Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cinéma Inhabituel for August 1-7

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

August marks TCM’s annual “Summer Under the Stars” festival, with each day dedicated to the films of a different star. While this sounds good, oft times we get the same old stars in the same old films, and thus, not much to choose from at times. So forgive me if the column is light this week, but there’s little that is not out of the usual.

August 1

4:15 pm Beat the Devil (UA, 1954) – Director: John Huston. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, & Peter Lorre. B&W, 100 minutes.

Beat the Devil is a sterling example of a film that’s much better than its supposed reputation. It was a box office bomb when released and marked the end of the friendship between Bogart (who produced and sank his own money into the project) and Huston, who Bogart brought on board to direct. Bogart never changed his bad opinion of the film, stating “only phonies like it.” However, this is a hilarious, if peculiar, film; one that could not be made today by Hollywood standards.

The first thing Huston did was to toss the script (by Claud Cockburn from his original novel). Huston then brought in Truman Capote to write the screenplay, which Capote did literally on the run; handing in pages just before the day’s filming was to begin. Huston also allowed supporting stars Morley and Lorre to create dialogue for their characters. Given all this, we would suppose the finished product would rank up there in the annals of bad movies, but it’s a funny comedy with a wonderful cast that includes Bogart, Jones, Morley, Lorre, and Lollobrigida. The film still holds its own today and is worth more than one viewing.

Trivia: While being driven to a location shoot, Bogart was involved in an auto accident that cost him some of his front teeth. As a result, his speech was seriously impaired for the rest of the filming. To rectify matters, Huston brought in a young actor with excellent mimicking skills to dub in Bogart’s voice during post-production. The actor’s name? Peter Sellers.

August 4

8:00 pm Ruggles of Red Gap (Paramount, 1935) – Director: Leo McCarey. Cast: Charles Laughton, Mary Boland, Charlie Ruggles, ZaSu Pitts, Roland Young, & Leila Hyams. B&W, 90 minutes.

This unjustly forgotten comedy gem from Paramount stars Laughton as Ruggles, a gentlemen’s gentleman who is lost by his employer in a Paris poker game to rancher Egbert Floud (Ruggles), who takes him back to the family spread in Red Gap, Washington. The comedy comes from Laughton trying to inculcate a sense of culture in his new employer, who insists on treating Ruggles as an equal. Both Laughton and Ruggles are fine in their performances and are ably assisted by Boland, as Effie Floud, and Pitts as the widowed Mrs. Judson, the family’s cook.

Trivia: Laughton originally wanted Ruth Gordon for the role of Mrs. Judson, but director McCarey, who Laughton personally chose to helm the film, insisted on Pitts, and she turned in one of the finest performances in her career . . . Because of a scene where Laughton recites the Gettysburg Address, Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels banned the film in Germany.

August 7

9:30 am Above Suspicion (MGM, 1943) – Director: Richard Thorpe. Cast: Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray, Conrad Veidt, Basil Rathbone, Reginald Owen, & Sara Haden. B&W, 91 minutes.

One of the biggest ironies in Crawford’s career was the fact that she gave consistently excellent performances at MGM during the early ‘40s, when the studio made it known that, due to her falling box office appeal, it was no longer tolerating her temperamental histrionics, and this was to be her last film with MGM.

Though it’s not a great movie, the performances of MacMurray as an Oxford professor and Crawford as his bride who spy for the British in prewar Germany while on their honeymoon make this an entertaining 91 minutes. Add to it the performances of Rathbone, as a naughty Nazi aristocrat who imprisons and tortures Crawford, and Veidt as an Austrian resistance fighter (playing a hero for once), and this is a film well worth the time and trouble.

Trivia: This was the last film for Veidt, who dies shortly after filming wrapped from a heart attack. He was 50 years old. 

8:00 pm Murder, He Says (Paramount, 1945) – Director: George Marshall. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, Marjorie Main, Jean Heather, & Porter Hall. B&W, 94 minutes.

Now here is an example of “Summer Under the Stars” at its best, for this is a good example of an unjustly ignored gem. MacMurray is a pollster sent out by his company to find colleague Smedley, who has suddenly vanished without a trace. During his quest, he runs into Smedley’s killers, the Fleagles, a hillbilly family headed by Main. It’s a wonderful send-up of Gothic horror dark house thrillers and rural dramas set in the South, sort of a Cat and the Canary Meets Tobacco Road. Rarely seen, it’s one to catch, and is actually being screened at a decent hour.

For other Cinema Inhabituel films, click here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for August 1-7

August 1–August 7


THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (August 1, 12:20 pm): This 1948 film, more than any Humphrey Bogart made after Casablanca, showed his versatility at a time when he could have played the tough guy with a heart of gold for the rest of his career. In this film, he is down on his luck and desperate enough to do anything. He meets another guy (Tim Holt) in a similar situation. They meet an old kooky prospector (played wonderfully by Walter Hutson) and the three decide to search for gold. Things go well, but Bogart's character becomes consumed with paranoia convinced the others are trying to cheat him. It's an excellent morality film with an ironic ending. Oh, and it's got that iconic though often misquoted line: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges."

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (August 7, 10:00 pm): I have to admit that the first time I saw this film, I thought there's no way the smokin' hot Barbara Stanwyck character is doing anything more than using Fred MacMurray's insurance salesman character for her own purposes. But she's actually into the dad from My Three Sons. Once I was able to suspend my disbelief of that, there are only positive things to say about this classic 1944 film noir. The acting is excellent, particularly Stanwyck, and as he often did when given secondary roles, Edward G. Robinson steals every scene he's in playing the skeptical claims adjuster who investigates the legitimacy of the claim with a double indemnity clause. It's one of Billy Wilder's best and that's quite the compliment considering how many outstanding movies he directed.


THE BIG SLEEP (August 1, 8:00 pm): Howard Hawks and Humphrey Bogart made for a great partnership. Add Lauren Bacall to the mix and it only gets better. Made from Raymond Chandler’s first novel, the plot is so convoluted that even Chandler didn’t know who committed one murder. But this film is so entertaining that we don’t care – we just go along for the ride. And what a ride, with sterling performances by Martha Vickers as Bacall’s wild little sister, John Ridgely as the sinister Eddie Mars, and Elisha Cook, Jr. as – what else – the fall guy. Many actors have played Philip Marlowe, but none as well as Bogart.

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (August 3, 12:00 am): This classic from Ealing Studios is mostly known for the fact Alec Guiness plays eight different roles – all members of the D’Ascoyne family – in this hilarious tale of revenge. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is an Englishman born into poverty, but who has a distant connection to royalty on his mother’s side. The problem is that eight members of the D’Ascoyne family stand between him and what he feels is his rightful inheritance. Louis solves this problem by systematically bumping off each member. Joan Greenwood adds to the fun as the greedy Sibella, and Valerie Hobson is wonderful as Edith D’Ascoyne. It’s one of the most intelligent black comedies ever made and if you haven’t yet seen it . . . well, let’s just say that if there ever such a thing as a real “Must See,” this is it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... SOYLENT GREEN (August 5, 3:00 pm)

ED: B. I like science fiction movies in general, and while I liked Soylent Green, I can’t go higher than a B. The pluses are a solid story and an unforgettable performance by Edward G. Robinson in his last film. On the other hand, there are the minuses. First and foremost is Charlton Heston. If Soylent Green were made from wood, Chuck would have gone under 10 minutes into the movie. Bricks show more emotion. Not that Chuck gets much support. Chuck Connors makes Heston look like De Niro and Leigh Taylor-Young has mastered the craft of Not Acting. Also, the direction is lacking. Richard Fleischer would never be my choice to direct such a film. He’s more comfortable with the likes of MandingoAmityville 3-D, and Red Sonja. And yet another reason for my grade is that the screenplay is on the verge of ridiculous. I agree – most sci-fi scripts are ridiculous: gigantic ants, monsters from the sea, etc., but it’s the logic contained within the script that makes it passable. Soylent Green has a great idea for a plot – it doesn’t get any better than an overpopulated Earth in the future with a food shortage – but the screenplay fails to follow through. Point of basic logic: if the world was that bad in the future, would we see that kind of boom in the population? And this is New York; shouldn’t there be more Asians and Hispanics in the mix. Check out Blade Runner by comparison. One last point: If, at the end, we’re going to raise people for food, what are we going to feed them? It’s an entertaining movie with a terrific performance by Eddie G., but it’s not the stuff of greatness.

DAVID: A+. I'm not going to debate the talents of Charlton Heston. He's certainly wooden in a number of pictures, but he was the master of the epic – Ben-HurEl Cid and The Ten Commandments – and even better in what I call his "Post-Apocalyptic Trilogy" – Planet of the ApesThe Omega Man, and Soylent Green. In the latter film, Heston plays tough New York City Police Detective Robert Thorn in the year 2022. Something awful has happened that has resulted in almost no fresh food or water (only the very wealthy and/or politically-connected are able to obtain some). There are serious problems with the death of most animals and plant-life, overpopulation, poverty, pollution and people surviving on wafers provided by the Soylent Corp., which comes out with a new "high-energy plankton" called Soylent Green. It's supposed to be better than Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, though they all look like plastic.(Regarding Ed's questions about overpopulation, one explanation is with everyone poor, out of work and nothing to do, there is one thing you can do for free to pass the time: unprotected sex. And since we don't know what happened to cause famine, it could have been particularly fatal to certain races.) As a cop, Thorn has some perks, primarily a tiny apartment that he shares with Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson), an elderly scholar who remembers what life was like before the environmental disasters (likely caused by mankind). Thorn is investigating the murder of a high-level Soylent executive (Joseph Cotten in a far too small role). Thorn immediately suspects a conspiracy is the cause of the murder. While at the murder scene, an expensive apartment complex, Heston lifts fresh food, including a small steak and some fruit. One of the most joyous moments in the film has Thorn and Roth eating the food with the latter talking about the old days. Eddie G.'s performance, sadly his last, is one of his finest. It's beautifully tragic, and even though I've seen the film a dozen times, the scene in which Eddie G. goes to a place called "Home," a government-assisted suicide facility that looks like Madison Square Garden, always brings tears to my eyes. Heston is outstanding as the tough cop who defies orders from his superiors and fends off attempts to kill him by Soylent assassins in his pursuit of solving the murder. Most of the last 30 minutes of the film contains no dialogue. It goes from Eddie G.'s suicide scene (Heston says he knew his co-star was dying in real life and the reactions he has to the death were also real) to Thorn following Roth's body and others onto a truck heading to a Soylent factory, where the detective finds out how Green is made, to the chase scene that ends up in a church/homeless shelter where an injured and possibly dying Thorn screams, "Soylent Green is people! We gotta stop them somehow!" It's a magnificent film that you can watch over and over again without it losing any of its impact.

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

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mona Lisa Smile

By Ed Garea

(Revolution/Sony, 2003) – Director: Mike Newell. Cast: Julia Roberts, Marcia Gay Harden, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Marian Seldes, & John Slattery. Color, 117 minutes.

After sitting through this almost two-hour romp I was a little dumbfounded by what I saw. It was billed as a drama, but it stars the toothsome Julia Roberts as an instructor of art history at Wellesley – a woman of intelligence who in turn is an intellectual leader of young women. This would seem, then, to qualify it as either fantasy or science fiction rather than drama; or at the very least an exercise in dark comedy.

Julia is Katherine Watson, a feminist from California (which explains a lot) who has just been appointed as an instructor of art history at Wellesley, that bastion of upper class New England scholarship. In a voiceover at the beginning, we are given a road map of where this film is going:

All her life, she had wanted to teach at Wellesley College. So, when a position opened in the art history department, she pursued it single-mindedly until she was hired. It was whispered that Katherine Watson, a first-year teacher from Oakland State, made up in brains what she lacked in pedigree. Which was why this bohemian from California was on her way to the most conservative college in the nation.

Let’s see, she’s a bohemian, has brains, and is pursuing a lifelong ambition. Isn’t she wonderful? We know from that fulsome introduction that trouble is just around the corner. Is it ever, but it’s really us in the audience who are heading for trouble. We’re about to spend two hours we’ll never get back.

Ten minutes into the film, during her first lecture, she tosses the syllabus away and introduces a photo of modern art with the question “Is it art?” It’s a rhetorical question, actually, to make the little bozos think outside the box, and we discover that Ms. Watson is not there merely to teach art, but rather to teach Life. Now does this sound familiar? Of course: free-thinking teacher comes to conservative school, discovers the students don’t know anything outside their textbooks, and proceeds to teach them how to think for themselves, all the while becoming an idol to the students and a threat to the administration and parents. It comes off to me as a chick-flick version of the sophomoric Dead Poets Society, in which prep school teacher Robin Williams does exactly the same thing.

There are the obligatory scenes where she must win over her students, and we can see this is no easy task. In her opening class, they talk back to her and appear disinterested. But in time we learn that the little bimbos suffer not only the pressures of their strata in society, reinforced by the college administration, but also the peer pressure of fellow student and arch-traditionalist snob Betty Warren (Dunst), who assures them the road they’re on is the correct one, and constantly attacks Ms. Watson for her progressive beliefs. Betty also has a bully pulpit as she writes poison-pen columns for the college newspaper, attacking anyone who should disagree with her perception of life. Why she is this way we never learn, aside that she is strongly under her mother’s thumb. In the end it doesn’t really matter, because all the young ladies are but mere cardboard cutouts of the real things and we don’t give a hoot in hell how their lives work out, for their function is not to be sympathetic but rather to be enlightened by Ms. Watson.

And what does Ms. Watson seek to enlighten them about, besides art? Well, marriage for one thing. Our Professor believes that women should break free from the traditional ties that bind them and go out and have careers. She sees her students as clay, intelligent clay, but nevertheless clay that must be remolded from simply wasting their time at college waiting for marriage instead of putting that time to good use in preparing for a career. Towards this end she is focused on changing the viewpoint of Joan Brandwyn (Stiles), a woman with the potential to get into Yale Law School, but who prefers becoming Martha Stewart instead. It seems to get under Ms. Watson’s skin that little Joanie would rather do other things, such as marry and raise a family than become a lawyer on Wall Street, and she practically writes Joan’s application to Yale for her.

When a character behaves in such a radical manner, there is usually a strong reason. But in this case, we really don’t know the “whys” behind the “whats.” We find out that she came to Wellesley from California to get away from her boyfriend, Paul Moore (Slattery). Why she wants to escape we really never find out. He does pursue her to Wellesley and proposes, but her reaction is as if he pulled a gun on her. While everyone assumes they’re engaged, she goes about of her way to reassure them this isn’t the case at all, and then, in a flash of inspiration, she begins dating Bill Dunbar (West), a teacher of Italian known on campus for heating up the sheets with his students. Yet, at the same time she wants Dunbar to stop his affairs with the students while he’s dating her. It seems that the only reason they get together in the first place is because the directors and writers think it’s cool to have to prettiest folks on campus pair up. Katherine is so possessive that she barges into Bill’s class and interrupts his lecture with an accusation, later offering an apology so soft and lame as to be easily overlooked.

The image we are left with in this movie is that the only thing more repressive than Wellesley is the institution of marriage. Betty’s shrewish mother stage-manages every step of her wedding, and Ms. Warren’s punishment for marrying seems to be that her husband is cheating on her in no time flat. We learn this in a scene so obvious and overacted that our inclination is to laugh out loud. When Ms. Watson first arrives on campus, she moves in with roommates Nancy (Harden), an elocution and etiquette spinsterish teacher who’s concealing something romantic from her past, and Amanda (Stevenson), the stock lesbian character school nurse who is later fired for distributing diaphragms to the girls.

In any “school film” there is the one scene where the teacher is dejected after his or her efforts seem to go nowhere and has the inevitable confrontation with the class. As there is absolutely nothing original in this film, it stands to reason there would be such a scene. What I didn’t expect was that it would so embarrassingly funny to watch.

Our poison-pen columnist, Betty, has scribbled an editorial attacking the good Ms. Watson for her declaration of “war on the holy institution of marriage.” She’s not yet done, however: “Her subversive and political teachings encourage our Wellesley girls to reject the roles they were born to fill.” Talk about embarrassingly obvious; it sounds more like something out of The Nazi’s League of German Girls than an actual editorial for a college newspaper. Katherine’s not going to let this slip by. As she is showing slides at her lecture she begins to lecture her students in a most strident way:

Quiet. Today you just listen. What will future scholars see when they study us, a portrait of women today? There you are ladies: the perfect likeness of a Wellesley graduate, Magna Cum Laude, doing exactly what she was trained to do. Slide - a Rhodes Scholar, I wonder if she recites Chaucer while she presses her husband's shirts. Slide – ha-ha, now you physics majors can calculate the mass and volume of every meatloaf you make. Slide - A girdle to set you free. What does that mean? What does that mean? What does it mean? I give up, you win. The smartest women in the country, I didn't realize that by demanding excellence I would be challenging... what did it say? . . . What did it say? Um . . . the roles you were born to fill. Is that right? . . . The roles you were born to fill? It's, uh, it's my mistake . . . Class dismissed.

The students, having been properly chastised, realize that Ms. Watson was right all along, especially after Betty’s marriage hits the toilet. Joan later remarks to Katherine that, looking back, she would be much more likely to miss having raised a family than miss being a lawyer. Katherine looks at her like a deer caught in the headlights – she cannot seem to grasp the fact that Joan is making her choice from her own free will. While both views are presented, we have been conditioned to see the film through Katherine’s eyes and Joan is painted as a boob for her choice.

In the end, Katherine is given a second year, but she has to conform to the institution’s rules: she cannot date another faculty member (they don’t seem to mind him sleeping with his students); she cannot go off the syllabus, and the dean must approve her lectures in advance. Ever so dedicated to her students, Katherine declines the offer because she can no longer make a difference and runs off to Europe. (If she were really dedicated to those students, she would have stayed, for her very presence on campus alone made a difference.) Her students see her off by trailing her car on their bicycles; the last leaving her side is Betty, who was against her in the beginning (of course).

There are two delicious ironies in this movie. First, for all its Out-There-And-In-Your-Face-Feminism, the director and writers are men. That fact needs no further comment. The other irony is when Katherine, the art history teacher, receives a paint-by-the-numbers art kit. If there is anything that symbolizes this movie, it is the concept of painting by the numbers, for that’s what this film is – an exercise in painting by the numbers. 

If it were only totally predictable, I might be able to tolerate it. But it is also totally pretentious to boot, and that is pushing the envelope too far.

Friday, July 26, 2013


By Melissa Agar

R.I.P.D. (Universal, 2013) – Director: Robert Schwentke. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, & Marissa Miller. Color and 3D, 96 minutes.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are suddenly overwhelmed with this sensation that you have experienced this exact same situation before? It’s a phenomenon widely referred to as déjà vu, but I think I just might start calling it RIPD Syndrome.

Throughout the roughly 90 minutes of R.I.P.D., I was overwhelmed by the feeling I had seen this all before. A wisecracking young cop learns that there is more to the universe than he ever dreamed of with the help of a grizzled partner?  I loved that when it was called Men in Black. A man yearns to maintain a connection with his life, particularly his beautiful lady love, after she is brutally murdered? That reduced me to absolute tears when it was called Ghost. Bridges plays a crusty Western lawman with a tobacco-chewing accent that is at times a bit hard to discern? That was brilliantly done in True Grit. A plot gets muddled up in ancient mystic relics that threaten to destroy life as we know it on Earth? Well, I’m sure we all could easily name a dozen films in the past decade alone that have relied on that tired old trope. While there are some fun moments in R.I.P.D., the fact that the film feels like a thrift store full of movie hand-me-downs cuts into the energy and creativity of the film on more than one occasion. 

The paint-by-numbers script introduces us to Nick (Reynolds), a Boston cop who has begun flirting with corruption, stealing several pieces of gold he and his partner (Bacon) discovered during a seemingly routine drug bust. Nick just wants to provide a better life for his French wife Julia (Szostak). Just as Nick decides to do the right thing and turn the gold over for evidence, he is killed during a raid. He is pulled up into the afterlife, specifically into the offices of the R.I.P.D. (Rest in Peace Department). Nick learns that dead souls walk amongst the living, having escaped from the afterlife, and that the job of the R.I.P.D. is to track down these “deadoes” and return them for their date with judgment. 

Because Nick is a “dirty” cop, R.I.P.D. offers him protection from a potentially negative evaluation in his own judgment. He is paired with an old West lawman named Roy (Bridges) and sent back to Boston to track down deadoes. (And yes, they seriously call them that.)  Of course, Nick and Roy butt heads. Of course, Nick would much rather stalk his grieving widow than track deadoes. Of course, there is some nefarious plot being launched by the deadoes that will lead to the destruction of living humankind, and Nick is the only person with the right set of skills and information to save humanity from being overrun with dead souls. 

I shelled out a couple extra bucks to see this in 3D, and I will say that some of the effects are pretty cool.  When Nick dies, all around him freezes, allowing Nick to move through the living world before being pulled up into the afterlife – a really gorgeous effect in 3D. Some of the big chases and battles are also pretty nice to look at with the added dimension.  I’m not one of those moviegoers, though, who is obsessed with mind-blowing effects, especially if it’s at the expense of plot or character development, so you know when I start talking about how cool the movie looks that there isn’t much beyond that of any great merit.  

The real problem with R.I.P.D. is that ultimately, it’s pretty dull. Because I felt like I’d seen so much of it before and done better in other films, there was a predictability that took away a great amount of suspense and excitement. The moments that felt truly original were few and far between. That’s not to say the film lacked any entertainment value. There were moments I laughed. There is some great comedic mileage found in the fact that Nick and Roy move through the living looking not like Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges but rather like an elderly Chinese man (Hong) and a hot supermodel (Miller) respectively. Watching Bridges admonish a young man for ogling him like a piece of meat was almost worth the price of admission. Almost.

The unfortunate thing here is that a pretty terrific cast is wasted on this reheated leftover of a movie. The cast does its best to add zest. Reynolds deftly balances the wry with heartfelt and makes Nick a likable character. Bridges revisits his Rooster Cogburn and adds a dash of The Dude (his role in The Big Lebowski), allowing him to pretty much own the movie. The film doesn’t really come to life until Roy shows up and suffers any time after his introduction in which he is not onscreen. Parker as R.I.P.D. Captain Proctor is great; her combative chemistry with Bridges is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, no matter how strong the performances, they need material worthy of what they bring to the table, and R.I.P.D. just isn’t it. A boring old casserole with fancy ingredients is still just a boring old casserole, and this movie is the very definition of a boring old casserole – a mishmash of familiar elements that don’t quite combine to make a spectacular meal.   

Grade: C

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pacific Rim

Dinner and a Movie

Pacific Empire

By Steve Herte

Do you ever wish you had the knowledge and the income you have now at some previous time? I do. I can’t believe I went from penny candy to hating pasta to my first solo dining at the Chun King Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair to shaking hands with an Iron Chef and eating Fugu. If I had my current income in 1965 you just know I would have dined at all the international pavilions as well. I still remember wishing I could try beef in peanut sauce at the Malaysian pavilion. Now that I’ve had that dish (in a restaurant in downtown Flushing, Queens) I know it was worth the wait.

Now, I try to make every restaurant that will result in a round number (in my database) something special, but it gets harder to do with less posh dining establishments available for a first try. I keep my hopes up though. As for the AMC 25 movie theater, the venue itself was very impressive and large. I climbed to my usual perch halfway up where there was a nice, wide level walkway and room to stretch my legs. The screen was amply large but I discovered a flaw. The row of seats just below mine was high enough to obscure any subtitles in the movie. That and the excessive promotion of their Dolby stereo system (which was indeed a bit too loud) lessened the experience a little. Nevertheless I enjoyed the movie more than I might have thought I would. I hope this is reflected in my review.

Pacific Rim (WB, 2013) – Director: Guillermo del Toro. Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Diego Klattenhorf, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorham, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, & Mana Ashida. Color and 3-D, 131 minutes.

Before actually seeing Pacific Rim I joked about it possibly being a Godzilla Meets the Transformers and to a certain extent it is – without the interesting transforming bit. It’s another movie set way, way in the future and starts with the alien invasion already in progress. Giant monsters dubbed Kaiju (from the Japanese for “Great Beast”) arise from the ocean and the decision to fight them with equally giant robots called Jaegers (from the German for “Hunter”) has been in place for a while. The opening scene shows a Kaiju with a head like an axe blade destroying the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco with fighter jets zipping around and having less effect than a mosquito on a whale.

We meet Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Klattenhoff) who operate the robot “Gypsy Danger” (all of the Jaegers have strange titles) and who are racking up a sizable kill rate of Kaijus until one arises at “category four” (essentially bigger than a category three) which has a shark-shaped head and uses the point to gore holes in Gypsy Danger. The creature extracts and eats Yancy while Raleigh is still attached to the robot. (In order to effectively operate a Jaeger, the two operators must join brains in a linkage program so that they become one, thinking the same things and feeling the same sensations.) Raleigh thus feels his brothers’ pains and his loss causes Raleigh to go into construction of colossal harbor walls – a vain and futile attempt to keep monsters out of populated areas conceived as a cost savings by the ruling politicians (government has not changed over the decades) – after guiding Gypsy Danger to shore in a mighty collapse.

Gypsy Danger’s first failure precipitates the decision by the funding pols to scrap the Jaeger program. They make that fact known to Stacker Pentecost (Elba), the Program Leader, much to his extreme chagrin. Unknown to them, however, Stacker has a secret Jaeger factory in Hong Kong (this is a sci-fi story, mind you – but where are you going to hide a building that houses 30-story-high robots?) Among his team are the father/son Jaeger operators Herc and Chuck Hansen (Martini and Kazinsky) and two annoying geeky scientists who are constantly arguing, Gottlieb (Gorman) the mathematician and Doctor Newton Geisler (Day) the biologist. Gottlieb has calculated that the monsters are coming from the Pacific Rift through a wormhole to another dimension and that the attacks are increasing in frequency, as well as in size and number of monsters. Geisler determines that all of the monsters are clones sent by a higher intelligence and wants to get inside the heads of the Kaijus – and he succeeds somewhat with a preserved, living, Kaiju “secondary” brain (they’re so big they need two brains to operate.) The brain dies after the linkage and Geisler needs a new one. He goes to Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), a dealer in black market Kaiju parts.

Stacker needs Jaeger team and he brings Raleigh back into the program promising him the partner of his choice. Using martial arts, Raleigh downs one contestant after another until he asks to take on Mako Mori (Kikuchi), Stackers’ number one assistant. She proves herself his equal in combat but Stacker nixes the idea. We learn later on that as a child (Ashida) Mako had a major traumatic experience with a Kaiju and Stacker, operating a Jaeger solo (leaving him cursed with chronic bloody nose), saved her and raised her to adulthood with all the fatherly protective instincts. However, the team of Raleigh and Mako becomes a reality and is almost a disaster on their trial run of the repaired and re-mastered Gypsy Danger. The other teams (most notably by the Australians) ridicule them until they prove themselves in actual battle with Kaijus (they kill two when two teams failed).

With the escalation in the war, the only course of action is to destroy the wormhole bringing the monsters. The two wacky scientists literally put their heads together and link up with a newfound Kaiju brain to learn that it’s the Kaiju’s DNA that permits them passage through the wormhole. After a monumental battle undersea with a category five monster, Gypsy Danger uses the corpse to enter and destroy the wormhole with (what else?) a nuclear blast.

Granted, it sounds silly and “been there, done that,” but I was surprised that when the shark-headed Kaiju was goring Gypsy Danger. I actually cared about the outcome; the scene evoked an emotion. Even though there are several annoying characters in the film, it wouldn’t have worked without them. And they were not just comic relief; for instance, a baby Kaiju – one was pregnant when they killed it – slurps up poor Perlman. The computer graphics and computer-generated creatures were fabulous and varied in shape (one even sprouts wings), even though they’re all clones. Between the excellent models and the great camera angles we come to believe that these impossibly large Jaegers are real. The set designs add to the impression of vastness needed for these titanic machines.

The acting was what was needed for this film. Hunnam under-acted his part while Elba was over-the-top. I loved Kikuchi. She was just right. And even though the monsters were horrific and eventually spewing great quantities of luminous electric blue goo, the Hispanic toddler in the row behind me was unfazed. Nevertheless, I would not recommend this movie for children that age or under.Pacific Rim will see the name del Toro resting comfortably by the creators of Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra in movie history (and he did it without zippers). Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Empire Steak House
36 West 52nd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) New York

With 11 minutes (a slight miscalculation on my part) to get from 8th  Avenue and 42nd Street to 52nd Street and 5th  Avenue for my 7:30 reservation, I arrived at the unprepossessing, almost invisible, entrance to Empire Steak House fashionably late. Knowing that this eatery would be number 2,550 on my database I was hoping for a transporting experience, but remembering Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse, I felt benevolent and forgiving, for the latter is a very difficult act to follow. A slim young woman in a neat grey dress entered just before me and struck up a conversation with the manager, the captain and two other gentlemen. Her liberal use of the word “we” led all of them to believe I was with her even though I tried to keep my distance.

Once the misunderstanding was cleared up, a leggy longhaired blonde in bright red high heels led me to a table mid-way through the dining area. To my left was a wall of mirrors following the gentle arch of the ceiling and adding dimension to the 20-table space. To my right was the bar; before me was the wine rack, which concealed the restrooms. The traditional décor of a steakhouse does not apply to the Empire: its walls are only half-paneled in dark wood, with the upper half a soft muted pumpkin color. There is also artwork on the walls surrounding a golden bull on a red background framed on the wall opposite my table.

The words “small operation” ran through my head with “beware” and “be gentle” following it. Artan, my waiter, spoke with what sounded like a gypsy accent and brought my water as well as the wine list. I asked for a cocktail and it took quite a few minutes to get “Beefeater Martini” through to him. He still asked if I wanted olives before he brought it to me (I had asked for a twist of lemon). Nevertheless, the drink was fine. To avoid any future language problems I asked him if I was speaking loudly and clearly enough because I had just been to a rather loud movie and my left ear was still ringing. He acknowledged that I was doing fine and we had no more miscommunications.

Since I already had the wine list I began looking through the impressive list of reds organized by Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, Merlots, Varietals et cetera, all separated by country of origin, and a great many were affordable. Artan tried to help by asking what I was having for dinner, but I had to respond with “I don’t know. I haven’t seen the menu yet.” He never left my side. I chose the only varietal on the list: a 2009 Z Cuvée – which is a blend of Grenache, Mourvédre, Syrah and Cinsault from Zaca Mesa Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley, California. I had previously enjoyed good fortune with varietals, and this one proved to be no exception. It was an excellent table red, neither too heavy nor too light, with a decent body and excellent nose. After delivering the wine, Artan produced the food menu.

Searching for the unusual I decided to order the Hot Seafood Platter. It was smaller than I expected, featuring three stuffed baked clams, three quarter-sized stuffed mushroom caps, one lone shrimp scampi, and lump crab meat scattered around the plate. All of it tasted good, but none of it was transporting. The wine was still tops (and the fact that Artan decanted it for me in a lovely Captain’s decanter.) “Small Operation” loomed larger in my mind: “Don’t order the Filet Mignon!”

I ordered the Veal Chop because for some reason I was in the mood for veal, and it was the only entrée not in bold type. Artan asked how I would like it. I asked what the chef would recommend. “Medium rare.” “Agreed.” Since I knew I could take home any side dish I couldn’t finish, I ordered both the German potatoes and the creamed spinach. The veal chop was a hefty piece of meat that raised my eyebrows, nicely browned and on the bone with no trace of pink inside. It was tender, juicy and delicious. The creamed spinach was also well made, and even though standard, it was pleasing. The German potatoes looked and tasted exactly like what my father does to leftover boiled potatoes: fried golden brown with onions. The only difference is that Empire’s chef added bacon. I felt right at home with that side and the wine finally had some competition, although I could not figure out why Artan swirled it in the decanter before each pour. (A little showmanship, perhaps?)

I finished every bit of the veal and most of the two sides and had them both wrapped to go. The only dessert to catch my attention was the Hot Fudge Sundae “Holy Bull”! Like the appetizer, it was smaller than I might have expected but I was glad it was not huge. I have no idea why the appellation “Holy Bull” was added but it was very good. A double espresso later (didn’t really want to debate and translate an after-dinner drink) and I was ready for the check. All things being equal I should give Empire Steak House another try at some future time because the experience wasn’t all that bad. The veal and the wine actually excelled and the staff tried their best.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grown Ups 2

By Melissa Agar 

Grown Ups 2 (Columbia, 2013) – Director: Dennis Dugan. Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, David Spade, Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, Georgia Engel, Steve Buscemi, Alexander Ludwig, Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Swardson, & Taylor Lautner. Color, 101 minutes.

Let’s get this out of the way first – Grown Ups 2 is not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t laugh more than once throughout the course of the 101 minutes I spent in the theater with Sandler and crew. The problem is that within minutes of leaving the theater, I couldn’t remember much about the film other than the things I really hated – and there was a lot of that to go around. When a movie’s first scene includes MULTIPLE instances of a deer peeing on people, you know you’re probably in for a rough time. 

As with Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2 is largely a way for Sandler to get paid millions to hang out with his buddies for a couple weeks. In this sequel, Sandler’s Lenny and his family have moved back to his seemingly idyllic hometown where he spends his days palling around with childhood friends Mackenzie (Rock), Eric (James), and Higgins (Spade). (Rob Schneider’s irritating character from the first film is happily MIA, although I did find it just a little odd that he was never even mentioned in passing.) 

Each of the four friends gets a little sitcom-esque conflict to address throughout the day in which the film takes place. Lenny’s wife Roxanne (Hayek) wants another baby, but Lenny doesn’t. Mackenzie’s wife (Rudolph) forgot their anniversary, which is actually more of a victory than a conflict since he and his pals realize that her memory lapse will result in a “free pass” for him on a myriad of husbandly problems from wearing shoes on the good carpet to drinking non-diet soda with dinner. Eric is trying to hide from his wife (Bello) how much time he spends with his mother (Engel). Higgins finds out he’s a dad to an angry, violent kid named Braden (Ludwig). All of this takes place on the last day of school for the guys’ kids, an occasion the guys decide to honor with a big party. (For a party that is apparently planned in a matter of hours, it is a pretty spectacular bash complete with an 80’s theme for which everyone miraculously has perfect costumes – including a baby-sized Michael Jackson jacket. And don’t get me started on the miracle that is the Rubik’s Cube cake.)

At its core, the movie is dealing with some pretty simple but solid themes about standing up for yourself and staying true to your roots. Lenny has fled his fast-paced Hollywood life to give his kids the simple things that he had growing up like riding bikes to school or having a summer job at the local ice cream stand. When Lenny and the guys are taunted by a group of cartoonishly obnoxious frat boys (led by Lautner), the two primary themes unite as Lenny must man up in the face of bullies – something he’s historically struggled with – and defend his beloved hometown and buddies. In the end, the guys come to realize that growing up isn’t a death sentence, especially when you have a strong support network of friends and family and a hometown that loves you as much as you love it. 

There is a certain amount of fun watching Sandler and his pals onscreen. They have a natural, easy chemistry that is charming and inviting. They’ve surrounded themselves with a strong supporting cast, particularly their wives. Like the guys, Rudolph, Bello, and Hayek have a great on-screen chemistry. The problem is that they don’t give themselves much plot with which to mix that chemistry. The film has an episodic structure with most conflicts easily – and predictably – solved within minutes. Because they try to cram in something for each of the four principals as well as their kids, no one gets all that much to do. Particularly lost in the shuffle are Rock and Rudolph, two funny actors who deserve much better than a lengthy conversation about who is going to clean the seemingly enormous mess their young son has made in his diaper. 

A significant amount of screentime is devoted to newly introduced peripheral characters like O’Neal as a local police officer and Swardson as a bus driver who makes Otto from The Simpsons look like a teetotaler. This comes, though, at the expense of the core characters about whom we’re supposed to care. A little more time with Rock and Rudolph or the appealing Bello and James would have been time better spent than watching Swardson do his usual dumb schtick.

For a film that stands as a sort of celebration of accepting the fact that you’re a grown up, the film goes to the gross-out joke way too often. From the deer urine that opens the film to multiple puke takes and more than one poop joke, the film relies on juvenile humor that cheapens the moments of heart that do occur. Like most comedies these days geared toward younger men, there are also the obligatory gay jokes that demean the core themes even more. Even more disheartening is the amount of laughter that filled the theater when, for example, James landed naked on Spade when jumping off the quarry cliff or at the sight of a drugged-out Swardson going in for a kiss from Oliver Hudson. Like the gross-out jokes, these are cheap jokes that feel about as fresh as a can of Crystal Pepsi. Sandler has proven on more than one occasion that he’s capable of more; wouldn’t it be refreshing if he would bring the intelligence shown in, say, Funny People or Spanglish to his Happy Madison productions as well? These are likable characters played by likable actors – give them something to work with that’s a little more than just ogling boobs and riffing on fart jokes.  

Grade:  C-

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cinéma Inhabituel for July 23-31

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea 
July 24

11:45 am Big Jim McLain (WB, 1952) – Director: Edward Ludwig. Cast: John Wayne, Nancy Olson, Jim Arness, Alan Napier, Veda Ann Borg, & Hans Conried. B&W, 90 minutes.

It wasn’t one of the Duke’s better films. Truth be told, it’s as dull as dirt. But, it comes to us as a fascinating and hilarious relic of a lost era in the wacky history of this country. During this era, known by many as The McCarthy Years, the most popular sport, judging by this movie, is Commie Hunting. And no one hunted Commies better than the Duke. Here, he and Arness play HUAC investigators sent to Hawaii to hunt Commies in Paradise. There’s only one thing wrong with this premise: The Communist Party was a legal political party, and it was not a crime to belong. But when have technicalities such as this stopped the Duke?

Scenes to look for in the film: (1) the fight in the restaurant. The extras simply stand and gawk instead of acting in the scene as extras. (2) The scene where the parents turn in their son as a Commie, the logic being that he’d be better off in prison than running around with his pinko pals. To sum the film up, it’s apropos to paraphrase the Duke himself: this movie is re-godamn-diculous.

Trivia: In Germany, the film was dubbed and titled Mathuana, and features the Duke as a hunter of marijuana smugglers. That makes more sense than the original.

2:00 am Young Frankenstein (20th Century Fox, 1974) – Director: Mel Brooks. Cast: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman, & Kenneth Mars. B&W, 106 minutes.

It could well be argued that this was Brooks’ best film; it certainly holds up better today than madcap frolics such as Blazing Saddles and History of the World, Part 1. Young Frankenstein is a loving tribute to the Universal horror films of the ‘30s, taking equally from Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939). The beauty of the film lies in its thorough knowledge and respect for the originals while realizing that by tweaking and exaggerating some of those original scenarios, it would bring out their more ridiculous aspects. I could go on and rave about the virtues of this film, but I’d only be preaching to the converted. Too bad TCM is screening it at this ungodly hour, but it appears regularly on the Fox Movie Channel.

Trivia: The last line spoken by “hermit” Gene Hackman as the monster flees – “Wait. Where are you going? I was going to make espresso” – was an ad-lib on the actor’s part. Brooks laughed so hard that he ruined the first two takes, so the line was rehearsed until Brooks could film without laughing.

July 25

6:30 am The Black Room (Columbia, 1935) – Director: R. William Neill. Cast: Boris Karloff, Marian Marsh, Robert Allen, Thurston Hall, John Buckler, & Katherine DeMille. B&W, 75 minutes.

One of the most underrated and overlooked actors in the history of cinema surely has to be Karloff. Typecast and pigeonholed ever since he donned the makeup to play Frankenstein’s monster, Karloff was a marvelous actor, at home in comedy or drama. So what could be better than one Karloff? Why, two Karloffs, of course. In this thriller, Boris plays twins who couldn’t be more opposite. Their family is plagued by a curse which states that one of the twins – the good Anton – will kill the other in the “black room,” one of those mysterious rooms in the family castle. Gregor, the local Baron, is a lout, a serial killer hated by the townsfolk. Finally fed up with his antics, the villagers stage a mob scene and storm Gregor’s castle. Suddenly Gregor decides to abdicate and leave the governing to his twin, Anton. Will Anton kill his brother in the black room? Tune in and find out. Not only will you see a great thriller, but also one of the most nuanced performances an actor (Karloff) can give.

11:15 am Dead Men Walk (PRC, 1943) – Director: Sam Newfield. Cast: George Zucco, Mary Carlisle, Dwight Frye, Nedrick Young, & Fern Emmett. B&W, 64 minutes.

If anything, Zucco could be said to be the biggest star on the PRC lot, which isn’t saying much. But he was the only actor who had his own trailer; even if it was one of those small “birdhouse” teardrop trailers pulled by an automobile. A trailer is still a trailer – and a sign of prestige. Zucco also plays twins, and one is evil while the other is good. The evil one, Elwyn Clayton, is a devotee of black magic, while the other Lloyd Clayton, is a small-town doctor, beloved by his patients. Elwyn returns from the grave through the power of black magic as a vampire and is out to get his good twin. For all this, it’s a rather toothless chiller with one somewhat redeeming aspect: Frye, who steals what’s left of this picture as Elwyn’s maniacal underling, Zolarr. Watch it for him alone.

Trivia: This is the final film appearance of Carisle, who once had a promising future when she was named as a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1932. But her film career never really took off and by the ‘40s she was relegated to working in Poverty Row productions. She retired shortly after the film wrapped and married actor James Blakeley, who went on to become a production executive at 20th Century Fox.

4:00 am The Explosive Generation (UA, 1961): Director: Buzz Kulik. Cast: William Shatner, Patty McCormack, Lee Kinsolving, Billy Grey, & Steve Dunne. B&W, 89 minutes.

What’s better than Shatner playing a teacher in a low-budget drama? Why, Shatner teaching sex education to teenagers, of course. McCormack is Janet, a high school senior who spent the night at boyfriend Kinsolving’s beach house rather than risk losing him. The next day she asks her – and everyone’s – favorite teacher to give them lessons in sex education. His solution? To have the students write anonymous essays on the subject that could be read and discussed later in class. Needless to say, this results in an uproar once parents get wind of what’s going on. When Shatner is ordered by the school’s principal to burn the essays, he refuses and is suspended. This leads in the students staging a massive “silence strike.” What the hell, it’s fun, it’s cheap, and it stars Shatner. That’s three good reasons to watch.

Trivia: It’s director Kulik’s first feature film. He worked mainly in television, and directed the classic Brian’s Song, as well as the cult fav Bad Ronald.

July 27

12:00 pm Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (Hammer, 1964) – Director: Michael Carreras. Cast: Ronald Howard, Terence Morgan, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, & George Pastell. Color, 81 minutes.

Hammer struck box office with their 1959 remake of The Mummy. They had five years to come up with a sequel and they give us this less than stellar entry in the genre. None of the original stars returned, and neither did the story. We are given an entirely new mummy and scenario, with a little twist. It seems that one of the participants in the expedition is actually the mummy’s brother, who was cursed with immortality for having killed his brother. And, of course, he’s after the reincarnated princess of his dreams. The film starts strongly, but drags in the middle before giving us a good schlocky ending. Clark is the American star, playing the financial backer of the expedition who wants to take the exhibits on tour instead of donating them to a museum.

2:00 am Wild Guitar (Fairway-International, 1962) – Director: Ray Dennis Steckler. Cast: Arch Hall, Jr., Arch Hall, Sr., Nancy Czar, William Watters, Cash Flagg, & Marie Denn. B&W, 87 minutes.

Hall, Jr. stars in this cheesy piece of schlock about a young guitar whiz who gets a big break on a local TV show. An unscrupulous record producer (Hall, Sr.) signs the youngster and then proceeds to bilk him out of his earnings, until he finally catches wise and dumps the crook. Directed by Steckler, who appears in the film under the billing of “Cash Flagg” as Hall, Sr.’s skeevy assistant, directed, and the film has all the Steckler touches we’ve grown to know and not necessarily love: the strange musical interludes, the badly-staged fights that lead to an equally ridiculous bash-at-the-beach finale, stupid henchmen, plus the brainless dialogue. The buzz about the movie is that Hall, Sr. financed it to get Junior a foothold in the recording industry. He should have saved his money.

3:45 am The Sadist (Fairway-International, 1963) – Director: James Landis. Cast: Arch Hall Jr., Helen Hovey, Richard Alden, Marilyn Manning, & Don Russell. B&W, 94 minutes.

Three schoolteachers on their way to a Dodgers game are waylaid and terrorized by teenage serial killer Charlie Timms (Hall, Jr.) and his equally depraved girlfriend, Judy (Manning). Loosely based on ‘50s thrill killers Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate, this is actually a decent, taut thriller with stellar performances by both Hall and Manning. Credit the director, who came to the producer (Arch Hall, Sr.) with a script he had written, and credit Hall, Sr. with the good sense to allow Landis to direct instead of plugging in his usual idea of a director – Ray Dennis Steckler. The results are impressive and the film holds up well today.

Trivia: It could be said that the real star of The Sadist was its cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond. A refugee from Hungary, he began in America by photographing B and Z-grade films, where he earned a reputation for his excellent camerawork, which often times was far superior to the crap he was filming. He would later come to helm such A-productions as McCabe and Mrs. MillerDeliveranceThe Long GoodbyeThe Deer Hunter, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 

July 28

2:00 am Ugetsu Monogatari (Janus, 1953) – Director: Kenji Mizoguchi. Cast: Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka, Kasae Ozawa, & Mitsuo Miko. B&W, 96 minutes.

As I stated once before, Samurai films are Japan’s Westerns, and this is one of the very best. The film is based on two stories by the 18th century writer Akinari Ueda from his collection Ugetsu Monogatari (Stories of the Moon and Rain), and takes place during a civil war in 16th century Japan. Two peasants – Genjuro (Mori), a potter who hopes to make his fortune selling wares; and Tobei (Ozawa), who wants to become a samurai – have left their wives behind in the village. However things do not work out as they planned. Although he does well financially selling his wares, Genjuro is seduced by a mysterious noblewoman named Lady Wakasa (Kyo), of who it could be said that she is not what she appears. Tobei, on the other hand, does realize his goal of becoming a samurai, but he does so through deceit. Meanwhile, the rebel army attacks their village and their families just manage to escape, but both Genjuro and Tobei will later realize the price that is to be extracted for their ambition and deceit.

This is a sumptuously-filmed drama resting on the simple premise of what happens when one tries to prosper through trickery and deceit, forgetting the values that hold his family together. The theme here is the emptiness that results when one betrays his traditional values and Mizoguchi captures this mood brilliantly, even to the point of where the cinematography threatens to overcome the story itself. But keep riveted on that story – it’s one for the ages.

July 31

4:30 pm 5 Against the House (Columbia, 1955) – Director: Phil Karlson. Cast: Guy Madison, Kim Novak, Brian Keith, Alvy Moore, Kerwin Matthews, & William Conrad. B&W, 83 minutes.

It would seem that we’re going from the sublime to the ridiculous, but don’t let the title fool you. This is an excellent caper film about four veterans attending college on the GI Bill who pool their resources and join up with cabaret singer Novak to plan the perfect crime – the robbery of a Reno, Nevada, casino. Directed by Karlson, the film keeps the viewer’s attention not only with Novak, but also with the tightly-constructed and developed plot, making the robbery of the casino seem not like a bolt from the blue, but the result of solid logical planning. Martin Scorsese has stated in interviews that Karlson’s little caper film was a major influence when he directed Casino. Caper films are always fun, and when directed by a pro such as Karlson, are definitely worth viewing.

Trivia: The film was originally assigned to Frank Tashlin, who did much of the pre-production planning, but Karlson stepped in when Tashlin abandoned the project for the chance to direct Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models

For other Cinema Inhabituel films, click here.