Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Disembodied

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

The Disembodied (Allied Artists, 1957) – Director: Walter Grauman. Writer: Jack Townley. Stars: Allison Hayes, Paul Burke, John Wengraf, Eugenia Paul, Joel Marston, Robert Christopher, Dean Fredericks, A.E. Ukonu, Paul Thompson, & Otis Greene. B&W, 66 minutes.


The beautiful Allison Hayes is the only reason to watch this tepid jungle exploitation drama. Alert – or desperate – viewers will recognize the set as one from Allied Artists’ Bomba series, and a few of the situations are almost identical to plot devices used in those films.

Author-lecturer Tom Maxwell (Burke), accompanied by companions Norman Adams (Marston) and Joe Lawson (Christopher) are in the middle of a photographic safari in Africa when the unfortunate Joe is mauled by a lion. As their jeep is disabled, Tom and Norman, aided by native guide Gogi (Thompson), bring Joe on a stretcher to the compound of Dr. Karl Metz (Wengraf). As the doctor attempts to save Joe’s life, Tom and Norman are introduced to the comely Tonda (Hayes), Metz’s much younger wife. What they don’t realize is that they interrupted Tonda’s plan to rid herself of Metz by sticking pins into a voodoo doll made in his likeness. 

Metz at first wants to turn them away, but the condition of Joe is such that he lets them stay while he tends to the wounded man. Tonda is immediately attracted to Tom and attempts to seduce him. Caught in the act by Suba (Fredericks), Metz’s manservant, Tonda seduces Suba to keep him from informing to the good doctor. Mara (Paul), Suba’s wife, sees them embracing and is enraged. However, she keeps it to herself for the time being.

During the night, the noise of drums awaken Tom and Norman. Along with Gogi, they steal over to find where the noise is emanating. They find a voodoo ceremony in progress with Tonda as the main attraction, dancing wildly in a tight-fitting sarong with a leather belt and a dagger conspicuously positioned over her navel. Wearing makeup more suitable for an entertainer, Tonda is accompanied by two black dancers and a line of drums. Replete with talismans, and with dead chickens being thrown at her feet, Tonda ends her performance by striking a pose; the whole thing looks like something right out of an L.A. nightclub. Gogi informs them that Tonda is no mere go-go dancer. She is none other than the Voodoo Queen herself. 

The next morning, Tom and Norman find Joe completely healed, but still in a state of shock. They question Metz, who cannot explain how Joe's wounds healed completely overnight. Later, Suba’s body is found with his heart cut out. Tom and Norman return to the site of the voodoo ceremony and determine that Suba was killed there as part of the ritual. What they do not know is that Tonda had Suba’s heart cut out in a ceremony to cause his soul to migrate to Joe’s body.

Norman is anxious to leave and takes Gogi with him to try to bring their disabled jeep to the compound. Metz tells Tom that he is actually a doctor of psychology; he wouldn’t know a scalpel from a butter knife. This prompts Tom to ask him if he has any knowledge of voodoo. Tom accuses Metz of dabbling in voodoo, telling the doctor that he experienced it while researching a book in Haiti. Metz states that he has made some notes on the local practices, but warns Tom that further inquiry would prove dangerous. Only later does Tom realize that Tonda is the agent, with a plan to trade-in her aged husband for the much more desirable Tom.


Joe, with Suba’s soul within him, in now in a trance-like state and under Tonda's control. When Joe sees Tom and Tonda kissing, he attacks Tom with a knife, but Tom overpowers him. Tom questions Metz and threatens to kill the doctor unless he explains Joe's condition. Metz replies that he is not responsible for Joe's state. Later, the doctor accuses Tonda of meddling in voodoo and of being romantically involved with Tom. 

Norman and Gogi manage to revive the jeep and return to the compound. While they make preparations to leave, Tonda persuades Joe to take her along. However, she insists that Tom kill her husband. When Tom refuses, Tonda threatens him with a knife. He slaps her and tells her to stay away from him. Early the next morning, Tom and Norman find that Gogi has been stabbed to death and all their guns are missing. 

That night, when Tom attempts to steal some of Metz's weapons, Metz surprises him, gives him a gun and requests to accompany them. When Metz tells Tonda that he’s leaving, she stabs him. Soon after, Tonda kills Kabar (Greene), another servant, and tries to frame Tom for the murder. As Norman is about to leave to get help for the wounded Metz, he props up Kabar's body in the jeep to make it appear that Kabar is still alive and that Tonda's voodoo has failed. Confused by her apparent failure, Tonda conjures up another ritual, commanding Joe, who is still under her spell, to kill Tom. But just as Joe is about to attack and dispatch Tom, Mara appears and conveniently stabs Tonda to death, thereby releasing her control over Joe. Later, as Metz recovers, Tom, Norman and Joe head back to civilization.

Afterwords

There are some pictures with bad reputations that, at second glance aren’t as bad as their reputations would have one believe. However, The Disembodied is just as awful as its reputation warrants. A standard B-jungle exploitation following in the tracks of MGM’s White Cargo (1942) and Fox’s White Witch Doctor (1953), the film features an uninspired screenplay that shows its cards way too early and must depend on creating tension between the characters to lead it to a conclusion. (Hayes’ character of Tonda seems to have been named after Lamarr’s character of Tondelayo in White Cargo.) But nothing like that occurs as the script slowly meanders to an unsatisfying end. 

Even though it’s only 66 minutes long, the movie contains too many dull stretches where there’s nothing happening. Dependent on action after telling us what’s coming so early in the film, The Disembodied is loaded with characters just sitting or standing around talking about what they’re going to do, with the result that the audience is bored to tears. It was the first assignment for director Walter Gruman, who later went on to a long career, mainly in television. He was best known as the director of Barnaby Jones. The producer was Ben Schwalb, who took over the producer’s reins for the Bowery Boys franchise after original producer Jan Grippo left the series. Schwalb also has other films like Queen of Outer Space, The Hypnotic Eye, and Tickle Me on his resume.


The Disembodied is unusual for its genre in that it uses no stock footage of animals in its establishing shots. It’s clear to see that the film is firmly set on a backlot, as one can easily spot plastic plants among the foliage. Also, the film features both black and white natives. I know it’s supposed to be Africa and the white natives were placed there so that any hint of miscegenation can be avoided. It’s all part of the beauty of a bottom-of-the-barrel B-jungle adventure.

In fact, it seems so generic that film buffs sometimes confuse it with the AIP bottom-of-the-barrel jungle feature, Voodoo Woman, made the same year, but released earlier (March as opposed to August 1957). But Voodoo Woman (originally titled Black Voodoo) at least boasts a monster, even if it is Paul Blaisdell in his She-Creature suit sporting a blond wig. For the trivia fans out there, Otis Greene appears in both pictures.

Unlike Voodoo Woman, however, The Disembodied is reasonably well-acted, boasting a cast that was a Who’s Who of psychotronic actors: Paul Burke (Psychic Killer, Valley of the Dolls), Allison Hayes (The Undead, The Unearthly, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman), John Wengraf (Gog, The Return of Dracula, 12 to the Moon), Joel Marston (Point of Terror), Robert Christopher (Spook Chasers, Creature of the Walking Dead, Frankenstein Island), Dean Fredericks (The Phantom Planet, Jungle Jim TV series), Paul Thompson (Jungle Man-Eaters, The Leech Woman), and Otis Greene (Voodoo WomanPretty Maids All in a Row).

The odd one out is Eugenia Paul, who began her artistic career as a ballerina, but who ended up mainly guesting on television in addition to doing a few B-movies. The Disembodied was her only venture into the psychotronic. She was married to Robert Strauss; not the actor, but the heir to the Pep Boys auto store chain.

The writing is generally dull and filled with cliches. There’s one point in the film where our heroes, Tom and Norman, are roused from a peaceful sleep by the sound of drums. They come outside to investigate, stuck as they are in the middle of nowhere with nothing but vegetation around them. Tom looks around and with all the seriousness he can muster, says, “Seems to be coming from the jungle!” No kidding.

But as I said before, it’s the performance of Allison Hayes that makes the film watchable. Femme fatales don’t come any better. It’s actually fun to watch her as she changes from a malicious wife sticking pins in a doll supposed to be her husband to a sultry seductress to a scared innocent and finally to an enraged woman bent on revenge when her plans go awry. She brings more than her share of conviction, which combined with the intensity of her performance, makes her character all the more believable. She could have simply gone through the motions and it wouldn’t have mattered a bit. Decked out as she is through most of the film in a leopard print sarong with a halter top, and with every motion, every movement, reeking of sexuality, Hayes has us entranced right from the beginning.


This may come as a surprise to some out there who go by the old adage that only bad actors are in bad movies. And Hayes had done more than her share of her bad movies. But in her case it just isn’t true. She came along at a rather awkward time in Hollywood history. The twin punches of the Supreme Court anti-trust ruling against the studios and the advent of television caused the studios to cut back. In the ‘30s and ’40s, new talent was openly welcomed and allowed to flourish. However, in the ‘50s, newcomers had to come with a loaded resume – a proven track record on Broadway or other theater cred. Hayes was a beauty contest winner: Miss District of Columbia, which she represented in the Miss America pageant. With no real resume, she wound up in bit parts for Universal, who released her in 1955 as the outcome of a lawsuit she filed against the studio for injuries received while filming Sign of the Pagan (1954), starring Jack Palance.

She then signed with Columbia and actually had a decent role in the Civil War drama Count Three and Pray (1955), but the reviewers ignored her performance and concentrated on the film’s star, Joanne Woodward. She was loaned out for a few low-budget actioners and signed with Roger Corman for her role as Erica Page in his Western, Gunslinger, opposite Beverly Garland, with whom she is often compared for the title of “Queen of the B’s.” However, a broken arm sustained when she fell off a horse on set kept her inactive for a period of time. After recovering, she began appearing in supporting roles in television productions. Her last film for Columbia before they released her was a supporting role in the low-budget, ridiculous thriller, Zombies of Mora Tau (1957).

After appearing in MST 3000 favorite The Unearthly (1957), and needing work, she freelanced at several Poverty Row studios in a slew of films that can be described as “wretched” at best. She began to expand her horizons into television and became a frequent guest star in several series, with a recurring role as “Ellie Winters” for seven episodes of the Gene Barry Western, Bat Masterson (1958-59). She also parlayed a friendship with Raymond Burr, whom she met on the set of Count Three and Pray, into several guest shots in the ‘60s, while also earning a paycheck as “Priscilla Longworth” for two years of the soap opera General Hospital (1963-64).

But as the ‘60s rolled on, her health began to give way and she was eventually unable to walk without the use of a cane. She landed a very minor role in the Elvis Presley film, Tickle Me (1965) and made her final screen appearances as a guest on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1967).

Hayes had traced the origin of her illness to the ingredients of a calcium supplement that a doctor had prescribed. When she hired a toxicologist to examine the ingredients contained in the pills, he replied that the calcium pills contained extremely high levels of lead and concluded that Hayes most likely was suffering from lead poisoning. The actress later began a campaign to have the FDA ban the import or sale of the food supplement.

Reduced to an invalid, Hayes moved to San Clemente, California, as her condition continued to get worse. In 1976, she was diagnosed with leukemia, for which she was treated regularly at La Jolla. While at the hospital receiving a blood transfusion, her condition unexpectedly and rapidly deteriorated as she experienced chills, combined with flu-like symptoms and intense pain. She was transferred to the University of California Medical Center in San Diego on February 26, 1977, where she died the following day, one week before her 47th birthday. Ironically, in a letter that arrived after death, the FDA informed her that amendments were being made to the laws governing the importation of nutritional supplements, largely as a result of her situation.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hidden Figures

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox, 2016) - Director: Theodore Melfi. Writers: Theodore Melfi & Alison Schroeder (s/p). Margot Lee Shetterly (book). Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, Kimberly Quinn, Olek Krupa, Kurt Krause, Ken Strunk, Lidia Jewett, & Donna Biscoe. Color, Rated PG, 127 minutes.

A superb cast, brilliant directing and scripting make this uplifting film one to catch, as its two hours and seven minutes go by in a flash.

The year is 1961 in Langley Research Center in a still segregated Virginia (the property was originally a plantation). The Russians have launched four versions of Sputnik and America is desperately playing catch-up. NASA is recruiting the finest minds as “human computers” to get a man into orbit before the Russians.


Enter three young black women, Katherine Johnson (Henson) a widow whose husband died of a brain tumor and mother of three daughters, Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) a single mother with two sons, and Mary Jackson (Monáe) wife of Levi Jackson (Hodge) and mother of one son and a daughter. They join a group of about 30 other talented black women working in the west wing at Langley, computing and checking figures that come from the all-white, all-male east wing.

Katherine is a prodigy whose love of numbers and abilities with analytic geometry soon get her transferred to the east wing where she not only has to prove her superiority in deciphering and factoring, but she has to deal with being the only black woman in the building other than the custodial staff. Al Harrison (Costner), the director of the Space Task Group and her boss, soon recognizes her capability and sets her to the task of checking the figures of Paul Stafford (Parsons), his number one mathematician. Despite the excessive redaction Paul makes on his work, Katherine correctly concludes that the Atlas rocket is better to put a man into orbit than the one used to put Alan Shepard into low-Earth orbit. The pressure increases when the Russians launch Yuri Gargarin as the first man in orbit.

Dorothy is a natural leader and finds herself delegating the work assignments in the west wing without the title of supervisor, no matter how she explains it to her boss, Vivian Mitchell (Dunst). She learns about the IBM mainframe being built at Langley and how it can put all of her ladies out of a job. She “borrows” a book on Fortran programming from an all-white library before being asked to leave, learns it and can operate the mainframe before the the IBM Technicians can figure it out. She also teaches the west wing ladies how to operate it.

Mary has the mind and heart of an engineer. She also has the schooling credits to be one, until NASA adds one more class at the last minute. “Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line. Every time.” She sighs. But Mary has the encouragement of her co-worker, Karl Zielinski (Krupa), a Polish/Jewish man who is working on the design of the Mercury capsule with her. She gets her case heard in court and is granted permission to attend night classes at an all-white engineering school.

Though Hidden Figures is about higher mathematics, physics, and engineering, it is never dry. Though it’s about segregation and racism, it’s never oppressive. The dialogue and the sometimes humorous lengths the three women go to get their work done keep the forward motion of the film barreling ahead. For the life of me, I don’t know how Taraji ran back and forth from the east to the west wing in high heels (once in the rain) just to use the segregated restroom while carrying an armload of paperwork. The three portrayals are a delight to watch and their characters are true role models for young girls.

Bring a box of tissues. This film has multiple tender moments, most poignantly, Lt. Colonel Jim Johnson’s (Ali) marriage proposal to Katherine. John Glenn, convincingly portrayed by Glen Powell, relies on Katherine’s figures before he will board Friendship 7. My favorite moments? When Katherine uses Euler’s formula to calculate the reentry of Friendship 7, we hear, “That’s ancient!” from Stafford. To which Katherine replies, “But it works.” And when it takes Katherine 45 minutes to race to the restroom across the compound and back, Harrison takes a crowbar and removes the “Colored Women’s Room” sign saying, “Here at NASA we all pee the same color!”

This is a very special movie, to be seen by everyone. It gets all of its lessons across cleanly and effectively, and gives us a peek not the history we were never taught in school.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Henry’s End
44 Henry St.
Brooklyn Heights, NY

Some think that in order to be good, a restaurant must be expensive, luxurious, in a posh location and impossible to get a reservation. I could go on and on about the devastating faults of many such places. Though Henry’s End doesn’t take reservations for parties under four, I’ve never been turned away. It may look like a bricked-up hole-in-the-wall from the outside with just its bright red neon scripted name in the window, and confusing décor inside (some say it has none), but I’ve never been more comfortable. The only thing close to the first description is that the people of Brooklyn Heights consider their neighborhood to be posh. No matter, for every time I go to Henry’s End I’m greeted warmly, if not by Manager/Chef Mark Lahm, then by one or more of the staff. They remember how I like my martini and duplicate it each time. This is my version of Cheers.

This is why I make it a point to start every New Year with a dinner at Henry’s End. This year, I had two lovely ladies joining me for dinner, one of whom has not experienced the remarkable cuisine and intimacy of the place. We got a table almost halfway down the length of the restaurant, between the makeshift nook that serves as a bar and the wine dispensary.

October starts the Annual Fall/Winter Game Festival at Henry’s End (even though, by popular demand, certain dishes are on the menu year-round) and I was eager to see which ones my dining companions would choose. Let’s start with the appetizers. 


The newly initiated tried the Kangaroo Potstickers, which was more like tender ravioli than dumplings and was served Japanese style with chives and mushrooms and a soy dipping sauce. If you’ve never had kangaroo, this is the place to try it: light in flavor, and the texture more like pork.

My more adventurous companion chose the Game Charcuterie Plate – country game pate, wild boar belly, and rabbit sausage. Even though I was eyeing the pate, I didn’t get a taste before it was gone. I’m guessing it was really good.

I had gnocchi with buffalo short rib ragout over mashed potatoes. It seems redundant to have a pasta made from potatoes and then rest it on more potatoes but this dish worked. The ragout infused the gnocchi with its savory taste and the buffalo meat was juicy and tender. The mashed potatoes were creamy and performed the part of an accent to the dish.

We ordered the Pan Roasted Vegetables — corn on the cob, carrots, Brussels sprouts, onions, baby eggplant and artichoke hearts with fresh herbs, polenta, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar glaze for the table and enjoyed every bite.

In the same order, our neophyte chose the Salmon Moroccan – grilled salmon steak topped with a spiced compound butter and served with mashed potatoes. It was flaky and moist, lightly spiced, and, though I’m not a fan of salmon, I liked it. The lady born under the sign of Aries, just newly introduced to lobster, picked the Penne with Lobster Tomato Cream,  chunks of lobster in a brandy tomato cream sauce. It looked fantastic.


I had the Blackbuck Texas antelope with braised red cabbage in a juniper sauce, over mashed potatoes. I’m very particular about mashed potatoes; if they’re not right, I don’t eat them. But at Henry’s End. Mark flavors them so that they’re irresistible. The antelope is the only game dish on the menu I’ve never seen or tried. It was like a fine steak marinated in that wonderful juniper sauce – very tender and juicy, and easy to cut, nicely seared on the outside and pinkish-red on the inside.

Martinis, though perfect, are not the only drink at Henry’s End. I ordered a glass of Troublemaker varietal (Petit Syrah, Mourvedre, zinfandel and grenache), a deep dark red with rich tannins and tart fruity flavor.

Surprisingly, two of us had room for dessert. The newest person to Henry’s End was sated, but the other chose the Dark and White Chocolate Mousse – half Valhrona white chocolate and half bittersweet. My dessert was the Banana Bread Pudding with vanilla ice cream. All it needed was rum, but I took care of that with my after dinner drink: Kirk and Sweeney 23-year old rum, served in a snifter. It was almost like a fine grappa, but not as strong. The ladies were already planning a return trip to try more of the exotic game dishes and I’ll probably join them. After all, it is my version of Cheers.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Friday, January 20, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for January 23-31

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 23–January 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (January 27, 6:00 pm): I'm not a fan of musicals so when I recommend one, watch it. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest musical ever made. It's funny, it's charming, the singing is great and the dancing is unbelievable. While Gene Kelly's numbers are spectacular, Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" is the best in the film. O'Connor had a unique physical style of dance that included him taking a number of pratfalls and other things that didn't do anything good to his body. While the plot isn't exceptionally strong, it's clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.

CLAIRE'S KNEE (January 29, 2:00 am): This 1970 French film, directed by Eric Rohmer, is an excellent erotic comedy about a diplomat in his 30s who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl. Well, not really her - he's in love with the thought of touching the young girl's knee as a sort of sexual conquest. However, the film is so much more than that. It's about a man trying to recapture his youth before getting married with the implication that marriage will forever change his life for the worse. It's also about a younger teenage girl, Laura, Claire's half-sister, and her maturation. And then there's Claire, who appears to be care-free and not very bright, but someone who is also insecure and vulnerable. Its story is brilliant and incredibly emotional. The legendary Roger Ebert described it as "a movie for people who still read good novels, care about good films, and think occasionally." That sums it up quite nicely.

ED’S BEST BETS:

COMA (January 28, 4:30 am): A neat thriller that combines the best of the conspiracy theory with the hospital soaper. A large number of healthy patients after undergoing routine operations are turning up in anesthesia-induced comas. When one of the victims is the best friend of Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold), she decides to investigate and discovers a black market organ transplant operation. It’s based on the best seller by Robin Cook, adapted and directed by Michael Crichton, who has his M.D. from Harvard, but decided in favor of writing fiction over practicing medicine. Crichton plays on our natural fears of hospitals with several scenes that will stay with the viewer.. Perfect to record and watch later, preferably in the dark.

20,000 YEARS IN SING-SING (January 31, 10:00 am): The only pairing of Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis is a memorable one in a prison drama based on Warden Lewis E. Lawes’ book. It still retains its power today, with Tracy as Tommy Connors, a hardened criminal who becomes locked in a battle of wills with Warden Paul Long (Arthur Byron). When Connors’ lawyer, Joe Finn (Louis Calhern), attacks girlfriend Fay Wilson (Bette Davis), Warden Long gives Connors leave on the honor system to visit her, as she’s critically ill. When Connor discovers that Finn is responsible for her injuries he attacks him. Fay shots and kills Finn, Connors takes the rap and is sentenced to the electric chair. Tracy and Davis are marvelous, and Calhern is wonderfully sleazy. Pre-Code at its best.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (January 31, 8:00 pm)

ED: B+. An intelligently made, highly affecting and well-meaning film that earned its star, Burt Lancaster, an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. But there are a few problems with it. One is its length, as it seems to drone on and on. Another is that director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter Guy Trosper are so reverential towards their subject (who, at age 75, was still in prison when this movie was made) that they never really come to grips with how to fully dramatize the life of a convicted killer who spent more than 40 years in solitary and who rejected humans for the companionship of birds. It’s never made clear how Robert Stroud (Lancaster) become transformed as the years pass, and thus we watch at a distance, as we would with a documentary. One has to applaud Lancaster for taking on such a difficult role, although an actor with his physicality in this sort of role comes off as semi-comatose at times. Compare this with his performance in The Train.


DAVID: A+. There are few actors who had the presence of Burt Lancaster  that voice, the athletic build and his ability to become one with the characters he portrayed. In this 1962 film, he plays Robert Stroud, a murderer, who from all accounts was not a nice guy. In the film, Stroud has a dark side with a mother complex, but comes across overall as a decent person. While in solitary confinement in Leavenworth, Stroud adopts and trains a sickly sparrow. After a while, he ends up with an entire bird collection and inspires other inmates to get birds. When some of the animals get sick, Stroud discovers ways to cure them, and becomes an expert on bird diseases, publishing articles and eventually a book on the subject. The concept may sound boring, but the screenplay is outstanding and the acting is first-rate. Lancaster is essentially the entire film, but the supporting cast that comes in and out of the movie is excellent. That includes Telly Savalas as a fellow prisoner, Thelma Ritter in the performance of her career as Stroud's mother (even though she's in less than a half-dozen scenes), and Karl Malden as the warden at Leavenworth and later at Alcatraz. The film does an excellent job of showing isolationism, the cruelty of prison and lack of rehabilitation, but there are some heartwarming moments in which human decency is on full display. Most of the film – and the book of which it is based  takes place at Leavenworth. Stroud served some time at Alcatraz, where he wasn't permitted to have birds making the title inaccurate.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sing

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Sing (Universal, 2016) – Directors: Christophe Lourdelet & Garth Jennings. Writer: Garth Jennings. Voices: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, & Nick Offerman. Color, Animated, Rated PG, 108 minutes.

Although this is a story that’s been oft repeated, it makes classic film lovers think back to the Mickey Rooney and Bing Crosby days with a certain nostalgia. Buster Moon (McConaughey) has loved the theater since he was a little koala sitting with his Dad in the balcony watching a grand performance on stage.

Buster’s Dad worked his whole life to get enough money to buy Buster his own theater and he’s never had a hit show. Now, he’s virtually broke. Still, with blind optimism and extreme chutzpah he tells his best friend, Eddie Noodleman (Reilly), a sheep, that he intends to host a singing contest to revive the failing theater.

Buster dictates a flier to his elderly chameleon secretary, Miss Crawly (Jennings), but before she prints it, her glass eye is blown out of its socket and hits the zero key on her computer, changing a $1,000 dollar prize into a $100,000 dollar prize. She copies it into a stack of papers taller than she is and the wind blows the entire stack out the window and around the town. It turns out to be a very successful method of dissemination and there’s a long line of creatures waiting outside the Moon Theater on audition day.

Here’s where the subplots come in. After hearing snippets of dozens of songs performed by animals ranging from spiders to giraffes and snails to elephants, Buster chooses his finalists for the contest: Rosita (Witherspoon), a harried mother pig with 25 piglets and a husband too tired after work to pay attention to her; Mike (MacFarlane), a white mouse who swindles a trio of bears in a card game and buys an expensive car to impress a girl mouse; Ash (Johansson), a teenage porcupine who only sang back-up vocals with her boyfriend Lance (Bennett) in a punk-style band; a troop of acrobatic frogs; a quintet of bouncing Chow-Chow dogs who only speak Chinese; an operatic camel; and Johnny (Egerton), a young gorilla whose father, Big Daddy (Serafinowicz), leads a gang of thieving gorillas. Meena (Kelly), an elephant with stage fright, tries out but bombs because of her fear. Later, after she assists Buster in pirating electricity from a neighboring building, Meena becomes a stagehand.


The rehearsals are not without problems. Buster pairs Rosita with Gunter (Kroll) as a song and dance routine, but she doesn’t really dance. He gives Ash a sappy song and costume that really doesn’t suit her style and he convinces Johnny to play piano while he sings, even though he hasn’t played since early ape-hood. Buster assigns Miss Crawley to be his piano teacher. To make rehearsals, Rosita builds an elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption to take care of her family while she’s gone. Ash has to deal with Lance singing “sell-out” songs to her and taking up with a new girlfriend, Becky, and Johnny misses a rendezvous with his father’s gang as getaway driver on a gold heist and his Dad and gang are arrested.

But that’s not all. When the electric company cuts off the theater’s lights, Buster gets an idea to use bioluminescent squid to light his stage and invites Eddie’s wealthy grandma, Nana Noodleman (Saunders) – who looks and acts like an ovine Norma Desmond - to the preview show. The bears come as well to collect on Mike’s debt and crack the glass tanks holding the squid and flood the theater, literally bringing the house down.

What would Mickey Rooney do? The old-time memories brought back by this remarkably computer-animated film are dwarfed by the amount the producer probably had to pay in royalties. Over 60 classic pop songs are sung in part or in entirety, including the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight,” Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”. And none of the songs are forced into the plot.

Other voices in the cast feature Jennifer Hudson as a young Nana Noodleman, Jay Pharoah as Meena’s grandfather, Laraine Newman as her grandmother and Leslie Jones as her mother. The cast, the animation, the pathos and the nostalgia combine with the music to make Sing a top-notch contender for Oscar nominations. Along with the familiar songs, there are also two new ones; “Faith” an original song by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande and “The Way I Feel Inside” written by Garth Jennings and David Bassett. It will get your feet tapping, it’ll make you laugh, and you’ll tear up. Two words: see it!

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Zengo
622 Third Ave.New York

When you have a restaurant with a chef who combines elements from Cuban, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean cuisines you have to have some ‘give and take,’ precisely what Zengo means in Japanese. Opened by Richard Sandoval and Placido Domingo in April 2011, this cavernous corner space houses the restaurant proper and a tequila lounge upstairs with a library of 400 tequilas, presided over by New York’s only tequila librarian.

My server Ferenc greeted me with a broad smile and took my cocktail order. The Cucumber Serrano Martini – El Silencio mescal, muddled cucumber, serrano chili and citrus – was a perfect starter, a refreshing cool drink with a spicy rim on the glass and a slight kick. I selected three courses and told him to stagger the dishes in time, along with a bottle of the 2011 Flechas De Los Andes Gran Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. The Malbec was a beautiful deep ruby color, medium body with a spicy aftertaste to compliment my entire meal.

The first course caught my attention when I viewed the menu online. The pork & caviar Shumai dumplings was a combination I couldn’t resist. Normally, Shumai are made with shrimp. Replace the shrimp with savory pork and slightly salty caviar and the Japanese dumpling becomes Cuban and, in a light soy jus with chopped chives, it was pure delight. 


Another basically Japanese course, the volcano roll – salmon, spicy crab and cucumber, all wrapped California-style in rice and topped with bright red caviar – was a festive dish. The spice was light and didn’t interfere with the salmon’s sweetness and the crab’s fishy texture. After tasting one segment unadorned I tried the next with a bit of the wasabi and the flavor exploded!

Next, a Chinese-style dish, the Shanghai strip steak over broccolini in a caramel-soy sauce. The steak was medium rare, juicy and full of marinated flavor, tender, and easy to slice. Though broccolini would never be found in a Chinese recipe, it provided a wonderful accent to this dish and the caramel sweet leveled out the soy salty. The side dish of taro fries topped with a lemon aioli added fun to the meal. After two dishes eaten with chopsticks, it was great to use a knife and fork and have a finger-food side.


Ferenc took my entire meal into consideration before recommending the chocolate tres leches – salted caramel and chocolate sauce. The large Latino wedge of soft, soaked chocolate cake was coated with a chocolate pudding-like substance, topped with white chocolate extrusions, drizzled with chocolate sauce and cocoa crumbles and garnished with a bright yellow edible pansy. A coil of chocolate cookie added a nice touch to the dish while making it more interesting in the presentation. I loved it.

I was in the mood for an after dinner drink, and with 400 tequilas in la biblioteca, I asked about the two beautiful ceramic decanters, one white with blue filigree, the other black with gold, on the top shelf of the bar. Ferenc brought the list of tequilas and indicated those I was interested in and then recommended a third, pointing it out on the same shelf. After his explanation I chose the dark one, they were both Clase Azul tequilas, but the one I chose was Ultra Anejo (very old) and was described as ‘grassy’ with a hint of pineapple. I could smell the grassy aroma in the nose and taste the pineapple with each sip. Fabulous! Ferenc was pleased and commented on my being his favorite customer. He told me what I was already thinking, I must come back to Zengo.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cinéma Inhabituel for January 16-31

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea 

OUT OF THE ORDINARY

January 19: My first choice tonight is to rectify a mistake I made when I put the Jane Wyman article together. Unfortunately, even though it was in my notes for the column, I omitted one of my favorite Wyman films – Magic Town (1947), which airs at 10:00 pm. Fortunately, our readers would never let such a slip go unrecognized. Phyl commented: “You left out Magic Town (1947)!! It's a delightful film written by Robert Riskin who wrote several films for Frank Capra. It's like a Capra film that Capra didn't direct!”


She is absolutely right. The reason it’s like a Capra film that Capra didn’t direct was because it was written by frequent Capra collaborator, Robert Riskin. After the financial flop of It’s a Wonderful Life, Capra decided to steer away from his “Capra-corn” formula in favor of more “relevant” films. His next film was State of the Union (1948), with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in a political/domestic drama, but when the film didn’t exactly shake the box office, Capra returned to what his fans liked best.

Riskin wrote both the screenplay and the original story. He was intrigued with the new “science” of polling, supposedly a foolproof method to gauge public opinion. Jimmy Stewart is a pollster who believes he has found the perfect demographic in a small town and travels there with his co-workers to conduct a poll. There, he meets Mary Peterman (Wyman), who wants the town to grow. Stewart believes this would destroy his perfect demographic and goes on a campaign to keep the town just as it is, which put him up against Mary, to whom he has become attracted. 

Expertly directed by William A. Wellman, Magic Town is a beautifully constructed satire that, while it doesn’t always hit the mark, comes across with the warmth we would expect from a Riskin comedy. Unfortunately, the moviegoing public wasn’t as interested. The film lost around $350,000 and Bank of America, which financed the film, foreclosed on it and sued Robert Riskin Productions for the balance.

Over the years, though, the film caught on with audiences, who saw it as the genial comedy it was, much in the spirit of Frank Capra. Besides Stewart and Wyman, the film is populated by such wonderful actors as Kent Smith, Ned Sparks, Wallace Ford, Regis Toomey, Ann Doran and Donald Meek, who passed away in the middle of production on November 18, 1946. Famed newscaster Gabriel Heatter appears in a cameo as himself, which he would later repeat in other films, such as The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). For those who haven’t yet seen it, take Phyl’s advice and tune in. You won’t be disappointed.
January 22: At 2:00 am, TCM is airing Kurosawa’s 1965 medical drama, Red Beard. The story, set in the 19th century, concerns a young physician, Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) who becomes upset when he is assigned to a clinic in Edo for the impoverished run by Dr. Nilde (Toshiro Mifune), a dedicated physical known to his patients as Red Beard. Slowly the younger physician learns lessons in medicine, compassion and humanity from his older colleague. Checking in at a hefty 181 minutes, the film was a big hit in Japan and marked the last collaboration of Kurosawa and Mifune. However, the American public and critics weren’t as dazzled and it took a couple of decades for the film to be recognized as a classic in America. A large part of the reason is the the film, unlike many other Kurosawa efforts, doesn’t translate well. It’s slow-moving and talky, finding its drama in a clash of philosophies rather than action. It’s a good film, but requires patience to watch, which its why we recommend recording it.

January 29: An Eric Rohmer double-feature is on tap tonight, beginning at 2:00 am with Claire’s Knee (1970), followed at 4:00 am by his 1969 effort, My Night at Maud’s. In Claire’s Knee, Jean-Claude Brialy stars as Jerome, a 30-ish diplomat engaged to a fellow diplomat’s daughter. Her decides to spend a summer before his marriage at the resort of Lake Annecy with his novelist friend Aurora (real life novelist Aurora Cornu). For her part, Aurora is seeking to draw inspiration by observing Jerome's encounters with two teenage sisters, Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) and Laura (Batrice Romand), who he meets at the resort. The film’s title comes from the disruption of Jerome’s life after spotting Claire’s knee on a ladder. As Jerome is having second and third thoughts about marriage, the sight of her knee is enough to disrupt his world. The performances are excellent, with Brialy leading the way, though Romand comes close to stealing the film right from under his nose with a totally engaging performance. Rohmer’s films can take a while to engage one, but stick with it, for the rewards are subtle and captivating.


My Night At Maud’s stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as a shy, Catholic engineer who regularly sees a student, Francoise (Marie-Christine Barrault) at mass, but is too intimidated to approach her. One night, Jean-Louis runs into Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old school friend who has become a Marxist and philosophy professor. After enjoying a Christmas drink together, Vidal invites Jean-Louis to join him for dinner at the apartment of his intellectual friend Maud, a recent divorcée with whom he has been having a rather discouraging affair. The dinner is a success.  Afterward, Vidal excuses himself and suggests that Jean-Louis avoid the inclement weather by staying in Maud's spare room. Jean-Louis, woozy from the effects of too much wine, gives in Vidal and Maud’s coaxing. Maud later tells Jean-Louis she has no spare room and attempts to seduce him, telling him that her marriage broke up because her husband had an affair with a student. Jean-Louis refuses her entreaties and the two part friends the next morning. Over time, Jean-Louis marries Francoise and five years later meet Maud and her husband at a party, where Jean-Louis learns the name of the student. Guess who?

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY

January 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day always means a schedule of films by African-Americans or African-American themed. This year is highlighted by several excellent documentaries about the struggle for civil rights, beginning at 8 pm with You Got to Move - Stories of Change in the South (1985), an engaging film from directors Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver featuring graduates of the Highlander Folk School,  a free, integrated school founded in 1932 by Myles Horton with a mission of education and social action that included teaching literacy to black citizens and how to overturn Jim Crow voting requirements along with providing the necessary tools for community activism. During the course of the film, graduates tell their stories of activism for social justice and give us a glimpse into a world not many of us readily think about.

At 10 pm comes Freedom on My Mind, a documentary directed by Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford using interviews and archival footage to tell the story of the drive to register African-American voters in 1960s Mississippi.

And at midnight is director Robert Drew’s 1963 Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, about the Kennedy Administration’s attempt to integrate the University of Alabama despite the opposition of Alabama governor George Wallace.


Following the documentaries at 1:15 am is a unique double-feature examining the then taboo subject of interracial marriage. First up is director Larry Peerce’s One Potato, Two Potato (1964), a low-budget film about a couple who decide to marry and the aftereffects from that decision. Julie Cullen (Barbara Barrie) and Frank Richards (Bernie Hamilton), two coworkers in a small northeastern Ohio town, fall in love love and decide to marry despite the objections of Frank's parents and the prejudices of Julie's friends. Julie and Ellen Mary (Marti Mericka), her daughter from a previous marriage, move to the Richards homestead, where Frank's parents farm the land. After Julie and Frank have a child of their own, his parents warm up to their new extended family. Trouble comes when Julie’s ex-husband, Joe Cullen (Richard Mulligan), who deserted the family to pursue an exciting career opportunity in South America, returns and discovers his ex-wife has married a “Negro,” and sues for custody of Ellen Mary. As I’ve said before, “Low budget” does hot always mean “low class.” This is a wonderful and moving film about the problem of race back in the mid-1960s, a problem we still haven’t conquered. Barrie won an award at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival for her performance. Watching it you’ll still find it packs a powerful punch.

Contrast it with the film following at 3:00 am, Stanley Kramer’s slick 1967 Hollywood product, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? It’s the difference between an earnest little low-budget film and a big-budget slickly made Hollywood production. Kramer, who made a reputation with his “socially conscious” dramas,  stars Sidney Poitier with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Katherine Houghton in a film that never once ventures into uncomfortable territory; its characters, scenes and dialogue all pointing to a happy, optimistic Hollywood ending. There’s too much preaching and not enough screen time given to the romance, which is why the film appears terribly dated today, like many of Kramer’s other kitschy social dramas.

TCM SPOTLIGHT

January 17: TCM’s spotlight on prison films continues tonight with Elvis in Jailhouse Rock (1957) at 8:00 pm; Richard Barthelmess in the Pre-Code Weary River (1929) at 9:45; The Bowery Boys in Jail Busters (1955) at 2:45 am, and Laurel and Hardy wrapping things up with Pardon Us (1931) at 4:00 am. The plot of Pardon Us, with Stan and Ollie being convicted of illegally making homemade beer, was copied by the Three Stooges in their 1946 short, Beer Barrel Polecats.

January 24: It’s Ladies’ Night with the evening given over to films about women in prison. The best bet for the evening is Ladies They Talk About at 11:30 pm, a tough-as-nails Pre-Code prison drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and Lillian Roth. Stanwyck is her usual outstanding self and Roth turns in a surprisingly good performance as the inmate who shows Babs the ropes. Also is Caged (1950), an over-the-top remake of sorts starring Eleanor Parker as the vulnerable innocent, Lee Patrick as a knowing lesbian, and Agnes Moorehead in the stock role of the understanding warden. But the movie is completely stolen by Hope Emerson as brutal matron Evelyn Harper, who isn’t happy unless her charges are unhappy. The film is a riot to watch, with so much scenery chewing that I swear several of the actors had teeth marks on their persons. Actually, I’m surprised the ladies didn’t just chew their way through the bars to escape. The evening comes to a disappointing end, however, at 4:00 am with the incredibly lame Riot in Juvenile Prison (1959).


January 31: Every film this night is worth catching, beginning with Burt Lancaster in his best known role as The Birdman of Alcatra(1962) at 8:00 pm. Following is John Ford’s excellent The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) starring Warner Baxter as Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, the conspirator who set the leg of assassin John Wilkes Booth. Also with Gloria Stuart and John Carradine. At 12:30 am Spencer Tracy takes the rap for girlfriend Bette Davis in the 1932 Pre-Code drama 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing. Robert Redford is a new prison warden who takes on corruption in Brubaker (1982) at 2:00 am. And finally, at 4:15 am, it’s the solid B-actioner, Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, from Warner Bros. in 1951, starring Steve Cochran, Ted de Corsia, David Brian, and Philip Carey.

PRE-CODE GEMS

January 29: The durable and always watchable Gold Diggers of 1933 airs at 6:30 am. And at 12:30 am it’s Lewis Milestone’s silent crime classic, The Racket (1928), starring Thomas Meighan as a renegade police captain who will stop at nothing to catch bootlegging king Louis Wolheim.

PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE

January 20: A marathon starring the Saint kicks off at 8:00 pm with Louis Hayward portraying the reformed thief in The Saint in New York (1938). When I was younger I remember film buffs arguing over who was the better Simon Templar, George Sanders or Roger Moore? For me the best Simon Templar was Louis Hayward, who brought the right mix of derring-do and sardonic humor to the part. Read our essay on the film here.

The evening also features all the George Sanders' Saint entries and wraps up at 2:45 am with a double-feature starring Hugh Sinclair: The Saint’s Vacation (1941), and The Saint Meets The Tiger (1943), which was made for Republic after RKO dropped the series in favor of the more economical Falcon series that starred Sanders and later, his real-life brother, Tom Conway.

January 21: At 2:45 am it’s The Hidden (1987), starring Michael Nouri and Kyle Maclachan in a tale of an alien parasite that drives its hosts to commit violent crimes. Following at 4:30 am is 1974’s The Terminal Man, a sci-fi entry starring George Segal as a computer genius who has a microcomputer implanted in his brain to stop his violent seizures.


January 28: At 6:00 am it’s the underrated time-travel dystopian film World Without End (1955) with Hugh Marlowe and Rod Taylor among a group of astronauts to accidentally go through the time barrier to a postnuclear nightmare world inhabited by mutated savages with the normal survivors living in protected caves. There’s also the requisite puppeteer spider, but don’t let that deter you. This is a good film.

At 9:30 am begins a Bowery Boys double feature of Up in Smoke (1957), followed by the last in a series that once seemed as if it would never end, In the Money (1958). The post Leo Gorcey films are painful to watch with Huntz Hall in the lead and Stanley Clements filling in for the missing Slip Mahoney. There is no chemistry between Clements and Hall, and the series worked much better with Hall as Gorcey’s subservient friend.

At 2:00 pm it’s Rodan (1957), from Toho Studios, the first Japanese monster movie made in color, which was a mistake because the lighting required for color only revealed how phony the men-in-a-suit monsters were. It does have its good moments though, especially the scene in the mine when the police are looking for missing miners.

Closing out the day at 2:45 am is David Cronenberg’s 1981 Scanners, about a scientist with explosive psychic powers. A surprise hit in its day it fostered a few sequels and was parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s followed by Coma (1978), a nice little thriller directed by Michael Crichton about a doctor (Genevieve Bujold) who investigates a series of strange deaths and disappearing bodies at the hospital where she works. Also starring Michael Douglas and Elizabeth Ashley.

January 30: At 11:45 pm Elvis and Ann-Margaret take center stage in Viva Las Vegas (1964), followed at 3:30 am by The Bowery Boys in Crashing Las Vegas (1956), Leo Gorcey’s last turn with the group. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for January 15-22

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 15–January 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

JAILHOUSE ROCK (January 17, 8:00 pm): This 1957 film is easily one of Elvis' best. He’s in prison on a manslaughter conviction. His cellmate, a former country-and-western singer played by Mickey Shaughnessy, recognizes Vince Everett (Presley) has musical talent after hearing him sing, and serves as a mentor. When Everett is released after 20 months in prison, he looks for work as a singer. He becomes a success thanks to a producer and his love interest, played by Judy Tyler (she and her husband died shortly after the film wrapped up production). Presley does a solid job, showing that with the right material, he was a good actor. Unfortunately, roles like this rarely came along for Elvis. The film is critical of the music industry with Vince, tired of getting ripped off, creates his own record label with Judy. The film's highlight is the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” performance Everett does for a television special.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (January 21, 1:15 am): The last American film directed by Fritz Lang is an excellent one with Dana Andrews convinced by his newspaper publisher father-in-law to plant clues implicating himself in the murder of a woman. The plan is to prove the weakness of circumstantial evidence and make a fool out of the local district attorney. The problem is the plan works and Andrews' father-in-law is killed in a car crash with the evidence of Andrews' innocence burned to a crisp. This leaves Andrews on death row and heading for the chair. The concept and subsequent plot twists are fascinating and riveting, and the film's conclusion is outstanding and brilliantly executed (pun intended).

ED’S BEST BETS:

ALL ABOUT EVE (January 15, 3:30 pm): One of the great films about the theater with knockout performances from leads Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm and George Sanders. Sander won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role. Sophisticated and cynical with a brilliant script by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz based on the short story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr. Life ended up imitating art when Baxter pulled strings to be nominated for Best Actress in addition to Davis. If she had stayed in the category of Best Supporting, it is likely both she and Davis would have taken home statuettes. Its one of those films that can be watched again and again with no lessening of enjoyment.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (January 13, 10:00 pm): Jacques Demy directed this unusual musical, in which every line is sung, sort of like the latest incarnation of Les Miserables. But unlike that movie, Umbrellas isn’t nearly as annoying. The singing voices of the actors are wonderfully dubbed. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as star-crossed lovers separated when he has to go off to fight in Algeria for the French Army. As they pledged their love until their death, the circumstances make for a good test of the pledge. Demy makes what could easily become a maudlin unintentional parody of the Hollywood musical into a bittersweet, poetic slice of romantic life. Though it’s set in the French town of Cherbourg (in Normandy), it has the look of a Hollywood studio musical, thanks to the good townspeople allowing Demy to paint their houses in loud, bright colors. It’s a fragile line for Demy to traipse, but he pulls it off with panache, and stay tuned for the final, moving scene in the snow.

WE AGREE ON ... LARCENY, INC. (January 19, midnight)

ED: B+. Warners is a studio not known for its great comedies, so when a funny one crops up we pay attention. And this is a film with our attention. Edward G. Robinson stars in this brisk comedy as convict J. Chalmers “Pressure” Maxwell. He’s currently in prison but is about to be released. While in stir, his fellow inmate Leo (Anthony Quinn) came up with a unique proposal to rob a bank. Pressure, however, isn’t interested. He intends to go straight, move to Florida and open a dog track. The problem is that takes money and money is the one thing Pressure doesn't have. Nor can he get it. Banks won’t make loans without collateral. Along with his boys (Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy), he raises enough scratch to buy a failing luggage store next to the bank. His plan is to tunnel in through his basement to the banks vault and help himself. It’s the perfect set-up: customers never appear and the street outside seems to be in a permanent state of disrepair. Suddenly, though, everything begins going right for Pressure. Customers suddenly appear. The other store owners make him president of their committee. A letter he writes on their behalf to the city about the disrepair street gets action. And worst of all, once Leo gets wind of Pressure’s plan, he breaks out of jail to get his share. Robinson is the show here in another send-up of his gangster roles. Aided by Crawford and the vastly underrated Brophy, he keeps the action moving. With Jane Wyman in a good turn as his adopted daughter and Jack Carson as an eager salesman, it’s one to catch.


DAVID: B+. No one played Edward G. Robinson's mobster character for laughs better than Eddie G. himself. In this 1942 film, his character, J. Chalmers "Pressure" Maxwell gets out of prison with plans to go straight. His dream of opening a dog racing track in Florida is thwarted when he's unable to get the financing because of his gangster background. But Pressure has enough money to buy a failing luggage store next to the bank that rejected his loan request. With the help of a couple of dim-witted buddies, Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) and Weepy Davis (Edward Brophy) – great criminal flunky names! – they start digging underground to get to the bank's safe. One of the funniest scenes has them breaking a utility line and oil comes pouring out of the hole with Jug and Weepy, covered in the stuff, thinking they struck a gusher. While the luggage store is just a cover for their criminal plans, it becomes very successful. Eddie G.'s charisma and comedic skills shine in this funny and endearing movie.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.