Saturday, March 17, 2012


My addiction to Turner Classic Movies is something that I struggle with daily and that I have no current plans to seek help for.  One of my favorite things about TCM is their diversity.  Everything from British New Wave to obscure, early 30s gems.  Sometimes they're winners, sometimes they're duds.  Each month I'll be letting you know about those films airing on TCM that are worth making room for on the DVR.  Links to purchasing information can be found by clicking on the film titles. 

THE L SHAPED ROOM (1962) Leslie Caron, Tom Bell, Brock Peters, Cicely Courtneidge, Bernard Lee, Avis Bunnage, Patricia Phoenix.

Leslie Caron shows off some leg in "The L Shaped Room"

Powerful drama with Caron as a single pregnant woman who decides to have her baby in spite of overwhelming pressure to have an abortion. She moves into a low income London flat where she meets a kind jazz player (Peters) a depressed writer (Bell) an aging actress with a heartbreaking secret (Courtneidge) and a prostitute (Phoenix). Superb, poignant performances by Caron and the rest. Cicely Courtneidge is a revelation. Well written with refreshingly honest dialogue. Highly recommended.

CENTRAL AIRPORT (1933) Richard Barthelmess, Sally Eilers, Tom Brown.

Barthelmess is a former pilot who is forced to step down after a crash in bad weather is blamed on “pilot error”. He then becomes a stunt pilot for skydiving stunt woman Eilers. Brown is Barthelmess’ younger brother and test pilot. They both fall for Eilers immediately. Brown wins her hand after a misunderstanding leads Eilers into thinking that Barthelmess doesn’t love her. Heartbroken, Barthelmess becomes a flyer for the Chinese air force. Years later he meets Eilers again and the sparks fly while baby brother Brown is away on a dangerous flight overseas. This is one of those early 30s 70 minute gems. A trifle, but entertaining. It’s kind of fun to see how airports looked once upon a time.

FRISCO JENNY (1932) Ruth Chatterton, Louis Calhern, Donald Cook, Helen Jerome Eddy, James Murray.

Chatterton is a prostitute who’s quitting the biz to get married and have her baby. But the great Frisco quake of 06 kills her husband. 2 years later she’s back on top as a Madam who caters to powerful politicians. When she saves one powerful politician (Calhern) and risks a jail sentence as a result, she gives up her child to a rich family from high society. She beats the rap but realizes her child is better off without her. 20 years later, Chatterton becomes the powerful head of a vice and bootlegging syndicate and watches as her son becomes a prosecutor who is determined to put her behind bars, unaware that Chatterton is his mother or that she has ruthlessly destroyed his rivals on his way to becoming District Attorney. Fun and fast paced melodrama. Chatterton is top notch. Highly recommended.

MISTER SCOUTMASTER (1953) Clifton Webb, Edmund Gwenn, Frances Dee, George Winslow, Jimmy Hawkins
Entertaining family fare with Webb as a television writer of a “mister wizard” type of show that is hemorrhaging ratings and sponsors. In an attempt to find out more about what children like in order to save his show, he becomes the scoutmaster for the local boy scout troop and gets more than he bargained for. However, Webb’s typical “Belvedere” style no nonsense approach quickly wins over both parents and scouts alike. Sappy but cute.

THE PURCHASE PRICE (1932) Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Lyle Talbot.

Stanwyck is a night club singer whose impending marriage into high society is her ticket out of “the life”. But the parents of the groom put the kibosh on the wedding when they find out that she was the former moll of a notorious criminal (Lyle Talbot). In an attempt to leave the shady past that haunts her, Stanwyck takes the place of a mail order bride intended for a farmer (George Brent) out in the boonies. But Brent is about to lose his farm unless he can convince the bank to give him time to plant specially designed seeds for wheat that will make him a fortune. As time goes on Stanwyck learns to love the life and Brent and in an effort to help save his farm, she turns to gangster Talbot for help. Bad idea. Very enjoyable, early performances by Stanwyck and Brent and a pre code gem.

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950) Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Karl Malden, Gary Merrill, Bert Freed, Tom Tully, Ruth Donnelly.
“Laura” team Preminger, Andrews and Tierney team up again for this superb film noir. Andrews is a cop with a penchant for beating up criminals. After accidentally killing a suspect he tries to cover it up. Things get more complicated when detective Malden pins the crime on an innocent cab driver who turns out to be the father of the victims estranged and abused wife (Tierney). 

It then becomes a race to see if Andrews can frame a gangster (Merrill) for the crime before Malden discovers the truth. All this as Andrews and Tierney fall in love. Intense, suspenseful and highly entertaining. One of Andrews best performances ever. Highly recommended.

MAN WITH THE GUN (1955) Robert Mitchum, Jan Sterling, Karen Sharpe, Henry Hull, Emile Meyer, John Lupton, Claude Akins, Angie Dickinson.

A less entertaining version of the Henry  Fonda film “Warlock”. A notorious “Town Tamer” (Mitchum) comes to town to patch things up with his ex wife (Sterling). Figuring he might settle down if things go well, he accepts a job to work his magic for a town that is being harassed by a powerful land grabbing rancher and his goons. But Mitchum’s methods are almost as bad as the bad guys as Mitchum lures the villains into town and kills them one by one, leaving the townfolk wondering what they got themselves into. AKA “The Troubleshooter” AKA “The Deadly Peacemaker”. Has some pretty good moments and Mitchum is fun.

TIME LIMIT (1957) Richard Widmark, Richard Basehart, Martin Balsam, Rip Torn, June Lockhart, Dolores Michaels, Carl Benton Reid.

Engaging if somewhat hammy drama about army lawyer Widmark investigating the court-martial of Basehart for treason. Apparently Basehart gave in to psychological torture and helped the enemy while in a North Korean POW camp. Basehart is determined not to be defended in any way and readily admits to being guilty. But as Widmark digs deeper, he discovers some shocking reasons for why Basehart did what he did.  Entertaining film.  Directed by the late Karl Malden.

CARVE HER NAME WITH PRIDE (1958) Virginia McKenna, Paul Scofield, Jack Warner, Denise Grey, Noel Wilman, Alain Saury.
Bio pic about WW2 British secret agent Violette Szabo. Born Free’s McKenna plays Szabo, who is recruited after her husbands (Saury) death by the British who think her marksman skills and multilingual talents can be put to good use. After she’s recruited she meets fellow spy Paul Scofield and falls in love. 
During one mission, Szabo is captured by the Germans and tortured. McKenna is very engaging as Szabo. The movie has a nice mixture of drama, espionage and action. Has a few slow parts but ultimately an entertaining movie.

THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (1935) Edward G. Robinson, Jean Arthur, Donald Meek, Edward Brophy, Wallace Ford, Arthur Hohl.
Robinson meets his devilish double in "The Whole Town's Talking"
A comedy directed by John Ford isn’t something you see every day and this one had a particularly promising concept. Robinson as mild mannered paper pusher “Mr. Jones” who looks exactly like a notorious gangster called “Killer Manion”. After the police mistake Jones for “Killer”, he's given a note signed by the DA saying who he really is in case he’s ever stopped by the police again. 
Jean Arthur and Edward G. Robinson
Killer confronts Jones and uses the note as carte blanche to commit crimes. Jones, with a little help from his free spirit co worker (Jean Arthur), must find the courage to stop his evil doppelganger. This was a fun movie but it had some problems. Some of the gags just go on too long and fall a little flat. Another thing is that Jean Arthur seems to disappear in the second half of the film, only turning up again at the very end and that is unforgivable. Still, the premise and the stars make this a pretty good movie.

Friday, March 16, 2012

COMICS IN THE CAMPER: Cimmerians, Apes, Defenders and Saga

The Defenders #4. Looks like the Dodson’s are taking a break this week with Michael Lark taking over pencils and Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies on inking. I have to say I didn’t mind. I found there was some nice emotion conveyed and it was pleasing to the eye. The story continues on with the Defenders discovery of a machine that can warp time and space itself and in this issue Dr. Strange, while struggling to learn about the machine, discovers that it has the ability to grant wishes. 

 We also see the return of Molly, Dr. Strange’s one night stand from issue one. Molly has the unenviable and embarrassing task of having to do a reverse “walk of shame” to borrow a book from Strange that she needs for her thesis. The moments with Molly are charmingly awkward and I hope this character returns. It’s through Molly that Strange encounters a jealous young upstart magician who tries to blackmail Strange with one hour of unlimited access to the wonders in his house. This was an entertaining fill in issue as we get a little more insight into Strange and how he struggles with his loneliness.

Conan The Barbarian #2 continues on where last issue left off as Conan tries to defend the merchant vessel “Argus” and her crew from the alabaster skinned pirate queen Belit. Conan and the crew of the Argus are hopelessly outnumbered as the Cimmerian does his best to kill as my of Belit’s crew as he can. Sparks continue to fly between Conan and Belit as each subconsciously tries to avoid actually killing the other.
The composition and artwork in this issue is even better than the last. It’s simply a beautifully drawn comic book. So good that I can’t decide what is better, the art or the writing. When you can just look at the art and tell exactly what’s going on, you know you’re looking at one incredibly talented artist. Cloonan is able to accomplish this with a deftly cinematic style. Another hit.

I’d read so many great reviews on Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples Saga #1 that there seemed relatively little risk in this purchase. I was right. This is one wild ride. From the very beginning we are sucked into this world and the characters that inhabit it. Vaughan and Staples lets us know fairly quickly that in this world, you’re likely to see just about anything happen. It’s got classic “fantasy” elements to it but yet it is still surprising. I don’t usually get into this kind of genre unless it’s in novel form. I’m pretty much a “capes comics” type of guy. So it’s a testament to the genius of Vaughan and Staples that I am fascinated by characters who have televisions for heads suffering from PTS.

Issue one starts off with a sort of “in progress” re-imagining of “Romeo and Juliet”. Representing the Capulets is Alana, a young woman with green hair and wings from a planet called Landfall. The Montague’s are represented by the somewhat ram like “Marko” from a moon called Wreath. Both sides are intent on capturing the young lovers. Staples art is a pleasing hybrid of Simonson and Warlord era Grell. The storytelling is efficient and fast paced. You also get quite a bit of bang for your buck. This first issue is 44 pages of story with no ads for 2.99. I’m going to assume that this is double sized for the first issue only. Hope I’m wrong. Very entertaining first issue.

Last but certainly not least is Exile On The Planet Of The Apes #1. I have found BOOM Studios “Apes” series to be great fun. While the “Planet of the Apes” ongoing series gives a closer examination of the fall of Man and the ink on the Lawgivers ancient scrolls is still wet, “Exile” shows us what Ape society looked like before the arrival of the astronaut “Taylor”. Exile on the Planet of the Apes continues on with the story that started in the four issue mini “Betrayal on the Planet of the Apes”, where Dr. Zaius is trying to prevent a human rebellion led by one of the mute humans who has been taught sign language.

The ape doctor Prisca is catching the heat from the council for teaching the human to sign as well as facilitating his escape. We get a fascinating glimpse into the ape political hierarchy as we watch Zaius interact with his fellow council members. What I absolutely love about this series, “Betrayal” and the Planet of the Ape ongoing series is how seamlessly they add to the continuity of the original film series, give Ape fans various Easter eggs yet maintain it’s own identity as an original story. Writers Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman are weaving one heck of a thrilling story here. Mark Lamings art is a great fit for the Apes look.

He really captures the look of ape society, showing us the world of the films yet he goes so much deeper, giving the world, at times, a sort of film noir quality. I also have to mention the lovely coloring by Jordie Bellaire. Bellaire gives us some beautiful blue hues dotted with bits of bright yellows, reds and oranges during the night scenes. We get the more traditional golds and yellows of ape society during the day and then at dusk, some lovely purple tones. Just beautiful stuff.
I’ll have more on all of BOOM studios Planet of the Apes titles and how they relate to and compliment the films mythos as well as the Planet of the Apes comics and black and white magazines of the 70s in the weeks to come.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Marie Windsor turns on the charm and Forrest Tucker likes what he sees in HELLFIRE.
Marie Windsor was a fixture in B films throughout the 40s and 50s. Sometimes a bit player, sometimes the leading lady. She starred in some of the best film noir of the day including The Narrow Margin, Kubricks The Killing and Force Of Evil.  Marie Windsor always livened up whatever film she was in no matter how big or small her role and I always enjoyed when she turned up in a film I was watching.  1949's Hellfire is such a movie.

The movie comes vividly to life with fiery opening credits and an opening montage of indulgent sinners in the wild west. Standing out in this crowd and in the middle of a saloon giving a sermon that falls on deaf ears is H.B. Warner as a preacher trying to get five grand to build a much needed church. When he asks the wrong person, Bill Elliott steps in to protect him. Elliott is a first class card sharp and cheat. But when he goes to put a poker chip in Warners hat, the other players see an ace fall out of his sleeve. Warner, recognizing the good in Elliott, steps between the gambler and an angry gunman.
Marie Windsor is a quick draw killer in HELLFIRE
Elliot manages to escape with the preacher and does what he can to keep him alive. Elliott rpomises Warner that he will build the church. But Warner warns him that he must earn the money honestly and follow the rule book aka the Bible. Later on, a now reformed Elliott enters a new town where he sees Marie Windsor gun down her latest victim. Windsor has some major anger issues. Forced to live a saloon girls life along with her younger sister at an early age, Windsor decided that robbing stagecoaches and killing men who got in her way was far less degrading. But her sister disappeared and Windsor has been seeking answers to her whereabouts at gunpoint. Forrest Tucker (of F-Troop fame) is a marshal on Windsor’s trail.

Forrest Tucker and Bill Elliot battle over deadly Marie Windsor in HELLFIRE
Tucker and Elliott are old friends and Elliott finds out that there is a five thousand dollar reward for Windsor. Just enough money to build his church. So Elliott goes after Windsor. But Elliott isn’t going to forcibly bring in Windsor. He’s going to ride along with her until she gives herself up. He also hopes that by helping her find her sister that she just might develop a little faith in God.  Then Elliott discovers that Tucker isn’t looking to bring Windsor in for the reward money. Turns out that Tucker is married to Windsor’s long lost sister. Tucker is concerned for his wife’s newfound reputation should the dangerous Windsor come back into his wife’s life and hopes to capture Windsor and put her away to avoid an unpleasant reunion. When Windsor discovers that Tucker knows where her sister is, she glams herself up and tries to seduce Tucker into telling her. Windsor is virtually unrecognizable in her saloon girl garb and Tucker begins to give in to her seductions. Elliott, in an effort to keep Tucker faithful and Windsor from prostituting herself, tells Tucker who Windsor really is.

Windsor relaxes in THE PARSON AND THE OUTLAW(1957)
Elliott has another surprise. He’s been deputized by the town Sheriff, an old friend, and uses that power to put Windsor in the local jail and to keep Tucker from being able to bring her in himself. But there are others after Windsor. Jim Davis (“Jock Ewing” from Dallas) and his two brothers are out to kill Windsor for killing their brother. Ultimately it comes down to a confrontation between quick draw killer Windsor and Marshal Tucker. But a photograph and a burgeoning faith in God ends up changing hearts, minds and destinies.

This was a really fun movie. It’s definitely a B western and it has plenty of problems. But there are some interesting religious themes here and Elliott, while having the acting range of a two by four, has some entertaining dialogue that is genuinely witty in spite of his delivery. He’s part preacher part Will Rogers. Winsor is entertaining as always.  There’s something about her that is just very watchable. I like how she reluctantly begins to warm to Elliott as they travel together. There’s a good scene where Elliott is having trouble picking up his saddle after having thrown hot ash at Davis with his bare hands in an effort to escape being killed. Windsor watches him struggle and then helps him. It’s fun to see her get angry with herself for being kind.

The beginning of Hellfire is practically surreal as we see what looks like laughing cowboys in Hell, with preacher Warner as Daniel in the lions den. It's also pretty terrific to see a female gunman…or rather “gunperson” in the lead. These kinds of roles were few and far between for women, particularly in Westerns. I can’t think of many outside of Jane Russell in the Bob Hope western comedy The Paleface and its sequel Son of Paleface or Jean Arthur who played the western hero in such wildly entertaining films like The Plainsman and Arizona. The gender reversal is certainly one of the more entertaining elements of Hellfire. It’s a fun little B western that I recommend and is now playing on Netflix.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I hadn’t been out to the local comic shop in a while as I’ve been obsessed with reading Marvel Masterworks and DC Archives lately. So here are a few comics I picked up this week and some reviews for your consideration:

Conan the Barbarian #1 was a very enjoyable read. Written by Brian Wood, art by Becky Cloonan. We are reintroduced to a Conan who is portrayed by Wood and Cloonan as a fearless, cocky thief who boards the trade ship Argus to avoid being captured by the local authorities of Argos. Conan is an endearing rogue and quickly captivates the crew with tales of his adventures.

Realizing that, through his carelessness, he has put the lives of the crew at stake, Conan vows to protect them all to his dying breath. Conan is taken up on his offer as the Captain tells Conan of Belit, the Queen of the Black Coast and captain of the Tigress. Belit’s piracy has left a path of destruction and misery. Conan is intrigued by tales of the pale skinned, half naked pirate queen as was I thanks to Wood’s engaging storytelling.

I’m not the biggest fan of Cloonan but Conan seems to be a good fit for her.  Her Conan reminds me of Barry Windsor Smith's early Conan art during his legendary run on the character at Marvel in the early 70s. Less muscle bound, leaner, more athletic than he was later portrayed. Very well done. Can’t wait to read the next issue.

The Bionic Man #7 continues to be a very entertaining story filled with exciting confrontations. Having barely survived the encounter with Steve Austin’s homicidal bionic predecessor “Hull”, Steve finally goes to see Jaimie who believes Steve is dead. This was a nice scene as Steve, worried about being rejected because of his bionics, reveals the truth to Jaimie about what happened to him after the crash. We also find out more about Hull, and how the horrifying side effects of his bionics turned him into the monster he is.
Steve also has a confrontation with Oscar Goldman’s boss Margaret who lets Steve know in no uncertain terms that he is no longer his own man. This continues to be a very entertaining story. Writers Kevin Smith and Phil Hester keep the writing crisp and the pacing quick. Jonathan Lau does a great job with character reactions and keeping the visuals attractively dynamic. I’ve been sold on this title since issue 1. Very entertaining.

The Avengers #23 continues the battle between The Avengers and Norman Osborne’s HAMMER as Norman has Madam Hydra offer his terms to the Secretary of State and the President with a captured Captain America telling the President not to negotiate. Meanwhile, with the help of new addition to the team Quake, Iron Man and Spiderwoman escape their personal prisons and start working on finding and freeing the rest of the team. But they still have to get past Norman.

I’m loving Acuna’s art on this series. While I’ve enjoyed Bendis’ series “Powers”, he has never been my favorite Avengers scribe. It’s Acuna’s unique style that has me reading this series. Acuna’s characters facial reactions and composition are terrific. Whenever I read a comic drawn by Acuna I feel like I’m at a movie. His unmistakably unique style just looks very cinematic.

Justice League #6 wraps up the Darkseid story arc. Batman is trying to rescue Superman and escape from Apokolips as the rest of the team continues to battle Darkseid on earth. Superman is a bit shaken up from being tortured by Desaad but eventually confronts Darkseid. But it’s Cyborg who ends up being the key to ending the battle. There’s a fun scene at the end with the team being commended by the mayor and cheered by the citizens while the heroes quietly bicker with each other about how they aren’t a team. This was a pretty good first story arc by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee.

There is an epilogue that has a confrontation with the Phantom Stranger and the mysterious “Pandora” that sets up a future confrontation with the Justice League that is somewhat revealing. Of the new 52 this was one of the better titles. But by issue 5 I was starting to get a bit tired of it all. It’s not a bad story and Lee’s art is definitely detailed and attractive. I’m just not sure if this has what it takes to keep my interest in the long term.

So one from Marvel, one from DC, one from Dark Horse and one from Dynamite. A nice little sampler for this week. Over all an enjoyable weeks reading. Conan and Bionic Man were the stand outs for me. Those are two stories that I will definitely keep up with. Acuna is the main reason I’m reading Avengers (that and the Avengers fever I have from watching all those great Avengers movie trailers) and Justice League did a decent job of wrapping up their first story arc. Until next time!