Friday, April 20, 2018

Sin Takes A Holiday (1930)

Oh the morals of the fabulous people of late 1920s New York, cheating and divorcing left right and centre apparently. Constance Bennett plays a dowdy secretary to a womanising divorce lawyer (Kenneth MacKenna). They form a marriage of convenience to help Kenneth avoid marriage to his mistress though Constance secretly loves him for real.

Constance gets sent off to Paris so Kenneth can continue his cheating ways, there she is seduced by Basil Rathbone and a bit of European sophistication. She undergoes a bit of an Eliza Doolittle transformation before she returns to New York and confront her husband.

It's an enjoyable little film, some of the characters are a bit annoying but there enough good lines in this romantic comedy to keep the interest. There are some supporting parts such as that of ZaSu Pitts and the three main leads, especially Constance who is appealingly sardonic throughout, shine. The snapshot of late 1920s/early 1930s life is fascinating.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Top Bet (1991)

No one can make films about gambling quite like HK cinema used to, often giving a mystical bent to it.

The Saint Of Gamblers has gone off on holiday which is inconsiderate as the Triad boss needs a top gambler to win the gambling championship. Uncle Ng Man-Tat is tasked to find someone to win or he gets the chop (literally).

He happens upon the Queen of Gambling (Carol Cheng), basically a tough HK fisherwomen who does some card tricks. She pretends to have magical gambling powers in order to get the money to help her paralysed brother. Still with me? No? I'm not surprised.

Meanwhile real magical powers arrive in the shape of the Saint's sister Mai (Anita Mui) from the mainland but she refuses to use her magical powers to help gambling and capitalist imperialist activities (this was before the Mainland Communist Party discovered the love of cash of course). But then, with the Triad's rival is also getting help from psychic power, Mai decides to help the Queen in her battle against the bad guy with the help of magical card tricks and plenty of kung fu.

If you've seen a HK gambling movie before you know what to expect. Grand entrances in slow motion, sharp suits and stirring music. Plus a lot of slapstick humour and fun. Its ridiculous, its bizarre, its pretty banal. But you'll love it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

A low-budget science fiction B-movie which was filmed in 3-D (though does not seem to really take a great deal advantage of the extra dimension). The plot is simple: Earth sends a rocket to the Moon, discovers ancient race of Cat-Women who want to steal the rocket and enslave Earth. The film is complete nonsense of course though campy fun.

The Cat-Women (heavily made up in black jumpsuits) are able to control women but not men, luckily one of the human crew is female (Marie Windsor) whom they are able to manipulate. Can the humans led by Sonny Tufts and Victor Jory foil the plans of the Cat-Women led by Carol Brewster?

Well yes of course but a lot of the film is absurd, starting with the ridiculous interior of the spaceship with wooden tables. The Moon seems to reuse familiar science-fiction tropes including giant spiders and the Cat-Women City looks like the reused set from another film. Well you can have a lot of fun with this tripe to be honest. I did.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Repeat Performance (1947)

Repeat Performance is a late 1940s Noir with elements of fantasy. It stars Joan Leslie as actress Sheila who at the start of the film is standing over the dead body of her husband (Louis Hayward) holding a gun.

It is New Years Eve and Sheila is distraught, at the stroke of midnight she wishes the dark turn of events that led to the death of her husband could not have taken place and she could re-run the year. Her wish comes true.

Once she realises what happens she tries to change the events that led to her husband's death but finds that some things are just fated to happen. The film is melodramatic and has an appealing inevitability about events with some terrific performances from Leslie and Hayward.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Monkey's Paw (1948)

The Monkey's Paw is a rather slow horror film involving a cursed monkey's paw that grants it's owners three wishes before extracting a heavy price. The paw is reluctantly sold by a dealer who fears the bad luck it could befall it's owner (not including himself though strangely).

The story is good though the production is rather low budget. It is still an enjoyable film once things get going (the problem is it takes a long time getting going). The paw ends up owned by a shop keeper (Milton Rosmer) with crippling gambling debts. He decides to use the wishes granted by the paw to solve his problems but finds the true cost very high.

Some parts of the film don't really make sense though, the Irish poacher Kelly (Michael Martin Harvey) recoils in horror from the paw one minute then pinches it not long after. Don't expect dramatic horror thrills (though do expect some ridiculously low budget speedway scenes). Do expect a fair bit of creepiness... once things finally get going.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Savage Streets (1984)

Savage Streets is a revenge action film involving gangs of Los Angeles. Thus it is a very violent film, shamelessly exploitative and full of unnecessary gratuitous female nudity. It's not all good though, the acting is nearly as bad as the violence.

It stars Linda Blair as a tough girl at college, fiercely protective of her deaf sister (Linnea Quigley). They become involved with a gang of thugs led by a rather psychotic Robert Dryer. This leads to the brutal rape of Linda's sister and the murder of her pregnant friend. Linda dons the leather, picks up her crossbow and is out for revenge.

It is all rather video nasty with a high body count... accompanied by a not-terrible mid-1980s rock soundtrack. The acting is generally awful but the gang members are pretty scary in a overdose-on-speed kind of way. Its a film full of violence and sex but devoid of much plot... sometimes though that kind of low-art is just what you want.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Rulers of the City (1976)

Rulers Of The City (also known as Mr Scarface) is a basic and violent gangster film. It stars Harry Baer as Tony, a happy-go-lucky young hoodlum very good with his fists... and the ladies. He runs with a mid-level gang but tangles with the big boys led by Scarface (Jack Palance), ripping him off. Naturally Scarface isn't one to laugh off being done over. Tony finds himself targeted by Palance's gang and betrayed by his former boss...

The film is rather predictable and low-rent. Don't expect much depth or shades or grey. Tony is a good likeable character but is a little too cocky and foolhardy to take serious (and yet is some kind of ultimate warrior). The film is very violent but has a light tone despite all the regular killings and beatings which might jar at times but at others it seems oddly just right.

The final showdown is a bit silly and much of the action pointless. The film is entertaining though. The pace is high throughout.

Friday, April 13, 2018

At Twelve Midnight (1933)

Also known as "The Mystic Hour", At Twelve Midnight is an uneven crime drama. At times exciting and fast paced action but others a slow and sometimes confusing family drama.

It stars Charles Hutchison as a hero who falls in love with Lucille Powers while chasing a criminal and they are soon to marry. Unfortunately Lucille's guardian (Charles Middleton) is a crook who has squandered his ward's money and desperately needs to stop the marriage before everything is revealed. We then get into a kidnap plot and it all becomes a bit weird with double crossing aplenty.

It is a passable film, the hero is a little unlikely and the plot is a bit silly. Its not without some good points though, many provided by Edith Thornton. Some of the stunts are also extraordinary including one where Hutchison rolls underneath a moving train.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Dentist (1932)

The Dentist is a comedy short film starring W.C. Fields as a dentist (surprised eh?) While he treats an assortment of strange patients at his home surgery his daughter tries to elope with an ice delivery man and he locks her up: mayhem ensues.

A recurrent trope throughout the film is Fields is incredibly forgetful and rather inept. To be honest i'm glad he isn't my dentist!

It is rather corny at times but there are some good lines, such as the patient being asked if she wants gas and she replies she is fine if he uses gas or electric lights!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Broken Blossoms (1919)

Like No Way Back, Broken Blossoms is based on a short story from Thomas Burke's Limehouse Nights collection and like the 1949 film it is rather bleak. It stars Richard Barthelmess as a Chinese man (suspend belief remember?) who travels to the West to spread the message of Buddha. Unfortunately he ends up in London's brutal East End where his idealistic message is a hard sell.

He comes across a poor unfortunate girl played by Lillian Gish who suffers terribly at the hands (literally) of her brutal drunk of a father (Donald Crisp). Richard nurses Lillian back to health when he finds her after a beating and a friendship blossoms. A sanctuary amid the misery, but her father soon drags her back to Hell. Lillian's portrayal of fear and anguish in the closet scene near the end of the film is extraordinary, truly she was the goddess of silent movies.

A film of it's time (the portrayal of Chinese people and China is perhaps a little fanciful) but in some ways not. Unusually for the time, when fears of the "yellow peril" were rife, a Chinese man was portrayed sympathetically in the film, as the hero. The scenes of child abuse shocked at the time and are still pretty difficult to watch now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Devil Plays (1931)

This film (also known as The Murdock Affair) is a pretty decent murder mystery. It has a very Golden Age type story with the initial crime taking place in a big house packed full of beautiful and wealthy people in posh frocks and dinner jackets, and an amateur detective (a crime writer to boot) helps out the police.

Jameson Forrest is that amateur and very suave he is too. The victim (Richard Tucker) though is a bit of a cad and various people have motive to kill him including Forrest's lover played by Florence Britton. It can't be the Quincys in the next room though as they were drugged. Or were they?

The film is well plotted and keeps you guessing though isn't without it's flaws. Some of the acting is strangely stilted and a couple of the characters (such as the police sergeant played by Lew Kelly) are a bit annoying. Well never mind that, as a 1930s whodunnit it is very well done indeed.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Gamma People (1956)

The Gamma People is a bizarre science-fiction film starring Leslie Phillips and Paul Douglas as a couple of journalists who are mysteriously diverted into a tiny Central European country. Here depraved experiments are being conducted (by Walter Rilla playing a suitably sinister mad scientist) on children with gamma rays to turn them into fanatical geniuses (or mindless monsters if the treatments fail as they often do).

Not everyone is keen on these experiments and the two journalists are dragged into the struggle. It is a really strange idea for a film and is played with quite a lot of camp. Playing for a laughs was a good idea as the film is just too silly to take seriously. It is still not a good film by any measure though, more gamma rays needed.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Stars On Parade (1936)

Stars On Parade collects a variety of music hall acts (comedians, singers, dancers et cetera) and what a nostalgia fest it is.

It doesn't all work, some of the comedy sketches are a little drawn out but the next act is usually up pretty quickly anyway. The best acts were the singer Navarre, the magician Horace Goldin, the detective dog Dr Watson, a high energy dance number by the Sherman Fisher Girls and a lovely accordion-backed song by Pat Hyde.

The acts hang on a vague storyline about an investigation into a poisoning but don't take much notice of that! It is very entertaining (at times), quite corny at others and sometimes simply odd (a horse painted white posed as a statue, whats that all about?) A world that's now long gone and that's a shame.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Milano Calibro 9 (1972)

A brutal tale of organised crime hoodlums in Milan, it's also a masterpiece in early 1970s interior design and style.

It stars Gastone Moschin as a hood released from prison who is suspected by his boss of stealing $300,000. Obviously such a situation is not good for someone's life expectancy or health.

This is a dark violent tale where everyone seems to be double crossing everyone else. Even the police are at each other's throats though the Commissioner played by Frank Wolff ends up vindicated in the end. The film keeps you guessing as to who has played the biggest double cross and is very well done indeed.

Glamour is provided by Barbara Bouchet but the real beauty is in the interior furnishings. This film could easily be filed under Interior Design Porn.