Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vacation Viewing, or Lots of Crap

Boy I watch a lot of crap. I realized this after tallying what I watched while on vacation. I didn’t go anywhere, but ran lots of errands and did chores around the house, and when I wasn’t doing those things, I watched movies when I could. I enjoyed watching the piles of DVDs scattered around the TV go down.

In no particular order, I watched over a week and a half period:

“Macao” (1952) an RKO crime drama with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. These two are always fun to watch, and their star presence burns up the screen. However, this is not as good as their other teaming, “His Kind of Woman” (1951), which remains one of the nuttiest, most sheerly enjoyable movies ever made. Rating: Two and a half stars.

“Witchcraft” (1964). Good effective, moody black and white British horror film starring Lon Chaney Jr. as a modern day warlock. Director Don Sharp stages some effective scenes, especially involving a reincarnated witch. Not as good as “Horror Hotel” (1960) a film I believe it is trying to emulate, but an agreeable chiller. Rating: Two and a half stars.

“Devils of Darkness” (1965) a duller than dull English horror film about a vampire leading a devil worshipping cult. This one has a cast of people I didn’t recognize and commits the unpardonable sin of movie watching: it’s boring. Did I mention it was boring and dull? Rating: One star.

“The Black Rose” (1950) with Tyrone Power and Jack Hawkins as medieval Englishmen exploring the Orient. It starts out great, but gets duller and duller as it goes along. French leading lady Cecile Aubrey retired from films shortly thereafter. It’s easy to see why. The low point in the recent Tyrone Power Swashbuckler box set. Rating: Two stars.

“That’s Dancing” (1985) Anthology film of great dance numbers from Hollywood musicals. Not as good as the “That’s Entertainment” films, but with these numbers who’s complaining? Still, as long as I’m here I must point something out. Between this film and three “That’s Entertainment” films, none of them have ever shown one of the great underrated numbers in M-G-M musical history, Eleanor Powell and Buddy Rich performing “Tallulah” from “Ship Ahoy” (1942). Rating: Three stars.

“Day of the Animals” (1978). An early ecological warning movie, as a hole in the ozone layer makes the world’s animals turn nasty. This film tracks a party of hikers in the mountains, where they are beset by all kinds of attacking wildlife. Directed by William Girder and starring Christopher George, who both had an unexpected hit the year before with “Grizzly.” Likely a favorite in Al and Tipper’s household. Rating: Two and a half stars.

“The Land Unknown” (1957). Enjoyable sci-fi flick about an Air Force expedition in Antarctica that discovers a tropical pre-historic land. The dinosaurs are primitive by today’s standards, but I still enjoyed this. Rating” Two and a half stars.

“Catwoman” (2004). It’s not very good, but it’s hardly the worst super hero/comic book ever made. That honor goes to “Daredevil” or “Superman Returns.” But Halle Berry in an abbreviated leather outfit and cracking a whip makes it OK in my book. Because I don’t read comics, I had no problem with the film taking liberties with the character. Rating: Two stars.

“The Devil’s Rain” (1975). Satanism on the loose in America’s Southwest. What a cast! William Shatner. Ernest Borgnine. Ida Lupino. Keenan Wynn. Tom Skerritt. And two seconds of John Travolta melting! I’m still not sure what The Devil’s Rain is, but I enjoyed this and Ernie looks like he’s having a ball. I really wanted to go see this when it played at the Dolton Theater but for some reason I didn’t make it. I was glad to catch up to it. Rating: Two and a half stars.

“The Maltese Falcon” (1941). What can I say? One of the best detective movies ever made, and director and screenwriter John Huston was smart enough to extract dialogue from the Dashiel Hammett novel word for word. Some movies are so perfectly cast, with the right people being in the right place at the right time. “The Maltese Falcon” qualifies in spades (pun intended.) Rating: Four stars.

“The Deadly Mantis” (1957) A giant pre-historic praying mantis awakens from his centuries-old slumber in the Arctic and wreaks havoc as it flies south. Pretty dull, though the scenes of the mantis atop the Washington Monument are cool. There’s so much stock footage in this thing you’d think Ed Wood had a crack at it. Rating: Two stars.

“The Big Noise” (1944). Lesser Laurel and Hardy from their 20th Century Fox days, though I like this more than most people. The DVD extra, a reunion of the
Sons of the Desert L&H appreciation society, is a delight. Rating: Two stars.

“Hell and High Water” (1954) Delirious Communist propaganda piece with Richard Widmark as a rogue submarine commander on a mission to stop a Chinese plot to explode a nuclear bomb, and start an atomic war. As a friend of mine pointed out, female lead Bella Darvi is a dead ringer for Jennifer Garner in several scenes, even down to her mannerisms. My washing machine experienced mechanical difficulties while I watched this and emitted lots of soapy water onto my utility room and kitchen floor. Perhaps the movie gods were punishing me for watching too many bad movies? Rating: Three stars.

“The Leech Woman” (1960). Obviously I did not listen to the movie gods. Colleen Gray kills lots of people to keep eternal youth, thanks to a serum discovered in the African jungle. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Rating: One star.

“Devil Dog The Hound of Hell” (1978) Made for TV classic as a typical suburban family adopts a hell hound, who tries to recruit the family to the Dark Side. I never saw this when it originally aired, but a lot of kids were talking it about it at school the next day. The first five minutes has a Satanic ceremony sequence and you couldn’t get away with that today. There would be so many complaints from conservative groups about letting stuff like this uninvited into their homes and where was society headed? Well this aired almost 30 years ago and society is still here. Rating: Three stars.

“Gunga Din” (1939). One of the most enjoyable adventure movies ever made with Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Victor McLaglen as three British soldiers taking on a cult of Kali-worshipping Thuggees in colonial India. Sam Jaffe makes a memorable Gunga Din, and the action scenes are first rate. The rousing Alfred Newman score is one of his best. I saw this about 12 years ago at the Music Box Theater on a double feature with “King Kong” (1933). It’s probably the greatest double feature I’ve ever seen, and the large, appreciative crowd was into both movies the entire way. Rating: Four stars.

“Angel Face” (1952). Otto Preminger-directed noir about ambulance driver Robert Mitchum getting ensnared in femme fatale Jean Simmons’ plans. Maybe I was tired of watching movies, but this struck me as surprisingly dull. Nice Dimitri Tiomkin score though. Rating: Two stars.

“Broadway Bill” (1934). Thoroughly charming Frank Capra comedy about a racehorse. Capra’s affection for his characters shines through in this early effort. Even Warner Baxter is less stiff than usual, and Myrna Loy is as delightful as always. The film boasts a truly memorable horse race climax. Rating: Three and a half stars.

“The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane” (1976). I watched this one at a friends’ house, a strange, though haunting story about a precocious thirteen-year-old girl (Jodie Foster) who seemingly lives by herself, and people seem to be disappearing around her. She also attracts the unwanted attention of the local pervert (Martin Sheen). I had never seen this, and I found it really interesting. Even at 13 Foster has more acting chops than actors three times her age. This one stuck with me. Rating: Three stars.

I had some friends over for a Halloween video party on the 14th. After eating lots of chip and dip and watching the Bears lose, we watched: the prom episode from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, the greatest TV show of all time; “Race with the Devil” (1975) a favorite film of mine with Warren Oates, Peter Fonda, Loretta Swit and Lara Parker on the run after witnessing a Satanic ceremony. Great car stunts in this and not a wasted moment in its 90-minute running time. Everything a B movie should be. Rating: Three stars. Wound up the evening with “From Beyond the Grave” (1974), an anthology from Amicus Studios. These anthology pictures are a big hit with my group, and this one has a cast including Peter Cushing, David Warner, Donald Pleasance, Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Diana Dors, Margaret Leighton and Lesley Anne-Downe. Four stories of the macabre and supernatural as only the British can do. Great fun with no unnecessary gore. Rating: Three stars.


The Write Bunch said...

Funny, I just watched From Beyond the Grave, thanks to netflix. I think these movies were made just to give all those great British actors some work!

That Eleanor Powell Tallulah/Ship Ahoy number is FABULOUS isn't it?

From The Maltese Falcon, an A+ film, to Devil Dog: Hound of Hell...what a variety. I saw Devil Dog: Hound of Hell when it was first on television. It was always funny to me because I love the snack cake Devil Dogs, and because it's a great television movie title.

Thanks for sharing your vacation movie list.


Anonymous said...

I worked with someone who grew up in India who told me that "Gunga Din" was banned in India when it was originally released.

According to this chap, while Gunga Din may have been reveared by the "Britishers" as a hero, he was reviled by the Indians as a traitor.

You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to...

Kevin Deany said...

Scott: Actually I can understand how someone from India would feel that way. But I've always taken "Gunga Din" as historical fantasy, and on that level it works mighy well.

Plus, I think making the bad guys Thuggees softens the blow.