Blues in the Night (1941). Bought this DVD because it has Joyce Compton in a small part (as “blonde dancing with drunk,” as the IMDb puts it), but it’s actually one of the more enjoyable Warner Brothers melodramas of that time. Silly and overblown at times, but engrossing nonetheless. Richard Whorf heads a mid-level cast as jazz pianist Jigger Pine, a regular guy with a quartet that includes wormlike Elia Kazan, hulking Peter Whitney and young pup Billy Halop. The trio are at a crossroads. A scuffle with a belligerent customer at the dive where they’re playing lands them in jail, prompting them to stick with the noncommercial blues-influenced style they love. They travel to New Orleans to meet with trumpeter Jack Carson, who is married to lovely singer Priscilla Lane. The group form a swell combo, riding the rails and playing wherever they can to get a decent meal. Eventually they befriend a gangster (Lloyd Nolan), who leads them to a New Jersey dive where sad sack Wallace Ford and hard-bitten singer Betty Field (who is amazing in this) work. The story gets very complex from there, helped along by some eye-popping montages from the uncredited Don Siegel. I love the “traveling across America” montage and the “I hate these singing lessons” montage. The “I’m going crazy” montage (seen below at 1:40) is a pip, as well.
Body Slam (1986). This stupid yet watchable wrestling comedy has been shown on ThisTV a few times, curiosity prompted me to stick it on the DVR. Dirk Benedict stars as a washed-up rock promoter who winds up unknowingly representing a pro wrestler (Rowdy Roddy Piper). He dreams up a scheme to combine the energy of live rock music with the excitement of wrestling, a wild idea that catches on so quickly that he has a rival promoter (Captain Lou Albano!) on his tail. This film was directed by Hal Needham, whose main prior achievement was the Cannonball Run movies. That oughta tell you where this movie is coming from, although the very ’80s atmosphere and an odd supporting cast (Tanya Roberts, Charles Nelson Reilly, Billy Barty) keeps this one diverting, at the very least.
A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929). This British thriller is a good example of how stylized silent films got before sound came in and changed everything. The story concerns an escaped convict who, fleeing through the countryside, finds refuge in a farm house. The woman who is tending to the house is startled to see the man, but we soon learn (via flashback) that they know each other and once worked together. The film switches locales to the barber shop, where he was a shaver and she was a manicurist. They have a friendly rapport which borders on a relationship, but that’s changed when a regular shop customer becomes engaged to the woman. He becomes obsessed with winning the woman’s love. The man’s increasingly psychotic nature is captured by some daring camerawork, highlighted by a scene where the couple go to see a “talkie” in the local theatre. Interesting film. Kino’s DVD for this film includes an absorbing documentary, Silent Britain, which chronicles the UK’s often overlooked contribution to silent cinema with plenty of cool clips.
Going Places (1974). Easygoing buddy comedy stars a magnetic Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere as a pair of charming wastrels who roam the French countryside in search of men to piss off and women to bang. On a car thieving jaunt, they meet a passive hairdresser named Marie-Jange (Miou Miou), who eventually becomes the third corner in their traveling sex ‘n crime spree. I’m reviewing this DVD for DVD Talk, so I won’t go into too much detail. Generally, I found it entertaining for the first hour, including a wonderful bit with Jeanne Moreau as a jaded ex-con whom the two men take on as their latest conquest. Her character is intelligent enough to know that she’s being played, but she goes along with it and ultimately it emerges that it’s she doing the playing. The film kinda falls apart after her scenes, but it’s still interesting to watch as Depardieu and Dewaere are initially presented as stupid young punks who gradually become more human as the film progresses.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). We’re two thirds of the way through this iconic Western, directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood and with Ennio Morricone’s cool and strange score. It does have some great scenes and lots of weirdly beautiful close-ups of actors’ weather-beaten faces, but overall I’m finding Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West the better film in almost every respect. Eastwood is too laconic and I’m not buying Eli Wallach as a Mexican, but I’m enjoying their banter and comradery. Morricone’s theme, once so cool, now seems so campy that I can’t help but giggle whenever it comes on. His OUATITW score is much more subtle and mood-enhancing. TGTBATU falls into more typical Spaghetti Western territory, bad dubbing and all, but the film holds my attention enough to keep me wondering what may happen in the last hour (which we’re seeing tonight).
Sh! The Octopus (1937). Preposterous yet enjoyable little b-movie is one of the earliest examples of that ’40s and ’50s staple, the horror-comedy. This one has Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins as a pair of police detectives who happen upon a mysterious lighthouse which appears to be terrorized by both a giant octopus and a human killer named after the octopus. This was offered as a free online stream by the Warner Archive on October 27th and 28th. It was a dumb little time waster, less than an hour long but made interminable by the stream’s constant rebuffering. The octopus was fake and unintentionally funny, but at least the special effect with one of the cast members transforming into a hideous ogre was nifty.