Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Meet Cute

I went into Joe Bob Briggs Presents: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter with a certain set of expectations - Joe Bob would crack wise about the movie's cheapness, count the number of breasts and decapitations, generally yuck it up. But I was wrong - he practically gave a seminar on B-movies.

JJ Meets FD is William "One-Shot" Beaudine's masterpiece, along with it's double-bill counterpart, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. He made hundreds of films, starting in 1915 and ending with this one, in 1966. Joe Bob explains his history and the reason for the nickname "One-Shot" - he didn't believe in retakes.

He worked in many genres, but was strongest in westerns, and maybe horror, so this strange combo makes sense. As Joe Bob points out, during the long Jesse James sequences, you need to remind yourself that Frankenstein's daughter is in this somewhere.

Eventually, Jesse James (James Lupton) meets Frankenstein's daughter (Narda Onyx) and Igor (the huge Cal Bolder - Keel on Star Trek), brought together by spicy senorita Estelita Rodriguez - the Cuban Spitfire.

Briggs gives us capsule bios of all these actors and more, pointing out that this was the last film for many - a real resume-killer. It was filmed on Crash Corrigan's ranch, and was indeed the last film made there. So many fun facts to learn about a basically not-very-good movie!

I probably should have listened to the actual soundtrack as well, but I just skipped that and went straight to the commentary. I'm not ashamed. Thank you, Professor Briggs.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

National Leisure

I really only watched National Treasure so that I could watch National Treasure II -and I can't remember why I wanted to watch that.

So, Nick Cage is a treasure hunting archeologist, like Indiana Jones but not so swashbuckling. I'm not one of the Nick Cage haters - I rather like him, especially if he is playing a lighter role. He can do emotional pain well enough, but I think he does better when you don't have to take him seriously. He is pretty convincing in this role as an academic with an adventurous side - rough and ready, but still a nerd at heart. Cage is pretty believable as a nerd.

The McGuffin of the movie is the family legend of an immense treasure, and every clue Cage tracks down leads to another clue. They lampshade this ruthlessly - Cage's dad keeps saying there is no treasure, just more clues. The clues tend to be in difficult places, like in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence. So Cage has to break into a number of national monuments, or into the system of tunnels and caverns beneath the nation's capital.

Annnnnd... this is around when I fell asleep. I woke up with the DVD menu running - it may have been running for hours, fooling me into believing the movie was still going and I shouldn't bother opening my eyes yet.

But, you know, I kind of enjoyed NT. It was mostly a traditional kind of action movie - a little aimless, maybe a little too long, but pleasant enough. So I'll give NT2 a try.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brassed Off

I'd meant Brass Monkey to be a kind of double-bill to Broadway Melody of 1929 - They are both backstage musicals. It turned out to be a different animal: a backstage radioshow musical mystery comedy, featuring some of the most famous Englishmen you've never heard of.

It stars Carroll Levis as Carroll Levis, the "Most Famous Canadian in England". Unknown now, it seems that he was a comedian with a popular radio variety show in England in the 40s. He is coming to England with a discovery, played by Carole Landis. Landis has an evil husband who is involved in smuggling the titular monkey, along with a gang that includes Ernest Thesiger (Bride of Frankenstein) and Herbert Lom as a French thug. The suspense is not the strongest part of this movie.

The humor is a little better. Levis' office is overrun with "talent", mostly obscure with the exception of Terry-Thomas, appearing under his own name. He does several lovely bits; I don't think I've ever seen him so unrestrained and out there. Another standout was Avril Anger, as Levis' secretary, a double-talking ditz in the Gracie Allen mode. But I also enjoyed the old geezer who played "Endearing Young Charms" on the musical saw.

Carole Landis committed suicide shortly after this movie was released, which dampened its reception. She was known for her tireless work entertaining the troops during the war. I remember her for I Wake Up Screaming, although I remember Betty Grable better. She could have done better than Brass Monkey, but I guess people don't always get to choose their last film.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Come on Along

The Broadway Melody of 1929 was one of the first sound musicals (yes, there were silent musicals), but it has a modern feel for me. It has a great opening number - a song pluggers office, with a dozen acts all trying out their songs at the same time. Charles King breaks out of the pack to demo his number "Broadway Melody". Soon, his girlfriend Hank - great name - played by Bessie Love - ooh great name and her sister Queenie (Anita Page) are in town from the sticks, trying out for a role in his musical.

Hank is a sharp little brunette and Queenie is a big blonde. Hank sums it up as "with my talent and your looks, we can't lose". They don't have much luck with their sister act but Queenie is hired on to pose naked in the background and is a big hit.

Note for "pre-code" fans: There's quite a bit of our girls in their underthings and posing nude (tastefully draped). That's one thing that gives this a modern feel. Another is the forthright sordidness - Queenie starts hanging out with producers, and it's plain they aren't interested in her talent.

But at heart, it's an old-fashioned melodrama: you see, King and Queenie have fallen in love, although they can't admit it. They can't hurt Hank, you see. It ends up the same way Glorifying the American Girl does: One girl gets a career in showbiz, the other gets the guy.

The songs are a little rough, and so are the dance numbers. I like that, though. They seem more real and less polished. Love has one little uninhibited jazz dance that is truly the bee's knees. And she plays an ukulele!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ring a Ding

I mainly queued up Lady in Cement because it sounded like a Travis McGee story. It wasn't, of course. Travis McGee is the iconic tough guy Fort Lauderdale "salvage specialist" from the color-titled novels of John D. MacDonald. Lady features a late 60s Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome, Lauderdale detective.

The movie starts with scuba-diving Frank finding a naked lady with her feet in cement on the ocean floor. I did a little research and found Darker Than Amber, where McGee rescues a woman thrown off a bridge with a cinder block wired to her legs. That and the Florida location is about all the connection between the two.

I'll skip most of the plot and just report that Frank is joined by Dan Blocker as a Really Big Guy and Raquel Welch as a totally hot babe. Both truly succeed in their roles. The movie takes place in a late hipster milieu, with strip clubs, go-go dancers and those wacky kids with the long hair. Sinatra is a long way from the skinny kid in On the Town. He's kind of a squat, tanned toad - more cranky old guy than king of cool.

Still, this kind of movie runs on rails, it does what it sets out to do and it's a fun ride if you like this kind of thing. I admit that I fell asleep before it was over, but that's no criticism - I was tired, it was late, and I probably got as much out of it as if I'd stayed awake. This is the second movie in the series - I'll probably watch the first, Tony Rome.

In conclusion, it looks like Darker than Amber was made into a movie with Rod Taylor as McGee. But it isn't available in Netflix.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Love in Bloom

Everybody loves a good con-artist movie, right? I know I do. How about whimsical romantic fantasies about cons? Still with me? Then: The Brothers Bloom.

The Bloom brothers, Stephen and Bloom, are the world's greatest con artists. From their orphaned childhood, elder brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) would write a con for younger Bloom (Adrian Brody) to pull. Due to Stephen's artistry and Bloom's acting, they never failed. Now, these are not hardened grifters, but poets of the con. They even wear little con-men hats - like little bowlers, or the hat Chico Marx wore - but on them, it works.

Bloom wants to quit the racket, but Stephen has one more job - a beautiful, naive reclusive rich girl (Rachel Weisz). Secluded in her mansion, she takes up strange hobbies like harp and banjo, but the brothers Bloom will introduce her to life and love, and fleece her for all she has. But will Bloom fall in love? Take a look at Adrian Brody's long soulful face and guess.

The Bloom's demolition expert, silent blonde Japanese girl punk Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) adds comedy relief and a nice human touch.

This is Rian Johnson's second feature after Brick - a hardboiled detective story set in a modern day So. Cal. high-school. This is just as stylized, but whimsical where Brick was tough. It's not as shocking, but I enjoyed it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Something to Sing About

I've mentioned slightly sketchy love for Deanna Durbin and other singing child stars before. So I just want to say that Deanna Durbin is all grown up in the double bill: It Started with Eve / Can't Help Singing.

It Started with Eve is a Jean Arthur type screwball B&W comedy. Playboy Robert Cummings' dad calls him to his deathbed. It seems that dad (Charles Laughton!) has only hours to live, and he wants to meet his son's fiancee. Cummings rushes off, but can't find the girl he's engaged to, so he grabs the first woman he can find, hatcheck girl Deanna Durbin. Laughton is entranced by this lovely girl, and everyone is happy. But dad doesn't die. He starts getting better, and Durbin and Cummings have to keep up the charade. No points for guessing how it comes out. But can you guess how she gets her singing in?

It seems she is in NY trying to be discovered, but can't get a break. Since Laughton is a close friend of Jascha Heifetz and Leonard Bernstein, she sees an opening. She is nicely cynical in these scenes, and everyone else is charmingly dubious. Whenever she offers to sing for anyone, they start making excuses and finding places they have to be.

If you don't like her singing, you'll know how they feel. But it is actually very nice.

Can't Help Singing is a color period piece, with Durbin as a spoiled senator's daughter following her cavalry boyfriend west to the California goldrush. Along the way, she meets Russian swindler Akim Tamiroff and cowboy gambler Robert Paige. And, you know, she just can't help singing. Songs by Jerome Kerne.

Eve was pretty good - it held up with all the Jean Arthur I've been watching. Like Easy Living, it even had the main relationship be between the girl and the father. Can't Help Singing was a lot less fun for me, but both had Durbin's lovely face and sweet singing voice going on.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Free and Easy

Netflix recommended Easy Living (1937) after the Jean Arthur double-bill I saw a while ago, but I'd been wanting to see it anyway - it's a genuine classic, with a Preston Sturges script.

Edward Arnold, a rich tycoon, is tired of his family's free-spending ways. He takes his wife's new sable coat and throws it off the penthouse roof. It lands on the hat of Jean Arthur, a working girl in a double decker bus. She tries to return it to Arnold, and to demand a new hat, but he tells her to keep it and buys her a hat.

People get the wrong idea, of course, and start showering her with favors, thinking she is the millionaire's mistress. She is moved into an amazing hotel suite, offered jewelry on loan, and hounded for stock tips. The only person who treats her like a person is Ray Milland, a guy she met in the Auto-mat (a scene culminating in a classic food fight). Unbeknownst to her, he is Arnold's son, trying to prove to Dad that he can make a living without an allowance.

Curiously, the real chemistry is between Arnold and Arthur. But Ray Milland does nicely as a stand-in, and Franklin Pangborn, Luis Alberni and William Demerest are all along for the ride.