Sunday, May 18, 2014

Movies I’ve stared at recently on TCM #68

A few bits ‘n’ pieces and/or odds ‘n’ ends that have aired on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ within the past few months and that have been on the U-Verse Total DVR For Life© for nearly as long:

High Pressure (1932) – William Powell is Gar Evans, “the world’s foremost promoter,” who’s hired by a Jewish businessman (George Sidney) to be the chief booster of a process that transforms sewage into rubber.  It’s as daffy as it sounds, but Powell’s sidekick (Frank McHugh) convinces him it’s legit…and so Evans quickly establishes “The Golden Gate Artificial Rubber Company”—anointing his down-and-out crony Guy Kibbee as the CEO, hiring Evalyn Knapp as his personal secretary…and asking on hands-and-knees for his “good luck charm,” Evelyn Brent, to sign on even though she’s grown weary of his elusive dreams and is ready to run off to South America with her new beau (André Luguet).  The Golden Gate concern threatens to send the stock price of natural rubber a-plummeting…until Powell learns that the inventor (Harry Beresford) is a little funny in the head.

Aben Kandel’s play Hot Money was the inspiration for this zippy Warner Brothers vehicle, adapted by Joseph Jackson and directed by Mervyn LeRoy; it’s got its weaknesses (I didn’t care for Brent’s performance—I think it might have worked better with Glenda Farrell or Joan Blondell) but overall it’s a pleasant romp that benefits from the dynamo that is Powell…and first-rate contributions from Sidney (who steals the show), McHugh and Charles “Ming the Merciless” Middleton.  Dragnet fans will chortle at the presence of a young Ben Alexander, who plays Knapp’s boyfriend.

Flight from Glory (1937) – Van Heflin must have been twelve years old (okay, I’m just kidding—but this was his third feature film appearance) when he made this RKO programmer—he’s a disgraced pilot who accepts a job from skeevy Onslow Stevens, who runs an aircraft cargo service staffed with other disgraced pilots (including Chester Morris and Richard Lane, who would later square off in Columbia’s Boston Blackie movie series).  The flyboys must fly dangerous missions over the Andes, dropping off supplies to mining companies—though Heflin doesn’t adjust too well, and he becomes a heavy drinker much to the consternation of his supportive wife (Whitney Bourne).

Flight from Glory is a B-movie quickie directed by one of the form’s true monarchs, Lew Landers, who was unparalleled when it came to working with low budgets, cranking them out fast and on time.  Glory runs 67 minutes so it’s not like you have to make a major time investment if you watch it; I had problems with the plot, which sets up a rather unappealing romance between Morris and Bourne…and conveniently has Heflin step aside nobly (how he does so will guarantee to make your eyes roll) so they don’t get into any trouble with the Production Code.  Still…I’ve seen worse.

Lightning Strikes Twice (1951) – It’s almost like I set these segueways up on purpose, isn’t it?  Actress Ruth Roman (I’m not being redundant—she plays a stage actress in the movie) is visiting the Lone Star State on the advice of her doctor, and crosses path with Richard Todd, a secretive man who’s just been release from Death Row.  Todd is the object of affection of resort ranch owner Mercedes McCambridge, the object of concern by husband-and-wife Frank Conroy & Kathryn Givney, and the object of suspicion by everyone else in town, who are convinced the guy did croak his wife.  (Oh, and Zachary Scott is around in his usual oily persona as a gigolo in love with Roman.)  Ruth falls in love with Richard…but is she within her rights to worry that she might be married to a (gasp) murderer?

I put up with Lightning Strikes Twice—honest to my grandma, that’s the only way I can describe it—because I’m such a huge fan of McCambridge’s; she doesn’t disappoint (and goes out in a blaze of glory) but the whole Todd-Roman romance does…I wasn’t particularly taken with either character and didn’t really give a flying frog’s ass whether they got together or not.  Lightning runs about an hour-and-a-half but it seems longer; apart from being amused to see folks like Marjorie Bennett, Frank Cady and Byron Foulger on hand (oh, and Dobie Gillis’ older sibling plays Mercedes’ kid brother) I kept looking at my watch wanting it to end.  (I think I liked Ruth better in Jungle Queen.)

The Bachelor Party (1957) – Paddy Chayefsky returns to Marty territory with this adaptation of his TV play (originally telecast on The Philco Television Playhouse in 1953) about the titular event and the four attendees who spend an evening examining their lives after consuming much alcohol.  The party starts out with five, but one of them—straight-laced Kenneth (Larry Blyden)—cuts out early, leaving behind groom-to-be Arnold (Philip Abbott), happy-go-lucky ladies’ man Eddie (Jack Warden) and older married man Walter (E.G. Marshall).  And then there’s Charlie (Don Murray), a loyal husband who’s at the end of his rope—he feels as if he’s on a treadmill to oblivion and his wife Helen (Patricia Smith) has announced an unplanned baby is on the way.  Charlie wrestles with his conscience most of the evening because he’s planning on having a fling.

Chayefsky and Marty director Delbert Mann fleshed this tale out to ninety-two minutes but I think it might have been better in the shorter TV version (admittedly, I haven’t seen it) because I started to get impatient in the last half-hour watching this one.  Carolyn Jones received an Oscar nomination as a beatnik gal whose good-time party persona masks a life of loneliness—many believe her Best Supporting Actress nod was for the shortest amount of screen time in cinema history.  Truth be told, I was more impressed with Nancy Marchand (her film debut) as Smith’s sister-in-law, who tells Smith that her married life is a sham and her kids are to blame.

Johnny Cool (1963) – William Asher is perhaps better known as the auteur behind many of the “Beach Party” movies (as well as a director on classic TV sitcoms like I Love Lucy and Bewitched) but this little entry from his oeuvre is a real oddity: Henry Silva is the titular hit man groomed by exiled racketeer Marc Lawrence to take care of business in the U.S. by knocking off his rivals and the associates what ratted him out.  Silva also gets romantically involved with socialite Elizabeth Montgomery (who would become Mrs. Asher in the same month of the film’s release).  Johnny Cool is not a perfect film but it’s entertaining in a slick, violent fashion; its casting is the strong suit, featuring performances from unlikely thesps as Richard Anderson, Joey Bishop (as a used car salesman), Elisha Cook, Jr. and Sammy Davis, Jr. (who warbles the title song).  Jim Backus, Brad Dexter, John McGiver, Mort Sahl and Telly Savalas make up some of the body count.

Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) – Martin Scorsese’s debut feature stars pal Harvey Keitel as J.R., a streetwise Italian-American who falls for Zina Bethune (who was a bigger name than Harve at the time, owing to her starring role on The Nurses/The Doctors and the Nurses), playing a free-spirited woman who is never referred by name (she’s billed as “The Girl” in the credits).  This will give you an idea of the direction their relationship is headed: J.R. loves The Girl very much—even to the point of resisting the temptation to deflower her before they’re married.  When she confesses an awful secret—she was raped by a boyfriend—J.R. can’t muster up the maturity to put the incident behind him.

Scorsese disciples will get a kick out of this one even though it rarely rises above a self-conscious art film (it won at the 1968 Chicago Film Festival…but to get the picture major distribution, Marty had to add some nude scenes—in other words, “a little sex in it”—that feature scantily-clad women and an all-too-noticeably older Keitel); it features many themes prevalent in his later works: the rituals of male bonding, Catholicism and guilt, references to films and cinema, etc.  Most ubiquitous is the featuring of a first-rate oldies soundtrack, with tunes by The Doors (The End), Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels (Jenny Take a Ride) and Jr. Walker & the All-Stars (Shotgun).  That’s Marty’s mother Catherine in the opening sequence—Mama Scorsese would make appearances in many of her son’s motion pictures, notably GoodFellas.

1 comment:

Bill Crider said...

As the only person in the world who thinks that Ghost Dog is a remake/commentary on Johnny Cool (it even has Henry Silva in a role-reversal part), I feel obligated to mention it at every opportunity. You'd be surprised at how few opportunities there are.