Night Must Fall (1937) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is a very strange movie.  Robert Montgomery plays Danny, a young man working at a hotel when a murder takes place.  The police suspect him but a rich cantankerous old woman, Mrs. Bramson, hires him to be her personal assistant and live in her home on an isolated forested estate.  Supposedly Danny is going to marry Bramson’s maid Dora.  But he seems more interested in Bramson’s niece Olivia played by Rosalind Russell.  To round out the household is the acid-tongued cook Emily.

So that’s the setup.  Mrs. Bramson is a bitter unpleasant woman who even despises her own niece but Danny pretends affection for the old lady and a sensitivity to her problems and becomes her closest companion.  Olivia can see that he is acting but for whatever reason she doesn’t expose him for a phony when she has the chance.

But much more seriously, she begins to suspect that Danny is the murderer and that he has the murdered woman’s head in a locked hatbox that he keeps in his room.  When the police inspector questions Danny about the murder and searches his room, he finds the hatbox and demands that Danny open it but Olivia intervenes and claims the box is hers and the Inspector relents.  Now this seems inexplicable.  She claims that she dislikes and distrusts Danny but for some reason she saves him.  Later on, Danny tells her that she is actually attracted to him because of the excitement he has brought into her life.

And indeed, Olivia is desperate for something to relieve the boredom of her hum-drum existence living with her aunt in this isolated rural environment.  She longs for excitement and for that reason has rejected the marriage proposal of Justin Laurie who is her aunt’s lawyer and an affectionate, dependable if unexciting suitor.

But everything comes to a head and Olivia cracks under the strain of living in the house with the manic Danny and she flees to Justin’s home leaving her aunt alone with Danny.  Danny murders her and empties her safe of a large amount of cash.  He prepares to burn down the house when Olivia returns and confronts him over the murder.  He happily admits it and informs her that she too will be murdered and burned in the fire.  But just then Justin arrives with the police and Danny has a final scene to declare his madness to himself in a hallway mirror before being carted away for justice.

This is a very strange movie.  My read is this is a woman’s movie.  Other than the murderer the main characters are all women.  The lonely house in the woods reinforces this strange dynamic of women isolated with a sociopathic man who preys on women.  But only Olivia has figured it all out.  Mrs. Bramson is completely taken in.  Dora and Emily can’t make up their minds if he is real or not.  But even Olivia is mesmerized by his tour de force.  She knows he’s a liar and she suspects that he’s a murderer but she retains a sympathy for him that’s hard to believe.

I asked Camera Girl about this because she’s a woman.  I said, “You’re a woman, is this possible?”  She said it could be somewhat believable that a woman who was so desperately bored might welcome the distraction of experiencing the weirdness of such a colorful character.  So, we agreed that although the idea of Olivia helping Danny escape detection is sort of hard to believe, the movie was fairly interesting.

Montgomery’s portrayal of Danny and Russell’s Olivia are fairly compelling characters.  And the rest of the cast is very good too.  As much as this movie is odd and the motif of Olivia allowing Danny to escape detection is far-fetched, nevertheless, I will still recommend this movie for people who like psychological dramas.

I Come to Bury the Oscars Not to Praise Them

I read today that the Oscars took place last night and that the ratings had shrunk by 58% below the already lowest ratings of the year before.  I laughed heartily for several minutes while I read the details of this farcical proceeding.  I think the very best bit was the fact that the Best Actor award was saved for the end to highlight what they hoped would be the victory of the star of the Black Panther super hero movie who died of cancer.  But then he surprisingly lost to Anthony Hopkins in a non-Hannibal Lecter part.  And then just to add insult to injury Hopkins didn’t bother to stay up to accept the award and it had to be accepted by the janitor at the laundromat where the ceremony took place.

It’s just marvelous to watch as these creepy perverts who lecture us on morality fall into the dustheap of history.  Even the shills who pretend to provide honest reviews of these awful movies admitted this year that even they had never heard of some of these movies and that there was little or no chance that anyone who wasn’t forced at gunpoint would pay to see any of them.

Here’s the list:

  • Nomadland
  • The Father
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Mank
  • Minari
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

The only one that has at least a reason to be on a list of American motion pictures is Mank.  It’s about an American movie director during the Golden Age of Hollywood and stars Gary Oldman whom I really like.  All the rest of the movies are either diversity projects or so awful that they’re basically daring you to go see them, or both.  Nomadland won the Oscar because the director is a Chinese woman.  Reading the plot summary, I was struck by how awful it sounded.  The Father was the movie that Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor award for.  He plays an Alzheimer victim.  The Sound of Metal is the story of a heavy metal drummer who is going deaf.  Judas and the Black Messiah and The Trial of the Chicago 7 are the obligatory black struggle films.  Minari is the obligatory Korean immigrant story.  And finally Promising Young Woman is the female empowerment rape revenge movie.

Wow.  Who wouldn’t want to just run out and see all these movies over and over again?

Well anyway, it’s truly gratifying to see that they’ve finally crashed and burned their whole tawdry industry and there’s nothing left to do but dig a whole and bury the whole stupid enterprise underneath that broken down Hollywood sign on the hill.  It should be interesting to see if some country that isn’t completely infected with woke imbecility manages to start making movies that people want to see.  I know it seems unlikely but honestly in the past it happened all the time.  Maybe it’ll have to be stone age people in Papua New Guinea or the Amazon jungle.  Places that have never heard of Hollywood.  Or maybe space aliens might crash land and take up movie making as a way to earn money to buy repair parts for their warp drive.  But however it happens, I’d like to think that someday we’ll do better than this crap.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – A Movie Review

I’ll start off by saying this is a terrible movie.  But maybe it’s so bad it’s good.

Frank Sinatra is an Army Major named Bennett Marco who is captured along with his platoon during the Korean War and sent into China to be brainwashed to be part of a political assassination plot that the Russians have arranged.  The platoon sergeant Raymond Shaw is the assassin and as it turns out his mother, played by Angela Lansbury, is the Russian agent who is his handler.  He is programmed to obey instructions that he gets after he’s been triggered by seeing the ace of diamonds during a solitaire game.  His mother is married to a United States Senator that she is going to get elected President by having her son assassinate the Republican presidential candidate.  If this isn’t crazy enough, his mother gets Shaw to assassinate his own newlywed wife and her United States Senator father in order to further the plan.

So, the plot is pretty crazy but it’s kind of fun in a way because of the way they present it.  We get these flash backs of the brainwashing camp.  The Russian doctor demonstrates the control he has over the prisoners by having Shaw kill two of the other prisoners on command.  And based on the false memories that are implanted in the prisoners Shaw gets the Congressional Medal of Honor for supposedly freeing them and killing some ridiculous number of North Korean troops.

Now this could have been a political thriller that works.  But the acting is unbelievably bad.  Some of the dialog is borderline ridiculous.  For instance, Janet Leigh plays a woman who meets Sinatra accidentally on a train and within a day she bails him out of jail for assaulting a Korean house boy and still decides to leave her fiancé to marry him.  And then there is this hilarious karate fight between Sinatra and a fake Korean guy.  It’s like something out of one of the Austin Powers movies.  One of his karate chops misses and ends up knocking an enormous chunk out of a wooden table.  But it looks as if it’s made of styrofoam.  I think that fight may have been the inspiration for Inspector Clouseau’s battles against his Oriental House Boy Kato in the Pink Panther movies.

I read that this is considered to be in several top 100 film lists.  I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

On a personal note, there is a scene in the movie that was filmed in a restaurant in Manhattan called Jilly’s.  Jilly Rizzo, the owner of the restaurant and the guy who is seen tending bar in the movie was one of Sinatra’s closest friends.  Jilly was convicted in 1990 of a loan fraud scheme on his restaurant that involved some very old acquaintances of mine.  And some of these acquaintances worked at Jilly’s and even knew Sinatra from his visits there.  I think the fraud scheme and this movie are in some ways kindred entities.  They both possess a spirit of inept dishonesty.  A bungled fraud.

So, this movie has a personal connection for me.  But that in no way changes my opinion of its quality.  If I remember correctly Sinatra did sometimes do some decent acting.  I’m going to watch “The Joker is Wild” again because I think he was pretty good in that.  I never noticed any acting going on in Ocean’s Eleven.  People say he was good in “From Here to Eternity.”  That part seemed a little melodramatic to me.  “The Man with the Golden Arm” never interested me.  Maybe he was good in it.  But without a doubt, The Manchurian Candidate was abysmally bad.

Recommended only as camp.

09APR2021 – OCF Update – Life Imitates Art

On such a beautiful day I naturally decided to spend it extracting thorn brambles and Russian olive trees with a shovel and a 6 foot pry bar.  After a couple of hours of sweat and back ache I remembered a line from the movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

Curtin:  What are you going to do with your hard-earned money old timer when you get back and cash in?

Howard:  I’m getting along in years.  Oh, I can still hold up my end when it comes to a hard day’s work but I ain’t the man I was once, and next year, next month, next week I won’t be the man I am today.  Reckon I’ll find me some quiet place to settle down.  Buy a business maybe … a grocery or a hardware store, and spend the better part of my time reading comic strips and adventure stories.  One thing’s for sure … I ain’t going to go prospecting again and waste my time and money trying to find another gold mine.

I certainly know what Howard was talking about in that scene.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – A Movie Review

Jimmy Stewart is small town attorney Paul Biegler in Upper Peninsula Michigan who is defending Army Lt. Frederick Manion (played by Ben Gazzara) who has shot and killed a man, Barney Quill, after he raped Manion’s wife Laura.  The prosecution in this case, Asst. State Atty. General Claude Dancer is played by George C. Scott.  Biegler is trying to prove that Lt. Manion killed his wife’s attacker while in a dissociative state because of his shock at his wife’s attack.  The prosecution has a two-fold job.  They try to convince the jury that Lt. Manion was in his right mind when he shot Quill and also that Mrs. Manion was an unfaithful wife and was voluntarily involved with her attacker.

The majority of the film is the courtroom trial and the sparring between Jimmy Stewart and George C. Scott is the main attraction.  Scott delivers his dialog with his usual aggressive and nuanced portrayal.  He attacks the Manions on the witness stand with all the brutal skill of a gladiator in the arena.  Stewart is forced to use the sympathy for a brutalized woman and her outraged husband to win the jury’s sympathy.  But the prosecution is able to showcase the flawed relationship between an overly flirtatious woman and her almost insanely jealous husband to give credibility to the idea that Lt. Manion was just a jealous man killing his rival in love and therefore guilty of murder.

A very young Lee Remick as Mrs. Manion is remarkably beautiful and her flirtatiousness throughout the movie does make it more likely for us, the audience, to also believe that her husband murdered Quill in a fit of jealousy associated with her habitually provocative behavior.

The supporting cast that includes Arthur O’Connell and Eve Arden as Jimmy Stewart’s small town legal team and a cameo by Orson Bean as an army psychiatrist add touches of humor to the film and there are even a couple of cameos by Duke Ellington as a jazz musician that reinforces the jazz musical theme for the film.  Not being a jazz-fan, this theme music actually isn’t a big positive for me.

I think the film intentionally leaves open the question of whether Lt. Manion was temporarily insane or not.  But the courtroom action clearly deprives the jury and the audience of the film of any sympathy for the prosecution.  Even believing Manion was not insane when he killed Quill doesn’t force these spectators to sympathize with either the prosecutor or the murder victim.  As flawed as the Manions are we still sympathize with them.  They are human to us.

This is not a great movie.  But it is interesting.  I can recommend it.

Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) – A Movie Review

This is a WWII submarine story.  A submarine commander P.J. Richardson, played by Clark Gable, survives the destruction of his submarine during operations against the Japanese in the Bungo Straits.  The Japanese destroyer responsible, called the Akikaze, had previously destroyed at least four submarines and Richardson is determined to have his revenge.  Richardson thinks he has figured out how to defeat the Akikaze and he convinces the navy to give him command of another submarine, the Nerka.  The Nerka’s executive officer, Lieutenant Jim Bledsoe, played by Burt Lancaster, has been disappointed in not being given the command, but he cooperates with Richardson and acts to convince the crew that the unorthodox and frustrating tactics that the commander puts them through are legitimate.

The commander brings the Nerka into the Bungo Straits and using his knowledge of the Japanese tactics he successfully engages a Japanese destroyer and destroys it.  But when he goes after the Akikaze the Japanese seem to know in advance of his presence and the Nerka is nearly destroyed, several men are killed and Richardson is badly injured.

But when Richardson orders Bledsoe to prepare for another attempt to destroy the Akikaze, he relieves Richardson of command based on medical disability and says that he will return the Nerka to base.  But Bledsoe changes his mind and attacks and destroys the Akikaze.  But during the attack Richardson realizes that the Akikaze was working with a Japanese submarine to destroy American submarines.  He alerts Bledsoe and the danger is averted and the Japanese sub is destroyed.  But Richardson dies of his injuries and the Nerka buries him at sea.

This is a fairly straight forward war movie.  But the principal actors Gable and Lancaster make it a very memorable film.  Some of the other actors do a good job.  Jack Warden is a veteran actor and is probably the standout among the supporting characters.  There is one amusing detail in the ship life.  The crew has a pin-up picture of a girl which they each pat on the butt before they go into battle.  This amusing and lifelike touch adds obvious interest for the natural audience of this movie.  Highly recommended.

Blood Simple (1984) – A Movie Review

This was the Coen Brothers first movie.  Even in their first picture all of the Coen Brothers’ tendencies are on full display.  I have a love/hate relationship with their movies and I’m sure it colors all of my views but that is probably true of a very large part of their audience.  The Coen Brothers are undoubtedly extremely talented movie makers.  Their dialog, cinematography and actor selection are quite remarkable.  But there is such a blackness, such a nihilistic core in their work that you always walk away shaking your head.

The plot involves a married couple Julian and Abby Marty, played by Dan Hedaya and Frances McDormand.  Julian owns a bar in Texas and when the movie begins his bartender Ray is driving Abby back from some trip.  We quickly learn that Abby is not happily married to Julian and in fact Ray and Abby are about to stop at a motel for a sexual tryst.  Unbeknownst to them Julian has hired a private investigator named Loren Visser (played by M. Emmet Walsh) who has followed them and is able to get pictures of Ray and Abby in bed together and provides these to Julian.

After some violent encounters between Julian and the lovers he hires Visser to kill them for $10,000.  When Julian returns from an alibi fishing trip Visser meets him at his office and hands over some pictures showing Ray and Abbey in bed with blood spattered on their bodies.  Julian secretly steals the photo and hides it in his safe while taking out the $10,000.  When Julian hands over the money Visser takes out the small caliber gun that he somehow stole from Abby and shoots Julian in the chest and leaves after throwing the gun on the ground.

Now we find out that the death photos of Ray and Abby are fakes.  Ray shows up at the bar and finds Julian shot in the back-room office.  But when he sees Abby’s gun, he assumes she shot Julian.  He decides to dispose of the body.  He puts it in his car and drives out into the farmland surrounding his town.  While stopping on a road to look at a plowed field as a possible burial location for Julian, he discovers that Julian is not quite dead yet.  He has crawled out of the car and is inching down the road on all fours.  Ryan agonizes over running Julian over with the car or banging him in the head with a shovel but because of an approaching truck he just drags him back in the car and heads onto the field.

He digs a grave and puts Julian in but as he begins to bury him Julian finds Abby’s gun that Ryan has stuck in the assumed dead man’s coat pocket.  He then pulls the trigger a couple of times but none of the chambers he tries has a bullet in it so Ray takes the gun from him and buries Julian alive.

Ray returns home to Abby but he thinks she shot Julian and since he won’t say what has happened, she is completely in the dark about Julian and is scared by Ray’s strange behavior.  They become suspicious of each other.  Now Visser discovers that the doctored picture of Ray and Abby is missing and he decides he will have to kill Ray and Abby to ensure no one figures out his involvement.  At this point all three protagonists are sneaking around in the same locales and the tension builds.  Finally, Ray and Abby are holed up in his apartment and Visser comes to get them.  Ray suspects that someone is out there and tells Abby to shut the light but she is a stubborn dope and because of this Ray takes a sniper shot to the back and falls down dead.  Visser comes into the apartment and a game of cat and mouse develops between him and Abby that ends with a knife through his hand in a window in another room from the one he is standing in and him shooting holes in a wall to allow his other hand to enter the other room to get the knife out.  It’s bizarre to say the least.  Finally, Abby retrieves her gun again and shoots Visser through the door of the room he is in.  She still thinks it’s Julian after her so she says, “I’m not afraid of you, Marty.”  And Visser, lying on the floor, dying, says laughingly, “Well, ma’am, if I see him, I’ll sure give him the message.”

Good lord, what can you say?  The Coens revel in ordinary people becoming submerged in criminality and violence.  There are never any heroes.  There are only varying shades of black and dark gray.  Visser is a twisted man but Julian is hardly better and Ray and Abby are impulsive fools who get swept along in the flood of hatred and greed.  To say it is over the top would be an understatement unless we are putting the statement in the context of other Coen Brothers movies.  Remember this was their first film.  Later on, this movie would be considered a light hearted romp.

But as a Coen Brothers movie it is a success.  The plot bounces along from outrage to outrage and instead of reaching a satisfying conclusion the screen just goes black and the end-credits role.  You have just been told a very disturbing crime story but it was effectively told.  If you enjoy this kind of movie experience then you should watch this film.  They do this very well.  But please don’t expect a happily ever after ending.  There ain’t no such thing in the Coen Brothers universe.

Kim (1950) – A Movie Review

I remember finding a copy of the novel Kim in my home when I was a kid.  Not knowing much about colonial India at the time some of the references were obscure to me.  But the story was engaging.  Many years later I saw the motion picture and enjoyed the story all over again.  Errol Flynn and Dean Stockwell carry most of this movie on their shoulders with Stockwell as the title character, an orphan son of a British soldier living as a native boy in the streets of India and Flynn as a spy for the British Intelligence Office known as Mahbub Ali, The Red Beard.  And in the Flynn’s affable relationship with the boy, it reminds me of his performance in the 1937 movie “The Prince and the Pauper” where his character befriends and ultimately saves the Prince of Wales from his misadventures.

This story is a cloak and dagger spy story of the “The Great Game” between England and Russia in Asia and also a coming-of-age story for the boy.  He discovers his roots and makes some valuable friends.  He learns different lessons about himself from sources as different as a Tibetan Lama and a British Intelligence Officer.

And along the way he shows himself to be brave, resourceful and reliable to all those he befriends.  The story is one of Kipling’s best and has a fantasy feel to it that belies the 19th century time frame it exists in.  Stockwell and Flynn and the supporting cast are excellent in this tale and it is a throwback to the 1930s and 40s when movies of this sort were more common.  And the portrayal of life in colonial India with Europeans enjoying their white privilege would be completely unacceptable to woke viewers so of course knowing it would outrage those losers makes it that much more amusing to watch.

Read the book if you haven’t and then watch the movie.  Both are highly recommended.

The Dunwich Horror (1970) – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Move Review

(War Pig loves really bad sf&f movies.  This one’s for you War Pig.)

This movie is so monumentally bad that I feel compelled to dissect its awfulness so that we can learn something from it.  First of all, look at the date.  1970 is something of a low water mark in American cinema.  Now granted this was produced by American International Pictures and they only ever made really cheap and schlocky movies.  But that sets the stage for how this movie became what it was.  Next, the story is an old H.P. Lovecraft story so the cost of buying the movie rights must have been pretty close to zero.

Next take a look at the actors.  Sam Jaffe and Ed Begley were actual actors at one time but their careers were coming to an end and they probably really needed the money.  Dean Stockwell was a young guy whose career had begun as a child actor in the big studio system but with that system now a thing of the past he would earn his daily bread working in schlock and it suited him.  Sandra Dee was a product of the post war teen movies of the late fifties and early sixties.  She had played all the Gidget and Tammy parts and was now too old to be the girl next door.  This was what was next on her ride to oblivion.  It’s also funny to see that before she got some big screen parts in movies like the Godfather and Rocky, Talia Shire had a small role in this stinker.  So, there are some actual actors in this movie.  But what can they do with this thing?

And finally, what is the plot?  Well, in the original Lovecraft story Wilbur Whateley, played by Dean Stockwell, and his monstrous twin are the product of some kind of bizarre ritualistic impregnation of their mother by one of the Great Old Ones, Yog-Sothoth.  The book chronicles the attempt by Wilbur to use the Necronomicon to allow Yog-Sothoth to break through from his own dimension and conquer Earth and eat all the humans for lunch.

But the geniuses at American International Pictures decided that what Wilbur wanted was to go for another generation of Yog-Sothoth baby making and Sandra Dee would be the baby mama.  The monster brother is still in the plot but it seems like a sort of dangling appendage that nobody knows what to do with.

Ed Begley is Dr. Henry Armitage, a university professor who has a copy of the Necronomicon and is Sandra Dee’s boss.  He will try to save her life and foil Whateley’s diabolical plan.  And to round out the cast Sam Jaffe is “Old Whateley,” Wilbur’s grandfather who seems to have inexplicably changed his mind about being an evil servant of the Great Old Ones and now just runs around warning everyone about how dangerous everything is.  Comically they’ve painted thick black eyebrows on his face.  He sort of looks like Groucho Marx in that sense.

Well, before you know it Wilbur convinces Sandra Dee to come to his groovy farmhouse and drink some tea and after he pulls the distributor cap off her car’s motor, she has to spend the night.  She has dreams that look like they were filmed with my kid brother’s super 8 movie camera.  Semi-naked hippies who look like rejects from the Manson family hopped up on hair tonic and looking for love chase her around.  It’s quite ridiculous.  When she wakes up, she shares these dreams with Wilbur and we can see that it’s all having the hoped-for result.  She’s looking for some Yog-Sothoth action.  So, Wilbur brings her up to an oceanside cliff with an altar where she will wear some kind of poncho-like garment that allows the cameraman to show us the side of her leg and butt for what seems like hours.  And Wilbur spreads her legs apart and props the Necronomicon against her groin while he reads passages to Yog-Sothoth.

At some point Wilbur’s brother breaks out of his room and eats about five people including Talia Shire.  We never really get a good look at him.  He’s got tentacles and eyes and I don’t know what else.  He makes guttural noises and he has problems with his adenoids for sure.

Finally, Ed Begley shows up at the cliff and he and Wilbur posture and spout meaningless syllables at each other.  Begley’s babbling proves to be the stronger and Wilbur’s head bursts into flames and he jumps off the cliff.  We briefly see what might be Yog-Sothoth appear as a cartoon character suspended over Sandra Dee’s groin before he disappears.  Then Ed Begley helps her off the altar and the movie ends but as it ends, we see an image of a fetus near Sandra Dee’s belly.  Yog-Sothoth scored again!

So, there it is.  It’s embarrassing to admit I even made it to the end of this awful waste of time.  As far as I know Talia Shire is the only living victim of this terrible thing.  I imagine it still haunts her.  Maybe her rich brother Francis Ford Coppola can buy the rights to the movie and destroy every copy so their family’s shame can end.  I’ve never been a big fan of Lovecraft’s prose.  His imagination was fertile and the images he came up with were vivid.  But his prose style was lackluster.  But even he deserves better than this.  The Dunwich Horror was one of his better stories.  Maybe someday someone will do a decent job of making a movie of it.  This was not that movie.

Rhapsody in Rivets (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I have stretched the definition of movie to include this Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies cartoon.  It consists of a construction crew of humans and animals building the “Umpire State Building.”  The foreman is “conducting”  Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” using the workmen as his orchestra.  Bricklayers, laborers banging in stakes, riveters, carpenters, and cement mixers are all employed to produce the music of the symphony.  It’s extremely entertaining.  Finally it’s almost 5pm so the conductor starts playing at break neck speed and the building shoots up into the sky at ludicrous speed.. And when a cloud gets in the way they build the building laterally to avoid it.  Finally the capstone gets a flag that says Umpire State the crowd applauds and the conductor takes his bow.  Then a little Bassett hound workman slams a door closed and the whole things comes crashing down.

I could only find the entire cartoon on a  russian site for free.  If you remember it and liked it or have never seen it check it out.  Highly recommended.