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Tag Archives: Lana Turner

Flick Clique: December 4-10

Buffering (2011). A gay sex comedy from Britain that I’m reviewing for DVD Talk. Buffering follows a gay couple, Seb and Aaron (appealingly played by Alex Anthony and Conner McKenzy) as one partner decides to upload secret recordings of the couple having sex to the internet in order to make some extra cash on the side. The secret is eventually revealed to the other guy. Instead of stopping the enterprise dead in its tracks, they end up raking in more bucks as their popularity spreads. A female ex-roomie (Jessica Matthews) catches on and encourages the men to take on a new recruit, including the hunky guy (Oliver Park) who lives next door. Lots of promise here, but the already lightweight concept is stretched to its limit and the micro-budget lets it down. The guys are cute (especially Park), but I’ve seen better sexy gay comedies. A longer review will be posted at DVD Talk soon.
The Other Love (1947). I found this otherwise unavailable Barbara Stanwyck flick on Netflix streaming a few months ago and have been dying to see it ever since. This is a standard romantic melodrama about a concert pianist (Stanwyck) who goes to a sanitarium to overcome tuberculosis. David Niven as her doctor tries to keep her on the path to health, but she’s tempted by the outside world when meeting a fellow patient (the terrific Joan Lorring) who teaches her how to duck out of the place at night, when no one is watching. Niven finds himself falling for Stanwyck, but she’s lured away to Monaco by flashy race car driver Richard Conte. Will she come to her senses, or die a glamorous young high roller? A silly story is given depth by a luminous Stanwyck. I was pretty impressed by the glossy photography and production values (this was produced by James Whale’s longtime lover at an independent studio by the name of Anglo American Films). Stanwyck also looks great decked out in several glam outfits designed by Edith Head. Not an essential film, but enjoyable all the same.
Portrait in Black (1960). I have a strong weakness for campy ’60s melodrama, especially if it stars a fading glamour queen like Lana Turner and is produced by a kitschmeister like Ross Hunter. Portrait in Black is a veritable jackpot of overheated, so bad but soooo good theatrics — I can’t believe I haven’t seen this one before! Lana plays a San Francisco socialite married to abusive shipping magnate Lloyd Nolan. She and the husband’s doctor, Anthony Quinn, are secret lovers who arrange to off the poor guy in a discreet way. Although their plan is pulled off successfully, a whole host of suspicious supporting players threaten to blow their cover. Among them are Sandra Dee as Lana’s stepdaughter, Richard Basehart as Nolan’s greedy business associate (who’s also in love with Lana), Ray Walston as the family chauffer, and Anna May Wong as the imperious head maid (you can tell she’s evil because sinister “Asian” music plays whenever she’s onscreen). The ending is a riot, strangely abrupt and just dying for a sequel which never came to be, alas.
The Leopard (1963). This acclaimed Italian historical drama is directed by Luchino Visconti and features Burt Lancaster as a gruff prince who is desperately trying to preserve his family’s integrity amidst the political upheaval of 1860s Sicily. A lushly photographed, wonderful to look at, weirdly plodding and alienating film. I suppose I’d glean more on it if I knew more about Italian political history from that time, but I found it overlong and (regrettably) dull. Lancaster does well with acting outside his native tongue, however, and I found a lot to enjoy in Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale simply because they were two gorgeous people — and their characters are earthy and real in a welcome way. A lot of this film plays like a little historical documentary, and I dug how the background villagers and such are just seen going about their lives in a startlingly natural way. Overall, I just couldn’t get into it, however.
The Vampire’s Ghost (1945). Last weekend, I ended up catching a bug and getting sick. I was bored and had nothing else to watch, so I dialed up this 59 minute long b-thriller on Netflix instant. The film follows a group of American explorers as they settle in an African outpost. The sinister looking white guy who runs the outpost (John Abbott) is pleasant enough at first, but soon the explorers find that he’s a hundreds-year old vampire — and he wants to recruit the explorers into the bloodsucking life! The film is underwhelming for the most part, but there are some decent (for 1945) special effects shots and campy moments to keep it a watchable little horror flick.
WALL•E (2008). I’ve owned this on DVD for almost two years; finally we got to re-watch it this past week. It’s still a wonderful film (particularly the first half), although the second at-home viewing is not quite as magical as viewing it in the theater.
Women’s Prison (1955). This fun prison melodrama came out a few years ago as part of a Bad Girls of Film Noir DVD box set. It’s not really Noir, but the film stands on its own as an absorbing, often times over-the-top drama that comes off like a cousin to the superior Caged (1950). Set in a facility that houses female and male prisoners in separate quarters, the film begins with two new inmates getting booked — jaded but sympathetic Brenda (Jan Sterling) and shrinking violet Helene (Phyllis Thaxter). We then get introduced to several prisoners, including a phalanx of African-American women headed by kindly Juanita Moore, who reveal that they’re being abused daily by the staff overseen by hard-bitten Ida Lupino. Thaxter eventually goes nuts, and Audrey Totter as another inmate eventually finds she’s in a family way with her husband, an inmate in the men’s quarters. It isn’t top-notch drama, but I found it fast paced and quite enjoyable with a lot of vividly drawn characters. Strangely enough, the prison itself doesn’t seem too bad! Sterling was my favorite, followed by Lupino and Totter. Lupino’s real-life husband Howard Duff appears as the prison’s doctor, an ally for the inmates and harsh critic of the policies held by the ice-veined Lupino.

Flick Clique: August 28 – September 3

Affairs of Cappy Ricks (1937) and Double Or Nothing (1937). A double feature of Depression-era escapism, separated only by what must have been several thousand dollars of budget. Affairs of Cappy Ricks is yet another modest yet entertaining b-flick from my Comedy Kings DVD set. An early effort by Republic Pictures, Cappy stars Walter Brennan as a crusty sea captain/entrepreneur who returns from a long voyage to find that his chiseling family has overtaken his business to the point of attempting a merger with a rival company. He decides to take them on a sea voyage and fake-crashes the boat near a deserted island, hoping the experience will teach them some humility. The plans go awry when the boat really crashes, however, and a screwball Gilligan’s Island situation ensues. Suprisingly appealing in a low-rent My Man Godfrey way — Brennan and low-wattage co-stars Mary Brian and Lyle Talbot deliver cute, un-showy performances. The film is also interesting in its anti-progress attitude, especially in the scene where Brennan is befuddled to find that his ship’s kitchen is equipped with push button technology. Double Or Nothing is another bit of musical fluff found on the Bing Crosby Screen Legend Collection DVD set. Like Waikiki Wedding, it co-stars brassy Martha Raye in a story that seems to evaporate off the celluloid. This time, Bing is a regular guy whose chance encounter with some found money puts him in an unusual inheritance scheme in which he has a chance at taking over a dying millionaire’s estate — but only if he can double his $1,000 bill within thirty days. Crosby teams up with fellow investors Raye, Andy Devine and William Frawley to open a luxe nightclub, an effort that continually gets stymied by the rich man’s greedy relatives. Rather endearing and unoffensive froth with Bing crooning a couple of pleasant if unmemorable tunes. Most of the appeal is in the great photography, costumes and production designs and definitely not in the goofy specialty acts that pad out the film’s second half. There is a certain weirdness to the segment with the guy who can make evening gowns in a few seconds flat, viewable here in a later TV appearance. (By the way, Affairs of Cappy Ricks is viewable online at Archive.org — cute movie if you have an hour to spare.)
(500) Days of Summer (2009). (500) Days of Summer is the kind of “quirky” romantic comedy that one would either find incredibly cloying or charming — although I can see both sides of the argument, I tend towards the latter. The film follows twentysomething greeting card writer Tom (a winning performance by Joseph Gordon Levitt) as he recalls being charmed by an alluring new co-worker, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The two begin a friendly flirtation, then start dating despite her warnings that she’s a commitment-phobe. The relationship ebbs and flows, but eventually they find that they’re not right for each other (not really a spoiler, I suppose). The film flashes back and forward in time at various points during the 500 days they were involved (hence the title). This was a nice, funny film with some great comic timing from Gordon-Levitt. Deschanel, whom I normally find way too cutesy, does a nuanced job as an appealing yet flawed woman who realizes soon that she can’t live up to Gordon-Levitt’s idealized version of her. This was the first feature for director Marc Webb after a background in music videos, and it shows in the choppy, multi-textured way he approaches these vignettes. It’s at its most awkward in the Glee-ish segment with Gordon-Levitt enacting a sunny musical number to the tune of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True,” but for the most part the film is slick and non-intrusive. Thanks to the lead performers, the couple seems real and the script thankfully avoids the usual romantic comedy clichés.
Peyton Place (1957). Plush, impressively mounted soap about a New England town whose residents are less idyllic than they appear on the surface. I’ve been watching a lot of guilty pleasure soapy melodramas lately (From the Terrace being the latest), which serve as great camp at the least, and at the most tell us profound stuff about how people saw themselves in the past. Peyton Place fits more into the latter area. It’s long, overwrought, hokey at times but totally absorbing — exactly what a good soap ought to be! Though I can’t go into details about the complicated plot, the film contains several noteworthy performances, including Hope Lange as a dirt poor girl and Russ Tamblyn as the misunderstood neighbor boy with an overly attached mother. I also enjoyed Lana Turner as the town Ice Queen, even though she fared much better in the superior Imitation of Life from a few years later. Unlike that tear jerker, this one pretty much sticks to normal small town life although the widescreen photography is just as sumptuous. There are some odd touches (the director’s focusing on a hungry kid at a picnic, for instance), but for the most part Peyton Place is a load of soapy fun.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). Saw this one in the theater this week — pretty fun. Like Captain America, I wound up being modestly impressed even if the film doesn’t break any new ground. This is a prequel to the Planet of the Apes saga set in contemporary times, although the strangely inconclusive conclusion might make this more of a Rise of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Affable James Franco plays a Big Pharma researcher who is especially attached to a brilliant test monkey, a subject for an anti-Alzheimer’s drug that sharpens the mind. After the monkey dies, he takes the creature’s baby home to live with him and his ailing father (John Lithgow). The monkey grows up, turns out to be a genius, causes a disturbance, and ends up in a cruel primate house. Eventually the miracle drug gets exposed to all the repressed monkeys who express their monkey rage by taking over the Golden Gate Bridge (a lot of other stuff happens, including several lovey-dovey bits with Franco and girlfriend Freida Pinto, but that’s the basic gist). The monkey is a CGI creation with motion capture enacted by actor Andy Serkis, and the most noteworthy aspect is the emotion that Serkis manages to breathe into this otherwise digital creature. As with a lot of other CGI, I find myself looking closely at what they got wrong — how the movements are a little too smooth, for instance — but the facial expressions were magic and surprisingly touching at times. I especially loved the scene where Cesar, separated from Marsden, draws the outline of the window in his bedroom on the wall of his cell. The ending seemed rushed and suffers from franchise-itis, but otherwise I was entertained.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). This was pretty much what I expected — bloated, overlong, overproduced drivel made by morons, for morons. This apparently continues the story laid out in the first Transformers, with Shia LeBeouf moving on to college and the evil Decepticons in pursuit of an ancient robotic artifact hidden in an Egyptian pyramid (one whose precise location can only be divined from deep within LeBouf’s brain). LeBeouf continues to be the slack-jawed doofus, Megan Fox as his girlfriend juts her chest out impressively, and the parents are actually even more idiotic than in the first Transformers (really, their scenes are so embarrassing, I felt for poor Julie White and Kevin Dunn). The only new additions were several tiny Transformers, and a pair of jive-talking robots that I immediately wanted made into scap metal. Somebody please stop Michael Bay from making any more movies, please?

Weekly Mishmash: March 21-27

Bright Young Things (2003). Stephen Fry’s adaptation of an Evelyn Waugh novel, a thinly disguised memoir of Britain’s “lost generation” of 1930s partygoers, might have been intriguing but mostly it was just “meh.” Fry begins the film with a huge, colorful party scene, his camera whirling around characters as we’re barely introduced to a wide array of outsized personalities. The film then barely lets up until we become acquainted with Stephen Campbell Moore’s earnest writer (and Waugh stand-in) and his devil-may-care fiancée (Emily Mortimer). The film is nicely performed and so well made it practically drips “British,” but the end result is not terribly absorbing. It’s as if Fry kept his camera moving to cover up how shallow the characters onscreen are.
The Day the Sky Exploded (1958). Proto end-of-the-world Italian epic was a recent purchase from Christopher. Unfortunately, Alpha Home Video’s DVD contains a blurry and poorly dubbed print, making an already shoddy film look exponentially worse. I can see the germ of an interesting story here, but mostly it’s a talky bore that falls below even the level of something the MST3K guys would lampoon. The thing that most stood out for me was the liberal use of stock footage. Indeed, this movie contains a veritable who’s-who of notable clips, including a memorable appearance by Stampeding Elephants, a great performance by People Running In City Streets, and an award-worthy turn by Launched Missile.
I’m from Arkansas (1944) and Too Many Women (1942). Ahh — the first two viewings of my 50 comedy DVD pack! If anything, I figure that these movies cost so little to own (roughly 36 cents each) and they’re short enough that if they’re bad, at least it doesn’t hurt that much. Both of these films are intriguing wartime programmers from z-grade studio PRC. In a nutshell, I’m from Arkansas was pretty good and Too Many Women flat out sucked. Arkansas is a corn-pone comedy/musical which has the odd distinction of pairing Iris Adrian (brassy blonde best known for playing obnoxious waitresses and the like) and Bruce Bennett (tall, bland actor who played Mildred Pierce’s boring husband, Bert) as a romantic duo. It’s actually a pretty kicky little movie with several decent musical numbers. And did I mention it’s only an hour long? Special note to Brad: this was a good ‘un. The less said about Too Many Women, the better. A misguided farce with an old (and gay seeming) Neil Hamilton playing a hapless playboy juggling several girlfriends at once, this film is talky, incomprehensible and dull. The only good spot is Joyce Compton being her usual perky self as one of the girlfriends.
poster_madamexMadame X (1966). A lush, somewhat kitschy but at times intense telling of one of the most oft-told stories in filmdom (I think there’s even been a silent Madame X or two). This version has the same producer, leading lady, cinematographer and costume designer as the classic weepie Imitation of Life. Perhaps it may be the older-than-dirt source material, but this overstuffed film seems strangely out of date by ’60s standards — but it still winds up being fast paced, soapy fun. Lana Turner gives a totally committed performance in the title role (I think she’s actually better here than in Imitation), and the supporting cast includes a delightful Constance Bennett as a bejeweled and shellac-haired mother in-law from hell. The movie works surprisingly well as melodrama, making it slightly less campy than other Turner vehicles of the ’60s.
Scandal (1950). Our final Akira Kurosawa film for this month. Strangely enough, I’m finding that I’m enjoying the lesser known, earlier efforts such as this and Drunken Angel more than the classics in his filmography. Like Drunken Angel, this is a contemporary-set drama that comments on the state of postwar Japanese society. In this case, it’s an indictment of the media that revolves around the feather light story of a famous singer (Shirley Yamaguchi, a Japanese Linda Darnell) who becomes part of a scandal when she innocently welcomes a poor artist (Toshiro Mifune) into her hotel room. Sure, the plot is nothing to write home about, but Kurosawa’s gift for vivid characters and settings is on full display here. I especially loved the scene where the principals are singing Christmas characters to their attorney’s crippled daughter. Good one!