Log in
  

Mike Clark has been writing about film for more than 20 years, starting with a weekly column in USA Today in 1985. He also served as program planner and director of the American Film Institute Theater.


Mike's Picks
Sort by: Title | Date
7 Jan, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Iron Petticoat' and more …


The Iron Petticoat

Available via TCM.com
TCM, Comedy, $29.99 BD/DVD combo, NR.
Stars Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn.
1956.
Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn? Pause here for your eyes to bug out like a Tex Avery cartoon character over the mere existence of this obscurity — especially in light of the fact that until recent weeks via Turner Classic Movies airings, this half-heartedly released Technicolor comedy had never even been televised due to the fact that Hope (who secured rights) basically sat on it for decades. Very much in the mode of Ninotchka, Comrade X and the arguably underrated Jet Pilot, it casts the stars as rival American and Soviet military pilots amid the latter’s gradual transformation into a capitalist of sorts who comes to appreciate sexier garb. Hepburn’s athletic frame still looks terrific in a role that followed two consecutive Oscar-nominated performances (in 1955’s Summertime and then The Rainmaker, which had just opened as well). Otherwise, this may be her worst performance; her accent isn’t that far from Bela Lugosi’s in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda? With the slightly straighter The Seven Little Foys, That Certain Feeling and the subsequent Beau James, Hope himself was venturing into new territory at the time — and this modest departure, directed by Ralph Thomas of the then popular Doctor in the House, feels much more like a standard British outing that just happens to have the leads it does. (They have slightly more on-camera rapport than they reportedly had off, but it’s only a matter of degree.) MGM originally distributed a shorter version than this more official British cut — which, like several Brit pics but only a few non-Paramount Hollywood releases, was shot in the incomparable VistaVision. Thus, this rendering looks like a trillion dollars — every bit as stupendous as the Blu-rays I’ve seen of a couple other British films from the ’50s: Genevieve and (in VistaVision as well) The Battle of the River Plate. The result is well worth a look if you treat it strictly as a lab specimen, as opposed to a comedy that actually involves you.
Read the Full Review

Beloved Infidel

Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gregory Peck, Deborah Kerr, Eddie Albert.
1959.
Adapted from a Sheila Graham bestseller of the day that every adult female relative of mine seemed to own in paperback, Infidel relates how the eventual Hollywood gossip columnist (Deborah Kerr) got mentored by the older F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gregory Peck) during the writer’s alcoholic waning days when — as we see in one of this soaper’s better scenes — even The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night were out of print. Frequent Peck collaborator Henry King was among the most indifferent of all major directors, but his credits do include my two favorite Peck films: Twelve O’Clock High and The Gunfighter. In this case, he obviously couldn’t gear the story to Peck’s great screen strength, which was projecting authority that sometimes extended all the way to repressed (and, occasionally, even unrepressed) rage. As a Graham more refined than the real one likely was, Kerr is more on point and looking mighty regal on the beach (watch that redhead’s skin tones, Deb). Given his haircut here and also from the humorous short subjects we see him filming on a soundstage, I assume that Eddie Albert’s fictitious “Bob Carter” character is (in the kind of subterfuge that always sinks old Hollywood biopics) supposed to be humorist Robert Benchley. What makes the movie watchable (kind of) is the fact that we are, after all, witnessing a screen drama about the great FSF — and also, of course, the expected pro job Twilight Time gives to the Blu-ray (including the alternate-channel isolation of Franz Waxman’s score).
Read the Full Review


17 Dec, 2012

New on Disc: 'Purple Noon' and more …


Purple Noon

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet.
1960.
Every time a copy of it shows up in a fresh rendering, I like to check out René Clément’s resonant psychological thriller about opportunism in one of screen history’s most physically handsome manifestations. Noon is again the kind of movie that makes a guy want to get out on the Mediterranean, brandish snappy clothes and romance continental beauties. It does not, though, make you want to get murdered, which is also part of the narrative package. The film is, of course, based on Patricia Highsmith’s same The Talented Mr. Ripley novel that Anthony Minghella turned into another very good night at the movies in 1999 — an interpretation significantly different in terms of emphasis on supporting characters and the ending. But I wouldn’t trade Noon’s wrap-up for anything. There’s major spoiler potential if one gets too far into the plot of what became lead Alain Delon’s star-maker. So suffice it to say that it involves a rich father who employs an impoverished on-the-make type (the kind who trades on his looks) to retrieve a playboy son (Maurice Ronet) who is perhaps enjoying too much of the same said water, pricey duds and femmes. It doesn’t take long for this hired hand to start taking to these fringe benefits perhaps a little too much himself — but without the sociopathic byproducts that ensue in a story that ends up bisecting itself at roughly midpoint. After Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Clément’s earlier Ripley take is probably the one that battles it out with Minghella’s version or maybe Wim Wenders’ The American Friend as the most durable movie made from the author’s work.
Extras: The disc includes an early-1960s interview with Delon in which he is very forthcoming about work, his favored directors (Clément was among them) and how he stumbled into acting after four years of army service.
Read the Full Review

Francis Ford Coppola 5-Film Collection

Lionsgate, Drama, $39.99 Blu-ray.
Stars Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Vincent Gallo, Harrison Ford, Gene Hackman, Frederic Forrest, Raul Julia, Cindy Williams, John Cazale, Nastassja Kinski, Teri Garr.
1974-2009.
As the definitive cross in the road regarding Francis Ford Coppola’s strange career, 1982’s One From the Heart had the makings of a cult movie even before it cemented that status by bringing in $389,249 over its opening weekend on an estimated then-whopping $27 million budget. All this for a 1982 movie shot in 1.33:1 and no marquee busters in its cast. There obviously are other titles in this reasonably priced collection, and some super ones at that: Oscar-nominated The Conversation; both versions of Apocalypse Now (I’m one of those who prefers the later reworking); plus 2009’s Tetro, which is something of a visual marvel and, alas, the only one of the director’s recent pictures that I like even a little. All, however, have previously been available on Blu-ray, which means that Heart (which finally got a belated DVD release in 2011) is likely this assemblage’s chief selling point. The story’s setting is some of the more neon-ish parts of Las Vegas, which means that this is a case where artifice meets artifice. Sometimes the wrong casting mix keeps you from even getting out of the gate. And here’s a story about a bickering longtime couple testing waters with other potential mates, where the principals end up being played by … Apocalypse Now’s Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski, with subsidiary parts going to Lainie Kazan and Harry Dean Stanton. Heart is such a one-of-a-kind (with fine-for-its-day sound mixing) that one has to give it some points, though the visual rendering here is less than ideal when what this oddball really deserves is some Criterion TLC.
Read the Full Review


3 Dec, 2012

New on Disc: 'Ramrod'


Ramrod

Olive, Western, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Preston Foster.
1947.
It has been noted that mild-mannered Joel McCrea didn’t cater to co-star Veronica Lake’s sometimes holier-than-thou persona when she was off-camera, though the two were eventually reteamed here in a movie not called Sullivan’s Travels when her career was on the wane. Ramrod was directed by the still underrated cult filmmaker Andre de Toth when he and Lake were married in real life. Lake manages one or two fiery scenes here, even if her role peters out somewhat near the end.
De Toth doesn’t punch up the melodrama in obvious ways — though there are definitely some twisted goings-on in this adaptation of a novel by famed Western writer Luke Short, who was then in a lucrative screen era for his literary output, thanks also to Blood on the Moon and Station West, both from 1948.
McCrea, a widower, is something of an unusual protagonist here: a reforming alcoholic who also has to recover from a serious bullet wound when he all but passively gets involved in the machinations of almost everyone surrounding him.
The first film produced by Enterprise Productions (also of the dually superb Caught and Force of Evil), Ramrod is a typical Olive release in that it looks as no-frills good as its source material will permit. There are occasional specs in the image, but the presentation is generally solid. The cinematography is by Russell Harlan — about a year before he shot Red River and 15 years before he earned Oscar nominations for To Kill a Mockingbird and Hatari!
Actor buffs will enjoy seeing Lloyd Bridges getting beaten up in an early saloon scene. And Don DeFore, usually a comical figure in TV’s “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Hazel,” puts a tad more edge than expected on a subsidiary role as a ne’er-do-well McCrea friend, who precipitates some of the movie’s rampant brutality.
Read the Full Review


26 Nov, 2012

New on Disc: 'Sunset Blvd.' and more …


Sunset Blvd. (Blu-ray)

Paramount, Drama, $26.99 Blu-ray.
Stars Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Nancy Olson, Erich von Stroheim.
1950.
Billy Wilder’s final collaboration with his then producer/co-writer Charles Brackett already was regarded as a legend a mere handful of years after its release — a film then spoken of in the reverent tones reserved for classic silents that were famous but almost impossible to see outside of New York (if then). Sunset Blvd. may be the greatest movie about Hollywood ever made, but it is also film noir (a potent combo of cross-genres if there ever was one). And a new Blu-ray where the print that has just enjoyed some serious “work” (which plot-central Norma Desmond likely would have had as well) is beyond welcome. The cinematographer was Paramount’s great John F. Seitz, who also shot Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend for Wilder and one who must have been the on-demand choice of significant Paramount money-maker Alan Ladd, who later employed Seitz on the films the by-then fading DP later did at Warner Bros. But it is, of course, the movie’s originality, audacity and imaginative casting that still makes it work. First of all, Brackett-Wilder’s cheeky achievement is still a brutally honest portrait of Hollywood. Then, we get the gonzo casting gifts that Wilder always had: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Nancy Olson, Buster Keaton and (my favorite) Erich von Stroheim and Jack Webb — to say nothing of Cecil B. DeMille playing himself. Plus, an Oscar-winning score by Franz Waxman. Despite giving Swanson the role of a lifetime (notwithstanding her many silent triumphs), the long-term legacy of Sunset Blvd. was to rescue Holden from a litany of indifferent roles at Paramount and Columbia post-World War II and launching him into superstardom.
Extras: This lovely release imports a ton of extras from a previous deluxe standard Blvd. DVD, adding a musical number about studios and producers of the day that Wilder excised and replaced because it was too inside-baseball for the general audiences who did make the picture a hit — not a monster one but definitely a box office success from a time when general audiences (there was only a barely specialized “niche” demographic) were a lot sharper than they are today.
Read the Full Review

The Secret Six

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, John Mack Brown.
1931.
Clark Gable only gets seventh billing in this MGM bootlegging melodrama with an enticingly curious cast and equally no-slouch background credits — a movie that headlines Wallace Beery as a double-crossed lug who becomes a Prohibition powerhouse in town (for a while). Gable wasn’t yet a star but could have lived like one had the studio been paying him by the hour. Gable quickly got a rep as one who wouldn’t kowtow on screen to high-strung women (Now see here, Scarlett) and might even push them around. But here, he’s simply a big-city reporter in a friendly rivalry with a competitor for the affections of a “friend of the gang” played by Jean Harlow — who was coming off Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels and about five days away from making a second splash with James Cagney in The Public Enemy. Produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, Six was not exactly shy about promoting vigilantism. And by the way, the vigilante Six are a hoot to see in the movie — vigilantes in eye masks that wouldn’t disguise anybody very much if someone had to identify them during a trial. Six was a major league production — one that also employs the amusing casting of Lewis Stone as a low-key mob lawyer who’s a brain of the outfit.
Read the Full Review
 


5 Nov, 2012

New on Disc: 'Rosemary's Baby' and more …


Rosemary’s Baby

Criterion, Horror,  $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer.
1968.
Critical hits that blast commercial four-baggers out of the park still happen very occasionally, but Roman Polanski’s instant classic of Ira Levin’s everyone-read-it novel was and is about as good as commercial filmmaking gets — not that the picture was any marketing natural in those days before The Exorcist, The Omen and all that Polanski’s first Hollywood career wave-maker sparked. Ruth Gordon got the year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Rosemary’s batty apartment neighbor and Satan partisan — and Sidney Blackmer is good as her husband, who helps the younger woman’s husband achieve professional success as an actor (Yamaha commercials and more) making a literal deal with the devil. But then, the picture is a kind of casting director’s delight for veteran character actors of the day, including Ralph Bellamy, Maurice Evans and Patsy Kelly. The movie hasn’t lost a beat, especially in Criterion’s rendering.
Extras: It’s surprising to hear producer Robert Evans (featured on an excellent 45-minute Criterion look-back with Polanski and title lead Mia Farrow) talk of how it was such a tough picture to sell. We learn in the documentary that while in bed with then-spouse Farrow, Frank Sinatra read the script and said that he couldn’t see her in the part — which added to the actress’ insecurities regarding the role. We also hear the famous the story about how Sinatra, chagrined that the Baby shooting schedule made it impossible for her to appear with him in 1968’s The Detective, served her with divorce papers on the set (though they remained good friends until Sinatra’s death). Another full-length documentary focuses on composer Krzystof Komeda, who died not long after the film premiered.
Read the Full Review

Neil Young Journeys

Sony Pictures, Music, B.O. $0.22 million, $30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for language, including some drug references and brief, thematic material.
2012.
The two (male) rock troubadours truest to themselves are probably Bob Dylan and Neil Young, so there’s a kind of beauteous symmetry to the fact that Martin Scorsese has chronicled one on screen and Jonathan Demme the other, given that the latter duo are the two filmmakers of note (both Oscar winners, in fact) who are the closest to be walking versions of the Rock and Hall of Fame. Journeys is, in fact, the third screen outing that Demme has undertaken with Young, following 2006’s Neil Young: Heart of Gold and 2009’s Neil Young Trunk Show. Of the three, Journeys has to be the one most fashioned toward the hardcore, in that it is a diminutive and certainly intimate portrait of the singer-songwriter at home in Canada, wrapping up a worldwide tour in Toronto, to which he journeys from hometown Omemee in a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria (none of this limo, or even chauffeur, stuff with him). Lack of pretension, of course, has always been a key component of Young’s appeal — complete with his take-it-or-leave-it vocal stylings and wardrobe choices that pretty well come down to which pair of grungy jeans we’re going to wear tonight. One gets a complete sense here of the roots-engendered stability that has kept Young from veering off the track in ways that have turned so many rock stars into a train wreck. Cruising through Omemee, Young takes us past the school that was named for his community-prominent father, and we also meet his brother. The concert portions’ stripped-down sets are taken to great extent from Young’s 2010 Le Noise album, though some of the highlights here come from deep catalog — as when he revives 1970’s “Ohio,” a salute to the four victims of that year’s Kent State killings. These are predominantly tight close-ups of a professional doing his job, which means this is a screen endeavor for the devoted.
Read the Full Review

 


22 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Fear and Desire' and more …


Fear and Desire

Street 10/23
Kino Lorber, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky, Virginia Leith.
1953.
Although his only slightly more expensive Killer’s Kiss follow-up soon became easier to see on TV by the late 1950s than it had been in 1955 in theaters, Fear and Desire — Stanley Kubrick’s meagerly budgeted debut feature — all but existed as the next thing to a rumor following a 1953 run that couldn’t have gotten too many playdates outside of New York City. Kubrick, the onetime Look magazine still photographer, cobbled out his career opening salvo from a screenplay by Bronx high school classmate Howard Sackler, who would go on to win a Pulitzer for The Great White Hope, which was written in 1968, the same year Kubrick put out 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When a small band of soldiers crashes a few miles behind enemy lines and naturally seeks a way back to its own unit, the lieutenant in charge (Kenneth Harp) is irksomely prone to vague philosophizing in lieu of truly taking charge, to the apparent chagrin of a sergeant played by co-lead Frank Silvera (later a heavy in the Manhattan-noirish Kiss).

Amid broad statement (I think) about “the nature” of war — and not a specific one — F&D’s vaguely supernatural treatment sacrifices dramatic force for bleakness. There was all kind of talk in later years that the filmmaker didn’t want F&D shown — even going so far (it has been claimed) to suppress it. Thus, it was a big deal when NYC’s Film Forum unearthed a very good print in 1994.

With its short running time, this is hardly a time-waster given all the history involved. F&D is crude, but the printing material utilized in this Library of Congress spiff-up is very good, and Kino’s release also throws in the director’s 1953 color short The Seafarers, made for the Seafarers International Union and narrated by Don Hollenbeck.
Read the Full Review

Lili

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Leslie Caron, Mel Ferrer, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
1953.
Leaving aside her brief professional reinvention with a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the Brit unwed pregnancy drama The L-Shaped Room in 1963, Leslie Caron’s career is substantially based on three hits at MGM. The first two are An American in Paris and Gigi (both directed by Vincente Minnelli), which took Best Picture Oscars.

The third, Lili, wasn’t nominated for Best Picture but did get director Charles Walters a nom. It was a fairly substantial hit that no one expected — helped, no doubt, by the memorable “Hi-Lili Hi-Lo” title tune. It’s a delicate little thing with lush MGM Technicolor that needs a memorable fantasy production number at the end just to reach the 81-minute mark.

Adapted by Helen Deutsch from a Paul Gallico story that had a television setting, Lili is set in a carnival and plays into the child-woman part of her persona that the two Minnelli Oscar winners mined as well — the “woman” half defined here by a hot-cha! dream sequence about half-way through the picture in which the waif Caron plays suddenly transforms herself into a babe in torrid evening wear, competing via dance with a supposedly flashier type (Zsa Zsa Gabor) for the affections of the latter’s husband (a philandering magician played by Jean Pierre Aumont).

As we all know from the get-go, Caron/Lili should be matched up with Mel Ferrer’s puppeteer — a now lame former dancer who has understandably turned bitter and now channels his nicer side through the carnival puppets whose voicings he controls. Don’t take bets that she won’t see the error of her ways.
Read the Full Review
 


15 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'This Is Cinerama' and more …


This Is Cinerama

Flicker Alley, Documentary, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
1952.
For all the printer’s ink they generated from their mammoth annual box office tallies throughout the 1950s, the original Cinerama travelogues (moviegoing stunts that delivered) were by no means universally seen. This Is Cinerama was the big one, of course, because it had the element of surprise and a marvelous opener.
Extras: Flicker Alley can be relied upon to pile on supplements, and the ones here beyond disc one’s meaty commentary and restoration featurette include an alternate post-intermission opening geared to European audiences; tributes to Denver’s Cooper Theater and the nationally famous Cinerama revival showings in Dayton, Ohio; TV spots; and even a “breakdown” reel.
Read the Full Review

The Game

Criterion, Thriller, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language, and for some violence and sexuality.
Stars Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn.
1997.
David Fincher’s third feature was his first to exhibit something akin to a sense of humor. This release is mostly a carryover from the 1997 laserdisc with a new transfer that has a raw, dark and occasionally grainy Fincher “look” that fans will appreciate.
Read the Full Review

Overland Stage Raiders

Olive, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Ray Corrigan, Max Terhune, Louise Brooks.
1938.
Stage Raiders is standard issue all the way, as cowboys get involved in an airplane concern to transport gold after a series of bus robberies.
Read the Full Review

 


1 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Man-Trap' and more …


Man-Trap

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jeffrey Hunter, David Janssen, Stella Stevens.
1961.
Well, it’s called Man-Trap and features Stella Stevens at a special time in her career (first starring role, in fact). The title’s meaning can be presumably extended to embrace the perilous limits of male buddy-dom nurtured by mutual combat experience as one talks the other into getting involved in a heist that involves ripping off a Central American dictator in a cheeky airport ambush rationalized by its perpetrators as a half-patriotic scheme. But no, Stevens is the indisputable trap the story is selling in the only picture ever directed solo by actor Edmond O’Brien — the kind of tawdry enterprise (from a John D. MacDonald novel) where you play up the sexual angle because it’s your own production company’s dough invested in the enterprise.
Read the Full Review

The Crowd Roars

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak.
1932.
In part because Howard Hawks’ early non-film résumé included racecar driving, this pre-FDR mix of “wheels” and (sometimes) hooch has the makings of a prototypically crackling melodrama directed by the auteur Pantheon heavyweight. Instead, as it now stands, it’s only a “might-have-been” with a few crackling scenes because the original 85-minute running time was long ago shorn to 70. As a result, characters who hardly know each other in one scene seem to be chummy in the next, and fleeting intros segue into amorous affection in a blink. This is an endeavor where we have to have to fill in some blanks, though lead James Cagney was explosive in this early part of his career.
Read the Full Review
 


24 Sep, 2012

New on Disc: 'End of the Road' and more …


End of the Road

Warner, Drama, $19.97 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Stacy Keach, James Earl Jones, Harris Yulin, Dorothy Tristan.
1970.
The late Aram Avakian’s provocative mess (though possibly a calculated one) of John Barth’s novel has gone all but unseen since its tentative release early in 1970, when it became another of those occasional films featuring real actors to receive an ‘X’ rating. Unlike others in the club that have come to seem relatively tame with the passage of time, Road even now falls into the ‘hard R’ category. 
Extras: The DVD’s accompanying documentary was directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Read the Full Review

A New Leaf

Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Jack Weston, James Coco.
1971.
Embraced by cult movie fanciers and even some big-name critics at the time, Elaine May’s litigated debut comedy didn’t fare very well with the masses after going over budget and its shooting schedule.
Read the Full Review

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Universal, Comedy, $14.98 DVD, $26.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange.
1948.
Universal’s horror legacy is treated with the utmost respect one would hope for in a send-up that does justice to both halves of the cast. Many consider this Abbott and Costello’s best film. Universal has done a very nice job on the Blu-ray (sharp imagery is a key plus when it comes to shadowy horror).
Read the Full Review
 


10 Sep, 2012

New on Disc: 'Airport' and more …


Airport

Universal, Drama, $14.98 DVD, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Helen Hayes, Maureen
Stapleton, Jacqueline Bisset.
1970.
Though perhaps best known today for launching one of filmdom’s cheesiest franchises — and for being one of the most famously undeserving Best Picture Oscar nominees of the past 40 or so years — writer-director George Seaton’s blockbuster adaptation of Arthur Hailey’s bestseller helped Universal take its first great stride as a modern-era commercial force. Producer Ross Hunter’s shrewdly assembled button-pusher was for moviegoers whose idea of cinema was the equivalent of a beach-read, and Airport juggled stories that included blizzard-ish flying conditions, busting-up marriages for both of its male protagonists (Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin) and a financially desperate passenger trying to blow up the plane so his wife can collect the insurance. All this plus Alfred Newman’s last big-screen score (though it’s very atypical and not one of his most distinguished). The result is better when the personal stories get momentarily jettisoned so that the movie can concentrate on the mechanics of getting a crippled plane to land. Of course, the critics were never going to dig Airport, which still suffers from comedy relief that plays to the third balcony (a nun swigging hooch, an obnoxious know-it-all kid passenger and a priest only half-accidentally belting an obnoxious big-mouth across the puss).
Read the Full Review

The Dark Mirror

Olive, Mystery, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Olivia de Havilland, Lew Ayres, Thomas Mitchell.
1946.
If Dark Mirror does (arguably) bring up the relative rear of the heyday of the career of Robert Siodmak, who directed a string of noir thrillers in the 1940s, the movie is excellent in one major regard: Olivia de Havilland plays twin sisters (one a sweetheart, the other psychotic) and does a smashing job.  One of the sisters likely has murdered a doctor for what we much later learn is a credible, though hardly justifiable, reason. But though legal duplicity doesn’t seem too consistent with the “nice” persona exhibited by the innocent one (whichever sis she is), both siblings engage in those games twins sometimes play where they temporarily switch identities for fun. This doesn’t go down too well with the frustrated flatfoot (Thomas Mitchell) who seeks professional help in cracking the case. As a psychiatrist and murder-victim acquaintance who script-conveniently specializes in “twins,” co-star Lew Ayres is pretty well forced into a clinical all-business role — though Siodmak does manage to reap some reasonable suspense out of mechanical markings and swerves on lie-detector graph paper.
Read the Full Review

Big Leaguer

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $17.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Edward G. Robinson, Vera-Ellen, Jeff Richards.
1953.
No one will ever mistake Robert Aldrich’s screen debut for an example of auteur antics, but just the mental image of Edward G. Robinson in a jockstrap (which director Aldrich mercifully spares us) gives the movie’s 70 minutes a certain level of fascination if baseball is part of your makeup. As the script has it, Robinson’s continued employment as the New York Giants manager may be contingent on his winning a game between his team’s farmhands and the Brooklyn Dodgers farmhands.
Read the Full Review