Don’t Bother To Knock (1952). Another film I quickly watched before it got unceremoniously yanked off Netflix streaming. This gritty Fox b-movie is best remembered as the first evidence that Marilyn Monroe could act and carry a vehicle of her own. She plays Nell Forbes, a fragile beauty who is employed for one night to babysit a young girl in the hotel where her friend Elisha Cook, Jr. works. As the girl’s parents (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle) party downstairs, Marilyn attracts the attention of caddish Richard Widmark just as he’s stewing from a breakup with nightclub singer Anne Bancroft. This was an interesting little film, mostly due to the hotel setting (with radios wired into the walls!) and not the routine plot/cast. Monroe did a nice enough job, even if she merely plays a mentally challenged variant on the breathy child-women she normally does. Actually, the most impressive cast member was Bancroft. She’s terrific in her scenes with Widmark. Not only that, but she has a nice singing voice previously unknown to this fan.
Mr. Bug Goes To Town (1941). Our second Max and Dave Fleischer animated feature film of the month was also the brothers’ last, before Paramount pictures took over their Florida-based studio and renamed it Famous Pictures. This was considered a failure in 1941 and has since fallen into public domain disrepute, but I found it fun, beautifully rendered, and refreshingly original in ways that the Fleischer’s first feature Gulliver’s Travels couldn’t begin to touch. Like that earlier effort, this film deals with a tiny world trying to adjust to forces beyond their control. This time, it’s a community of bugs who are in danger of getting trampled into oblivion by the faceless urbanites who tramp through the yard where they live. Enterprising grasshopper Hoppity comes along to help, all the while romancing lovely bee Honey and keeping her from the clutches of the dastardly C. Bagley Beetle. An episodic plot and unmemorable songs hobble the proceedings and make this comparable to lesser Disney efforts of the era, but overall I found this one quite enjoyable. The character development and animation is appreciably better than what was found in Gulliver’s, and some of the backgrounds and scenes contrasting the tiny bugs with ominous, oblivious humans are truly jaw-dropping. This was also the first animated feature film with a completely original story, enough to make it worthy of a look by animation and classic film fans alike.
Queen of Blood (1966). Another cinematic goodie that we saw on Netflix instant streaming. Well, “goodie” might be a strong way of putting it, but it certainly was an interesting and colorful example of ’60s sci-fi/horrorploitation. In the year 1990, scientist Basil Rathbone sends a group of astronauts headed by square-jawed John Saxon to a corner of Mars where some alien communiques originated. The astronauts find some impressive set pieces, and a lone alien survivor. They excitedly bring the shapely, green-skinned female martian on board. On route back to Earth, however, they find that she is a predator who uses hypnotism to get nourishment — from human blood! This AIP quickie is a rather sloppy and threadbare production, especially when the cardboard sets are contrasted with spliced-in footage from a wild Russian sci-fi epic containing huge, beautifully rendered spacecraft and telescopes. Those details are enough to elevate it from the humdrum, however, along with the alien herself. As played by Florence Marly, she is an intense creature with glowing eyes and a hairdo worthy of Eero Saarinen’s most fanciful structures. She also appears to be a big influence on Tim Burton’s curvy alien-in-disguise from Mars Attacks!.
The Seventh Veil (1945). Another film I hastily decided to check out on our local This TV affiliate. This British suspenser was a cool surprise with some great, Hitchcock-like touches. The story deals with Ann Todd’s beautiful yet mentally unbalanced concert pianist. After attempting to kill herself, she is hypnotized and via flashbacks tells of being under the spell of her controlling guardian (played with intensity by James Mason) and the battles that ensue when she falls in love with an American bandleader and a portrait painter. The film feels a bit like a Brit version of Spellbound, mingled with a bit of the melodramatic musical hokum reminiscent of Bette Davis and Claude Rains in Deception. Like the latter film, it is an overstuffed treat. Solid performances from Mason and Todd (who mimes the piano very well). I’ve never seen an Ann Todd film before, but based upon her enigmatic, Garbo-esque presence here, I will be seeking out more of her soon.
Tootsie (1982). Decided to finally give this one another peek after getting the 25th Anniversary DVD edition for my birthday. I remember watching this with my family in a packed cinema, where we could only find spots in the front row. Even from that weird angle with all the actors’ hips twice as wide as their heads, it was hilarious. I was afraid it would come across as too sitcommy for this recent viewing, but in all honesty the film still holds up fabulously well, mostly due to the casting and the energy director Sidney Pollack brings througout. Dustin Hoffman is excellent, of course, but I also enjoyed the lovely Jessica Lange, Teri Garr and Charles Durning. Best of all is Bill Murray, absolutely deapdan and probably more appealing here than in any of his leading roles. Interesting that Pollack helmed both this and Out Of Africa within a short time, and he’s also great as Hoffman’s agent. Their scenes together really crackle. As for Dustin as Dorothy Michaels, it seemed glaringly obvious to me now that it was a man in drag and I’m surprised none of the characters caught on to the charade. Then again, she does look a lot like typical middle-aged women of that time with the helmet hair, demure working lady blouses and weird plastic eyewear camouflaging their femininity. It could happen!