Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie review - "Passion" (1954) **

An oldish Western storyline - a cowboy gets revenge on the land owners who kill his gal - is given some freshness by being set in Spanish California, and have its characters be Spanish Americans. There's also Yvonne de Carlo in a dual role as said dead gal and her twin sister - both of whom love Cornel Wilde. And some spectacular scenery - the Sierra mountains, a shoot out in snow...

But it's a curiously flat movie. It's a vigilante tale - Wilde killing off the baddies one by one - but I didn't feel too much for his pain since he'd been away from de Carlo for ages, hadn't even married her, and indeed didn't know she was pregnant. He didn't seem to particularly like her.

The film lacks another twist or complication - I kept expecting Raymond Burr, as a local law man, to provide this (a reveal he's in on it, or in love with one of the de Carlos, etc), or maybe the second de Carlo (to betray Wilde or something) but it never happens. It's very linear and monotonous. The reveal that his baby is still alive isn't it - if anything it makes Wilde look like an idiot for going off on this rampage.

I loved the idea of seeing two de Carlo's, one a tomboy the other more feminine, but the two of them are only around for ten minutes before one is killed and that's no time to do anything.

I was fun to see Lon Chaney Jnr as a dodgy cowboy.

Movie review - "Border River" (1954) **

Who says Hollywood can't be educational? I'd never heard of the Mexican free trade zone, the Zona Libre, until this movie - where a Confederate soldier, Joel McCrea, rocks up to buy guns for his slave-owning masters. Yvonne de Carlo is on hand as a local gal, and Pedro Armendariz is the local warlord.

The Confederate-supplies story gets ignored for a lot of time and instead there's lots of stuff of Armendariz being jealous of de Carlo's attraction to McCrea, and a local revolutionary wanting to take over Armendariz.

Why not have a main character be a Union soldier after McCrea? (There is one but it's half arsed.) Why not talk about what happened to the, you know, guns? Why not have a decent ending? Why not have McCrea be more actively involved with the revolutionaries? Or at least de Carlo, who comes from revolutionary stock? (She basically carries the water for McCrea.)

The ingredients are there for something decent but the result is dull and mediocre.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Script review - "Mother" by David Aaronofksy (warning: spoilers)

I get why this is polarising - it's a bit wanky, it's very confronting that a baby is killed - but I'm surprised it got such squeals of shock. I guess I'm more used to it having seen all that "in your face" British theatre of the nineties and noughties. At least it has the guts to go there - and is full on and hard core and tries to be different.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Script review - "I, Tonya" by Steve Rogers

It's surprising in a way it took Hollywood so long to make a film about Tonya Harding - she's got such great name recognition and it's clearly going to be a fantastic role for whoever played her. Maybe it was too associated with 90s scandal like OJ or the Menendez brothers, or Amy Fisher.

It actually reminded me of a 1990s film - To Die For with Nicole Kidman. It has the same pieces to camera, and protagonists' love of fame, and look at the dark underbelly of American society, etc.

This has some funny lines, and strongly etched characters - Tony, her mother, her abusive husband Jeff, his idiot mate. It does feel very familiar at times. Once or twice though it was surprising and moved me - such as Tonya doing the triple. But all too often it felt "surface".

Movie review - "The San Francisco Story" (1952) **1/2

It's in black and white and the drama never quite works but the setting has novelty: 1850s San Francisco, dealing with the activities of the vigilantes trying to clean up San Francisco. There was also a pro vs anti slavery background to all this in real life which is completely overlooked but I liked how the final shoot out was on a beach.

Yvonne de Carlo is the female lead, a shady lady, clearly sexually experienced, mistress to the baddy - who is allowed to turn good and get the guy. He is Joel McCrea, handsome, virile and affable as ever - after seeing de Carlo line up against some pretty weak male talent it was nice to see her teamed with someone worthy of her.

Sidney Blackmer is a good villain and I enjoyed Florence Bates as a jolly inn keeper prone to shanghaiing drunks - though this did feel as though it belonged in another movie. I really liked Richard Erdman as McCrea's sidekick - couldn't put my finger on when I remembered him so gave him a google; he was the camp leader in Stalag 17 and also played Leonard in Community.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Movie review "Tomahawk" (1951) *** (warning: spoilers)

A bit of a surprise - I didn't know much about this Western, it doesn't have a great rep, but it was intelligent and different. Its very much from the post Broken Arrow school of liberal Hollywood westerns with Van Heflin - offbeat but effective casting - as Jim Bridger, a real life Indian scout, trying hard to prevent war between Sioux and whites.

The real villain in this is Alex Nicol, an ambitious cavalry scout who hero worships Chivington and was part of the famed Sandy Creek Massacre quite bloodily described here (Heflin's Indian wife and child were killed in it). He and other gung go whites are clearly the baddies and the Sioux quite sympathetic - though not terribly personalised. Indeed it's so anti-picking-on-the-Indians (talking about all the treaties the white man has broken I wondered if the writers were blacklisted).

It's not heavy on action - battle scenes are threatened more than delivered. However there is a strong sense of tension because violence is always threatened. And the ending is a genuine surprise - the whites fight off the Indians, but only due to superior technology... and the result it the fort gets knocked down so its a tactical victory for Red Cloud.

Heflin's nervy intensity suits the role - as does his craggy, tormented face. Yvonne de Carlo is wasted as "the girl" - a girl keen on Heflin. Her part could've been cut out of the movie - something you couldn't often claim for de Carlo in her heyday. There's good support from people like Preston Foster and Jack Oakie - Rock Hudson is it in too, briefly.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Movie review - "Fort Algiers" (1953) **1/2

Yvonne de Carlo had her own money in this film, so its interesting to see the sort of movie she felt obliged to provide to her fans - to wit, an action-adventure tale set in the third world, with de Carlo in a series of skimpy outfits playing a spy.

On those terms its enjoyable - at the time critics yawned and they may still do but it's the sort of movie Hollywood doesn't make any more so I liked it. It's interesting being a contemporary tale about the French Foreign Legion - the French are battling off Arabs (led by Raymond Burr) who are supported by unspecified foreign powers (presumably communist though the movie doesn't come out and say this - I remember a Tarzan film which did a similar thing).

The movie had the same producer as Outpost in Morocco which means it could use some of that film's impressive location photography - shots of genuine Arab faces and impressive cavalry charges. There are some effective foreign legion bits such as the opening massacre, and Arabs charging at a fort at the end, and being repelled by makeshift explosions. I also liked how de Carlo's character propelled a lot of the action.

It's a shame the movie isn't in colour and doesn't have a more interesting leading man than Carlos Thompson, who was from South America. He's okay looking but lacks flair, warmth and vivacity - also it's annoying he's playing an American. The script was creaky in places - such as revealing the explanation of why Thompson and de Carlo broke up and over-relying on Burr's character being dumb.

De Carlo and Burr are perfectly cast and there's solid support from old reliables like John Dehner.