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Lost Squadron
Lost Squadron

2.0 out of 5 stars Great aerial photography in a melodramatic story, April 3, 2014
This review is from: Lost Squadron (VHS Tape)
“The Lost Squadron” is a 1932 black and while drama from RKO about 3 WW 1 aviators (Richard Dix, Joel McCrea, Robert Armstrong) who work in Hollywood as stunt pilots. It was the first film produced by David O Selznick.

Richard Dix (1893-1949) was RKO’s leading man during the 30s. He started in 1917 and had made 50 films prior to talkies. He plays the romantic lead.

Robert Armstrong (1890-1973) will always be best known for his role as hunter Carl Denham in this film and the original, as well as “Mighty Joe Young” (1949) even though he performed in 160 films including “Palooka” (1934), “G Men” (1935). “Man of Conquest” (1939) and “Blood on the Sun” (1945).

Joel McCrea (1905-90) had a long career starting in the silent film era, and appeared in more than 50 films, usually as a hero in westerns – “Wells Fargo” (1937), “Union Pacific” (1939), “The Virginian” (1946), and “Four Faces West” (1948). But McCrea wasn’t limited to western films, and he gave good performances in films such as “Foreign Correspondent” (1940) and “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), although I think his best job was in “Ride the High Country” (1952).

Mary Astor (1906-87) plays Armstrong’s sister. Astor is best remembered as Mrs. O’Shaughnessy from “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), although she won the Oscar for her role in “The Great Lie” which appeared the same year and is now mostly forgotten. Astor made more than 100 films from 1921 to 1964 (“Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte”) and was a major star in the silent era.

Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957) plays a Hollywood director. Von Stroheim was a famous German silent film director (“Greed”, “The Merry Widow”) but he got into too many arguments when the talkie era started, and he turned to acting. Von Stroheim is perhaps best remembered for his Oscar nominated role as the film director Max Von Mayerling in “Sunset Blvd” (1950).

The film is directed by George Archainbaud (1890-1959), known primarily for his TV westerns (Gene Autry, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill). This is probably his best known film.

The best feature of this film is the stunning air photography, shot by Edward Cronjager (1904-60) who received 7 Oscar nominations (“Cimaron”, “Heaven Can Wait”), but never won.

Films about airplanes were popular even in the silent era with “Wings” (1927). Films in which flying airplanes has featured prominently include “The Dawn Patrol” (1930), “Hell’s Angels” (1930), “Flying Tigers” (1942), “Wing and a Prayer” (1944), “Twelve O’Clock High” (1950), “The High and the Mighty” (1954), “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” (1965), “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1975), “Top Gun” (1986), “Always” (1989), “Air America” (1990), “Memphis Belle” (1990), and “Tuskegee Airmen” (1995).

1932 was a good year for films – Grand Hotel” was the Oscar and box office king, but Jean Harlow had 2 films in the top 10 (“Red Headed Woman” and “Red Dust”) as did Miriam Hopkins (“Trouble in Paradise” and “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) and Wallace Beery (“Champ” and “Grand Hotel”). Other notable films from that year were “I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang”, “Freaks”, “A Farewell to Arms”, “Scarface”, “Horse Feathers” and “Tarzan The Ape Man”.

The NY Times said the film has “a rich vein of originality and clever dialogue. It is an excellent melodrama, ably directed…” Variety said “The ‘behind the scenes’ of an aerial film production is the best appeal Squadron has” but lamented “the dramatics are a bit strained.”

Bottom line – Of value for the great aerial photography, but the story itself will seem dated and melodramatic.

Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid
DVD ~ John Mack Brown
Price: $15.49
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Forgettable, April 3, 2014
This review is from: Billy the Kid (DVD)
Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Jesse James are probably the three most well chronicled figures from the Old West.

This 1931 version stars Johnny Mack Brown as Billy and Wallace Beery as Pat Garrett. It starts with a signed letter from the Governor of New Mexico claiming that while the film took liberties with the truth, it was a good representation of the life and times.

Johnny Mack Brown (1904-74) was one of the Kings of the B Westerns and it all began with this film, the first of nearly 100 westerns he made between 1930 and 1965. His athletic abilities, amiable smile, good looks, and singing voice made him popular and a top money maker. Brown always played the same role regardless of the film, and he plays Billy just as he played enumerable others.

Among others, Billy was played by Roy Rogers (1938), Robert Traylor (1941), Bob Steele (1940), Buster Crabbe (1942), Jack Buetel (1943), Audie Murphy (1950), Scott Brady (1954), Paul Newman (1958), J. Micvhael Pollard (1972), Kris Kristofferson (1972), Emilio Estevez (1988), Val Kilmer (1989), and Donnie Wahlberg (1999).

Wallace Beery (1885-1949) was one of the biggest villains in the silent era. His work in 1930 (“Big House”, “Min and Bill”, “Billy the Kid”) followed by the best actor award in 1931 for “The Champ” elevated Beery to the A list where he remained and made such memorable films as “Treasure Island” (1934), “Viva Villa” (1934), and “China Seas” (1935). We see him here before his break out, wearing a silly 10-gallon hat.

Russell Simpson (1877-1959) used his lanky appearance and deep voice effectively in films with Errol Flynn (“Dodge City”, “Santa Fe Trail”), Henry Fonda (“My Darling Clementine”), and John Wayne (“The Horse Soldiers”). He was a favorite of John Ford, and he gave his most memorable performance in Ford’s “Grapes of Wrath” as Pa Joad. Here he plays McSween.

King Vidor directs. Vidor was nominated for an Oscar in 1928 (“The Crowd”), 1929 (“Hallelujah”), 1931 (“The Champ”), 1938 (“Citadel”) and 1956 (“War and Peace”). He never won. He is listed in the Guinness Book as having the longest career as a film director (67 years). There isn’t much to his direction, but the photography is impressive, and the use of the moving camera is well done considering the date.

Westerns would not see their best days until 1939 with “Stagecoach” and then achieve perfection in the 40s and 50s. Part of the reason for that was the quality of these films, which was generally poor and B quality. The other reason was economics – “The Big Trail” (starring John Wayne) also came out in 1930 and was a big box office failure, so major studios were reluctant to commit to westerns for a decade.

Crime was very much on everyone’s mind in 1930, as witnessed by Warner Brothers’ films with Robinson, Raft, and Cagney. The Roaring Twenties had come to an end and the Depression was only just being felt. Other popular crime films that year were Marlene Dietrich in “The Blue Angel”, Howard Hughes’ “Hell’s Angels”, Hitchcock’s “Murder”, and “Street of Chance”. The most popular movies of that year were “All Quiet on the Western Front”, “The Big House”, “Hell’s Angels”, “The Blue Angel”, and “Animal Crackers”.

If you're looking for good films about Billy the Kid, look at "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", the great 1973 film by Sam Peckinpah starring James Coburn and Kris Kristopherson. From a totally different perspective, but perhaps closer to the truth, you might look at "Dirty Little Billy", a 1972 film starring Michael J. Pollard. Personally I enjoyed the Clu Gulager (Billy) and Barry Sullivan (Garrett) performances in the TV Series "The Tall Men" (1960 to 1982).

Bottom line – a really bad western that shouldn’t be seen, apart from it historical value, and even that is questionable.

The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg [VHS]
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg [VHS]
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3.0 out of 5 stars Isn't It Wonderful to be the Prince?, February 27, 2014
“The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg” aka “Old Heidelberg” was based on the 1924 operetta by Dorothy Donnelly and Sigmund Romberg from the 1901 novel by Wilhelm Meyer-Forster.

Norman Shearer (1902-83) plays a popular barmaid who falls in love with the Prince. Prior to this film, Shearer enjoyed a reasonably undistinguished though profitable career in silent films when she got engaged to (and subsequently) married MGM wonder boy Irving Thalberg (1899 -1936) in 1927 and he put her in “The Student Prince” (1927) and then “The Divorcee” (1930) for which she won the Oscar. She went on to achieve 6 Oscar nominations for her work on films like “Marie Antoinette” (1938) and “Romeo and Juliette” (1936). I’m a big fan of Shearer but I think her performance is underwhelming here, and she shows very little of her sexiness, one reasons being her incredibly sexy voice is absent.

Ramon Navarro (1899-1968) was the “latin lover” successor to Rudolph Valentino and very popular through the mid 30s when MGM cancelled his contract partly as a result of an early “red scare”. Just before this film he achieved the apex of his fame with “Ben Hur” (1925). Navarro was a (secret) homosexual and this may account for the lack of chemistry between Navarro and Shearer. Navarro’s performance is very good in the dramatic and comedy scenes, but the love scenes leave a lot to be desired.

Jean Hersholt plays the Prince’s tutor. He appeared in more than 100 films between 1906 and 1955, including such memorable films as “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921), Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” (1924), Karloff’s “The Mask of Fu Manchu” (1932), and “The Country Doctor” (1936). He’s best remembered as Shirley Temple’s grandfather in “Heidi” (1937). In this film he does his usual good work.

The film was developed by comedy master Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) who gave us such memorable films as “Ninotchka” (1939), “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), and “To Be or Not to Be” (1942). Lubitsch liked to say “Nobody should try to play comedy unless they have a circus going on inside”, and this film is every bit a fun circus right up until the third act when it turns melodramatic. During the silent era Lubitsch alternated between historical dramas and comedies, and left Germany for the U.S. in 1922 to work with Mary Pickford. His best work came in the talkie era.

Production values are very good. Thalberg was madly in love with Shearer and spared no expense in highlighting her.

1927 was a pivotal year in film with the production of “The Jazz Singer”. Other major films from that year were “Wings”, “King of Kings”, Abel Gance’s Napoleon, “London After Midnight”, and “Metropolis”. Clara Bow appeared in “It” and Buster Keaton’s classic comedy “The General”. In that light, “The Student Prince” has lots of competition.

Variety said – “Ernst Lubitsch took his tongue out of his cheek when he directed this special… He had to, and in doing so he also took any kick right out of the picture, if any were there in the script for him. It’s not farce and it’s not drama. Just a pretty love story of peaches and cream. The claim is that it took a year to make this feature, yet this doesn’t show. Productionally there are some rich interiors counterbalanced by a sprinkling of back drops on exteriors. But nothing can stand off Ramon Novarro’s facial makeup. This is ghastly under certain lighting conditions and at no time allows him to completely spin the illusion of the character he is playing. Shearer’s personal efforts are a highlight and Jean Hersholt stands a good chance of outlasting both in the memory.”

The NY Times said “the satirical shafts, the careful attention to telling details, the half-second notes and the keeping within certain bounds inform the spectator, even though the name of Lubitsch were not emblazoned on the screen, that it is the master from Berlin who has directed this splendid shadow story….Mr. Novarro is natural and earnest, but he is a little too Latin in appearance for the rôle. Norma Shearer is attractive as Kathi. She, however, does not seem to put her soul into the part. She, too, acts well, but, like Mr. Novarro, she does not respond, as other players have done, to Mr. Lubitsch's direction.”

Bottom line – neither a great romance nor a great drama, with little chemistry between the principals.

Oil For The Lamps Of China
Oil For The Lamps Of China
DVD ~ Pat O'Brien
Price: $17.96
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2.0 out of 5 stars A Subtle Farce?, November 17, 2013
This review is from: Oil For The Lamps Of China (DVD)
"Oil for the Lamps of China" is a 1935 black and white melodrama, based on the 1933 best-selling novel by Alice Tisdale Hobart which details conditions in the oil industry in China just before the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty in 1912. Hobart was the wife of an oil executive during this time period, so the novel was semi-autobiographical. Her book was critical of the oil industry, but the film tries to deflect this sentiment, although it does so unsuccessfully.

Pat O'Brien (1899-1983) stars as an oil executive. O'Brien was everyone's favorite Irishman. He was a very good friend of Jimmy Cagney and they appeared in 9 films together, "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938) being their best pairing. O'Brien and Cagney were among the original "Irish Mafia" that included fellow co-star Frank McHugh, Allan Jennings, Spencer Tracey, Ralph Bellamy and others. O'Brien is best remembered for his role as the coach in "Knute Rockne" (1942) where he asked the team to "win one for the Gipper" (referring to Ronald Reagan).

Josephine Hutchinson (1903-98) plays his wife. This was her second film. She's best remembered as Elsa von Frankenstein from "Son of Frankenstein" (1939) and as Paul Muni's wife in "The Story of Louis Pasteur" (1936).

Donald Crisp (1882-1974) plays O'Brien's boss. Crisp appeared in more than 150 films from 1908 through 1963. He won Best Supporting Actor for "How Green was My Valley" (1941) and gave memorable performances in films such as "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935), "Jezebel" (1938), and "National Velvet" (1944). He often worked with Errol Flynn in films such as "Dawn Patrol" (1938), "Elizabeth and Essex" (1939), "The Sea Hawk" (1940), and "The Long Gray Line" (1955).

Keye Luke (1904-1991) plays a Communist officer. We know Luke best from the TV series "Kung Fu" (1972-5) in which he played Master Po (the blind Priest). Luke did more than 100 films and as many TV shows. He was Charlie Chan's #1 son in Warner Oland's film series in the 30s.

Mervyn LeRoy (1900-87) directs. He started out directing with "Little Caesar" (1931) and went on to achieve an Oscar nomination for "Random Harvest" (1942) and DGA nominations for "Quo Vadis" (1951), "Mister Roberts" (1955) and "A Majority of One" (1961) and a Golden Globe nomination for "Gypsy" (1962). Among the nearly 80 films he directed were "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" (1932), "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (1944).

Coming in the mid 30s with the scare of Communism, the film tries to save the corporate image by portraying most of the ills suffered by O'Brien as foibles of middle management, but it waits until the end to attempt this, and as such, it is too little too late. Meanwhile O'Brien endures too many self-imposed personal tragedies in the name of "the company" and the film becomes more of a farce than a melodrama.

The NY Times called it a "confused effort" and chastised the film makers for not being "altogether pious in their treatment of the novel." But they praised the acting of O'Brien and Hutchinson as well as LeRoy's direction, and called it "a memorable drama." Their conclusion - "The tragedy of the film is that such splendid acting and technical skill could not have been devoted to making an honest screen version of Mrs. Hobart's novel."

1935 was a good year for films."Mutiny on the Bounty" and "The Informer" were box office and Oscar winners. Other top 10 grossing films included Gable and Harlow in "China Seas", Flynn and de Havilland in "Captain Blood", Shirley Temple in "The Littlest Rebel" and "Curly Top", and Greta Garbo in "Anna Karenina". Other notable films released that year included "Alice Adams" with Hepburn, "The 39 Steps", "The Bride of Frankenstein", "David Copperfield", "A Tale of Two Cities", "Les Miserables", "Top Hat", and "A Night at the Opera". In Germany, Leni Riefenstahl released "Triumph of the Will".

Bottom line - not a particularly good film from any perspective.

Vampyr (The Criterion Collection)
Vampyr (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ N. Babanini
Offered by newbury_comics
Price: $25.72
46 used & new from $13.94

0 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Like the Count, October 15, 2013
"Vampyr" is a 1932 black and white French-German horror film about vampires. It was the first sound film for Danish director Carl Dreyer (1889-1968), following his success with "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928). The film stars no one you ever heard of or saw again, but is notable for the photography from Rudolph Mate (1898-1964) who went on to 5 successive Oscar nominations between 1941 ("Foreign Correspondent") and 1945 ("Cover Girl"). Mate was a favorite of Dreyer and also worked with Alexander Korda and Karl Freund. He later turned to directing and made several memorable films including "The 300 Spartans" (1962), "When Worlds Collide" (1951), and "D.O.A." (1950).

It's impossible not to compare "Vampyr" with "Dracula" (1931) both of which are early sound productions about vampires. Dracula was one of the preeminent horror films of all time, and helped cement the position of Universal Studios along with "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Mummy" (1932), and "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1932). But "Vampyr" pales in comparison to any of these films, and is more kindly compared to softer horror films like "The Black Cat" (1934) and "Cat People" (1942) which are more atmospheric rather than pure horror.

There is an audience for "Vampyr" as is evident from the many positive reviews on this site. It's not the normal horror film audience and it's not for silent film fans either. Fans of German expressionism may find something to like here.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2014 12:44 PM PDT

Les Maudits
Les Maudits
DVD ~ Marcel Dalio
6 used & new from $36.07

3.0 out of 5 stars Dated, but worth a view, October 10, 2013
This review is from: Les Maudits (DVD)
"Les Maudit" ("The Damned") is a 1947 black and white French drama about a group of Nazis and Nazi collaborators who escape from Germany shortly before the end of the War aboard a Nazi submarine headed for South America. The film is one of the first films directed by Rene Clement (1913-96) who went on to win two Oscars for Best Foreign Films ("The Walls of Malapaga" in 1950, "Forbidden Games" in 1952), but who is probably best known for his box office disaster "Is Paris Burning" (1966).

The film stars Marcel Dalio (referred to only as Dalio in the opening credits) and Henri Vidal, but Vidal is the main protagonist and Dalio appears late in the film and is in only a few scenes.

Marcel Dalio (1899-1983) is best known from his roles with Humphrey Bogart, as the croupier in "Casablanca" (1942) and the hotel owner from "To Have and Have Not" (1944). He plays a German collaborator living in South America.

Henry Vidal (1919-59) was a popular film star in the 40s and 50s, but never achieved any real distinction. He plays a French physician who is kidnapped by the Nazis in order to treat a wounded passenger on board the submarine.

The NY Times called it "a melodrama with pronounced psychological overtones" and "a taut, wholly believable and absorbing adventure" and praised the "excellent cast". That was probably true in post war 1947, but for today's audience it is probably a little too chatty and certainly too predictable. If it's submarine films you're looking for, IMO the best submarine films are "Run Silent, Run Deep" (1958), "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), "Das Boot" (1981), "The Enemy Below" (1957), "K-19" (2002), "Crimson Tide" (1995), and "Gray Lady Down" (1978).

Madame X [VHS]
Madame X [VHS]
Offered by VHS movies for your VCR
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great performance in classic tear jerker, July 30, 2013
This review is from: Madame X [VHS] (VHS Tape)
"Madame X" is a 1937 melodrama from Sam Wood based on a 1908 French play. It was filmed as early as 1916 and 1929, and would be done again in 1954, 1966, and 1981. The most famous version is the 1966 one with Lana Turner, but this one is far superior.

Gladys George (1904-54) plays Madame X. She was nominated for an Oscar for "Valiant is the Word for Carrie" (1936) but is probably better known as Jimmy Cagney's moll from "The Roaring Twenties" (1939) or Humphrey Bogart's dead partner's wife from "The Maltese Falcon" (1941). She is billed above the title on this one, and deservedly so. This is an excellent performance and it is uncanny how she ages 20 years not only in appearance, but in manner, voice, etc.

Warren William (1894-1948) plays George's husband, a wealthy lawyer who is too proud to forgive Madame X her trespass, setting in motion the sad story. William is probably best known for his role as d"Artagnan in "The Man in the Iron Mask" (1939) and as the first Perry Mason in a series of mid 30s films.

John Beal (1909-97) plays George's son. Beal made nearly 100 films between 1933 and 1993, usually as a second male lead and mostly in B films. He's probably best known for his role as Judge Vail in TV's "Dark Shadow" (1970-71). He is effective in this role, meant for Tyrone Power.

Henry Daniell (1894-1963) plays a sleazy blackmailer. He made nearly 100 films between 1929 and 1964, often as a villain. He played Prof. Moriarty, Joseph Goebbels, and countless evil Englishmen.

Reginald Owen (1887-1972) plays a friend of the family. He's best known as Ebenezer Scrooge from "A Christmas Carol" (1938) and made nearly 100 films including "Mary Poppins" (1964) and "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971). He has the distinction of having played Sherlock Holmes ("A Study in Scarlet") as well as Dr. Watson ("Sherlock Holmes).

Sam Wood directs. Wood began his career as an assistant to Cecil B DeMille and started directing films in 1920. He hit his stride in the mid 30s with "A Night at the Opera" (1935), "A Day at the Races" (1937), and "Goodbye Mr. Chips" (1939) for which he received his first of 3 Oscar nominations. Among the 80 films he directed "Kings Row" (1942), "Pride of the Yankees" (1942) and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943) stand out.

1937 was a pretty meager year in films. The top grossing films were "Snow White", "Saratoga", "One Hundred Men and a Girl", "Topper", and "Wee Willie Winkie". The Oscars went to "The Life of Emile Zola" (Picture), "The Awful Truth" (Director), "The Good Earth" (Actress) and "Captains Courageous" (Actor). Other notable releases that year were "Dead End", "The Prince and the Pauper", the Marx Brothers "A Day at the Races", and "A Star is Born". Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made their first film together ("Thoroughbreds Don't Cry") and 17 year old Lana Turner appeared in "They Won't Forget" and became "the Sweater girl". Clark Gable and Myrna Loy were voted the King and Queen of Hollywood.

Bottom line - a memorable tear jerker with great performances all around.

Seven Miles From Alcatraz / Flight From Glory [VHS]
Seven Miles From Alcatraz / Flight From Glory [VHS]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Early propaganda film, July 5, 2013
"Seven Miles from Alcatraz" isn't really a prison escape film, but rather a 1942 RKO film about Nazi spies that was part of the Hollywood propaganda surrounding WW 2.

Square jawed James Craig (1912-85) plays a convict who escapes from Alcatraz only to find himself on an island with Nazi spies. He appeared in more than 50 films and was most popular in the 40s when he appeared in "Kitty Foyle" (1940), "The Human Comedy" (1943), and "Kismet" (1944). Craig's style of acting may appeal to some, but I found it annoying.

Bonita Granville (1923-88) plays Craig's love interest. She was nominated for an Oscar for "These Three" (1936) but is best remembered as Nancy Drew in the film series (1938-9) and as the producer of the Lassie TV show (1959-73).

George Cleveland (1885-1057) plays Granville's "pop" and later appeared as "gramps" in her "Lassie" series. He also did a lot of the John Wayne B films in the 30s.

John Banner (1910-73) plays a Nazi - what else? Banner is best remembered as Sgt. Schultz from TV's "Hogan Heroes" (1965-71). Ironically, Banner was Jewish, but having been born in Germany, he played a Nazi for most of his film career. BTW - Banner is slim and handsome, almost impossible to recognize.

Edward Dmytryk (1908-1999) was part of the Hollywood 10, a group of blacklisted film makers imprisoned during the McCarthy era. Dmytryk was nominated for an Oscar for "Crossfire" (1947) and won at Cannes. He was twice nominated for a DGA award - "the Young Lions" (1958) and "The Caine Mutiny" (1954).

My favorite prison break films are - "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), "Each Dawn I Die" (1939), "Papillion" (1973), "Midnight Express" (1978),"The Shawshank Redemption" (1994), "The Escapist" (2008), "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" (1932), "Escape from New York" (1981), "Stalag 17" (1953), "The Great Escape" (1963), and "Life" (1999). Of course, this isn't really a prison escape film.

In terms of early anti-Nazi propaganda films about the danger of Nazi spies, some of my favorites are "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" (1939), "The Spy in Black" (1939), "Enemy Agent" (1940), "Foreign Correspondent" (1940), "Across the Pacific" (1942), "Dawn Express" (1942), "Northern Pursuit" (1943), and "The Fallen Sparrow" (1943). Disney produced several notable animated films - "Der Fuehrer's Face" (1942), "Education for Death" (1943), and "Commando Duck" (1944).

Bottom line - a pretty silly propaganda piece.

The Scarlet Coat
The Scarlet Coat
DVD ~ Cornel Wilde
Price: $16.98
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary film about American Revolution, July 5, 2013
This review is from: The Scarlet Coat (DVD)
"The Scarlett Coat" is a 1955 color historical drama about events surrounding the treason of Benedict Arnold.

Cornel Wilde (1912-89) plays a double agent who is working to uncover the identity of the traitor within the American ranks. Wilde appeared in more than 50 films and was nominated for his work in "A Song to Remember" (1945). He's probably best known for his work as the Great Sebastian in "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952) but I think his best work was in "The Naked Prey" (1966), a film he also directed and produced. His acting in this film is pretty wooden.

Michael Wilding (1912-79) plays Major John Andre, and though Wilding is second billed, the story really focuses on him. Wilding is probably better known for having married Elizabeth Taylor, rather than the 50+ films he appeared in.

Suave George Sanders (1906-72) appeared in hundreds of films, often as a villain. He's best remembered as film critic Addison DeWitt in "All About Eve" (1950) for which he won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. Here he plays a Tory who suspects Wilde of being a double agent.

John McIntire (1907-91) plays General Howe. McIntire had the unique distinction of filling in for an actor who died in the middle of a series (Ward Bond in "Wagon Train"). In a career from 1947 to 1989 he made nearly 100 films and appeared in many TV shows and movies. Although he usually appeared in westerns, I remember him best for his TV series "Naked City" (1958). He was usually a good guy, but could also play the bad guy (e.g., "Winchester 73", "The Far Country").

Beautiful Anne Francis (1930-2011) was the award winning star of "Honey West" on TV (1965-6). She graced us with her beauty in films like "Blackboard Jungle" (1955), "Forbidden Planet" (1956), and "Funny Girl" (1968). She plays Wilde's love interest.

John Sturges (1910-1992) was nominated for an Oscar and a Palme d'Or for "Bad Day at Black Rock" (1955) and for a DGA for "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1957), but my favorite Sturges films are "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) and "The Great escape" (1963). This film has none of the action we associate with Sturges.

In 1955 "Lady and the Tramp", "Mister Roberts", Guys and Dolls", "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Picnic" were the top 5. The Oscars went to "Marty" (Picture, Director, Actor), "Mister Roberts" (Supporting Actor), "East of Eden" (Supporting Actress), and "The Rose Tatoo" (Actress). Other notable films released that year were "The 7 Year Itch", "Blackboard Jungle", "Lady and the Tramp", "Oklahoma", "To Catch a Thief" and "The Virgin Queen".

My favorite American Revolution film is John Ford's "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939). "The Crossing" (2000) is a distant second. Most of the rest, like "The Devil's Disciple" (1959), "The Howards of Virginia" (1940), and "John Paul Jones" (1959) are OK."The Patriot" (2000) and "Revolution" (1985) are just plain silly. The TV mini-series "The Adams Chronicles" (1976). "The Revolution" (2006), and "John Adams" (2008) are probably the best sources about the period.

Bottom line - this is a pretty ordinary film.

Black Hand
Black Hand
DVD ~ Gene Kelly
Price: $15.49
24 used & new from $12.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One of the first films about the Mafia, July 1, 2013
This review is from: Black Hand (DVD)
"The Black Hand" is a black and white 1950 crime drama that takes place at the turn of the 20th Century. It's one of the first films to take on "the Mafia" and is based on the true story of Joseph Petrosino (who was portrayed by Ernest Borgnine in 1960s "Pay or Die").

Gene Kelly (1912-96) plays a young man looking for vengeance against members of the Black Hand who killed his father. Kelly is best remembered as one of the best dancers of the 20th century in films like "Anchors Aweigh" (1945), "An American in Paris" (1951), and "Singing in the Rain" (1952). This was one of his rare turns in a non-musical, and he is very convincing as an Italian-American, even though he was Irish.

Versatile J. Carrol Naish plays a detective, and an ally for Kelly. Naish was twice nominated for an Oscar ("Sahara" in 1941, "A Medal for Benny" in 1946). He was extremely versatile and could play an Indian ("The Whirlwind"), a Russian (""British Agent"), an Arab ("The Crusades"), an Asian ("The Hatchet Man") and a Latino ("The Kid from Spain").

Marc Lawrence (1910-2005) plays the gang boss who had Kelly's father killed. Pock faced Lawrence was best known for his gangster roles in films like "This Gun for Hire" (1942), "Dillinger" (1945), and "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950). He was victimized during the McCarthy era and his film roles shrunk.

Look for 16-year old Robert Blake ("Baretta") in an uncredited role as a bus boy.

Director Richard Thorpe (1896-1991) was nominated twice for a DGA ("Ivanhoe", "The Great Caruso") and also at Cannes for "Knights of the Round Table" (1953). He was famous at MGM for bringing in films under time and under budget. He made 150+ films between 1923 and 1967 and he was particularly skilled in comedies.

Paul Vogel (1899-1975) is the cinematographer. Vogel won the Oscar for "Battleground" (1949) and was nominated again in 1962 for "The Brothers Grimm". Among his memorable films were "The Student Prince" (1954), "The Tender Trap" (1955), and "The Time Machine" (1960). For this film Vogel chooses dark atmospheric shots.

1950 was a good year for films with Oscars for "All About Eve" (Picture, Director, Supporting Actor), "Cyrano" (Actor) and "Born yesterday" (Actress). The top grossers included "Cinderella", "King Solomon's Mines", "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Sunset Boulevard". Other notable films released in 1950 were - "The Asphalt Jungle", "Cheaper by the Dozen", "The Glass Menagerie", "Rashomon", "The Third Man", and "Twelve O'Clock High".

For a 1950 film the re-creation of the 1900 New York environment is pretty good.

Bottom line - notable as one of the first films to talk about the mafia, and for "film noir"ish look, but otherwise ordinary.

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