Wednesday, December 26, 2012


This week on TCM, Gene Tierney stars in the wild and rousing Belle Star The Bandit Queen (1941).

The Civil War is over and one thing is for sure, Belle Shirley hates Yankees! Well, except for handsome Major Crail (Dana Andrews), a union soldier trying to keep law in Belle’s corner of the south. But she's quickly turned off by his determination to hang southern hero/rebel and scourge of carpetbaggers everywhere, Sam Starr (Randolph Scott). After Crail discovers Belle has been hiding him in her house, he regretfully arrests Belle's brother and Sam and then burns her house to the ground.

Dead shot Belle then orchestrates Sam's escape and the two get married, becoming a major thorn in Crail's side as they draw more and more disenfranchised southerners to their cause. But as more bloodthirsty thieving cutthroats join Sam and Belle's crew of rebels, Belle fears her righteous goal of driving every last Yankee out of Missouri may be jeopardized by her gang's preference for violence and murder.

Belle and her gang.

Belle Starr The Bandit Queen is wildly un-PC and might not be to everyone’s taste or appeal to some sensibilities. It has its fair share of cringe inducing stereotypes the likes of which I haven’t seen outside of Disney’s Song Of The South, making this a movie that might never be released on region 1 DVD(and that possibility alone makes it worth checking out). Things like the slaves rallying around the southern rebel who's driving all the black carpetbaggers out of town, or scenes like Louis Beavers as “Mammy Lou” holding down Scott as they try to remove a bullet from his rear end as he screams "Get this Ethiopian elephant off of me!"  The films Technicolor photography is so vivid that Tierney's bright blue dress started burning my retinas. The story does get silly, but in a good way.

Yankees beware, Belle Starr The Bandit Queen will be appearing on TCM on Friday, December 28 at 3:00 AM Eastern Time.


Barbara Stanwyck month is coming to a close on Turner Classic Movies this week so I wanted to be sure to mention one of my favorite Stanwyck films, My Reputation (1946).  Stanwyck has said that this film was her personal favorite of all her films and it's easy to see why as she gives a fantastic performance.

Stanwyck is a newly widowed mother to two teen boys who have recently gone away to school. Alone, afraid and grief-stricken, she struggles with what to do next with her life. She leans on her best friend played by Eve Arden (unsurprisingly wonderful in this role) and chafes at her mothers (Lucile Watson) efforts to control her. She meets army major Brent and they start up an affair that quickly ignites gossip.

Stanwyck has an amazing scene with Arden when her grief and fear of a life alone causes her to have an emotional breakdown. She also has some fun moments as she awkwardly ventures into her romance with the jovial Brent. The movie culminates with a Christmas party where scandals are exposed and later on New Years Eve where all the drama comes to a head. Stanwyck is just wonderfully nuanced here. The movie skillfully avoids being sappy and instead comes off being very genuine. It's poignant, romantic, amusing and just plain entertaining. It’s a great film for the winter holidays and a must see for Stanwyck fans.

Turner Classic Movies will be showing My Reputation on December 27th at 10:00 AM.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Mask #1.  Cover by Francesco Francavilla
One of my favorite new series is Masks from Dynamite Entertainment. Once again Dynamite shows that they are the masters of reviving and reinventing Golden Age and classic Pulp characters. I loved just about all of the Project Superpowers books as well as their take on The Spider and Masks is must more of that kind of fun. Written by Chris Roberson, issue one is painted by Alex Ross, issue two has art by Dennis Calero. Masks gathers together some of pulp’s greatest heroes including The Shadow, The Spider, The Green Hornet and Kato, Miss Fury, Green Lama, Zorro and the Black Bat (and this is just who we’ve seen so far!). The story takes place in the late 30s in New York. A new political party has taken over key state government positions under the guise of the “Justice Party” by promising voters that the “freeloaders, the slackers, the aliens and outsiders who want what we have--their day in the sun is over”. A fascist, well armored police force made up of former hoods and murderers rob criminals on a whim. The poor are prosecuted, jailed and executed as are any who speak out against the newly elected state government.

A sample of Alex Ross' painted interior art from Masks #1
In issue one of Masks, The Green Hornet and Kato are unaware of exactly how deep this corruption runs but they learn pretty quick as Kato watches the police unjustly arrest a young artist named Rafael Vega. The Shadow knows exactly what‘s going on and he‘s determined to exact all the justice he can get. Also on hand to help is The Spider. The issue ends with the odds stacked firmly against our heroes. In issue two we see The Shadow, Green Hornet and Kato and The Spider forced to retreat and regroup while in another part of the city, Miss Fury, Green Lama and Black Bat join the fray to try to save innocent civilians from a fascist police force out to “collect taxes.”

Masks #2.  Cover by Jae Lee
Issue one is painted by Alex Ross so it goes without saying that it looks beautiful. The story starts quickly, throwing us into the action immediately and with abandon as we almost immediately see a confrontation between the Shadow and the Green Hornet. It’s a fast paced story with lots of pulpy goodness.

A sample of Dennis Calero's interior art from Masks #2
Writer Chris Roberson seems to really know these characters and it’s clear that he’s having a ball writing them and that joy is infectious. Issue two has Dennis Calero on art. I’ve never heard of Mr. Calero before reading Masks and I was very impressed by his art in issue two. It’s larger than life, lush, full of rich detail and bold splash pages and close ups that have a great intensity. Roberson keeps the pacing taut and consistent, making both issue just really fun to read.  If, like me, you enjoy seeing these 30s pulp characters revived and brought to the page in style, then I recommend getting Masks 1 & 2.


This week at the comic shop I picked up issues one and two of Comeback from Image Comics. Written and lettered by Ed Brisson, art by Michael Walsh and colored by Jordie Bellaire, this was a very pleasant surprise. First off, let me say that I am a sucker for time travel stories and Comeback is a good one.

Issue one starts off with what seems to be a kidnapping but is, in fact, two time travelers going back in time to bring a man into the future. It’s a mission that has horrible and grisly results. The two time travelers, Mark and Seth, work for Reconnect. Reconnect is a company that provides time travel services for a price. If the wealthy want to prevent a loved one from dying, they can pay millions to Reconnect to go back in time to save that family member. In issue one, Mark and Seth are tasked with saving a car accident victim. There’s also some doubt as to how legal this all is and just who has access to time travel technology. We also see another character in issue one, a mysterious man who also works for Reconnect who seems to be up to no good. In issue two we see that time travel has taken a heavy toll on Seth’s mental and physical health. He’s getting ready to retire. That is until a visitor from the future knocks on his door to tell Seth that the company he works for is up to no good. We also meet an agent for the police who investigates changes in time. It seems that Time Travel isn’t all that legal.

The first two issues of this new series was a lot of fun. It starts with a bang and then retreats a bit for some story set up. It’s not action packed but the story moves along at a nice, comfortable clip as characters are introduced and plots are set up. Even though we don’t get a whole lot of information about the characters, Brisson and Walsh give us a feel for who these characters are. Walsh’s art reminds me a little of David Mazzucchelli and David Aja. Jordie Bellaire does a nice job on colors, giving us some cold, icy light grays and muted greens and tans that make for eerie backgrounds that allow the characters to really pop. I also have to wonder if Brisson, Walsh and Bellaire are fans of the cult time travel film Primer. Comeback has a similar vibe as that very entertaining and underrated film. Like Primer, Comeback’s story and dialogue is smart and intriguing. I look forward to issue 3. 


I reviewed IDW's Transfusion #1 two months ago and I had nothing but good things to say about it. Steve Niles and Menton 3 injected something unexpected and beautifully horrific into a genre that has whiskers on it. I am happy to report that Niles and Menton 3 make Transfusion #2 worth the wait.

Vampire William has lost a human family that was potentially going to feed his starving tribe of Vampires to several Robots who also need humans as both slaves and fuel. Painful sacrifices have to be made to keep his tribe alive, fed and able to compete with the seemingly unstoppable Robots for the earths last source of food--humans. In issue 2, William finds two unlikely allies who discover that the Robots are starting to cannibalize themselves for spare parts, something they have never had to do before. This revelation offers a glimmer of hope for William and the two human women who save his life.

two stunning pages from IDW's Transfusion #2 by Steve Niles and Menton 3

Once again I was completely transported into Niles and Menton3’s bleak, hopeless world. I enjoyed the scene where William mourns the loss of animal life which makes his world all the more lonely and sad. As in issue one, issue two has shocking, bloody moments of surprise that had me riveted to its stunning red gore which served to emphasize the bleak fog of sickly sepia and pale grays of this dead world that Menton 3 uses as the canvas that Niles story plays out on. Niles narrative minimalism belies an epic story and is extremely refreshing and palette cleansing after plowing through a pull list full of overly talky and visually busy comics and his style works so naturally and organically with Menton 3’s haunting and imposing and, at times, claustrophobic imagery. What I love about this comic is that, once you read it and take in its story, you want to keep looking at it. I spent more time on my second viewing just taking in the art. Transfusion just does not look or feel like anything else in comics right now and I cannot wait to see what issue 3 has in store.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


It’s Barbara Stanwyck month on Turner Classic Movies and they’ve been showing lots of great Stanwyck iconic classics (Double Indemnity, Lady Eve, Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Stella Dallas, etc) as well as some older Stanwyck pre-code films (Baby Face, The Purchase Price, Shopworn). But there are also quite a few Stanwyck films that some might not be all that familiar with.  One in particular that warrants mention is The Gay Sisters (1942) starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Donald Crisp, Gig Young, Nancy Coleman, Gene Lockhart and Donald Woods.

Stanwyck fights to keep her estate in The Gay Sisters

The "Gay Sisters" are actually the Gaylord sisters. Orphaned as children when their father dies in the Great War. He leaves behind an iron clad will to insure that his daughters, the only remaining Gaylord's, come into the millions they're heir to. But things don't go exactly as planned. Seems the will is contested when it's discovered that the father made a second will in Europe, giving some of his money to a charity in France. 20 years later the will is still being held up, the three daughters getting an allowance from the court until the matter is finally settled. But there's a new player involved (George Brent). A wealthy developer trying to help break the will in order to get control of the Gaylord mansion. Stanwyck is the oldest sister and family matriarch. She's trying to live up to her fathers last request that she never sell any of the family land while feeding a hatred for Brent whom she has a past with. But the other two sisters aren't quite as dedicated as Stanwyck. Youngest sister Coleman needs money to pay off her ex and get a divorce so she can marry starving artist Gig Young. Fitzgerald is the middle sister, just returned from school in England and she has her eye on good ol' Gig as well. Stanwyck fires her lawyers when she discovers that they've just been milking the case to suck the family fortune dry and decides to hire Donald Crisp, an honest lawyer in over his head.

Things really get complicated when Brent discovers Stanwyck has a young ward living with her. He suspects it's his son and the battle takes a new turn. Stanwyck is determined to go down in complete ruin before she lets Brent have her land or the boy. That is until one sister attempts suicide, something that helps Stanwyck start to change her priorities. This movie gives us my favorite type of Stanwyck performance. Not the femme fatale, but the woman battling against overwhelming odds, alone in her convictions, tough, calculating, sassy but with a heart of gold deep down. It's the Stanwyck we see in The Furies and Meet John Doe among other films and it's a Stanwyck who is in top form here.

The Gay Sisters stars Gig Young as...Gig Young?
One oddity is that Gig Young plays a character called Gig Young. Both IMDB and Wikipedia has him incorrectly billed as Byron Barr, the name he went by in previous films, but the credits of The Gay Sisters clearly list him as Gig Young playing Gig Young. Wiki has it that the studio liked the name of his character in this film for the actor and had him change his name after the film as a result. I have a different theory. First, his name is said in full countless times in the film. He isn't just referred to as "Gig" or "Mister Young".  Nearly every time they say his name it's said in full as Gig Young. Mr. Gig Young. So! You're in love with "Mister Gig Young" are you? It's hilariously obvious. All of his films prior to The Gay Sisters are uncredited bit parts. There is little doubt in my mind that the studio was using this film as a "Product Placement" of sorts for the star. They wanted the name to stick with audiences and repeating it over and over was their way of doing it. But in spite of that bit of weirdness and in spite of weak link Coleman, it's a fun film with an enjoyable story and a great Stanwyck performance.

TCM will be showing The Gay Sisters on Thursday, December 20th at 12:15 PM Eastern.


The comic book scene was quite different back in 1997 when DC's Young Heroes In Love first debuted. Yet in some ways it was similar to what is happening in the world of comics today. Image was very popular although not necessarily for the same reasons it is popular now. Instead of titles like Saga, Fatale and Chew, Image was riding a wave of popularity with titles like Spawn, Witchblade and Gen 13. The Marvel and DC universes were being tinkered with to various effect good and bad and there was no shortage of events and crossovers going on. Back in 97, Marvel was dominating the charts with various crossover events such as Onslaught and Operation: Zero Tolerance.

It's Lobo!  No, it's Howard the Duck!  No, it's...just the 90s.
Then you had the creation of Amalgam Comics. If you thought the teaming of Image and Marvel in the 90's was an unholy alliance, this joint venture between DC and Marvel was positively apocalyptic! Amalgam Comics gave us such legendary titles as Bullets and Bracelets which had Diana Prince team up with Steve Trevor aka The Punisher to fight “Thanoseid”. And who could forget Lobo The Duck? Over at DC the “Genesis“ event was just a few months away, Superman was blue…literally, thanks to some new powers that made him crackle with energy and turned his skin Azure and Wonder Woman had finally gotten rid of that black Members Only jacket and bike shorts. Strange times indeed. Comics in the mid to late 90’s could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered romantic, comedic(not intentionally at least) or lighthearted. At least not as a rule.

In the 90s, Superman was blue
The injection of realism in comics with things like Alex Ross’ Marvels and Kingdom Come had just come out and was still a fresh idea and the idea of Superheroes as TV sitcom (Love and Capes) or Superheroes as TV Cop show soap opera (Powers) were still years away from being implemented. Things like Shojo Manga was gaining popularity but still not a widely recognized part of the Western comic book lexicon. 1997 just didn’t seem like a time where a comic book that focused on soap opera instead of earth shaking battles, on Superheroes in love and having sex (implicit rather than implied) and just talking about their lives, didn’t seem like an idea that would fly. So it was rather astounding and pretty wonderful that, into this world, a comic called Young Heroes In Love would be born and actually survive more than half a dozen issues.

Young Heroes In Love was the brain child of writer Dan Raspler and artist Dev Madan with Inks by Keith Champagne. Young Heroes In Love was about exactly that. It was a group of young, amateur heroes who were learning about themselves, their powers and each other. There was lots of romantic tension as well as a lot of releasing of that tension. The young heroes dealt with more than their share of emotional turmoil, self doubt, personal problems, egos, jealousies. Young Heroes had it all.  Madan's cartoony art style is fairly prevalent today as seen in adaptations of the various animated superhero cartoons.  Back then the only comparable comics was some of the Bruce Timm stuff(The Batman Adventures) but that style wasn’t really in the mainstream in the mid 1990s.  The art of Dev Madan was a bit DeCarlo'esque" and his designs for the characters in Young Heroes were fresh, funny and exciting yet still able to pack an emotional punch.  His art style ran the emotional gamut from the silly, the slapstick, the exaggerated to emotional warmth, poignant and yes, romantic

Young Heroes debate the many looks of Superman

Dan Raspler's writing was nothing short of groundbreaking given the times. It was brave, witty, sharp, smart, subversive and definitely ahead of its time. Almost every issue ended in a cliffhanger. At times, the next issue would pick up the story in the aftermath of the previous issues cliffhanger and then return to it later in the issue, or in a following issue. That wasn’t something that was common in either comics or in series television of the time. Raspler’s writing could be wonderfully subtle one moment and then turn into screwball comedy the next. Raspler seemed to ignore the tropes that writers of the time were gorging on, grim and gritty violence, and instead chose to pick from the toys that no one seemed interested in. His stories had sex, both romantic and casual and various other vices such as smoking (both cigarettes and pot). The series even passed the “Bechdel Test" in nearly every issue.  The women were strong, independent and flawed. Most interesting was the preference of conversation over battles. The books often focused on the characters talking about personal problems and how much they loved superheroes. These characters were fans turned heroes. The character Bonfire was such a fan that she was considered the teams resident superhero historian. She even had a room mate who spent her time talking with other comic book fans on UseNet. Bonfire was definitely not a “fake nerd girl”.

Bonfire admires the view.

  This kind of character interaction, talking about the minutia of ones day, talking “fan talk” is something pretty common today (see anything by Bendis). We see it in comics all the time. But in mid 90s this wasn’t the case. Raspler's writing was new and interesting. In a 90s world full of loud and downright obnoxious comics, Raspler and Madan gave us a book that had the ability to be quiet, fun, sexy and yes, even nice. Raspler and Madan gave us characters that seemed like people we knew. Some were the kind of characters that you liked immediately. Others were characters that rubbed the wrong way at first, but once you knew them, they would grow on you.
The Young Heroes were gathered together in true “garage band” style by a charismatic superhero named Hard Drive. Hard Drive was the “front man”. The quintessential superhero in appearance. He was blond, handsome, had super strength and could fly. But in true soap opera fashion, Hard Drive had secrets and wasn’t what he appeared to be. Bonfire was a perky redhead with the ability to control fire and temperature. Bonfire was the resident expert on the history of superheroes and she was perfectly willing to get in heated debate with anyone who doubted her knowledge. She was a bit nervous about joining up with the Young Heroes even though it was her life long dream to be a superhero and doubted and even feared her own abilities. Monster Girl was a shape shifter who could change into a monstrous form where she has super strength. Monster Girl was an attractive Hispanic woman(pictured below with her family). She was a bit devious and manipulative but could also be kind and supportive. Off-Ramp had the ability to teleport. He was the grouchy loner of the group. Off-Ramp’s ability seeed to come with a case of wanderlust. He felt claustrophobic if he stayed in one place for too long and like Hard Drive, Off-Ramp had his secrets.
Junior was a former scientist who had shrunk down to several inches tall as the result of a lab accident. Junior had no superpower nor was he able to control his size. H was stuck in his form and even though he was more level headed than most in the group, his size gave him all sorts of confidence issues and resentments to deal with. Thunderhead was the gentle giant of the group. A former musician who played guitar. He gained super strength but also became larger in size.
This caused him to have to give up playing music because his hands became too large and bulky to play his instrument. Thunderhead and Off-Ramp are old friends and they are a bit like Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men. Frostbite was the bad boy of the group.  With blue skin, he had the ability to control and create ice and cold temperatures. He wore very little clothes and had a ponytail. Frostbite and Bonfire were instantly attracted to each other for a variety of reasons. Bonfire and Frostbite’s powers feed off each other and would give them a sort of telekinetic connection. Their powers also caused a sort of sexual stimulation between them that, over the course of the series, was both frustrating and very satisfying. In issue 3, seventh member Zip-Kid joins the Young Heroes. Zip-Kid had the power of flight and was able to shrink down to the same size as Junior. However, the smaller Zip-Kid gets, the faster she can fly. But there seems to be a side effect that comes with her powers. As she shrinks and her speed grows, she becomes more and more frenetic in her mannerisms, speech and emotions. Junior was instantly attracted to Zip-Kid, naturally. Unfortunately, she dates a controlling, manipulative jerk. But Junior’s kindness is not lost on her.


In the following weeks I’m going to go through the 18 issues of Young Heroes In Love, issue by issue, giving a synopsis of each issue and my thoughts and hopefully I’ll be able to dig up more information about the series. But first, I want to start off with a look at the debut issue. Issue one starts off somewhat like the first episode of MTV’s “Real World” series. The group is slowly gathered bit by bit. Off-Ramp is nervous about joining the group and shows up early at the rendezvous point with pal Thunderhead. Also showing up early is Monster Girl. Meanwhile, Junior is getting a ride to the group meeting from his mother. It’s a fun intro to the character as he talks about how little things used to bother him and how he used to make mountains out of molehills and then we pan back and see his true height. Elsewhere, team leader Hard Drive is dealing with a hesitant Bonfire. He pretends to be dismissive of her in order to anger her and get her to use her power full force in the hopes that using her power in such a way will boost her confidence, which it does. Soon they all meet up and have a brief moment to chat. Bonfire is immediately attracted to Thunderhead and shares her feelings with Monster Girl. With the help of Off-Ramps teleporting abilities, they all go to the north pole to pick up Frostbite. Almost immediately, Frostbite and Bonfire are each taken aback by the other.
Hard Drive then takes them to the teams new HQ. A large building in a warehouse district. We also hear Off-Ramp talk about how he first met Hard Drive and how after their meeting he was inspired to use his abilities to help others. We also see a bit of conflict between Hard Drive and Bonfire. Hard Drive seems concerned about Bonfire and Frostbite’s strange attraction and suggests to Bonfire that Thunderhead would make for a more appropriate mate. Bonfire is angered by Hard Drive sticking his nose in her business and tells him off. Hard Drive eyes suddenly start to glow and he suggests that Bonfire not pursue Frostbite “for the good of the team”. Bonfire agrees. Hard Drive then gives a little speech about how they are all going to accomplish great things together. Hard Drive has the charisma of a motivational speaker and the other members seem to always feel more confidant after talking with him.  On the final page, we see a post coital Hard Drive and Monster Girl in bed. Hard Drive smiles saying “Well, we did it. We really did it!” as Monster Girl smiles and tells him “You can say that again”.
This issue reads like a cross between Powers and Avengers Academy. I liked the garage band element that is reflected when they first see their sizable but fairly bare bones warehouse headquarters (along with the 90s era computer). I also liked the “MTV Real World” element as the strangers meet, some for the first time with the two women immediately pairing off to size up the men in the group and all of them talking about their powers and sharing their love of Superheroes. The issue has that sort of “first day of school” feeling to it. All the characters are excited to be part of the group but at the same time frightened at not being able to live up to the responsibility of being a superhero and lacking confidence in their abilities but happy at meeting others who feel the same way and feeling less alone and less like an outcast because of these new friends and team mates.
Madan’s art and Champagne’s inks are top notch with clean, interesting layouts and close ups. And for a comic that is basically nothing but characters talking, there is a terrific progression of action. It’s never boring or static. There’s a lot of great emotion in the characters faces, all of which are unique in every way. No one looks like anyone else either in looks or personality and the well crafted character design and writing makes these characters wonderfully distinctive. The cover art pretty much lets you know what you’re in for even though we don’t really see the implications of the cover till the final page. It also doesn’t suffer from that usual first issue clumsiness that some first issues suffer from. It’s well paced. The introduction of the characters and their interactions is handled deftly both in the writing and the art. The story is propelled very organically and never feels forced or heavy with exposition. Just a very fun, very intriguing, first issue.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012



There were many anti-fascist propaganda films in the 40s. Most of them are exactly that, cautionary tales, propaganda that fail to be any more or less complex than old “duck and cover” cartoons from the post war 50s. But there were a few that were able to rise above the rest with complex stories and characterization that allowed them to break free from the confines of the genre. One of these was 1943’s Watch On The Rhine, starring Bette Davis, Paul Lukas, Lucile Watson, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Beulah Bondi and George Coulouris.

From Left to Right: George Coulouris, Donald Woods, Lucile Watson, Davis and Lukas
Set just before America enters WW2, the film is about Lukas and Davis as a husband and wife involved in the anti fascist movement. The film begins ominously as Lukas, Davis and their three kids are about to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. Their passports are stamped and there is a clear look of relief on all their faces as they cross over. Lukas is one of the top men in the anti fascist movement. Old, tired, scarred and wounded, he is taking Davis and the kids to Davis’ family home in Washington DC for a short rest. Lucile Watson plays Davis mother and she is simply brilliant in this. Watson is happily preparing for her daughters homecoming. She hasn't seen Davis in almost 20 years. Also staying at Watson’s home is her son, the daughter(Fitzgerald) of an old family friend and the daughters husband (Coulouris), an aristocratic former Romanian diplomat who has had to leave Europe under mysterious circumstances.

George Coulouris
Fitzgerald and Coulouris are estranged and not in love. She has eyes for Watson’s son and is glad to be in the states and away from the growing presence of the Nazis in Europe. Coulouris longs for his old life among the aristocrats in Romania and is willing to do almost anything to get that life back. There is a brilliant scene that takes place in the German embassy. Coulouris is playing poker with people who represent all the facets of fascism. At one of the poker players, a Nazi, tells the aristocratic German who despises him "you're too cynical to be really dangerous". Finally we get to Davis' homecoming and what a scene it is. After the hard life of being on the run from the Nazis and bouncing all over Europe, when Davis enters her family house, she is overwhelmed, silently and delicately touching familiar family items as we see the memory of her old life slowly return. Everyone meets and is reunited. Davis reunion with her mother and the family maid (Bondi) is especially poignant. However, while they've returned so Lukas can rest and heal from wounds, Lukas finds no rest and discovers that even in Davis' idyllic home there are enemies. No sooner does the weary family settle in than they are thrust into danger once more.

Bette Davis in Watch On The Rhine
This film is extraordinary. There is so much here going on, yet its not overblown or too melodramatic. It's given time to breath and to explore the big ideas about fascism, patriotism, the human spirit, family, love and sacrifice. I normally don't like Davis in "nice girl" roles. I usually prefer roles like The Little Foxes and the like. But in this film, she makes me a believer. Watson slam dunks her best supporting actress nomination. She is truly amazing in this. As Davis mother, she is smart, perceptive, loving, sassy and wise. She is the wife of a former supreme court justice and a DC mover and shaker and she relishes that role.

Paul Lukas
It would be a mistake to dismiss this film and lump it in with other, far less subtle and far more pedestrian anti fascist propaganda films of the day. Like Casablanca, this isn‘t just a movie about fighting the good fight against cartoonish caricatured villains. In fact, this movie, released the same year as Casablanca, could be considered almost a sequel. In Casablanca, we see the Paul Henried character from the outside...through the eyes of Bergman and Bogart. A symbol more than a man who is still young and still full of fight for the cause. In Watch on the Rhine we get to see the toll that the battle might take on someone like that as well as their family. Lukas could be considered an older, battle weary version of Henried’s character. He's tired to the bone but fights on. He's consumed with guilt that he's sacrificed his children’s innocence and Davis happiness because of his battle and he's even sickened by his own actions taken in that battle. As much as I love Casablanca and Bogart, Lukas earns his best actor Oscar here. He is fantastic. However, had Lukas been pitted against Bogart’s performance in Maltese Falcon, I’d sing a different tune.

Lucile Watson in Watch On The Rhine
The showdown at the end between Davis, Lukas and the villain is unique, surprising and suspenseful. Ideas are discussed, behavior and consequences, duty, heroism and cynicism are examined through the characters. Terrible things happen in this once oblivious, happy home that shake even the unflappable Lucile Watson to her core when at the end she says in a stunned voice..."Well, we've been shaken out of the magnolias".   Davis also has a very memorable scene.  After settling in her family home and taking off her drab, worn black dress, Bondi fits her in a beautiful white gown. Davis looks at herself in the mirror, smiles and says quietly.."Me. I'd forgotten"

Bogart isn't happy about losing the Oscar to Paul Lukas
It's a powerful movie that reminds me of La Grande Illusion with regards to its themes. There is a scene between the Romanian aristocrat and his wife that is similar to one seen in Grand Illusion with Strohiem. The wife acknowledges that the world is changing and she wants to be part of that change, while her aristocrat husband can't acknowledge the coming change and clings desperately to a doomed ideology. The composition in this film is flawless. You can literally hit the pause button at any moment and see a perfectly framed and shot scene full of character nuance and visual beauty. Dashiell Hammett works with Lillian Hellman to adapt Hellman’s stage play of the same name. It’s directed by Herman Shumlin and photographed by Hal Mohr.

Watch On The Rhine is showing on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, December 14th at 3:45 PM Eastern Time. As always, check your local listings.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Laurene Landon, Peter Falk and Vicki Fredericks in All The Marbles (1981)
"…ALL THE MARBLES" is one of my favorite 80s films. A cute and surprisingly gritty little sports themed action comedy in the same vein as Bad News Bears and Diggstown.

The movie tells the story of two struggling female wrestlers named Molly(Laurene Landon) and Iris(Vicki Fredericks) who form the wrestling tag team “The California Dolls”. Along with their wily and mercenary manager played by Peter Falk, and a secret weapon of a wrestling move called the Sunset Flip, the California Dolls rise up the ranks of the Womens Wrestling circuit to face off against their arch rivals The Toledo Tigers in the championship match in Las Vegas.

The California Dolls face the Toledo Tigers for "...All The Marbles"
It’s directed by the late, great Robert Aldrich who directed some of the best films ever made, in my opinion. The classic, violent and widely regarded film noir “Kiss Me Deadly”, the darkly comedic horror film “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”, the wonderfully cynical anti War film “Too Late The Hero” and the gritty sports comedy “The Longest Yard”. So something like All The Marbles seemed right up Aldrich’s alley. Unfortunately, the film was heavily edited by the studio to be more upbeat and several scenes of abuse in the seedy world of the Women’s Wrestling circuit was taken out. However, enough of the Aldrich touch remains to make the characters entertaining. One scene that stands out is where we see the psychological toll on the two women in the aftermath of a humiliating mud wrestling match that the Dolls are pressured into by manager Falk in order to both promote the women and get enough money for the trip to the championship game. The ending is a wildly entertaining, no holds barred wrestling match in which the California Dolls must overcome two skilled and ruthless opponents as well as a corrupt referee played by Richard Jaeckel with only their tenacity, skill and a little something called the Sunset Flip.
The California Dolls turn opponents The Toledo Tigers sunny side up in All The Marbles
All The Marbles was the last film to be directed by Aldrich (although he did direct a few projects for television) and it certainly isn’t his best. It did do well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel that unfortunately was axed due to Aldrich’s death. However, this film is fun and has a lot of heart. Landon and Fredericks aren’t the best actors in the world but they’re spunky and they give it all they’ve got and that goes a long way. The wrestling scenes have a definite look of authenticity to them and that is no doubt due to the fact that Landon and Fredericks were both trained by the legendary female wrestler Mildred Burke. The wrestling scenes are a lot of fun and actually look a bit painful.

In red, Laurene Landon takes on her oponent in All The Marbles.
I also have to say that I had a bit of a crush of Laurene Landon back in the day. Landon appeared in two of my favorite 80s films, All The Marbles and the 1982 film adaptation of the Mickey Spillane novel “I, The Jury” in which Landon played Mike Hammer's sexy, long suffering girl Friday “Velda”. Corey David Lacroix has a great interview with Laurene Landon over at Slam Wrestling that goes into wonderful depth about Landon’s career, training with Burke, her experience with Robert Aldrich and the making of All The Marbles. It’s a very entertaining interview worth reading in preparation for watching the movie.

Turner Classic Movies will be showing All The Marbles on Saturday, December 8th at 3:45 am Eastern.  As always, be sure to check local listings just in case.

Monday, December 3, 2012


This week in my series of reviews on the “Marvel Classics" series we have more Bronze Age nostalgia to offer as I take a look at one of the more interesting concepts offered by Marvel in the 70s. Marvel Classics “What If” Volume One, reprinting issues 1 thru 6. This was an entertaining series when it first came out and reading it again almost 3 decades later; I can honestly say that most of the stories have aged nicely.

What If was narrated by The Watcher, the mysterious figure who appeared when something universally catastrophic was about to happen in the Marvel Universe. In “What If”, the Watcher would travel through time to revisit pivotal points in Marvel Universe history and posed questions that asked what might have been regarding the fate of our favorite Marvel heroes. Issue one asked "What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?" In this story, we are transported back in time to events in Amazing Spider-Man #1 when Spider-Man aka Peter Parker applied for a job with the Fantastic Four. But instead of leaving in a huff, this time he is hired. This decision has profound repercussions on comics First Family and the story has a surprisingly melancholy ending as we see that the Fantastic Four are destined to be a quartet. This story has the original editorial page “Why Not?” included which has Roy Thomas explaining how he came up with “What If?”. The story has art by Jim Craig and Pablo Marcos. 

Issue 2 asked "What if the Hulk had always had Bruce Banners brain?" Well, for one thing it clears up a whole lot of misunderstandings. For another it leads to Banner finally earning the respect of Thunderbolt Ross. But it also has ripple effects that lead to the Avengers never being formed and the disbanding of the Fantastic Four!

Issue 3 asked "What if the Avengers had never been?" This isn't just one of the best "What If" stories ever written, it's also one of the best stories to come out of the Bronze Age. This story picks up at the end of Avengers #2 when the Hulk angrily leaves the group after hearing comments made about him by his fellow Avengers who were tricked by the Space Phantom into thinking the Hulk had turned bad. But instead of going after the Hulk, Giant Man gives everyone pause by telling them that they have no right to force the Hulk to stay. This leads to the disbanding of the Avengers. But this doesn’t sit well with Iron Man. After an attack on Rick Jones by the Hulk, Iron Man lures Giant Man and the Wasp back to the group along with Rick. Unfortunately, Thor has returned to Asgard. Realizing that the Hulk is too powerful for them to tackle without Thor, Iron Man builds suits of armor for all of them. However, learning to use the armor proves frustrating and an argument leads to the Avengers disbanding once again. Unable to let the Hulk run loose, Iron Man infuses his armor with enough power to defeat even the Hulk. This leads to a slightly different version of the famous confrontation at Gibraltar. But even though Iron Man is able to hold his own with the Hulk, Prince Namor is another matter entirely and in the end, a new team of Avengers is assembled once again to save Iron Man from Namor. This was a very fun Jim Shooter story and boasts some lovely Gil Kane pencils and Klaus Janson inks.


Issue 4 asks "What if the Invaders had stayed together after WW2?" This was the Roy Thomas story that launched the Invaders series from the 70s with art by Invaders artist Frank Robbins. In this story we see a new Cap and Bucky replacing the apparently dead originals, teaming up with Namor, Torch, Toro, Spitfire, Union Jack, Whizzer and Miss America. The story takes us from Hitlers death at the hands of the Human Torch at the end of WW2 up to the Kennedy era. This story also includes the original editorial page “Why Not?” that talks about the inception of the idea to do an Invaders ongoing series.

Issue 5 asks "What if Captain America and Bucky had both survived WW2?" Well, it would be a lot like what we've been reading in the current Marvel universe apparently. Steve Rogers would be director of Shield and Bucky would take over as Captain America. Sound familiar?  Some attractive art by George Tuska.


Issue 6 asks "What if the Fantastic Four had different superpowers?" This is probably the least entertaining entry out of the 6. In this story, its Sue Storm who gets the power to stretch, Johnny Storm gets powers similar to that of the X-Mens "Colossus", Reed Richards becomes a disembodied brain (that ultimately finds a rather familiar metal housing) and Ben Grimm gets...dragon wings? Oh well, they can't all be winners. Over all, though, this is a fun collection of stories that are both of their time and, in some cases, timeless. The premise of "What If?" is an inherently entertaining one. I mean, what comic book reader hasn’t had a conversation with their peers about their favorite heroes and stories? Conversations that almost always began with “what if”.