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Gary F. Taylor "GFT" RSS Feed (Biloxi, MS USA)

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I Bury the Living
I Bury the Living
DVD ~ Richard Boone
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $6.98
33 used & new from $1.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Sold 1950s B Thriller, May 24, 2015
This review is from: I Bury the Living (DVD)
Richard Boone (1917-1981) was an extremely popular television star during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly known for the role of Paladin in the series HAVE GUN—WILL TRAVEL. Although most of his work would be in television, he did make a number of movies, and in 1958 those movies included I BURY THE LIVING, a black and white thriller directed by Albert Band and written by Louis Garfinkle, the latter of whom would have a hand in such notable films as THE DEAR HUNTER.

Inexpensively filmed with notable character actors Theodore Bikel and Herbert Anderson, the film concerns businessman Robert Kraft (Boone) who is forced to serve a term as chairman of a local cemetery. In theory, it is a job that will require an afternoon once a week or so, and the facilities include a map of the cemetery in which white pins represent burial plots not in use and black pins represent burial plots in which the owners have been interred. On his first day at the cemetery, Kraft sells two plots to newlyweds—and accidentally puts black pins on the map to mark the plots they have buried.

Kraft is shocked when the newlyweds are killed in a car wreck. He is also perturbed. Is it possible that he somehow caused their deaths by accidentally using black pins instead of white? He conducts an experiment and death is the result. Although the other members of the cemetery committee, his friend, and his fiancée try to convince him that is all coincidence, unexplained deaths begin to pile high every time Kraft uses the map, and he begins to fear he is losing his mind.

I BURY THE LIVING was released as a B movie, the sort of thing that could be shown at the local drive-in, but it is a cut above most such films. Although the script doesn’t always add up, the story is interesting, the cinematography is elegant, and the film is especially memorable for the strange map, which seems to take on a life of its own as the movie progresses. This isn’t an absolute “must see” in the same sense as such 1950s horror flicks as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, but it’s fun, and fans of the genre will enjoy it.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Gung Ho
Gung Ho
Offered by cdgiveaways
Price: $11.99
74 used & new from $0.32

3.0 out of 5 stars Gung Ho is Ho Hum, May 24, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Gung Ho (Audio CD)
At her best, Patti Smith’s recordings possess an emotional ferocity, visceral intensity, and intellectual insightfulness that combine to make her one of the most unique recording artists of our era. But now and then she lacks focus. RADIO ETHIOPIA has some spectacular selections, but it is half extraordinary, half self-indulgent. WAVE has some of Smith’s most beautiful recordings, but it is an extremely uneven collection. And then there is GUNG HO, which doesn’t sound like Patti Smith at all. No, it sounds like George Harrison’s sitar was high-jacked by Missing Persons and then sideswiped by The Red Hot Chili Peppers for a series of songs that Debbie Harry turned down for the 1981 KOOKOO.

The first couple of songs, “One Voice” and “Lo and Beholden,” are unfortunately hilarious, a mixture of Indian and Middle Eastern melodies turned to pop with incredibly ridiculously lyrics. Sorry, Patti, but I just can’t imagine you performing the dance of the seven veils without a giggle. There follows a series of unmemorable songs with pretentious lyrics and then we have “Glitter in Their Eyes,” which received an Emmy nomination for 2001’s Best Female Rock Vocal. In truth, Smith’s voice is powerful here, but the song itself is semi-rap nonsense with a bouncy beat and nothing much to remember.

Smith is particularly well known for extremely long tracks that mix poetry, politics, and her artistic intensity, and GUNG HO offers two: “Strange Messengers,” which runs over eight minutes, and the title “Gung Ho,” which runs just short of twelve minutes. The first starts out well with its images of the evils of slavery, but it soon falls apart with Smith sitting in judgment on the descendants of those slaves in a series of lyrics that can only be called silly. As for “Gung Ho,” it’s hard to know what the song is about until Smith very specifically mentions Vietnam.

There is one song in the collection that is a surprising knock-out: “Libbie’s Song,” one of Smith’s fairly rare takes on the Appalachian folk music sound. Written as the lament of Gen. Custer’s widow Elizabeth, Smith not only nails the style, she renders it beautifully. But one song isn’t enough to make an entire collection worth the effort, and while the musicianship is obvious, the power simply isn’t there. This is a CD that only hardcore Smith fans will want to add to their collection—and even then I doubt they’ll play it often.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

The Hand
The Hand
DVD ~ Derek Bond
Price: $5.98
30 used & new from $0.75

3.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, Uneven, But Worth Watching, April 26, 2015
This review is from: The Hand (DVD)
Confusing, Uneven, But Surprisingly Watchable

Released in 1960, THE HAND is the strange tale of three comrades who are captured and tortured during World War II. Fifteen years later a down-on-his luck London man is found dead with one of his hands amputated—and the doctor who performed the surgery has committed suicide. Inspector Munyard (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) sets out to unravel the mystery only to find the story increasingly confusing as it goes along.

He is not alone: the audience will find it confusing too. Even so, THE HAND is unexpectedly watchable, partly due to its short run time of about an hour, partly due to a fast pace, a noir-ish quality, and better than average acting. Directed by Henry Cass, the film also features Derek Bond, Reed De Rouen, Reginald Hearne, and Madeleine Burgess. THE HAND isn’t really a film worth hunting out, but if it comes your way by accident, it is worth watching.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune
Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune
by Terrence McNally
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.10
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4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining But Slight, April 18, 2015
Terrance McNally’s FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE opened in 1987 and ultimately ran about two years off-Broadway. It was revived in 2003 and ultimately ran a little less than a year on Broadway. Both productions were extremely well received; a 1991 film adaptation received mixed reviews.

The play requires a single but detailed set showing the interior of Frankie’s apartment: a sleeper sofa bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen area. The play requires two characters, a woman (Frankie) and a man (Johnny), both in their forties. The play, which is performed in two acts, is written to include extensive nudity, but productions often tone this down significantly.

The play begins in the aftermath of a date that turned into a sexual encounter. Frankie is a rather hard-bitten and pragmatic woman who works as a waitress; Johnny is a new-hire cook in her restaurant. He is enthusiastic about their tryst and sees it as the beginning of a romantic relationship. She finds his enthusiasm pushy and attempts to back way. As the play progresses, we learn they are both older than they pretend to be, that Frankie is still recovering from an abusive relationship, and that Johnny has done time in prison. The play ends on a generally positive note, the thought that their meeting will grow into a relationship—but it offers no guarantees on that point.

Two-character plays performed in “real time” suffer from a certain unreality, and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY is not immune: after a certain point you become increasingly aware that real people don’t have these sorts of conversations in a single two-hour period, and the second act feels somewhat less impressive than the first. For myself, I also felt the characters weren’t greatly likeable. Pitiable, yes, real in a certain sense, yes, well executed, absolutely—but they aren’t people I’d want to spend time with on the weekend.

Overall recommended, but I wouldn’t say that FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE is among the truly great two character plays.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

James And The Giant Peach
James And The Giant Peach
DVD ~ Susan Sarandon
Price: $7.50
53 used & new from $4.24

2.0 out of 5 stars Memorable Children's Novel Becomes Ho-Hum Film, April 11, 2015
This review is from: James And The Giant Peach (DVD)
The 1961 JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH was among Roland Dahl’s better known children’s novels, but he did not believe it would make a good film and he repeated refused to sell the film rights. After his death in 1990, his wife did exactly that and thereby proved that Dahl was right all along: while it wasn’t a bad movie per se, neither was it a particularly good one.

The story, like most of Dahl’s works for children, is both extravagant and unexpectedly dark. James (Paul Terry) is happy child with loving parents, and the family is on the verge of going to New York when his parents are somewhat inexplicably killed by a rhinoceros. James is sent to live with his evil aunts Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) and Spiker (Joanna Lumley), who are brutally abusive. One day, however, James meets a magic man (Pete Postlethwaite), who gives him a bag of magic ingredients—but James accidentally spills the contents at the foot of a barren peach tree. The tree immediately puts forth a giant peach, James discovers several insects living it, and they use the peach to escape from his aunts.

The movie differs from the book in numerous ways, mostly in terms of darkness; the filmmakers seem to be afraid of Dahl’s ideas and consequently soften them quite a bit. Even so, they can’t transform the story into sweetness and light, and many of the harsh elements remain. But the real problem here is that the film is half live action, half stop-motion. Neither are particularly well executed, they do not blend well, the script is non-descript, and the Randy Newman songs are immediately forgettable.

I love stop motion animation, but this particular movie is for children who aren’t old enough to know the difference between good, bad, and indifferent movies. The DVD has a few extras, but like the film they aren’t worth writing home about. At best, so-so.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

The Spiral Staircase
The Spiral Staircase
DVD ~ Dorothy McGuire
Offered by Paradise Falls DVD
Price: $49.99
26 used & new from $26.89

4.0 out of 5 stars It Was A Dark And Stormy Night ..., April 4, 2015
This review is from: The Spiral Staircase (DVD)
Set in the early 20th Century, the 1946 film THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE tells the story of a mute woman who is stalked by a serial killer who preys upon women with disabilities. Vaguely based on the 1933 novel SOME MUST WATCH by Ethel Lina White and smoothly directed by Robert Siodmak, the film has a memorable cast, tremendous style, and considerable gloss.

Helen (Dorothy McGuire) is employed by the wealthy but infirm Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore), who fears for Helen’s safety. Fortunately, Helen is surrounded Mrs. Warren’s son and step-son (Gordon Oliver and George Brent), a strong-minded nurse (Sara Allgood), and a cheerfully tippling housekeeper (Elsa Lanchester)—not to mention handsome young Dr. Parry (Kent Smith), who has come to love Helen and plans to take her to Boston for treatment that may cure her. Helen seems safe enough, but as night closes in and a violent storm breaks over the house, we discover she is not as safe as she believes.

In 1946 the movie was considered a shocker and it made a considerable profit for producer Dore Schary and distributor RKO Pictures. Today it is rather mild and it will be easy for most viewers to guess the identity of the killer long before it is made known. The film is nonetheless extremely watchable, partly due to the performers, partly due to Siodmak’s direction, and most specifically due to the flowing cinematograph by Nicholas Musuraca, whose camera glides through the mansion in a suitably mysterious and suspenseful way.

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE’s take on “the old dark house” motif is enjoyable, and most fans of 1940s cinema will enjoy it for at least one viewing. Unfortunately, the DVD has nothing in the way of extras on the film itself, and the DVD seems to be out of print and therefore extremely expensive. This may be an instance where you’ll want to rent before you purchase.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Kiss Me Deadly (The Criterion Collection)
Kiss Me Deadly (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Ralph Meeker
Offered by westcoastmedia
Price: $18.85
15 used & new from $18.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They’re the nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit, January 23, 2015
KISS ME DEADLY is a low budget film noir released by United Artists in 1955. Vaguely based on a Mickey Spillane novel and directed by Robert Aldrich, who is perhaps most famous for WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, it offers the story of low-rent but hard-hitting private detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), who picks up a terrified young woman (Cloris Leachman, her film debut) on the side of the road. They are kidnapped, the woman is tortured to death, and they are sent over hillside in Hammer’s car—but Hammer survives and determines to unravel the mystery, partly because he’s tired of working “penny ante cases” and partly because he seems to feel some responsibility toward the dead woman.

The first fifteen minutes of the film are gripping—but it thereafter runs into a series of character sketches as Hammer tries to trace the background of the young woman, who she was and what she had that would make someone kill her so brutally. The performers (including Maxine Cooper, Gaby Rodgers, Albert Decker, and Paul Stewart among others) give first rate turns, but the script merely leads from one character to another without going anywhere in particular … until about last fifteen minutes of the film, when KISS ME DEADLY suddenly gathers itself into one of the most bizarre plot turns imaginable. For some years only a cut version of the film’s original ending was available, and quite a savage ending it was. Now the original ending is available, and while it softens the ending a bit, it doesn’t soften it by much.

Although the center portion of the film is uneven, it is well performed, and the whole thing moves with such speed that, while you might be confused about who is who and why they are there, you never really question it—at least not much. It is also interesting to note that KISS ME DEADLY was heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s concept of “the MacGuffin,” and that the MacGuffin in the film influenced everything from RADERS OF THE LOST ARC to MULHOLLAND DR to REPO MAN to PULP FICTION.

At the time, KISS ME DEADLY ran into all sorts of censorship problems, what with its mixture of cold blooded violence and women of easy virtue, not to mention a profanity that, mild by today’s standards, is surprising to hear in a 1955 movie. But ultimately, KISS ME DEADLY isn’t in the top tier of film noir. It’s too uneven and too loosely structured to compete with the likes of, say, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. But it’s an interesting watch, and fans of the genre—especially the gritty style of noir—will enjoy it. Criterion Collection does a nice job of the film with a good restoration and several bonuses, most notably a audio track. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Golden Classics
Golden Classics
Price: $10.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars White Bread Delux, January 21, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Golden Classics (Audio CD)
Born in 1940, Anita Byrant began singing as a child, and she launched her career by winning the title of Miss Oklahoma in 1958. Although she would record well into the 1970s, her most successful single came early in her career with “Paper Roses,” which went to number five in the Top Forty in 1960. Bryant built her career on being a patriotic and Christian American, and in 1969 she found her true niche when she became a product spokeswoman for The Florida Citrus Commission. An entire generation grew up hearing Bryant singing “Come To The Florida Sunshine Tree” and declaring that “a day without orange juice is a day without sunshine!”

Bryant’s success arose in part because many white Americans felt frazzled by rock and roll of the 1950s and 1960s and turned to what can only be described as “white bread” girl singers. Some of these singers were quite gifted—Teresa Brewer, Leslie Gore, and Patti Page to name but three—but many were less gifted than safe. At times, Bryant’s voice recalls Patsy Cline, particularly with “Paper Roses;” at times she seems to echo Peggy Lee (“The Wedding.”) With a few exceptions, her material is somewhat weak, often sounding rather like a throw-away Doris Day might have recorded as a theme song for one of her popular 1960s comedies (“Not a Child Any More” is a good example.) Whatever the case, it’s obvious that Bryant never really found her own sound.

It is a pity she didn’t, for if she had, she might have been satisfied in her career and not drifted into the role of political agitator. Bryant’s image was that of a very patriotic, very Christian woman, and as early as 1969 she had denounced the vulgarity of popular music acts. In 1977 she embarked on an campaign to overturn a Dade County, Florida law that made it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals—and while she and her supporters were ultimately successful in overturning the law, she destroyed her career in the process. Rightly or wrongly, she has since become a byword for rabid homophobia, and a later divorce undermined her status as a fundamentalist Christian. Her attempts to recover her career resulted in bankruptcy.

The best of this particular collection is, I think, “Til There Was You,” a much-recorded song from the Broadway musical THE MUSIC MAN—Bryant does it with considerable charm. “Paper Roses,” “My Little Corner of the World,” and “Pretty Lies” are also very nice examples of both Bryant’s voice and the “girl singer” style of the time. But Bryant also tosses off a few horrors, most particularly the unspeakably vile pseudo-country novelty song “A-sleepin’ At The Foot of the Bed,” which not even Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton could have carried off. The rest—they are okay, they just aren’t memorable. GOLDEN CLASSICS is essentially a recording for those who remember Bryant fondly—or for those who want hear her voice and make up their own minds about it.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2015 6:07 PM PDT

The Legend of Lizzie Borden
The Legend of Lizzie Borden
DVD ~ Elizabeth Montgomery
Price: $13.35
29 used & new from $12.24

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly Powerful Stuff, January 17, 2015
This review is from: The Legend of Lizzie Borden (DVD)
Daughter of actor Robert Montgomery, actress Elizabeth Montgomery (1933-1995) began her professional career in 1950s television and was soon well-regarded in the industry. In 1964 she was cast in the role of Samantha Stephens, a supernatural witch with a fondness for “mortals,” in the television comedy BEWITCHED, which had an extremely popular eight-season run. After the series ended, Montgomery sought out significantly darker roles in an effort to stretch her talents and expand her career. In 1974 she appeared as the lead in NBC’s television movie A CASE OF RAPE, a highly controversial but well received drama in which she played a rape victim. In 1975 she followed it with ABC’s THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN.

The Borden case was and is notorious. The Borden family of Fall River, Massachusetts consisted of Andrew Borden, his second wife Abby Borden, and his two daughters by a previous marriage, Emma and Lizzie. The family was wealthy, but Andrew Borden was known to something of a miser, and there rumors of emotional strain, particularly between the step-mother and daughters. On 4 August 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were viciously murdered with an ax or hatchet. Lizzie was accused of the murders.

THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN is often described as the most accurate film version of the case. That is true in the sense that the courtroom scenes make use of the actual transcript—but LEGEND is often precisely that: legend, the story as the average person may have heard it, distorted by passing time and changing opinions. The film also has a rather unexpected feminist slant, which was unlikely for 1892 but very much top of mind in the mid-1970s. But be it fact or fiction, it is remarkably compelling, and it has survived the passing of time with a strength most made-for-television movies of its era lack.

The overall cast is very, very strong, with Katherine Helmond as sister Emma and Fitz Weaver as father Andrew particularly memorable. The script and production values are also very strong, and the cinematography, which often has the quality of a sickly hallucination, is unexpectedly good for a television film of the period. Oddly, the one off-note is Elizabeth Montgomery herself, who is much too modern in voice, body language, and attitude to be entirely believable as a thirty-ish spinster of the 1890s. But strange to say, this actually adds to the film’s shuddery sense of unease: Lizzie is presented an increasingly neurotic woman who is different from everyone around her, and period-appropriate or not, Montgomery gives a powerful performance.

The movie is very much of its era: Montgomery’s make-up includes eye-liner and heavy mascara and her hair, when worn loose, is styled in a razor-cut, elements which are sometimes distracting and sometimes amusing. Television movies of the 1970s were also filmed on the cheap, and that occasionally shows as well, but director Paul Wendkos (who had an extremely long career in television) gives the film a solid but unexpectedly dreamy pace. Will we ever know the truth of what happened in Fall River on that hot August day in 1892? Probably not. But THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN is unexpectedly powerful stuff.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Le Corbeau (The Criterion Collection)
Le Corbeau (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Pierre Fresnay
2 used & new from $54.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Wings of the Raven, January 16, 2015
Loosely based on an actual incident that occurred in 1917, LE CORBEAU (translated as THE RAVEN) concerns a small French town that is suddenly beset by anonymous letters of an especially nasty variety. Although they attack many different people, their primary target is one of the town doctors, who is accused of everything from illicit affairs to abortion—and when one of the letters drives a townsperson to suicide, all hell breaks loose.

The performances are sharp and the film moves at a rapid pace, but what really makes it interesting is a comparison to what the United States was doing in film at the time. In many ways LE CORBEAU anticipates the gritty 1950s style of American film noir, but more significantly its material includes illicit affairs, abortion, suicide, a slightly ridiculing attitude toward the church, and a criminal that escapes justice, subjects Hollywood wouldn’t be able to handle directly for another twenty years.

The film is also historically interesting, an early effort by French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, who would be most famous for his later LES DIABOLIQUES. Clouzot, who was something of a starving artist at the time, made the film in France for the German-controlled Continental Films at the height of World War II. The Germans disliked the film, which they thought of as a swipe at French informers, but after the war French patriots attacked Clouzot for working for a German film company, and they too disliked the film, which they thought of as an attack on small-town French life. Clouzot was barred from working in the French film industry for several years as a result.

As usual, Criterion does a beautiful job: the film elements are excellent and there are a few bonuses of genuine interest. But ultimately the film must stand on its own, and it does so very well: dark, strange, and unwinding at a frightening tempo with strong performances, LE CORBEAU may not be among the obvious classics, but it is a classic just the same. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

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