a four-legged to a two-legged creature and then disappear!

When there's a second killing within a two-mile radius, John goes to see his old friend--and hunter extraordinaire--Byron Douglas (Clint Walker). Byron is an eccentric who specializes in making dramatic statements like: "Once an animal starts killing humans, it never stops" and "A good hunter is never sure of anything except that his prey will do the unexpected." Byron shows open disdain for John, whom he thinks has become weak ("You're only alive when you're in mortal danger").

Clint Walker arm wrestles Peter Graves.
The film's highlight is when Byron agrees to help hunt the animal if John, who once lasted seven minutes in an arm wrestling contest, can last just one minute this time. Peter Graves and Clint Walker in an arm wrestling contest? It just doesn't get much better than that, people!

Scream of the Wolf has an impressive pedigree with a script by Richard Matheson and Dan Curtis in the director's chair. The two were responsible for such enjoyable made-for-TV horror films such as The Night Strangler (1973) and the classic Trilogy of Terror (1975). Alas, Scream of the Wolf is not one of their better efforts.

Clint's impressive sideburns.
Yet, it does provide Clint Walker with one of his best roles. The success of his Cheyenne TV series typecast Walker as an understanding hero for most of his career (a notable exception was his convict in The Dirty Dozen). Scream of the Wolf provides him with a bizarre character and Walker has a grand time threatening wussies, spouting philosophy, and, of course, arm wrestling.

Plus, Clint sports some of the coolest triangular sideburns this side of Pythagoras. You can check them out because Scream of the Wolf is also available on YouTube.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Classic TV Themes Quiz #2 (American edition!)

We received such positive feedback about last month's Classic British TV Themes Quiz that we're back with a second edition. This time, though, the themes are from American television shows of the 1960s and 1970s. That should make this quiz a little easier!

As before, we'll play a snippet of an opening or closing theme and ask you to to name the show. There are ten themes, so it won't take long to play.

Just click on the video below to get started. Please leave a comment to let us know how you did--but don't list the answers. Good luck!


Monday, February 13, 2017

Dead End Drive-in: "It's not so bad in here"

The Star Drive-in is a dead end!
Prior to today, it had been almost 30 years since I last saw Dead End Drive-in, an Australian exploitation film made in the wake of the original Max Max trilogy. To my delight, my wife gave me a DVD of the film as a present (one more reason why she's awesome). Still, I was concerned that my memories of Dead End Drive-in would fail to live up to reality. I am happy to report that it's as good--perhaps even better--than I remembered.

The story takes place in 1990, a bleak future in which "inflation, shortages, and unemployment" have sparked crime waves across the globe. The streets of Sydney are patrolled by ineffective police that ignore the local gangs (called "car boys"). Jimmy (Ned Manning), who drives a van for Big Bob's Pies, takes it all in stride. One night, he borrows his brother's '56 Chevy convertible and takes his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the Star Drive-in--where admission is $10 for adults and $3.50 for the unemployed. While Jimmy and Carmen are making out, the Chevy's two rear tires are stolen.

Ned Manning as Jimmy (aka Crabs).
Jimmy jumps out of the car to see two cops loading his tires into their vehicle. When the crime is reported, Thompson (Peter Whitford), the drive-in's manager, says he can do nothing about it until the morning. When daylight arrives, Jimmy discovers that most of the drive-in's patrons are still there. They have no way of leaving either. The parking lot's fence is electrified, the gate is locked, and, of course, no one has a working vehicle. Thompson gives a book of vouchers to Jimmy and Carmen, explaining that it can be redeemed for food. It seems that once you enter the Star Drive-in, you can't leave until the "government" decides what to do with you!

Natalie McCurry as Carmen.
The irony is that no one except Jimmy wants to leave. The other 191 "prisoners" eat at the diner, play games, and watch movies at night. The reality is that, for some of them, the drive-in offers a better life than the one they had on the "outside." Even Carmen quickly grows to accept her situation, telling Jimmy: "It's not so bad in here. You'll come round to it."

But Jimmy does not. He is the sole individualist in a conformist society. While the young folks engage in frivolous activities, Jimmy tries to stay in shape, keep the Chevy's engine tuned, and subtly pumps the drive-in manager for information.

I don't mean to imply that Dead End Drive-in is a heavy-handed parable. It is, at heart, a drive-in exploitation film complete with a rock song soundtrack and a climatic chase sequence. Speaking of the songs, you probably won't recognize any of the Aussie performers, but several contribute catchy tunes. The best is the high-energy closing song "Playing With Fire" by Lisa Edwards (who had one top 5 hit in her native country). You can visit our YouTube channel to hear it and watch our original music video.
This impressive stunt cost $75,000!

Whitford as the drive-in manager.
The young cast provides a lot of energy, too, especially Manning and McCurry as the two leads (the latter deserved a few more scenes). The only performer I recognized from other roles was Peter Whitford. The veteran Aussie actor first caught my attention in Baz Luhrmann's delightful Strictly Ballroom (1992). He later appeared as the Stage Manager in Moulin Rouge! (2001).

Incidentally, if you're wondering about the movies playing at the Star Drive-in, two of them were earlier works by director Brian Trenchard-Smith (including the Jimmy Wang Yu action pic The Man from Hong Kong) and the third is Race for the Yankee Zephyr, which was directed by actor David Hemmings.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Seven Things to Know About Lloyd Bridges

1. Although Lloyd Bridges first appeared in films in 1936, he didn't make a major impact until High Noon in 1952. He played a key supporting role as deputy Harvey Pell, who refuses to stand with Gary Cooper's heroic lawman against the Miller Gang. He resigns because the recently-married Coop won't support him as the new marshal.

2. Bridges fared better on television, especially after delivering a riveting performance in "Tragedy in a Temporary Town" on The Alcoa Hour. Sidney Lumet directed this 1956 live drama about a community seeking "justice" against a Puerto Rican worker accused of assaulting a teenage girl. During his climatic speech on mob violence, Bridges became so emotionally invested in his role that he ad-libbed a four-letter word--marking one of the first uses of profanity on broadcast television. His performance earned him the first of two Emmy nominations (the other was for a guest star appearance on Seinfeld).

3. Lloyd Bridges' career was briefly derailed in the early 1950s when he was blacklisted for his earlier involvement with the Actors Lab, a theater group with alleged Communist Party ties. He quickly cleared his name with the FBI.

Strapping on his gear in Sea Hunt.
4. He shot to TV fame playing scuba diver Mike Nelson in the half-hour 1958-61 series Sea Hunt. Ironically, though he was an avid swimmer, Bridges had never scuba dived and had to learn how for the show. By the way, all three major TV networks passed on Sea Hunt, so Ivan Tors syndicated it--and turned it into a major hit.

5. Bridges appeared in numerous subsequent TV series, to include: The Lloyd Bridges Show, a 1962-63 anthology series; Rod Serling's offbeat Western The Loner (1965-66); San Francisco International Airport (1970-71); Joe Forrester (1975-76), in which he played a street cop; and Harts of the West with son Beau Bridges (1993-94). According to several Star Trek books, he turned down the role of Captain James T. Kirk.

With sons Beau (r) and Jeff (l).
6. Lloyd acted opposite his sons Beau and Jeff on several occasions. Both sons guest starred on Sea Hunt, The Lloyd Bridges Show, and The Loner. Lloyd appeared uncredited in Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), which starred Jeff Bridges in the title role. Lloyd also had a daughter. Lucinda, during his 60-year marriage to wife Dorothy. A fourth child, Garrett, died of sudden infant death syndrome.

Looking unhinged in Airplane II.
7. Lloyd Bridges' acting career got an unexpected boost when he appeared as a scary, glue-sniffing airport tower supervisor in the wacky comedy Airplane!. He subsequently appeared in other big screen comedies such as Airplane II: The Sequel, both of the Hot Shots! movies, and Jane Austen's Mafia (his final film, which was released after his death in 1998). My favorite of his later roles, though, has him playing Ted Danson's life-loving father in the warm comedy-drama Cousins (1989).