Category: DVD Review

DVD Review: The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady


Joan Bradley (Jean Muir), a secretary about to meet her boss’ son is confronted by a husband she’d believed dead who shows up at her apartment to blackmail her. He is murdered while she’s in the other room. She runs into the Lone Wolf (Warren William) and his butler sidekick Jamison (Eric Blore). The two try to help the secretary by chivalrously altering the crime scene in a way that makes her look innocent. However, the police catch a mistake and it’s up to the Lone Wolf to find the real murderer or else he and the secretary could go to jail.

Overall, the film is decently executed. The mystery and the supporting characters are adequate. Warren William has a decent turn as the detective, but was not a standout for the era. He lacked the energy he had in some of his earlier films and was not up to the standard of Chester Morris and George Sanders who played similar roles in the Saint and Boston Blackie films. The saving grace of the film was Eric Blore, who made a great comic sidekick. Blore steals every scene he’s in and provides just the right amount of comic relief to the film without becoming annoying as so many comic sidekicks of the era did.

The DVD is the definition of no frills: no DVD menu, let alone any extras. As a result, when you put the DVD in, it starts playing automatically. For me, this was a minor annoyance.

Overall, this isn’t a bad mystery, but I only recommend it if you want to see an example of the Lone Wolf in action.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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Movie Review: My Gun is Quick (1956)


My Gun is Quick stars Robert Bray as Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane’s hardest of hard boiled private eyes. Hammer comes to the defense of a prostitute being beaten and gives her money to get home on. When he finds out later that she was murdered, Hammer sets out to find the killer.

The film is obviously low budget but competently made, with solid direction and editing. The less expensive production actually helps creates a gritty Noir feel.

Robert Bray was strangely given an “introducing” credit when he’d been appearing in films for fourteen years. However, he is a solid Mike Hammer. I’m not a huge fan of Mike Hammer, but I was pleased with Bray’s portrayal. He portrays Hammer as a rough character, but still makes him feel sympathetic and human as he goes about his journey as he cuts through the underworld to unravel this mystery which he takes on as a personal crusade.

The rest of the cast is mostly unknowns. The biggest name I recognized in this was Patricia Donahue, who played a bar girl in this and would later play Lucy Hamiltion in the Michael Shayne TV series. Despite the lack of star power, the cast turns in mostly solid performances.

Overall, the film is worth watching for fans of Mike Hammer, or those looking for a solid Noir film. It is available either as a DVD or for instant viewing through Amazon.com and can be watched by Amazon prime members for free.

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DVD Review: The Line Up


The Line Up is a noir film based on the 1954-60 TV series of the same name (later syndicated as San Francisco Beat.) The film begins with an exciting scene where a cabbie flees police and drives erratically until he’s shot. Lieutenant Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and the police discover a smuggling ring which smuggles heroin through the baggage of innocent people and then retrieves the heroin from them.

There are two basic reasons to see this film:

The first are the stars are not the police but the villains. Dancer (Eli Wallach) is a psychopathic gangster and is assisted by his wiser mentor Julian (Robert Keith) in collecting the drugs and disposing of those who know too much which turns out to be most people.

Unlike in an earlier era where these two would walk around sounding dopey, Dancer and Julian are constantly well-spoken, polite, even friendly when the job calls for it. However, in an instant, they turn deadly. Julian sums up Dancer well, “There’s never been a guy like Dancer. He’s a wonderful, pure pathological study. He’s a psychopath with no inhibitions.” Wallach makes the character very believable and menacing.

Johnny Dollar star Bob Bailey has one scene in this film as a finger man telling Dancer who the drugs had been smuggled in with. It’s a decent performance.

Also, though he only appeared in one scene where he barely spoke, Vaughn Taylor turns in a memorable performance as the drug kingpin, “The Man.” It’s practically an acting clinic on how much can be communicated using only facial expressions.

The second big reason to see this is San Francisco. So much of the movie is shot on location in the City by the Bay. The locations aren’t only good looking but they’re used in some innovative ways in the story. It really makes for a unique look.

The film’s biggest issue is the police characters. The film’s intent was to rope in the 30 million fans of the TV series, “The Line Up,” which is why stars of that series were brought in. However, these scenes are the least interesting in the film. Not bad per se, just obligatory. Policework can be interesting in a Noir film (see: He Walked by Night) but it doesn’t happen here.

In addition to the trailer, the DVD release includes a kind of interesting special feature with Dark Knight Director Christopher Nolan discussing how the NOIR genre influenced him. I was surprised that this film had a commentary track, but listening to it, I found it a bit unpleasant as one of the commentators was just randomly foul-mouthed rather than insightful or funny.

Overall, The Line-Up is a solid film and there’s much to recommend it to those who love Noir films, San Francisco, or Bob Bailey. Ironically, the only thing you won’t get out of it is a sense what the classic radio series the Line Up looked like on film.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: Hawkins: The Complete TV Movie Collection


A recognizable and beloved Hollywood actor from Hollywood’s yesteryear playing a sharp and folksy lawyer who solves mysteries? That description will make people think of Matlock starring Andy Griffith. However, more than a decade before Andy Griffith played the hot-dog loving, Southern lawyer, Jimmy Stewart brought the concept to the small screen as Billy Jim Hawkins, a homespun West Virginia lawyer with a penchant for getting to the truth and winning tough cases.

The Warner Archives DVD set includes all eight Hawkins telefilms that aired in 1973 and 1974. The first film is ninety minutes long. The other seven are seventy-five minutes long as this film was aired along with another mystery series to compete with the popular NBC Mystery Wheel.

In each case, after a sensational murder has been committed, Hawkins is called in to defend the accused, who generally has a massive amount of circumstantial evidence pointing towards their guilt. Hawkins’ seeks to clear them with the help of his assistants. Hawkins usually has to win his client’s trust, inserts himself into his client’s world, and seeks to get to the bottom case with the help of his assistants.

Like Matlock and Perry Mason, every movie ends with a climactic courtroom scene where Hawkins reveals the true killer. There are a few more nods to legal procedure in this series than in either of those better known series. In particular, the series acknowledges that as Hawkins hasn’t been licensed to practice law in every state, in order to appear in those states, he needs to be working under a local attorney who will serve as the Attorney of Record for the defense even though he’s not actually arguing in court.

The Supporting Cast

In each episode, Hawkins is helped by one or more assistants. One of the key points of Hawkins’ backstory was that Hawkins had an enormous extended family of more than 100 people. In different episodes, different members of that family show up to assist. Most frequently, it’s R.J. Hawkins (Strother Martin) but Jeremiah Stocker (Mayf Nutter) and Earl Coleman (James Hampton) took turns as well. Stewart had the best chemistry with Strother Martin and R.J. Hawkins was the most interesting character, which is probably why R.J. Hawkins was in the final three films without any other assistants after only appearing in two of the first five.

The guest stars were generally quite competent. There’s an early performance by Tyne Daly, as well as appearance by golden age of Hollywood notables like Lew Ayers and Teresa Wright, along with character actress extraordinaire Jeanette Nolan. One of the more interesting guest appearances is James Best playing a serious role as a sheriff in the episode, “Blood Feud.” In a few years, he would take on the role of the ultimate comic sheriff as Rosco Coltrane.

The Lead

Ultimately, while the scripts were decent and the supporting cast is competent, it’s Jimmy Stewart that makes the series worth watching. While watching the first few minutes of the opening film, I thought Stewart had overplayed the folksiness, but once he settled into the role, he made Hawkins special. Hawkins is a country boy, and he doesn’t put on airs. Everyone who meets him is urged to call him Billy Jim.

Yet, at the same time, Hawkins has a keen mind and is aware of how the world works. Like many of the characters Stewart played over the years, Hawkins lives by a code.  His life is dedicated to the core principle that everyone’s entitled to a defense. Hawkins has a great way of connecting with and gaining the confidence of clients who’ve been unwilling to act in their own defense before.

In the courtroom scenes, Stewart is superb, building a level of rapport and using subtle humor to undercut the prosecution and then delivering an innocent “aw shucks, I’m just a country lawyer” type of comment to deflect  objections from the prosecution. The scenes where he confronts the genuine murderer are incredibly compelling. Hawkins was one of the more credible TV lawyers to be featured in this sort of program. In many ways, he seems true to life to other nationally known trial attorneys such as Gerry Spence as opposed to a character someone made up.

Stewart’s acting netted him a well-deserved Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.

Why It Only Lasted One Season

In addition to Stewart’s win, the series was nominated for a Golden Globe as was Strother Martin for best supporting actor. However, despite critical recognition, the series went away after a single season. Why?

CBS created the series as a counter to NBC’s rotating mystery programs and CBS didn’t quite seem to understand a big part of why NBC enjoyed success. NBC rotated Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan & Wife.  The beauty of the mystery wheel was that these programs all appealed to the same audience and if you liked one, there was a good chance you liked them all, and NBC could count on you to watch their mystery movie every Sunday night.

CBS on the other hand rotated Hawkins with the TV series Shaft based on the Blacksploitation film series of  the early 1970s. The two series drew two very different audiences and there was little crossover in audiences between the two shows and as a result both got cancelled.  Hawkins could have lasted longer if not for the network’s scheduling mistake.

Is This Series For You?

If you love the classic lawyer series, these films are for you. Stewart’s Hawkins is at least as good as Perry Mason or Matlock. If you’re a fan of Jimmy Stewart’s later work, this is also a must as this was arguably Stewart’s last great role before his career went on the downswing and hearing loss drove him to semi-retirement in the early 1980s.

Overall, I found Hawkins to be an enjoyable series that stands up well when compared to most of its 70s peers.

 

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: Fibber McGee and Molly Double Feature


The Fibber McGee and Molly Double feature presents Jim and Marion Jordan reprising their roles as the most lovable citizens of Wistful Vista in two separate films.

The first is, Here We Go Again. As the title implies, it’s a bit of a sequel. In this case, the film’s teaming of Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy with Fibber McGee and Molly is their second joint movie. The first, “Look Who’s Laughing,” was released on a separate DVD collection of early Lucille Ball films. But there’s no sense of deep continuity other than that Fibber McGee has met Bergen before, so seeing that film isn’t a prerequisite.

The teaming works quite well when they interact, though they’re often left to do their own thing. The plot is that Fibber McGee takes Molly on a Second Honeymoon and after staying a night a flea bag hotel, he runs into Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen at a much nicer establishment. Bergen is trying to discover a synthetic alternative gasoline and a capture a rare butterfly because…it’s World War II and that’s what radio ventriloquists did.

As if the film hadn’t given Old Time Radio fans enough to salivate over, this also features Harold Peary appearing as the Throckmorton Gildersleeve. Even though he’d started his own spin-off series from Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, Peary plays Gildersleeve just as he did on Fibber McGee and Molly and only appears in a few scenes. Gale Gordon also appears, though not in his role from Fibber McGee and Molly as Mayor LaTrivia but as what passes for a villain in this film.

The movie holds up very well for its era. For the most part, the jokes work. The big exception to this is an unfunny, ill-conceived bit that had Bergen trying to infiltrate a native american tribe for the flimsiest of reasons. The musical numbers by Ginny Simms are superb. For fans of the golden age of radio, the movie allows us to see not one but three different big radio stars in action.

In addition to Charlie McCarthy, we also get to see Bergen’s other dummy Mortimer Snerd. Though McCarthy receives the most work and it’s interesting to see how they transferred such an active and robust ventriloquist dummy from radio to film. Though, I will say that Charlie McCarthy has a few moments (such as when he’s cheering the potential death of Bergen from various perils) that remind you why we now consider ventriloquist dummies walking around to be a creepy element of horror movies.

The second film is Heavenly Days derives it’s name from Molly’s frequent exclamation, “Oh heavenly days!” In this film, Fibber is visited by the Spirit of 1776 to begin a cross-country journey to the nation’s Capital in order to help out a friend who has become a “dollar a year” man, essentially volunteering his service to the government. Fibber heads to Washington, hoping that the voice of the common man is heard.

The film starts out okay and for the first fifteen minutes is very charming, including the McGees encountering a group of soldiers on a train and singing and we even get to hear Fibber sing. However, after that, the film runs into problems.

It’s a comedy that isn’t all that funny. It’s also a patriotic film. I’m all for patriotic films, but this one muddles its message. McGee’s whole quest is to get the voice of the average man heard in the corridors of power. He gets to Washington and actually disrupts Senate proceedings to give his own nonsensical speech. Then later, he has a trippy dream sequence where senators advise him if the Average Man wants to have a voice in government, he should probably get informed and make sure he knows what he’s talking about.

The plot, the message, and the ending feel incongruous. The film’s core problem may be that it expected too much of the Jordans. During, their radio program, they did many war-related episodes and while they could be preachy, they always remained entertaining. The reason was because they were focused on a single point (such as a scrap metal drive) and they had the entertaining cast of characters in Wistful Vista to help get the laughs. Here, the Jordans are left to get all the laughs and carry this meandering story.

The film does have its redeeming values. The presence of Fibber McGee and Molly on screen is a treat and they have charming moments including both of their musical numbers. The film features war orphans from several lands which is a historical reminder of a great tragedy in that war.

For movie buffs, it features an interesting oddity that relates to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that film, hefty character actor Eugene Pallette plays Chick McGann, a henchman for political boss James Taylor whose job is to help keep Senator Smith under control. In this film he played a Senator which led me to think McGann got one of the vacant Senate seats that were left open at the end of the movie.

Eugene Pallette

Even though\ Heavenly Days is a well-intentioned mess, I still consider the DVD a good buy because Here We Go Again is just that good. It’s rare to see that many radio stars in that same film and for the film to actually be good. The current price is a fair value for the first film and and any enjoyment you get out of the second film is just gravy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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