Blu-Ray Review: The Big Knife

The Big KnifeAA014One of those interesting “message” pictures of the 50’s, Robert Aldrich’s 1955 filmed version of Clifford Odets’ 1949 play The Big Knife works pretty well as a sort of riff on Sunset Boulevard, packing in mostly solid performances from a fine cast. Yes, there’s a certain “stagey” feeling to the film as well as a few scenery-chomping bits colliding like lumbering wrestlers in a busted ring. But it works well enough to leave an impression with a few memorable “noirish” scenes that make for a powerful viewing experience.

Jack Palance (trust me, just roll with it and it works) is Charles Castle, hot Hollywood hunk with a particularly pernicious problem. He’s set to sign a seven-year contract extension with studio head Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger in full tilt gloriously nasty mode), but his wife Marion (Ida Lupino) has had it with Charlie’s womanizing ways which obviously threaten their somewhat busted marriage and properly raising their young son. As the film begins, the harried couple is estranged and already living apart, but Charlie is constantly working “hard” on keeping the rubble of their happier days somewhat upright. Charlie also finds out Marion has an open marriage proposal from Horatio “Hank” Teagle (Wesley Addy), something that annoys him to no end because he’s something of a hypocrite.

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Random Film of the Weekend: The Racers

(thanks, Jon Clark!)

The Racers MP Henry Hathaway’s 1955 potboiler The Racers isn’t exactly the best Kirk Douglas vehicle out there, but the actor gives it his usual all in this zippy yet easily forgotten melodrama that features some excellent real life races in gorgeous European locations race fans will approve of highly. Unfortunately, mixed in with these lovely tracks are some of the worst laughably out of place front, rear, and side screen projected driving scenes outside of a slapstick comedy. In fact, these projection sequences are so obvious that they give the otherwise slickly made movie more of an odd comic tone today than they probably did back in theaters in 1955. Then again, I can’t imagine anyone being fooled back then either.

Granted, it’s more than obvious that the otherwise wise filmmakers didn’t want Douglas whipping around in uncontrollable circles in an open cockpit roadster or flying off a track because of a stray poodle to crash through some hay bales and a stone fence (the first hilarious wreck in the film). On the other hand, given the character he plays is a bit of a jerk as he steps on a few toes on his way to the top of the auto racing heap, I guess a little less fake looking fakery may have made this more memorable a time killer… Continue reading

Random Film of the Week: The Man With the Golden Arm

(thanks, OMP Drama!) 

The Man With The Golden ArmSure, drug addiction isn’t a laughing matter at all, but Otto Preminger’s 1955 classic The Man With the Golden Arm manages to be more hilarious each time I see it for a few reasons. Although it’s packing in a classic Elmer Bernstein score, a great Saul Bass title sequence, Preminger’s strong direction, some powerful performances from Frank (One Take) Sinatra, Kim Novak, and a bunch of very familiar faces, the simple fact is the film hasn’t aged well at all (but that’s a good thing).

What may have been seen as a deathly serious subject for a cautionary tale almost 60 years ago can now be enjoyed as a nearly non-stop riot of scenery chewing performance art with two of the funniest demises in a “serious” film. Granted, if you’re in a totally unfunny mood, the film still has its story and dramatic pacing to keep you hooked in. On the other hand, it’s hard not to get in a laugh at the film’s expense in a few spots…

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Random Film of the Week: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

(thanks, criterioncollection!) 

kiss me deadlyIf you’ve never seen this Robert Aldrich-produced and directed film noir masterpiece, drop what you’re doing (well, unless you’re operating heavy machinery or in the middle of something where dropping anything will cause a major or minor disaster) and go look this one up. You’re guaranteed to say something like “What the…” at least two or three (or a dozen) times while watching this one, trust me. Mike Hammer is supposed to be a hard as nails private eye, but in this flick, he spends about a quarter of the film either getting chased, beaten up, shot at and otherwise maimed by assorted people who want him out of the picture he’s supposed to be starring in.

Deviating quite dramatically from the Mickey Spillane novel, this one’s a blazing hot mix of a downward spiral into a particularly dark hell for private eye Mike Hammer (masterfully played by Ralph Meeker), who has so many brushes with death here that the film ends up having a nasty comic edge thanks to the level of violence on display. No one here escapes unscathed, as everyone either wants Hammer dead or disabled (or both) and the few people on his side tend to drop like flies or come pretty close to it. The film also offers up a big twist at the end that turns it into a sort of wild sci-fi flick, but I won’t spoil that surprise other than to say it’s a big reason the film is so insanely brilliant…

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Random Film of the Day* It Came From Beneath the Sea

*For the next week or so, I’m going to add a random film the great Ray Harryhausen worked on. The legendary special effects MASTER passed away on May 7, 2013 at age 92 in London and yes, the film world owes him more than they can ever repay…

it came from beneath the seaYou can probably consider the 1955 film It Came From Beneath the Sea as (and I quote) “The ONLY six-tentacled giant octopus movie you’ll ever need” and call it a night, but this would be a pretty damn shorter than usual column. Actually, this was another fun Charles H. Schneer/Ray Harryhausen co-production put together to show off Ray’s stop motion animation brilliance and yes indeed, it succeeds quite well on that front.

Of course, it’s also another yet low budget atomic radiation created mutation run amok deal, so expect a chunk of military stock footage, a few jabs at scientific accuracy gone awry and the usual pairing of lantern-jawed hero with sexy researcher who’s all business at the proper moments…
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Random Film of the Week: This Island Earth

(Thanks, TrailerFood!)

This Island EarthDepending on how far back your cinema memories go, 1955’s This Island Earth is either a really cheesy “B”- grade sci-fi flick chock full of laughs or a  genre classic that still has some compelling moments. Given that it took around 2 1/2 years to get from novel to screen (and it shows in some pretty solid production values and impressive for the era visual effects), the fact that a good chunk of younger movie fans may only know this from the on-target butchering it got in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie is a wee bit annoying.

Hey, like many of you, I like MST3K a great deal. But I can still recall a few friends who were also fans of this gem thinking the folks behind that decision to rip this classic a new one were a bit out of their heads. I grew up watching this on TV a few too many times as kid and along with the stellar Forbidden Planet and heady, deep The Day the Earth Stood Still and the thrilling “B” Earth vs The Flying Saucers, it’s on my (too) long list of ‘Desert Island Disc’ sci-fi picks.

Boom

No CG here, folks. Just good ol’ models, mattes, and dangerous chemical explosions.

 

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its share of intentionally and unintentionally funny moments, mind you. Clever viewers can mine this one for plenty of chuckles if they choose to go that route. That said, it’s best to look at it today as a product of dedicated over-exuberance of the filmmakers in delivering a space opera for the masses that was also a pretty darn good genre movie that holds up today when approached from the proper perspective. Continue reading

Random Film of the Week (Double Feature Edition): THEM! & Tarantula

(thanks, Tobar!) 

With Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable rolling out on the PlayStation Vita on Tuesday, I figured I’d write up a short column about two of the many “They don’t make ’em like they used to!” sci-fi films that most assuredly influenced Japanese developer Sandlot when they created their cult favorite game series that got its start as a pair of budget PlayStation 2 games (The Simple 2000 Vol. 31: The Chikyuu Boueigun and The Simple 2000 Vol. 81: The Chikyuu Boueigun 2) and a more visually polished Xbox 360 sequel which has been nicely expanded and enhanced for Sony’s portable system. Both flicks are “B” movie classics worth watching if you’ve never seen either previously, with the former film being surprisingly tense and well-acted considering the subject matter and the latter film using some pretty well done matte work to convincing effect in a few scenes.

Yeah, yeah, there’s no fancy CGI here and some implausible moments in both flicks can be eyeball-rolling if you start applying any rules of reality to what you’re viewing. Nevertheless, if you’re in the right mood, you’ll be hooked into both films from the memorable beginnings of each one and stick around to their bitter endings…

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Random Film of the Week: The Trouble With Harry

 

Even though the film did poorly when it was initially released in 1955, Alfred Hitchcock’s droll black comedy is still the best “What do we do with the body?” move I’ve ever seen. Forget junk like those Weekend at Bernie’s films (which are definitely stealing from this classic) – this one is the real deal and if you’re in the right mood, about as good as it gets. The tale of a bunch of offbeat residents in a tiny, quirky Vermont village who all think they’re responsible for the titular character is consistently amusing, well acted and never grim (considering its subject matter). The casting is prefect all around, but I’d say it’s Shirley MacLaine and a young Jerry Mathers who steal the show, playing a mother and son who are closest to poor Harry, but his demise doesn’t affect them like you think it would.

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